Day 17 Braemar to Nethy Bridge

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Yesterday (Saturday) we had another rest day, and hung out in Braemar, doing as little as possible.

Actually, I did take a short walk through the woods at the base of Creag Choinnich, which were enjoyably sinister (I’m reading Dracula on my iPhone at the moment, and I think the atmosphere of the novel might be rubbing off on me a tad). The walk also afforded a great view back to Braemar:

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This morning (Sunday) we rose early, with another lumpy ride ahead – through the Cairngorm National Park, up to the Lecht Pass (just a hundred feet shy of Friday’s climb).

We were expecting it to be tough, but we weren’t expecting it to be quite so tough.

The beginning part if the journey was very beautiful, threading its way through the Cairngorms, with hardly another traveller in sight. There was even a brief rainbow.

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But.

Then we came through the village of Cock Bridge (exercising what I consider to be remarkable restraint in not even raising an eyebrow at the name), and were met with a hill with a 20% gradient (that’s 1 in 5).

Time to get off and push.

Just as we started to do so, a woman poked her head out from a driveway next to the road, and said “It gets steeper!”. Cheers love. Always good to introduce a note of doom before a long climb.

We pushed up to what we thought was the summit just as the heavens opened; and saw that the road ahead of us carried on up and up, disappearing away into a cloud:

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We pushed on upwards (literally), as the cloud closed in around us, darker and darker. The rain decided that ‘wet’ wasn’t really doing it, so stepped up to ‘wet’, ‘hard’, and ‘painful’.

We hit the summit, and thankfully found the Lecht Ski Centre hiding in the cloud, both open and dry. Perfect timing for lunch.

Brilliantly, when we started again (after a burger each), the rain held off for the whole descent down to Tomintoul, and the beautiful ride on to Nethy Bridge:

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We’re staying at the lovely Lonely Duck Hostel in Nethy Bridge. We were met with a warm welcome by Kirsten, who showed us to the charming and unique eight bed cottage that we had all to ourselves for the night.

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The two owners, Valery and David, also dropped by for a chat as we settled in.

A splendid place to recover after a wet day’s cycling.

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Day 16 Perth to Braemar

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Well, heck, after the sun the rain eh?

We awoke in Perth to a heavy and foreboding sky, a distinct chill in the air, and fifty or so miles ahead of us.

A good forty of them uphill.

We were heading for Braemar, and on the way we’d be taking the Cairnwell Pass – with a summit altitude of 670m (2199 ft) it’s the highest main road in the United Kingdom. There’s a ski centre at the top.

So you know, steep.

We chocked up as many miles as we could in the morning, hoping the rain would hold off as long as possible.

In the end, as long as possible turned out to be around midday. And from then on it didn’t stop.

So you know, wet.

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We stopped at the Spittal of Glenshee for lunch. (And by the way, say ‘Spittal of Glenshee’ out loud to yourself in a broad Scottish accent – it’s indecently pleasurable.)

Then we put our still-damp gear back on, and began the real climb up to the pass. The gradient hit 12% towards the top, and that was heading into the wind.

So you know, slow.

We stopped at the top as briefly as possible to catch our breath, and take a couple of quick photos.

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Hypothermia didn’t seem entirely hypothetical so we jumped back on our saddles for the long descent.

Normally that’s the fun bit, but in heavy rain, with cantilever brakes rather than disc brakes, it’s not so much fun – slowing down is a rather slow process. On top of that, during a long downhill of any serious gradient, you’re sitting rather than cycling. So that means you’re basically sitting outside, in damp clothes, in the rain, with an effective wind speed of 20 to 30mph.

So you know, cold.

Anyway, the road levelled out and we got our legs spinning again, warming us up just enough to get us in to Braemar, where we pitched up at the hostel looking like a couple of drowned rats.

So, in summary: steep, wet, slow and cold.

But you know what?

Great too.

Oh, and a little side note to the folk at Gore Bike Wear – your waterproof gloves? They’re not. I wrung them out like a spectacularly sodden sponge at the end of the ride. Epic fail.

Day 15 Stirling to Perth

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Actually, we were only on the A9 for a short while. But photos of big signs are great.

We pootled about in Stirling this morning, picking up some warmer clothing for the days ahead.

Then we were up, up, up and away – with a steep climb just beyond the Wallace Monument and Logie Kirk, leading to a stunning ride across to Blackford.

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The sun was smiling down upon us for the whole day, and it made for the perfect ride – stunning scenery, hardly any cars, fine weather, and a steady descent after a sharp climb at the start of the day.

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We stopped at the site of the Sheriff Muir battle to tuck into a couple of sandwiches, and to take some more photos of ourselves on our bikes. Here’s a shot of Daf getting ready to do just that:

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Then it was on to Perth.

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We’re staying at a B&B, with actual beds. It’s a whole new world of luxury.

We nipped out to a local restaurant, and as tends to happen, got chatting to some of the people there about our trip. Two of them, Tommy Dickson and his son Norman, immediately dug out £20 each for us to pass on to our chosen charities.

Spontaneous donation like that warms your heart.

Day 14 New Lanark to Stirling

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Well rested after our stay at New Lanark, we made our way up the A73 to Airdrie. We had planned on following some small country lanes all the way, but we’ve realised they’re the equivalent of riding a short wave frequency – lots of steep bumps tightly packed together. B roads are more like medium wave, and A roads like long wave. I’m tempted to stretch that metaphor all over the place, but it would snap like cheap knicker elastic. So let’s just say the A73 was a smooth and easy ride.

Airdrie was very clearly showing visible signs of the recession, with a large number of boarded up shop fronts. The local cafe even had one of those UV lights in the toilets that are used to stop junkies being able to find a vein to shoot up. Here’s a picture of me not shooting up.

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We didn’t stay too long.

Instead we sped along to Kilsyth, from where we took the unbelievably beautiful Tak Ma Doon Road – an old drover’s route – across to Stirling.

There was a series of steep climbs at the start of the road (which Daf lapped up) which led to quite staggeringly lovely views back to Cumbernauld. Here’s Daf looking a bit happy at the top:

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The road continued on: a long, slow, gorgeous descent to Stirling, flanked by a couple of small lochs along the way. And all this with bright blue skies scattered with sumptuous white clouds. Mighty fine.

We trundled into Stirling, a wonderfully gentle city upon first impressions. Our hostel is perched towards the top of a hill, just a few doors down from Stirling Castle, which we’d spotted on our way into town.

We checked in quickly, and made our way up to the castle, too late for a proper visit, but with plenty of time to enjoy the view of the Wallace Monument basking in the late afternoon sun. Fantastic.

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I then decided that I wanted Daf to photograph me posing with my bike on a particularly photogenic outcrop of rock that was visible from the castle.

Can you sense the impending doom?

I went up to the outcrop, and posed for all my worth, momentarily ignoring my bike, which responded appropriately, and fell over.

Unfortunately, I hadn’t closed my top-box properly (that’s the bag that sits on top of my handlebars, with all the day’s most useful kit in it), and a whole bunch of stuff tumbled out, down the outcrop to the cemetery below.

Oops.

We dug around, and managed to pick up all of it.

Except.

Except, except, except.

Except an 8GB data card, with a week’s worth of photography on it.

Calamity.

Like Aha, we hunted high and low. But to no avail. So, after much scrabbling about in the undergrowth, we called time on the search. Daf went to the supermarket to get supplies for dinner, while I checked back at the hostel in case I’d somehow left the card there. Yup, that’s the gentle rasp of straws being clutched at with sweaty nervous fingers. No joy.

With nothing else for it, I headed back to the cemetery for a final look. Still nothing, except a disinterested audience of midges.

Giving up, I thought I may as well try and get some good karma, and did a bit of litter picking, grabbing up various plastic bags, crisp packets and sweet wrappers that were lying around.

After that, it struck me to take a look in a different spot, and well, there was the card, sitting on top of a clump of grass, practically begging to be found.

Guess karma really does work.

Day 13 New Lanark

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Ah, the joys of a day off.

Since we’re staying in youth hostels for the rest of our trip, we took the opportunity to pack up our sleeping bags, tents, roll mats, camp stove, mugs and bowls, and post them back to London. Between us that’s more than 12kg we’ve taken off our bikes. Should make the Scottish hills slightly less daunting…

We headed back to the hostel afterwards – that’s Daf above looking slightly bemused that the door was locked when we got there. They opened up again not too much later fortunately.

While Daf caught up on his R&R, I took a walk along to the stunning Falls of Clyde. The village of New Lanark, where we’re staying, sits right on the Clyde, and the falls are just a short stroll away.

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The falls are made up of four separate linn (Scots for waterfalls): Dundaff Linn, Corra Linn (the largest of the falls, at 90 feet), Bonnington and Stonebyres.

There’s a wealth of wildlife along the river, including badgers, otters, beavers, kingfishers, and even a nesting pair of Peregrine falcons – supposedly nesting somewhere in the picture below.

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On my walk though, I saw a mouse. And that was it.

The falls are stunningly beautiful though, and the walk is elegantly laid out thanks to the fine work of the Scottish Wildlife Trust.

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There was even an abandoned bridge, with a sign that suggested “Please do not attempt to cross the bridge”.

I did not attempt to cross the bridge.

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Randoms

Here’s some pics that didn’t get posted earlier. We did promise that this blog would be a bit chaotic…

Here’s Alistair at Severn Bridge. Intrepid!

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And here’s Al cooking dinner. In the rain. In the dark.

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Entering Herefordshire.

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This is what happens if you ask Al to model ‘maximum joy’.

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