Muthill Sportive 2017 yellow route with sub stoker!

My regular stoker “the old gal” was replaced by “the young son” for the Muthill Sportive 2017!

There was much excitement on Saturday morning at Matildas Rest as it was a big day for this “old lady” – I was taking part in a real official bike event – the Muthill Sportive 2017. This would be my first ever Sportive and I was all geared up for the big event as the “old git” had told me that not only was I going to have an official participant number but that I was going to have a timing chip. Serious stuff!

To add to the sense of anticipation I was going to have a substitute stoker for the event as the “old gal” – who is usually on my back saddle – was working and couldn’t get time off. So she was replaced by the “old git’s” son Niall, who will from here on be referred to as the “young son” in this blog post!

Now the “young son” had only had the briefest of outings on a tandem before so it was brave of him – if slightly mad – to readily volunteer to be substitute stoker for the first time in an event like a Sportive! But volunteer he did and don’t tell the “old gal” but I was looking forward to having his youthful legs power me along! (And, whisper it, but so was the “old git – although he would never admit to that!)

Now the village of Muthill is about 5 miles away from Matildas Rest and the “old git” decided it would be a good plan for us to tandem to the start line to give the “young son” a chance to get used to the joys of tandeming! Unfortunately the weather gods had plans for almost biblical rain.

The buoyant atmosphere as we set off in dry, almost sunny conditions was soon blown away as the skies darkened and heavy showers rolled in which saw my crew arrive to register at Muthill Church like drowned rats! Getting soaked before the off wasn’t exactly in the plan, and the “young son” was questioning whether his volunteering for the role of stoker had been such a good idea!

The “old git” and the “young son” ready for the start – with soaking cycling jackets!

The Muthill cycling event  has the reputation for being Scotland’s friendliest Sportive and that was immediately apparent from the warm welcome my crew received at the registration desk – in stark contrast to the chilly inclement weather outside.

The idea of the Sportive is to raise funds for the Muthill to Crieff Cyclepath project which will create a safe route along the 4 miles to the Strath capital, avoiding the busy A822 road. Phase 1 of the project is complete – a 1 mile off-road route from Muthill to Templemill, which links with other core paths and quiet country walking and cycling friendly roads. Just over a year ago when it was opened, I was the first tandem to ride the new cycle path. You can read more about the project in my blog of that ride.

Team Matilda was taking part in the Yellow Route – an 18 mile cycle around quiet local Strathearn roads. And after I had my start number of 009 firmly attached, along with my snazzy timer chip, it was time for the off and we lined up with just under 30 other bikes.

I was proud to be the only tandem on the start line and I am glad to say I got quite a few “nice bike” and “special machine” compliments from other riders. A quick safety briefing, and the horn was blown and we were underway! You can check out the details of our route on Strava below – and don’t forget to click on the map image to be transferred to Strava to get the full data and statistics! 

The “old git” and the “young son” set off at good pace along Muthill’s main street before starting a long slow climb up past the local golf course. But the youthful energy provided by the “young son” in his role as stoker helped us reach the plateau in no time. And amazingly Team Matilda was in second place at this stage with just a lone female rider ahead of us.

The ride was well signposted with big yellow arrows marking directions at every possible junction to ensure we couldn’t get lost – and there were marshalls at any intersections with busier roads. The route developed into a gently undulating ride, along well maintained farm roads – where we played cat and mouse with the female rider overtaking each other on several occasions before briefly emerging on to the Crieff to Braco road for a short section, turning into another maze of farm roads.

Just before crossing the Auchterarder to Crieff road the solo rider decided enough was enough and powered off with a cheery wave never to be seen again! So now determination kicked in and the “young son” decided that we were going to maintain our second position and helped power us along the quiet roads to Tullibardine and then along in front of Strathallan Airfield.

Tantalising there were signs for Muthill but we were directed away from the direct route for another loop round country roads – just as my crew were starting to feel their fuel tanks getting low on energy. Fortunately there was a nice downhill stretch  before the last section which made use of the completed first section of the Muthill to Crieff cycle path. Only difficulty was that this was uphill creating a Tour de France-style finish at the top of climb! Well almost … but obviously just a tad less steep!

As we turned into Muthill church yard Team Matilda had that euphoric feeling of knowing they had crossed the finishing line in second place! I will repeat that … we finished second! Unbelievable!

That feeling when you have just finished your first ever Sportive … and finished second!

A quick glance at the electronic timer clock revealed that we had finished in a fairly respectable time of 1 hour 28 minutes and 23 seconds. And it had stayed mainly dry. Because we kept cycling there were no photos en route, but the “old git” did ask the guy running the Dr Bike clinic to take a couple of the three of us to record our achievement at the end, which he was happy to oblige.

The friendly nature of the Muthill Sportive was underlined by the amazing hospitality on offer back in the church hall. An army of volunteers had been busy and yummy home made soup was on offer, along with tasty filled rolls, followed by a fantastic selection of home baked cakes. The fact that they even had gluten free cakes was quite literally the icing on the … well you know what I mean!

There was time to say a quick hello to a few people the “old git” recognised – including Lorna Davidson from local folk group Tarneybackle who we met at the launch of the Blackford Paths Network project recently. And as my crew were chatting they were asked to take part in a publicity shot for the event. Oh if you insist! Ever the PR man, the “old git” grabbed every available prop!

Time for sustenance – my crew with Lorna Davidson from local folk group Tarneybackle.

As we were finishing our food, the team from Keep it Simple Timing announced that the official times for the first few bikes home had been officially verified – and my crew were delighted with the proof that the results showed that we had indeed finished second in the yellow route category! Simple pleasures and all that!

Official confirmation of the “old git” Colin and the “young son” Niall coming in second!

So after some much needed re-fuelling – and basking in the glory of being second home in our first ever Sportive – it was back to reality for my crew with the slight issue of getting back on my saddles for the five mile tandem back home! It would need to be said this was a bit of a grind as muscles had seized up a bit after stopping at the end of the Sportive! And that wasn’t confined to the “old git” as the “young son” wasn’t quite so full of that youthful exuberance that was on show earlier!

After returning to Matildas Rest a check of Strava revealed Team Matilda had registered three personal bests along the way – beating times on previous cycles set by the “old git” and the “old gal”.

Strava officially recorded the Sportive ride as a distance of 18.3 miles at an average speed of 12.1 mph, with a top speed of 28.9 mph. The elevation covered was a not insubstantial 1,048 feet, as we managed to burn up 1,201 calories, and produced an estimated average power output of 192 W.

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

After a warm reviving shower, the “old git” and the “young son” agreed that despite the rain, it was a great event and fun to be part of! The Sportive certainly offered a great opportunity to promote cycling and the benefits of off-road cycle paths in the beautiful Perth and Kinross Countryside Trust and Perth and Kinross Council area near Perth City Centre. A great day to celebrate being a Perth 2021 supporter! And clearly #perthistheplace for cycling!

Lets hope the Sportive raises lots of money for the Muthill to Crieff Cyclepath project and that I will soon be blogging about new developments and an extension to the existing first stage of the route – including a large span bridge to cross the River Earn at Crieff.

And it may have been my first Sportive … but it certainly won’t be my last!

Oh – and for the avoidance of doubt – although I enjoyed having the extra thrust provided by the “young son” I am looking forward to having the “old gal” back in her rightful place on my rear saddle!

Matildas Muthill reprise and T in the Park snub!

Quelle excitement! Getting tips watching Le Grand Depart of the Tour de France.

Quelle excitement! Getting tips watching Le Grand Depart of the Tour de France.

I could hardly contain my excitement on Saturday! Let me explain – well you know I get to get to look out my passport and head off on a Tour de France du Tandem each year. This year’s trip is to the Vineyards of the Loire Valley and will continue the tradition of a tour of the Vineyards of  Burgundy in 2014 and the Vineyards of Bordeaux last year. These tours offer the “old git” and the “old gal” the opportunity to do a fair bit of semi-serious tandeming in warm weather through scenic countryside – but are really an excuse to sample as many of the wines of the region in wine tastings along the route as possible!

So perhaps you get my drift that the cycling is not perhaps the main focus – but it is the journey which is important!

Well that is in sharp contrast to the real Tour de France which got underway at the weekend with Le Grand Depart getting from the fantastic magical island of Mont St Michael in Normandy. Now the excitement was that the “old gal” – as a co-founding member of the Nutty Tandemers club – decided that it would be a good idea if I got to watch Le Grand Depart live on television to see if I could pick up any tips. So I was ceremoniously wheeled in from my cosy garage for a rare visit to the lounge at Matildas Rest to see the action!

Mont St Michel in Normandy provided a dramatic backdrop for the start of the 2016 Tour.

Mont St Michel in Normandy provided a dramatic backdrop for the start of the 2016 Tour.

aaa tour de france logoThis really was quite a spectacle and this “old lady” was most impressed with some of the shapely models on display – and some of the fancy bikes were not bad as well! I also had to quickly get to grips with a whole new Tour de France vocabulary that we don’t normally have to bother with on our tandeming adventures – like peloton, which simply means the group of riders and is also the most frequently misspelled piece of cycling jargon there is! And of course I knew that bidons was French for water bottles. I guess that the Tour riders don’t actually swap the water for wine tho, like my dynamic duo have been known to do on a couple of occasions.

One piece of jargon which caught the eye of the “old gal” was bonking! Yes, you read that correctly! It seems that refers to a rider who has completely run out of glycogen – the carbohydrate that fuels the muscles. As in “that rider is bonked!” So now you know! Amazing how some words have different meanings in different situations ….

bbb tdf wineAnyway moving on, the “old git” found an alternative Tour de France logo, which if you look carefully has a wine bottle strategically positioned as the air valve. It seems Team Matilda may be adopting that as their official logo on the sleeve of this year’s team t-shirts!

Amazingly this logo also caught the attention and of fellow members of the Tandem Club UK when the “old git” posted it on Facebook – and sparked a significant number of  “likes” from tandemers who obviously have the same philosophy as us!

So after watching Le Grand Depart I was itching to get out on the open road and on Sunday we headed out on a looping route to the village of Muthill where I could reprise my maiden trip on the new Muthill cycle path, which I took back in April.

The "old git" having a breather at the start of the Muthill to Crieff cycle path.

The “old git” having a breather at the start of the Muthill to Crieff cycle path.

The path marks the first stage of a bigger project to have a user-friendly Muthill to Crieff cycle path running the 4 miles to the Strath capital. The ambitious project has been driven forward by community development group Muthill Village Trust. The first phase stretches about a mile from Muthill to Templemill.

Having had a couple of months or so to settle in, the new path is looking fantastic and the surface is a joy to cycle on. Even though it is relatively short, I would highly recommend that you try and  include the path as part of a longer route – as it is fun and takes you safely off the roads and through some great rolling Perthshire countryside. This classic tandem, for one, can’t wait till another of the sections is opened as it is a great asset to the area.

The "old gal" at the end of stage 1 of the new Muthill cycle path - looking towards Crieff.

The “old gal” at the end of stage 1 of the new Muthill cycle path – looking towards Crieff.

At the end of the cycle path – clearly marked with a cycle path sign, we continued onto lovely quiet – and undulating – farm roads in the general direction of Auchterarder. You can check out the route of our Muthill Reprise on Strava below – and don’t forget to click on the map image to get the full date and statistics!

TITP strava map

The “old git” deliberately planned the route home to take in the steep hill after Machanay Bridge that my dynamic duo managed to tandem up for the first time in April – just to see it could be done again. My crew were full of confidence and soon the hill was behind us – with hardly a wheeze to be heard.  This new found fitness – which has seen the “old git” and the “old gal” shed 70 pounds or five stone between them, yes I will repeat that … shed five stones – is obviously working! And the good thing is that they tell me they are enjoying it much more being able to tackle such hills which previously would have ended up with me being “taken for a walk”!

t in parkBuoyed by that hill climb success, on we tandemed around the perimeter of the site which next weekend will host T in the Park – effectively Scotland’s Glastonbury. The three day event is set to attract 70,000 music fans to the rural site at Strathallan Castle and will feature headlining acts such as Stone Roses, Kaiser Chiefs, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Calvin Harris and Jess Glynne. So we thought it would be a good idea to see if we could cycle around the site itself – just to see for ourselves the much-promoted improved layout after the festival ran into big problems last year, in its first year after moving to the new venue.

T in the Park snub! No way thru for Matilda without a pass!

T in the Park snub! No way thru for tandems – even classic tandems – without a car pass!

But unfortunately Team Matilda received a T in the Park snub! The burly security officials told us “yez cannae get in without a car pass.” Credit to the “old git”, he doesn’t normally take a no at the first answer, so he gamely tried to enter into communication with said security guards pointing out that I was a bike, in fact a tandem bike, and not a car – and we would just take a quick look before heading back out again. Unfortunately this eloquent appeal failed to sway the monosyllabic guard who just kept grunting “Naw.”

So retreating seemed the sensible policy – but undeterred the “old git” knew a side road which was not fenced off where we could get the chance to peek in to see what was happening. And the site was going like a fair – literally as workers toiled to install a fun fair as well as the main stage which was still under construction with less than a week to go.

Peeking over the fence to see the big tents and fun fair

Peeking over the fence to see the big tents, fun fair, and – thru the tree – the main stage.

We were able to get close enough to see the landmark blue and yellow marquee which hosts the T Break Stage for up and coming acts – under the ‘BBC introducing’ banner – and also the red and white Stand Comedy Tent. And the “old gal” had a big smile on her face when she spied a tent with “wine” on it – but unfortunately it was so close – but just out of reach due to the security fence!

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So near – but so far away … the wine tent!

So having been snubbed after failing to convince the security guards of the merits, indeed attraction, of a classic tandem touring their site, we headed back to Matildas Rest including notching up another personal best as they nailed the long – but gentler – climb at Easthill.

Strava officially recorded the ride at a distance of 18.5 miles, covering an elevation of 827 feet – the second biggest elevation covered since my dynamic duo started using the Strava gizmo. The moving time was 1 hour 56 minutes, with an average speed of 9.6 mph. Top speed was 33.3 mph – and we even managed to burn up 1,124 calories and produce an estimated average power output of 161 W.

And particularly pleasing was that Team Matilda managed to clock up 7 personal records on the route – including the tough hilly section around Machanay! Let me tell you a funny moment here – when my crew returned to Matildas Rest they were analysing all the data from Strava and discovered they also had been awarded two Queen of the Mountain gongs!

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Time to dream of a ‘malliot a pois rouges’!

The “old gal” was ecstatic about her new found hill climbing recognition until the “old git” looked a little more in depth to discover that it was for our fastest times on the two DOWNhill sections named ‘Auchterarder whizz down to Kinkell Bridge’ right at the start, and also ‘Downhill to Matildas Rest’ right at the end! Sorry but I can’t repeat the “old git’s” response to that as this is a family blog! But a clue – it was a four letter word containing one vowel and ending in k!

Soon they will be dreaming about getting one of those coveted polka dot cycling jerseys with white and red dots – known as ‘malliot a pois rouges’ in French – which denotes the rider with most points from the mountain stages in the Tour de France! Now the “old git” and the “old gal” both agree that does deserve respect!

Whisper it – but I think they need just a bit more practice! But then hopefully there won’t be too many mountain stages in the Loire Valley!

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Meander to Muthill in brilliant Perthshire sunshine!

Basking in the sunshine at the medieval kirkyard at Muthill.

Basking in the sunshine at the medieval kirkyard at Muthill.

Check out our route on Strava here – and then make sure you click on the map to get the full data and statistics!

Strava MuthillSeems to be getting a habit, a ride out on a Sunday. But then the “old git” is a man on a mission – to get himself and the “old gal” fit again ahead of the big Tour de France later in the year.

And of course there is the little matter of helping the Hay Plan weight loss programme that my dynamic duo are currently embracing – and it is obviously working. Yesterday’s weigh in saw them having lost a combined total of 2 stones in just 5 weeks. I am most impressed, and it certainly reduces the strain on my ageing frame!

So with an encouraging weather forecast showing lots of sunshine and the temperature set to hit 11C – the plan was to hit the road mid morning. The”old git” had researched a 15 mile route from Matildas Rest around more of Perthshire’s quiet country roads to Muthill – which (whisper it) involved a bit of “uphill” training!

Now as you know neither me nor the “old gal” are fans of hills – but these were more of the steady slow inclines rather than the north face of Everest variety! At least that’s what the “old git” promised us!

But the plan for a morning departure hit a snag! The central heating system at Matildas Rest decided to fail late on Saturday and we were promised a visit form an engineer on Sunday morning. The engineer duly arrived, but an immediate fix wasn’t possible as the circuit board had burned itself out, and it looks like two or three days for the part to arrive. The “old gal” – who feels the cold more than the “old git” – is just grateful for the milder forecast!

So it was early afternoon before I was wheeled out of the garage – with water bottles filled and a flask of coffee in my bag – into brilliant sunshine. The hills beyond Matildas Rest – Craig Rossie and the Ochils looked resplendent in the rays. So much so that we had to have a photo before we set off!

Team Matilda about to depart in brilliant sunshine - and what a view from our front door!

Team Matilda about to depart in brilliant sunshine – and what a view from our front door!

And of course the “old gal” had her new responsibility of setting the Strava app on her mobile to record our ride. Everyone was in buoyant spirits as we headed off heading along Hunter Street and out into the countryside heading along an undulating route towards the Kinkell Bridge.

I am please to report there is still some life in this “old lady” yet as we whizzed along on a downhill stretch reaching the giddy heights of just under 30mph – 29.8 mph precisely according to Strava! – before the “old gal” was heard to shout “Slow down”. But for me it was quite a thrill to be going so fast!

Mind you the momentum was soon lost on the next incline! The “old git” had decided to use one gear higher than normal in order to give my dynamic duo a bit of a work out. But I have to say that the “old git’s” explanation to the “old gal” that “We will benefit from it in the future” wasn’t really cutting it!

In what seemed like no time we arrived at the historic Kinkell Bridge which is a grand four-arch bridge across the River Earn and dates back to 1793.

On the approach to the magnificent four-arch Kinkell Bridge.

On the approach to the magnificent four-arch Kinkell Bridge.

The area around the bridge is a renowned salmon and trout fishing spot making it highly popular with anglers.

Back on the saddles for my dynamic duo who had spotted a couple of small aircraft circling overhead and then groups of parachutists jumping. That was because we were near to Strathallan airfield which is the base for Skydive Strathallan – which is the oldest skydiving centre in Scotland, and also the largest.

Here I am at Skydive Strathallan - I thought they wanted tandems for their parachuting!

Here I am at Skydive Strathallan – I thought they wanted tandems for their parachuting!

I was getting quite excited as I had heard that one of the popular things they offer is tandem parachute jumps. Now I thought this would be an excellent activity for me as a classic tandem to get involved in! In fact I had to be restrained at the entrance to the site!

The “old gal” had to explain to me that in fact tandem parachute jumps are not actually for tandem bikes but it is a training method using a dual-harness system where humans jump attached to a highly experienced instructor who controls the free fall, parachute opening and the landing.

Watching the plane with the next load of intrepid parachutists taking off.

Watching the plane with the next load of intrepid parachutists taking off.

I have to say it still looked quite spectacular and we stood and watched for a bit as a few tandems – parachutists not bikes! –  sailed down descending from the clear blue sky. The “old gal” even had to watch out when one of the aircraft took off from the grass air strip just in front of her.

Both the “old git” and the “old gal” were able to tell me that they had both done a parachute jump in their past lives. The “old git’s” was a considerable time ago when he was a member of the Air Training Corps and completed two solo jumps. The scary part it seems was he had to pack his own parachute. Bet you he paid attention to that lesson!

As for the “old gal” she did her jump here at Strathallan – more than ten years ago. It was part of a tandem jump raising funds for charity. Well I never – the things you learn about my dynamic duo on a day out!

Pedaling on, a few tractors  with trailers loaded with potatoes and turnips passed us as this is prime Perthshire agricultural land. The “old git” was heard to say “It is a bit different to cycling in France where it was grapes being harvested!” The “old gal” could only agree as she reminisced about our trips through the world-famous vineyards in Burgundy and Bordeaux … and the wine tastings en route!

This year Team Tandem Ecosse – which is the name for Team Matilda on our French trips – are heading for the Loire Valley. And yes, you’ve guessed it, there are lots of famous vineyards there too! I must admit it will be nice to feel the warmth of the French sun on my frame again!

A couple more miles and we were in the ancient village of Muthill – which is another village steeped in history. For a start there are over a hundred listed buildings in the small village. In its time it was also an important religious centre.

The kirkyard at the centre of the small town contains the ruins of an important 15th-century parish church, which incorporates an 11th-century bell-tower. It is comparable – though on a smaller scale – to that incorporated into the famous cathedral in the nearby larger town of Dunblane.

The ruined medieval churchyard in the centre of Muthill with its impressive bell tower.

The ruined medieval churchyard in the centre of Muthill with its impressive bell tower.

The “old git” and the “old gal” had a wander through the old gravestones before the “old gal” admitted that she had never been in the churchyard, despite it being only a few miles from Auchterarder – where she had lived most of her life.

The "old gal" was paying her first ever visit to the ancient churchyard at Muthill.

The “old gal” was paying her first ever visit to the ancient churchyard at Muthill.

A welcome cup of coffee was enjoyed from the flask as they perused the information board which informed them that the church had also served for a time as a seat of the Bishops of Strathearn (later Dunblane) before the building of the cathedral at Dunblane in the 13th century.

One disappointing aspect of Muthill is that the revered Birdhouse Bakery cafe has unfortunately closed. They used to serve the best carrot cake for miles around. It was even deemed the best in Britain by a tv series called Britain’s Best Bakery.

But alas it is no more – and the “old git” will no longer be able to use the carrot (cake) as a persuasive stick technique on the “old gal” in the future! But the “old gal” did manage to get a copy of the recipe before the bakery closed – and is promising to make it – but obviously only after my dynamic duo have reached their target on the Hay Plan!

So back on the saddles for the return journey back to Auchterarder. And I have to say I was impressed with the fitness levels of the “old git” and the “old gal” as we fair cycled along – moving freely up and down the gears.

The only real obstacle was one very steep hill which required de-tandeming (good word there!) and me being pushed up the hill.

But we were soon underway again and one of the last stretches involved a long slow climb for over a mile. Neither of my dynamic duo thought we would make it to the top without stopping – but make it we did. And we all had a great triumphant feeling as a result.

The reward was a lovely downhill stretch back down the high street of Auchterarder, right back to my nice garage at Matildas Rest.

So 15 miles covered, with a cycling time of 1 hour 48 mins meaning we managed to clock up a respectable average speed of 8.4 mph.

All in all, a great ride out to get ahead of my dynamic duo taking me for an Easter Sunday trip around scenic Loch Rannoch – with them indulging themselves in a stay over at the amazing Moor of Rannoch hotel. The “old gal” says she can’t wait!

And if you’ve got this far and haven’t checked out my route to Muthill on Strava you can do so here.

Finally, don’t forget to keep all your fingers and toes crossed for my blog – which is a finalist in the Most Innovative category of the UK Blog Awards 2016. Not only is Matildas Musings the only blog ‘written’ by a classic Jack Taylor tandem, but it is the only Scottish finalist. The results will be announced at a glitzy awards presentation evening at the Park Plaza Hotel in London at the end of April. In the words of the song: “I’m so excited!”

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