The short winter days of December demand short days outdoors, closer to home. A place that fits the bill perfectly for this is the Trossachs, accessed by bike from Dunblane train station. I set out there for a short cycling overnighter with my friend, Graham.
We cycled away from an early morning train at Dunblane on a quiet, single-track road that climbed up into the rolling farmland above town. It was one of those grey, damp, colourless winter days but it was dry and therefore a “useable” day.
A stiffer climb took us up and over high moor before we turned into Glen Artney, a place I’d often looked at on the map and thought “what on earth’s going on up there”. What is going on up there is a rollercoaster of a wee road that passes by farmhouses and fields before coming to a dead end at the head of the glen. A dead at least for cars but we carried on along a rough track that skirted the southern slopes of Ben Vorlich and Stuc a’Chroin. How funny that you never say one of those hill names without following it by the other. They are an inseparable pair.
In most conditions the track would probably be quite fast and fun but today it was waterlogged and it felt like cycling through porridge. We passed over the watershed and dropped down to the old buildings at Arivurichardich as the sun began to sink behind the Trossachs peaks to the west. The track was firmer now and fast as we flew down into Callander.
Darkness caught us as we pedalled west and we cycled by the beams of our bike lights along a woodland trail by the shores of Loch Venachar. The tents were pitched on a lovely grassy shelf above the water, a spot I’ve used before. As we made a hot supper, a bright almost-supermoon rose and silhouetted the bare winter branches of the trees. The night air was filled with the sounds of restless geese and ducks on the water, and a hooting owl in the forest.
Next day we hid the camping kit in the trees and cycled more lightly along the trail to Brig o’Turk whose decorated village Christmas tree cheered another grey day. A stiff climb took us up into the lower reaches of Glen Finglass whose native woodland is being regenerated under the stewardship of the Woodland Trust. There was not a ripple on the surface of the loch and the purple hue of the bare birch added a subtle splash of colour to the dreich winter palette.
A good cycling track encircles the glen but on a short winter day, with a long ride back to the train at Dunblane, it would have to wait for the longer days of spring.
Start/finish: Dunblane train station.
Transport: Regular direct trains from Edinburgh, Stirling and Glasgow with no requirement to reserve bike space.
Route: Out of the train station turn right and pass in front of the Tesco shop. Turn right up Kilbryde Crescent and follow this road out of town – it’s an easy, quick escape from town. Keep following this road until it does a T junction with the B8033 and turn left for Braco. On the main road in Braco turn left then shortly take the B827 signed for Comrie. It’s a bit of a climb, then as it descends there is a signed left turn for Glen Artney. Follow the road west up Glen Artney then continue west on the dirt track which is its natural continuation. It eventually drops to the buildings at Arivurichardich. Follow the man track and cross the bridge which now becomes a better, firmer track which will take you steeply down to Callander. Turn right on the main road in Callander then left onto the A81 but follow the national cycle route 7 signs south. The route goes along the beautiful shores of Loch Venachar and we camped along here. Next day we left the route by pedalling on towards Loch Achray and turning right at a signpost for Brig o’Turk. A single track road leads from the village to Glen Finglass passed the tearoom (open Friday to Sunday).