“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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 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!
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.