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Dumfries and Galloway May 2018

by Pat Fallon

with pictures by
Greg Robertson and Willie Gall


As usual Willie was the driving force for our tour of Dumfries and Galloway, suggesting and planning a route. Willie, Greg and myself met in the Oval Tavern in March to firm up a plan - I had borrowed 5 Ordnance Survey maps of the area from Croydon Library for the meeting but these proved to be unnecessary as Willie had suitable maps, including Sustrans Lochs & Glens South which covered almost all of our route. I think I need to recheck the maps as I didn't spot any chevrons on the route but we did encounter some seriously steep hills!

We were fortunate that Bob Yellen agreed to join us, making a nice group size and more convenient to book rooms for four. Willie booked our train travel including seats and bike spaces both ways to and from Scotland. He also booked all the hotels apart from one which I did - my booking was the only one were there was a minor problem but more of that later.


Day 1 - Train to Sanquhar, Crawick Multiverse, Wanlockhead and Leadhills - 14 miles.

I agreed to meet Greg at 5:00 a.m. as we wanted to be at Euston in plenty of time for our 7:30 departure. We arrived shortly after 6:00, Bob joined us before 7:00 and finally Willie arrived shortly after 7:00, expressing his surprise that we had left so early!

We boarded the train and loaded our bikes with no problems, Willie had booked us into the front coach where the bikes are also stored. We had to change at Carlisle to get a local train onwards to Sanquhar and arrived there at 12:19 p.m. It was a short ride from the station to the Nithsdale Hotel but sadly there was no cask ale available so we had to make do with some excellent bottled beer.

Day 1 Route

From the bar it was another not quite so short ride to visit the Crawick Multiverse, the landscaped site of an old open cast coal mine. This was funded by landowner the Duke of Buccleuch, designed by globally-renowned landscape artist Charles Jencks and is a stunning representation of exciting discoveries and theories of the universe built using materials from the site. We spent a good hour wandering the site which is free to visit.

Crawick Multiverse

Crawick Multiverse.

Crawick Multiverse

Crawick Multiverse

Crawick Multiverse

Crawick Multiverse

Crawick Multiverse

Crawick Multiverse

Crawick Multiverse

Crawick Multiverse

Crawick Multiverse

Crawick Multiverse

Crawick Multiverse

River Nith

River Nith from Eliock Bridge at Mennock.

We then got down to some serious climbing as we were heading firstly to Wanlockhead in the Lowther Hills, the highest village in Scotland at 1,531 feet and also home to the highest pub. We initially had a gradual climb up the Mennock Pass on a quiet scenic road flanked by hills dotted with ewes and their lambs. As the road got steeper I had to walk occasionally but my companions did not need to resort to walking. On arriving at the village we stopped in the Wanlockhead Inn for refreshment, but were disappointed that no beer from the on-site brewery was available.

Mennock Water

Bridge over Mennock Water.

Mennock Water

Mennock Water

Mennock Pass.

Wanlockhead

Wanlockhead.

Wanlockhead

Wanlockhead

There was a short sharp climb from the pub where we passed the Miner's Subscription Library, the second oldest in Scotland founded in 1756. We did not have time to visit the library or Lead Museum but continued a further mile over the summit into Lanarkshire and on to Leadhills. Alongside our route was the preserved Leadhills to Wanlockhead narrow gauge railway, formerly used to transport the lead from the mines.

Our hotel in Leadhills, the Hopetoun Arms is the highest in Scotland - everything seems to be the highest around here. Bob and myself paired up leaving the two snorers together. Willie and Greg won the prize for the best bathroom of the tour as it was almost as big as the bedroom and quite luxurious. We were later informed that it was for the VIP visitors who come for shooting - Prince Charles was mentioned though we don't think that he actually stayed here. We had no choice but have dinner and a few beers in the hotel before bed.


Day 2 - Leadhills, Mennock, Cleuchhead, Tynron, Moniaive, Fingland Moss and St John's Town of Dalry - 46 miles.

Day 2 Route

It was a bit on the fresh side first thing as we prepared to get underway. Before we left Willie gave directions to walker who was staying in our hotel and we had chat with a husband and wife who were walking their dog. They were from Putney and had moved here 40 years ago as the husband was relocated with his HGV driving job.

Leadhills

Leadhills.

Leadhills

Leadhills

Leadhills

Leadhills

Leadhills

Glengonnar

Glengonnar - Returning Over the Summit and Our Brief Foray into Lanarkshire.

Glengonnar

Wanlockhead

Wanlockhead.

Wanlockhead

After passing back through Wanlockhead we reversed the previous day's route for the descent of the Mennock Pass, which proved to be quite tricky in the strongly gusting wind. On the way down I spotted a white bike on the hillside by the road and when I got home I found out that this sadly commemorates a 22 year old Wanlockhead man who had died whilst cycling here in August 2016.

Mennock Pass

Descent of Mennock Pass.

Mennock Pass

Mennock Pass

Mennock Pass

Bridge over Mennock Water.

We crossed the River Nith and followed Nithsdale before turning south-west on a series of rural roads to Tynron and shortly after I had to walk up an unexpected and very steep hill - 19% according to Greg's Garmin. We had a chat with a young woman who had walked up from Moniaive in the hope of seeing a carpet of bluebells in the adjacent wood, but these had not yet flowered. We had earlier passed some bluebells which were beginning to flower a good month later than those down south.

River Nith

Eliock Bridge and River Nith.

Cleuchhead

Views from Cleuchhead Road.

Cleuchhead

Cleuchhead

Cleuchhead

Cleuchhead

Cleuchhead

Scaur Glen

Scaur Glen.

Tynron

Daffodil Lined Drive near Tynron.

Tynron

Tynron

There was a correspondingly fast descent into Moniaive where we stopped at the Craigdarroch Arms Hotel for lunch. The village was preparing for it's annual folk festival to be held over the weekend and there was an informal jam session in the bar, which was all very enjoyable and we almost had to drag Bob away.

Moniaive

Moniaive.

Moniaive

As we left Moniaive it started to rain for the only time on our tour. We travelled on the quiet B729 and just off the road road we spotted a large wicker horse on a trailer.

Wicker Horse

Wicker Horse.

Wicker Horse

The rain gradually grew heavier but this did little to dampen our spirits as we continued on quiet roads over high moorland. I was pleased to reach our destination St John's Town of Dalry and we stopped in the The Clachan Inn for beer and to checkout the dinner menu - luckily they had a cancellation and we were able to book a table for later.

Our hotel for the night, the Lochinvar was only 100 yards away so we headed there for a shower before returning to the Clachan. The pub was very busy as there was a fortieth birthday celebration going on and this may have been the reason Willie was unable to book accommodation here. There was an excellent range of real ales and the dinner was very good.

Returning to the Lochinvar, Bob headed to bed whilst the other three of us had a night cap in the bar.


Day 3 - St John's Town of Dalry, Glenlee, Clatteringshaws, Galloway Forest, Glen Trool, Bargrennan, Wood of Cree, Newton Stewart, Wigtown and Garlieston - 51 miles

Today would be the toughest day of the tour as we headed through the Galloway Forest Park on tracks which form part of the alternative off-road route for National Cycle Network Route 7.

Day 3 Route

Leaving St John's Town of Dalry we crossed the Water of Ken, passed Glenlee hydro-electric power station and had a steady climb in bright sunshine up the valley of Craigshinnie Burn, where we heard numerous cuckoo calls. I also spied buzzards and a red kite and it was on this road we experienced the only bit of bad driving when we had to pull off the road to let a van driver past.

Water of Ken

Water of Ken.

Water of Ken

Craigshinnie

Craigshinnie.

Craigshinnie

We stopped at Clatteringshaws visitor centre but failed to locate the nearby Bruce's Stone, though we did enjoy the fantastic views across the loch. We continued around the loch, passed below the dam wall and stopped to admire the views from its western side.

Clatteringshaws

Clatteringshaws.

Clatteringshaws

Clatteringshaws Loch.

Clatteringshaws

Clatteringshaws

Clatteringshaws

Clatteringshaws

Clatteringshaws

Clatteringshaws

We were now on the forest tracks for about 12 miles, though the first 2 or 3 miles were surfaced. We stopped occasionally to get our breath back, take photographs and enjoy the views. We passed Loch Dee and entered Glen Trool. Superb climber Bob was the only one of us not to get off and walk on steeper and rougher sections but a steep climb of 15% on loose gravel near the end was even too much for him.

Galloway Forest

Galloway Forest Park.

Galloway Forest

Loch Dee.

Galloway Forest

Galloway Forest

Galloway Forest

Galloway Forest

Galloway Forest

Galloway Forest

Galloway Forest

Galloway Forest

Galloway Forest

Galloway Forest

Gairland Burn.

Gairland Burn

Galloway Forest

Galloway Forest

Buchan Burn.

We eventually rejoined a surfaced road near the second Bruce's Stone on its superb site overlooking Glen and Loch Trool. We stopped here for photographs and to commemorate our great hero.

Galloway Forest

Glen Trool.

Galloway Forest

Loch Trool.

Galloway Forest

Galloway Forest

Galloway Forest

Galloway Forest

Bruce's Stone.

Back on tarmac we sped down Glen Trool, past the visitor centre and on to the House o'Hill at Bargrennan. As we arrived just after 2.30 p.m. we were too late for lunch but they agreed to do us sandwiches to go with our very welcome cask ale.

Galloway Forest

Water of Minnoch.

Bargrennan

Bargrennan - House o'Hill.

We headed south on the eastern side of the River Cree, following NCN Route 7 along a very quiet and beautiful road, where we had to stop to admire the burns cascading through the woods towards the Cree. A surprise was in store for us at Newton Stewart as the bridge taking the cycle route over the Cree had been washed away, but this was merely a minor inconvenience as we only had to retrace our journey for a short distance.

Now on NCN Route 73 we passed through Wigtown which is Scotland's official book town with a number of book shops and an annual book festival. We passed the Bladnoch Distillery the southernmost in the country, but had no time to stop for a sample as we continued towards Garlieston. I was tired after a strenuous day and the last stretch of road into Garlieston seemed to go on forever.

Wood of Cree

Wood of Cree - Pulhowan Burn.

Wood of Cree

Our accommodation at the Harbour Inn was the one booked by myself and although I stressed at the time that we would require twin rooms they had a double and a twin room for us. The landlord said he would try and find us alternative accommodation but I told him not to bother as I would share the double with Bob.

Garlieston is a small harbour village popular with camper van tourists and the pub was very busy, but they found us a table in the dining room for dinner and beers. The landlord gave us a free round of beers because our booking was wrong. Afterwards we had a walk round the harbour, looking over the bay which was the testing ground for the Mulberry Harbours to be used in the Normandy Landings. My sleep was disturbed as the staff were having a party with noisy karaoke, but when I settled the bill the following morning the landlord gave me a discount, I assume for the noise though I had not complained.


Day 4 - Garlieston, Isle of Whithorn, Whithorn, Port William, Glenluce and Portpatrick - 45 miles

Day 4 Route

Garlieston

Garlieston.

Garlieston

Garlieston

We headed south to take a look around the small harbour at Isle of Whithorn which is not actually an island.

Isle of Whithorn

Isle of Whithorn

Isle of Whithorn

Isle of Whithorn.

Isle of Whithorn

Isle of Whithorn

Isle of Whithorn

Isle of Whithorn

Isle of Whithorn

Isle of Whithorn

Isle of Whithorn

Isle of Whithorn

Isle of Whithorn

We headed inland to Whithorn, the earliest centre of Christianity in Scotland, dating from 397 when St Ninian is thought to have set up shop here - more than 50 years earlier than the better known St Columba arrived in Iona. We only had time for a quick look at the outside of the ruined priory, which was a great centre of pilgrimage in medieval times.

Whithorn

Whithorn.

Whithorn

Whithorn

Whithorn

Whithorn

Whithorn

Whithorn

Our next stop was back on the coast at Port William but we were disappointed to find that the pub had closed so no lunchtime beer. We were able to have tea and coffee and a bite to eat in the View a community run café. Bob was photographed looking out to sea with the Man statue.

Port William

Port William.

Port William

Luce Bay

Luce Bay.

Luce Bay

Luce Bay

We continued around Luce Bay in the warm sunshine and rejoined NCN Route 73 shortly before arriving at the Cock Inn at Auchenmaig, where we stopped for a couple of pints. We were accompanied by the cries of oyster catchers as we rode along the coast and skirted Glenluce. There was a climb over the Rhins on the quiet A77 before the final drop into Portpatrick. Along here Willie had the only puncture of the tour but got it fixed in time to catch up with us for a beer in the Crown Hotel where we were staying. This was a busy place, but the beer and food were good and the beds clean and comfortable.


Day 5 - Portpatrick, Cairngarroch, Sandhead, Drummore, Mull of Galloway, Sandhead, Awhirk and Portpatrick - 37/46 miles

Day 5 Route

Today's plan was to take things a bit easier with a leisurely cycle to the Mull of Galloway and two of my gallant companions, Bob and Greg, made it all the way as the photographs of the lighthouse show.

Portpatrick

Portpatrick.

Portpatrick

Portpatrick

Portpatrick

Portpatrick

Portpatrick

Portpatrick

Portpatrick

Princess Victoria Memorial

Commemorating Portpatrick Lifeboatmen Involved in Attempted Rescue of Larne Ferry which Sank in 1953 with Loss of 135 Lives.

Portpatrick

Portpatrick

Portpatrick

Portpatrick

On leaving Portpatrick we had an unexpected series of very steep short climbs and descents along the western spine of the Rhins peninsula and following advice from a local that this would continue to Port Logan where we would find no cafe or refreshment option, we turned off at Cairngarroch and headed to Sandhead on the eastern shore. Here there was a cafe, but closed on Mondays so we instead retreated to the Tigh Na Mara Hotel for tea and coffee. We met an older couple who had lived in South Croydon and the lady also lived at one time in Lewin Road in Streatham where I also lived for a couple of years - they are now happily living out their retirement in Galloway.

The Rhins

The Rhins

We headed down the coast in warm sunshine with views across Luce Bay and stopped in Drummore at the Clashwhannon which had excellent cask ale. We sat outside in the sunshine and as Greg and Bob continued to the Mull, Willie and myself decided to stick to the original plan for a leisurely day and had more beer. We were entertained by Senga who was managing the pub while the owners were on holiday.

The Rhins

The Rhins

Greg adds;

Bob and I set of from Drummore to cover the 5 miles and final few hills toward the Mull of Galloway lighthouse. Although this was a single track road it was probably the busiest section we had used all day. The views from the lighthouse were spectacular; looking north across fields to Drummore, also out to sea towards Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man. A signpost showed Belfast 42m, Douglas 37m and ~300m to each of London, Lands End and John O Groats. Unfortunately the lighthouse itself was closed depriving us of the chance to climb another 500 steps, instead we scanned the cliffs for roosting sea birds then looked at the large Fog Horn installation and the outside of the lighthouse museum. Finally we called into the rather nice cafe to fill up on tea and cake before heading back north. Fortunately the return journey was mostly downhill or flat so we were able to join Willie and Pat at Sandhead for a final refreshment stop.

Mull of Galloway

Mull of Galloway.

Mull of Galloway

Mull of Galloway

Mull of Galloway

Mull of Galloway

Mull of Galloway

Mull of Galloway

Mull of Galloway

Mull of Galloway

We arranged for Bob and Greg to catch up with us back at the Tigh Na Mara Hotel, a good excuse for a couple more beers and they arrived shortly after us. Heading back to Portpatrick we took the B7042 which was much less lumpy than our morning route and we again had the pleasure of the fast drop to the harbour.

The Rhins

We checked out the Harbour Hotel but decided to stick with the Crown as the preferred option for the evening's eating and drinking.


Day 6 - Portpatrick, Stranraer, Castle Kennedy, New Luce, Three Lochs, Bargrennan, Wood of Cree and Newton Stewart - 45 miles

Day 6 Route

Back up the hill from Portpatrick, we turned off onto a minor road for Stranraer, where we found a very nice tearoom which was surprisingly good value. After a few miles on and off the main road leaving Stranraer we got back onto minor roads at Castle Kennedy for a gentle climb through the hills to New Luce. The only shop a post office was closed when we arrived and hotel had closed down permanently. A resident provided Willie with water for his bidon and advised that we would find a shop at the Three Lochs.

We passed a windfarm as we crossed the open moorland of Artfield Fell and Greg witnessed a buzzard devouring road-kill, but it had flown off by the time I caught up. We were disappointed to find that the bar advertised as open at the Three Lochs holiday park was actually closed, as was the shop. We took advantage of their outdoor seats to take a short break while we ate some emergency cereal bars and biscuits pilfered from our rooms.

Artfield Fell

Artfield Fell.

Artfield Fell

Artfield Fell

Artfield Fell

Rather than take the direct route to Newton Stewart we agreed to head further north for a return visit to Bargrennan and after passing through some forestry land we once more climbed up onto the moors and were rewarded with a drop down to the A714.

Garchew

Garchew.

Garchew

Garchew

Bargrennan

Bargrennan.

Bargrennan

Of course the real reason for coming this way was to have a couple more pints in the House o'Hill, which were very welcome indeed! Heading south for Newton Stewart we took the same route down the Cree valley as a few days ago. In town we stopped off at the Galloway Arms Hotel for a beer and to check their dinner menu. We checked into the Crown Hotel and despite having originally booked twins, we were lucky enough to each be given our own room, a couple of which were doubles. After showering we walked back through the town to the Galloway Arms where we had another good meal.


Day 7 - Newton Stewart, Creetown, Gatehouse Station, Gatehouse of Fleet, Borgue, Kirkcudbright, Gelston and Castle Douglas - 48 miles

Day 7 Route

NCN Route 7 took us out of Newton Stewart alongside the B7079 and as we turned away from the River Cree we had a very steep climb which Willie and me walked up. Following some minor roads we had a section of cycle track on the old railway bed where we met a German cyclist who had cycled from his homeland with a final destination of Newton Stewart - we did not think to ask why he was heading there.

Newton Stewart

Newton Stewart.

Stronord

Stronord.

Cree Estuary

Cree Estuary below Spittal.

Spittal

Sustrans Route at Spittal.

We had a fairly long climb into the hills above Creetown but managed to pedal it this time. Like the rest of the area it was quiet, through lovely countryside and Bob charged on ahead of us. We saw a small herd of deer as we headed for Gatehouse of Fleet, and also passsed the isolated former railway station which is now a private home. At a junction Greg and me stopped to look at an information board with maps of the area and although the spectacular Big Water of Fleet railway viaduct was only a couple of miles away we decided to give it a miss and head on down the glen to the village.

Moneypool Burn

Moneypool Burn.

Moneypool Burn

Culcronchie

Culcronchie.

Culcronchie

Rusko

Rusko.

Rusko

Our lunch stop was the Mill on the Fleet café, where Bob had been waiting over an hour having mistakenly thought that we were ahead of him and that he needed to catch up. We had a warm sunny spot by the river but the service was rather slow. There were several other cyclists relaxing outside the café, some of the them with Moultons. Willie of course had a chat with them and it turned out that Dan was the technical expert from Moulton who had previously assisted him by tracking down replacement levers for his bike.

Gatehouse of Fleet

Gatehouse of Fleet.

Gatehouse of Fleet

We said our goodbyes and continued along NCN Route 7, with a bit roughstuff through Cally Park where the woods were carpeted with bluebells. Back on minor roads and with the Solway Firth on our right, we passed through Borgue and turned north to ride along Kirkcudbright Bay where we stopped to take photographs of the town from across the water.

Cally Park

Cally Park.

Cally Park

Cally Park

Cally Park

Cally Park

Girthon

Dandelion Filled Fields near Girthon.

Nun Mill

Nun Mill.

Nun Mill

Kirkcudbright

Kirkcudbright.

Kirkcudbright

Kirkcudbright

Kirkcudbright

Kirkcudbright

As we approached Kirkcudbright the Moulton Crew came down the main road across our path and after crossing the bridge into town we stopped for another chat. I spoke with a lady who had moved down here from Edinburgh some years ago and said she loved the life in the town - no going back to Auld Reekie.

By now we were in need of a beer and found the Masonic Arms but decided to follow Dan's recommendation and head to the Selkirk Arms Hotel which he told us was owned by a cyclist who kept good beer. This is the place where Robert Burns is reputed to have written his famous Selkirk Grace. As we were taking our beers out to the garden the friendly owner turned up in his cycling gear and with a serious racing bike in tow. He had been on a training ride as he was taking part in sportive from Dumfries the following weekend. Dan and his partner joined us for a drink compliments of Willie.

Kirkcudbright

Kirkcudbright

Kirkcudbright

Suitably refreshed we returned to NCN Route 7 for the final leg of our journey to Castle Douglas and our digs in the Imperial Hotel. Sadly we arrived just too late to sample the delights of the Sulwath Brewery Tap Room which closed at 6.

Castle Douglas

Douglas Mausoleum.

After showering we had dinner in our hotel and then went for a walk around the town, which appeared past its best and rather neglected. We had a night cap in the hotel bar, except for Bob who needed his beauty sleep.


Day 8 - Castle Douglas, Old Bridge of Urr, Corsock, Gordieston, Irongray and Dumfries - 32 miles

Day 8 Route

Castle Douglas

Castle Douglas.

With plenty of time to spare for getting to Dumfries, Willie suggested that rather than taking the shorter NCN route we head into the hills for a last time, so we left on a northern route going through Old Bridge of Urr and several other isolated settlements. Again the countryside was quiet and beautiful for a great final day's riding. A few miles short of Dumfries we stopped at the unusual kirk at Kirkpatrick Irongray which like many other places we'd passed, had connections with the Covenanters.

Old Bridge of Urr

Old Bridge of Urr.

Old Bridge of Urr

Old Bridge of Urr

Old Bridge of Urr

Corsock

Near Corsock.

Corsock

Corsock

Corsock

Old Water

Old Water at Routin Bridge.

Old Water

Irongray

Irongray Church.

Irongray

Irongray

Belties!

We arrived in Dumfries with time to spare before catching our trains, so after stopping on a bridge over the River Nith to consult smartphones to find the best pub to finish our journey, we headed to the Tam O'Shanter for some excellent beer from the local Sulwath Brewery.

Dumfries

Dumfries.

Dumfries

Dumfries

Dumfries

Dumfries

Heading to the station we split up as Willie was going to Kilmarnock to visit his father and the three of us headed south. Our train for Carlisle was on the platform as it started from Dumfries and we had plenty of time to load our bikes. We had about ten minutes to change at Carlisle and we loaded the bikes onto the London train with the assistance of station staff.

Dumfries

The End!


Postscript

This was an excellent tour no doubt enhanced by the good sunny weather. Thanks to Willie for the suggestion and for booking the accommodation and the train tickets. We met some very nice friendly people along the way.

I did suffer some discomfort due to saddle sores but I resolved to get a bike fitting to overcome my problems. I had this done by Paul Smith at C & N Cycles in Redhill on my return and it is clear my saddle was far too low.


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