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April 24, 2010

Braemar to Dufftown

Braemar to Tomintoul, 32 miles

And so quickly this tour has become a salvage operation. How do I continue to capitalise on the tour as planned, despite the hiccough? I had my room booked in Tomintoul, thank goodness, and so all I had to do was get there.

The hostel had emptied on the Sunday morning, and whereas there had been six fellow sleepers on the Saturday night, it was just me in a cavernous dorm. I woke up reasonably cheery. Until I saw the white stuff outside.

Hardly auspicious conditions. I knew the road got higher (much higher) before I reached Tomintoul and didn't like the look of this one bit.

Hardly auspicious conditions. I knew the road got higher (much higher) before I reached Tomintoul and didn't like the look of this one bit.

Throughout my time in Braemar there had been snow flurries, but nothing had lain, even on the lawns surrounding the hostel. This was different. When I get the chance, I shall show you the scale of it just before I set off. The weather news in Tomintoul was better, however, and there was the promise of something hot to drink in the ski resort. I set off.

The snow mercifully stopped as I followed the banks of the Dee. I’d taken off my overtrousers and hood and conditons were rather good. I knew the road I was due to cycle, though, and it filled me with dread.

The main road runs from Ballater to Tomintoul. I had taken the little one. The higher I got, the more it snowed. I reached the top of the main climb – over little hump-backed bridges and rolls of steepness – and it was blizzard conditions. I couldn’t entertain doing anything other than continuing, however, because where could I bail out? I was in the middle of nowhere.

At the top of the steepest stretch, I stopped to rip into the cheese and ham sandwiches I had made for myself. Was that the sun? It certainly was trying to peep through. This felt like a supportive presence and I carried on. I reached the next summit, and there was Donside. And the Lecht.

After a hot chocolate and some soup, during which I appreciated just how freezing I really was, I made my attempt. The first ramp was 20%. I had to stop in the area they normally reserve for turning gritters. Normally, they get to that point and don’t bother about the rest. It’s the hill and road that is always closed from about November to March.

This is one of the most breathtaking views of the entire tour, and thanks to the gradient I had to survive to reach this point, I was literally wheezing and spluttering to begin with.

This is one of the most breathtaking views of the entire tour, and thanks to the gradient I had to survive to reach this point, I was literally wheezing and spluttering to begin with.

 (They closed it again temporarily the following day.) I had another break before the top, and the view was astonishing. Then it was the bald stretch to the ski station and one last awful incline. A motorist (on his way down) gave me a gentle toot and a thumbs-up.

After gobbling a Mars Bar, I limped to Tomintoul. The snooker was on, and I just vegged out. I must mention Mike and Cathy at The Whisky Castle. I walked in and had a chat with Cathy, who then proceeded to pour samples down my throat. It is just the most incredible shop, with awesome stock and there is nothing the pair of them haven’t tasted or visited. There appreciation of the industry as a whole is remarkable, and after Mike’s good-humoured carping, I’m a convert to the “No chill-filter and 46%!” crusade. If it’s single cask then all the better.

***

Tomintoul to Aberlour, 26 miles

Having done The Glenlivet the previous day (see review) I was now completely back on schedule. It was hard to leave Argyle Guest House – they had looked after me so well – but one can’t travel by staying in the same place.

My first proper glimpse of the Spey and the gorgeous, gentle fields and hills it sloshes through. Here be whisky, alright.

My first proper glimpse of the Spey and the gorgeous, gentle fields and hills it sloshes through. Here be whisky, alright.

I reached Cragganmore just as it began to rain and left just when it started again. The tour I have treated in the previous post.

I don’t like the main road to Aberlour. Every HGV in Northern Europe seems to be using these Scottish A- roads. Maybe I’ve been unlucky and the ash crisis is creating extra traffic. Glenfarclas appeared, rather ostentatiously, on my right. I shall review the tour shortly but what a lovely environment. It is possible to taste the independence: right down to using a blue Swiss mill!

I made it to Aberlour without becoming a road accident statistic. In ‘Fresh’, the recommended cafe, I took stock with tea and a slab of carrot cake. And I mean slab. ‘This is why I’m doing this, then,’ I may have said to myself.

***

Dufftown to Huntly, 60 miles

I’m condensing, folks. I had gone from Aberlour to Dufftown the day before but it was a short trip and the distilleries were the talking point, not the journey. This, on the other hand, was a mixture of both.

Having been following it for the last week, now, just outside Tomintoul, I was officially on the Malt Whisky Trail.

Having been following it for the last week, now, just outside Tomintoul, I was officially on the Malt Whisky Trail.

A few miles out of Dufftown it started snowing. I passed into Aberdeenshire and it started to rain. I prefer snow. Huntly didn’t look too promising in the dank wetness. I was deeply cold, and well aware that I had far to go. I checked into my hotel room to leave some things behind while I completed a couple of errands about the town. Less than enthusiastically, I set off for Glen Garioch.

If I thought the A95 was bad, the A96 is by far and away worse. If you are a cyclist, do not bother. I had ten miles of it not to so much endure as survive. In the spray, with all the Aberdeen-bound traffic, I don’t know how some of the enormous trucks didn’t send me through those pearly gates (assuming all of this demon drink isn’t an insurmountable stain on my character). They just refused to give me room, slow down, or even wait until oncoming vehicles had passed. On one instance I was forced over a catseye by a gargantuan flat-bed and thought my time was up.

The motorway swelled and fell, and I felt every incline which the oil boys in there cars barely noticed, judging by the anti-social nature of their speed and disinterest. I knew they were oil-connected because ever second car was an Audi.

At long last the turn off to Old Meldrum manifested before my sodden eyes. 10 miles. OK. I had to be careful. My gloves were saturated and I was getting low on fuel. Could I make it to the distillery before I froze, or did I stop and eat, and freeze? I risked it and just buried myself.

The routes around this part of the country are mostly flat and very very staright. When yet another US-style ruler of tarmac presented itself, I confess I swore loudly. The sheep and lambs were startled.

Full of lively whisky and super-knowledgeable, and just as lovely, people.

Full of lovely whisky and super-knowledgeable, and just as lovely, people.

Old Meldrum: I’d made it. Well, maybe not quite. There was still a mile and a half to Glen Garioch, as the brown signs made it, and I was in a less than cheery mood when I got there. I was soaked to the skin (and a good way below that, I fancy) and all I could do was beg the lady behind the desk for some radiators. She did better than that. She sent me to the still house. Behind the spirit still I found a clothes rack and so draped my drenched gear over that. It would all be dry by the time I finished my tour – for all I extended the time by chatting to Fiona and Jane, as I would come to know and love them.

Jane made me a cup of tea while I wolfed down my lunch. Fiona took me on my tour and as guides go, she tops all I have come across so far, and not just because of her maternal care for a poor droonded waif. Her sense of humour was sparkling. She had been surprised to see me half-naked in the still house when she brought her previous tour in. She debated whether to improvise and say that my presence was essential to the final flavour of the spirit.

The tour over, I just discussed my plans. Their enthusiasm and support were the only things which preserved me back to Huntly. I can’t believe I covered those last 22 miles. I promised before leaving that should I complete this tour – and I will confess that at times it has been a case of “If” instead of “When” – I would come back to the distillery and buy myself a bottle of the 1990. On the way back I added to my plans the purchase of a Founder’s Reserve which I could get them both to sign. I’d drink the 1990! It was the perfect antidote to the weather and fatigue, and once more reaffirmed what can overcome what. In the game of rock/paper/scissors, whisky and people beat rain and exhaustion. I can’t describe the pride I felt in myself when I returned to the Huntly Hotel, whose relatively sparse and tatty-round-the-edges nature did not matter one jot in this new haze of accomplishment.

***

Huntly to Dufftown, 28 miles

I woke up sobered. I felt those 60 miles now, and looking at my bike, so had it. It was filthy, and all the squeakings of yesterday now seemed unavoidable. I had to deal with this.

A phone call to Breezes revealed my incompetence as far as maintenance is concerned. When Mark had said that on-the-hoof maintenance wasn’t really necessary, he obviously assumed (as he had done with puncture repairs) that I knew to do the basics: clean the chain and lubricate it regularly. I hadn’t been doing that and yesterday’s rain had washed the last of the grease of it. I was advised to try and get as much muck off as possible, then try and get some oil. When I asked about WD40 I got the same response as I had when I voiced my idea to pressure wash the bottom bracket: “No!” I spent 40 minutes with some rags and soapy water, then tried to find a garage. I didn’t find a garage but I did find an unlikely good samaritan. As I stared glumly at the lightless interior of the garage, a man appeared. I only understood maybe 10% of the words that came out of his mouth (and there were a lot) but he was eager to help and got me some 3-in-1. This did the trick. I was off again. I didn’t do Glendronach for my equipment issues had cost me lots of time. Disconsolately, and contemplating the ridicule I’d get for throwing the towel in now from all my readers, friends, employers and colleagues and how I was generally a weak human being, I headed for Keith and Strathisla. Yesterday I was on top of the world, believing that I could conquer anything now on my itinerary. Now I was riding in fear of my machine simply capitulating. I couldn’t see a future.

After the tour I had my Mum source some phone numbers for local bike shops. Everyone over the last few days had said that Elgin was probably the closest. Not great because it isn’t that near, but there’s nothing I could do about it. I spoke to the folk at Moray Cycles and they promised to look at it if I passed through. They also recommended some different oils which I found in a car DIY shop in Keith. I felt much better.

I returned to Dufftown, then, and after a shower, headed out for my dinner. I wanted to cheer myself up and vowed to spend the money that would have gone on the Balvenie tour on some really good grub. I was no longer after budget calories. I’m one of these people whose moods are dependent on their stomachs and so went in search of other Dufftown eateries. I arrived at ‘A Taste of Speyside’. The beginning wasn’t auspicious – they were out of rabbit! They couldn’t get hold of any. I can recommend a garden in Northumberland that has a surplus. I elected for the pork and was not disappointed. Lovely big portions full of richness and flavour. The ethos of the restaurant owner is locally grown, and in season. Plates are simply presented and ingredients confidentally, though sympathetically, prepared. This Scottish produce can speak for itself.

Probably my most favouritest restaurant in the whole entire world: fabulous food and super, unprecedented people.

Probably my most favouritest restaurant in the whole entire world: fabulous food and super, unprecedented people.

I had the muffin to finish and what a splendid shot of endorphins that was. I finished replete, and very satisfied with my decision to reward myself for my endeavours. I got chatting to Sandy, the owner and chef, and what a unique man. We discussed my previous dining in Dufftown and as we were on the computer, I showed him my blog. When he heard of my strife with internet access, he insisted I sit down and update away. I said I hadn’t my notebooks. He said I should go and get them then. I said what if I don’t come back. He said he knew where I was staying. And so here I sit, still typing because what a week it has been. Fortunately, with a cup of tea inside me, I have a renewed appreciation of the values still held by other foodies and the capacity of others to help out where they can. Sandy and his team have gone above and beyond on this occasion, and it is thanks to them that you are largely up to date with my movements. As I have said before, it is my encounters with people such as Sandy (and Liam at the Old Cross Inn, and Gavin at Tullibardine, and Jane and Fiona at Glen Garioch) that elevate my day-to-day workings and struggles. Off the bike, it is coming into contact with them that appeases and silences any negativity about when I’m going to call it a day on this trip, to simply give up. Their hospitality, genuine interest and generosity are priceless and my will to enjoy more similar encounters trumps the dejection of exhaustion.

So I do have my dark times, and I’ll be honest I still cannot envisage cycling into Glasgow in a few weeks, but there is always some glorious person spurring me on, when I’m least expecting it. If nothing else, I shall take that with me from this incredible, and incredibly challenging, journey; whenever my reserves of fight and passion seem to have been utterly spent. I hope to carry on for a few days yet, though. 

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April 18, 2010

Pitlochry to Braemar

Pitlochry to Kinnaird Castle, 61 miles

As I mentioned in the previous post, my attempts to tour Blair Athol were thwarted. The first I heard about it was when I was shopping for supplies in Robertsons (my kind of grocer: half of shop for fine whisky, the rest for everything else you might need to live on.) It seems their silent season had been brought forward and I’m afraid you won’t be able to tour the distillery until July. The man recommended I head along anyway, because they werew still offering an explanation of the process and a free dram.

I got there but everything was largely shut up. The man in the office said he could call the guides but I didn’t think it was really worth my while to be told about a distillery I was in. I’m all about the showing! The basics are £5 entry, with an exhibition for Bell’s whisky and a dram of the 12YO at the end. 

I headed for Edradour, then, and it is such a beautiful distillery (see tour review below). The sun was out, a fresh breeze was blowing and you feel totally removed from everything. It is your quintessential farm distillery with oodles of character.

That done all I had to do was cover the, as I thought it, 50 miles to Kinnaird Castle outside Brechin, where my aunt is a tenant and had succeeded in securing a room for me in the castle itself which are normally rented out by holiday-makers. So what better motivator was there than great food, my own room and bed, and above all someone familiar?

The route was an exceptionally picturesque one, heading north out of Pitlochry onto seemingly the roof of Perthshire with suitably strained breathing. The sun was strong and ever-present again. I passed many little communities, encountering very few cars. It wasn’t until I joined the road to Blairgowrie that the road deteriorated and the traffic worsened.

My Mum, always with half a mind on my stomach, had found a nice stop on my sparsely-populated course. I pulled up at the Old Cross Inn just within Blairgowrie and as I was getting myself sorted out a man appeared. He asked if he could help and I said I was after a drink and some food. He said that unfortunately the chef was away and the kitchen was closed. Obviously he took pity on my sighs of dismay and generally ragged appearance. “I can put the fryer on and do you a bowl of chips.” It ended up a bowl of chips, a pint of Coke and a cheese and ham toastie. I enjoyed my chat with Liam, for that is his name, just as much. Your hospitality will not be soon forgotten.

So taken was I with the charm of such encounters that upon leaving I neglected to secure my backpack to the rack. A massive honk from a truck behind me told me as much. It was in the middle of the road. Lesson learned, and reflecting on how life is instances of good and bad luck, I carried on to Brechin.

I’d said in my phone call to my aunt that I’d arrive by 5PM. Kirriemuir only just went by at 4.45PM. The road out of Forfar, connecting with the one to Montrose and Brechin, seemed to go on forever. 55 miles came and went on my odometer. I began to notice familiar views, however, and I took the turn off to Farnell knowing I was home.

The food was extraordinary, the room palatial and the bath lovely and hot. The company, though, was what I began pining for even before I left the next morning.

***

Kinnaird Castle to Fettercairn, 15 miles

A very necessary shorter day, this one. Had the itinerary been any more severe, I might not have left at all. Why leave such comfort for more stress, exhaustion and strangeness? I didn’t answer this inward enquiry, just saddled up and left.

Before Glencadam which my aunt had arranged for me, I wanted to check my brakes. The descent into Pitlochry the day before had reminded me that brakes wear out, and having that happen coming down a Cairngorm would not be advantageous. The man in Tayside Cycles reassured me that they had bags of life left.

After my Glencadam tour (see below) it was a very short – and pleasant – ride to Fettercairn. I had been promised by my Dad, who works in Aberdeen and stays in Fettercairn when he does so, that the treatment to be had with Mike and Denise at Kishmul, my B&B for the night, was second to none. The road on which it sits was divine, and the atmosphere of the place so very tranquil. I’d already got some excellent photos of the distillery against the mountains and the daffodil crops but went for a walk to get a closer look.

I had my lunch beneath a majestic monkey puzzle tree, watching the light breeze tickle the early cherry blossom on the tree just in the distillery yard. After a cup of tea and some carrot cake at ‘the arch’ (no capital letter), and asking at the Ramsey Arms for public computer access (no chance) I returned to the distillery for my tour. For the second time that day I was accompanied solely by the guide and what a nice tour it was. Being part of the same group as the wonderful Dalmore made the trip to the shop especially interesting. I shall post up my review of the tour later.

After dinner at the Ramsey Arms (super scrummy) I retired for the night, but not before checking out my route to Aviemore on my maps. I knew that the following three days would be tough, and that if I survived them then my continuation of the tour would be with some momentum, the worst being, for now, over. Obviously those three days which had troubled me so greatly in mental preparation will now look very different. The first of them, however, went ahead (almost) as planned.

***

Fettercairn to Braemar, 54 miles

Denise, as promised, set me up as best she could with a stonkingly excellent breakfast. I’m not sure that’s an official adverb but it ought to be when associated with that kind of food. She had also taken my request for a packed lunch (just a couple of sandwiches) and gone to whole new levels of accommodation. There were three sandwiches, a banana, apple and two chocolate bars. Without such a sack of vittels, I don’t think I would have made it.

Cairn o’ Mount is a famous hill in the area, often closed in winter. I wish it had been closed on Friday. Long, and unreasonably steep in parts. I’d like to brag and say I didn’t get off and push. That’s true, but only because to have done so would have been far more dangerous than simply carrying on. The gradient was so severe and the camber of the road in the final bend before the merciful parking area so inhospitable, I had to ignore my screaming legs bursting lungs and incoherent thoughts and just push on. I rolled into the car park and let the wall at its perimeter stop me. I have never been quite that destroyed.

The view south and east from the parking area on Cairn o' Mount.

The view south and east from the parking area on Cairn o' Mount.

I carried on after a few minutes, the view from the top sea and farmland on one side, the snow-capped Cairngorms on the other.

Royal Deeside: simply spectacular. Murderous to cycle through, however.

Royal Deeside: simply spectacular. Murderous to cycle through, however.

Until Aboyne the road did nothing but writhe up and down. There were many hobby cyclists out for a spin, and from either direction they all looked as if they would rather be mowing the lawn. The wind was what did for me. As I continued to head west, so it continued to gust at me. This only became a physical problem after I finally made it to Royal Lochnagar. Despite the sandwiches and banana I had finished with the distillery cat before the exemplary tour (more details later), I came out deeply tired. The nine miles to Braemar were some of the longest I had ever attempted. The road followed the banks of the Dee, so was fortunately flat, but was essentially long straight sections, with a cheeky bend at the end which I prayed would reveal the town, but instead promised more trees.

My knees had been registering some complaints intermittently all day, and now it was the re turn of my face. My lips felt rather raw, so I stopped to apply some well-known petroleum jelly. My fingers came away covered in blood. I was bleeding, and a lot. Mercifully, finally, I wobbled into Braemar. The hostel was at the other end of the town, of course, and I rasped up the steep drive to the front door. Abandoning the bike, I went to find the reception. It was busy, so I checked my appearance in a car window. I looked like I’d been in a fight. Congealed blood came from my nose, my face was ashen white and unsightly build ups of goodness-only-knows were at the corners of my mouth. Had I been in a fight? I felt like I had, only I was mssing the adrenaline. As I said to my parents, surprisingly matter-of-factly, when they phoned, I was at zero. Languishing at the bottom of the barrel, utterly spent, is not as unpleasant as many people make out. My exhaustion shielded me from many haunting realisations. I had a shower, then an enormous pizza from the Hungry Highlander and was in terrific spirits. I’d encountered my first real set-back. This tour felt like it was my own at last, after I had no option but to make the pragmatic decision to change the route. It was almost a relief to be so run-down, liberating that it truly was my decision to sacrifice my grand plans for the sake of the whole experience I can still have. Yes, I wanted to do a full tour. But these things happen when one is on the road.

Unfortunately, I could not maintain such equanimity into this morning. It dawned grey, cold and snowing so had yesterday been a normal day, I probably would still have had to call off my trip to Aviemore. Coming to terms with my fatigue and the imperfect nature of my journey, however, I couldn’t see any of the pluses anymore, hence the post of earlier today. My aim is to get to next Sunday (for my Speyside distances are largely quite modest) and then see how I am. I’m keen to be moving again, and Diane at Tomintoul sounds like she can sort me out.

***

As for the photos, dear readers, I have done what I can. An hour (£3) of uploading and only the picture of Glenkinchie would load onto my photostream – check it out, it’s beautiful. I have deleted four fifths of the pictures on my camera so that I had less to upload, but still, the other nine images I wanted to show you wouldn’t transfer. I tried again and zilch. I have done my best folks. Technology is just not on my side.

Apologies also for ay typos or tautology. I’m writing these posts straight onto the computer – no drafting – and haven’t time to read back through. With less than two minutes of credit left, I shall see you all when I see you.

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April 15, 2010

Stirling to Pitlochry

I beg patience of you, readers. Whilst I would love to satisfy my own needs and my journalistic responsibilities at the same time, I’m quickly appreciating that this is not always possible. Time, just at the moment, is money, and with an hour’s worth of internet access at my hostels costing me £3, I have to condense. A lot!

Regarding the pictures, I had hoped to post some yesterday but unfortunately the IT at Comrie Croft was not in a cooperative mood. Hopefully tonight, as I’m satying with my aunt, I should be able to bring you some of the stunning photos that have practically taken themselves. The whole country is one astonishing photograph!

***

Stirling to Comrie: 34 miles.

I awoke with far too much anxiety. I won’t lie to you, had the first two days of my trip entertained even a smattering of rain, I would probably be writing this from home. Three hours of sleep, I felt was insufficient to embark on my second day of my whisky odyssey. Just at that moment, however, it felt like the whole 1300 miles were waiting for me that day. Mentally, I was not in good shape at all. Despite the nausea of panic, I managed to eat some muesli and some toast. Washed down with a hot cup of tea, I felt a little better.

I collared the staff at Stewart Lawson Cycles, Barnton Street, just as they were lifting the shutters. Pedal system fixed, I returned to the hostel feeling infintely better.

I set off in what the Scots would call ‘driech’ weather. It was grey and cold, in other words, although how expressive a dialect it is. Blackford, here I come.

The turn off signalled by the map suggested a small road. It said nothing about a corkscrew of a passage. I had to get off and walk, for the first time as a cyclist since I took it up seriously in my early teens, I had to walk. In cleats, though, and with the weight of the bike added to the insane gradient, pushing was more challenging.

Although it didn’t flatten, the incline wasn’t quite so steep. I cleared the trees and there was the Highlands. And lots of it. Only the photos, when they eventually are transferred, can communicate the desolate beauty of the landscape.

Congestion was possible, even on these single track roads. A farmer was driving his sheep to new pasture, the two

There was no safe overtaking opportunity on this occasion.

There was no safe overtaking opportunity on this occasion.

 collies on the back of the quadbike with him eyeing this strange, fluorescent thing wheezing behind them.

After a nerve-shredding 500m on the A9, I made Blackford and there was Tullibardine. They claim to be the most accessible distillery in Scotland and I can’t disagree. It is odd having a traditional distilliung complex in a retail park but stepping into the excellent visitors’ centre, I didn’t notice. More about the tour later.

Getting to Crieff was more of a challenge. The roads got busier, faster and, on one awful stretch, dustier. I had already phoned Glenturret to put my tour back by an hour and arrived with 10 minutes to spare. More on this tour in a future post.

Now deeply concerned about where my dinner was coming from and riding on empty already, I sought my accommodation. Comrie Croft is unique in my experience. Camping, hostelling, hen rearing. It was a little earth-lover’s utopia. I could not enjoy the idiosyncratic nature of it all, however, for the doubts were returning. I had washing to do, buses to catch (and living in Northumberland I know how sparsely distributed services can be) and sleep to hoard. Despite there being no plug in the basin, I improvised with a ball of saturated toilet roll. I shall know better for next time, for now everything I washed has little white flakes of paper all over them! And they don’t smell particularly clean…

I was given a lift to Comrie, as it happened, by a total stranger. We talked about the weather, the surrounding area and the ospreys which were nesting just across from the hostel and had been for the last seven years.

I demolished some fish and chips, found an apple, caught to the bus back to the hostel, and had a great night’s sleep.

***

Comrie to Pitlochry: 49 miles.

I woke up feeling not a great deal better. The idea of cycling to Aberfeldy and then on to a busy Pitlochry did not appeal. A party of teenagers whom I had not failed to register the night before from their loud music and loud conversation had assumed total dominion of the kitchen. I managed a bowl of cereal and some toast. I decided to forget about scrambled some of the Croft’s free range eggs.

The road north out of Crieff starts to look very Highland, very quickly.

The road north out of Crieff starts to look very Highland, very quickly.

The road from Gilmerton to Aberfeldy, 10 miles into my journey after going back into Comrie for supplies, was indescribable. Immediately the glens began. Cycling between these monoliths, like the knees of the earth thrust up under the duvet of the land made me feel very tiny indeed. Again, the pictures can say a thousand of the words of which I am only vaguely aware.

It was hot. Heat haze was making me feel more disorientated than I really felt. I ate some lunch in what shade I could find, with the cars whooshing past intermittently. Just when I thought this empty moorland would never end, I noticed the sign for Griffon Forest, where I had walked with my family last autumn. A little further on was a viewpoint for the surrounding Munros. There, shark-toothed and with a mantle of snow was Schiehallion, my first Munro. I didn’t have long to appreciate the view. It was after 1PM and I still had to tour Aberfeldy.

I was suitably stirred having seen this. Schiehallion is my first and only bagged Munro to date, and spying it on the horizon was evocative of last autumn when I was hear with my parents.

I was suitably stirred having seen this. Schiehallion is my first and only bagged Munro to date, and spying it on the horizon was evocative of last autumn when I was hear with my parents.

The descent into the town was a worry for the brakes. I’ve been riding with them for more than 600 miles already and I suspect they will need replacing soon.

Aberfeldy was busier than I remember it, but the distillery was a focus of calmness. Locking the bike and changing, the smell of the washbacks had been in raptures. More on the tour next time.

The road to Pitlochry was both familiar and familiarly hectic. The sun was a concern of sorts with my burn and water consumption. It’s very difficult to judge all these things in addition to sun cream application when you have more than 40 miles in your legs already. I couldn’t take the A9 so I followed the minor roads. Minor, I hasten to add, in size; not, incredibly, in traffic.

A few close calls later, I was in Pitlochry, and in fact passed Blair Athol. The smell was again, deeply promising.

I found the hostel and for the first time felt genuinely contented. I’d travelled far, and was beginning to feel like a traveller. The sun was still shining, dinner was within walking distance, and I was rooming with fellow cyclists.

The night’s sleep was a good one, and the breakfast was superb. Bring it on, as they say.

By the by, if you have toured any of the distilleries I will be visiting, please comment under the relevant post with your own experiences. Mine is only one opinion, after all. I hope to speak soon.

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April 12, 2010

Home to Stirling

I’ve begun at last. I must admit that I awoke far too anxious to do very much at all. My obscure mentality was soon

Here is the team photo, just prior to pedalling away from home for six long weeks of whisky and roads.

Here is the team photo, just prior to pedalling away from home for six long weeks of whisky and roads.

demonstrated beyond reproof when I thought it would be a good idea to wash out my new bidons with boiling water and washing up liquid. I put the cap on, shook, and it exploded in my face! Like a startled rabbit I fled to the bathroom, doused my face in cold water but it wasn’t enough to prevent a burn on my forehead. Branded by stupidity. I have oils and creams to treat it but it will just have to heal in its own time. D’oh!

Stress began even earlier than the exploding boiling bidon. I switched on the news and there was the headline I was dreading: strike action on the trains in Scotland. A quick, fervent glance at the Network Rail site allayed my fears, for it seemed that none of my connections were affected. In fact, the guys at the station hadn’t heard word of any industrial action whatsoever!

Copying my routine of a fortnight ago, I skulked around in the luggage bay with my bike on the train up. I could sense Edinburgh nearing and became more and more agitated. It hit home that I was on my own, in unfamiliar territory fully responsible for every decision made. How odd that a control freak should suddenly baulk at assuming total control.

After hauling the bike about Waverley station (agony), and getting dressed (incongruously and embarrassing), I ploughed on into Edinburgh. The journey was very straightforward, and true enough I was awesomely grateful for having previewed the route.  It was, in marked contrast to last month, positively balmy. The sun was incredibly strong and for the first time this year I was minus overshoes and at one with the wind, my relfective jacket in the rucksack. I made good time getting to Glenkinchie, devoured my lunch and took my tour (see next post).

The journey back was equally benign, although I did as much watching of the clock as looking out for buses, red lights and glass on the road. I had set a target of 4pm to be back in the station and I achieved it with six minutes to spare. I hoarded some sugary snacks and waited for the train to Stirling and the point at which I truly ventured into the unknown.

East Coast trains operate a different policy to CrossCountry and there was a guards van to find. This was at the front of the train which wouldn’t have been quite so uncomfortable had my starting position on the platform not been closer to the other end of the train. The bike was installed, however, but I wasn’t. Getting to Coach G from B felt as if I was walking back to Edinburgh, the train having already pulled away. I eventually found my seat, and allowed myself a pat on the back. I had made the train. The rest was up to me.

Stirling in the evening light. What a location for a town, eh? Can you see the wee patches of snow?

Stirling in the evening light. What a location for a town, eh? Can you see the wee patches of snow?

Stirling appeared very speedily indeed. I retrieved the bike (after an ungainly sprint. It wouldn’t do to have my bike end up in Inverness without me) and went in search of my lodgings. It was whilst in the hunt that the latest bad thing happened. As I attempted to rejoin the main road on the hill up to the hostel, I over balanced onto my right side: the one securely fixed to the pedal. Given the choice now between falling over and what actually happened, I’d toppled to the tarmac every time. I succeeded in extracting foot from pedal, but the force with which my foot regained the ground snapped off the fron section of the cleat on the bottom of my shoe. I couldn’t clip back in. Tired, hot and very very smelly, this almost did for me. I soldiered on to the hostel, however, so I could better assess my options.

With the bike locked away and the helpful receptionist giving me an education in hostel stays every time he opened his mouth, I asked about a bike shop. Stowing my panniers away in a locker, I found the one he suggested. I shall be back very early tomorrow morning.

The crowning glory, the cleanser of the day, was my shower. It was gorgeous. I felt instantly better and went in search of food. I despatched a burger and chips in a nearly deserted bar/bistro. The staff were excellent, though, and despite the official chef having gone home ill and so the kitchen being technically closed, they rustled up my meal all the same, the bar man full of enthusiasm for my whisky travels. More on those tomorrow.

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