The first of a few ambitious plans for 2021 – my attempt at the Rob Roy Way in a day on my mountain bike. This 80 mile route (with around 2400m of climbing) seemed like a fair challenge, but definitely doable in a day. I managed to persuade my dad to come with me and follow by car, meeting me at regular intervals to replenish supplies as required. My plan was all set, and as soon as lockdown restrictions were eased enough it was time to pick a date and get it done…!
Sunday 16th May 2021 was the selected date. A couple of months out, I began tapering up to riding longer distances with more ascent. I rode the Tour of the Cairngorms last year – the first day of which was over 75 miles – with little preparation so I knew that distance probably wouldn’t be an issue, but this was a great deal more climbing than I’d done thus far. After a few training rides of increasing ascent, I was confident that I’d be able to manage the task at hand, so the date was confirmed and we waited nervously for an accurate forecast a few days before the big day.
Thankfully, the weather was looking pretty kind. There was a small risk of localised showers, but this didn’t bother me too much. I was more interested in the wind and ensuring that it was either behind me or non-existent. The fairly insignificant breeze forecasted was from the North East, so it made sense to do the route in reverse to ensure this was behind me if it picked up later in the afternoon.
With hindsight, doing the route this way actually had a number of advantages. Firstly, there’s the psychological advantage of always heading closer to home. The section of the route along NCN7 through Glen Ogle could almost be freewheeled the whole way too, rather than a slow trudge to the top of the valley. It was also ever so slightly less climbing over the day (though probably not so you’d notice) as Pitlochry was slightly higher than Drymen.
We set off for Pitlochry around 0600, arriving in the town a couple of hours later. I was ready to go around 0830 and walked along from the car park in the centre of the town to the small garden that marks the start/end of the RRW. After a few quick photos, I headed off on what was a quiet and pleasant Sunday morning. Drymen, here we come!
I had divided my route into 4 roughly equal sections: Pitlochry to Acharn, Acharn to Glen Ogle, Glen Ogle to Kilmahog and Kilmahog to Drymen. This meant around 20 miles and between 500 and 700m of ascent (in real terms it was more ascent, but this is what the GPX file suggested). I figured each quarter might take me between 2 and 3 hours including stops, giving me a total time of around 12 hours including any rests without having to push the pace too much.
The first quarter of the route was with a big chunk of the ascent, but it was good to get this out of the way early and whilst the trails were still pretty quiet. After a big climb out of Pitlochry towards Grandtully followed by a fun downhill section, there was a short jaunt along some old railway line towards Aberfeldy. The section along the banks of the Tay was especially pretty and was easy going in the nice weather, so I was in good spirits as I ate up the miles of the first quarter of my route.
After passing through the busy town of Aberfeldy, there was another steep climb up through the Birks of Aberfeldy, though much of this was with the bike on my back due to the large steps and narrow paths with handrails. I was getting a few funny looks from passers by at this point as they were probably wondering why some numpty was taking their bike for a carry! After I reached the top of the Birks, a better track headed parallel to the road along the banks of Loch Tay. This was easy enough effort-wise, but there are loads of gates to negotiate. I guess these are reached more slowly on foot, so it doesn’t seem as much of an inconvenience, but a gate every 2-3 minutes became a bit mind numbing.
After running parallel for a few miles, the route soon turned downhill on my last short blast to the first stop of the day in the small settlement of Acharn. Having researched beforehand, I knew there was enough space to park at the bottom of the track heading to the Falls of Acharn, but this was very busy as I arrived, so this is worth bearing in mind if choosing to use this spot to park. Thankfully, my dad had arrived about an hour earlier than required, so he had managed to find a space. I arrived at this stop a little over 3 hours in to my journey. I reckon I could have saved 10-15 minutes if I hadn’t had to open and close so many gates, but I was comfortable with my progress so far.
After a quick pit stop and refill of my snacks and water supply, I was on my way once again, this time heading along the minor road on the south bank of Loch Tay. This was another easy section (although a little boring being on a tarmac road), which allowed me to make easy progress and get some more miles under my belt.
I finally left the tarmac after 6 or 7 miles. What lay ahead now was a steady climb to the highest point of the route from Ardeonaig to Ceann Creagach at around 560m. Much of this section was quite boggy so I found it to be a little quicker just pushing the bike and using it as an aid to hop over the bigger sections of bog.
A short distance before the highest point, large hydro pipes are reached and a track begins again. I took this opportunity to have a short break and enjoy the fine views down Loch Tay as I knew that after topping out in a mile or so, it would be a very different view in front of me.
The final climb of this section was a mix of riding and pushing, especially at the steeper sections, but I soon reached the summit of the track and was back on the bike to race down the other side and head for Glen Ogle. 30+ mph on a mountain bike is always fun!
If walking/biking the RRW, there is the option to head down into Killin, perhaps as an overnight or resupply point. I had decided to take the bypass path though and head directly for Glen Ogle as this meant I could save a sizeable down-and-up as well as a couple of miles. My dad was also waiting for me at the car park at the top of the glen, so there was little point in heading to Killin. I reached my next stopping point after about 2.5 hours, a little bit closer to what I’d thought my pace would have been like. Once again, after a quick replenishment of supplies I was soon on my way on what was now a busy path, heading for my third and final stop of the day.
Although a little boring in terms of features, the easy track down Glen ogle (following NCN7) was a delight and allowed me to make quick progress towards Lochearnhead. After a series of fun zig-zags and an undulating section through some woodland, I soon reached Balquhidder. I was making really good progress on this leg so far and was confident I could do this section on or under 2 hours – game on! My bike, however, had other ideas…
After heading uphill and along a forestry track, followed by a short descent to Strathyre, my bike decided to have its first (and thankfully only) mechanical of the day. Having put in a couple of powerful pedal strokes in a fairly high gear to save dropping down the gears to get up a short steep section, my chain decided to snap! Thankfully I was carrying a spare link, but this took about 10 or 15 minutes to fix and knocked my confidence slightly as I wasn’t 100% sure of my chain – would it snap again? If so, game over…
There was little in the way of climbing between Strathyre and the end of Loch Lubnaig, so I made good – albeit cautious – progress. My dad was waiting for me at the car park at Bochastle and despite my issue I arrived on time, around 2.5 hours again after my last stop. It was now around 1700. I’d been on the go for 8.5 hours, but in that time I’d completed 3/4 of the route and had a mechanical issue, so I was feeling in really good spirits. My legs had cramped up a couple of times on sections 2 and 3, but a short walk for a few minutes eased them off, so I was confident that I would finish the route in my allotted time.
One last resupply stop and I was on my way again, determined to finish the route and complete another long distance trail. Once again, after a short section through some woodlands there was a mile or so on tarmac, which let me make good progress without having to put too much tension on my chain. Then came the penultimate climb of the day, an up-and-over towards Aberfoyle. The track was excellent to begin with, but got a little rougher between the 2 sections of forestry, so this slowed progress slightly as I was on and off the bike regularly to negotiate boulders and streams.
Thereafter came a quick descent into Aberfeldy – a lovely wee village and very quiet at this time of day – but I didn’t want to delay progress so continued through the village to begin my last climb of the day. The climb was steady and gentle enough and I made good progress, jumping on and off the bike to give my now tiring legs a rest. A highlight was definitely riding alongside the Victorian aqueduct, which carries water from Loch Katrine towards Glasgow – an impressive feat of engineering!
I reached a tarmac road once again and knew that this signalled the final short climb of the day. I was pushing harder now, determined to complete the route as quickly as I could. It had been an epic day and I’d been supremely lucky with the weather, not having a single drop of rain fall on me all day. It had been a great route too, although one that suited biking over walking in my opinion with quite a large portion on tarmac or cycle path – a little bit monotonous on foot I’d imagine.
The very last part of my day involved a speedy descent along the tarmac road heading into the north of Drymen. With no traffic I was able to embrace my inner child and reach speeds fast enough to make me say “Weeeee”! I whizzed into Drymen and saw my dad standing at the village green that marked the end of the RRW – job done!
I completed the 78 mile route with 2477m of ascent in 10hrs 50mins, including rests and my mechanical. This should have been more like 10hrs 30mins (or perhaps less) had I not had to fix my chain and be a little bit more sympathetic towards it in the last quarter of my route, but I was very pleased to finish the route more than an hour quicker than I’d given myself.
My replenishment strategy had worked really well and meant I was only ever carrying a few items of food in my bib-shorts. I could probably have done with a second water bottle on my bike, but made up for this at each stop by taking on extra fluids. I was very grateful for my dad’s efforts though – almost 11 hours of constant waiting couldn’t have been the most thrilling of days, but it had made my journey much more manageable and enjoyable. He’ll receive payment in the form of a trip or two away over the summer, so I’m sure it was worth the effort on his part too!
After a quick change of mucky clothes and the bike packed away, it was time to enjoy the leisurely drive home to Ayrshire. Next on the agenda: shower, food, bed!