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Riding a new 100 mile road route with Fiona Russell

I am always on the lookout for new cycle routes and a freshly launched 100-mile circuit in the Scottish Highlands proved hard to resist.

Named the Ring of Breadalbane road cycling loop, the circuit heads through gorgeous Perthshire scenery in an area branded as Bràghaid Alban, the High Ground of Scotland.

The brainchild of a local community tourism cooperative, the Rings of Breadalbane also includes new mountain biking routes and two long-distance walking trails.

But it was the road route, with some 1300m of ascent, that appealed most. And it didn’t disappoint.

What are the Rings of Breadalbane?

The “Rings” are inspired by what Andrew Donaldson, of the Breadalbane Tourism Cooperative, describes as the “Tolkienesque scenery of Breadalbane”.

He said: “Many of us likened the landscape depicted in the Tolkien books and films, like Lord of the Rings, to Breadalbane’s mountains and glens. And our planned walking and cycling routes are loops, or rings. So that’s how the

Rings of Breadalbane came about. It all seemed to make sense and the Rings theme has come together to offer lots of fantastic options for outdoors fans.”

In addition, the area is home to a number of Neolithic stone rings and markings.

The cycling rings have been mapped out by Andrew. The Road Cycling Ring travels between Crieff, Kenmore, Aberfeldy, Killin and Lochearnhead, via fabulous glens and alongside glorious lochs.

Riding the Ring of Breadalbane

I began the loop at Comrie (the location of a delightful Comrie Croft MTB centre and a great cafe) and headed east towards the tourist town of Crieff, making good use of quieter back roads rather than the main A85.

Riding north, the route then follows a road through stunning Sma Glen, which climbs steadily, on and on, towards Glen Quaich. These glens look as fabulous as their names sound.

But be warned because the hill climbs are not easy! I spent almost an hour in my easiest gear slowly pushing onwards and upwards and wishing I was stronger and fitter.

I did have a quiet moment of thanks, however, for the responsiveness of my Planet X N2A though. Its light and stiff and enjoys going up hills, even if my legs don't.

There are plenty of places to stop to admire the views (rather than admitting to stopping for a rest!) although getting back on is not easy with clip-in pedals on a steep incline.

In early autumn, the purple and pink heather-clad hillsides and sparkling lochs far below are spectacular. I was also lucky enough to spot three red kites soaring in a bright blue sky just above my head.

And then came the fabulous descent, from a whizzing downhill high of 540m to Loch Tay and the village of Kenmore, at the north-eastern end.

For a shorter circuit, cyclists could take the southern shore road west alongside Loch Tay towards Killin.

Instead, the 100-mile route heads to another popular Perthshire location, the town of Aberfeldy, before meandering through scenic landscapes and into the hills of Glen Lyon.

If you have ever taken part in the Caledonian Etape you’ll recognise this part of the Ring of Breadalbane route. It's so pretty and even comes complete with thatched roof houses on the roadside.

This time the climb is via a mountain pass around Ben Lawers and again gives your leg muscles a good workout. There is, of course, more fabulous downhill to come as the route heads back down and on to the north-western shore of Loch Tay at the village of Killin.

From Killin, cyclists ride south into Glen Ogle and towards Lochearnhead. The choice from here is the super-fast A85 on the northern edges of Loch Earn (with the annoyance of traffic) or the up-and-down, but much quieter, southern shore road.

At the end of the loch the road pulled me speedily back to Comrie where I started earlier that day.

An added attraction of Breadalbane is a summer Explorer Bus, which provides locals and visitors with an easy hop-on, hop-off service. This means that cyclists could ride sections of the route and then use the bus to return to their start point.

16 September 2014

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