Co(w)rraling the Cowches in C(ow)rieff!

The vibrant and eye-catching Crieff Cowches trail provided a fun sun-kissed trail for Team Matilda!

The imaginative Crieff Cowches art trail has come to an end – which reminded me to write a blog about my dynamic crew’s great great tandem trip round all 11 of the installations on a sun-kissed evening in August – where Team Matilda saw Crieff looking at its glorious best.

The cleverly decorated Cowches will be seen together for a final horn blowing hurrah on October 9, where they will be sold off at a charity auction.  So with the fundraiser fast approaching I decided it was time to post my blog – which recounts our attempts at Co(w)rralling the Cowches in C(ow)rieff!

Firstly a short bit of background. The Highland cow benches – or cowches for short – made up a unique art trail which succeeded in its aim of bringing huge numbers of visitors into Crieff during the summer. Each cowch had been individually decorated by local artists – who were given carte blanche to let their imagination run riot!

Why use Highland cows as the basis for this unique cultural trail? Well because Crieff occupies a key position between the Highlands and Lowlands of Scotland, the town became the cattle-droving crossroads of Scotland in the 1700s – with up to 30,000 of the beasts arriving for market each year.

The Crieff Cowches trail was organised by Crieff Succeeds – the town’s Business Improvement District programme, which aims to promote Crieff as a vibrant, attractive and safe place to work, shop, visit and live. The trail has been actively promoted by the VisitCrieff tourism internet and social media sites.

So with deep blue skies and warm sunshine my dynamic crew decided to pedal round the art trail on a fun early evening ride – which would include a picnic tea at one of the Cowches! You can check out the details of our route by clicking on the Strava map below.

We pedalled away from Matildas Rest in Auchterarder and firstly tandemed along the quiet country roads to The Library of Innerpeffray – which is Scotland’s first ever free lending library dating back to 1680. The gardens of the historic building – including St Mary’s Chapel with its fascinating graveyard, offered an inspirational spot for the “old git” and “old gal” to tick off their first Cowch, and number 11 on the trail map. This one was simply known as Innerpeffray Cowch and was created by June McEwan.

Cowch 11 – Innerpeffray Cowch by June McEwan

A few more miles and my dynamic crew arrived in Crieff itself, crossing Crieff Bridge to find the cleverly named Emoojis Cowch by local schoolgirl Sinead O’Malley – which is a cow covered in emojis, the smiley faces used in electronic messages.

Cowch 6 – Emoojis by Sinead O’Malley

Next Team Matilda decided to tandem around the town to Glenturret Distillery – recognised as Scotland’s oldest working whisky distillery after being established in 1775. Here the “old git” was happy to pose beside the Cowch named On Watch by Chelsea Rodger.

Cowch 10 – On Watch by Chelsea Rodger

The next stop saw us tandem downhill from the distillery to Turretbank where the “old gal” took the opportunity for a quick rest on the Cowch called Polly, created by Donna Connelly.

Cowch 7 – Polly by Donna Connelly

Tandeming into Macrosty Park my dynamic crew found the bandstand – and were able to tick off seeing Bloomin Flora by Liz Paterson. The “old gal” decided that she would enjoy a few minutes basking in the bright sun on this Cowch!

Cowch 9 – Bloomin Flora by Liz Paterson

Into the town of Crieff itself and Team Matilda tandemed up the High Street, stopping at the town hall after spotting the Sweet Annie Cowch, created by mosaic artist Katy Galbraith.

Cowch 1 – Sweetie Annie by Katy Galbraith

My dynamic crew had now ticked off more than half of the Crieff Cowches, but nearly missed the next one as it was placed in the grounds of Old St Michael’s Churchyard which we found difficult to find for a moment or two. But it was worth the hunt to discover Midnight Meadow by Ceri White.

Cowch 4 – Midnight Meadow by Ceri White

With the warm sunshine, the “old gal” decided it was time for a much needed refreshment which was enjoyed at the welcoming Quaich Bar on Crieff’s High Street. Revitalised, the next stop was at the Crieff Highland Gathering Cowch in James Square, the second on the trail to be created by June McEwen.

Cowch 2 – Crieff Highland Gathering Cowch by June McEwan

Crieff’s central James Square was where Drovers Coo was to be found – created by Hamish Bigg to pay homage to the town’s historic links to the cattle drovers.

Cowch 3 – Drovers Coo by Hamish Bigg

Just a few yards away, Kings Street was the site for my dynamic crew to tick off A Heilan Cooch, created by Catherine Redgate. It was great to see so many families having fun walking round in the evening sunshine, ticking off the Cowches from the trail map, creating a real buzz in the town

Cowch 8 – A Heilan Cooch by Catherine Redgate

The 11th and final Crieff Cowch on Team Matildas art trail was the amusingly named Military Coo by artist Gail Robertson which was situated in the grassy gardens of the town’s medical centre.

Cowch 5 – A Military Coo by Gail Robertson

Now the “old gal” is a friend of Gail Robertson, and knows she has a sense of humour, so knew she would not be even slightly offended that my dynamic crew used Military Coo as a perfect bench on which to set up a picnic tea! Our alfresco meal attracted a bit of attention from locals in a nearby pub – who all agreed that it was a good way to use one of the Cowches!

The Military Coo installation made a perfect picnic for my dynamic crew’s picnic!

After a tasty picnic – and having seen all the installations on the art trail – it was time for Team Matilda to pedal back home to Matildas Rest. Check out the full data from the ride at the end of the blog.

Meanwhile the artworks are set to be sold off at the Crieff Cowches Auction – a ‘dress-to-impress’ gala dinner at Crieff Hydro on Wednesday October 9. My dynamic crew hope the auction raises lots of money to help support Scotland’s Charity Air Ambulance.

For those that like to study the figures, this was certainly one of our Team Matilda’s fun and relaxed pedals and Strava officially recorded the ride as showing that my dynamic crew tandemed a distance of 27.5 miles with a moving time (or should that be moooving time given the subject of this ride!) of 2 hours 45 minutes. The average speed was 10.0 mph and the overall elevation was 1296 feet. The maximum speed was 34.5 mph and Team Matilda managed to burn up 1725 calories and produce an average power output of 156 W. Almost by accident my dynamic crew recorded 11 gongs along the route – with 3 personal bests; 4 second bests; and 3 third bests.

Altogether a very pleasant cultural tandem ride Co(w)rralling the Cowches in C(ow)rieff!

Naughty Matilda jumps on train to Dundee to ride to champagne afternoon tea and Aqua Vitae at Lindores Abbey Distillery

Waiting on a deserted station platform full of anticipation about my first ever train ride!

The Latin phrase ‘aqua vitae’ literally means the water of life! And today my dynamic crew decided to embark on a ride to enjoy a glass of their own water of life in the form of a champagne afternoon tea at a distillery. And the fact that Lindores Abbey Distillery produces its own unique brand of Aqua Vitae – while waiting on its whisky to mature – meant it was a ‘must visit’ destination!

But before enjoying the delights of the afternoon tea treats, my dynamic crew had to pedal there – and the “old git” decided that it would be a great tandem trip to ride from Dundee back to Matildas Rest – with a perfectly situated half-way stop at the distillery.

Brill idea – except that plan involved a slightly naughty adventure of getting me on a train! That doesn’t seem too difficult I hear you say. But given that tandems are officially not allowed on trains – and the “old git’s” dogged desire to beat the system – it added a bit of an edge to the day!

Is anyone watching us?! – me and the “old git” waiting on the train pictured from the station bridge!

The sun was already rising in a blue sky as my dynamic crew set off for the local Gleneagles railway station situated on the main line to Aberdeen and Inverness.  My dynamic crew were well aware that ScotRail’s official policy is to welcome cycles on all its trains but the small print states: “We don’t allow tandems, tricycles and non-folding cycle trailers as they take up too much space.”

But that wasn’t going to stop Team Matilda’s plan! The “old git” had booked two single tickets and two bike places online for the service to Dundee. My dynamic crew waited a tad nervously for the train to arrive – expecting a loudspeaker announcement if they had been spotted on CCTV on the platform.

Waiting a little nervously for the train on the platform at the impressive Gleneagles station.

The train arrived, the guard looked at all three of us for a moment and asked if we had booked. The “old git” showed the tickets and the guard said: “Ok on you go!” It would need to be said that it was an older train with a guards van storage section just behind the diesel engine – but we were on! And once the train moved off we knew there was no going back! I was securely stacked in a spacious bike rack beside four other sleek looking touring bikes – and there was plenty of room for me to fit in.

We’re on! The “old git” ensuirng I am safely secured on the bike rack!

Naturally my dynamic crew were somewhat chuffed that they had managed to get me on board. The “old git” – keeping with his reputation for planning – did have a Plan B in place should I have been refused entry to the train, which would have been tandeming to the distillery and then retracing our steps to pedal home again. But it just shows that bluffing it can pay off! In just over half an hour the train pulled in to Dundee station and in seconds I was out of the train and on the platform! I felt just a tad mischievous, but it was mission accomplished! And the station has been revamped recently, with the addition of a tandem-friendly lift which took Team Matilda up to street level. Easy!

Dundee station has a tandem-friendly lift to get me to street level!

After the excitement of actually getting on the train, the “old gal” was in need of a caffeine fix and there was a quick pit stop for morning coffee and a scone at the pleasant RSS Discovery cafe opposite the station. Before heading away on our ride there was a quick photo opportunity at two of the life-size figurines situated at Discovery Point – beside the new V&A Dundee design museum – which were part of the Oor Wullie’s BIG Bucket Trail, which claims to be Scotland’s first ever national public art trail.

The “old gal” – who has a likeing for a strong coffee – naturally had to have her photo taken at the ‘Full O’ Beans’ installation, while the “old git” had to pose as Oor Wullie at the ‘Dazzle Wullie’ artwork!

The “old gal” and me causing a stir at the ‘Full O’ Beans’ installation.

The “old git” trying his best to pose as Oor Wullie at the ‘Dazzle Wullie’ artwork!

My dynamic crew headed for the lift to get up on to the pedestrian and bicycle deck of the Tay Road Bridge to start our ride by crossing the River Tay on Sustrans Scotland National Cycle Network Route 1. You can check out the details of our route by clicking on the Strava map below.

Ready to roll! Handlebars view of the cycle deck on the Tay Road Bridge.

After crossing the bridge in unusually benign conditions of a magnificent blue sky with not a cloud on the horizon, our route took us on NCN Rt 1 through the pretty town of Newport on Tay – which offered some spectacular views out across the river and the Tay Rail Bridge.

Bench with a view! Newport on Tay offers spectacular views across the river.

It was a great day to be out tandeming and Team Matilda pedalled on joinging NCN Rt 777 to Newburgh – thru Wormit and just before Gauldry the signposted cycle route directed us off the B995 towards the village of Balmerino. All of a sudden there was a shock to my dynamic crew’s relaxed demeanor when suddenly out of nowhere a monster hill appeared!

Much puffing and panting later the “old git” and “old gal” finally emerged at the top of the category 4 climb (and a wee bit of a push!) – and a quick look at the map fortunately revealed that was the worst of the hills! The sun was high in the sky and the “old gal” was actually heard to say that it was a bit hot – and for someone who is often cold that is quite a statement!

The “old gal” enjoying the amazing views over the fields to the sun-kissed Tay.

The views over the sun-kissed Tay were nothing short of amazing – making it a memorable tandem ride. With the temperature continuing to rise, the “old git” was glad to stop in the shade for some water, overlooking the impressive ruins of the 14th Century tower house Ballinbreich Castle.

Some much needed shade for the “old git” overlooking Ballinbreich Castle.

A quick downhill and we were tandeming into Newburgh where we were to find our wonderful oasis of Lindores Abbey Distillery – which was to be the venue for our stylish champagne afternoon tea treat.

The distillery is a relatively new visitor attraction – with whisky starting to be produced in December 2017. But Lindores is actually the historic seat of whisky making in Scotland – with distilling taking place on the site at least as early as 1494, although it was most probably happening long before that.

This is known because of the earliest written reference to Scotch Whisky (or Aqua Vitae, as it was then known), which appears in the Exchequer Roll of the same year. It mentioned a Brother John Cor, a Lindores monk, who was commissioned by King James IV to turn 8 bolls of malt into Aqua Vitae.

Here I am striking a pose at the entrance to the stylish Lindores Abbey Distillery.

The “old git” had pre-booked – as advised on the website – but my dynamic crew were non-the-less ultra impressed to be personally welcomed as we arrived at the entrance by Jane Clark, one of the managers at Lindores. And the staff made a great fuss of me, calling me a “celebrity visitor!” – and insisting I be pushed thru the shop area into a courtyard complete with a cycle rack.

A juxtaposition of an old matured tandem with an old matured whisky barrel!

As I had a rest the “old gal” and “old git” were escorted upstairs into the fabulous trendy glass surrounded Legacy Bar – which offered a wonderfully sophisticated and air conditioned atmosphere for their afternoon tea treat.

My dynamic crew were presented with a chilled glass of champagne – where they toasted the joys of tandeming – before enjoying a veritable feast of delicious finger sandwiches, savoury pastries, scones with cream and jam, delicate small cakes, and a perfectly formed cheesecake mouse. Apart from the champagne this is washed down with a choice of fragrant teas or speciality coffees – and one of the delights of this culinary experience is that all the produce is freshly home made and locally sourced.

Cheers! The “old gal” and “old git” having a champagne toast before their afternoon tea!

This was all wonderful value at £25 a head, and enjoyed looking out onto the unbelievably blue skies to the Tay Estuary beyond. My dynamic crew were introduced to Helen McKenzie Smith part of the husband and wife owners team, who describe themselves as ‘custodians of Lindores.’ Helen was charming and patiently answered all the “old git’s” questions about their project to revive whisky making on the ancient site – after a break of over 500 years!

For spirit to be officially called whisky it has to be matured for a minimum of three years and a day, so Lindores is looking forward to being able to market its first batch in December 2020.

Interestingly Lindores has decided not to go down the traditional route of many Scotch distilleries in producing gin while waiting on the maturing process. Instead – given the history – the distillery is producing its own handcrafted botanical spirit which it has branded Aqua Vitae.

The “old gal” enjoying a sample of Lindores own pre-whisky Aqua Vitae botanical spirit!

As previously mentioned, the earliest Aqua Vitae was made at Lindores as long ago as 1494, and the distillery staff have authentically recreated that recipe and reimagined it as ‘an inquisitively versatile spirit’. It is distilled in pot stills and then infused with a blend of spices and herbs, including cleavers, and sweet cicely, which grow in the gardens, amidst the grounds of the ancient Abbey, and is entirely natural, with no added sugars. Naturally the “old gal” and the “old git” were treated to a sample – which they both pronounced as being delicious!

After a most enjoyable time at the distillery, my dynamic crew explored the fascinating remains of Lindores Abbey itself. Known as the ‘Church by the Water’, it was founded in 1191 by David Earl of Huntingdon, on land overlooking the River Tay Estuary, given to him by his brother King William I. It was built with local red sandstone, and covered a very large area – the extent of which is still clearly visible today. Particularly well preserved is a section which was the eastern entrance to the Abbey.

The “old gal” and me could feel the history at the eastern entrance of Lindores Abbey.

This artist impression – created by examining the remains – shows the Abbey’s impressive size.

It was time to head away from Newburgh and start the not insignificant task of a 21 mile pedal back to base. I am sure I detected more than a bit of a champagne-fuelled wobble over the first mile or so before the “old gal” and “old git” got back into their pattern of synchronicity!

The “old gal” bracing herself on leaving Newburgh for the 21 mile pedal home!

The route home took us thru Abernethy – the one the biscuits are name after! – and then the hamlet of Aberargie before joining the rather busy A912 for just over a mile to Bridge of Earn where we rejoined quieter more enjoyable country roads to Forteviot.

And then it happened, my dynamic crew suddenly became somewhat less dynamic as they bonked – the cycling definition of hitting the wall thru a lack of energy – on the section from Forteviot to Dunning! The “old gal” was convinced the hot temperature had a part to play – but the “old git” quietly thought that the stoker’s performance had been hit by the after effects of the fizz!

An urgent reviving pit stop was called for at Dunning and Team Matilda had a long ice cold soft drink at the friendly The Kirkstyle Inn – along with one of their “emergency” energy gels – to restore factory settings! The effect was instant as when my crew set off again for what they expected to be a hard slog of the last five miles home, it amazingly turned into an easy canter with the miles flying as my crew seemed turbo-charged – which resulted in Strava recording two personal bests along the way!

We rolled back into Matildas Rest with the sun still blazing in the sky. Over a relaxing coffee on the decking, the “old git” checked Strava which officially recorded the ride as showing that my dynamic crew tandemed a distance of 38.2 miles with a moving time of 3 hours 16 minutes. The average speed was a healthy 11.7 mph given the hot temperature and the overall elevation of 2088 feet. The maximum speed was 35.8 mph and Team Matilda managed to burn up 2422 calories and produce an average power output of 184 W.

And there was at least 38 smiles to match the miles – with the added advantage of bluffing our way on to a train for the first time – which for the “old git” and the “old gal” is the mark of another great day out in tandem! After all, the laugh really is my dynamic crew’s unique recipe for their own Aqua Vitae!