I have rarely had a day when I felt less like getting on a bike than today. Although it had been a quiet night, my cold seemed to be taking hold, and my head was blocked when I got up.
It was with no great enthusiasm that I set off just before 9.00, stopping in Braemar to get a banana and a malt loaf, having made cheese and salami sandwiches for myself at breakfast. Braemar is unlike all other mountain villages that I have cycled through, and it must have been built especially for the ruling classes to come and enjoy. Where else in mountain countryside would you get a bowling green, a mews for horses and several ornately built churches?
Last night I had chatted to a man in the same dormitory. He was born in Tomintoul, and remembers the first ‘ski lift’, which consisted of a tractor at one end of the hill and a pulley at the other, driving a rope with knots made in it periodically. You simply had to grab a knot and hang on!
Anyway, this morning he confirmed that the ascent to Glenshee ski resort was relatively gentle from this direction, but that there was a rise in gradient 0.75 miles before the top.
With this in mind, I began my journey south. It was another overcast day, but the cloud was quite high up on the hills. I was glad to be getting the climbing done before the sun came out.
The gradient wasn’t too bad, as I had been told, but I still dipped into the lower gears as I ascended. When I detected it becoming tougher, I did wonder if I was near the summit, and sure enough, the Glenshee ski centre came into view. This time, I had covered 10 miles in an hour – a bit more respectable than yesterday, but then not as steep. I called in for a coffee and a tray bake. It took some charm to persuade the lady behind the counter not to give me filter coffee, but she did eventually make me an espresso and then top it up with hot water, for which I thanked her profusely.
I talked yesterday about there not being many free miles. Well, today I cashed in all my hard-gained feet of ascent, and after the obligatory photo at the top of Britain’s highest road I had some freeeeee miles as I descended, first gingerly, then, having judged the buffeting effect of the wind, at full speed with no brakes on. I was glad to have taken the decision to put my buff round my ears and to don my waterproof, for my legs were pretty cold by the end of the steep section, and the rest of my body would have been too, otherwise.
Although there were a few rises in the road, the main direction of the day was then downhill. There was still a bit of a headwind left over from yesterday, but it was not as strong, maybe due to the lower altitude.
After the Bridge of Cally, I came across some of the worst road surfaces I have encountered this trip. Until the incident with the broken spoke at Altnaharra, I hadn’t given any thought as to the robustness of the wheels, but now, without a further spare, I was holding my breath as I rattled over broken tarmac surfaces on the A93.
Passing through the sizeable town of Blairgowrie, I contemplated stopping at a nice garden in a square in the centre, but listening to the traffic all around, I knew I wouldn’t be able to stick it.
I did stop, for a comfort break and sandwich, a few miles north of Perth, and then saw signs for Scone Palace, home of the Stone of Scone, where Scottish kings had been crowned. I turned in to the driveway, wondering if I would get a glimpse without paying.
I could see a bit of the main house as I approached, and thought I would try my luck. A kind chap on the ticket desk allowed me into the grounds to look at the Palace for a short while without paying, as long as I pushed my bike. Job done!
Back on the road, I was soon in the outskirts of Perth, and firing up my GPS map thingy to navigate to the youth hostel. Although not officially signing people in until 3.00, I was able to get my room (single bed, yippee!), and am now showered and clean. I will have to do some laundry later, and am about to head off to Tesco to get some stuff in for tea and breakfast. Then an evening of relaxation awaits, probably reading about some other cyclist’s misfortunes on the road! The sun has yet to come out, but that’s ok. It was a good day for a cycle after all.