I tried so hard to stay up for the bells at New Year on Wednesday, but the flu still hard a firm grip on me. Thus far I had missed several fun gatherings over the festive season, and I was determined not to let this illness take what was left of the holidays. But whatever it was it had to be fairly easy, not hard.
It was with some trepidation then, that come Saturday morning, with just the first signs of improvement in my health, I set off with Pauline for a weekend cycle in the Highlands.
Our starting point was the small village of Aberfoyle, in the famous area of The Trossachs in rural Perthshire. This was an area and route neither of us had tackled before, so there was an air of the unknown. It was a glorious sunny day, with the temperature just above freezing, making some of the tracks as we set off a little hazardous.
I had known beforehand that there were a few sculptures hidden in and around the forested area of Loch Ard, and within a few minutes we had found the first. Partially hidden in the fringes of a natural wood, a set of three foxes, made from reflective steel, were placed as if stealthily picking their way through the undergrowth. The reflections on the surface of the sculptures gave the impression of the foxes disappearing into the background, a similarity to the real thing I suspect the artist had every intention of creating, a subtlety that was not lost on me.
Loch Ard itself is fairly small, roughly 4km by 2km, and takes its name from the Scots Gaelic for "high". Appropriately enough it is considered to be the source of the River Forth, that eventually flows into the Firth of Forth that I look out onto from my home in Edinburgh. Contained within the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park, Loch Ard is a very picturesque, and popular with not just walkers and cyclists, but canoeists, and today was no exception as we spotted two paddling their Canadian canoes across its still, mirror-like surface into a small inlet.
As we cycled west we could see the snow-capped summit of the 3,200 foot Ben Lomond mountain. We were on it's north easterly flank, whilst over the other side was the enormous body of water, Loch Lomond. We would have it's mighty summit visible to us for most of the day, and standing beyond the forest in the foreground it had all the look of a mighty Himalayan peak.
It wasn't long before we were out of the forest and into open moorland, climbing steeply into the surrounding hills. It was to be a short day for us, and just as well, as by 2pm my limited amount of energy, thanks to the remnants of my cold, I was pretty much finished. It was hard to find a patch of flat ground for both tents, and with a nearby water supply, but as the last of the light faded, and the sun set over the summit of Ben Lomond, we cooked our supper and wrapped ourselves in our down sleeping bags as the temperature fell to -6C (21F).
By morning the temperature had risen and melted the ice from the night before on our tents. Our route back was an easy retrace of the day before, and for the most part downhill, past little isolated farms and muddy fields of Highland Cows.
As we pulled back into Aberfoyle I was satisfied with the fact that, although short, it had been the perfect little trip, considering that I was still recovering, and had given me some of the fun I had missed.
More photos here.