Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Spittal - it's not What You Think! Perth to Braemar

Friday 21 June, 2013
40 miles uphill - into Blairgowrie - suggestions for riding uphill - riding  to the Spittal - climbing up the Glen - gliding down to Braemar

40 miles uphill

Every morning, no exceptions, I wake up with a tasty sense of expectation about the day ahead, even this morning, after a night of traffic whishing past the house..... which could have induced bad dreams about the vehicles to come on today's route, a long climb to the top of Glen Shee then downhill to Braemar.

The profile of today's route. It reminds me of the profile of a man's face. The man has a large, pointed nose.

A fine breakfast in this beautifully furnished B and B with chocolates in the rooms and scented lotions on the bathroom, and out into a droopy day, mist below the ridges and still, sluggish damp in the air.

Within five minutes I saw a red squirrel making a self-destructive dash along the roadway. I can't describe the darting, flighty, delicate gait of these tiny animals but I feared for its safety. In the first 40 years of last century, the Highland Squirrel Club killed more than 100,00 of these creatures, till someone said: “ Whoops! We're running out of red squirrels.” Now they are fiercely protected. They need to be if they all have the same disregard for self as the little darter I saw today.

I saw, also early in the first hour, and it was a shock, a red deer fawn, dead, eyes glazed and staring at the side of the road. I soon was less surprised.

A few miles on the way, uphill and the country still farmland with trees on the high hills.

My road , the A 93 and the only one north from here ( I followed it all day), was narrow and busy with traffic, some of it with an inflated sense of importance. Not the cars, not the trucks, but the service vans - some of them overtaking close and at speed: “ Out of my way, slowcoach. I've business to do.”

One other gripe and believe me, I'm just telling you how it was. I'm not in a whining mood. The road surface was awful. Holes. The verge broken up. The surface like the lunar landscape. It pained your wrists, juddered the bike, gave you visions about the state of your face if you hit a pot-hole going downhill at 55 kph. In a car you would hear a louder thrumming on this tarmac. On a bike you watch the road with the sharpest stare.

Into Blairgowrie

Aware of the hills to come, I clicked the mind into cruise mode, resolving to stop regularly, drink lots (water of course) and to miss nothing.

I pedalled easily through terrain rising moderately through the greenest pasture, generous stands of trees and only the occasional stone house. This is a sparsely peopled landscape. Scotland has only 5,500,000 Scots spread over 79,000 sq kms (70 people per sq km). That leaves a lot of empty countryside and that's why there's only one town of any size between Perth and Braemar. I rode into Blairgowrie after 90 minutes on the road.

Blairgowrie, where I met up briefly with David, deserves more than the 20 minutes I spent, sitting in the elegant town square , reading the citations on the war memorial and crunching on an Energy bar.

Shops in Blairgowrie, the only town between Perth and Braemar.

Then the climbing started.

Past Blairgowrie, we climb through the farmland , the slopes become steeper and more rocky.

Suggestions for cycling uphill

This approach has worked for me.

  1. Gazing right ahead to the top of the hill causes a sinking feeling in the heart, the mind and the legs. Keep your eyes on the tarmac just in front of the front wheel.
  2. Engage the lowest gear. I climbed all steep hills in the 1:1 gear.
  3. Count each pedal stroke and when you get to 100, stop, catch your breath, slow that beating heart then start again. I was always amazed at the rejuvenating effect of having the briefest stop like this. When you start again it's like you have fresh legs.
  4. Personally I rarely stand on the pedals to get more pump. I prefer to remain seated.
  5. Sometimes you can take a breather, still in the saddle, by resting the left foot on the top of a convenient fence or post, or by leaning against a signpost.
  6. If it gets too tough to pedal, get off and push. There's no shame in it! Many benefits in fact.

    Riding to the Spittal

Spittal, as everyone knows, has nothing to do with the stuff that lubricates your mouth. It comes either from the Latin hospitium, meaning place of refreshment, or from Gaelic, spiddeal, meaning the junction of the glens.

We climbed towards the Spittal of Glenshee, named because there has been an inn there since 961, someone wise realising early that you might need refreshments before, or even after, climbing over the 2000' hill at the top of the Glen.

I was loving this ride. We climbed away from the farmland, the trees thinning out then disappearing. Now only bald, stony, green moorland on each side, views over the valley, the stony streams.. Peaceful. Even the traffic thinned drastically after Blairgowrie and that was a good thing.

Climbing the Glen

Here's how Lonely Planet describes this climb: “....the show-stopper, a long demanding climb up Glen Shee (meaning 'Valley of Peace' in Gaelic) exceptionally steep for the last three miles.

I could see the 'show-stopper' from the bottom of the valley, and I knew I would be pushing but the rest of the climb was ok riding, and the panorama superb.

Glenshee from the bottom of the valley. The summit is over the ridge in the far distance, centre.

I want to tell you about the road-kill, heavier on this road than on any other I have seen. Today I saw, walked through, was amazed at the corpses of sheep, weasels, stoats, rabbits, hares, deer, crows. A quick word about road-killed crows.

A recent study by the Scottish conservation group (“Don't Stone the Crows”) indicated that 98% of road-killed crows were killed by trucks, and only 2% by cars. Apparently crows feeding on the road use a look-out crow in a nearby tree to warn them of traffic. Being crows, they can only squawk: “Cah.... Cah,,,,Cah...” and have no means of alerting their mates to the looming arrival of trucks. Amazing!

Looking back down the Glenshee from half-way up to the little village of Spittal of Glenshee.

Gliding down to Braemar

The top of the Glen was chilling cold, snow still dirty white on the looming peaks. I met David on the north side of the pass and got the details of tonight's lodging.

Looking back to the way I had just come, just before the ski station at the summit. The road snakes downhill steeply towards the Spittal.

The 15 km glide downhill to Braemar was one of the best rides of my life. After 10 kms I stopped, lay on the grass in the lee of a bank, lifted my head to the sun, gazed at the vista and felt the greatest sense of contentment.

Over the summit, out of the cold, and near to Braemar ( under the dark slopes ahead)
 I lay basking in the sun and feeling very satisfied with the day's work.

Weather – dampish, very cold on the tops. Tail wind.

Distance Today Average Speed Max Speed Riding Time Trip Odometer
78.76 15.5 59.3 5h 2m 1248.4

Our B and B in Braemar; Schiehallion House. The little town has a good hotel , and one or two eating places ,the prices  reasonable.

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