Aim for the Impossible - Part 5
Sunday 17 April 2022
It’s been a few weeks now since I began my fight for fitness and I’m already starting to feel the benefits. I’m sleeping better, feeling more energised and my excess baggage is slowly but surely starting to fall off me. But importantly, cycle rides are now becoming much more enjoyable again. My bottom seems to have re-shaped itself to fit my saddle and my thighs muscles are beginning to re-appear.
Based on how well I coped in last week’s cycle across the flatlands by the Port of Menteith, I decided I was ready to tackle Duke’s Pass. This was a challenge I set myself a few years back before the heart attack thing, so it was a bit thing for me to feel I was once again able to at least consider tackling this pass once again.
I discussed my planned route with Mr M - Strathblane, Aberfoyle, over Duke’s Pass, onto Brig o’Turk, Callander then Dunblane station for the train home.
“You know I’ll come and get you if you need me,” he said with a sigh.
I suppose I forget what it’s been like for Mr M since that day in 2019 when he found out from a stranger that I’d been whisked away in a helicopter from the top of a mountain then to have to watch me slowly returning to my epic adventures. Never once has he said he didn’t want me to do something and I love him all the more for that (but don’t tell him I told you so).
But there it is again, Mr M almost shoving me out of the door. What does he get up to when I’m out? Maybe I need to fit a camera on Beatrix!
As always, breakfast was made for me, along with my picnic lunch and flask of tea. Of course, being Easter Sunday I also had the pleasure of an Easter Egg. Nothing fancy for me, just a lovely Cadbury’s Dairy Milk one (a large one of course). Space being of a premium in my saddle bag, I carefully peeled the cardboard open, pulled out the purple-wrapped egg, placed it in a plastic bag then gave it a tap or two on the work top to break the shell so I could fit it in with my picnic. I did leave Mr M a piece of it for his lunch. He doesn’t have an Easter egg himself as he’s not a chocolate lover. Can you believe that Mother Murphy is married to somebody who doesn’t love chocolate and doesn’t even like cake! And don’t get me started on how he led me to believe he doesn’t like football. Mind you, I did tell him I was once a pole dancer but forgot to add the word “May” into the sentence. Quits I’d say.
So out of the house by 8.45 am, I was on my way with one jacket less and no gloves on (though they were keeping guard of my egg inside my saddle bag just in case). Spring, perhaps even a hint of summer, really is just around the corner.
Taking the same route as last week through Milton of Campsie and Lennoxtown, the lovely host of daffodils dancing in the wind from last week were now not so much dancing, more gently swaying with their heads bowed down, their short full bloom almost at an end. They’ll be back next year though that’s for sure.
Cycling on towards Strathblane, the new-born lambs from last week were now all jumping around the hills. Sheep who last week seemed to be standing looking over the fences at me with pride showing me their new-born lambs were now, I’m sure, shouting to these same lambs, “Come away from the human.”
Flying on (yes it was a tailwind) through Strathblane, Blanefield and towards Glengoyne, I was reflecting how quickly my cycling was changing. One-minute places like Aberfoyle were my target, the next they were mere points on-route to further goals. Today Aberfoyle was just a stopping off point to rest and snack before tacking Duke’s Pass.
The roads stayed very quiet and the main A81 had the feel of a quiet country road. Passing once again by the Trossachs Holiday Park, I knew that a few more miles down the road and I’d be in Aberfoyle. At the new roundabout where I took a right to Port of Menteith last week, this week I passed the Rob Roy Hotel and followed the road to the left, indicating Aberfoyle was just a mile away.
Now this is Rob Roy MacGregor country, the Scottish Outlaw who became a folk hero, a bit of a Scottish Robin Hood, robbing from the rich to feed the poor. Interestingly, he was given the name Roy (originally Ruadh), because of his startling red head of hair. He was really running a bit of a protection racket, getting people to pay 5% of their rent to ensure their cattle remained safe. I’m not quite sure how this villain became a folk hero as all I found out was that he decided he was getting too long in the tooth for the wild life and, after being imprisoned then pardoned in 1727 by King George 1 (and saved from being sent to Barbados) spent the rest of his days as a law-abiding character. But the poet William Wordsworth obviously saw him as an interesting character as he wrote a poem called Rob Roy’s Grave during one of his visits to Scotland. Maybe that’s another poem for Mr M to learn.
Arriving at Aberfoyle, I soon found myself a seat in the large carpark behind the visitor’s centre and by the Edinburgh Woollen Mill. Aberfoyle is a real tourist trap and I’ll bet later in the day there would be no benches to be had. Sitting a while, I had half my buttie, a cup of tea and some of my now crushed and broken Easter egg as I contemplated the wisdom of my plan to tackle Duke’s Pass.
Duke’s Pass was built in 1855 by the Duke of Montrose because he wanted to be able to get around his estate more easily. It’s an impressive road, climbing to a height of 240 metres above sea level and gives breath-taking views over the Trossachs between Aberfoyle and Callander.
It’s possible to follow the Sustrans’ route 7 cycle track all the way from Aberfoyle to Callander but it involves some rough riding and is not suitable in places for narrow road tyres. Personally, I don’t find this cycle route as impressive as Duke’s Pass either as it runs alongside the lochs for much of the way rather than cycling the heights above and looking down on the lochs and views beyond. For this reason, I was choosing to cycle the main road from Aberfoyle to Callander.
I was feeling strangely nervous and a knot in my stomach told me that perhaps I wasn’t quite ready for the duke. I sent a WhatsApp message to Mr M (because I now know how to and he now knows how to open them) telling him of my nerves, but his reply was brief,
“Go for it!”
He clearly was not sitting at home at the end of his phone waiting for the call to rescue me! It was time and there was nothing to worry about.
As you leave Aberfoyle the first road to the left leads to Stronachlachar and Kinlochard, but this is for another adventure. My route today sweeps round to the right and immediately starts to climb. Leaving Aberfoyle behind the road twists around and up the hill towards the David Marshall Lodge Visitors Centre where you can park your car and admire the amazing views opening out. I believe there is also a nice café there and a Go Ape for those who want to swing from the heavens.
I was soon passing a sign warning that the road beyond doesn’t get gritted in winter which I felt was just a little tease reminding me that the climb is still to come. But, in my bottom gear, I took my time, sometimes out of the saddle, but often sitting down. Sweeping bends, sharp bends and a bit tough in places, but the climb was a dream. I was warm, felt fairly fit and never once thought I’d have to get off and walk. I did stop to take a couple of photos to share with you so you could get a feel of the vista I had.
Rides like this are why I cycle. Tough but not impossibly tough, climbing high into the hills and seeing mountains in the distance. Before I knew it, I’d reached the sign for Duke’s Pass realising, almost giggling, that I had indeed conquered the duke.
What follows is a long, fast, easy descent, passing views of the three lochs along that stretch of the Trossachs, Lochan Reoidhe, Loch Drunkie and Loch Achray. Once down at the bottom you coast on by a house that appears out of nowhere and you know that the descent is over. The road narrows a little, taking you past the turn for Loch Katrine, made famous by Walter Scott’s poem, the Lady of the Loch. Precious memories were made here when Mr M and I took John out on the boat here. Being a chief engineer in the merchant navy all his working life, John was like a kiddie in a sweet shop when we arrange for him to go down in the engine room. His face said it all.
Now the road starts to undulate, nothing too severe, although there are couple of sneaky killers as you approach then leave Brig o’Turk. It’s ironic that when I was struggling up Duke’s Pass if there were points when drivers had to wait a minute or two to pass me, I could almost hear them crying out, “Come on lass, dig in, you can do it,” as they waited patiently. But once over the hill with no effort being seen, drivers became impatient to pass, trying their hand at overtaking on blind bends, blind summits and other ridiculous places despite me stopping whenever possible to pull in and let drivers pass me safely.
Now compared to the road from Brig o’Turk to Callander, Duke’s Pass is a breeze. The road from here to Callander is probably only seven miles but it’s a tough road. It should be an easy cycle but today there seem to be more ups than downs and my energy levels were starting to fade a little. I’d decided away back in Aberfoyle that my main stop would be in Callander so pressed on (into the headwind), passed Loch Venachar and Ben A’an.
Reaching the T junction with the main A84 and the Trossachs Woollen Mill where Hamish the Highland Cow resides, there is access to the Sustrans’ route 7 for the last couple of miles to Callander, which I took. What a joy this stretch of track is. Quiet, flat and through gentle countryside. Of course, in a month or so, this whole area will be painted a beautiful blue/purple colour by Mother Nature when she spreads bluebells as far as the eye can see. I was of course, also feeling like my batteries had run out and my legs were starting to feel a bit like socks of custard. Callander couldn’t come soon enough for me.
Callander and Aberfoyle to me could be twins. Both by water and both tourist traps, but still lovely with it. Today Callander was blessed with the clear view of Ben Ledi, the mountain that Beatrix and I have had so many adventures. If you’ve not seen it, watch this little video, Beauty and the Beast . Just one girl and her dog in the amazing calmness that deep, fresh snow brings. Make sure you watch to the very end of the video to experience the real silence.
Today Callander was heaving with tourists. It was strange to see so many people milling about but even more strange to see them milling about around the mobile Covid testing unit by the water. Never in a million years would you have dreamed in a little village in the heart of rural Scotland would there be the need for a vaccination centre for a pandemic! Strange world indeed.
I was lucky and found myself a vacant bench to sit a while and enjoy the rest of my picnic and recharge my batteries for the last twenty miles to Dunblane train station. Just as I’d opened my picnic a lovely couple asked if they could share my bench. As we got chatting, we laughed when I asked where they were from and they told me Bristol. Their accent was a close to being English as mine is to being Scottish. It turns out they are originally from the Czech Republic. We spent the next half hour discussing different Easter traditions, including Wet Monday when everyone splashes water over each other. Of course, we also shared our concerns and worries over the happenings in Russia and Ukraine. Covid 19 and fear of World War 3 in Callander on a sunny Easter Sunday. Who would have thought it possible?
Soon they had to re-join their coach and continue their highland tour and I had to pack up and get myself back on the road.
The road from Callander to Doune is mostly flat with just a couple of rises, but it’s a busy road and today I had a strong head wind too. The road is wide, open and straight for much of the way, which is great with a tailwind, but a nightmare with a headwind. So, as we cyclists say, I put my head down and bum up and peddled my heart out to reach Doune much faster than I had thought possible and felt quite chuffed with myself.
It was lovely to turn off the busy A84 for the last few miles to Dunblane but by now I really was tired. Initially I was trying to cycle as fast as I could to try to make sure I got to the train station as quickly as I could. But I gave myself a talking to and reminded myself that if I missed a train there would be another an hour later so why spoil a lovely day out by trying to overdo it. Mind you, even taking it easy, those last few miles were tough going for a worn out still trying to get fit cyclist.
Reaching Dunblane, I cycled over the railway bridge and reached the platform with only minutes to spare before a train that seemed to be waiting for me pulled out of the station. If indeed that train driver did take pity on a clearly shattered cyclist trying her best to race over the bridge to catch his train and waited for me, thank you.
Now I could relax a little, have a short train journey to Stirling before catching the train to my final station at Lenzie. Before I knew it, I was back home, showered and tea was being served by the lovely Mr M.
I’ve certainly raised the miles today and now I’m showered, fed and watered; I feel quite pleased with myself. Duke’s Pass was smashed and I covered roughly fifty-five miles. Not bad, not bad at all. I wonder where I’ll go next time.
As I mentioned in my last blog, I am working on my podcast and these Aim for the Impossible blogs will be top priority to record so you can listen to my tales and adventures as well as read them. I'll let you know once these are available.