Day 13 – Drumnadrochit to Aviemore – 88 kms
Actually I’m just south of Aviemore at a campground for the night. After hostelling for a few nights, some peace and quiet in my own space will be welcome. Not that I dislike hostelling, but sleeping with sometimes 3 to 5 strangers in the same room can get to be claustrophobic.
Today’s ride was a hilly one, even the remainder of the road along Loch Ness to Inverness was full of ups and downs. But the climbing began in earnest after leaving Inverness. I took the A9, which is a very busy road and immediately the road began an upward ascent for quite a few miles. After that I managed to find the National Cycle Route 7 signs for some back roads and dedicated cycle paths paralleling the A9. I don’t usually mind riding in traffic, but with no shoulder and misty conditions, I was glad to get off the main road. In fact the rest of the route was very quiet, but did involve some steady climbing to the 400 metres Slochd Summit. After that, I had it a bit easier as the road dropped a bit to the town of Aviemore.
Quite the zoo in Aviemore – wall to wall people everywhere. It’s a ski/winter sport village (like Whistler in BC, Canada, but smaller) and very popular place year round with packs of tourists. I had lunch there and quickly departed to the much quieter atmosphere of the camping park. Although the park seems almost full too – lots of trailers and park models, in addition to a very large tenting area.
Weather has been overcast all day, but temperatures are quite mild – just a few drops of rain during the ride, but nothing serious. Not much to see wildlife-wise, lots of bunnies, but mostly dead at the side of the road. I keep seeing signs warning of the presence of deer – haven’t seen one yet. I have seen quite a few different species of birds including a couple of hawks. Even Nessie didn’t show her face after all! I suppose that in one way it’s ok not to have worry about seeing a bear or other dangerous animal while riding or camping, but it would be nice to see something other than sheep, sheep, sheep and cattle!
Adam K. & (Goody, only one snorer tonight) Basil.
Day 14 – Aviemore to Blair Atholl – 76 kms
Apart from the stiff headwind, I had a great ride today. I didn’t have to venture onto the busy A9 today and in fact, 80% of my ride was on disused roads and dedicated cycle paths – once again these are all part of National Cycle Route 7. Besides having whole roadways and paths to myself (I didn’t actually see any other cyclists on the route either), the scenery was probably the best I’ve had of the trip so far – really spectacular mountain and valley views that I could stop and admire as I wished.
It was a hard slog into the headwind to reach the summit of Drumochter Pass at 450 metres, but a nice ride down mostly cyclepath that undulated, twisted and turned a little and was full of small bridges across streams etc. I stopped for second breaky in Kingussie, as I didn’t want to get skunked as I did yesterday with my quick exit from Inverness, but there were other tea rooms and cafes along the route anyway – I stopped at most of them regardless!
The sun kept hiding behind clouds for the most of the morning and I wasn’t unhappy about that as I had some steady climbing and was grateful for cooler temperatures. Once I arrived in Blair Atholl, the sun came out in full force and it was quite hot compared to the slightly higher altitudes that I had been in the last two days.
Blair Atholl is a small village, but popular with the tourists for the “most visited castle in Scotland.” The village was obviously once part of the castle estate where the commoners lived and worked for the Laird. Some interesting stuff around as well; a working watermill, where everyone had to have their grain milled – it is still in operation avec the Tea Room that sells delicious cakes and scones from the on site milled flour. The local pub is full of character and also serves micro-brewed ales – lovely! I’m certainly getting a good sampling of pubs and ales on this trip – Oh, and pub-grub too!
There are two caravan and camping parks here and one was so full that they couldn’t even squeeze my little tent in. The other one is a huge park next to the castle and almost full too – probably 500 sites here! A little pricey, but I’ve paid more in Ontario, Canada Provincial Parks for less amenities. Lots of travellers from all over here, so no problem with interesting conversations. The pub’s very close too, so that’s a bonus for an after dinner venue.
Adam K. & (Don’t suppose I’ll get to go to the pub!) Basil.
Day 15 – Blair Atholl to Kinross – 103 kms
A tough day in the saddle today – I think that I had everything thrown at me today. I wanted to avoid riding on the A9 again and was somewhat fortunate to find another marked bike route to Perth – Cycle Route #77 this time. I say “somewhat fortunate,” because the trade-off was a very hilly and round-about route. Sometimes the route strayed onto unpaved paths that were in poor condition and at other times I found myself on very narrow and undulating roads – these routes would be great for bikes with minimal load, but with a full touring load it was difficult and tiring riding.
The weather couldn’t have been much worse either, it rained heavily last night, but it was sunny this morning – not for long though! I put my somewhat wet tent away and after the usual porridge and banana, took off. Not long after the sun disappeared to be replaced by grey/black clouds and periodic heavy rain squalls all the way to Kinross. To add to this pleasure, I also had the same very stiff headwind as yesterday. So it was on and off with rain gear all day long. I really wanted to have a quick look around Perth as it seems a very nice city, with a paved central core etc. But it was raining when I got there and all I could manage to do was find a nice warm tea room for quick lunch and then I was off again. I almost ended up on the motorway leaving there too – there’s quite a conglomeration of roads leaving Perth.
Anyway, I arrived in Kinross – no hostel here. By then the weather wasn’t looking too bad again, so I found a camping park at a farm. I just pitched my tent, had a shower and rode back into the town for a couple of cans of beer. Almost as soon as I got back the heavens opened up again – this time with extremely high winds. My tent almost folded up on itself and I was getting pretty worried – beer was getting warm too! But it was over in about ten minutes with light rain following. So I’m sat in my vestibule with my siltarp hooked onto a picnic table for an awning/shelter. Yes, a picnic table! First one and at the cheapest campsite yet at four pounds! I must mention, that my old tent performed better in high winds than this one, I’m not too impressed with it right now – and I’ll be even less so in the morning if something lets go during the night. Constant rain while I’m typing this – time to cook as well – I should have opted for a B&B tonight! Well, I’ll be in Edinburgh tomorrow, so things will look better from a soft bed!
All in all a long hard ride today with crappy weather. I did see a deer today though, first one I’ve seen here – of course, they’re common in Canada, but here there are definitely more elusive. Also spied two white tailed red squirrels today, but with the weather, today was not good photo-op day – little buggers were too fast anyway.
By the way, I have passed numerous whiskey distilleries, but often they are not open for tours when I go by. The one in Oban – quite a famous one, was open, but the queue of people waiting outside to visit was horrendous. Realistically, the stuff you buy off the shelf is exactly what they are showing you here.
Adam K. & (this is more than Scotch Mist – this is bloody wet!) Basil.
Day 16 – Kinross to Edinburgh – 50 kms
What a wet night, it poured all night, but thankfully fizzled out this morning long enough for me to pack up the wet tent.
I skipped the usual breakfast and headed out for Kelty, which was a few miles away, where I found a dry cafe for a cooked breakfast. Just as well that I had that breakfast as the route into Edinburgh city is not too long, but quite the conglomeration of roads and paths. The highlight of the day was riding over the Forth road bridge – pretty cool even if it was shaking pretty good in the strong crosswinds! Unfortunately, the east path over the bridge was closed for maintenance, so I had to find my way to the other side and once over I had to cross again – sounds easy, but it wasn’t.
Once over I helped out a couple of other touring cyclists with their intended route north over the bridge. There is a cycle route into the city from the bridge, but it is 15 kms of back streets (through questionable neighbourhoods), sidewalks, golf course paths and ginnals – Needless to say that it was a challenging but short ride. Once into the downtown, I had a hard time finding the tourist info place, and once I did, it was packed, so I picked up a street map and realised that luckily I was very close to the hostel.
I’ve seen more cycle tourers today than previously on this trip – Edinburgh seems to be a draw for many of them – but it is also where at least two National bike routes pass through. It was handy at the tourist info as a Dutch lady cyclist offered to watch my bike while I fought the throng of other information seekers clamoring at the very busy desks of the tourism staff.
So I rode to the hostel, got checked in and stowed the bike and gear in the hostel’s secure bike garage until my room would be ready later in the afternoon. Then I wandered off into downtown Edinburgh – I’ve been here before, but seemed to have forgotten the mass of humanity that was/is around. Nevertheless, I’ll have a good rest day tomorrow – no lack of sightseeing opportunities here. While I was waiting, I wandered off for a late pub lunch – I realised that I was very close to the Greyfriars Bobby’s Pub, so that’s where I ended up for my pub lunch – quite busy it was too. (There’s an old movie about this place – well worth a view!)
The weather actually improved today as I rode towards the city – sunny but windy, so about halfway I stopped for a rest and managed to get my tent dried out to save me a job later today. Forecast is for rain tomorrow, but clearing for Thursday – that’s good for me, I’d rather sight-see in the rain than ride in it!
More in a couple of days…
Adam K. & (Where did all these people come from?) Basil.