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!

A gander for gourmet gin tasting tae Dunning!

Bit of cycling … bit of gin … perfect combination. What could possibly go wrong?!

Standby for  a quick romp of a blog! This post is a report of a recent “midweek special” tandem trip to a gourmet gin tasting event at a nearby country pub! Now, for my dynamic crew that seemed the perfect combination – a bit of cycling and a bit of gin! Goes together a bit like gin and tonic … according to the “old git!” I mean, what could possibly go wrong?!

You probably know by now that the “old gal” and the “old git” like their gin! But not just any gin. In fact they would turn their noses up at a Gordon’s Gin and tonic with a slice of lemon! No, we are talking Scottish artisan gin here – and not only do they have a wee bit of a penchant for gin – they like to consider themselves something of gin connoisseurs!

So when the “old git” discovered that the nearby The Kirkstyle Inn was holding a gourmet gin tasting evening it seemed a natural fit! And when the “old gal” found out that the Kirkstyle’s new owner and mine host Jamie Dexter Harrison had priced the tickets at a bargain price of £10 for three gin tastings and finger food – to attract new customers – her reaction was an emphatic “sold!”

And that’s where I come in to the story – because there was the small problem of how to get there and back again given the rural location and that driving clearly was a non starter! The “old git” had a brainwave that they could arrive (and depart) by tandem! It would need to be said that the “old gal” was a bit sceptical to begin with … but soon warmed to the idea!

And so on a Wednesday night my crew had a quick turnaround from work to get kitted up in their tandeming gear – and we were off  on our Dash to Dunning along the scenic back roads from Matildas Rest in Auchterarder. 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! 

It’s a fraction less than five miles door to door and the promise of gin drove my crew on so they wouldn’t be late for the start time of 6.30 – with the journey taking just 23 minutes! Having arrived with a few minutes to spare, there was time for a few photos outside the picturesque Inn.

Old fashioned blackboards promoting the gin night at The Kirkstyle Inn.

It would need to be said that the “old gal” and the “old git” did get a few questioning looks from other locals arriving! Let’s just say they were the only people to arrive by tandem – and the only people wearing hi-vis yellow tandeming t-shirts! Certainly one way to make an entrance!

The calm before the gins! The “old git” and “old gal” arrive in style!

So I was safely locked up outside with the promise that my crew would be back before it got dark for the ride home! And they tell me they had a great couple of hours finding out about and sampling the gins and enjoying some tasty nibbles.

The line up of three gins to sample – with lots of tonic, ice and garnishes!

First up was the Classic Edinburgh Gin – which is distilled in Scotland’s capital city with heather, milk thistle and pine and served with regular tonic and a garnish of orange peel. The citrus effect was a good way to kick off the evening!

When sampling one of the gins my crew found a suitable sign at the bar!

The second gin was Rock Rose from a small distillery at Dunnet Bay near Caithness in the far north of Scotland. The key botanical they use is rhodiola rosea, more commonly known as rose root, which is a small rose type plant which grows on the cliffs at Caithness – and gives the gin its name. To help bring out the floral botanicals, this was served with Mediterranean tonic – and am told this was a big hit!

“Keep pouring while you smile at the camera” says the “old gal”!

My crew enjoyed some tasty finger food  from the Kirkstyle kitchen before tasting the last gin – Love Gin from Eden Mill in St Andrews. This pink gin has floral and warm berry notes – and is actually one of my dynamic crew’s favourites! This time it was served with ginger ale and a slice of lime. Yum!

The two hours flew past and after sampling the third and final gin – and making some new friends in the Inn – it was time for the “old git” and the “old gal” to leave so they could get most of the return journey as the sun set – before it got pitch dark. To be on the safe side I was lit up like a Christmas tree with three rear flashing red lights and two front lights – one of which was flashing! We certainly were not going to be missed by any motorists on the country road home.

Ready for tandem ride home – with lots of lights to be safe!

Now  my dynamic crew had kind of expected the return tandem ride to be somewhat different – perhaps a tad wobbly even! But given that the “old git” and the “old gal” were pretty sober, in reality it was just like any other tandem ride. The journey was completed in a fraction under 30 mins – and we arrived home just as it got completely dark. Job done!

Back at Matildas Rest – with the  “old gal” and the “old git” buzzing with the endorphin boost created from the exercise … and the gin! – there was even more elation when they checked Strava to find they had received three gongs for their efforts! Obviously being gin fuelled helps the performance!

So Strava officially recorded the ride as covering a distance of  9.5 miles with a total moving time of 52.55 minutes, at a healthy average speed of 10.8 mph.

The total elapsed time was over 3 hours – allowing for the gin tastings! Top speed recorded was 23.3 mph and the elevation covered was 291 feet. Together we managed to burn up 520 calories, and produced an estimated average power output of 147 W.

It was a joy for Team Matilda to be out pedalling along breathing in the fresh air in the beautiful Perth and Kinross Countryside Trust and Perth and Kinross Council area near Perth City Centre. A perfect evening to celebrate being a Perth 2021 supporter! And clearly #perthistheplace (for gin!)

All told – a bit of exercise … a  bit of tandeming … and a bit of gourmet gin! Great evening really. What a tonic!

Tour de Blackford to help launch Blackford Paths Network project

Two tandems and folk group Tarneybackle ready to lead the Blackford Paths Network launch ride.

It is always exciting to get an invitation! And this “old lady” tandem was very impressed to receive an invitation to help promote the launch of a new cycle paths project in our area! According to the invite it seems that I am now a bit of a local celebrity – and my presence would help raise awareness for the campaign! Amazing but true!

Yes Team Matilda’s notoriety had been noticed by the Blackford Community Council – in the next village along from Matilda’s Rest in Auchterarder. It has set up the Blackford Paths Network project which aims to create a network of safe off-road cycle and walking paths around Blackford – and in particular routes to our home town of Auchterarder and Gleneagles railway station.

The project was holding a Drop in Consultation event at the Moray Institute and I was invited to help lead a “Tour de Blackford” cycle ride to create some interest and encourage local people to take part in survey about what routes they would like to see in the area. How could I possibly refuse?!

All kitted up with the Blackford Paths Network logo.

The “old git” got me all kitted up looking resplendent with the Blackford Paths Network logo so that I would be easily recognised – as if I wouldn’t! But just to make sure there was a lovely pre-event picture of me in the Dundee Courier to highlight the event.

Fame! Here I am pictured in The Courier promoting the launch ride and event.

The organisers had asked that me and my dynamic crew would team up with local folk trio Tarneybackle, and another local tandem, to lead a cycle round the village in a bid to drum up support for the event. But first we had to tandem to Blackford – which only underlined the need for new cycle paths! 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! 

In order to avoid the dangers of the A9  dual carriageway – and 4 lanes of 70mph traffic – which is the direct vehicle route between Auchterarder and Blackford, we headed off on the windy Bardrill Road. It was a joy for Team Matilda to be out pedalling along breathing in the fresh air basking in the sun in the beautiful Perth and Kinross Countryside Trust and Perth and Kinross Council area near Perth City Centre. A perfect day to celebrate being a Perth 2021 supporter!

But the “old gal” had been warned in advance about the state of this farm road – which has a very poor surface riddled with huge potholes. As the “old git” gingerly tried to pick a path between them he wittily suggested that as some of the pot holes were so deep – and filled with rain water – that they would make a decent swimming pool! Oh how we laughed – not!

A bend littered with stones on the alternative Badrill Road route to avoid the dangerous A9.

One of the bends on the route is locally known as “sand corner” and it was easy to see why. Except that it should have been renamed “rubble corner” such was the state of the rough bumpy surface of stones left after prolonged rain erosion.

The next problem came at the end of the farm road where the only alternative is to literally dice with death and attempt the “killer crossing”over the 4 lanes of the dual carriageway – while avoiding getting sucked into the blast of passing trucks and lorries.

Another key danger is a “killer crossing” over 4 lanes of 70mph traffic on the A9 to access Blackford.

After a significant wait for a suitable gap, we were able to make a dash for it and cross the road – but with my crew’s hearts in a  bit of a flutter. Certainly a crossing to be avoided unless absolutely necessary! So Team Matilda arrived in one piece (just!) at the Moray Institute and met up with lots of other bikes for the “Tour de Blackford.”

Tandemers and cyclists gather at the Moray Institute for the Tour de Blackford!

After I made my acquaintance with the other local tandem – known simply as “The Bike”! – crewed by Blackford resident Bob Watkinson and his stoker Marguerite – we met the “Tarneybackle Tourists” John, Lorna and Sandy, before setting off on the ride round the village in bright sunshine. The “old git” was in his element – happy to parp my horn to make sure the ride got noticed and to remind locals to pop into the consultation event and fill in the survey.

Thumbs up from the “old git” as Team Matilda leads the promotional ride thru Blackford!

Here I am beside “the Bike” – the other tandem crewed by Bob and Marguerite.

I got to parp my horn lots on The Tour de Blackford to raise awareness for the launch event!

After the ride we had to pose for promotional pictures at the entrance to the village.

After three laps we cycled to the entrance to the village for a promotional photo shoot, before returning to the Moray Institute to take part in the official consultation event – which was designed to give an opportunity for cyclists, walkers and residents to share ideas on the paths project and look at maps of possible routes from Blackford to the Auchterarder area. To add to the event’s appeal Tarneybackle also performed a few familiar folk songs – while still wearing their cycling gear!

The “old gal” taking part in the consultation event to launch the Blackford Paths Network.

Blackford based folk group Tarneybackle performed at the launch event.

Funding for the Blackford Paths Network project has so far come from Tactran (the Tayside and Central Scotland Transport Partnership) and the Climate Change Development Fund. After the survey period, the next stage is that the projects consultant will report back over the next two months on what are the best and safest routes.  The consultant will then survey those routes to provide costings so that the project can put in applications for funding to provide proper safe off road paths.

The “old gal” with Janet Law from Blackford Community Council and consultant Crispin Hayes.

After filling in the survey my dynamic crew got back on my saddles to head home home. But, in a bitter irony, we unfortunately experienced first hand just how badly proper cycle paths are needed in the area. I suffered a painful injury on the return tandem journey along Bardrill Road – when I damaged one of my spokes on my rear wheel on an awful pothole which was disguised as a puddle! Ouch!

Ouch! I damaged a rear wheel spoke on a huge pothole on the pedal home.

My dynamic crew initially thought I had suffered a broken spoke – but fortunately an inspection of the damage revealed that my spoke has just worked lose and required a bit of tightening. Phew! A bit of relief as I thought I would have to be paying a visit to the tandem doctors!

Back at Matildas Rest and time for the “old git” to check the figures on Strava which officially recorded the ride as covering a distance of  15.7 miles with a total moving time of 1 hour 42 minutes, at an average speed of 9.2 mph. Top speed recorded was 28.2 mph and the elevation covered was 403 feet. We managed to burn up 993 calories, and produced an estimated average power output of 145 W.

And there was more fame to come when Team Matilda adorned a great post event article in the Dundee Courier the next day.

More fame! Team Matilda pictured in a great article in The Courier after the launch event.

All in all a good fun day to launch the Blackford Paths Project, which Team Matilda were delighted to be involved in – even if I did suffer a painful injury! And it will be fantastic if the initial consultation achieves its aims of much needed new cycle paths around a very scenic part of Perthshire.

My spokes (both damaged and undamaged) are firmly crossed!

Un peu de petanque a pedal and prosecco picnic in scenic Strathyre

Un peu de petanque – the “old gal” on the piste at Broch Cafe in Strathyre!

So a nice bright sunny Sunday morning and the “old git” was up with the lark and in his usual (annoying!) manner was pulling the duvet off the “old gal” at 7am with the promise of a great day’s tandeming ahead – with the added attraction of a game of petanque thrown in! “Haud me back!” she said – well at least that’s the polite translation of what she said!

The enticement to get out of bed was a return to Strathyre – where rural Perthshire meets rural Stirling – to do the scenic cycle we attempted during our visit back at the end of January. Regular blog readers will remember that the trip was abandoned by Team Matilda due to freezing conditions and snow!

The “old git” likes to do his homework, and after a final check of the weather to ensure there would be no snow, the “old gal” prepared one of my dynamic crew’s infamous prosecco picnics and we were off!

The route was to do a loop around Strathyre – with a detour to Loch Voil for a picnic. One of the ideas behind this trip was doing a recce for a weekend tandem tour of two great local festivals in the area on the same weekend at the end of May – and you can read more details of them throughout this blog.

My crew also planned to revisit the 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 trail is a series of large metal and wood sculptures and art installations – mostly by Scottish artists. 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.

#BLiSStrail has been so popular that it is now an “award winning trail” – with the hardworking LETi volunteers receiving the honour of a regional Scottish Thistle Award – recognised as the tourism Oscars – for “Working Together for Tourism” – which is a great accolade for a small group.

And as we drove into St Fillans – along the lovely road from Crieff – we immediately were reminded of the attraction of the BLiSStrail when we caught sight of the affectionately named “Mirror Man” glistening in the sun in the water at the top of Loch Earn opposite the The Four Seasons Hotel.

Selfie time with Mirror Man – who is officially known as STILL – on #BLiSStrail at St Fillans on Loch Earn.

The iconic mirrored sculpture is officially named “STILL” and has been created by Scottish artist Rob Mulholland. It is an eye-catching artwork and most people driving along the road can’t resist stopping for a selfie and a photo opportunity – and that obviously included my dynamic crew!

It was the first time in four recent visits that we had seen the sculpture as it is was removed from the water for winter hibernation after almost disappearing during storms in January 2016. The larger than life artwork was feared to have been destroyed in 90 mph winds which knocked him from his perch. But the half-tonne statue was recovered and underwent substantial repairs – including re-attaching his head (which sounds painful to me being another iconic metal structure!)

The “old gal” trying to hold Mirror Man who was clearly in reflective mood!

The start point for Team Matilda’s tandem tour was the Broch Cafe in Strathyre – where we had been invited to have a pre cycle coffee by the hospitable owners Lesley and Bill, who we met on a previous trip to the area. The cafe was closed back in January to allow the staff a break but when we arrived it was bustling with customers having breakfast and had a great vibe about it!

After a welcome Lucaffee coffee and home made scone there was time for a quick photo of the Broch team at the Ride Out seats which sit beside the cafe before we headed off – with Bill promising us a game of petanque on our return!

The “old gal” with the team at Broch Cafe relaxing at the Ride Out seats!

My crew got on my saddles and we started to tandem off on the sun-kissed Sustrans Scotland NCR7 which runs around the Strathyre area. 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! 

Unfortunately there was to be no repeat of my substitute stoker adventures with Kim Proven –  the enthusiastic chair of LETi and owner of Briar Cottages at Lochearnhead  – who sadly had damaged her shoulder in a fall which meant she couldn’t cycle. Such a shame as I know Kim was so looking forward to her third trip on my saddle! She must have been devastated!

But Kim had informed my crew to look out for the site where a newly commissioned sculpture will be installed just as NCR 7 leaves the village. It will be a Highland Coo to mark the old cattle drovers route and is being added to the BLiSStrail to mark 2017 being the Year of History Heritage and Archaeology.

We quickly identified the area and it is going to be a great new addition to the BLiSStrail. And that section of NCR 7 leaving Strathyre has to be one of the best cycle paths that I have ever been 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! There is even a section with reflective cats eyes near the village, to make it easier for locals to cycle home in the dark! Credit to Sustrans Scotland!

We picked up a fair speed on the cycle path, and in no time we were at Kingshouse where we took the turning for Balquidder – soon passing the grave of Rob Roy MacGregor. The loop heads back to Strathyre via the old road but my dynamic crew decided on a beautiful detour – tandeming 4 miles each way along the banks of Loch Voil to the grounds of the stylish boutique Monachyle Mhor hotel.

This is one of the best rides Team Matilda have had the pleasure of experiencing – gently undulating single track roads with the most wonderful views across Loch Voil. And with hardly a whisper of wind, the loch’s surface was like a mirror, reflecting the surrounding hills. Truly magnifique!

Here I am posing at Monachyle Mhor just at the end of Loch Voil – what a setting  for a hotel!

Apart from the scenery the reason for the detour was to check out how easy it would be to arrive by tandem at the Mhor Festival which is held at the hotel over three days from the 26th to 29th of May.

Billed as the best “off the beaten track” festival in Scotland it promotes itself as a festival of food, drink, music, theatre and dance! Thousands of visitors can vouch for last years rip roaring success. Dance, food, art, theatre, champagne and oyster bar and so much more for all age groups! And whisper it – but there is going to be a gin bar this year! The “old gal” will think she has died and gone to heaven! As the festival web site says: Come, play, sing, dance, cook, learn, chill! I mean what’s not to like?! 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! So recce successfully done – I would say that is a date in the diary for Team Matilda!

Always prepared! I carry a bottle of fizz for my dynamic crew in my la Bouclee!

So after our detour to suss out the route to the Mhor Festival 2017 – it was time to find a spot for my dynamic crew’s now infamous prosecco picnic – a key part of any tandeming trip for Team Matilda!

Time for a prosecco picnic on the banks of scenic Loch Voil? Oh ok, if you insist!

The “old git” is getting quite a dab hand at finding idyllic picnic spots – much to the delight of the “old gal” – and he certainly didn’t disappoint this time – pulling over at a spot on the road where the banking dropped down to a completely deserted and isolated pebble beach area on Loch Voil.

Surely this spot should get an award as one of best picnic spots in Scotland?

It certainly got an award from my crew as being one of the best picnic spots in Scotland! The food and drink goodies were quickly unpacked and set up against a perfect backdrop of the loch gently lapping at the water’s edge, with a vista looking across the loch to the hills on the opposite bank.

The “old git” doing the very important popping the cork job!

The “old git” quickly did the honours and popped the cork – without spilling a drop naturally, despite it being shaken up on my la Bouclee wine carrier. Then it was time for my crew to have a toast to one of those perfect tandeming picnics – and savour the first sip of French Cremant brought back from our trip to the Loire Valley last year! Blisss!

The “old gal” chilling and savouring the first sip of Cremant! Bliss!

Cheers! Fizz in the sun with a view! What’s not to like?

Refuelled following a most civilised picnic lunch – smoked salmon and chilli cream cheese croissants and some fresh fruit in case you wanted to know the menu – it was time for my crew to do some serious pedalling on the return trip. The first part was an easy tandem back along the Loch Voil road back to Balquhidder – before turning onto the old road back to Strathyre which goes thru the forest.

Enjoying the forest – but not the hills – on the old road back to Strathyre!

It was a lovely winding route which was again a joy to tandem – apart from one killer hill, which actually turned out out be two steep hills back to back! Maybe it was the fizz from the bubbly at lunchtime, but my dynamic crew manfully (and womanfully!) pedalled on to the top! Then there was a nice downhill stretch – which required a spot of testing my brakes at corners. And then a more dramatic stop as the “old git” remembered about one of the most intriguing installations on the BLiSStrail – the fabulous stone miniature Mill House and Bridge.

The “old gal” at the intricate stone miniature Mill House and bridge on the #BLiSStrail.

You have to look closely to find it – sitting on the edge of a garden on the right on the descent on the old Strathyre road before crossing the old stone bridge over the River Balvaig. It seems local children know it as the “The Fairy House” and it is well worth seeking out.

At the bottom of the hill we rejoined the off road cycle path NCR 7 and cycled back into the Broch recreation area where my crew couldn’t resist a photo at the impressive wooden Soaring Eagle.

The dramatic Soaring Eagle catches the eye near the Broch Cafe.

So now we were back in Strathyre my dynamic crew decided it would be easily possible to cycle back from a visit to the Mhor Festival to take in the evening entertainment at the second festival being held in the area on that last Bank Holiday weekend of May – the Strathyre Music Festival.

It was 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. And it must be one of Scotland’s best value music festivals with it costing only £5 entry fee per day. For the full schedule for the 2017 festival – running from Friday 26th thru till Sunday 29th May, check out the event’s website.

Our tandem ride ended up where we started back at the Broch Cafe. While Lesley busily worked away serving customers, Bill took some time out to proudly show my dynamic crew the cafe’s newly installed petanque court – or to give it it’s correct technical name, petanque piste!

Clearly Bill is going to become a bit of a petanque aficionado as he already has his own personal set of boules – made to measure to his hands! And I have to say that the “old gal” and the “old git” very quickly took to it – and of course I had to have  a bash at it too!

How do bikes play petanque? In tandem with their Stokers obviously!

It seems a doubles match has already been arranged for our next visit! Let’s just say that if the petanque is played in true French style with a glass (or two) of wine – and Broch Cafe is licensed – then my dynamic duo may end up a bit off piste!

Anyway, after the excitement of un peu de petanque it was time for my team to enjoy that traditional tandemers reviving snack of yummy coffee and cake – home made at the Broch Cafe – while checking Strava to find that they received three gongs on the ride.

Strava officially recorded the ride as a distance of  15.8 miles with a total moving time of 2hrs 57 minutes due to the issue over the “old git” having a senior moment and forgetting to pause Strava for the picnic. This resulted in a very slow average speed of just 5.3 mph being recorded –  about half my crew’s current average recently. But given that the picnic lasted over an hour in the sunshine, the “old git” reckons the average speed was nearer the norm of 10 mph.

Top speed recorded was 32.9 mph and the elevation covered was a not insubstantial 497 feet. We managed to burn up 1610 calories, and produced an estimated average power output of 135 W.

All in all a fabulous day which underlines the Team Matilda philosophy – that it’s the Smiles and not the miles that count! Can’t wait to return for the double festival extravaganza!

Dash to Dunning in sun for tonic … with a splash of gin!

The “old gal” after the dash to Dunning sitting in the sun with tonic – and maybe a splash of gin!

Now Mothers Day presents my dynamic crew with a bit of a problem. There is the not insubstantial matter of a 140 mile round trip to see the “old git’s” Mum in Ayrshire – and this year the “old gal” was cooking to do a ‘meals on wheels’ treat.

So that ruled out any prospect of a ride out on the Sunday – but it didn’t stop the “old git” from scheduling in a quick tandem on the Saturday afternoon. You see he had been carefully watching the weather forecast in his anorak sort of way – and noticed that in no anoraks would be required this weekend!

In fact it was promising to be a tepid 15C with no wind! Too good an opportunity to be missed. But how to get the “old gal” to sign up for the trip – given that she doesn’t get back to Matildas Rest from working at her salon on a Saturday till nearer 3 o’clock in the afternoon.

Bingo – he had a cunning plan! So when the “old gal” returned from work, the “old gal” persuaded her to join him on a sunshine tandem ride – albeit only with the promise of an alfresco gin and tonic at a country pub at the nearby village of Dunning!

Bright sunshine as we left Matildas Rest on the warmest day of the year so far.

And it worked! So after a quick check of my gears, it was time for our Dash to Dunning along the scenic back roads from Matildas Rest in Auchterarder. 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! 

It was a joy for Team Matilda to be out pedalling along breathing in the fresh air basking in the sun in the beautiful Perth and Kinross Countryside Trust and Perth and Kinross Council area near Perth City Centre. A perfect day to celebrate being a Perth 2021 supporter!

And despite her initial reluctance, the “old gal” did have the good grace to admit that she was actually glad the three of us had headed out – since it was such glorious, idyllic conditions.

The synchronicity factor for Team Matilda was high and we were literally flying along the country roads and in no time we had covered the initial 5 miles and were pedalling in to Dunning. We pulled up outside The Kirkstyle Inn which has been taken over by new owner Jamie Dexter Harrison on his return from Australia to Scotland.

And one of the big attractions for future re hydration stops for my dynamic crew when travelling through Dunning on longer routes, is that the Inn has a new gin bar featuring many of the new small-batch artisan Scottish gins  – including the “old gal’s” favourite: Love Gin from Eden Mill in St Andrews.

A tray of drinks for outside re hydration purposes at The Kirkstyle Inn.

So in order to fit in with the title of this blog the “old git” ordered two tonics – Fever Tree naturally – with a splash of Love Gin in them! And since it was such a warm sunny afternoon he dutifully carried them outside to the newly renovated outside drinks garden.

While enjoying the (well earned!?) drinks the “old gal” perused the Inn’s exciting looking new menu and decided this was a place we would return to for a meal to “test” the culinary delights on offer!

Cheers! Did someone mention an alfresco tonic with gin at the Kirkstyle Inn drinks garden.

And in an amazing development, the “old git” found out that the Inn is hosting a gin tasting night in April (26th).  Jamie told us his plan is to have a gin expert come along to showcase a few Scottish gems, which will be matched with food – as well as a lesson on what to mix and how to drink gin properly! And an even bigger attraction is that tickets cost just £10 – for three gins plus nibbles! I wonder if the “old git” will be able to persuade the “old gal” that the best way to arrive at the gin night is by tandem?!

After a nice relaxing sit in the warm sunshine it was time for my crew to get back on my saddles and head off on the return journey. But there was time for a quick photo to capture the daffodils bursting into bloom to add some Spring colour to the village.

Dunning was certainly bursting into colourful bloom in the warm Spring sunshine!

The return journey was just as easy! I am not sure if it was because my dynamic crew didn’t feel the pain after their tonic (with a splash of gin!) – but they kept up a good pace on the way back.

Back at Matildas Rest – with the  “old gal” and the “old git” buzzing with the endorphin boost created from the exercise – there was even more elation when they checked Strava to find that received six medals, including no less than FIVE personal bests on the ride!

Yes FIVE! And three of those PBs were recorded on the homeward leg – which traditionally is a bit harder and more of an uphill grind for my crew! Which just goes to show that the “old gal” and the “old git” are a good bit stronger … and fitter … than they believe! The proof of the pudding is in Strava … as cyclists say … it seems! (or in the gin!)

So Strava officially recorded the ride as covering a distance of  9.9 miles with a total moving time of 52.24 minutes, at a healthy average speed of 11.3 mph.

The total elapsed time was 1 hour 42 minutes – allowing for the relaxing gin and tonic! Top speed recorded was 24.6 mph and the elevation covered was 290 feet. Together we managed to burn up 590 calories, and produced an estimated average power output of 168 W.

All in all a good bit of exercise and loads more smiles squeezed into an all too brief time slot. But here’s to more sunny rides! And clearly #perthistheplace (for gin!)

Choo choo! Cocktails and chugging along Clackmannan to Dunfermline old railway line!

The impromptu cyclists’ mini cocktail bar … complete with ice cubes!

So a nice Sunday and our second attempt at a Spring ride out with good solo cyclist friends of the “old gal” and “old git” – Gillian and Craig. The previous attempt was abandoned in the full force of storm Doris hitting Scotland – and given the fact that I am not exactly aerodynamic when it comes to gusts of wind … I think that was a very wise decision.

But more benign weather greeted the lifting of the blinds and even the “old gal” couldn’t be despondent at the prospect of a fairly flat ride along an old railway line bed, followed by a nice relaxation in a hot tub, and an Indian meal. Gillian and Craig had even sent a cryptic message saying they would “fix the drinks” on the ride! I mean, what could there possibly be not to like?!

So my dynamic crew were full of the joys as I was packed into Matilda Transport and we headed for Gillian and Craig’s home in Alloa. They had identified a run along National Cycle Route 764 for the ride. The path – managed by my friends at Sustrans Scotland – starts just outside Clackmannan and follows the course of the old Alloa to Dunfermline railway line.

Ready for the off! The “old gal” with solo cyclists Gillian and Craig – bravely sporting shorts!

A short drive through the towns and we were soon parked near an old railway bridge. Fortunately the sun was out and there was also little in the way of wind – which meant that Gillian and Craig bravely decided to sport their cycling shorts. My crew (I think wisely) opted for the leggings!

The “old gal” at the start of our route which is part of the Clackmannanshire Cycle Network.

I was quickly unpacked and set up for the ride and soon we were ready for the off at the start of the NCR 764 route – which is also known as the West Fife Way and is a key part the Clackmannanshire Cycle NetworkYou can check out the details of our route on Strava below – and don’t forget to click on the map image to be transferred to Strava to get the full data and statistics! 

The route is classed in the easy category – on a tarmac path. And it certainly was a joy to tandem on as we headed off on the run to Dunfermline. And I must say I was impressed at the pace set by the “old git”! And the fact that the “old gal” didn’t complain shows that they are both much fitter and stronger than they believe!

I actually think that Team Matilda pedals along faster when we are in the company of other cyclists as my dynamic crew tend to get caught up in the chat – and don’t realise what speed they are actually achieving! In fact we averaged over 11mph for the whole trip!

The cycle path was encouragingly busy but there was till plenty of room to take a selfie with Gillian and Craig playing their role by photobombing the shot!

Time for a selfie as we tandemed along – photobombed by Gillian and Craig!

Now railway lines are recognised as being flat – that means no sudden hills – as trains (like this “old lady”) don’t do hills! But that doesn’t mean you don’t get inclines – and in this case – a long slow incline rising some 300 feet over the first half of the route.  But the views over the Kingdom of Fife towards the Forth bridges made it all worthwhile!

With about two miles to the half way mark, Gillian and Craig sped off! My dynamic crew thought they must have been going too slow for them – but didn’t try to chase after them! But all was revealed when we came round a bend and saw the end of the path and discovered that our friends had set up an impromptu mini cocktail bar on a railway sleeper!

Gillian and Craig set up a mini cocktail bar at half way – and they even brought ice cubes!

What a fabulous idea for a way to re-hydrate! And amazingly they had brought along a spirit measure and even more remarkably – ice cubes! An effort fully worthy of a gold star!

The mix of Martin Millers gin, Vermouth and cranberry juice really hit the spot! And what made it all the more enjoyable was the priceless looks on the faces of the many other cyclists who passed by! How many different ways to say that’s a good idea?!

Here I am at the mini cocktail bar which attracted interest from lots of other cyclists!

The cocktails nicely washed down the smoked salmon and chilli cream cheese croissants which the “old gal” had prepared for some fuel! This was followed by a fresh fruit salad and a small piece of chocolate – just for energy purposes of course.

Batteries recharged we headed on the return journey – soon reaping the benefits of that uphill climb, by picking up speed on the decline. It really was fantastic tandeming – lots of laughs with good friends in dry fairly mild conditions.

It was definitely one of those “its the Smiles not the miles that count” days and that was emphasised in this fun short video of part of our ride. (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.)

One of the great things about the cycle path was how there were no obstructive gates which meant my crew weren’t forced to get on and off repeatedly – and the NCR 764 is certainly a credit to Sustrans Scotland who maintain it. Although it could be described as a “hidden gem” it clearly is a very popular route amongst locals. And the network of paths is part of a wider project to encourage access to the outdoors called Discover Clackmannanshire.

NCR764 is a hidden gem, which is also known as the West Fife Way

One of the attractions of the route are the views across the Forth for a good part of the trip – but the sections with a more restricted view are of interest as every so often my dynamic crew discovered some old railway relics – like sleepers made into seating, or railway signals. There is even an old signal box along the path – abandoned from the days when it controlled the trains on the line.

NCR764 runs along the bed of an old railway so there are relics like signal boxes along the way.

After a bit of a sprint along the last mile or two we soon reached the end of the path – exhilarated after the wonderful ride. After I was packed back into Matilda Transport it was time to head back to Gillian and Craig’s who just happen to have a hot tub in their garden! So the offer was made for another cocktail, a warm-down in the hot tub, and an Indian meal. I mean there are worse ways to spend a Sunday afternoon!

Hot tub with prosecco cocktail back at Gillian and Craig’s? Oh if you insist!

Relaxing in the warm bubbles there was time for the “old git” to check on Strava which officially recorded the ride as covering a distance of  21.5 miles with a total moving time of  1 hour 53 minutes, at a healthy average speed of 11.3 mph.

The total elapsed time was 2 hours 23 minutes – meaning cocktails and lunch took just half an hour! Top speed was 23.5 mph and the elevation covered was 459 feet. Together we managed to burn up 1032 calories, and produced an estimated average power output of 135 W.

The hot tub offered the perfect warm down therapy form the “old gal” and the “old git”!

I am reliably told it was a very therapeutic way to relax – with my crew enjoying the cold bubbles from a nicely chilled prosecco cocktail – while experiencing the warm bubbles of the hot tub! Absolute bliss! The last I heard was the “old gal” saying: “I want one!”

After a suitably long soak my crew emerged and joined Gillian and Craig in a hearty Indian takeaway to refuel, before it was time to head home after a great day!

So here’s to more sunny tandeming days with good friends, lots of laughs, pop-up cocktail bars, and fairly flat Sustrans Scotland cycling paths! I’ll say cheers to that!

What a difference 180 degrees makes on Forteviot flutter

The "old gal" basking in the Spring sunshine at the bus shelter at Forteviot.

The “old gal” basking in the Spring sunshine at the bus shelter at Forteviot.

You’ve heard the old cliche about a football match being “a game of two halves” – well our latest tandem adventure falls firmly into the camp of being “a ride of two halves”! And it truly underlines just what a difference 180 degrees can make when out tandeming!

Back to the start and Sunday was the day Spring was due to start in Perthshire and for once the weather matched the forecast and we awakened to bright sunshine at Matildas Rest. My crew were in happy mood as we had a hearty but healthy breakfast – within the guidelines of the Hay Eating Plan – before we all got kitted up and headed out into beautifully sunny Perthshire’s countryside.

The “old git” had chosen a run that would be a pedal around Pictish Perthshire – heading towards the historic nearby villages of Dunning and Forteviot, covering a distance of around 16 miles with a few hills thrown in to test our new found fitness! You can check out the details of our route on Strava below – and don’t forget to click on the map image to get the full data and statistics! 

wad-strava-mapWith the sun at our backs my dynamic crew pedalled off towards Dunning, before heading further out into the glorious Perthshire countryside – enjoying deep breaths of the fresh air. Everyone was feeling very healthy and – even tho I say so myself – this “old lady” was fairly flying along. the synchronicity factor of the “old git” and the “old gal” was really high and all three of us were perfectly in tune!

“This is the kind of tandeming I like” exclaimed the “old gal as we raced along feeling very pleased with ourselves. In what seemed like no time at all we tandemed into Forteviot – an ancient Pictish capital of Scotland, where King Kenneth MacAlpin died in the 9th Century.

Bright sunshine and the first shoots of Spring with pretty snowdrops greeted us at Forteviot.

Bright sunshine and the first shoots of Spring with pretty snowdrops greeted us at Forteviot.

We had travelled the near 8 miles in an impressive 33 minutes, and the village was looking very pretty in the sunshine. The village “square” has some very quaint houses which were rebuilt for workers of the Dupplin Estate in 1927 and are create a lovely focal point for the village.

The village "square" in Forteviot is a real focal point - especially in the sunshine!

The village “square” in Forteviot is a real focal point – especially in the sunshine!

The sun was actually warm on the skin and was a welcome change to the near Arctic conditions we had faced on our recent tandem rides. The “old gal” basked in the sunshine in the quaint wooden bust shelter in the middle of the village, before checking out some snowdrops.

The sunshine had my crew in buoyant mood with plenty of laughs!

The sunshine had my crew in buoyant mood with plenty of laughs!

Another historical site worth visiting in the village is Forteviot Church of St Andrew where archaeological studies indicate that Christians were first buried in the graveyard in the 6th century.

My dynamic crew were in buoyant fun-filled mood and all was good with the world! At least it was till we headed back on the return journey. As soon as we left Forteviot Team Matilda realised that the wind had got up – and it was blasting directly into the “old git’s” face!

It was like cycling on sand as we pedalled into wind which was much stronger than a flutter! A check on the weather later confirmed that we were fighting against gust of around 30mph at one one stage!

On we battled back into Dunning stopping to get our breath back in the village which also has a history – being burned to the ground during the 1715 Jacobite Rebellion. The oldest house remaining dates from 1730. It is well worth a stop at St Serf’s Church too, where the bell tower dates from around 1200. It is no longer used as a church and belongs to Historic Scotland as it houses the Dupplin Cross. This rare 3m high cross, carved out of sandstone in around AD800, once stood in the palace of the Pictish Kings at Forteviot.

There was time for a quick photo of me with my new natty new waterproof saddle covers that I was sent by my pals at Sustrans Scotland.

My natty waterproof saddle covers - a lovely gift from Sustrans Scotland.

My natty waterproof saddle covers – a lovely gift from Sustrans Scotland.

The last 5 miles seemed very long as the wind continued to blast. We didn’t stop at the last piece of local history on today’s trip – the monument to Maggie Wall. This is an eerie stone cross with a hand painted date of 1657 and it is said to be a memorial to the last witch to be burned at the stake.

After a gargantuan effort we finally made it back! Let’s just say that those 180 degrees made a massive difference to our performance. Battling against the wind it took us an incredible 59 minutes – almost double the outbound time – to grind out the 8 miles back to Matildas Rest.

Strava officially recorded the ride as covering a distance of  15.6 miles with a total moving time of  1 hour 32 minutes, at an average speed of 10.2 mph – which was not too bad considering the wind factor on the return journey!

The total elapsed time was just 1 hour 46 minutes – the difference accounted for by a quick photo stop! Top speed was 27.1 mph and the elevation covered was 425 feet. Together we managed to burn up 837 calories, and produced an estimated average power output of 136 W.

So all in all a good outing – a fantastic first half of trip, with a more challenging second half! But – despite the wind – the great thing is that Spring looks like it has finally Sprung!

So here’s to more sunny rides! And clearly #perthistheplace!