Le Tour de Deux Festivals du Tandem!

Scallops oysters and champagne?! No one told us festivals were like this!

“Do you fancy going to a festival?”, the “old git” had casually asked the “old gal” a few weeks ago? “In fact do you fancy going to two festivals in tandem, by tandem on the same day?” he asked. The response wasn’t immediately enthusiastic it would need to be said – from either of my dynamic crew!

Perhaps it was those traditional images of huge crowds of people standing soaked and caked in mud at somewhere like T in the Park that came to mind. And another off putting factor was that the “old gal” and the “old git” most definitely don’t do camping!

But they decided they would lose their festival virginity with a planned day trip to Strathyre to tandem between two festivals being hosted on the same Bank Holiday weekend within Rob Roy Country. So Sunday dawned and the weather was nice and sunny as we headed off early from Matildas Rest, with a little trepidation for what the day may bring.

The start point for Team Matilda’s Le Tour de Deux Festivals du Tandem was the fabulous Broch Cafe in Strathyre – where we had been invited to park Matilda Transport by the friendly owners Lesley and Bill. Even tho it was just around 10 o’clock the cafe had a great buzz about it with orders for hearty breakfasts flying out of the kitchen.

Team Matilda – all kitted up in their Saltire cycling tops ready for the off at Broch Cafe.

After a welcome Lucaffee coffee and delicious home made scone there was time for a quick photo of my dynamic crew all kitted up in their matching “Sunday best” Saltire cycling tops, before we headed off out of Strathyre on the super smooth surface of the Sustrans Scotland NCR7. You can check out the details of our route on Strava below – and don’t forget to click on the map image to be transferred to Strava to get the full data and statistics!

Before we built up any speed however, our first task was to look out for the site of a newly commissioned installation on the award-winning unique cultural outside art #BLiSStrail, named after the four villages it links – Balquhidder, Lochearnhead, Strathyre and St Fillans. The trail is the brainchild of LETi, the local Loch Earn Tourism Information group,  to encourage more visitors to the area – to boost tourism and the local economy.

We quickly found Drover’s Bho – a Highland Coo metal sculpture made by Kev Paxton’s ArtFe to mark the old cattle drovers route which has just been added to the BLiSStrail to mark 2017 being the Year of History Heritage and Archaeology.

Drovers Bho – the new BLiSStrail artwork. Spot the bramble eating mouse on his head!

The artwork has been beautifully landscaped to give the impression of the coo standing on a hilloch and really makes it feel at home! The intricacy of the metal artwork has to be admired – and the “old gal” was quick to spot a bramble-eating mouse on his head!

Back on my saddles, my crew tandemed off picking up a fair speed on the off-road cycle path heading for our first destination of our two festival tour – the  Mhor Festival being held in the grounds of the stylish boutique Monachyle Mhor hotel. Billed as the best “off the beaten track” festival in Scotland it promotes itself as a festival of food, drink, music, theatre and dance! As the festival web site says: “Come, play, sing, dance, cook, learn, chill!” Well, ok,if you insist!

And the organisers agree that arriving by tandem is ideal, as it saves having to use the bus on the traffic management system on the narrow roads! The approach gave my crew the opportunity to ride again on one of the best routes Team Matilda have had the pleasure of experiencing – gently undulating single track roads with the most wonderful views across Loch Voil within the Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park. And with hardly a whisper of wind, the loch’s surface was like a mirror, reflecting the surrounding hills. Truly magnifique!

The camp site at Mhor Festival must be one of the most scenic festival camp sites ever.

As we rounded the final bend we were greeted with the first view of theMhor Festival site. The campsite, just on the edge of the loch, has to be one of the most scenic festival sites ever. With thousands of people already enjoying the party atmosphere it looked like my crew were going to have fun – especially as the “old git” spotted a sign promising “fun and funk”!

The “old git” and me looking for fun and funk after arriving at Mhor Festival.

The festival organisers at Mhor had arranged for VIP admission tickets for Team Matilda – which I am sure must have been a result of my recent appearance on on BBC Scotland’s Landward television programme promoting Loch Voil area as our favourite picnic spot!

I was safely parked up in the staff car park as the my dynamic crew entered the festival site – and were immediately taken by the friendly nature of the event. And there was so much going on – dance, music, comedy, art, theatre and of course some amazing food and drink including a champagne and seafood bar.

The “old gal” decided that festivals may not be that bad after all! She was quickly impressed with the funky nature of the festival and had to pose beside one of the many amusing eye-catching signs dotted around the site.

The “old gal” showing off her funkier side – one of the eye catching signs at Mhor Festival

My crew decided it was time to sample some of the culinary delights on offer in the street food area and started with some gin infused salmon served on a beetroot scone with some red cabbage. They then decided to indulge in some seafood and had some amazing freshly cooked scallops washed down with an obligatory glass of champagne!  As the “old gal” was heard to say while quaffing her fizz and enjoying the alfresco lunch – “no one told us festivals were like this!”

Cheers – some yummy seafood for alfresco lunch. What’s not to like about festivals?

After lunch my  crew bumped into Kim Proven –  the enthusiastic chair of LETi and owner of Briar Cottages at Lochearnhead  – along with her husband Fraser who were enjoying a cool jazz funk band playing in the main arena. The “old git” naturally took the opportunity to remind Fraser of his (whisky induced) promise to ride me backwards! He claimed he hadn’t forgotten but also said he needed to get some practice in – so was somewhat vague about agreeing a date to show off his circus skills!

One of the joys of the event for my crew was just chilling and relaxing in the warm sunshine. The festival site had a lovely relaxed feel about it which was great for people watching.

The festival site had a lovely relaxed feel about it – great for people watching!

The afternoon seemed to slip past and all too soon it was time for my crew to retrieve me from the car park and tandem back into Strathyre for the second part of our festival tour. It was an interesting ride back along the single track road as it was quite busy with cars leaving the site and we had to slow down and let cars pass at virtually every single passing place.

But free of the confines of the single track road the “old git” was able to go up the gears and we clocked a new Team Matilda speed record of 32.4 mph on a nice downhill stretch! I was almost giddy with excitement! I mean it is many years since this “old lady’s” wheels have turned that fast!

Our tandem back from Mhor ended up where we started, back at Broch Cafe – just yards from the venue for our second festival of the day, the Strathyre Music Festival. Time for one more picture of the “old git” in front of the large marquee which hosts the festival, before I was packed away in Matilda Transport so my crew could concentrate on enjoying the music!

The “old git” outside the large marquee for the Strathyre Music Festival.

Lesley and Bill kindly let us change out of our cycling gear at Broch Cafe into more relaxed clothes more suitable for the music festival. We could already hear the bands playing but there was an additional attraction for my dynamic crew – Bill had fired up a bbq outside the cafe – and it was busy with festival goers looking for some food. The “old git” and the “old gal” were hungry again after their tandem ride and naturally had to sample the nosh! I am reliably told that the steak burgers with cheese were delicious! So good in fact (and whisper this bit!) they had seconds!

The Strathyre Music Festival is the second festival to be held in the area over the Bank Holiday weekend. And it must be one of Scotland’s best value festivals with an entry fee of only £5 per day. The music festival started from the success of local band Balvaig. Led by Kenny Higgins, who is also vice-chair of LETi, the band is a  group of highly talented local musicians and singer songwriters who regularly meet for bothy-style folk and blues music sessions.

The festival has rapidly grown in stature and size and is now in its fifth year. It is recognised as the largest small community based music festival in Scotland – renowned for its fantastic family friendly atmosphere in a beautiful setting.

The early Sunday evening session was a bit quieter than the late Saturday session when the marquee was mobbed for a set by Mudslide, a 5-piece blues band. But my crew were able to relax and hear a set set by Hugh Kelly, an alternative blues/soul singer songwriter. This was followed by a performance from Martha L Healy which explored country, folk, bluesceltic and Americana.

Martha L Healy performing her set at the Strathyre Music Festival.

Dipping briefly into the festival my crew experienced the friendly nature of it all before tiredness started to kick in for my crew after a long day in the sunshine, and they decided to miss the headline act of Papa Shandy and the Drams. So after bidding farewell to Lesley and Bill – who were still busy serving up food – it was time to drive home. After returning to Matildas Rest the “old git” checked Strava to find that they received eight on the ride – four personal bests and four second best times!

Strava officially recorded the ride as a distance of 16.4 miles with a total moving time of 1 hour 49 minutes. Average speed was 9.1 mph, with a top speed being a giddy 32.4 mph.

The elevation covered was 540 feet, as we managed to burn up 1002 calories, and produced an estimated average power output of 137 W.

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

What a fantastic day in the sunshine for Team Matilda at our first ever festivals! Let’s just say that my dynamic crew enjoyed it so much they are already planning to come back in 2018! You never know, we might be able to persuade some other tandems to join us!

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Canter to Carnoustie across the Tay Bridge

This way for tandemers and cyclists! The “old gal” with the Tay Road bridge behind.

A rare Monday off together for my dynamic crew, and a hopeful weather forecast,  provided the perfect opportunity for a “workday” tandem trip. The “old gal” – who has an aversion to too many hills – remembered we had enjoyed a fairly flat ride on off-road cycle paths to Carnoustie last year, and recommended a repeat. The route starts near Newport on Tay and involves crossing the Tay Bridge, into Dundee and following Sustrans Scotland NCR 1 hugging the coast to the golf town of Carnoustie.

So a short 45 minute drive in Matilda Transport saw us parked up in the car park across the Tay from Dundee – which offers direct access to the bridge via a ramp. After a final weather check – and the promise of bright sunshine – we headed off. You can check out the details of our route on Strava below – and don’t forget to click on the map image to be transferred to Strava to get the full data and statistics!

The 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 celebrated its 50th anniversary last year – making it nearly as old as me, but not quite! 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 having 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 Tay Road Bridge celebrated its 50th anniversary last year – almost as old as me!

The water was remarkably calm and with clear skies we got a great view of the adjacent Tay Rail Bridge. Off the bridge and we followed the well signposted NCR1 along the riverbank and through the Dundee port area. You are advised that you may need photographic identification to gain access, but my crew just pressed the button and the gate opened for us!

It really is a great cycle path, and very flat, which made the “old gal” smile! And because it is a dedicated path – away from roads – it is very popular with cyclists and dog walkers, 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.

It was great path for me and my dynamic true – off road and nice long, flat straight stretches.

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 Monifieth where a new stretch of the path heads over Barry Links, past a very large Ministry of Defence area on the right 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!

The “old gal” paying attention to the warnings to keep out of the Ministry of Defence live firing range!

Not surprisingly the “old gal” ordered the “old git” to pay heed to the signs and not to veer off course! Pedalling along on the NCR1 we soon came to Carnoustie – home to the famous championship golf course which was looking at its spectacular best in the sunshine – with lots of golfers out on its links.

My dynamic crew were enjoying themselves so much that the “old gal” suggested going on the additional 7 miles to Arbroath – further up the coast for our picnic! So off we pedalled but almost as soon as we set off there was an almost instant change in the weather. The skies darkened quickly and it started to rain.

About a mile out of Carnoustie the “old git” took the executive team decision that we were going to get very wet and we turned round. We got back to Carnoustie just as a heavy downpour started – emphasising that it was the correct decision.

My crew took refuge in the cafe of the Carnoustie Leisure Centre and had a coffee while hoping the shower would pass. But the skies darkened further and the squally shower got heavier. As we were clearly cyclists sheltering from the rain, the staff took pity on us and allowed us to eat our picnic in the cafe!

Luckily we were able to use the Carnoustie Leisure Centre cafe for an indoor picnic

No prosecco this time as the “old git” thought that may be pushing the kind hospitality my crew were being offered! Lunch over and there was nothing for it but for Team Matilda to get kitted up in their rain jackets and head back to Dundee.

It would need to be said that spirits were a bit low as we headed off – with the prospect of being extremely soaked by the time we had covered the 13 miles back to Matilda Transport. But fortunately as we got to the edge of the Ministry of Defense firing range the rain stopped as quickly as it started and we could see clear sky ahead. The dark clouds started to lift as the imposing Broughty Ferry Castle came into view, and decided to risk a stop for a photo.

Here I am posing with the “old gal” at the imposing Broughty Ferry Castle.

And as the storm clouds blew away the sea suddenly became calmer again and my dynamic crew were once again enjoying our tandem ride. We had another quick stop at a nature corner outlining the area’s wildlife, highlighted by an impressive sculpture to represent bird feathers.

A sculpture of bird feathers on the way back to Dundee.

We continued along the route with the sun back out to play, tandeming back through the dockyard to the bridge. Just beside the bridge there is a massive construction sight where the huge new V&A Museum of Design Dundee is taking shape – with the building designed to look like ships. When it opens in 2018 it will be an international centre of design for Scotland – the first ever design museum to be built in the UK outside London.

The ship like design of the new V&A Museum of Design Dundee is now starting to take shape.

After checking out the museum it was time for the return crossing across the Tay Bridge – but firstly we encountered the rather unusual way of accessing the bridge and staying on NCR1 – a lift! But fortunately it is very easy to use. I was thinking that I would have to be lifted unceremoniously into the lift at an awkward angle as there would probably be only room lengthwise for single bikes – but I am delighted to report I could simply be pushed in.

Going up! Unusual way of accessing the Tay Bridge on NCR1 – but happily it was a long lift!

Emerging from the lift and rejoining the cycle path there is a great view from above of the new V&A museum. It certainly looks very impressive even at this early stage of construction.

A view of the new V & A Museum from the Tay Bridge.

The “old git” was waffling on about breaking another record on the way back across the bridge – but the “old gal” was quick to point out that it was in fact an uphill pedal on the return trip! The “old git” scoffed, but quickly discovered the truth as they pedalled off and were suddenly hit by a head wind!

What should have been a quick cycle back across the bridge turned into a bit of a grind – before Team Matilda were back in the car park across from Dundee. A reviving cup of coffee was required, but the the “old git” and the “old gal” were euphoric when they checked Strava to find they had gained no less than 23 gongs – 14 personal bests and 9 second best times! Mind you this was probably mainly due to keeping pedalling at a fair speed to beat the showers, but also underlines that my dynamic crew are a good bit fitter and stronger than they think!

Strava officially recorded the ride as Team Matilda covering a distance of  27.9 miles with a total moving time of 3 hours 06 minutes – giving an average speed of 9.0 mph.

The total elapsed time was just 4 hours 13 minutes – allowing for sheltering from the rain! Top speed recorded was just 19.0 mph given the flatness of the route, with the elevation covered being just 164 feet. Together we managed to burn up 1,343 calories, and produced an estimated average power output of 108 W.

Regular readers of my blog will know only too well by now that the “old git” has found a clever new app called Relive which creates a nifty 3D video interpretation of our rides – effectively bringing Strava to life. So take a look at the video of our route below. (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.)

The overall verdict from my dynamic crew was that it was brilliant way to record another 28 miles on a rare weekday off for my crew, which left them feeling righteous! Add to that lots of laughs and the fact that we managed to dodge the showers and it was a win, win situation!

Great preparation for my Tour de Deux Festivals du Tandem this weekend….

Sunday showers on BLiSStrail in scenic Strathyre

Taking a photo of you taking a photo of me … reflective fun at The Look Out.

So a weekend of fun and frolics with good solo cyclist friends of the “old gal” and “old git” – Gillian and Craig who had come to Matildas Rest to stay for a mini-break. My dynamic crew promised them “gin and BLiSStrail.” However I think that our visitors had (perhaps understandably!) assumed that the BLiSStrail was a tour of local pubs sampling gin! But in fact the gin was a visit to a local gin bar – followed by a cycle the next day around the award-winning unique cultural outside art #BLiSStrail, named after the four villages it links – Balquhidder, Lochearnhead, Strathyre and St Fillans – deep in the heart of Rob Roy Country within the Loch Lomond and  The Trossachs National Park.

The weekend started with some fab Mediterranean vegetable lasagne made by the “old gal” before some “pre cycle training” of a night out in Perth! I was left behind tucked up in the garage as the bike crews headed off on a different mode of transport – the bus! – for a trip into The Venue – a gin bar which boasts no less than 200 gins on offer.

Easy to follow signs to the Gin Bar at The Venue, Perth.

There is a gin menu – a thick pamphlet which describes all the varieties, and the best mix of tonics and garnishes to have with them! So naturally the four cyclists had to sample a few gins between them! And I am reliably told that an enjoyable night was had by all! No jokes about being well oiled please!

Pre tandem ride Saturday night training – two tonics (with splash of gin) … in tandem!

No room for sore heads however as the “old git” had everyone up early, ready to head off to Strathyre to cycle round the BLiSStrail – a series of large metal and wood sculptures and art installations. It is the brainchild of LETi, the local Loch Earn Tourism Information group,  to encourage more visitors to the area – to boost tourism and the local economy.

And as we drove into St Fillans – along the lovely road from Crieff – there was time for a quick photo stop at the affectionately named “Mirror Man” – which was glistening in the sun in the water at the top of Loch Earn opposite the The Four Seasons Hotel. This iconic mirrored sculpture is officially called “STILL” and has been created by Scottish artist Rob Mulholland.

The “old git” trying (and failing!) to mirror Mirror Man in  Loch Earn at St Fillans.

The start point for our tour was Broch Cafe in Strathyre – a great facility run by the hospitable owners Lesley and Bill, who we met on a previous trips to the area.  As always the cafe was bustling with customers and has a really friendly vibe about it. After a welcome coffee Gillian decided to try out an unusual way of sitting on Thistle the Heilan’ Coo, which sits just outside the cafe, before we headed off. Me thinks she really fancies a motorbike than a pedal bike!

Gillian finding an unusual way to sit on Thistle the Heilan’ coo at Broch Cafe!

You can check out the details of our route on Strava below – and don’t forget to click on the map image to be transferred to Strava to get the full data and statistics!

We headed out of Strathyre on the Sustrans Scotland NCR7 – which Gillian and Craig immediately agreed was one of the best cycle paths that they had every cycled on! It is like a motorway surface – super smooth – which, for an “old lady” like myself who doesn’t like too many bumps and potholes, was a delight to tandem on!

Ironically, as we passed the site which will host a newly commissioned #BLiSStrail sculpture of a Highland Coo to mark the old cattle drovers route, we came across a rather unusual obstruction on the cycle path … of … you’ve guessed … a real live young Highland Coo! This one had obviously been keen to investigate the merits of NCR7 and somehow had managed to escape from its field. Despite being a relative baby, it was still fairly substantial and was blocking the route. Fortunately it was fairly friendly, and after having a few inquisitive looks at my frame (I don’t think it had seen many tandem bikes!) he happily “moooved” over to let us past.

Unusual “rush hour” obstruction on NCR7 – I had to ask Hamish to mooove over!

After the cow “diversion” we picked up a fair speed on the cycle path, and soon we were at Kingshouse where we took the turning for Balquidder – soon passing the grave of Rob Roy MacGregor.  Pedalling on into Balquidder, the “old gal” was keen to show Gillian and Craig an interesting feature beside the village hall – an unusual iconic red phone box. Unusual in that this one has been transformed into a book exchange for the local community after the actual phone service was withdrawn as it was no longer used much. What a wonderful idea! Great #ScotSpirit!

Great alternative use for a phone box – Balquhidder Book Exchange.

Tandeming on from Balquhidder we headed along the 4 miles signposted towards the stylish boutique Monachyle Mhor hotel to take in the Look Out installation – one of the key pieces of the #BLiSStrail. It is essentially a mirrored cube which blends into the surrounding backdrop. In fact it is so well situated that you really have to look hard to find it in the middle of a field! Despite the fact that the weather had turned  a bit showery, the Look Out’s cleverly designed reflective lines provided both bike crews with endless opportunities for fun photographs.

Whose looking at who?! – Gillian, Craig and the “old gal” at the Look Out.

Look(ing) out, look(ing) in! So many options, so many combinations at the mirrored cabin.

Interesting half and half reflection of the “old gal” at the Look Out.

To escape the sudden downpour the “old gal” – who doesn’t like cycling in rain! – decided we should try and take refuge in the nearest shelter. This turned out to be a space under the road bridge, which had clearly been built over the ancient old bridge – giving a fascinating glimpse of the past.

A new(ish) bridge built over the ancient old bridge at the end of Loch Voil.

When the sun broke thru again my crew decided it was time to show Gillian and Craig our perfect prosecco picnic spot on the banks of Loch Voil. And as the rain clouds blew away, we were left with a perfect vista over the loch to the hills on the other side. First job, of course, was for the “old git” to chill the prosecco in the huge outdoor wine chiller! Then to open it, and pour it, without spilling a drop! – which he successfully achieved! As they say, practice makes perfect! Gillian and Craig were suitably impressed at the alfresco lunch venue and the prosecco was the perfect accompaniment to the healthy picnic of croissants filled with smoked salmon and chilli cream cheese, followed by fresh fruit.

Wine cooler with a view! Perfect way to chill the prosecco!

Cheers! Our perfect prosecco picnic spot on the banks of Loch Voil.

The “old gal” enjoying her fresh fruit and prosecco in the sunshine!

Fortified by another prosecco picnic, we pedalled off enjoying the fabulous countryside and gently undulating road along the side of Loch Voil. But unfortunately as we got to Balquhidder the rain started again and after a vote among my dynamic crew – with the “old gal” having the casting vote! – the decision was taken to abandon the planned route to return to Strathyre on the old hilly road up through the forest. So we headed back retracing our steps by rejoining NCR 7 back to Strathyre. This turned out to be a fairly sensible outcome as the rain showed no sign of easing off.

Perfect finish! A warming coffee and yummy home made carrot cake at Broch Cafe.

Our tandem ride ended up where we started back at Broch Cafe, where it was time for my team to enjoy that traditional tandemers reviving snack of yummy coffee and home made carrot cake – while checking Strava to find that they received five gongs on the ride.

Strava officially recorded the ride as a distance of 16.0 miles with a total moving time of 1 hour 47 minutes. Average speed was 9.0 mph, with a top speed being a giddy 30.9 mph.

The elevation covered was 261 feet, as we managed to burn up 914 calories, and produced an estimated average power output of 128 W.

Standby for a clever bit now … the “old git” had been told about an amazing new app called Relive which creates a 3D video interpretation of a ride – effectively bringing Strava to life. It does what it says on the tin – reliving a ride by showing the landscape and contours of the route, as well as showing photos at the spot they were taken, before ending with all the stats. Very clever bit of tech! So  having signed up Team Matilda were delighted to received their first video. Click on the play button below and take a look! I am sure you will be impressed! The “old git” certainly was!

Don’t forget you can sign up to see my Twitter feed by clicking on the word MatildasMusings, or the “follow” button.

My dynamic crew got a bit chilled at the end of the ride, so unfortunately had to turn down the offer of a game of petanque on Broch Cafe’s own piste – but they will take up the offer from Bill and  Lesley for a doubles match soon!

In the meantime I for one can’t wait to return on the last Sunday in May for Team Matilda’s double festival extravaganza tour – visiting both the Mhor Festival and the Strathyre Music Festival by tandem! If you can’t wait, read my recent blog where we sussed out the route between the two festivals!

Overseas warm (but very windy) weather weekend training trip to Costa del Millport

Costa del Millport – Kames beach looking distinctly Mediterranean for a picnic stop on day 2.

6.30 am on a Sunday and the alarm awakes Team Matilda from their slumbers. Amazingly the “old git” and “old gal” jump out of bed! The reason for this enthusiasm is that we were heading for our annual “overseas warm weather” May Bank Holiday training weekend on 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 CalMac 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 we were being joined on our weekend adventure by good solo cyclist friends of the “old gal” and “old git” – Gillian and Craig. Now believe it or not they are Millport virgins! I know it is hard to believe that some people have yet to enjoy the thrill of a trip to Millport – but this was their first time so laughs are guaranteed!

So we headed off from Matildas Rest – with the only slight snag being a weather forecast which was promising winds of up to 24 mph. And given we were heading to an island that didn’t sound too clever!  Matilda Transport was parked up in Largs and we tandemed round to the ferry terminal – complete with my natty matching (and bulging) panniers! – to meet up with Gilliand and Craig.

Here I am on the short ten minute CalMac ferry crossing to Millport.

I really enjoy a ferry trip you know, as you always get to meet some interesting new bikes – especially some of these sleek new racing bikes – which is nice eye candy for this “old lady”!

Ten minutes later and we were in a different world – it’s amazing the difference that short journey “overseas” makes! It was certainly blustery as we left the ferry – with the wind as per the forecast! This was going to be interesting – especially in the cross winds given that I am a “long vehicle”!

The calm before the storm – arriving with Millport virgins Gillian and Craig.

So after disembarking there was time for a quick group selfie before heading clockwise to pedal the four miles into the town of Millport. You can check out the details of our route on Strava below – and don’t forget to click on the map image to be transferred to Strava to get the full data and statistics! 

So this is where my dynamic crew knew it was windy! As we headed off from the ferry slipway the wind was recording a steady 24 mph – right in the direction we were tandeming! The “old gal” – who suffers a bit from asthma – found the first couple of miles particularly hard going.  Now we know what cycling in a cyclone is like! It was really tough pedalling and it seemed we were almost going backwards such was the force of the wind! But about half way towards the town as we changed direction, thankfully the wind suddenly calmed a bit. It was very much still there, but not nearly as ferocious!

On we pedalled into the town where we had arranged to hand our panniers in at the Craigard Guest House – our wonderfully friendly bed and breakfast – run by the really hospitable Janette and Crawford. We stayed here the last couple of years, and were welcomed back like old friends! I was most impressed when Crawford greeted us with “Good to see the three of you again!”

After a quick pit stop we were back on the road, heading off clockwise on our first lap. And as we cycled up the quieter side of the island it was like a totally different day from the mainland side! This was a joy with my dynamic crew enjoying the wind behind them as they flew along taking in the stunning views across the water to the nearby islands of Arran and Rothesay.

Gillian and Craig enjoying the flat open roads on Millport on their solo bikes.

Gillian and Craig were enjoying their first views of the island, taking in the beautiful scenery as we passed remote beaches with lots of wildlife. In high spirits we identified our usual “private picnic table” and made a booking for an hour’s time when on our second lap! As we came round the top of the island, we were all a bit more prepared for the wind as we came round the headland. It was just as strong but somehow Team Matilda managed to keep the momentum going by keeping pedalling. I was actually impressed as our speed didn’t seem to drop too much – and we were still back in Millport – having completed the first lap – in well under an hour!

After a quick breather it was time to continue on clockwise for the first half of lap 2 which took us to our idyllic quiet table for four with a sea view – with the weather almost balmy on the more protected side. Just perfect for our prosecco picnic.

Bon Appetit! Time for one of my dynamic crew’s infamous prosecco picnic lunches!

Now prosecco picnics by tandem at remote quiet spots are one of the great simple pleasures in life, and my dynamic duo take them very seriously with meticulous preparation! Today the menu to emerge from their bicycle rider’s luncheon box was smoked salmon and chilli cream cheese croissants followed by fresh fruit. Picnics don’t come much better than this!

The “old gal” among the bluebells on the track down to the beach.

Selfie time for my dynamic crew after the picnic with Rothesay in the background.

After a walk on the beach the four of us got back on the saddles. Happily for the “old gal” the wind had dropped a bit as we headed past the ferry terminal and we completed the second lap faster than the first. Time for a reviving reward of some coffee and yummy carrot cake – de rigeur for tandemers – at the brilliant Dancing Midge Cafe. Refuelled it was time for the final lap of the day – but as the sun had come out there was time for some scenic shots as the cycle path passed Kames Bay.

Gillian and Craig with the “old gal” overlooking the beach as the sun decided to pay a visit!

What a view – looking towards the ragged hills of Arran out from Millport,

Just  for variety we decided to  do the final lap anti clockwise and this was clearly going to be the fastest lap of the day! The first half of this circuit was a breeze – and not in the windy sense! Gillian and Craig headed off on their solo bikes to complete an ultra-fast lap and since they were visitors on their first trip to Millport, we decided not to chase them! We pedalled up past the ferry picking up speed all the way and enjoyed most of the trip back down the quieter side … until my dynamic crew suddenly became less dynamic as they simultaneously hit the wall! With about three miles to go the “old git” and the “old gal” both almost ground to a halt with their pedalling as today’s miles had clearly taken their toll. But they battled on with Team Matilda arriving back in Millport virtually at crawling speed.

Happy to have finished the final lap of the day – clocking up 35  miles.

Spangled! The “old gal” having a rest after that final lap and cycling in a cyclone!

Relaxing back at the Craigard – while enjoying a wee glass of wine – the “old git” and the “old gal” were euphoric when they checked Strava to find they had gained no less than 16 gongs – 6 third best times; 6 second best times; and 4 personal bests! Not a bad tally given the ferocious headwinds my dynamic crew faced throughout the day – which underlines that they are a good bit fitter and stronger than they think! Strava officially recorded the ride as Team Matilda covering a distance of  34.6 miles with a total moving time of 3 hours 27 minutes – giving a healthy average speed of 10.0 mph.

The total elapsed time was just over 5 hours – allowing for the prosecco picnic and coffee and cake! Top speed recorded was 20.1 mph and the elevation covered was 531 feet. Together we managed to burn up 1690 calories, and produced an estimated average power output of 122 W.

Time for a bit of rest and recuperation before Gillian and Craig knocked on the door – with another of their pop-up gin bars! They had gone to the effort of bringing some of the Glasgow-made Makaar gin, Mediterranean tonic, and even a chilli freshly cut up as a garnish! It went down a treat before we headed for our evening meal at The Harbour restaurant. Regular readers of my blog will know that this is the restaurant of choice on Millport for the “old git” and the “old gal”. And the offering now includes a cocktail menu – including gin concoctions – so the “old gal” was ecstatic!

Cheers! Well deserved cocktails for the “old gal” and “old git” at the Harbour restaurant.

The food was brilliant as always – very tasty and originally presented! The “old git” for example enjoyed some tempura prawns with a chilli dip followed by a build-your-own burger with blue cheese topping.  Just what was needed to restore energy levels! So after a great night – full of laughs – it was back to the bed and breakfast for some much needed zzzs ahead of another couple of laps tomorrow!

Day 2 dawned and bright sunshine streaming in as my dynamic crew and Gillian and Craig enjoyed  a hearty cooked breakfast at Craigard to set everyone up for the cycling ahead. After bidding farewell to Janette and Crawford, and thanking them for another great stay, we headed out to find the wind had changed – but only in direction!

Millport bay was a veritable millpond basking in the sun – but the “old gal” knew from painful experience of Millport that if the wind was still there that meant the other half of the island would be a maelstrom! And she wasn’t wrong!

So the plan was for two more training laps today – and for the first one we headed off anti clockwise. Remember you can check out the details of our route on Strava below – and don’t forget to click on the map image to be transferred to Strava to get the full data and statistics! 

It was a lovely day to be tandeming and all was well with the world – then just at the ferry slipway we felt the wind again! It was whipping up the sea into waves – but for some reason it didn’t feel as bad as yesterday! And it seems it wasn’t as it had dropped from 24 mph to a more placid 19 mph! But my dynamic crew were feeling fresh after their rest and powered round the island in 47 minutes.

On the way round just as we passed the public loos at Fintry Bay we saw a new star of the island my crew had been told about – the self dubbed Cumbrae Cludgie Cleaner. Fun-loving Suki McGregor signed up for  job following a community take-over of the public loos and is instantly recogniseable thanks to her trademark bright pink overalls and blonde dreadlocks. She even has her own Cumbrae Cludgie Cleaner Facebook page and has been posting video blogs which have gone viral!

We spotted the Cumbrae Cludgie Cleaner  at the loos near Fintry Bay. Photo: Scottish Sun

As we tandemed past my crew parped my horn and waved and shouted out hello and said thanks for doing a great job for the community. A few days later a great article appeared about Suki in the Scottish Sun and Team Matilda got a mention! Talking of the praise she received Suki told the paper: “I’ve had a couple on a tandem cycle past shouting ‘There’s the Cumbrae Cludgie Cleaner!”

A welcome coffee stop at Crocodeli after the initial lap on day 2.

Time for a quick coffee pit stop at the brilliantly named Crocodeli delicatessen – combining the deli part with the famous Crocodile Rock landmark. The coffee was great and we decided that their home made sandwiches would be ideal for a picnic lunch – so the “old gal” wisely got them to put a bottle of white wine in the fridge so it would be suitably chilled on our return from our final lap! The “old git” couldn’t help but laugh at the tongue-in-cheek west of Scotland humour on Crocodeli’s blackboard promoting the fact that they were self-proclaimed Piece Artistes! (For those not au fait with the Scottish dialect piece is a Scots word for sandwich!)

Only in Millport! Fantastic west of Scotland humour in bottom line of Crocodeli’s sign!

So with the weather conditions now at their best over the whole weekend, my dynamic duo decided that they would finish with a flourish! They got themselves psyched up for a record breaking Tour de Millport attempt!

Following much discussion – arguments and counter arguments and the scientific experiment of sticking a finger in the air to try and establish which way the wind was blowing – the “old gal” decided on clockwise! Just to emphasise the seriousness of the situation my dynamic crew removed their cycling jackets … and so Team Matilda set off from the harbour with the aim of recording their best ever time to lap the island.

It would need to be said that we fair whizzed round the island with the “old git” keeping me in high gears most of the time and really pushing on when we hit any wind. I was enjoying myself immensely as this “old lady” doesn’t normally get to experience such speeds!

And I am proud to report that my dynamic crew excelled themselves with a non stop circuit of the island which was recorded at new personal best of 41.28 minutes – which means that we were travelling at an average of 14.89 miles an hour! Fantastic! And what’s more it was great fun which proved my crew’s motto of “It’s always better when we are tandeming together!”

Time for a breather! The “old gal” relaxing after the record breaking lap!

Not surprisingly my crew needed a few minutes to sit in silence and re-energise after their record breaking attempt and found a lovely sunny spot beside the harbour. We met up with Gillian and Craig who had taken the internal – but much hillier road – to do some sightseeing, before heading back to Crocodeli for some lovely sandwiches and collect that nicely chilled wine for the picnic!

While the “old gal” was organising the picnic purchases, the “old git” decided to have a look in the window of the gift shop next door and his eye was caught by a range of caravan signs for hanging over a wine bottle. Immediately he thought of my good friend, the recumbent tandem Bluebird, and her crew John and Jane – who we enjoyed a great Tour de Perthshire with last year when they travelled north with their caravan! And excitement is building to the first week in July when Team Matilda is travelling south to meet up with Team Bluebird for a Tour de New Forest! So the sign that said: “Everybody join the caravan of love” seemed the perfect memento from Millport!

A present for Team Bluebird … the wine didn’t survive the picnic lunch!

Unfortunately for John and Jane – but fortunately for my dynamic crew! – the perfectly chilled and fruity Oyster Bay wine didn’t have a chance of surviving the picnic! But the “old gal” says it was delicious – so it didn’t go to waste! And it wasn’t just the effect of the wine, but as my crew enjoyed their alfresco picnic as the temperature rose, Millport had a distinctly balmy Mediterranean feel to it! Yes honestly! It was truly living up to its Costa del Millport nickname!

Picnic over – it was time to cycle the four miles back to the ferry slipway – which was taken at a more sedate pace than the record attempt!

Waiting on the ferry to dock at the Cumbrae slip for the return crossing.

While waiting on the busy ferry for the crossing back to Largs there was time to check out the data and my dynamic crew were ecstatic to discover the second day’s tandeming produced another 13 gongs on Strava – including an impressive TEN personal bests! … including that lap of 41 mins 28 seconds!

The distance was recorded by Strava as 23.2 miles for day 2, with a total moving time of 1 hour 57 minutes – giving an average speed of 11.9 mph. Top speed recorded was 20.6 mph and the elevation covered was 375 feet. Together we managed to burn up 1087 calories, and produced an estimated average power output of 139 W.

Reflecting on a fabulous Bank Holiday weekend of tandeming on Costa del Millport!

On the return ferry trip while basking in the bright sunshine there was time for Gillian and Craig to join my dynamic crew to reflect on a rather special weekend on Millport, which was ideal training for our Tour de France and Holland later in the year.

Team Matilda tandemed nearly 60 miles … averaging 11 mph over the two days … and recording no less than 15 personal bests! All together a pretty good result! And I for one can’t wait to go back! And it seems Gillian and Craig are now converted to the charms of Millport to, and promise to return!

As one of the promotional Facebook sites for the island says: “The Only Way is Millport”! And as this sign stresses: “Millport – in a world of its own!” And who can argue with that!

The sign says it all really!

A gander for gourmet gin tasting tae Dunning!

Bit of cycling … bit of gin … perfect combination. What could possibly go wrong?!

Standby for  a quick romp of a blog! This post is a report of a recent “midweek special” tandem trip to a gourmet gin tasting event at a nearby country pub! Now, for my dynamic crew that seemed the perfect combination – a bit of cycling and a bit of gin! Goes together a bit like gin and tonic … according to the “old git!” I mean, what could possibly go wrong?!

You probably know by now that the “old gal” and the “old git” like their gin! But not just any gin. In fact they would turn their noses up at a Gordon’s Gin and tonic with a slice of lemon! No, we are talking Scottish artisan gin here – and not only do they have a wee bit of a penchant for gin – they like to consider themselves something of gin connoisseurs!

So when the “old git” discovered that the nearby The Kirkstyle Inn was holding a gourmet gin tasting evening it seemed a natural fit! And when the “old gal” found out that the Kirkstyle’s new owner and mine host Jamie Dexter Harrison had priced the tickets at a bargain price of £10 for three gin tastings and finger food – to attract new customers – her reaction was an emphatic “sold!”

And that’s where I come in to the story – because there was the small problem of how to get there and back again given the rural location and that driving clearly was a non starter! The “old git” had a brainwave that they could arrive (and depart) by tandem! It would need to be said that the “old gal” was a bit sceptical to begin with … but soon warmed to the idea!

And so on a Wednesday night my crew had a quick turnaround from work to get kitted up in their tandeming gear – and we were off  on our Dash to Dunning along the scenic back roads from Matildas Rest in Auchterarder. You can check out the details of our route on Strava below – and don’t forget to click on the map image to be transferred to Strava to get the full data and statistics! 

It’s a fraction less than five miles door to door and the promise of gin drove my crew on so they wouldn’t be late for the start time of 6.30 – with the journey taking just 23 minutes! Having arrived with a few minutes to spare, there was time for a few photos outside the picturesque Inn.

Old fashioned blackboards promoting the gin night at The Kirkstyle Inn.

It would need to be said that the “old gal” and the “old git” did get a few questioning looks from other locals arriving! Let’s just say they were the only people to arrive by tandem – and the only people wearing hi-vis yellow tandeming t-shirts! Certainly one way to make an entrance!

The calm before the gins! The “old git” and “old gal” arrive in style!

So I was safely locked up outside with the promise that my crew would be back before it got dark for the ride home! And they tell me they had a great couple of hours finding out about and sampling the gins and enjoying some tasty nibbles.

The line up of three gins to sample – with lots of tonic, ice and garnishes!

First up was the Classic Edinburgh Gin – which is distilled in Scotland’s capital city with heather, milk thistle and pine and served with regular tonic and a garnish of orange peel. The citrus effect was a good way to kick off the evening!

When sampling one of the gins my crew found a suitable sign at the bar!

The second gin was Rock Rose from a small distillery at Dunnet Bay near Caithness in the far north of Scotland. The key botanical they use is rhodiola rosea, more commonly known as rose root, which is a small rose type plant which grows on the cliffs at Caithness – and gives the gin its name. To help bring out the floral botanicals, this was served with Mediterranean tonic – and am told this was a big hit!

“Keep pouring while you smile at the camera” says the “old gal”!

My crew enjoyed some tasty finger food  from the Kirkstyle kitchen before tasting the last gin – Love Gin from Eden Mill in St Andrews. This pink gin has floral and warm berry notes – and is actually one of my dynamic crew’s favourites! This time it was served with ginger ale and a slice of lime. Yum!

The two hours flew past and after sampling the third and final gin – and making some new friends in the Inn – it was time for the “old git” and the “old gal” to leave so they could get most of the return journey as the sun set – before it got pitch dark. To be on the safe side I was lit up like a Christmas tree with three rear flashing red lights and two front lights – one of which was flashing! We certainly were not going to be missed by any motorists on the country road home.

Ready for tandem ride home – with lots of lights to be safe!

Now  my dynamic crew had kind of expected the return tandem ride to be somewhat different – perhaps a tad wobbly even! But given that the “old git” and the “old gal” were pretty sober, in reality it was just like any other tandem ride. The journey was completed in a fraction under 30 mins – and we arrived home just as it got completely dark. Job done!

Back at Matildas Rest – with the  “old gal” and the “old git” buzzing with the endorphin boost created from the exercise … and the gin! – there was even more elation when they checked Strava to find they had received three gongs for their efforts! Obviously being gin fuelled helps the performance!

So Strava officially recorded the ride as covering a distance of  9.5 miles with a total moving time of 52.55 minutes, at a healthy average speed of 10.8 mph.

The total elapsed time was over 3 hours – allowing for the gin tastings! Top speed recorded was 23.3 mph and the elevation covered was 291 feet. Together we managed to burn up 520 calories, and produced an estimated average power output of 147 W.

It was a joy for Team Matilda to be out pedalling along breathing in the fresh air in the beautiful Perth and Kinross Countryside Trust and Perth and Kinross Council area near Perth City Centre. A perfect evening to celebrate being a Perth 2021 supporter! And clearly #perthistheplace (for gin!)

All told – a bit of exercise … a  bit of tandeming … and a bit of gourmet gin! Great evening really. What a tonic!

Tour de Blackford to help launch Blackford Paths Network project

Two tandems and folk group Tarneybackle ready to lead the Blackford Paths Network launch ride.

It is always exciting to get an invitation! And this “old lady” tandem was very impressed to receive an invitation to help promote the launch of a new cycle paths project in our area! According to the invite it seems that I am now a bit of a local celebrity – and my presence would help raise awareness for the campaign! Amazing but true!

Yes Team Matilda’s notoriety had been noticed by the Blackford Community Council – in the next village along from Matilda’s Rest in Auchterarder. It has set up the Blackford Paths Network project which aims to create a network of safe off-road cycle and walking paths around Blackford – and in particular routes to our home town of Auchterarder and Gleneagles railway station.

The project was holding a Drop in Consultation event at the Moray Institute and I was invited to help lead a “Tour de Blackford” cycle ride to create some interest and encourage local people to take part in survey about what routes they would like to see in the area. How could I possibly refuse?!

All kitted up with the Blackford Paths Network logo.

The “old git” got me all kitted up looking resplendent with the Blackford Paths Network logo so that I would be easily recognised – as if I wouldn’t! But just to make sure there was a lovely pre-event picture of me in the Dundee Courier to highlight the event.

Fame! Here I am pictured in The Courier promoting the launch ride and event.

The organisers had asked that me and my dynamic crew would team up with local folk trio Tarneybackle, and another local tandem, to lead a cycle round the village in a bid to drum up support for the event. But first we had to tandem to Blackford – which only underlined the need for new cycle paths! You can check out the details of our route on Strava below – and don’t forget to click on the map image to be transferred to Strava to get the full data and statistics! 

In order to avoid the dangers of the A9  dual carriageway – and 4 lanes of 70mph traffic – which is the direct vehicle route between Auchterarder and Blackford, we headed off on the windy Bardrill Road. It was a joy for Team Matilda to be out pedalling along breathing in the fresh air basking in the sun in the beautiful Perth and Kinross Countryside Trust and Perth and Kinross Council area near Perth City Centre. A perfect day to celebrate being a Perth 2021 supporter!

But the “old gal” had been warned in advance about the state of this farm road – which has a very poor surface riddled with huge potholes. As the “old git” gingerly tried to pick a path between them he wittily suggested that as some of the pot holes were so deep – and filled with rain water – that they would make a decent swimming pool! Oh how we laughed – not!

A bend littered with stones on the alternative Badrill Road route to avoid the dangerous A9.

One of the bends on the route is locally known as “sand corner” and it was easy to see why. Except that it should have been renamed “rubble corner” such was the state of the rough bumpy surface of stones left after prolonged rain erosion.

The next problem came at the end of the farm road where the only alternative is to literally dice with death and attempt the “killer crossing”over the 4 lanes of the dual carriageway – while avoiding getting sucked into the blast of passing trucks and lorries.

Another key danger is a “killer crossing” over 4 lanes of 70mph traffic on the A9 to access Blackford.

After a significant wait for a suitable gap, we were able to make a dash for it and cross the road – but with my crew’s hearts in a  bit of a flutter. Certainly a crossing to be avoided unless absolutely necessary! So Team Matilda arrived in one piece (just!) at the Moray Institute and met up with lots of other bikes for the “Tour de Blackford.”

Tandemers and cyclists gather at the Moray Institute for the Tour de Blackford!

After I made my acquaintance with the other local tandem – known simply as “The Bike”! – crewed by Blackford resident Bob Watkinson and his stoker Marguerite – we met the “Tarneybackle Tourists” John, Lorna and Sandy, before setting off on the ride round the village in bright sunshine. The “old git” was in his element – happy to parp my horn to make sure the ride got noticed and to remind locals to pop into the consultation event and fill in the survey.

Thumbs up from the “old git” as Team Matilda leads the promotional ride thru Blackford!

Here I am beside “the Bike” – the other tandem crewed by Bob and Marguerite.

I got to parp my horn lots on The Tour de Blackford to raise awareness for the launch event!

After the ride we had to pose for promotional pictures at the entrance to the village.

After three laps we cycled to the entrance to the village for a promotional photo shoot, before returning to the Moray Institute to take part in the official consultation event – which was designed to give an opportunity for cyclists, walkers and residents to share ideas on the paths project and look at maps of possible routes from Blackford to the Auchterarder area. To add to the event’s appeal Tarneybackle also performed a few familiar folk songs – while still wearing their cycling gear!

The “old gal” taking part in the consultation event to launch the Blackford Paths Network.

Blackford based folk group Tarneybackle performed at the launch event.

Funding for the Blackford Paths Network project has so far come from Tactran (the Tayside and Central Scotland Transport Partnership) and the Climate Change Development Fund. After the survey period, the next stage is that the projects consultant will report back over the next two months on what are the best and safest routes.  The consultant will then survey those routes to provide costings so that the project can put in applications for funding to provide proper safe off road paths.

The “old gal” with Janet Law from Blackford Community Council and consultant Crispin Hayes.

After filling in the survey my dynamic crew got back on my saddles to head home home. But, in a bitter irony, we unfortunately experienced first hand just how badly proper cycle paths are needed in the area. I suffered a painful injury on the return tandem journey along Bardrill Road – when I damaged one of my spokes on my rear wheel on an awful pothole which was disguised as a puddle! Ouch!

Ouch! I damaged a rear wheel spoke on a huge pothole on the pedal home.

My dynamic crew initially thought I had suffered a broken spoke – but fortunately an inspection of the damage revealed that my spoke has just worked lose and required a bit of tightening. Phew! A bit of relief as I thought I would have to be paying a visit to the tandem doctors!

Back at Matildas Rest and time for the “old git” to check the figures on Strava which officially recorded the ride as covering a distance of  15.7 miles with a total moving time of 1 hour 42 minutes, at an average speed of 9.2 mph. Top speed recorded was 28.2 mph and the elevation covered was 403 feet. We managed to burn up 993 calories, and produced an estimated average power output of 145 W.

And there was more fame to come when Team Matilda adorned a great post event article in the Dundee Courier the next day.

More fame! Team Matilda pictured in a great article in The Courier after the launch event.

All in all a good fun day to launch the Blackford Paths Project, which Team Matilda were delighted to be involved in – even if I did suffer a painful injury! And it will be fantastic if the initial consultation achieves its aims of much needed new cycle paths around a very scenic part of Perthshire.

My spokes (both damaged and undamaged) are firmly crossed!