Wow, here it is, the first actual day of the tour. The one yesterday, lots of train travel, a warmup for today. Which speaking of warming up, this whole week in Scotland is freakishly warm. Mid May and hot days, lots of sunscreen and no rain at all (light mist one day). The mornings feel cold, I need a few layers on but nothing very heavy. I never really wear my heavy jacket at all. But by noon most days it is super warm the rest of the day. Weird. Is this really Scotland? I keep getting Scottish money everywhere so it must be.
So hostels, as always, the rooms are too hot and then too cold in the middle of the night and I never sleep very well in them. I'm up fairly early and wander around for a bit before finding my way to the kitchen. A few are up and there is a pot of tea waiting. Lovely. After a bit, my cooking speciality on these tours seems to be porridge, so I pitch in to help with that. Porridge with milk, porridge with soy, and porridge with fruit and nuts (which seems to be a popular idea but doesn't get eaten quite as fast as the other ones). But all is quickly consumed and it is time to pack up and head out.
Cherry tree and monument in front of the hostel.
Old Town Jail next to the hostel.
Hostel and group assembling.
Crap, my tire which I had changed last night, it has deflated a bit. The back one, a pain to fix because the mud guards have about 0.000001 mm clearance and my fancy locking hubs (I do live in London after all) are slightly tricky to remove. Ok, fixed and we assemble. Linda has a car along on the tour, getting over an injury so she wanted to take it easy on the tour, and there is room to leave some baggage with her and have it show up tonight. So decadent. And Crispin has showed up ready to lead us on. There are introductions all around.
On the Stirling Bridge.
We leave the hostel, through a showering of cherry petals and set off to our first sight. As many of the mornings were, it is slightly cold, misty, and pretty atmospheric. We stop on Stirling Bridge for a quick history lesson, battle of Stirling Bridge and all that stuff. The castle looks pretty cool up there on the hill. I'll have to get up there when we are back in town. But as historical as the bridge was, we were promised something even more historical and authentic.
Hearing about the history of the Stirling Bridge. Battle
Heading towards the Wallace Monument.
Our next stop is the Wallace Monument. I'm sort of mixed on this one. It does have a certain atmosphere but I'm not sure I'm that keen on it. It looks a bit like one of those earth boreing machines, all the different drill bits on the end that has just popped up at the top of a mountain. But it also looks kind of cool up there on the hill in the mist, and has a certain mad quality to it. But what we really came to see was Mel. Imagine our disappointment when we find him missing. I'm not sure of the exact story here, some really bad sculptor decided one day to make a sculpture of Mel Gibson, umm I mean William Wallace, and donate it to Stirling who then puts it up at the base of the Wallace Monument. It being pretty monumentally hideous, the Stirling locals do what any reasonable group of people would do, shower it with dirersion and abuse so that poor Mel has to be locked up in a cage at night to prevent damage. We ask at the visitor center what happened to Mel but they are a bit cagey, it is being moved, will he be back, umm they don't know. So we have to settle for viewing the picture of the scupture on the front of the Stirling OS map instead.
Oh no, somebody has stolen the ugly Mel Gibson statue.
The sight we missed.
Setting off through Stirling in the mist.
We head for some back roads out of town. It is fairly uneventful. It is just a bit rural and country lane-ish, so nothing special. Our destination is Dollar for a tea stop. We are told the name has something to do with the currency but Wikipedia tells me it is about sorrow instead. All week, we don't really have internet access but we do spend a fair amount of time wondering what Wikipedia would tell us about different things and places.
Our tea stop seems to be closed, slight panic ensues until we find a cafe just down the block. The selection of cakes looks acceptable so we sit and wait to order. Well, we queued up at the counter to order but were told to sit down and they would get to us. Until a few start ordering at the counter anyways and everybody wants some of that and also starts ordering at the counter until they tell us again to sit down and they will get to us. I guess they have only been open for a day or a few days, so there are still a few bugs in the system. Eventually it all shows up and is nice.
Stop in Dollar for tea stop and some food supplies.
Ok, now supplies for the day. There isn't a good lunch stop on the way so we head down to the shop to pick up some things. The Co-op or the fancier looking deli across the street? Ahh, the Co-op has the nice triangle oatcakes so they win. And we are off again. At this point, it was deemed that the tour started. We head to the hills. We pass what is probably one of my favorite town names, Pool of Muckhart. Not much in the town but a great name. Just beyond there, at the top of our first sort of hill climb, we stop at a turn off waiting for the rest while a B&B owner tries to sell us his B&B (he is moving to Wilshire). He is a bit disappointed when we ride off (sheesh, 15 Londoners and not a single offer on the B&B).
I am quickly disappointed when my back tire again decides to give up. Crap, I am quickly getting annoyed with my bike. The rest go on and the two of us work on fixing the puncture. At this point, I'm getting fairly quick at getting the tires on and off, although I think I am pinching them getting them back on. I blame it all on some vengeful god of punctures but some of them were probably actually my fault. Although, we do find bits of glass that have worked their way through, so some of the blame can lie on London.
Lovely assent up.
We have a bit of a climb and descent to Dunning. It is really a nice one. I think, look at the buzzards circling, going past pretty fields of bluebells, hillsides of crunched down bracken looking like a mini Tunguska explosion, misty mountains, and a nice group of people to hang out with for a week, it is really great to be here. Chatting on the way up, the climb goes quickly and is pretty nice, steady up but nothing too steep. And then the other side coming down is really good and pretty. Although I am slightly paranoid about my tires, just knowing that every time it feels slightly bumpy and rough it must surely mean my tire has decided to go again.
Crunched down bracken.
But we make it to Dunning and find somebody waiting at an intersection to direct us to the village green and the lunch stop. Food comes out of the bags and a picnic is set up and we lunch. We had gone past numerous spots where wild garlic was growing and it goes nicely with the sandwiches.
Rest stop in Dunning.
We head on, passing through Gleneagles, which seems mostly like a huge golf course. Past there, lots of rural farm lane and fields. I get good at spotting lapwings. And I'm surprised when we come across a hedgehog sitting by the side of the road. Perhaps it isn't a very healthy one since that's not a very good place for it to hang out.
Hedgehog just past Gleneagles.
We come across a old Roman something or other. I read the sign but I can't quite figure out what we are supposed to be seeing, a bit of wall or part of a fort or what. We find a tea stop (and of course more cake) at a vaguely new agey meditation center/cafe. Apparently on the way out, Brenda slips on some gravel and injures her leg. It doesn't really seem to stop her though.
Remains of Roman fort, or something.
The final destination then is Comrie. The group has become a little split up by now. We were just starting to find out who tended to be speedy, who rode together, and who you end up having to wait for to make sure they don't miss turns. None of us seemed completely sure where our hotel was in Comrie and a few missed the turn at the edge of town, so there is a certain amount of waiting, going back to find lost sheep, and finally arriving at the hotel.
Coming into Comrie.
It seems nice. We have a nice little room in the cottage in the garden. It just has a bath instead of a shower, but the bath was nice and there is a sip of sherry to enjoy in the room too. It is nice too to have a room after a night in a hostel. We all settle in the garden for a drink while we wait for the dining room to be set up. The menu looks pretty decent. I have chicken stuffed with haggis which seems like an odd combination but it is pretty good. There are plenty of drinks too.
Sunset at the hotel.
We retire to bed. A pretty decent first day. 51 miles.
Back to pictures Day 3