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.