4 seasons in a day, 2 broken spokes, and 1 speedo error on HebWay training run.

Spot the blue sky! The “old gal” near Dunblane at half-way – with snow just round the corner!

The phrase “four seasons in a day” has been used by Scots people for years to describe the unpredictable Spring weather which the gods can cast down on us! And our recent sneaky Monday off tandem ride was a perfect example of where it was simply a waste of time trying to guess the best cycling clothing to suit the conditions!

My dynamic crew experienced all four key elements of Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter rain, sunshine, wind, and even snow on their latest training ride for Team Matilda’s forthcoming Hebridean Way adventure in June. In fact some would say it was just ideal conditions to prepare for the ride “on the edge” of Scotland!

More about the HebWay at the end of this blog, but first today’s ride. The “old git” had decided it was time to test the “old gal” on a few hills on a canter to Dunblane, with the promise of a coffee and cake stop on the return leg at Braco – although to be fair he hadn’t quite calculated the total elevation involved of over 1400 feet … or the inclement weather conditions!

You can check out the details of our route by clicking on the Strava map below.

The route started with some uphill tandeming from Matildas Rest out on the open rural Perthshire roads past Gleneagles Hotel and its world-famous golf courses. Despite the thrust required for the incline, the “old git” applied the brakes when he saw a special road sign designed to protect red squirrels by urging motorists to drive carefully. Maybe the sign should also have said ride carefully!

The “old git” slowed down when he saw the road sign designed to protect the red squirrels.

After the Gleneagles summit my dynamic crew enjoyed a nice downhill stretch although a fairly blustery head wind meant the “old gal” had to keep pedalling as stoker when normally this downhill stretch allows for a bit of free-wheeling! Just the first of many encounters with the ever changing weather on this ride!

Pedalling on we tandemed thru Braco – with the “old gal” checking that the coffee shop was open as we pedalled past and headed up a few more tough inclines to just outside Kinbuck where the “old git” spotted a crop of Christmas trees getting ready for next festive season!

The “old git” pointing out my dynamic crew’s Christmas tree for December!

Oh how the “old gal” laughed when he joked that they could come and choose their tree in early December and could even carry it home attached to my frame! Well I think he was joking anyway!

A few pedals further on my dynamic crew passed the entrance to Cromlix House – the 5-star country house hotel owned by local tennis superstar Andy Murray. It boasts a Chez Roux restaurant and the “old gal” started to drool over what they may be serving up for lunch – but sensibly decided she wasn’t quite dressed for that kind of culinary experience!

A quick stop at our turning point on the flyover of the A9 just outside Dunblane for some water – and the chance to take in the blue sky which had suddenly appeared, and the views over to the sun dancing on the snow-capped hills in the distance.

Time to move on, and despite the pesky wind it was a great day to be out in glorious Perthshire. For a welcome respite from the challenging weather conditions there was a pit stop at the bike-friendly Braco Coffee shop !

The “old gal” in heaven with scone, millionaire shortbread and a nice strong coffee! Perfect!

As we walked in it was good to see the premises so busy – with several other cyclists and locals having decided to stop en route for sustenance. The “old gal” chose a scone and some yummy millionaire shortbread – all of which was washed down by lovely strong coffee – just the way she likes it! Great friendly service too from the Braco team! A perfect stop on a bicycle made for two really – and just underlines the fun and laughs my dynamic crew have!

As my dynamic crew emerged from the coffee stop they were hit by a shower of rain – the third of the seasons after the wind and the sunshine – but fortunately the worst of the rain seemed to have fallen when they were inside. The four seasons in a day were however completed as the “old git” and “old git” battled the rapidly changing weather conditions on the return stretch from Braco to Gleneagles where in a shady hollow they came across snow lying on the ground! Yes snow!

Four seasons in a day – tick – snow lying on the ground in a shady hollow.

It was a hard grind for my dynamic crew on the return – but a welcome downhill brought about one of those moments of madness when the “old git” and “old gal” just have to laugh out loud! Pedalling as fast as they could the “old git” checked the speedometer – expecting to see it hit 30 mph if they were lucky … only to see it suddenly record a top speed of 91.5 mph.

They say the camera never lies! – evidence of the 91.5 mph recorded on the malfunctioning speedo!

Yes you read that correctly – a reading of 91.5 mph on a bicycle made for two. Despite the fact that the camera never lies and the photographic evidence of this never-to-be-repeated feat, my dynamic crew graciously conceded it clearly was a speedo malfunction!

Then just to compound the unpredictable nature of the ride, as we were heading down towards Gleneagles there was that unmistakable ping – which can only mean a spoke had pinged on my rear wheel! My dynamic crew ground to a halt and surveyed the damage – not one but two spokes had gone!

The rest of my wheel looked fairly sound – and despite a clear wheel wobble – the “old gal” took the decision as chief engineer that we could continue to pedal and limp home at a somewhat slower than normal speed, while the “old git” did his best to avoid any potential bumps. Looks like I am going for a visit to my personal surgeon John – bike wheel builder extraordinaire at JM Richards Cycles in Perth

Spot the two broken spokes! I need a visit to my personal surgeon to repair my rear wheel!

Safely back at Maitildas Rest, the “old git” checked Strava which officially recorded the ride as being worthy of no less than 14 gongs – which given the variable conditions is somewhat impressive! Especially as the total was made up of 3 second bests; and 11 third best times.

The detailed Strava figures showed my dynamic crew tandemed a distance of 28.1 miles with a moving time of 2 hours 44 minutes. The average speed was a healthy 10.3 mph while the elevation was a hilly 1,444 feet. The maximum speed was officially 32.0 mph – not the rogue 91.5 mph! – and Team Matilda managed to burn up 1,691 calories and produce an average power output of 154 W.

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

So that’s another near 30 miles in the bag – and given the weather conditions, mechanicals, and the 1,444 ft elevation it was an ideal training then for the Hebridean Way in mid June. I am looking forward to teaming up with Siggy, the attractive gent of a tandem belonging to the “old git” and “old gal’s” good tandeming friends John and Jane – who have their own Travelling in Tandem blog – for our self-proclaimed Nutty Tandemers Club tour.

But obviously there’s a good few training rides for the “old git” and “old gal” to get in peak condition before they tackle the 185 miles of the #HebWay route from Vatersay to Butt of Lewis Lighthouse at Ness over 5 days tandeming! What is it they say about practice makes perfect?

De-hibernating by kick starting HebWay training on gusty Hillfoots Loop with cake diversion to Dollar!

The “old git” and the “old gal” admiring the views over the dramatic Ochil hills.

Sunday lunchtime and right on cue a weather window was opened by the tandem cycling gods – well as forecast – and the strong gale force winds suddenly died away to leave a sunny but blustery day.

My dynamic crew had their fingers firmly crossed – and I crossed my spokes – that would happen as today was the planned grand de-hibernating after a longer than normal, and sadly enforced, lay off.

The “old git” had planned a new route – the Hillfoots Loop around Alloa in the shadow of the towering Ochil Hills – which offered a good inaugural training ride for Team Matilda’s forthcoming Hebridean Way adventure in June. And he had a special carrot to tempt the “old gal” with – the promise of some tasty carrot cake and strong coffee at a fancy new cafe along the way. Oh the sweet talker – he certainly knows how to get the best out my Stoker you know!

More about the HebWay at the end of this blog – including the trip logo – but first today’s ride. To add to the fun we were joined by “half-bike” cyclist friends of the “old gal” and “old git” – Gillian and Craig – who just happen to have a hot tub in their garden. The promise of a  nice post-ride relaxation in the warm bubbles, complete with a glass of bubbly, was just too much for the “old gal” to turn down. I mean, what could there possibly be not to like?! (Apart from the gusty wind and the odd hill that is!)

Ready for the off – the four riders ready to blow away some cobwebs on the Hillfoots Loop.

The Hillfoots Loop is a circular route promoted by Team Matilda’s friends at Sustrans Scotland and combines no less than three different National Cycle Network Routes – 76, 768 and 767. The fantastic network of paths is a key part the Clackmannanshire Cycle Network and is part of a wider project to encourage access to the outdoors by local tourism initiative Discover Clackmannanshire.

You can check out the details of our route by clicking on the Strava map below.

The route is classed in the easy category – on a mix of well maintained dedicated tarmac paths running along old railway lines and some quiet back roads. And it was immediately a joy to tandem on as we entered NCN Rt 76 just a few wheel turns from Gillian and Craig’s house in Alloa – with the sunshine bringing smiles to my dynamic crew’s faces, despite the wind. And I must say I was impressed at the brisk pace set by the “old git”! And the fact that the “old gal” didn’t complain shows that they are both much fitter than they believe, despite their recent inaction!

A quiet farm road lead us onto a tarmac multi-use path towards Cambus before passing whisky cooperages and bonded warehouses with their distinctive aroma on one side and the River Devon on the other.  At the junction with NCN Route 76 near Tullibody, the loop continues northwards on NCN Rt 768 on a good tailored railway path towards Menstrie and the Ochil Hills.

The NCN Rt 768 section offered blissful tandeming along good railway paths in the sunshine!

At Menstrie the NCN Rt 768 continues on a quiet shared road on as we hit manageable rolling hills along the edge of the Ochils. The route by-passes the centre of Alva on a quiet back road which features the only challenging – but short – hill on the loop. And it was chapeau to my dynamic crew who managed to keep cycling to the top – despite this being the first real training ride of the year!

Team Matilda enjoying the de-hibernating experience on well-surfaced cycle paths.

At the east of Alva we joined the shared-use path alongside the main road to Tillicoultry before the route then joined NCN Rt 767, also known as the Devon Way. We took a planned three mile diversion on a well-surfaced cycle path and headed to the lovely village of Dollar where the “old git” had done his research and unearthed the quaint-sounding Cafe des Fleurs as a perfect coffee stop.

Cafe des Fleurs offered a fab coffee stop in Dollar just after the half-way point.

Now the “old gal” is known to be a bit of an aficionado of tandem and cycle friendly cafes –  and obviously their scone, cake and coffee offerings, as well as the warmth of their welcome – but Cafe des Fleurs got more than pass marks on her personal rating scale!

Despite the cafe obviously being a bit of a destination in its own right – and therefore busy with customers dressed in their Sunday best – the staff made our group clad in cycling clothing very welcome. The fruit scones were just perfect as was the strength of the fab coffee. And as for the carrot cake – de-rigueur for tandemers especially Team Matilda – well the “old gal” clearly coveted her slice and wasn’t letting anyone else near it! It was so good that it got a four and a half “yes” ranking!

The “old gat” became very protective over the slice of yummy carrot cake!

That was praise indeed! And everyone else in the group concurred the cafe would go down on the list as worth paying a return visit for further sampling! Suitably re-energised we pedalled back to Tillicoultry in no time to complete the Hillfoots Loop riding past Sauchie and back to Alloa.

Smiles all round as Team Matilda and Gillian and Craig set off for the second half of the Hilfoots loop.

Gillian had time to take a selfie-in-the-saddle on the NCN Rt 767 back from Dollar

The path is quite undulating at this point but the scenery more than makes up for any effort required with stunning panoramic views over the Ochil Hills and a satisfying overview of the route just taken.

Time for a quick breather to let the “old git” and “old gal” take in the backdrop of the Ochil Hills.

A ride thru some quiet backstreets of Alloa took us back to where we started – exhilarated after the wonderful ride. I was quickly packed back into Matilda Transport as it was time for my dynamic crew to “endure” the warm-down-up in the hot tub strategically situated in Gillian and Craig’s garden!

Safely packed back in Matilda Transport while my dynamic crew went for their warm-down-up!

Relaxing in the warm bubbles the “old git” checked Strava which officially recorded the ride as being worthy of no gongs at all … as this was the first attempt at the Alloa Hilfoots Loop route.

The detailed Strava figures showed my dynamic crew tandemed a distance of 19.4 miles with a moving time of 1 hour 43 minutes. The average speed was a healthy 11.3 mph given the gusty conditions, while the elevation was 718 feet. The maximum speed was 29.3 mph given on a steep downhill section and Team Matilda managed to burn up 1,039 calories and produce an average power output of 150 W.

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

It was a suitably long therapeutic soak – with my dynamic crew enjoying the cold bubbles from a nicely chilled glass of prosecco, while experiencing the warm bubbles of the hot tub! I mean there are worse ways (though admittedly not many!) to spend a Sunday afternoon! Absolute bliss!

Thanks again to Gillian and Craig for a much-needed outing to literally blow away some cobwebs – and the fun company and solace that only good friends can provide.

So that’s the first serious 20 miles done – and given the terrain and conditions it was an ideal training then for the Hebridean Way in mid June. I am looking forward to teaming up with Siggy, the attractive gent of a tandem belonging to the “old git” and “old gal’s” good tandeming friends John and Jane – who have their own Travelling in Tandem blog – for our self-proclaimed Nutty Tandemers Club tour.

The “old git” got a designer pal to come up with a suitably “nutty” logo for the tour! There’s now just the small matter of covering 185 miles over 5 days tandeming! That should certainly focus the mind!

Nutty Tandemers Club logo for Hebridean Way