Christmas greetings to fellow tandemers who know its always better together!

Jingle bells, jingle bells
jingle all the way!
Oh what fun
it is to ride
On a tandem made for two …. !!! 

With the big day fast approaching and thoughts turning to turkey and tinsel and mistletoe and wine this “old lady” decided it was time to wish readers of my Matildas Musings blog, and fellow tandemers everywhere, (and even solo cyclists!) a very Merry Christmas on behalf of Team Matilda.

The “old git” being a huge fan of the Christmas period is in a festive frenzy – while the “old gal” is enjoying the festive spirit (and wine!) while trying (and failing!) to exert a calming influence!

My dynamic crew – the “old git” aka my Captain and the “old gal” aka my Stoker – would like to thank you all for reading my Matildas Musings this year and following our adventures in #tandem, naturally!

And thanks for all your messages of support – whether that be a comment on my blog, or on my Matildas Musings FacebookTwitter or Youtube feeds.

Team Matilda sincerely hope you continue to find the adventures of the UK’s only blogging tandem entertaining – and that it makes you smile – while finding something that you (as non-professional non-lycra-clad fun-loving fellow tandemers) can relate to!For a number of reasons there were not as many blog posts this year as previously. But with a bit of luck – and no major mechanicals concerning my ageing frame; or the fitness of my dynamic crew – there will be many more rides, and Musings, during the first year of a new decade in 2020.

The big event in 2019 was the annual tour of the self-proclaimed Nutty Tandemers Club – which was an epic odyssey taking on the Hebridean Way Challenge – tandem cycling “on the edge” of Scotland, while taking in the views of some of the world’s best beaches.

Now the “old gal” really enjoys a little fun recreational island hopping – and scenic beaches – but this was something different! A true adventure on Sustrans Scotland NCN Rt 780 across the Outer Hebrides, starting at the southernmost point on Vatersay and ending on the northernmost point at the Butt of Lewis, covering 185 miles, 10 islands, six causeways and two ferry crossings!

And my dynamic crew were truly honoured to have fellow founding members of The Nutty Tandemers Club – John and Jane, who have their own Travelling in Tandem blog – with us every pedal of the way! So special festive greetings to them and thanks again for their magnificent company and encouragement to help us all reach the finishing point together. Roll on the Nutty 2020 tour!

Naturally I wrote a blog about our adventures, titled: “Hebridean Way – the definitive guide to tandeming ‘on the edge’ with the Nutty Tandemers Club. The epic post gives lots of advice on how to do the 10 island odyssey route as an independently booked, self-guided, end-to-end pedal. It is also offers a refreshingly unfiltered honest reflection – highlighting the highs and lows; uphills and downhills of 5 days tandeming “on the edge” of Scotland.

Lets just say that if the 185 mile Hebridean Way is on your bucket list of #tandem or cycle rides – then this is the blog for you! So grab a cuppa and click on this link to enjoy a chuckle or two as you flick thru the blog which is full of useful tips, advice and recommendations of places to stay, eat, and replenish (prosecco!) picnic supplies along the #HebWay – along with some to avoid! It also highlights the best tips in The Offcomers guide book and the bike transfer service provided by HebShuttle.

For anyone wondering, the Christmas card front image at the top of this blog post is an artificially snow-sprinkled image of me and my dynamic crew from that unforgettable Nutty Tandemers Club Hebridean Way Challenge back in June – featuring the dramatic Callanish Standing Stones where we spent a magical evening of the summer solstice.

As a Christmas treat here’s another chance to see Team Matilda’s musical montage of images from that unforgettable tandem trip. Just click on the image below to watch:

So here’s to a wonderful festive season to all. And on behalf of all captains and stokers everywhere – lets hope Santa fills your Christmas stockings with all the things you have put on your present list!

Mind you, that does make an assumption that you are on the “good tandemers” list rather than the “naughty tandemers” list!

And remember: It truly is always better when you’re together on a tandem”!!

So have a “twice the fun” Merry Christmas – from Matilda, Colin and Diane!

Ho! ho! ho!


Road-testing the new Tighnavon Glamping Pods enterprise at wilderness Loch Rannoch

Team Matilda ready to road-test the new Tighnavon Glamping Pods venture at Kinloch Rannoch.

Day 1 – Spectacular Friday arriving at Tighnavon Glamping Pods with sunset experience!

Great excitement at Matildas Rest! It was Friday and the start of Team Matilda’s annual holidays and we had been invited to road-test a new development of glamping pods – specifically targetted at cyclists and outdoor types! And the fact that the luxury en-suite pods are based on the edge of wilderness Loch Rannoch – one of my crew’s favourite spots on earth – made it even more magical.

With Matilda Transport packed we headed off to Kinloch Rannoch in Highland Perthshire for our back to nature weekend of relaxation and tandeming – is there a better way to spend a romantic break?!

The Tighnavon Glamping Pods venture has only been open for three months and aims to provide a grown up version of camping – without having to put your tent up – for people who like their creature comforts but still want to get away from it all and re-connect with nature. Just perfect for my dynamic crew who don’t do camping under canvas under any circumstances!

The Tighnavon Glamping Pods are ideally situated in the village of Kinloch Rannoch.

The new tourism business of four wooden cabins, which sleep up to four people, are ideally situated nestling in some of Scotland’s most atmospheric and picturesque scenery to attract cyclists – as well as walkers and fishermen – who don’t want to be tied to a full week’s accommodation in one place.

Team Matilda was staying in the pod called Stag and although it may look bijou from the outside, my dynamic crew found it like a tardis inside – complete with everything they could need, including a nice touch of the bed already made up! And as the “old gal” quickly found a choice of sockets to plug in her hairdryer she said: “Glamping is clearly my kind of camping!”

As the Tighnavon Glamping Pods website says: “Our pods are equipped to a high standard – each has a double bed and a fold down double sofa bed and can comfortably sleep up to four people. There is a fully accessible wet-room with overhead shower and a small kitchenette equipped with kettle, toaster, microwave, twin hob, mini oven and fridge. Bedding, crockery, and pans are all provided – even tea, coffee and biscuits!” All you are asked to bring is your own towels.

A nice touch on arrival at the pods is that the bed already made up!

The pods are amazingly good value – and the prices refreshingly don’t change with the seasons. Each pod is priced at only £50 a night Sunday to Thursday and £80 on a Friday and Saturday night. There is a minimum stay of 2 nights and no additional costs for electricity or dogs.

Everything about the pods reflects the aim of the glamping concept providing a comfy and dry home-from-home experience – but still with that feeling of being out in the country!

There’s lots more about the “old gal” and “old git’s” experience of glamping later in this blog – including a walk-thru video of the facilities on offer and a video chat with the ultra friendly and hospitable co-owners Ian Philp and Sheona Glenville-Sutherland about “fulfilling their dream” and opening the pods.

The luxury en-suite pods offer a really comfy home-from-home experience!

The plan was for an early evening tandem ride around Loch Rannoch – hopefully timing it to arrive back at the beach at the top of the loch for a prosecco toast to enjoy the sunset. As my dynamic crew had arrived at the pods in good time they firstly explored the village of Kinloch Rannoch – firstly calling in to the friendly Riverbank Cafe to enjoy yummy home-made cake and coffee.

Next the “old gal” and “old git” were attracted to a sign for The Shed Gallery based in the Old Smiddy just off the village square which houses the modern gallery and workspace of photographer Ian Biggs. Ian’s stunning work draws its inspiration from the dynamic and evocative landscape of the Rannoch glen. Finally the Country Store and Post Office offered the chance for Team Matilda to stock up with a few last minute provisions from their impressive range for a village shop.

Tighnavon Ride 1 – Once in a lifetime spectacular sunset Loch Rannoch Loop

The “old gal” looking relaxing in the sunshine before our Loch Rannoch loop!

It was time to get my pedals moving and amazingly for late September the sun was beating down and my dynamic crew were really looking forward to a loop round the sun-kissed loch. You can check out the details of our route by clicking on the Strava map below.

Leaving the pods behind we set off thru the village square and headed down the north side of the loch on the B846. It is an area Team Matilda know well and the route is mostly gently undulating – and given the absence of any noticeable wind it was a true joy to be out tandeming.

The “old gal” decided a quick stop was required at the wild camping area about a third of the way down the loch – which offers a perfect viewpoint for pictures with the majesty of the perfectly conical shape of Schiehallion – one of Scotland’s most recognisable mountains – in the background. This area provides easy access to a small rocky beach area, and the loch which was looking stunning with the blue sky creating a deep blue colour on the water.

Rock with a sun-kissed view! The “old gal” with the iconic Schiehallion behind her!

You simply wouldn’t think it was September with these shades of blue!

Naturally there had to be a Team Matilda selfie! – showing the conical shape of Schiehallion.

Me and the “old gal” enjoying the rays of the sun at the wild camping site on the north side of the loch.

On we pedalled with the “old git” and “old gal” exhilarated by their progress down the loch. It was all too easy and then, just after Killichonan, we hit the steep hill at the saw mill! Let’s just say both my dynamic crew were breathing somewhat rapidly when we got to the top.

The reward is a rapid downhill to Bridge of Gaur, turning left at the end of the loch before crossing the bridge over the River Gaur. Next up was a steady – but more manageable – steep uphill climb for about half a mile. But the climb is worth it with views across the whole length and breadth of the loch.

The folly on a small island in Loch Rannoch dates from the 19th century.

A point of interest is Eilean Nam Faoileag – a small island which was occupied from the middle of the 15th century until the middle of the 17th century and now is home to a tower which is a 19th-century folly. You also can’t miss the impressive Rannoch Power Station – part of the Tummel Valley hydro scheme – on the opposite bank which has been in operation since 1930.

The route on the quieter south side of the loch is amazingly scenic – even more so than the (slightly) busier north shore road. The B-class single track road never seems to be more than a couple of yards from the loch itself and there is always lots to catch the eye.

This “old lady” was happy that we were whizzing along as it is always good to get a bit of speed going. Then one of our regular stops at an iconic tree which offers a fabulous view right up the loch.

The “old gal” at one of our regular stops on the south side at a tree with a view right up the loch.

This tree always brings a hearty laugh from the “old gal” as it was the place for an amusing photo where the “old git” didn’t realise that the “old gal” was taking the mickey and misbehaving by sticking her tongue out when he was adopting his serious tandemer pose for a team selfie! Ironically it turned out to be one of my dynamic crew’s best ever photos as it completely sums up what a Team Matilda adventure on a bicycle made for two is all about! No words are needed!

What happens when my Stoker takes the mickey when my Captain adopts his serious photo mode!

The wilderness factor was underlined as the narrow road winds its way through the magical Black Wood of Rannoch – more detail of which can be found in Sunday’s section below. Credit to the “old git” but he had timed the ride to perfection and my dynamic crew arrived at the beach area at the Kinloch Rannoch end just as the sun was starting to sink in the sky for their prosecco toast!

The added bonus was that neither the “old git” or the “old gal” had realised that the sun was going to be setting behind the mountains at the far end of the loch creating some magical light patterns, across the sky and then across the loch. It was a perfect spot to capture some amazing sunset shots, including one which had the effect of looking like the beach and sand dunes were on fire, giving everything it touched a healthy glow!

As the sun started to set it created a wonderful healthy glow on my dynamic crew’s faces!

My dynamic crew then had some fun positioning themselves to get the angle just right to get a selfie catching the fantastic sunset going directly in to their bottle of prosecco!

The “old git” got the angle just right to catch the fabulous sunset in the prosecco bottle!

What a magnificent way to spend a Friday evening! It really was one of those once in a lifetime experiences and the “old gal” and “old git” felt so lucky to be there. A true back to nature feeling!

The “old gal’s” head in the sun! It was a true privilege to see the sunset dancing on the loch!

Back in the comfort of the glamping pod, the “old git” checked Strava which officially recorded the ride as as showing that my dynamic crew tandemed a distance of 22.9 miles with a moving time of 1 hour 49 minutes. The average speed was a healthy 12.5 mph given the undulating terrain, and the overall elevation was 820 feet. The maximum speed was 31.1 mph and Team Matilda managed to burn up 1242 calories and produce an average power output of 169 W. Almost by accident my dynamic crew recorded 2 gongs along the route – with 2 second bests.

A tasty home-cooked meal was served up by the “old gal” – using the pod’s ample cooking facilities – followed by some chill time, before sleep beckoned with my dynamic crew dreaming of their spectacular ‘money can’t buy’ wilderness sunset experience.

Sleep beckoned dreaming of the once in a lifetime sunset experience at Loch Rannoch!

Day 2 – Energetic Saturday tandem ride in glorious Highland Perthshire sunshine!

Our sun-kissed Tighnavon Glamping Pod as we opened the curtains on Saturday morning!

Saturday dawned with the sun rising into a cloudless bright blue sky as Team Matilda wakened re-invigorated from a very deep and relaxing sleep courtesy of an extremely comfortable bed in the glamping pod. Buoyed by last night’s spectacular sunset over Loch Rannoch my dynamic crew were in good spirits and it was clearly going to be a good day!

The “old git” had scheduled a tandem loop of Loch Tummel for today – complete with one of the “old gal’s” signature prosecco picnics. And as this new route is set to be fairly hilly, and also takes in a short 0.75 mile section of the A9 main trunk road to Inverness, it could be just what my stoker will need!

My dynamic crew – who don’t do camping under canvas under any circumstances – have been most impressed with everything about the glamping pods. So much so that the “old gal” decided that she would record her thoughts on the Tighnavon development by filming a walk-thru of our en-suite pod – which is named Stag – to show the facilities on offer. You can watch the video here:

So after a healthy breakfast I was packed into Matilda Transport for the short 7 mile drive to our start point at Tummel Bridge, the village at the head of Loch Tummel.

Tighnavon Ride 2 – Hilly Loch Tummel loop including a stretch on the A9!

Loch Tummel is home to two of the nine hydro electric power stations which make up the impressive Tummel Valley scheme which was constructed in the1930s. Team Matilda parked opposite the grandeur of Tummel Bridge Power Station – which is now a listed building.

You can check out the details of our route by clicking on the Strava map below.

After kitting out in what was to be highly appropriate red polka dot King of the Mountain jerseys, the “old gal” showed her creative streak with a reflective shot of Team Matilda departing on the ride – captured in a mirror at the car park and transformed into a black and white image! Clever eh?!

The “old gal” showed her creative talent to capture this reflective image of Team Matilda!

The initial route almost saw us pedal to a standstill within a couple of minutes as we tackled the steep inclines of the B846 for the first two miles. The “old gal” was somewhat relieved when the route took a left turn onto the Foss Road to drop down to hug the banks of the loch. The sun was streaming thru the dense array of trees as we passed the edge of Frenich Wood, part of the Tay Forest Park, creating spectacular shadows and light patterns.

The “old gal” at the edge of the dense Frenich Wood, part of the Tay Forest Park.

The “old git” against the fabulous strong blue colours of the loch and sky.

The quiet single track road along the loch had a nice smooth surface, but it was fairly undulating and required a good bit of pedalling. But the views over the loch – with the strong blue colours of the loch and the sky – were truly spectacular. We stopped regularly to take in the scenery, including a fabulous natural view point from a rocky promontory jutting out over the loch – which was the perfect spot for a Team Matilda selfie!

Selfie time at a rocky promontory – giving a view along the full length of Loch Tummel.

It was a great day to be out tandeming – and along with the hills there were lots of smiles as we clocked off the miles! Next stop however was the thought-provoking entrance to Clunie Power Station and the eye-catching Clunie Memorial Arch.

Clunie dam holds back the waters of Loch Tummel. A tunnel from the loch feeds Clunie power station, which then discharges into Loch Faskally. The dramatic arch at Clunie honours the men who died in the late 1940s while digging the tunnel. The self-styled ‘Tunnel Tigers’ – named because of their cavalier approach to working conditions in the days before health and safety in their quest to earn huge bonuses – removed about 400,000 tons of rock for the Clunie pipeline. The arch measures 6.9 m across – the same dimensions as the tunnel.  This remains one of the largest water tunnels in the UK.

The “old gal” is dwarfed by the Clunie Memorial Arch built to the same dimensions as the tunnel.

Moving on, as we approached Pitlochry the only visible option to get across to the road down the opposite side of Loch Tummel was for Team Matilda to cut up on to the busy A9 trunk road. Naturally this was rather alarming due to the fast moving traffic and heavy lorries using the main route between the central belt and the Highlands. The “old git” not surprisingly opted for the safe option of walking along the grass verge for 0.75 of a mile – as tandeming would have been extremely ill-advised – until the exit route off for the road back towards Tummel Bridge.

The “old git” wisely decided that pushing along the grass verge of the busy A9 was the safest option!

Team Matilda were happy to leave the dangers of the A9 behind and got back on my saddles riding along the B8019 at Faskally Caravan Park where suddenly out of nowhere – and as if by magic – signs for Sustrans Scotland National Cycle Network Rt 7 appeared! Just as quickly as they appeared they disappeared again – obviously heading further north! Our route crossed a bridge high over the River Gary – providing another must-do photo stop looking down into the deep valley below.

The bridge over River Gary crosses a scenic deep valley below!

After the trauma of having to engage with the A9, and the unseasonably warm sunshine, my dynamic crew were a little frazzled – so the “old gal” made a good shout for a time-out for lunch after finding a suitable spot off the busy B8019 road.

It is at moments like this that the meticulous forward planning which goes into a Team Matilda tandem ride – which can sometime seem a bit overdone – really pay off. The “old gal” and the “old git” enjoyed a luxury picnic with glasses of cold prosecco – kept cool by my trendy La Bouclee french-designed wine carrier – washing down croissants filled with smoked ham and chilli cream cheese. To follow, a fresh fruit salad and some much needed energy replenishment in the form of some chocolate! Heaven!

The fizz for the signature prosecco picnic was kept cool in my trendy la bouclee wine carrier!

The “old gal” enjoying a re-fuelling prosecco picnic in the sunshine!

Refuelled and refreshed by the food and fizz my dynamic crew pedalled on for a tough 3 miles till they came to their next scheduled stop at the Queens View Visitor Centre offering Highland Perthshire’s most iconic view over Loch Tummel and further down to Loch Rannoch.

Queens View Visitor Centre offers Highland Perthshire’s most iconic viewpoint.

It is the area’s most popular visitor attraction and naturally Team Matilda sparked more than a bit of attention from the throngs of bus parties who were visiting as I was pushed up to the viewpoint to get a good look from high over the loch!

The story goes that when Queen Victoria visited in 1866, she assumed that the sweeping view west along Loch Tummel was named after her – but she was wrong. Local history says that the view was really named after Isabella, the first wife of Robert the Bruce, who lived more than 500 years earlier. But that hasn’t stopped the visitor centre and cafe cashing in on the royal connection!

The bench says ‘reserved for royalty’ so naturally I presumed it was for this “old lady” to lean against!

Great image of me with Queen Victoria and her loyal servant John Brown at the post box!

After a loo stop and managing to get a coffee and a piece of caramel shortcake from the cafe – which looked like it had been hit by a plague of locusts in the shape of bus visitors! – the “old gal” was almost delirious to see that she was now getting the benefit of all the uphill climbs with the remainder of the route a highly enjoyable long descent down the side of the loch back to Tummel Bridge.

The “old git” on the original Tummel Bridge built by General Wade in 1733

The village takes its name from the old bridge which crosses the River Tummel which was built by General Wade in 1733. The old bridge still stands, although it is only open to pedestrians and cyclists, with a much more boring structure carrying the road alongside.

I was packed back in Matilda Transport and after a short drive we were back at our ultra-comfortable pod – enjoying a much needed refreshment to celebrate an epic day on a bicycle made for two!

Back at Tighnavon Glamping Pods – after an epic sun-kissed day of tandeming!

Over a very welcome, and relaxing gin on the decking of the glamping pod, the “old git” checked Strava which officially recorded the ride as showing that my dynamic crew tandemed a distance of 26.3 miles with a moving time of 2 hours 59 minutes. The average speed was 8.8 mph given the hot temperature and the overall elevation of 1756 feet. The maximum speed was 39.1 mph and Team Matilda managed to burn up 1958 calories and produce an average power output of 163 W. No gongs recorded, however, as this was our first time doing this ride.

Team Matilda enjoying sitting on the decking of the pod which was bathed in the early evening sun.

The sun – or the exertions of the pedalling, or perhaps both! -obviously got to the “old gal” as after a quick change out of her cycling gear she was soon found to have dozed off for a quick 40 winks on the decking! Needless to say, the “old git” – ever one to capture an opportunity – managed to stay awake and take a surprise photo of her in her relaxed state!

Only a one word caption required: spangled!

After a bit of necessary relaxation my dynamic crew headed out for what was supposed to be a dinner treat at Edina’s Kitchen – the restaurant in the new Dunalastair Hotel Suites, literally just round the corner in the square at Kinloch Rannoch. The “old git” and “old gal” were full of anticipation at a culinary delight to come as the new hotel claims to offer “award winning 5-star” food and service with “a range of dishes to suit every taste prepared by Michelin and Rosette trained chefs.”

The reality was sadly completely different and was a major disappointment. From the moment we arrived the restaurant was a chaotic scene with seemingly untrained staff not having a clue. To be told twice within two minutes of entering the bar area – by two different people – that “You shouldn’t be here – we are fully booked tonight” is quite simply unacceptable at any eaterie, far less one which sets out its stall as such a prestigious venue. Oh and that was despite the “old git” telling both members of staff that we had in fact booked a week ago, and confirmed the booking just a couple of hours earlier.

Dunalastair Hotel Suites failed by a long way to live up to its ‘award winning 5-star’ reputation.

We were allowed to stay after the confusion was sorted out – although amazingly no apology was forthcoming. But it might have been better had we been turned away – as the food was a major let down. The “old gal’s” main course, as an example, was some rather dry duck with two carrot sticks and one mange tout along with a spoonful of beetroot mash!

Two unexciting courses later – they would even have been disappointing if had been served in a pub – and a moderate bottle of wine saw Team Matilda’s wallet around £100 lighter and leaving with an overwhelming feeling of anti-climax. It really was such a shame as it should have been the ideal venue for a nice evening out from the pods.

Walking back the “old gal” and the “old git” enjoyed looking at the very clear sky which offered a wonderful view of the stars – without the usual light pollution. The Tighnavon Glamping Pods site looked perfectly cosy and romantic under the stars! With the temperature dropping, my dynamic crew both commented that they were happy that they were not in fact sleeping under the stars under canvas in the great outdoors – but in the comfort of a proper bed inside the heated pod i

The Tighnavon Glamping Pod site looked perfectly cosy and romantic under the stars!

Day 3 – Relaxing Sunday as tandeming abandoned due to heavy rain!

Opening the pod doors on Sunday, the weather had changed – so tandeming abandoned!

Sunday morning and the “old git” threw open the doors of our pod to discover that the glorious sunshine had suddenly disappeared overnight – with the weather changing to rain. A quick check of his “go-to” weather forecast – BBC Weather – confirmed that it was going to be heavy rain all day. So a quick discussion amongst my dynamic crew decided that tandeming was abandoned for the day.

The “old git” harrumphed as he was a bit frustrated as he had planned another loop of Loch Rannoch – but I must say here that he “old gal” was actually quietly rather pleased after the fairly arduous day in my saddles yesterday on the ride around Loch Tummel!

So the change of plan involved a much more relaxing morning – followed by a leisurely drive around our planned tandeming route to allow us to still pay a visit to the famous Rannoch Station Tearoom

The rain was nothing short of torrential as my dynamic crew drove the 11 miles from Tighnavon to the end of Loch Rannoch at Bridge of Gaur. The “old gal” was feeling rather smug – and cosy – sitting in Matilda Transport knowing that the alternative would have been a serious drooking from the rain!

They then headed on for final six miles of the scenic but secluded B846 road – which must be one of the world’s longest cul-de-sacs! But the reward at the end of the journey is the wonderfully remote Rannoch railway station where there is a favourite coffee and cake spot for the “old git” and the “old gal” – the amazing Rannoch Station Tearoom.

It really is a truly fabulous hidden gem – and must get the vote for being not only the most remote tearoom in Scotland – but the most welcoming and friendly. Run by the uber-hospitable Bill and Jenny Anderson it offers cyclists, walkers and railway passengers an amazing oasis of home made tasty coffees, cakes and light meals. You can even have a wine or a beer while sitting on the station platform watching the live theatre that is the natural wilderness of Rannoch Moor.

The uber hospitable Bill and Jenny who take service standards to new highs at Rannoch Station Tearoom.

The duo’s customer service ethic has no bounds – and even runs to delivering phone orders of bacon butties to train passengers travelling up and down the Glasgow to Fort William route. In my dynamic crew’s case it extended to a hugely warm welcome – impressively remembering names and our tandeming adventures! So it was a delicious serving of home made fruit scones with clotted cream and jam followed by gigantic slices of seriously yummy carrot cake washed down with a cafetiere of wonderfully strong freshly brewed coffee.

According to my dynamic crew the tearoom more than lived up to its five star Trip Advisor certificate of excellence award. And if the look of satisfaction on the “old gal’s” face as she sampled the goodies was anything to go by, I think if she could have awarded six stars, it would have been more than earned!

Bill and Jenny and their Rannoch Station Tearoom were featured recently on the Channel 4 show The World’s Most Beautiful Railway – which is well worth a look!

More than replete – stuffed is the word that comes to mind! – my dynamic crew drove back to Kinloch Rannoch on the quieter road on the south side of the loch. Fortunately the rain had more or less gone off for a bit as the “old gal” fancied doing a bit of photography to try and capture the magical qualities of the Black Wood of Rannoch – one of the largest areas of ancient pine forest left in Scotland.

The “old gal” tried a spot of photography to capture the magical qualities of the Black Wood of Rannoch

It certainly lives up to its Forestry and Land Scotland billing as “a living growing monument with some trees thought to be about 400 years old, and is home to a wonderful variety of plants and wildlife, including deer, pine martens and red squirrel.” It is little wonder that it is designated a Special Area of Conservation and was looking dramatically magnificent even in the wet conditions. It was truly a wonderful wilderness spot, and the “old gal” and the “old git” felt privileged to be there.

The Black Wood of Rannoch is home to “granny pines” some of which are up to 400 years old.

Inspired by the natural beauty of one of the “jewels” of Rannoch, Team Matilda drove back to the comfort of our luxury pod for some chill time – with even the “old git” now conceding that tandeming in the heavy rain they experienced would have been awful! Music to the “old gal’s” ears!

Later in the afternoon, Ian Philp and Sheona Glenville-Sutherland – the co-owners of Tighnavon – dropped by to hear my dynamic crew’s thoughts and comments on their new luxury en-suite glamping pods. Since it was wine o’clock, the “old gal” popped a cork on a bottle of wine and all had a most hospitable chat about the new tourism venture, and why it was badly needed in the area.

The “old git” filmed an interview with Sheona about the concept behind the new Tighnavon Glamping Pods at Kinloch Rannoch, which you can watch the video here:

After their media commitments, Team Matilda enjoyed another fabulous meal before more relaxation and an amazingly sound sleep. Next morning, sadly, it was time to leave the comfort of Tighnavon and head back to Matildas Rest – thoroughly refreshed after a great mini-break in what is one of the “old gal” and “old git’s” favourite places on earth.

So, my dynamic crew’s overall verdict: If you like the idea of getting back to nature – but without the canvas tent, then this is definitely for you. The new wooden en-suite glamping pods offer the ideal opportunity to enjoy luxury away-from-it-all accommodation, where you can do exactly as you please – while enjoying some exhilarating cycling and stunning scenery pedalling in the beautiful wilderness area of Loch Rannoch. As the “old git” said: “What’s not to like?!”

Team Matilda toasting Tighnavon Glamping Pods – what’s not to like?!

Thanks to Sheona and Ian at Tighnavon Glamping Pods at Kinloch Rannoch for their help, accommodation, and hospitality offered to Team Matilda on their mini-break. All opinions are that of Team Matilda!

Co(w)rraling the Cowches in C(ow)rieff!

The vibrant and eye-catching Crieff Cowches trail provided a fun sun-kissed trail for Team Matilda!

The imaginative Crieff Cowches art trail has come to an end – which reminded me to write a blog about my dynamic crew’s great great tandem trip round all 11 of the installations on a sun-kissed evening in August – where Team Matilda saw Crieff looking at its glorious best.

The cleverly decorated Cowches will be seen together for a final horn blowing hurrah on October 9, where they will be sold off at a charity auction.  So with the fundraiser fast approaching I decided it was time to post my blog – which recounts our attempts at Co(w)rralling the Cowches in C(ow)rieff!

Firstly a short bit of background. The Highland cow benches – or cowches for short – made up a unique art trail which succeeded in its aim of bringing huge numbers of visitors into Crieff during the summer. Each cowch had been individually decorated by local artists – who were given carte blanche to let their imagination run riot!

Why use Highland cows as the basis for this unique cultural trail? Well because Crieff occupies a key position between the Highlands and Lowlands of Scotland, the town became the cattle-droving crossroads of Scotland in the 1700s – with up to 30,000 of the beasts arriving for market each year.

The Crieff Cowches trail was organised by Crieff Succeeds – the town’s Business Improvement District programme, which aims to promote Crieff as a vibrant, attractive and safe place to work, shop, visit and live. The trail has been actively promoted by the VisitCrieff tourism internet and social media sites.

So with deep blue skies and warm sunshine my dynamic crew decided to pedal round the art trail on a fun early evening ride – which would include a picnic tea at one of the Cowches! You can check out the details of our route by clicking on the Strava map below.

We pedalled away from Matildas Rest in Auchterarder and firstly tandemed along the quiet country roads to The Library of Innerpeffray – which is Scotland’s first ever free lending library dating back to 1680. The gardens of the historic building – including St Mary’s Chapel with its fascinating graveyard, offered an inspirational spot for the “old git” and “old gal” to tick off their first Cowch, and number 11 on the trail map. This one was simply known as Innerpeffray Cowch and was created by June McEwan.

Cowch 11 – Innerpeffray Cowch by June McEwan

A few more miles and my dynamic crew arrived in Crieff itself, crossing Crieff Bridge to find the cleverly named Emoojis Cowch by local schoolgirl Sinead O’Malley – which is a cow covered in emojis, the smiley faces used in electronic messages.

Cowch 6 – Emoojis by Sinead O’Malley

Next Team Matilda decided to tandem around the town to Glenturret Distillery – recognised as Scotland’s oldest working whisky distillery after being established in 1775. Here the “old git” was happy to pose beside the Cowch named On Watch by Chelsea Rodger.

Cowch 10 – On Watch by Chelsea Rodger

The next stop saw us tandem downhill from the distillery to Turretbank where the “old gal” took the opportunity for a quick rest on the Cowch called Polly, created by Donna Connelly.

Cowch 7 – Polly by Donna Connelly

Tandeming into Macrosty Park my dynamic crew found the bandstand – and were able to tick off seeing Bloomin Flora by Liz Paterson. The “old gal” decided that she would enjoy a few minutes basking in the bright sun on this Cowch!

Cowch 9 – Bloomin Flora by Liz Paterson

Into the town of Crieff itself and Team Matilda tandemed up the High Street, stopping at the town hall after spotting the Sweet Annie Cowch, created by mosaic artist Katy Galbraith.

Cowch 1 – Sweetie Annie by Katy Galbraith

My dynamic crew had now ticked off more than half of the Crieff Cowches, but nearly missed the next one as it was placed in the grounds of Old St Michael’s Churchyard which we found difficult to find for a moment or two. But it was worth the hunt to discover Midnight Meadow by Ceri White.

Cowch 4 – Midnight Meadow by Ceri White

With the warm sunshine, the “old gal” decided it was time for a much needed refreshment which was enjoyed at the welcoming Quaich Bar on Crieff’s High Street. Revitalised, the next stop was at the Crieff Highland Gathering Cowch in James Square, the second on the trail to be created by June McEwen.

Cowch 2 – Crieff Highland Gathering Cowch by June McEwan

Crieff’s central James Square was where Drovers Coo was to be found – created by Hamish Bigg to pay homage to the town’s historic links to the cattle drovers.

Cowch 3 – Drovers Coo by Hamish Bigg

Just a few yards away, Kings Street was the site for my dynamic crew to tick off A Heilan Cooch, created by Catherine Redgate. It was great to see so many families having fun walking round in the evening sunshine, ticking off the Cowches from the trail map, creating a real buzz in the town

Cowch 8 – A Heilan Cooch by Catherine Redgate

The 11th and final Crieff Cowch on Team Matildas art trail was the amusingly named Military Coo by artist Gail Robertson which was situated in the grassy gardens of the town’s medical centre.

Cowch 5 – A Military Coo by Gail Robertson

Now the “old gal” is a friend of Gail Robertson, and knows she has a sense of humour, so knew she would not be even slightly offended that my dynamic crew used Military Coo as a perfect bench on which to set up a picnic tea! Our alfresco meal attracted a bit of attention from locals in a nearby pub – who all agreed that it was a good way to use one of the Cowches!

The Military Coo installation made a perfect picnic for my dynamic crew’s picnic!

After a tasty picnic – and having seen all the installations on the art trail – it was time for Team Matilda to pedal back home to Matildas Rest. Check out the full data from the ride at the end of the blog.

Meanwhile the artworks are set to be sold off at the Crieff Cowches Auction – a ‘dress-to-impress’ gala dinner at Crieff Hydro on Wednesday October 9. My dynamic crew hope the auction raises lots of money to help support Scotland’s Charity Air Ambulance.

For those that like to study the figures, this was certainly one of our Team Matilda’s fun and relaxed pedals and Strava officially recorded the ride as showing that my dynamic crew tandemed a distance of 27.5 miles with a moving time (or should that be moooving time given the subject of this ride!) of 2 hours 45 minutes. The average speed was 10.0 mph and the overall elevation was 1296 feet. The maximum speed was 34.5 mph and Team Matilda managed to burn up 1725 calories and produce an average power output of 156 W. Almost by accident my dynamic crew recorded 11 gongs along the route – with 3 personal bests; 4 second bests; and 3 third bests.

Altogether a very pleasant cultural tandem ride Co(w)rralling the Cowches in C(ow)rieff!

Naughty Matilda jumps on train to Dundee to ride to champagne afternoon tea and Aqua Vitae at Lindores Abbey Distillery

Waiting on a deserted station platform full of anticipation about my first ever train ride!

The Latin phrase ‘aqua vitae’ literally means the water of life! And today my dynamic crew decided to embark on a ride to enjoy a glass of their own water of life in the form of a champagne afternoon tea at a distillery. And the fact that Lindores Abbey Distillery produces its own unique brand of Aqua Vitae – while waiting on its whisky to mature – meant it was a ‘must visit’ destination!

But before enjoying the delights of the afternoon tea treats, my dynamic crew had to pedal there – and the “old git” decided that it would be a great tandem trip to ride from Dundee back to Matildas Rest – with a perfectly situated half-way stop at the distillery.

Brill idea – except that plan involved a slightly naughty adventure of getting me on a train! That doesn’t seem too difficult I hear you say. But given that tandems are officially not allowed on trains – and the “old git’s” dogged desire to beat the system – it added a bit of an edge to the day!

Is anyone watching us?! – me and the “old git” waiting on the train pictured from the station bridge!

The sun was already rising in a blue sky as my dynamic crew set off for the local Gleneagles railway station situated on the main line to Aberdeen and Inverness.  My dynamic crew were well aware that ScotRail’s official policy is to welcome cycles on all its trains but the small print states: “We don’t allow tandems, tricycles and non-folding cycle trailers as they take up too much space.”

But that wasn’t going to stop Team Matilda’s plan! The “old git” had booked two single tickets and two bike places online for the service to Dundee. My dynamic crew waited a tad nervously for the train to arrive – expecting a loudspeaker announcement if they had been spotted on CCTV on the platform.

Waiting a little nervously for the train on the platform at the impressive Gleneagles station.

The train arrived, the guard looked at all three of us for a moment and asked if we had booked. The “old git” showed the tickets and the guard said: “Ok on you go!” It would need to be said that it was an older train with a guards van storage section just behind the diesel engine – but we were on! And once the train moved off we knew there was no going back! I was securely stacked in a spacious bike rack beside four other sleek looking touring bikes – and there was plenty of room for me to fit in.

We’re on! The “old git” ensuirng I am safely secured on the bike rack!

Naturally my dynamic crew were somewhat chuffed that they had managed to get me on board. The “old git” – keeping with his reputation for planning – did have a Plan B in place should I have been refused entry to the train, which would have been tandeming to the distillery and then retracing our steps to pedal home again. But it just shows that bluffing it can pay off! In just over half an hour the train pulled in to Dundee station and in seconds I was out of the train and on the platform! I felt just a tad mischievous, but it was mission accomplished! And the station has been revamped recently, with the addition of a tandem-friendly lift which took Team Matilda up to street level. Easy!

Dundee station has a tandem-friendly lift to get me to street level!

After the excitement of actually getting on the train, the “old gal” was in need of a caffeine fix and there was a quick pit stop for morning coffee and a scone at the pleasant RSS Discovery cafe opposite the station. Before heading away on our ride there was a quick photo opportunity at two of the life-size figurines situated at Discovery Point – beside the new V&A Dundee design museum – which were part of the Oor Wullie’s BIG Bucket Trail, which claims to be Scotland’s first ever national public art trail.

The “old gal” – who has a likeing for a strong coffee – naturally had to have her photo taken at the ‘Full O’ Beans’ installation, while the “old git” had to pose as Oor Wullie at the ‘Dazzle Wullie’ artwork!

The “old gal” and me causing a stir at the ‘Full O’ Beans’ installation.

The “old git” trying his best to pose as Oor Wullie at the ‘Dazzle Wullie’ artwork!

My dynamic crew headed for the lift to get up on to the pedestrian and bicycle deck of the Tay Road Bridge to start our ride by crossing the River Tay on Sustrans Scotland National Cycle Network Route 1. You can check out the details of our route by clicking on the Strava map below.

Ready to roll! Handlebars view of the cycle deck on the Tay Road Bridge.

After crossing the bridge in unusually benign conditions of a magnificent blue sky with not a cloud on the horizon, our route took us on NCN Rt 1 through the pretty town of Newport on Tay – which offered some spectacular views out across the river and the Tay Rail Bridge.

Bench with a view! Newport on Tay offers spectacular views across the river.

It was a great day to be out tandeming and Team Matilda pedalled on joinging NCN Rt 777 to Newburgh – thru Wormit and just before Gauldry the signposted cycle route directed us off the B995 towards the village of Balmerino. All of a sudden there was a shock to my dynamic crew’s relaxed demeanor when suddenly out of nowhere a monster hill appeared!

Much puffing and panting later the “old git” and “old gal” finally emerged at the top of the category 4 climb (and a wee bit of a push!) – and a quick look at the map fortunately revealed that was the worst of the hills! The sun was high in the sky and the “old gal” was actually heard to say that it was a bit hot – and for someone who is often cold that is quite a statement!

The “old gal” enjoying the amazing views over the fields to the sun-kissed Tay.

The views over the sun-kissed Tay were nothing short of amazing – making it a memorable tandem ride. With the temperature continuing to rise, the “old git” was glad to stop in the shade for some water, overlooking the impressive ruins of the 14th Century tower house Ballinbreich Castle.

Some much needed shade for the “old git” overlooking Ballinbreich Castle.

A quick downhill and we were tandeming into Newburgh where we were to find our wonderful oasis of Lindores Abbey Distillery – which was to be the venue for our stylish champagne afternoon tea treat.

The distillery is a relatively new visitor attraction – with whisky starting to be produced in December 2017. But Lindores is actually the historic seat of whisky making in Scotland – with distilling taking place on the site at least as early as 1494, although it was most probably happening long before that.

This is known because of the earliest written reference to Scotch Whisky (or Aqua Vitae, as it was then known), which appears in the Exchequer Roll of the same year. It mentioned a Brother John Cor, a Lindores monk, who was commissioned by King James IV to turn 8 bolls of malt into Aqua Vitae.

Here I am striking a pose at the entrance to the stylish Lindores Abbey Distillery.

The “old git” had pre-booked – as advised on the website – but my dynamic crew were non-the-less ultra impressed to be personally welcomed as we arrived at the entrance by Jane Clark, one of the managers at Lindores. And the staff made a great fuss of me, calling me a “celebrity visitor!” – and insisting I be pushed thru the shop area into a courtyard complete with a cycle rack.

A juxtaposition of an old matured tandem with an old matured whisky barrel!

As I had a rest the “old gal” and “old git” were escorted upstairs into the fabulous trendy glass surrounded Legacy Bar – which offered a wonderfully sophisticated and air conditioned atmosphere for their afternoon tea treat.

My dynamic crew were presented with a chilled glass of champagne – where they toasted the joys of tandeming – before enjoying a veritable feast of delicious finger sandwiches, savoury pastries, scones with cream and jam, delicate small cakes, and a perfectly formed cheesecake mouse. Apart from the champagne this is washed down with a choice of fragrant teas or speciality coffees – and one of the delights of this culinary experience is that all the produce is freshly home made and locally sourced.

Cheers! The “old gal” and “old git” having a champagne toast before their afternoon tea!

This was all wonderful value at £25 a head, and enjoyed looking out onto the unbelievably blue skies to the Tay Estuary beyond. My dynamic crew were introduced to Helen McKenzie Smith part of the husband and wife owners team, who describe themselves as ‘custodians of Lindores.’ Helen was charming and patiently answered all the “old git’s” questions about their project to revive whisky making on the ancient site – after a break of over 500 years!

For spirit to be officially called whisky it has to be matured for a minimum of three years and a day, so Lindores is looking forward to being able to market its first batch in December 2020.

Interestingly Lindores has decided not to go down the traditional route of many Scotch distilleries in producing gin while waiting on the maturing process. Instead – given the history – the distillery is producing its own handcrafted botanical spirit which it has branded Aqua Vitae.

The “old gal” enjoying a sample of Lindores own pre-whisky Aqua Vitae botanical spirit!

As previously mentioned, the earliest Aqua Vitae was made at Lindores as long ago as 1494, and the distillery staff have authentically recreated that recipe and reimagined it as ‘an inquisitively versatile spirit’. It is distilled in pot stills and then infused with a blend of spices and herbs, including cleavers, and sweet cicely, which grow in the gardens, amidst the grounds of the ancient Abbey, and is entirely natural, with no added sugars. Naturally the “old gal” and the “old git” were treated to a sample – which they both pronounced as being delicious!

After a most enjoyable time at the distillery, my dynamic crew explored the fascinating remains of Lindores Abbey itself. Known as the ‘Church by the Water’, it was founded in 1191 by David Earl of Huntingdon, on land overlooking the River Tay Estuary, given to him by his brother King William I. It was built with local red sandstone, and covered a very large area – the extent of which is still clearly visible today. Particularly well preserved is a section which was the eastern entrance to the Abbey.

The “old gal” and me could feel the history at the eastern entrance of Lindores Abbey.

This artist impression – created by examining the remains – shows the Abbey’s impressive size.

It was time to head away from Newburgh and start the not insignificant task of a 21 mile pedal back to base. I am sure I detected more than a bit of a champagne-fuelled wobble over the first mile or so before the “old gal” and “old git” got back into their pattern of synchronicity!

The “old gal” bracing herself on leaving Newburgh for the 21 mile pedal home!

The route home took us thru Abernethy – the one the biscuits are name after! – and then the hamlet of Aberargie before joining the rather busy A912 for just over a mile to Bridge of Earn where we rejoined quieter more enjoyable country roads to Forteviot.

And then it happened, my dynamic crew suddenly became somewhat less dynamic as they bonked – the cycling definition of hitting the wall thru a lack of energy – on the section from Forteviot to Dunning! The “old gal” was convinced the hot temperature had a part to play – but the “old git” quietly thought that the stoker’s performance had been hit by the after effects of the fizz!

An urgent reviving pit stop was called for at Dunning and Team Matilda had a long ice cold soft drink at the friendly The Kirkstyle Inn – along with one of their “emergency” energy gels – to restore factory settings! The effect was instant as when my crew set off again for what they expected to be a hard slog of the last five miles home, it amazingly turned into an easy canter with the miles flying as my crew seemed turbo-charged – which resulted in Strava recording two personal bests along the way!

We rolled back into Matildas Rest with the sun still blazing in the sky. Over a relaxing coffee on the decking, the “old git” checked Strava which officially recorded the ride as showing that my dynamic crew tandemed a distance of 38.2 miles with a moving time of 3 hours 16 minutes. The average speed was a healthy 11.7 mph given the hot temperature and the overall elevation of 2088 feet. The maximum speed was 35.8 mph and Team Matilda managed to burn up 2422 calories and produce an average power output of 184 W.

And there was at least 38 smiles to match the miles – with the added advantage of bluffing our way on to a train for the first time – which for the “old git” and the “old gal” is the mark of another great day out in tandem! After all, the laugh really is my dynamic crew’s unique recipe for their own Aqua Vitae!

Hebridean Way – the definitive guide to tandeming ‘on the edge’ with the Nutty Tandemers Club

The Nutty Tandemers Club loved tandeming ‘on the edge’ on the Hebridean Way

#HebWay and #NuttyTandemers Club – Introduction

So the “old git” came up with the idea that our next annual tour of the self-proclaimed Nutty Tandemers Club should be an epic odyssey taking on the Hebridean Way Challenge – tandem cycling “on the edge” of Scotland, while taking in the views of some of the world’s best beaches.

The Hebridean Way passes some of the world’s best beaches. Whats not to like?!

Now the “old gal” really enjoys a little fun recreational island hopping – and scenic beaches – but this was something different! A true adventure on Sustrans Scotland NCN Rt 780 across the Outer Hebrides, starting at the southernmost point on Vatersay and ending on the northernmost point at the Butt of Lewis, which takes in 185 miles, 10 islands, six causeways and two ferry crossings!

Fortunately – and perhaps naively! – both tandem teams quickly agreed that the Hebridean Way would be the ideal route for an independently booked self-guided end-to-end tandem tour, which offered a real challenge amidst some stunning scenery, and plans were put in place to complete the distance over five action packed days in June 2019 averaging around 40 miles a day in the saddle.

This blog aims to be the definitive guide to tandem cycling the Hebridean Way – an unfiltered honest reflection highlighting the highs and lows, and the many uphills and downhills, from four good friends who don’t consider themselves to be anything more than keen and enthusiastic leisure cyclists, who enjoy the joys of a bicycle made for two!

So who are the members of the Nutty Tandemers Club? Regular readers of my blog will remember that in 2016 my dynamic Team Matilda crew became ‘best pals’ with another crew of a bicycle made for two – Team Siggy, made up of John and Jane, who also have their own Travelling in Tandem blog, but more importantly have the same views as my dynamic crew on not taking tandeming too seriously.

Such was the level of laughing, fun and general nuttiness on our inaugural Le Tour de Perthshire du Tandem that we became the founding (and only!) members of our self-styled and therefore exclusive Nutty Tandemers Club! A year later we all enjoyed Le Tour de New Forest du Tandem before a Mini Tour de Perthshire last summer.

Because of the logistics involved, our #HebWay challenge has been a long while in the planning and booking. This blog is therefore full of useful tips and recommendations for places to stay, eat and replenish picnic supplies along the way – along with some to avoid! – in order to be self-sustaining. It also contains Strava Maps and Relive videos of our route – and loads of photos to give you a flavour of what it is really like tandeming or cycling “on the edge”!

In short, if the Hebridean Way is on your bucket list of rides – then go for it! But read this blog first!

#HebWay – The logistics and getting to Barra

Getting to the start line of the Hebridean Way at Vatersay is almost as challenging as doing the route itself – and there is no easy way of doing it. You need to allocate time to get there – the best part of two whole days! And that’s before you get to start pedalling!

The Offcomers guide to Cycling the Hebridean Way

The recommended way of tandeming or cycling the Hebridean Way is from south to north so you get the benefit of the prevailing winds. Access to the start point is by the island of Barra, which is around 100 miles out in the Atlantic by a 5 hour ferry trip from the Scottish mainland at Oban – think next stop America! Oh and there is only one ferry sailing a day! Then the finish line is 185 miles further north on Lewis – where the return ferry operates from Stornoway to a different mainland ferry port of Ullapool. Thus why it can be a bit of a logistical headache to organise travel for your trip. So planning is key.

At this point my dynamic crew want to recommend the guide which became their “bible” – both in planning and along the route. The “old git” and “old gal” used the fabulously detailed ‘Cycling the Hebridean Way’ by The Offcomers. It is written by and aimed at cyclists and provides a wealth of information – with comprehensive maps, routes and listings. In a nutshell it was crucial to the Nutty Tandemers Club’s planning, and became an essential reference guide each day.

Another recommendation is a company called HebShuttle – the award winning cycle tour and transfer operator in the Outer Hebrides which offers, among other services, bike and passenger transfers, bike and e-bike hire, and an accommodation booking service.

The official tourism information website for the Outer Hebrides also has a wealth of information on suggested itineraries with a linked on-line planning service, along with a newly launched ‘Pit Stop’ listing of rest, refuel and repair stops along the Hebridean Way. It has also published a new handy 1:200,000 scale HebWay Cycling Route Map which my crew found invaluable.

The Nutty Tandemers decided the best way to overcome the transport issues getting to and from the Outer Hebrides was to position two vehicles on the mainland – one at the departure port of Oban, and one at the arrival port from Stornoway.

But first up there was the vitally important pre-tour prosecco toast to welcome John and Jane when they arrived at Matilda’s Rest on the Saturday afternoon after a long drive from their current base in Lincolnshire. The sun came out (briefly) allowing for a very convivial catch-up on the decking before a hearty meal and an early night with a long day of driving ahead.

A toast to a successful Hebridean Way Challenge when John and Jane arrived.

Sunday saw a 6am rise with Team Matilda and Team Siggy’s cars on the road by 7am heading from Matildas Rest to Oban. That was the first leg of what was admittedly a fairly torturous day of driving around 400 miles. The detail of the trip, firstly saw the two tandems dropped off at the Hostelling Scotland hostel in Oban, our pre-ferry overnight base, before embarking on a near 4-hour 160 mile drive to Ullapool to park John and Jane’s vehicle there for our return from Stornoway. After a brief lunch stop we returned to Oban and although the scenery on route was magnificent – including driving the full length of Loch Ness – there is no doubt it was a marathon, but logistically necessary, journey.

The sleeves of the Nutty Tandemers t-shirts complete with crew names!

The return journey from Ullapool – with both tandem crews in one car – offered a great opportunity for everyone to catch up on life since the last tour! And there was the opportunity of the grand unveiling of the tour t-shirts, complete with tour logo on the front and crew names on the sleeves.

After the long drive back to the ferry port of Oban, the Hostelling Scotland hostel offered a welcome refuge for the crews who were most impressed with its five star VisitScotland accredited facilities including private en-suite double rooms with sea views over the Firth of Lorne. Meanwhile the two tandems – me and Siggy – enjoyed a comfortable stay in the hostel’s great secure cycle storage shed complete with a selection of useful maintenance tools!

After the drive some good food and drink was required and The Olive Garden offered the crews some tasty seafood followed by a gin tasting in a nearby pub before some much needed sleep.

The departure port of Oban offered a welcome overnight stay after 400 miles of driving.

After a solid sleep, the “old git” and the “old gal” got into final packing mode, refining the items in my four panniers which were to support Team Matilda for the duration of the Hebridean Way trip, with cycling gear covering every possible eventuality of weather and geographical conditions, my trusty tool kit and a variety of essential spares – such as new inner tubes – which spokes crossed would not be needed, as well as a a few non-cycling clothes for evening relaxation!

Along with Team Siggy, my dynamic crew then had a short pedal along the seafront at Oban just to check all was in order with the tandems. It was, but with the four panniers my frame has never been heavier.  Let’s just say some of the hills are going to be interesting!

The Nutty Tandemers Club crews eagerly awaiting embarking the Barra ferry!

After a coffee, and picking up some fresh seafood, it was time to head to the Caledonian Macbrayne Oban Ferry Terminal – the departure point for the ferry to Barra. There is just one crossing a day to Castlebay from Oban – departing at 1.30pm. The “old git” had done his usual meticulous research and discovered that there was a Hopscotch 8 ticket created by CalMac, specifically tailored for tourists doing the Hebridean Way end-to-end. And it is great value at £31.75 per passenger – with tandems (and bikes) travelling free!

Excitement was building as we queued to be allowed to embark on the ferry, which reached fever pitch as we finally boarded the MV Isle of Lewis through via the car ramp. And it was amazingly busy with bikes, with at least 100 cyclists heading over to Barra to start their own adventure – proving the success of the marketing of the Hebridean Way route as a “must do” route.

I presume the sign was also meant for tandemers as well as cyclists?!

I was securely tied to the some railings with rope, just beside Siggy, as the deck hands were warning the crossing could be a bit lively given the wind conditions. The ferry departed on time and headed out of Oban, offering a very scenic route as it passed thru the channel between the mainland and Mull. After we left the mainland behind, at Ardnamurchan Point, and headed out into the Atlantic Ocean, the waves increased and the crossing became a bit rockier. I know the “old git” and Jane certainly benefited from their anti sea sickness tablets and wrist bands! Meanwhile the “old gal” and John seemed fine on their sea legs!

The “old git” couldn’t resist clowning around showing the lively conditions on deck!

The “old gal” wisely held on to the railings as we passed Ardnamurchan Point.

As conditions calmed again the crews were treated to a few brief glimpses of porpoises swimming along beside the ferry. The crossing itself passed fairly quickly – with a decadent mid afternoon glass of prosecco helping the journey along. From about 90 minutes before arrival the chain of islands which make up the Outer Hebrides was evident and offered an amazing vista the closer we got! The view also offered our first glimpses of some of the hills – make that mountains – the tandem crews were going to have to negotiate! The “old gal” turned a bit pale at this point!

The arrival into the port of Castlebay offers one of the most spectacular views from a ferry in Scotland passing almost within touching distance of Kisimul Castle – the seat of the chief of Clan Macneil – which is perched on a rocky islet in the bay.

My dynamic crew enjoying the views of Kisimul Castle on arrival at Castlebay, Barra.

Right on schedule the ferry berthed at Castlebay, which is the village capital of Barra and as both crews emerged from the car ramp it was immediately apparent why it is known for its beautiful setting, relaxed atmosphere and friendly residents. It is actually quite an incongruous sight to see such a large ferry arrive at such a rural location and disgorge its cargo of passengers and vehicles on to the island.

We quickly found our stop for the night – the ultra relaxed Dunard Hostel – a small family-run hostel which offered basic but comfortable great value accommodation. It was easy to see why it is a favourite spot for bike crews to stay before they embark on their HebWay journey the next day.

After self checking-in (noone actually checked who we were!) me and Siggy were parked under a shelter out the wind at the back of the hostel. The crews then headed for a meal to a tiny restaurant which had been highly recommended to the “old git” – and Café Kisimul certainly did not disappoint. It is a friendly family run licensed restaurant which specialises in Indian and Italian cuisine and local seafood … all with an Outer Hebrides twist! The hand-dived scallop pakora was just fantastic and the whole meal was a culinary delight, with the menu offering several vegetarian options. It is no surprise that booking ahead is essential, and it offered the ideal start to the Nutty Tandemers time on Barra.

The “old git” and “old gal” after enjoying a meal at Cafe Kisimul in Castlebay.

#HebWay Day 1 – And they’re off! – Vatersay to Daliburgh

Morning broke after a restful nights sleep at Dunard Hostel with some ominous clouds and heavy rain showers around, along with some serious wind. But both crews making up the Nutty Tandemers Club were in great spirits at finally getting to do some pedalling after all the travelling, and getting to grips with their Hebridean Way Challenge.

So buoyed up they were to get moving that there was an almost immediate schoolboy error of setting off without any breakfast! And as any cyclist knows trying to cycle on empty is not a great idea! To be honest it wasn’t really anybody’s fault. There was no breakfast available to buy at the hostel, and the cafe recommended for breakfast as we left Castlebay was unexpectedly closed for a few days.

The “old git” and “old gal” leaving Dunard Hostel in Castlebay after an ovenight stay.

Ready for rain – but what a backdrop! The two tandems ready to leave Castlebay.

So fully kitted out in gear that would not have been out of place in winter, both Team Matilda and Team Siggy headed to the official start point of Sustrans Scotland NCN Rt 780 at Vatersay. Almost immediately on leaving Castlebay we hit the first steep climb of the tour – and right on cue a nasty squall hit us. Both crews were seriously hoping that this incongruous start over the first few miles was not going to set the pattern for the rest of the 185 miles – both in terms of climbs and the weather!

Fortunately almost as quick as the heavy rain arrived, the storm clouds blew away, and by the time we arrived on Vatersay the sun was shining. The crews easily located the sign marking the official start of the Hebridean Way – an iron plinth in the grassy dunes between two glorious beaches. Not sure how you could come all this way to do this route and actually miss it, but the “old git” has been reliably told that some people actually didn’t find it and amazingly set off without the obligatory “start” photos!

The official Team Matilda and Team Siggy photo at the sign marking the start of the HebWay.

The “old git” and the “old gal” looking cheery at the start of our Outer Hebrides adventure!

Leaving without a photo (or ten!) would obviously have been a major faus pax for this tandeming blog – bigger even than setting off without breakfast! – but the “old git” ensured that embarrassment didn’t happen and the bright sunshine added to the magnificent backdrop for the photo shoot. My dynamic crew even managed to record their thoughts at the start of our HebWay adventure on this video:

Sadly the Vatersay Cafe, part of the community centre, did not open till a good hour away at 11am, so there was no option but to start the Hebridean way proper on an empty tank! Hopefully we would not bonk – the cycling definition of hitting the wall thru a lack of energy – within the first hour of the ride! As funny as it sounds, the cycling bonking is not a good feeling – especially with a heavily laden tandem like me!

Fortunately the “old git” had researched where the Co-ops were situated along the route – which was to become a running joke of the tour but the stores offered some very necessary opportunities to top up with supplies – and knew that on our return to Barra the Co-op at Castlebay would offer something for breakfast … and stop the “old gal’s” stomach from grumbling!

Our actual route for day 1 of the Nutty Tandmers Club HebWay Challenge was combined with day 2 on Strava due to a problem with a mobile phone battery. But you can still check out the details of our route by clicking on the Strava map below (just remember we stopped overnight at Daliburgh!)

So we were officially underway and Vatersay was island number 1 of the 10 we would cover on the HebWay. Soon we were crossing the first (of six) causeways which took us on to island 2 of Barra and a rather cheeky 11% hill climb before that much anticipated food stop at Caslebay. My dynamic crew decided that as a precautionary measure they would push up the short distance of this first big hill – given the “old gal’s” asthma and not wanting to create any unnecessary problems so early in our trip.

The sun broke thru to give a spectacular view of the turquoise sea and beach at Vatersay.

Team Matilda getting acclimatised to the wind on the steep climb out of Vatersay!

The rain stayed off and me and Siggy soon rolled in to the Co-op at Castlebay – after just 5 miles of the route! – where much needed breakfast pastries and smoothies were quickly consumed by my dynamic crew providing some much needed nourishment – and a great place to buy picnic supplies.

Before leaving Castlebay there was an important visit to make – to the Isle of Barra Distillers, which makes the Barra Atlantic Gin. The main botanical in its unique island mix is carrageen seaweed, which is collected from the island’s coastline. The tandem crew saw the seaweed being dried before being offered a tasting – I mean it would have been rude  not to!

The new Barra Gin Distillery offered an interesting stop (and tasting!) back at Castlebay.

The company has now started producing the gin on the island itself and has announced that the first batch of the first ever distilled spirit on Barra will have a limited number of 1,174 of bottles – marking the island’s population on the last census back in 2011. The “old gal” ordered one of the individually numbered bottles which would be delivered to our home base offering a unique memory of our trip.

Refreshed in more ways than one the two tandem crews headed off on the route which took us up the scenic west coast of Barra hugging the Atlantic coast, before heading inland to cross to the east side – all the time enjoying the benefits of a mostly favourable southerly wind.

Me and the “old gal” at an unusual warning sign on the approach to Barra Airport.

We took a short detour to see the wonderful Traigh Mhor beach – which doubles as the runway for Barra Airport, which offers the world’s only scheduled beach landing.

On arrival at the airport we enjoyed a coffee in the tiny departures and arrivals hall before the Nutty Tandemers had the first of their signature prosecco picnics in the sun, but blasted by the wind, on a picnic bench in the sand dunes.

Just after lunch excitement reached fever pitch as around 100 spectators took up position to watch the arrival of the Twin Otter Loganair flight from Glasgow land and taxi in across the sand.

It was great to watch the Twin Otter flight from Glasgow land on the beautiful beach.

It really was quite spectacular to watch – and the “old gal” said it was actually one of those moments that she was glad to have witnessed in person, rather than just on video or tv. Once the twin propellers on the aircraft had stopped the ground crew headed out on to the runway on the beach – complete with a wheelbarrow to collect the baggage!

The “old gal” enjoying the views at the airport which boasts the world’s only scheduled beach landing

Me at the rather basic baggage reclaim at Barra Airport – complete with sand!

There was a quick turnaround and after watching the flight depart from a magnificent viewpoint just above the beach, we pedalled back to join the official HebWay route again and the short trip to the Ardmhor ferry terminal for the ferry to Eriskay – the first of the two inter island CalMac routes. Look out at the ferry terminal for an attractive sculpture of two otters chasing a salmon.

Me and the “old git” at the Otter statue at Ardmor ferry terminal for the crossing to Eriskay.

The short scenic 40 minute crossing saw the Nutty Tandemers arrive on Eriskay – island number 3 – and immediately face a long hill to climb away from the harbour passing above “Prince Charlie’s beach“. This is where Charles Edward Stuart, Bonnie Prince Charlie, first set foot on Scottish soil in 1745 at the start of his ill-fated campaign.

The Am Politician bar, of Whisky Galore fame, on the island of Eriskay

A short diversion took us to the Am Politician bar  which is named after the SS Politician which ran aground in 1941 in the Sound of Eriskay spilling its cargo of whisky onto the island’s shores. Eriskay is the original Whisky Galore! island made famous by the book and film.

The tandem crews were lucky enough to be shown some fascinating artifacts from the SS Politician by the friendly barmaid, as we enjoyed a welcome refreshment. This included one of the original whisky bottles still containing its original whisky, an other original bottle, plus a machete type weapon, and a heavy flare gun from the doomed ship.

Original whisky bottles and artifacts from the SS Politician are on display in the pub.

It was at this point we had our first (and fortunately only) mechanical of the Hebridean Way Challenge when John discovered that Siggy’s brakes were in a pretty bad condition. There had been a ghastly noise on the descent of the last hill and a closer inspection showed that effectively the brakes needed replacing. Annoyingly none of us had thought to bring spare brake blocks with us – schoolboy error number 2! But in a spark of ingenuity John quickly swapped the front blocks with the rear, allowing the journey to continue given that we were on fairly flat ground and that Siggy was equipped with a drag break.

The final 10 miles or so pedalling firstly took us across the mile long causeway – causeway number 2 – which took us on to island 4 of South Uist. It was here we saw the first of what would be regular sights at the causeways – signs warning drivers to take care of potential otters crossing.

Our first sighting of several signs warning of otters crossing – at the Eriskay causeway.

On we pedalled, with the route taking us off the busy B888 road and onto gently undulating minor roads giving fabulous tandeming and an interesting view of some real crofting land at South Boisdale. The crews were a bit battered by the wind and happy to spot Invercanny Bed and Breakfast just a few hundred yards outside Daliburgh – where we received a hugely warm and friendly welcome from hosts Eddie and Audrey Woods.

Time for a quick shower and change into non cycling clothes, then a walk to the nearby Borrodale Hotel for a hearty and tasty re-fuelling meal, with my dynamic crew sampling the local delicacy of Barra scampi. A nightcap of a Barra gin was a fitting way to bring an end to the first day’s activities. Not surprisingly sleep was not hard to find!

At the end of the day the “old git” was somewhat devastated to find that a phone battery power failure resulted in a Strava operating error. You know that cyclists’ view that if it is not on Strava it doesn’t exist! After appearing that the ride was “lost”, Strava suddenly sprung into life on day 2 and decided to combine the actual route and data for first two days of the Nutty Tandemers Club Challenge together! However, that meant the clock kept ticking while we were in the bed and breakfast – so thus recorded the ride with a crazy long time of over 22 hours and ludicrous low average speed (even for Team Matilda!) of just 3.7mph!

But my faithful on-board milometer recorded that on day 1 Team Matilda tandemed a distance of 33.7 miles with a moving time of 3 hours and 18 minutes, giving an average speed of 10.1 mph.

#HebWay Day 2 – Tandeming on the very edge! – Daliburgh to Sollas 

The schedule for day 2 saw our longest mileage to be covered, tandeming onto 3 more islands by crossing 3 more causeways on the Hebridean Way, on the very edge of Scotland, and indeed Europe.

Both crews were raring to go after recharging their batteries with a great sleep in comfortable rooms and a hearty breakfast provided by Eddie and Audrey at Invercanny Bed and Breakfast. Indeed our hosts were so hospitable and interested in our challenge that they reassured the tandem crews that if anything went wrong we were to phone and they would come and rescue us. Now that is service!

Team Siggy and Team Matilda ready to roll from the hospitable Invercanny b+b at Daliburgh.

Our actual route for day 2 of the Nutty Tandemers Club Challenge was actually combined with day 1 on Strava due to that problem with a mobile phone battery. But you can still check out the details of our route by clicking on the Strava map below (just remember we started day 2 from Daliburgh!)

As we headed off the “old gal” – who has rather good hearing! – heard a bit of a squeak coming form one of my wheels and was worried that I had pinged a spoke. But closer examination discovered it was actually the magnet on my speedometer rubbing on the receiver part and just required a tiny adjustment – much to everyone’s relief!

The first stop was a cairn marking the birthplace of Flora Macdonald, the famous island heroine who helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape “over the sea” to Skye back in 1746. This marked the first of several British Cycle Quest (BCQ) clues which John and Jane were collecting along the way.

The cairn marking Flora Macdonald’s birthplace erected by Clan Donald to commemorate her life.

At Bornish the NCN Rt 780 turns off the main road again thru crofting lands. This was spectacular tandeming on flat terrain, helped by a brisk southerly breeze. As the sun emerged from behind the clouds we pedalled on a scenic stretch with a sea wall on one side and the renowned machair on the other. Machair is a Gaelic word meaning fertile low lying grassy plain. Here sand, largely made up of crushed shells, is regularly blown ashore by Atlantic gales. Over time the calcium rich shell sand and traditional crofting land practices have led to the development of a mosaic of fertile Scottish grassland habitats renowned for its Outer Hebrides wildflowers, Western Isles birds and insect life.

The spectacular machair near Howmore beach.       Pic credit: Visit Outer Hebrides.

The sea wall at Howmore created some amusement as the crews tried to climb up for a view!

Thanks to both the official HebWay Cycling Route Map and the fabulously detailed guidebook ‘Cycling the Hebridean Way’ by The Offcomers the tandem crews had earmarked a stop at a bicycle hire and repair shop where John hoped to buy new brake blocks to solve the mechanical on Siggy which became apparent on Eriskay yesterday.

Fortunately we found Rothan Bikes at Howmore – which was a traditional South Uist house with a small sign on the hedge and lots of rusty old bikes in a heap along with some “newer” and more ride-able ones! John knocked on the door and Tommy and his sheepdog appeared! After a rummage about Tommy returned with a box  of brake blocks – some which appeared to date back more than a few years. But he had something suitable and John selected 4 as spares and we were on our way again.

John and Siggy picking up new brake pads at Rothan Bikes at Howmore on South Uist.

With new brake blocks for Siggy, we pedalled on cutting inland for a bit thru the Loch Druidibeg National Nature Reserve. Then it was time to cross the causeway – causeway number 3 on the HebWay – which took us on to island 5 of Benbecula. Despite another of the Otters Crossing signs there were sadly no sightings of the otters themselves!

The “old gal” at another Otters Crossing sign at the causeway to Benbecula – but still no sightings!

After a stop to restock on vital picnic supplies at the Co-op, the crews had a detour to Griminis to visit the Benbecula War Memorial – providing another BCQ clue for John and Jane – which is proudly positioned overlooking the whole island.

The Benbecula War memorial looks over the whole island.

We headed back to the coast and almost immediately found a sheltered area of sand dune where the tandem crews set up their prosecco picnic. Just as the cork was popped the only rain of the day fell with a short but sharp shower, which passed as quickly as it arrived – meaning that thankfully the fizz didn’t get too watered down, although the French baguette did get a bit soggy! The views across the beach provided a magnificent backdrop for a picnic with lots of suitable nuttiness!

This seemed the ideal place for me to park as I am clearly not a lorry!

John and Jane – Team Siggy – looking out onto the beach on Benbecula.

And a shot of my dynamic crew – the “old git” and “old gal”!

Re-fuelled Team Matilda and Team Siggy set off again – but with the crews feeling the call of nature a short diversion was taken into Benbecula Airport. Such was the rush to enter the terminal building to use the facilities, I am not sure how the sight of 4 crash-helmeted, reflective sun glasses-clad, hi-vis jacket-wearing adults didn’t set off an anti-terrorist alarm or a major security alert at the airport – but happily such a scenario was avoided!

Another causeway – number 4 – saw us tandem onto Grimsay – island 6 – albeit very briefly. Just four miles long and two miles wide and surrounded by clear shallow waters and shifting white sands, Grimsay was connected to neighbouring Benbecula in 1960 with the opening of the causeway. But it more than makes up for its tiny size with its huge spectacular scenery. And with the sun shining brightly, the causeway offered the perfect opportunity for a few fun sunny photos!

The causeway linking Benbecula with Grimsay is one of the longest on the HebWay.

Despite Grimsay being small it makes up for its size with spectacular views.

Here I am having a breather taking in the views on the Grimsay causeway.

My dynamic crew really enjoyed the views – and flat surface – on the causeway.

No sooner had we tandemed on to Grimsay we seemed to head off it again as we skirted the north west corner of the island. Another causeway – number 5 on the our HebWay adventure – curved across some small islets to take us to island number 7, North Uist.

The Hebridean Way takes the west coast route on North Uist. At Caranish we stopped to take in the atmospheric sight of Trinity Temple and a field at the roadside known  as “Field of Blood” which is reputed to be the site of the Battle of Caranish – a famous clan battle back in 1601.

After finding another BCQ clue at Caranish Church of Scotland at Clachan, the wonderful tailwind made the tandeming easy despite the heavy load on my frame and the undulating terrain. There was a quick stop at The Hebridean Smokehouse at Clachan where my dynamic crew tasted some of their wonderful peat smoked salmon before making a purchase for the next day’s picnic. Seems there was a spare few inches of room in my panniers after all!

The tandeming here was really spectacular on a nice smooth road surface in bright warm(ish!) sunshine – with rugged moorland and lochans on the right and the sea, sandy beaches and some small islands to the left. The crews were ready for an afternoon cake and coffee stop and the Claddach Kirkibost Cafe at the unique community run centre provided the perfect venue. The “old git” decided it was warm enough for a rare HebWay tour t-shirt picture and we got one of the staff to volunteer to be team photographer in the centre’s garden again the magnificent backdrop of the sea.

The Nutty Tandemers Club taking advantage of the sunshine for a rare HebWay tour t-shirt shot!

A few miles further we passed a sign for our destination for the night of Sollas, just before Bayhead. So after consultation with two different locals we decided to turn inland rather than hug the coast for the last few miles. And the tandem crews were glad we did as the so-called Committee Road – built in the 1840s to provide famine relief work – cut across the top of North Uist. There was a bit of a climb but the reward was a great downhill with views direct onto the fabulous beach at Traigh Bhalaigh.

Sollas is a small crofting community – which rather bizarrely hosts a Co-op which is quite literally in the middle of nowhere! But both tandem crews decided that a nice bottle of wine was required after today’s mileage and the “old gal” was utterly amazed to pick up a bottle of one of her favourite wines – Oyster Bay – which was on special offer!

My dynamic crew spotted a revamped traditional Hebridean Blackhouse – still with its thatched roof – which provided the last photo opportunity of the day. With over 50 miles on the clock the tandem crews were happy to spot Struan House bed and breakfast which has got to have one of the best outlooks for a b+b – overlooking the magnificent turquoise waters and silver sands of Vallay Strand.

A traditional Hebridean Blackhouse – with thatched roof – at Sollas on North Uist.

This was Hebridean hospitality at its best! When we arrived Peggy, our hostess, was not home, but the door was open and there was a cheery welcoming note telling us which rooms to use and to make ourselves at home! Because of the remoteness of Sollas, we had taken up the offer of an evening meal at the b+b. Peggy excelled herself presenting a magnificent and tasty 3-course dinner – including a fabulous fresh sea food salad starter which could have been the main course – all eaten in front of a large picture window looking out at the stunning beach landscape. And the “old gal’s” Oyster Bay was a fitting accompaniment for such a feast!

Dinner with a view! The stunning landscape from the dining table at Struan House.

You will remember that it was at the end of the day 1 the “old git” was somewhat devastated to find that a phone battery power failure resulted in a Strava operating error. After appearing that the ride was “lost”, Strava suddenly sprung into life on day 2 and decided to combine the actual route and data for first two days of the Nutty Tandemers Club Challenge together! However, that meant the clock kept ticking overnight at our bed and breakfast stop – so thus recorded the ride with a crazy long time of over 22 hours and ludicrous low average speed (even for Team Matilda!) of just 3.7mph!

But my faithful on-board milometer recorded that on day 2 the Nutty Tandemers Club tandemed 54.2 miles with a moving time of 4 hours and 24 minutes, giving an average speed of 12.3 mph.

#HebWay Day 3 – Gin and bear it! – Sollas to Tarbert

The Nutty Tandemers Club Hebridean Way itinerary for day 3 was a 40 mile pedal on NCN Rt 780 from Sollas to Tarbert – taking in the immense and dramatically beautiful beaches on Harris before a climb over to Tarbert … but with the reward of a locally produced gin to finish if we were on schedule!

As both crews wakened in their ultra comfortable rooms – having enjoyed the superb Hebridean hospitality on offer at Struan House bed and breakfast – heavy rain was battering the windows.  Showered and wearing freshly laundered cycling kit – another service provided by our hostess Peggy who could not do enough for the tandem crews offering her true ‘home from home’ experience – the hearty breakfast was eaten looking out at the rain lashing down. The view from the huge picture window across the Vallay Strand beach was still nothing short of spectacular and and right on cue a massive rainbow appeared which the “old gal” managed to capture on a photo.

The spectacular rainbow over the beach during our hearty breakfast at Sollas.

After kitting up all the panniers to both tandems – me and Siggy – and bidding fond farewell to a brilliant hostess in Peggy – the crews pedalled off into the rain. You can check out the details of our HebWay Day 3 route by clicking on the Strava map below.

Fortunately the rain stopped within a couple of minutes of pedalling off and the wind soon blew the crew’s jackets dry! Blue sky was starting to appear as we all tandemed over our last causeway, number six on the HebWay, to Berneray – island number 8.

Here my dynamic crew had an invite to call in to Coralbox Gift Shop on Berneray to meet Eilidh Carr, the owner of the tiny gift shop on Berneray who has been named one of Scotland’s best new tourism entrepreneurs. Eilidh had found my blog, and also been following my Facebook and Twitter feed, and suggested that the “old git” and “old gal” make a quick pit stop before catching the next ferry.

Eilidh Carr, entrepreneurial owner of Coralbox on Berneray with me and the “old gal”.

It was great to meet Eilidh – who is a real breath of fresh air in Scottish tourism. The small shop stocks an amazingly wide range of nautical and island themed gifts, and also has an on-line store. Most impressively Eilidh had done her homework and clearly been reading my blogs and knew a big part of tandeming for my dynamic crew was their love of a prosecco picnic! So Eilidh very kindly presented Team Matilda with a bottle of prosecco – which she said should be consumed overlooking one of the magnificent beaches en route! Ok if you insist!

Spot the bottle of fizz on my frame which Eilidh kindly gave my dynamic crew for a prosecco picnic!

We easily found the Berneray ferry terminal for the ferry to Leverburgh on Harris – the second of the two inter island CalMac routes. This was a scenic hour long sailing which offered a constantly changing seascape vista as the ferry weaved between low islands across the sound of Harris before arriving at Leverburgh on Harris, island number 9 on the HebWay. It was great to see the ferry so busy with other cyclists and the “old gal” and “old git” took the opportunity to compare notes and exchange stories!

Fame! My dynamic crew had their photo taken for the Rather be Cycling travel firm’s Facebook page!

While enjoying the view the “old gal” was accosted by a friendly cyclist who said: “Team Matilda – you are the guys with the tandem blog aren’t you. I just love it! It is brilliant!” Fame had obviously followed me to the Outer Hebrides! Turns out the person who was a big fan of my blog was Gav McDonald who is a professional bike guide who has led adventure biking trips all over the globe and runs his cycling holiday and events company called Rather be Cycling. Gav and his partner Chez were leading an organised tour along the Hebridean Way and took a photo of my dynamic crew to post on their firm’s Facebook page with a link recommending my blog! Thanks Gav!

A Hebridean Way sign marks the route at Leverburgh ferry port on Harris.

At Leverburgh we made a detour off the official route for John and Jane to claim another British Cycle Quest (BCQ) clue – this one focusing on the restored medieval St Clement’s Church at Rodel. We retraced our pedals to Leverburgh and had a coffee at the wonderfully named The Butty Bus – an old bus enterprisingly converted into a cafe and fish and chip shop – just beside ferry pier.

The “old gal” getting morning coffee from the wonderful Butty Bus at Leverburgh.

The tandems crews set off from Leverburgh with both the sun and the mostly helpful south westerly wind at their backs. It was a still a bit chilly however in the strong breeze which necessitated the wearing of jackets. The “old git” had diligently done his research here and discovered that a few miles further on, near the community of Northton, there were a couple of ‘must visit’ honesty shops.

The first was the Mustheb Shack – a small blue shed by the roadside with a selection of homemade mustards made by the Hebridean Mustard Company Purchases were made by both crews – including an unusual liquorice mustard – with the money deposited in an honesty box. Brilliant system!

Team Matilda at the fabulous Mustheb Shack which operates on an honesty system.

The second honesty shop stop was at the highly recommended Croft 36 – which is a slightly bigger shack where a pie/bakery business is based specialising in sustainably caught produce from the Hebrides including seafood, venison and mutton. There is also a culinary delight of a selection of Patisserie style baking on offer – including bread, tarts, quiche and cakes, with some gluten-free or vegetarian. We arrived just after the lunchtime “rush” and much of the stock was denuded and needing restocked – but the crews still found a few goodies for their picnic.

Croft 36 offered a culinary delight of home made goodies – and another honesty shop.

As we headed towards Borve the crews got their first sight of the fabulously breathtaking beautiful beaches of West Harris, and the views out to Taransay and the Atlantic ocean. Each headland brought a new ‘wow factor’ as the stunning blue sea and the white empty beaches came into view, with the contrast of the desolate North Harris hills in the distance beyond.

The “old git” taking in the views on the amazingly beautiful beach stretch of the HebWay at Scarista.

The crews passed the incredibly scenic Sacrista Golf Course, home to the Isle of Harris Golf Club which rightly claims to be “one of the most picturesque 9-hole courses in the world” It is bordered on one side by the Sound of Taransay, leading onto the Atlantic Ocean, and all down the west side of the course stretch the white sands, typical of this part of the Hebrides.

The Isle of Harris Golf Club hosts one of the most picturesque courses in the world.

Around Borve the crews found a picture perfect spot for their signature prosecco picnic – their third in three days! – with a picnic bench just out of the main force of the wind and overlooking the stunning views toward the beaches. Not surprisingly the Nutty Tandemers caused a bit of a stir popping the prosecco cork and a couple who had arrived by car were suitably impressed by the organised set up that they had a chat and took photos for us!

Stops for our signature Nutty Tandemers Club prosecco picnic don’t come any better than this!

The Nutty Tandemers picture perfect picnic spot towards Horgabost and Seilebost beaches.

Picnic over – and refreshed with the food and fizz (thanks again to Eilidh at Coralbox!) – the tandem crews pedalled off to enjoy more sensational views as they passed the world renowned beaches of Horgabost and Seilebost. The Nutty Tandemers were in agreement that this was one of the most stunning stretches of a route that they had ever had the pleasure of tandeming along. Words hardly do it justice – but it was an unforgettable experience to be immersed in such Caribbean-like scenery as we cycled along a route which quite literally was “on the edge” of Scotland.

The turquoise blue sea and white sandy beach at Seilebost was truly Caribbean-like.

The last of the ‘big three’ beaches is Luskentyre and although it had clouded over at our viewpoint it was easy to see how it earns its reputation for being ‘a little slice of heaven‘. Sadly the crews had to leave the beguiling beach vistas behind as the route headed east and inland and it was back to the reality of grinding out a 500 feet hill pass – with the climbing helped (a little!) by a great new road surface.

The “old gal” looking towards the famous Luskentyre Beach, before the climb over to Tarbert.

At the top of the climb beside one of several picturesque lochans Jane decided this was a suitable venue for what has become a tradition of the Nutty Tandemers Club tours – a recreation of the Three Wise Monkeys ‘see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’ scene, which has made an appearance on our personalised calendars featuring the best images of our annual tours! This year John opted to be the photographer and it therefore featured Jane and the “old git” and “old gal”!

The annual Nutty Tandemrs see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil photo!

Nuttiness suitably completed – not sure what the passing cars thought about this rather strange scene?! – the crews pedalled on tandeming across a desolate rocky moonscape before a rapid and somewhat thrilling descent to the east coast ferry port town of Tarbert, our destination for tonight.

The “old gal” thought she had reached heaven – arriving at the Isle of Harris Gin distillery!

Before our hotel there was the scheduled flying visit to the Isle of Harris Distillery which is home of the famous Isle of Harris Gin known for its unique beautiful blue glass bottle which represents the “seas of Luskentyre with a gentle azure rising from its depths.”

The building was still open but the cafe was showing a closed sign to allow for clearing up. The “old git” put on his best pleading voice and explained that we just wanted to sample a gin – no food required! – as the crews had just tandemed 40 miles specifically to get to the distillery! A little poetic licence there, but his strategy worked! A supervisor appeared and warmly welcomed us in to the now empty cafe and quickly produced a round of stylish and very appetising gin martinis to allow the Nutty Tandemers to celebrate one of the best days tandeming ever!

Cheers! the fabulous gin martinis – shaken not stirred – went down a treat!

After (quickly!) finishing the drinks, the building had suddenly become noticeably very quiet – but there was time for the “old gal” to purchase a bottle of gin to be sent back to Matildas Rest by post. A final look around the gift shop, and a loo stop, before the crews tried to get out of the building … only to find they were locked in! Yes they were officially locked in a distillery! I mean if the “old gal” had to be locked in any distillery – then this was the one! But just as she was thinking she had arrived in heaven a member of staff arrived to let us out! Drat!

With the gin martinis clearly having gone straight to the heads of the tandem crews, it was good that our base of the Harris Hotel was just a few yards away! But first Jane and the “old gal” burst into a fit of the giggles when they spotted what they thought was a rather amusing road sign which asked them to “indicate their intention” – so naturally they obliged and took up a suitably nutty pose!

Which way shall we go? Jane and the “old gal” indicate their intention! (fuelled by martini gins!)

At the hotel there was a super spacious bike shed for us tandems, and I am reliably informed that the rooms offered the crews a luxurious sanctuary for some well earned relaxation. Later, a very tasty meal was eaten in the hotel’s restaurant as the crew looked out at the heavy rain – thankful that they were warm and dry. Finally there was the need to sample from the bar’s huge selection of gin and whisky for a nightcap to toast what had been a truly fabulous day on our HebWay tour.

The “old git” was delighted to report that Strava had worked normally on day 3 and recorded the ride showing that my dynamic crew tandemed a distance of 40.19 miles with a moving time of 3 hours and 58 minutes. The average speed was a healthy 10.1 mph given the terrain and weight being carried in my panniers and an overall elevation of 2126 feet. The maximum speed was 36.2 mph and Team Matilda managed to burn up 2552 calories and produce an average power output of 160 W.

As always the route and pictures are brought to life in our Relive 3D video – so take a look below.

#HebWay Day 4 – Tandeming to a standstill! Tarbert to Callanish Standing Stones

The schedule for day 4 – the longest day of the year – saw the tandem crews face the daunting challenge of tandeming up and over the massive North Harris hills before crossing into Lewis and heading east for a Summer Solstice visit to the evocative Callanish Standing Stones.

And it was also set to be a record breaking day as both Team Matilda and Team Siggy were scheduled to hit significant cycling mileage landmarks.

The “old gal” woke after a great night’s stay at the Harris Hotel with an air of foreboding about the hills ahead due to her asthma – which was not helped by hotel staff saying we better have double breakfasts when they found out the direction we were tandeming!

The “old gal” had an air of foreboding about the hills ahead as she left the Harris Hotel.

Today’s route started with a quick tandem round Tarbert’s one way system – required by the ferry traffic – in order to re-stock on picnic provisions. This is actually where the “old git’s” planning came a bit unstuck in spectacular style. He had meticulously researched where all the Co-ops were situated along the way and confidently asked at hotel reception where to find the Co-op in Tarbert – only to be met with a somewhat bewildered look! Turns out that he had confused Tarbert in KIntyre (which does have a Co-op) with Tarbert on Harris (which doesn’t have a Co-op) and thus found himself some 240 miles away from said Co-op much to his embarrassment! Naturally this was the focus for some serious ribbing from the other Nutty Tandemers!

Fortunately there was a local grocery store where the crews could stock up before heading into the hills! You can check out the details of our HebWay Day 4 route by clicking on the Strava map below.

Tandeming away from Tarbert along the north shore of West Loch Tarbert – looking out at the unbelievably blue ocean – was a joy with a gradual climb and some gentle undulations bringing us to the hamlet of Ardhasaig where Team Siggy screeched to a halt when Jane noticed a sign for a licensed grocers. The Nutty Tandemers were still missing the key ingredient for their prosecco picnic. But it was still only 09.57 and Scottish licensing laws mean no alcohol can be sold prior to 10 am. So Jane entered the shop and placed a bottle of prosecco on the counter at exactly 10.00 am much to the amusement of the shopkeeper!

Then the serious climbing began as we had to cross the North Harris Hills. The steepest section is actually quite near the bottom and there is no shame for Team Matilda to report that this was a part of the route where they “took me for a walk!”

The “old gal” at the start of the steep climb out of Tarbert into the North Harris hills.

This process involves the “old git” strenuously pushing me up hill – with the “old gal” walking about 20 yards behind! To most passing drivers it probably looks like my dynamic crew have had a major fall out – but nothing could be further from the truth. It is the only way Team Matilda can conquer the steep hills … and it was only for about a mile.

The “old git” taking the opportunity to refill his water bottle from natural resources!

The Hebridean Way climbs rapidly to the pass between Sgaoth Aird (1833 feet) and Clisham (2621 feet) which the guide books rightly describe as “true mountain country!” It is also bang in the middle of the islands’ Bird of Prey Trail in Golden Eagle Territory. Don’t think the crews spotted any Golden eagles but there were a few big birds around – one of which could have been a Sea Eagle given its large wingspan.

The crews hit the first peak at over 650 feet – then had a pleasant downhill pedal and a flat stretch – before knowing a second peak back up to 650 feet awaited as we passed Clisham – which officially qualifies as a Corbett as being between 2,500 and 3000 feet. Despite the dramatic scenery, Clisham will forever have an expletive adjective in front of it when it is referred to by the “old gal!”

Between the two peaks – in almost surreal circumstances – I am delighted to report that my dynamic crew officially clocked up their 4000th tandem mile together. Jane was on hand to record the significant landmark moment when my Matildas milometer hit the 4000 mile mark on this video; and take some photos of the “old gal” and “old git” as they celebrated their achievement.

The “old gal” sporting a big smile at the achievement of clocking up that 4000th tandem mile! …

… and the “old git” looked somewhat satisfied and pleased with himself too!

… and a smiling thumbs up from my dynamic crew after hitting the 4000 mile landmark!

Buoyed by the irony of a tandem team who “don’t do hills” hitting the 4000 mile mark on one of the highest hills they have been up, the crews slowly reached the top of the second peak – with the “old git” happily pointing out the small wooden bridge on the right which marks the top!

Now after any climb there is usually the elation of freewheeling at speed down the other side! But not today! The wind was blowing at over 20 mph and directly into the faces of the crews. So for the first time ever my dynamic crew found that they had to actually pedal downhill to make any serious progress. A quick stop allowed the “old gal” a triumphant shot looking backwards at those (expletive adjective!) hills the tandem crews had just conquered!

Looking back at the North Harris Hills – aptly described as “true mountain country”!

After battling downhill – and yes the word battling is not usually linked with the word downhill – there was a welcome stop at the Taste n’ Sea food caravan which not only offered a welcome coffee but also incredible panoramic views across Loch Seaforth. This was just one of the many brilliant tips the tandem crews enjoyed from the fabulously detailed guidebook ‘Cycling the Hebridean Way’ by The Offcomers – so naturally the “old git” had to pay homage to the book with a photo.

Jane and the “old gal” enjoying the views over Loch Seaforth at Taste n’ Sea.

The Offcomers book – The Guide to Cycling the Hebridean Way – was invaluable.

After the stop at Taste and Sea we immediately crossed a river from Harris onto the Isle of Lewis – island number 10 and the final island on our Hebridean Way adventure. Quite why Lewis is deemed to be a separate island – as it is simply the northernmost part of the largest island on the Outer Hebrides – remains a mystery shrouded in history. Some say the distinction between the two dates back to a split in the MacLeod clan which dominated the Western Isles for centuries. But if it is officially island number 10 on the HebWay, then that is good enough for the Nutty Tandemers!

My dynamic crew about to enter “island” number 10 on the HebWay – the Isle of Lewis.

As we tandemed on the “old gal” was almost delirious that the big North Harris Hills were now behind us and fast fading into the distance as we pedalled along. Although it wasn’t as bad as expected for my dynamic crew, she was still muttering under her breath the words “never again”!

The “old gal” is almost delirious that the big North Harris Hills were now behind us!

As the miles rolled on – with the wind now happily behind us – the tandem crews ticked off a couple of monuments along the route. The first was the Charles Edward Stuart Monument near Arivruaich – where history says Bonnie Prince Charlie landed while on the run just 18 days after the disastrous Battle of Culloden – whilst heading from Scalpay to Arnish near Stornoway.

The Bonnie Prince Charlie Monument at a viewpoint near Arivruaich on Lewis.

The second was the intriguing looking Pairc Raiders Monument south of Balallan. The cairn, built in 1994, is dedicated to the memory of the people of Lochs who laid claim to the dispossessed land of their forebears and challenged the authority of the State to spotlight the poverty and injustice they suffered under the oppression of heartless landlords. The unusual style of monument offered a perfect spot for a photo opportunity for the tandem crews.

The Nutty Tandemers pose for a group shot at the Pairc Raiders Monument.

The “old git” at the top of the staircase inside the unusually designed cairn.

Whose looking at you?! The Nutty Tandemers in reflection on the “old gal’s” sunglasses!

The crews had to answer a call of nature and called in to use facilities at the fascinating Kinloch Historical Society Museum at Balallan. We asked a local if there were any picnic spots nearby and thanks to his local knowledge we were told to look out for a huge rock in a mile or so where we would find picnic benches with a view over a lochan. The rock provided some shelter from the wind and it was an ideal spot for The Nutty Tandemers’ prosecco picnic number 4 of the tour!

John, Jane and the “old gal” enjoying the prosecco picnic sheltering from the wind.

The “old git” and “old gal” and John clearly found the prosecco somewhat relaxing!

Batteries suitably recharged by the food – and spirits refreshed by the fizz – the tandem crews pedalled off enjoying a downhill start. At Leurbost the crews headed west directly into a head wind which was nothing short of brutal for the final 10 miles to the destination for the night near Callanish. There is a real feeling of exposure here – of being in a big open amphitheater of a landcape featuring loch filled moorland and the backdrop of those Harris hills. Some bright sunshine appeared giving my dynamic crew the chance to remove their anoraks and reveal the supreme irony of their choice of cycling shirts given today’s hilly stage – their King of the Mountain Tour de France-style jerseys!

The sun came out to give the “old gal” and “old git” a chance to reveal their King of the Mountain shirts!

Team Siggy and Team Matilda both found this stretch a hard slog as they tandemed into the relentless wind, with next to no protection on the exposed moorland road. There was a welcome break from the hard pedalling with another major mileage landmark – which firmly puts my dynamic crew’s earlier 4000 mile celebration in the shade!

Incredibly Jane clocked up her 66,000th cycling mile and the “old gal” captured the actual moment – complete with commentary – when Team Siggy’s stoker recorded her amazing feat of hitting that 66,000th mile on bicycle saddles throughout her life in this video.

Team Siggy celebrate Jane’s amazing landmark achievement of 66,000 cycling miles.

Fortunately, given the head wind, there was just a few more miles to for the tandem crews to cycle till the imposing sight of the Callanish Standing Stones came into view. Rated as one of Scotland’s most magnificent and best-preserved Neolithic monuments, this was to be the focus of a much anticipated evening visit on what was the longest day – so Team Matilda and Team Siggy pedalled past for another mile or so to check-in to our base for the night at Loch Roag Guest House at Breasclete. And since this is a warts-and-all appraisal of our experiences it would need to be said that this bed and breakfast had the most brilliant location – but my dynamic crew felt it was a bit of a tourist trap and therefore overpriced and lacking in the real Hebridean hospitality factor experienced throughout the trip.

Before heading to our evening meal at the Standing Stones at Callanish – or Calanais in Galeic – there was time for the “old git” to check that Strava had recorded the day 4 HebWay ride showing that my dynamic crew tandemed a distance of 41.4 miles with a moving time of 4 hours 34 minutes. The average speed amazingly was 9.1 mph given the massive steep hills and the overall elevation of 2630 feet. The maximum speed was 35.6 mph and Team Matilda managed to burn up a new record of 3034 calories and produce an average power output of 165 W.

As always the route and pictures are brought to life in our Relive 3D video – so take a look below.

After a bit of welcome relaxing the crews enjoyed the benefit of tandeming without the heavy panniers and sprinted along to the Callanish Standing Stones and Visitor Centre which had a great cafe which provided a memorable spot for a tasty, home-cooked evening meal.

The Callanish Standing Stones consists of circles and lines of stones making up an extraordinary ‘Celtic Cross’-shaped setting of stones erected 5,000 years ago. They predate England’s famous Stonehenge monument, and were an important place for ritual activity for at least 2,000 years. The importance of the sight remains a mystery, but the best guess is that it was a kind of astronomical observatory.

The Callanish Standing Stones was the perfect place to observe sunset on the Summer Solstice.

The Nutty Tandemers had a wander round the ancient Neolithic stones, enjoying their enigmatic, almost magical quality on the Summer Solstice. One of the most remarkable aspects of the site being its relationship to the landscape within which it sits – from its dominating ridge it has uninterrupted views over land and seascape to the distant horizon around 360 degrees.

The “old git” decided that this was too good a photo opportunity to miss and so dragged me round the perimeter of the site to find a gate with easy access which avoided me being lifted over the fence!

The “old gal” celebrating Midsummer Night at Stonehenge of the North.

There were lots of druid-type revelers about at the stones – but only one tandem!

The “old gal” trying to blend in to the Neolithic stones which date back 5000 years.

Because of the date lots of druid-type revellers were arriving to feel the celestial presence as the sun set later – and throughout the longest night. But the by now weary tandem crews decided that a comfy bed was a better option before the final tandem to complete the Hebridean Way tomorrow!

A special effects arty treatment – hinting at a celestial presence at the Callanish Standing Stones.

#HebWay Day 5 – the final tandem! Callanish to Butt of Lewis Lighthouse

The Nutty Tandemers Club schedule for the final pedal on day 5 was a 36 mile ride from Callanish to complete the Hebridean Way Challenge at the Butt of Lewis Lighthouse. Both tandem crews were full of anticipation at crossing the finishing line and were hopeful it would be a gentle, mechanical-free pedal to the end of the route – to meet our booked transfer to our overnight stay in Stornoway.

Breakfast at Loch Roag Guest House was sadly a meagre affair – in comparison to the hearty meals enjoyed on the rest of the trip. The disappointment was confounded by ordering the packed lunch service – only to be given two slices of bread with some tuna in between as a sandwich and a slice of cheesecake which was obviously just out of the freezer. Not good value for money.

Before pedalling away from Breasclete my dynamic crew paid a quick visit to the Flannan Isles Memorial which pays tribute the tragic mysterious loss of three lighthouse keepers in 1900 – which was used as the basis for the 2018 movie The Vanishing starring Scots actor Gerard Butler.

The “old git” at the Flannan Isles Memorial at Breasclete before the start of day 5.

Then we were off on the final day of our adventure tandeming “on the edge of Scotland”! You can check out the details of our HebWay Day 5 route by clicking on the Strava map below.

The route immediately headed off through what was to be the typical terrain for the day – remote rolling moorland landscape with lots of lochans. Fortunately the wind was behind us which helped us tandems fair whizz along. There was plenty of interest to see along the way, as the crews firstly passed the Carloway Broch – an Iron Age drystone fort structure then the Garenin Blackhouse Village – depicting what life would have been like in the thatched blackhouses in the mid-20th Century.

My dynamic crew enjoying the view over one of the many lochans along the route.

The crews were in buoyant spirits taking in the sights of the bog cotton grass and hearing the lonesome call of curlews. And it was a joy to pedal along the well sign-posted Sustrans Scotland NCN Rt 780 route which was notably pot-hole free.

The Hebridean Way signposting along NCN Rt 780 was excellent – here with my friend Siggy tandem.

After pedalling past the Shawbost Norse Mill and Kiln we pulled in to see the fascinating recreation of a shieling – a simple dwelling lived in during the warmer months by families taking their cattle away up into the hills for summer grazing developed by the Barvas and Brue Historical Society

The “old git” and me at the fascinating recreation of a shieling at Brue.

As it says on the interpretation boards: “Imagine a time in the latter half of the 19th and early 20th centuries where there were no tarmac roads, cars ferries or plane travel, no electricity, running water, or toilets, a time before the internet and mobile phones.” It was clearly a basic and frugal life.

The “old gal” inside the authentically recreated basic stone shieling.

By this time of day the “old gal” was much in need of her caffeine fix, but small townships and villages came and went but no sign of a coffee shop. Interestingly most of the towns on this stretch had a Lower section – which required a downhill pedal … followed by a Higher section which obviously required an uphill pedal. Not surprisingly the “old gal” wasn’t a fan of this type of town planning! But after coming down thru Lower Barvas – and then up thru Upper Barvas a sign appeared in the middle of nowhere indicating “gallery and coffee”.

More in hope than expectation the crews followed a track which ended up at the Morven Gallery – where we spotted lots of other bikes leaning against the walls, so we knew we were in luck! The gallery turned out to be a wonderful place – full of paintings, driftwood mirrors and sculptures, and pottery – as well as having the vital coffee shop where the Nutty Tandemers indulged in a coffee and cake.

The Morven Gallery at Upper Barvas offered a welcome stop for great coffee.

Naturally the “old git” had to strike a ‘grumpy’ pose at the giant chair!

Refuelled and resisting the temptation to splash out a few hundred pounds – well the tandem couldn’t really carry a big mirror, could they?! – the crews moved on stopping at the Borve Mini Market which belied its claims to be a clothing and general store as it did not appear to have very much stock at all. But it did have one bottle of prosecco behind the counter, which the “old git” snapped up for the picnic, but only after not having much luck at chatting to a very uncommunicative shop assistant!

This section of the route is really open to the elements and the crews were grateful that the wind was generally behind us – but the air movements were still interesting! There was a few more miles of climbs and descents – more ‘uppers’ and ‘lowers’ – before we sought out a picnic spot by turning down a track at South Galson – part of Galson Estate owned by the Galson Community Trust – and ended up on an idyllic deserted stone beach.

Overlooking the Atlantic, and totally private to us, this was the perfect sun-kissed spot for final Nutty Tandemers’ signature prosecco picnic of the tour – number 5! And in the distance, we could see our Hebridean Way end point of the Butt of Lewis lighthouse – which added to the nutty celebratory mood!

The “old git” captured the prosecco infused picnic beach view in this artistic shot!

The “old gal” enjoying the scenic prosecco picnic in the sunshine.

Fortunately at the mini market both crews had topped up the “packed lunch” provided by our bed and breakfast – as it really wasn’t very filling. And given that this was the stop before the finishing line I think it is fair to say that the prosecco went straight to the tandem crew’s heads, such was the euphoric atmosphere. Team Siggy’s captain John found the fizz had a ‘relaxing’ effect, before all the tandemers had to pose for one of their suitably nutty photos!

Team Siggy’s captain John found the prosecco picnic rather relaxing!

Being the last day, the Nutty Tandemers had to pose for one of their suitably nutty photos!

After the picnic there the crews set off on the final stretch – to pedal the last 10 miles. With the ocean to the left, the Butt of Lewis Lighthouse crept tantalisingly closer with every push of the pedals. And still the final miles continued to undulate – providing some sharp inclines before some fast descents.

In fact one of the last downhills was so sharp that my dynamic crew hit a new Team Matilda speed record with Strava recording it as an amazing 40.1 mph. Team Siggy also clocked up a new record too – just a fraction behind at 39.6 mph.

Three final townships of Dell, Swainbost and Lionel passed in a flurry of excitement before the last junction and a left turn signposted to the lighthouse, One final climb had to be negotiated before the road flattened out and the lighthouse was firmly in the tandem crew’s sights for the last mile!

My dynamic crew on the final approach to the finishing line at the Butt of Lewis Lighthouse.

The “old gal” and “old git” happy to know just a few more pedals to the end!

Perhaps not unexpectedly, The Nutty Tandemers ensured that crossing the Hebridean Way finishing line did not go unnoticed! And as luck would have it our arrival was shot on video by Gav McDonald – of cycling holiday company Rather be Cycling – who we had met on Day 3 and was at the lighthouse area for his own organised tour finishing just a few minutes before us. Watch the video here:

I am reliably told by those who have completed even longer end-to-end rides that the end point can be a bit of an anti-climax! There was no chance of that happening with the tandem crews who savoured every second – almost incredulous at actually completing their 185 mile 10 island challenge! Great to see the video now appears on the I Have Cycled The Hebridean Way Facebook page!

Mission complete! The Nutty Tandemers Club complete their Hebridean Way Challenge!

Naturally the “old git” was in his element – taking lots of photos at the metal sign which marks the end point and finishing line of the epic Hebridean Way odyssey.

The “old gal” and “old git” celebrate at the finishing point!

Hi 5s at the sign which marks the end point of the Hebridean Way at Butt of Lewis Lighthouse.

The “old gal” looks somewhat happy at completing the 185 mile epic HebWay journey!

The “old git” clearly happy to be pointing out the finishing sign marking journeys end!

My dynamic crew took a few minutes, amidst the euphoria, to record a few initial thoughts on their immediate feelings after completing the Hebridean Way Challenge which you can see on this video:

There was a palpable sense of achievement among the tandem crews – and the other cyclists who had reached the end of their route. And there was something really satisfying finishing the ride “on the edge” of Scotland at the Butt of Lewis Lighthouse – where it really was next stop America!

The end of the road at Butt of Lewis Lighthouse … next stop America!

Stokers united! Jane and the “old gal” celebrate the end of the HebWay!

After loads of photos it was time to head back a couple of miles to the car park at the Sporsnis leisure centre where we had arranged to meet our pre-booked pick up transfer – to avoid a 30 hilly mile pedal to Stornoway – our base for the final night.

This is where we were in the hand of the experts at HebShuttle – the award winning cycle tour and transfer operator in the Outer Hebrides which offers, among other services, bike and passenger transfers, bike and e-bike hire, and an accommodation booking service. The company was a recent winner of the Scottish Rural Award 2019 for the Best Business Start-up – and its easy to see why from their highly polished and professional service.

The Nutty Tandemers were glad to see the HebShuttlle minibus and trailer waiting for them!

The NuttyTandemers were glad to see the branded HebShuttle minibus and bike trailer waiting their arrival – complete with a bottle of celebratory prosecco, what else?! The “old gal” was delighted to meet up with co-owner Jan Schouten to have a quick chat about the rapid growth the business is experiencing from the booming popularity of the route among cyclists – and tandemers!

Siggy and me were loaded into a custom designed covered bike and tandem trailer, complete with internal secure bike track holders – for the transfer to Stornoway. HebShuttle offer a wide range of bike and cyclist transfers throughout the Outer Hebrides linking the various ferry ports, including an all day transfer back to Barra for those who want to return to Oban.

One more group shot at the stylish HebShuttle bicycle trailer.

Siggy and me had the spacious trailer all to ourselves! Spot the prosecco!

The tandem crews were happy to be driven to Stornoway in comfort by Jan’s son Mike – underlining the family nature of the business – rather than face a long energy-sapping cycle into the wind. And all highly recommend the HebShuttle pick-up service as the perfect – and good value – way to get back to the ferry port after the satisfaction of completing the route.

In the spacious minibus there was time for the “old git” to check that Strava had recorded the day 5 HebWay ride as showing that my dynamic crew tandemed a distance of 36.17 miles with a moving time of 3 hours and 11 minutes. The average speed was 11.4 mph given the undulating terrain and an overall elevation of 1993 feet. The maximum speed was a new Team Matilda record of 40.9 mph and  my dynamic crew managed to burn up 2175 calories and produce an average power output of 170 W.

As always the route and pictures are brought to life in our Relive 3D video – so take a look below.

In no time the Nutty Tandemers were checking in to their comfortable rooms in the hospitable Crown Inn in Stornoway for a much needed shower and relaxation. Meanwhile me and Siggy were allocated our own large en-suite family room to spend the last night together – oo er! But of course this “old lady” of a tandem never reveals her secrets!

The tandem crews enjoyed a brilliant tasty meal to mark the completion of their Hebridean Way Challenge. I am told there was a fantastic gin bar – which helped the celebrations along! Lots of stories were recounted about the best bits of the tour. And the cork was popped on the bottle of prosecco, presented earlier by HebShuttle, to provide a fitting nightcap!

#HebWay – the journey home

The tandem crews gamely tried to hide the fact that there was a certain light headedness around – after last nights celebrations! – as they were up for an early Sunday morning continental breakfast provided for them at the hospitable Crown Inn in Stornoway.  The early rise was due to the need to check-in just after 7am for the 8am departure of the CalMac Stornoway to Ullapool ferry.

This was where the Nutty Tandemers got to use the final section of their fabulous value Hopscotch 8 ticket created by CalMac, specifically to cater for people doing the HebWay from end to end, The crews all thought that CalMac offered a great turn-up-and-sail service for cyclists throughout the Outer Hebrides. Just remember to keep your batch of tickets handy as you will need them on boarding!

Siggy and me were once again secured to the side of the car deck on the stylish and fairly new MV Loch Seaforth. The tandem crews were thankful that the sea was ultra calm for the 2 hour 30 minute crossing. Perhaps not surprisingly some strong coffee was the order of the day from the ship’s cafe!

The “old gal” enjoying the flat calm sea on the ferry crossing from Stornoway to Ullapool.

During the crossing there was a flurry of social media activity as the crews caught up with messages. The “old git” checked the Tandem Club UK leader board on Strava for miles covered over the past week – and spectacularly both Jane and John and my dynamic crew occupied the two top places! Chapeau!

A screengrab of The Tandem Club UK leader board.

Although the Hebridean Way route is officially 185 miles end to end-to-end, on the ferry crossing the “old git” had time to work out – via Strava – that Team Matilda tandemed a grand total of 200.5 miles due to a few detours. The total time my dynamic crew spent in my saddles was 19 hours and 25 minutes, resulting in a fairly impressive average speed over the five days of 10.6 mph, given the weight of my panniers and the total overall elevation over the route of 9488 feet. And don’t forget that top speed of 40.6 mph of which I am immensely proud for an “old lady” of a tandem!

On arrival at Ullapool we made our way to John and Jane’s SsangYong Tourismo car, which we had positioned at the start of the week. Team Siggy’s car is cavernous – and it needed to be to accommodate us two tandems, the four Nutty Tandemers and all the luggage. To create a bit more room Siggy did his very clever act of splitting into two bits – with John undoing the couplings on the tandem to allow this to happen! Now I don’t bend in the middle – or split into two – so I had to go in full length, although I did have my front wheel removed so I could fit! Oh the ignominy of it!

Both of us tandems easily fitted in to the back of Team Siggy’s cavernous car!

After fitting everything, and everyone in, we set off on the long near 4-hour 160 mile drive from Ullapool back to Oban, where Matilda Transport was parked – required by the logistical nightmare of having a car at the start and end ferry ports. The crews did however have an enjoyable pit stop at the artisan Cafe Eighty2 just after Drumnadrochit on the A82 on the drive down the side of Loch Ness for some much needed, and very tasty, food!

When we arrived in Oban my dynamic crew bid a fond farewell to John and Jane who had wisely decided to stay overnight in the local area before Team Siggy embarked on their journey back south of the border the next day. The “old git” and “old gal” meanwhile had a further two hour drive back to Matildas Rest to complete the epic journey.

#HebWay – final thoughts

The morning after the end of the Nutty Tandemers Challenge saw both Team Siggy and Team Matilda a bit sad that they were not tandeming “on the edge” on the Outer Hebrides and that their island odyssey was over. But back at base the “old git” discovered that the Outer Hebrides Tourism website had a new addition – a free downloadable personalised Hebridean Way completion certificate. So naturally my trusty captain printed out two versions – one for Team Matilda and one for Team Siggy – to keep the memories of the trip alive!

The personalised Hebridean Way completion certificates – we did it our way!

The certificates include the fact that there were ‘185 smiles to match the miles’ – which is of course what tandeming is all about! To that end I was in a quandary about the best way that I could recap our Hebridean Way adventures and end this blog – so I decided to simply ask both tandem teams to give their considered opinion to a series of questions about the trip.

1 Best B+B:
Team Siggy: Struan House at Sollas – on day 2 – because of the openness of hospitality provided by hostess Peggy, the wonderful meal, and the view from the table.
Team Matilda: Agree about Struan House for the unique ‘home-from-home’ Hebridean hospitality – although Invercanny on day 1 was a very close second!

2 Worst B+B:
Team Siggy: Loch Roag Guest House near Callanish – on day 4 – because of the tiny room with full size price++, the meagre breakfast, and the exorbitant cost of the packed lunch.
Team Matilda: Also Loch Roag, although to be fair perhaps we did hit them on a bad day with it being very busy due to the Summer Solstice.

3 Best prosecco picnic spot:
Team Siggy: Joint winners between the picnic bench above the Harris beaches on day 3, and the one at South Galson on Lewis on day 5. Why? Because of the locations and the company!
Team Matilda: Popping the cork on the bottle of prosecco overlooking the Caribbean-like scenery of the stunning blue sea and the white empty sands of the world renowned Harris beaches of Horgabost and Selebost – and sharing that with good friends – was a truly unique and unforgettable experience!

Stops for our signature Nutty Tandemers Club prosecco picnic don’t come any better than this!

4 Most scenic part of the route:
Team Siggy: Day 4  – all the way from Tarbert to Callanish because it was such a varied day – from the stunning shoreline, the rocky moonscape, looking down on the lochans from the top, and the moorland and trees.
Team Matilda: The stretch along the fabulously breathtaking beautiful beaches of West Harris on day 3, with the views out to the Atlantic ocean. Each headland brought a new ‘wow factor’ as we tandemed along with that feeling that we were quite literally “on the edge” of Scotland.

5 Funniest moment:
Team Siggy: When the wheelbarrow was brought out to collect the baggage from the aircraft which had just landed on the beach at Barra Airport on day 1.
Team Matilda: A dead heat between the “old git” looking for the Co-op in Tarbert on Harris on day 4 – when the Co-op was actually 240 miles away in Tarbert in KIntyre; and, on the same day, Jane patiently waiting till exactly 10 am to buy a bottle of prosecco to stay within licensing laws at a tiny grocers in the hamlet of Ardhasaig.

6 High point of the tour:
Team Siggy: Being at the Callanish Standing Stones on the Summer Solstice on day 4.
Team Matilda: Another dead heat between the surreal moment when my dynamic crew, who “don’t do hills”, clocked up their 4000th tandem mile together on one of the highest hills they have been up; and the Callanish Standing Stones being the perfect place to celebrate Midsummer Night.

The Callanish Standing stones was the perfect place to observe sunset on the Summer Solstice.

7 Low point of the tour:
Team Siggy: There wasn’t one!
Team Matilda: We agree it was all a fabulous experience – although the “old gal” did mention having to pedal down hill into the fierce headwind after the climb up (adjective expletive!) Clisham over the pass thru the North Harris hills on day 4!

8 Nuttiest moment for the Nutty Tandemers:
Team Siggy: Jane and the “old gal” ‘indicating their intention’ at the sign outside the Harris Gin Distillery on day 3 – in a moment fuelled by gin martinis!
Team Matilda: At the same venue – when the tandem crews found themselves literally locked in a distillery!

Fuelled by gin martinis – Jane and the “old gal” indicate their intention!

9 Overall thoughts on the Hebridean Way experience:
Team Siggy: The permanent special memories created by the friendliness of the people of the Outer Hebrides, experiencing life as it should be and the spectacular scenery.
Team Matilda: To borrow that phrase from the Hebridean Way marketing people, It was quite simply unique, fabulous and unforgettable to ‘experience life on the edge’.  If this route is on your cycling or tandeming bucket list – you simply MUST do it! Thank you Outer Hebrides!

10 Finally, wold you do it again?
Team Siggy: YES, YES and YES – and with the same people, and the same tandems!
Team Matilda: In full agreement here – although for some reason the “old gal” is muttering something about an e-tandem!

Unforgettable memories created by The Nutty Tandemers Club on the Hebridean Way Challenge.

In conclusion, on behalf of Team Matilda, it was a real pleasure to share every moment of the fantastic scenery and uphills and downhills of the Hebridean Way Challenge with Team Siggy. It was a true privilege for the “old git” and “old gal” to be with John and Jane on such an epic journey – where they more than lived up to being fellow Nutty Tandemers and once again proved they are real kindred spirits to my dynamic crew!

It really was an utterly fabulous week – a time where you can honestly say that tandeming just doesn’t get much better than this! Delighted that we have created lots of new nutty images for the memory bank! And this “old lady” tandem is already pining as I am missing that real gent of a tandem Siggy! We can’t wait for the next Nutty Tandemers Tour next year! Thanks guys!

Finally, thanks to all of you for reading this special edition of my blog, focusing on the Hebridean Way. if this is your first time, remember if you want to know more about Matildas Musings – the UK’s only blogging tandem – then click the follow button on this webpage to sign up for regular updates!

Till our next adventure on a bicycle made for two!

Tandeming “on the edge” on Ayrshire Coast Cycleway on Mothers Day HebWay training ride!

The “old gal” and the “old git” at Irvine Beach Park at the start of our Ayrshire Coast Cycleway ride.

My dynamic crew often have to fit rides around their busy schedules – and Mothers Day was a perfect example where they decided to take the “old git’s” Mum out for a celebration dinner from her home in Ayrshire. The perfect excuse to try a new route – the Ayrshire Coast Cycleway – which the “old gal” had been keen to do for some time … because it is reputed to be fairly flat!

It was all part of my dynamic crew’s master plan to get more tandem training miles clocked up for Team Matilda’s forthcoming Hebridean Way adventure in June. And with much of today’s route hugging the sea it is likely to be ideal preparations for the big ride “on the edge” of Scotland!

More about the HebWay at the end of this blog, but first today’s ride. With the weather coming up trump with the forecast dry and sunny – but naturally with a coastal breeze – it seemed ideal conditions to sample the much anticipated Ayrshire Coastal Cycleway – from Irvine to Ayr, part of Sustrans Scotland NCN Rt7.

You can check out the details of our route by clicking on the Strava map below.

So it was an early departure from Matildas Rest for the near 80 mile drive to our start point at a fantastic car park right on the beach at Irvine Beach Park. And we were met with fabulous clear blue sky and sunshine as the “old gal” got me kitted up for our ride – enjoying the spectacular views across to the Isle of Arran.

The clear blue sky makes the “old gal” smile as she gets me kitted up for the ride.

So Team Matilda were in good spirits as we pedalled off round Irvine Beach Park before heading inland through two Scottish Wildlife Reserves at Gailes Marsh and Shewalton Wood. The route returns to the coast at Barassie which offered a spectacular backdrop for the “old gal” to take her ‘Happy Mothers Day’ phone call from her daughter Kirsty.

The “old gal” taking her Mothers Day call with the spectacular backdrop of Barassie.

Next the path passes through Troon – including a stretch along the promenade – before continuing to follow the coast to Prestwick and then to Ayr. Some stretches use local back roads – but the dedicated cycle path stretches were fabulous. My dynamic crew were most impressed with the super smooth surfaces – particularly near Prestwick Airport – which were a sheer joy to tandem on.

My dynamic crew were impressed with the smooth surface of NCN Rt7 – here near Prestwick Airport.

The Ayrshire Coast Cycleway continues along the seafront at Prestwick, before skirting the docks at Ayr and re-emerging on to the scenic esplanade. The blue sky had stayed with us all along the coast and the sea front at Ayr offered the perfect spot for the “old git” and “old gal” to have their picnic lunch – enjoying the beautiful views of the beach and out to sea.

Time for a picnic lunch – with the “old gal” enjoying the scenic views – at Ayr beach.

The sunny weather was obviously going to the “old git’s” head as he decided he had to sample a Scots tradition – an Irn-Bru flavour ice cream from the amusingly named Pirate Pete’s cafe beside the adventure playground at the Esplanade! Let’s just say the idea was better than the taste!

It was so sunny the “old git” decided to sample a Scots tradition – an Irn-Bru flavor ice cream!

With our tight schedule it was time to start the return trip so we pedalled off towards Prestwick where we spotted a fantastic installation of a bike repair station ideally situated on the promenade. And it was designed as a piece of artwork with a wonderfully uplifting cycling quote from Arthur Conan Doyle, the author of Sherlock Holmes, carved into the metalwork:

“When the spirits are low

when the day appears dark

when work becomes monotonous

when hope hardly seems worth having

just mount a bicycle and go out

for a spin down the road

without thought on anything

but the ride you are taking.”

This wonderful cycling quote is part of a bike repair station ideally situated on Prestwick promenade.

The quote was certainly somewhat apt – and personally inspirational – for my dynamic crew given what they have been thru recently, and they had a quiet moment together lost in their thoughts.

The bike repair station had an impressive range of tools – and all in good working order!

Apart from the artistic nature of the bike repair station, it also obviously had a practical side and had an impressive range of tools attached to it to help if a cyclist had a problem or a puncture needed fixed. And the best bit was that they were all in good working order.

As we tandemed back along the path thru the wildlife reserves back to Irvine there was a quick photo stop at one of the impressively decorated Millennium Mileposts to be spotted along the cycleway.

Along the way of the Ayrshire Coastal Cyclepath you will spot several Millennium Mileposts.

As we pedalled back into the car park at Irvine Beach Park it was great to see the beach and the park so busy with people enjoying the sunshine. Truly an uplifting day!

Journeys End. More blue sky met my dynamic crew back at Irvine beach.

Fortunately on completing the trip there was time for my dynamic crew to have a reviving and relaxing coffee and cake at the wonderful Small Talk coffee and gift shop on the harbour side at Irvine near the Scottish Maritme Museum – before heading to Kilmarnock to take the “old git’s” Mum out for her Mothers Day treat, a lovely meal at The Glasshouse Restaurant at Rowallan castle.

Over coffee, the “old git” checked Strava which officially recorded the ride as being worthy of no gongs at all … as this was the first attempt at the Ayrshire Coast Cycleway route.

The detailed Strava figures showed my dynamic crew tandemed a distance of 34.3 miles with a moving time of 3 hours and 07 minutes. The average speed was a healthy 11.0 mph given the new route and dodging pedestrians, while the elevation was 652 feet. The maximum speed was 23.9 mph given the relatively flat terrain and Team Matilda managed to burn up 1,566 calories and produce an average power output of 125 W.

A great day out in tandem in Discover Ayrshire VisitAyrshire South Ayrshire Council North Ayrshire Council area! Team Matilda will definitely return! As always the route and pictures are brought to life in our Relive 3D video – so take a look below.

Finally, more about Team Matilda’s forthcoming Hebridean Way adventure in June. That’s another 34 miles in the training bag – and given the proximity of NCN Rt7 to the sea it was ideal practice then for the HebWay. Not long to go now and I am looking forward to teaming up with Siggy, the attractive gent of a tandem belonging to the “old git” and “old gal’s” good tandeming friends John and Jane – who have their own Travelling in Tandem blog – for our self-proclaimed Nutty Tandemers Club challenge.

But obviously there’s still a good few training rides for the “old git” and “old gal” to get in peak condition before they tackle the 185 miles of the #HebWay route from Vatersay to the Butt of Lewis Lighthouse at Ness over 5 days tandeming! Now, what is it they say about practice makes perfect?

Actually 38m but no Strava till Carnoustie on sunny coastal HebWay training ride to Arbroath for alfresco fish lunch!

Can you spot me amongst the creels at Arbroath Harbour?!

My dynamic crew like to feature local food & drink and tourism experiences as we tandem along on our adventures on a bicycle made for two! Well today was going to be one of those “must do” experiences – a mission to see Arbroath Smokies being smoked while in Arbroath … and of course sample the local fish delicacy!

It was all part of the “old git’s” master motivational plan to get more tandem training miles clocked up for Team Matilda’s forthcoming Hebridean Way adventure in June. And with much of today’s route just a few yards from the sea it is likely to be ideal preparations for the big ride “on the edge” of Scotland!

More about the HebWay at the end of this blog, but first today’s ride. With the weather coming up trump with the forecast dry sunny – but breezy – day, the “old git” had decided on a route which hugs the coast from the Tay Road Bridge to Arbroath on Sustrans Scotland NCN Rt1.

You can check out the details of our route by clicking on the Strava map below.

The first part of today’s ride was a quick “downhill” pedal across the Tay Road Bridge, before heading through the docks area and on up the coast. Regular readers of my blog will be well aware that Team Matilda are great fans of properly maintained cycle paths, and the great news is that NCN Rt1 has had a much needed revamp. This includes the installation of a new (and more reliable) passenger and bike lift at the Tay Road Bridge providing direct access to the shared path which runs between the two carriageways on the bridge deck. Like the last one, I was delighted to see it was tandem-length!

The “old gal” at the brand new tandem-length lift at the Tay Road Bridge.

The five-star improvements have also transformed the section thru Dundee Docks – with the laying of a sensational super-smooth tarmac surface and the removal of all of those pesky z-style gates to make life much easier for cyclists – and of course tandemers!

The brilliant new super-smooth tarmac surface on the revamped NCN Rt1 thru Dundee Docks.

A new fence separates the path from the actual docks and this avoids the need for cyclists to have to carry some form of identification in case the docks implemented their policy of only allowing access to people with ID. All good news and chapeau to those involved with the funding.

Pedalling on, the “old git” spotted the Sustrans Scotland “high-visiblity” cycle counter as we arrived at Broughty Ferry which provides a visual counter of the number of cyclists using the route. And yes we only increased the counter by one unit – not two – as it counts the bikes not the riders!

Sustrans says the idea behind cycle counters is to promote sustainable transport such as walking and cycling instead of driving. In general, cycle counters have been shown to be motivational for cyclists and provide data that assists planning for cycling infrastructure. What a great idea!

Tandeming on the path heads over Barry Links, past a large Ministry of Defence area known as the Barry Buddon Training Centre. This has high security fencing along its perimeter and rather ominously every 100 yards there are warnings signs telling you to keep out as this is a live military firing area! Not surprisingly the “old gal” ordered the “old git” to pay heed to the signs and not to veer off course!

We soon arrived at Carnoustie which hosted the 147th The Open played over the Carnoustie links golf course last July. It has a well-deserved reputation as one of the world’s most challenging links course, and at 7,421 yards it is the longest of any of the Open venues.

The peaceful scenic seascape at Carnoustie – just before spotting the Strava operator error!

The cycle path almost looks like it is going direct into the sea at this point, with only a barrier of boulders separating riders from the water! Time for a quick photo stop for my dynamic crew to take in the scenic views. The blissful atmosphere was however somewhat tarnished when a Strava operator error was discovered at this point – meaning none of the miles from the Tay Road Bridge had been recorded. Oh how the “old git” laughed! But at least the “old gal” was relieved to know it was his fault!

Onwards we pedalled on NCN Rt 1 and it was great to see the path being so well used by bicycles on such a sunny day. Next stop was the beautiful former fishing village of East Haven which clearly has a highly active community trust called East Haven Together to protect and promote the area’s heritage and environment. And cyclists are made most welcome – with a bike friendly drinks dispensing station and route map at the entrance to the village.

Onwards to Arbroath on the highly recommended cycle path. The harbour town – which has a proud maritime and fishing history – was looking a its best as the sun peeked thru the clouds, giving it an almost Mediterranean feel.

Now when in Arbroath there was clearly a requirement to do as locals do and have the authentic local delicacy of an Arbroath Smokie for lunch. This time we went one step better and were fortunate enough to see the fresh haddock being smoked at Stuart’s Fresh Fish.

My dynamic crew were fortunate to see Arbroath Smokies during the traditional smoking process.

So lunch was a brilliantly delicious fresh fish combination of one of the newly smoked Arbroath Smokies, a dressed crab and a side of Tiger prawns! And it all tasted so much better eating it alfresco from a bench overlooking the impressive marina.

What a catch! Yummy alfresco lunch of Arbroath Smokie, dressed crab.and tiger prawns.

Re-fuelled my dynamic crew set off on the return journey – and into the breeze! The route took us back thru East Haven – which has been fortunate enough to be allocated some money from the ArtRoots fund – a community fund for artistic and aesthetic improvements to the Sustrans Scotland National Cycle Network. The result is a giant wooden sculpture depicting the area’s history as one of the oldest fishing communities in Scotland, which dates back to 1214.

The eye-catching landmark – which depicts two fishermen carved out of redwood by a chainsaw artist – has been installed on a  site overlooking the bay near the old fisherman’s shelter. Naturally the “old git” had to have a photo taken trying (and failing!) to subtly blend in with the sculpture!

The Sustrans Artroots funded outdoor art wooden sculpture at East Haven.

There was then a unanimous vote from the stoker’s saddle as the “old gal” called a pit-stop at the Glass Pavilion situated just behind Broughty Ferry beach for another signature event of one of Team Matilda’s tandem rides – carrot cake and coffee!

Coffee and carrot cake – in tandem – at the Glass Pavillion.

Broughty Ferry itself was busy with people (and dogs!) on the path but a few friendly parps of my French horn cleared a route for us to tandem past. The “old gal” noticed further improvements by the side of the NCN Rt1 with the installation of a series of outside gym fitness stations – positioned looking out to sea – and naturally couldn’t resist trying the static cycling one!

The “old gal” on the static cycling fitness apparatus beside the NCN Rt 1 near Broughty Ferry.

The route took us back down thru the renovated path thru Dundee Docks where we noted other useful improvements like a useful mirror at a tight bend to see if anyone was riding the other way.

Mirror mirror on the cycle path wall – who is the fairest of them all?! Me, of course!

The last part of our ride – after using the new lift – was the “uphill” crossing of the Tay Road Bridge – which always seems a bit of a grind. Back at Matilda Transport in the Tay Bridge Car Park, the “old git” checked Strava which officially recorded the ride as being worthy of no less than 15 gongs – which given the breezy conditions is fairly impressive! The gong total was made up of 6 personal bests, 5 second bests; and 3 third best times.

The detailed Strava figures showed my dynamic crew tandemed a distance of 26.5 miles (which should have been 38 miles had there not been that annoying Strava operator error!) with a moving time of 2 hours 16 minutes. The average speed was a healthy 11.6 mph while the elevation was a relatively flattish 513 feet. The maximum speed was 22.4 mph, as there were no steep downhill stretches, and Team Matilda managed to burn up 1,184 calories and produce an average power output of 129 W.

As always the route and pictures are brought to life in our Relive 3D video – so take a look below.

Finally, more about Team Matilda’s forthcoming Hebridean Way adventure in June. That’s another 38 miles in the training bag – and given the proximity of NCN Rt1 to the sea it was ideal practice then for the HebWay. Not long to go now and I am looking forward to teaming up with Siggy, the attractive gent of a tandem belonging to the “old git” and “old gal’s” good tandeming friends John and Jane – who have their own Travelling in Tandem blog – for our self-proclaimed Nutty Tandemers Club challenge.

But obviously there’s still a good few training rides for the “old git” and “old gal” to get in peak condition before they tackle the 185 miles of the #HebWay route from Vatersay to Butt of Lewis Lighthouse at Ness over 5 days tandeming! What is it they say about practice makes perfect?

4 seasons in a day, 2 broken spokes, and 1 speedo error on HebWay training run.

Spot the blue sky! The “old gal” near Dunblane at half-way – with snow just round the corner!

The phrase “four seasons in a day” has been used by Scots people for years to describe the unpredictable Spring weather which the gods can cast down on us! And our recent sneaky Monday off tandem ride was a perfect example of where it was simply a waste of time trying to guess the best cycling clothing to suit the conditions!

My dynamic crew experienced all four key elements of Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter rain, sunshine, wind, and even snow on their latest training ride for Team Matilda’s forthcoming Hebridean Way adventure in June. In fact some would say it was just ideal conditions to prepare for the ride “on the edge” of Scotland!

More about the HebWay at the end of this blog, but first today’s ride. The “old git” had decided it was time to test the “old gal” on a few hills on a canter to Dunblane, with the promise of a coffee and cake stop on the return leg at Braco – although to be fair he hadn’t quite calculated the total elevation involved of over 1400 feet … or the inclement weather conditions!

You can check out the details of our route by clicking on the Strava map below.

The route started with some uphill tandeming from Matildas Rest out on the open rural Perthshire roads past Gleneagles Hotel and its world-famous golf courses. Despite the thrust required for the incline, the “old git” applied the brakes when he saw a special road sign designed to protect red squirrels by urging motorists to drive carefully. Maybe the sign should also have said ride carefully!

The “old git” slowed down when he saw the road sign designed to protect the red squirrels.

After the Gleneagles summit my dynamic crew enjoyed a nice downhill stretch although a fairly blustery head wind meant the “old gal” had to keep pedalling as stoker when normally this downhill stretch allows for a bit of free-wheeling! Just the first of many encounters with the ever changing weather on this ride!

Pedalling on we tandemed thru Braco – with the “old gal” checking that the coffee shop was open as we pedalled past and headed up a few more tough inclines to just outside Kinbuck where the “old git” spotted a crop of Christmas trees getting ready for next festive season!

The “old git” pointing out my dynamic crew’s Christmas tree for December!

Oh how the “old gal” laughed when he joked that they could come and choose their tree in early December and could even carry it home attached to my frame! Well I think he was joking anyway!

A few pedals further on my dynamic crew passed the entrance to Cromlix House – the 5-star country house hotel owned by local tennis superstar Andy Murray. It boasts a Chez Roux restaurant and the “old gal” started to drool over what they may be serving up for lunch – but sensibly decided she wasn’t quite dressed for that kind of culinary experience!

A quick stop at our turning point on the flyover of the A9 just outside Dunblane for some water – and the chance to take in the blue sky which had suddenly appeared, and the views over to the sun dancing on the snow-capped hills in the distance.

Time to move on, and despite the pesky wind it was a great day to be out in glorious Perthshire. For a welcome respite from the challenging weather conditions there was a pit stop at the bike-friendly Braco Coffee shop !

The “old gal” in heaven with scone, millionaire shortbread and a nice strong coffee! Perfect!

As we walked in it was good to see the premises so busy – with several other cyclists and locals having decided to stop en route for sustenance. The “old gal” chose a scone and some yummy millionaire shortbread – all of which was washed down by lovely strong coffee – just the way she likes it! Great friendly service too from the Braco team! A perfect stop on a bicycle made for two really – and just underlines the fun and laughs my dynamic crew have!

As my dynamic crew emerged from the coffee stop they were hit by a shower of rain – the third of the seasons after the wind and the sunshine – but fortunately the worst of the rain seemed to have fallen when they were inside. The four seasons in a day were however completed as the “old git” and “old git” battled the rapidly changing weather conditions on the return stretch from Braco to Gleneagles where in a shady hollow they came across snow lying on the ground! Yes snow!

Four seasons in a day – tick – snow lying on the ground in a shady hollow.

It was a hard grind for my dynamic crew on the return – but a welcome downhill brought about one of those moments of madness when the “old git” and “old gal” just have to laugh out loud! Pedalling as fast as they could the “old git” checked the speedometer – expecting to see it hit 30 mph if they were lucky … only to see it suddenly record a top speed of 91.5 mph.

They say the camera never lies! – evidence of the 91.5 mph recorded on the malfunctioning speedo!

Yes you read that correctly – a reading of 91.5 mph on a bicycle made for two. Despite the fact that the camera never lies and the photographic evidence of this never-to-be-repeated feat, my dynamic crew graciously conceded it clearly was a speedo malfunction!

Then just to compound the unpredictable nature of the ride, as we were heading down towards Gleneagles there was that unmistakable ping – which can only mean a spoke had pinged on my rear wheel! My dynamic crew ground to a halt and surveyed the damage – not one but two spokes had gone!

The rest of my wheel looked fairly sound – and despite a clear wheel wobble – the “old gal” took the decision as chief engineer that we could continue to pedal and limp home at a somewhat slower than normal speed, while the “old git” did his best to avoid any potential bumps. Looks like I am going for a visit to my personal surgeon John – bike wheel builder extraordinaire at JM Richards Cycles in Perth

Spot the two broken spokes! I need a visit to my personal surgeon to repair my rear wheel!

Safely back at Maitildas Rest, the “old git” checked Strava which officially recorded the ride as being worthy of no less than 14 gongs – which given the variable conditions is somewhat impressive! Especially as the total was made up of 3 second bests; and 11 third best times.

The detailed Strava figures showed my dynamic crew tandemed a distance of 28.1 miles with a moving time of 2 hours 44 minutes. The average speed was a healthy 10.3 mph while the elevation was a hilly 1,444 feet. The maximum speed was officially 32.0 mph – not the rogue 91.5 mph! – and Team Matilda managed to burn up 1,691 calories and produce an average power output of 154 W.

As always the route and pictures are brought to life in our Relive 3D video – so take a look below.

So that’s another near 30 miles in the bag – and given the weather conditions, mechanicals, and the 1,444 ft elevation it was an ideal training then for the Hebridean Way in mid June. I am looking forward to teaming up with Siggy, the attractive gent of a tandem belonging to the “old git” and “old gal’s” good tandeming friends John and Jane – who have their own Travelling in Tandem blog – for our self-proclaimed Nutty Tandemers Club tour.

But obviously there’s a good few training rides for the “old git” and “old gal” to get in peak condition before they tackle the 185 miles of the #HebWay route from Vatersay to Butt of Lewis Lighthouse at Ness over 5 days tandeming! What is it they say about practice makes perfect?

De-hibernating by kick starting HebWay training on gusty Hillfoots Loop with cake diversion to Dollar!

The “old git” and the “old gal” admiring the views over the dramatic Ochil hills.

Sunday lunchtime and right on cue a weather window was opened by the tandem cycling gods – well as forecast – and the strong gale force winds suddenly died away to leave a sunny but blustery day.

My dynamic crew had their fingers firmly crossed – and I crossed my spokes – that would happen as today was the planned grand de-hibernating after a longer than normal, and sadly enforced, lay off.

The “old git” had planned a new route – the Hillfoots Loop around Alloa in the shadow of the towering Ochil Hills – which offered a good inaugural training ride for Team Matilda’s forthcoming Hebridean Way adventure in June. And he had a special carrot to tempt the “old gal” with – the promise of some tasty carrot cake and strong coffee at a fancy new cafe along the way. Oh the sweet talker – he certainly knows how to get the best out my Stoker you know!

More about the HebWay at the end of this blog – including the trip logo – but first today’s ride. To add to the fun we were joined by “half-bike” cyclist friends of the “old gal” and “old git” – Gillian and Craig – who just happen to have a hot tub in their garden. The promise of a  nice post-ride relaxation in the warm bubbles, complete with a glass of bubbly, was just too much for the “old gal” to turn down. I mean, what could there possibly be not to like?! (Apart from the gusty wind and the odd hill that is!)

Ready for the off – the four riders ready to blow away some cobwebs on the Hillfoots Loop.

The Hillfoots Loop is a circular route promoted by Team Matilda’s friends at Sustrans Scotland and combines no less than three different National Cycle Network Routes – 76, 768 and 767. The fantastic network of paths is a key part the Clackmannanshire Cycle Network and is part of a wider project to encourage access to the outdoors by local tourism initiative Discover Clackmannanshire.

You can check out the details of our route by clicking on the Strava map below.

The route is classed in the easy category – on a mix of well maintained dedicated tarmac paths running along old railway lines and some quiet back roads. And it was immediately a joy to tandem on as we entered NCN Rt 76 just a few wheel turns from Gillian and Craig’s house in Alloa – with the sunshine bringing smiles to my dynamic crew’s faces, despite the wind. And I must say I was impressed at the brisk pace set by the “old git”! And the fact that the “old gal” didn’t complain shows that they are both much fitter than they believe, despite their recent inaction!

A quiet farm road lead us onto a tarmac multi-use path towards Cambus before passing whisky cooperages and bonded warehouses with their distinctive aroma on one side and the River Devon on the other.  At the junction with NCN Route 76 near Tullibody, the loop continues northwards on NCN Rt 768 on a good tailored railway path towards Menstrie and the Ochil Hills.

The NCN Rt 768 section offered blissful tandeming along good railway paths in the sunshine!

At Menstrie the NCN Rt 768 continues on a quiet shared road on as we hit manageable rolling hills along the edge of the Ochils. The route by-passes the centre of Alva on a quiet back road which features the only challenging – but short – hill on the loop. And it was chapeau to my dynamic crew who managed to keep cycling to the top – despite this being the first real training ride of the year!

Team Matilda enjoying the de-hibernating experience on well-surfaced cycle paths.

At the east of Alva we joined the shared-use path alongside the main road to Tillicoultry before the route then joined NCN Rt 767, also known as the Devon Way. We took a planned three mile diversion on a well-surfaced cycle path and headed to the lovely village of Dollar where the “old git” had done his research and unearthed the quaint-sounding Cafe des Fleurs as a perfect coffee stop.

Cafe des Fleurs offered a fab coffee stop in Dollar just after the half-way point.

Now the “old gal” is known to be a bit of an aficionado of tandem and cycle friendly cafes –  and obviously their scone, cake and coffee offerings, as well as the warmth of their welcome – but Cafe des Fleurs got more than pass marks on her personal rating scale!

Despite the cafe obviously being a bit of a destination in its own right – and therefore busy with customers dressed in their Sunday best – the staff made our group clad in cycling clothing very welcome. The fruit scones were just perfect as was the strength of the fab coffee. And as for the carrot cake – de-rigueur for tandemers especially Team Matilda – well the “old gal” clearly coveted her slice and wasn’t letting anyone else near it! It was so good that it got a four and a half “yes” ranking!

The “old gat” became very protective over the slice of yummy carrot cake!

That was praise indeed! And everyone else in the group concurred the cafe would go down on the list as worth paying a return visit for further sampling! Suitably re-energised we pedalled back to Tillicoultry in no time to complete the Hillfoots Loop riding past Sauchie and back to Alloa.

Smiles all round as Team Matilda and Gillian and Craig set off for the second half of the Hilfoots loop.

Gillian had time to take a selfie-in-the-saddle on the NCN Rt 767 back from Dollar

The path is quite undulating at this point but the scenery more than makes up for any effort required with stunning panoramic views over the Ochil Hills and a satisfying overview of the route just taken.

Time for a quick breather to let the “old git” and “old gal” take in the backdrop of the Ochil Hills.

A ride thru some quiet backstreets of Alloa took us back to where we started – exhilarated after the wonderful ride. I was quickly packed back into Matilda Transport as it was time for my dynamic crew to “endure” the warm-down-up in the hot tub strategically situated in Gillian and Craig’s garden!

Safely packed back in Matilda Transport while my dynamic crew went for their warm-down-up!

Relaxing in the warm bubbles the “old git” checked Strava which officially recorded the ride as being worthy of no gongs at all … as this was the first attempt at the Alloa Hilfoots Loop route.

The detailed Strava figures showed my dynamic crew tandemed a distance of 19.4 miles with a moving time of 1 hour 43 minutes. The average speed was a healthy 11.3 mph given the gusty conditions, while the elevation was 718 feet. The maximum speed was 29.3 mph given on a steep downhill section and Team Matilda managed to burn up 1,039 calories and produce an average power output of 150 W.

As always the route and pictures are brought to life in our Relive 3D video – so take a look below.

It was a suitably long therapeutic soak – with my dynamic crew enjoying the cold bubbles from a nicely chilled glass of prosecco, while experiencing the warm bubbles of the hot tub! I mean there are worse ways (though admittedly not many!) to spend a Sunday afternoon! Absolute bliss!

Thanks again to Gillian and Craig for a much-needed outing to literally blow away some cobwebs – and the fun company and solace that only good friends can provide.

So that’s the first serious 20 miles done – and given the terrain and conditions it was an ideal training then for the Hebridean Way in mid June. I am looking forward to teaming up with Siggy, the attractive gent of a tandem belonging to the “old git” and “old gal’s” good tandeming friends John and Jane – who have their own Travelling in Tandem blog – for our self-proclaimed Nutty Tandemers Club tour.

The “old git” got a designer pal to come up with a suitably “nutty” logo for the tour! There’s now just the small matter of covering 185 miles over 5 days tandeming! That should certainly focus the mind!

Nutty Tandemers Club logo for Hebridean Way

First pedal spin of the year battling colds and headwinds to finish with a hot tub!

Team Matilda was joined by “half-bike” friends Gillian and Craig for the first ride of 2019.

So a nice Sunday and time for the first spin of my tandem pedals for 2019 – and therefore my first blog post of the year! Despite the forecast of a “moderate breeze” my dynamic crew decided it was time to blow away the cobwebs and have my first outing of the year. And to help ease my crew back into my saddles, the “old git” decided on a fairly flat ride on a dedicated cycle path along the bed of an old railway line.

To add to the fun we were joined by good “half-bike” solo cyclist friends of the “old gal” and “old git” – Gillian and Craig – who just happen to have a hot tub in their garden. The promise of a  nice post-ride relaxation in the warm bubbles, complete with a glass of bubbly, was just too much for the “old gal” to turn down. I mean, what could there possibly be not to like?! (Apart from the headwind that is!)

So despite my dynamic crew recovering from heavy colds, they were full of the joys as I was packed into Matilda Transport and we headed for the start point of National Cycle Route 764 for the ride. The path – managed by the good people at Sustrans Scotland – begins just outside Clackmannan and follows the course of the old Alloa to Dunfermline railway line.

Ready for the off! All smiles as we set to spin the pedals – despite the low temperature!

I was quickly unpacked and set up for the ride and – after greeting Gillian and Craig – we were ready for the off at the start of the NCR 764 route – which is also known as the West Fife Way and is a key part the Clackmannanshire Cycle Network. The network of paths is part of a wider project to encourage access to the outdoors by local tourism initiative Discover Clackmannanshire.

You can check out the details of our route by clicking on the Strava map below.

The route is classed in the easy category – on a well maintained tarmac path. And it certainly was a joy to tandem on as we headed off on the ride to Dunfermline – with the bright sunshine bringing smiles to my dynamic crew’s faces, despite the chill wind. And I must say I was impressed at the brisk pace set by the “old git”! And the fact that the “old gal” didn’t complain shows that they are both much fitter than they believe!

I actually think that Team Matilda pedals along faster when we are in the company of other cyclists as my dynamic crew tend to get caught up in the chat – and don’t realise what speed we are actually achieving! In fact we averaged over 13 mph for the whole trip!

The “old git” and “old gal” smiling and feeling refreshed at the half way point on the ride.

Now railway lines are recognised as being flat – that means no sudden hills – as trains (like this “old lady”) don’t do hills! But that doesn’t mean you don’t get inclines – and in this case there is a long slow incline rising some 300 feet over the first half of the route.  But the views over the Kingdom of Fife towards the Forth bridges made it all worthwhile!

Buoyed by a healthy tail wind, half way point was reached with just 46 minutes on the clock. But despite the sun shining brightly in a bright blue sky, it was bitterly cold and certainly not conducive for one of this cycling group’s signature pop-up gin bars which had been a highlight of previous rides!

Despite the bright sunshine it wasn’t warm enough to stop for long!

In fact there was hardly time for the obligatory photos before body temperatures started to plummet, which is perhaps no surprise as the temperature had a “real feel” of -1C. The “old gal” was heard to say: “I’m so glad I’ve got my thermal under-layers on!” So after just a few minutes we headed off on the return journey – to battle that brutal headwind!

The sun breaking thru the clouds made for a lovely sky – but it was bitterly cold!

Both crews soon reaped the benefits of the initial downhill section, picking up speed. Despite the wind fiercely blasting into our faces, it really was fantastic tandeming – lots of laughs with good friends.

One of the great things about this cycle path is that there are relatively few obstructive gates, which meant my crew weren’t forced to get on and off repeatedly – and the NCR 764 is certainly a credit to Sustrans Scotland who maintain it. Although it could be described as a “hidden gem”, it clearly is a very popular route amongst locals.

One of the attractions of the route is that there are still some old railway relics – like sleepers made into seating, or railway signals. There is even an old signal box along the path – abandoned from the days when it controlled the trains on the line.

As always its the smiles not the miles that count on Team Matildas tandem rides!

After a final sprint battling the ever increasing force of the wind along the last mile or two, we soon reached the end of the path – exhilarated after the wonderful ride. After I was quickly packed back into Matilda Transport it was time to head back to Gillian and Craig’s with the lure of the garden hot tub! So the offer was made for a warm-down in the hot tub, complete with celebratory drink. I mean there are worse ways (though admittedly not many!) to spend a Sunday afternoon!

Hot tub with prosecco bubbly back at Gillian and Craig’s? Oh if you insist!

Relaxing in the warm bubbles the “old git” checked Strava which officially recorded the ride as being worthy of no less than 17 gongs – which given the temperature and the  fierce headwind on the return leg is somewhat impressive! Especially as the total was made up of 10 personal bests; 4 second bests; and 3 third best times.

The detailed Strava figures showed my dynamic crew tandemed a distance of 21.4 miles with a moving time of 1 hour 36 minutes. The average speed was a healthy 13.3 mph while the elevation was a modest 513 feet. The maximum speed was 21.3 mph given the relatively flat terrain and Team Matilda managed to burn up 924 calories and produce an average power output of 143 W.

As always the route and pictures are brought to life in our Relive 3D video – so take a look below.

I am reliably told the hot tub was a very therapeutic way to relax – with my crew enjoying the cold bubbles from a nicely chilled glass of prosecco – while experiencing the warm bubbles of the hot tub! Absolute bliss! The last I heard was the “old gal” saying: “I want one!”

After a suitably long soak my crew emerged and joined Gillian and Craig in a hearty and warming bowl of home-made soup to refuel, before it was time to head home after a great day!

So that’s the first 20-odd miles of the year clocked up – so here’s to more sunny tandeming days out to look forward to with good friends, and lots of laughs along the way. Maybe the next time it will be warm enough to allow one of our infamous pop-up cocktail bars to be set up! I’ll say cheers to that!