Running for a train


by Wallace Shackleton

 

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Beginning of June and the Moon was in phase with Mars, the money was in phase with the bank, a surplus of "house points" all amounted to me setting off at 6 AM to catch the 8 o' Clock Perth to Inverness train. Meticulous planning ensured that I forgot a map, returning for it meant that I missed the train. I thought that I had nothing better to do than to cycle up to Pitlochry and get on the next train north, ha!
A leisurely journey through Perth and Almondbank, a vigorous soaking at Bankfoot, ensured that I had a grandstand view of my train leaving Dunkeld. All this amounted to a hasty change of plans - cycle north on the National Cycle Route 7 (NCN) and train back.
A big downpour arrived as I entered Pitlochry, thank goodness for friends and friends you can call upon when it is pouring are worth their weight in gold. I get the feeling that Kevin is used to wet cyclists in his shop, did I mention his shop? Escape Route is one great place to spend your money, plug, plug.
I am indebted to Kevin for the coffee and for the stuff he put into my water bottle, whatever it was it tasted great, it kept me going when things became grim, though it took weeks for the taste to work its way out of my Camelback!
After Kevin threw me out, did I mention his heart of gold? I headed north and into new territory; The Pass of Killecrankie, Blair Atholl and Calvine past the hideous House of Bruar shopping experience.
There should have been a notice at Calvine saying "the climbing starts here", not an all out climb but a subtle, slekit, long drawn out affair all the way to the head of Drumochter Pass. A notice at Calvine, warned you that there is nothing for 30 km / 21 miles until you reach Dalwhinnie, this is big boys stuff, no namby-pamby Avon & Kennet Canal cycle path here.
I made my way along a stretch of the old A9, through woodland beside the Garry with the hell of the A9 just out of ear-shot, lulled into a sense of false security I emerged onto the high ground, a side wind started sapping my strength, the gradient nibbled away at my reserves, civilisation receded into the great nothingness that is The Highlands…
On and off the old A9, some good most bad, interlinked with smooth sections of new cycle path set the scene for the journey to the head of the pass. Then as the glen turned slightly north-eastwards the side wind became a tail wind and I was being blown along past the summit to Dalwhinnie and all the way to Newtonmore, where I was stopping for the night. The wind also helped to lessen the stench of the road kill; the Highlands have things bigger than rabbits to lie rotting at the roadsides.
I was knackered, knocking up just under a 100 miles, on a loaded bike, not bad for the first day. Bunking at the independent, (and well recommended) Newtonmore Hostel, I unpacked; showered, had a pasta party, then polished off the day with a pint of Guinness before bedtime with the knowledge that tomorrow would be an easier day.
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The next day was better; it was drier for a start. Leaving Newtonmore for Kingussie on the new section of cycle track, which runs alongside the road. Great surface, though it ends very abruptly outside Kingussie. Waited briefly for a train to pass then out past Ruthven barracks to the road on the east side of the Spey all the way to Boat of Garten. Stopped for a brew outside Coylumbridge, it started to rain, finished the brew and the rain stopped, I got the feeling that I was cursed!
Stopped very briefly at Boat of Garten station to watch the steam trains and was accosted by four "jobs-worth's" in quick succession. The last, the Station Master had the cheek to tell me off for riding my bike on an empty platform, a hard thing to take from a man with a sunflower in his hat!
A section of brand new cycle track outside Boat of Garten, alongside a quiet B-road had me questioning the value of such a cycle track, then I saw the primary school bike shed, it was full of bikes, a cheering sight.
I stopped at Carrbridge for lunch and watched the world go by for a while before it was time to get back on the road and another rain shower. Keen to see what Slochd had to offer, I was disappointed with what I found, a handful of houses and a very easy climb, it was down hill all the way to Inverness -theoretically.
The head wind tempered what would have been a great descent to Tomtain, passed over the concrete bridge over the Findhorn, and had an eerie urge to rip up some turf. On later investigation I discovered that the same man that designed the Wembly Stadium designed this bridge!

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