Matilda’s maiden trip on new Muthill cycle path

At the start of the new Muthill cycle path in brilliant Perthshire sunshine.

At the start of the new Muthill cycle path in brilliant Perthshire sunshine.

Much excitement at Matildas Rest on Sunday! Not only was the sun shining, and a ride out beckoned, but I had been invited to be the first tandem to ride the newly opened cycle path at the nearby village of Muthill. And the local volunteers who raised all the money for the project wanted me to blog about my experience! The “old gal” is even talking about a video! Fame indeed!

I mean it’s going to be quite a week – what with my maiden trip on the cycle path and then at the end of the week the awards ceremony for the UK Blog Awards. And you’ll remember that I am the only Scottish blog to reach the finals – listed in the Most Innovative category! It’s soooo exciting!

My dynamic duo promised to take a picture of me with my invitation on our return from the trip, so more about the blog awards later.

But firstly there was the big weigh in with the “old git” and the “old gal” in the middle of their Hay Plan weight loss regime that they have been embracing. And I am so impressed as they have now lost a combined total of 49 pounds in 10 weeks!

So I am expecting big things on the ride out today – hoping for an improvement in our average speed – as they tell me that they are feeling much healthier and fitter. I mean my ageing frame is now carrying almost 50 pounds less that it was! What a relief!

After a healthy breakfast we headed off from Auchterarder in brilliant sunshine on the quiet back roads heading to Muthill. And we were all in good spirits being out in the fresh air, and my four pedals were soon spinning along at a fair rate!

Check out the route of my maiden trip on the new Muthill cycle path on Strava below – don’t forget to click on the map to get the full data and statistics!

MCP - strava map

In what seemed like no time we tandemed into Muthill and turned down past the primary school towards Strageath to the banner sign which marks the start of the new path about half a mile from the village on a nice quiet road.

The start of the path is next to the sewage works, but fortunately it is nicely hidden by large trees! And there is no smell – honest!

Selfie time for the "old git" and the "old gal" at the sign at the start of the new Muthill cycle path.

Selfie time for the “old git” and the “old gal” at the sign at the start of the new Muthill cycle path.

The path was officially opened on Friday and marks the first stage of a bigger project to have a user-friendly Muthill to Crieff cycle path running the 4 miles to the Strath capital.

The ambitious project has been driven forward by community development group Muthill Village Trust. Phase 1 is now open and stretches about a mile from Muthill to Templehill.

The cyclepath is funded from a variety of sources including The Gannochy Trust, Sustrans, Big Lottery Fund Scotland and the Perth and Kinross Community Environment Challenge Fund.

The "old gal" at the start of the smooth new path surrounded by Perthshire countryside.

The “old gal” at the start of the smooth new path surrounded by Perthshire countryside.

So after a few pictures it was time for my maiden trip on the new path. And what a joy it is to ride on. They really have done a fantastic job. We were soon whizzing along on a wonderfully smooth tarmacadam path which takes you right across wonderful Perthshire farming countryside with stunning views in all directions.

There are a couple of 90 degree bends, and because I am a “long vehicle” the “old git” needed to pay a bit of attention to steer round, but as the “old gal” commented, they are perfectly tandem friendly!

To make up for the tight bends there are a couple of long straight stretches, with only gentle undulations – which were a delight to tandem on.

The new path has several long straight stretches where you can admire the views.

The new path has several long straight stretches where you can admire the views.

There is a slightly steeper downhill stretch where we picked up speed, leading to another 90 degree bend before a bridge across a stream. The “old git” applied my brakes just before the turn (and just before the “old gal” screamed!) and it was perfectly manageable.

Up a slight incline and we were soon at the end of the first stage at Templemill – which is marked with a cycle path and walkers bollard.

The end of phase 1 - with cyclists and walkers bollard - looking towards Crieff.

The end of phase 1 – with cyclists and walkers bollard – looking towards Crieff.

Eventually the path will go all the way to Crieff, incorporating quiet country roads, off-road paths and a new bridge over the River Earn.

In all there are four phases to the project with phase 1 just opened. Phase 2 will upgrade the track beyond Templemill down to the River Earn. There will then be a bridge built across the river, before the final stage of a path leading to the Strathearn Community Campus.

The use of the land is under the agreement of the local Drummond Foundation, who actively support the project.

You can see the overall route on the map below (Click on map if you need to see it larger.)

The plan showing the route of the remaining stages of the Muthill to Crieff cycle path.

The plan showing the route of the remaining stages of the Muthill to Crieff cycle path.

Time for the return journey and although it is slightly more of a climb going from Templemill to Muthill was equally enjoyable for my dynamic duo. And as an “old lady” classic tandem, the smooth surface is a real treat to my tyres and my suspension!

It really is a great project and good to see the local community coming together to get it off the ground.

Lindsay Lennie of the Muthill Village Trust says the path was identified as a key project the local community wanted in the Muthill Community Action Plan 2011-16. Not surprisingly, it has been many years in the making – with community consultations, local fundraising, grant applications and landowner negotiations.

The main focus of the path is to allow purposeful journeys between the village and Crieff – particularly focusing on children cycling to school.

But there is also a leisure side to it – with the track  attracting local cyclists, as well as forming part of the proposed Three Saints Way walking route from Killin to St Andrews.

So after completing the return journey in just a few minutes, it was time for a quick coffee stop at the Muthill end before setting off in the original direction again – with the “old gal” in charge of the video camera!

You can get a good impression of the path – and the scenic views – by clicking on the video below – complete with commentary from the “old gal” and the “old git” who clearly have missed out on their vocations as tour guides! (Remember if you are reading this on email, you need to click onto the actual blog first via the link at the bottom of the email to view the video.)

So after being honoured to be the first tandem to try out the new path I have to offer my hearty congratulations to all those involved in the project. It is well worth a visit to Muthill to try the path out – and you can easily combine it with any other routes through the area. I promise, you won’t be disappointed.

MCP - sportive logoYou may also want to sign up for the third annual Muthill Sportive which is being held on Saturday June 11th to raise funds for the next stage of the cycle path. There are three routes appealing to all grades of cyclists. And you better to be quick to sign up (via Entry Central) as already a third of the available places are now taken with less than two months to go. Every penny raised goes to making the cycle path project a reality.

As for our Sunday ride out, we left the new cycle path – promising to return soon – and took a circular route back from Templemill back to Muthill, before heading to Tullibardine and then homeward.

And I was amazed, no make that I was flabbergasted, at the new found fitness of my dynamic duo when we managed to tandem up a very steep hill just after Machanay Bridge for the first time ever! This has always been a hill too far and ended up with me being “taken for a walk” and pushed up that stretch. But I was mega impressed!

And so was the “old gal” who – as regular readers of my Musings know only too well – doesn’t do hills. The “old git” was a happy chappy and of course claimed it was all down to his clever use of my gears! Aye right!

Buoyed by that success we easily managed to nail the long – but gentler – climb at Easthill before the nice fast downhill stretch back to Matildas Rest. Time for a well deserved coffee for my crew, while sitting out on the decking enjoying the Spring sunshine while checking out the details of the ride.

A welcome coffee as a treat on the decking back at Matildas Rest!

A welcome coffee as a treat on the decking back at Matildas Rest!

Strava officially recorded the ride at a distance of 20.8 miles, covering an elevation of 872 feet, with a moving time of 2 hours 17 minutes. The average speed was 9.1 mph and we reached a thrilling (well for this “old lady” anyway) maximum speed of 30.2 mph!

The most pleasing thing was that Team Matilda managed to clock up no less than 8 personal records on the route!  See I told you the weight loss of my dynamic duo would boost our stamina and speed!

Before I was returned to my comfortable garage there was the important job of the “old gal” taking my picture with my official invite for the glitzy UK Blog Awards 2016 awards ceremony which takes place at the Park Plaza Hotel at Westminster in London this Friday, April 29.

Happily posing with my invite to the UK Blog Awards 2016 awards ceremony.

Happily posing with my invite to the UK Blog Awards 2016 awards ceremony.

I was one very happy tandem posing with my invite! After all as the author of this blog, who did the “old git” think it would be sent to?! Just a reminder that my Matildas Musings blog is not only a finalist in the Most Innovative category but it is the only Scottish blog to reach the finals.

Given that it was me who got the invite, the question is does that make my dynamic duo my “plus one” – or should that be my “plus two”?!

If I am being honest, I don’t think I will win – especially when you see the other blogs who are finalists in the Most Innovative category.

But if the judges are looking for something really original – what can be more original than a witty blog written by a classic Jack Taylor tandem?

My spokes are firmly crossed and I know you will cross your fingers and toes and anything else you can for me.

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Historic Pedal around Pictish Perthshire

The entrance to St Serf's Church which houses the Dupplin Cross.

The entrance to historic St Serf’s Church in Duning which houses the Dupplin Cross.

Sunday dawned again – and after a week off after our epic Easter Tour de Loch Rannoch du Tandem the “old git” was keen to get us all back on the road again. The only snag was that my dynamic duo had to visit the “old git’s” mum in Kilmarnock in the afternoon – which involves a 140 mile round trip by car – so the alarm was set ridiculously early so my ride out could be completed by lunchtime.

“What time have you set the alarm for – that’s the middle of the night” moaned the “old gal” in mock dismay – well at least the “old git” thought it was mocking! (Whisper it, but she told me it wasn’t!) However I have to say she was keen to get some exercise to help the Hay Plan weight loss regime that my dynamic duo have been embracing. And it is obviously working as yesterday’s weigh in saw them having lost a combined total of 3 stones 2 lbs in just 8 weeks.

I am most impressed, and it certainly reduces the strain on my ageing frame! I mean that is the equivalent of 22 bags of sugar that I don’t need to be carting about! So obviously  I am expecting us to be moving faster as we don’t have as much weight to carry! I mean my crew will soon be back in their slimline – matching obviously – lycra cycling shirts too at this rate! Watch this space! And don’t say I didn’t warn you!

So after a hearty breakfast – within the guidelines of the Hay Plan – we were heading away from Matildas Rest in beautiful Spring sunshine. The “old git” had decided that today’s run 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!

The “old gal” was so keen to get underway that she unfortunately forgot to start the Strava app on her iPhone – which automatically records our routes and provides all sorts of statistics about average speeds and elevation over the journey.

In fact it was some five miles into the ride – as we entered the village of Dunning – that the “old git” asked the “old gal” if she had started Strava. “Oops” was the cry from the back saddle and with the “old git” muttering under his breath something about it being frustrating to lose miles, we pulled over and the technology was switched on!

So you can check out most of the route of our Pedal around Pitcish Perthshire on Strava here – although it actually started from Matildas Rest in Auchterarder and not Dunning as the map shows!  

Strava small Forteviot

Through Dunning we pedalled, heading further out into the glorious Perthshire countryside – enjoying taking deep breaths of the fresh air. Everyone was feeling very healthy and 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.

Here I am at the focal point - the village square" at Forteviot.

Here I am at the focal point – the village square” at Forteviot.

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.

During a quick walk around, my dynamic duo discovered Forteviot Church of St Andrew. The present church, the third on the site, dates from 1778 and adopts the form of a Georgian box chapel, but dates from the 13th century. A look at the history shows that recent archaeology indicates that Christians were first buried in Forteviot graveyard in the 6th century.

Forteviot Church of St Andrew blah blah blah which dates from xxC

Forteviot Church of St Andrew which dates from 1778 but has a history dating back long before then.

Back on board we set off back to Dunning but only after a quick pit stop to get a shot of this “old lady” looking at my best in the sunshine, showing one of the many picturesque rural cottages along the way.

A lovely example of one of the many picturesque country cottages in the Forteviot area.

A lovely example of one of the many picturesque country cottages in the Forteviot area.

The “old gal” was in her element as the lack of wind made the tandeming most pleasant and her good humour was helped by the “old git” flicking up and down my gears to maintain momentum going up any steep stretches. And there were a couple of long inclines on the way out of Forteviot which the “old gal” wasn’t looking forward to, but with their new found fitness, I can report my dynamic duo managed them without a problem! And yes we were moving faster! Result!

The "old gal" smiling with a backdrop of the wonderful Perthshire countryside.

The “old gal” smiling with a backdrop of the wonderful Perthshire countryside.

At the top of the hilly section, the “old gal” was even happy to stop and pose for a picture, smiling as she took in the wonderful rural Perthshire landscape – an almost idyllic scene.

Within a short time we tandemed back into the lovely historic village of Dunning. It was originally established around the 12-13th century but the village was burned during the 1715 Jacobite Rebellion. The oldest house dates from the 1730s.

In the very centre of the village is St Serf’s Church, and we parked up at the entrance to the church which has a distinctive and largely intact bell tower dating from around 1200.

The St Serf's Church and bell tower, dating back to 1200.

The St Serf’s Church and bell tower, dating back to 1200.

It is no longer used as a church as it now belongs to Historic Scotland and is the home of the famous Dupplin Cross.  This rare and impressive 3metre-high Cross was carved out of sandstone around AD 800, and once stood in the palace of the Pictish kings at Forteviot where we just pedalled from.

It was made for King Constantine, son of Fergus, who reigned from 789 to 820 – a fact revealed when a panel on the cross was discovered to have some Latin wording.

The impressive and something Dupplin Cross - history on our doorstep!

The famous Dupplin Cross – history on our doorstep!

My dynamic duo had a quick tour from a wonderfully enthusiastic Historic Scotland guide – who wouldn’t take no for an answer – and gave them a rapid history lesson which included the facts that the Dupplin Cross is the only complete example to survive in Pictish territory and that it was during King Constantine’s reign that the kingdoms of the Picts and the Scots began to merge, before finally uniting under King Kenneth around 843.

This “old lady” was actually quite glad there are some ancient artifacts that actually pre-date me! I was actually feeling quite a young thing while steeped in all this history! What was amazing was that the “old gal” who has lived in the area for more years than she cares to remember has never visited it before! As the “old git” said it is amazing what you find on your doorstep!

My dynamic duo decided that a reviving cup of coffee was necessary – with no edibles (or alcohol) as they were being good! They even actually managed to get the self-timer to work so got a shot of both of them together!

Time for a coffee before heading home - and the self timer worked!

Time for coffee before heading home – and the self timer worked!

Suitably fortified by their stop, we set off on the five miles back to Matildas Rest with one last stop for a final piece of local history at the site of a monument to Maggie Wall. This is a kind of eerie stone cross with a hand-painted date of 1657 as the story is that this is a memorial to the last witch to be burned at the stake back then.

The Maggie Wall monument just outside Dunning.

The eerie Maggie Wall witch’s monument just outside Dunning.

A quick spurt for home and everyone happy with the outing. This tandeming really is a great way to get some exercise you know … for all three of us! It actually made the “old git” and the “old gal” feel very virtuous on their long drive to Kilmarnock later!

If you haven’t already checked the route of this blog on Strava, you can do so here. Remember there was the issue of the “missing miles” – just as well my low-tech “unofficial”milometer still records the journey without any fancy wifi apps – and recorded the distance as 16.1 miles, with a moving time of 1 hr 42 minutes. The average speed was 9.4 mph and we reached a heady 23.2 mph as our maximum speed. See I told you that weight loss of my dynamic duo would increase our speed!

And finally, not long to go now so remember 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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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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My pedals get to turn for the first time in 2016 at scenic Loch Leven!

Beautiful February Sunshine at the pier at Loch Leven.

Beautiful February Sunshine at the pier at Loch Leven.

At last all those storms with silly names seem to have passed and from midweek the excitement was mounting at Matildas Rest as the weather forecast was finally showing a lovely weather window for Sunday – an almost unheard of phenomenon recently … a sunny day with virtually no wind.

At last it seemed I was going to be able to get back out on the road and get some fresh air between my spokes after languishing in my garage. I mean the excitement of my blog being named as a finalist in the UK Blog Awards 2016 was a nice diversion – but as all tandemers know there is nothing like the real think of getting your pedals turning again!

The “old gal” and the “old git” have admittedly missed the regular exercise of outings on me. And whisper it, but they have put on a few extra pounds over the winter – especially the “old git”! – so I am a little worried about the extra weight!

However they tell me they are now on a healthy eating regime to lose weight and to give them energy – known as the Hay Plan – and it seems to be working as in the first two weeks they lost a combined 16 pounds!  Phew – just in time!

The “old gal” was also a bit worried about being a bit rusty on the bike and demanded that we start off somewhere flat for the first trip of the year. The “old git” did as he was told – unusually so! – and selected nearby Loch Leven as the destination. It really is a jewel in Perthshire’s crown and the scenery would be enchanting in the February sunshine.

So Sunday morning dawned and excitement reached fever as the blinds were opened to reveal glorious sunshine. The “old git” was deliriously happy and the ski thermals were donned – as it was still going to be cold – before we all found ourselves bundled into Matilda Transporter for the short half hour drive to Kinross pier.

Matilda Transport - this is the glamorous way I travel!

Matilda Transport – this is the glamorous way I travel!

As you can see from the picture, Matildas Transport may not be the most glamorous way to travel for this “old lady” – but it is highly effective. The “old git” an the “old gal” even have to sit in tandem – one driving and the other in the spare passenger seat in the rear – to ensure we all fit in. But fit in we do!

The challenge for the first ride out of 2016 was to complete cycle route round the whole of Loch Leven – an easy 13 miles.

The trail has opened two years ago at a cost of £3 million and is known as the Loch Leven Heritage Trail and it links 30 natural and cultural heritage sites. Take a look at the map of the whole of the Loch Leven route here.

The "old git" and the "old gal" ready for the off - first tandem trip of 2016!

The “old git” and the “old gal” ready for the off – first tandem trip of 2016!

So it was with a little trepidation that we set off – and admittedly we were a bit shaky at first … but my dynamic duo soon got the hang of it again and we got into our stride, settling into a nice easy pace given the first outing of the year.

The “old git” had given his word to the “old gal” that if there was any dangers ahead that he would slow down or come to a stop – so they could walk a bit before getting back on. And he kept to his word.

He even stopped at the couple of right angle bends that there are in the first few miles of the route – as he has now (thankfully) learned that an “old lady” like me doesn’t bend in the middle and tight bends are therefore an extreme hazard!

Another less dangerous hazard was the number of walkers with dogs who were out for the day! The sunshine had brought them out like ants! The “old gal” came up with the idea that as we approached each group from behind, that the “old git” would give a friendly ‘parp’ on my horn to warn them.

This was a success, and there was much friendly exchange of greetings as we cycled past. I have to say, though, the “old gal” was getting a little annoyed at the number of times walkers said to us: “She’s not pedalling on the back” as we cycled past them. A quick retort of “Oh that’s the tenth time I have heard that today” seemed to silence them however!

It was amazing to be out in such beautiful countryside – with hardly a breath of wind. Both the “old git” and the “old gal” had big smiles on their faces as they remembered just how good it was to be tandeming together.

I was in my element of course as everyone turned to look at me as I was the only tandem on the route – and caused quite a stir as I cycled past other groups.  A few kids where heard to say to their parents: “Is that a double bike?!”

One of the key attractions of the Loch Leven circular route is the RSPB Loch Leven Nature Reserve which is 7.5 miles round the circuit at Vane Farm so we headed for the RSPB visitor centre which has  a lovely appealing cafe overlooking the loch.

At the RSPB Loch Leven nature reserve

Blue skies at the RSPB Loch Leven nature reserve.

The “old git” had one of his (rare) good ideas and suggested some warming soup at the cafe – so the pair enjoyed a steaming bowl of homemade tomato and pepper soup with crusty bread. Very welcoming it was too! And good to see the cafe so busy.

My dynamic due were slightly less than dynamic on the restart – with their legs having seized up a bit over the lunch break. But they soon got into the rhythm again as we headed back to Kinross.

The "old gal" enjoying the (almost) warm sunshine at Loch Leven.

The “old gal” enjoying the (almost) warm sunshine at Loch Leven.

Hats off to all those involved, because the cycle path is very smooth surface. And apart from a few muddy stretches – which can be excused because of the extremely wet weather we have had – it really was a joy to cycle on. Highly recommended.

We were soon back at the start point of Kinross pier and time for a few photos as the loch was looking serenely calm with the sky a very unseasonable shade of blue.

In the middle of the loch is Loch Leven castle 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.

You can see why it was easy to imprison her here as you clearly need a boat to get to the island from the pier. But as it was off-season none were running.

The departure point for the small boat ferry to Loch Leven Castle.

The departure point for the small boat ferry to Loch Leven Castle.

With temperatures beginning to drop I was quickly loaded back into Matilda Transport and we headed off to a nearby Costa to enjoy some welcome hot coffee and reflect on the trip.

The verdict was that my first ride out of 2016 was a resounding success and my dynamic duo had rosy cheeks as a result of their (much needed) exercise. And we all vowed that there would be lots more trips in the weeks ahead.

My first ride out of 2016 - in beautiful sunshine - got the thumbs up from the "old git."

My first ride out of 2016 – in beautiful sunshine – got the thumbs up from the “old git.”

Finally, an update on the UK Blog Awards 2016. As regular readers will be well aware, Matildas Musings became a finalist in the Most Innovative category of the awards – reaching the final 10 out of over 2000 entries. I am seriously chuffed as not only is my blog achieving UK recognition for being the only blog ‘written’ by a classic tandem, but it is also the only Scottish finalist.

And not just that, but my blog has caught the imagination of the local media – with several big articles appearing in newspapers – including this front page story in the Strathallan Times and also this feature in the Perthshire Advertiser.

Media coverage of reaching the finals of the UK Blog Awards 2016.

Media coverage of reaching the finals of the UK Blog Awards 2016.

The organisers say that judging has taken place – in top secret – and the results will be announced at a glitzy UK Blog Awards 2016 presentation evening at the Park Plaza Hotel in London at the end of April.

So I have my brake cables crossed until then in the hope that I my blog will win the overall award!

In the meantime I am basking in the glory of being able to say I am a UK Blog Awards 2016 finalist!

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Scottish-Yukon link up for Tour de Loire Valley

So with the awful weather brought in with all the storms with fancy names – incidentally don’t you think there should be a Storm Matilda … that would be fun! – I have been confined to the garage at Matilda’s Rest.

The “old git” optimistically looks at the weekend weather forecast diligently each midweek, only to have plans for a ride-out with the “old gal” thwarted by a wintry cocktail of storm force winds, rain, ice and snow.

We really are all getting cabin fever and want to get back out on the road – if nothing else to stop the “old git” moaning about the weather and to stop the expansion of his waist line!

Even all the excitement of my blog being named as a finalist in the UK Blog Awards 2016 – down to the final 10 in the “Most Innovative” category from an entry of 2000 blogs – is nothing compared to being out and getting fresh air between my spokes! And at my tender age, this “old lady” tandem is getting a bit worried that my pedals will seize up if we don’t get out soon!

The “old git” is already looking to the advance forecast to see what next Sunday is going to be like – thinking it would be romantic to have a ride-out on Valentine’s Day while singing along to the classic “On a Bicycle Built For Two” song!

So with no prospect of getting out this weekend, thoughts turned to cycling in warm sunshine and Team Tandem Ecosse’s annual September Tour de France du Tandem holiday. So after amazing tours of Burgundy in 2014 and then Bordeaux in 2015 where to go for 2016? (If you haven’t read those adventures and want to find them quickly, all you have to do is type in Burgundy or Bordeaux into the ‘Search Matildas Musings’ box and you will see the postings.)

Two pre-requisites for these tours seem to be fairly flat cycling – as regular readers know we don’t do hills – and some fabulous vineyards – as regular readers know we definitely do do wine!

After much consideration, and a few recommendations, we selected the Loire Valley. And apart from its world-famous vineyards, there are numerous stunning chateaux to be explored en-route.

LV Cyclomundo logoThen we chose a French-based company Cyclomundo to book our self-guided tour with as they seem to know the area inside out. The seven day tour we have chosen is called: Fairytale Castles along the Loire River which covers nearly 230 miles from Blois to Angers. You can see the full itinerary and view the map of the route by clicking here.

But the big news is that it is not going to be just Team Tandem Ecosse on the Tour de Loire – we are teaming up with Team Yukon! Yes we are going to be meeting up with friends Nancy and John who we met in Burgundy during our week long tour there in 2014.

We had such a good time when our paths crossed – including a memorable dinner and some lovely wines – that we decided it would be fun to do the Loire Valley trip together. They don’t have a tandem, but are keen solo cyclists. And they also have a love for good French food and wine and a similar dislike for hills as my dynamic duo – so it should be a good match!

Nancy +John on siolo bikes at Prince Edward Island

Nancy and John on solo bikes enjoying a ride at Prince Edward Island in Canada.

Now why are they known as Team Yukon? Well they happen to live in Whitehorse, which is the capital of the remote Yukon territory in northern Canada – which is a mere 3,930 miles (or 6,319 kilometres) away from our base in Perthshire! (You can find out more about Whitehorse and the Yukon here and here.)

Logistically that seems a trifle mad, but with electronic communications distance doesn’t matter. So all four of us are booked and in September they will fly from Yukon to France and hire bikes as we drive to France in Matilda Transporter to enjoy the tour together.

This “old lady” of a tandem is so looking forward to having company on the trip and I know Nancy and John are really looking forward to it – and to the Scottish-Yukon link up. So much so that I asked them to contribute some words to my blog as to how this long-distance friendship came about! Here’s what Nancy said:

Little did we know what adventures lay ahead when we spotted Matilda trying to hide amongst the regular bicycles carefully parked for the night at Hotel des Remparts in Beaune in September 2014.

To say that she stood out among the hybrids and road bikes is an understatement. I foolishly tried lifting her – and while it’s not polite to reveal a lady’s weight against her wishes, suffice to say that Colin and Diane (aka the “old git” and the “old gal”) start out every bike ride with a significant disadvantage!

Yet in that great week as we explored the Burgundy countryside, John and I had the pleasure of crossing paths with Matilda et al many times so she obviously can keep pace, broken spokes and all.

Selfie time with Nancy and John in Burgundy in 2014.

Selfie time with Nancy and John in Burgundy in 2014.

Through (good) wines and food and (bad) hills we forged a friendship with Matilda’s people that will now take us all through the Loire together this September. We look forward to saying hello to the “old lady” again and savouring the best that a bike ride can offer.”

So Nancy and John will be featuring regularly in my blog postings this year – including how John’s training regime is going!

In the meantime Team Matilda can only keep their fingers and spokes crossed for an improvement in the weather to get back out on the road!

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Matildas Musings is a finalist in UK Blog Awards 2016

UKBA finalist_facebookGreat excitement at Matildas Rest and I am bouncing on my tyres with some amazing news! I can proudly reveal that my blog has become a finalist in the UK Blog Awards 2016.

I will say that again – as it sounds good – Matildas Musings is a finalist in the blogging Oscars!

So firstly a huge thanks to each and everyone of you who is a believer, and who took the time to vote to ensure I came out tops in the public vote. And to those who doubted I would become a finalist – well obviously you were outnumbered!

I can’t quite believe that out of more than 2,000 blogs who were nominated by the blogging community and entered into the awards, that my blog – the only blog to be written by a classic Jack Taylor tandem – has become one of the select final 10 receive such recognition in my category.

And I am more than chuffed to reveal that the category in which Matildas Musings is a finalist is the Most Innovative – which probably comes down to the fact that not many blog are written by a tandem!

I of course have to thank my esteemed ‘Team Tandem Ecosse’ crew for helping me achieve this sought after accolade – as I simply couldn’t have done it without my dynamic duo of the “old git” and “the old gal.”

You see, they give me so much opportunity and ammunition to use in my quest to be amusing! But they are secretly delighted at being listed as a finalist!

Particularly the “old git” who has been known to write a thing or two of his own in his work-life, and who I think is just a tad jealous! And the “old gal” is basking in the fame!

So what happens now I hear you ask?

Well the “old git” got an email telling us that the finalists are now all considered by a judging panel – specialists in each category.

It seems judging starts immediately and will be carried out remotely until Friday 19 February.

And the UK Blog Awards 2016 are encouraging finalists to connect with the judges via social media – on Twitter and Facebook – during the judging process. In the meantime I can wear my badge with pride across my social media channels.

For those who are interested in the competition I face to win the coveted award, you can read a synopsis of all ten finalists in the Most Innovative category here.

I have had a look and I am among a real cross-section of innovative blogs to reach the final. Others include blogs in the final include subjects such as guinea pigs, wildlife gadgets, duff Christmas films, heavy metal music, how to be thrifty, and even a blog about the adventures of a travelling mouse!

Just what the judges will make of all the finalists will be – to say the least – interesting!

After the judging process, the results will be revealed at the glitzy UK Blog Awards 2016 presentation evening being held at the end of April at the Park Plaza Hotel in Westminster, London.

The good news, no matter what happens at the awards evening, is that I can now proudly refer to Matildas Musings as a UK Blog Award finalist – quite an honour indeed.

I just wonder if the “old git” can get a special tandem badge made up so people would know my fame when they see me!

You’ll excuse me if we all go now and have a wee glass of fizz to celebrate!

Thanks again for all your support!

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Vote for Matildas Musings in the UK Blog Awards 2016!

votenow_odeon_facebookThe start of a New Year and lots of excitement at Matildas Rest as voting is now open for the UK Blog Awards 2016.

You may remember in December this “old lady” was delighted when the “old git” received an email saying that my blog – yes Matildas Musings – had received recognition from the blogging community and had been nominated in the UK Blog Awards 2016.

And believe it or not it has been nominated in two separate categories – travel and most innovative. (Not sure what is innovative about the blog … other than the fact that a tandem is writing it … but I suppose that is fairly unusual in itself!)

So now that voting is open, I need to encourage all you lovely readers of my musings – fellow tandemers or just friends and interested parties – to vote for my blog! We need as many votes as we can!

I have just been reading over all the rules and to vote all you do is simply click here to record your vote in the blog awards

That takes you direct to the Matildas Musings page on the UK Blog Awards 2016 website where you can read all about the blog and why it is nominated.

Click on the “vote now” image and you will be directed to a short form where you will be asked for your name and email address.

In the select category section there is a drop down arrow which reveals the categories that Matildas Musings is nominated under. Please click on the one which says Travel + Most Innovative as that means you vote in both categories at the same time!

You will receive a confirmation email once your vote has been registered.

The rules state that you can vote once every day until the closing date of Monday 25 January. Therefore, you may vote using the same email address more than once, but on separate days.

So please get voting – simply click here to record your vote in the blog awards.

And feel free to vote for Matildas Musings as many times as you can! Put in your daily planners until Monday 25 January. Remember every vote counts!

You will be making this “old lady” classic Jack Taylor tandem – and my crew of the “old git” and the “old gal” – very happy as we see all the votes being registered.

Thanks for your support!

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