My pedals get to turn for the first time in 2016 at scenic Loch Leven!

Beautiful February Sunshine at the pier at Loch Leven.

Beautiful February Sunshine at the pier at Loch Leven.

At last all those storms with silly names seem to have passed and from midweek the excitement was mounting at Matildas Rest as the weather forecast was finally showing a lovely weather window for Sunday – an almost unheard of phenomenon recently … a sunny day with virtually no wind.

At last it seemed I was going to be able to get back out on the road and get some fresh air between my spokes after languishing in my garage. I mean the excitement of my blog being named as a finalist in the UK Blog Awards 2016 was a nice diversion – but as all tandemers know there is nothing like the real think of getting your pedals turning again!

The “old gal” and the “old git” have admittedly missed the regular exercise of outings on me. And whisper it, but they have put on a few extra pounds over the winter – especially the “old git”! – so I am a little worried about the extra weight!

However they tell me they are now on a healthy eating regime to lose weight and to give them energy – known as the Hay Plan – and it seems to be working as in the first two weeks they lost a combined 16 pounds!  Phew – just in time!

The “old gal” was also a bit worried about being a bit rusty on the bike and demanded that we start off somewhere flat for the first trip of the year. The “old git” did as he was told – unusually so! – and selected nearby Loch Leven as the destination. It really is a jewel in Perthshire’s crown and the scenery would be enchanting in the February sunshine.

So Sunday morning dawned and excitement reached fever as the blinds were opened to reveal glorious sunshine. The “old git” was deliriously happy and the ski thermals were donned – as it was still going to be cold – before we all found ourselves bundled into Matilda Transporter for the short half hour drive to Kinross pier.

Matilda Transport - this is the glamorous way I travel!

Matilda Transport – this is the glamorous way I travel!

As you can see from the picture, Matildas Transport may not be the most glamorous way to travel for this “old lady” – but it is highly effective. The “old git” an the “old gal” even have to sit in tandem – one driving and the other in the spare passenger seat in the rear – to ensure we all fit in. But fit in we do!

The challenge for the first ride out of 2016 was to complete cycle route round the whole of Loch Leven – an easy 13 miles.

The trail has opened two years ago at a cost of £3 million and is known as the Loch Leven Heritage Trail and it links 30 natural and cultural heritage sites. Take a look at the map of the whole of the Loch Leven route here.

The "old git" and the "old gal" ready for the off - first tandem trip of 2016!

The “old git” and the “old gal” ready for the off – first tandem trip of 2016!

So it was with a little trepidation that we set off – and admittedly we were a bit shaky at first … but my dynamic duo soon got the hang of it again and we got into our stride, settling into a nice easy pace given the first outing of the year.

The “old git” had given his word to the “old gal” that if there was any dangers ahead that he would slow down or come to a stop – so they could walk a bit before getting back on. And he kept to his word.

He even stopped at the couple of right angle bends that there are in the first few miles of the route – as he has now (thankfully) learned that an “old lady” like me doesn’t bend in the middle and tight bends are therefore an extreme hazard!

Another less dangerous hazard was the number of walkers with dogs who were out for the day! The sunshine had brought them out like ants! The “old gal” came up with the idea that as we approached each group from behind, that the “old git” would give a friendly ‘parp’ on my horn to warn them.

This was a success, and there was much friendly exchange of greetings as we cycled past. I have to say, though, the “old gal” was getting a little annoyed at the number of times walkers said to us: “She’s not pedalling on the back” as we cycled past them. A quick retort of “Oh that’s the tenth time I have heard that today” seemed to silence them however!

It was amazing to be out in such beautiful countryside – with hardly a breath of wind. Both the “old git” and the “old gal” had big smiles on their faces as they remembered just how good it was to be tandeming together.

I was in my element of course as everyone turned to look at me as I was the only tandem on the route – and caused quite a stir as I cycled past other groups.  A few kids where heard to say to their parents: “Is that a double bike?!”

One of the key attractions of the Loch Leven circular route is the RSPB Loch Leven Nature Reserve which is 7.5 miles round the circuit at Vane Farm so we headed for the RSPB visitor centre which has  a lovely appealing cafe overlooking the loch.

At the RSPB Loch Leven nature reserve

Blue skies at the RSPB Loch Leven nature reserve.

The “old git” had one of his (rare) good ideas and suggested some warming soup at the cafe – so the pair enjoyed a steaming bowl of homemade tomato and pepper soup with crusty bread. Very welcoming it was too! And good to see the cafe so busy.

My dynamic due were slightly less than dynamic on the restart – with their legs having seized up a bit over the lunch break. But they soon got into the rhythm again as we headed back to Kinross.

The "old gal" enjoying the (almost) warm sunshine at Loch Leven.

The “old gal” enjoying the (almost) warm sunshine at Loch Leven.

Hats off to all those involved, because the cycle path is very smooth surface. And apart from a few muddy stretches – which can be excused because of the extremely wet weather we have had – it really was a joy to cycle on. Highly recommended.

We were soon back at the start point of Kinross pier and time for a few photos as the loch was looking serenely calm with the sky a very unseasonable shade of blue.

In the middle of the loch is Loch Leven castle which was the setting for the most traumatic year in the life of Mary Queen of Scots. It was here in 1567 that she was imprisoned and forced to abdicate before her dramatic escape a year later.

You can see why it was easy to imprison her here as you clearly need a boat to get to the island from the pier. But as it was off-season none were running.

The departure point for the small boat ferry to Loch Leven Castle.

The departure point for the small boat ferry to Loch Leven Castle.

With temperatures beginning to drop I was quickly loaded back into Matilda Transport and we headed off to a nearby Costa to enjoy some welcome hot coffee and reflect on the trip.

The verdict was that my first ride out of 2016 was a resounding success and my dynamic duo had rosy cheeks as a result of their (much needed) exercise. And we all vowed that there would be lots more trips in the weeks ahead.

My first ride out of 2016 - in beautiful sunshine - got the thumbs up from the "old git."

My first ride out of 2016 – in beautiful sunshine – got the thumbs up from the “old git.”

Finally, an update on the UK Blog Awards 2016. As regular readers will be well aware, Matildas Musings became a finalist in the Most Innovative category of the awards – reaching the final 10 out of over 2000 entries. I am seriously chuffed as not only is my blog achieving UK recognition for being the only blog ‘written’ by a classic tandem, but it is also the only Scottish finalist.

And not just that, but my blog has caught the imagination of the local media – with several big articles appearing in newspapers – including this front page story in the Strathallan Times and also this feature in the Perthshire Advertiser.

Media coverage of reaching the finals of the UK Blog Awards 2016.

Media coverage of reaching the finals of the UK Blog Awards 2016.

The organisers say that judging has taken place – in top secret – and the results will be announced at a glitzy UK Blog Awards 2016 presentation evening at the Park Plaza Hotel in London at the end of April.

So I have my brake cables crossed until then in the hope that I my blog will win the overall award!

In the meantime I am basking in the glory of being able to say I am a UK Blog Awards 2016 finalist!

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Scottish-Yukon link up for Tour de Loire Valley

So with the awful weather brought in with all the storms with fancy names – incidentally don’t you think there should be a Storm Matilda … that would be fun! – I have been confined to the garage at Matilda’s Rest.

The “old git” optimistically looks at the weekend weather forecast diligently each midweek, only to have plans for a ride-out with the “old gal” thwarted by a wintry cocktail of storm force winds, rain, ice and snow.

We really are all getting cabin fever and want to get back out on the road – if nothing else to stop the “old git” moaning about the weather and to stop the expansion of his waist line!

Even all the excitement of my blog being named as a finalist in the UK Blog Awards 2016 – down to the final 10 in the “Most Innovative” category from an entry of 2000 blogs – is nothing compared to being out and getting fresh air between my spokes! And at my tender age, this “old lady” tandem is getting a bit worried that my pedals will seize up if we don’t get out soon!

The “old git” is already looking to the advance forecast to see what next Sunday is going to be like – thinking it would be romantic to have a ride-out on Valentine’s Day while singing along to the classic “On a Bicycle Built For Two” song!

So with no prospect of getting out this weekend, thoughts turned to cycling in warm sunshine and Team Tandem Ecosse’s annual September Tour de France du Tandem holiday. So after amazing tours of Burgundy in 2014 and then Bordeaux in 2015 where to go for 2016? (If you haven’t read those adventures and want to find them quickly, all you have to do is type in Burgundy or Bordeaux into the ‘Search Matildas Musings’ box and you will see the postings.)

Two pre-requisites for these tours seem to be fairly flat cycling – as regular readers know we don’t do hills – and some fabulous vineyards – as regular readers know we definitely do do wine!

After much consideration, and a few recommendations, we selected the Loire Valley. And apart from its world-famous vineyards, there are numerous stunning chateaux to be explored en-route.

LV Cyclomundo logoThen we chose a French-based company Cyclomundo to book our self-guided tour with as they seem to know the area inside out. The seven day tour we have chosen is called: Fairytale Castles along the Loire River which covers nearly 230 miles from Blois to Angers. You can see the full itinerary and view the map of the route by clicking here.

But the big news is that it is not going to be just Team Tandem Ecosse on the Tour de Loire – we are teaming up with Team Yukon! Yes we are going to be meeting up with friends Nancy and John who we met in Burgundy during our week long tour there in 2014.

We had such a good time when our paths crossed – including a memorable dinner and some lovely wines – that we decided it would be fun to do the Loire Valley trip together. They don’t have a tandem, but are keen solo cyclists. And they also have a love for good French food and wine and a similar dislike for hills as my dynamic duo – so it should be a good match!

Nancy +John on siolo bikes at Prince Edward Island

Nancy and John on solo bikes enjoying a ride at Prince Edward Island in Canada.

Now why are they known as Team Yukon? Well they happen to live in Whitehorse, which is the capital of the remote Yukon territory in northern Canada – which is a mere 3,930 miles (or 6,319 kilometres) away from our base in Perthshire! (You can find out more about Whitehorse and the Yukon here and here.)

Logistically that seems a trifle mad, but with electronic communications distance doesn’t matter. So all four of us are booked and in September they will fly from Yukon to France and hire bikes as we drive to France in Matilda Transporter to enjoy the tour together.

This “old lady” of a tandem is so looking forward to having company on the trip and I know Nancy and John are really looking forward to it – and to the Scottish-Yukon link up. So much so that I asked them to contribute some words to my blog as to how this long-distance friendship came about! Here’s what Nancy said:

Little did we know what adventures lay ahead when we spotted Matilda trying to hide amongst the regular bicycles carefully parked for the night at Hotel des Remparts in Beaune in September 2014.

To say that she stood out among the hybrids and road bikes is an understatement. I foolishly tried lifting her – and while it’s not polite to reveal a lady’s weight against her wishes, suffice to say that Colin and Diane (aka the “old git” and the “old gal”) start out every bike ride with a significant disadvantage!

Yet in that great week as we explored the Burgundy countryside, John and I had the pleasure of crossing paths with Matilda et al many times so she obviously can keep pace, broken spokes and all.

Selfie time with Nancy and John in Burgundy in 2014.

Selfie time with Nancy and John in Burgundy in 2014.

Through (good) wines and food and (bad) hills we forged a friendship with Matilda’s people that will now take us all through the Loire together this September. We look forward to saying hello to the “old lady” again and savouring the best that a bike ride can offer.”

So Nancy and John will be featuring regularly in my blog postings this year – including how John’s training regime is going!

In the meantime Team Matilda can only keep their fingers and spokes crossed for an improvement in the weather to get back out on the road!

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