The Switzerland of Scotland
My journey began at Gleneagles train station. I wheeled my bike off the train to a deserted platform. This is a sad tale of faded grandeur. All the doors and windows of the buildings are boarded up. The old booking office with its crow-stepped gable, now a private home, is severed from the rest of the station by a blocked-off walkway.
The station still has a sense of occasion with long glass canopies on cast-iron columns and a sweeping staircase to the footbridge, but it is a whimper of how it would have been in 1924.
This was the year that the Caledonian Railway opened Gleneagles hotel, which was showered with accolades, like “The Switzerland of Scotland”, "A Riviera in the Highlands" and "The eighth wonder of the World".
The traffic died away when I turned left towards Duchally. It was so warm that I had to stop to discard my outer layer, but this might have been an excuse to take a rest from the hills. The road leveled and I picked up speed. Flies and small insects slapped against my face. Pheasant calls echoed in the woods, a sound that is like a creaky bed being jumped on by an over-excited child.
I am partial to screeching to a halt when I spy attractive wildflowers. There was something very pretty thriving on these verges. It looked like a star and had five white petals with a yellow centre. Greater Stitchwort, so called because of its ancient herbal use for alleviating stitches, the kind you get when jogging. It is also known as 'Star-of-Bethlehem' or 'Daddy's-shirt-buttons'. I got off my bike and bent right down to take a closer look at the delicate flowers and take some photos, thinking that if I was in a car I would never have noticed this.
After stocking up on goodies I returned to the countryside roads and discovered the Dunning witch memorial. The creepy white writing on the structure looks so fresh as if this incident had occurred yesterday and a relative of Maggie returned in the night to mark the tragedy.
The scrawl looks brand new because someone has been regularly touching up the paint to stop it from fading, but nobody has ever seen it being done. Is this carried out in the dead of night when everyone else is fast asleep? I wondered if it was a tradition passed down by descendants of the Wall family. The funny thing is that no record exists of a person called Maggie Wall. There is also no record of who erected the monument and when it was completed. There are many theories, but the story of Maggie is largely a secret that has yet to be unlocked.
Dunning’s food store had a hand-written sign on the door, “Dunning strawberries.1.99 a punnet.” There was a brass latch which I pushed down to open the door. The brass felt indented and smooth on my thumb, the result of generations of villagers opening this door.
I enquired about the local fruit. “Fresh in this morning. Very sweet and juicy,” the grocer declared proudly. With a big smile she pushed the punnet towards me and I could see that the strawberries were enormous and far too tempting to ignore.
The grocer was right, they oozed lushness. I ate every last one outside the 13th century St Serf’s Church. I was oblivious to the fact that inside the church there is a masterpiece of Pictish stone carving in the form of the Dupplin cross. I got distracted by the strawberries and departed without going anywhere near it.
View Witches at Gleneagles in a larger map
Gleneagles is 16-18 minutes from Perth by train. Trains from Edinburgh to Perth take around 1 hour 15 minutes or up to 1 hour 40 minutes. London to Perth takes around 6 hours by train.
Cycling distances and terrain
This route is 29 miles and the roads are mostly very quiet. The A823 will have a bit of activity, but the busiest place of the whole route is Auchterarder High Street. This is a good place to park up the bike and enjoy strolling and looking at the shops.
It is a hilly route and your legs will be given a workout. The reward is the speedy descent after the Tormaukin Hotel.
Things to see and do
The witch memorial is just outside the village of Dunning.
Cocoa Mountain is located on the High Street of Auchterarder. The High Street is a joy to explore with many unique shops.
Gleneagles train station is a fine example of railway architecture and is worth spending a few minutes admiring the sweeping staircase and footbridge.