Sunday, 22 January 2012

Drymen.Gartmore.Port Of Menteith.Kippen Muir.Balfron Station.

The Last bike run I managed before Christmas and my secret Santa appointment with a moving vehicle was this one.I decided I should give myself a proper fitness test on a bike,given good weather of course and had my eye on a fantastic tour from Drymen out via Gartmore then the main road to Aberfoyle Then Port of Menteith Then Arnprior...up over Kippen Muir,Round By hill of Balgair,Balfron then Balfron Station,Gartness and back to Drymen.
I had cycled a variation of this tour once before many years ago and knew it was a cracker with exceptional views and empty roads.It mainly uses minor and B roads with two short sections of A road from Aberfoyle to Lake of Menteith then near the end  from Balfron Station To Gartness.
A fine Sunday dawned at last.The hills were bare of snow again after days of mild weather and constant rain.Now it was Sunny and cold,lots of early morning ice on the roads.For this reason I left it til  after 9.0 clock am to set off,arriving in Drymen car park around 10 o clock am. Although the days were short  at this time of year I thought I could be back by 4 o clock pm and avoid cycling in the dark.Even with lights on the bike I consider night cycling on busy roads an easy invitation to the delights of hospital food so they stay in the cupboard normally.I used to cycle to work  in the dark every day long ago and the memory of frequent near misses and  the occasional direct hit still haunts me.I once slid 20 feet on my knees then on my back along the road at Bearsden Cross when a Morton,s roll van  kindly separated me from my bike.Luckily I had thick trousers and waterproofs on due to the downpour of rain at the time and both helped to save me from  major damage.Its always an adventure on a bike.

The metal steed  in question was quickly got ready and I was off up the minor road towards Bat a Charchel ,the highpoint of the first climb at 230 metres from a start of 45 metres in Drymen.(around 600 feet of ascent)It was a good way  to get warm as I panted and groaned my way up the incline.Suddenly I heard a familiar sound in the distance and looked up to see wave after wave of geese approaching.Maybe they were delayed over in Eastern Lands or held up down south by all the storms and bad weather but they were now airborne in vast numbers,Skein after skein of them..They soon filled the sky from horizon to horizon,many thousands strong.I felt very privileged  and lucky to be a witness to this mass flight northwards,In all my years walking outdoors I ,ve never seen anything like as many geese before in the skies above Scotland and I doubt I will again.It took them around a full five minutes to pass overhead before the last stragglers disappeared, honking loudly in protest as if to say " Hey! Slow down at bit, wait for us!" Hard to capture a clear image as I think the auto focus was put off by the trees in both shots.

Moments like this make it all worthwhile.I think they were barnacle geese.Didn,t have my binoculars with me alas,saving some weight on the bike.
Inspired by this sight I soon  reached the road highpoint and stopped to have this surprisingly close view over the Luss hills from the wild and empty heights of Moor Park.Unbelievably I,d been passed by two keen racing cyclists while standing watching the geese, heads down ,powering uphill at a fast rate.Distance and miles mattered more to them I guess.They only glanced up once."Geese "said one.The other just grunted. Whatever turns you on I suppose :)
I wouldn,t make a good racing cyclist as I stop for photographs all the time or curiosity gets the better of me if I pass anything of interest.That,s the whole point of any journey for me though.Finding out about things.
After a breakfast of  two boiled eggs, mature cheddar cheese cubes and seedless grapes I put my jacket on for the downhill run into Gartmore,Itself fairly Isolated at 60 metres on its open ridge.Although there was almost no wind up here the air temperature remained below freezing for most of the day.Thankfully the sun had melted much of the ice on the road and there were only a few shaded patches and weeps to watch out for in  deep dips and around corners.I did not fancy departing from my handlebars and saddle at speed again.That tends to be very painful no matter how warm the day.
Gartmore is a quiet village only a kilometre away from the busy A81 leading to tourist hot spots Callander and Aberfoyle.As its higher than this road and largely hidden from sight most car drivers are unaware it even exists.Its not got the draw of these bigger destinations being a sleepy wee place but it does have its quieter,less obvious surprises.
One of these is this belter of a view of Ben Lomond,looking very regal from this angle.The other is a village green monument to an extraordinary Scottish Adventurer who went by the  name of Don Roberto.A real life 19th century cowboy and South American Gaucho who had lands here and connections to Dumbarton ,having been brought up there and on the Finlaystone estate in Renfrewshire.He was high born into what could have been a comfortable life  but he obviously had a wild streak in him that would not be denied.Instead of sitting in a mansion as a Scottish  laird with brandy and cigars he spent  his early years galloping across the vast plains of Argentina on horseback.His  favourite horse which was with him for many years touchingly gets equal billing on the monument to him.He then attempted to build up a cattle empire in South America and is remembered there to this day.A street in Buenos Aires bears his name . He also found time to become an expert in fencing..Even into his 80,s he was out horse riding daily.When he died,fittingly in Argentina, his body was brought back to Scotland.He lies buried with his wife on Inchmahome Island on the Lake Of Menteith.In later life he became an MP  here and became the first one to be suspended from the House of Commons for swearing.
His amazing life story here. ( Be aware though I have found a couple of minor discrepancies in this otherwise excellent biography  when compared to other articles.Wikipedia is not always 100 percent accurate in its research yet but it does update when it receives new facts on a subject so its getting there. More like 98 percent.)
Here he,s remembered on former Graham lands. The Impressive Gartmore House nearby once belonged to the Grahams. This is also the minor road into the village just pedalled  from the cycle highpoint on the moors.
As the A81 looked  fairly quiet  I biked along this.There is a  traffic free cycle track here along a dismantled railway to Aberfoyle but these things tend to be slower and below road level for much of the time,limiting the views of the  surrounding countryside.The turn off away from Aberfoyle was soon reached and I was off along the rolling section of the A81 to Lake of Menteith.Here a much quieter road was taken, the B8034  hugging the shores of this famous fishing and curling Lake with its island Priory (Don Roberto,s last resting place) and  ruined castle,before passing Nick Nairn,s cook school then Arnprior sitting pretty on its ridge.
This marked the second long hill climb.a rollercoaster of rising ground leading up to the final ridge in the distance where the steep wall of the Fintry Hills loomed.I enjoyed this section for the scenery and views it offered but it was tough going.Somehow I,d  lost my lowest two gears by this point so it was even more of a challenge.Panting up the green middle section in this photograph I was overtaken by a twenty something girl as if I was standing still.It wasn,t even a racing bike she was on but an average tourer like mine which made it worse.I,m not  usually competitive but having sand kicked in your face by a women does something to the male psyche. I,m  always happy to accept them being smarter  than me(Lets face it.. that wouldn,t be difficult) but to be squashed so easily in a physical battle is much harder to take.With my pride wounded I put on an increased burst of speed up the hill but she was so far ahead by this point she didn't even notice my effort.Eventually I gave up and consoled myself with a sausage. Its tough getting old.Having said that I,m now re -reading  and re- inspired  by one of the finest travel book writer,s  I,ve ever stumbled across.Josie
Dew - The wind in my wheels.Travel guide books to a certain place are different.You need them to know what,s out there and where the best places are if you are setting off there Travel writers however can sometimes tend to be of the variety.... I went there ...I  visited here.Bill Bryson  and Josie Dew for me stand apart as they can be enjoyed by anyone.Creative,funny and informative, even if you never intend to go to any of the places they are descibing .Multi country adventures in uplifting,always  funny and unique insights into different lands.She and her game but unsuspecting boyfriends,s /girl companions abroad  take the kicking so I don,t have to.I,ve enough lumps and bent bones from cycling in Scotland thanks..She is completely different class though. A Rare individual who didn,t just dream to going somewhere exotic and far away but made it happen and slogged it out on the ground inch by inch on a bike..A modern day Don Roberta on a metal horse.You will not be disappointed.Like a couple of forces of nature I,ve met in my life though Its  far safer to enjoy her from a distance on the page than be involved in one of her adventures methinks:)

What views though.This is looking towards Stuc a Chroin and Ben Vorlich from the minor road near Jennywoodston,a new road tick for me and a belter of a bike run.
Looking across at the Glen Artney range of Hills.Mor Bheinn ,Meall Reamhar and the like.Suberb flat  balcony trail along here.All too soon though it was back to the climb up Kippen muir,legs burning to the highpoint just short of 200 metres again.Another wee break for a photo opportunity.
Even in a car its a lovely place to stop and admire the scenery but on a bike after putting a shift in to get there it feels like the roof of Scotland. Now I hoped it would be all downhill on empty minor roads past hill of Balgair to Balfron.A new road for me.Not only was this a twisty little number though it was also up and down,Hill of Balgair living up to its name.
Good views over to Meikle Bin, Dungoil and the Campsies though.By this time I was getting worried about daylight or the lack of it. The sun was starting to slide out of view and in another half hour it would be dark.Forcing myself to increase the pace I slogged on.The only time I,d  really stopped  moving so far was for photographs or food or geese or to visit something interesting off route with several  minor walking explorations away from the highway.It was a poor time by keen cycling standards but I was now rather knackered.Its only a 30 odd mile trip this one but fairly up and down.I decided I didn,t  really have enough time to go via Gartness before it got dark.
Last of the sun just before Balfron,looking over at Corrie of Balglass and Sir Archibald,s Plantation.As I was running out of time I turned onto the main A 811 after Balfron Station and raced back in the gathering  dusk towards Drymen.By the time I entered the home straight the lights were on  in the village and  proper darkness had arrived but I,d made it just in time.A memorable day for my last bike ride of 2011.For those keen on cycling who have not done this route yet its a real classic tour.With all the ups and downs its probably close to 2000 feet of ascent..A fantastic day.
I was fairly pleased with my level of fitness given my age.There,s an old saying though" What,s for you will not go by you".How true! Little did I know what was in store for me  just around the corner.After a month of  cabin fever, shuffling about the house or limping round the shops for messages my  hard won fitness is gubbed.Ah well .... Life is an unpredictable game of  up the ladder and down the snake at times.Back to square one again.At least I,m still here to reclimb that ladder.That,s the main thing.


The Glebe Blog said...

A brilliant post Bob.I love to be away from the traffic as multitudes of geese pass overhead. There's many a townie or city dweller never had the experience.
A few years ago I spent a week with a friend in a cabin at Portnellan Lodges under Ben More, and we had a day touring this area. The highlight of that day was visiting Rob Roy's grave at Balqhidder, but we somehow missed Gartmore.We must have passed it because we had lunch in Balfron. As a schoolkid of about 10, our class read the story of Don Roberto and his adventures in Argentina. At the time that was as good as having Cowboys and Indians at school.
Your bike memories remind me of a time as a youngster when two of us racing down a brae both failed to navigate a bend and ended up intae a drystane dyke.One bike written off...mine, and a broken nose...Billy's and he got a skelpin as well.
I'll go along with you on Bill Bryson too, you can't go wrong there.
Hope the recovery is going well.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Jim.
I,m almost at the stage when I can walk into a bothy.Hills might take a week or two yet with the extra force required to get up and down steep inclines.
Mark Twain,the american writer has a cracking quote about cycling
"Get a bike.You will not regret it if you live!" Sums it up well.

fatdogwalks said...

Great stuff Bob - another area for me to explore properly and not too far from home. I've driven through that part of the world countless times for both work and pleasure but oddly never stopped.

On the subject of geese the most spectacular sight I ever had of them was their arrival from the north a couple of autumns ago. My desk in the office looked out towards the Ochils and on a very dull and grey day wave upon wave of them piled across the hills heading southwards. It was an amazing sight - like watching an old b&w film of WW2 with thousands of aircraft in the sky.

blueskyscotland said...

That,s how I felt Ken.Only other time I,ve seen so many birds above me was under the Bass Rock or Ailsa Craig.
If you are looking for interesting things on the internet Ken I,ve just watched National Geographic online(archive section,last 12 months)The front cover,pictures and video of solo climbers in Yosemite is incredible but hard to watch in places.Its so mindbendingly extreme its like looking at a different species.Warning....Even if you rock climb Your mind will be blown wide open folks.

fatdogwalks said...

Ta to check it out :) .

fatdogwalks said...

Aaargghhh....just watched that guy fingerlocking up moonlight buttress!

blueskyscotland said...

On soloing El Cap and Half Dome....How anyone can cope mentally at the grade and height climbing without a rope is beyond me. The guy,s got bottle beyond reason.

Carol said...

A great read - must look up Roberto, sounds a really interesting guy.

About the furthest I've ever cycled is 30 miles and that's probably my limit - I'm a terrible cyclist. More often than not, I get off up hills anyway - and, being a coward by nature, have also been known to get off to go down them too!

That's a belting view of Ben Lomond isn't it? :-)

Great to see so many geese flying in formation - almost like writing in the sky...