Many years ago I went on a guided cycling trip in the French Alps. It was my first time cycling abroad, and I loved every minute of it.
It took a while to grasp the enormity and scale of everything; with climbs topping 20km in length I thought when I came back home I would find my own backyard would pale into insignificance and I would be left longing for the big mountain passes of continental Europe.
In fact, quite the opposite happened. The week following my return I went on a club century ride – 100 miles that included a climb up the mighty slopes of Ben Lawers, Glen Quaich and Loch na Creige above Aberfeldy.
I had expected to be comparing the quality of riding in France against that of Scotland and to find that my own country was left lacking, but instead, I found things that Scotland had in abundance that our Gallic cousins could only dream of boasting about.
Yes, the climbs were shorter, but that didn’t make them any less spectacular. And where the Alps had been crammed with camper-vans and motorbikes, the Scottish roads felt empty. Even the range of scenery, that in the Alps was a fairly consistent repetition of stunning pointy peaks and hairpin bends, was surpassed in Scotland with lochs and glens and forests and castles and so on and so on… You get the picture.
So it was with pride that I stood before a group of 36 cyclists, from 17 different nations and welcomed them to Scotland to cycle on the roads that I love. From Bogota to Shanghai they had gathered for four days of riding from Glasgow to Pitlochry and back.
The highlight was going to be day three where my colleagues and 1 would guide them over Ben Lawers. In that first night briefing with them, I told them of my trip to the Alps and my epiphany about the roads of Scotland. I told them how that 100-mile cycle had inspired me to start my own cycling business with the dream of bringing cyclists from around the world to delight in the mountains and glens of the place I call home.
That day we cycled 140km from Pitlochry to Ben Lawers and then along Lochearn and finishing in Stirling. The sun was shining, and I lost count of how many riders came to me during the day to tell me how spectacular my country was. Back at the hotel in the evening, they were still talking among themselves about which part of the day’s riding they liked the best and how they had never ridden anywhere quite like Scotland.
Over the years since then, I have travelled and cycled in many places around the world, but as anyone who has ever worked with me in foreign climes will know, I get desperately homesick for my own roads and trails. Wherever I go now I find I still compare my environment with Scotland, but now, more often than not, I find that is lacking in something that I love. Perhaps it is unfamiliarity with new surroundings, but I learned a long time ago that is is easy to go searching afar for perfection when often it is right on your own doorstep.
Join the Blazing Saddles Strava Club at: www.strava.com/clubs/BlazingSaddlesWeekendCourier
Where to ride: The Langside – Comrie
Distance: 38km with 365 metres of ascent
Details: The Langside was a climb I had forgotten about, but was reminded of its pleasures on our recent trip. Starting in Dalginross, just south of Comrie it follows the B827 upwards and over towards Braco. It heads high up on to hillside, offering views towards the Ochils. As you head down towards Braco, take a left hand turn onto the A822 – Muthill and then towards Crieff. As you enter Crieff, take another left turn along Strowan Road towards Dalginross