Rather like the Tour de France, today was the first proper day in the mountains. Indeed as we rode northwards I was reminded of the Tour as it approaches the Pyrenees. Okay, we're not talking about the same heights, but the gradients are comparable. As we rolled out of Perth we passed the historic Palace at Scone where Scottish Monarchs have traditionally been crowned. Rab and Davy put me right on my pronunciation - it's Scoon, not Scone. Suitably chastened I decided to listen rather more and talk rather less about the attractions we would pass en route.
Slowly, indeed almost imperceptibly, we climbed from Perth towards Blairgowrie. A following wind meant that we fairly whizzed along. Then leaving Blairgowrie it all changed. A steep climb out of the town, which I vaguely recall is linked to a geological fault line, brought us to Ray’s Diner. After this it was every rider for themselves as we headed towards the Spital of Glenshee and the main climb of the day. A quick photocall followed by a tightening of my shoe fasteners and it was time to choose a low gear and pedal steadily upwards for the next 5 miles. At a maximum of 12% the climb isn't particularly steep but it's length, which as an East Anglian I am not used to, coupled with a headwind, meant that sustaining forward motion was a challenge. Interestingly, as the climb continued the challenge became rather more mental than physical. I rode through the last stretch, the toughest 400 yards I've ridden for a long time, by aiming (mentally and physically) at one snow post after another. The ‘Welcome to Aberdeenshire’ sign was certainly very welcome.
We all regrouped at the Glenshee Ski Centre café for a hot chocolate toast – it was distinctly chilly at the top - and then we clipped into our pedals for the descent. I had hopes of setting a new PB on the descent (my current PB stands at 54.2mph) but unfortunately the stiff headwind put paid to that. A real shame since this is a fabulous descent with wide open roads, sweeping bends and excellent visibility for oncoming traffic. Sheep are the only real hazard. So, maybe I'll have to return. Or maybe not!
We dropped into the Dee Valley pausing for a brief top up at the Braemar branch of Ray’s Diner and then we swept along. I did phone ahead to Balmoral to see if we could call in for a cuppa but unfortunately HMQ was out walking her corgis.
Along the way we engaged in a few mind games with a couple of local riders who had the temerity to overtake us – we let them have their moment of glory and then left them for dust. All too soon we were freewheeling into Ballater and looking for our base for the night.
If I had to sum up today in one word – “Stupendous” – would be the word!
Miles today 67
Total miles from Land’s End 769 (+ 17)
Miles to John O’Groats 217