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!)
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!