Today has been christened the bone shaker.
The day started with a pleasant ride out from Callander along to the banks of Loch Venachar where there were few hardy souls wild camping on the ‘beach’. The wind had picked up and was blowing a gale, and for the first time it felt cold. It only took a little light drizzle to have us reaching for our jackets.
The route almost immediately became rough, be it on paved or unpaved surfaces. As we progressed along the Loch the route turned into a forest track as it climbed steeply away from the banks of the Loch and into Achray Forest and the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park. On more than one occasion we had thought that the forest route had finished only to be greeted with yet more twists and turns. A small pause, lots of gravel and a sharp turn whilst negotiating a barrier had me with my first full on clipless moment… A graceful, slow almost stationary fall onto then gravel.
Eventually the climbing ended and we were then treated to a pretty rapid descent into the wood. By this time we’d seen more than a few full suspension mountain bikes heading up then trail. I guess they must have thought us mad to be going down the trail in fully loaded touring bikes.
The Queen Elizabeth Forest Park appeared quite surreal, with mountain bikers, zip wire adrenaline junkies and bizarre installation art. In truth, we were glad to get out of the place and off the boulder strewn path and into the streets of Aberfoyle.
The decision was made to press on after some slow going through the forest, even though I could have died for an ice cream. Forging our own route towards Fintry we had hoped for a few quiet, smooth and enjoyable country roads. Initially this was the case but as we headed south towards the Lake of Menteith, the road surface worsened rapidly. A mixture of potholes, abraded surfaces and patchwork repairs resembling tumours on the road shook us both to the teeth. It was no surprise to pass two cyclists on skinny road tyres repairing punctures.
With no sign of a coffee shop we stopped to grab a banana. As route planning goes, todays wasn’t too hot and with the road starting a gradual ascent and the wind whipping up into our faces, we could have done with a bit more sustenance. A quick hop across the A811 and we were back into hilly terrain. After a lung busting and leg burning climb up to Kippen Muir we were treated to a lovely view, and more importantly, a fantastic and exertion free descent into Fintry. The sight of The Fintry Inn had us locking the bikes up and grabbing a well earned meal and alcoholic beverage. With an apple crumble pie to die for inside me it would have been too easy to spend the rest of the afternoon in the pub, but with over 50 miles still to, we did need to get a move on.
The road out of Fintry forked to the north as we commenced the climb towards Cairnoch Hill and the Carron Valley. Passing the whirring and quite noisy wind farm we encountered that most glorious of things, a quiet, smooth and virtually traffic free road.
Eventually the route opened up to a grand vista looking south towards Edinburgh and Glasgow. A beautiful descent was rudely interrupted as we navigated through a number of ever decreasing width roads through farms before a rapid and final descent to Banknock where we met up with the Forth and Clyde canal.
The route then followed the canal all the way to Edinburgh, so the only difficulty for this part of the journey was navigating between other users of the tow path and the crater sized holes in the path.
Maintaining a good speed along the tow path, we hit upon the Falkirk Wheel. The Falkirk Wheel is an engineering delight, allowing the Forth & Clyde canal to join the Union Canal, which is no mean feat when the Union Canal is approximately 100ft below the Forth & Clyde. We have to testify that it would have been nice to stay and watch the wheel in action, but after waiting for 15 minutes and no movement, we decided that the pace of life of a canal wasn’t for us and we set off again along the Union Canal.
Resuming the race along the towpath, the route then takes in quite a long walk through tunnel near Glen Village. At times the tunnel is wide enough for just a single pedestrian and bike, and with little light and slippy stones, made for an interesting break from the cycling. Leaving the canal just outside of Craigton, we opted for the road route towards Kirkliston and then the cycle path running alongside the A8. The final few miles of the ride had us drenched again as we headed back into Edinburgh airport.
The final route through the airport and on to the long term car park had us chased by the police for a short time. I say chased, it was more like a game of hide and seek. It can’t be that often that the police see cyclists entering the airport, and as we entered through the bus lane exit to the car park, they eventually tracked us down. I’m sure the two police officers saw the funny side of two shattered, wet and happy cyclists packing up their bikes and gear ready to head off the Glasgow for the evening. Once it was explained that the best place to leave your car for a week is in a secure car park, I’m sure they realised that we weren’t opportunistic car thieves !
Planned distance: 72 miles
Actual distance: 76 miles
Ascent: 4902 ft
Flickr: 2010 Cycle Tour Photo Set