Helen Moat near a boat (Helen Moat)
Blog Words : Freewheeling | 27 April

Cycling around Loch Katrine in the sun

It seems the sun always shines on Helen Moat when she visits Scotland – even when she cycles the famously inclement Loch Katrine

“If global warming kicks in, this place will be swarming with people.”

The cyclist we’d happened upon nodded at our surroundings. Below us a navy-blue loch glinted shards of glass. Beyond the mountains were marbled with the remains of the winter snow. All around heath and woodland stretched out as far as the eye could see – with no sign of human activity, bar the cyclist – and us.

We were in the Trossachs, not far from Aberfoyle and Callander. It was a last minute decision to make a dash from Cumbernauld near Glasgow to Loch Katrine. Originally I’d planned to take my bicycle up to Scotland for a week, hoping to squeeze in a few bike trips, but a family crisis meant I had to book a last minute flight to Northern Ireland instead. The bikes were forgotten and a week later my husband picked me up from the Belfast-Cairnryan ferry to drive me back to his childhood home.

At Loch Katrine, I knew there was a bike hire business, so all was not lost. From there, it’s possible to take a bike on the steamboat, the Sir Walter Scott or the cruiser, Lady of the Lake to Stronachlachar at the other end, a trip I’ve wanted to do for a long time. But we’d missed the only sailing at 10.30am (being the beginning of the season).

My son and I decided to rent bikes for a couple of hours anyway, and we raced off along the banks of the shore, thinking we had a nice flat ride ahead. We couldn’t have been more wrong.

Soon we left the lakeside strollers behind and started to climb the hills that surrounded the loch. After a while, there was no one to be seen but the occasional cyclist or hiker.

I breathed in the scent of pine and bracken. It was a beautiful day, the sky a clear blue, the air cool but the sun strong.

We stopped on a headland when the hour was up, where our friendly cyclist was having an afternoon snack. He’d abandoned Newcastle in Staffordshire for the empty hills of Scotland. We talked about the white, sweeping beaches of the north-west, the islands scattering the coast and the miles of ‘Munroes’ (mountains over 3,000 feet) and agreed that Scotland would be as packed as the Mediterranean if it were a few degrees warmer.

In truth, I rarely see Scotland in bad weather. I’ve even spent a scorching two weeks around Ullapool and Skye.  While others see a cold, rainy, windswept place in their minds, I see sunshine and light so luminous it feels like you’re in a magical place … but maybe I shouldn’t tell anyone. I’m always amazed that so many people living in Britain, on the same island, never visit Scotland.

Of course the weather can be grim – and I’m sure I’ve had more than my fair share of good luck weather-wise. Today was another one of those exceptional days that seems to be the norm for me. We turned our bikes and mostly freewheeled back to Katrine Wheelz, past lobster-pink sun-bathers, sheep mowing a garden lawn and a bird of prey catching an upstream of air above us.

We stopped one last time by a little boathouse next to a shingle beach and drank in the view in lieu of the water bottles we’d forgotten. We’d hold onto these scenes for when we hit the motorways south again.

Costs

Katrine Wheelz Bike Hire

Rent a bike for 1,2, 4 or a 8 hours.

Children’s and Adults Bikes

Tandems and Trailers (2 wheels/2 seats)

Tag-a-longs (1 wheel/1 seat) - for use with adult bikes

Electric Bikes and Electric Buggies

Adult bike from £8 an hour to £20 for the day (2014 rates)

Rented bikes travel free on the loch boats (£2 per bike if you have your own)

Boat fares

Single sailing – Sir Walter Scott: £13, departing 10.30am (2014 rate)

Single sailing - Lady of the Lake £11.50 (2014 rate) departing 13.30 and 16.15 in main season