Le Tour de Deux Festivals du Tandem!

Scallops oysters and champagne?! No one told us festivals were like this!

“Do you fancy going to a festival?”, the “old git” had casually asked the “old gal” a few weeks ago? “In fact do you fancy going to two festivals in tandem, by tandem on the same day?” he asked. The response wasn’t immediately enthusiastic it would need to be said – from either of my dynamic crew!

Perhaps it was those traditional images of huge crowds of people standing soaked and caked in mud at somewhere like T in the Park that came to mind. And another off putting factor was that the “old gal” and the “old git” most definitely don’t do camping!

But they decided they would lose their festival virginity with a planned day trip to Strathyre to tandem between two festivals being hosted on the same Bank Holiday weekend within Rob Roy Country. So Sunday dawned and the weather was nice and sunny as we headed off early from Matildas Rest, with a little trepidation for what the day may bring.

The start point for Team Matilda’s Le Tour de Deux Festivals du Tandem was the fabulous Broch Cafe in Strathyre – where we had been invited to park Matilda Transport by the friendly owners Lesley and Bill. Even tho it was just around 10 o’clock the cafe had a great buzz about it with orders for hearty breakfasts flying out of the kitchen.

Team Matilda – all kitted up in their Saltire cycling tops ready for the off at Broch Cafe.

After a welcome Lucaffee coffee and delicious home made scone there was time for a quick photo of my dynamic crew all kitted up in their matching “Sunday best” Saltire cycling tops, before we headed off out of Strathyre on the super smooth surface of the Sustrans Scotland NCR7. You can check out the details of our route on Strava below – and don’t forget to click on the map image to be transferred to Strava to get the full data and statistics!

Before we built up any speed however, our first task was to look out for the site of a newly commissioned installation on the award-winning unique cultural outside art #BLiSStrail, named after the four villages it links – Balquhidder, Lochearnhead, Strathyre and St Fillans. The trail is the brainchild of LETi, the local Loch Earn Tourism Information group,  to encourage more visitors to the area – to boost tourism and the local economy.

We quickly found Drover’s Bho – a Highland Coo metal sculpture made by Kev Paxton’s ArtFe to mark the old cattle drovers route which has just been added to the BLiSStrail to mark 2017 being the Year of History Heritage and Archaeology.

Drovers Bho – the new BLiSStrail artwork. Spot the bramble eating mouse on his head!

The artwork has been beautifully landscaped to give the impression of the coo standing on a hilloch and really makes it feel at home! The intricacy of the metal artwork has to be admired – and the “old gal” was quick to spot a bramble-eating mouse on his head!

Back on my saddles, my crew tandemed off picking up a fair speed on the off-road cycle path heading for our first destination of our two festival tour – the  Mhor Festival being held in the grounds of the stylish boutique Monachyle Mhor hotel. Billed as the best “off the beaten track” festival in Scotland it promotes itself as a festival of food, drink, music, theatre and dance! As the festival web site says: “Come, play, sing, dance, cook, learn, chill!” Well, ok,if you insist!

And the organisers agree that arriving by tandem is ideal, as it saves having to use the bus on the traffic management system on the narrow roads! The approach gave my crew the opportunity to ride again on one of the best routes Team Matilda have had the pleasure of experiencing – gently undulating single track roads with the most wonderful views across Loch Voil within the Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park. And with hardly a whisper of wind, the loch’s surface was like a mirror, reflecting the surrounding hills. Truly magnifique!

The camp site at Mhor Festival must be one of the most scenic festival camp sites ever.

As we rounded the final bend we were greeted with the first view of theMhor Festival site. The campsite, just on the edge of the loch, has to be one of the most scenic festival sites ever. With thousands of people already enjoying the party atmosphere it looked like my crew were going to have fun – especially as the “old git” spotted a sign promising “fun and funk”!

The “old git” and me looking for fun and funk after arriving at Mhor Festival.

The festival organisers at Mhor had arranged for VIP admission tickets for Team Matilda – which I am sure must have been a result of my recent appearance on on BBC Scotland’s Landward television programme promoting Loch Voil area as our favourite picnic spot!

I was safely parked up in the staff car park as the my dynamic crew entered the festival site – and were immediately taken by the friendly nature of the event. And there was so much going on – dance, music, comedy, art, theatre and of course some amazing food and drink including a champagne and seafood bar.

The “old gal” decided that festivals may not be that bad after all! She was quickly impressed with the funky nature of the festival and had to pose beside one of the many amusing eye-catching signs dotted around the site.

The “old gal” showing off her funkier side – one of the eye catching signs at Mhor Festival

My crew decided it was time to sample some of the culinary delights on offer in the street food area and started with some gin infused salmon served on a beetroot scone with some red cabbage. They then decided to indulge in some seafood and had some amazing freshly cooked scallops washed down with an obligatory glass of champagne!  As the “old gal” was heard to say while quaffing her fizz and enjoying the alfresco lunch – “no one told us festivals were like this!”

Cheers – some yummy seafood for alfresco lunch. What’s not to like about festivals?

After lunch my  crew bumped into Kim Proven –  the enthusiastic chair of LETi and owner of Briar Cottages at Lochearnhead  – along with her husband Fraser who were enjoying a cool jazz funk band playing in the main arena. The “old git” naturally took the opportunity to remind Fraser of his (whisky induced) promise to ride me backwards! He claimed he hadn’t forgotten but also said he needed to get some practice in – so was somewhat vague about agreeing a date to show off his circus skills!

One of the joys of the event for my crew was just chilling and relaxing in the warm sunshine. The festival site had a lovely relaxed feel about it which was great for people watching.

The festival site had a lovely relaxed feel about it – great for people watching!

The afternoon seemed to slip past and all too soon it was time for my crew to retrieve me from the car park and tandem back into Strathyre for the second part of our festival tour. It was an interesting ride back along the single track road as it was quite busy with cars leaving the site and we had to slow down and let cars pass at virtually every single passing place.

But free of the confines of the single track road the “old git” was able to go up the gears and we clocked a new Team Matilda speed record of 32.4 mph on a nice downhill stretch! I was almost giddy with excitement! I mean it is many years since this “old lady’s” wheels have turned that fast!

Our tandem back from Mhor ended up where we started, back at Broch Cafe – just yards from the venue for our second festival of the day, the Strathyre Music Festival. Time for one more picture of the “old git” in front of the large marquee which hosts the festival, before I was packed away in Matilda Transport so my crew could concentrate on enjoying the music!

The “old git” outside the large marquee for the Strathyre Music Festival.

Lesley and Bill kindly let us change out of our cycling gear at Broch Cafe into more relaxed clothes more suitable for the music festival. We could already hear the bands playing but there was an additional attraction for my dynamic crew – Bill had fired up a bbq outside the cafe – and it was busy with festival goers looking for some food. The “old git” and the “old gal” were hungry again after their tandem ride and naturally had to sample the nosh! I am reliably told that the steak burgers with cheese were delicious! So good in fact (and whisper this bit!) they had seconds!

The Strathyre Music Festival is the second festival to be held in the area over the Bank Holiday weekend. And it must be one of Scotland’s best value festivals with an entry fee of only £5 per day. The music festival started from the success of local band Balvaig. Led by Kenny Higgins, who is also vice-chair of LETi, the band is a  group of highly talented local musicians and singer songwriters who regularly meet for bothy-style folk and blues music sessions.

The festival has rapidly grown in stature and size and is now in its fifth year. It is recognised as the largest small community based music festival in Scotland – renowned for its fantastic family friendly atmosphere in a beautiful setting.

The early Sunday evening session was a bit quieter than the late Saturday session when the marquee was mobbed for a set by Mudslide, a 5-piece blues band. But my crew were able to relax and hear a set set by Hugh Kelly, an alternative blues/soul singer songwriter. This was followed by a performance from Martha L Healy which explored country, folk, bluesceltic and Americana.

Martha L Healy performing her set at the Strathyre Music Festival.

Dipping briefly into the festival my crew experienced the friendly nature of it all before tiredness started to kick in for my crew after a long day in the sunshine, and they decided to miss the headline act of Papa Shandy and the Drams. So after bidding farewell to Lesley and Bill – who were still busy serving up food – it was time to drive home. After returning to Matildas Rest the “old git” checked Strava to find that they received eight on the ride – four personal bests and four second best times!

Strava officially recorded the ride as a distance of 16.4 miles with a total moving time of 1 hour 49 minutes. Average speed was 9.1 mph, with a top speed being a giddy 32.4 mph.

The elevation covered was 540 feet, as we managed to burn up 1002 calories, and produced an estimated average power output of 137 W.

As always the Strava statistics and our route are brought to life in our Relive 3D video – so take a look below. (Remember if you are reading this on email, you need to click on the blog first – via the link at the bottom of the email – to view the video.)

What a fantastic day in the sunshine for Team Matilda at our first ever festivals! Let’s just say that my dynamic crew enjoyed it so much they are already planning to come back in 2018! You never know, we might be able to persuade some other tandems to join us!

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Sunday showers on BLiSStrail in scenic Strathyre

Taking a photo of you taking a photo of me … reflective fun at The Look Out.

So a weekend of fun and frolics with good solo cyclist friends of the “old gal” and “old git” – Gillian and Craig who had come to Matildas Rest to stay for a mini-break. My dynamic crew promised them “gin and BLiSStrail.” However I think that our visitors had (perhaps understandably!) assumed that the BLiSStrail was a tour of local pubs sampling gin! But in fact the gin was a visit to a local gin bar – followed by a cycle the next day around the award-winning unique cultural outside art #BLiSStrail, named after the four villages it links – Balquhidder, Lochearnhead, Strathyre and St Fillans – deep in the heart of Rob Roy Country within the Loch Lomond and  The Trossachs National Park.

The weekend started with some fab Mediterranean vegetable lasagne made by the “old gal” before some “pre cycle training” of a night out in Perth! I was left behind tucked up in the garage as the bike crews headed off on a different mode of transport – the bus! – for a trip into The Venue – a gin bar which boasts no less than 200 gins on offer.

Easy to follow signs to the Gin Bar at The Venue, Perth.

There is a gin menu – a thick pamphlet which describes all the varieties, and the best mix of tonics and garnishes to have with them! So naturally the four cyclists had to sample a few gins between them! And I am reliably told that an enjoyable night was had by all! No jokes about being well oiled please!

Pre tandem ride Saturday night training – two tonics (with splash of gin) … in tandem!

No room for sore heads however as the “old git” had everyone up early, ready to head off to Strathyre to cycle round the BLiSStrail – a series of large metal and wood sculptures and art installations. It is the brainchild of LETi, the local Loch Earn Tourism Information group,  to encourage more visitors to the area – to boost tourism and the local economy.

And as we drove into St Fillans – along the lovely road from Crieff – there was time for a quick photo stop at the affectionately named “Mirror Man” – which was glistening in the sun in the water at the top of Loch Earn opposite the The Four Seasons Hotel. This iconic mirrored sculpture is officially called “STILL” and has been created by Scottish artist Rob Mulholland.

The “old git” trying (and failing!) to mirror Mirror Man in  Loch Earn at St Fillans.

The start point for our tour was Broch Cafe in Strathyre – a great facility run by the hospitable owners Lesley and Bill, who we met on a previous trips to the area.  As always the cafe was bustling with customers and has a really friendly vibe about it. After a welcome coffee Gillian decided to try out an unusual way of sitting on Thistle the Heilan’ Coo, which sits just outside the cafe, before we headed off. Me thinks she really fancies a motorbike than a pedal bike!

Gillian finding an unusual way to sit on Thistle the Heilan’ coo at Broch Cafe!

You can check out the details of our route on Strava below – and don’t forget to click on the map image to be transferred to Strava to get the full data and statistics!

We headed out of Strathyre on the Sustrans Scotland NCR7 – which Gillian and Craig immediately agreed was one of the best cycle paths that they had every cycled on! It is like a motorway surface – super smooth – which, for an “old lady” like myself who doesn’t like too many bumps and potholes, was a delight to tandem on!

Ironically, as we passed the site which will host a newly commissioned #BLiSStrail sculpture of a Highland Coo to mark the old cattle drovers route, we came across a rather unusual obstruction on the cycle path … of … you’ve guessed … a real live young Highland Coo! This one had obviously been keen to investigate the merits of NCR7 and somehow had managed to escape from its field. Despite being a relative baby, it was still fairly substantial and was blocking the route. Fortunately it was fairly friendly, and after having a few inquisitive looks at my frame (I don’t think it had seen many tandem bikes!) he happily “moooved” over to let us past.

Unusual “rush hour” obstruction on NCR7 – I had to ask Hamish to mooove over!

After the cow “diversion” we picked up a fair speed on the cycle path, and soon we were at Kingshouse where we took the turning for Balquidder – soon passing the grave of Rob Roy MacGregor.  Pedalling on into Balquidder, the “old gal” was keen to show Gillian and Craig an interesting feature beside the village hall – an unusual iconic red phone box. Unusual in that this one has been transformed into a book exchange for the local community after the actual phone service was withdrawn as it was no longer used much. What a wonderful idea! Great #ScotSpirit!

Great alternative use for a phone box – Balquhidder Book Exchange.

Tandeming on from Balquhidder we headed along the 4 miles signposted towards the stylish boutique Monachyle Mhor hotel to take in the Look Out installation – one of the key pieces of the #BLiSStrail. It is essentially a mirrored cube which blends into the surrounding backdrop. In fact it is so well situated that you really have to look hard to find it in the middle of a field! Despite the fact that the weather had turned  a bit showery, the Look Out’s cleverly designed reflective lines provided both bike crews with endless opportunities for fun photographs.

Whose looking at who?! – Gillian, Craig and the “old gal” at the Look Out.

Look(ing) out, look(ing) in! So many options, so many combinations at the mirrored cabin.

Interesting half and half reflection of the “old gal” at the Look Out.

To escape the sudden downpour the “old gal” – who doesn’t like cycling in rain! – decided we should try and take refuge in the nearest shelter. This turned out to be a space under the road bridge, which had clearly been built over the ancient old bridge – giving a fascinating glimpse of the past.

A new(ish) bridge built over the ancient old bridge at the end of Loch Voil.

When the sun broke thru again my crew decided it was time to show Gillian and Craig our perfect prosecco picnic spot on the banks of Loch Voil. And as the rain clouds blew away, we were left with a perfect vista over the loch to the hills on the other side. First job, of course, was for the “old git” to chill the prosecco in the huge outdoor wine chiller! Then to open it, and pour it, without spilling a drop! – which he successfully achieved! As they say, practice makes perfect! Gillian and Craig were suitably impressed at the alfresco lunch venue and the prosecco was the perfect accompaniment to the healthy picnic of croissants filled with smoked salmon and chilli cream cheese, followed by fresh fruit.

Wine cooler with a view! Perfect way to chill the prosecco!

Cheers! Our perfect prosecco picnic spot on the banks of Loch Voil.

The “old gal” enjoying her fresh fruit and prosecco in the sunshine!

Fortified by another prosecco picnic, we pedalled off enjoying the fabulous countryside and gently undulating road along the side of Loch Voil. But unfortunately as we got to Balquhidder the rain started again and after a vote among my dynamic crew – with the “old gal” having the casting vote! – the decision was taken to abandon the planned route to return to Strathyre on the old hilly road up through the forest. So we headed back retracing our steps by rejoining NCR 7 back to Strathyre. This turned out to be a fairly sensible outcome as the rain showed no sign of easing off.

Perfect finish! A warming coffee and yummy home made carrot cake at Broch Cafe.

Our tandem ride ended up where we started back at Broch Cafe, where it was time for my team to enjoy that traditional tandemers reviving snack of yummy coffee and home made carrot cake – while checking Strava to find that they received five gongs on the ride.

Strava officially recorded the ride as a distance of 16.0 miles with a total moving time of 1 hour 47 minutes. Average speed was 9.0 mph, with a top speed being a giddy 30.9 mph.

The elevation covered was 261 feet, as we managed to burn up 914 calories, and produced an estimated average power output of 128 W.

Standby for a clever bit now … the “old git” had been told about an amazing new app called Relive which creates a 3D video interpretation of a ride – effectively bringing Strava to life. It does what it says on the tin – reliving a ride by showing the landscape and contours of the route, as well as showing photos at the spot they were taken, before ending with all the stats. Very clever bit of tech! So  having signed up Team Matilda were delighted to received their first video. Click on the play button below and take a look! I am sure you will be impressed! The “old git” certainly was!

Don’t forget you can sign up to see my Twitter feed by clicking on the word MatildasMusings, or the “follow” button.

My dynamic crew got a bit chilled at the end of the ride, so unfortunately had to turn down the offer of a game of petanque on Broch Cafe’s own piste – but they will take up the offer from Bill and  Lesley for a doubles match soon!

In the meantime I for one can’t wait to return on the last Sunday in May for Team Matilda’s double festival extravaganza tour – visiting both the Mhor Festival and the Strathyre Music Festival by tandem! If you can’t wait, read my recent blog where we sussed out the route between the two festivals!

Pedalling into social media, supporting Perth 2021, Sustrans Scotland goodies and more fame!

My new Twitter page heading with my @matildasmusings handle.

My new Twitter page heading with my @matildasmusings handle.

Well its been an exciting few days here at Matildas Rest – the result of which is that this “old lady” has again proved she is not too old to learn new tricks and has become a social media whizzkid!

Clearly I have always been good at computer technology – given that I write this blog – but until now I had resisted the temptation to enter the often confusing social media world of Facebook and Twitter. I had left that to my Captain to communicate with my followers on my behalf!

But as they say “every day is a school day” so I decided to take the plunge and go headfirst into a social media frenzy by creating both my very own Facebook page and a Twitter feed! And I am delighted with the results as both are “branded” to tie in with my blog!

I was delighted to find that the @matildasmusings handle was free for both services so I eagerly grabbed them. I started with Twitter – I had to add some pictures and write a little bit about myself. Where to start? So I got the “old git” to help as he considers himself to be a bit of wordsmith!

sm-new-twitter-smallHe came up with: Blogging classic tandem Matilda writes Musings about her adventures on the road focusing on tourism and food & drink experiences en route in Scotland + abroad!

I have to say he does have a way with words – just don’t tell him or he gets all big headed! – as it does what it says on the tin. Then I added where Matildas Rest is, and finally my blog website address and I was ready to send my first Tweet! It just announced that I was now live on Twitter – not that memorable! But Oooh the excitement that I am now  able to communicate directly with my fans! I am going to learn all the lingo – like using hashtags like #ScotSpirit which seems to perfectly encapsulate me!

So I would be delighted if you “followed” me and sent me a message by clicking the “follow” button after clicking on to my Twitter page here. I guess my only problem as an “old lady” will be keeping within the 140 characters allowed to get my message across! So I’ll have to tag lots of people, and develop a new form of MatildasMusings shorthand!

No such worries about restrictions on the number of words on Facebook however! It was equally easy to set up my own page –  again starting by adding in the same banner pictures to give it the same look as Twitter! It’s all got to look slick and  a seamless operation you know!

Then time for the words for the “About” page. This time I started with: The Facebook page of Matildas Musings which is a blog written by Matilda – the “old lady” classic tandem – and her Musings about her adventures, trials and tribulations with the “old git” and Captain, aka Colin, and the “old gal” and Chief Stoker (as well as Chief Engineer) aka Diane.

The header for my very own Facebook page with @matildasmusings handle.

The header for my very own Facebook page with my @matildasmusings handle.

I then added the same words as the Twitter biography – and my contact details and blog address. I thought I was finished, then Facebook asked for my mission! I thought of being witty with something like “to proudly go where no tandem has gone before” but in the end I settled for: “To promote all things tandem, tourism, and food & drink in Scotland and abroad.” Clever eh?!

So now I was live on Facebook and the very first message I posted was about how chuffed I was with my very own page – and the fact that it neatly ties in with my Twitter feed and my blog! I would be ecstatic if you “liked” my page and sent me a wee message by clicking the “like” button after clicking on to my Facebook page here.

I was on a roll, so next up was to change my profile pic – the one of my dynamic duo in their Saltire tandeming jerseys and me on the beach – in order to add my support to Perth 2021. This is the campaigning body promoting Perth’s bid to be named the first UK City of Culture in Scotland!

My Perth is the Place 2021 profile picture.

My Perth is the Place 2021 profile picture.

So as proud residents of Perthshire and to show Team Matildas support for the bid, I downloaded my very own Perth2021 Twibbon – which gave me a neat ribbon-style border for my profile photo which says “Perth is the Place 2021”. It is aimed at Twitter users but using my new found technology skills it was easy to make it my Facebook profile picture too. I just need to remember to use the hashtags #Perthistheplace and #Perth2021 now!

My message to pledge my support to Perth2021.

My message to pledge my support to Perth2021.

As the Perth2021 website states Perth is a unique city at the heart of Scotland’s story. Both the oldest city of Scotland – the ancient crowning place of Scottish kings – and the youngest, granted city status in 2012. The city wants City of Culture status in 2021 to:

  • create mass participation in culture and creative learning which enrich lives and remove barriers to access and enjoyment.
  • connect rural and urban communities through inspiring arts programmes which bring people and places together.
  • cultivate new cultural activity and talent, locally and across the UK.
  • collaborate on our creative economy, and be a place where artists, creative industries and business innovation can flourish.
  • challenge ideas about urban renewal – by being a great small city.

The 2021 team has been urging locals to become part of the bid by pledging support. So naturally I was more than happy to add my voice to the campaign with my own personal message!

So after my success in the social media world, I have had some presents recently from the very kind people at Sustrans Scotland who look after the National Cycle Network in Scotland.

The pile of goodies I received from Sustrans Scotland.

The goodies I received from Sustrans Scotland.

My new saddle covers!

My new saddle covers!

For the support of Team Matilda in promoting cycle paths around Scotland I received a pile of goodies including route maps, reflectors, lights and badges!

I was even sent a couple of Sustrans Scotland’s vivid green waterproof saddle covers which will make me look much more professional when I have the misfortune to get caught in the rain. I will certainly look better that the previous default position of having unglamorous supermarket carrier bags thrown over my seats by the “old gal”!

The Villagers article about me!

The Villagers article about me!

The last bit of news I have in this post is news of more fame – which may go to my handlebars! I am very proud as Team Matilda have been featured in a lovely full page article – “Fun in tandem with BLS community” – in The Villagers newspaper in Robroycountry reflecting on my recent fantastic visit to take in the cultural and foodie #BLiSStrail around Strathyre.

Regular readers of my blog will remember it was great fun for my dynamic crew to meet lots of local tourism business folk like people from Sula Furnishing, The Broch Cafe, Airlie House, Strathyre Outdoors and Strathyre Music Festival.

During a memorable Scottish music jam local band Balvaig and LETi chair Kim Proven of Briar Cottages, Lochearnhead performed a special version of my theme song which you can watch on Youtube here!

It was all wonderful, and if you haven’t already read it then you need to read my blog post on my BLiSSful Strathyre’s savoir-faire sojourn.

Guess who is on the front page of Roar's newsletter?!

Guess who is on the front page of Roar’s newsletter?!

I have also been featured on the front page of the newsletter of the charity Roar – Connections for Life  newsletter. Regular readers will remember that in January I paid a visit to their Paisley base and helped 91 year old John Chapman tick riding a tandem off his bucket list! John was a star!

Again, if you haven’t already read it then you meed to read my blog post Roaring to help 91 year old John tick riding a tandem off his bucket list! It really has a wow of a feelgood factor! What a #ScotSpirit

Now with all this social media stuff, pledges, presents and publicity, what I need to do is find some half decent weather to get my dynamic crew of the “old git” and the “old gal” back out on the open road, so I have some real tandeming to post about!

BLiSSful Strathyre’s savoir-faire sojourn!

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

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

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

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

leti-logosmaller

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

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

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

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

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

A sherry welcome!

A sherry welcome!

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

The welcoming Lubnaig room at Airlie House bed and breakfast.

The welcoming Lubnaig room at Airlie House bed and breakfast.

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

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

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

Ben Sheann burger.

Ben Sheann burger.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Irn-Bru ice cream!

Irn-Bru ice cream!

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

Airlie House breakfast.

Airlie House breakfast.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kim ready to put her faith in my captain! …

Thumbs up from Kim after going hands free!

… and thumbs up after going hands free!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here I am at The Strathyre Broch Project just off NCR7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One of Mhor's slogans!

One of Mhor’s slogans!

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

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

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

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

Haggis Mhor style!

Haggis Mhor style!

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

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

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

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

The "old gal" enjoying the night with Graham

The “old gal” enjoying the night with Graham …

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

The original "cruck" ceiling at Briar Cottages.

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

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

Will this be Fraser?

Will this be Fraser?

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

Watch this space….!

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