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One of the lesser explored areas of Scotland is the lovely Clackmannanshire. This may be down to the fact that perhaps it does not have the most mellifluous sounding of names, but it truly is a wonder and right on my doorstep too. Its beauty stems not only from its understated nature but also from the bent backs of human labour. The Rolling Hills and random woodlands are interspersed with quaint small holdings and large stables. There are vast amounts of mighty steeds and handsome geldings on display as the roads twist amongst them. Horses are, of course, majestic creatures, toned most splendidly for physical work but as the road ambles past them you occasionally catch their eye, which display a deep understanding of the feeling of freedom the bike provides. Horses approve, like a gentle Grandparent would, not directly vested in any sense of responsibility towards you, but certainly not unconcerned. I like horses but do like to keep my respectful distance. Deep in Clackmannanshire is Castle Campbell which was the lowland seat of power for one of Scotland's most notorious Clans. Clan Campbell has a convoluted and complex history in terms of whose side they were on, from the Wars of Scottish Independence to the Jacobite uprising. The only thing that is safe to say is that they have always been on their own side when it came to forwarding their interests. Castle Campbell was originally known as Castle Gloom; this arises from the Scot's Gaelic word glom meaning chasm, which refers to its position at the top of Dollar Glen, a deep scar that runs through the hillside and not a reference to the long shadow The Campbell's would come to cast across the political intrigue of Scottish History.
Ever onward, that's the point of Bike journeys, across the heart of Scotland and North. Toward Perth and the beautiful cathedral town of Dunkeld. Two towns divided by the Tay have merged into one with the construction of the exquisite arching bridge; Dunkeld and Birnam are now united but Dunkeld remains the more interesting with the added bonus of rolling up into the historic town square and getting a decent ice cream! From what I understand there are plans afoot to rebrand this whole section along the lines of the "North Coast 500 route" which proved a great success for the highland economy, it will come to be known as the "Heart 200" in reference to investment in the infrastructure. It doesn't quite hold the same romance as the NC500 but some of the roads badly need attention so more power to it.
Skirting North and slightly west again I aimed for the Falls of Bruar. Unfortunately the monstrosity that is The House of Bruar, highland outlet bars the way and is unavoidable. It's not my thing but then perhaps it is yours. Indeed it is a popular destination for many tourists and campervans. Behind it however is the steep walk up the falls which is very pleasant and worth tackling. From the top of the cascading waters the ancient canopy of trees disguise the outlet and you can look out over the Glen, very peaceful indeed, as those that frequent the shopping centre rarely embark on the climb.
When you're on a motorbike there always seems to be ample time. Stop for a photo of the bike (this is most important :) or move to another destination. I took the B847 which is mostly single track. A two wheeled machine needs no more that a single track, and the ride they provide never fails to raise a smile. This one in particular playfully bounces along the top of the Tay Forest park then swings south west again, beyond the hills of Trinafour, where before you looms the mighty Schiehallion.
If you ever doubted it; of course there is such a thing as magic! Scotland's foundations are build upon it, although it lingers throughout our fair country, it is much more tangible in places where mountains meet the water. Just to arrive there and breathe it in is confirmation of this. Some magic spells require an incantation. If the words are said incorrectly, you may miss the enchantment. This is why Scots feel the wild sorcery more than others, for it is only a Scotsman who can correctly recite words such as Kinloch Rannoch and what a spellbinding place it is.
Homeward bound and south across the Braes of Foss and Dull, to picturesque Aberfeldy. Taking the A826 you can be the rider that crosses the heart of Scotland and ride down the Sma' Glen aka Glenalmond. I've written about it before and every time I pass this way I gasp at the beauty. In fact I often go out my way just to ride it. My reward on this day was that the day was coming to a close and an amber light spilled from the sky. As the sun dropped the heather on the hills tried desperately to cling to the last shafts of light, capturing it perfectly in a purple embrace.
From here, you can traverse the A85, don't tarry too long on the main road and aim for Muthill. This cuts across to the famous Gleneagles then down through Glendevon. A lovely road again that descends back to the seat of Lowland power past Castle Gloom to Rumbling Bridge and returns to wonderful Clackmannanshire. The Horses awaiting my arrival, silent and unassuming as before pondered on me and my strange mount, "What a great run they must've had."
More in Part 3.