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Cycle rides from The Observatory

 

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Bikes can be hired form Escape Route in Atholl Road (01796 473859 www.escape-route.biz) - it is one of the first shops that you pass as you come in to town from the south. 

 

All these routes are on cycle tracks or very quiet roads.  I plan to add some mountain bike routes at a later date.  Feel free to print out these routes, if you intend to follow them.

 

Tim

 

Loch Tummel Loop – approximately 32 miles

Free-wheeling from Dalwhinnie – approximately 28 miles

The quick Ballanluig loop – approximately 12 miles

Aberfeldy and Schiehallion – approximately 37 miles

 

 

Loch Tummel Loop – approximately 32 miles

 

My favourite.  Turn right at the end of the drive and go across the dam.  Follow the road up past the theatre, towards the A9.  As the A9 hoves into view, you see a path behind the road’s crash barriers going north.  It passes in front of the entrance of Portnacraig House.  This path initially follows the route of the A9, then cuts though a small wood beside the road.  After less than a mile, the path emerges though a five bar gate onto the ‘Foss road’, which has just come off the A9.  Foss Road is a tiny, single track that follows the Linn of Tummel to the side of the Loch itself.

 

Initially the road climbs up the side of the valley.  Some of the ascents are very punishing indeed, but all are short lived.  As the road rises it passes at least one standing stone and the monumental arch that marks the entrance to the Errochty power station.  The toughest climb of all is the last, you will know that you have climbed as much as you will have to, when Bonskied House, a vast nineteenth century baronial pile comes into view.

 

The road thereafter is among the most dramatic and pleasurable you are every likely to speed along.  It drops to the loch side affording views of unbroken water up ahead.  Several times the road disappears into woods, only to emerge to another spectacular vista.  The road is very quite, it is easy to cycle its lengths without seeing a single car.  And locals tend to drive very considerately.  In the high summer, however, don’t abandon all caution, occasional cars also indulge in ‘closed road’ fantasies, so you sometimes need to respond quickly.

 

Foss, towards the end of the road is scarcely a hamlet, but is marked by a sturdy little Church.  At the end of the road is a ‘T’ junction.  Turn left to climb over Schiehallion, turn right down to Tummel Bridge.  Past the power station, the road forces you over the bridge – take the old one for better views – and to a junction where the right turn to Pitlochry is marked.  At Tummel Bridge refreshments are sometimes available at the campsite and you can always fill your water bottles in the laundry block (follow the road into the camp on the opposite side to the shop and the pool).

 

The road back is easier and you should usually have the wind behind you.  The views of the loch are from a higher vantage point.  After Strathtummel the road rises steadily.  You know that you are nearly as high as you need go when, rather bizarrely, the legs and feet of people visiting the Queen’s View appear in the trees above.  Thereafter, the road falls quickly, affording an exhilarating last rush.  There is another slight climb at the foot of Glen Fincastle, when you go around the extraordinary gate-house of Bonskied house.  Thereafter, it is another rush down to Garry Bridge, where you turn right to return to Pitlochry.

 

The road after that is the old A9 that in two easy miles brings you back on to Athol Road, from the North. 

 

 

Free-wheeling from Dalwhinnie – approximately 28 miles

 

This is a cheat’s ride, but a fantastic way to spend an afternoon.  Its great appeal is that the road rises by more than 1,000 feet between Pitlochry and Dalwhinnie.  Take a train up the hill and then freewheel down the 28 miles of dedicated cycle track nearly all the way back.

 

Take you bike onto a north-bound train.  Really you should pre-book your bike as the rolling stock is very limited in the number of bikes it will take.  Particularly in the summer, there tend to be lots of people with bikes going north.  However, in reality, it is usually possible to get on with your bike willy-nilly.  The worst that can happen is that you are put off at Blair Atholl.  While on the train, if there are lots of bikes, you might have to stay with your own to move it for people going up and down the train.

 

The train ride takes a spectacular route though the Pass of Killiecrankie over the castleated bridges of the Highland Railway.  Thereafter the countryside become more and more desolate as the loco drags you up to Drummochter.

 

It takes less that half an house to reach Dalwhinnie, where the station is set a little apart from the village.  The main attraction at the village is the distillery, the product of which is exceptional. Apart from that there is little to detain you.

 

From Dalwhinnie the cycle track isn’t desperately well signposted at the outset, but as you can see it from the road, if you head for the A9 you cannot miss it. From the railway station, cycle down the long road on to the main road, then turn right, away from the village.  Once you are on the cycle path, the need to navigate is over.  The track varies from sections of the old A9 to purpose-built sections that are metalled or in one or two sections covered in cinders.  And for the last few miles, the route is on a section of the old A9 that is shared with cars.  The signs are better at the end.

 

It is a journey of dramatic contrasts. From Dalwhinnie the road rises, almost impercebtibly for the six miles to Drummochter. At this height - over 1,500 feet - the weather can change quickly, so don't set out entirely without warm clothes, even in the middle of the summer.  At the Drummochter summit, the mountains are high and desolate. The most imposing peaks, to your right are the Boar of Badenoch and the Sow of Atholl.   There are few trees, almost no houses and, as the snow poles hint, the road is often impassable during the winter. At Dalnaspindal -a former station - there are spectacular views up Loch Garry.  As you drop, the barren moorland gives way to dense, tree covered hillsides that are at their most dramatic as you descend though the Pass of Killicrankie. The first place to get any food is the House of Bruar, nearly 20 miles from Dalwhinnie, so either eat first or pack a snack. Beyond Bruar, the route is entirely on the old A9, though Blair Atholl.

 

The quick Ballanluig loop – approximately 12 miles

 

A short ride that gives a good impression of the beauty of the Tay valley.

 

Leave the Observatory and turn right.  Carry on over the dam and pass in front of the theatre.  At the T junction after the theatre turn left, back towards the town.  After about 100 meters, there is a turning to the right that takes you along the western side of the valley.  Almost as soon as you turn, there is a standing stone with a small explanatory sign.  Typical of early valley-side roads, this one climbs and falls though farms and fields before eventually dropping to down Logierait.

 

Turn left and follow the main road over the A9 at Ballinluig.  It is possible to get a cup of tea at the excellent Garden Centre.  There is also a curious shop specialising in fishing tackle and stuffed animals, if you are looking to kill a little time.

 

Most traffic at Ballinluig heads straight on to the A9 to return to Pitlochry, and indeed, there is a National Cycle route that runs beside sections of the A9.  A more interesting route climbs up the hillside from Ballinluig, signposted for Dalcapon.  The climbs are tougher on the return route than the outward.  Follow this road along the side of the valley until it comes out on the East Haugh Road, which in turn meets the main road though Pitlochry, just to the south of the town.

 

Aberfeldy and Schiehallion – approximately 37 miles

 

This is far the toughest route, with a serious climb.  It would make a good day ride for an infrequent cyclist or a serious work out for someone who is fitter.

 

Start at for the ‘Loch Tummel Loop’ (described above), getting on to the Foss Road and continuing until nearly the half way point, where you meet the ‘T’ junction just after Foss.  Instead of turning right, to Bridge of Tummell, turn left for Aberfeldy.

 

The road climbs for several miles into wilder landscapes more reminiscent of the higher peaks.  The route to Scihallion itself is on the couple of miles of flat at the top of the climb.  A preserved limb kiln at the top gives an idea of how life once was for the earlier inhabitants of Atholl.

 

The descent is long and satisfying, dropping to the valley bottom beside the Tay.  The road continues down the strath, past the village of Dull and Castle Menzies.  Just before the Castle, the House of Menzies is a beautifully converted farm steading that now operates as a café, art gallery and wine dealer.  The combination might sound odd, but the environment is sublime.  Castle Menzies is a good example of a more elaborate sixteenth century fortified house – albeit with the kind of quirky contents that typifies private museums. 

 

At Weem, you have a choice.  Either turn right, across the fabulous Thomas Telford bridge, or carry straight on the Strathtay.  If you are not in a hurry, go into Aberfeldy, have a look around and then come back to Weem to take the quieter and more interesting route though Strathtay.

 

Aberfeldy is Pitlochry’s great rival in Highland Perthshire with numerous shops and attractions.  You will find the main-road route back to Pitlochry by continuing though the town and following the signs.  So long as you don’t turn right to Kenmore, you can’t go wrong.

 

The road from Weem is a among the loveliest and most interesting in the area.  It is very quite, although given that it is narrow, you need to take a bit of care in case of cars.  Most importantly you see a lot of the river, which by this stage has a broad and rushing course.  And there are some fascinating houses – the largest of which are part of an unusual feuing pattern developed in the nineteenth century to provide ‘mini’ 1,000 acre estates providing for grouse shooting, deer stalking, farming and salmon fishing.

 

The first house, Killiechassie belongs to author JK Rowling.  A little further along (and signposted) is the garden at Cluny House where the local vet devoted his life to creating a Himilayn garden that is now open to the public.  Strathtay itself is among the most well-heeled villages in Scotland.  Look carefully though the trees at the end of the village to see one of the finest houses recently built in Scotland in the grounds of Tulliepowrie – it is the glass boxes on the roof that you will see first.

 

Before Logierait this road will return you to the main route back on to the A9.  From here there are three choices.  If you energy is waning a thrash up the A9 is the quickest way home.  Alternativly you can take either the west of the east valley side routes described above in ‘Ballanluig Loop’.  The first of these two requires you to take a left turn in Logierait almost opposite the pub.

 

 

For more routes, have a look at http://www.cyclingscotland.com/

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Tim Dawson tim@timdawsn.demon.co.uk
Telephone: 07984 165251

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