Riding round the Trossachs

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htrider
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Riding round the Trossachs

Post by htrider » Sun May 02, 2021 11:37 pm

May Bank holiday was fast approaching and I needed to get away on the bike for a few days, and away from my local trails. This would be my last chance to do a long trip before the Highland Trail, sort my kit, decide whether I really was going to do it on single speed and see if my fitness was up to scratch. The plan had been to head north but it was looking cold, rainy and snowy. West or southwest looked better so I ruminated on options before remembering Chris's Loch Lomond and Trossachs loop. Aberfoyle is just a three quarters of an hour drive away and the terrain looked to be a reasonable approximation of the Highland trail sections that would give me the most grief on SS. At 300k and with 6000 odd metres of climbing, the full monty was a bit much this close to the HT group start but there are plenty of bail outs so I'd set off on Friday and see how far I got.

Departure was at the leisurely, and inauspicious time of 10.55am. I was loaded for sub-zero over night temps and two nights out so the bike was a bit on the lardy side. The forecast was for it to be cool, breezy with a few showers.....

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On the long climb out of the forest. This is one of a few bits I'd not done before and an ideal test of singlespeed legs. It's at that gradient that seems too shallow to push but steep enough to require a big effort. This would set the pattern....

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At the top before the precipitous descent to the WHW and one of the many attractions of this ace route. This is looking across Loch Lomond to Loch Long through the schneck of Tarbert (there are lots of Tarbets in Scotland it means something like narrow bit between lochs). The jaggy hill is the Cobbler which is regularly in view on the first half of the route.

This section of the West Highland Way is about the easiest of the Loch Lomond section and I made my way through it without too much issue. South of Rowardenen it bags every single hill along the loch shore. Its good fun in the main however its hard work and there are a few stepped sections up and down which are a pain. Good pushing practice.... But crossing the level farmland south of the Loch I was already feeling it. The two rivers were very low and what would normally be fairly mucky cow poached fields were bone dry. My weariness increased on the quiet lanes to Balloch but this place was in full flow. Avoiding the tourist filled cafes I used a small shop for food and sat in the sun, my first proper breather since the start.

I suffered horribly on the mega climb out of Balloch. This was all new to me and great going with a fun trail across the top and another push up a steep wooded trail, my belly complaining loudly at this abuse, and legs feeling like lumps of lead.

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A fascinating part of the world - the Firth of the Clyde. Very fjord like and once home to one of the worlds biggest shipping industries. Most of it has gone now but the flats and tenements of the workforce remain.

On the descent into Helensburgh I recovered somewhat but leapt into the garage to buy more calories, mainly liquid.

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Chris describes this as Helensburgh's poshest street - cherry blossom in full bloom and lots of big houses. The shipping industry made some people a lot of money. Don't know what the residents do these days - maybe collect their pensions! This is another big climb but my legs were back on speaking terms with me and pain was receding.

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The Hill House - once home of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, he of art decor fame, now somewhat bizarrely covered by a tin shed to preserve it. Thereafter was a really nice section of riding on made paths with no nasty climbs. To this point the weather had been generally OK with just a few sprinkles of rain and hail. It brightened up over here and a fine evening looked on the cards.

After a steady road climb I was on the Three Lochs Way past Faslane that I'd ridden a few years ago. I was also approaching Sean Belson's Bivvy Spot which I figured would also be mine. Annoyingly my GPS was playing up, putting my arrow 50m off trail and sometimes snapping onto a road. The result was a wrong turn and I didn't twig until crossing under the rail line which I knew was wrong. Grind back up the hill, grinding my teeth. Turning it off and on again got me and it back on track.

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Whoops, you'd never have guessed. The crossing upstream was easy. Just after this was Sean's spot and its a cracker. Unfortunately it was only just after 6.... What to do. I could stop but I had no drink and so would have to kill four hours before bed time dry. My legs were now fully recovered so really I had no choice but to carry on. I grumbled to myself a bit as I should have started later or gone slower. My gear dictated my pace. Worse a large rain cloud was approaching and there were portaloos beside the track just after the spot which would have made it 5 star!

The next section is quite tough with a big climb high above Loch Long. I was watching a large rain cloud sat on top of the Cobbler slowly approaching. Just drizzle at first but when it got heavier I reached for waterproofs as I was entering the wet at 3 degrees death zone (!) by the time they were on it had died away again. The chippy in Arrochar was packed as usual but I made a fine discovery - the village shop is well stocked and open until 10pm. I bought lots of food and sat out on the sea front watching the ace view. The cloud had gone and I even got a bit of sun.

I knew where I was headed - the track end on the Ardgarten peninsular where there should be a fine bivvy spot by a wee lochan. Between me and it was a fair bit of climbing. First up the Cobbler path, a few ups and downs and then more nav faffing around Ardgarten. The GPS arrow was stuck on the A93 and I couldn't read the screen without my specs, so I ended up missing the bridge and riding round seemingly endless paths into the chalet park, back, over another bridge, along the shore, back and finally back onto the route. There then followed a long, long climb. It was steady but SS limitations revealed themselves. It was a grind after a long day and I was feeling tired. A few cars abandoned by the trackside hinted at other campers but they were maybe in Mark Bothy as my chosen spot was empty, and perfect. Phew, thank goodness as I was done - 9hrs 45 and 130k.

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Bivvy shot, blurred unfortunately, my camera skills are rubbish.....

I made a freeze dried meal, ate half and crashed out. Given the temps in the forecast I had come with a 3 season bag and plenty of layers but after an hour I woke up overheating. Stripped off, I nodded off once more, to be woken by a marvelous dawn chorus. The usual tweety birds but also something that sounded like an air raid siren (worrying this close to Faslane) which revealed it self as two duck / goose like things.

I had a very leisurely breakfast contemplating my onward moves. After a dry evening it had rained (lightly) most of the night and was still at it when I woke. The previous day I'd thought of actually doing the whole route but I figured it would be a shame in rubbish weather. So I thought to make the top of the Rest and Be Thankful, bomb down the track back to Ardgarten and return to Aberfolye via the Lomond cycleway and NCN7. But by the time I was moving (7.50 am) the rain was off and on the fab single track to Lochgoilhead the weather cleared and a nice day looked possible.

Another grinder followed but I was doing OK. At the top of the rest and be thankful I rested and was thankful there was a burger van for breakfast number two.

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Looking down the glen at Transport Scotland's Folly, the A83. They have thrown a lot of dosh at this road but everytime you get a massive storm another bit washes down the hill and closes it. They even use the old military road (pre-dating the A93 by about 200 years) as a 'bypass' when its shut but had to spend a bomb on this too. Its become a political football as usual with dumb politicos trying to make engineering decisions and generally ignoring or selectively mis-using expert advice, sound familiar?

Stuff it lets keep going. The next section was new and looked interesting. I knew this would commit me to a big chunk of WHW to at least Crianlarich but what the hell. This is indeed a good bit - the track is easy but is a huge short cut compared to going by road. You also pass Abyssinia bothy, a relatively new one. It looked ace but was off route so I couldn't be bothered.

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A fine view of the north end of Loch Lomond. Only available to itinerant bike packers!

Another steep and loose descent followed and then the dreaded West Highland Way. This time north (in line with traffic) and potentially one of the hardest bits of the whole route. Brekky number three (cold chilli from the night before) helped but in fact it wasn't as bad as I'd thought. A lot of it is double track and the single track bit is actually pretty good. A bit rough and eroded but I was getting up it fine. Past the A93 was a shiny new bit so someone is still chucking money at the route. In fact just past this a whole section of old military road, to the Crianlarich turn off, had been done up. This is what the whole route should be. I'll happily be stoned to death for saying this but this would make it much more pleasurable for the average WHW walker than the ankle breaking rocky path it is. On a bike however, the rock fest is fun and just the thing to get me back into the swing of nadgery riding. In fact the next section from Crianlarich to Tyndrum, previously written off by me after a passage in 2012 actually also ended being a hoot. OK there was a lot of climbing but a lot of felling work is in progress so at least you get a view.

Oh dear, more nav faffing. The route leaves the WHW to pick up a bit of new cycleway. Despite being funded by Sustrans it goes from nowhere to nowhere (not between Crianlarich and Tyndrum as advertised) but made for a nice easy pedal up to that most well know of bikepacking towns.

Food came courtesy of the new 'diner' as the real food cafe is terminally slow at the best of times so goodness knows what it would be like today. Oddly people were sitting inside but I still sat out as I was now looking somewhat disheveled. Pancakes, bacon, tea and coke went down the hatch and more juice and food for the onward slog was bought from the garage. I was now committed to the route by Glen Lyon to Killin as the A82 would be a schlep but I fancied practicing my HT start sprint. It did feel a bit weird pedaling up that hill, down that rocky chute and along the fast descent to Auch Farm, three weeks before the real thing. I now seemed to have a stiff tailwind. In fact so far I'd had a tailwind all route, the north easterly now a north westerly. This was all good news making the easterly Glen track a lazy cruise. Less good was the express rain cloud which followed me up the glen and caught me halfway along the loch.

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This is the bridge Sean photo'd at night. The ford was easy. There are a few along here so gawd help us if its a wet one for the HT group start....

The climb out of the glen was a slow one but not as long as feared and made for more fast road descending to glen Lochay and a steady cruise to Killin. Co-op provided a large amount of food that was eaten on the bench opposite (they didn't seem bothered by me Chris!) whilst I contemplated my next move. I was feeling good but the sensible thing would be to ride back to Aberfoyle on NCN 7. The weather was still looking a bit iffy and I was losing my appetite for another night out. Plus I didn't want to wreck myself three weeks before the Highland Trail. On route it was still 70k to go. But; I'd come this far, the trails had been nigh on perfect and I'd regret not completing the whole route. I knew what was coming - one monster climb and a few lesser ones... Sod it lets just keep going and see what happens.

So off and up again, on a tarmac road as it happened up to the dam. Past this with more dreich coming in, then sleet, then wet snow. So much for a dry evening so on with the gear and onward. It didn't last and at the track end I just kept going. Chris described this as three quarters of an hour of heather bashing but it wasn't too bad. I followed an argocat track for the first bit, a bit of heather hopping then animal tracks to the top. Downhill was much easier and more faint trods got me to the track end. This dropped me down a long way to Glen Lednock res then it was tarmac again, another moor crossing survived and the sun shining. To the south the skies were black but this should hopefully be going away from me. One gut wrenching climb then a super fast descent, nearly missing a turn off to a fine little path to Comrie. Hmm home is only just over a couple of hills, but the car is in Aberfoyle.

Next up Glen Artney, I'd last been up here in about 1990-something and I was looking forward to it. Particularly on a fine evening with no other person in evidence and on dry trails with a tailwind. A nice bit up through the woods was new then a bit more road and a long climb over the last big moor crossing. I'd been scoping this route out a while ago as a potential gravel bike route. Geograph was banging on about a missing bridge but it wasn't (or had recently been replaced) so straight on through and yet another fast road descent in the gloaming. Black clouds abounded and I caught the tail end of one but to my right and behind was clear.

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Last photo of the day on the climb out of Glen Artney.

The route takes you right past Callander's Co-op so I had to stop for more liquid energy. Then lights on and off on the last bit. The Menteith hills trail is another blast from the past and I'd done this a few times in my youth. I vaguely remembered a big climb and a very muddy / rocky / boggy trail across the top. In the event the climb was OK, the trail to the forest edge all new and the bit through the cow field iron hard. I had a few slithers in the next wooded bit thanks to the earlier rain but soon enough I was on the last track and a fast run down to Aberfoyle, the car and a finish. It was 10.05pm 36 hours and 10 minutes from my start. Total distance 305k, 3850m of climbing.

45 minutes later I was home (empty roads) and having more food and a beer to celebrate what had been a fab, if hectic, two days. A bit much this side of the HT but I'd gotten away with it and had huge fun to boot. I'm still swithering about SS for the Highland Trail but I'll see what the weather looks like and decide then.

The route is a cracker so fair play to Chris for scoping it out. If you were to glance casually at a map and try to plot a similar route out it wouldn't be immediately obvious without a lot of Trunk road bashing so top marks for that. Get out and do it. Its harder than the Cairngorms loop in terms of climbing but more rideable terrain wise. Its not quite the suffer fest that is the YD300 but the trails are more varied. The scenery is ace and best of all, there are lots of re-supply opportunities so (unlike me) you' don't need to carry much grub. :-bd

I'll do a longer write up on the blog with a more in depth blow by blow report of the trail
Last edited by htrider on Mon May 03, 2021 4:31 pm, edited 3 times in total.

Verena
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Re: Riding round the Trossachs

Post by Verena » Mon May 03, 2021 7:20 am

Enjoyed that read, thanks

Landslide
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Re: Riding round the Trossachs

Post by Landslide » Mon May 03, 2021 7:58 am

Mmm, ditto.
I'll wave it under the nose of my mate from Dollar, reckon it'd be a nice excuse to visit him.

benp1
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Re: Riding round the Trossachs

Post by benp1 » Mon May 03, 2021 8:37 am

Cracking write up and photos. What an vaguely exciting area to have near you!

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RIP
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Re: Riding round the Trossachs

Post by RIP » Mon May 03, 2021 8:38 am

Stupendous write-up Phil - it's got it all: mega views, mountains, towns, bit of local history, bit of politics, and even three breakfasts :-bd
"My God, I'm two-thirds of the way to the grave and what have I done?" - RIP

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Re: Riding round the Trossachs

Post by ScotRoutes » Mon May 03, 2021 10:20 am

Ooh. Fabby. Sounds like just the right distance/difficulty level, especially if it's almost all rideable.

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whitestone
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Re: Riding round the Trossachs

Post by whitestone » Mon May 03, 2021 12:54 pm

Nice one Phil. Should be plenty of time to recover in time for the HT.

I remember that lochan you bivvied at from when we did parts of the Wild About Argyll trail a couple of years ago.
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Re: Riding round the Trossachs

Post by sean_iow » Mon May 03, 2021 7:41 pm

Cracking write up that, and I agree, it's a great route. Can't believe I've got a bivi spot named after me in Scotland, that's proper fame :grin:

Oddly, when I was planning my ride I had earmarked your bivi spot for my first night but due to car issues and waiting for the AA I stated late so didn't get that far. You started too early for mine :lol: The bridge was still there when I went by, albeit with holes in the deck.

As for the bridge I photographed in the dark, isn't that on the other side of the loch to the HT route? Or is it the other side this year?
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htrider
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Re: Riding round the Trossachs

Post by htrider » Mon May 03, 2021 9:14 pm

Cheers all
sean_iow wrote:
Mon May 03, 2021 7:41 pm
As for the bridge I photographed in the dark, isn't that on the other side of the loch to the HT route? Or is it the other side this year?
The HT is using the south side this year for a change so twas handy to recce it.

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Re: Riding round the Trossachs

Post by sean_iow » Mon May 03, 2021 9:42 pm

When I rode the south side I thought, 'this is much rougher than the other side, I guess that's why the HT goes that way' :grin:
Adventure without risk is Disneyland - Bikemonger

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Re: Riding round the Trossachs

Post by thenorthwind » Mon May 03, 2021 9:58 pm

Great read Phil, thanks.

Good to have a reminder about this route too. Definitely one to keep in mind. The scenery looks stunning.

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JimmyG
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Re: Riding round the Trossachs

Post by JimmyG » Tue May 04, 2021 11:50 am

Excellent write-up Phil :-bd
One day, you’ll wake up and there won't be any more time to do the thing you always wanted to do. Do it now. – Paolo Coelho

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Re: Riding round the Trossachs

Post by Charliecres » Wed May 05, 2021 10:08 am

Marvellous. Very much enjoyed that :-bd

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ChrisS
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Re: Riding round the Trossachs

Post by ChrisS » Mon May 10, 2021 8:50 am

Nice write up Phil and great to hear the Lomond Trossachs Loop has had another completion. Enjoyed the extended account on your blog too, but disappointing to hear about the gravel tyre tracks on the pass over to Glen Lednock :lol: :lol:

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htrider
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Re: Riding round the Trossachs

Post by htrider » Mon May 10, 2021 1:15 pm

ChrisS wrote:
Mon May 10, 2021 8:50 am
Nice write up Phil and great to hear the Lomond Trossachs Loop has had another completion. Enjoyed the extended account on your blog too, but disappointing to hear about the gravel tyre tracks on the pass over to Glen Lednock :lol: :lol:
Cheers Chris
As soon as I saw those tyre tracks I burst out laughing! I can't imagine 40mm clements were much fun on the stony descent to Glen Lednock...

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Re: Riding round the Trossachs

Post by JoseMcTavish » Mon May 17, 2021 3:20 pm

Really enjoyed that - always a good sign when I feel the need to have OS Maps open in another window as I read! :-bd

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htrider
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Re: Riding round the Trossachs

Post by htrider » Mon May 17, 2021 5:05 pm

JoseMcTavish wrote:
Mon May 17, 2021 3:20 pm
Really enjoyed that - always a good sign when I feel the need to have OS Maps open in another window as I read! :-bd
Thanks Craig, just re-read your HT550 account - I'm very jealous of the weather you had....

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Re: Riding round the Trossachs

Post by JoseMcTavish » Mon May 17, 2021 11:21 pm

:lol: Not as jealous as I am of everyone doing it this week! Though the weather did take the mickey that year. :cool:

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Re: Riding round the Trossachs

Post by Alan63 » Tue May 18, 2021 9:52 am

Thanks for posting. I enjoyed the Directors Cut in your blog.

Fraser and I stayed in Abyssinia bothy a couple of years ago. I really liked it. MBA have done a good job. I had passed the old house years earlier when it was a bit of a state on the way out from Ben Vane. I was curious to see what it was like.

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Re: Riding round the Trossachs

Post by EdwardH » Sun May 30, 2021 5:04 am

There's more than pensioners in Helensburgh, and you rode past the end of my drive.

That looks a cracking loop to have a go at right from my front door.

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