Ride of the Falling Leaves

The Pitlochry Epic

19 October 2014

You need your wits about you if you’re going to cycle in Scotland … the morning may be bright and the sky bright blue like the Mediterranean, the past week the sun may have been shining and you’d been swanning around in a summer dress, perhaps even left your coat at home. That is no reason to have anything less than full winter kit, waterproof jacket, overshoes and lifesaver in the car. The most predictable outcome is that anything could happen! Hurricanes, drought, cyclones, snow or even bright conditions, sunshine and a mild breeze are equally likely.

But you may argue what about checking the BBC weather on the internet, surely they wouldn’t make it up, you can trust them. I am usually sceptical about the accuracy of weather reports, sticking your head out the door is usually the best method. However on Sunday yon BBC man was spot on with his gloomy prediction of heavy rain and blustery conditions. We turned off the A9 toward Pitlochry with the windscreen wipers going like the clappers and Carl scanning the town for a decent coffee shop.

Fancy umbrella

‘Il pleuvait des cordes’, the trees were swaying wildly in the wind and the roads were awash. We pulled up at the station car park to find the early Ronde arrivals huddled under umbrellas and sheltering beneath hatchback doors.

We got to the shelter of Alex’s corporate brolly and discovered everyone was remarkable cheerful. Bikes were soon unloaded, Garmins checked, water bottles slipped into cages and jokes cracked. The good humour was contagious and rather than talk about finding a warm place to huddle we were soon discussing the route.

As a concession to the weather it was decided we would all go on the shorter of the two routes and since the rain was a heavy as ever (and we had run out of delaying excuses) we set off.

We cycled out of Pitlochry, across the river and towards Loch Tummel. We had to be cautious as streams crossed the roads and leaves were everywhere but despite the grim conditions the autumn colours in the trees, all shades of reds, browns, oranges and ochres were magnificent.

We made a quick stop at Queen’s View and while everyone was talking I nipped through the car park and up the path on my own. Truly breathtaking! Breathtaking in in a more physical way occurred when I returned to the group and discovered they’d gone without me! It took ten minutes chasing them down to get back but at least it warmed me up.

By this point we had divided the group to make it easier for cars to pass on the narrow, winding roads, and keeping in two tight pelotons we cruised round the loch to Kinloch Rannock where we had planned to take a short break. Short in Ronde terminology refers to anything below two hours.

‘Coffee please.’

‘Yes coffee would be great.’

A chorus of agreement.

‘And anything to eat?’ the waitress asked.

‘Bacon roll, please.’

Safe to say most people wanted variations on the bacon roll theme except Simon.

‘Can I have scrambled eggs?’ he asked and got a very firm rebuffal, an emphatic ‘NO!’

Chris went for rice pudding and the moment it appeared I wished I’d chosen that; just the sort of comfort food to cheer up a soggy rider. A quick check on the second table found them tucking into full English breakfasts. It looked tasty but I would have been worried about getting cramp halfway up a steep climb.

We stayed there long enough for everyone to have another cup of coffee, a cake and a debate as to whether we should have more bacon rolls. The motion wasn’t carried.

Outside, as if to demonstrate how much rain had fallen, the Fall of Allt Mor was in full spate and crashing down like thunder.

The next few miles weren’t great, our clothes were wet and we were chilled. The climb up to Schiehallion was actually welcomed, in the hope it would warm us up. The first section was the toughest but once we were over that, the wind was behind us and Mark reckoned we were averaging 17mph uphill. Freddie’s celebration of the peak was a little too exuberant but he held it together and then it was the pleasure of a long winding descent.

Riding come wind, rain or shine

We passed Dull; we might even have gone through it, apparently it is noted for scenic bogs and is twinned with Boring, Oregon, USA. To digress my wife and I were once driving through Dull and discovered the road blocked by a peacock!

I would have liked to ride through Aberfeldy, if only to giggle at the sign pointing to the Birks of Aberfeldy. Apparent General Wade, road builder, was particularly proud of the bridge here. But we didn’t. We stayed on the back roads, which were a lot less busy so there was plenty of time for the other key element of a ride with Ronde, chat!

Mark and Chris knew these so roads, so unlike Carl in the group ahead, we were warned about the sharp left turn and the subsequent very steep ramp just before Logierait. Carl arrived blissfully unaware, still in the big ring and the middle of the rear cassette. Still at least it was a short hill.

The final run in was rolling, with a couple of slightly bigger rises, Fiona had been rather hoping it was all down hill and voiced the opinion it was unfair she had to climb again, hadn’t she done that already!

Local knowledge is very important and thanks to Chris we bypassed the main roads and sneaked into the middle of Pitlochry via the old suspension bridge.

All that was left was to change out of our wet clothes, eat all of Simon’s delicious homemade oatcakes, gorge on Haribo Starmix and cheer in the third group. Carl and I headed home for a warm bath and learnt later that the remaining riders discovered a Pitlochry cafe serving giant creamy desserts.

Dry and warm post ride

I agree with Fiona who wrote later, ‘One of, if not THE best days out I've had on a bicycle - thank-you to all involved in the organisation and the company along the way for the Falling Leaves Ronde Epic’

Words and photos by Alasdair Anderson