Sunday dawned and although there were menacing dark clouds about, my dynamic crew were up early and energised as Team Matilda had been invited to road test – or that should really be boat-test! – another of Scotland’s top tourist attractions for my blog!
This time the invitation was to try out Loch Tay Safaris new cycle and cruise offering – which allows people the ultimate fun way to explore Perthshire’s largest loch on an exciting adrenalin-fuelled combination of two wheels and a fast RIB boat.
So we headed off to the pretty estate village of Kenmore – parking in the Loch Tay Safaris car park right on the edge of the loch beside their private jetty and pontoon – to get ready for our adventure.
Adding to the excitement was that this ‘old lady’ had been under repair and had a whole new gear mechanism fitted – including chain set, crank, mech and gear selector. So all three of us on Team Matilda were keen to get out on the open roads of Highland Perthshire to see how my ‘new bits’ performed! There are some pics and some technical stuff at the end of this blog post which details the work I had done to my ageing frame!
We decided to follow one of the suggested routes for the cycle and cruise itinerary – a near 14 mile loop from Kenmore to Aberfeldy and back on scenic roads which straddle both sides of the River Tay.
Check out the details of our route by clicking on the Strava map below.
We left Kenmore on Sustrans Scotland NCN Route 7 crossing the bridge and turning right onto the quiet B846. The route immediately takes you up a hill on the edge of the Tay Forest Park, but my crew found this much easier than normal due to my new gearing!
A great long flat stretch soon had us building up speed before crossing the River Lyon just before it joins the Tay. Turning right and less than 2 miles later we found ourselves in the wonderfully named Highland Perthshire hamlet of Dull – where it would need to be said the weather wasn’t very bright! See what I did there?!
But locals – clearly with a sense of humour – are keen to make the most of the unusual name and promote the road sign as a tourist attraction in its own right. It helps that Dull has been twinned with Boring – a small town in Oregon USA which also has an etymologically-similar name.
Naturally my dynamic crew had to stop for the must-do selfie with the sign and discovered that Dull and Boring created the League of Extraordinary Communities in 2013 and made Bland in New South Wales Australia its first member – giving them a Dull, Boring and Bland tie-up!
Dull’s other claim to fame is that it is the base of Highland Safaris – the parent business of Loch Tay Safaris. It is quite an operation and as winner of the Best Visitor Experience in Scotland offers exhilarating Land Rover Safaris, a red deer centre, inspiring walking and mountain biking activities, Perthshire’s only gold panning centre, and a cafe.
We were soon in Aberfeldy – marking the half way point – and headed west on the A827 to complete the loop back to Kenmore. This is more undulating but even the long climb near the end didn’t present my crew – and my new gears – with too many problems.
The welcome freewheel downhill saw us return to our lochside base and there was plenty of time for a fun photoshoot with me and the Loch Tay Safaris boat called Iolaire. Even though I wasn’t actually going on the cruise, the ever-cautious “old gal” did kit me out with a lifebelt … just in case I fell in!
After the photos there was time for a picnic lunch of smoked salmon and spinach wraps and fresh fruit salad which the “old gal” had prepared for some fuel before they took to the water!
Then I was safely locked up at the lochside before my dynamic crew donned their life jackets and had a full safety briefing before boarding for their 90 minute cruise!
Loch Tay Safaris is a new venture only launched last summer. As the blurb says: “Our modern, custom built cabin RIB is safe, comfortable, fast, dry and guaranteed to raise a smile!”
Although Iolaire can seat up to 12 people my dynamic crew were fortunate enough to be the only people on board so effectively had a fantastic private charter!
Not long into the cruise the “old git” and “old gal” were given the chance of sitting up front by expert skipper Alex while the superbly informative tour guide Norman took us on a journey through local history, nature and folklore. Points of interest included the old piers where steamboats plied their trade in years past taking day-trippers on the water until 1939; and the so-called Loch Tay Fault Line.
The RIB’s versatility makes it perfect for getting in close to the inaccessible banks of the loch and exploring the unique landscape from the water. About half way, at the deepest point of the loch, just off Ben Lawyers, our tour guide Norman regaled us with stories about Loch Tay’s very own Kelpie lair describing the supernatural mythical white horse which lured people to its lair deep in the waters.
My dynamic crew know a think or two about Kelpies, having visited the magnificent metal horse sculptures near Falkirk, including filming one of my Matildas Musings video clips – featuring three iconic steel structures – for my Youtube channel. The “old gal” was offered the chance to feed the Kelpies – with some appropriately named ‘Kelpie Food’ masquerading as oats!
One of the highlights of the cruise comes near the end when its stops just beside the Scottish Crannog Centre – a unique reconstruction of an ancient loch dwelling which recreates what life was like on Loch Tay some 2,500 years ago in the early Iron Age. Here in Highland Perthshire the prehistoric crannogs were originally timber-built roundhouses supported on piles or stilts driven into the loch bed.
All too soon the cruise was at an end and we returned to the pontoon at Kenmore – thanking Alex and Norman for a brilliant sail. Loch Tay Safaris is certainly a highly recommended way to explore the loch if you are in the area – not just by the “old git” and “old gal” but by the great reviews on Tripadvisor.
Returning to terra firma – buoyed by the exuberance of the cruise – my dynamic crew quickly found their land legs and we set off on our second tandem circuit to complete our cycle-cruise-cycle agenda. And I am delighted to report it was even quicker than the first – with the miles literally flying past.
Soon we were thru Dull again (still not much brighter!) and passed Menzies Castle – the seat of the Clan Menzies. It dates back to the 16th century and Charles Edward Stuart stayed here for two nights before the fateful Battle of Culloden in 1746.
A quick dash thru the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it village of Weem took us to our second crossing of the impressive Wade’s Bridge which spans the Tay. It was built in 1733 by the architect William Adam – son of the better known Robert Adam.
A blistering downhill finish into Kenmore saw a first for Team Matilda – as we set off a “slow down” warning as we flashed past one of these new digital speed signs which registered us at 33 mph! Shame it wasn’t a speed camera!
The “old gal” made a shout for a drinkie stop after we dismounted so we headed to the Kenmore Hotel – which claims to be Scotland’s oldest inn. Certainly our national bard Robert Burns was a visitor back in 1787 and wrote one of his famous poems on the plaster on one of the walls.
Over a most welcome refreshment – and me back in Matilda Transport – the “old git” checked Strava which officially recorded the ride as being worthy of no less than 14 gongs – with 7 personal bests and 7 second bests. Certainly worth of a celebratory libation!
So the Strava figures showed my dynamic crew tandemed a distance of 27.6 miles with a moving time of 2 hours 16 minutes. The average speed was a healthy 12.1 mph – thanks to the changes to the gears – while the elevation was 1185 feet. The maximum speed was a dizzy 33.6 mph and Team Matilda managed to burn up 1676 calories and produce an average power output of 184 W.
As always the route is brought to life in our Relive 3D video – so take a look below.
Team Matilda had a scenic drive home taking the single track route out of Kenmore high over the moor and through Glen Quaich. Coming over one of the many blind summits a brightly coloured rainbow appeared filling the glen with light. It seemed a fitting mark to end a spectacular day out in Perthshire and naturally the “old gal” had to take a photo!
So lastly, as promised, the techno bit – and some photos – of my repairs which were expertly carried out with tender loving care by my personal surgeon John at JM Richards Cycles in Perth – who went above and beyond the call of duty to find a solution! I have no hesitation in recommending them if your set of two wheels needs a repair.
Now this “old lady” makes no secret of my age – and the fact that I am older than either of my dynamic crew! So it was perhaps no surprise that my gears had been suffering from a bit of wear and tear.
I am delighted to report that I am now proudly sporting a shiny new Shimano chain set and crank and front gear mech. And to make life a bit easier – and to ensure my gears engaged every time the “old gal” shouted at the “old git” to throw a gear at it – I now have a new gear shifter on my handlebars to ease my gears into the front gears!
And the good thing that replacing my old bits – which were more than a bit worn – was totally painless! And the result of the repairs just goes to prove that there’s still plenty of life in this “old lady”!
The “old gal” has re-named John as ‘Saint John’ due to the fact that life going uphill is now significantly more bearable – and amazingly our average speed went up by nearly 2 mph over the day. At times we were flying along so easily that the “old git” was heard to say that we could do with an extra gear!
But he was joking – right?!
So many, many thanks to John and I know my dynamic crew are now convinced they had been battling old gears for some time without realising. The outcome is that all three of us on Team Matilda are now looking forward to the Hebridean Way attempt in early June with renewed vigour!
Just need some sunshine now and everything will be perfect!