9am Wednesday: isn’t this toil great, I suppose we really should get up now!

With Easter come up and the weather set fine, Ulli and I decided a little toil was in order, if you are a little confused, I should explain that T.O.I.L is short for Time Off In Lieu. Working in science, it is rare to be paid overtime for working beyond contracted hours, instead you are offered T.O.I.L, mainly in the hope that you won’t have time to take it (or am I being a wee bit too cynical?). Anyway the sky was blue, the sun was shining and wind light, so it was obviously a great day for a cycle trip, but where to go? The first reaction was to reach for Fergal MacErlean’s excellent wee book, Bike Scotland Book One, which lists 40 great routes accessible from central Scotland. One of the things which I particularly like about this book is that all the route descriptions start and finish at railway stations and not, as with some others, at car parks. Where does this notion come from, that in order to go on a cycle tour, the first thing you should do is stick your bike on a car and drive to the starting point?

We decided on the Trossachs as a suitable location for a day out, so it was off to Haymarket and catch the train to Dunblane as a starting point. From here we took the main road towards Callander (A820), which was reasonably quiet, but could get busy at weekends and the height of the tourist season. On reaching Doune we turned off to take the back road (B8032) on the south side of the river Teith. This is a quite undulating road with fine views of Ben Vorlich, Stuc a’ Chroin Ben Ledi and in the distance Ben Lomond. The turbines at the wind farm on the hills NW of Doune were turning lazily in the light westerly breeze.

After about 10km we met the main road coming up from Aberfoyle (A81), where we turned right towards Callander. Here there is a long straight with a gentle downhill gradient which makes for a good blast sprint (if so desired). At the outskirts of Callander, we turned left to join the NCN Route 7 towards Invertrossachs. This is a dead end for motorised traffic and so a quiet road, or it would have been if it wasn’t for the car park at the head of Loch Venachar, watch out for mini-bus loads of tourists from the likes of Timberbush Travel.

The Intrepid Cyclist views Loch Venachar

Once past the car park, there was very little traffic as we followed an estate road. Then turned onto a Sustrans cycle track through the woods along the loch side, very scenic with plenty places to stop for a picnic.

If you are thinking of following this section of the route, a word of caution here, there are a couple of cycle hire places nearby. So expect large groups of inexperienced cyclists with little knowledge of etiquette, i.e. when meeting other cyclists heading in the opposite direction keep to the left and don’t try to force them off the path. The cycle path gives way to a forest road, which is a bit wider, but do watch out for large timber lorries and guys with chainsaws, no not really. Forest Enterprise (FE) close the road if they are doing that sort of thing. The surfaces on these cycle tracks and forest roads are surprisingly good. There was only one moment on a downhill section where I thought that doing this speed on a hybrid with 700 x28 Ultra GatorSkins was not such a good idea (a MTB and knobbly tyres would be a much better idea), as it would have been a long walk back to Callander with a ripped sidewall.

At the end of the loch we had a choice of route, we could have turned south towards Aberfoyle, or carried on to Loch Achray which FE have sign posted as the Three Lochs Cycle Route, but we choose to turn north towards Brig o’ Turk passed an old farmhouse. MacErlean’s book says that you have to lift your bike over a stile on this path, but we didn’t find it, just a few cattle grids which were no problem to cycle across. Then we crossed the Black Water on an old stone bridge to the charming Byre Inn where we stopped for lunch, I can recommend the steak and sausage pie. When we first arrived, we thought the place was closed as there was no one sitting outside despite the warm sunshine.

Lunch over, we decided rather than head back to Callander as the book suggested, we would carry on to Loch Katrine. We followed the main road (A821) along the north side of Loch Achray and then up trough the trees to Loch Katrine itself. The public road ends in a large car park, here there is the inevitable gift shop, and the landing stage for the SS Sir Walter Scott, which has been plying the waters between the Trossachs Pier and Stronachlachar since 1900. There is a road along the north side of the loch which goes all the way round to Stronachlachar, this is popular with family groups, many of whom have hired bikes at one end and are planning on take the steamer back (you can also take your own bike, but advanced booking is advised). We cycled as far as the Silver Strand and took some photos, before turning and heading homeward.

For the return journey we followed the main road (A821) through Brig o’ Turk and along the north side of Loch Venachar, which has fine views of the Menteith Hills to the south. The traffic wasn’t too bad so we were able to enjoy the scenery, although as always there were a few idiots looking for a place to have an accident,. Just past the end of the loch we turned right down a wee road across the Eas Goghain and back onto our outward track. At Doune we tried to stop for tea but found the village tea shop is closed on Wednesdays, so it was on to Dunblane, where we were lucky to get an ice cream just before the shop shut at 5 o’clock. Then the train home to Edinburgh, taking up the only two bike spaces, which caused a wee bit of a problem for the commuters. ScotRail has been improving its bike carrying capacity, but the Dunblane line definitely needs more. As we were getting off at Haymarket this caused some congestion as we dug our bikes out.

Overall it was a great day out, the stats for anyone who is interested were:

  • Distance: 79.3 Km
  • Ride time: 3h 38m
  • Max speed: 50.5 Km/h
  • Ave speed: 21.8 Km/h

and there is a map here.