BLiSSful Strathyre’s savoir-faire sojourn!

Team Matilda contmeplating the #BLiSStrail at the Ride Out seats in Strathyre.

Contemplating the #BLiSStrail – Team Matilda at the Ride Out seats in Strathyre.

Life has been busy at Matildas Rest! But I am happy to say that Team Matilda was able to fit in a short weekend break after being invited back to the scenic Loch Earn area to do another of my photo blog specials on the fascinating cultural outside art #BLiSStrail. Yes – you heard me correctly – invited back!

It seems that LETi, the local Loch Earn Tourism Information group, have been so impressed with this “old lady’s” tandeming adventure blogs from my trip to see the sections of the art trail around the St Fillans and Lochearnhead loop in October, and then Balquhidder in December, that they asked Team Matilda to come back and do another blog on the third leg of the trail – this time around Strathyre.

leti-logosmaller

The unique BLiSS trail is named after the four villages it links – Balquhidder, Lochearnhead, Strathyre and St Fillans – deep in the heart of Rob Roy Country within the Loch Lomond and  The Trossachs National Park – where Perthshire meets rural Stirling. The trail is made up of a series of large ornamental metal and wood sculptures and art installations, mostly by Scottish artists, and was set up to commemorate the Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design.

The brainchild of LETi, the BLiSS trail aims to encourage more visitors to the area – to boost tourism and the local economy. The trail has subsequently become an “award winning trail” – receiving the honour of a regional Scottish Thistle Award – recognised as the tourism Oscars – for “Working Together for Tourism.” The LETi team are now competing against all other regional winners in the overall Scottish finals in March.

The “old git” and the “old gal” were delighted to accept the invitation on my behalf – and I was packed into Matilda Transport and we headed off through St Fillans and down the side of stunning Loch Earn, through Lochearnhead on the A84 to  Airlie House bed and breakfast – Team Matilda’s base for their mini-weekend tour.

The "old gal" and me being welcomed by Colin and Sheridan Adams at Airlie House.

The “old gal” and me being welcomed by Colin and Sheridan Adams at Airlie House.

A sherry welcome!

A sherry welcome!

There my dynamic duo were met by the extremely friendly owners Colin and Sheridan Adams – who described their concept of running boutique guest house accommodation. Their aim is to offer a true home from home in a beautiful location surrounded by rolling hills and right next to both the Rob Roy Way long distance walking route and the Sustrans Scotland National Cycle Route 7. And I am reliably told that the sherry from the decanter in the lounge was welcoming on a chilly afternoon!

The welcoming Lubnaig room at Airlie House bed and breakfast.

The welcoming Lubnaig room at Airlie House bed and breakfast.

Colin and Sheridan couldn’t have done more to make my dynamic duo comfortable – showing them to a lovely warm and beautifully decorated downstairs room –  called Lubnaig. The large en-suite room had a king size bed and had a picturesque view of Benn Sheann – with its summit rising above the trees on the hillside beyond the river.

The Ben Sheann Hotel offered a warm welcome in the heart of Strathyre.

The Ben Sheann Hotel offered a warm welcome in the heart of Strathyre.

Ben Sheann burger.

Ben Sheann burger.

After relaxing, the “old git” and the “old gal” ventured out for a bite to eat and had been recommended to try the Ben Sheann Hotel, almost next door to Airlie House. It’s a large elegant Victorian building which offered a warm welcome on a  cold night.

The menu is mainly home made pub grub staples – such as macaroni cheese and steak pie. To fuel up for the ride ahead the next day my dynamic duo stocked up on a meal of home made soup, followed by burgers – washed down with a local Stirling gin and tonic.

Next up my crew were invited to a Burns and Scottish Music Night by Kim Proven –  the enthusiastic chair of LETi  who regular blog readers will remember from her substitute stoker adventures during my adventures around Balquhidder – and joined a welcoming group of  her friends.

The fun bash was held in the White Stag Inn with local band Balvaig playing some well kent tunes. The band – which is led by Kenny Higgins, who is also vice-chair of LETi – is a  group of highly talented local musicians and singer songwriters who regularly meet for bothy-style folk and blues  music sessions.

The talented Balvaig Band in full flow at the Burns Night music jam.

The talented Balvaig Band in full flow at the Burns Night music jam.

strathyre-music-festival-logoThe band’s success led them to launch the Strathyre Music Festival – which has been a big success for the village and is now going into its fifth year. The festival is held on the Bank Holiday weekend in May – from Friday 26th to Sunday 28th. And if the music is as good as what my duo were treated to, then Team Matilda may need to return for this year’s festival!

Balvaig broke with their Scottish music roots to surprise the “old git” and “old gal” with a song dedicated to me as a classic tandem. Kim was handed the microphone to lead the Burns-style sing-a-long of “Daisy, Daisy – A Bicycle Built for Two.” Watch a video here. (Remember if you are reading this on email, you need to click on the blog first – via the link at the bottom of the email – to view the video.)

Greatly honoured, my crew chatted to lots of local tourism business folk learning more about the area from Catriona Macgeoch of SULA Furnishing, Bill and Leslie Lindsay of Broch Cafe, Angus Cameron, president of the local villages Highland Games, and of course Kenny – who apart from playing in the band and his role with LETi also runs Strathyre Outdoors.

The "old git" and "old gal" enjoying chatting with local tourism business folk.

The “old git” and “old gal” enjoying chatting with local tourism business folk.

Irn-Bru ice cream!

Irn-Bru ice cream!

There was even time for a taste test on the famous local delicacy of Irn-Bru flavoured ice cream made by Colin and Sheridan at Airlie House – and the verdict was yum! During the busy holiday season they run an ice cream parlour in the garden of their bed and breakfast which specialises in Scottish flavours – with one of the most popular being Buckfast! Perhaps was best it was currently out of stock however! A fabulous night was had by my crew – and whether it was the convivial atmosphere (or the free flowing #Scotspirit!), but the “old gal” even managed to inveigle Kim into agreeing to have a second shot as sub stoker … and to go hands free this time!

Airlie House breakfast.

Airlie House breakfast.

After some welcome zzzs in a most comfortable bed, Team Matilda had a fairly early alarm call to hit the BLiSStrail. Snow flurries were however falling ominously as my crew tucked into a hearty and tasty traditional Scottish breakfast, home cooked by Colin and Sheridan. My dynamic duo then donned their thermals and many layers on top before leaving Airlie House, full of praise for their stay. After I was set up for the day ahead, my crew discovered a kennel containing a vivid green soft toy model of Lubbie – the mysterious monster said by locals to live in nearby Loch Lubnaig (and a near relative of the equally publicity shy Loch Ness monster!) Colin tells the story that Lubbie has chased their pet dog Teddy indoors and has taken up residence in the kennel for the winter! The “old git” played his part and looked suitably frightened and scared!

Very very frightening for me and the "old git" - Lubbie the Loch Lubnaig monster!

Very very scary for me and the “old git” – Lubbie the Loch Lubnaig monster!

Before leaving the confines of the large garden at Airlie House Team Matilda checked off the first ornamental feature on the BLiSStrail Strathyre – a beautifully carved baby elephant, better known as the “Airliephant”!

Making friends with the "Airliephant" - a hand carved elephant in the garden at Airlie House.

Making friends with the “Airliephant” – a carved baby elephant in the garden at Airlie House.

We then headed out along the Sustrans Scotland NCR7 which runs around the Strathyre area – and quickly found the impressive Soaring Eagle installation created by Ian Chambers who runs his own  company called Chainsaw Creations. Its a great story of  someone earning a living doing what they love – and it all started out as a bet with a fellow forestry student as to who could carve the best mushroom which has now grown into a full time self-employed business. The intricate eagle  was commissioned by Stirling Council to mark the NCR7 entrance and exit to the Broch recreational area as part of 2016 Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design.

The "old git" and me beside the dramatic Soaring Eagle.

The “old git” and me beside the dramatic Soaring Eagle at the Broch recreational area.

Tandeming round the car park we found the next piece of art sitting outside the Broch Cafe – Thistle, the Heilan’ Coo. The Scottish timber coo was made by the Wee Coo Company based at nearby Loch Lomond. Unfortunately the cafe itself was closed for the month of January so the “old gal” – who is a true coffee aficionado – couldn’t personally vouch for the coffee which has earned an almost legendary reputation … much to her chagrin! A hot coffee would certainly have heated my crew up!

Thistle, the Heilan' Coo - and the "old gal" outside Broch cafe.

Thistle, the Heilan’ Coo, me and the “old gal” outside Broch cafe.

Just beside the coo wood carving we found the next installation – the Ride Out Seats. This metal sculpture is designed to look like three parked bikes, providing some simple seats. A nice story here – it  was commissioned to mark the big contribution Derek Mullins made to the volunteer programme at Sustrans over 25 years. It therefore seemed highly appropriate to base the design on a cluster of bicycles since much of his work entailed riding out and encouraging volunteers around Scotland.

As a classic tandem you can never have too many stokers - the "old gal" and Kim ready for action!

As a classic tandem you can never have too many stokers – the “old gal” and Kim ready for action!

Kim was good to her word and was waiting here for Team Matilda to do her substitute stoker ride. You know a classic “old lady” tandem can never have too many stokers! But firstly Kim put on her LETi hat and gave a friendly welcome to a family of cyclists who were staying at Strathyre Forest Cabins.

A family group staying at Strathyre Forest Cabins were persuaded to pose for a photo.

A family group staying at Strathyre Forest Cabins pose for a photo at the Ride Out Seats.

Kim confirmed that many of the cultural attractions on the BLiSStrail were going to be kept in place for the coming year – with the art trail generating increased interest, resulting in a knock-on effect of tourists spending more time and money in the area.

There’s also talk of a couple of new installations potentially being added to the trail for 2017 to mark the Year of History Heritage and Archaeology. A team of students from Perth College are looking at developing a conceptual art project based at a site at Lochearnhead. And LETi has applied to Sustrans Scotland for an ArtRoots grant to place a new sculpture installation on the cycle path at Strathyre.

Then it was time to see if Kim’s chat about going hands free was all bravado! It would need to be said she had taken a bit of ribbing for her very safe performance on her virgin ride on a tandem at Balquhidder back in December. I personally thought she did rather well for a newbie, but the “old git” was joking that she should have at least taken her hands off my handlebars to wave at the camera!

Kim was however put on the spot a bit when she read that sprightly 91 year old blind John Chapman had shown her how it was done when the “old git” paid a visit to talk to the Mens Group at Paisley charity Roar – Connections for Life. He rolled back the years to tandem like a youngster and confidently waved to the cameras as he ticked tandeming off his bucket list!

So having accepted the challenge to go hands free Kim bravely donned the “old gal’s” crash helmet and took up her stoker seat – knowing that she would have to hand over control and put her faith in the “old git” as Captain!

Ready for the off - Kim ready to put faith in my Captain! ...

Kim ready to put her faith in my captain! …

Thumbs up from Kim after going hands free!

… and thumbs up after going hands free!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The “old gal” filmed the ride and I am delighted to report Kim performed as a natural sub  stoker as we tandemed back and forward between two bridges on the cycle path.  And she confidently took not just one, but both hands off the handlebars to show off! We even managed to shift up a few gears too! Watch the incriminating video of Kim riding hands free as stoker here. (Remember if you are reading this on email, you need to click on the blog first – via the link at the bottom of the email – to view the video.)

Kim thoroughly enjoyed completing her challenge and was delighted with her second ride … and is already talking about a third go. This “old lady” tandem thinks that Kim and her husband should add tandeming to their list of hobbies!

We bid farewell to Kim and tandeming away from the excitement of all the sub stoker shenanigans – with the “old gal” back in her regular space on my rear saddle – we set off to look for one of the most intriguing installations on the trail – the fabulous stone miniature Mill House and Bridge. You have to look closely to find it – sitting on the edge of a garden on the old Strathyre road just after crossing the old stone bridge over the River Balvaig. Local children know it as the “The Fairy House” and my dynamic crew were lucky enough to see the creator – Jimmy Gibson – in his garden and were able to compliment him on his labour of love.

The intricate stone miniature Mill House and bridge in a garden on the old Strathyre road.

The intricate stone miniature Mill House and bridge in a garden on the old Strathyre road.

The last tick on the BLiSStrail Strathyre for Team Matilda was the Lions Couchant which guard the entrance to the luxurious Creagan House – a country house restaurant with rooms. Now a lion couchant, I am reliably informed, is a heraldic reference which means that the lion is lying down, but with the head raised as opposed to the more traditional lion rampant. So to be honest, it didn’t actually scare me or the “old git” one bit!

The "old git" looking decidedly unscared by the lions couchant at Creagan House.

The “old git” looking decidedly unscared by the lion couchant at Creagan House.

After the photo shoot my dynamic crew decided to tandem out of Strathyre on the wonderfully smooth NCR7 to Mhor 84 for a much needed hot coffee and scone stop. As snow flakes continued to fall this became an extended second coffee and cake stop! The original (pre snow!) plan was a quick stop before embarking on a loop round the Sustrans Scotland Rt7 along the scenic old Strathyre road – an old drovers road – through a forrest back into Strathyre.

Mhor 84 was a welcome stop for a warming coffee and scone on a freezing day!

Mhor 84 was a welcome stop for a warming coffee and scone on a freezing day!

But emerging from the comfort of Mhor 84 the “old gal” declared that it was too cold to do the planned loop – which in retrospect was the correct decision given the flurries of snow and the zero degrees celcius temperature reading. We therefore abandoned the Strava recording of our ride – so no map! – and we quickly retraced our steps and tandemed back to Strathyre the direct way, pedalling at top speed to try to create some body heat!

We had time to check out a few local attractions in the town which should not be overlooked. The first is the Strathyre Village Shop and Post Office where I had the pleasure of meeting owner Janet and her very own black and white cat – which coincidentally is called Jess, just like Postman Pat! It was a bit disconcerting however to see among the myriad of goods on offer, that snow shovels were on special offer! Maybe Jess knew something we didn’t!

Janet with Jess the Postman Pat-style black and white cat at The Strathyre Village Shop.

Me and Janet with Jess the Postman Pat-style black and white cat at The Strathyre Village Shop.

A bit further along the street from the shop is a fairly nondescript statue – which looks a bit like a local War Memorial. But close inspection by the “old gal” revealed it is a memorial statue to one of the area’s famous sons – Dugald Buchanan who was a Gaelic poet who wrote religious verse. His biggest claim to fame is assisting the minister at nearby Killin with translating the New Testament into Gaelic in 1767.

The "old gal" pointing out the memorial to Dugald Buchanan.

The “old gal” pointing out the memorial to Dugald Buchanan.

Just behind the Broch Cafe we found the fascinating and historical Dun Lubnaig Broch Project. Brochs are mysterious circular dry-stone hollow structures – like forts – which date back to the iron age and are only found in Scotland.

Here I am at The Strathyre Broch Project just off NCR7

Here I am at the fascinating historical Strathyre Broch Project just off NCR7.

It was getting colder and more snow flakes were falling so we headed back to Airlie House and I was quickly packed back into Matilda Transport. But there was one last art installation to see. Team Matilda had been advised to do the last stop on the BLiSStrail Strathyre by car – given that the main A84 can be somewhat busy, and is somewhat narrow and windy as it passes along the beautiful Loch Lubnaig.

Turning into the car park at the end of the loch furthest from the village, it was initially difficult to spot Sloc-Nan-Sitheanach. It seems hidden away – but then that is perhaps the whole point as it is “a place of solace where you can find yourself in an embrace of the earth.”

The key is to look carefully for the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Scenic Routes signs – but it is worth the hunt when you see the art installation by architectural designer Ruairidh Moir. Sloc is Gaelic for a cavity in a landscape; and sìtheanach is Gaelic for “faerie” – the mystical creatures which roamed the landscape and are associated with peace and tranquility.

The "old gal" looking mystical at Sloc-Nan-Sitheanach at Loch Lubnaig.

The “old gal” looking mystical at Sloc-Nan-Sitheanach at Loch Lubnaig.

The poetry incorporated into the design is “Now Winters’ Wind Sweeps” by local bard Alexander Campbell which depicts mans place in natural cycles, and encourages the visitor to reflect on their fleeting presence in the landscape. It certainly was quite a mystical experience when Team Matilda were there with Loch Lubnaig reflecting the surrounding hills shrouded in mist

After visiting Loch Lubnaig – and taking note to tandem NCR7 on the far site of the Loch past Strathyre Forest Cabins in the future – Team Matilda jumped back in Matilda Transport and headed back to the warmth of a hot baths and showers at Matildas Rest.

But, despite the cold, it had undoubtedly been a BLiSSful savoir-faire soujorn around Strathyre!

One of Mhor's slogans!

One of Mhor’s slogans!

Indeed Team Matilda enjoyed the friendship and hospitality shown over the weekend in Robroycountry so much that my dynamic crew decided to return the next weekend – scrubbed up and in non tandeming gear! – for the prestigious Burns in the Barn event at Monachyle Mhor Hotel.

First up it was pre-event drinks hosted by Kim and her husband Fraser at their fabulous 17th century B listed thatched cottage at their luxury self-catering Briar Cottages base in Lochearnhead before boarding a bus to Monachyle.

Fraser living up to his larger than life reputation with the "old gal"!

Fraser living up to his larger than life reputation with the “old gal”!

Haggis Mhor style!

Haggis Mhor style!

The chefs at Mhor had put their flair to the traditional bill of fayre for a Burns event – producing a fantastic tasty meal. The starter was Mull scallops – a favourite of the “old gal’s” – with the haggis being incorporated into a main course of Scotch beef cheek. Mull cheddar on toast followed before a dessert of preserved Perthshire raspberries and clootie dumpling ice cream! This was all washed down with some lovely wines and a few Glengoyne whiskies – while enjoying an evening of great music, song, Scottish dancing and the traditional Burns Supper elements of The Address to the Haggis and the Toast to the Lassies – even if a few eyebrows were raised at the unnecessary f-words in the Reply from the Lassies!

Kim and the "old gal" enjoying the Burns in the Barn bash! Yes he did have his kilt on!

Kim and the “old git” enjoying the Burns in the Barn bash! Yes he did have his kilt on!

My crew had a fabulous night enjoying the #ScotSprit atmosphere and chatting to others who clearly enjoy #workingtogether for tourism in the area, while having a fantastic social life at the same time!

The "old gal" enjoying the night with Graham

The “old gal” enjoying the night with Graham …

... and getting into the spirit(s) with Martin!

… and getting into the spirit(s) with Martin!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Among others my dynamic crew met LETi member Alison Inglis and her partner John who run the Enchanted Cottage Pop Up Shop at Balquhidder. They also shared a table with two other fun couples Graham and Sue, and Martin and Liz – who are all involved in organising the Balquhidder, Lochearnhead & Strathyre Highland Games. Known as “the best Highland Games in Scotland” it is being held this year on Saturday 22nd July 2017. And they also said hello to Jill  – who edits the local Villagers magazine and who told me there is a double page colour spread on my antics in Strathyre in the February edition. You know how I like this fame! 

Now Graham happened to mention an invitation to a full-scale fancy dress party early in the Summer – and Fraser definitely lived up to his reputation of having a wonderful enthusiasm for life by throwing the gauntlet down (after a few Glengoyne Highland Single Malt Scotch Whiskys!) to tandem riding facing backwards! ….. It was that kind of amazing night really!

The original "cruck" ceiling at Briar Cottages.

The original “cruck” ceiling at Briar Cottages – now Kim and Fraser’s stunning lounge.

After a welcome post bash coffee and chat with Kim and Fraser – which involved a tour in the pitch darkness of the fabulous “Fraser’s Pav” summer house right on the edge of Loch Earn and being shown the original Scots pine “cruck” ceiling from the cattle byre in what is now their stunning lounge – sadly my crew had to force themselves away to return to Matildas Rest due to work commitments. It would be an understatement to say my crew could have stayed longer – but I have a feeling we will be back before long! Obviously I will have to look out some fancy dress gear  – but just what does a tandem dress up as?!

Will this be Fraser?

Will this be Fraser?

And of course I have the spectacle of Fraser riding me facing backwards to look forward to! The big question is however – if Fraser is on the front, then who is going to be stoker? The “old git” has honourably said that it should be the “old gal” but she whispered to me she is not so sure! So does that leave Kim?

Watch this space….!

Thanks to all at LETi for their help, bed and breakfast, sustenance and friendship offered to assist Team Matilda to complete their tour of the Strathyre leg of the BLiSS art trail.

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BLiSSful Balquhidder’s brilliant bravura!

Reflections on the BLiSStrail - Team Matilda at the Look Out mirrored cabin at Loch Voil.

Reflections on the BLiSStrail – Team Matilda at the Look Out mirrored cabin at Loch Voil.

What excitement at Matilda’s Rest! I have been hardly been able to sleep since this “old lady” tandem was invited back to the Loch Earn area to do another blog on their fascinating cultural outside art #BLiSStrail. Yes I will say that again, invited back!

It seems that LETi, the local Loch Earn Tourism Information group, was so impressed with my photo and video blog from my trip to see the first section of the art trail at the end of October around the St Fillans and Lochearnhead loop that they asked Team Matilda to come back and do another blog on one of the other two legs of the trail – this time around Balquhidder.

The unique BLiSS trail is named after the four villages it links – Balquhidder, Lochearnhead, Strathyre and St Fillans – deep in the heart of Rob Roy Country within the Loch Lomond and  The Trossachs National Park – where Perthshire meets rural Stirling. The trail is made up of a series of large ornamental metal and wood sculptures and art installations, mostly by various artists, to commemorate the Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design.

The brainchild of LETi, the BLiSS trail is also designed to encourage more visitors to the area – to boost tourism and the local economy. And since our first visit it has become an “award winning trail” – receiving the honour of a regional Scottish Thistle Award – recognised as the tourism Oscars – for “Working Together for Tourism.”

The “old git” and the “old gal” were delighted to accept on my behalf.  So on Saturday afternoon I was packed into Matilda Transport and we headed off through St Fillans and down the side of stunning Loch Earn, through Lochearnhead on the A84 to The Golden Larches bed and breakfast – Team Matilda’s base for their mini-weekend adventure.

There my dynamic duo were met by the extremely hospitable owner Alistair Buchan – who showed them the first of the art installations along this section of the BLiSS trail – Sunflowers by Kev Paxton – situated in the car park of The Golden Larches, opposite the old Balquhidder Station.

The first iconic piece of art I got to see was the giant Sunflowers in the car park at The Golden Larches.

The first iconic piece of art I got to see was the giant Sunflowers..

You certainly can’t miss this sculpture as it is 4m high – somewhat larger than the common sunflower! It certainly towered above me, and I am sure the giant sunflowers turn heads and raise a few smiles on the A84. Given that this is a pre festive tour, the next person I was introduced to was “wee Santa” who was on hand to make me feel welcome at my new abode for the evening!

Making my acquaintance with "wee Santa" at the Golden Larches.

Ho! ho! ho! Here I am making my acquaintance with “wee Santa” at The Golden Larches.

Alistair couldn’t have done any more to make my dynamic duo comfortable on what was a somewhat chilly night. They were shown to their lovely, relaxed, warm and welcoming room. He even went the extra mile when the “old gal” suddenly proclaimed that she was in danger of missing her favourite tv show – Strictly Come Dancing – when they went out for dinner.

But Alistair showed his superhero qualities by setting up the large flat screen satellite tv to record the programme – so they could watch it later on catch-up. What a star! And the “old gal” was a happy girl again! I mean if she had missed it, in the words of judge Craig Revel Horwood it would have been “a disaster darling!”

mhor-84-signAfter a bit of relaxation the “old git” and the “old gal” ventured out to sample the dinner menu at the highly recommended MHOR 84  Motel which serves food to satisfy the many cyclists and walkers who pass by.

To fuel up for the ride ahead the next day, my dynamic duo stocked up on a meal which  tantalised their taste buds – scallops, burgers and cheesecake, washed down with the obligatory red wine!

The amazing burgers at MHOR 84!

The amazing burgers at MHOR 84!

The “old gal” was stunned into silence  by the burgers – and given that doesn’t happen very often, they must have been good! The additional toppings of black pudding and blue cheese left her literally lost for words … other than the odd “yum!”

The decor at Mhor 84 is  modern and stylishly shabby with mismatched metal chairs alongside thin, rustic tables that have been rescued from schools and science labs. There’s even three tartan ducks on the wall! Its far from twee, and it works – mhor than living up to its reputation as being “deliciously subversive!”

"Home from home" comforts at the Golden Larches.

“Home from home” comforts at the Golden Larches.

On return to The Golden Larches my crew reveled in what the “old git” described as “home from home” comforts – and give his exacting standards of what makes home comforts that is praise indeed. And after Alistair’s heroics with the tv set box, my dynamic duo were able to be very decadent and (whisper it) watch Strictly in bed! Then it was time for some zzzzs before an early alarm call to hit the BLiSS trail.

So Sunday dawned and my crew were up before dawn to have a very tasty breakfast, home cooked by Alistair, before I was set up for the day’s tandeming ahead.

Before we headed off I was very honoured to get to meet Kim Proven, the livewire chair of LETi  and owner of luxury self-catering Briar Cottages at nearby Lochearnhead. And she even brought along the Scottish Thistle Award the BLiSS trail won recently as a prop for photos.

Here I am posing along with Kim Proven and the Scottish Thistle tourism award.

Two livewire ladies – me posing with Kim and the BLiSS trail Scottish Thistle tourism award.

Kim uses every opportunity to publicise the area to get people to come and see the natural beauty of the area for themselves. And that’s probably one of the reasons the trail got noticed by the Thistle Award judges in the first place!

Kim scrubbed up well to receive the award from STV's Jennifer Reoch.

The “scrubbed up” version of Kim receiving the ScottishThistle award from STV’s Jennifer Reoch.

As Kim said at the glitzy awards dinner: “LETi has proved that a small group can carry out an effective tourism campaign on a shoestring through local people’s skills, energy and enthusiasm.”

The BLiSS trail is designed to encourage visitors to smile, stop and spend time in the villages – and all the installations are near cafes and restaurants.

Now for those of you who haven’t looked up the dictionary to find out what bravura in my headline for this post means – let me explain. It is used as in “a display of great bravura” which really means a display of great technical skill, brilliance and daring. And this “old lady” thought that it summed up the outdoor cultural BLiSS trail brilliantly!

And naturally Kim agreed! The “old gal” did some filming, so watch this video clip where Kim tells my Matildas Musings blog the background to the bravura BLiSS trail – and watch out for some exciting exclusive advance news of plans to revamp the trail for 2017. (Remember if you are reading this on email, you need to click on the blog first – via the link at the bottom of the email – to view the video.)

Because it was only three weeks till Christmas, the “old git” – who is a real Crimbo lover – decided that a few festive shots had to be taken – complete with fetching Santa hats! I must say I thought that Kim really suited the “old gal’s” animal print trimmed one!

The "old git" and Kim from LETi along with "wee Santa" and me!

The “old git” and Kim getting into the Christmas spirit along with “wee Santa” and me!

Kim from LETi, the "old git" and Alistair - mine host at The Golden Larches.

Here I am with Kim from LETi, the “old git” and Alistair – mine host at The Golden Larches.

The “old gal” was being kept busy in her role as my blog photographer and – despite the freezing temperature – there was time for a quick shot with the “old git”Kim and Alistair before we left The Golden Arches, full of praise for our stay.

Now Kim, who is a self-confessed tandem virgin, and who has actually had very little experience of riding a  bike at all – gamely accepted the “old git’s” challenge to take a shot as temporary substitute stoker – while the “old gal” gave up her back seat role (and crash helmet!) to film the attempt.

So can you guess what happens next ….. Did Kim manage to put her faith in the “old git” as Captain and hand over control – or did it end in disaster?!

Click on the video to find out! (And don’t forget that if you are reading this on email, you need to click on the blog first – via the link at the bottom of the email – to view the video.)

So it was a success! Congratulations to Kim! This “old lady” says she was a natural – although the “old git” is telling anyone who will listen (and there are not many!) that he is a good teacher and was very gentle with Kim being a newbie and that he didn’t change my gears and avoided any tight corners! But he is asking why she didn’t take her hand off my handlebars to wave to the camera!

As for Kim, she was delighted with her first ride on a tandem and – believe it or not – wants to have a second go on me! Maybe she and her husband will become tandemers!

Team Matilda bid fond farewell to Kim armed with a detailed map of where to find each art installation and feature along the way. You can check out the details of our scenic route on the BLiSStrail around Balquhidder on Strava below – and don’t forget to click on the map image to get the full data and statistics! 

balq-bliss-strava

The Cockerel.

Firstly we headed back about a mile on Sustrans Scotland Route 7 to see The Cockerel – a Sustrans Millennium Mile Marker. Four artists were commissioned by Sustrans to create distinctive mile markers for each part of the UK. Scottish sculptor Ian McColl created Scotland’s design – known as The Cockerel.

We tandemed back on ourselves on the well surfaced and safe off-road cycle path and found what must be one of the most scenic spots for a National Cycle Route identification sign in Scotland. As the “old git” somewhat confusingly said: “It’s so quiet you can almost hear the silence!”

The scenic Sustrans Scotland route marker on National Cycle Route 7.

The scenic Sustrans Scotland route marker on National Cycle Route 7.

We cycled on to the Balquhidder turn off from the A84 where there are two features almost side-by-side. The first is a recently restored cast iron Victorian signpost – with one arm pointing to Rob Roy’s Grave 2 miles away and the other to destinations including Oban.

They don't make them like they used to! The "old gal" and me at the Victorian sign.

They don’t make them like they used to! The “old gal” and me at the Victorian sign.

Opposite the signpost is the iconic red phone box – which still works! It has been used, and photographed, by many a cyclist, walker and visitor to the area.

Who you gonna call? The "old git" holding on the line at the iconic red phone box!

Who you gonna call? The “old git” holding on the line at the iconic red phone box!

On we tandemed towards Balquhidder, but you can’t visit here without stopping at Rob Roy’s Grave for a photo opportunity!  As you enter the village from the east, a spur leads to the village kirkyard. Here you find Balquhidder’s Parish Church, the ruins of the Old Church it replaced, and the grave of Rob Roy MacGregor. Alongside him lie his wife and two of their sons.

The "old git" and me at Rob Roy's Grave in Balquhidder for the obligatory photo.

The “old git” and me at Rob Roy’s Grave in Balquhidder for the obligatory photo.

A few hundred yards of pedalling saw Team Matilda stop by the village hall to take a look at the Grooming Stag made of willow by sculptor June McEwan from nearby Crieff. It is an eye-catching symbol of the hall – a real social hub being the venue for social gatherings and community activities

The "old gal" with the Grooming Stag - a feature at Balquhidder village hall.

The “old gal” with the Grooming Stag – a feature at Balquhidder village hall.

The “old gal” then noticed an additional interesting feature beside the village hall – another of the iconic red phone boxes … but this one has been turned into a book exchange for the local community. What a wonderful idea!

The "old gal" taking time out to flick thru the pages of a book at the book exchange - hope we don't need to put out an SOS!

The “old gal” flicking thru the pages of a book at the exchange – hope we don’t need to put out an SOS!

Our map then took us about half a mile off our main route, along the road to Strathyre, to find one of the most unusual artworks on the trail – the Half Way Totem Pole.

The Half Way Totem Pole serves a local traffic rule.

The Half Way Totem Pole serves as a market for a local traffic rule.

Now it would need to be said that my dynamic crew were looking for a high totem pole and almost missed this feature. But they are glad they didn’t! The mini totem pole has been created by Balquhidder local Edward Chadfield. The unconventional traffic sign serves a purpose on the single track road it sits beside. When meeting a vehicle coming towards you, the local rule is that whoever is furthest from the half way point does the reversing! Fortunately I didn’t have to reverse and my crew had plenty of time to get a good photo.

Selfie time for my dynamic duo looking towards the vista of Loch Voil.

Selfie time for my dynamic duo looking towards the vista of Loch Voil.

The “old git” and the “old gal” took a few moments here to take in the magnificent vista – as they were almost mesmerised by the beauty of the views. As the “old git” said: “This is real brain food!”

The remote beauty of Loch Voil through my handlebars.

The remote beauty of Loch Voil through my handlebars.

We retraced our steps back to the main route – with four miles to go till our lunch break at the end of the loch. This ride was one of the best Team Matilda have had the pleasure of experiencing – gently undulating single track roads with the most wonderful views across Loch Voil. And with hardly a whisper of wind, the loch’s surface was like a mirror, reflecting the surrounding hills. Just magnificent!

The "old gal" and me on the edge of the flat calm and reflective Loch Voil.

The “old gal” and me on the edge of the flat calm and reflective Loch Voil.

We pedalled on looking for more of the art installations. The Look Out, situated just at the end of Loch Voil before the neighbouring Loch Doine, was Team Matilda’s favourite on the BLiSS trail.

The Look Out was my dynamic duo's favourite piece of art on the cultural BLiSStrail.

The Look Out was my dynamic duo’s favourite on the cultural BLiSStrail.

It is essentially a mirrored cube which blends into the surrounding backdrop. In fact it is so well situated that my dynamic crew really had to look to find it in the middle of a field!

The "old gal" in reflective mood at the atmospheric Look Out installation.

The “old gal” in reflective mood at the atmospheric Look Out installation.

The Look Out was created by Daniel Tyler and Angus Richie as part of their final year thesis project while studying for their Masters of Architecture at the University of Strathclyde.

It provides “a place of contemplation framing views of Loch Doine and Loch Voil whilst disappearing into the backdrop of the surrounding glen.” It also provided my crew with the opportunity for a few fun photographs, and I even got in on the act with the mirrors making me even  longer than I actually am!

The "old git" on one of the seats which amplifies distant waterfalls and bird calls.

The “old git” on one of the seats which amplifies distant waterfalls and bird calls.

To infinity and beyond! Clones of the "old gal" and the "old git" in the mirrors!

To infinity and beyond! Clones of the “old gal” and the “old git” in the mirrors!

Here I am longer than ever thanks to the effects of the mirrors at the Look Out!

Here I am longer than ever thanks to the effects of the mirrors at the Look Out!

Team Matilda forced themselves away from the sanctuary of the Look Out and found the next two cultural features within the grounds of the stylish boutique Monachyle Mhor hotel.

The Cave is right at the entrance – made of Oriented Strand Board – a material often used in the construction industry but rarely shown off. A group of MHOR micro project students created a hand sculpted installation which just demands to be explored and photographed inside and out.

the-cave

The Sheiling is also based within the grounds of the hotel and part of the same project as The Cave. It is based on the concept of a traditional Scottish shepherd hut. Slatted wood enables a unique view of the landscape and the ever changing light creates interesting ladder shadows.

The Sheiling is based on a traditional Scottish shepherd hut.

The Sheiling is based on a traditional Scottish shepherd hut.

Perfect for an "old lady" like me - parked at the boutique Monachyle Mhor.

Perfect for an “old lady” like me – parked at the boutique Monachyle Mhor hotel.

After exploring these installations it was time for some much needed sustenance at Monachyle Mhor. As my dynamic crew walked in, one of the staff who had clearly been watching the unusual occurrence of a blogging tandem investigating their art installations, pointed to my fetching red la buclee wine carrier and said: “I like that – very classy!”

Oh I was so pleased, as I do like compliments you know! The “old gal” and the “old git” were welcomed in like old friends and immediately made to feel comfortable despite being kitted out in cycling gear!

They took a seat in the small and cosy snug bar – with its trendy new bar amazingly fitting in to the old fashioned surroundings including an old metal fireplace with a healthy fire glowing away!

Perfect tandemers lunch! Soup, sarnies and prosecco! What could be better?

Perfect tandemers lunch! Soup, sarnies and prosecco! What could be better?

My dynamic duo then enjoyed some most welcome hot soup and sandwiches – along with a reviving glass of prosecco! I mean it would have been rude of them not to!

The “old git” had a bit of a job persuading the “old gal” to done their jackets and go back out into the cold – me thinks she could have easily stayed there all afternoon! In fact she was dragged away saying: “Mhor, mhor mhor!”!

As the temperature started to drop my dynamic crew decided to pick up the pace in a bid to keep warm and tandemed back towards Balquhidder in double quick time. I was most impressed as they still have that fitness built up for our summer trip – and easily nailed some hilly terrain.

But Team Matilda still found time to admire the raw scenic beauty of a very calm Loch Voil as we tandemed along. Despite tandeming at a fair speed the “old gal” managed to film a short video as we pedalled along. Watch out for the bumps! (Remember if you are reading this on email, you need to click on the blog first – via the link at the bottom of the email – to view the video.)

 We tandemed through Balquhidder and back up to the junction with the A84 where the “old gal” decided my crew needed to thaw out and have the traditional cyclists treat of coffee and cake at Mhor 84. And that allowed me to be introduced to the Mhor Coo, the last of our features on the BLiSS trail. It seems the popular local coo moooves around (get it?!) at the motel. But I easily found it beside the Christmas tree at the front door!

As the last feature of our BLiSStrail trip I got to meet the Mhor Coo!

As the last feature of our BLiSStrail trip I got to meet the Mhor Coo!

Over a warming coffee, the “old git” and the “old gal” reflected on what a marvellous idea the BLiSS trail is and how it offers the perfect opportunity for some culture and cycling!

No wonder it won the regional Scottish Thistle Award! And of course Team Matilda wishes the LETi team the best of luck in the national finals in March next year.

Before then I am delighted to say that I have already been invited back to complete the third and final leg of the BLiSStrail – this time around Strathyre. The plan is to do that in January or February. I for one can’t wait and I know my dynamic crew are looking forward to it too!

As dusk fell, and the temperature fell well below zero, the “old git” suggested one final photo – a festive shot with my Christmas lights lit up and my crew donning Santa hats! Then it was a rapid last mile back to the warmth of Matilda Transport and back to Matilda’s Rest.

All in all it certainly had been a BLiSSful and brilliant bravura in Balquhidder!

Ho! ho! ho! The "old git" and "old gal" decided to don Santa hats for the last photo of the trip.

The “old git” and “old gal” decided to don Santa hats for the last photo of the trip.

Thanks to all at LETi for their help, bed and breakfast and sustenance offered to allow Team Matilda to complete their tour of the Balquhidder leg of the BLiSS trail.

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