Lomond Trossachs Loop

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sean_iow
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Lomond Trossachs Loop

Post by sean_iow » Fri Sep 25, 2020 2:38 pm

Scotland is a long way from my house so if I’m going to travel all that way I had better make the most of it. I was heading up for the Cairngorms Loop (CL) group start but that’s ‘only’ 300km so I’d need another ride as well. I had first seen Chris’s Lomond Trossachs Loop (LTL) on Instagram just after he had finished it and it seemed just the thing for my trip. Having then seen the pictures on the ‘It’s my party and I’ll race if I want to’ thread I was sold on the idea.

I had originally planned to ride the CL on the Saturday/Sunday, then sleep Sunday night and get an early start on the Monday on the LTL. Luckily, I realised the folly of this plan and allowed myself a rest day on the Monday. Immediately after the CL I was pretty broken, the strong winds had taken it out of me, not to mention the chaffing caused by 20+ hours of riding in wet bibs, the start of trench foot (and maybe trench hand?) from the river crossings which meant my feet never got to dry out, a slight pull to me achilles from the pushing and assorted cuts and bruises from the general effort of riding/pushing/stumbling/crashing my way around 300km of the Cairngorms. The LTL was the last thing I wanted to do.

As the Monday wore on and I ate more, applied sudacream and relaxed in the sun I came round to the idea of another ride, so with the kit sorted and the body on the mend I planned to set off Tuesday morning, drive to Aberfoyle and just see how I got on. If it came to it I could just ride a short way, bivi to get in September’s BAM and then head back. Whitestone also came to the rescue as he and Cath were staying at the same campsite as me after the CL, they had gone out for lunch so a quick message saw them locate some Kinsology tape for me to strap up my achilles, this has the added benefit of making you look like a real athlete.

A slightly later start than planned, due to a flat battery on the car requiring the AA (actually the man from Blair Athol Garage) to attend to jump start the car and I was soon sat in the car at the car park in Aberfoyle watching the rain run down the windows. Luckily my late start meant that I missed most of the rain and I was soon rolling along easy double track through Loch Ard Forest. Once out of the forest the views opened up.

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At this point I was still undecided about my plans as despite the relatively gentle gradients I was finding the riding hard going and I had very little energy. The route turned north and climbed to 1160ft with a view out over Loch Lommond.

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It then descended 1080 feet in just over a mile down a rocky and loose double-track. There was no way I was riding back up that and with my achillies issue probably also no way I was pushing back up it, so looks like I’m committed to ride to the end then! The route now joins the West Highland Way (WHW) and I had walked parts of it before so knew it would be technical and narrow. I think I rode all the sections I could have, spurred on by a steady stream of on-looking backpackers who were snaking their way north. Conditions could not have been more different than the CL. Where then we had only inebriated youths at the 24hr garage at Aviemore as they made their way home from the pub in the rain I now had the sight of young couples leaping off the jetties to swim in the warm waters of the Loch.

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Turning away from the loch we now cut across some farmland, the boggy ground requiring a higher effort to cross. For the first 30 miles I had managed to keep my feet dry. The first river crossing was managed with the use of the bike for support and the stepping stones to enable the dry feet to continue.

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Unfortunately the next river was only some 500 yards further on and no stepping stones had been provided so back to wet feet then. Some handy road riding on quiet lanes deposited my at Balloch. The route leaves the park opposite the chippy so chips and sausage for dinner then. Just enough easy gradient followed to start digesting this before the steep climb up toward Ben Bowie and then the route plummeted down to Helensburgh. My MSR filter was playing up and was hardly pumping any water. I had a roll up platypus water carrier in my rucksack I had planned to use to collect water before biving so I would have plenty for breakfast but could also stop away from the rivers and midges. A quick stop at the garage sorted the water issue with 2 litres distributed between the bottles on the bike and the rest in the carrier. The route climbs through the centre of town so those arriving earlier would have a great choice of food and resupply options. The route follows a dead straight road and climbs over 500 feet before turning off-road once more. It was now 8pm and getting dark and I was thinking about where to stop. My late start meant I wasn’t as far as I’d have hoped to be and I needed to be finished by Thursday lunchtime for the drive south. I decided I would ride on until 11pm and then bivi at the first suitable spot I came to.

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The route runs along the edge of a firing range, this didn’t seem a sensible place to camp and the ground wasn’t ideal and there was no shelter. Once back in the woods there were huts at intervals, triangular in section, with sleeping platforms but they were all locked, probably used by the army. Eventually I passed under a railway (although I didn’t realise at the time) and there was a sign warning the bridge ahead was out of use and to cross here instead. I couldn’t see how I’d get over the wide concrete channel so rode on. Another hut appeared which was unlocked but also in a state of disrepair with the floor partially collapsed and the timber sleeping platforms had been ripped out and the timber used as a make-shift deck to repair the out of use bridge which was complete with bits of hazard tape dangling from the railings where it had been torn off. Immediately after this I spotted a flat area just off the track in the trees so that would do for the first night, it was only 10:30pm but that would do. It had taken me just over 9 hours to cover the first 60 miles so actually not to bad a days effort. Just as I had finished pithing the tarp a train went by, the track was only some 20 yards up-slope from me, but I was too tired to think about packing up and moving so I’d just have to get woken up by them. As it happened no more trains went past until after 06:30 the next day.

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I slept well but all too soon it was time to get up and going again. Despite the alarm going off at 06:30 it was just after 08:00 before I’d had breakfast 1 and was packed and on my way. Following the Three Lochs Way around to Tarbet looked easy on the map but the recent rain made the going very muddy, which was not something I was expecting, I thought mud was a southern thing and it was all rock this far north?

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Tarbet Village Stores came to the rescue with a bacon roll and coffee for breakfast 2. After here the route turns up a path which seemed to be very busy, I later realised it’s on the way up to the Cobler. With walkers to impress I had to put in the effort and managed to ride nearly all the way, including the numerous steep switch-backs, I was soon turning off their route and descending down to cross the A83 and then start climbing again up to Corran Lochan just below Clach Bheinn which was the spot I’d originally hoped to get to on my first day.

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Following the singletrack through the woods my growing confidence took a knock, along with my body, when an innocuous looking puddle turned out to be much deeper hole that launched me OTB. Shaken but not stirred I remounted and before long it was the 900 foot climb up through the woods to Rest and Be Thankful, which I did and was. They are undertaking a repair scheme to deal with a landslip and the lady at Tarbet Stores had advised there was a convey system and that they would ferry the bike through.

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Luckily the route didn’t go down this section so it was a super-fast road descent before turning north up through Glen Kinglas. I find it difficult to adjust to the scale of Scotland as I’m not used to the sight of the route disappearing into the distance with no sign of the end but if you just keep peddling the end will eventually appear, In this case a double track descent dropping 1000 feet in about 3 miles. This terrain is perfect for the Spearfish (or is that the other way round) and unlike on the rigid bike I could let the bike just glide/float over the track at speed.

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On the rigid bike tracks like this would be fine and then suddenly there’d be a section with larger loose rock, not able to scrub off speed in time I’d have to just hang on and hope for the best, but now these were no longer a case of surviving as the suspension just soaks it up and I emerge unscathed.

A very brief spell on the A82 and past the famous Drovers pub (I went there in 2012 and it looked like they hadn’t cleaned it since 1812 which was the ‘attraction’ but not sure what they’ve done now with C-19) and it was back on the WHW. Some sections have been affected by flooding with the house next to this crossing proving a temporary bridge.

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I just rode straight across next to it, it seemed the easier option. The WHW provided some of the hardest sections, an official diversion up-steam around a missing bridge was a very hard push up a boggy slope, the climb after crossing under the railway was a carry/push up a boggy/rocky slope and of course the WHW is also quite technical in places. One drop-off from a rock step ended with another OTB which resulted in landing face down with the bike hitting my back ensuring I hit the ground full force with a loud crack. I’ve not been able to decide if the crack was me or the bike but I think if it was a cracked rib it would hurt more? After checking no-one saw I picked myself up and got back to it. After leaving the WHW for a section of cycle path with a perfect finish I arrived at probably the most famous bike rack in the world of bikepack racing?

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The Real Food Café have installed an outside sink with hot water for C-19 prevention but equally as useful when you’ve got muddy hands. They wanted me to place my order using their App but I said I didn’t want to turn my phone data on as I was saving the battery. I asked the server if she could take my order? She eventually agreed and as she had the tablet with the ordering system in her hand it didn’t seem like too much of a hardship. Having finished my fish and chips, plus a large slice of rainbow cake I called in at the Green Welly shop for some Turkish delights (3 bars) and a scotch pie. The route then follows the HT550 route. On the previous occasions I’d ridden it I hadn’t realised it’s all uphill from Tyndrum to Loch Lyon, but on those occasions it’s on fresh legs with people around and the excitement of the race to sweep you along. I’ve admired this viaduct on previous trips but have always been in too much of a hurry to stop and take a picture.

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The columns strike me as quite slender but it’s stayed up so they must be ok. Once at the western end of Loch Lyon it’s time to leave the familiar track from the HT550 and head along the southern side.

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It was just starting to get dark but still just light enough to ride without lights on. This side of the lock seems more remote than the side I’m used to riding along, but that might have been because it was getting dark and there was no moon so before long it was pitch black. The track isn’t as good as the northern side but still all rideable… well nearly all

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I chose to cross the river next to this, wet feet seemed better than falling to my death. Once at the end of the Loch the route turns south and climbs a tamac road, another of those constructed for a hydro scheme perhaps? It was a welcome opportunity to make some faster progress, followed by a long descent down to Killin. By now I was thinking about where to stop. After passing through Killin I was on a quite road when I spotted a gap in the hedge with a grassy field next to some firs, suddenly remembering I’m allowed to camp here as I’m in Scotland I tuned off and rode in. It was only just after 10:30pm but I’d covered another 80 miles so that would do for the day. I wasn’t the first to camp here as the remains of a fire showed where a less considerate previous occupant had been. Tarp up, into dry clothes and into my bag. After about 10 minutes I suddenly woke up shaking and feeling very nauseous, I had no idea what was causing it but had a mild panic that if I was still like that in the morning there was no way I could ride on. I had enough food for a rest day if needed (taking a zero in through hiker speak) but that wouldn’t be ideal. Luckily in the morning I was back to normal. Chores done I was packed up and away by 07:30.

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Most important of the chores, the little tin with Dave’s face is Bum Butter, I needed a sticker to identify it and that just happened to be to hand. The road I turned off was closer than I thought when it got light.

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Several cars went past but unless they had been looking out of the passenger window they wouldn’t have seen me as they sped past on the way to work.

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It’s amazing how much stuff can be carried on a bike with careful packing, no wonder it takes me over an hour to have breakfast and get packed up. Within a few minutes of getting going I was on a 1200 foot climb, at least it warmed me up. Eventually ending up a dam, water levels looking very low, it was then along the hydro track. Tapping on this pipe seemed to indicate it was empty, a sign of the dry summer, or perhaps no longer needed?

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Without the tracks put in to enable to construction of these projects it would be hard going as I was about to find out.

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The track just stops but the GPX continues on. I stood looking at it for a minute before I remembered that Chris had said it stops and it’s cross country to the next. This was both a relief that I was going the right way and also part dread at what might be next. What was next was pushing/lifting/dragging across what seemed like an endless expanse of boggy/heather covered hill. In reality it’s only just over a mile but it seemed longer. Looking back to where I’d just been

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And how much fun I was having

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Having decided I’d risk taking my helmet off as at 0.0001 mph I’d be ok if I fell over.

Once back on another hydro track progress seemed blistering fast compared to the previous mile, helped by the general downward trend of the route. Onto well-maintained estate tracks with bridges, what a great invention they are, they should let someone in the Cairngorms know about them :wink:

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I didn’t need to stop at Cornie as I had plenty of supplies. It was strange to be back on roads with traffic and pedestrians to avoid. Before I knew it I was passing through Callander and before long I was riding past the shore of Loch Venachar. Turning off for a big climb up a logging road I decided to stop and eat my scotch pie, knowing all too soon I’d be finished and my riding in Scotland would be over for another year. I could have happily sat there for hours just soaking up the sun and views but I did have to get back to the car so off I went, looking over my shoulder at the Loch which grew ever smaller as I climbed up the slope, less than 6 miles left to go.

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After one last sting in the tale, as section of overgrown singletrack with a good logging road only meters away it was a fast descent down through the woods and back to the car. Total time 49 hrs and 39 minutes. I had turned my garmin off when I got to a bivi spot and back on just before riding off, it shows a total time of 30 hrs 51 minutes, so I must have spent nearly 19 hours stopped setting up/sleeping and packing up.

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The overall average of 6.1mph excluding the bivi time is quite respectable given the terrain and stopping for hot food on both nights so given how fatigued I was at the start I’m pleased with that. I recorded 188 miles and 21,868 ft of climbing.

I’m also please I made the effort to ride it, it’s a cracking route that covers the whole of the National Park. If ridden over 3 full days and 2 nights you would have time for more stops and actually it could be ridden over 4 days 3 nights as there’s more than enough cafes and pubs to use up the time eating and drinking. Equally, you could thrash round in under 30 hours if you wanted, perhaps I’ll do that next time, or perhaps I’ll take some company and choose the 4 day option.

Thanks to Chris for putting this together, an instant classic :-bd I also got my time on the website as the first completion, route planners don’t count :smile: I deliberately set the bar low to encourage others to have a go :wink:
Adventure without risk is Disneyland - Bikemonger

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htrider
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Re: Lomond Trossachs Loop

Post by htrider » Fri Sep 25, 2020 2:52 pm

:-bd
Good Effort Sean and bonus points for bagging a Scottish 'double' - two 300's in one week!
PS - the 'firing range' is full of nukes.... :lol:

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RIP
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Re: Lomond Trossachs Loop

Post by RIP » Fri Sep 25, 2020 2:56 pm

Like the ladder bridge! Maybe we should all carry telescopic ladders to help us across those troublesome watercourses. Telescopic wellies'd probably be easier tbh.
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stevewaters
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Re: Lomond Trossachs Loop

Post by stevewaters » Fri Sep 25, 2020 3:35 pm

Fantastic ! - I was chuckling all the way through. - Thanks for sharing your adventure.

Glad to see that (ex?)-Goths do need some sleep!

This was already high on my list after reading Chris' account. It's now even higher up !

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sean_iow
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Re: Lomond Trossachs Loop

Post by sean_iow » Fri Sep 25, 2020 5:45 pm

htrider wrote:
Fri Sep 25, 2020 2:52 pm
PS - the 'firing range' is full of nukes.... :lol:
It looked like it was full of ticks and boggy water, either way I wasn't sleeping there :lol:
RIP wrote:
Fri Sep 25, 2020 2:56 pm
Like the ladder bridge! Maybe we should all carry telescopic ladders to help us across those troublesome watercourses. Telescopic wellies'd probably be easier tbh.
It reminded me of the bridges over crevasses, I assume when the water level is higher it's more tempting for the walkers, unless it's just got washed down to there and landed like that by coincidence.
stevewaters wrote:
Fri Sep 25, 2020 3:35 pm
Glad to see that (ex?)-Goths do need some sleep!
My stopped time shows that when I do stop to sleep I tend to find it hard to get up and going again, that's why I don't stop on events up to 300km, I'd come in hours behind everyone if I did.
stevewaters wrote:
Fri Sep 25, 2020 3:35 pm
This was already high on my list after reading Chris' account. It's now even higher up !
I highly recommended it, and without the pressure of the clock* it was even better. To be able to stop and chat to people and take in the view was just the tonic after the pressure to keep moving on the CL

* I did have one eye on the clock as I needed to be finished Thursday lunchtime ish but I didn't have to push myself to get round, which was lucky. When I built the Spearfish the lowest gear (34/42) seemed very low on the Island..... it got plenty of use with my tired legs on the LTL :grin:
Adventure without risk is Disneyland - Bikemonger

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ChrisS
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Re: Lomond Trossachs Loop

Post by ChrisS » Fri Sep 25, 2020 7:58 pm

Great write-up Sean, it's strange but quite satisfying to read someone else's account of a route you put together. Glad that it seemed to hang together as a coherent route. Still impressed at your motivation to take this on after completing the CL so quickly in sub-optimal conditions!

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Re: Lomond Trossachs Loop

Post by slarge » Fri Sep 25, 2020 8:18 pm

Good write up Sean, you’ll be ready for the bb300 now.

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