Check out our route round Loch Rannoch on Strava here – don’t forget to click on the map to get the full data and statistics!
Now you know how the “old git” likes a challenge! Well the eagle-eyed among you may have spotted a comment from Martin, a good friend of my dynamic duo, at the end of my last Musing. He got to hear of our plans for our Easter weekend trip to the wilderness spot of Loch Rannoch in Highland Perthshire and threw down the gauntlet: “Good luck this Sunday – I ran the Loch Rannoch Marathon 30 years ago and it took me 3 hours 50mins to cover the 26 miles. I reckon you can beat that time on Matilda … fancy a challenge?!”
Well I must admit it sounded appealing and the challenge was immediately accepted – after it was confirmed that Martin meant cycling time, as there was the vitally important lunch stop for the prosecco picnic to factor in! So once it was agreed that it was moving time – with the Strava app report being the official arbiter – we were all up for it! Even the “old gal” thought it was achievable!
So the challenge was to be part of what was now the annual Easter training camp trip to Loch Rannoch – to step up the training for this summer’s Tour de Loire Valley in September.
The area is described as one of the last true wildernesses in Europe – with truly majestic scenery. And the “old git” made sure the “old gal” was happy by throwing in the carrot of a repeat overnight stay in the amazingly remote small luxury Moor of Rannoch Hotel to recharge their batteries (and legs) after the cycling. When the “old git” mentioned to the “old gal” that there were 12 Scottish gins in the speciality gin bar, she was sold! Even if it meant cycling 26 miles before gin o’clock!
The “old gal” didn’t even complain as we all found ourselves bundled into Matilda Transport at the unearthly hour of 7.30 am on Easter Sunday – even earlier if you factor in the clocks going forward! – to head off up the A9. The “old git” kept going on about the forecast of bright sunshine, with the odd shower, but I have to say that me and the “old gal” were a bit sceptical after some torrential rain the day before.
But amazingly there was sunshine as we headed away from Matildas Rest and spirits were raised even further with a tasty cooked breakfast stop at the brilliant Ballinluig Motor Grill.
Back on the road we were soon turning off the A9 just after Pitlochry and heading along the narrow winding roads past Loch Tummel to the village of Kinloch Rannoch at the head of the loch, which would be our lunch stop.
We drove down the 12 miles to the bottom of the loch, and a smile came to the lips of the “old gal” as she remembered how flat – or very gently undulating – the route was!
So before 11 we had parked up just after Bridge of Gaur and we were all set for our own Easter Sunday Tour de Loch Rannoch du Tandem! Strava connected with GPS even though there was no internet access in the area – so our challenge was going to be officially recorded.
The sun was shining brightly on the waters as we set off and the miles clocked up quickly as we cycled along the north side of the loch. The route is a real magnet for cyclists – and the “old git” happily parped my horn at various people clad in tight lycra who appeared much fitter than my dynamic duo. But it would have to be said that they were not having nearly as much fun as we were – because remember being on tandem really is double the fun!
As it was only March, there were a few clouds about but that only added to the mystery as the majesty of the perfectly conical shape of Schiehallion – one of Scotland’s most recognisable mountains – kept appearing and disappearing as we cycled along.
A quick stop at a wild camping area provided some great photo opportunities including me posing beside a proper camp fire – with Schiehallion providing a marvelous scenic backdrop!
Despite the romantic image – all three of us were in one voice that Team Matilda don’t do camping! We like our home comforts too much! And as the “old gal” said: “Where would I plug in my hair dryer?!”
As the sun broke through the clouds again the “old git” decided on a shot showing off my new Captain and Stoker water bottles basking in the wild and remote loch side setting. He really is getting quite artistic in his old age!
Then he decided he would have some fun with the “old gal” and got her to pose looking wistfully into the distance so he could shout “Where’s Schiehallion – Its behind you!” in pantomime voice!
It was time to get back in the saddle, but only after another photo of me and the “old gal” – or the two old ladies as the “old git” describes us! – with a view down the loch with its rugged and remote mountain backdrop.
On we pedalled and in what seemed like no time we were tandeming into the village of Loch Rannoch feeling really pleased at ourselves at having reached the half way point. Time for lunch and the dynamic duo’s famous prosecco picnic!
The “old git” found a small bench right in front of a waterfall which was in full spate after the recent heavy rain. The sound of the water rushing down provided a fabulous wilderness backdrop as my dynamic duo ate their healthy goodies – prepared to Hay eating plan guidelines!
You know I am so impressed with my crew who have now clocked up an amazing weight loss of 32 pounds between them in just six weeks! My frame is certainly feeling the benefits! However, that didn’t stop them indulging in a small bottle of prosecco each to toast the Easter training trip and to wash down the tasty salad wraps and fruit salad.
And the lunch had been packed away in a nifty new “Bicycle Riders Luncheon Box” which good friends Ann and Jack gave us at Christmas.
After a great alfresco lunch, the dynamic duo decided a coffee would be a good idea and dropped into the Riverbank Cafe – a real favourite of all the cyclists who circle the loch. The staff are so helpful – immediately offering a jug of water to top up my water bottles. After feeling virtuous over their healthy lunch – and taking into account the calories being burned off – it seemed only right to accompany their wonderful coffee with a slice of their lovely thick caramel shortcake.
So refuelled we crossed the old bridge and headed off on the route back down the south side of the loch – which if anything is even quieter and even more scenic.
The B-class single track road never seems to be more than a couple of yards from the loch itself, and the wilderness factor is underlined as it winds its way through the magical Black Wood of Rannoch – one of the largest areas of ancient pine forest left in Scotland. It certainly lives up to its Forestry Commission 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 so special that it feels like an honour to be able to cycle through it – truly getting as close as possible to nature. Little wonder then that it is designated a Special Area of Conservation.
At the edge of the wooded area it was time for another stop – and given it was Easter Sunday it was time for my dynamic duo to roll their Easter eggs! They had hand decorated some hard boiled eggs the day before and carefully wrapped them in bubble wrap to survive the trip!
They walked a few yards to a tranquil small stony area at the edge of the loch and with no steep banking the “old git” decided that they would have to make do with launching the eggs into the water instead of rolling them. The “old git” decided he would shoot a video to record the “old gal” launching her Easter egg into the now calm waters of Loch Rannoch, with hilarious results – especially the fact that he spectacularly missed capturing the egg entering the water!
You can see the fun for yourself – and admire the amazing scenery – by clicking on the video below. (Remember if you are reading this on email, you need to click onto the actual blog via the link at the bottom of the email to view the video.)
As we walked back to the bike the “old git” noticed that I was somewhat incongruously parked up against a phone box – which must be one of the remotest in Scotland. It is even more amazing given there is no internet or mobile phone signal around. So the “old git” let his imagination go into overdrive and suggested I was calling my friend Bluebird – the recumbent tandem based in Hampshire and crewed by John and Jane – to tell her what a beautiful area this was and how much she would like it!
You see Bluebird is famous too as she has her own Facebook page! And I can’t wait till August as she is coming to Perthshire to tour round some of the best routes in our wonderful area. Us two tandems are going to have such fun out on the roads together!
Back on the route, we even managed the bit of a climb which gives great views over the loch across. Just at that point there was the only rain shower of the day. But we couldn’t complain, and especially not as the sun and the shower revealed the most beautiful brightly coloured rainbow. The “old gal” leapt into action and quickly positioned me beneath its arc to get a great photo. So good in fact here it is again, in case you missed it at the start of my Musing!
The rain stopped as suddenly as it started and with the sun shining again a descent on a windy stretch took us quickly back down to end the circle of the loch at Bridge of Gaur and a short cycle back to where Matilda Transport was parked.
But you will remember Martin’s challenge! The milometer was reading just 24 miles in just under 3 hours travelling time – and the challenge was to complete 26 miles in 3 hours 50 mins. No way the “old git” and the “old gal” were going to give up on breaking Martin’s record at this stage! So, despite being fairly tired, my dynamic duo pedalled past Matilda Transport and headed out into the open countryside before performing a u-turn to complete an additional three miles. (That explains the extra bit at Bridge of Gaur after our circle of the loch on the Strava map!)
The “old gal” managed to video the “old git” recording a cheeky message for Martin as they crossed the 26 mile marker to hammer home the challenge had been won! Click on the video below. (Remember again that if you are reading this on email, you need to click onto the actual blog via the link at the bottom of the email to view the video.)
Although we couldn’t get official confirmation at that point from the Strava app – we knew we had smashed Martin’s time. When we did get internet access and downloaded our route it unequivocally showed that we covered 26.9 miles in a moving time of 3 hours 07 mins and 11 seconds! More than 40 minutes faster! Officially verified! I have to say all three of us had a good laugh about the challenge throughout the day – and I know Martin won’t mind his 30 year old (plus!) record getting broken one little bit! We await the next challenge with interest!
So buoyed by that success I was packed up into Matilda Transport and we drove the final five hilly miles towards Rannoch Station where our training camp hotel is situated. Before checking in we had been recommended to try the famous Rannoch Station tearoom. It is amazing and a little gem.
A really friendly couple have transformed the old station waiting room into a most welcoming tea room – providing hot drinks and home made treats! It is a real favourite with walkers when they come off the moor, and if my dynamic duo’s coffee and carrot cake was anything to go by it fully deserves its “must visit” reputation.
We then literally walked across the road from the tearoom to be met by Scott and Steph, mine hosts at the oasis which is Moor of Rannoch Hotel. It is hard to describe this hotel to fully justify what it offers but essentially it is probably best summed up in the four headline words they use on their website – Retreat, Relax, Unwind, Escape.
The hotel’s major selling point – apart from the gin bar (obviously!) is that there is no tv signal and no wifi. You are quite literally cut off from the modern world. But that is a huge benefit, and the scenery provides the stimulating brain food as it looks out over the wilderness of Rannoch Moor to the Glencoe mountains.
Only minutes after we checked in to one of only five bedrooms, there was another magical moment when a herd of about 20 deer – came down off the hill to feed. As the “old git” rather obviously said: “Maybe there’s a stag party on!” As the “old gal” groaned and forced a laugh to humour him she grabbed her phone and managed to capture the image while hanging out the bedroom window.
After a much needed shower, and some rest and recuperation my dynamic duo had a pre-dinner selection from the gin bar featuring many small batch artisan Scottish gins. The “old git” had a Gordon Castle while the “old gal” had a Shetland Reel!
A wonderful dinner full of flavours to tempt the taste buds followed – sample menu here – all home cooked on the premises from mainly local produce by Steph. That was helped along with a lovely fruity dry Sauvignon, and all accompanied by the live theatre that is the moving vista of the wild countryside viewed through the massive picture windows.
As we sampled the cheeseboard in the lounge – along with a liqueur of Scotland’s first rum called Dark Matter – the “old git” reflected on the fact that it has to be one of the remotest and best locations for a hotel anywhere in Scotland.
And the “old gal” pointed out that the owners, Scott and Steph, have got it just right, offering wonderful friendly but not obsequious hospitality making it feel like a home from home in the middle of the wilderness.
After dinner the atmosphere in the lounge becomes like a small house party, with guests exchanging stories and playing games like Scrabble and Connect 4!
It offers a real all encompassing five-star stay – which cannot be faulted – and all without having to pay five-star prices. It is highly recommended, but make sure and book ahead as it is becoming increasingly popular. You won’t be disappointed!
After an amazing day tiredness hit and sleep beckoned – with my crew no doubt dreaming of breaking Martin’s challenge over and over again!
Remember, if you’ve got this far and haven’t checked out my route to around Loch Rannoch on Strava you can do so here.
And finally, don’t forget to keep all your fingers and toes crossed for my blog – which is a finalist in the Most Innovative category of the UK Blog Awards 2016. Not only is Matildas Musings the only blog ‘written’ by a classic Jack Taylor tandem, but it is the only Scottish finalist. The results will be announced at a glitzy awards presentation evening at the Park Plaza Hotel in London on Friday April 29. Here’s hoping …