The historic city of Stirling, once Scotland's ancient capital, in the words of the eminent broadcaster David Dimbleby, has a castle "that rivals Edinburgh's". And so it does. Steeped in history this attractive rural city features in the story's of many of Scotland's and the United Kingdom's most famous historical figures including William Wallace and King James VI and I. James Stewart, known as King James sixth of Scotland and first of England and Ireland was the first king to rule all three nations at once. He spent most of his young life at Stirling Castle which it is thought was originally erected either during or sometime before the 12th century. Stirling is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts with open countryside all around that can be accessed within minutes from virtually anywhere within the city. Our accommodation is located in Kings Park, an affluent Victorian district situated below and adjacent to the old town. You are ideally placed to explore both the town, it's parks and the fabulous woodlands and country lanes nearby. All can be easily reached on foot or by bicycle.
The historic town of Dunblane lies six kilometres to the north of Stirling straddling the Allan Water just below Sheriff Muir. It’s probably best known as the home town of famous tennis player Andy Murray whose family still live here. The town’s most prominent feature is its cathedral which dates from the 11th century. The cathedral is located at the heart of the old town on the banks of the Allan Water which has cycle paths on either bank. One of our cycle routes passes right by the cathedral and crosses the river.
The pleasant Perthshire village of Braco has some fairly impressive evidence of its Roman past. A quick study of an Ordnance Survey map shows that north of the village there were several sites which are recognised Roman fortifications and encampments. The most impressive of these is located just outside the village on the east side of the main A822 road. Our cycle route passes by this site on pleasant woodland tracks. We recommend taking a few moments to stroll around the remains.
Lying north of the Ochils and just south and west of Gleneagles and situated right beside the main A9 road is Blackford. People have been residing in this locale since the bronze age but the village did not begin to coalesce until the 19th century once the woolen mill was built in 1802. However, due to an abundance of water in the area, a brewery - one of the earliest in Scotland - had been established as far back as the 15th century. According to official documents, on returning from his coronation in Scone, King James IV, the last British Monarch to die in battle and great-grandfather of James VI and I, purchased a barrel of ale from Blackford’s brewery.
The village still profits today from the area’s bountiful streams. Aside from Tullibardine Distillery where malt whisky’s produced on the site of an old brewery, Highland Spring ships its bottled spring water all over the world.
Auchterarder and Gleneagles
Our cycle route shoots through the outskirts of Auchterarder but we’ve given it a mention here as a place to stop for coffee or lunch. It’s a bustling wee Perthshire town with a reputation for glitz and glamour. The town is relatively affluent but the reputation is probably more as a result of its proximity to Gleneagles Hotel which is situated on the edge of town. Gleneagles is famous of course for hosting the open golf tournament and international summits. The hotel is situated in what is now Gleneagles Village, largely comprising relatively modern and luxurious homes either privately or hotel owned. The original hotel dates from 1924 when it was completed by the Caledonian Railway Company. During the second world war the hotel became a military hospital and then a miners’ rehabilitation centre before being reinstated in 1947. Since then many millions have been spent maintaining it as a world class luxury establishment.
Muthill is a quaint Perthshire village located 3 miles south of Crieff. It has an ancient past with relics found locally possibly dating from around AD 50 when much of Britain was under Roman control. The current village largely dates from the late 18th century when it was rebuilt having mostly been destroyed by a retreating Jacobite army in 1716 AD following the Battle of Sherifmuir. However, near the village centre there is a ruined church dating from the early 1400’s which in turn has been built around a tower reputed to have been erected in the late 12th century. A visit to the village museum will shed more light on this pleasant places’ interesting and sometimes violent past.
Crieff is one of Scotland’s historic spa towns and like near neighbour Comrie sits at the confluence of productive rivers while straddling the Highland Boundary Fault. I say productive rivers because one is currently utilised for whisky production and the other used to power local mills. An affluent market town Crieff first grew rich as a cattle trading centre during the fourteen hundreds and later became a prominent player in the weaving industry. Nowadays it’s a popular tourist destination offering visitors a huge choice of things to do.
Set amidst some very attractive countryside Crieff sits on the boundary between the Lowlands and Highlands. These two contrasting landscapes greatly complement each other while offering outdoor adventurers everything from delightful riverside walks to full on mountaineering. There are two golf courses, a high ropes course, a distillery, quiet back roads ideal for road cycling and some excellent single-track for mountain bikers. Macrosty Park is great for young kids and there’s also a good adventure play area at Crieff Hydro.
Huntingtower Castle, previously known as Ruthven Castle has a rather checkered past. Having first been built by Clan Ruthven in the 15th century it was seized by the crown estate twice, first in the late 16th century and again at the turn of the century. Lord Ruthven also titled the1st Earl of Gowrie was involved in a religiously motivated plot against a young King James VI. The incident known as the ‘Raid of Ruthven’ involved the kidnapping of the teenage king who was held prisoner at Ruthven Castle and later Stirling Castle before he escaped 10 months later on a trip to St Andrews. The king initially pardoned Ruthven but in 1584, possibly following another attempted abduction, Ruthven was tried and executed for high treason. The crown seized Ruthven’s estates and forfeited the family’s peerages. The story did not end there though as two years later - in 1586 - the land and titles were restored to the Ruthven family. Only to be stripped away again in 1600 after Ruthven’s sons, John, the 3rd Earl of Gowrie and his brother Alexander were involved in another plot against the king. Both brothers died in what may have been a bungled attempt to kill or kidnap the king while he was attending Ruthven Castle. This time the sequestered castle was renamed Huntingtower and the Ruthven name and peerages abolished.
Since these bloody times the castle has passed through the hands of several owners and caretakers and today is in the care of Historic Scotland - visitors welcome. Reaching the castle involves a short detour from our cycle route which passes through the village of Huntingtower to the east.
Bankfoot is a bustling wee village situated in the heart of rural Perthshire. It sits to the west of the main A9 road on the old A9 now reclassified as the B867 road. People have lived in this area at least since the Bronze Age or perhaps even as far back as Neolithic times. Evidence of their existence can be found in the numerous standing stones in the area. Today the village largely comprises late 20th century homes although the Main Street is predominantly Victorian. And according to one chronicler Queen Victoria herself is said to have changed horses at a local inn in September 1942, possibly while en route from Balmoral.
Two of our route options converge at Bankfoot and the National Cycle Network Route 77 passes through the village. There’s a shop and two inns in the village catering to travelers needs although I believe in Queen Victoria’s day the village supported three inns.
Dunkeld and Birnham are set in one of the most attractive parts of Highland Perthshire. It’s an area known for its’ fabulous woodlands and mountain scenery and has been a popular destination since the arrival of the railway in 1856. Birnham Wood even makes an appearance in Shakespeare’s Macbeth although the village itself wasn’t established until the railway was built. Birnham on the south bank of the River Tay is joined to Dunkeld via a bridge built in 1809 by the famous engineer and architect Thomas Telford.
The area is steeped in a history stretching back to the Iron Age. It is believed that Causantin (Constantine), King of the Picts formed a church or monastery at Dunkeld around 820 AD. And just over a century later Kenneth MacAlpin, mythologised as the first king of Scotland, moved the bones of Saint Columba from Iona to Dunkeld to protect them from raiding Vikings. Later, around the 12th Century work started on the Cathedral which stands to this day. And although partly ruined still performs a role as the parish church.
The area has also featured in several battles over the centuries and following the Battle of Dunkeld in 1689, the village was burnt to the ground. Happily restored Dunkeld’s and the surrounding areas’ allure continue to draw visitors. The family of a young Beatrix Potter, famous writer of children’s stories, were regular visitors to the area in the second half of the 19th century. It is said she gained inspiration for The Tale of Peter Rabbit while holidaying at nearby Dalguise.
For anyone visiting Birnham and Dunkeld there is simply loads to do. From visiting historic sites and the Beatrix Potter Exhibition which is great for young kids to delightful woodland and riverside walks or some wonderful cycle trails the options are plentiful. There’s also canyoning, rafting, golf, fishing and the Erigmore Estate’s swimming pool in Birnham is open to the public.
Grandtully is a beautiful wee village on the south bank of the River Tay. And despite its size boasts a primary school, chocolatier, hostel, inn, coffee house and a water sports centre. From the inn it’s possible to watch white water rafters and kayakers careering down the rapids below. Less than a minute’s stroll across a bridge adjacent to the inn and water sports centre car park is Grandtully’s nearest neighbour Strathtay, also very attractive. What Strathtay lacks in chocolatiers and inns it gains in a village shop and golf course. And like Grandtully has some fabulous Victorian houses.
The Highland town of Aberfeldy is a bustling centre of activity. Along the main drag traditional Victorian buildings house shops, banks, hotels, and tea rooms. Step away from here and you’ll find yourself in residential streets full of Victorian terraces and villas many with gardens full of brightly coloured flowers, mature trees and sumptuous hedgerows. At the northern end of town the five arches of General Wade’s Bridge span the River Tay below four sculpted obelisks protruding skywards near the centre of the bridge. It is a simple yet stunning piece of architecture.
Kinloch Rannoch is a quiet Highland village straddling the River Tummel at the eastern end of Loch Rannoch. It’s most spectacular view is that of Schiehallion, a fine mountain to the south. The scene down the loch is one of tranquillity and one that might be sought by those seeking peace and solitude. Although small Kinloch Rannoch is the largest settlement in the whole valley and can boast two hotels and a shop complete with post office.
Located a short distance from the western end of Loch Tummel, Tummel Bridge is a tiny settlement straddling the river from which it takes its’ name. In summer the handful of local residents are vastly outnumbered by tourists who pile into the Tummel Valley Holiday Park with the aim of taking advantage of the areas’ natural beauty. The holiday park brings benefits to non-residents too in the form of a shop and restaurant and sports facilities including an indoor swimming pool and all-weather sports courts.
Loch Tummel has become a favourite of many including some royals. A location known as Queens View, sited along the loch’s north shore, is said by some to be named so as it was a favoured spot of Queen Victoria who visited in 1866. Others claim the name has older origins, dating back to the late 13th century and Isabella of Mar, first wife of Robert the Bruce. Although technically Isabella was never queen – she died about ten years before Bruce was crowned King. However the name was acquired, it certainly is a view fit for Queens. And one that all can enjoy on any of our cycle trips to the area. Pitlochry is a short bike ride away.
Despite its diminutive size Tummel Bridge is a real powerhouse boasting not one but two hydro-electric power stations. They’ve been producing good clean green energy here since the 1930’s - hurrah!
Grand hotels, castles and country homes reside alongside impressive examples of Victorian engineering in a truly stunning mountain setting amidst forests of pine and oak and beech and alder and more. With glistening Loch Faskally and the tumbling Tummel River right at the heart of this spellbinding picture, the allure of Pitlochry is patently obvious to see. It’s no wonder that this town is one of Scotland’s most popular visitor destinations outside of Edinburgh. Besides the usual attractions of spas, a distillery, fine restaurants and quality accommodation Pitlochry also boasts a theatre which is responsible in itself for many of the towns’ visitors. The theatre keeps the punters rolling in all year round with many acclaimed productions to see performed by theatre companies from near and far.