You can’t beat a summer of cycling in Scotland.
This year has been the first year in over a decade that I have not spent an entire summer out guiding cyclists through the mountain ranges of Europe.
When I am abroad my colleagues often laugh that I spend a lot of time comparing my vantage point with that of one somewhere in Scotland. It is true, and that comes from a constant sense of being homesick.
I love Scotland so much, that I can’t help but seek solace in comparison, no matter how tenuous they may be. So, it has surprised me how much I miss working away from home. I recently watched the Critérium du Dauphiné road stage race on TV as it wound its way across the Massif Central and into the French Alps.
As it did so, I found myself yearning to be back in France on those roads and in those mountains. So, I have been searching out mountains in Scotland to cycle up and luckily in Courier Country we have our fair share.
Perhaps they are not as long, or cloaked with glaciers, but they do offer a chance and vertical challenge to cycle in some of the most beautiful countryside in Europe.
One of my favourite climbs in Highland Perthshire, if not the UK, is Ben Lawers. It has many qualities of an Alpine ascent, with a steady gradient and an abundance of alpine flora.
From the moment it breaks from the main road and onto a steep initial ramp, the panoramic vista opens out before you, as you climb higher above Loch Tay; and for me, that is one of the key points that sets it above its giant Alpine cousins. Where the Alps offer longer ascents, the lack of distance on Scottish climbs, such as Ben Lawers is more than made up for by the view.
In the Alps, the wider view is often blocked by the view of the towering mountain in front of you and although the setting is often spectacular, I would rather have a “grand view” to take my mind off the effort of pedalling against gravity.
As I ride, numbers often race through my head: four miles to go to the top; my average speed was 12 miles per hour, giving an ascent time of approximately 20 minutes; my pedal cadence was 80 revolutions per minute, giving 1600 pedal strokes needed to get to the road summit; my heart was beating at 155 beats per minute, not in the red, but close to it, and it would beat another 3100 times before levelling out as I rode over Ben Lawers.
Such musings are often a distraction and annoyance to me, and I have been known to take the bike computer from its mount on my handlebars and put it in my jersey rear pocket.
But with Ben Lawers it was different. The view, the smell of summer, the warm air and the blue sky all took my attention.
My mind instantly forgot the computer on my handlebars that spewed out a list of figures that served only as a reminder of the pain ahead and instead it filled with the pleasure of riding my bike in one of the best cycling countries in the world; our very own.
Wherever I have cycled in the world, on my return I have ridden through Breadalbane and Glen Lyon and over the shoulder of Ben Lawers and been reminded what it is that makes cycling in Scotland so great and wonder why I would want to ride anywhere else.
Join the Blazing Saddles Strava Club at: www.strava.com/clubs/BlazingSaddlesWeekendCourier
Where to ride:
For those riders who like their cycling with heaps of hills, then Highland Perthshire is the place for you. The network of roads and tracks in the area, with some large hills means there is an abundance of routes to choose from, whether you want to ride on, or off-road. From big road climbs such as Ben Lawers, Schiehallion to epic mountain bike loops around Faragon Hill there is something to suit everyone looking for a challenge.