I was promised buns and with that knowledge safely secured, I signed up for the fifth annual Belles and Buns cycling event. No, no, not those kind of buns! Buns as in the springy Victoria sponge, mint chocolate tray-bake, lemon drizzle kind (not that I’m obsessed or anything….)
Awesome name’s aside, this is Scotland’s only all- female cycling event situated here in our very own Perthshire. Organised by both Highland Perthshire Cycling and Coupar Angus Cycling Hub, the relaxed, non-timed event aims to get women of all ages, abilities and backgrounds on their buns. Of course I mean bikes...
Just under 300 Belles swooped in to Coupar Angus from across Scotland this past weekend united in their mission to unpick the myth that cycling is just for those experts with fancy bikes and hi-tech gear. Or maybe they were just there for the cake…
Just under 300 Belles swooped in to Coupar Angus from across Scotland
Whatever their motivation, with three route options available – a 16, 32 and 64 miler respectively – there was a ride for everyone, from those new to the sport to those preferring the challenge of a longer ride. Start times were staggered for safety reasons but all cyclists could look forward to mini cake stops on the route culminating in the queen of all banquets upon finishing. Regardless of your choice, there simmers a passion for cake, banter and stretching yourself a little. And there’s not a peloton in sight….
Disclaimer - I’m not a cyclist. I have a great bike but still haven’t found the courage to install foot clips (is that what they’re even called?) and frankly, my understanding of the gears is still a work in progress. Plus, I don’t own padded shorts and am too scared to make right-hand turn signals so waste a lot of time looking for left-hand turn-friendly routes. Evidently, I wasn’t really bringing my A game to Belles and Buns - experience or kit wise.
Not that it mattered one Millionaire shortbread-sized bit. The event has a lovely relaxed vibe and its participants were a friendly, easy-going bunch as I soon discovered when, after grappling with how to attach the wheel to my bike before registration, I begged two ladies for help.
Sisters Zoe and Ailsa Smart from Dundee then went out of their way to assist and I was soon road-worthy. Turns out, Ailsa had done the event last year with her mum and loved it so much she’d persuaded Zoe to take part. Zoe meanwhile, is a marathon-trainee and was using the event as a chance to do some cross-training.
I pedalled over to registration to grab my bike’s number board and to meet my sister Fiona Maclean and her friend Rachael Gleave – both Belles and Buns regulars and champions of cake-related cycling. After a quick stop to the blissfully clean (perks of a ladies-only event) Portaloo, we assembled at Larghan Park to gather for the 12pm start. With around 170 cyclists, the 32 mile circular route I was about to embark on was the most popular choice and with safety paramount, we were released in waves with a reminder from event organiser Grant Murdoch to take it slow as we edged out of town.
Unlike other sporting events I’ve been in, there was no jostling, barging or elbowing in efforts to get to the front. It was all very civil and courteous as we streamed our way from Coupar Angus along the gentle country roads framed by breezy oaks and the most magnificent scenery.
The route, which stretched out to Glamis before heading north to Leys of Cossans and then circling back westwards was well signposted and at points where quieter roads met with busy junctions there were marshals on hand to direct and offer support.
Bike riding allows you to really soak in your environment
I caught glimpses of the long line of neon-clad cyclists way out in front, weaving their way along the bends of the course. Bike riding allows you to really soak in your environment and with the casual nature of this ride, I felt that even more so, snatching chances to hop off my bike and take pictures of stunning views or Insta-worthy stacks of potato crates. Without the constraints of a timing-chip I felt much more liberated, enjoying moments to chat, share a laugh or remark upon the scenery but I liked that I could still dictate my challenge factor – I could dig into a hill climb or just as easily get off and push my bike uphill instead. No judgement with these Belles!
The cake stop at Airlie Village Hall was a welcome sight and we refuelled with banana cake. With sugar-levels suitably spiked but not over-laden, we were back on the road.
Over the next half hour, I was thankful for not overdoing the cake stop as we faced a series of steep hills. I was up for the challenge as, thanks to my sister’s on-the-road tutoring, I had only just worked out how to move seamlessly into my ‘wee cog’ (the blessed gear for hills!) and enjoyed the graft involved in grinding the pedals to the top, the exhilaration of making it there followed by the inevitable thrill of whooshing down the other side.
Lazy white clouds drifted across hazy blue skies making the yellow of the rape seed oil fields pop as we filed into Alyth and onwards to Coupar Angus. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t yearning for the finish line as we pedalled those last few miles.
Then suddenly, we were there. Back at the former bowling green and club which is now the Coupar Angus Cycling Hub. Bum and thighs heaved a sigh of relief as I shoe-horned (yowch) them off my seat and wobbled on tired legs to receive my bespoke finisher’s medal, cutely crafted by Aberfeldy Workshop.
Then, ladies and gentlemen, that moment we’d all been waiting for. We opened the door to a scene of joyous and abundant cakery. Cakes in all their magical finery, glistened alluringly on their platters. Piled high were brownies and scones and tray bakes and chocolate cake and carrot cake and and….it was truly a beautiful thing to behold.
Cakes in all their magical finery, glistened alluringly on their platters.
The room was abuzz with tired, flush-faced happy women chatting and cradling hot soups and rolls alongside their platters of cake. A team of friendly volunteers tipped out steaming cups of tea, stocked up plates, adjusted platters and straightened their aprons. Exchanging stories with fellow cyclists I heard the same thing “great event”, “beautiful scenery”, “those hills were a beast”, “have you tried the chocolate cake..?”
After another (ok, my third) trip to the goodie table, I parked myself outside on the sun-dappled bowling green lawn to steal a quick chat with organiser Grant.
For him, the event not only helps showcase the beautiful East Perthshire countryside on our doorsteps but proves just how easy it is to get into it with a bike, wherever you sit on the cycling spectrum.
Grant is mindful of keeping the event at under 300 participants so keeping it manageable and safe and he’s keen that organisers learn lessons to continue improving the experience for next time. “We need to work on our portion control,” he mentioned, referring to a temporary cake run out at the half way stop (it was quickly rectified with the arrival of a carload of doughnuts) although I did wonder then if he’d clocked my third visit to the cake banquet.
Of course cake is the crowning glory with a cherry on top for Belles and Buns, but for its organisers it’s also about introducing women to cycling in a non-competitive, casual way and perhaps most importantly, about a community coming together to make magic happen. Dozens of volunteers – young and old – from both the Cycling Hub and local community got involved through baking, marshalling, putting up signs etc. Profits raised from this event are ploughed back into the Hub allowing them to run local projects and free events without relying too heavily on grant funding.
Whatever you get from it, it was undoubtedly a brilliant experience. Next time though I may well invest in a pair of padded shorts for those other non-Victoria-sponge-style buns.
Ladies will have another opportunity to cake chase in September for the second part in the Belles and Buns series, this time hosted by Highland Perthshire Cycling and pushing off from Pitlochry.
For more information on Belles and Buns visit their Facebook page. To sign up for the September event, visit www.highlandperthshirecycling.com/events
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