After an interrupted night, disturbed by things going bump in the night (which turned out to be Alex falling out of bed – twice), I managed to get up and going in a semi-conscious fashion. Having the ablution blocks about 300m away from our pods (and having the cars parked about 200m away as well) meant that a lot of to-ing and fro-ing ensued. But eventually we were ready (with Team B actually setting off first). Their plan was to stop in Edinburgh somewhere to have breakfast.
But Team A’s plan was to have more food at the camp for breakfast, so we just stopped for a top-up on the energy drink front, and for some decent coffee. Getting going again, our troubles started. First, we noticed that the easy bypass route around the city doesn’t allow bicycles, so we had to go for a more direct route. This resulted in the inevitable getting lost, as Edinburgh is not a city one can easily navigate by nose. Combined with the utterly atrocious condition of some of the roads, and it was a rather horrible 90 minutes before we managed to make our way over to the Forth Road bridge. It’s not that the roads were bumpy – it’s more that some pieces of them were missing. As though tourists had come along and taken a few to flog on eBay.
Driving along the bridge was fantastic (and not just due to a sense of relief of finally getting there after an hour and a half) – I’ve always had a penchant for impressive bridges. And those from which you can see other impressive bridges are even better. The rail bridge was looking as regal and imposing as ever, and that sensation you get on suspension bridges where you stop in the middle and feel the bridge shake was magnified to just the right degree by the wind.
But having crossed over, the wind didn’t stop. It was a freezing cold headwind, making my shoulder stiffen up almost immediately. And it was then that our lack of pre-planning on the route front hit us again. Because the shortest way from there to Perth is by the M90, which bicycles aren’t allowed on. The alternatives were small fiddly side roads on which getting lost is usually a given (at least for me), or a route off to the side which would probably be about 5 – 10 miles longer. We went with the latter, preferring to know where we are. But by the time we got to Kinross, which joined us back up with straight route to Perth, we were aching, cold, tired, and rather miserable. It was the closest I’d come to giving up. My knees hadn’t warmed up like they usually do, and together with the shoulder and tendon aches, I’d been in constant pain for 50 miles.
But then the day changed. Just past Milnathort, we spotted a sign for a cycle route to Perth, claiming a distance of 14 miles. We headed that way, and immediately noticed the difference. Instead of being on larger A-roads, the route took us on smaller back roads where there was no traffic. Bizarrely, the roads were actually smoother than the main roads. The miles to Perth flew by, and before we knew it, we were at the outskirts of Perth, having a well-deserved late lunch break.
After having a break, we started towards Pitlochry, and noticed another cycle route sign – Route 77. This was about 10% longer than the main A9 route, but we decided to head for that instead. It was the best decision we’ve made all week. Starting with a flat path that followed the Tay river for five miles, it changed into a rough track that was probably more suited to mountain bikes, but wasn’t too bad for ours. (Despite being gravel in places, because the gravel is loose, it’s still smoother to ride on than some tarred roads.) After this, it moved onto more of the small back roads, and then proceeded to wind through the countryside, through forests, along the river, up and down hills, until depositing us a quarter of a mile from the centre of town, and only 500 yards from the Youth Hostel.
It might be hard to believe, but I arrived feeling refreshed, rejuvenated, and enthusiastic about the ride. Sure, my knees, back, shoulder, and heel were still as painful as ever, but it didn’t matter any more. This was the kind of cycling that I’d falling in love with while training – the small back roads through idyllic countryside. Away from rush, and bustle, and people, and cars. Exactly the opposite of what we’ve been putting up with for 8/9ths of the trip so far. Not since the road from Okehampton to Tiverton have we been in this sort of environment, and this was even better.
After the ruinous roads of Scotland of yesterday and this morning, it was a revelation. I’d been drafting a letter in my mind over much of yesterday and this morning to suggest that the government use a bit of the Olympic and Tour de France goodwill towards cycling to spend money on improving the quality of roads for cyclists. But what Scotland has done around here – using the existing roads, and adding a few paths where necessary – has rendered that moot.
So, while I go off to try locate a cycle route to Inverness for tomorrow, I’ll leave you with the map for today (missing the part from Perth, unfortunately, as my phone ran out of battery).