March 29, 2020

Overcast Clarity

Riding through clouds to find clear views.

Day trips into the mountains are extremely good. Breathing the fresh air while exploring new horizons results in a fresh mind and new ideas. One can concentrate only on the present moment, which is relaxing, and it serves as a perfect getaway from all the events that have been happening with the world recently. So the other day, I drove to Balquhidder, a small settlement on the southern edge of the Scottish Highlands, north of the Trossachs, to get doses of this goodness.

I parked by the Balquhidder's village hall and set off on my bike. Unlike hiking, riding a bike guarantee fun even if the weather forecast is far from cheerful, which was the case of that day. After a few pedal strokes, I got to the local kirkyard. Like in many Scottish villages, it looks like the time here stopped a few centuries back.

In the foreground is a ruin of a church from the 17th century, the one in the back is the current one, built in the 19th century.

Here, I where I learned that a Scottish folk hero, Rob Roy MacGregor, lived here and is buried in front of the old church. The cemetery itself is among the nicest I saw in Scotland - and there are plenty to pick from. Moreover, between the weathered tombstones, nature gave a hint that the spring is just behind the corner. Another reason for excitement!

My plan was to head up the Kirkton Glen, a valley that rises from the village towards the summit of Meall an Fhiodhain. But before starting the climb, I rode around to warm up and to get my legs going a bit. Just outside the village is Loch Voil..

..pretty rivers..

..and views.

Continuing into the glen, the path took me into a beautiful forest.

The clouds ripped open, but no bother. The rain wasn't heavy, and the trees shielded any wind. With rising altitude, the temperature dropped and I reached the snow line.

The amount of snow was gradually increasing, and when the trail changed to a riverbed, I had to do a bit of hiking.

Shortly after this photo, I got to the end of the glen. Here, the path widened and turned back to follow the other side of the valley down. Aided by gravity, I was able to ride again. Descending on the wet snow was good fun, the bike was in a constant drift, yet manageable. The rain quit, and just as I was passing a chair-like rock next to the road, even the sun came out. That could mean only one thing: lunchtime!

Under the Meall an Fhiodhain.

From here, I was in for a treat. The glen has purpose-built mtb trails. So I tucked the camera away into my backpack and thoroughly enjoyed charging down through forests and scenic glades. Eventually, I made it on a large rock face overlooking Balquhidder and Loch Voil:

Having another snack, I was grateful for having opportunities to enjoy locations like this. Apparently, in Celtic times, this area was known as a place with a close boundary between Earth and Heaven. And now, I was here. How cool! All these irregular shapes, a shadow play of sun rays and trees, and the air as clean as it gets.. It is somewhat poetic. Later at home, I found out that an old song by Robert Tannahill mentions:

"..Where the high mountains run
And the bonnie blooming heather
Where the ram and the deer
They go bounding together
Spend a long summer day
By the braes of Balquhidder.."

I guess many found some inspiration here, no matter the millennium. Anyway, as more trails waited to be explored, I set off. Yey!

Once I returned to the parking lot, I was happy and ready for the next week. I can't stress enough how vital are these personal escapes. Whatever activities suit, they improve physical state and recharge mental well-being. Cheers to the local trail builders for the day.

If you liked this article, you are welcome to explore my Blog Archives for more posts, like:

Another wintry biking here in Scotland..

..or about my day trip to the Saxon Switzerland.

Thanks for reading!

Published by: Jakub Stepanovic in Stories


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