Rannoch Station – the start of a sunny Easter Sunday training camp.
The “old git” decided that winter was past and it was time to get back into training for the grand Tour de Bordeaux. The “old gal” reminded the “old git” that this wasn’t actually until September – but there was no stopping him!
And to be fair – he did come up trumps with a fantastic new destination for our Easter training camp – Loch Rannoch in Highland Perthshire which is described as one of the last true wildernesses in Europe. And there was even the carrot of an overnight stay in a lovely remote luxury hotel to recharge our batteries after the cycling. When the “old git” mentioned to the “old gal” that it had a speciality gin bar – she was sold!
And that’s why we all found ourselves bundled into Matilda Transport at the unearthly hour of 7.30 am on Easter Sunday as we headed up the A9 battling our way through some low mist.
The “old git” kept saying the weather was going to be a day of brilliant sunshine – but it would need to be said that the “old gal” and me were a bit more sceptical. A quick stop at the brilliant Ballinluig Motor Grill lifted the spirits with a tasty bacon and black pudding roll and some lovely coffee,
Back on the road we were soon turning off the A9 just after Pitlochry and heading along narrow winding roads to the village of Kinloch Rannoch which sits at the head of Loch Rannoch. And what magnificent views we had of the loch as the sun came out on cue.
We drove down the 11 miles to the bottom of the loch, and a smile came to the lips of the “old gal” as she saw how flat the route was! We then drove on a further 5 miles to Rannoch Station where our training camp base of the Moor of Rannoch Hotel is situated.
The hotel’s major selling point – apart from the gin bar (obviously!) – is that there is no tv signal and no wifi, with only very limited mobile signal. You are quite literally in the middle of nowhere. But the scenery was stimulating brain food as it looks out over Rannoch Moor to the Glencoe mountains.
More of the hotel – including the fabulous restaurant – later. As we arrived in the car park we were met by the most hospitable Scott, who owns the hotel with his partner Steph.
A quick unpack and we were raring to go by 10.30 – with the planned route of 34 miles in total. That was 5 miles to the bottom of Loch Rannoch, 22 miles all the way round, and a last 5 miles canter back to the hotel.
The “old git” calculated that with our usual average speed on flat roads of around 10 mph, and allowing for a few stops and a break for lunch, that we would be back enjoying the luxury of the hotel by mid afternoon.
Aye right! What he hadn’t calculated on was this was the first long distance cycle of the season – and rustiness (aka being unfit) was going to be a factor!
Ready to roll – starting out from The Moor of Rannoch Hotel.
So we set off in high spirits and were at Bridge of Gaur at the bottom of Loch Rannoch in no time. The “old gal” had noted however that we had enjoyed a steep descent to the bottom of the loch – pointing out that we would have to tackle that during the last stretch of the journey.
But that was soon forgotten as the sun shone brilliantly giving fabulous reflections on the water as we cycled up the north side of the loch. The miles passed quickly and it felt really good to be back out on the open road.
The road around the loch is ideal for cycling and is a real magnet for cyclists – and we happily waved and parped my horn at numerous groups of people clad in tight lycra who looked much fitter than the “old git” and the “old gal.” But I bet you there not having as much fun as we were – because remember being on a tandem really is double the fun!
A quick photo stop was required as the majesty of the summit of Schiehallion came into view – with its almost perfect conical shape being reflected on the still water.
Reflecting on the awe inspiring Schiehallion – a hill of legend.
Back on the bike we were soon pedalling past the timeshare development and into Loch Rannoch itself, which marked half way.
We had covered the 17 miles in about 1 hour 45 minutes and were feeling really pleased with ourselves. Time for lunch and the “old gal” found an idyllic spot right in front of a waterfall complete with a bench to sit on and enjoy the sunshine while eating the goodies which she had prepared back at Matilda’s Rest.
What a perfect Easter Sunday lunch stop at Kinloch Rannoch.
The “old git” had packed away two small bottles of prosecco and soon the pair were toasting their training trip – and commenting on how easy it all seemed (so far!)
Cheers! Spot the “old gal” smiling – complete with prosecco and straw!
The “old git” seemed to enjoy his bottle too!
After a great alfresco lunch the dynamic duo decided a coffee would be good and dropped into the Riverbank Cafe – which is a real favourite of cyclists as it was mobbed. After finding a table they enjoyed some lovely coffee and caramel shortcake. It seems the staff liked their electric pink “Two Old Farts on a Tandem” t-shirts as they asked to take pictures of the duo – with me of course!
Riverbank Cafe – an ideal coffee stop for cyclists.
So refuelled, we headed off for the route back down the north side of the loch, which if anything is even quieter.
The B class single track road again winds its way through some amazing countryside passing through the Black Wood of Rannoch – one of the largest areas of ancient pine forest left in Scotland.
This is truly a magical spot, with some of the trees thought to be over 400 years old. Little wonder that it is designated a Special Area of Conservation.
The miles passed easily at this point with my trusty duo enjoying the sunshine and some amusing banter along the way. One of the highlights was when the “old gal” decided she would take a video to show everyone exactly what her view is from the stoker position on the rear of the tandem!
The “old git” thinks she is exaggerating as most of the video seems to be a close-up of his back and rear end – but the “old gal” insists it is a genuine reflection of her view most of the time! Although she does admit she can turn her head to the side and get a somewhat better view!
You can judge for yourself – and have a laugh admiring the views – by clicking on the video:
There was a bit of climb near the west end of the loch (which required a push up hill) before reaching the end of the circle round the loch at Bridge of Gaur.
Just the small matter then of the last five miles back to the comfort of the hotel to be completed. Unfortunately the dynamic duo were no longer dynamic and their energy tanks were now running on empty. I believe this is called ‘hitting the wall’.
What should have been a half hour breeze along five miles of gently undulating road – albeit with one steep climb – turning into a real grind. Every little up hill stretch seemed to be like climbing the Alps. The “old git” and the “old gal” descended into stoney silence as they literally grinded out the the last couple of miles – rarely getting above 4 mph.
It was like seeing an oasis in the desert when the “old gal” shouted that she could see the hotel.
And soon we were sat at the bar – still in full cycling gear – drowning our thirst with an ice cool diet coke, before demolishing a very tasty Eden Hop gin from the selection of Scottish gins on offer.
Somewhat revived they packed me into Matilda’s Transport and retired to their luxurious room for a much needed shower and some rest and recuperation.
A wonderful dinner followed – washed down with some lovely wine – while looking out at a herd of deer feeding on the moor and the snow capped mountains behind.
It really has to be one of the remotest and best locations for a hotel anywhere in Scotland. Try it for yourself – you will not be disappointed. The owners, Scott and Steph have got it just right – making it feel like a home from home but in the middle of the wilderness. That makes it unexpected, and the food and welcome is a real joy. A real five-star gem of a find where you would least expect it – and without having to pay five-star prices. Make sure and book ahead though – as there are just five rooms and it is becoming increasingly popular.
Time for a quick nightcap in the lounge, and a chat with the other guests while enjoying the complimentary cheeseboard, before tiredness hit and sleep beckoned.
Perhaps,on reflection, 34 miles was just a tad ambitious for the first real outing of the year …. well at least that last 5 miles too long!
But the “old git” has signed us up for more training camps soon!