Laughing at Walls
BRAEMAR - GRANTOWN-ON-SPEY
(the hardest) 46 miles (of my life)
So we realise after three days on the bike that we a) need to stretch before and after cycling and that b) Autumn has arrived. Which is fine as Braemar has a nice wee outdoors shop to pick up hats and gloves. We decide against the detour to Ballater to pick up cycling specific stuff as the staff at BRAEMAR MOUNTAIN SPORTS are so friendly and honest (there was also a sales bucket). They tell us how many proper ascents we have to climb and, crucially, where the best place to stop is. Firstly though we need to stop for good coffee in the village and plumb for TASTE... which is positively avant garde for the Highlands. There is no tartan and no carpet: controversial stuff. The coffee though, is not bad, and we march on our merry way.
The Devils Elbow
GLEN PROSEN - BRAEMAR
When I planned this trip I didn't actually know that there was a significant climb north before the Lecht. Hazy, non-cycling, teenage memories of Braemar and Blairgowrie did nothing to remind me of Glenshee - all I could remember was a ski hire joint in Blairgowrie - and we didn't even go back to visit. Useless!
The snaking around the outcropping Eastern Cairngorms / Angus Glens was enough of an early morning wake up call and the gels were certainly being being broken out today. The overall height not the issue but the constant steep troughs.
PITLOCHRY - GLEN PROSEN VILLAGE
It was a jolly, coffee and cake, start to our second day at the welcoming CAFE BIBE: the raspberry bakewell was amazing and they were cool about putting another shot in a weak coffee. Oblivious to the weather forecast for the coming few days we dragged ourselves up and over the first climb of the day. This recurring theme is obviously a side-effect of taking quiet B-roads. Like any other modern dilemma, you have to weigh up if the side-effect is worth while to make life more positive. Of course, on roads where sheep out-number motor vehicles, the decision is easy. The road to Kirkmichael was a joy and we rolled down toward the village for more coffee and cake at THE VILLAGE SHOP, eschewing energy bars for the time being.
GOING COLD TURKEY
RANNOCH STATION - PITLOCHRY
I'd had a brief week after our holiday in Turkey with some late nights and weekend working and so was looking forward to getting away again for some physical excertion and spending some time in a part of the country I (realised last year whilst driving through) have sadly neglected from my travels.
I'd mapped and calculated the route 2 months previously, booked the accomodation and then basically gotten back to a very heavy shift of work. As with 2011, there were last minute adjustments to the bike (at Rannoch Station) and also a reminder of the route on the train up. We were only focussed on the fist day and it was to be a pretty straight forward roll to Pitlochry so we got moving along the lochside and headed toward Kinloch Rannoch past silver birch, fern, the first of many serious (victorian) civil engineering projects and toward lunch. I'd been to the village in my childhood but more recently in June to visit Mr Penman so I was confident the hotel would do alright scran.
The pub at the back was closed so we were ushered in to the Hotel proper with it's tired surroundings, tired music and tired staff. They were actually playing bagpipe laments at lunch time - "the older clientele like it". Amongst sporadic chat the visitors looked like suicide might be an agreeable alternative, the saving grace being a baby's gurgling and a stuffed, ginger badger that Ross had found an affinity with. A young Caribbean guy came in with three 50 somethings. I met him outside when we were packing up as he had come out for a macdoobie. Grenadan's certainly show up locals for friendliness and welcome. On the way out the young staff had suggested that playing popular music would be "a tragedy" so I started singing the Bee Gee's classic as we left them to their 1970's tartan take on tourism.
Less is Definitely More
I love to travel but I hate airports: which is one reason I enjoy holidaying in Scotland on the bike.
I'm independent, I don't have to speak to many people and no stranger asks me to take my clothes off. If you think that's a bit harsh try watching an elderly man losing his dignity or another being marched off for travelling with a penknife (in the same queue in late 2001 I saw a young woman revealing her disposable razors and being ushered through without question).