The unseasonable warm weather over Christmas and New year allowed me the opportunity to get out on the hills on my bike. I’ve a Planet X London bike which I affectionately call the incredible hulk taking to it for winter commuting. This Christmas holidays appreciating the break from my normal busy commute, I decided to head for some local hill tracks on the hulk. I have discovered a new sense of appreciation for my bike, its versatility and frame geometry allow me the freedom to ride on and off road as long as there’s a faint track and it’s not mega technical. I managed three routes over the holidays from my home in Doune - they are all accessible from Stirling with differing mileages. Cycling in the hills invariably means hard physical work but well worth the effort if you enjoy a physical challenge. The surroundings are your reward for the hard work and if you like the road less travelled you can recharge your solitude batteries in the process.
The first route I completed is a local favourite, I cycled from my home in Doune to the Braes of Doune Windfarm. You can see this very visible windfarm on the sky line when you look west from Stirling to Ben Vorlich and Stuc a’ Chroin. The farm is built into the hillside of Uamh Bheag and has been in operation since 2007.
I started the route in the village of Doune taking the most direct route along the A84 to the access road at Moray Estate buildings just before the Burn of Cambus. The A84 was busy and narrow, turning off the trunk road was a welcome relief. The road is surfaced for about the first mile then turns into a well surfaced track .The road takes a left to avoid the Estate Offices and then rises steeply sweeping left, the climb then eases slightly and is well surfaced until you reach the farm cottages on your left, from this point on the road surface is track and the climb steepens again. After this point the track was soft in places having been frozen in the previous few days, this made the going in places tough. For most of the climb the route passes through a commercial forest plantation and there is a welcome break in the climb when you reach the windfarm gate. At this point there was a curious Red Kite hovering overhead which stayed within view for a good 10 minutes. It disappeared from view heading towards Waterside farm underneath the slopes of Uamh Bheag. Going through the gate the road then follows an undulating track until it descends briefly before the final climb up to the windmills.
There are good views over Loch Mahaick of Stuc a’ Chroin and Ben Vorlich. The final climb is relentless and for me first gear only, but well worth the effort to reach the massive monolith like structures of the windmills.
The atmosphere of standing under the windmills is unique, the scale of the structures is vertigo inducing and the whooshing sound of the blades is strangely hypnotic. The views towards the Gargunnock Hills are rewarding, you can see Dumyat and the Ochill hill plateau to the East.
There is the option to carry on to the right over the hill track and descend into Braco (an additional 8 miles) if not the descent is exhilarating and seems to go on forever. Be prepared for pumped up arms and hands, (was loving my disc brakes here). Again, the descent is not technical and as the track is in good order you can speed off the hill in a fraction of the time it took to climb it.
The views on this route are rewarding, there’s a sense of achievement to reach such a visible local landmark and if you’re in luck you’ll spot a red kite wandering from their feeding station in Agarty just outside Doune. Overall the route is not technically demanding, the climb is steep at points, but never quite overwhelming as the track surface is smooth. You’ll be lucky to meet another soul on this route so if it's solitude you like it, is a peaceful, if demanding ride.
The second route I completed was over the Menstrie Hill track in the recently planted Jerah Woodland. It leads over the western edge of the Ochil Plateau and joins the Sherrifmuir Road at the other side of the Ochils. I started from my home in Doune taking the N765 route to Dunblane then joining the A9 South to travel through Bridge of Allan and onto the A91 along into Menstrie. The weather was mild and dry with weak December sun. The hill track lies at the back of village underneath Myerton Hill.
The going had been easy on the road with a slight tail wind, the change of pace and effort joining the bottom of the hill track came as a massive shock. After passing through the gate, my first few pedal strokes were useless, my hybrid tyres spun round in circles slipping on the grassy track surface. The track is steep and grassy and after several attempts of moving I managed to get some forward momentum on the stony edge of the track. So straight through the first gate and into first gear immediately, this gave me an indication of what lay ahead. I managed to stay upright and move forward favouring the stony edge of the track, the immediate climb was on the limit of my heart and lung capacity and gears. Hoping it would ease I kept climbing. The road has several switchbacks at the start which help ease the steepness of the climb. At points I increased my effort and speed to get my up short sections hoping to lower my heart rate on the easier stretches .I passed several bemused walkers and a couple of very relaxed hill runners descending towards Menstrie .I did meet another cyclist again descending towards the village. Nagging at the back of my head was the knowledge that there is a much faster direct footpath missing out the meandering switchback route the road takes, but definitely not possible on this bike. The road finally begins to flatten out at the first spur of the Inchna burn just where the path to the top of Myerton meets the road. I was glad of the rest and opportunity to let my heart rate fall to a more manageable level.
The route passes through the Jerah Woodland which was recently planted in 2014, as a result the trees are still very small and the hillside still has very open feel. By the time I reached the third gate things were beginning to feel much easier, little did I know that was to be sort lived. The roads sweeps round the hillside towards the ruins of Jerah Farm. The Inchna burn has three spurs that the road crosses. At the first Spur a faint path to the right leaves the road and leads to the top of Colsnaur, well worth a visit for some good views to the North and the Eastern side of the Ochils. At the second and third crossings the road descends and reascends steeply. At the assent of the second spur despite my best efforts I was reduced to walking and pushing my bike. The surface of the road from here on becomes rough and is formed from large sharp loose stone. I hopped back on when the going was easier and the surface slightly smoother. At the third and last spur of the burn I was reduced to walking again on the assent, looking down to the left you have views over the back of Dumyat and Lossburn Reservoir. There is a junction in the track here where a short track to the left leads to the ruins of Jerah, and if you feel inclined there is a well-worn path to take you over the back of Dumyat.
The road sweeps and climbs to the right, the surface is very rough with large loose stones, the climb did involve periods of walking, jumping off when the going got too tough. Reaching the final gate there were good views back down the glen towards Menstrie with a meandering Forth in the background.
After the gate the climb eased again until a stomach turning steep section came into view. Having not left first gear since I left the main road in Menstrie I knew that when I reached it, I would have no option but to jump off and walk it. As final section of the climb loomed over me, a chance turn in the track revealed it to be a dead end spur leading towards the top of Big hunt Hill. What relief, my heart rate lowered and I sped past the end of the spur towards the top of the plateau. A stiff head wind met me as the track finally levelled out.There are good views to West of Stuc a’ Chroin and Ben Vorlich and Braes of Doune.
After this point the track began to descend, the going was smoother and the gradient not too steep.
It didn’t take long to descend to the Sherriffmuir Road and the bridge over the Wharry Burn. From here is was a speedy descend down the Sherriffmuir Road into Dunblane where I joined the 765 route home.
This was a much harder climb than the Braes of Doune on the limit of what my bike, gears, heart and lungs could cope with. The views of the Forth Valley towards the Firth of Forth are good and the open vista towards the North West to Ben Ledi, Ben Vorlich and Stuc a’ Chroin are great. The route was busiest at the Menstrie end. I didn’t meet a soul after the turn off for Jerah until I reached the Sherriffmuir road at the end of the hill track.
My third and final cycle was the longest of the three routes from Callander through Glen Arkney to Glenartney lodge then onto the B827 home via Braco. The route follows a right of way which involves quiet surfaced single track roads and well surfaced gravel tracks. It follows the course of the Keltie burn through Glen Artney then onto Glenartney Lodge at the Comrie side of the Glen. Here the route joins the B827 and returns to Braco over the Comrie moor then onto Dunblane via the B8033. The weather was again kind, unseasonable warm if a bit cloudy and dull.
I left Doune on the busy A84 truck road for the short jump to the Drumloist Road just outside the Burn of Cambus. The Drumloist Road is undulating and climbs up to offer views of the Gargunnock hills to the Left. I met a large group of ramblers enjoying their lunch towards the top of the climb, the road is so quiet a few members of the group were sitting in the middle of the road eating their lunch and enjoying the view. Although surfaced at times the road is rough and has a firmly established grassy track in the middle for most of the way. The descent past upper Drumbane into Keltie bridge has recently been resurfaced and made speedy process. I joined the old railway line into Callander without having to join the main road. I passed a few dog walkers and families cycling along the railway into Callander. In Callander I left the old railway and started the climb up Bracklin Road. The road is very steep but well surfaced. The car park at the bottom of the Crags car park was busy with walkers and runners. The annual Callander Crags race was due to start in an hour or so this gave the car park an exciting buzz. The steep climb up to the Bracklin falls car park was busy with cars, I met three desending cars while trying to negotiate the climb which I managed to squeeze past with care. Further up the road the climb starts to level off and the route quieted down, I cycled on leaving the bustling and excitement behind. This section normally has a herd of passive cattle milling around but they were nowhere to be seen today. I passed through the gate and cycled on, the road then meanders down to the end of the public road and the surface section of the route at Braleny farm.
Passing through the gate the unsurfaced track passes the farm on the left and begins to climb towards the hills, there are a couple of climbs but these are not too steep or technical. The route was previously an unsurfaced drove road until the new Hydro scheme on the Keltie burn brought a permanent track and a welcome bridge crossing on the Keltie Water. The view ahead of Stuc a’ Chroin, Ben Each and Ben Vorlich are great. The road begins to descend gently towards the Keltie bridge and Arivurichardich Bothy comes into view.
I love Arivurichardich it has a uniquely peaceful presence nestled under Meall Odhar at a point where three Glens meet. This place has an amusing place in my family history. In the days before the Land Reform Act of 2003, my newly married Mum and Dad were arrested for trespassing here in 1958.They had taken shelter over night from a blizzard while walking out of the hills. The next day they were accompanied down to Callander by her majesty’s finest. Arivurichardich is still a closed bothy, it is a natural place to pause and take in the surroundings.
The Track is well surfaced and passes directly in front of the Bothy. Leaving the bothy behind you the road swings to the left and curves round the bottom of Meall Odhar. The road is undulating but not too steep at any point, it descends to a river crossing and continues along the glen. This is the highest point of the route. The road then passes a small forestry plantation on the right, before it begins to descend down to meet the end of the public road at Glenartney Lodge. The track joins the end of the public road here and from here on home the route was all on surfaced roads. The single track road that leads to the B827 is undulating, and has some climbs and descents before it reaches the B827. It is quiet and is pleasant cycling. The route starts to climb as it joins the A827 at langside Road up out of Comrie towards the moor.Its a pleasant climb and cycle across the moor towards Braco with some lovely views to Ben Clach and Findhu Glen on the right.The route into Braco was fairly quiet. From Braco I joined the B8033 to Ashfield and Dunblane.This is a quiet pleasant route through farming and agricultural countryside. From Dunblane it was a short jump onto the N765 back to Doune.
This was the longest of the three routes and the most climbing, the tracks were well surfaced and while the route does climb to 1,500 feet at its highest point, with a few exceptions it is not at any point overly steep or technical. This route has a wilderness feel which the other two route don’t quite have. The view and atmosphere at Arivurichardich give you a sense of the remoteness of the place and effort required to get there. Well worth a visit if you have the weather.
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