“Are sure this is an Easterly?” The question was key to the route we were taking, some days before noticing that there was a high over Scandinavia leading to an Easterly air flow across the country. So a plan had been hatched to cycle from the Tay to the Clyde, taking advantage of the tail wind. However, now as we cycled through Perth, the wind was cool and felt like it was coming out of the north. Not that it was hindering us, just that we had to stop and don jackets, that done, the sun was shining and the riding easy.

Donning jacket in Almondale Park, Perth

This first part of the ride we were following National Cycle Route 77 A.K.A. the Salmon Run. This route was originally devised to safely channel cyclists away from the A9, after a number of cyclists were killed on the A9. This is a typically short sighted attitude, as it ignores the real problem of the A9, which is people driving stupidly fast, often exceeding the speed limits. The only serious way to reduce the death rate on the A9 (most of those killed are travelling in cars) is to enforce the speed limits. Most cyclists using the A9 are those doing the LE-JoG (Land’s End to John o’ Groats) and they are not going to use this route.

To get back to the story, from the middle of Perth, the NCN 77 at first follows the Tay on a mixed use off road path, popular with dog walkers and runners, indeed, one runner stopped abruptly in front of us for a fag break, then passed us again as we were donning jackets. At the meeting of the River Almond and the Tay, the route turns to follow the Almond upstream and under the A9. We were soon away from the town and in out into the countryside. At one bend of the river, there was a cliff on the far side with a beech tree perched atop, with half its root plate undermined. On seeing it, one is left wondering how long it can last.

Just hanging on

Not much further upstream the nearside bank had been undermined and is currently being repaired. There were no diversion signs, so we had to dismount and carry the bikes across, squeezing past a wee bit of temporary fencing at the far end. Not long after this we regained the road, which was a relief, it says a lot about the Council’s attitude to the NCN 77 cycle route, that no diversion has been put in place. Strangers are just left to find their own away around the obstruction, maybe this technique could be used with road closures to discourage motor traffic.

Beyond West Huntingtower, the route took us though Pitcairngreen, a pretty wee village with a rather nice pub which had stopped at on a previous ride. We were following quiet back roads and past Moneydie came the first real climb of the day. It was the sort of climb where last year I would have glided up in the middle ring, but this was first big ride of the year and I had been carbo loading all winter for just such an occasion. So I girded my loins, dug deep, and changed down to the granny ring, well I had been carbo loading all winter.

Next stop, Bankfoot to pickup a few supplies to keep us going. Beyond Bankfoot the route follows the old road parallel to the A9, which is pleasantly quiet. That is until just short of Birnam where you are dumped onto a rather grotty off-road path, which seems almost designed to push cyclists onto the A9. At Birnam Station there is a “Cyclists Dismount” sign followed by a short run of steps, which could be made ride-able with a little bit of effort, to a minor road which passes under the A9 into Birnam itself. The village originated from the coming of the railway in 1856 and is somewhat overshadowed by its neighbour across the river, Dunkeld, which dates back to the Iron Age.

When crossing the bridge to Dunkeld, you can take advantage of one of the joys of touring by bicycle, namely you can stop pretty much where you like, and the view from the middle of the of the bridge is worth stopping for…

The Tay above Dunkeld

Bridge over the Tay at Dunkeld

The Tay below Dunkeld

Once into Dunkeld, Ulli went in search of things for lunch while I watched over the bikes. I was approached by an American tourist who wanted to know more about cycle touring in Scotland and we had a nice wee chat. For those who have not visited Dunkeld before, it is worth exploring with such curiosities as its Cathedral. This has been holy ground since at least 730 AD, and the relics of St. Columba were move here in 850 AD, to keep them safely out of range of Viking raids. It also houses the tomb of the “Wolf of Badenoch” (or Alexander Stewart, 1st Earl of Buchan, if you prefer), possibly the most unpleasant character in Scottish history (and there are plenty of other candidates). According to popular legend, Alexander died on the night of 24th July 1394, after loosing a game of chess with the Devil. The Cathedral suffered much during the Reformation, when anything considered to be “Popish” was destroyed. Later it was burned down as part of the battle of Dunkeld during the first Jacobite uprising in 1689, along with most of the town (only three houses were standing at the end of the battle). Dunkeld is also home to Scotland’s first brick built house, and the “Ell” (on Ell house), an iron bar used as a standardised unit of measurement, 39 inches long.

The NCN 77 leaves Dunkeld via the grounds of Dunkeld House Hotel, along an off road track, those wanting to stay on the road can follow the old military road (although this lands you with having to follow a pavement for a short section of the A9). Normally I am not keen on Sustrans’ use of offroad tracks, but on this occasion it is worth it. When you first turn off Atholl Street, you follow the driveway down to the hotel, then as you reach the hotel you are diverted down a track which follows the river. This is thoroughly delightful. However, this doesn’t last, after a couple of Km or so you pass under a bridge carrying the A9 over the Tay. Another 500m later you are popped out onto the A9 and have to follow the footpath back alongside the road over the bridge, then turn off onto the B898, which follows the river north, but on the far side from the A9 and so is very quiet, with only local traffic on it.

We stopped off at the Tay Viaduct by Logierait to have lunch by the river. The air was full of bird song, with sky larks, lapwings, the piping Oystercatchers, the churring of swallows, and a yellow hammer. It was idyllic, well it was until the two ghillies working by the river decided to add the humm of their chainsaws to this jamming session.

It should be noted that the NCN 77 carries on over the Tay Viaduct, and that we changed to the NCN 7 “Loch and Glens” cycle route and continued along the B898. Lunch over, we continued along the south side of the Tay, to the bridge where the main road to Aberfeldy joins in, here we swapped over to the north side of the river to use the quieter road.

Along Strath Tay we started to meet other cyclists in numbers for the first time. They we mostly “roadies” and I suspect that most of them were scoping out the route of the Etape Caledonia, which is the only closed road sportive in Britain. We also passed a couple of pairs of tourers, heading the other way along the NCN 7.

At Weem, we joined the B846 coming out of Aberfeldy and the motor traffic picked up again, not that there was much. We passed by Castle Menzies and considered taking a short detour to the village of Dull, but decided against it.

We turned off across the River Lyon and headed for Kenmore, oddly we stopped passing “roadies”. We had intended to stop over night in Kenmore, but had been unable to book any accommodation, so we just stopped for tea. Our destination for the day was Killin at the far end of Loch Tay. So we rode along the quiet road on the south side of the loch, past the Crannog Centre. As it was late in the day, we decided not to stop to go into the Crannog, which was just as well, as there were plenty of photo stops further along the loch.

Looking across Loch Tay

Cycle touring along the south side of Loch Tay

Looking west along Loch Tay

There were a couple of stiff climbs on the first half ride down the loch, but we took these in our stride, albeit slowly. The sun was shining, as it had been all day, but now it finally felt warm, there was plenty to see and we heard our first cuckoo of the year, we felt good. By the time we reached the Perth and Kinross/Stirlingshire boundary, my cycle computer was showing 90 Km (56 miles) and I was surprised how fresh I felt. It wasn’t to last, this was our first big ride of the year. The climb out of Ardeonaig really took its toll on us both, and the next climb felt even harder, but neither of us walked.

Finally we crossed the Falls of Dochart and made our way down the Main Street in Killin to find the Fairview B&B.

There is a map of our route here and there is a slide show here (NB. this is for the whole trip and not in order).

My stats were:

  • Distance cycled – 103.45 Km
  • Time spent riding – 05:31:41
  • Max Speed – 52.47 Km/h
  • Ave Speed – 18.71 Km/h
  • Vertical climb – ca. 830 m