Perth to Aviemore
The architects of the student accommodation in which I stayed last night obviously didn’t regard soundproofing as a high priority when designing it, as was evidenced by the clarity with which I heard the conversation of the other occupants when they turned up at 2.15 am this morning. I really didn’t need to know from one particularly loud Scottish lass that she did have three room keys earlier, and didn’t know why she only had two now. I can only suppose that they left again to search for aforementioned key, to return around 3 am. The conversation did, however, give brief aural respite from the snoring coming through the rice paper ceiling from the floor above.
I had been warm during the night, although the night itself was not, and when stripping the bed in the morning I found out why – a 10.5 tog duvet.
One plastic cup of porridge and two maple pecan danishes later, I packed up, and was away by 8.45 am, once again never having seen the people with whom I was staying. I had wanted to get a bit of an earlier start, as this day’s trip was hanging over me, being the largest on paper, especially in terms of height climbed.
As I headed north, I saw for the first time in the trip, arable land, in place of the livestock and forestry that had surrounded me up to this point.
I was able to avoid the A9 by taking parallel, smaller roads, and it was on one of these that I saw a flock (?) of grouse (grise?!) on the road ahead of me. Only two remained by the time I had got my camera ready, apart from a couple that were going nowhere, flattened as they had been by passing traffic.
Before that I had seen another bird of prey, most probably a buzzard, swoop down from some trees and fly along the road ahead of me, before alighting in another tree. It was magical, and made the contrast even starker when two minutes later I joined the A9, and was assaulted by the noise of traffic, replacing the wind, bird calls, and mountain streams that I had begun to take for granted over the previous days. I couldn’t wait to get off it, which thankfully happened quite quickly.
One of the smaller roads took me to a private bridge, with a wooden floor. While I was wondering how safe it would be, a Land Rover drove over it, quelling any fear I might have had.
At Pitlochry, having been going for a couple of hours, I stopped at the theatre for a coffee and scone. I then made good progress through Blair Atholl.
A few miles further on I had a decision to make – would I take the A9, with all its traffic, or take the National Cycle Network (NCN) route 7, which went over the Pass of Drumochter. I had heard reports that the surface was not great, and there were signs warning of possible severe weather, albeit mostly during winter months.
I decided to take the NCN 7, and hoped that the surface wouldn’t be too bad. Thankfully it wasn’t, and it also wasn’t as remote as I had feared, as it ran quite close to the A9, and right alongside it in places. The climb was long, but steady. In places, the path was so overgrown that my panniers brushed the wild flowers on both sides at once. I did need to get my armwarmers and gilet on as I climbed into the cloud and the rain came on (Kevin wouldn’t call it rain, and perhaps now neither would I – moisture in the air, maybe?).
A few miles from the top I met a couple of cyclists coming the other way, who confirmed to me that the surface got no worse, and told me that I would have a nice tailwind once the descent started.
They didn’t lie, and the descent was swift, especially when I eventually got spat out onto the A9. After the slower pace on the cycle track, I was glad to able to keep my speed above 30mph for much of the descent, and almost missed the turning to the next section of cycle track. At this lower height, the cycle track was also more like a road, so my speeds were not much slower.
Gilet first, and then armwarmers were dispensed with as I left the rain (?) behind, and I was blown into Aviemore in double quick time, and in good time to see Mark Cavendish win the final stage of the Tour de France on the Champs Elysées for the fourth year in a row.
The day ended up with only half the climbing that had been promised, and less than the second day that I had found so hard. I am at the same time relieved and disappointed. Relieved that the day wasn’t as arduous as I had anticipated, and disappointed that I didn’t see more of the Cairngorms due to the cloud. I will just have to get really fit, lose some more weight, and then come back here to tackle the mountain roads themselves!
Off into Aviemore for tea now, as I am feeling ravenous, having missed out on lunch in my hurry to see the TdF!
Day 4 statistics
Miles ridden: 83.7
Height climbed: 3685 feet (only!)
Grouse seen: Lots and lots
Grouse photographed: 2