On a sunny day a walk in these gardens will make you feel like you are in the grounds of a French Chateau. They are breathtaking and easily reached by cycling 10 miles from Gleneagles station. Read on to find out more...
Highlights of this route:
Begin at Gleneagles station
This route begins at Gleneagles station which was beautifully restored in 2014. You can read more about it in this blog.
3.5 miles from Gleneagles station you come to a chapel that was built by one of the wealthiest families in Scotland. The Murray's founded Tullibardine chapel around 1446 as a place of private worship and burial. In those days it would have been richly decorated, but today you find a building that is rather austere.
Originally the interior was divided in two by a screen. One one side, the priests conducted their services and the public stayed on the other side.
Some interesting things remain, such as the roof beams, fine stone construction and carvings. One of the carvings has a skull and hourglass- a reminder of death, meant to encourage people to live good lives and not sin.
The outside of the chapel is a cheerier place. On my visit trees rustled in a gentle wind and in the fields there was an occasional cow feasting on grass
5.5 miles of cycling on a minor road brought me to the pretty village of Muthill. I loved the community garden with the children's wellington boots filled with flowers
The Post Office and village store is equally resplendent in floral decorations and has antlers above the door.
There is a ruined church and bell tower in the village. In the 1100s a monastic community, called the Culdees, once lived here. There is not much to see, but it is a pleasant site to walk around and admire the substantial stone construction.
To the Castle
From Muthill it is only 2 miles to Drummond Castle Gardens. A small part of this is on the A822, which can have fast moving traffic. but during my visit vehicles were infrequent.
The castle entrance is by means of a long, narrow, uphill driveway. It is a bit of a slog and felt like it went on forever and ever.
"Where is this castle!" I said this to myself many times.
On the plus side it is a really beautiful road, tree-lined, peaceful and filled with birdsong. It is worth pulling over for a rest so that you can enjoy this magical stretch of tarmac.
Tickets and Ice Cream
Ticket purchase takes place in the imposing castle gatehouse. They also sell ice cream from local producer, Stewart Tower Dairy. I thoroughly enjoyed my small tub of chocolate and hazelnut flavour, which hit the spot after climbing up that driveway.
Once you come out of the gatehouse the first sight of the gardens is incredible. There are many turning a corner moments in Scotland that make you go 'wow' and this is one of them.
Everything is so neat. The layout of the hedges, trees and flowers is sheer perfection. It makes you want to get down there and explore.
You can walk down the grand stairs, passing statues, to walk the paths and take a closer look at the flowers and decorative hedges.
From the gardens there are fine views of the castle. You cannot visit the castle as it is still the home of a Baroness. The window blinds were down, so it was not even possible to have a peek inside.
I discovered greenhouses with tomatoes and peppers grown for the castle kitchen.
My favourite thing here, by far, is the mushroom shaped tree. There is a bench underneath it and that makes it one of the best seats I have ever come across.
Considering that it was a warm sunny day I knew exactly where I was going next. Less than 5 miles down the road is the rooftop terrace cafe of The Famous Grouse whisky distillery. It is an excellent place for a refreshment. In particular, a bottle of Ginger Grouse, a ginger beer with a nip of The Famous Grouse whisky. It is fizzy, sweet, zingy and ideal to quench your thirst. The sound of the gently flowing Barvick Burn is pretty much the only sound from this terrace.
"Honour and duty were the guiding stars of his destiny: Piety and charity the leading characteristics of his mind. He felt no jealousies. He harboured no resentments." Part of the inscription on The Baird Monument
On my road atlas I spotted something intriguing- The Baird Monument. This is my surname, so I had to see what this was all about. General Sir David Baird appeared to be perfect in every possible way from the glowing description on the side of the monument. It is written with typical Victorian gusto and this makes it all the more bizarre to find it in this location.
To get there I walked through forest and ferns. The trees were layered in moss and I rubbed my palms across it. It felt like a rough carpet or a sponge. Even though the monument is on a hilltop there was no view because the trees were so tall and thick. Scottish nature was taking over and it all seemed at odds with a military man used to campaigns in India and Egypt.
The monument is incredible, not only for the inscription, but the impressive height and size of the stone blocks. Gone are those days when grieving widows built such structures in remote countryside.
It was only 3.5 miles to get to the monument from the distillery, although I had to use the A85 for some of this journey and this is a road of fast moving traffic.
I parked my bicycle next to a pretty little cottage. I wondered if it had once housed a caretaker for the monument. On a patch of grass opposite the cottage there was a couple having a picnic lunch.
"Don't suppose you have a spare bicycle wheel?" The man with the ginger beard asked.
He explained his predicament. They had a cart with bicycle wheels that contained all of their belongings. They pulled this cart along old drover's trails, but one of the wheels ended up bent. He said that they were part of a travelling circus and walked with their cart across Perthshire to perform shows.
They did not seem too concerned about the broken wheel, "We'll just knock on the door of every house that we pass and ask if they have a spare wheel."
The road that I took to make my way back to Gleneagles station is the kind of thing that keeps cyclists awake at night. When I want to think about my next cycling trip it is likely to be a place like this that I imagine. A place of dense forest, moss covered stone walls and fern jungles. It smelt green and earthy. Give this place a few months of neglect and nature would reclaim the narrow road.
There was nobody else using this route and I felt that I had come across a secret world. Whilst everybody else was driving on the nearby A-roads I was here, on my own, in silence. It does not get much better than this.
There is some steep climbing required, but the reward you get is the stunning views of the hills.
I spotted a deer on this road. You can just about make it out in the picture below:
Further along this road there is a great view over the Loch of Balloch, a small oval shaped loch that is fringed by trees. Stick to these quiet roads and they will take you back to Muthill from where you can retrace your steps to Gleneagles station.
Trains to Gleneagles are infrequent and a bicycle reservation is sometimes required, so this cycle route requires a bit of advanced planning.
This route is around 33 miles in total. It is mainly on quite roads with negligible vehicle traffic, although there are some sections on A-roads. The A822 has to be used to reach Drummond Castle and Gardens, but I did not find the traffic volume to be concerning.
I would not recommend using the A85 unless you are very comfortable cycling with fast moving traffic. I did use it, because I was short on time, to reach The Baird Monument. It can be avoided using quieter roads that run parallel to the A85.
Innerpeffray Library, founded in 1680, was the first free lending library in Scotland. It is a fascinating place where you are encourage to handle and explore the book collection. An easy 8.4 mile cycle from Gleneagles train station will take you to the library. If you fancy going further there is the option to continue to Loch Turret.
Take a train to Gleneagles
This cycle route can be done as a day trip from central Scotland. Direct trains from Glasgow to Gleneagles take around 50 minutes. From Edinburgh it takes around 1 hour and 20 minutes, changing trains in Stirling. Some of these trains requirebicycle reservations.
Gleneagles station was beautifully restored for the 2014 Ryder Cup. It is worth spending a few minutes looking around.
On my train there were four bicycles in a space meant for just two. One of the cyclists addressed the group, "where you all going?" We all called out our stops and then arranged the bikes in order of station arrival.
One of the guys said, "I don't mind moving as long as me coffee doesn't spill." He was jittery on caffeine and held up a broken spoke and asked "has anybody got a spare spoke?"
Then the conductor came into the carriage and called out "Tickets please you lovely people, you."
Leaving Gleneagles station it is necessary to cross the A9, but there is a pedestrian island in the middle to make it easy to cross. From here you can cycle along the pavement that takes you onto the slip road for Auchterarder.
The approach to the town takes you past imposing Victorian villas and a superb view of the Ochil Hills.
Auchterarder has the longest high street in Scotland, so enjoy the novelty of cycling along it. It is 1.5 miles long with a good mix of independent shops. The fruit shop had an enticing display of produce and I bought some local strawberries.
There was a little queue in the shop, so I overheard some of the conversations. An elderly lady said to the shop owner, "The weather's to get worse at the weekend".
"Oh well, something to look forward to," was the reply, said with a moan and a sigh.
A woman had a child strapped to her back and the elderly woman asked, "is she not heavy on your back dear?"
The woman replied, "I know. I feel like an African mother with her on my back."
The elderly woman then said, with great conviction, "I can assure you dear, you are not."
When I was served I was asked about my cycling trip and the shop owner said "happy cycling!"
Fields of Corn
I took the B8062 towards Crieff. It is a twisty up and down road, but there are no big hills. I stopped to watch the corn blowing in the wind, a peaceful and mesmerising sight. When there is a gust of wind over the corn it has the same movement as an ocean wave and ripples its way across the field.
When Kinkell bridge comes into view you will want to pause and take in the postcard perfect scene. This charming bridge dates from 1793 and you get to ride across it and take in the fine view of the River Earn. This is one of those places that makes cycling in Scotland such a pleasure.
Soon after the bridge you will arrive at Innerpeffray library. I did not know what to expect from this place. I did wonder if it would be nothing more than a room of books in locked cabinets. It turned out to be something very special and I ended up overwhelmed and moved by how fascinating it is. This is a place that everyone should make an effort to visit.
Choose a book
There are about 5000 books in the library and the passionate staff actively encourage you to dig in and take a good look at them.
A volunteer struck up a conversation with me and asked, "What is your area of interest?"
I plucked a subject off the top of my head, "natural history."
The volunteer then handed me a catalogue and showed me the pages of book titles for natural history, "choose one and I will bring it to you."
I thought this was incredible because normally the books inside historic buildings, be they castles or stately homes, are out of bounds to casual visitors.
I found a book that I liked the sound of in the catalogue: The Historie of Four Footed Beasties. It had been published in 1607 and is a remarkable book of illustrations of animals, including mythical creatures with the heads of men that were believed to exist at that time.
The volunteer turned to a page to show me something that looked like a lion with a man's head. The man had a moustache and neat hairstyle that made me think of a second world war RAF pilot. The volunteer said, "looks like someone who would say tally-ho."
I loved leafing through these books in this room with its huge arched window letting the light flood in. It felt like a privilege to be here.
People had come from all over Scotland to use this library and I had a look at the 'borrowers' ledger' which is a handwritten record of all who borrowed books between 1747 and 1968 when the library ceased lending.
The library was originally housed in a tiny upstairs room of the adjacent sixteenth century chapel. This had been the family chapel of the Drummonds where they started to lend books from their private collection. In later years they built the present library onto the end of the chapel.
You can go inside this chapel and see the tiny room where the books were once kept. There is also the remains of a painted ceiling, featuring a sun with a face.
You should also take a look at the really beautiful and poignant gravestone located in one of the alcoves. It was carved by a mason for his wife and features the couple with their arms linked. There are also carvings of their ten children that had died before them. The detail in the clothing and faces is incredible.
Towser the Wonder Cat
If you want to do a bit more cycling you can continue to Crieff (5 miles) and then take the road up to Loch Turret, a water reservoir (another 5 miles).
After you pass through Crieff you take a minor road that passes the Glenturret distillery, home to Famous Grouse, one of the most recognised whisky brands in Sotland. Even if you don't have time for a distillery tour you should stop to pay your respects to Towser. This cat caught an incredible 28,999 mice in its lifetime of 24 years. This earned her a Guiness World Record and there is a small statue of her at the distillery.
Why not pick up a souvineer in the distillery shop? There is a nice pack of minatures, featuring three different varieties of Famous Grouse.
The road to Loch Turret is very steep and requires a lot of effort to get to the top. There were lots of sheep and lambs wandering around during my visit. A farmer called out to me, "how are you doing?!"
There is a gate across the road that you must open and close in order to continue onwards. The road surface gets increasingly brokenand bumpy.
There are superb views back towards Crieff and you are surrounded by lush, green hills.
The loch is hemmed in tightly by hills, looking particularly moody with low cloud during my visit. It is quite a wild place with rocks and scree on the hills and noisy seagulls swooping overhead.
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The best thing about all this effort to cycle up here is that the return trip is a fast downhill adrenaline rush.
Trains to Gleneagles are infrequent and a bicycle reservation is sometimes required, so this cycle route requires a bit of advanced planning.
It is about 18 miles one-way from Gleneagles station to Loch Turret. You can return the same way or alter your return journey using some of the alternative quiet roads back towards Auchterarder. Make sure that you allow time to visit Innerpeffray Library as this is a unique and special experience.
Gleneagles is world famous for its golf course and 5-star hotel. The train station that serves the hotel had been a shadow of its former grandeur for many years. Then came the Ryder Cup in 2014 and investment was ploughed into the station. It is a delight to arrive at this station and it is now one of the finest in Scotland.
A stay at Gleneagles evokes the elegance of the 1920s. Back then the wow-factor began as soon as you stepped off the train. Gleneagles station was suitably spectacular, but when the glory days of rail travel passed by and more people took to the roads the station declined.
Prior to 2014 I started one of my cycling trips from Gleneagles station. I was saddened to see the train station boarded up. There was still a hint of its former beauty, but it looked neglected and faded. All the windows were boarded up, the doors sealed shut and the paintwork was dull.
Sporting events that attract global audiences always bring investment into the local area and this is exactly what happened to Gleneagles station for the 2014 Ryder Cup. A huge number of spectators were expected to arrive by train, so the station had to be up to the job. 3.5 million was spent on lifts, toilets and infrastructure improvements. But the best thing was the reopening of the waiting room, which meant the beautiful bay windows seeing light for the first time in years.
Inside the waiting room the walls are wood paneled and there are information boards that tell the story of the area, including the history of the hotel and the railway.
The station has also been painted in the colour scheme of the Caledonian Railway, the company that originally built the station in 1919. This reinforces the important heritage of this building. It makes it stand out among other stations in Scotland for not having the Scotrail corporate colours and branding.
It is great to see Gleneagles restored to such a high standard after years of neglect. With the hotel and golf course attracting visitors from all over the world I feel proud that they will be seeing this beautiful building at its best.
The station is in a supberb location for heading off on cycling trips into the area, so it makes for an enjoyable start to days out in the Perthshire countryside.
Make sure to stop by at Gleneagles station and let me know if you love it as much as I do.