Day 3 marked our first foray into the Scottish Highlands. Through the planning of the route, days 3 and 4 stood out from the rest because they both involved long climbs up and over the ski resorts Glenshee and Lecht. With the weather forecast for rain approaching from the west we were sure today was to be long and arduous. Fortune was on our side and whilst it wasn’t particularly sunny, the weather was fair for the initial long downhill in Forfar. Infact over the next 21 miles the sun occasionally made an appearance and granted us glorious views of the scenery.
After being shaken to within an inch of our lives over the cobbles in Kirriemuir the route had our heart rate climbing as we gained a little altitude before allowing a few glimpses of Loch Lintrathen. To say that this was a very peaceful area is an understatement and I could have whiled away many an hour reading in the near silence surrounding the Loch. Once past the Loch of Lintrathen the B951 becomes one of those great cycle tour roads as it follows the meandering path of the River Isla. As with many river routes it proved to be an undulating but pleasant ride through lovely scenery.
We could certainly tell that our heading was taking us towards the Cairngorms as the gradients on the hills became steeper and and undulations larger. Indeed today was a tale of gradual climbing, some 2000 ft over 36 miles, though with a quad busting 750ft in the last 1.5 miles. After a short stop at the (extremely) small shop in Glenisla for a quick chocolate infusion the route continued along the valley until it veered west towards Cray and the A93. *Note to cyclists: I couldn’t quite work out if the shop was open on only a few days of the week or whether only the post office contained within the shop was open on those days – either way, my advice is to not count on it being open.
According to our plans, the A93 signified a very long and difficult up hill road that would take us all the way to the Glenshee ski centre. Well the first mile or so certainly raised the heart rate with a series of sharp uphill climbs. However after this the road became a joy to cycle on, comprising long undulations interspersed with a few sharp hills. The legs certainly understood that we were climbing but they weren’t screaming in agony. We had been warned on various websites that the A93 can be a busy and fast road, however our experience was that the traffic was light and well behaved. After 5 miles of climbing up the A93 we pulled into the Spittal of Glenshee, the last stop before reaching the Glenshee Ski Centre.
Once fueled up on pasta and a pint (Madeline took the healthy option of a baguette) and suitably rested we left the hotel to start the final 6 mile, 1000 ft climb up to the ski centre. It goes without saying the the views whilst climbing through the Cairngorms were fantastic. A combination of great views and the expectation of only 6 miles of climbing meant that we slowly but surely plodded to the top of the climb with little concern. Don’t get me wrong it was tough, we we’re certainly not going to break any speed records and both the lungs and legs got a savage work out, however it didn’t seem as bad as some climbs that we have done in the past. If you have ever done the coast-to-coast route up and over Hartside then I don’t think you’d have any problems getting up to Glenshee. Yes it’s longer but the climb starts slowly and only challenges you at the very end with two 12% sections. Hartside starts with the steep climbs, sapping you of energy, before levelling off to a relatively gentle gradient.
The cafe at the ski centre was doing quite good business with plenty of tourists up there along with a few hikers and mountain bikers. To say that we received a few funny looks from the patrons would be an understatement. I can only assume, being the only road cyclists up there, that they were astonished that we had climbed up to the ski centre and more than likely, thought that we were mad.
After wringing the sweat from our gloves (it wasn’t sunny but we were fortunate to have generally warm weather for England – ranging from 16 to 22 degrees) and grabbing some much needed water and coffee, we set off down the A93 towards Braemar. All in all the descent was approximately 10 miles. You lose a lot of height very quickly after which the gradient steadies off to allow you to look around and take in the breath taking scenery. I’d like to thank the A93 for giving me my fastest recorded speed on a bike, 40.4 miles per hour – on a loaded touring bike without pedalling!
Rather than follow the main road all the way to Braemar, our route left the A93 and took an unclassified and unused road to the town. Apart from a number of wild camps, sheep and rabbits, we weren’t interrupted until we entered Braemar. Our venue for the evening was the rather grand looking Fife Arms Hotel. It was a shame that the interior didn’t match the exterior and generally it seemed that the hotel catered more for the coach tours of elderly tourists rather than tired and bedraggled bicycle tourists.
Planned distance: 48 miles
Actual distance: 49 miles
Ascent: 3018 ft
Flickr: 2010 Cycle Tour Photo Set