After looking at this for a while I decided to bite the bullet and I went for it on Saturday (14th).
Rather than the usual “walking” start point of Blairgowrie, I opted to start at Kirkton of Glen Isla (which is the closest point to where I live in Angus).
Parking in the car park a little ways on from the Glen Isla hotel at 7am (chilly start of just 2’c) I rode the trail towards Alyth and then onwards to Bridge of Cally. I nice mix of farm track, walking track and field edges got the blood pumping nicely. A couple of steep hills (especially Alyth Hill) got the legs warmed up and 2.5 hrs, and 20.5 miles, later I rode into Bridge of Cally.
The section from Bridge of Cally to Kirkmichael (8 miles) starts with a nice wooded section on forestry tracks in the Blackcraig forest before narrowing to some slightly overgrown but still very ride-able singletrack. About 3 miles from Kirkmichael the trail opens out onto open hillside and the trail becomes very faint. The general rule is keep heading North and keep your eyes open for trail markers (although these can be a bit obscure at times). Kirkmichael made for a nice stop to refuel a little and give the legs a rest for 10 mins.
The next section, Kirkmichael to Spittal of Glen Shee (8.5 miles), starts with a nice easy wooded section, rocky and rooty at times but not too challenging in the dry (in the wet might be a different matter altogether though). This leads onto a sheep field before heading onto farm roads and then crossing the A924 and starting the long climb up to Calamanach woods. Through the woods and the trail continues to climb up towards An Lairig. About halfway up this you’ll come across the “Upper Lunch Hut” (I never saw a lower lunch hut). Nice place to stop for a moment and sign the visitors book before continuing the (steep, off the bike) climb up to the top of An Lairig and some great views into Glen Shee. The descent down to the Spittal of Glen Shee hotel is fast and loose, just watch for walkers and the monstrous drainage gutters. The Spittal of Glen Shee hotel makes for a good lunch stop (they serve good coffee too).
The next stage from The Spittal of Glen Shee hotel to Forter is in my opinion the least enjoyable of the whole ride. The trail is vague, large sections are unride-able and there is too much livestock in the fields (I’m always wary of cows with calves, even more so when there is a bull thrown into the mix). The route markers are very difficult to spot as most are nailed to fence posts and it quickly becomes a game of find the marker. I had a few “sense of humour failures” on this section. They have also specifically made the foot bridges 745mm wide (5mm narrower than my bars). The short road section between Dalnaglar castle and Forter castle was actually a welcome break.
Just after Forter castle it’s back offroad for the climb up towards Auchintaple loch (a nice easy lower gear climb). A little way after the Loch is another fun wooded descent (after yet ANOTHER stile climb over a deer fence) before opening out onto some nice singletrack heading towards Loch Shandra. At Loch Shandra the trail turns back to farm track which leads directly back into Kirkton of Glen Isla (14.5 miles later).
A nice pint in the Glen Isla hotel and celebrate 52 miles and 9 hrs of offroad goodness.
The books, etc will list the trail as being 63 miles but as I missed the Bridge of Cally to Blairgowrie section (which would have made no sense considering where I started) my total came to 52 miles.
Did I enjoy it? Yeah, it was a great days biking in some fantastic scenery.
Would I do it again? Not this year I won’t………………
Would I recommend it? If you enjoy the wilder side of biking, with numerous hike-a-bike sections and some easy navigation then yeah, I’d say go for it. Certain sections are definitely more fun than others but then you have to take the rough with the smooth don’t you?
Don’t worry about hillwalkers, I met the grand total of 5 during the whole ride and they were all in the same place, just about the Spittal of Glen Shee.