Cycle Scotland, Pitlochry Loop. Day 1

As I’ve mentioned, I and a number of colleagues are busy training for STP, a 204 mile bike ride from Seattle to Portland. Not wanting to skip training for the 3 weekends I’ll be away at WWW 2006 in Edinburgh, I located a nice local bike rental shop (or cycle hire, as it’s called here in Britain) to rent a bike and do some distance rides. I find Cycle Scotland, run by Peter Butterworth, a very engaging fellow who in addition to renting bikes also plans scenic tours of Scotland.

I arrived on Saturday afternoon, and Peter had a 59cm red 1997 Dawes Galaxy touring bike ready for me to go. This is a reasonable drop-handle road bike; the geometry sits me more upright than on my Bianchi Eros frame. The one thing to notice, even on the 2006 model linked, is that Dawes uses lever shifters on the end of the handlebars… which is surprising, considering both Shimano and Campy have been making break shifters for some time (at least since 1996, as that’s what was on my Eros!). But Britain is a country of tradition. One nice thing is that the bike did come with the back rack, which turned out to be the perfect size for my camera bag.

Peter and I sketched out a two-day ride that would take me all around the Pitlochry area, through some scenic glens and lochs. I took the bike back up to the hotel (the Balmoral, quite close to Peter’s shop on Blackfriars Street), had the concierge store it in their luggage room, and went to bed for an early morning rise and hop on the 9:25 train to Pitlochry. One note: in summertime, you should have a reservation to take your bike on the train, but during rainier months (like May), there aren’t too many. I was the only bike on the train both directions.

Day 1, Pitlochry to Fearnan by Aberfeldy via Loch Rannoch, 61.23 miles.

GPS log via MotionBased:
http://trail.motionbased.com/trail/episode/view.mb?episodePk.pkValue=805794

The day started uneventfully with a 2-hour train ride up to Pitlochry. The biggest challenge was getting into the Edinburgh Waverly train station… there’s an entrance right next to the Balmoral, but it was closed for construction, so I ended up wandering around the block trying to get in. As you can see in the photo, the train just has a metal bar where you rest the bikes… it looks like it might hold 6 packed tightly, but more like 4 reasonably well.

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I then started cycling from Pitlochry to Tummel Bridge, passing by River Tummel on some quieter backroads. Along the way, there were several green fields filled with herds of cattle and sheep.

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The early route was quite flat and very scenic; for example, I was frequently on the side of the water as I toured west. Along the way, I passed by the lovely Loch Rannoch Hotel, seen here after I had circled Loch Rannoch. Looks like it’d make a lovely place for a holiday! Along the loch were plenty of small powerboats, sailboats, and kayaks… looks like quite the spot!

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After Loch Rannoch I began a rather steep climb (up to about 1200 feet). Along the way I saw this amazingly green tree… not sure what its genus is, but it was the most brilliant green and quite striking.

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Once I had made the summit and was cycling along a plateau, I came across one of many long rock walls. This one extended from the top of one hill to the top of the other, with the road I was on smack in the middle. I assume that the wall extended out on both sides as well. Apparently, as I found out later, over years the local shepherds and farmers would clear the land of rock, and built the walls as they needed to put the rocks somewhere out of the way. Plus, it helped pen in the sheep, which is always a plus.

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Right before the final stop I stopped in Fortingall, home of the Fortingall Yew. This is a 5,000-year old yew tree, reputed to be the oldest in Britain (if not the world). It’s nothing too spectacular, but pretty cool nonetheless. Apparently the tree is in great health, so it should keep going for some time.

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I then arrived in Fearnan, a few miles down the road from Fortingall, and stopped at Culdees Bunkhouse. Peter had made a reservation for me the day before. It’s an eco-friendly place that serves vegetarian breakfasts and dinner. It was a bit full, so I was in the 4-bed bunkroom. I ended up sharing it with two retired gentlemen named Dave and George, who were out to do a few Munros. A Munro is a particular type of peak, named after Sir Hugh Munro who surveyed them, that is at least 3,000 feet high and has at least a 500 foot dip between it and the nearest peak. There are currently 284 Munros in Scotland, and Dave and George had done over half, and were looking to bag another 5 or so the next day. We had a lovely time chatting about this over a pint at a local pub in Kenmore, another local village close to Fearnan.

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