Matildas Clan Gathering on Millport

The “old gal” and the “old git” enjoying the ride on sun-drenched Millport.

The “old gal” and the “old git” enjoying the ride on sun-drenched Millport.

6.30 am on Sunday morning and the alarm awakes Team Matilda from their slumbers! A big day ahead as we are heading on an “overseas trip” for some “warm weather training” before Le Grand Depart for Le Tour de Loire Valley du Tandem in two weeks time!

Today’s destination is the “sunshine” island of Millport. For those unfamiliar with the charms of “Costa del Millport”, the island (officially known as The Isle of Cumbrae) is just 10 minutes by Cal Mac ferry from the mainland at Largs on the firth of Clyde. It is a cyclists paradise as it offers a virtually flat 10.25 mile loop round the island on almost traffic free roads.

And as added excitement the day was billed as my Clan Gathering on Millport as the “old git” came up with the idea of having a family fun day on the island. So with a variety of complicated logistics the “old gal’s” daughter Kirsty and the “old git’s” son Niall joined us for the day. And to add to all of that, we were all celebrating Niall’s birthday too!

Two of Team Matilda's offspring - Kirsty and Niall - joined us for the day "doon the water"!

Two of Team Matilda’s offspring – Kirsty and Niall – joined us on Millport.

Now before we move on I have to record here that I have been pining for my new best friend Bluebird – the Pino semi-recumbent tandem – who I shared a memorable week during Le Tour de Perthshire du Tandem, I really have been missing the company of my fellow tandem! And I know the “old gal” and the “old git” had a great time with Team Bluebird – John and Jane Taylor – and formed what hopefully will be a lasting friendship among the self-proclaimed founding members of The Nutty Tandemers Club.

Whisper it, but rumour has it that other tandemers are now keen to join after reading about the week’s fun and games on my blog and also on Bluebird’s mini blog Facebook site called ‘Travels with Bluebird’.

Hopefully our antics can be repeated before too long – perhaps on John and Jane’s home turf of the New Forest in Hampshire where we are reliably told (by Team Bluebird!) that there are some fabulous real English pubs!

So back to Millport – and when we arrived Kirsty and Niall jumped on the bus which meets the ferry for the four mile trip to the town of Millport while my dynamic duo enjoyed a brisk ride to join them.

After a much needed coffee pit stop at Crocodeli, Kirsty and Niall hired solo bikes from the famous Mapes, which has over 400 bicycles for hire! Now it would need to be said here that Kirsty hadn’t been on two wheels for quite a few years – but Niall cycles regularly and is rather fit!

So we hit the road and pedalled anti clockwise round the island – enjoying the views over to neighbouring islands of Arran and Rothesay. In less than an hour we all completed the first circuit. You can check out the details of  our route on sun-drenched Millport on Strava below – and don’t forget to click on the map image to get the full date and statistics!

Millport Clan Gathering Map

It was now almost balmy as we had a breather back in the town and everyone was feeling euphoric as they had to remove their cycling jackets due to overheating!

Heading off in a clockwise direction, we cycled about half way round the island to our fantastic lunch spot – a picnic table right on the edge of the sea.

Lunch stop at a (prosecco) picnic table on the edge of the beach.

Lunch stop at a (prosecco) picnic table on the edge of the beach.

The “old gal” had excelled herself with a magnificent prosecco picnic spread – including croissant filled with smoked salmon and cream cheese, mini pork pies, cocktail sausages, and cheese. This was followed by fresh fruit and a special “birthday” carrot cake for Niall, complete with candles!

Picnic selfie for the foursome of Kirsty, the "old gal", the "old git" and Niall! Cheers!

Picnic selfie for the foursome of Kirsty, the “old gal”, the “old git” and Niall! Cheers!

After lunch – with the sun now high in the sky and the temperature rising, there was time for a walk on the beach – enjoying the magnificent scenery in ideal conditions.

On the beach with the backdrop of Rothesay in brilliant sunshine showing the island at its best!

On the beach with the backdrop of Rothesay in brilliant sunshine showing the island at its best!

After the picnic we all enjoyed some tandem frolics – with first Niall  then Kirsty having a shot as stoker, replacing the “old gal”!

Niall taking to the role as my new temporary stoker with great ease!

Niall taking to the role as my new temporary stoker with great ease!

Niall was very confident – and don’t tell the “old gal” but the “old git” really felt a difference when he was pedalling due to his youthful enthusiasm! The “old gal” meanwhile took up her role to shoot a couple of short videos, firstly of Niall. (Remember if you are reading this on email, you need to click on the blog first – via the link at the bottom of the email – to view the video.)

Next to take to my rear saddle was Kirsty – who was perhaps a little more nervous to begin with. But she soon got into her stride – although admitted it did feel a bit odd not being able to steer!

Kirst!y enjoying taking up her new role as temporary stoker

Kirsty enjoying taking up her new role as my temporary stoker!

As you can see from this short video, Kirsty did remember to pedal and didn’t try to sit with her feet up! (Remember to click onto the blog to view the video.)

After resuming our original positions we continued clockwise to complete the second full lap of the island. It was great to see it so busy – being such a beautiful day – and also good to see so many people out cycling.

I then had the pleasure of being greeted like a long lost friend – when I heard someone shout: “There’s Matilda!” It was Crawford and Janette who run the most hospitable Craigard Guest House on the island where Team Matilda have bedded down for the night when staying over on the island! It was good to see them again and we promised we would be back for an overnight stay soon!

After ice creams and much needed cold drinks on our return to the town, there was still plenty of time left so the “old git” and the “old gal” decided they had to get a photo at the island’s famous Crocodile Rock landmark – which has been given a fresh lick of paint for the summer!

Posing at Crocodile Rock - the famous landmark on Millport, complete with fresh paint job.

Posing at Crocodile Rock – the famous landmark on Millport, complete with fresh paint job.

Then, in their questionable wisdom my dynamic duo decided they would do one final “speed lap” – a non-stop round the island whizz. Kirsty retired at this point due to a sore rear end, but Niall decided he would power off and do a lap on his own. Impressively he returned back to Millport in a time of just 34.5 minutes – which means he clocked an average speed of nearly 18mph.

As for us, we started well and we were flying along for the first few miles – but then this turned out to be the hottest part of the day and in the warm sunshine it would need to be said that Team Matilda “hit the wall” at the top end of the island!

Our progress down the quieter side was somewhat slower than usual with stoney silence between my duo – who were decidedly less than dynamic at this point! The non-stop plan was abandoned as they were forced to stop for water – before a final push to get back to the town. And hats off to them (sunhats obviously!) they still completed the 10.25 mile circuit in under the hour – at 56 minutes!

Happy faces enjoying the sunshine on Costa del Millport!

Happy faces enjoying the warm sunshine and blue skies on Costa del Millport!

So after my dynamic duo “ran out of juice” on the final lap it was time to replenish liquids at the Harbour restaurant where a table was booked for a birthday meal for Niall. First up were the celebratory Millport French kiss cocktails – an intoxicating mix of gin, prosecco and lime juice – which went down a treat after the exertions!

Regular readers of my blog will know this is one of the favourite restaurants of the “old git” and the “old gal” and once again it lived up to it’s previous reputations. The food was brilliant and tasty as always – and originally presented. The “old git” for example had chilli prawns followed by a build-your-own burger with blue cheese topping! Just what was need to restore energy levels!

One of the funniest parts of the trip – which encapsulated the enjoyment of the whole day – was on the ride back to the ferry. Niall and Kirsty jumped on the bus while the “old git” and the “old gal” had to pedal the four miles to the ferry slipway. But after a lovely relaxing meal progress was a little slower than usual.

Because the road hugs the coast the arrival of the ferry is clearly visible and given that they only operate every half hour they didn’t want to miss it. The final mile is an open stretch known as the “sprint to the ferry” and I now know why! With the minutes ticking away to the 7.30 departure – and all the vehicles loaded – we were still a good half mile or so away.

The "old gal" and the "old git" on the last stretch known as "sprint to the ferry" - and it was!

The “old gal” and the “old git” on the last stretch known as “sprint to the ferry” – and it was!

It looked like we were going to miss the sailing by seconds – until the “old git” demanded one final push from the “old gal”. “Give it some wellie!” he urged and we powered along the final straight in the evening sunlight. We could see all the passengers on deck and the crew ready to depart, and Niall and Kirsty dutifully waiting for us. As we turned on to the slipway the passengers and crew all applauded as we had made it by the skin of our teeth!

I have to say it was quite an arrival – I am not used to such applause so it was a bit embarrassing – but the very second I was pushed on deck the roll on-roll off door was lifted and the engines started and we were off.

Just over five minutes later we arrived back in Largs and a quick pedal back to Matildas Transport and time to reflect on a super day before the journey home with a backdrop of a magnificent sunset over Millport.

Perfect sunset over Millport after a super family day of tandem frolics.

Perfect sunset over Millport after a super family day of tandem frolics.

Strava officially recorded the ride as covering a distance of 38.7 miles with a total moving time of 4 hours 01 minutes, with an average speed of 9.6 mph. Top speed was 20.6 mph due to the island being so flat and a lack of downhill stretches and therefore the elevation covered was just 878 feet. We managed to burn up 2,745 calories and produce an estimated average power output of 170 W.

And astonishingly Strava awarded us no less than 21 records – I will repeat that … no less than 21 records!  This included an amazing 10 personal bests – one of Team Matilda’s best ever performances on a ride! To be honest I guess that the fact that we were effectively doing laps – 4 in total – meant we kept breaking the time on the previous lap! And obviously one of them was in that final race to the ferry!But it’s still an impressive tally and one I am very proud of as an “old lady”!

The “old git” tells me to inform my readers to ignore the bit on the Strava map where it looks like we are tandeming across water! This I am reliably told was an “operator error” by the “old gal” who was so overcome with the sprint to the ferry that she forgot to switch the device off! So it looks as if we were actually pedalling over the sea back to the mainland!

All in all a five-star day of family fun filled tandem frolics on a beautiful corner of Scotland! Quite a place for a clan gathering!

UKBA finalist_twitter

Tour de Perthshire du Tandem – Team Matilda welcomes Team Bluebird!

Here I am with my new "best pal" Bluebird - the semi-recumnent tandem!

Here I am with my new “best pal” Bluebird – a semi-recumbent tandem.

TDP wine 5 x 7I have been uber excited over the past week or so as I have made a new friend! I am now ‘best pals’ with another tandem – called Bluebird – who kept me company on some rides and with whom I had lots of chats and fun!

You see Team Matilda – made up of the “old git” and the “old gal” – welcomed Team Bluebird to Perthshire – made up of two fellow tandemers, Jane and John Taylor who live near Southampton in Hampshire. They brought their unusual Pino semi-recumbent tandem,  who has her own mini blog called ‘Travels with Bluebird’.

Now for background Jane and John certainly seemed to have much in common with my dynamic duo – such as not enjoying hills and definitely enjoying wine! In fact both Team Bluebird and Team Matilda seemed to have the same views on not taking tandeming too seriously. Therefore, prior to arrival,  they all decided they would become self-proclaimed founding members of the Nutty Tandemers Club! And that definitely set the tone for the week – and gave us all a crazy reputation to live up to! And I can say that over the week all four tandemers more than passed the test to be life long members of the Nutty Tandemers Club!

Given that so much happened during the action-packed week, this blog is a kind of photo special as I recount the best bits of Le Tour de Perthshire du Tandem ….

Monday 15 August – The Big Meet up … and Loch Rannoch!

Thumbs up from Team Matilda and Team Bluebird in Le Tour de Perthshire du Tandem t-shirts!

Thumbs up from Team Matilda and Team Bluebird in Le Tour de Perthshire du Tandem t-shirts!

Monday morning and Matildas Rest was a hive of activity as the “old git” and the “old gal” were up early to prepare to welcome Team Bluebird! Given that my dynamic duo had only become friends with them electronically via the UK Tandem Club Facebook page – the “old gal” said it was a bit like preparing for a blind date!  Obviously they had “seen” each other via Skype calls – but this was the first meet up! And I was keen with anticipation to meet Bluebird too, as I had heard so much about her!

John and Jane and Bluebird had arrived in Perthshire on Saturday following the UK Tandem Rally in Northumberland – and brought their car (aka Bertie!) and their caravan (aka Buzz!) to Crieff. My team were down in London for a wedding that weekend – but left a bag of Perthshire-themed food and drink items to make them feel welcome and get them into the mood (and training) for Le Tour! They also had team t-shirts created using the tour logo – complete with names of stokers and pilots on the sleeves – and made up some laminated posters and saltire flags for us tandems.

But all nervousness disappeared the moment the door bell went and John and Jane greeted my dynamic duo like long term friends. Over a quick coffee everyone quickly gelled and we all knew at that moment it was going to be a memorable week!

We headed up the A9 in convoy, with warm sunshine promised, to one of my favourite places for a ride – Loch Rannoch in Highland Perthshire. As we parked up at the western end of the loch at Bridge of Gaur, right on cue the sun broke through the clouds just as both us tandems were being unloaded. And as the two crews got their equipment sorted, I got the chance to make my acquaintance with Bluebird. And despite the fact that I am an “old lady” and she is just a newbie in comparison, we had lots in common and I felt great to have a new tandem pal!

Aren't Bluebird and I looking resplendent with our tour posters and saltires?

Aren’t Bluebird and I looking resplendent with our tour posters and saltires?

Team Bluebird - Pilot John and Stoker Jane ready to roll at Loch Rannoch.

Team Bluebird – Pilot John and Stoker Jane ready to roll at Loch Rannoch.

Off we pedalled on the 25 mile loop to take in the scenic beauty of the wilderness area of Loch Rannoch. You can check out the route of our inaugural Tour de Perthshire adventure at Loch Rannoch on Strava below – and don’t forget to click on the map image to get the full date and statistics!

TDP Strava Loch Rannoch

Now although Team Bluebird’s crew do a bit more miles on average than we do, they also agree with my dynamic duo’s philosophy that it is the sMiles and not the miles that is crucial! We were all rolling along at a good pace and  John and Jane were drinking in the amazing views across the loch to the mountains. The “old gal” decided a quick stop was required at a wild camping area about two-thirds of the way up the loch – which offers a perfect opportunity for pictures with the majesty of the perfectly conical shape of Schiehallion – one of Scotland’s most recognisable mountains – in the background.

All four self-proclaimed members of the Nutty Tandemers Club with Schiehallion

All four self-proclaimed members of the Nutty Tandemers Club with a backdrop of Schiehallion.

The two stokers - the "old gal" and Jane - together on the bans of an calm and sunny Loch Rannoch.

The two stokers – the “old gal” and Jane – together on the banks of a calm and sunny Loch Rannoch.

My dynamic duo in warm sunny day pose - spot the earpiece and headsets!

My dynamic duo in warm sunny day pose – spot the earpiece and headsets!

During the photo stop, us two tandems stayed in the shade and had a good chat!

During the photo stop, us two tandems stayed in the shade and had a good chat!

Conditions were so perfect that the “old gal” decided to shoot a video of Team Bluebird and Team Matilda enjoying the delightful scenery of Loch Rannoch. (Remember if you are reading this on email, you need to click on the blog first – via the link at the bottom of the email – to view the video.)

Tandeming on we soon arrived in the town of Kinloch Rannoch where the “old gal” had “booked” one of the most spectacular tables for lunch you could imagine – a picnic bench looking on to a waterfall. This was the venue for my dynamic due to introduce Team Bluebird into the benefits of their (in)famous prosecco picnics – the first of the tour!

Cheers! The first of the famous prosecco picnics of Le Tour de Perthshire!

Cheers! The first of the famous prosecco picnics of Le Tour de Perthshire!

A perfect combination for a lunchtime picnic - prosecco with an Irn Bru chaser!

A perfect combination for a lunchtime picnic – prosecco with an Irn Bru chaser!

After a most enjoyable picnic we set off down the quieter south side of the loch – which if anything is even more scenic than the north shore. 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 Team Bluebird agreed with Team Matilda 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.

All smiles - taking in the sunshine on the south side of Loch Rannoch!

All smiles – taking in the warm sunshine on the south side of a very calm Loch Rannoch!

We stopped a couple of times to bask in the warm sunshine before one of those moments when I am impressed with my dynamic duo. There is a fairly steep double hill towards the bottom of the loch – a section the “old git” and the “old gal” have had to walk in the past. But I am thrilled to report they managed to ride the whole way and enjoyed the feeling of satisfaction and achievement.

Back to the cars and both tandems were packed away before a short 6 mile drive to the end of the road and the wonderfully remote Rannoch railway station. Because we had enjoyed being out in the sunshine the amazing Rannoch Station tearoom was closed for the day and we had to make do with looking longingly through the windows of the beautifully converted station waiting room. But the tandem crews did explore the station itself with the display showing the story of its construction in such a remote location and got to play with an old set of signals!

The tandem crews got to play with an old set of signals.

The tandem crews got to play with an old set of signals.

Trainspotting! Rannoch Station - surely one of the remotest stations in Scotland.

Trainspotting! Rannoch Station – surely one of the remotest stations in Scotland.

The final stop for the day was to walk across the road from the station 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.

Moor of Rannoch hotel with its constantly changing natural vista of Rannoch Moor.

Moor of Rannoch hotel with its constantly changing natural vista of Rannoch Moor.

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.

Which is exactly the view that the tandem crews enjoyed as they enjoyed a perfect end to the day with a celebratory gin and a superb meal – presenting Highland Perthshire’s larder at its very best! And right on cue,  just as we were set to depart, the “stag party” arrived – with the friendly herd of deer coming down off the hill for their evening meal. As we set off for home, the moon was shining brightly over the mountains and we all enjoyed its sparkling reflection on the loch. A truly memorable day!

Tuesday 16 August – Buzz’s first entertaining!

The artistically designed Nutty Tandemers club membership cards.

The artistically designed Nutty Tandemers club membership cards.

Tuesday saw my dynamic duo have to go to work, so Team Bluebird ventured out for a short early afternoon 9 mile loop from their caravan site in Crieff which took in Drummond Castle and a trip on the first phase of the new Muthill to Crieff off road cycle path.

Tuesday evening saw a big event – with my dynamic duo being guinea pigs as they had the honour of being the first people entertained for a meal in Team Bluebird’s new caravan called Buzz! But to get in to the caravan my crew had to show their special membership cards for the Nutty Tandemers Club which John had cleverly created.

And before the meal there was the obligatory toast to the Nutty Tandemers! But it was a special toast as John and Jane had procured a special bottle of Veuve Amiot fizz – appropriately from the Loire Valley given our Tour de France destination of the Loire in September! And even more appropriately it was branded Tandem, as they had acquired it in May 2013 during the 25th International Tandem Rally in Saumur in France. My dynamic duo felt honoured – and it was delicious!

The toast to the Nutty Tandemers with the special "Tandem" fizz!

The toast to the Nutty Tandemers with the special “Tandem” fizz!

The meal that followed – cooked by Jane – of spinach pasta bake followed by fresh berries was very tasty and it was a great night of laughter and chat as the Nutty Tandemers cemented their friendship – with Buzz providing a very hospitable venue for entertaining! My crew were more than happy to be the guinea pigs!

Wednesday 17 August – Sun-kissed Loch Katrine!

The Tour de Perthshire Nutty Tandemers team shirts had the names on the sleeves.

The Tour de Perthshire Nutty Tandemers team shirts complete with names on the sleeves.

Today’s destination for the Nutty Tandemers was a favourite of the “old git” and the “old gal” – Loch Katrine – which nestles in some of Scotland’s most atmospheric, picturesque and historic scenery.

The area – in the heart of the Trossachs within Scotland’s first National Park – is clearly not strictly in Perthshire but it has a special place in the hearts of my dynamic duo as without Loch Katrine they may never have teamed up together! You see it is the very reason they got into tandeming in the first place, and it was totally by accident as they decided to hire a tandem on what was their first proper date together. And the rest as they say is history! You can read a humorous account of that day here.

Team Bluebird had heard all about the romantic story – and more importantly the wonderful scenery  – so were keen to see the beauty of  Loch Katrine for themselves. So we drove in convoy to Trossachs Pier and bought tickets for the historic steamship Sir Walter Scott.

It was very exciting as both Bluebird and I were lifted on board the boat and conditions could hardly have been better for a morning sail down the loch. Certainly no need for my sea sickness tablets! The “old git” even managed to persuade the boat’s staff to get the Captain to give Team Bluebird a special welcome over the ship’s tannoy!

Two "old ladies" together - here I am on the Walter Scott steamship.

Two “old ladies” together – here I am on the Walter Scott steamship.

Ahoy there! Team Bluebird enjoying the scenic sail on Loch Katrine.

Ahoy there! Team Bluebird enjoying the scenic sail on Loch Katrine.

An hour later we disembarked at Stronachlacher Pier and decided to firstly tandem west towards Loch Lomond and the famous Inversnaid Bunkhouse popular with walkers on the West Highland Way. You can check out the route of our the Nutty Tandemers Club sun-kissed sail and ride at Loch Katrine on Strava below – and don’t forget to click on the map image to get the full date and statistics!

Tdp Strava Loch Katrine

We decided to avoid the steep decent to – and therefore steep climb back from – Inversnaid itself and returned along what is called the Old Military Road to Stronachlachar – drinking in the scenery looking at its best in the glorious sunshine.

The "old git" and a Highland coo - the coo is on the left!

The “old git” and a Highland coo – the coo is the one on the left of the picture!

The “old gal” decided it would be an ideal time for a pit stop and Team Bluebird and Team Matilda enjoyed some welcome coffee and cake at the Pier Cafe – right on Stronachlacher pier which the boats dock at when taking passengers up and down the loch. As Jane remarked, the cafe’s picnic tables offer what has to be one of the best views in Scotland for a coffee stop. And with the sun beating down it was so warm that everyone had to apply some sun screen before getting back on the saddles!

Ready for the hilly Loch Katrine challenge from Stonachlachar Pier back to Trossachs Pier.

Ready for the hilly Loch Katrine challenge from Stonachlachar Pier back to Trossachs Pier.

So refuelled and refreshed we headed off on the 13 mile route back up the side of the loch. It is a joy to tandem on as it is a well maintained private road owned by Scottish Water who use the loch as a reservoir to supply Glasgow. But the terrain is fairly undulating! (“That’s HILLY – not undulating” shouts the “old gal”!) John and Jane – aka Team Bluebird – are more used to hills and that pushed my dynamic duo on – managing to nail most of the hills that previously required them to get off and push. Amazingly this included gaining a Strava personal best on a category 3 climb at Invergyle!

The "old git" and the "old gal" smiling - despite having just climbed a steep hill!

The “old git” and the “old gal” smiling – despite having just climbed a category 3 hill!

And a rear view shot of my dynamic duo in action with scenic views of Loch Katrine.

And a rear view shot of my dynamic duo in action with amazing views of Loch Katrine.

It was a fabulous day to be out tandeming – and Bluebird and I were in our element – even if our crews were suffering a little in the heat! One of the highlights, about half way along the route, is a scenic viewpoint at Portnellan which overlooks the burial ground of the Clan MacGregor – which dates back to the 17th century – and has historic links to the legendary Rob Roy MacGregor.

The "old gal" posing at the picturesque archway at Portnellan.

The “old gal” posing at the picturesque archway at Portnellan.

John and Jane - aka Team Bluebird - enjoying the views and the sunshine!

John and Jane – aka Team Bluebird – in a romantic pose in the sunshine!

My dynamic duo having another memorable moment on the banks of Loch Katrine.

My dynamic duo having another memorable fun moment on the banks of Loch Katrine.

We tandemed on before taking a little diversionary track – cutting out one of the steepest hills – which the “old git” happened to remember had a couple of picnic tables right on the edge of the loch with an idyllic view. Time for today’s prosecco picnic – with Team Bluebird and Team Matilda lapping up the ice cold fizz!

Cheers! Team Bluebird and Team Matilda striking a celebratory pose during another prosecco picnic!

Cheers! Team Bluebird and Team Matilda striking a celebratory pose during another prosecco picnic!

Prosecco picnic carnage! A joke photo to show the remains of the picnic lunch!

Prosecco picnic carnage! A joke photo to show the remains of the picnic lunch!

See no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil - the Three Stoogies!

See no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil – the Three Wise Monkeys on the picnic bench!

And a "normal" photo of Jane, John and the "old gal" enjoying some post picnic shade.

And a “normal” photo of Jane, John and the “old gal” enjoying some post picnic shade.

Only a couple of climbs more and a few miles and we were back at the top of the loch where Jane and the “old gal” took videos of one another as us tandems cycled along!  This was actually more difficult that it seemed as there were a few “technical issues” (ie the cameras not being switched on properly by their operators!) which meant we were on the third take before it worked!

Well to a certain extent! The footage has been given the professional treatment by the video experts at the “old git’s” work and transformed into something that is actually worth watching!

Back in the car park the “old gal” decided it would be fun to spice things up a bit and swap the pilots and stokers around a bit! So Jane replaced the “old gal” in my stoker’s position for a ride around the car park with the “old git.” Unusually for him, he was very diplomatic in his answer when asked by the “old gal” if he felt the difference in power from the new stoker!

Then the “old git” replaced Jane in her role as stoker on the front of Bluebird! An experience which he tells me he found a little odd – given the fairly exposed seating position out front! And of course he wasn’t in control of the brakes, gears or steering – so he was a tad nervous! But the swapping certainly produced lots more laughs as you can see from the video!

The "old git" taking up the role of stoker on Bluebird - with John looking a tad worried!

The “old git” taking up the role of stoker on Bluebird – with John looking a tad worried!

After all the shenanigans Team Bluebird and Team Matilda made the mistake of  going into the Brenachoile Cafe in the car park at Trossachs Pier for much needed refeshments. Big mistake! From the moment we entered the staff were off putting and it was an awful experience – the kind of damaging hospitality image which the “old git” thought had been removed from the Scottish tourism scene. It was so bad that the “old git” wrote a scathing review of their experience on TripAdvisor which you can read here – and couldn’t help but notice that other reviewers had the same message of “avoid at all costs.”

Tandems packed back in the vehicles, a quick change and a short drive saw us in the nearby tourist town of Callander. Team Bluebird liked the look of the Old Rectory Inn which had a big front garden and we bagged a picnic-style table. Celebration drinks were duly ordered before a gorgeous bar supper meal was enjoyed in the warm early evening sunshine.

Both Team Bluebird and Team Matilda headed home tired but agreeing that tandeming simply doesn’t get much better than today!

Thursday 18 August – Bluebird’s day at The Kelpies (getting lost!)

My dynamic duo had to work again today – and work late – so Team Bluebird were on their own. I am told they ventured to the Kelpies and the Falkirk Wheel. The plan was to do the circular signed cycle route but Team Bluebird found it virtually impossible to follow – just like we did a couple of weeks ago! For the full story and pictures read the Travels with Bluebird blog entry of the day here.

Friday 19 August – Rain stops ride but prosecco pizza prevails!

While Team Matilda were working, Team Bluebird ventured out on a highly impressive 42 mile jaunt from Crieff to Lochearnhead! Whisper it but I am actually quite glad my dynamic duo were working as it looked a tad on the hilly side for this “old lady”! You can read details of their trip – and see a couple of pictures here.

The “old git” and the  “old gal” had planned to show Team Bluebird the route around Loch Leven tonight – with a prosecco picnic tea along the way. But heavy rain forced the cancellation of that idea.

Spot the rain! But it was nice and cozy for a prosecco pizza night in Buzz!

Spot the rain! But it was nice and cozy for a prosecco pizza night in Buzz!

So the “old gal” came up with the inspired suggestion that we have a prosecco pizza night instead! So they ordered pizzas and drove to Crieff to enjoy another great night of food and drink in the very comfortable surroundings of Buzz!

Saturday 20 August – Finale at Loch Leven and end of Tour de Perthshire du Tandem dinner!

The plans for the big finale of Le Tour de Perthshire du Tandem was for the Nutty Tandemers do do a quick 12 mile lap of Loch Leven in late afternoon, before a celebratory end of tour dinner at Matildas Rest. The hope was to tandem in the same glorious sunshine as we had all experienced earlier in the week – but it was too good to last!

The weather gods decided to tease us and sent lots of cloud and rain – but it stopped the moment we pulled into the car park at Kinross pier. So,  despite some unsettled conditions, Team Bluebird and Team Matilda decided to risk the elements for one last hurrah!

Early on in the ride Jane even managed to catch my dynamic duo in action on video – which just underlines their slogan of “it’s always better together” … even in heavy cloud with rain threatening.

The trail has opened around two years ago at a cost of £3 million and is known as the Loch Leven Heritage Trail – linking 30 natural and cultural heritage sites. You can check out the route of the finale of the Nutty Tandemers Club Tour de Perthshire ride at Loch Leven on Strava below – and don’t forget to click on the map image to get the full date and statistics!

TDP Strava Loch Leven

We set off on a clockwise loop just about getting a clear view of Loch Leven castle  in the middle of the loch – 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. As we tandemed past the RSPB Loch Leven Nature Reserve – about 7.5 miles round the circuit at Vane Farm – the heavens opened again.

At the rain drenched viewpoint at Loch Leven - some fetching outfits on display!

At the rain drenched viewpoint at Loch Leven – still trying to show Tour t-shirts!

Team Bluebird stoker Jane in her "fetching" cape to fight off the rain!

Team Bluebird stoker Jane in her “fetching” cape to fight off the rain!

A brief stop for a couple of pictures at the viewpoint – where we had planned to have Friday night’s prosecco picnic tea – and we headed off to complete the loop. Both Bluebird and I remarked on how mucky the other was after the ride, and the fact that we would probably be getting a good wash as a result!

Despite the rain the ride was enjoyed by all – and feeling duly energised we headed back home to regroup at Matildas Rest for the end of tour dinner! The “old git” has a bit of a reputation for his mixology talents and the celebratory toast to the tour was a rather intoxicating cocktail of Cremant de Bordeaux mixed with some cherry brandy. It certainly made the evening go with a swing!

The “old gal” had prepared some seared tuna, washed down with some Entre-deux-Mers crisp white wine, which was followed by some of her legendary Strawberry Pimm’s Gateaux – with a chaser of Strawberry Pimms obviously!

A cheeseboard was accompanied by a Team Matilda gin cocktail (what else?!) – while the “old gal” got everyone into the spirit (literally) of the evening with some “Tandem Games”! I have to say that although I was safely tucked back in my nice cosy garage, I heard the loud laughs as Team Matilda and Team Bluebird took part in a somewhat chaotic game of “Pin the Pannier on the Tandem”! This was followed by a “quick draw” event where the tandem teams were mixed up and had to draw each other with hilarious results. The final game was story telling where each crew member had to take turns in adding a sentence which had to include the words Bluebird or Matilda  – which predictably produced some suitably ludicrous scenarios!

With tears literally pouring down our cheeks the final part of the evening was the Nutty Tandemers Club prize giving and awarding of certificates for completing Le Tour de Perthshire!

Smiles and Tour certificates for all founding members of the Nutty Tandemers Club.

Smiles and Tour certificates for all founding members of the Nutty Tandemers Club.

TDP wine 5 x 7And the good news is that all members of the Nutty Tandemers Club agreed unanimously that we need to meet up for another tour in the future.

So on behalf of Team Matilda,  it was a real pleasure to welcome Team Bluebird to our neck of the woods and a real privilege to meet John and Jane and forge a lasting friendship with what are real kindred spirits to my dynamic duo! We enjoyed your company and are delighted to have shared some great memories – and the “Pin the Pannier on the Tandem” images will live on for ever!!! I am already pining as I am missing my pal Bluebird – and I for one can’t wait to do it all again! Cheers guys!

To end this bumper blog posting – a final comment from Team Bluebird’s crew John and Jane:

Perthshire has been just wonderful – the scenery beautiful and dramatic whatever the weather. But we were so fortunate to have the glorious sunshine especially at Lochs Katrine and Rannoch. So many of the villages we passed through had the most wonderful and decorative floral displays and the people have been so friendly and welcoming.

Thank you Perthshire but special thanks must go to Colin and Di, our fellow Nutty Tandemers, for all they did to make sure that we had a wonderful time on Le Tour de Perthshire du Tandem.

 Until next time guys! Cheers!

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Three iconic steel structures – Matilda at the Kelpies … in the wind!

The iconic Kelpies admiring me and the "old gal"!

Iconic structures – The Kelpies admiring me and the “old gal”!

Five weeks from now and we would be heading for France for the Le Tour de Loire Valley du Tandem. So the “old git” and the “old gal” decided another training run would be a good idea. The venue for this ride was the canal paths around The Kelpies – 30 metre high horse head sculptures by Andy Scott which tower above the M9 motorway in Falkirk.

The metal sculptures are magnificent, quite spell-binding in fact. This “old lady” classic tandem – no mean feat of engineering herself – was really impressed! And it even allowed the “old git” to indulge his sense of humour with his headline writing – claiming that when I was there it was “three iconic steel structures” together!

The "old git" ready to roll - gusts of over 50mph weren't going to put him off!

The “old git” ready to roll – gusts of over 50mph weren’t going to put him off!

The “old gal” had roped in good friends and solo cyclists Gillian and Craig to help with today’s training run and we met them at the stylish new visitor centre at The Kelpies hub, the centrepiece of an area of land transformation now called The Helix.

The plan was to do an easy 16 mile circuit from The Kelpies, round to another masterpiece of engineering – The Falkirk Wheel – and back to the Kelpies. This circuit – known as the HArTT Cycle Route (Helix Around Town Trail) – is heavily promoted on the park’s website, to encourage cyclists to enjoy the network of cycleways, canal paths and woodland trails around the area.

This is our second visit to this trail as those with a good memory will remember that exactly a year ago Team Matilda went on a voyage of discovery with Gillian and Craig as we got well and truly lost as the park owners hadn’t got round to installing way markers along the way. The trip nearly ended in disaster as by following the paper map, we ended up coming down a country lane on to fast moving transport and then having to dangerously tandem along a busy dual carriageway to return to the start.

Gillian and Craig and their solo bikes ready for the HArTT Cycle Route.

Gillian and Craig and their solo bikes.

After much discussion, and as a direct result of some negative publicity on the issue, the owners of the Helix Park decided way markers was a priority and installed them earlier this year.

So – despite a forecast of winds gusting at over 50 mph – we were all keen to do the route again, hopefully without incident. The “old git” had done is homework (as is his way of things) and checked with the Helix Team to be told in an email that: “The way markers on the HArTT Cycle Route are now all in place.” We were also told that “the new and updated map and leaflets are available from reception desk at the visitor centre.”

It sounded too good to be true – and it did not start well when we asked for a copy of the map only to be told that they were “out of stock due to high demand” – which is not brilliant at the height of the busy Summer season. Fortunately the “old git” had a copy of the map which he had downloaded before leaving Matildas Rest, but there was still an element of trepidation as to what we would find along the way.

Before heading off on the route Gillian and Craig kindly agreed to video the “old gal” and the “old git” tandeming around the base of the Kelpies. Fortunately it was quiet being fairly early on a Sunday morning and Team Matilda was easily able to navigate a route round both of the huge sculptures.

It would need to be said that Gillian’s camera work was rather nifty – and the “old git” roped in a work colleague to edit the video and add some captions. The result is somewhat more arty and professional looking than our normal videos and well worth a look! (Remember if you are reading this on email, you need to click on the blog first – via the link at the bottom of the email – to view the video.)

So after the video shoot – which made me feel rather famous, and which gave a few minutes of free entertainment to some visitors – we set off. You can check out the route of our Kelpies adventure on Strava below – and don’t forget to click on the map image to get the full date and statistics!

Kelpies mapWe easily found the first of the way markers as we headed through the nature-rich Wetland area adjacent to the River Carron. In fact we were most impressed as the new HaRTT signs appeared regularly, clearly pointing the way at every junction, which lulled us into a false sense of security.

One of the new HArTT wooden way markers near the Helix Park.

One of the new HArTT wooden way markers near the Helix Park.

Now you know I am a bit of an “old lady” tandem and therefore don’t really like bumpy surfaces – so I was delighted to find that over the first few miles the cycle track was virtually motorway standards of smoothness. This allowed us to move along at a fair pace, with my dynamic duo allowing themselves to think they were in Rio for the Olympics! Yes I know that unfortunately tandem racing is no longer part of the Olympics – although clearly it should be! – and Falkirk is hardly Copacabana  Beach (really??!!) – but the “old git” had got some Team GB socks to support the Olympic cycling effort!

The "old gal" and the "old git! wore Olympic socks to support Team GB!

The “old gal” and the “old git! wore Olympic socks to support Team GB!

So on we headed through Abbotshaugh Woods – admiring a series of spectacular artworks along the way – and past the Carron Works, which was the largest iron works in Europe in its heyday. The route soon joins the path which runs alongside the Forth and Clyde Canal – operated by Scottish Canals. At this point the wind got up, and we were buffeted by quite a few strong gusts of over 50 mph. I have to pay credit to the “old git” here for his steering, as both me and the “old gal” were a bit worried we may get blown into the canal on a couple of occasions!

Onwards we pedalled, past the Rosebank Distillery – which dates from 1817 – we arrived at The Falkirk Wheel. This is another amazing sight. It is described as the world’s only rotating boat lift. It stands to the height of 8 double decker buses stacked on top of each other and weighs 1,200 tonnes.It essentially allows boats to travel from the Forth and Clyde canal to the Union Canal.

The two canals used to be linked by a staircase of 11 locks which took nearly a day to transit. These were dismantled in 1933. Work started on the ambitious £84.5 million Millennium Link projects to rejoin the two canals in 1998 and opened in 2002.

It was good to see so many people out enjoying the area, and we decided a quick pit stop was required in the canal basin. The “old gal” had packed some mini bottles of (guess what?!) prosecco for the four cyclists – which were eagerly consumed along with the picnic. And the bottles were kept nicely chilled by my cycle cool bag – or  so they told me!

Group selfie during the prosecco picnic at the Falkirk Wheel.

Group selfie time! Cheers! A toast during the prosecco picnic at the Falkirk Wheel.

After lunch we had a quick explore of the canal basin and as always I was getting lots of attention, especially from children who were quite intrigued by what some people called “a double bike!” One of the attractions there is a set of mini Kelpies – known as macquettes – which are 1:10 scale models of the acclaimed structures and offer a great photo opportunity.

Selfie time for Team Matilda at the Falkirk Wheel with the mini Kelpies.

Smile! Selfie time for Team Matilda at the Falkirk Wheel with the mini Kelpies.

Rising to such a height out of the canal basin the actual Falkirk Wheel dominates the skyline – as it should for such a feat of modern Scottish engineering.

So many iconic structures - me with the mini Kelpies at the Falkirk Wheel.

So many iconic structures in one photo! – Me with the mini Kelpies at the Falkirk Wheel.

So refreshed by the prosecco picnic, we set off again up the hill to take in the magnificent views from the area at the top of the wheel – used by the popular boat trips. Given that the canal extension created for the Falkirk Wheel literally stops in mid air, it offers a great infinity pool-style photograph!

To infinity and beyond! At the top of the Falkirk Wheel.

To infinity and beyond! Amazing view at the top of the Falkirk Wheel.

From the Falkirk Wheel the route immediately joins the path at the Union Canal and the “old gal” decided a video of us tandeming through the Roughcastle Tunnel – which actually runs under the Roman Antonine Wall – would be fun. Have a laugh as the video moves into Benny Hill-style up to show us tandeming at speed – and look out for the sudden appearance of one of the passenger boats emerging magically from the bright light at the end of the tunnel! (And don’t forget that if you are reading this on email, that you need to click onto the blog to watch the video.)

The only snag – and it was a big one – along the wonderfully flat Union Canal  section was that we kept coming across these zig zag z-gates that Scottish Canals have decided to put on the canal paths at every junction with a main road. This seems to be to stop motorbikes getting through.

Even single bikes – like Gillian and Craig’s – have difficulty in navigating these gates – but as you know I am quite a length and don’t exactly bend in the middle. So there’s no chance of me getting through these gates. Every time the “old gal” and the “old git” have to dismount and lift my front end over. Oh the embarrassment.

My dynamic duo got so frustrated they decided to shoot a video to show the effort involved in progressing through the gates. There has to be an easier solution which would make using the wonderful canal paths less frustrating – and would encourage lots more cyclists to use the network of paths.

Watch the video to see Team Matilda make a heart-felt plea to Scottish Canals to make their z-style gates along the canal paths more bike and tandem friendly. (Again don’t forget that if you are reading my blog posting on email, you need to click on the blog first – via the link at the bottom of the email – to view the video.)

Team Matilda awaits any comment or feedback from Scottish Canals with interest. After we left the Union Canal section we hit problems with the way markers on the HArTT route. Until now they were with us all the way, but for some reason as soon as we were directed into Callander Park there was not a way marker to be seen. This is most unfortunate given the myriad of paths through the wood and parkland. There are lots of other way markers of different colours – marking other walking tracks and the John Muir Way – but not one did we spot for the HArTT route. This had the result of leaving us not only lost, but totally hacked off given the pre cycle promise that they were “all in place.”

Using the paper map we somehow managed to navigate our way through the park – which took well over an hour when it should have taken no more than 20 minutes – and amazingly found a way marker sitting proudly at the exit!

This took us out on to a main artery – New Hallglen Raod – where the next sign was high up on a pole. But it was totally and utterly meaningless and confusing as it pointed and directed us to go over a crash barrier and into rough bush and scrubland. It did provide an amusing photo however!

Utterly meaningless and confusing sign directing us over a crash barrier!

Utterly meaningless and confusing sign directing us over a crash barrier into rough scrubland!

Eventually – after a wrong turning up a very rough country path, we found the correct way by luck and emerged at a roundabout (linking Old Redding Road and Redding Road) Again there were numerous choices as to which way to go- but no way markers.

We again somehow managed to navigate ourselves back in the direction of  Falkirk Stadium – but missed out a section of the route through Westquarter and a new path adjacent to the M9 due to the lack of direction signs.

Then, as if by magic, near the end of the route which runs alongside the A9, the way markers appear again in abundance – almost ridiculously so ion their number – and we were guided back to the Helix Park and the Kelpies Hub.

The continuing problem with directions is such a shame  as the HArTT Cycle Route is clearly a fantastic asset – but if experienced cyclists can’t find their way around the route, it certainly defeats the purpose of having it. And all it does is leave cyclists – tandemers and solos alike – feeling frustrated.

You get the feeling that perhaps the way marker project ran out of money, or perhaps there is some other explanation for the missing signs.  It would certainly appear that unfortunately the HArTT Cycle Route has not been road tested by independent cyclists – not those involved in marking it out – before being opened to the public. And as for the wayward signs pointing in the wrong direction – is it not regularly checked to see if the signs which do exist are correct?

To summarise, the route is fabulous for 75% of the way – but clearly there is a missing link. The “old git” has been in touch with the owners of the Helix Park by email, and links on their Facebook and Twitter feeds, asking them to sort it out – so watch this space!

Checking up on Strava, it officially recorded the ride as covering a distance of 16.4 miles with a moving time of 2 hours 34 minutes. Due to the umber of stops and starts, and taking the wrong direction, the average speed was just 6.4 mph, while the total time, including picnic, was 4 hours 49 minutes. The plus point was that the elevation covered was a manageable 632 feet. Top speed was 21.3 mph – and we even managed to burn up 1,280 calories and produce an estimated average power output of 124 W.

Now that wasn’t the end of a Grand Day Out for Team Matilda. the “old git” and the “old gal” packed me bcak into Matilda Transport and we hedaed back to Gillian and Craig’s home in nearby Alloa.

They  have a fancy hot tub in their garden – and the “old gal” decided this would be good therapy for the muscles after the tandem ride, and the “old git” decided it would be the perfect treatment for the frustrations over the way markers!

And they were both correct! It was a very therapeutic way to relax – enjoying the cold bubbles from a glass of prosecco while enjoying the warm bubbles of the hot tub! Absolute bliss! The last I heard was the “old gal” saying: “I want one!”

Its bubblicious! Hot tub time to ease the muscles and frustrations after the HArTT Cycle Route.

Its bubblicious! Hot tub time to ease the muscles and frustrations after the HArTT Cycle Route.

So all in all another fabulous tandem ride – despite the frustrations with the way markers and the strong winds – and another day full of fun, laughs, iconic scenery, sunshine, and a fantastic picnic all with great friends! And that is truly the definition of a great tandem day out for Team Matilda!

TDP wine 5 x 7Finally, I am getting uber excited over the visit of another tandem coming to Perthshire for me to have fun and games with. Its only  a few days now  till  my dynamic duo host two fellow tandemers, Jane and John Taylor who live near Southampton in Hampshire, on Le Tour de Perthshire. They are bringing their Pino semi-recumbent tandem called Bluebird  – who has her own mini blog-style ‘Travels with Bluebird’ Facebook page – to stay in Perthshire for a week.

Jane and John certainly seem to have much in common with my crew – such as not enjoying hills and definitely enjoying wine! In fact both Team Bluebird and Team Matilda seem to have the same views on not taking tandeming too seriously, and are therefore founder members of the self-created Nutty Tandemers Club!

The “old git” and the “old gal” have been busy with preparations to make Team Bluebird feel welcome in Perthshire – including a welcome pack full of some local tasty goodies, tour schedule, tour t-shirts, and even some saltire flags. This “old lady” is certainly looking forward to having a tandem pal for some ride outs. I am sure Bluebird and I can get up to mischief while the two tandem crews are indulging in those famous prosecco picnics or when we stop at local hostelries!

So look out for updates on Le Tour de Perthshire du Tandem here and also on Travels with Bluebird!

In response to Team Matildas review of the HArTT Cycle Route – the Helix Team have been in touch thanking us for taking the time to give detailed feedback.

They apologised for the maps being unavailable in the new visitor centre due to “underestimating how popular they would be with our visitors.” The review has also been passed on to the various partners of the Helix Park who look after the route so the issues raised can be addressed. 

The response added: “We are pleased to hear there have been improvements since your last attempt last year, but are sorry that it is not yet completely up to scratch. Thank you for the review – as without honest and detailed feedback from those who have attempted the route without already knowing it, we do not know where there are areas for improvement, and therefore struggle to make improvements in the right places to make the HArTT Cycle Route as good as it should be.”

The Helix Team promised to respond in detail once those issues had been investigated. Here is their response:

Callendar Park, and specifically Callendar Woods are managed by the Forestry Commission who required their own type of signage. The signs to be installed are in the possession of the Forestry Commission and were meant to have been installed some time ago, though as highlighted by your experience, they clearly have not been. We will ask them again to install the signage, but we cannot put any direct pressure on them as they have limited resources.

The path at New Hallglen Road does require maintenance, which we are aware of, but we do not manage all the paths on the route directly, and again we are relying on partners using their stretched resources to maintain paths. If the path was more visible, this sign would make more sense, but it is a difficult location as the crash barrier creates a visible and physical block to the direct desire line.

The difficulties at the roundabout linking Old Redding Road and Redding Road have been compounded by the loss of the route further back and due to the removal of the bridge by Network Rail. This section due to be revisited to improve the way marking as we are aware of the problem.

The HArTT Route and its way markers are inspected as often as possible, but again, limited resources mean inspecting the 16 mile route does not fall to one body. We rely heavily on visitor feedback to let us know of problems on the route, and while we do pick up on this and make improvements where we can, we are only one partner in amongst several others, and creating a consistent quality across the route is challenging.

We are aware of the “missing link” and will do our best to see this resolved, as we do want the HArTT Route to be the great assets for the area that it should be.

Scottish Canals have also responded to Team Matilda’s video plea to make their gates on the canal paths more bike friendly:

These gates were originally installed to prevent unauthorised access by motorbikes and other vehicles who were putting themselves and towpath users at risk. We are aware that these type of gates can create problems for unrestricted access and are currently working with Sustrans Scotland and other bodies to review access.
Many thanks
The Scottish Canals team

Sustrans Scotland also responded to the video plea:

As stated by Scottish Canals, we are continuing to work together to improve the towpath for all users. Removing access barriers is part of that process, but as you will understand from riding on it the towpath network is extensive so it’s a work in progress. We will continue to discuss the issues facing tandems and other non-standard bikes with Scottish Canals and look to improve this in the near future.

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Tay Bridge to Carnoustie on the Ooor Wullie Bucket Trail … and Tour de Perthshire getting close!

On the cycle path at the Tay Bridge which intriguingly sits in the middle of the two carriageways for cars.

The Tay Bridge cycle path sits in the middle of the two car carriageways.

After last Sunday’s hilly and wet ride at Loch Katrine, the “old gal” had a simple request when planning this weekend’s ride. “Can we do a flat ride in the dry?” she begged! Well good that the “old git” is, he hasn’t (yet!) perfected the art of being able to control the weather -but he did graciously concede to planning a ride which didn’t involve any King of the Mountains tandeming!

We had been recommended to a route which starts at Newport on Tay and involves crossing the Tay Bridge, into Dundee and following National Cycle Network Route (NCR)1 up the east coast to Carnoustie – a perfectly manageable distance of 13 miles. And it was showing almost totally flat – with the only real elevation getting onto the bridge! When the “old gal” saw this she was ecstatic and happily agreed.

Therefore on Sunday morning we were all in good spirits as we drove away from Matildas Rest – with the added bonus of some bright sunshine making an appearance! A 45 minute drive in Matilda Transporter saw us parked up in the car park across the Tay from Dundee, which had direct access to NCR 1 via a ramp. You can check out the route of our Tay bridge to Carnoustie ride on Strava below – and don’t forget to click on the map image to get the full date and statistics!

ATB Tay Bridge StravaThe Tay Bridge carries the A92 across the Firth of Tay and at around 2,250 metres – or 1.4 miles – it is one of the longest road bridges in Europe. Opened in 1966, it celebrates its 50th anniversary later this month. Intriguingly the cycle path on the bridge sits in in the middle of the two carriageways for cars, unlike most bridges where the path runs at the side of the bridge. This was a bit odd to begin, creating a feeling of being boxed in and it was slightly disconcerting the cars driving past at such speed and in close proximity. But it did actually feel very safe and we soon got into our stride.

The "old gal" taking in the views on the Tay Bridge with Newport on Tay behind her.

The “old gal” taking in the views on the Tay Bridge with Newport on Tay behind her.

It was fairly breezy on the bridge but with the clear skies we got a good view of the adjacent Tay Rail Bridge.  The windy conditions allowed for a good practice of my dynamic duo’s latest gizmo – walkie talkies! Now why do you need walkie talkies when you are both on the same bike I hear you ask – and that would normally be a very sensible question! But there is a good answer. You see the “old git” – because (whisper it!) is getting on in years his hearing is not what it used to be! And that has left the “old gal” becoming increasingly frustrated as she has been having to shout things usually three times before she is heard. And if the message is “truck behind” it is usually too late by the time the message is understood!

So to avoid catastrophic consequences (and to ease the “old gal’s” blood pressure”!) they invested in a set of voice activated walkie talkies with earpieces which worked a treat and means they can actually communicate with each other! And I have to say it is an improvement – even if it does leave my crew looking like two FBI secret service agents!

Off the bridge and we followed the well signposted NCR1 along the river bank and then through the Dundee port area. You are advised that you may need photographic identification for this part of the cycle path, but  we just pressed the button on the gate and it opened for us!

It really is a great cycle path – and as flat as promised. And because it is a dedicated path – away from roads – it is very popular which makes for lots of sociable greetings along the way! As we tandemed round the bay the charming old fishing town of Broughty Ferry came in to view and with little effort we cycled past the castle and continued along a stretch which hugged the Blue Flag beach.

With the sun out, it was a joy to be tandeming in such a lovely area on such a beautiful day. The route continues to Monifeith where a new stretch of the path heads over Barry Links, past a very large Ministry of Defence area on the right – and kept well secret – known as the Barry Buddon Training Centre. This has high security fencing along its perimeter and rather ominously every 100 yards or so there are warnings signs telling you to keep out as this is a live military firing area!

Danger! No entry! The "old gal" emphasises the warning signs at the live firing area.

Danger! No entry! The “old gal” emphasises the warning signs at the live firing area.

Not surprisingly the “old gal” ordered the “old git” to pay heed to the signs and not to veer off course! Instead we headed along the NCR1 to Carnoustie – home to the famous championship golf course which was looking at its spectacular best today in the sunshine. The path took us along the sea front and we found a nice bench in an alcove for a lunch stop, which protected us from the sea breeze.

Now it has been mentioned in passing that perhaps Team Matilda were perhaps over indulging in the calories with our famous prosecco picnic lunches! To be honest, my dynamic crew put that down to envy! But in deference to those claims, my crew decided to set up a parsimonious prosecco picnic for  a giggle.

The parsimonious prosecco picnic - just a giggle to show what slim pickings would look like!

The parsimonious prosecco picnic – just a giggle to show what slim pickings would look like!

After that the rest of the grand Sunday prosecco picnic was unloaded from the cool bag. Today’s menu was croissants filled with smoked salmon and chilli flavoured cream cheese, a few mini pork pies and some jarlsberg cheese, followed by a healthy fruit salad, and of course the key ingredient – the nicely chilled small bottles of prosecco.

The real version of my dynamic duo's picnic - with everything in tandem, naturally!

The real version of my dynamic duo’s picnic – with everything in tandem, naturally!

I have to say I was feeling very glamorous with the sun shining on my frame – looking every inch a classic tandem today! And I have been basking in the adoration of passers by today as would you believe that during the day no less than five different people  came up to my dynamic crew and wanted to chat about the tandem and my history. Phrases such as “lovely bike” and “beautiful condition” and “lovely paint job” were being banded about as well as questions about how easy (or difficult) I was to ride! But the “old gal” expertly fielded all questions and obviously said I was a joy to ride! Apart from the weight of my steel frame going up hills, that is! It was all going to my head a bit, and the “old git” just added to that  feeling when he told me that a fellow member of the Tandem Club UK had described me during a discussion about Jack Taylor tandems as “a work of art”! Well as we all know, it is nice to be recognised!

So after lunch we headed off on the return journey – managing to run the gauntlet of the golf courses and the military firing range without incident! We pulled up and had a nice coffee and slice of chocolate and ginger cake at the lovely looking Tayberry restaurant in Broughty Ferry, with my dynamic crew making a mental note to return for a meal.

You know my crew really shouldn’t be let out alone as the “old git” decided to have some fun on the walkie talkies when the “old gal” went to the loo, and suddenly found herself listening to the “old git” whispering sweet nothings in her ear! Oh how he laughed! Let’s just say the “old gal” wasn’t quite so impressed!

As we cycled on we passed the first of several pieces of artwork themed on the famous Oor Wullie cartoon character – complete with the bucket he sits on – from the Sunday Post newspaper. This one was brightly coloured in purple, and on closer examination the “old git” discovered it was called Dreamland Wullie and that it was part of a newly created Oor Wullie Bucket Trail which has been set up in and around Dundee.

The "old gal" with Dreamland Wullie - part of the Oor Wullie Bucket Trail!

The “old gal” with Dreamland Wullie – part of the Oor Wullie Bucket Trail!

The trail is a huge public art event running to 27 August, featuring 55 5ft tall sculptures of Oor Wullie sitting on his bucket, all individually sponsored and decorated by artists/designers located in and around the city for the public to view, share and adore. Trail maps and a digital app are available to enable the folks of Dundee and visitors to go out and find all 55 sculptures and to strike them off their ‘bucket’ list.  Then at the end of the summer the statues will all be auctioned off with proceeds going to the Archie Foundation’s appeal for a new twin operating theatre pediatric surgical suite for Tayside Children’s Hospital.

Pedalling on we passed the beach. During a particularly narrow stretch along what was not much wider than the beach wall, the “old git” decided it would be a good idea to do a selfie video to show the problems we can encounter when trying to dodge wayward pedestrians, prams and dogs – who all believe they have a much greater right to use any shared paths than this “old lady” tandem does! As you will see the most often repeated phrase is “excuse me!” And if you listen carefully you will hear my horn being parped! (Remember if you are reading this on email, you need to click on the blog first – via the link at the bottom of the email – to view the video.)

After negotiating the selfie video shoot next stop was Broughty Ferry Castle where we found another Oor Wullie, proudly sitting against the backdrop of the castle. This one was called Rain Song Wullie, and was a good match for my dynamic duo’s saltire cycling tops.

Who needs Pokemon Go when you can have this much fun on the Oor Wullie Bucket trail!

Who needs Pokemon Go when you can have this much fun on the Oor Wullie Bucket trail!

Now as you know every proper castle has to have a drawbridge. And of course I had never been on a drawbridge before so the “old git” duly obliged by pushing me up the steep rampart so I could imposingly pose for a picture, much to the amusement (that should really be bemusement!) of visitors to the castle.

Posing with the "old git" on the drawbridge at Broughty Ferry Castle.

Posing with the “old git” on the drawbridge at Broughty Ferry Castle.

We could see another Oor Wullie on the harbour wall and this one was cleverly themed as Oor Lifesaver – decorated in full RNLI gear as it was placed just yards away from the local lifeboat.

Oor Lifesaver Wullie, positioned near the RNLI station at Broughty Ferry.

Oor Lifesaver Wullie, positioned near the RNLI station at Broughty Ferry.

We continued along the route, back through the dockyard’s electronic gates, emerging on the other side to one of the most colourful Oor Wullies, called Glow Wullie.

Selfie time! The "old gal" and the "old git" at Glow Wullie near the waterfront at Dundee.

Selfie time! Glow Wullie with the “old gal” and the “old git” near the waterfront at Dundee.

With four Oor Wullies collected my dynamic crew decided that was enough – but it’s a great idea and had clearly brought lots of families out walking on the streets to let children tick them off.

Time for the return crossing across the Tay Bridge and we had to get the lift back up to the cycle path level. And the “old git” got the “old gal” to record my first (well second obviously, as I had to go down in the lift earlier – but who is arguing!) trip on a lift to show how easy it is to use. I was thinking I would have to be lifted unceremoniously into the lift at an angle as there would probably be only length for single bikes – but I was delighted to say I could simply be pushed in. Have a laugh at the “old git” doing his tour guide bit! (And don’t forget that if you are reading this on email, that you need to click onto the blog to watch the video.)

A quick cycle back across the bridge and we were soon back in the car park at the other side of the bridge – just in time to toast a great ride with a cooling soft drink, while checking up on Strava. It officially recorded the ride as covering a distance of 26.5 miles with a moving time of 3 hours 25 minutes, with an average speed of 7.8 mph. The plus point was that the elevation covered was just 374 feet – and most of that was going up and down to the Tay Bridge! Top speed was 32.4 mph – and we even managed to burn up 1,632 calories and produce an estimated average power output of 119 W. Another fabulous ride and a great day had by all!

So on the way back to Matildas Rest thoughts turned to France – and amazingly there are now just six weeks left till the Grand Depart for  Le Tour de Loire Valley in mid September  which will see my dynamic duo having to pedal me nearly 230 miles while through the world-famous vineyards and stunning chateaux of the region.

This will be the third annual Tour de France holiday for Team Tandem Ecosse (Team Matilda’s name for foreign holidays!) – following in the footsteps of amazing tours of Burgundy in 2014 and Bordeaux in 2015. (If you want to read my Musings of those wonderful trips – just type Burgundy or Bordeaux into the ‘Search Matildas Musings’ box  and you will see the postings.)

The logo for Le Tour de Perthshire.

The logo for Le Tour de Perthshire.

But before then – in just two weeks time my dynamic duo are hosting two fellow tandemers, Jane and John Taylor who live near Southampton in Hampshire, on Le Tour de Perthshire.

Yes I am so excited as they are bringing their Pino semi-recumbent tandem called Bluebird  – who has her own mini blog-style ‘Travels with Bluebird’ Facebook page – to stay in Perthshire for a week.

The “old git” and the “old gal” have become friends with Bluebird’s crew after starting to chat on social networks including The Tandem Club UK Facebook page. And, what’s more, I understand they are avid fans of my blog – so they must be good people!

Jane and John certainly seem to have much in common with my crew – such as not enjoying hills and definitely enjoying wine!

In fact the quartet seem to have the same views on not taking tandeming too seriously – including decorating Bluebird with Christmas lights then sitting in the garage with a glass of wine to take a photograph – that they have decided that they are the founder members of the self-created Nutty Tandemers Club!

John and Jane showing they are founding members of the self-created Nutty Tandemers Club!

John and Jane showing they are founding members of the Nutty Tandemers Club!

So the plan is that me and Bluebird – accompanied by our crews, obviously! – will be going out for some of the most scenic rides around my area, including the likes of Loch Rannoch and Loch Katrine. My dynamic duo have even arranged for a couple of days off work to be local tour guides for Le Tour de Perthshire!

This “old lady” is certainly looking forward to having a tandem pal for some ride outs. I am sure Bluebird and I can get up to mischief while the two tandem crews are indulging in those famous prosecco picnics or when we stop at local hostelries!

I mean the crews of Team Matilda and Team Bluebird clearly think they are the ones going to be enjoying themselves – but us tandems are going to have brilliant time together.

Meantime Jane and John have sent a contribution to my blog explaining a bit about themselves and the forthcoming Tour de Perthshire:

“So, the much awaited Tour de Perthshire will soon be upon us and The Nutty Tandemers Club will ride forth for the first time.

The southern contingent – aka Team Bluebird – has been out and about all over the place, near and far, riding a variety of terrains so hopefully Perthshire won’t throw anything unexpected our way.

Team Bluebird out and about at Milford on Sea in Hampshire.

Team Bluebird out and about on a ride at Milford on Sea in Hampshire.

We do know it’s a beautiful area having ridden through parts of it on a few different trips in recent years – but we know we are going to see so much more with your suggestions and your company Matilda. And Bluebird says she is eagerly anticipating meeting up with you too.

Since last September we have ridden Scottish hills, Holland and Belgium’s flat land, and tracks and roads in quite a few English counties so we hope we have covered all eventualities.

Despite all our endeavours – like Team Matilda – climbing hills has never got any easier! We get up them, not many defeat us, but it’s a slow process! But does that matter? Of course not, because we aren’t in a race.

I am glad to say we have similar attitudes to tandeming as Team Matilda –  we go out on Bluebird to enjoy the ride, look at the views, smell the fresh air and feel at one with the world.

Team Bluebird on a picnic minus prosecco - this will change on Le Tour de Perthshire!

Team Bluebird on a picnic minus prosecco – this will change on Le Tour de Perthshire!

Oh and one final thing, we are looking forward to sampling those famous prosecco picnics of yours Matilda!

Cheers and here’s to a very successful Tour de Perthshire!

Jane and John

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