02 July 2013

Scotland Tour Part 1: Edinburgh - Inverness

When events conspired to force us to cancel our planned tour of Iceland, we knew we had to do something to console ourselves. A trip to our favorite place for cycling in the UK was called for, and with our good friend (and cycle touring newbie) Mateo in tow.

We got an early morning train to Edinburgh, and before we knew it we were pushing our bikes out of Waverly station and into the bright Edinburgh sunshine. It was definitely above 20 C (70 F) and the town centre was full of people out enjoying the good weather. We took Mateo on a quick tour of the main sights, since he had never been, and walked our bikes up to Edinburgh Castle to get the obligatory start-of-tour photo. By the time we were ready to set off Northwards, it was 3pm.

Edinburgh Castle
We took a mainly traffic-free route out of Edinbugh, along the coast and then across the Forth Road Bridge. It was only a few hours into the ride but we were already worrying about a noise that Mateo's (£100) bike was making so when we passed a bike shop in Inverkeithing we stopped to get it checked out. The guys were just finishing up for the day but they took the time to investigate -- they were mystified as well but when they eventually decided to try and tension the spokes, they all started breaking! So Mateo bought a new wheel and lo and behold, the noise was gone!

Forth Railway Bridge
We continued on, following NCN route 1 and later route 775. Some sections were a bit obnoxious, offering the choice between bumpy pavements or a relatively busy road, but we eventually came on to quieter roads. We found ourselves in Kinross at around 8pm and stopped to pick up food and water for a wild camp. We also had a quick snack to keep us going as we looked for a place to camp -- I managed to try my first macaroni pie which I absolutely loved!

As we headed on from Kinross we were looking for places to camp, but it actually took a while to find something. Everything was farmland and little towns. Finally, around 9:30pm, we found an excellent spot. It was a big hump in a field, just off the road but because it was raised we were not visible from the road. It required a bit of effort to get up there, but it was great. We set up camp and cooked our pasta and pork steaks for dinner and enjoyed the light evening even though it was past 11pm.

Great wild camp spot
The following morning we woke up and had a breakast of tea and biscuits, broke camp and were on the road around 10:30am. We passed through the town of Bridge of Earn shortly afterwards and then made it to Perth where we were ready for a second breakfast. This bit of the route was not particularly pleasant so we used the GPS to take us on quieter roads after Perth.

We stopped in Coupar Angus to buy lunch for later. From there it was on to Blairgowrie, the gateway to the Cairgorms, and navigation became a non-issue as we were on the only road around (the A93) for about 50km. We had a funny moment on this stretch of road when Mateo was taking a 'natural break', lost his balance with his bike, and peed on himself!

Entering the Cairngorms
By about 5pm we had made it to Spitall of Glenshee where we stopped in the bar of the hotel/lodge to have a hot drink and refill the water bottles. Then it was time for the serious climb up to Glenshee, up to the highest paved road in Scotland. It was a long climb (by UK standards!), gentle for the majority of it and kicking up to a 12% grade towards the end.

Climbing Glenshee (photo credit: Mateo Cordoba)
Finally we reached the top, and put on our waterproofs to provide a windbreak on the descent. And what a descent it was! It lasted all the way to Braemar, where we stopped to buy dinner and pick up water. We headed out of Braemar to find somewhere to camp, and found something only a few km later. Luckily for Mateo it put us at 101km for the day -- his first metric century!

We were in a wooded area near a river, so there were some midges to contend with, but not too bothersome. Alberto and Mateo used their Spanish ingenuity to whip up a stew with carrots, potatoes, meatballs, rice, and tomato. It was delicious! We had Scottish Strawberries for dessert and went to bed with the light finally fading at 11:30. The entire A93 had been one of the best roads we've ever cycled.

View from our wild camp spot outside Braemar
The first stop the following morning was Balmoral Castle - not to actually see the castle itself but to get some water at the vistor's centre nearby. It was a nice sunny day again as we pedalled up the small B976 and then the A939. The climbing wasn't over and we had a couple of pretty steep climbs and not much in the way of towns for most of the morning. We were thrilled to have sunny weather - you could even consider it a bit too hot for all the climbing we were doing!

Enjoying the views in the Cairngorms
In the early afternoon we came upon Cock Bridge, the second highest paved road in the UK. It looked very intimidating, even from afar. Fortunately just as the climb began there was a pub which we stopped at to have a bit of food (not too much or else it would surely come back up somewhere further up the climb!). The only other patron in the pub struck up a conversation with us and next thing you know he was sharing his views on a number of different subjects. It was interesting to say the least!

With a bit of sustenance we set out to tackle the climb from Cock Bridge. It was a 20% incline immediately after the pub, and we all struggled! But we all made it up to the ski resort and then began the descent, during which we passed the largest number of touring cyclists anywhere on the trip (who were all climbing up from the North). We rolled downhill all the way into Tomintoul, a cute town which clearly does well with tourists. It was still such a beautiful day that we bought some snacks from a shop and sat in the sun for a while.

The climb after Cock Bridge
By the time we made it to the next town, Nethy Bridge, the shops had closed -- it seemed we had entered an area where shops were closing at 6pm. Had we known, we could have gone to the bigger town of Grantown, but oh well. We decided our best option would be to go to the campsite in Boat of Garten and find dinner in a pub since we didn't have a lot of supplies for dinner. This all worked well until we got to the pub and were told that they had too many customers to give us dinner! Didn't seem that busy too us, but the pub was a bit posh so maybe they just didn't want to serve the smelly cyclists. Either way, we headed back to the campsite and made do with the emergency food and leftovers in our panniers. Cous cous and risotto fit the bill and we were in bed by 11pm, still with plenty of daylight!

Alberto made a trip to the camp's store in the morning and came back with several exciting breakfast options, including eggs, which turned out not to be that exciting when it came time to washing up the pots. Still, we enjoyed a good breakfast and then headed out to do the 70km to Inverness.

It was mainly downhill and we were motivated to make good time, so we didn't stop much, apart from a quick trip to the Tomatin Whisky Distillery where we had a wee taste and look around their shop. By 2pm we were rolling into Balloch, on the outskirts of Inverness, to restock in the large Tesco there.

Whisky tasting
(to be continued!)


  1. Wow!! what an amazing trip! We did it by car last year, incredible views! Sure we'll come back to Scotland and maybe if we feel very brave, by bike!!

  2. Hey Diana! Good to hear from you! You can't go wrong going to Scotland on a bike ;). I'd say May and or/late September are best though, summer gets busier not only with tourists but with midges! I see you guys are having a blast on your round the world outing!