Breakout of Lockdown2 ride on National Cycle Network Rt7 and The Coig Rt1 from Irvine to Ayr

Basking in the sun at the start of our ride at Irvine with Ailsa Craig showing just above my front saddle!

This blog is the story of how my dynamic crew had a superb Breakout of #Lockdown2 sunny tandem ride on The National Cycle Network Route 7 and The Coig Route 1 from Irvine to Ayr and back – with a small measure of gin thrown in too!

There has been just over a month of enforced inactivity for Team Matilda as the “old gal” was finally able to return to her hairdressing salon as Scotland slowly emerged from Covid #Lockdown2 and not surprisingly faced overwhelming demand from customers who have gone without haircuts since the end of last year. This meant working crazy hours of effectively 8am till 8pm six days a week, so there was no time – or energy! – for pedalling. And obviously that has meant no blogs for me to write either!

Selfie time for my dynamic crew delighted to be returning to action on a bicycle made for two!

But after five weeks, things calmed down a bit and my dynamic crew were keen to get back on my saddles for some much needed exercise on a Breakout from #lockdown adventure. With restrictions on travel across Scotland lifted, the “old git” decided the schedule would be to head to one of the “old gal’s” favourite #tandem rides – along the Ayrshire Coast Cycleway. The start point would be the Coastwatch Scotland car park in Irvine, with a picnic lunch at the turnaround point of Ayr beach.

The Ayrshire Coast Cycleway forms part of Sustrans Scotland NCN Rt7 and is also a key part of Route 1 of The Coig – which is Gaelic for five and is a new tourism initiative comprising five cycle friendly routes around Ayrshire and the Clyde islands.

You can check out the details of our route by clicking on the Strava map below.

But before we get to the pedalling, I want to tell the story of how I have been passing the period of enforced inactivity by helping the “old git” making my own blend of tandemers gin! Yes you heard that correctly! A Scottish gin called “Matilda’s Merry Mix!”

You see, my dynamic crew are partial to the occasional artisan gin and the “old gal” bought the “old git” a gin making kit. He bought a bottle of unflavoured vodka and added the juniper berries and then a few days later added the mix of botanicals.

Matilda’s Merry Mix – the very exclusive self brewed blend of tandemers gin!

After infusing for around a week, and a filtration, the result was an amazingly tasty lightly spiced gin. The “old git”, being the creative type, came up with the name ‘Matilda’s Merry Mix’ and created a suitable label for the bottle!

The gin is highly exclusive of course – a bit like me! – as the recipe created just a single bottle! It it is unlikely to last long as a collector’s item … but it sparked a bit of fun!

So to our ride … My dynamic crew were up at very early o’clock to drive to the west coast but were rewarded with a beautiful sunny morning on arrival in Irvine – allowing for some great sun-kissed photos before rolling out on our adventure.

The “old git” getting ready to roll in the stunning morning sunshine at Irvine Beach.

The “old gal” surveying the amazing vista and stunning sky before the off.

My dynamic crew were pleasantly surprised to find they were not rusted up and remembered how to pedal and set off with great gusto! A mild tail wind and pedalling along some almost motorway-smooth tarmac on long sections of the cycle path saw us quickly pass thru Troon and onto Prestwick Promenade in what seemed like no time – buoyed by the (almost warm but not quite!) sunshine. A loo stop was called by the “old gal” where she discovered that South Ayrshire Council has recently implemented a 30p charge on all public loos! Or as the “old git” quipped: “30p to have a pee!”

Time for photos with the “old gal” sitting on a bench with a fabulous view – looking towards the island of Arran, known as Scotland in miniature, in one of those colourful sea meets sky pictures – with almost unnatural shades of blue! It is worth clicking on the images to see it in a larger size!

Bench with a view! What a fab vista looking across to Arran from from Prestwick Promenade.

Ahoy there! The “old gal” looking out across the Firth of Clyde to the island of Arran.

The Ayrshire Coast Cycleway is well signposted and easy to follow – ideal for newbies to the NCN and The Coig – with dedicated painted cycle lanes on stretches along the promenades at Troon, Prestwick and Ayr. Pedalling onwards, the route took my dynamic crew into Ayr – which was hugely busy with people desperate to escape the recent lockdown and get some sea air. But it was good to see that nearly everyone was keeping to social distance rules.

With the sky turning a bit cloudier, my dynamic crew found a sheltered bench in gardens just off the promenade to enjoy their picnic lunch – and signature prosecco toast, naturally! – while enjoying the stunning views out to Arran and Ailsa Craig – aka Paddy’s Milestone. Great brain food to go along with the sustenance food!

Prosecco picnic time at a secluded garden spot at Ayr beach giving protection form the chilly wind.

Is it OK to leave bicycle tyre tracks too? says Matilda, asking for a friend!!

With the sun having disappeared temporarily behind heavy cloud, the “old gal” decided a coffee was required to heat up a bit – and fortunately the easing of Covid restrictions now allowed my dynamic crew to sit inside to restore body temperature.

Suitably revived, the sun started to re-appear and there was an opportunity for a couple of photos of my dynamic crew’s new dayglo orange sunglasses – which just so happen to perfectly colour coordinate with their bright shiny cycling helmets!

New dayglo orange sunglasses for my dynamic crew made their first appearance!

Smile! The future is orange! Very orange! At least my dynamic crew won’t get lost!

A quick pedal of the full length of the promenade saw the “old git” spot one of several NCN Millennium signposts dotted along the route pinpointing distances and directions.

Millennium signpost on NCN Rt7 at the far end of Ayr beach, with Arran in background.

The wind had picked up a bit so the return journey was a bit of a battle – but still highly enjoyable. The “old gal” in particular liked the stretch between Prestwick Airport and Troon where the broom was in full yellow bloom – which traditionally signals a warm summer is on the way!

Plenty of yellow on the broom – a traditional sign that summer and warmer weather is on the way!

My dynamic crew then blasted back to the start point at Irvine for a re-fuelling coffee and cake at the Small Talk Coffee and Gift Shop which looks out on to the harbour.

Back at Matildas Transport, the “old git” checked Strava which officially recorded the ride as being worthy of a superbly pleasing total of 24 gongs given my dynamic crew’s rustiness due to a lack of pedalling – made up of 5 personal bests, 9 second bests; and 10 third best times.

The detailed Strava figures showed my dynamic crew tandemed a distance of 36.5 miles with a moving time of 2 hours 52 minutes. The average speed was a healthy 12.7 mph – which given the inevitable coastal winds was perfectly acceptable – while the elevation was 550 feet due to the route mainly running along the edge of the sea. The maximum speed was 21.3 mph and Team Matilda managed to burn up 1,530 calories and produce an average power output of 132 W.

As always the route is brought to life in our Relive 3D mapping video – so click here to view or on the image below.

So with Scotland on a clear route map out of restrictions, my dynamic crew’s NCN Rt7 and The Coig Rt1 pedal clocked up a final 36 miles onto the #Lockdown2 milometer, taking the total to 327 miles from the 14 rides completed. The “old git” and “old gal” feel this is a pretty reasonable mileage given the fairly severe winter weather around Matildas Rest which hit almost as soon as #lockdown was announced.

There were hugely positive feelings from the breakout of #Lockdown2 ride – with obvious signs that things are looking brighter on the pandemic front. My dynamic crew continue to feel lucky, fortunate and blessed that they have been able to be able to keep healthy – mentally and physically – with our madcap #tandem adventures on a bicycle made for two during the enforced restrictions! Lets just say my spokes are firmly crossed that there won’t be a #lockdown3 any time soon.

Meantime this “old lady” tandem is uber excited about my next scheduled ride when I am hopefully going to get to meet my namesake! yes amazingly there is another Matilda tandem out there – tho she is affectionately called ‘Tilly’ for short!

You will remember that Team Matilda was featured in the March issue of BIKE Magazine Europe – over 5 pages in glorious technicolour! Well it was read with interest by Linda and Jon Reed – who are based in Suffolk – who have been riding tandems for 25 years! They loved the article and reached out to say hello given the coincidence of the name! Their granddaughter shortened their Matilda to ‘Tilly!

The other ‘Tilly the Tandem crossing into Scotland with crew Linda and John.

Now ‘Tilly is a Viking Serengeti and is Linda and Jon’s third tandem – and is a bit more experienced than me! Her crew do lots of touring and ‘Tilly has notched up a staggering total of nearly 40,000 kms and been to no less than 48 countries.

Apart from the same name there are other coincidences – as ‘Tilly also has a stoker who doesn’t like hills – just like the “old gal”! And Linda and Jon also have a blog in which they recount their adventures on ‘Tilly the tandem, and “Ten Tonne Taffy” – or “FatTaf” for short – their “beast” of a motorhome.

Team ‘Tilly are currently on a Breakout from Lockdown tour – a “slow pedal north to Scotland” from their Suffolk base. And on Sunday –  as long as weather gods play along – I am getting the opportunity to meet ‘Tilly as the “old git” and “old gal” are meeting up with Linda and John as they pedal thru nearby Bridge of Earn, and ride together into Perth. The tandem crews will catch up over some food and drink while us tandems will have a good natter! How exciting is this all going to be?! I can’t wait!

Lockdown2 Ride11 – Return pedal to La French Epicerie in Bridge of Allan for more mustard and la pique-nique avec fizz with Anne and Alan

La pique-nique avec fizz in the sun at Bridge of Allan with Anne and Alan.

This blog is the story of how my dynamic crew had a fabulous sunny #Lockdown2 Ride11 tandem which involved a return pedal to La French Epicerie in Bridge of Allan for more mustard and la pique-nique avec fizz with good friends Anne and Alan.

Again Team Matilda struck it lucky with the weather gods who offered bright sunshine all the way for this #lockdown adventure! And with the relaxation of Covid rules here in Scotland – allowing four people from 2 households to meet up outside – we were delighted to welcome good solo cycling friends Anne and Alan on the pedal with us!

It was my dynamic crew’s first ride of astronomical Spring – so based on the forecast for sun, and little wind,  my La Bouclée wine carrier made an appearance – with a bottle of fizz on board for the first of our trademark and infamous prosecco picnics of the year!

Again the visibility was sensational as we followed Cycling UK Scotland‘s #cyclingfromhome mantra in #tandem in rural Perthshire, mainly on Sustrans Scotland and The National Cycle Network routes. You can check out the details of our route by clicking on the Strava map below.

After “picking up” Anne and Alan as we pedaled up the high street of our home base of Auchterarder, we headed out past Gleneagles towards Braco. A left turn at the A822 this time and just before the centre of Braco headed right to Dunblane on a great gently undulating road thru Kinbuck.

Superb shadows were being created by the welcome sunshine – and the “old gal” managed to keep her balance on my back seat while filming an arty shadow effect video as we tandemed towards Dunblane – click here to view or on the image below.

There was a quick stop for breath and water at the A9 flyover just before Dunblane to check out traffic levels on the main trunk road north to Inverness – and it was still fairly quiet as many drivers continue to follow the latest #lockdown “stay local” advice.

The “old gal” checking out #lockdown traffic levels on the A9 at the Dunblane flyover

There was also a great photo opportunity when the “old git” noticed the reflection of the riders in the “old gal’s” sunglasses and got her to stay motionless (quite a feat!) while he got that essential photo!

Reflective moment ! The “old git” Anne and Alan reflected in the “old gal’s” sunglasses!

Tandeming on we enjoyed the drop down from Dunblane to Bridge of Allan for a return visit to the superb La French Epicerie on the high street – a wonderful new deli offering great goodies to takeaway. It’s no secret that the “old git” and “old gal” like their ‘petit peu de français’ – having toured the country by tandem on many occasions. So it was good to see owners Gregory and Corrine again – the couple who fell in love with Scotland on a family holiday from their base in Lyon in France and decided to uproot from France, and move to Scotland to set up a new business venture.

In far from ideal timing the Epicerie opened in the midst of the #lockdown but it is quickly establishing itself as a great destination for all things French! Regular readers of my blog will remember my post about our first visit at the end of February where my dynamic crew were delighted to find the deli stocked their favourite brand of mustard – Moutardes Fallot (Edmond Fallot). So needless to say the “old gal” was … yes you’ve guessed … “as keen as mustard” to buy some more jars!

And Gregory and Corrine were so happy with my blog post about their new venture that they offered Team Matilda fresh hot waffles – with some toffee sauce – as a thankyou gesture! Oh well if you insist!

Purchases made the two crews headed to the busy riverside area, and after a short wait found a suitable bench for la pique-nique avec fizz! A surreptitious popping of the prosecco cork – so as not to attract too much attention – was followed by a toast to being able to be out in the glorious sunshine with friends! And it felt soooo good for my dynamic crew!

Cheers! Fab sunny prosecco picnic for the cycling crews at Bridge of Allan

The “old gal” enjoyed her French smoked sausage and cheese while the “old git” had a yummy baguette with ham and Comte cheese before both had a superb slice of sugar coated almond tart!

Perhaps fuelled by the prosecco the “old gal” asked Anne if she had ever been on a tandem before. Her reply was negative so naturally the “old git” offered to give her a quick taster! So to much laughter and applause from the “old gal” and Alan off they pedalled to give Anne a shot as my new stoker – albeit just a short couple of hundred yards, but with a sharp u-turn included to add to the fun!

New Stoker for Matilda! Anne takes a shot on my back seat … and enjoyed it!

Naturally the “old gal” was on hand to video Anne’s experience and she even said that it was “fantastic” tho I know that she found having no control being a bit nerve-wracking, as she is used to being in total control of her solo bike. But the “old git” was gentle with her as it was her first time on the back of a bicycle made for two! Click here to view the video or on the image below. 

Re-fuelled after a wonderful pique-nique (avec fizz!) we set off on the return leg which involves an initial tough few miles of climbing from Bridge of Allan up thru Dunblane. It was a quick pedal back to Auchterarder with the sun beating down on the backs of my dynamic crew – who even divested themselves of their bright yellow jackets for the final series of climbs back to Gleneagles!

A quick spurt saw the “old git” and “old gal” cheer as they matched their 27mph record on the speed camera coming into town before returning to Matildas Rest having clocked another 36 miles onto the #Lockdown2 milometer taking the total to 255 miles from 11 rides completed so far.

The sun was warm enough to dispense with the bright yellow Team Matilda jackets!

Team Matilda were delighted that, carefully following the new Covid rules, Anne and Alan joined us in the garden again for some post-ride #gins and snacks – complete with social distancing. It was great to be able to do something so normal again after so many months of not being able to socialise.

While enjoying the gin(s!) the “old git” checked Strava which officially recorded the ride as as being worthy of a most satisfyingly 37 gongs – including no less than 18 personal bests … along with 10 2nd bests; and nine 3rd bests! No “Local Legend” accolades tho!

The detailed Strava figures showed my dynamic crew tandemed a distance of 36 miles with a moving time of 2 hours 38 minutes. The average speed was a healthy 13.6 mph, probably due to the lower wind! Elevation was 1,944 feet. The maximum speed was 32.0 mph and Team Matilda managed to burn up 12,134 calories and produce an average power output of 201 W.

As always the route is brought to life in our Relive 3D mapping video – so click here to view or on the image below.

Once again there were hugely positive feelings from #Lockdown2 Ride11. My dynamic crew continue to feel lucky, fortunate and blessed to be able to keep healthy – mentally and physically – with our madcap #tandem adventures on a bicycle made for two in our rural Perth and Kinross Cycle CampaignPerth and Kinross Countryside TrustAuchterarder Community Cycling and Love Perthshire area.

Here’s to more of those rides where the “old git” and “old gal” can feel the warmth of the sun on their legs! … and of course to more prosecco picnics!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A British Railways poster from the golden age of steam c1950

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Covid-19 precautions on sun-kissed seaside ride on Ayrshire Coast Cycleway from Irvine to Ayr

My dynamic crew ready to roll in the stunning morning sunshine at Irvine Beach Park.

“Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside!” – especially on a tandem on The National Cycle Network

Sunday morning had not yet dawned when my dynamic  crew were up and preparing to leave Matilda’s Rest for a promised sunshine day at the sea!

Team Matilda’s schedule was to head to one of the “old gal’s” favourite #tandem rides – along the Ayrshire Coast Cycleway. The start point would be Irvine, with a picnic lunch at the turnaround point of Ayr. So fully kitted up – including extra Covid-19 precautions – the “old git” drove Matilda Transport to the Coastwatch Scotland car park in Irvine. You can check out the details of our route by clicking on the Strava map below.

It was a beautiful sunny day as we arrived in Irvine allowing some great sunny pictures with the early morning shadows before the “old git” and “old gal” rolled out along the superb Ayrshire Coast Cycleway, which forms part of Sustrans Scotland The National Cycle Network #NCN Rt 7.

Early morning shadows at Irvine sea front for the start of our pedal!

The “old gal” smiling at the day ahead in bright sunshine on the Ayrshire Coast Cycleway.

My dynamic crew’s route is also part of The Coig – which is Gaelic for ‘five’ and is a new tourist initiative comprising five cycle-friendly touring routes around Ayrshire and the Clyde Islands. of Arran, Bute and Cumbrae. NCN Rt7 is part of Route 1 known as The Shire – short for Ayrshire.

A tail wind and pedalling along some amazingly almost motorway-smooth tarmac on the cycle path saw my dynamic crew at Prestwick Promenade in what seemed like no time – buoyed by the (almost!) warm sunshine blasting into their faces. A loo stop was called by the “old gal” with a great coffee picked up from the neighbouring Mancini’s at the beach café.

Time for a fantastic photo with the “old gal” looking out towards Arran in one of those sea meets sky pictures – with almost unnatural shades of blue! Just perfect! This is actually one of our photos where it is worth clicking on the image to see it in a larger size!

One of those fab where sea meets sky shots with almost unnatural shades of blue!

The whole route is well signposted and easy to follow – ideal for newbies to the NCN – with dedicated painted cycle lanes on stretches along the sea front promenades at Troon, Prestwick and Ayr. Pedalling on the route took my dynamic crew into Ayr – which was hugely busy compared to a normal October day as people were desperate to get out ahead of any further potential lockdowns. But good to see that nearly everyone was wearing masks, so naturally this “old lady” bike followed local regulations in the Ayrshire and Arran area and donned a mask at the sea front for some pictures!

I decided I would match everyone else in taking Covid-19 precautions by wearing a mask!

The “old git” at Ayr Promenade with Arran and Ailsa Craig as a stunning backdrop.

The “old gal” having a laugh at the “old git” trying – and failing – to avoid his shadow in the photo!

My dynamic crew found a sheltered bench in gardens just off the promenade to enjoy their picnic lunch – and signature prosecco toast, naturally! – while enjoying the stunning views out to Arran and Ailsa Craig – aka Paddy’s Milestone. Great brain food to take the mind off these troubled times.

The “old gal” enjoying Team Matilda’s signature prosecco toast near the sea front at Ayr.

Great sign making it clear to take your rubbish with you at Ayr sea front. We did!

On the return leg my crew battled a bracing headwind and made their second stop at Mancini’s to sample the gorgeous array of ice creams on offer. (It had been too early to indulge during the morning coffee stop!) The “old git” tasted the rum and raisin while the “old gal” had the chocolate orange. And the verdict was that it was very yummy – and worthy of the “Best Ice Cream in the UK” award that the café was proudly promoting!

A yummy ice cream stop – the “best ice cream in the UK” from Mancini’s at the beach.

Pedalling back thru Troon there was time for a quick “hello” at Tinto Tapas – Troon– where the “old gal’s” daughter Kirsty is restaurant manager. Sadly the eaterie – like all others in Ayrshire and Arran – is currently only offering takeaway meals to customers due to the latest virus restrictions.

My dynamic crew then blasted back to Irvine for a re-fuelling takeaway coffee and cake at the Small Talk Coffee and Gift Shop which looks out on to the harbour. Amazingly this transaction also saw the “old gal” buy a handbag! Well obviously she had to carry the coffee and cake in something! The morale of the story? – a very expensive coffee stop!

Back at Matilda Transport, while enjoying the last of the sun’s rays, the “old git” checked Strava which officially recorded the ride as being worthy of a total of 27 gongs – made up of 6 personal bests, 9 second bests; and 7 third best times.

The detailed Strava figures showed my dynamic crew tandemed a distance of 33.6 miles with a moving time of 2 hours 45 minutes. The average speed was a healthy 12.2 mph – which given the headwind on the return journey was perfectly acceptable – while the elevation was 580 feet due to the route mainly running along the edge of the sea. The maximum speed was 25.5 mph and Team Matilda managed to burn up 1,652 calories and produce an average power output of 149 W.

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

Another great day of tandeming on a bicycle made for two for my dynamic crew on the west coast of Ayrshire – with the sun showing off Scotland (and the National Cycle Network) at its very best!

Nutty Tandemers Club 2020 Tour de Worcestershire and Warwickshire

A signature prosecco toast from the Nutty Tandemers – one of many over the week!

This Matildas Musings is a specially extended blog post about a truly memorable week in #tandem as my dynamic crew were hosted by fellow founding (and only!) members of the self-proclaimed and highly exclusive Nutty Tandemers Club for their 2020 Tour de Worcestershire and Warwickshire.

Jane Termini Taylor and John Taylor – who have their own Travelling In Tandem blog and have the same nutty attitude to tandeming as the “old git” and “old gal” – kindly invited my dynamic crew to their home base of Redditch in Worcestershire for what will be our fifth annual Nutty Tandemers Tour.

Regular readers of my blog will remember in 2016 my dynamic Team Matilda crew became ‘best pals’ with John and Jane. Such was the level of laughing, fun and general nuttiness on our inaugural Le Tour de Perthshire du Tandem that we decided to try and do a Tour each year. So in 2017 the nutty tandem crews all enjoyed Le Tour de New Forest du Tandem, before circumstances resulted in a Mini Tour de Perthshire in 2018, and then our epic Le Tour de Hebridean Way odyssey last year.

With the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions changing almost daily it was touch-and-go as to whether the tandem teams would be able to get together for their 2020 Tour – but fortunately there were no last minute rule changes. So Team Matilda were up before dawn on a Sunday morning and driving south to the headquarters of the Southern Division of the Nutty Tandemers Club!

The “old git” and “old gal” arrived in time for a late lunch – followed by a quick tour of John and Jane’s super new house which they moved into just before Christmas. Then, so as not to waste any time, the tandem crews changed into cycling gear and headed off on a short hilly ride to get to know the local area – with the carrot of a prosecco toast at a sunny viewpoint.

NTC 2020 Day 1 – 3 mechanicals and a hilltop view with prosecco!

For the first ride of the Nutty Tandemers Club 2020 Tour de Worcestershire and Warwickshire our hosts had scheduled a pedal up to Beacon Hill to get orientated with views of the area we were going to be tandeming around. Check out the details of our route by clicking on the Strava map below.

It was meant to be a straightforward relaxed pedal – but before we even left Team Matilda was hit by the first … of what turned out to be three … mechanicals when the “old gal” noticed my pedals were out of alignment. With my dynamic crew frozen by panic, John stepped in to quickly remove the front chain, pedals reset, and we were good to go.

Half way up the climb the “old git’s” saddle clamp needed tightening as it had slipped to an unrideable angle. That problem was easily solved by the “old gal” and a trusty allen key! After two mechanicals my crew wondered if there was to be a third – but we arrived at Beacon Hill without further mishap to enjoy magnificent views over the city of Birmingham in gorgeous warm sunshine.

After much puffing and panting pedalling up to an elevation of nearly 1000 feet, the “old gal” was happy to have a rest at the highest point – Toposcope Fort which was restored in 1988 to celebrate the centenary of the surrounding country park. Meanwhile John and Jane hardly broke sweat pedalling on their amazing e-assist bright green recumbent Pino tandem – suitable named Polly!

The “old gal” having a breather in the sunshine at Toposcope Fort at Beacon Hill.

The viewpoint from Beacon Hill offered a marvelous location for the first Nutty Tandemers signature prosecco toast of the tour! As always the pop of the prosecco cork attracts interest from fellow park visitors and one kind lady offered to take some photos of all four of us to mark the occasion!

The first signature prosecco toast for the Nutty Tandemers club on Beacon Hill.

Prosecco selfie – the Nutty Tandemers enjoying the first fizz of the 2020 Tour!

It was the ideal spot for a photo shoot, which resulted in selfies galore and some arty shots, around a perfectly situated bench, for the annual Nutty Tandemers calendar!

Arty calendar shot of the “old gal” and Jane admiring the vista from Beacon Hill.

Captain’s toast! The “old git” and John say cheers to the 2020 Tour!

After some much needed catching up on news – and a refreshingly cool glass of fizz – it was time to head home. And it was a wonderful tandem as it was almost all downhill – tho there were a couple of photo stops for my dynamic crew as we passed some interesting and amusing road signs to the village of Lickey and also Twatling Road – which seemed highly appropriate for the “old git”!

The “old gal” playing up to some villages having rather strange and amusing names!

Not sure why the “old gal” said to caption this photo – “no caption necessary – the picture tells it all!”

Then about three miles from home the third mechanical hit when I suffered a P-word on my back tyre. It was an instantaneous loud pop and total deflate. Now I have a drum brake which hinders the removal of my wheel but John kept my crew calm and helped in getting my inner tube quickly replaced to get us back on the road.

When we finally were safely back at John and Jane’s home base, the “old git” checked Strava which officially showed the Nutty Tandemers tandemed a distance of 15.6 miles with a moving time of 1 hour 30 minutes. The average speed was 10.4 mph while the elevation was 1141 feet. The maximum speed was 28.9 mph and Team Matilda managed to burn up 1283 calories and produce an average power output of 213 W.

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

The first day of the Tour ended with a hearty and tasty upside-down pizza meal created by Jane. A great start to the Tour with great tandeming friends… with the usual level of nuttiness on bicycles made for two! My dynamic crew are just hoping that they have used up all their three doses of mechanical bad luck on day 1!

NTC 2020 Day 2 – I shot the sheriff … before he got Lench(ed)! … on a tandem Tour of the Lenches

Day 2 of the Nutty Tandemers Club 2020 Tour de Worcestershire and Warwickshire saw my dynamic crew embark on a ride entitled: “I shot the Sheriff … before he got Lench(ed) on a #tandem pedal round the Lenches!” You can check out the details of our route by clicking on the Strava map below.

Monday morning and our fantastically hospitable hosts Jane and John had planned a route heading south and expertly guided us around a series of scenic villages known as The Lenches – and even made sure there was brilliant warm September sunshine for the Nutty Tandemers to enjoy!

The day’s pedal started with a photo stop at the picturesque wharf at the Worcester and Birmingham Canal, just a couple of miles from base.

John Jane and the “old gal” at the wharf on the Worcester and Birmingham Canal.

Polly, the bright green recumbent Pino tandem – with me – in the sun at the wharf.

Next today’s tour provided some marvelous tandeming thru a network of beautiful quiet lanes. The first of the villages was Rous Lench with its traditional English village green.  There was quite a steep climb out of Rous Lench – with some beautiful high hedges and castle like topiary at The Court to take my dynamic crew’s mind off the climbing – on the way to the next village of Church Lench.

The “old git” and the “old gal” at the traditional village green in Rous Lench.

Phew that was a steep climb! The scenic road out of Rous Lench to Church Lench.

The next hamlet was Atch Lench which offered a stop for a comfort break – and also some views over the rolling farmlands, before the tandem crews decided it was time for the signature prosecco picnic and found a lovely sun-kissed spot at the side of a field of ready-to-be-harvested corn!

Having a rest near Atch Lench while the crew’s had a necessary comfort stop!

A gate into a corn field provided the ideal spot for a Nutty Tandemers 2020 Tour logo photo.

Premature prosecco eruption! The cork bursting out the bottle caught my crew by surprise!

Cheers! My dynamic crew toasting another great day of nutty fun on bicycles made for two!.

Refreshed and re-fuelled the Nutty Tandemers pedalled on to Sheriffs Lench – which gave the ride its convoluted title! This was too good an an opportunity for the “old git” to miss a photo opportunity at the sign to the village – complete with imaginary gun!

The “old git” pretending he was shooting the Sheriff – before he got Lench(ed)!

Sheriff’s Lench is so-called because it was held, from 1077, by Urse d’ Abitot, the Sheriff of Worcestershire, and subsequently by his heirs the Beauchamp family, who inherited the office of Sheriff. So now you know!

We pedalled on to complete a wonderful loop taking us past Vale Golf and Country Club and thru Bishampton before starting to re-join the initial route at Bradley Green. Next stop was the wonderfully named area of Bentley Pauncefoot – which again provided the ideal location for a nutty photo for the “old git” putting on his best poncey look, ideal in his pink cycling top!

The rural area of Bentley Pauncefoot saw the “old git” put on his best poncey look!

John – who was admirably in charge of finding suitable watering holes – came up trumps on the way home with a welcome re-hydrating pit stop at The Tardebigge for some cool drinks!

With temperatures rising to near 30C – the last few hilly miles were completed at a sedate pace in the Indian Summer heat, before the tandem crews enjoyed some ice cold grapefruit gin cocktails in John and Jane’s beautifully designed garden – which has two patios to enjoy the sun at any hour of the day!

A reflective moment for the Nutty Tandemers back in the sanctuary of John and Janes garden!

While supping the gin, the “old git” checked Strava which officially showed the tandem teams pedalled a distance of 42.9 miles with a moving time of 3 hours 46 minutes. The average speed was 11.4 mph while the elevation was a lumpy 2421 feet. The maximum speed was 36.2 mph and Team Matilda managed to burn up 2893 calories and produce an average power output of 197 W.

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

Jane again came up trumps with a wonderful re-energising and nutritious meal of fish cakes and salad followed by some yummy key lime pie – before the tandem crews watched the highlights of Le Tour de France on television. All in all another wonderful day on the Nutty Tandemers Club 2020 Tour.

NTC 2020 Day 3 – Duke of Earlswood in tandem for prosecco picnic, Tanworth in Arden and Alvechurch Marina

Day 3 of the Nutty Tandemers Club 2020 Tour de Worcestershire and Warwickshire saw my dynamic crew enjoying a ride called: “Duke of Earlswood for prosecco picnic plus Tanworth in Arden and Alvechurch Marina.” Check out the details of our route by clicking on the Strava map below.

Tuesday and our super fellow founding members of the self-proclaimed Nutty Tandemers Club, Jane and John, had again researched a superb tandem ride heading north east around some fantastic countryside in Worcestershire.

The sun was already splitting the sky as the tandem crews headed off on a lovely ride along rolling lanes to the town of Tanworth in Arden – where right in the centre proudly stands the beautiful St Mary Magdalene church which dates back to medieval times. The Nutty Tandemers spent some time exploring the churchyard and had some suitably nutty pictures looking up at the massive trees.

Admiring the trees in the churchyard.

Jane and the “old gal” take in the view looking up into the tall trees.

Pedalling on – a perfect stop had been identified for the signature Nutty Tandemers prosecco picnic which was very welcome as the temperature rose. The venue was Earlswood Lakes – which is a wonderful natural wildlife haven area which is actually made up of three 22 acre reservoirs and looked after by the  Canal and River Trust.

Captain’s pose! The “old git” and John enjoying the sun at Earlswood Lakes.

The “old gal” taking in the scenery and spotting the ducks at the natural wildlife haven.

Stokers’s united! Jane and the “old gal” at Earlswood Lakes run by the Canal and River Trust.

After lunch the route took us to a shady coffee stop near Wood End then on to the town of Alvechurch and the Alvechurch Marina – situated on the Worcester and Birmingham canal – where both tandem crews admired the canal boats.

The Marina hosts the Weighbridge Pub – that was once the old canal side weighbridge office for offloading coal barges to horse and cart for local deliveries. It has a wonderful beer garden and stocks unique beers and ciders. Naturally the Nutty Tandemers had to sample some of the offerings – and certainly gave it pass marks. Whether it was the effects of the drinks or not, mixed with the very warm sun, but there was some talk about perhaps hiring a canal boat in the future for a relaxing holiday along the canals at a very sedate pace!

The Nutty Tandemers and bikes lined up by the canal at Alvechurch Marina.

Selfie time for the tandem crews beside the canal boats at the scenic marina.

The “old git” admiring the canal boats – there was even talk of hiring one in the future!

A studious pose from the “old gal” and “old git” reflecting in John’s sunglasses!

The only downside – which was actually very much an upside – was that the steepest climb of the day was situated just as the tandem crews left the pub. But the “old git” and “old gal” slowly ground out the climb – which peaked at just over 10% – and celebrated getting to the top! Just at that stage it seemed appropriate that the “old git” and “old gal” were wearing yellow Tour de France winners jerseys!

My dynamic crew celebrating grinding out the steep climb with a smile!

Not surprisingly cooling drinks and chilling in the garden were the order of the day on return to the Nutty Tandemers base. The “old git” checked Strava which officially showed the tandem teams pedalled a distance of 28.3 miles with a moving time of 2 hours 38 minutes. The average speed was 10.7 mph while the elevation was a lumpy 1729 feet. The maximum speed was 40.5 mph and Team Matilda managed to burn up 2173 calories and produce an average power output of 205 W.

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

An energy replenishing tasty dinner of cod with a pesto crust and a tasty Mediterranean marinated salad revived the crews who all agreed that this was another fabulous day on bicycles made for two – emphasising just what the joy of tandeming is all about.

NTC 2020 Day 4 – “To be, or not to be” tandeming to Stratford-upon-Avon via Sambourne, Alcester and Wilmcote

Day 4 of the Nutty Tandemers Club 2020 Tour de Worcestershire and Warwickshire saw my dynamic crew embark on a ride called: “To be, or not to be … tandeming to Stratford-upon-Avon via Sambourne, Alcester and Wilmcote.” Check out the route by clicking on the Strava map below.

Wednesday dawned to another superbly sunny day and the Nutty Tandemers Club schedule today was a pedal for an overnight mini break stay in the William Shakespeare city of Stratford-upon-Avon.

My front panniers – packed with overnight essentials – were attached to my front carrier shelf and we were off. Once again John and Jane had researched a fabulous route heading in a south east direction along some more quiet lanes which were just perfect for tandeming.

The first stop today on our pedal as we entered the neighbouring county to Worcestershire of Warwickshire was the very English village of Sambourne – complete with its traditional village green which provided the backdrop for the first photo stop of the day.

The “old gal” enjoying the views at the typically English village of Sambourne.

John and Jane (and Polly) at the old signpost pointing out our next route destinations.

Next we encountered a ford at Coughton but instead of getting the tandem wheels wet pedalling across the slippy surface – which would more than likely have ended with a de-mount – we used the handily placed bridge to cross the river.

Jane with the “old git” and “old gal” on the bridge at the ford at Coughton.

A breather for my dynamic crew in the warm sun on the bridge at the ford.

I made an acquaintance with some overly friendly cows  at our next detour – to see the amazing 14th century Kinwarton Dovecote now owned by The National Trust.

I met some overly friendly cows at the 14th Century Kinwarton Dovecote!

Onwards for a welcome coffee stop in the beautiful Roman market town of Alcester, with time to explore the Tudor architecture and the grounds of the St Nicholas Church with its 14th Century tower.

St Nicholas Church with its 14th Century tower.

The “old gal” exploring the superb Tudor architecture of Alcester.

Refreshed the tandem crews headed next to Wilmcote to see Mary Arden’s Farm – home of Shakespeare’s mother – where the “old git” and “old gal” took some more photos.

Mary Arden’s Farm in Wilmcote offered a perfect photo opportunity for my dynamic crew.

A close-up shot showing the “old gal” and “old git” in their AG2R La Mondiale cycling jerseys.

The “old gal” pointing out just how small the windows of the farmhouse were.

The tandem crews had hoped to pedal the scenic way into Stratford by tandeming along the tow paths of the Stratford-upon-Avon canal but sadly were thwarted by kissing gates which stopped us gaining access. So a slight detour brought us into the city with a stop for some lunch at the aptly named Pen and Parchment pub.

Time for reflection! The “old git” reflected in the “old gal’s” sunglasses

After lunch we crossed the canal basin area and a bridge over the River Avon to check-in to our superbly centrally located and luxurious Croft Guest House – with a secure garden to lock up the tandems for the night.

At the guest house there was the Nutty Tandemers signature prosecco toast – well we had to fit the obligatory bottle in some where! – while the “old git” checked Strava which officially showed the tandem teams pedalled a distance of 24.6 miles with a moving time of 2 hours 23 minutes. The average speed was 10.3 mph while the elevation was 1059 feet. The maximum speed was 27.3 mph and Team Matilda managed to burn up 1578 calories and produce an average power output of 165 W.

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

There was plenty of time to explore the historic centre around the canal basin before jane suggested a visit to the fascinating Tudor World Museum. Set within an historic 16th century building the Nutty Tandemers discovered what life was really like during the time of William Shakespeare, Francis Drake, Elizabeth I and Henry VIII.

There was some fun for the “old gal” when she took part in the Witches Trial where amazingly the answers to the quiz gave the verdict that she was indeed a witch (who knew?!!) while the “old git” found himself incarcerated in the stocks and had to plead to Jane get out! But only after he promised to be a good Captain!

The “old gal” took the Witches Trial only to discover she was in fact a witch!

The “old git” in the stocks at the Tudor World Museum – he had to plead to get out!

There were a couple of stops for cooling cocktails during the meander on foot, before a hearty evening meal at Cox’s Yard – including one of the biggest burgers my dynamic crew have ever tried to eat! (They failed to complete the task!) Somewhat tired the crews then retired for the night after another brilliant day of nuttiness on tour.

NTC 2020 Day 5 – Tandeming with Young Will or Will Young … that is the question … on ride from Stratford thru Thereabouts!

Day 5 of the Nutty Tandemers Club 2020 Tour de Worcestershire and Warwickshire saw my dynamic crew enjoying a ride called: “Tandeming with Young Will or Will Young … that is the question … on ride back from Stratford thru Whereabouts!” Check out the route by clicking on the Strava map below.

Thursday produced another sun-kissed day and the Nutty Tandemers Club schedule today was a scenic pedal back to Redditch from the overnight mini break stay in Stratford-upon-Avon. Both tandem crews were wonderfully rested after a sleep in the luxurious Croft Guest House and were fuelled for the day ahead with a hearty home cooked breakfast.

The day started with a photo shoot in the William Shakespeare city of Stratford-upon-Avon – where my crew posed with Young Will … tho for some reason that the “old git” claimed he couldn’t comprehend, the “old gal” said she wished it had been Will Young!

Photo with Young Will (Shakespeare) in Stratford tho the “old gal” wished it was Will Young!

The big wheel had been planned for a visit last night – but had shut before the tandem crews got there. But it provided a nice backdrop for an arty sunny photo. Then there was more photos for the tandem crews taking in the views at the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal basin.

An arty shot of the big wheel at Stratford showing the strength of the sun’s morning rays!

Amazing clear blue skies for John and Jane at the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal basin.

The blue of the sky neatly matched the blue on my dynamic crew’s AG2R pro jerseys!

Pedalling out of Stratford, today’s route covering numerous rural quiet lanes – just perfect for tandeming. The first port of call was Welford-on-Avon to see the UK’s tallest maypole at 65 feet.

Me at the 65 feet high maypole at Welford-on-Avon

Each village the Nutty Tandemers pedalled thru seemed even more beautiful than the last – including the hamlet of Barton.

Me posing beside a beautiful thatched cottage complete with postbox in the hamlet of Barton.

Lunch stop today was at the attractive Hilliers Farm Shop at Dunnington – where the “old git” couldn’t resist indulging in the blue cheese and mushroom pizza in the outdoor restaurant, even tho he could only manage to eat about half of it! Ever resourceful Jane bundled the remainder up in a goody bag to be re-heated over post ride drinks later!

Next stop was the tiny chocolate box picture perfect Abbots Morton – with numerous thatched cottages – which offered the ideal backdrop for another photo shoot for the tandem crews!

The four Nutty Tandemers at the chocolate box picture perfect village of Abbots Morton.

The “old git! taking in the old and the new at picturesque Abbots Morton.

Thumbs up from the “old git” and “old gal” ready to pedal on from Abbots Morton.

Today’s Nutty Tandemers Club signature prosecco was a great stop at some picnic benches at the side of the road near Inkberrow, with our fizz antics causing some amusement and friendly toots on the horn from passing drivers! There was the obligatory prosecco toast photo – plus another Nutty Tandemers tradition of taking a see no evil; hear no evil; speak no evil Three Wise Monkeys picture … which this year obviously had to have a Covid-19 theme complete with masks covering the eyes, ears and mouth respectively! This tradition started back on the first Tour in 2016 and has been a feature of the annual Nutty Tandemers calendar each year since!

Cheers! The Nutty Tandemers having fun on their signature prosecco toast near Inkberrow.

The 2020 Covid-19 themed See no evil; hear no evil; speak no evil Three Wise Monkeys photo!

Refreshed from the fizz, we pedalled on for at least a whole mile before John called a stop for a small libation at the beautiful Old Bull at Inkberrow – where Shakespeare reputedly held his stag night. The Old Bull’s other claim to fame is that it was the inspiration for the pub in the famous BBC Radio soap The Archers as the village of Inkberrow is said to have been the model for Ambridge, the fictional setting for the long running programme.

A small libation in the heat at The Old Bull – reputedly visited by Shakespeare on his stag night!

Jane reflecting on the fact that the Old Bull is said to be the inspiration for the pub in The Archers.

The “old gal” and “old gal” inside the historic Old Bull – photobombed by the owner!

The tandem crews decided that two drinks were required – just to let the heat disappear a bit from the baking sun! – before the final stages of the warm route home meandering thru the local lanes took us to the the wonderfully named Thereabouts!

Would you believe – there is actually a place called Thereabouts!

A last pedal thru Feckenham, before the final climb of the day for the “old git” and “old gal”. They did find that one a bit energy-sapping – but firmly rejected any suggestions it was down to the drinks stops and insisted it was down to the heat!

My crew looking slightly less than dynamic after the last climb! It was the heat!!!

Back at Nutty Tandemers Club base camp, as the sun beat down on the ‘Scottish Quadrant’ – a lovely patio complete with blue and white saltire flags to make my dynamic crew feel at home – the “old git” checked Strava which officially showed the tandem teams pedalled a distance of 29.8 miles with a moving time of 3 hours 08 minutes. The average speed was 9.5 mph while the elevation was a lumpy 1521 feet. The maximum speed was 33.1 mph and Team Matilda managed to burn up 2388 calories and produce an average power output of 189 W.

Amazingly Strava awarded Team Matilda gongs for two different sectors for being “3rd fastest in the world” and “4th fastest in the world”! I may be old – but I am still fast! Click on today’s Strava map above for more details! It is a bit bonkers, but it all adds to the fun!

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

Jane again tempted the crews taste buds and hunger levels with a tasty meal of sausage and tomato hotpot served on pasta – before relaxing with some wine and viewing the highlights of Le Tour de France on television brought to an end another special day on the Nutty Tandemers Club 2020 Tour with great tandeming friends, emphasising just what the joy of tandeming is all about!

NTC 2020 Day 6 – Tandeming to lunch at Galton Arms in Himbleton and the final signature prosecco toast!

Day 6 – and sadly the final day – of the Nutty Tandemers Club 2020 Tour de Worcestershire and Warwickshire saw my dynamic crew embark on a ride called: “Tandeming to lunch at the Galton Arms in Himbleton and the final signature prosecco picnic!”

Now as you know John and Jane have been enjoying a new lease of tandeming life – flying up hills – on their new bright green e-assist Pino tandem, appropriately called Polly! It would have to be said that the “old gal” was somewhat envious of the helpful kick that the battery assist provided. So before the tandem crews headed out on the Friday itinerary, John offered the “old gal” a shot as Stoker on Polly – which she gratefully accepted!

The “old gal” enjoying a shot as Stoker with John on Polly – the e-assist Pino!

As you can see by clicking on the video clip below, the “old gal” was certainly impressed!

After deciding that an e-assist tandem is certainly on the list for a purchase in the future it was time for my dynamic crew to be expertly led round some final scenic rural lanes south west from Redditch, the base of our fantastically hospitable hosts Jane and John. Check out the details of our route by clicking on the Strava map below.

And yet again, the tandems crews were bathed in bright sunshine as we pedalled off – underlining just how fortunate the Nutty Tandemers Tour had been with the weather this year.

After the “old gal’s” envy-inducing test stoking on the e-assist tandem, John and Jane decided to leave Polly in their garage and chose my old friend Siggy (who I built up a real rapport with on the Hebridean way last year – including a memorable night locked in a bedroom of a Stornoway hotel!) as their tandem of choice today.

More great views from the quiet rural lanes, many of which appear on the Sustrans National Cycle Network, including a quick picture at the Worcester and Birmingham canal wharf of a suitable Scottish named canal narrow boat.

Posing beside a suitably Scottish named narrow boat on the Worcester and Birmingham canal.

Next was a stop at the fabulous Jinney Ring Craft Centre for a quick spot of retail therapy. The “old git” and “old gal” watched a glassblower at work before buying a couple of garden ornaments – a snowdrop and a robin. And the “old gal” popped into a fascinating leather crafter called Paige Elizabeth and very kindly bought me a stylish mini gin flask to clip onto one of my panniers … for emergency supplies (obviously!)

he “old gal” got me a stylish leather mini gin flask – for emergency supplies, obviously!

Pedalling on we tandemed along the wonderfully named Loggerheads Lane – which provided an unmissable photo opportunity. I mean is there really any tandem crew who has never been at loggerheads with each other?!

Who said the tandemers were always at loggerheads with each other?!

Lunch stop today was the attractive 14th Century pub called The Galton Arms at Himbleton where the tandem crews enjoyed an outdoor lunch of tasty baguette sandwiches. Suitably re-fuelled (and re-freshed!) the tandem crews then had a wander round the beautiful St Mary Magdalene’s Church which dates back to Norman times.

The pretty St Mary Magdalen’s Church at Himbleton which dates back to Norman times.

Today’s Nutty Tandemers Club signature prosecco toast and fun photo frolics was at a perfect picnic stop by the river at Shell Ford. It offered a wonderful backdrop for the final alfressco fizz toast of the 2020 Tour. I think it was maybe because the end was in sight but today’s photos seemed to be the nuttiest of the week! Naturally there was another set-piece photo of two tandem crew’s in a salute – for the annual Nutty Tandemers Club calendar. All great fun!

Another set piece photo – the salute – for the annual Nutty Tandemers Club calendar!

Cheers! Another Nutty Tandemers Club signature prosecco toast at Shell Ford.

John and Jane practice their balancing skills on a branch across the river creek.

The “old git” and “old gal” posing on the bridge at Shell Ford.

The photos were at their most nuttiness to mark the end of the Tour. Spot Jane with prosecco bottle!

In the final miles there was one last lumpy hill climb – which Jane videoed just to prove the “old gal” and “old git” could make it to the top – which they did! Click on the image below to watch the video.

Back at Nutty Tandemers Club base camp, over pre-dinner refreshments, the “old git” checked Strava which officially showed the tandem teams pedalled a distance of 30.3 miles with a moving time of 2 hours 45 minutes. The average speed was 11.0 mph while the elevation was 1065 feet. The maximum speed was 32.0 mph and Team Matilda managed to burn up 2098 calories and produce an average power output of 189 W.

Because we had repeated quite a few sectors over the week, Strava that Team Matilda was worthy of a total of 24 gongs – made up of a pleasing 10 personal bests, and 8 second bests.

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

The total for the week long NTC 2020 Tour de Worcestershire and Warwickshire was just over 170 miles – 171.4 miles to be exact, with a total elevation of a not insubstantial 9586 feet.

The end of the week was suitably marked with a celebration dinner at the Red Lion in nearby Alvechurch hosted by the “old gal” and the “old git” to say a huge thanks to John and Jane.

This included the now traditional Nutty Tandemers Club “prizegiving” – with John receiving the award for rising above and beyond the call of duty to keep my dynamic crew calm during the mechanicals; while Jane received the award for keeping the tandem crews nutrition levels well topped up! And naturally the only way to celebrate was with the final prosecco toast of the tour!

In conclusion, on behalf of Team Matilda, it was a real pleasure to share every moment of the fantastic scenery and uphills and downhills of their local Worcestershire and Warwickshire area with Team Travelling in Tandem. It was a true privilege for the “old git” and “old gal” to be with John and Jane on another memorable and epic Tour – where they more than lived up to being fellow Nutty Tandemers and once again proved they are real kindred spirits to my dynamic crew!

It really was an utterly fabulous week – with some unexpectedly super weather – resulting in a great experience where you can honestly say that tandeming just doesn’t get much better than this! Delighted that we have created lots of new nutty images for the memory bank … and of course the annual calendar!

And Team Matilda can’t wait for the next Nutty Tandemers Tour next year in 2021! So many thanks John and Jane for your wonderful hospitality – you couldn’t have been more welcoming!

As a little tribute to the fabulous 2020 Nutty Tandemers Club Tour the “old git” has pulled together a photo montage video – set to music – to help everyone remember the fun and nuttiness we all enjoyed – so click below and sit back and relax and enjoy!

Finally, thanks to all of you for reading this special edition of my blog, focusing on the Nutty Tandemers Club 2020 Tour. If this is your first time, remember if you want to know more about Matildas Musings – the UK’s only blogging tandem – then click the follow button on this webpage to sign up for regular updates!

Till our next adventure on a bicycle made for two!

Team Matilda introduces fellow Nutty Tandemers Club members John & Jane to delights of ‘overseas’ trip to ‘Costa del Millport’!

Selfie time for the Nutty Tandemers on the beach looking over to Bute.

This is a post about a truly epic day in #tandem as my dynamic crew introduces fellow founding (and only!) members of the self-proclaimed and highly exclusive Nutty Tandemers Club to the delights of an “overseas” trip to ‘Costa del Millport

Jane Termini Taylor and John Taylor, who have their own Travelling In Tandem blog, have the same nutty attitude to tandeming as the “old git” and “old gal” – so what better place to go for a day tour than Millport, Isle of Cumbrae?!

Jane and John on their e-assist bright green Pino tandem – suitable named Polly!

The island – officially known as The Isle of Cumbrae – is a cyclists paradise offering a gently undulating 10 mile loop on almost traffic free roads never more than a few yards from the sea.

We even managed to chase away the early showers and the sun came out to play to show our English-based visitors Cumbrae at its glorious and stunningly beautiful best! They are now converts and fully agree with the slogan: “Millport – in a world of its own!”

You can check out the details of our route by clicking on the Strava map below.

Our day started with the early 10 minute CalMac Ferries trip from the mainland at Largs and a quick pedal into town for a welcome yummy strong morning coffee at Crocodeli Millport.

Lap one was a clockwise slow dawdle in the unwelcome rain – but provided a good opportunity to highlight the many attractions including Indian Rock and Lion Rock. Back in town naturally there was a photo stop at the iconic Crocodile Rock.

The self proclaimed Nutty Tandemers Club at the iconic Crocodile Rock on Millport.

The “old git” and “old gal” enjoying a fabulous view from Millport across to Arran

Team Matilda pictured while having a photo taken near Crocodile Rock

Lap two and the tandem crews headed anti-clockwise to our fabulous “table for four with a view” overlooking the beach and over to Rothesay, situated just before Fintry Bay.

Naturally this was the site for one of the Nutty Tandemers signature prosecco picnics – which caused a bit of interest with passers by. One kind lady stopped from her walking circuit and offered to take pictures, asking what was the nature of our fizzy celebration? She was a bit bemused and just laughed when the reply was: “There isn’t one other than its Sunday! Do you need another reason for prosecco?!”

The four Nutty Tandemers enjoying a signature prosecco picnic toast!

The chilled prosecco – which had been carried on my trendy and eye-catching La Bouclée wine carrier – provided the basis for a highly memorable alfresco picnic.

Re-fuelled – and after a walk on the beach – the tandem teams completed that lap with an enjoyable stop for afternoon coffee and a sampling of the simply divine home made chocolates at Brewbaker Millport cafe and chocolate shop.

Ahoy there! Jane and John looking out to sea to glimpse the many boats enjoying a sail.

To burn off some calories the tandem crews then embarked on a pedal on the hilly Inner Circle with its two Category Four climbs. Let’s just say this was somewhat easier for John and Jane on their e-assist bright green Pino tandem – suitably called Polly! My dynamic crew were admittedly a bit slower going up!

My dynamic crew in EF Pro Cycling jerseys just after the hilly climb on the Inner Circle route!

The Nutty Tandemers stopped for another fun photo opportunity at the viewpoint which has a magnificent vista over the whole island. The heather at the viewpoint was at its best and provided a truly halcyon aroma to the photographic frolics which saw the “old gal decide she would pose for a shot on the front – just to see if anyone could spot what was “wrong” or “different” about the picture!

Spot what’s “wrong” with this photo! Answers on a postcard …. (Clue – who is on the front!)

The “old git” trying to merge in with the fabulous aromatic purple heather.

Jane with the “old gal” at the viewpoint on the hilly Inner Circle route.

The “old git” and “old gal” posing with their Tour de France EF Pro Cycling jerseys!

But amazingly Strava showed that on the descent, to my absolute delight as an “old lady” tandem, that Team Matilda was awarded gongs for two different sectors for being “9th fastest in the world” and “10th fastest in the world”! I may be old – but I am still fast!

Team Matilda heading downhill to record a 9th fastest in the world Strava gong!

The “old gal” said it must be something to do with my dynamic crew’s weight and the resulting momentum downhill! The “old git” said it was the fact that he rarely uses brakes on steep drops which always brings screams from my back seat from the “old gal” who is a bit of a scardey-cat Stoker! But that is all part of the fun!

After re-grouping back in town the crews decided on a final clockwise “speed lap”! There was an epic fail for my dynamic crew here tho as they failed to break their own lap record by just FIVE seconds! Back in April 2018 they recorded a time of 38 minutes dead, but today’s time was 38 mins and 5 seconds much to the chagrin of the “old git” who was really going for it and very keen to break Team Matilda’s existing record! He blames having to slow down for people wandering onto the road as they came down the main street in the town!

Next up was an amazing – and highly recommended – Gin High Tea at Round Island Cafe which my dynamic crew decided would be a fitting way to eat for the Nutty Tandemers!

A great way to end a Nutty Tandemers ride with the fab Gin High Tea at the Round Island Cafe

And it most certainly was! Great fun with the gin cocktails poured from a traditional china teapot and drunk from cup and saucers! And mine host Cindy provided an amazing and tasty array of savoury bites, scones and cream, and cakes and sweet treats! And great value too!

Then it was time for the final few miles pedal back to the slipway and the ferry back to Largs before a final extra mile or so along the promenade to The Pencil monument for Jane and John to record an answer to a British Cycle Quest (BCQ) clue.

Back to the cars and fond farewells. But the good news is that Team Matilda and Team Travelling in Tandem are meeting up for a week long Nutty Tandemers Club tour in John and Jane’s home territory of Redditch in Worcestershire, which will be fabulous!

Back at Matilda’s Rest, the “old git” checked Strava which officially recorded the ride as being worthy of a total of 15 gongs – made up of 7 personal bests, 7 second bests; and 1 third best times.

The detailed Strava figures showed my dynamic crew tandemed a distance of 46.15 miles with a moving time of 3 hours 42 minutes. The average speed was a healthy 12.5 mph while the elevation was 854 feet. The maximum speed was 33.3 mph and Team Matilda managed to burn up 2,071 calories and produce an average power output of 139 W.

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

As a little tribute to the fabulous Nutty Tandemers Club Tour de Costa del Millport the “old git” has pulled together a photo montage video – set to music – to help everyone remember the fun and nuttiness we all enjoyed – so click below and enjoy!

All together a truly sensational Nutty Tandemers Club day out on Millport on bicycles made for two!

Hope you enjoyed the fun and our pictures! And if you did please leave a comment as it’s always good to hear from readers of my blog.

Road-testing the new Tighnavon Glamping Pods enterprise at wilderness Loch Rannoch

Team Matilda ready to road-test the new Tighnavon Glamping Pods venture at Kinloch Rannoch.

Day 1 – Spectacular Friday arriving at Tighnavon Glamping Pods with sunset experience!

Great excitement at Matildas Rest! It was Friday and the start of Team Matilda’s annual holidays and we had been invited to road-test a new development of glamping pods – specifically targetted at cyclists and outdoor types! And the fact that the luxury en-suite pods are based on the edge of wilderness Loch Rannoch – one of my crew’s favourite spots on earth – made it even more magical.

With Matilda Transport packed we headed off to Kinloch Rannoch in Highland Perthshire for our back to nature weekend of relaxation and tandeming – is there a better way to spend a romantic break?!

The Tighnavon Glamping Pods venture has only been open for three months and aims to provide a grown up version of camping – without having to put your tent up – for people who like their creature comforts but still want to get away from it all and re-connect with nature. Just perfect for my dynamic crew who don’t do camping under canvas under any circumstances!

The Tighnavon Glamping Pods are ideally situated in the village of Kinloch Rannoch.

The new tourism business of four wooden cabins, which sleep up to four people, are ideally situated nestling in some of Scotland’s most atmospheric and picturesque scenery to attract cyclists – as well as walkers and fishermen – who don’t want to be tied to a full week’s accommodation in one place.

Team Matilda was staying in the pod called Stag and although it may look bijou from the outside, my dynamic crew found it like a tardis inside – complete with everything they could need, including a nice touch of the bed already made up! And as the “old gal” quickly found a choice of sockets to plug in her hairdryer she said: “Glamping is clearly my kind of camping!”

As the Tighnavon Glamping Pods website says: “Our pods are equipped to a high standard – each has a double bed and a fold down double sofa bed and can comfortably sleep up to four people. There is a fully accessible wet-room with overhead shower and a small kitchenette equipped with kettle, toaster, microwave, twin hob, mini oven and fridge. Bedding, crockery, and pans are all provided – even tea, coffee and biscuits!” All you are asked to bring is your own towels.

A nice touch on arrival at the pods is that the bed already made up!

The pods are amazingly good value – and the prices refreshingly don’t change with the seasons. Each pod is priced at only £50 a night Sunday to Thursday and £80 on a Friday and Saturday night. There is a minimum stay of 2 nights and no additional costs for electricity or dogs.

Everything about the pods reflects the aim of the glamping concept providing a comfy and dry home-from-home experience – but still with that feeling of being out in the country!

There’s lots more about the “old gal” and “old git’s” experience of glamping later in this blog – including a walk-thru video of the facilities on offer and a video chat with the ultra friendly and hospitable co-owners Ian Philp and Sheona Glenville-Sutherland about “fulfilling their dream” and opening the pods.

The luxury en-suite pods offer a really comfy home-from-home experience!

The plan was for an early evening tandem ride around Loch Rannoch – hopefully timing it to arrive back at the beach at the top of the loch for a prosecco toast to enjoy the sunset. As my dynamic crew had arrived at the pods in good time they firstly explored the village of Kinloch Rannoch – firstly calling in to the friendly Riverbank Cafe to enjoy yummy home-made cake and coffee.

Next the “old gal” and “old git” were attracted to a sign for The Shed Gallery based in the Old Smiddy just off the village square which houses the modern gallery and workspace of photographer Ian Biggs. Ian’s stunning work draws its inspiration from the dynamic and evocative landscape of the Rannoch glen. Finally the Country Store and Post Office offered the chance for Team Matilda to stock up with a few last minute provisions from their impressive range for a village shop.

Tighnavon Ride 1 – Once in a lifetime spectacular sunset Loch Rannoch Loop

The “old gal” looking relaxing in the sunshine before our Loch Rannoch loop!

It was time to get my pedals moving and amazingly for late September the sun was beating down and my dynamic crew were really looking forward to a loop round the sun-kissed loch. You can check out the details of our route by clicking on the Strava map below.

Leaving the pods behind we set off thru the village square and headed down the north side of the loch on the B846. It is an area Team Matilda know well and the route is mostly gently undulating – and given the absence of any noticeable wind it was a true joy to be out tandeming.

The “old gal” decided a quick stop was required at the wild camping area about a third of the way down the loch – which offers a perfect viewpoint for pictures with the majesty of the perfectly conical shape of Schiehallion – one of Scotland’s most recognisable mountains – in the background. This area provides easy access to a small rocky beach area, and the loch which was looking stunning with the blue sky creating a deep blue colour on the water.

Rock with a sun-kissed view! The “old gal” with the iconic Schiehallion behind her!

You simply wouldn’t think it was September with these shades of blue!

Naturally there had to be a Team Matilda selfie! – showing the conical shape of Schiehallion.

Me and the “old gal” enjoying the rays of the sun at the wild camping site on the north side of the loch.

On we pedalled with the “old git” and “old gal” exhilarated by their progress down the loch. It was all too easy and then, just after Killichonan, we hit the steep hill at the saw mill! Let’s just say both my dynamic crew were breathing somewhat rapidly when we got to the top.

The reward is a rapid downhill to Bridge of Gaur, turning left at the end of the loch before crossing the bridge over the River Gaur. Next up was a steady – but more manageable – steep uphill climb for about half a mile. But the climb is worth it with views across the whole length and breadth of the loch.

The folly on a small island in Loch Rannoch dates from the 19th century.

A point of interest is Eilean Nam Faoileag – a small island which was occupied from the middle of the 15th century until the middle of the 17th century and now is home to a tower which is a 19th-century folly. You also can’t miss the impressive Rannoch Power Station – part of the Tummel Valley hydro scheme – on the opposite bank which has been in operation since 1930.

The route on the quieter south side of the loch is amazingly scenic – even more so than the (slightly) busier north shore road. The B-class single track road never seems to be more than a couple of yards from the loch itself and there is always lots to catch the eye.

This “old lady” was happy that we were whizzing along as it is always good to get a bit of speed going. Then one of our regular stops at an iconic tree which offers a fabulous view right up the loch.

The “old gal” at one of our regular stops on the south side at a tree with a view right up the loch.

This tree always brings a hearty laugh from the “old gal” as it was the place for an amusing photo where the “old git” didn’t realise that the “old gal” was taking the mickey and misbehaving by sticking her tongue out when he was adopting his serious tandemer pose for a team selfie! Ironically it turned out to be one of my dynamic crew’s best ever photos as it completely sums up what a Team Matilda adventure on a bicycle made for two is all about! No words are needed!

What happens when my Stoker takes the mickey when my Captain adopts his serious photo mode!

The wilderness factor was underlined as the narrow road winds its way through the magical Black Wood of Rannoch – more detail of which can be found in Sunday’s section below. Credit to the “old git” but he had timed the ride to perfection and my dynamic crew arrived at the beach area at the Kinloch Rannoch end just as the sun was starting to sink in the sky for their prosecco toast!

The added bonus was that neither the “old git” or the “old gal” had realised that the sun was going to be setting behind the mountains at the far end of the loch creating some magical light patterns, across the sky and then across the loch. It was a perfect spot to capture some amazing sunset shots, including one which had the effect of looking like the beach and sand dunes were on fire, giving everything it touched a healthy glow!

As the sun started to set it created a wonderful healthy glow on my dynamic crew’s faces!

My dynamic crew then had some fun positioning themselves to get the angle just right to get a selfie catching the fantastic sunset going directly in to their bottle of prosecco!

The “old git” got the angle just right to catch the fabulous sunset in the prosecco bottle!

What a magnificent way to spend a Friday evening! It really was one of those once in a lifetime experiences and the “old gal” and “old git” felt so lucky to be there. A true back to nature feeling!

The “old gal’s” head in the sun! It was a true privilege to see the sunset dancing on the loch!

Back in the comfort of the glamping pod, the “old git” checked Strava which officially recorded the ride as as showing that my dynamic crew tandemed a distance of 22.9 miles with a moving time of 1 hour 49 minutes. The average speed was a healthy 12.5 mph given the undulating terrain, and the overall elevation was 820 feet. The maximum speed was 31.1 mph and Team Matilda managed to burn up 1242 calories and produce an average power output of 169 W. Almost by accident my dynamic crew recorded 2 gongs along the route – with 2 second bests.

A tasty home-cooked meal was served up by the “old gal” – using the pod’s ample cooking facilities – followed by some chill time, before sleep beckoned with my dynamic crew dreaming of their spectacular ‘money can’t buy’ wilderness sunset experience.

Sleep beckoned dreaming of the once in a lifetime sunset experience at Loch Rannoch!

Day 2 – Energetic Saturday tandem ride in glorious Highland Perthshire sunshine!

Our sun-kissed Tighnavon Glamping Pod as we opened the curtains on Saturday morning!

Saturday dawned with the sun rising into a cloudless bright blue sky as Team Matilda wakened re-invigorated from a very deep and relaxing sleep courtesy of an extremely comfortable bed in the glamping pod. Buoyed by last night’s spectacular sunset over Loch Rannoch my dynamic crew were in good spirits and it was clearly going to be a good day!

The “old git” had scheduled a tandem loop of Loch Tummel for today – complete with one of the “old gal’s” signature prosecco picnics. And as this new route is set to be fairly hilly, and also takes in a short 0.75 mile section of the A9 main trunk road to Inverness, it could be just what my stoker will need!

My dynamic crew – who don’t do camping under canvas under any circumstances – have been most impressed with everything about the glamping pods. So much so that the “old gal” decided that she would record her thoughts on the Tighnavon development by filming a walk-thru of our en-suite pod – which is named Stag – to show the facilities on offer. You can watch the video here:

So after a healthy breakfast I was packed into Matilda Transport for the short 7 mile drive to our start point at Tummel Bridge, the village at the head of Loch Tummel.

Tighnavon Ride 2 – Hilly Loch Tummel loop including a stretch on the A9!

Loch Tummel is home to two of the nine hydro electric power stations which make up the impressive Tummel Valley scheme which was constructed in the1930s. Team Matilda parked opposite the grandeur of Tummel Bridge Power Station – which is now a listed building.

You can check out the details of our route by clicking on the Strava map below.

After kitting out in what was to be highly appropriate red polka dot King of the Mountain jerseys, the “old gal” showed her creative streak with a reflective shot of Team Matilda departing on the ride – captured in a mirror at the car park and transformed into a black and white image! Clever eh?!

The “old gal” showed her creative talent to capture this reflective image of Team Matilda!

The initial route almost saw us pedal to a standstill within a couple of minutes as we tackled the steep inclines of the B846 for the first two miles. The “old gal” was somewhat relieved when the route took a left turn onto the Foss Road to drop down to hug the banks of the loch. The sun was streaming thru the dense array of trees as we passed the edge of Frenich Wood, part of the Tay Forest Park, creating spectacular shadows and light patterns.

The “old gal” at the edge of the dense Frenich Wood, part of the Tay Forest Park.

The “old git” against the fabulous strong blue colours of the loch and sky.

The quiet single track road along the loch had a nice smooth surface, but it was fairly undulating and required a good bit of pedalling. But the views over the loch – with the strong blue colours of the loch and the sky – were truly spectacular. We stopped regularly to take in the scenery, including a fabulous natural view point from a rocky promontory jutting out over the loch – which was the perfect spot for a Team Matilda selfie!

Selfie time at a rocky promontory – giving a view along the full length of Loch Tummel.

It was a great day to be out tandeming – and along with the hills there were lots of smiles as we clocked off the miles! Next stop however was the thought-provoking entrance to Clunie Power Station and the eye-catching Clunie Memorial Arch.

Clunie dam holds back the waters of Loch Tummel. A tunnel from the loch feeds Clunie power station, which then discharges into Loch Faskally. The dramatic arch at Clunie honours the men who died in the late 1940s while digging the tunnel. The self-styled ‘Tunnel Tigers’ – named because of their cavalier approach to working conditions in the days before health and safety in their quest to earn huge bonuses – removed about 400,000 tons of rock for the Clunie pipeline. The arch measures 6.9 m across – the same dimensions as the tunnel.  This remains one of the largest water tunnels in the UK.

The “old gal” is dwarfed by the Clunie Memorial Arch built to the same dimensions as the tunnel.

Moving on, as we approached Pitlochry the only visible option to get across to the road down the opposite side of Loch Tummel was for Team Matilda to cut up on to the busy A9 trunk road. Naturally this was rather alarming due to the fast moving traffic and heavy lorries using the main route between the central belt and the Highlands. The “old git” not surprisingly opted for the safe option of walking along the grass verge for 0.75 of a mile – as tandeming would have been extremely ill-advised – until the exit route off for the road back towards Tummel Bridge.

The “old git” wisely decided that pushing along the grass verge of the busy A9 was the safest option!

Team Matilda were happy to leave the dangers of the A9 behind and got back on my saddles riding along the B8019 at Faskally Caravan Park where suddenly out of nowhere – and as if by magic – signs for Sustrans Scotland National Cycle Network Rt 7 appeared! Just as quickly as they appeared they disappeared again – obviously heading further north! Our route crossed a bridge high over the River Gary – providing another must-do photo stop looking down into the deep valley below.

The bridge over River Gary crosses a scenic deep valley below!

After the trauma of having to engage with the A9, and the unseasonably warm sunshine, my dynamic crew were a little frazzled – so the “old gal” made a good shout for a time-out for lunch after finding a suitable spot off the busy B8019 road.

It is at moments like this that the meticulous forward planning which goes into a Team Matilda tandem ride – which can sometime seem a bit overdone – really pay off. The “old gal” and the “old git” enjoyed a luxury picnic with glasses of cold prosecco – kept cool by my trendy La Bouclee french-designed wine carrier – washing down croissants filled with smoked ham and chilli cream cheese. To follow, a fresh fruit salad and some much needed energy replenishment in the form of some chocolate! Heaven!

The fizz for the signature prosecco picnic was kept cool in my trendy la bouclee wine carrier!

The “old gal” enjoying a re-fuelling prosecco picnic in the sunshine!

Refuelled and refreshed by the food and fizz my dynamic crew pedalled on for a tough 3 miles till they came to their next scheduled stop at the Queens View Visitor Centre offering Highland Perthshire’s most iconic view over Loch Tummel and further down to Loch Rannoch.

Queens View Visitor Centre offers Highland Perthshire’s most iconic viewpoint.

It is the area’s most popular visitor attraction and naturally Team Matilda sparked more than a bit of attention from the throngs of bus parties who were visiting as I was pushed up to the viewpoint to get a good look from high over the loch!

The story goes that when Queen Victoria visited in 1866, she assumed that the sweeping view west along Loch Tummel was named after her – but she was wrong. Local history says that the view was really named after Isabella, the first wife of Robert the Bruce, who lived more than 500 years earlier. But that hasn’t stopped the visitor centre and cafe cashing in on the royal connection!

The bench says ‘reserved for royalty’ so naturally I presumed it was for this “old lady” to lean against!

Great image of me with Queen Victoria and her loyal servant John Brown at the post box!

After a loo stop and managing to get a coffee and a piece of caramel shortcake from the cafe – which looked like it had been hit by a plague of locusts in the shape of bus visitors! – the “old gal” was almost delirious to see that she was now getting the benefit of all the uphill climbs with the remainder of the route a highly enjoyable long descent down the side of the loch back to Tummel Bridge.

The “old git” on the original Tummel Bridge built by General Wade in 1733

The village takes its name from the old bridge which crosses the River Tummel which was built by General Wade in 1733. The old bridge still stands, although it is only open to pedestrians and cyclists, with a much more boring structure carrying the road alongside.

I was packed back in Matilda Transport and after a short drive we were back at our ultra-comfortable pod – enjoying a much needed refreshment to celebrate an epic day on a bicycle made for two!

Back at Tighnavon Glamping Pods – after an epic sun-kissed day of tandeming!

Over a very welcome, and relaxing gin on the decking of the glamping pod, the “old git” checked Strava which officially recorded the ride as showing that my dynamic crew tandemed a distance of 26.3 miles with a moving time of 2 hours 59 minutes. The average speed was 8.8 mph given the hot temperature and the overall elevation of 1756 feet. The maximum speed was 39.1 mph and Team Matilda managed to burn up 1958 calories and produce an average power output of 163 W. No gongs recorded, however, as this was our first time doing this ride.

Team Matilda enjoying sitting on the decking of the pod which was bathed in the early evening sun.

The sun – or the exertions of the pedalling, or perhaps both! -obviously got to the “old gal” as after a quick change out of her cycling gear she was soon found to have dozed off for a quick 40 winks on the decking! Needless to say, the “old git” – ever one to capture an opportunity – managed to stay awake and take a surprise photo of her in her relaxed state!

Only a one word caption required: spangled!

After a bit of necessary relaxation my dynamic crew headed out for what was supposed to be a dinner treat at Edina’s Kitchen – the restaurant in the new Dunalastair Hotel Suites, literally just round the corner in the square at Kinloch Rannoch. The “old git” and “old gal” were full of anticipation at a culinary delight to come as the new hotel claims to offer “award winning 5-star” food and service with “a range of dishes to suit every taste prepared by Michelin and Rosette trained chefs.”

The reality was sadly completely different and was a major disappointment. From the moment we arrived the restaurant was a chaotic scene with seemingly untrained staff not having a clue. To be told twice within two minutes of entering the bar area – by two different people – that “You shouldn’t be here – we are fully booked tonight” is quite simply unacceptable at any eaterie, far less one which sets out its stall as such a prestigious venue. Oh and that was despite the “old git” telling both members of staff that we had in fact booked a week ago, and confirmed the booking just a couple of hours earlier.

Dunalastair Hotel Suites failed by a long way to live up to its ‘award winning 5-star’ reputation.

We were allowed to stay after the confusion was sorted out – although amazingly no apology was forthcoming. But it might have been better had we been turned away – as the food was a major let down. The “old gal’s” main course, as an example, was some rather dry duck with two carrot sticks and one mange tout along with a spoonful of beetroot mash!

Two unexciting courses later – they would even have been disappointing if had been served in a pub – and a moderate bottle of wine saw Team Matilda’s wallet around £100 lighter and leaving with an overwhelming feeling of anti-climax. It really was such a shame as it should have been the ideal venue for a nice evening out from the pods.

Walking back the “old gal” and the “old git” enjoyed looking at the very clear sky which offered a wonderful view of the stars – without the usual light pollution. The Tighnavon Glamping Pods site looked perfectly cosy and romantic under the stars! With the temperature dropping, my dynamic crew both commented that they were happy that they were not in fact sleeping under the stars under canvas in the great outdoors – but in the comfort of a proper bed inside the heated pod i

The Tighnavon Glamping Pod site looked perfectly cosy and romantic under the stars!

Day 3 – Relaxing Sunday as tandeming abandoned due to heavy rain!

Opening the pod doors on Sunday, the weather had changed – so tandeming abandoned!

Sunday morning and the “old git” threw open the doors of our pod to discover that the glorious sunshine had suddenly disappeared overnight – with the weather changing to rain. A quick check of his “go-to” weather forecast – BBC Weather – confirmed that it was going to be heavy rain all day. So a quick discussion amongst my dynamic crew decided that tandeming was abandoned for the day.

The “old git” harrumphed as he was a bit frustrated as he had planned another loop of Loch Rannoch – but I must say here that he “old gal” was actually quietly rather pleased after the fairly arduous day in my saddles yesterday on the ride around Loch Tummel!

So the change of plan involved a much more relaxing morning – followed by a leisurely drive around our planned tandeming route to allow us to still pay a visit to the famous Rannoch Station Tearoom

The rain was nothing short of torrential as my dynamic crew drove the 11 miles from Tighnavon to the end of Loch Rannoch at Bridge of Gaur. The “old gal” was feeling rather smug – and cosy – sitting in Matilda Transport knowing that the alternative would have been a serious drooking from the rain!

They then headed on for final six miles of the scenic but secluded B846 road – which must be one of the world’s longest cul-de-sacs! But the reward at the end of the journey is the wonderfully remote Rannoch railway station where there is a favourite coffee and cake spot for the “old git” and the “old gal” – the amazing Rannoch Station Tearoom.

It really is a truly fabulous hidden gem – and must get the vote for being not only the most remote tearoom in Scotland – but the most welcoming and friendly. Run by the uber-hospitable Bill and Jenny Anderson it offers cyclists, walkers and railway passengers an amazing oasis of home made tasty coffees, cakes and light meals. You can even have a wine or a beer while sitting on the station platform watching the live theatre that is the natural wilderness of Rannoch Moor.

The uber hospitable Bill and Jenny who take service standards to new highs at Rannoch Station Tearoom.

The duo’s customer service ethic has no bounds – and even runs to delivering phone orders of bacon butties to train passengers travelling up and down the Glasgow to Fort William route. In my dynamic crew’s case it extended to a hugely warm welcome – impressively remembering names and our tandeming adventures! So it was a delicious serving of home made fruit scones with clotted cream and jam followed by gigantic slices of seriously yummy carrot cake washed down with a cafetiere of wonderfully strong freshly brewed coffee.

According to my dynamic crew the tearoom more than lived up to its five star Trip Advisor certificate of excellence award. And if the look of satisfaction on the “old gal’s” face as she sampled the goodies was anything to go by, I think if she could have awarded six stars, it would have been more than earned!

Bill and Jenny and their Rannoch Station Tearoom were featured recently on the Channel 4 show The World’s Most Beautiful Railway – which is well worth a look!

More than replete – stuffed is the word that comes to mind! – my dynamic crew drove back to Kinloch Rannoch on the quieter road on the south side of the loch. Fortunately the rain had more or less gone off for a bit as the “old gal” fancied doing a bit of photography to try and capture the magical qualities of the Black Wood of Rannoch – one of the largest areas of ancient pine forest left in Scotland.

The “old gal” tried a spot of photography to capture the magical qualities of the Black Wood of Rannoch

It certainly lives up to its Forestry and Land Scotland billing as “a living growing monument with some trees thought to be about 400 years old, and is home to a wonderful variety of plants and wildlife, including deer, pine martens and red squirrel.” It is little wonder that it is designated a Special Area of Conservation and was looking dramatically magnificent even in the wet conditions. It was truly a wonderful wilderness spot, and the “old gal” and the “old git” felt privileged to be there.

The Black Wood of Rannoch is home to “granny pines” some of which are up to 400 years old.

Inspired by the natural beauty of one of the “jewels” of Rannoch, Team Matilda drove back to the comfort of our luxury pod for some chill time – with even the “old git” now conceding that tandeming in the heavy rain they experienced would have been awful! Music to the “old gal’s” ears!

Later in the afternoon, Ian Philp and Sheona Glenville-Sutherland – the co-owners of Tighnavon – dropped by to hear my dynamic crew’s thoughts and comments on their new luxury en-suite glamping pods. Since it was wine o’clock, the “old gal” popped a cork on a bottle of wine and all had a most hospitable chat about the new tourism venture, and why it was badly needed in the area.

The “old git” filmed an interview with Sheona about the concept behind the new Tighnavon Glamping Pods at Kinloch Rannoch, which you can watch the video here:

After their media commitments, Team Matilda enjoyed another fabulous meal before more relaxation and an amazingly sound sleep. Next morning, sadly, it was time to leave the comfort of Tighnavon and head back to Matildas Rest – thoroughly refreshed after a great mini-break in what is one of the “old gal” and “old git’s” favourite places on earth.

So, my dynamic crew’s overall verdict: If you like the idea of getting back to nature – but without the canvas tent, then this is definitely for you. The new wooden en-suite glamping pods offer the ideal opportunity to enjoy luxury away-from-it-all accommodation, where you can do exactly as you please – while enjoying some exhilarating cycling and stunning scenery pedalling in the beautiful wilderness area of Loch Rannoch. As the “old git” said: “What’s not to like?!”

Team Matilda toasting Tighnavon Glamping Pods – what’s not to like?!

Thanks to Sheona and Ian at Tighnavon Glamping Pods at Kinloch Rannoch for their help, accommodation, and hospitality offered to Team Matilda on their mini-break. All opinions are that of Team Matilda!

Hebridean Way – the definitive guide to tandeming ‘on the edge’ with the Nutty Tandemers Club

The Nutty Tandemers Club loved tandeming ‘on the edge’ on the Hebridean Way

#HebWay and #NuttyTandemers Club – Introduction

So the “old git” came up with the idea that our next annual tour of the self-proclaimed Nutty Tandemers Club should be an epic odyssey taking on the Hebridean Way Challenge – tandem cycling “on the edge” of Scotland, while taking in the views of some of the world’s best beaches.

The Hebridean Way passes some of the world’s best beaches. Whats not to like?!

Now the “old gal” really enjoys a little fun recreational island hopping – and scenic beaches – but this was something different! A true adventure on Sustrans Scotland NCN Rt 780 across the Outer Hebrides, starting at the southernmost point on Vatersay and ending on the northernmost point at the Butt of Lewis, which takes in 185 miles, 10 islands, six causeways and two ferry crossings!

Fortunately – and perhaps naively! – both tandem teams quickly agreed that the Hebridean Way would be the ideal route for an independently booked self-guided end-to-end tandem tour, which offered a real challenge amidst some stunning scenery, and plans were put in place to complete the distance over five action packed days in June 2019 averaging around 40 miles a day in the saddle.

This blog aims to be the definitive guide to tandem cycling the Hebridean Way – an unfiltered honest reflection highlighting the highs and lows, and the many uphills and downhills, from four good friends who don’t consider themselves to be anything more than keen and enthusiastic leisure cyclists, who enjoy the joys of a bicycle made for two!

So who are the members of the Nutty Tandemers Club? Regular readers of my blog will remember that in 2016 my dynamic Team Matilda crew became ‘best pals’ with another crew of a bicycle made for two – Team Siggy, made up of John and Jane, who also have their own Travelling in Tandem blog, but more importantly have the same views as my dynamic crew on not taking tandeming too seriously.

Such was the level of laughing, fun and general nuttiness on our inaugural Le Tour de Perthshire du Tandem that we became the founding (and only!) members of our self-styled and therefore exclusive Nutty Tandemers Club! A year later we all enjoyed Le Tour de New Forest du Tandem before a Mini Tour de Perthshire last summer.

Because of the logistics involved, our #HebWay challenge has been a long while in the planning and booking. This blog is therefore full of useful tips and recommendations for places to stay, eat and replenish picnic supplies along the way – along with some to avoid! – in order to be self-sustaining. It also contains Strava Maps and Relive videos of our route – and loads of photos to give you a flavour of what it is really like tandeming or cycling “on the edge”!

In short, if the Hebridean Way is on your bucket list of rides – then go for it! But read this blog first!

#HebWay – The logistics and getting to Barra

Getting to the start line of the Hebridean Way at Vatersay is almost as challenging as doing the route itself – and there is no easy way of doing it. You need to allocate time to get there – the best part of two whole days! And that’s before you get to start pedalling!

The Offcomers guide to Cycling the Hebridean Way

The recommended way of tandeming or cycling the Hebridean Way is from south to north so you get the benefit of the prevailing winds. Access to the start point is by the island of Barra, which is around 100 miles out in the Atlantic by a 5 hour ferry trip from the Scottish mainland at Oban – think next stop America! Oh and there is only one ferry sailing a day! Then the finish line is 185 miles further north on Lewis – where the return ferry operates from Stornoway to a different mainland ferry port of Ullapool. Thus why it can be a bit of a logistical headache to organise travel for your trip. So planning is key.

At this point my dynamic crew want to recommend the guide which became their “bible” – both in planning and along the route. The “old git” and “old gal” used the fabulously detailed ‘Cycling the Hebridean Way’ by The Offcomers. It is written by and aimed at cyclists and provides a wealth of information – with comprehensive maps, routes and listings. In a nutshell it was crucial to the Nutty Tandemers Club’s planning, and became an essential reference guide each day.

Another recommendation is a company called HebShuttle – the award winning cycle tour and transfer operator in the Outer Hebrides which offers, among other services, bike and passenger transfers, bike and e-bike hire, and an accommodation booking service.

The official tourism information website for the Outer Hebrides also has a wealth of information on suggested itineraries with a linked on-line planning service, along with a newly launched ‘Pit Stop’ listing of rest, refuel and repair stops along the Hebridean Way. It has also published a new handy 1:200,000 scale HebWay Cycling Route Map which my crew found invaluable.

The Nutty Tandemers decided the best way to overcome the transport issues getting to and from the Outer Hebrides was to position two vehicles on the mainland – one at the departure port of Oban, and one at the arrival port from Stornoway.

But first up there was the vitally important pre-tour prosecco toast to welcome John and Jane when they arrived at Matilda’s Rest on the Saturday afternoon after a long drive from their current base in Lincolnshire. The sun came out (briefly) allowing for a very convivial catch-up on the decking before a hearty meal and an early night with a long day of driving ahead.

A toast to a successful Hebridean Way Challenge when John and Jane arrived.

Sunday saw a 6am rise with Team Matilda and Team Siggy’s cars on the road by 7am heading from Matildas Rest to Oban. That was the first leg of what was admittedly a fairly torturous day of driving around 400 miles. The detail of the trip, firstly saw the two tandems dropped off at the Hostelling Scotland hostel in Oban, our pre-ferry overnight base, before embarking on a near 4-hour 160 mile drive to Ullapool to park John and Jane’s vehicle there for our return from Stornoway. After a brief lunch stop we returned to Oban and although the scenery on route was magnificent – including driving the full length of Loch Ness – there is no doubt it was a marathon, but logistically necessary, journey.

The sleeves of the Nutty Tandemers t-shirts complete with crew names!

The return journey from Ullapool – with both tandem crews in one car – offered a great opportunity for everyone to catch up on life since the last tour! And there was the opportunity of the grand unveiling of the tour t-shirts, complete with tour logo on the front and crew names on the sleeves.

After the long drive back to the ferry port of Oban, the Hostelling Scotland hostel offered a welcome refuge for the crews who were most impressed with its five star VisitScotland accredited facilities including private en-suite double rooms with sea views over the Firth of Lorne. Meanwhile the two tandems – me and Siggy – enjoyed a comfortable stay in the hostel’s great secure cycle storage shed complete with a selection of useful maintenance tools!

After the drive some good food and drink was required and The Olive Garden offered the crews some tasty seafood followed by a gin tasting in a nearby pub before some much needed sleep.

The departure port of Oban offered a welcome overnight stay after 400 miles of driving.

After a solid sleep, the “old git” and the “old gal” got into final packing mode, refining the items in my four panniers which were to support Team Matilda for the duration of the Hebridean Way trip, with cycling gear covering every possible eventuality of weather and geographical conditions, my trusty tool kit and a variety of essential spares – such as new inner tubes – which spokes crossed would not be needed, as well as a a few non-cycling clothes for evening relaxation!

Along with Team Siggy, my dynamic crew then had a short pedal along the seafront at Oban just to check all was in order with the tandems. It was, but with the four panniers my frame has never been heavier.  Let’s just say some of the hills are going to be interesting!

The Nutty Tandemers Club crews eagerly awaiting embarking the Barra ferry!

After a coffee, and picking up some fresh seafood, it was time to head to the Caledonian Macbrayne Oban Ferry Terminal – the departure point for the ferry to Barra. There is just one crossing a day to Castlebay from Oban – departing at 1.30pm. The “old git” had done his usual meticulous research and discovered that there was a Hopscotch 8 ticket created by CalMac, specifically tailored for tourists doing the Hebridean Way end-to-end. And it is great value at £31.75 per passenger – with tandems (and bikes) travelling free!

Excitement was building as we queued to be allowed to embark on the ferry, which reached fever pitch as we finally boarded the MV Isle of Lewis through via the car ramp. And it was amazingly busy with bikes, with at least 100 cyclists heading over to Barra to start their own adventure – proving the success of the marketing of the Hebridean Way route as a “must do” route.

I presume the sign was also meant for tandemers as well as cyclists?!

I was securely tied to the some railings with rope, just beside Siggy, as the deck hands were warning the crossing could be a bit lively given the wind conditions. The ferry departed on time and headed out of Oban, offering a very scenic route as it passed thru the channel between the mainland and Mull. After we left the mainland behind, at Ardnamurchan Point, and headed out into the Atlantic Ocean, the waves increased and the crossing became a bit rockier. I know the “old git” and Jane certainly benefited from their anti sea sickness tablets and wrist bands! Meanwhile the “old gal” and John seemed fine on their sea legs!

The “old git” couldn’t resist clowning around showing the lively conditions on deck!

The “old gal” wisely held on to the railings as we passed Ardnamurchan Point.

As conditions calmed again the crews were treated to a few brief glimpses of porpoises swimming along beside the ferry. The crossing itself passed fairly quickly – with a decadent mid afternoon glass of prosecco helping the journey along. From about 90 minutes before arrival the chain of islands which make up the Outer Hebrides was evident and offered an amazing vista the closer we got! The view also offered our first glimpses of some of the hills – make that mountains – the tandem crews were going to have to negotiate! The “old gal” turned a bit pale at this point!

The arrival into the port of Castlebay offers one of the most spectacular views from a ferry in Scotland passing almost within touching distance of Kisimul Castle – the seat of the chief of Clan Macneil – which is perched on a rocky islet in the bay.

My dynamic crew enjoying the views of Kisimul Castle on arrival at Castlebay, Barra.

Right on schedule the ferry berthed at Castlebay, which is the village capital of Barra and as both crews emerged from the car ramp it was immediately apparent why it is known for its beautiful setting, relaxed atmosphere and friendly residents. It is actually quite an incongruous sight to see such a large ferry arrive at such a rural location and disgorge its cargo of passengers and vehicles on to the island.

We quickly found our stop for the night – the ultra relaxed Dunard Hostel – a small family-run hostel which offered basic but comfortable great value accommodation. It was easy to see why it is a favourite spot for bike crews to stay before they embark on their HebWay journey the next day.

After self checking-in (noone actually checked who we were!) me and Siggy were parked under a shelter out the wind at the back of the hostel. The crews then headed for a meal to a tiny restaurant which had been highly recommended to the “old git” – and Café Kisimul certainly did not disappoint. It is a friendly family run licensed restaurant which specialises in Indian and Italian cuisine and local seafood … all with an Outer Hebrides twist! The hand-dived scallop pakora was just fantastic and the whole meal was a culinary delight, with the menu offering several vegetarian options. It is no surprise that booking ahead is essential, and it offered the ideal start to the Nutty Tandemers time on Barra.

The “old git” and “old gal” after enjoying a meal at Cafe Kisimul in Castlebay.

#HebWay Day 1 – And they’re off! – Vatersay to Daliburgh

Morning broke after a restful nights sleep at Dunard Hostel with some ominous clouds and heavy rain showers around, along with some serious wind. But both crews making up the Nutty Tandemers Club were in great spirits at finally getting to do some pedalling after all the travelling, and getting to grips with their Hebridean Way Challenge.

So buoyed up they were to get moving that there was an almost immediate schoolboy error of setting off without any breakfast! And as any cyclist knows trying to cycle on empty is not a great idea! To be honest it wasn’t really anybody’s fault. There was no breakfast available to buy at the hostel, and the cafe recommended for breakfast as we left Castlebay was unexpectedly closed for a few days.

The “old git” and “old gal” leaving Dunard Hostel in Castlebay after an ovenight stay.

Ready for rain – but what a backdrop! The two tandems ready to leave Castlebay.

So fully kitted out in gear that would not have been out of place in winter, both Team Matilda and Team Siggy headed to the official start point of Sustrans Scotland NCN Rt 780 at Vatersay. Almost immediately on leaving Castlebay we hit the first steep climb of the tour – and right on cue a nasty squall hit us. Both crews were seriously hoping that this incongruous start over the first few miles was not going to set the pattern for the rest of the 185 miles – both in terms of climbs and the weather!

Fortunately almost as quick as the heavy rain arrived, the storm clouds blew away, and by the time we arrived on Vatersay the sun was shining. The crews easily located the sign marking the official start of the Hebridean Way – an iron plinth in the grassy dunes between two glorious beaches. Not sure how you could come all this way to do this route and actually miss it, but the “old git” has been reliably told that some people actually didn’t find it and amazingly set off without the obligatory “start” photos!

The official Team Matilda and Team Siggy photo at the sign marking the start of the HebWay.

The “old git” and the “old gal” looking cheery at the start of our Outer Hebrides adventure!

Leaving without a photo (or ten!) would obviously have been a major faus pax for this tandeming blog – bigger even than setting off without breakfast! – but the “old git” ensured that embarrassment didn’t happen and the bright sunshine added to the magnificent backdrop for the photo shoot. My dynamic crew even managed to record their thoughts at the start of our HebWay adventure on this video:

Sadly the Vatersay Cafe, part of the community centre, did not open till a good hour away at 11am, so there was no option but to start the Hebridean way proper on an empty tank! Hopefully we would not bonk – the cycling definition of hitting the wall thru a lack of energy – within the first hour of the ride! As funny as it sounds, the cycling bonking is not a good feeling – especially with a heavily laden tandem like me!

Fortunately the “old git” had researched where the Co-ops were situated along the route – which was to become a running joke of the tour but the stores offered some very necessary opportunities to top up with supplies – and knew that on our return to Barra the Co-op at Castlebay would offer something for breakfast … and stop the “old gal’s” stomach from grumbling!

Our actual route for day 1 of the Nutty Tandmers Club HebWay Challenge was combined with day 2 on Strava due to a problem with a mobile phone battery. But you can still check out the details of our route by clicking on the Strava map below (just remember we stopped overnight at Daliburgh!)

So we were officially underway and Vatersay was island number 1 of the 10 we would cover on the HebWay. Soon we were crossing the first (of six) causeways which took us on to island 2 of Barra and a rather cheeky 11% hill climb before that much anticipated food stop at Caslebay. My dynamic crew decided that as a precautionary measure they would push up the short distance of this first big hill – given the “old gal’s” asthma and not wanting to create any unnecessary problems so early in our trip.

The sun broke thru to give a spectacular view of the turquoise sea and beach at Vatersay.

Team Matilda getting acclimatised to the wind on the steep climb out of Vatersay!

The rain stayed off and me and Siggy soon rolled in to the Co-op at Castlebay – after just 5 miles of the route! – where much needed breakfast pastries and smoothies were quickly consumed by my dynamic crew providing some much needed nourishment – and a great place to buy picnic supplies.

Before leaving Castlebay there was an important visit to make – to the Isle of Barra Distillers, which makes the Barra Atlantic Gin. The main botanical in its unique island mix is carrageen seaweed, which is collected from the island’s coastline. The tandem crew saw the seaweed being dried before being offered a tasting – I mean it would have been rude  not to!

The new Barra Gin Distillery offered an interesting stop (and tasting!) back at Castlebay.

The company has now started producing the gin on the island itself and has announced that the first batch of the first ever distilled spirit on Barra will have a limited number of 1,174 of bottles – marking the island’s population on the last census back in 2011. The “old gal” ordered one of the individually numbered bottles which would be delivered to our home base offering a unique memory of our trip.

Refreshed in more ways than one the two tandem crews headed off on the route which took us up the scenic west coast of Barra hugging the Atlantic coast, before heading inland to cross to the east side – all the time enjoying the benefits of a mostly favourable southerly wind.

Me and the “old gal” at an unusual warning sign on the approach to Barra Airport.

We took a short detour to see the wonderful Traigh Mhor beach – which doubles as the runway for Barra Airport, which offers the world’s only scheduled beach landing.

On arrival at the airport we enjoyed a coffee in the tiny departures and arrivals hall before the Nutty Tandemers had the first of their signature prosecco picnics in the sun, but blasted by the wind, on a picnic bench in the sand dunes.

Just after lunch excitement reached fever pitch as around 100 spectators took up position to watch the arrival of the Twin Otter Loganair flight from Glasgow land and taxi in across the sand.

It was great to watch the Twin Otter flight from Glasgow land on the beautiful beach.

It really was quite spectacular to watch – and the “old gal” said it was actually one of those moments that she was glad to have witnessed in person, rather than just on video or tv. Once the twin propellers on the aircraft had stopped the ground crew headed out on to the runway on the beach – complete with a wheelbarrow to collect the baggage!

The “old gal” enjoying the views at the airport which boasts the world’s only scheduled beach landing

Me at the rather basic baggage reclaim at Barra Airport – complete with sand!

There was a quick turnaround and after watching the flight depart from a magnificent viewpoint just above the beach, we pedalled back to join the official HebWay route again and the short trip to the Ardmhor ferry terminal for the ferry to Eriskay – the first of the two inter island CalMac routes. Look out at the ferry terminal for an attractive sculpture of two otters chasing a salmon.

Me and the “old git” at the Otter statue at Ardmor ferry terminal for the crossing to Eriskay.

The short scenic 40 minute crossing saw the Nutty Tandemers arrive on Eriskay – island number 3 – and immediately face a long hill to climb away from the harbour passing above “Prince Charlie’s beach“. This is where Charles Edward Stuart, Bonnie Prince Charlie, first set foot on Scottish soil in 1745 at the start of his ill-fated campaign.

The Am Politician bar, of Whisky Galore fame, on the island of Eriskay

A short diversion took us to the Am Politician bar  which is named after the SS Politician which ran aground in 1941 in the Sound of Eriskay spilling its cargo of whisky onto the island’s shores. Eriskay is the original Whisky Galore! island made famous by the book and film.

The tandem crews were lucky enough to be shown some fascinating artifacts from the SS Politician by the friendly barmaid, as we enjoyed a welcome refreshment. This included one of the original whisky bottles still containing its original whisky, an other original bottle, plus a machete type weapon, and a heavy flare gun from the doomed ship.

Original whisky bottles and artifacts from the SS Politician are on display in the pub.

It was at this point we had our first (and fortunately only) mechanical of the Hebridean Way Challenge when John discovered that Siggy’s brakes were in a pretty bad condition. There had been a ghastly noise on the descent of the last hill and a closer inspection showed that effectively the brakes needed replacing. Annoyingly none of us had thought to bring spare brake blocks with us – schoolboy error number 2! But in a spark of ingenuity John quickly swapped the front blocks with the rear, allowing the journey to continue given that we were on fairly flat ground and that Siggy was equipped with a drag break.

The final 10 miles or so pedalling firstly took us across the mile long causeway – causeway number 2 – which took us on to island 4 of South Uist. It was here we saw the first of what would be regular sights at the causeways – signs warning drivers to take care of potential otters crossing.

Our first sighting of several signs warning of otters crossing – at the Eriskay causeway.

On we pedalled, with the route taking us off the busy B888 road and onto gently undulating minor roads giving fabulous tandeming and an interesting view of some real crofting land at South Boisdale. The crews were a bit battered by the wind and happy to spot Invercanny Bed and Breakfast just a few hundred yards outside Daliburgh – where we received a hugely warm and friendly welcome from hosts Eddie and Audrey Woods.

Time for a quick shower and change into non cycling clothes, then a walk to the nearby Borrodale Hotel for a hearty and tasty re-fuelling meal, with my dynamic crew sampling the local delicacy of Barra scampi. A nightcap of a Barra gin was a fitting way to bring an end to the first day’s activities. Not surprisingly sleep was not hard to find!

At the end of the day the “old git” was somewhat devastated to find that a phone battery power failure resulted in a Strava operating error. You know that cyclists’ view that if it is not on Strava it doesn’t exist! After appearing that the ride was “lost”, Strava suddenly sprung into life on day 2 and decided to combine the actual route and data for first two days of the Nutty Tandemers Club Challenge together! However, that meant the clock kept ticking while we were in the bed and breakfast – so thus recorded the ride with a crazy long time of over 22 hours and ludicrous low average speed (even for Team Matilda!) of just 3.7mph!

But my faithful on-board milometer recorded that on day 1 Team Matilda tandemed a distance of 33.7 miles with a moving time of 3 hours and 18 minutes, giving an average speed of 10.1 mph.

#HebWay Day 2 – Tandeming on the very edge! – Daliburgh to Sollas 

The schedule for day 2 saw our longest mileage to be covered, tandeming onto 3 more islands by crossing 3 more causeways on the Hebridean Way, on the very edge of Scotland, and indeed Europe.

Both crews were raring to go after recharging their batteries with a great sleep in comfortable rooms and a hearty breakfast provided by Eddie and Audrey at Invercanny Bed and Breakfast. Indeed our hosts were so hospitable and interested in our challenge that they reassured the tandem crews that if anything went wrong we were to phone and they would come and rescue us. Now that is service!

Team Siggy and Team Matilda ready to roll from the hospitable Invercanny b+b at Daliburgh.

Our actual route for day 2 of the Nutty Tandemers Club Challenge was actually combined with day 1 on Strava due to that problem with a mobile phone battery. But you can still check out the details of our route by clicking on the Strava map below (just remember we started day 2 from Daliburgh!)

As we headed off the “old gal” – who has rather good hearing! – heard a bit of a squeak coming form one of my wheels and was worried that I had pinged a spoke. But closer examination discovered it was actually the magnet on my speedometer rubbing on the receiver part and just required a tiny adjustment – much to everyone’s relief!

The first stop was a cairn marking the birthplace of Flora Macdonald, the famous island heroine who helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape “over the sea” to Skye back in 1746. This marked the first of several British Cycle Quest (BCQ) clues which John and Jane were collecting along the way.

The cairn marking Flora Macdonald’s birthplace erected by Clan Donald to commemorate her life.

At Bornish the NCN Rt 780 turns off the main road again thru crofting lands. This was spectacular tandeming on flat terrain, helped by a brisk southerly breeze. As the sun emerged from behind the clouds we pedalled on a scenic stretch with a sea wall on one side and the renowned machair on the other. Machair is a Gaelic word meaning fertile low lying grassy plain. Here sand, largely made up of crushed shells, is regularly blown ashore by Atlantic gales. Over time the calcium rich shell sand and traditional crofting land practices have led to the development of a mosaic of fertile Scottish grassland habitats renowned for its Outer Hebrides wildflowers, Western Isles birds and insect life.

The spectacular machair near Howmore beach.       Pic credit: Visit Outer Hebrides.

The sea wall at Howmore created some amusement as the crews tried to climb up for a view!

Thanks to both the official HebWay Cycling Route Map and the fabulously detailed guidebook ‘Cycling the Hebridean Way’ by The Offcomers the tandem crews had earmarked a stop at a bicycle hire and repair shop where John hoped to buy new brake blocks to solve the mechanical on Siggy which became apparent on Eriskay yesterday.

Fortunately we found Rothan Bikes at Howmore – which was a traditional South Uist house with a small sign on the hedge and lots of rusty old bikes in a heap along with some “newer” and more ride-able ones! John knocked on the door and Tommy and his sheepdog appeared! After a rummage about Tommy returned with a box  of brake blocks – some which appeared to date back more than a few years. But he had something suitable and John selected 4 as spares and we were on our way again.

John and Siggy picking up new brake pads at Rothan Bikes at Howmore on South Uist.

With new brake blocks for Siggy, we pedalled on cutting inland for a bit thru the Loch Druidibeg National Nature Reserve. Then it was time to cross the causeway – causeway number 3 on the HebWay – which took us on to island 5 of Benbecula. Despite another of the Otters Crossing signs there were sadly no sightings of the otters themselves!

The “old gal” at another Otters Crossing sign at the causeway to Benbecula – but still no sightings!

After a stop to restock on vital picnic supplies at the Co-op, the crews had a detour to Griminis to visit the Benbecula War Memorial – providing another BCQ clue for John and Jane – which is proudly positioned overlooking the whole island.

The Benbecula War memorial looks over the whole island.

We headed back to the coast and almost immediately found a sheltered area of sand dune where the tandem crews set up their prosecco picnic. Just as the cork was popped the only rain of the day fell with a short but sharp shower, which passed as quickly as it arrived – meaning that thankfully the fizz didn’t get too watered down, although the French baguette did get a bit soggy! The views across the beach provided a magnificent backdrop for a picnic with lots of suitable nuttiness!

This seemed the ideal place for me to park as I am clearly not a lorry!

John and Jane – Team Siggy – looking out onto the beach on Benbecula.

And a shot of my dynamic crew – the “old git” and “old gal”!

Re-fuelled Team Matilda and Team Siggy set off again – but with the crews feeling the call of nature a short diversion was taken into Benbecula Airport. Such was the rush to enter the terminal building to use the facilities, I am not sure how the sight of 4 crash-helmeted, reflective sun glasses-clad, hi-vis jacket-wearing adults didn’t set off an anti-terrorist alarm or a major security alert at the airport – but happily such a scenario was avoided!

Another causeway – number 4 – saw us tandem onto Grimsay – island 6 – albeit very briefly. Just four miles long and two miles wide and surrounded by clear shallow waters and shifting white sands, Grimsay was connected to neighbouring Benbecula in 1960 with the opening of the causeway. But it more than makes up for its tiny size with its huge spectacular scenery. And with the sun shining brightly, the causeway offered the perfect opportunity for a few fun sunny photos!

The causeway linking Benbecula with Grimsay is one of the longest on the HebWay.

Despite Grimsay being small it makes up for its size with spectacular views.

Here I am having a breather taking in the views on the Grimsay causeway.

My dynamic crew really enjoyed the views – and flat surface – on the causeway.

No sooner had we tandemed on to Grimsay we seemed to head off it again as we skirted the north west corner of the island. Another causeway – number 5 on the our HebWay adventure – curved across some small islets to take us to island number 7, North Uist.

The Hebridean Way takes the west coast route on North Uist. At Caranish we stopped to take in the atmospheric sight of Trinity Temple and a field at the roadside known  as “Field of Blood” which is reputed to be the site of the Battle of Caranish – a famous clan battle back in 1601.

After finding another BCQ clue at Caranish Church of Scotland at Clachan, the wonderful tailwind made the tandeming easy despite the heavy load on my frame and the undulating terrain. There was a quick stop at The Hebridean Smokehouse at Clachan where my dynamic crew tasted some of their wonderful peat smoked salmon before making a purchase for the next day’s picnic. Seems there was a spare few inches of room in my panniers after all!

The tandeming here was really spectacular on a nice smooth road surface in bright warm(ish!) sunshine – with rugged moorland and lochans on the right and the sea, sandy beaches and some small islands to the left. The crews were ready for an afternoon cake and coffee stop and the Claddach Kirkibost Cafe at the unique community run centre provided the perfect venue. The “old git” decided it was warm enough for a rare HebWay tour t-shirt picture and we got one of the staff to volunteer to be team photographer in the centre’s garden again the magnificent backdrop of the sea.

The Nutty Tandemers Club taking advantage of the sunshine for a rare HebWay tour t-shirt shot!

A few miles further we passed a sign for our destination for the night of Sollas, just before Bayhead. So after consultation with two different locals we decided to turn inland rather than hug the coast for the last few miles. And the tandem crews were glad we did as the so-called Committee Road – built in the 1840s to provide famine relief work – cut across the top of North Uist. There was a bit of a climb but the reward was a great downhill with views direct onto the fabulous beach at Traigh Bhalaigh.

Sollas is a small crofting community – which rather bizarrely hosts a Co-op which is quite literally in the middle of nowhere! But both tandem crews decided that a nice bottle of wine was required after today’s mileage and the “old gal” was utterly amazed to pick up a bottle of one of her favourite wines – Oyster Bay – which was on special offer!

My dynamic crew spotted a revamped traditional Hebridean Blackhouse – still with its thatched roof – which provided the last photo opportunity of the day. With over 50 miles on the clock the tandem crews were happy to spot Struan House bed and breakfast which has got to have one of the best outlooks for a b+b – overlooking the magnificent turquoise waters and silver sands of Vallay Strand.

A traditional Hebridean Blackhouse – with thatched roof – at Sollas on North Uist.

This was Hebridean hospitality at its best! When we arrived Peggy, our hostess, was not home, but the door was open and there was a cheery welcoming note telling us which rooms to use and to make ourselves at home! Because of the remoteness of Sollas, we had taken up the offer of an evening meal at the b+b. Peggy excelled herself presenting a magnificent and tasty 3-course dinner – including a fabulous fresh sea food salad starter which could have been the main course – all eaten in front of a large picture window looking out at the stunning beach landscape. And the “old gal’s” Oyster Bay was a fitting accompaniment for such a feast!

Dinner with a view! The stunning landscape from the dining table at Struan House.

You will remember that it was at the end of the day 1 the “old git” was somewhat devastated to find that a phone battery power failure resulted in a Strava operating error. After appearing that the ride was “lost”, Strava suddenly sprung into life on day 2 and decided to combine the actual route and data for first two days of the Nutty Tandemers Club Challenge together! However, that meant the clock kept ticking overnight at our bed and breakfast stop – so thus recorded the ride with a crazy long time of over 22 hours and ludicrous low average speed (even for Team Matilda!) of just 3.7mph!

But my faithful on-board milometer recorded that on day 2 the Nutty Tandemers Club tandemed 54.2 miles with a moving time of 4 hours and 24 minutes, giving an average speed of 12.3 mph.

#HebWay Day 3 – Gin and bear it! – Sollas to Tarbert

The Nutty Tandemers Club Hebridean Way itinerary for day 3 was a 40 mile pedal on NCN Rt 780 from Sollas to Tarbert – taking in the immense and dramatically beautiful beaches on Harris before a climb over to Tarbert … but with the reward of a locally produced gin to finish if we were on schedule!

As both crews wakened in their ultra comfortable rooms – having enjoyed the superb Hebridean hospitality on offer at Struan House bed and breakfast – heavy rain was battering the windows.  Showered and wearing freshly laundered cycling kit – another service provided by our hostess Peggy who could not do enough for the tandem crews offering her true ‘home from home’ experience – the hearty breakfast was eaten looking out at the rain lashing down. The view from the huge picture window across the Vallay Strand beach was still nothing short of spectacular and and right on cue a massive rainbow appeared which the “old gal” managed to capture on a photo.

The spectacular rainbow over the beach during our hearty breakfast at Sollas.

After kitting up all the panniers to both tandems – me and Siggy – and bidding fond farewell to a brilliant hostess in Peggy – the crews pedalled off into the rain. You can check out the details of our HebWay Day 3 route by clicking on the Strava map below.

Fortunately the rain stopped within a couple of minutes of pedalling off and the wind soon blew the crew’s jackets dry! Blue sky was starting to appear as we all tandemed over our last causeway, number six on the HebWay, to Berneray – island number 8.

Here my dynamic crew had an invite to call in to Coralbox Gift Shop on Berneray to meet Eilidh Carr, the owner of the tiny gift shop on Berneray who has been named one of Scotland’s best new tourism entrepreneurs. Eilidh had found my blog, and also been following my Facebook and Twitter feed, and suggested that the “old git” and “old gal” make a quick pit stop before catching the next ferry.

Eilidh Carr, entrepreneurial owner of Coralbox on Berneray with me and the “old gal”.

It was great to meet Eilidh – who is a real breath of fresh air in Scottish tourism. The small shop stocks an amazingly wide range of nautical and island themed gifts, and also has an on-line store. Most impressively Eilidh had done her homework and clearly been reading my blogs and knew a big part of tandeming for my dynamic crew was their love of a prosecco picnic! So Eilidh very kindly presented Team Matilda with a bottle of prosecco – which she said should be consumed overlooking one of the magnificent beaches en route! Ok if you insist!

Spot the bottle of fizz on my frame which Eilidh kindly gave my dynamic crew for a prosecco picnic!

We easily found the Berneray ferry terminal for the ferry to Leverburgh on Harris – the second of the two inter island CalMac routes. This was a scenic hour long sailing which offered a constantly changing seascape vista as the ferry weaved between low islands across the sound of Harris before arriving at Leverburgh on Harris, island number 9 on the HebWay. It was great to see the ferry so busy with other cyclists and the “old gal” and “old git” took the opportunity to compare notes and exchange stories!

Fame! My dynamic crew had their photo taken for the Rather be Cycling travel firm’s Facebook page!

While enjoying the view the “old gal” was accosted by a friendly cyclist who said: “Team Matilda – you are the guys with the tandem blog aren’t you. I just love it! It is brilliant!” Fame had obviously followed me to the Outer Hebrides! Turns out the person who was a big fan of my blog was Gav McDonald who is a professional bike guide who has led adventure biking trips all over the globe and runs his cycling holiday and events company called Rather be Cycling. Gav and his partner Chez were leading an organised tour along the Hebridean Way and took a photo of my dynamic crew to post on their firm’s Facebook page with a link recommending my blog! Thanks Gav!

A Hebridean Way sign marks the route at Leverburgh ferry port on Harris.

At Leverburgh we made a detour off the official route for John and Jane to claim another British Cycle Quest (BCQ) clue – this one focusing on the restored medieval St Clement’s Church at Rodel. We retraced our pedals to Leverburgh and had a coffee at the wonderfully named The Butty Bus – an old bus enterprisingly converted into a cafe and fish and chip shop – just beside ferry pier.

The “old gal” getting morning coffee from the wonderful Butty Bus at Leverburgh.

The tandems crews set off from Leverburgh with both the sun and the mostly helpful south westerly wind at their backs. It was a still a bit chilly however in the strong breeze which necessitated the wearing of jackets. The “old git” had diligently done his research here and discovered that a few miles further on, near the community of Northton, there were a couple of ‘must visit’ honesty shops.

The first was the Mustheb Shack – a small blue shed by the roadside with a selection of homemade mustards made by the Hebridean Mustard Company Purchases were made by both crews – including an unusual liquorice mustard – with the money deposited in an honesty box. Brilliant system!

Team Matilda at the fabulous Mustheb Shack which operates on an honesty system.

The second honesty shop stop was at the highly recommended Croft 36 – which is a slightly bigger shack where a pie/bakery business is based specialising in sustainably caught produce from the Hebrides including seafood, venison and mutton. There is also a culinary delight of a selection of Patisserie style baking on offer – including bread, tarts, quiche and cakes, with some gluten-free or vegetarian. We arrived just after the lunchtime “rush” and much of the stock was denuded and needing restocked – but the crews still found a few goodies for their picnic.

Croft 36 offered a culinary delight of home made goodies – and another honesty shop.

As we headed towards Borve the crews got their first sight of the fabulously breathtaking beautiful beaches of West Harris, and the views out to Taransay and the Atlantic ocean. Each headland brought a new ‘wow factor’ as the stunning blue sea and the white empty beaches came into view, with the contrast of the desolate North Harris hills in the distance beyond.

The “old git” taking in the views on the amazingly beautiful beach stretch of the HebWay at Scarista.

The crews passed the incredibly scenic Sacrista Golf Course, home to the Isle of Harris Golf Club which rightly claims to be “one of the most picturesque 9-hole courses in the world” It is bordered on one side by the Sound of Taransay, leading onto the Atlantic Ocean, and all down the west side of the course stretch the white sands, typical of this part of the Hebrides.

The Isle of Harris Golf Club hosts one of the most picturesque courses in the world.

Around Borve the crews found a picture perfect spot for their signature prosecco picnic – their third in three days! – with a picnic bench just out of the main force of the wind and overlooking the stunning views toward the beaches. Not surprisingly the Nutty Tandemers caused a bit of a stir popping the prosecco cork and a couple who had arrived by car were suitably impressed by the organised set up that they had a chat and took photos for us!

Stops for our signature Nutty Tandemers Club prosecco picnic don’t come any better than this!

The Nutty Tandemers picture perfect picnic spot towards Horgabost and Seilebost beaches.

Picnic over – and refreshed with the food and fizz (thanks again to Eilidh at Coralbox!) – the tandem crews pedalled off to enjoy more sensational views as they passed the world renowned beaches of Horgabost and Seilebost. The Nutty Tandemers were in agreement that this was one of the most stunning stretches of a route that they had ever had the pleasure of tandeming along. Words hardly do it justice – but it was an unforgettable experience to be immersed in such Caribbean-like scenery as we cycled along a route which quite literally was “on the edge” of Scotland.

The turquoise blue sea and white sandy beach at Seilebost was truly Caribbean-like.

The last of the ‘big three’ beaches is Luskentyre and although it had clouded over at our viewpoint it was easy to see how it earns its reputation for being ‘a little slice of heaven‘. Sadly the crews had to leave the beguiling beach vistas behind as the route headed east and inland and it was back to the reality of grinding out a 500 feet hill pass – with the climbing helped (a little!) by a great new road surface.

The “old gal” looking towards the famous Luskentyre Beach, before the climb over to Tarbert.

At the top of the climb beside one of several picturesque lochans Jane decided this was a suitable venue for what has become a tradition of the Nutty Tandemers Club tours – a recreation of the Three Wise Monkeys ‘see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’ scene, which has made an appearance on our personalised calendars featuring the best images of our annual tours! This year John opted to be the photographer and it therefore featured Jane and the “old git” and “old gal”!

The annual Nutty Tandemrs see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil photo!

Nuttiness suitably completed – not sure what the passing cars thought about this rather strange scene?! – the crews pedalled on tandeming across a desolate rocky moonscape before a rapid and somewhat thrilling descent to the east coast ferry port town of Tarbert, our destination for tonight.

The “old gal” thought she had reached heaven – arriving at the Isle of Harris Gin distillery!

Before our hotel there was the scheduled flying visit to the Isle of Harris Distillery which is home of the famous Isle of Harris Gin known for its unique beautiful blue glass bottle which represents the “seas of Luskentyre with a gentle azure rising from its depths.”

The building was still open but the cafe was showing a closed sign to allow for clearing up. The “old git” put on his best pleading voice and explained that we just wanted to sample a gin – no food required! – as the crews had just tandemed 40 miles specifically to get to the distillery! A little poetic licence there, but his strategy worked! A supervisor appeared and warmly welcomed us in to the now empty cafe and quickly produced a round of stylish and very appetising gin martinis to allow the Nutty Tandemers to celebrate one of the best days tandeming ever!

Cheers! the fabulous gin martinis – shaken not stirred – went down a treat!

After (quickly!) finishing the drinks, the building had suddenly become noticeably very quiet – but there was time for the “old gal” to purchase a bottle of gin to be sent back to Matildas Rest by post. A final look around the gift shop, and a loo stop, before the crews tried to get out of the building … only to find they were locked in! Yes they were officially locked in a distillery! I mean if the “old gal” had to be locked in any distillery – then this was the one! But just as she was thinking she had arrived in heaven a member of staff arrived to let us out! Drat!

With the gin martinis clearly having gone straight to the heads of the tandem crews, it was good that our base of the Harris Hotel was just a few yards away! But first Jane and the “old gal” burst into a fit of the giggles when they spotted what they thought was a rather amusing road sign which asked them to “indicate their intention” – so naturally they obliged and took up a suitably nutty pose!

Which way shall we go? Jane and the “old gal” indicate their intention! (fuelled by martini gins!)

At the hotel there was a super spacious bike shed for us tandems, and I am reliably informed that the rooms offered the crews a luxurious sanctuary for some well earned relaxation. Later, a very tasty meal was eaten in the hotel’s restaurant as the crew looked out at the heavy rain – thankful that they were warm and dry. Finally there was the need to sample from the bar’s huge selection of gin and whisky for a nightcap to toast what had been a truly fabulous day on our HebWay tour.

The “old git” was delighted to report that Strava had worked normally on day 3 and recorded the ride showing that my dynamic crew tandemed a distance of 40.19 miles with a moving time of 3 hours and 58 minutes. The average speed was a healthy 10.1 mph given the terrain and weight being carried in my panniers and an overall elevation of 2126 feet. The maximum speed was 36.2 mph and Team Matilda managed to burn up 2552 calories and produce an average power output of 160 W.

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

#HebWay Day 4 – Tandeming to a standstill! Tarbert to Callanish Standing Stones

The schedule for day 4 – the longest day of the year – saw the tandem crews face the daunting challenge of tandeming up and over the massive North Harris hills before crossing into Lewis and heading east for a Summer Solstice visit to the evocative Callanish Standing Stones.

And it was also set to be a record breaking day as both Team Matilda and Team Siggy were scheduled to hit significant cycling mileage landmarks.

The “old gal” woke after a great night’s stay at the Harris Hotel with an air of foreboding about the hills ahead due to her asthma – which was not helped by hotel staff saying we better have double breakfasts when they found out the direction we were tandeming!

The “old gal” had an air of foreboding about the hills ahead as she left the Harris Hotel.

Today’s route started with a quick tandem round Tarbert’s one way system – required by the ferry traffic – in order to re-stock on picnic provisions. This is actually where the “old git’s” planning came a bit unstuck in spectacular style. He had meticulously researched where all the Co-ops were situated along the way and confidently asked at hotel reception where to find the Co-op in Tarbert – only to be met with a somewhat bewildered look! Turns out that he had confused Tarbert in KIntyre (which does have a Co-op) with Tarbert on Harris (which doesn’t have a Co-op) and thus found himself some 240 miles away from said Co-op much to his embarrassment! Naturally this was the focus for some serious ribbing from the other Nutty Tandemers!

Fortunately there was a local grocery store where the crews could stock up before heading into the hills! You can check out the details of our HebWay Day 4 route by clicking on the Strava map below.

Tandeming away from Tarbert along the north shore of West Loch Tarbert – looking out at the unbelievably blue ocean – was a joy with a gradual climb and some gentle undulations bringing us to the hamlet of Ardhasaig where Team Siggy screeched to a halt when Jane noticed a sign for a licensed grocers. The Nutty Tandemers were still missing the key ingredient for their prosecco picnic. But it was still only 09.57 and Scottish licensing laws mean no alcohol can be sold prior to 10 am. So Jane entered the shop and placed a bottle of prosecco on the counter at exactly 10.00 am much to the amusement of the shopkeeper!

Then the serious climbing began as we had to cross the North Harris Hills. The steepest section is actually quite near the bottom and there is no shame for Team Matilda to report that this was a part of the route where they “took me for a walk!”

The “old gal” at the start of the steep climb out of Tarbert into the North Harris hills.

This process involves the “old git” strenuously pushing me up hill – with the “old gal” walking about 20 yards behind! To most passing drivers it probably looks like my dynamic crew have had a major fall out – but nothing could be further from the truth. It is the only way Team Matilda can conquer the steep hills … and it was only for about a mile.

The “old git” taking the opportunity to refill his water bottle from natural resources!

The Hebridean Way climbs rapidly to the pass between Sgaoth Aird (1833 feet) and Clisham (2621 feet) which the guide books rightly describe as “true mountain country!” It is also bang in the middle of the islands’ Bird of Prey Trail in Golden Eagle Territory. Don’t think the crews spotted any Golden eagles but there were a few big birds around – one of which could have been a Sea Eagle given its large wingspan.

The crews hit the first peak at over 650 feet – then had a pleasant downhill pedal and a flat stretch – before knowing a second peak back up to 650 feet awaited as we passed Clisham – which officially qualifies as a Corbett as being between 2,500 and 3000 feet. Despite the dramatic scenery, Clisham will forever have an expletive adjective in front of it when it is referred to by the “old gal!”

Between the two peaks – in almost surreal circumstances – I am delighted to report that my dynamic crew officially clocked up their 4000th tandem mile together. Jane was on hand to record the significant landmark moment when my Matildas milometer hit the 4000 mile mark on this video; and take some photos of the “old gal” and “old git” as they celebrated their achievement.

The “old gal” sporting a big smile at the achievement of clocking up that 4000th tandem mile! …

… and the “old git” looked somewhat satisfied and pleased with himself too!

… and a smiling thumbs up from my dynamic crew after hitting the 4000 mile landmark!

Buoyed by the irony of a tandem team who “don’t do hills” hitting the 4000 mile mark on one of the highest hills they have been up, the crews slowly reached the top of the second peak – with the “old git” happily pointing out the small wooden bridge on the right which marks the top!

Now after any climb there is usually the elation of freewheeling at speed down the other side! But not today! The wind was blowing at over 20 mph and directly into the faces of the crews. So for the first time ever my dynamic crew found that they had to actually pedal downhill to make any serious progress. A quick stop allowed the “old gal” a triumphant shot looking backwards at those (expletive adjective!) hills the tandem crews had just conquered!

Looking back at the North Harris Hills – aptly described as “true mountain country”!

After battling downhill – and yes the word battling is not usually linked with the word downhill – there was a welcome stop at the Taste n’ Sea food caravan which not only offered a welcome coffee but also incredible panoramic views across Loch Seaforth. This was just one of the many brilliant tips the tandem crews enjoyed from the fabulously detailed guidebook ‘Cycling the Hebridean Way’ by The Offcomers – so naturally the “old git” had to pay homage to the book with a photo.

Jane and the “old gal” enjoying the views over Loch Seaforth at Taste n’ Sea.

The Offcomers book – The Guide to Cycling the Hebridean Way – was invaluable.

After the stop at Taste and Sea we immediately crossed a river from Harris onto the Isle of Lewis – island number 10 and the final island on our Hebridean Way adventure. Quite why Lewis is deemed to be a separate island – as it is simply the northernmost part of the largest island on the Outer Hebrides – remains a mystery shrouded in history. Some say the distinction between the two dates back to a split in the MacLeod clan which dominated the Western Isles for centuries. But if it is officially island number 10 on the HebWay, then that is good enough for the Nutty Tandemers!

My dynamic crew about to enter “island” number 10 on the HebWay – the Isle of Lewis.

As we tandemed on the “old gal” was almost delirious that the big North Harris Hills were now behind us and fast fading into the distance as we pedalled along. Although it wasn’t as bad as expected for my dynamic crew, she was still muttering under her breath the words “never again”!

The “old gal” is almost delirious that the big North Harris Hills were now behind us!

As the miles rolled on – with the wind now happily behind us – the tandem crews ticked off a couple of monuments along the route. The first was the Charles Edward Stuart Monument near Arivruaich – where history says Bonnie Prince Charlie landed while on the run just 18 days after the disastrous Battle of Culloden – whilst heading from Scalpay to Arnish near Stornoway.

The Bonnie Prince Charlie Monument at a viewpoint near Arivruaich on Lewis.

The second was the intriguing looking Pairc Raiders Monument south of Balallan. The cairn, built in 1994, is dedicated to the memory of the people of Lochs who laid claim to the dispossessed land of their forebears and challenged the authority of the State to spotlight the poverty and injustice they suffered under the oppression of heartless landlords. The unusual style of monument offered a perfect spot for a photo opportunity for the tandem crews.

The Nutty Tandemers pose for a group shot at the Pairc Raiders Monument.

The “old git” at the top of the staircase inside the unusually designed cairn.

Whose looking at you?! The Nutty Tandemers in reflection on the “old gal’s” sunglasses!

The crews had to answer a call of nature and called in to use facilities at the fascinating Kinloch Historical Society Museum at Balallan. We asked a local if there were any picnic spots nearby and thanks to his local knowledge we were told to look out for a huge rock in a mile or so where we would find picnic benches with a view over a lochan. The rock provided some shelter from the wind and it was an ideal spot for The Nutty Tandemers’ prosecco picnic number 4 of the tour!

John, Jane and the “old gal” enjoying the prosecco picnic sheltering from the wind.

The “old git” and “old gal” and John clearly found the prosecco somewhat relaxing!

Batteries suitably recharged by the food – and spirits refreshed by the fizz – the tandem crews pedalled off enjoying a downhill start. At Leurbost the crews headed west directly into a head wind which was nothing short of brutal for the final 10 miles to the destination for the night near Callanish. There is a real feeling of exposure here – of being in a big open amphitheater of a landcape featuring loch filled moorland and the backdrop of those Harris hills. Some bright sunshine appeared giving my dynamic crew the chance to remove their anoraks and reveal the supreme irony of their choice of cycling shirts given today’s hilly stage – their King of the Mountain Tour de France-style jerseys!

The sun came out to give the “old gal” and “old git” a chance to reveal their King of the Mountain shirts!

Team Siggy and Team Matilda both found this stretch a hard slog as they tandemed into the relentless wind, with next to no protection on the exposed moorland road. There was a welcome break from the hard pedalling with another major mileage landmark – which firmly puts my dynamic crew’s earlier 4000 mile celebration in the shade!

Incredibly Jane clocked up her 66,000th cycling mile and the “old gal” captured the actual moment – complete with commentary – when Team Siggy’s stoker recorded her amazing feat of hitting that 66,000th mile on bicycle saddles throughout her life in this video.

Team Siggy celebrate Jane’s amazing landmark achievement of 66,000 cycling miles.

Fortunately, given the head wind, there was just a few more miles to for the tandem crews to cycle till the imposing sight of the Callanish Standing Stones came into view. Rated as one of Scotland’s most magnificent and best-preserved Neolithic monuments, this was to be the focus of a much anticipated evening visit on what was the longest day – so Team Matilda and Team Siggy pedalled past for another mile or so to check-in to our base for the night at Loch Roag Guest House at Breasclete. And since this is a warts-and-all appraisal of our experiences it would need to be said that this bed and breakfast had the most brilliant location – but my dynamic crew felt it was a bit of a tourist trap and therefore overpriced and lacking in the real Hebridean hospitality factor experienced throughout the trip.

Before heading to our evening meal at the Standing Stones at Callanish – or Calanais in Galeic – there was time for the “old git” to check that Strava had recorded the day 4 HebWay ride showing that my dynamic crew tandemed a distance of 41.4 miles with a moving time of 4 hours 34 minutes. The average speed amazingly was 9.1 mph given the massive steep hills and the overall elevation of 2630 feet. The maximum speed was 35.6 mph and Team Matilda managed to burn up a new record of 3034 calories and produce an average power output of 165 W.

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

After a bit of welcome relaxing the crews enjoyed the benefit of tandeming without the heavy panniers and sprinted along to the Callanish Standing Stones and Visitor Centre which had a great cafe which provided a memorable spot for a tasty, home-cooked evening meal.

The Callanish Standing Stones consists of circles and lines of stones making up an extraordinary ‘Celtic Cross’-shaped setting of stones erected 5,000 years ago. They predate England’s famous Stonehenge monument, and were an important place for ritual activity for at least 2,000 years. The importance of the sight remains a mystery, but the best guess is that it was a kind of astronomical observatory.

The Callanish Standing Stones was the perfect place to observe sunset on the Summer Solstice.

The Nutty Tandemers had a wander round the ancient Neolithic stones, enjoying their enigmatic, almost magical quality on the Summer Solstice. One of the most remarkable aspects of the site being its relationship to the landscape within which it sits – from its dominating ridge it has uninterrupted views over land and seascape to the distant horizon around 360 degrees.

The “old git” decided that this was too good a photo opportunity to miss and so dragged me round the perimeter of the site to find a gate with easy access which avoided me being lifted over the fence!

The “old gal” celebrating Midsummer Night at Stonehenge of the North.

There were lots of druid-type revelers about at the stones – but only one tandem!

The “old gal” trying to blend in to the Neolithic stones which date back 5000 years.

Because of the date lots of druid-type revellers were arriving to feel the celestial presence as the sun set later – and throughout the longest night. But the by now weary tandem crews decided that a comfy bed was a better option before the final tandem to complete the Hebridean Way tomorrow!

A special effects arty treatment – hinting at a celestial presence at the Callanish Standing Stones.

#HebWay Day 5 – the final tandem! Callanish to Butt of Lewis Lighthouse

The Nutty Tandemers Club schedule for the final pedal on day 5 was a 36 mile ride from Callanish to complete the Hebridean Way Challenge at the Butt of Lewis Lighthouse. Both tandem crews were full of anticipation at crossing the finishing line and were hopeful it would be a gentle, mechanical-free pedal to the end of the route – to meet our booked transfer to our overnight stay in Stornoway.

Breakfast at Loch Roag Guest House was sadly a meagre affair – in comparison to the hearty meals enjoyed on the rest of the trip. The disappointment was confounded by ordering the packed lunch service – only to be given two slices of bread with some tuna in between as a sandwich and a slice of cheesecake which was obviously just out of the freezer. Not good value for money.

Before pedalling away from Breasclete my dynamic crew paid a quick visit to the Flannan Isles Memorial which pays tribute the tragic mysterious loss of three lighthouse keepers in 1900 – which was used as the basis for the 2018 movie The Vanishing starring Scots actor Gerard Butler.

The “old git” at the Flannan Isles Memorial at Breasclete before the start of day 5.

Then we were off on the final day of our adventure tandeming “on the edge of Scotland”! You can check out the details of our HebWay Day 5 route by clicking on the Strava map below.

The route immediately headed off through what was to be the typical terrain for the day – remote rolling moorland landscape with lots of lochans. Fortunately the wind was behind us which helped us tandems fair whizz along. There was plenty of interest to see along the way, as the crews firstly passed the Carloway Broch – an Iron Age drystone fort structure then the Garenin Blackhouse Village – depicting what life would have been like in the thatched blackhouses in the mid-20th Century.

My dynamic crew enjoying the view over one of the many lochans along the route.

The crews were in buoyant spirits taking in the sights of the bog cotton grass and hearing the lonesome call of curlews. And it was a joy to pedal along the well sign-posted Sustrans Scotland NCN Rt 780 route which was notably pot-hole free.

The Hebridean Way signposting along NCN Rt 780 was excellent – here with my friend Siggy tandem.

After pedalling past the Shawbost Norse Mill and Kiln we pulled in to see the fascinating recreation of a shieling – a simple dwelling lived in during the warmer months by families taking their cattle away up into the hills for summer grazing developed by the Barvas and Brue Historical Society

The “old git” and me at the fascinating recreation of a shieling at Brue.

As it says on the interpretation boards: “Imagine a time in the latter half of the 19th and early 20th centuries where there were no tarmac roads, cars ferries or plane travel, no electricity, running water, or toilets, a time before the internet and mobile phones.” It was clearly a basic and frugal life.

The “old gal” inside the authentically recreated basic stone shieling.

By this time of day the “old gal” was much in need of her caffeine fix, but small townships and villages came and went but no sign of a coffee shop. Interestingly most of the towns on this stretch had a Lower section – which required a downhill pedal … followed by a Higher section which obviously required an uphill pedal. Not surprisingly the “old gal” wasn’t a fan of this type of town planning! But after coming down thru Lower Barvas – and then up thru Upper Barvas a sign appeared in the middle of nowhere indicating “gallery and coffee”.

More in hope than expectation the crews followed a track which ended up at the Morven Gallery – where we spotted lots of other bikes leaning against the walls, so we knew we were in luck! The gallery turned out to be a wonderful place – full of paintings, driftwood mirrors and sculptures, and pottery – as well as having the vital coffee shop where the Nutty Tandemers indulged in a coffee and cake.

The Morven Gallery at Upper Barvas offered a welcome stop for great coffee.

Naturally the “old git” had to strike a ‘grumpy’ pose at the giant chair!

Refuelled and resisting the temptation to splash out a few hundred pounds – well the tandem couldn’t really carry a big mirror, could they?! – the crews moved on stopping at the Borve Mini Market which belied its claims to be a clothing and general store as it did not appear to have very much stock at all. But it did have one bottle of prosecco behind the counter, which the “old git” snapped up for the picnic, but only after not having much luck at chatting to a very uncommunicative shop assistant!

This section of the route is really open to the elements and the crews were grateful that the wind was generally behind us – but the air movements were still interesting! There was a few more miles of climbs and descents – more ‘uppers’ and ‘lowers’ – before we sought out a picnic spot by turning down a track at South Galson – part of Galson Estate owned by the Galson Community Trust – and ended up on an idyllic deserted stone beach.

Overlooking the Atlantic, and totally private to us, this was the perfect sun-kissed spot for final Nutty Tandemers’ signature prosecco picnic of the tour – number 5! And in the distance, we could see our Hebridean Way end point of the Butt of Lewis lighthouse – which added to the nutty celebratory mood!

The “old git” captured the prosecco infused picnic beach view in this artistic shot!

The “old gal” enjoying the scenic prosecco picnic in the sunshine.

Fortunately at the mini market both crews had topped up the “packed lunch” provided by our bed and breakfast – as it really wasn’t very filling. And given that this was the stop before the finishing line I think it is fair to say that the prosecco went straight to the tandem crew’s heads, such was the euphoric atmosphere. Team Siggy’s captain John found the fizz had a ‘relaxing’ effect, before all the tandemers had to pose for one of their suitably nutty photos!

Team Siggy’s captain John found the prosecco picnic rather relaxing!

Being the last day, the Nutty Tandemers had to pose for one of their suitably nutty photos!

After the picnic there the crews set off on the final stretch – to pedal the last 10 miles. With the ocean to the left, the Butt of Lewis Lighthouse crept tantalisingly closer with every push of the pedals. And still the final miles continued to undulate – providing some sharp inclines before some fast descents.

In fact one of the last downhills was so sharp that my dynamic crew hit a new Team Matilda speed record with Strava recording it as an amazing 40.1 mph. Team Siggy also clocked up a new record too – just a fraction behind at 39.6 mph.

Three final townships of Dell, Swainbost and Lionel passed in a flurry of excitement before the last junction and a left turn signposted to the lighthouse, One final climb had to be negotiated before the road flattened out and the lighthouse was firmly in the tandem crew’s sights for the last mile!

My dynamic crew on the final approach to the finishing line at the Butt of Lewis Lighthouse.

The “old gal” and “old git” happy to know just a few more pedals to the end!

Perhaps not unexpectedly, The Nutty Tandemers ensured that crossing the Hebridean Way finishing line did not go unnoticed! And as luck would have it our arrival was shot on video by Gav McDonald – of cycling holiday company Rather be Cycling – who we had met on Day 3 and was at the lighthouse area for his own organised tour finishing just a few minutes before us. Watch the video here:

I am reliably told by those who have completed even longer end-to-end rides that the end point can be a bit of an anti-climax! There was no chance of that happening with the tandem crews who savoured every second – almost incredulous at actually completing their 185 mile 10 island challenge! Great to see the video now appears on the I Have Cycled The Hebridean Way Facebook page!

Mission complete! The Nutty Tandemers Club complete their Hebridean Way Challenge!

Naturally the “old git” was in his element – taking lots of photos at the metal sign which marks the end point and finishing line of the epic Hebridean Way odyssey.

The “old gal” and “old git” celebrate at the finishing point!

Hi 5s at the sign which marks the end point of the Hebridean Way at Butt of Lewis Lighthouse.

The “old gal” looks somewhat happy at completing the 185 mile epic HebWay journey!

The “old git” clearly happy to be pointing out the finishing sign marking journeys end!

My dynamic crew took a few minutes, amidst the euphoria, to record a few initial thoughts on their immediate feelings after completing the Hebridean Way Challenge which you can see on this video:

There was a palpable sense of achievement among the tandem crews – and the other cyclists who had reached the end of their route. And there was something really satisfying finishing the ride “on the edge” of Scotland at the Butt of Lewis Lighthouse – where it really was next stop America!

The end of the road at Butt of Lewis Lighthouse … next stop America!

Stokers united! Jane and the “old gal” celebrate the end of the HebWay!

After loads of photos it was time to head back a couple of miles to the car park at the Sporsnis leisure centre where we had arranged to meet our pre-booked pick up transfer – to avoid a 30 hilly mile pedal to Stornoway – our base for the final night.

This is where we were in the hand of the experts at HebShuttle – the award winning cycle tour and transfer operator in the Outer Hebrides which offers, among other services, bike and passenger transfers, bike and e-bike hire, and an accommodation booking service. The company was a recent winner of the Scottish Rural Award 2019 for the Best Business Start-up – and its easy to see why from their highly polished and professional service.

The Nutty Tandemers were glad to see the HebShuttlle minibus and trailer waiting for them!

The NuttyTandemers were glad to see the branded HebShuttle minibus and bike trailer waiting their arrival – complete with a bottle of celebratory prosecco, what else?! The “old gal” was delighted to meet up with co-owner Jan Schouten to have a quick chat about the rapid growth the business is experiencing from the booming popularity of the route among cyclists – and tandemers!

Siggy and me were loaded into a custom designed covered bike and tandem trailer, complete with internal secure bike track holders – for the transfer to Stornoway. HebShuttle offer a wide range of bike and cyclist transfers throughout the Outer Hebrides linking the various ferry ports, including an all day transfer back to Barra for those who want to return to Oban.

One more group shot at the stylish HebShuttle bicycle trailer.

Siggy and me had the spacious trailer all to ourselves! Spot the prosecco!

The tandem crews were happy to be driven to Stornoway in comfort by Jan’s son Mike – underlining the family nature of the business – rather than face a long energy-sapping cycle into the wind. And all highly recommend the HebShuttle pick-up service as the perfect – and good value – way to get back to the ferry port after the satisfaction of completing the route.

In the spacious minibus there was time for the “old git” to check that Strava had recorded the day 5 HebWay ride as showing that my dynamic crew tandemed a distance of 36.17 miles with a moving time of 3 hours and 11 minutes. The average speed was 11.4 mph given the undulating terrain and an overall elevation of 1993 feet. The maximum speed was a new Team Matilda record of 40.9 mph and  my dynamic crew managed to burn up 2175 calories and produce an average power output of 170 W.

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

In no time the Nutty Tandemers were checking in to their comfortable rooms in the hospitable Crown Inn in Stornoway for a much needed shower and relaxation. Meanwhile me and Siggy were allocated our own large en-suite family room to spend the last night together – oo er! But of course this “old lady” of a tandem never reveals her secrets!

The tandem crews enjoyed a brilliant tasty meal to mark the completion of their Hebridean Way Challenge. I am told there was a fantastic gin bar – which helped the celebrations along! Lots of stories were recounted about the best bits of the tour. And the cork was popped on the bottle of prosecco, presented earlier by HebShuttle, to provide a fitting nightcap!

#HebWay – the journey home

The tandem crews gamely tried to hide the fact that there was a certain light headedness around – after last nights celebrations! – as they were up for an early Sunday morning continental breakfast provided for them at the hospitable Crown Inn in Stornoway.  The early rise was due to the need to check-in just after 7am for the 8am departure of the CalMac Stornoway to Ullapool ferry.

This was where the Nutty Tandemers got to use the final section of their fabulous value Hopscotch 8 ticket created by CalMac, specifically to cater for people doing the HebWay from end to end, The crews all thought that CalMac offered a great turn-up-and-sail service for cyclists throughout the Outer Hebrides. Just remember to keep your batch of tickets handy as you will need them on boarding!

Siggy and me were once again secured to the side of the car deck on the stylish and fairly new MV Loch Seaforth. The tandem crews were thankful that the sea was ultra calm for the 2 hour 30 minute crossing. Perhaps not surprisingly some strong coffee was the order of the day from the ship’s cafe!

The “old gal” enjoying the flat calm sea on the ferry crossing from Stornoway to Ullapool.

During the crossing there was a flurry of social media activity as the crews caught up with messages. The “old git” checked the Tandem Club UK leader board on Strava for miles covered over the past week – and spectacularly both Jane and John and my dynamic crew occupied the two top places! Chapeau!

A screengrab of The Tandem Club UK leader board.

Although the Hebridean Way route is officially 185 miles end to end-to-end, on the ferry crossing the “old git” had time to work out – via Strava – that Team Matilda tandemed a grand total of 200.5 miles due to a few detours. The total time my dynamic crew spent in my saddles was 19 hours and 25 minutes, resulting in a fairly impressive average speed over the five days of 10.6 mph, given the weight of my panniers and the total overall elevation over the route of 9488 feet. And don’t forget that top speed of 40.6 mph of which I am immensely proud for an “old lady” of a tandem!

On arrival at Ullapool we made our way to John and Jane’s SsangYong Tourismo car, which we had positioned at the start of the week. Team Siggy’s car is cavernous – and it needed to be to accommodate us two tandems, the four Nutty Tandemers and all the luggage. To create a bit more room Siggy did his very clever act of splitting into two bits – with John undoing the couplings on the tandem to allow this to happen! Now I don’t bend in the middle – or split into two – so I had to go in full length, although I did have my front wheel removed so I could fit! Oh the ignominy of it!

Both of us tandems easily fitted in to the back of Team Siggy’s cavernous car!

After fitting everything, and everyone in, we set off on the long near 4-hour 160 mile drive from Ullapool back to Oban, where Matilda Transport was parked – required by the logistical nightmare of having a car at the start and end ferry ports. The crews did however have an enjoyable pit stop at the artisan Cafe Eighty2 just after Drumnadrochit on the A82 on the drive down the side of Loch Ness for some much needed, and very tasty, food!

When we arrived in Oban my dynamic crew bid a fond farewell to John and Jane who had wisely decided to stay overnight in the local area before Team Siggy embarked on their journey back south of the border the next day. The “old git” and “old gal” meanwhile had a further two hour drive back to Matildas Rest to complete the epic journey.

#HebWay – final thoughts

The morning after the end of the Nutty Tandemers Challenge saw both Team Siggy and Team Matilda a bit sad that they were not tandeming “on the edge” on the Outer Hebrides and that their island odyssey was over. But back at base the “old git” discovered that the Outer Hebrides Tourism website had a new addition – a free downloadable personalised Hebridean Way completion certificate. So naturally my trusty captain printed out two versions – one for Team Matilda and one for Team Siggy – to keep the memories of the trip alive!

The personalised Hebridean Way completion certificates – we did it our way!

The certificates include the fact that there were ‘185 smiles to match the miles’ – which is of course what tandeming is all about! To that end I was in a quandary about the best way that I could recap our Hebridean Way adventures and end this blog – so I decided to simply ask both tandem teams to give their considered opinion to a series of questions about the trip.

1 Best B+B:
Team Siggy: Struan House at Sollas – on day 2 – because of the openness of hospitality provided by hostess Peggy, the wonderful meal, and the view from the table.
Team Matilda: Agree about Struan House for the unique ‘home-from-home’ Hebridean hospitality – although Invercanny on day 1 was a very close second!

2 Worst B+B:
Team Siggy: Loch Roag Guest House near Callanish – on day 4 – because of the tiny room with full size price++, the meagre breakfast, and the exorbitant cost of the packed lunch.
Team Matilda: Also Loch Roag, although to be fair perhaps we did hit them on a bad day with it being very busy due to the Summer Solstice.

3 Best prosecco picnic spot:
Team Siggy: Joint winners between the picnic bench above the Harris beaches on day 3, and the one at South Galson on Lewis on day 5. Why? Because of the locations and the company!
Team Matilda: Popping the cork on the bottle of prosecco overlooking the Caribbean-like scenery of the stunning blue sea and the white empty sands of the world renowned Harris beaches of Horgabost and Selebost – and sharing that with good friends – was a truly unique and unforgettable experience!

Stops for our signature Nutty Tandemers Club prosecco picnic don’t come any better than this!

4 Most scenic part of the route:
Team Siggy: Day 4  – all the way from Tarbert to Callanish because it was such a varied day – from the stunning shoreline, the rocky moonscape, looking down on the lochans from the top, and the moorland and trees.
Team Matilda: The stretch along the fabulously breathtaking beautiful beaches of West Harris on day 3, with the views out to the Atlantic ocean. Each headland brought a new ‘wow factor’ as we tandemed along with that feeling that we were quite literally “on the edge” of Scotland.

5 Funniest moment:
Team Siggy: When the wheelbarrow was brought out to collect the baggage from the aircraft which had just landed on the beach at Barra Airport on day 1.
Team Matilda: A dead heat between the “old git” looking for the Co-op in Tarbert on Harris on day 4 – when the Co-op was actually 240 miles away in Tarbert in KIntyre; and, on the same day, Jane patiently waiting till exactly 10 am to buy a bottle of prosecco to stay within licensing laws at a tiny grocers in the hamlet of Ardhasaig.

6 High point of the tour:
Team Siggy: Being at the Callanish Standing Stones on the Summer Solstice on day 4.
Team Matilda: Another dead heat between the surreal moment when my dynamic crew, who “don’t do hills”, clocked up their 4000th tandem mile together on one of the highest hills they have been up; and the Callanish Standing Stones being the perfect place to celebrate Midsummer Night.

The Callanish Standing stones was the perfect place to observe sunset on the Summer Solstice.

7 Low point of the tour:
Team Siggy: There wasn’t one!
Team Matilda: We agree it was all a fabulous experience – although the “old gal” did mention having to pedal down hill into the fierce headwind after the climb up (adjective expletive!) Clisham over the pass thru the North Harris hills on day 4!

8 Nuttiest moment for the Nutty Tandemers:
Team Siggy: Jane and the “old gal” ‘indicating their intention’ at the sign outside the Harris Gin Distillery on day 3 – in a moment fuelled by gin martinis!
Team Matilda: At the same venue – when the tandem crews found themselves literally locked in a distillery!

Fuelled by gin martinis – Jane and the “old gal” indicate their intention!

9 Overall thoughts on the Hebridean Way experience:
Team Siggy: The permanent special memories created by the friendliness of the people of the Outer Hebrides, experiencing life as it should be and the spectacular scenery.
Team Matilda: To borrow that phrase from the Hebridean Way marketing people, It was quite simply unique, fabulous and unforgettable to ‘experience life on the edge’.  If this route is on your cycling or tandeming bucket list – you simply MUST do it! Thank you Outer Hebrides!

10 Finally, wold you do it again?
Team Siggy: YES, YES and YES – and with the same people, and the same tandems!
Team Matilda: In full agreement here – although for some reason the “old gal” is muttering something about an e-tandem!

Unforgettable memories created by The Nutty Tandemers Club on the Hebridean Way Challenge.

In conclusion, on behalf of Team Matilda, it was a real pleasure to share every moment of the fantastic scenery and uphills and downhills of the Hebridean Way Challenge with Team Siggy. It was a true privilege for the “old git” and “old gal” to be with John and Jane on such an epic journey – where they more than lived up to being fellow Nutty Tandemers and once again proved they are real kindred spirits to my dynamic crew!

It really was an utterly fabulous week – a time where you can honestly say that tandeming just doesn’t get much better than this! Delighted that we have created lots of new nutty images for the memory bank! And this “old lady” tandem is already pining as I am missing that real gent of a tandem Siggy! We can’t wait for the next Nutty Tandemers Tour next year! Thanks guys!

Finally, thanks to all of you for reading this special edition of my blog, focusing on the Hebridean Way. if this is your first time, remember if you want to know more about Matildas Musings – the UK’s only blogging tandem – then click the follow button on this webpage to sign up for regular updates!

Till our next adventure on a bicycle made for two!