If it wasn't for my best friend Pauline I don't think I'd get much of any exercise at all. I certainly wouldn't have discovered as many places in the great outdoors, or cycled across the width of the United States. So pretty much every time Pauline suggests heading off somewhere for a mini adventure, count me in.
But when she suggested getting the 9.30am train to go and cycle the Devon Way, and that we'd be back in time for evening supper, I had to question her judgement. I mean, it would take all day just to travel the 500 miles to Devon for goodness sake!
But as usual, I hadn't listened. This was a short cycle route starting in Alloa, just outside Stirling, and follows the Devon River to a small village called Dollar in the shadow of the Ochil Hills.
Normally when we are on a cycle trip I take my hybrid Specialized bicycle, but as this route was very short, easy and entirely flat, we opted to take Brompton bicycles, with its ingenious folding design. Personally I think I look ridiculous atop a high saddle stem on the tiny bike with tiny wheels, but I have to admit it is great fun. The other advantage is there is no requirement to book the bike onto trains, as it neatly folds up and can be carried on. It's a fairly recent concept, with the company only starting up in London in 1975.
You wouldn't necessarily choose to use a Brompton on a long cycle tour, as it is very much a commuter bike, but this day we were only traveling a total of 14 miles, so it was perfect as the path is so easy. If there was any doubt remember that it's advertised as being suitable for baby buggies for goodness sake!
Leaving the station at Alloa the path took us north toward Tillicoultry, which is about the half way point. It's not until you are within sight of Tillicoultry that you actually start following the River Devon though, at an appropriately named village called Devonside.
Needless to say the Autumn colours were evident, if not past their best, though this year has not seen a vibrant display anyway. Earlier in the year we had three months of virtually no rain, and it has stayed unseasonably warm after summer. It's likely those two factors have contributed to the leaves starting to turn then falling quickly before they have had a chance to display their bright colours.
Very Quickly we were in Dollar and chaining up the bikes at the bottom of a gorge walk called Dollar Glen. Owned and maintained by the National Trust for Scotland, it has a fairy tale feel to it. Waterfalls spill out of narrow clefts in the cliff sides, and moss carpets the stones and fallen trees among a dense woodland, ensconced in the shadow of the nearby Ochil Hills.
There is a boardwalk all the way up, mostly to protect the environment from the erosion of many feet. Lichen is the most abundant life form on the planet, and in Dollar Glen alone there are upwards of 190 species. This, combined with the wildlife habitats and geology have made it an area of Special Scientific Interest, guaranteeing its protection.
At the top is Castle Campbell, dating back to the 15th century, when it was a stronghold of the Earls of Argyll, now managed by Historic Environments Scotland. Originally known as Castle Glume, it passed to the Campbell Highland Chief through marriage and the Campbells stayed at the castle for 200 years. It is one of Scotland's best preserved tower house castles. Of course, as you may have guessed, Mary Queen of Scots stayed there, as did the preacher John Knox.
You can walk a circular route and coming down takes you through less precipitous landscape. Though we had only cycled seven miles to get here, and 45 minutes would see us back in Alloa, we could not break with tradition, and so, before unfolding our transport, sought out the usual "coffee and cake", rounding off a perfect mini adventure.