I'm now in Inverness, Scotland's northern city. I cycled here from Monifieth through Perthshire, over the Drumochter Pass and alongside the Cairngorm Mountains. It's a route I've cycled many times but after a spell in foreign lands, it's nice to see again some of these favourite things.
Summer fields of hay. I love cycling the little farm roads of Scotland at this time of year as the gold of the fields contrasts with a blue sky full of screeching swifts. This is the Carse of Gowrie, a belt of rolling agricultural land and berry fields on the north bank of the River Tay between Dundee and Perth. The cycle route follows lovely quiet back roads before making a huge climb over Kinnoull Hill and sneaking in Perth's back door.
Dunkeld. This is a small village on the Tay that oozes charm. It was once the religious centre of Scotland and attractive cottages crowd together along the narrow main street, leading up to the grand old cathedral. It dates from the 13th century and houses the tomb of one my distant ancestors, Alexander Stewart, otherwise known as the Wolf of Badenoch. But much more important than any historical stuff, is the availability in Dunkeld of gluten-free fish suppers.
Perthshire. With small hills and big mountains, an abundance of lakes and forests, and a network of quiet back roads linking together attractive villages, Perthshire is cycle heaven. There are a few wee, steep passes as well to test the legs. It's especially gorgeous later in the year when the woods are a palette of autumn colours.
Drumochter Pass. It may host one of the country's major transport arteries and the hideous new Beauly to Denny powerline, but I still enjoy the cycle through the pass on the traffic-free cycle route that uses some of the old road, secretly tucked away in the trees. Of course, Drumochter has been a transport artery for centuries. Queen Victoria passed this way in 1861 but was not impressed with the dining experience which she described as "two starved chickens, without tea and no potatoes".
Hettie's Place. I couldn't grumble about the food as I stoked the boilers for climbing the pass with a gluten-free muffin at this great wee tea room in Pitlochry. It’s all very pink and flowery with tea served in old-fashioned cups and saucers of the sort my great granny brought out for visitors. You'll find it right on the main street. It's very kitsch whilst at the same time being very hip!
Cairngorms. These are some of the highest mountains in Scotland, forming a huge sub-arctic plateau and a vast area of wild land. Snow can linger here well into summer. The mountains are fringed to the north by the ancient Caledonian pine forests of Rothiemurchus. There are few more enjoyable experiences in life than pedalling dreamily along the dirt trails that meander through the trees.
I'm loitering briefly in Inverness to pick up another favourite thing, my friend Graham, who is joining me for the pedal around the Orkney Islands.
Remember to check out all the photos on my Flickr site - click on the link to the right.
Daylight - 18 hours, 15 mins
Distance - 5313 miles, 8550km
Days - 125
Route - retraced my route to Dundee then followed cycle route 77, known as the Salmon Run, to Pitlochry. A lovely route. Cycled along south side of Loch Tummel then climbed over to Trinafour before decsending to Calvine. Cycled bike route 7 from Calvine to Slochd Pass - it takes in Drumochter, Speyside and the Cairngorms - where I left it to cycle up the beautiful Strathdearn before a big climb on a tiny, deserted road to Farr. Finally small back roads into Inverness.