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A Sunday in Strathearn, or why there is no such thing as a single speed bicycle

It being a disgraceful time since I last rode a bicycle – nearly two years ago, on my 1905 Dursley Pedersen, though that was in rather distinguished company, with Mark Beaumont on a penny farthing riding with the remarkable Ed Pratt, who was just then completing his circumnavigation of the world on a unicycle – I considered it was high time that I got back in the saddle.

So a couple of days ago I did a bit of furbishing and put some air in the tyres of my 1915 Golden Sunbeam 2-speed.


I rode it up and down the street in pleasant reacquaintance and resolved that I really must go for a good ride soon – not least because in these strange times they might decide to put a ban on all unnecessary movement, though it is hard to see how solitary cycling on quiet roads can present much hazard: a bicycle is a mobile self-isolation unit. In any case, the present advice is that cycling is allowed, provided appropriate precautions are observed.

I had just this morning finished a most enjoyable book, The Warlock of Strathearn by Christopher Whyte, and since the landscape in which it is set is just over the hill from me, I resolved to go there. I have covered this route before, part in one direction, part in another, so if you are keen to see rather more pictures than I took today, you can find them there.

I took my usual sceret paths and climbed up out of the valley of the Tay and over into Strathearn, reflecting as I rode in the direction of Bridge of Earn that it was on this very road, some 50 years ago, that I first drove a car on a proper journey – the car was a Vauxhall Victor FB, registration GSE 927, and I was then 14 years old. My father (who had advanced notions on teaching his children to drive) and my mother were with me. It was a pleasant evening as I recall and I drove them to St Andrews.

At Bridge of Earn I turned right heading for Forgandenny, where I clocked 17 mph on a speed sign, and beyond that to what I had already decided would be my decision point, at this fork in the road:

a choice of roads

which affords a splendid view over open fields to the distant hills

view to the hills

(to which, sadly, the camera does not do justice – the more beautiful (and higher) hills are at the left hand side, and had that characteristic half-dissolved look of being almost but not quite there).

At this point, I had sometimes turned back, at others gone right in the direction of Forteviot; but today I was resolved to take the Invermay road, something I had always meant to do, a resolve reinforced by my reading of The Warlock of Strathearn, in which the Water of May figures prominently.

A second resolution, made easier by the fact of writing my two-speed Sunbeam, was that I would be humble and not hesitate to use the walking gear if the steepness of the road required it. There is, in truth, no such thing as a single-speed bicycle, since one can always get off and walk if need be, and still make progress (try doing that in a car).

Though the Invermay Road starts steeply from this end, it soon reaches a summit and from then there are a number of sweeping descents, so this is definitely the best direction of travel for the cyclist. I had intended to take the next turn for Forteviot, but the map convinced me that it should be more obvious than it was, and I persuaded myself that the true turning was still ahead (there was a narrow track to Forteviot on the map). Only when I spied Dunning in the diustance did I realise I had overshot

Distant DunningSuiechean

And sat myself down on a conveiently placed bench for a wee rest.

I headed off for Dunning, always a confusing maze of streets, and swung in an Easterly direction to approach Forteviot with its level crossing. The road here runs very much along the valley floor and is fairly level.

At the level crossing, as I paused to take a picture of the roadsigns (recalling how as boys my brother and I had mocked my father’s penchant for doing just that)

Forteviot X

The lights began to flash and the siren sound, heralding the arrival of a train. On this point, the Highway Code is admirably clear and sound in its advice – always give way to trains.

train 1train 2

It was soon past and i went on my way, first across the tracks, then down a short incline to the old bridge over the Earn, which I wish I had pictured, since it is rather handsome, but traffic was surprisingly heavy at that point.

At the Bridge one can climb left and join the busy A9 Perth-Glasgow road, which I had no intention of doing, or swing right along the banks of the Earn, though at some height above it, once more in the direction of Perth.

Winding Earn 3winding Earn 2

I was growing rather tired by this time  – to tell the truth, I had somewhat over-exerted myself, not having been in the saddle so long, and I knew that a choice lay up ahead: at Aberdalgie, I could push uphill over the old road to Perth, or shirk that for the moment and continue to Craigend, where I would rejoin the Bridge of Earn Road, which left me with a climb back into Perth by the way I had come.

I opted for the former, since I knew that although I would have to push a fair way up hill, the summit became a plateau before once more descending to Perth by Necessity Brae, so that I could ride for a bit more till I came top a point where a farm track turned off to the right, affording a fine view of Perth

Homeward PathOver Perth

The very great advantage of this track, rough and muddy as it was, was that it allowed a steady descent homeward. When you live as I do on the slope of a hill, it is always pleasanter to end a journey with a descent rather than a climb if you can.

The track – much rutted by farm vehicles and muddy from the recent heavy rain – proved no problem for my Imperial Roadster, which with its relaxed frame angles, large diameter wheels and sprung saddle, takes such terrain in its stride.

But for all that, it was pleasant to pass under the bypass and join the track that led to home, with the Friarton Bridge spanning the Tay up ahead.

Dulce Domum

It had been a most satisfactory outing.