In our third Coffee & Ride feature in partnership with komoot, we're all the way up in Highland Perthshire where Mike Stead can often be found refuelling in the popular Escape Route Cafe. With a scenic 48km route that incorporates a stop at the cafe to share alongside, we'll let Mike tell us why this route and cafe comes highly recommended...
Cafe: Escape Route Cafe
Cafe Location: 3 Atholl Rd, Pitlochry PH16 5BX
Ride Location: Highland Perthshire, 60mins north of Edinburgh
Ride details: 48km, intermediate road ride, average fitness required, 590m elevation
Escape Route Cafe is a landmark in the Highland Perthshire cycling landscape, literally and figuratively. Situated in the middle of the region’s main town of Pitlochry, close to road and rail links with a large outdoor undercover seating area and a 100% bike-friendly vibe, it’s arguably the perfect cyclist’s cafe. Complete with drop handlebar toilet roll holders in the loos, it doesn’t hurt that there’s a major bike shop of the same name attached to it either.
I’ve been a regular at Escape Route for five years, and have always found the staff and the vibe 100% positive and inviting. The coffee is great, as you’d expect, and picking from the various daily selections of cake presents no small challenge to the glucose-depleted cyclist. My personal favourite is the carrot cake, because it’s actually carroty and the zingy icing balances the carb-fest nicely. They do full meals and breakfasts including vegetarian options, so there’s no chance you’ll leave unsatisfied.
There are loads of bike racks in plain sight, so you can keep an eye on your ride if you’re of a nervous disposition. The picnic tables outside are fully covered so great for poor weather, or if you’re arriving filthy from off-road escapades. They’re open every day, 9am-4pm.
The route departs from the picturesque town of Dunkeld to the south, situated on the River Tay an easy hour’s drive north of Edinburgh. You can get to Birnam Station just over the river by train, but as always check and book your bike space.
Dunkeld has plenty of options for accommodation and dining, as you’d expect from a former Victorian spa town. As a base for a holiday it’s an excellent location, surrounded on all sides with fabulous on-and off-road riding - check out www.perthshiregravel.com for some gravelly inspiration.
Living close to Dunkeld I’ve ridden this route many times, in all weathers - it’s my go-to loop and it never fails to please. The roads used are very lightly-trafficked, and if you encounter a dozen cars over three hours you’ll be lucky.
Highland Perthshire is known as ‘Scotland in miniature’ - and on this ride you’ll encounter frankly stunning views of high hills, ride over and along the UK’s largest river (twice), travel old ‘military roads’ built by the English to suppress the rebellious Scots, and pass at least two distilleries. Sláinte!
Heading out of Dunkeld you get the warm-up over and done with quickly as you climb 80m from riverside to the King’s Pass, then roll north along General Wade’s Military Road to join the decent separated cycle path along the A9 for a few miles.
At Guay you leave the cycle path and turn right up a steep but mercifully short climb. At the summit you enter a gently-rolling hidden plateau littered with farmhouses and cottages, with stunning views to the west and even the Munro Schiehallion on a good day. The singletrack road continues along above Ballinluig, where the view turns north to Ben Vrackie towering above your destination, Pitlochry.
After a steep, twisting descent back down to river level on the outskirts of town, you earn all your forthcoming Cake with the 140m ascent past Edradour Distillery to a stunning vista above Pitlochry. From there it’s a pedal-free swoop down the Moulin road into the centre of town, and in no time you’re at the cafe.
After replenishments the route crosses the Garry River below Faskally Dam and immediately turns onto NCN77, tracking the opposite side of the valley down to Logierait. This is another quiet singletrack road beneath towering trees, with great views of the route you just rode.
At Logierait the route crosses the Tay - this time via a vintage steel railway bridge - and joins a rolling road through the tiny hamlet of Dalguise, down to cross the Tay yet again at the A9 bridge. There’s a grade-separated cycle path over the river so no worries mixing with A9 traffic.
The last few miles back to the start is on a traffic-free and newly-sealed path along the Tay through the tree-lined grounds of the Dunkeld House hotel - a beautiful end to a beautiful ride, and time for tea, a pint or meal at one of the quality riverside pubs.