Foggy Remembrance Day (plus 1!) pedal along NCN Rt 764 on the old Clackmannan to Dunfermline railway line.

My dynamic crew’s cycling helmets had a Remembrance theme!

A short blog post which recounts my dynamic crew having a fun but raw and foggy Remembrance Day (plus 1!) pedal along Sustrans Scotland The National Cycle Network #NCN Rt 764 – on the old Clackmannan to Dunfermline railway line.

The original plan was to do this ride – also known as the West Fife Cycle Way – on Remembrance Sunday but it was delayed by a day due to heavy rain. But the “old git” and “old gal” still sported poppies on their cycling helmets.

You can check out the details of our route – which is part of the Inner Forth area network of NCN routes – by clicking on the Strava map below.

Today’s revised optimistic schedule was to do two return trips, to clock up some miles – but a thick fog ruled that one trip was sufficient in the raw murky conditions.

At some points the thick haar coming off the Forth estuary meant the “old git” could barely see more than a few feet in front of him! And in the sections thru the woods, it was actually quite spooky!

It was however good to see the route so busy with many cyclists and walkers. Although it could be described as a “hidden gem” it clearly is a very popular route amongst locals. And the network of paths is part of a wider project to encourage access to the outdoors called Discover Clackmannanshire.

Sadly we were not accompanied by our good solo cycling friends, Gillian and Craig, who introduced my dynamic crew to this route. They have left their beloved Scotland for a couple of years for a new lifestyle in Malaysia. But they were certainly in the thoughts of the “old gal” and “old git” – and read on for more flashbacks!

The “old gal” and “old git” ready to roll at the start of NCN Rt 764 at Clackmannan.

Starting from just off the B910 to the north-east of Clackmannan the route follows the old railway line over open and wooded countryside over just short of 11 miles to the west side of Dunfermline.

The route usually offers some great views over the Kingdom of Fife towards the impressive sight of the Forth Bridges – tho not today! Just a thick blanket of fog!

Coffee break at our self-supported socially distanced coffee stop at the Dunfermline end of NCN Rt 764

A welcome coffee break at the half way point at the Dunfermline end was my dynamic crew’s self-supported socially distanced coffee shop set up on an old railway sleeper.

Which was much different to our trip with Gillian and Craig back in 2017 when they sped off and set up an impromptu mini cocktail bar on that very same railway sleeper! And amazingly they had brought along a spirit measure and even more remarkably – ice cubes! An effort fully worthy of a gold star!

Great memories – which I had to relive in these flashback photos below:

Gillian and Craig were sadly missed – here they are with the “old gal” at their DIY cocktail stop!

The “old git” at the same railway sleeper – no cocktails … just coffee!

Fond memories of Gillian and Craig’s pop-up cocktail bar from 2017.

A quick turnaround saw Team Matilda heading back to the start at Clackmannan – but only after a quick stop at one of the many NCN Rt 764 signs along the way!

Lots of clear signs for NCN Rt 764 as it runs 11 miles along the old Clackmannan to Dunfermline railway.

Despite a picnic lunch being packed in my panniers the “old gal” called the wise choice of abandoning the planned second ride due to the cold dank conditions – and decided on a short detour for a reviving hot soup lunch at the bike friendly Café des Fleurs in Dollar on the drive home!

Over steaming bowls of Thai sweet potato soup the “old git” checked Strava which officially recorded the ride as being worthy of a healthy total of 14 gongs – made up of 8 personal bests, 4 second bests; and 2 third best times.

The detailed Strava figures showed my dynamic crew tandemed a weather curtailed distance of 21.5 miles with a moving time of 1 hour 37 minutes. The average speed was a healthy 13.2 mph – which given the thick fog and visibility issues was perfectly acceptable! Elevation was a relatively flat 445 feet given we were pedalling along the bed of an old railway line. The maximum speed was 23.7 mph and Team Matilda managed to burn up 904 calories and produce an average power output of 138 W.

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

Despite the inclement conditions, it was still good to be out and as always my dynamic crew managed to have fun – as it should be – on a bicycle made for two!

The “old gal” just wants a bit of Autumn sunshine for the next ride! Don’t think that’s too much to ask!

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

First pedal spin of the year battling colds and headwinds to finish with a hot tub!

Team Matilda was joined by “half-bike” friends Gillian and Craig for the first ride of 2019.

So a nice Sunday and time for the first spin of my tandem pedals for 2019 – and therefore my first blog post of the year! Despite the forecast of a “moderate breeze” my dynamic crew decided it was time to blow away the cobwebs and have my first outing of the year. And to help ease my crew back into my saddles, the “old git” decided on a fairly flat ride on a dedicated cycle path along the bed of an old railway line.

To add to the fun we were joined by good “half-bike” solo 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 headwind that is!)

So despite my dynamic crew recovering from heavy colds, they were full of the joys as I was packed into Matilda Transport and we headed for the start point of National Cycle Route 764 for the ride. The path – managed by the good people at Sustrans Scotland – begins just outside Clackmannan and follows the course of the old Alloa to Dunfermline railway line.

Ready for the off! All smiles as we set to spin the pedals – despite the low temperature!

I was quickly unpacked and set up for the ride and – after greeting Gillian and Craig – we were ready for the off at the start of the NCR 764 route – which is also known as the West Fife Way and is a key part the Clackmannanshire Cycle Network. The network of paths 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 well maintained tarmac path. And it certainly was a joy to tandem on as we headed off on the ride to Dunfermline – with the bright sunshine bringing smiles to my dynamic crew’s faces, despite the chill 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!

I actually think that Team Matilda pedals along faster when we are in the company of other cyclists as my dynamic crew tend to get caught up in the chat – and don’t realise what speed we are actually achieving! In fact we averaged over 13 mph for the whole trip!

The “old git” and “old gal” smiling and feeling refreshed at the half way point on the ride.

Now railway lines are recognised as being flat – that means no sudden hills – as trains (like this “old lady”) don’t do hills! But that doesn’t mean you don’t get inclines – and in this case there is a long slow incline rising some 300 feet over the first half of the route.  But the views over the Kingdom of Fife towards the Forth bridges made it all worthwhile!

Buoyed by a healthy tail wind, half way point was reached with just 46 minutes on the clock. But despite the sun shining brightly in a bright blue sky, it was bitterly cold and certainly not conducive for one of this cycling group’s signature pop-up gin bars which had been a highlight of previous rides!

Despite the bright sunshine it wasn’t warm enough to stop for long!

In fact there was hardly time for the obligatory photos before body temperatures started to plummet, which is perhaps no surprise as the temperature had a “real feel” of -1C. The “old gal” was heard to say: “I’m so glad I’ve got my thermal under-layers on!” So after just a few minutes we headed off on the return journey – to battle that brutal headwind!

The sun breaking thru the clouds made for a lovely sky – but it was bitterly cold!

Both crews soon reaped the benefits of the initial downhill section, picking up speed. Despite the wind fiercely blasting into our faces, it really was fantastic tandeming – lots of laughs with good friends.

One of the great things about this cycle path is that there are relatively few obstructive gates, which meant my crew weren’t forced to get on and off repeatedly – and the NCR 764 is certainly a credit to Sustrans Scotland who maintain it. Although it could be described as a “hidden gem”, it clearly is a very popular route amongst locals.

One of the attractions of the route is that there are still some old railway relics – like sleepers made into seating, or railway signals. There is even an old signal box along the path – abandoned from the days when it controlled the trains on the line.

As always its the smiles not the miles that count on Team Matildas tandem rides!

After a final sprint battling the ever increasing force of the wind along the last mile or two, we soon reached the end of the path – exhilarated after the wonderful ride. After I was quickly packed back into Matilda Transport it was time to head back to Gillian and Craig’s with the lure of the garden hot tub! So the offer was made for a warm-down in the hot tub, complete with celebratory drink. I mean there are worse ways (though admittedly not many!) to spend a Sunday afternoon!

Hot tub with prosecco bubbly back at Gillian and Craig’s? Oh if you insist!

Relaxing in the warm bubbles the “old git” checked Strava which officially recorded the ride as being worthy of no less than 17 gongs – which given the temperature and the  fierce headwind on the return leg is somewhat impressive! Especially as the total was made up of 10 personal bests; 4 second bests; and 3 third best times.

The detailed Strava figures showed my dynamic crew tandemed a distance of 21.4 miles with a moving time of 1 hour 36 minutes. The average speed was a healthy 13.3 mph while the elevation was a modest 513 feet. The maximum speed was 21.3 mph given the relatively flat terrain and Team Matilda managed to burn up 924 calories and produce an average power output of 143 W.

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

I am reliably told the hot tub was a very therapeutic way to relax – with my crew enjoying the cold bubbles from a nicely chilled glass of prosecco – while experiencing the warm bubbles of the hot tub! Absolute bliss! The last I heard was the “old gal” saying: “I want one!”

After a suitably long soak my crew emerged and joined Gillian and Craig in a hearty and warming bowl of home-made soup to refuel, before it was time to head home after a great day!

So that’s the first 20-odd miles of the year clocked up – so here’s to more sunny tandeming days out to look forward to with good friends, and lots of laughs along the way. Maybe the next time it will be warm enough to allow one of our infamous pop-up cocktail bars to be set up! I’ll say cheers to that!