Supporting Save Millport Pier campaign on Euro tour training ride

The “old gal” and me pictured looking across to the under threat Millport pier.

Team Matilda like getting involved in a good campaign … and recently me and my dynamic crew were invited to join the fight to Save Millport Pier. As regular visitors to the island and big fans of its charm we were naturally delighted to become involved to add a bit of fun to the campaign.

Which is why at 6.30 bright and early on Sunday morning my crew awakened from their slumbers for a busy schedule heading “overseas” for some “warm weather” training to the island of Millport. And the good news was that – as forecast – the sun was already streaming in the window from behind the blind filling my crew with enthusiasm for the day ahead!

The “old git” and the “old gal” had already decided to go to their beloved “Costa del Millport” for one of their final training rides before this year’s Tour de France (including Holland) in mid September. The plan being to do some training laps round the island – officially known as The Isle of Cumbrae – as it is a cyclists paradise offering a virtually flat 10 mile loop on almost traffic free roads never more than a few yards from the coast.

And to add to the excitement Team Matilda is also going to be supporting the petition too help Save Millport Pier. Read on for more details – but I was delighted to be kitted out with a large red and white Save  Millport Pier sign attached to my frame. After a quick 77 mile drive in Matilda Transport to the west coast, I was unpacked in Largs and we tandemed to catch the CalMac ferry. The island is less than a 10 minute trip across the firth of Clyde, but those few minutes make a huge difference as it feels like you are heading to a different world as you leave the mainland behind.

On the ferry to Millport – my crew with King and Queen of the Mountain jerseys!

It would have to be said that my dynamic crew – always shy and reserved! – were attracting a fair bit of attention bedecked in their King and Queen of the Mountain red polka dot Tour de France jerseys … and matching socks! – impressive attention to detail! It was all definitely tongue firmly in cheek (or so the “old git” said) as the route round the island has no steep hills … just a few gradual inclines!

It was good to see so many bikes on the ferry crossing – even if there were no other tandems. As we disembarked the roll on-roll off ferry we headed clockwise for a gentle 4 mile warm-up into the town of Millport. You can check out the route of our tour of Millport training ride below – and don’t forget to click on the map image to get the full date and statistics!

There was a fair head-on breeze blowing as my dynamic crew pedalled from the slipway, so it was obviously going to be a day of battling the winds! But the sun was out and it was going to be a glorious day by the seaside! On arrival in the town of Millport my crew decided it was time for a coffee pit stop at the wonderfully named Crocodeli delicatessen – which combines the deli part with the famous Crocodile Rock landmark. The coffee was just as the “old gal” likes it – nice and strong and my crew couldn’t resist a small pistachio Italian pastry to accompany it!

Time for morning coffee ad pistachio pastry at Crocodeli – oh if you insist!

Time for the first lap and we headed off clockwise quickly pedalling out from the town and enjoying magnificent views across to neighbouring islands of Arran and then Bute. The scenery is breathtakingly beautiful, with numerous deserted beaches and abundant wildlife. In high spirits we identified our usual “private picnic table” and “made a booking” for an hour’s time when on our second lap! In what seemed like no time at all we had completed the first circuit by pedalling back into the town in around 50 minutes. Not bad for a warm-up!

Time to get some photos at Millport Pier and lend our support to the campaign to save the facility. We met up with Mari Wallace, one of the campaign organisers, who explained that the island’s fragile economy would be boosted by the retention of a working pier. The petition aims to draw attention to the community’s fears over the deterioration of the wooden pier which dates from 1833, amid fears over its long term future – with concern it will be demolished if funds are not invested in protecting it.

The old wooden part of Millport pier is now blocked off and unsafe – thus the campaign!

A  well-supported “sit-in” to launch the campaign had been held the day before – attracting coverage on national tv and radio. Amazingly over 7,300 signatures have now been added to the petition – more than five time’s the island’s population of just 1,400.

Mari told us that in 2014 North Ayrshire Council (NAC) took the decision to demolish the wooden part of Millport Pier. It had been neglected for several years prior to this decision being made and since then has fallen even into a worse state of repair, with it now being out of bounds for safety reasons.

The “sit-in” the day before our visit on Millport Pier was well attended. Credit: CRSC

A stay of execution was put in place when NAC were advised by some local people that the pier forms critical flood defence for the town and until other measures are put in place it is vital that it should be maintained or otherwise the town is at risk.

In the recent consultation on Millport Coastal Flood Prevention there was overwhelming support for the retention of Millport Pier and the construction of off shore breakwaters. The sting in the tail however is that even if offshore breakwaters are put in place North Ayrshire Council have ring fenced £0.5m for demolishing the pier and fully intend to do so on the premise that it’s cheaper to demolish than to maintain! Meanwhile the council says it has “no immediate plans” to demolish the pier.

My dynamic crew were directed to a great article with lots of amazing pictures about the history of Millport Pier on the Clyde River Steamer Club website. It records that in its post war heyday Millport welcomed large steamers like the Queen Mary 11, carrying over 2,000 passengers on summer holiday trips “doon the Watter” from Glasgow.

The huge Queen Mary 11 dwarfed Millport Pier back in its postwar heyday. Credit CRSC

There’s still time to sign the petition to Save Millport Pier – so please add your voice to the campaign to keep a key landmark and focal point of Millport’s sea front.

The “old git” at the entrance to the harbour – spot my Save Millport Pier sign!

After Team Matilda did our bit for the campaign, it was now time for our second circuit and this time my crew decided to go anti clockwise – to take in the views from a different direction. Pedalling out past Kames Bay the sun was shining brightly on some yellow flowers – providing an eye-catching photo opportunity for me.

The sun came out and these flowers provided a colourful image overlooking Kames Bay.

We pedalled on up past the ferry slipway and round the top of the island soon arriving at our idyllic quiet picnic tale with stunning views over the white sand and across to Rothesay. The balmy weather provided a perfect environment for one of my dynamic crew’s prosecco picnics!

Lunch table with a view! Our idyllic picnic bench overlooking the beach and over to Isle of Bute.

Now, as you know, prosecco picnics at remote spots are one of the great pleasures of tandeming and my crew are true exponents of the art! Today the food to emerge from their bicycle rider’s luncheon box was smoked salmon and chilli cream cheese on focaccia bread, followed by fresh strawberries and cream, and a square of chocolate. Oh, did I mention the prosecco to wash it all down?! Picnics don’t come much better than this!

Cheers! The “old git” toasts the “old gal” for another wonderful prosecco picnic!

After a walk on the beach while enjoying the warm sunshine my crew got back on my saddles to complete the anti clockwise lap with the promise of a coffee and cake stop at the Dancing Midge Cafe. There my crew enjoyed some freshly brewed coffee and yummy carrot cake – de rigeur for tandemers.

After refuelling my crew decided to investigate the giant marquee that has been erected for the following weekend’s Millport Country Music Festival.  Now the island has historically hosted a highly popular country and western music weekend, which started back in 1995.  22 years on the festival has gone from strength to strength, featuring country bands from all over the UK to become one of the most popular on the west coast of Scotland, and one of the biggest Country Music festivals in Scotland. This year will be the biggest ever  with the addition of a huge 3,000 capacity concert marquee.

The marquee which will hold 3000 fans for the Millport Country Music Festival.

The “old git” then decided to finish with a flourish and that the final lap of the day would be an attempt on my dynamic crew’s existing Tour de Millport time for going round the island of 41.28 minutes. After much discussion about which way to go – using arguments and counter arguments and the scientific experiment of sticking a finger in the air to try and establish which way the wind was blowing! – the “old gal” decided on clockwise! And to emphasise the serious nature of this record attempt – she even removed her cycling jacket!

We set off from the harbour and it would need to be said that I was uber-impressed as we fair whizzed along with the “old git” keeping me in high gears most of the time. I was really enjoying myself as this “old lady” doesn’t normally get to experience such speeds.

And I am very proud to report that my dynamic crew excelled themselves with a non-stop circuit of the island in a new personal best time of 40 minutes … give or take  the odd second or two – which means we were tandeming at an average speed of 15 miles an hour! All the more impressive when a check of the weather later revealed Team Matilda were battling a 14 mph headwind. And what’s more it was actually great fun – underlining my crew’s motto of “It’s always better when we’re tandeming together!”

The “old gal” looking fresh as the flowers on the prom after our record breaking lap!

After the exertions of the record breaking lap my crew decided a coffee stop would be very welcome and found a cheery welcome at the recently restored  Garrison House – a historic landmark building on the promenade which was built in 1745. It seems history reports that Millport owes its origins in the 1700s to the people who attempted to smuggle contraband into the Clyde and to those who tried to stop them! The Garrison House was built as the residence of the Captain and officers of the customs ship ‘Royal George’ which played a key role in the ‘hot pursuit’ of smugglers. The cafe was closing but happily produced some coffees which hit the spot!

Tandeming along the promenade we were hailed by Sean who owns bike hire shop On Your Bike Millport in the town. My dynamic crew turned round for a chat and it turns out Sean had seen my classic tandem frame earlier in the day and had admired it before doing some research and catching up with my blog! Sean was very complimentary about my appearance describing me as “a very well kept classic tandem who looks in fine fettle!” He also was full of praise for the “old gal” in her role as chief engineer for keeping me in shape!

Sean told us that he started his business 10 years ago and tandems are now a very important part of his hire trade on the island – with no less than 8 in his stable … although he admitted that none of them had a name like me! Apart from the tandems he runs a fleet of over 200 bikes, including the star attraction of a 7-seater “conference bike”.

He says that visitors to the island often end up having their first ever tandem ride when hiring from his business – and some … like my crew … end up being smitten by riding a bicycle made for two! Sean said: “Everyone should take a tandem ride at least once in their life! I’ve seen their popularity grow year on year. Nowadays many people are creating bucket lists of activities – and a tandem ride seems to be a popular inclusion as it is a lot less scary than a bungee jump or swimming with sharks!”

So after exchanging greetings with Sean – and his promise that he is going to become a regular reader of my blog! – we headed to the Harbour Restaurant for our meal. Regular readers of my blog will know that this is the restaurant of choice for the “old git” and the “old gal” on Millport. The food was brilliant as always – very tasty and originally presented! Both my dynamic crew were fairly hungry and couldn’t see past the burger selection! Just what was needed to restore energy levels.

After the meal it was time for the final pedal – four miles back to the ferry slipway. And after the relaxing meal  the pace was somewhat more sedate than our record lap earlier! While waiting for the ferry back to Largs my dynamic crew had time to check out Strava which officially recorded the ride as being worthy of no less than 22 gongs – made up of 8 personal bests, 10 seconds, and 11 thirds. Me and my crew had tandemed a distance of 39.3 miles with a moving time of 3 hours 11 minutes. Average speed was 12.3 mph and the elevation was a 1040  feet. The maximum speed was 21.5 mph and Team Matilda managed to burn up 1906 calories and produce an average power output of 149 W.

The Strava statistics and our route are brought to life in our Relive 3D video – so take a look below. It makes for amusing watching due to the laps and change of direction!  (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.)

Back in Largs a quick few hundred dash saw us back at Matilda Transport and in just over an hour we were all back at Matildas Rest after another fabulous day out full of fun, laughs, sunshine and great tandeming! Which left my dynamic crew wondering if there was a better way to spend a Sunday? As one of the island’s sign’s says: “Millport – in a world of its own!”

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Hurricane Gert ride around Loch Leven and burger at Larder

The “old gal” and the “old git” at the viewpoint at Loch Leven … with a special guest!

*WARNING* this blog contains images of a red poncho which some readers may find alarming!

So with the weekend approaching the “old git” – ever the romantic – asked the “old gal” if she fancied going out for something to eat on Saturday evening. He explained that he had heard that there was a summer weekends pop up burger bar at Loch Leven’s Larder – a recommended foodie farm shop-cafe just a few hundred yards from the banks of Loch Leven.

But there’s no flies on the “old gal” – that should be there are no midges on her! – and she got it right away … she was going to have to earn her burger with a 13 mile tandem ride round the loch first!

But gamely she immediately agreed! And that’s why at about 5pm we were cycling away from the car park – right into the full force of the entrails of Hurricane Gert! Let’s just say there was a bit of head wind to start until we got into our stride – or before synchronicity kicked in!

Fortunately the route is relatively flat. Built at a cost of £3 million – it is known as the Loch Leven Heritage Trail – linking 30 natural and cultural heritage sites. You can check out the route of our tour of Loch Katrine on Strava below – and don’t forget to click on the map image to get the full date and statistics!

We set off on a clockwise loop and it wasn’t long before my crew encountered the dreaded midges. On a stretch along some stagnant water there were thick swarms of midges everywhere. The “old git” was literally coated in the nasty little blighters as he took the full blast as my Captain! He was muttering something about it was due to the fact that we were going so fast that there were so many on his body! We didn’t believe him of course, but the “old gal” helpfully took a picture of his forehead to show how many midges were about! (after removing his crash helmet, of course!)

Midges everywhere! Fortunately the Smidge worked wonders and meant they didn’t bite!

Fortunately my crew had taken the precaution of spraying themselves from head to foot with Smidge – a highly effective repellent that they knew from previous experiences works a treat in throwing the midges off your scent and stops them biting.

My crew were picking up speed – perhaps to try and leave the midges behind – and we soon we tandemed past the interesting RSPB Loch Leven Nature Reserve at Vane Farm before pedalling up the only real inclines to the viewpoint area battling more strong Hurricane Gert headwinds!

My dynamic crew against a backdrop of blue skies at the viewpoint overlooking scenic Loch Leven.

At the viewpoint the “old git” whipped out his portable extendable tripod and bluetooth camera clicker which allows him to take pictures of both of my dynamic crew together and took  a few arty shots to show the blue sky overlooking the fantastic vista of the loch.

Now today’s trip brought back memories of exactly a year ago when Team Matilda hosted John and Jane of  Team Bluebird to our area for a memorable week long Tour de Perthshire – which included a somewhat wet loop of Loch Leven. As the heavens opened Jane donned some “high fashion” waterproof protection – forever to be known now as “the fetching red poncho!”

Flashback to a year ago – Jane with the fetching red poncho!

So as a friendly wheeze the “old git” decided that Jane would be introduced into our ride as a special guest – courtesy of a large photo of her wearing said fetching red poncho! It was actually a bit windy and the flimsy paper print kept flapping about in the (hurricane force) winds! But my dynamic crew persevered to get the shot … just to show the three of us were thinking of Jane! Oh how we laughed!

The “old gal” saying ‘wish you were here’ to Jane in honour of the red poncho!

The “old gal” had to dissuade the “old git” from attaching the photo of Jane in a plastic wallet to the big round rock at the viewpoint and adding her email in case anyone wanted to buy a similar fashion statement! And after many smiles at the gentle ribbing, and at great memories of tandeming with wonderful friends John and Jane, we pedalled on.

The strong wind was behind us for a bit which offered some relief – but then, as always happens, it turned in direction and blasted us as a viscous side wind. Any as you know, I am a long vehicle so when the wind catches me it can be mildly scary for keeping our balance!

We negotiated a trip off the path through the car park at Kinross Pier, and a wooden boardwalk section, before rejoining the path just in time for a great view of Loch Leven castle  in the middle of the loch – which was the setting for the most traumatic year in the life of Mary Queen of Scots. It was here in 1567 that she was imprisoned and forced to abdicate before her dramatic escape a year later.

The last section took my dynamic crew back into the forest for a final coating of midges before we sped back to Matilda Transport and the end of our loop.  Feeling healthy after the ride – and wiping off  what seemed like hundreds of dead midges – my crew then retired to the sanctuary of Loch Leven’s Larder  and the pop up burger bar to enjoy some decadent pleasures.

Time for a well earned burger and a wee glass of prosecco – in tandem naturally!

While looking over the burger menu there was time to check out Strava which officially recorded the ride as being worthy of no less than 9 gongs – 6 personal bests and 3 seconds. Me and my crew had tandemed a distance of 13 miles with a moving time of 1 hour 17 minutes. The elevation was a minimal 252  feet which allowed a healthy average speed of 10.1 mph. The recorded top speed was 38.9 mph but that had to be a Strava glitch  – which makes a change from an ‘operator error!’ – as the old fashioned handlebar speedo recorded a much more realistic top speed of 17.8 mph.  Team Matilda managed to burn up 629 calories and produce an average power output of 121 W.

Cheers! Time for a wee cheeky alfresco prosecco on the decking awaiting the burgers!

Certainly something worth to toast there with the obligatory prosecco – as if my crew needed any excuse! The “old gal” ordered a sharing platter which consisted of a yummy selection of perfectly barbecued burgers – beef, salmon, chicken and portobello mushroom with a giant frankfurter thrown in for good measure.  It was all served with bowls of healthy fresh crunchy salads and tasty dressings and it really hit the spot.

Restaurant with a view! My crew’s table overlooked the nature reserve at Loch Leven.

My crew were really lucky with the weather as the hurricane winds had all but disappeared and the sun was out! It really made it an idyllic spot – with the restaurant decking overlooking the nature reserve at Loch Leven. The “old git” lost count of the number of flights of geese he saw taking off – flying in perfect v formation over the water!

We were lucky with the weather – but clearly it isn’t always sunny!

As I say, my crew were lucky – but clearly the weather isn’t always wonderful however … if the cheeky sign above the exit to the outdoor area is anything to go by … with the wording: Sorry but sometimes the weather here is pants” … written on large pairs of bloomers!

After the burgers there was just enough room it seems for the “old gal” and the “old git” to squeeze in a slice of caramel shortcake with a strong coffee before heading home exercised, fed and watered! Another great #tandem ride to show the amazing scenery of the Perth & Kinross Countryside TrustPerth & Kinross Council and Perth City Centre area! #perthistheplace for cycling!

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.)

So back at Matildas Rest and I was unpacked into my garage, with my dynamic crew reflecting on yet another memorable ride full of laughs – emphasising that its the Smiles not the miles that count. What better way is there to spend a Saturday evening?!

A new book of my Musings and tandeming Christmas presents galore!

Is it tandem o'clock yet? Perfect present for "old git" from "old gal" - links with gin o'clock!

Is it tandem o’clock yet? Perfect present for the “old git” from the “old gal” – and it links with gin o’clock!

Excitement reached fever pitch at Matilda’s Rest on Sunday when Christmas Day finally arrived! The “old git” – who should really be re-named Santa over the festive period! – made sure everyone had their ‘ho! ho! ho!’ on, whether they wanted to or not!

On Christmas Eve the “old gal” even put on her Christmas jumper to signal she was in the mood for Santa’s arrival! She had whispered to me that I was getting a present all for myself so I could hardly contain myself!

And I knew the “old git” had been planning something with my blog as a present for the “old gal” so it was an exciting time! I could hardly sleep and I am sure I heard Santa’s jingle bells as he and Rudolph delivered his presents around rural Perthshire …. presumably in tandem!

The “old git” was up early on Christmas morning making sure that Santa had arrived – and he certainly delivered filling the “old gal’s” stockings to overflowing … and even dropped a few presents in the “old git’s” stockings too! (Yes he does have some …. weird or what!)

Then it was time for my dynamic duo to tear open their presents. The thing the “old git” had been secretly scheming away about was turning all my Musings about our French tandeming  tour adventures in the Loire Valley during September into a beautiful hard-back coffee table style book.

My daily Musings of our Loire Valley trip turned into a coffee table book!

My daily Musings of our Loire Valley trip turned into a coffee table book!

I must say even I was impressed at the what the “old git” had achieved – and you know I’m not easily impressed! – and as for the “old gal” well she thought it was brilliant! There was even a wee tear in her eye as she read the “old git’s” soppy dedication at the front of the book! Awh shucks!

Each page is in glossy colour and the book is essentially a full record of each day of my blog – including all the photos – as they appeared on my blog! A great permanent record of a fabulous trip! And great fun to flick through and bring back those memories of my dynamic duo’s days in my saddles in warm sunshine … oh and not forgetting those amazing picnics and wines!

And as a special Christmas treat for readers of my blog you can take a look at the complete book (in a pdf version) by clicking on the title of the book here: Le Tour de Vineyards et Chateaux de Loire Valley du Tandem. Hope you enjoy as much as I did re-reading it all again!

My new Matilda key ring and coasters to match my very French la bouclee wine bottle carrier.

My Matilda key ring and coasters to match my la bouclee wine carrier.

So then it was time to open my presents, and the “old git” and the “old gal” made sure Santa delivered a nice new leather key ring – complete with my name imprinted on it – in very fetching racy red to match my eye-catching and very French La Bouclée wine carrier, which of course matches my frame.

And because the very kind people at La Bouclée have made this “old lady” tandem an ambassador for their products in Scotland, they threw in a couple of leather coasters and some very clever matching accessories which are designed to carry my plastic mock cut crystal glasses on my frame to ensure my dynamic duo will always be able to quaff their prosecco in style!

The “old gal” lovingly fitted they keys for my padlock chain to my new keyring and I was suddenly overcome with festive cheer! I mean it is not every tandem that gets a special present all to themselves – and become an ambassador for a luxury French cycling brand at the same time! The “old git” said that it must have been because I was a “good girl” as only “good girls” get presents from Santa!

Perfect present from my friends Team Bluebird - fellow members of the Nutty Tandemers Club.

Perfect present from Team Bluebird – fellow Nutty Tandemers Club members.

There were lots of other presents to open with a special one from my good friend Bluebird and her tandem team. As fellow self-proclaimed members of the Nutty Tandemers Club we all enjoyed a fabulous Le Tour de Perthshire in August – with more than a few bottles prosecco enjoyed! So it was only natural for them to send my team a couple of personalised coasters! I think I can safely say there will be one or two prosecco picnics scheduled for our planned Le Tour de New Forest in July 2017.

Calendar time - Tour de Loire Valley and also Perthshire!

Calendar time – Tour de Loire Valley on left and also Tour de Perthshire on the right.

Naturally by dynamic duo had organised a present on my behalf for Team Bluebird and designed a personalised Nutty Tandemers Club 2017 calendar – with each month having a great memory from our wonderful week together touring Perthshire.

Now you know that my stoker, the “old gal”, has a bit of a quirky sense of humour … well she excelled herself with one of her presents for my captain – the “old git.”

Ever since watching Le Tour de France he has joked that my team should get the distinctive red spotted white cycling jerseys – a maillot a pois rouge – which designate the King of the Mountains rider on the race. This is somewhat ironic given that the spotted jersey obviously identifies the cyclists who is best at hill climbs – and as you know the only hills my dynamic duo really like are flat ones!

The "old gal's" hero! Le Captain in full (ironic) King of the Mountain gear!

The “old gal’s” hero! Le Captain in full (ironic) King of the Mountain gear!

But the “old gal” duly ordered one of the official Tour de France jerseys to call the “old git’s” bluff. But they were both as bad as each other as the “old git” had got a pair of skull caps in the King of the Mountains spotted pattern – for wearing under their crash helmets in summer as sun protectors. Oh how they laughed …. simple things and all that!

Apart from the questionable choice in tandem clothing, the “old gal” did excel with other presents – including the stylish tandem clock pictured at the top of this posting. It really looks quite the business and I am chuffed as it means it will always be tandem o’clock – albeit the “old gal” says it has a special secret link to tie it up with the gin o’clock on the kitchen wall! But I am sure she is joking? Right?

The "old git's" new appropriate mobile phone cover.

The “old git’s” new phone cover with rainbow at Loch Rannoch image.

A week before Christmas the “old git” finally came out of the mobile phone dark ages by having his trusty (and very old) Blackberry surgically removed from his grip and replaced with a trendy new Galaxy 7. The “old gal” is quite clever really as she was very persuasive in getting him to upgrade into today’s technology – which means that he can now use Strava to record my rides on his phone so there will be no further opportunities for him to blame “operator error” by my stoker!

The “old git” was duly impressed with a very apt cover for his new phone – with a Keep Calm and Tandem On slogan and a fab rainbow image at one of Team Matilda’s favourite spots, Loch Rannoch.

No excuses about weather now - waterproof helmet covers and winter gloves!

No excuses about weather now – fluerescent waterproof helmet covers and winter gloves!

As a game girl who doesn’t mind getting my spokes wet, I personally was pleased about another present which saw my dynamic crew get fluorescent waterproof helmet covers and also winter gloves. There wiill be no excuses about the weather now … or at least no valid excuses! The “old gal” was particularly pleased with the waterproof helmet covers, reminding anyone who would listen how they would have come in useful during the day of biblical rain during our French trip when my crew ended up wearing those fetching blue ponchos!

My dynamic duo also have some reading material to fuel their ideas for our grand tours – the Africa Solo book by local adventurer Mark Beaumont from nearby Crieff, and the man who broke the record for cycling round the world! Perhaps just a tad on the ambitious side …. but it will be a good read!

Perhaps slightly ambitious reading material for my crew - but a good read!

Perhaps slightly ambitious reading material for my crew – but a good read!

Christmas was spent in a blur of preparing, cooking and then eating and drinking! Just a normal day at Matildas Rest really! Pride of place on the festive table were two bottles of top-of-the-range red wines which my crew had lovingly brought back from our Team Tandem Ecosse Loire Valley trip.

The “old gal” was in seventh heaven when she uncorked them and tasted the contents! The magnificent flavours really did bring back fantastic memories of a fabulous time on Le Loire a Velo … and a toast was made to doing a similar wine-tasting tandeming trip in 2017 – with the Alsace region already earmarked as one potential destination!

With a busy schedule with family and friends, the “old git” and the “old gal” have scheduled a ride for January 2 to blow away the festive cobwebs – and get rid of some of the excesses – so fingers crossed! The scenic wilderness of a tandem ride around Loch Rannoch in Highland Perthshire has already been identified as a potential destination. So look out for a new Musing in the first few days of January.

Then in a few weeks I am going to be making a triumphant return to the Loch earn area after being invited back to blog about tandeming around the final part of the award winning and fascinating cultural outside art #BLiSStrail.

Yes, LETi, the local Loch Earn Tourism Information group, was so impressed with my photo and video blog when I was a guest to see the Balquhidder section of the trail that Team Matilda has been asked back to do another blog on the Strathyre leg of the unique BLiSS trail – this time based at Airlie House bed and breakfast.

LETi chair Kim Proven has had a an exclusive voucher from Santa for a second go as sub stoker.

LETi chair Kim found an exclusive voucher from Santa in her stocking for a second go as sub stoker.

And it seems that Santa left a highly exclusive voucher for a second tandem ride in the stocking of LETi chair Kim Proven, and owner of luxury self-catering Briar Cottages. Regular readers will remember that Kim had a go as substitute stoker when we visited Balquhidder … and was so overcome by the experience that she fancies having another go!

But will the “old git” be as gentle this time as she is no longer a tandem virgin? Or will we be doing tight bends, changing gears and picking up speed? And will Kim show she is a hero and take her hands off the handlebars to wave at the camera this time?! One thing is for certain, I will be Musing about it!

That is to come, but finally for the moment, I hope all readers of my Musings had a lovely Christmas and that Santa brought you and your tandems what you wanted! If not then the only explanation is that you were on the “naughty” list!

And if we don’t speak until after the bells – on behalf of Team Matilda let me be one of the first to wish you all the best for 2017 … and many happy tandeming miles together for you and your team!

Just remember it can always be tandem (or gin!) o’clock! Cheers!

May it always be tandem (or gin!) o'clock during 2017!

May it always be tandem (or gin!) o’clock for your team during 2017!

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Christmas wishes to fellow tandemers who know its always better together!

xmas-card-2016-front-preview

Jingle bells, jingle bells
jingle all the way!
Oh what fun
it is to ride
On a tandem made for two …. !!! 

With the big day fast approaching and thoughts turning to turkey and tinsel and mistletoe and (mulled) wine this “old lady” decided it was time to wish readers of my Matildas Musings, and fellow tandemers everywhere, (and even solo cyclists!) a very merry Christmas on behalf of Team Matilda.

The “old git” being a huge fan of the Christmas period is in a festive frenzy – while the “old gal” is enjoying the (mulled) wine while trying to exert a calming influence!

However my dynamic crew are hoping to squeeze in a couple of rides over the festive period – including a “blow away the cobwebs” tandem to welcome in the New Year in the first couple of days of 2017. So stay logged in for that!

In the meantime my dynamic duo – of the “old git” Captain and the “old gal” Stoker – would like to thank you all for reading my Matildas Musings this year and following our adventures!

xmas-card-2016-inside-previewAnd thanks for all your messages of support- whether that be a comment on the blog, a like or share or comment on Facebook or like or re-tweet on Twitter!

Team Matilda sincerely hope you continue to find it entertaining – and that it makes you smile – while finding something that you (as non-professional fun-loving fellow tandemers) can relate to!

With a bit of luck – and no major mechanicals concerning my ageing frame – there will be many more rides and Musings during 2017.

This hopefully will include the build-up to and the day-to-day reports of the annual Team Tandem Ecosse (Team Matilda’s name when in Europe!) Tour de France du Tandem. Whisper it but it may even include a trip in Holland first off – where I am told it is very flat … which is (festive)  music to the “old gal’s” ears!

For anyone wondering, the Christmas card front image is a snow-sprinkled image of me and my dynamic duo from our 2016 Le Tour de Loire Valley du Tandem – which included some memorable tandeming through the vineyards and chateaux surrounding the Loire a Velo in September.

As a Christmas treat here’s a chance to see Team Matilda’s musical montage of images from that great Loire Valley trip – in case you haven’t seen it yet.  (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.)

The astute among you will realise that the inside shot on the Christmas card is not in France! It was actually taken on a gorgeous sunny day at Lock Katrine on our fantastic Le Tour de Perthshire in August with fellow self-proclaimed founding members of The Nutty Tandemers Club – John and Jane of Team Bluebird! So special festive greetings to them and here’s to our planned Le Tour de New Forest in July 2017.

So here’s to a wonderful festive season to all. And on behalf of all captains and stokers everywhere – lets hope Santa fills your Christmas stockings with all the good things you have put on your present list!

Mind you, that does make an assumption that you are on the “good tandemers” list rather than the “naughty tandemers list!”

And remember: It truly is always better when you’re together on a tandem”!!

So have a “twice the fun” Merry Christmas from Colin, Diane … (and of course) Matilda!

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Easter Sunday challenge (and egg hunt) at natural wilderness of Loch Rannoch

A brilliantly coloured rainbow encapsulates the beauty of Loch Rannoch.

A brilliantly coloured rainbow encapsulates the beauty of Loch Rannoch.

Check out our route round Loch Rannoch on Strava here  – don’t forget to click on the map to get the full data and statistics!

STRAVA Easter SundayNow you know how the “old git” likes a challenge! Well the eagle-eyed among you may have spotted a comment from Martin, a good friend of my dynamic duo, at the end of my last Musing. He got to hear of our plans for our Easter weekend trip to the wilderness spot of Loch Rannoch in Highland Perthshire and threw down the gauntlet: “Good luck this Sunday – I ran the Loch Rannoch Marathon 30 years ago and it took me 3 hours 50mins to cover the 26 miles. I reckon you can beat that time on Matilda … fancy a challenge?!”

Well I must admit it sounded appealing and the challenge was immediately accepted – after it was confirmed that Martin meant cycling time, as there was the vitally important lunch stop for the prosecco picnic to factor in! So once it was agreed that it was moving time – with the Strava app report being the official arbiter – we were all up for it! Even the “old gal” thought it was achievable!

So the challenge was to be part of what was now the annual Easter training camp trip to Loch Rannoch – to step up the training for this summer’s Tour de Loire Valley in September.

The area is described as one of the last true wildernesses in Europe – with truly majestic scenery. And the “old git” made sure the “old gal” was happy by throwing in the carrot of a repeat overnight stay in the amazingly remote small luxury Moor of Rannoch Hotel to recharge their batteries (and legs) after the cycling. When the “old git” mentioned  to the “old gal” that there were 12 Scottish gins in the speciality gin bar, she was sold! Even if it meant cycling 26 miles before gin o’clock!

The “old gal” didn’t  even complain as we all found ourselves bundled into Matilda Transport at the unearthly hour of 7.30 am on Easter Sunday – even earlier if you factor in the clocks going forward! – to head off up the A9. The “old git” kept going on about the forecast of bright sunshine, with the odd shower, but I have to say that me and the “old gal” were a bit sceptical after some torrential rain the day before.

But amazingly there was sunshine as we headed away from Matildas Rest and spirits were raised even further with a tasty cooked breakfast stop at the brilliant Ballinluig Motor Grill.

Fuelling up for the tandeming trip ahead!

Fuelling up for the tandeming trip ahead!

Back on the road we were soon turning off the A9 just after Pitlochry and heading along the narrow winding roads past Loch Tummel to the village of Kinloch Rannoch at the head of the loch, which would be our lunch stop.

We drove down the 12 miles to the bottom of the loch, and a smile came to the lips of the “old gal” as she remembered how flat – or very gently undulating – the route was!

So before 11 we had parked up just after Bridge of Gaur and we were all set for our own Easter Sunday Tour de Loch Rannoch du Tandem! Strava connected with GPS even though there was no internet access in the area – so our challenge was going to be officially recorded.

The sun was shining brightly on the waters as we set off and the miles clocked up quickly as we cycled along the north side of the loch. The route is a real magnet for cyclists – and the “old git” happily parped my horn at various people clad in tight lycra who appeared much fitter than my dynamic duo. But it would have to be said that they were not having nearly as much fun as we were – because remember being on  tandem really is double the fun!

As it was only March, there were a few clouds about but that only added to the mystery as the majesty of the perfectly conical shape of Schiehallion – one of Scotland’s most recognisable mountains – kept appearing and disappearing as we cycled along.

A quick stop at a wild camping area provided some great photo opportunities including me posing beside a proper camp fire – with Schiehallion providing a marvelous scenic backdrop!

Having a rest at a wild camping site on the lochside looking out to Schiehallion.

Having a rest at a wild camping site on the loch side looking out to Schiehallion.

Despite the romantic image – all three of us were in one voice that Team Matilda don’t do camping! We like our home comforts too much! And as the “old gal” said: “Where would I plug in my hair dryer?!”

As the sun broke through the clouds again the “old git” decided on a shot showing off my new Captain and Stoker water bottles basking in the wild and remote loch side setting. He really is getting quite artistic in his old age!

My new Captain and Stoker water bottles in an arty lochside shot!

My new Captain and Stoker water bottles in an arty lochside shot!

Then he decided he would have some fun with the “old gal” and got her to pose looking wistfully into the distance so he could shout “Where’s Schiehallion – Its behind you!” in pantomime voice!

The "old gal" looking for Schiehallion. "It's behind you!"

The “old gal” looking wistfully for Schiehallion. “It’s behind you!”

It was time to get back in the saddle, but only after another photo of me and the “old gal” – or the two old ladies as the “old git” describes us! – with a view down the loch with its rugged and remote mountain backdrop.

The two "old ladies" together on the natural habitat of Loch Rannoch.

The two “old ladies” together on the natural habitat of Loch Rannoch.

On we pedalled and in what seemed like no time we were tandeming into the village of Loch Rannoch feeling really pleased at ourselves at having reached the half way point. Time for lunch and the dynamic duo’s famous prosecco picnic!

Lunch break and time for one of my dynamic duo's famous prosecco picnics!

Lunch – time for one of my dynamic duo’s famous prosecco picnics!

The “old git” found a small bench right in front of a waterfall which was in full spate after the recent heavy rain. The sound of the water rushing down provided a fabulous wilderness backdrop as my dynamic duo ate their healthy goodies – prepared to Hay eating plan guidelines!

You know I am so impressed with my crew who have now clocked up an amazing weight loss of 32 pounds between them in just six weeks! My frame is certainly feeling the benefits! However, that didn’t stop them indulging in a small bottle of prosecco each to toast the Easter training trip and to wash down the tasty salad wraps and fruit salad.

And the lunch had been packed away in a nifty new “Bicycle Riders Luncheon Box” which good friends Ann and Jack gave us at Christmas.

A very nifty new lunch box to keep my dynamic duo's sandwiches fresh.

A very nifty new lunch box to keep the  sandwiches fresh.

After a great alfresco lunch, the dynamic duo decided a coffee would be a good idea and dropped into the Riverbank Cafe – a real favourite of all the cyclists who circle the loch. The staff are so helpful – immediately offering a jug of water to top up my water bottles. After feeling virtuous over their healthy lunch – and taking into account the calories being burned off – it seemed only right to accompany their wonderful coffee with a slice of their lovely thick caramel shortcake.

So refuelled we crossed the old bridge and headed off on the route back down the south side of the loch – which if anything is even quieter and even more scenic.

The B-class single track road never seems to be more than a couple of yards from the loch itself, and the wilderness factor is underlined as it winds its way through the magical Black Wood of Rannoch – one of the largest areas of ancient pine forest left in Scotland. It certainly lives up to its Forestry Commission billing as “a living growing monument with some trees thought to be about 400 years old, and is home to a wonderful variety of plants and wildlife, including deer, pine martens and red squirrel.”

It is so special that it feels like an honour to be able to cycle through it – truly getting as close as possible to nature. Little wonder then that it is designated a Special Area of Conservation.

At the edge of the wooded area it was time for another stop – and given it was Easter Sunday it was time for my dynamic duo to roll their Easter eggs! They had hand decorated some hard boiled eggs the day before and carefully wrapped them in bubble wrap to survive the trip!

Hand decorated eggs for rolling - or launching as it turned out!

Hand decorated eggs for rolling – or launching as it turned out!

They walked a few yards to a tranquil small stony area at the edge of the loch and with no steep banking the “old git” decided that they would have to make do with launching the eggs into the water instead of rolling them. The “old git” decided he would shoot a video to record the “old gal” launching her Easter egg into the now calm waters of Loch Rannoch, with hilarious results – especially the fact that he spectacularly missed capturing the egg entering the water!

You can see the fun for yourself – and admire the amazing scenery – by clicking on the video below. (Remember if you are reading this on email, you need to click onto the actual blog via the link at the bottom of the email to view the video.)

As we walked back to the bike the “old git” noticed that I was somewhat incongruously parked up against a phone box – which must be one of the remotest in Scotland. It is even more amazing given there is no internet or mobile phone signal around. So the “old git” let his imagination go  into overdrive and suggested I was calling my friend Bluebird – the recumbent tandem based in Hampshire and crewed by John and Jane – to tell her what a beautiful area this was and how much she would like it!

Trying to call my friend Bluebird from one of the remotest call boxes in Scotland!

Trying to call my friend Bluebird from one of the remotest call boxes in Scotland!

You see Bluebird is famous too as she has her own Facebook page! And I can’t wait till August as she is coming to Perthshire to tour round some of the best routes in our wonderful area. Us two tandems are going to have such fun out on the roads together!

Back on the route, we even managed the bit of a climb which gives great views over the loch across. Just at that point there was the only rain shower of the day. But we couldn’t complain, and especially not as the sun and the shower revealed the most beautiful brightly coloured rainbow. The “old gal” leapt into action and quickly positioned me beneath its arc to get a great photo. So good in fact here it is again, in case you missed it at the start of my Musing!

here I am perfectly positioned beneath the arc of a spectacularly vivid rainbow.

Here I am perfectly positioned beneath the arc of a spectacularly vivid rainbow.

The rain stopped as suddenly as it started and with the sun shining again a descent on a windy stretch took us quickly back down to end the circle of the loch at Bridge of Gaur and a short cycle back to where Matilda Transport was parked.

The sun was bright enough for the "old gal" to take a Team Matilda shadow photo.

The sun was bright enough for the “old gal” to take a Team Matilda shadow photo.

But you will remember Martin’s challenge! The milometer was reading just 24 miles in just under 3 hours travelling time – and the challenge was to complete 26 miles in 3 hours 50 mins. No way the “old git” and the “old gal” were going to give up on breaking Martin’s record at this stage! So, despite being fairly tired, my dynamic duo pedalled past Matilda Transport and headed out into the open countryside before performing a u-turn  to complete an additional three miles. (That explains the extra bit at Bridge of Gaur after our circle of the loch on the Strava map!)

The “old gal” managed to video the “old git” recording a cheeky message for Martin as they crossed the 26 mile marker to hammer home the challenge had been won! Click on the video below. (Remember again that if you are reading this on email, you need to click onto the actual blog via the link at the bottom of the email to view the video.)

Although we couldn’t get official confirmation at that point from the Strava app – we knew we had smashed Martin’s time. When we did get internet access and downloaded our route it unequivocally showed that we covered 26.9 miles in a moving time of 3 hours 07 mins and 11 seconds! More than 40 minutes faster! Officially verified! I have to say all three of us had a good laugh about the challenge throughout the day – and I know Martin won’t mind his 30 year old (plus!) record getting broken one little bit! We await the next challenge with interest!

So buoyed by that success I was packed up into Matilda Transport and we drove the final five hilly miles towards Rannoch Station where our training camp hotel is situated. Before checking in we had been recommended to try the famous Rannoch Station tearoom. It is amazing and a little gem.

The appetising array of home made cakes at Rannoch Moor Tearoom.

The appetising array of home made cakes at Rannoch Moor Tearoom.

A really friendly couple have transformed the old station waiting room into a most welcoming tea room – providing hot drinks and home made treats! It is a real favourite with walkers when they come off the moor, and if my dynamic duo’s coffee and carrot cake was anything to go by it fully deserves its “must visit” reputation.

We then literally walked across the road from the tearoom to be met by Scott and Steph, mine hosts at the oasis which is Moor of Rannoch Hotel. It is hard to describe this hotel to fully justify what it offers but essentially it is probably best summed up in the four headline words they use on their website – Retreat, Relax, Unwind, Escape.

The hotel’s major selling point – apart from the gin bar (obviously!) is that there is no tv signal and no wifi. You are quite literally cut off from the modern world. But that is a huge benefit, and the scenery provides the stimulating brain food as it looks out over the wilderness of Rannoch Moor to the Glencoe mountains.

The Moor of Rannoch Hotel situated on RannochMoor with the Glencoe mountains as a backdrop.

Moor of Rannoch Hotel sits on Rannoch Moor with the Glencoe mountains as a backdrop.

Only minutes after we checked in to one of only five bedrooms, there was another magical moment when a herd of about 20 deer – came down off the hill to feed. As the “old git” rather obviously said: “Maybe there’s a stag party on!” As the “old gal” groaned and forced a laugh to humour him she grabbed her phone and managed to capture the image while hanging out the bedroom window.

The stag party coming down off the moor for feeding! Who needs the internet!

The stag party coming down off the moor for feeding! Who needs the internet!

After a much needed shower, and some rest and recuperation my dynamic duo had a pre-dinner selection from the gin bar featuring many small batch artisan Scottish gins. The “old git” had a Gordon Castle while the “old gal” had a Shetland Reel!

A wonderful dinner full of flavours to tempt the taste buds followed – sample menu here – all home cooked on the premises from mainly local produce by Steph. That was helped along with a lovely fruity dry Sauvignon, and all accompanied by the live theatre that is the moving vista of the wild countryside viewed through the massive picture windows.

As we sampled the cheeseboard in the lounge – along with a liqueur of Scotland’s first rum called Dark Matter – the “old git” reflected on the fact that it has to be one of the remotest and best locations for a hotel anywhere in Scotland.

And the “old gal” pointed out that the owners, Scott and Steph, have got it just right, offering wonderful friendly but not obsequious hospitality making it feel like a home from home in the middle of the wilderness.

After dinner the atmosphere in the lounge becomes like a small house party, with guests exchanging stories and playing games like Scrabble and Connect 4!

It offers a real all encompassing five-star stay – which cannot be faulted – and all without having to pay five-star prices. It is highly recommended, but make sure and book ahead as it is becoming increasingly popular. You won’t be disappointed!

After an amazing day tiredness hit and sleep beckoned – with my crew no doubt dreaming of breaking Martin’s challenge over and over again!

Remember, if you’ve got this far and haven’t checked out my route to around Loch Rannoch on Strava you can do so here.

And finally, don’t forget to keep all your fingers and toes crossed for my blog – which is a finalist in the Most Innovative category of the UK Blog Awards 2016. Not only is Matildas Musings the only blog ‘written’ by a classic Jack Taylor tandem, but it is the only Scottish finalist. The results will be announced at a glitzy awards presentation evening at the Park Plaza Hotel in London on Friday April 29. Here’s hoping …

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Meander to Muthill in brilliant Perthshire sunshine!

Basking in the sunshine at the medieval kirkyard at Muthill.

Basking in the sunshine at the medieval kirkyard at Muthill.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jolly jaunt around Gleneagles on my first Strava recorded ride!

The artwork on a roundabout to mark the Ryder Cup being held at Gleneagles in 2014.

The artwork on a roundabout to mark the Ryder Cup being held at Gleneagles in 2014.

Sunday morning dawned with Matildas Rest bathed in bright sunshine. The forecast was for the thermometer to reach a balmy 10C, so the “old git” was in his element as the plans for a ride out – only our second of the year – fell into place. We were on for some much needed exercise and fresh air between my spokes!

The “old gal” was still a bit worried about rustiness – but the “old git” had thought out a new circular route on some of the quiet and scenic Perthshire back roads around the famous Gleneagles hotel estate. Anyway my dynamic duo’s combined weight loss on the Hay healthy eating plan has now reached 24 pounds so they were feeling much healthier.

And to add to the excitement of getting out on the roads again around Matildas Rest, the “old git” had persuaded the “old gal” that we should use Strava – the cycling GPS tracker which you can operate via an app on a mobile phone. So this classic tandem is moving into the digital age. Forget that rubbish that you are too old to learn new skills and tricks!

Essentially it tracks the journey from start to finish – including pausing when I am stopped – and then gives a highly detailed report on the ride. This incorporates a terrain map showing the journey and lots of statistics like distance covered, moving time, total time, elevation, average speed and top speed. You can compare segments of the ride against other cyclists – and also against our own time when we repeat a route. Which all sounds like fun, unless the “old git” becomes a Strava bore!

My dynamic duo were recommended to use it by Jane and John Taylor who live in Hampshire and are frequent tandemers on their  Pino semi-recumbent  called Bluebird. The “old git” and the “old gal” have become friends with Bluebird’s crew after starting to chat on social networks including The Tandem Club UK Facebook page. And, what’s more, I understand they are avid fans of my blog – so they must be good people!

In fact I am most excited as I am due to meet Bluebird when she brings her crew up to Perthshire in August for a holiday. The plan is that me and Bluebird will be going out for some of the most scenic rides around the area – so I am looking forward to having a tandem pal for some ride outs. I am sure Bluebird and I can get up to mischief while the two tandem crews are indulging in a few glasses of wine when having picnics or when we stop at local hostelries!

So back to the ride and we set off in calm conditions and were soon the “old git” and the “old gal” were in perfect synchronicity (well that’s what the old git likes to believe anyway!) as they pedalled up Auchterarder high street and headed out of the town, continuing up hill towards Gleneagles hotel – the playground of the rich and famous!

We headed up the road towards Blackford and Braco with my crew buoyant to be out in the mild Spring day – despite further long slow climbs past the back entrance to the hotel. In fact we were moving faster and smoother than both I and the “old gal” would have dared imagine at this stage in the season, soaking in the picturesque Perthshire countryside and wonderful fresh air.

Here I am on the edge of the famous King's Course at Gleneagles with the Ochil hills as a backdrop.

Here I am on the edge of the famous King’s Course at Gleneagles with the Ochil hills as a backdrop.

The first point of interest was cycling along the edge of the King’s  golf course – renowned as being one of the most beautiful and exhilarating places to play golf in the world. Opened in 1919, the King’s course is regarded as a masterpiece of golf course design, which has tested the aristocracy of golf, both professional and amateur. A quick photo stop allowed us to take in the views with the Ochil hills giving a dramatic backdrop to the perfectly manicured fairways.

Pedalling on we soon picked up speed on a nice downhill stretch and reaching the heady heights of 24.8 mph – albeit only for less than 100 yards – before abruptly slowing down again as we faced the next incline.

It was a wonderful day to be out tandeming – proving the old adage that “it’s always better tandeming together” – which was showing Perthshire off at its best. We soon turned sharply to the left taking the road to Blackford – passing the ghost-like golf course of the gWest complex belonging to Ochil Developments. On its website it is described as being “Scotland’s best kept secret” – and it truly is.

The golf course has been there for a few years – but the first steps towards a luxury new  resort to rival its neighbour Gleneagles have now been launched. The first 26 residential plots are now available, providing potential buyers the chance to design their very own bespoke, multi million pound home on an average of 1.25 acres of land with extraordinary views across one of Scotland’s finest landscapes.

The level crossing at Blackford - on the main rail route north to Aberdeen and Inverness.

The level crossing at Blackford – on the main rail route north to Aberdeen and Inverness.

On down towards the village of Blackford, crossing the main Glasgow to Dundee, Aberdeen and Inverness railway line. It is the line the “old git” commutes each weekday on to get to Glasgow, so it was interesting to see the level crossing from a  different perspective. We headed past the sprawling Highland Spring water factory – home of one of Perthshire’s most iconic brands – before cycling through the village and past the Tullibardine Highland single malt whisky distillery which is expanding its visitor centre.

The next stage was to cross the busy A9 dual carriageway – on foot rather than pedalling – and turning into the much quieter and remote road around Bardrill. Before departure the “old git” had one of his (few) bright ideas and packed a flask with some freshly brewed coffee in it, as he was aware there were no cafes on today’s route. So after the adrenalin-fuelled activity of dodging the fast moving cars and trucks on the main route north to Inverness the “old gal” was ready for a very welcome coffee.

Smile for the selfie - practicing using the self-timer!

Smile for the selfie – practicing at coffee stop using the self-timer!

As my dynamic duo enjoyed a quick pit stop, and practicing taking a few selfies on the self-timer camera on the mobile phone, the “old gal” was even heard to praise the “old git” for his forward thinking in organising the flask of coffee! And that doesn’t happen very often – the praise I mean!

With the sunshine having made a disappearing act behind some heavy cloud we were soon on the move again, with the three of us enjoying the flat cycling on the farm roads around Bardrill. This is a good road for practicing gear changes as there are straight stretches followed by downhills and inclines all in quick succession. All was going well until a cry of “stop pedalling” was heard from the “old gal.” In her position as stoker on the rear, she gets a good view of my chain and it had slipped off the gear mechanism following a rapid change down the gears.

Fortunately the “old git” immediately stopped moving my pedals so the chain didn’t get jammed, and the “old gal” used her skills in her other role as chief engineer to hook my chain back into position and we were soon moving again.

We turned out on to the Glendevon road and paused to admire the roundabout with some huge golf clubs as an art work commemorating the Ryder Cup golf match being held at Gleneagles in September 2014 – when Europe famously beat the US 16½ to 11½.

At the main entrance to Gleneagles - the playground for the rich and famous.

At the main entrance to Gleneagles – the playground for the rich and famous.

We headed back towards Matildas rest tandeming past the posh front entrance to Gleneagles – stopping for another photo opportunity – before a nice downhill stretch back into Auchterarder. My dynamic duo decided on a stop at at the cafe at Synergy Cycles.  They both enjoyed a slice of caramel shortcake – one of the best in the area according to the “old gal”, and who would argue with her! – washed down by a nice warming coffee.

Back to Matildas Rest and a wonderful day was made even more perfect by watching Scotland beat France at Murrayfield in the Six Nations Rugby International – the first such victory for a decade! There was even time for a celebratory gin and tonic!

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

Strava GleneaglesI am proud to say that we are even registered as Team Matilda – what else?! – on Strava and are now a member of the the Tandem Club on the site. You will see that we were ranked 52nd out of 54 tandems registered when judged on distance covered in the past week. But I have to say we have no ambitions to top the table. Now if there was a ranking for fun quotient we would definitely be near the top – as for the three of us that’s what tandeming is all about. And we wholeheartedly agree with the Tandem Club UK website that tandeming is really twice the fun!

Tandem club twice the fun logoAnd finally – don’t forget to keep all your fingers and toes crossed for my blog – which is a finalist in the Most Innovative category of the UK Blog Awards 2016. Not only is Matildas Musings the only blog ‘written’ by a classic Jack Taylor tandem, but it is the only Scottish finalist. The results will be announced at a glitzy awards presentation evening at the Park Plaza Hotel in London at the end of April.

I have my my brake cables crossed until then in the hope that I will win the award! Although I am a bit worried as to where the “old git” would attach the trophy to my delicate frame?!

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