Autumnal colours, waterfalls, monster spotting, great coffee, viaducts, old railway lines and prosecco picnic on epic tandem ride from Callander to Killin

Autumnal colours added to the natural beauty at Falls of Dochart at the tourist hotspot of Killin.

“Do you fancy taking in the Autumnal colours this weekend with some waterfalls and a pedal along old railway lines with a bit of monster spotting thrown in?” the “old git” casually asked the “old gal”.

Never short of a quip she wittily replied: “The Autumn colours, waterfalls and railway tracks sounds great for a tandem ride, but I don’t need to go looking for a monster – I’ve got a perfectly good one here!” Oh how the “old git” laughed! Ouch! … but I presume she was joking! Right?!

And that’s why Team Matilda found themselves up before dawn broke and heading to Callander for a much recommended – but hilly – epic route from Callander to Killin on Sustrans Scotland The National Cycle Network #NCN Rt 7 – which runs through the stunning and #BLiSSful Rob Roy Country and Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park.

The weather forecast was for a cloudy, but dry and still day – which was exactly what met my dynamic crew as the “old git” parked Matilda Transport in the Meadows car park in Callander, before getting me kitted up for the ride. You can check out the details of our route by clicking on the Strava map below.

Now as all tandem teams know, one of the first duties of the Stoker is to find a signpost to ensure the Captain heads off in the correct direction! Sometimes this is easier said than done – but not today! Callander seemed to be a busy crossroads for NCN Rt7 with clear signposts pointing in one direction to Strathyre and on to Killin – and to Aberfoyle in the other. So after a photo of this “old lady” as a Callander girl – see what I did there?! – we headed off.

A “Callander girl” shot of this “old lady” at the “crossroads” signpost on NCN Rt7.

The NCN signpost confirmed the route is 22 miles each way. The cycle path heads out of Callander on the old Oban railway line alongside the picturesque River Leny. Now this is one of those railway lines that is most definitely not flat and has a slow gradual uphill section for the first two miles, which was a bit of a shock to my dynamic crew! But soon the synchronicity kicked in and we picked up speed.

First photo stop en-route was to view the white water Falls of Leny.

The first photo stop was at the stunning Falls of Leny before climbing thru the forest at Pass of Leny, with some brilliant colours and impressively tall trees. This climb rewarded my crew with spectacular Autumnal views across Loch Lubnaig, where the route hugs high above the loch’s western shore.

Fabulous colours and impressively tall trees at the Pass of Leny.

The lesser spotted Stoker taking in the wonders of the Autumnal colours at Loch Lubnaig!

Enjoying the virtually windless conditions my dynamic crew decided there was time for monster spotting to see if we could see Lubbie – the mysterious monster said by locals to live deep in Loch Lubnaig! Despite some serious looking – and even some wildlife-type calls of “Lubbie, Lubbie, Lubbie” from the “old gal” – it was nowhere to be seen! Obviously Lubbie is equally publicity shy as its elusive cousin at Loch Ness!

Monster spotting for Lubbie – the mysterious monster said to live deep in Loch Lubnaig!

Devastated at not being able to get a photo of Lubbie we tandemed onwards on the undulating path heading for Strathyre. All of a sudden at the end of the loch the relatively smooth path abruptly finished and we were faced with a very steep zig zag boulder strewn section in the shadow of Ben Ledi! It was exciting for this “old lady” who as you know likes to try new things – but the “old gal” on the back was less convinced by the sharp bends and bumpy ride, so we took a little walk!

Pedalling on we were soon at the fabulous welcoming Broch Café in Strathyre – which offers a real oasis for cyclists situated right beside the NCN Rt7, and has won awards for being one of the best bike-friendly cafes in Scotland. My dynamic crew resisted ordering a tempting full breakfast and instead treated themselves to yummy strong coffee – just like the “old gal” likes it! – and home-made fruit scones and caramel shortcake! After all they needed to fuel up for the hills ahead!

Yummy strong coffee and home-made scones and caramel cake at the bike-friendly Broch Café.

It was great to see the café busy – with full social distancing measures in place and it felt very safe. It is a credit to the ultra-friendly owners Lesley and Bill, and it was great for my dynamic crew to catch up with them again. And encouraging to hear that the business has had its best ever season, despite the Covid restrictions – helped by Scots holidaying at home.

Mine host at Broch Café Lesley with the “old gal” – with Covid-19 precautions!

My dynamic crew got back on my saddles to enjoy a wonderfully smooth section of NCN Rt7 towards Kingshouse. Before the “old git” built up the pace there was a quick photo at Drover’s Bho – part of the award-winning innovative cultural outside art #BLiSStrail which is  the brainchild of LETi, the local Loch Earn Tourism Information group.

The “old git” at Drover’s Bho – one of the outside artworks on the #BLiSStrail in the area.

Thanks to the hard work and dedication of Kim Proven, chair of LETi, and her fellow community team volunteers, the trail had the honour a couple of years ago of being crowned winner of the ‘Innovation in Tourism’ category at the National Grand Final of the VisitScotland Scottish Thistle Awards – regarded as Scotland’s tourism ‘Oscars’.

There is an audio tour of the BLiSStrail where you simply download the geotourist app on your smartphone, follow the trail and listen to the voices of locals and artists as they tell stories about the artworks around the trail.

New artworks are regularly added to keep the trail fresh to attract repeat visitors to the area and after following the NCN Rt7 route to Kingshouse and on to Lochearnhead the “old gal” shouted a stop as we saw ‘Ewen – Westies of Craggan” at the entrance to St Angus Church, which dates back to1888.

Me making friends with ‘Ewen – Westies of Craggan’ another installation on the #BLiSStrail.

Leaving Lochearnhead there is a demanding steep zig zag section – with interesting tight z-bends as the cycle path rises 330 feet in just a mile, with a peak gradient of 12%. Whisper it – but my dynamic crew decided that they would push me up this section, which I think was a wise choice as I am a long vehicle and don’t bend in the middle for some of these sharp turns!

The “old gal” admiring the fab view up Loch Earn after the steep zig zag climb.

The reward at the top of this section – as my dynamic crew got their breath back – is a wonderful view right up the 7 mile length of Loch Earn. The water was very calm today but the “old git” couldn’t resist recounting the interesting fact that Loch Earn is one of very few freshwater bodies of water that has its own seiche – a tidal system which is caused by the action of the prevailing wind blowing along the loch. This makes Loch Earn fairly unique and is in the illustrious company of a few other bodies of fresh water which experience this effect including the Great Lakes, Lake Garda, and Lake Geneva.

The bright blue Millennium signpost stands out on NCN Rt7 above Lochearnhead.

The next section of the route was the highlight for my dynamic crew as it follows the old Killin railway line up thru Glen Ogle. It is a steady, but manageable, 1 in 50 climb for just under four miles to the summit. But Team Matilda hardly noticed the climb as they were too busy taking in the magnificent beauty and raw nature views across the Glen to the moody mist covered mountains beyond.

There is a “must do” photo stop at the magnificent scenic and atmospheric  Glen Ogle Viaduct – which dates back to 1870 and is a 12 arch, 139 feet long, 44 feet high single track masonry viaduct which runs along the steep eastern hillside of Meall Reamhar and Scorrach Nuadh.

The “old gal” at the magnificent scenic and atmospheric Glen Ogle Viaduct.

The “old git” at a jaunty angle having a breather at the viaduct after the steady 1 in 50 climb.

Pausing to take in the dramatic scenery, my dynamic crew could (with a just a little bit of imagination) almost feel the impressive rich railway heritage of the Callander to Oban railway which had its heyday in the golden era of steam trains. What an impressive sight it must have been to see a train at full steam climbing up Glen Ogle.

A brilliant picture of a train at full steam climbing up Glen Ogle in 1955.

A British Railways poster from the golden age of steam c1950

In fact the whole of the Rob Roy Country area has a fascinating rail history which you can read more about here. Our tandem ride also took us past the point of the Glen Ogle rockfall – which led to the line’s early closure in 1965.

At the top of Glen Ogle, and crossing the A85, the route drops down thru the stunning Acharn Forest.

Contrasting colours – the “old gal” deep in the Acharn Forest on the drop down to Killin.

Although very scenic some of this section is right on the margins for an “old lady” road bike like me as the route suddenly – and with no warning – becomes a bit rough and rugged and in places turning into muddy trails more suited to mountain bikes. So take it carefully!

The NCN Rt7 route emerges at the tourist hot spot of Killin and the mesmerising Falls of Dochart which offered my dynamic crew a spectacular spot for one of their signature prosecco picnics – on the rocks right beside the loud roar of the amazing waterfalls. Picnic spots don’t come much better than this!

The Falls of Dochart offered a spectacular spot for my dynamic crew’s signature prosecco picnic.

The “old gal” couldn’t get much closer to the waterfalls without falling in!

Selfie time! Prosecco cheers! Picnic spots don’t come much better than this!

The “old git” enjoying his lunch with the scenic backdrop of the Falls of Dochart.

My dynamic crew enjoyed a healthy salad and some fruit – followed by a coffee from the busy café at the Falls of Dochart Inn – but chose to ignore any treats of cake or chocolate, which was to prove to be a big mistake later!

The “old git” spotted a sign for the Falls of Dochart Smokehouse and paid a visit to purchase some locally cured smoked salmon. There was time for a few photos at the bridge overlooking the falls before starting on our return journey.

The “old git” on the bridge at Killin overlooking the mesmerising Falls of Dochart.

Team Matilda captured at the bridge at Killin with the beautiful Falls of Dochart as a backdrop.

With my dynamic crew deciding the track back up thru the Acharn Forest wasn’t road tandem friendly, the “old git” and “old gal” headed out of Killin on the trunk route A84 and A85 climb back to Glen Ogle. It was a bit busy with several very fast close passes from cars.

It was also what the “old gal” described as a “horrendous and not fun” climb at an average gradient of 8% as it rose nearly 600 feet in just 2 miles.

After a few stops to allow the “old gal” – who suffers from asthma – to breathe, my dynamic crew were glad to see the viewpoint carpark at the peak of the climb where Team Matilda rejoined NCN Rt7 for a most enjoyable downhill section. A quick stop at the Glen Ogle Viaduct for yet another photo – it just was too good an opportunity to miss!

The “old git” back at the Glen Ogle Viaduct with its great dramatic views.

The downhill continued all the way to Lochearnhead – tho make sure your brakes are well serviced for the steep zig zag section!

A blast along to Kingshouse followed by a similar speedy section back to Strathyre. As the skies got darker, Team Matilda came to the realisation that their slower pace at the start of the return leg meant there would be no planned re-fuelling at Broch Café – as it was now closed for the day.

Heading out of Strathyre the heavens opened and heavy rain – which was not forecast till much later – started to fall. And just to add to the fun, my dynamic crew suddenly became somewhat less dynamic as they bonked – the cycling definition of hitting the wall thru a lack of energy!

Emergency supplies of an energy bar and gel from my panniers put an end to the bonking(!!) by providing some much needed instant energy – which  helped power us back to the start at Callander, arriving somewhat drenched from the rain!

The emergency supply of an energy bar and a gel from my panniers stopped the bonking!

After I was safely and quickly packed back into Matilda Transport to avoid the downpour, the “old gal” had one of her brilliant ideas – fish and chips! Ten minutes later my dynamic crew were tucking into a hearty fish supper in the car which provided much needed sustenance for my dynamic crew, and revived their somewhat dampened bodies and spirits.

Back in the warmth and dry at Matildas Rest, after a hot shower, the “old git” checked Strava which officially recorded the epic ride as being worthy of a total of 17 gongs – made up of 7 personal bests, 9 second bests; and 1 third best times.

The detailed Strava figures showed my dynamic crew tandemed a distance of 43.8 miles with a moving time of 4 hours 38 minutes. The average speed was 9.4 mph – which given the elevation was 2,224 feet was perfectly acceptable! The maximum speed was 26.6 mph and Team Matilda managed to burn up 3,306 calories and produce an average power output of 178 W.

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

So overall an amazing – but challenging and energy sapping day for my dynamic crew! It is not a route for beginners or for the feint-hearted! But the scenery was magnificent and stunning and there was a palpable sense of achievement from the “old git” and “old gal” at completing the route on a bicycle made for two in #BLiSSful Rob Roy Country and Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park.

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!