One of the many delights of this adventure, so far, has been that the vast majority of my cycling has been done on virtually empty, or at least very quiet roads, with respectful drivers when vehicles have appeared. There have been a few exceptions; but really there are not many of the roads so far I wouldn’t happily cycle again.
I know that I am heading towards ever more populous parts of the country and suspected today might be different. As it turned out, it was very much a day of two contrasting halves. The first hour out of Oban is lovely, as you take a tiny back road through delightful countryside as far as Taynuilt, passing through a large herd of resident highland cows. But from there heading east, for more than 30 miles, you really can’t avoid the busy A85, connecting Oban with most of the rest of the country. Things only improve noticeably when you get beyond Crianlarich, a major road and rail junction which is signposted from miles away in several directions.
It’s not for lack of beautiful scenery. There are magnificent mountains all the way and you pass right along the broad northern shore of the gleaming Loch Awe. But for the cyclist, the ever present, fast moving presence of cars, vans, lorries and buses rather takes the shine off things. You want to get through these sections as quickly as you can. So it was of some use that I fell into a rhythm with a couple of young German cyclists from Hanover as I was leaving Oban. We chatted through the early quiet part, and then set off in a line of three along the main road at a blistering pace. I worked hard not to be dropped, appreciating the slip stream it provided. As the road turned into a climb, I played to my strengths and took a lengthy turn at the front. The miles melted away and, knowing the road, I was keen to make a stop before we completely left Loch Awe behind and entered a long section of Glen Lochy that offered no refreshment opportunities. The Germans clearly had other ideas and I found myself riding straight past at least two inviting, open cafes! When we rounded a corner and I saw the sunny balcony of the Ben Cruachan Inn, I knew it was now or never. So I wished them well and waved them “auf wiedersehen”. I felt that I had done my bit to uphold national pride, not to mention the elder generation (I was almost certainly as old as the two of them combined). It was time for a cup of tea and an Argyll pasty.
After that, I passed the next hour to Tyndrum at a decent, but less urgent pace. For the same reason as before, I stopped for food at The Green Welly in Tyndrum, a village that seems to consist of at least four large food stops, a big hotel and two train stations (Lower and Upper); but very little in the way of houses. It sits just where the A82 and the A85 converge (or split) and it is a busy spot. Think motorway services in the mountains. Anyway, they do a good line in Cullen Skink and phone charging points. The morning’s exertions had reminded me of what I already knew: I don’t find going as fast as possible and staring at someone’s back wheel very rewarding; and I don’t like traffic. You can add to that list that I don’t like motorway services. It was food for thought on all counts. I am not here to suffer, I am here to enjoy myself. I suppose the reminder was valuable and served a purpose, just for a couple of hours. But that really was enough. Strongly worded note to self.
Anyway, the road between Tyndrum and Crianlarich, where the major routes split again, was even more busy. I suppose for a few miles you have everything from four main roads squeezed into one. I pulled into a lay-by to let an approaching lorry pass me and had to wait for the 40 or so vehicles it was holding up to pass as well before I could rejoin the road. So I was very pleased to see most of this traffic head off south on the A82 in the direction of Loch Lomond and Glasgow, while I went the other way up a long, wide, mostly flat bottomed valley towards Perth and Stirling, along the A85. There were big mountains on both sides of me, one of which, confusingly, seemed to be called Ben More. I thought I left that behind on Mull. After another hour or so, I turned away from the A85 and into the village of Killin. An inviting tea room with shaded tables sat directly across from the attractive Falls of Dochart, just where the old, narrow stone bridge crosses the river. You know what I did next.
I have been to this spot before, perhaps 10 years ago, and watched my two children crawl happily (and safely) all over the rocks between the rushing water. It is a lovely spot, and a new generation of kids were doing the same today in the warm sun. I sat and enjoyed the spectacle and ate coconut ice cream. As you do.
The rest of the ride was a delight. From here to my destination, the small town of Aberfeldy, my route took me along the quiet southern shores of the extensive Loch Tay, away from the main road, with views over the large expanse of water to the high mountains beyond. The flanks of Ben Lawers and his lofty neighbours, several of them Munros, shone a uniform green beneath crenellated summit ridges.
The cycling was perfect. The only thing to stop for, other than photos, along the entire 15 mile length of the loch, was a small hotel with a beer garden. So I stopped. When I started again, I found myself in the company of a cyclist in his 70s who was riding an e-bike more than 70 miles in a day, and had similar plans for tomorrow. It was his longest ride, he said, for several years. You couldn’t tell.
At the end of the lake there was a shallow area where people in wet suits were splashing about in the water on kayaks and paddle boards. The evening sun shone down the loch towards us. It was an enchanting scene. Then we continued along the flat valley of the River Tay as it flows out of the loch and through an area adorned with castles and country estates. It was here, just before the end of the ride, that we came across a sign welcoming us to Dull. This small place is ”paired” (which sounds like it stops short of actually being twinned, because that would be interesting) with none other than Boring, Oregon, USA! I can’t speak for the latter, but Dull is not at all a fair description of the location of the former. On the contrary, it’s really worth seeing.
My evening ended in a strange way. I found my accommodation and had to pop across the road to its twin (or paired) establishment to collect my room key from the bar. I followed the signs up the stairs to a door that was closed. It was all quite posh. Through the glass door-pane I could see a large crowd of people all dressed up in the sort of attire you would wear to a wedding or similar. They seemed to be arranged in a large semi-circle and no one was moving. I pushed the door open a crack and asked the nearest person if this was a private party. He said he didn’t know! I said I needed to collect my keys from the bar and asked if this was the bar. He said he didn’t know. Everyone was looking at me. I baulked and let the door close. Had I misread the sign? As I went back down the stairs, a jolly member of staff came out of the room and called to me. It seemed I was expected, and he had my key. It so happened that I had appeared just minutes before the start of a surprise party for someone who was expected to arrive any moment, and be surprised! I have been enjoying their surprise disco from across the road in my otherwise lovely room ever since!