Lochs 'n' Trossachs Tour - Aberfoyle to Sterling, Day 8, 17 May 2008
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17 May 2008 - Always look on the bright side of life

Morning at the Rob Roy Motel, it was fairly quiet, a little noise from outside from the biker gang. I guess I expected a little, but maybe more from the sheer number of them. To be fair, they weren't really the Hells Angels type, more accountants from Glasgow on a weekend ride. So, I already mentioned the motel was tacky. The beds were totally comfy and the shower was excellent high pressure. Although the door was a bit wonky and it soaked the floor a bit.

I read through their notebook of local information and now am completely versed in the Rob Roy legend/history. Looking outside, it had rained a bit during the night. The bikes were locked right outside the window and were a little wet, but the seats had been covered, so that was the only important bit. It was a little hazy now, but it was clearing.

Bikers slowly assembling.

Where the biker gang was really going to do some damage was at breakfast. The room came with a buffet breakfast, laid out in the restaurant, 20-30 tables laid out on either side of the restaurant ballroom. There was a small stage there and glittery lights, perhaps it had been a disco the night before, or karaoke. The split in the room was immediately recognizable. The bikers, mostly guys and their woman, dressed in black t-shirts (must have been quite a run on them at the Glasgow Harley store) and black trousers, and us, some lycra there but mostly more colorful practical quick drying, waterproof, suitable for riding things. But the most immediate difference (or similarity) was in the food and bulk. We probably ate about the same amount of breakfast (vaguely eatable greasy breakfast things), while we would end up burning most of that off riding 30-40 miles, theirs didn't really have anywhere to go except their waist. If you put the two sides of the room on a see-saw, our side would have trouble getting off the ground.

Some of us set off a little early to see the osprey cam. In Achray Forest, the RSPB center has a webcam watching an osprey nest. The actual location of the camera is secret (so people don't go tramping around and disturb them), but Crispin says he knows where it is. He tells us the real location, Port of Menheith, or something like that. I've forgotten by now so the secret is safe with me then. So we set out on the steep hill right out of town, climbing into Achray and towards Dukes Pass. But dammit, so do the stupid motorcyclists, a few minutes behind us. It is a beautiful climb up out of town, slightly misty, forests and mountains in the distance, and 40 motorcycles roaring by every few seconds and waving as they do. Grrr.

The back way to town again.

Eventually they are gone and peace returns to the world. Just concentrate on the steep hill and the prettiness around. A few more switchbacks and we make it to the RSPB reserve, which is just opening for the day. We pass the milk delivery, about 20 bottles of milk cleverly hidden behind the parking lot sign. Unfortunately, the camera isn't on yet. It won't be on for another 45 minutes or so. We foiled ourselves by getting there early. Oh well, no point in waiting around for that. I saw loads of osprey in Florida a few years ago, so I'm ok with that.

Up on Dukes Pass.

We continue up to Dukes Pass. Ahh, built by the Duke of Montrose, maybe that's the same one from the Rob Roy stuff, must be. It is beautiful at the top, a bit desolate in that way I like, rugged and wild. And it is a nice smooth descent down, slightly winding, one of those nice ones where you don't really need to use your brakes all that much. It is a bit windy though, so there is a bit of balancing and hanging on.

It isn't long to the bottom and we turn east and head along Loch Venachar again. This is the same road now from yesterday, where we headed up to Loch Katerine and I saw the Post Bus. It is a woody road, covered in lots of places and slightly undulating, but a pretty quick road. Through Brig o' Turk again (which I believe means bridge of the boar), but is a pretty cool name. But then, I'm a fan of any town name which throws in an "o'". And we return to the cafe we spotted yesterday by Coilantogle. See, I told you we would be back, there is apple pie waiting there.

Down around Loch Venachar again.

It is a pretty new cafe, about two years old, light wood panel on the outside, looking a bit like a newly converted basement from the 70s, just needs a bit of ugly yellow shag carpeting and it could be my parents' basement. But no, it isn't a basement and it looks ok by the loch. Slightly out place but maybe after it weathers a bit it will fit in better. Inside, it has a really good view of the loch behind, huge windows back the building and give a nice vista. Apparently there are ospreys on the other side of the loch, but I'm not able to see them.

Ahh, the pies then. Yes, normal tea (black, really black, no milk. It always seems to confuse them a little bit) and a slice of apple pie. Well, maybe it is more of a tart or something, there isn't much crust on it and no crust on the top. It was really nice though (considering I have such a good memory of it writing about it much later). Che must have agreed too since she had hers and then went back for a second one. The rest of the group is arriving around now and our group is about ready to head on. I take a quick look through the shop upstairs, but it mostly seems geared towards fishing and isn't really my thing.

Riding through the Braes of Doune.

Back then through Callander, where we go again through the back roads outside of town and pass by the bunkhouse from yesterday and carry on to the Braes of Doune. Or almost. Just past town, Che says she has a puncture and we stop to work on that. I'm still suffering a slight amount of post traumatic stress from all my punctures from a few days ago but I can manage to be composed and helpful when it isn't my tire. One person gets the tube off and a new one on while the other works on finding the hole and patching it, as well as a check to see if you can find the bit of glass (or other evil thing) which caused it. Although this one, we probably didn't find it at this point and it would come back to bite us, or maybe a snakebite, pinching the tube while you put it back on, causing it to puncture in that place soon after.

The rest of the group is coming by now, doing the normal, are you ok, I hope so so that I can keep going. But more then two working on a puncture isn't really helpful. We are ok on the tire, but we have altered the intended route for today and neither of us know exactly where we are going, so Crispin leaves his map with me, pointing out the turns and heads on. This tour, I was rather lazy with maps. I just brought the large scale Scotland map with me and printouts of the little bits for each day but not my normal pack of OS maps. So, much of the tour was just following the leader and some vague directions to go that way, lunch is over in that town, or go over that pass and we will see you at the bottom.

This next bit though, with the OS map, it can become slightly obsessive. The Landranger ones (1:50,000), they are just on the edge for that. They have lots of detail, although not to the completely obsessive amount the 1:25,000 have. But over a few miles, at a bike pace, it is quite easy to watch every turn, junction, radio mask, and every other bit of detail they throw on there. As nice as it can be to just ride in some direction and occasionally think about where you are going as you watch the landscape go by, the opposite can be rather obsessive with almost a GPS precision on where you are and where you are going.

We should be making some pretty decent time and starting to catch up with the rest of them, especially since I'm a little fuzzy on where we are going once we get to the town. OS maps fail a little bit in bigger villages and especially in cities. A few phone calls establish that they are just a few minutes ahead and waiting at the turn into town. When we catch up with them, I'm a little sad to learn we missed a bit of spectacular cycling, or at least cycling equipment failure, where a rack launched itself off the back and acted like an anchor thrown off a boat into the ocean.

Teastop in Doune.

We are a little confused in town there, where is the cafe, which one, and there are small groups wandering off on their own, one of them being a sneaky group to pick up some chocolate and gifts for those who organized the tour. The cafe though is really nice and I order all sorts of things, a sandwich and soup. Mmm, nice yellow split pea soup, just perfect. We linger a bit, we don't have all that much further to go, but Crispin also seems a bit anxious to get home, to see the wife and kids, not that far away now.

Doune Castle, better known from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

But one last bit of sightseeing first in Doune, that is of Doune Castle, more commonly known as the castle from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. And by castle, I mean all of them, different angles played the part of different castles in the film. The front face of the castle was the French one, and it is very niize. This castle picked because it was close to Sterling and was the only privately owned castle that would give them permission. Scottish Heritage wouldn't give them permission to use any of their castles, although ironically, Doune is now owned by Scottish Heritage and they are only too happy to exploit the notoriety, even having a set of coconut shells in the gift shop so that visitors can reenact their own favorite scenes.

Of course, we have to do it too. Rob and Gary prance out of the castle entrance with their coconut, although Gary's bike was having none of that and launched itself down the slope in order to get a bit of attention. Sigh, show business, you know. Nobody likes acting across from children and animals.

Video of the coconut reenactment.

We are on the final stretch now. Out from the castle and onto some quiet country lanes for our last ride to Bridge of Allan. But ahh, Che's tire goes again and we have to stop and fix that again. Crispin is a bit fidgety so he takes most everybody on and we will catch up with them after we fix it. They are all headed to the brewery, so they should be easy to find and they won't be going anywhere for a while then.

Che's puncture outside of Bridge of Allan.

The brewery is then hidden behind some buildings and it takes us a few false starts to find it. By the time we get there, everybody else is already on their second pint. Apparently there is some sort of tour there or something, but our main part of the tour is looking at the taps and figure out which one to try. We have to sample little bits of each one to find the best one. Although I make the mistake of really liking the dark one, but after half a pint, it just gets to be too much. I'm much happier on my next pint when I switch to something more blonde. The barkeeper has been there all day, nobody to relieve him all day and he is dying for a pee. Dave W graciously volunteers to man the taps while he runs off. Dave settles in behind the bar and looks very much at home, what will you have gents?

We linger here for quite a while, that tour ending happy/sad thing. Lots of hard work, tired and maybe ready to go home but also sad to have it all be ending and not quite ready for that to happen. Crispin is going to head home from here so we have the speeches and awards and thank everybody. A little tipsier then, we get back on the bikes and head out for the last mile or two into Sterling and back to the hostel, where we started the whole thing about a week earlier.

Bridge of Allan Brewery.

Dave takes over for the barkeeper.

Now that we are getting to bigger cities, the Sustrans route is the normal mixed bag, nice off road, country lanes, and a bit of weaving to avoid the bigger roads. The country lanes have a little more traffic with some impatient cars trying to pass. In a lot of cases, passing doesn't get them that much, they have to stop for cars coming the other way and the roads are narrow and windy which can be pretty fast on a bike. I'm amused when Owen starts racing after a car that just passed, stretching out his legs, following it for quite a while.

Back in Sterling

Back in Sterling, oh my it is steep. I had forgotten about that. But this time through town, my tire holds up and I can get up and down all of them. We settle back in the hostel and start considering dinner. We make a reservation at an Indian place, a special buffet just for us. It is a bit strange though, since they do it by courses, they set up a few trays and come, eat, it is ready. And then repeat for the next course. They are also incredibly attentive, constantly hovering.

Back on the streets, and on the way over too, Stirling was in high gear. Not quite as hopping as Newcastle on a Saturday night during the height of stag/hen party season, but there was still a bit of commotion on the streets. And there were lots of women with chunky legs and really short skirts, that seemed to be the theme of the evening. Back at the hostel, time for bed. A respectable 34 miles for me today.

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