Galloway, a 12 mile ride with ice cream.

P1330544Galloway is not itself at the moment, more Kansas than Kirkcudbright. The trees with their long roots are still green enough but every verge and field is bleached, sun-baked to an even cappuccino brown. It is the smell of honeysuckle and the shot of colour from Rosebay Willow that punctuate a ride. Time for a small adventure along the finest beaches in Galloway with the promise of ice cream to seal the deal.

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Gatehouse of Fleet never quite made it as a rival to Glasgow and on a Sunday morning it is hard to imagine it ever tried. It’s a still and humid morning where going for a walk would be just slow enough to put you at the mercy of every biting insect. Riding a bike is just fast enough to keep you ahead of them and you have your own personal cooling breeze.

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We follow National Bike Route 7 into the grounds of Cally Palace. If we had planned ahead, we could have booked a cream tea for our return and gone for the full Rock-Star treatment. Route 7 makes a turn and climb to the left and we go straight on under Oak and Sycamore shade.. You get your first glimpse of the coast and today the tide is far out. I have never seen cattle more happy to be near water or standing in it. Sheep have their heads down and are finding every bit of shade. Shearing has helped, but this is hard on them.

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Through Sandgreen caravan park and out at the red telephone box and we take a right signed for Carrick. The track strings together some of the finest beaches in Galloway and already it is busy. That said, it would be mobbed were it almost anywhere else in the UK. It is the place to be today, catching all of the cooling breeze. I like the first bay with its view across Fleet Bay to Cairnharrow above the Cairnholy stones. Mid-summers sunrise came up over these just a few weeks ago.

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At the far end of the track you are back on tarmac as you pass through the gate. There are subtle variations in stone dykes and these are some of the finest in Galloway. Turn left at the v, taking the sign for Gatehouse at Knockbrex. Soon the view to the hills above the town open up. We have a string of these beautiful hills along the coast. Rising from the sea they all look more impressive than their grid height would suggest. Any ride here will have views of Cairnsmore of Fleet, with Criffel and Screel dominating further along the coast.

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We pull into The Cream of Galloway ice cream themed park. If you do not like the pressure of decision making, go for the rum and raisin or your head will spin and a queue form behind you. You can happily take the snobiest of ice cream connoisseurs here from anywhere in the world without disappointment.  We chase the ice cream down the cone as it melts in the sun.

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On we go, back on route 7 and heading for Gatehouse. We take a right turn and up on the low hill to our right is a ruined church. We usually ride by, but today go and explore. This is never a bad thing and like so many times we are glad we stopped. Girthon old parish church has quite a history. The grave of the gardener at Cally Palace is wonderful, with spade and fork motif. There is a grave of a surgeon in the East India Company and a burial of a Covenanter, Robert Ferguson, shot to death n the parish of Tongland, as it says. Worth a visit, that is for sure.

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A red kite turns on the updraft with a flick of its tail. We drop down the hill and follow the path into Cally Woods and back to Gatehouse where Sunday roasts and scones are on offer. Just over 12 miles in total, but every pedal stroke worth it and no better way to pass a few hot hours in Galloway’s once in a lifetime summer.

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White Horse Bay by bike.

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If you ever visited Kitty’s Tearoom in New Galloway, you were sitting beneath a bit of Palnackie’s maritime history. The beautiful panelled ceiling was salvaged from a captain’s cabin in a boat broken up there. The harbour although marked as a working harbour, looks like a place where boats come to slowly turn to rust. It was the outlet port for Castle Douglas and a bustling port. It is a wonderful place to spend some time just sitting and waiting for The Willow Tree restaurant to open.

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March had been dry. I had read that an ounce of dust in March was worth more than gold, and a spell of good weather was ahead. The usual lush green of Galloway even in the height of summer has now faded under the heat of the hottest and driest spell of weather since the summer of 76. It is time to head for the beach.

It is always worth having a short bike ride worked out and ready to go. The warm and light evenings mean that you can start a short ride after 7 and make the most of the day with this 7 mile out and back route to Horse Isles Bay. Closer parking is possible but can fill up with cars as it did even in April on the first beach Sunday of the Spring. Biking there is a great option.

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Head away from the harbour along Port Road and take a left at the Glen Isle pub. Another left onto the minor road by the school and you are out into countryside and on one of the most beautiful roads in Galloway. Too narrow to enjoy driving a car with your foot hovering over the brake pedal, you can lift your eyes and take it all in from a bike.

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You take a left, though turning right for a visit to Orchardton Tower would be a good plan B. You are heading towards Almorness House with some wonderful trees lining the road and the first views back to Screel Hill. The road ends and you need to lift your bike over the gate ahead. The track down to your left is a wonderful walk for another day and full of Bluebells recently.

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The riding through Drummanoch woods is bumpy but not technical, walk if you need to. Stay with the obvious track until you come to your second gate. The road curves around to the right by some of the fine dry stone dykes, beautifully crafted from huge finger crushing rock. Often the local Herdwick sheep are here and will stand in your way staring out from under heavy grey fleeces.

 

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The bay is ahead now and you drop down to it through a tight track. You are going to shout ” WOW ” when the view opens. Time this right and you will have one of the best beaches in the area all to yourself. Many prefer White Port which is a walk over the headland after hiding your bike, but I prefer this one.

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Time to sit now and take in the view across the water to The Scottish Riviera coast of Kippford and Rockcliffe. Cheese sandwiches and a flask would make the moment even more perfect. The return journey takes the same route in reverse which is never a bad thing with so much to see and enjoy and will bring you up to 7 miles pedalled in total.

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Two unexpected encounters with stones.

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It is snowing again. Not fluffy big flakes, but soggy wet horizontal stuff blown by a strong wind from the North. Spring has been a fragile thing this year, more so since the Snowdrops and all that excitement have faded. Bluebells are not really Spring flowers this far North even though their leaves have been up for weeks. Wild Garlic is everywhere, but that is more of a smell than visual.

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Spring has been every bit as unreliable as Arsenal. One moment brilliant, the next on the receiving end of a three goal thrashing. It is hard on the nerves, and I have put away my padded walking trousers twice already. And yet there have been great days and I have enough of a tan for people to be asking if I have been away.

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There are several calculations concerning when Spring begins. But as far as I can tell, the one with most validity is the vernal Equinox. The sun has now passed the equator and will spend the next months in our hemisphere. Well hurrah indeed.

We have had two amazing visits to some of the many neolithic sites near to us. One of which was an invitation to visit Cairn Holy chambered Cairns for the setting sun on the evening of the vernal equinox. I looked up the sunset times and off we went.

We were almost late as the significant sunset is when the sun first clips the edge and then disappears behind a hill. Some of the most significant moments are when you have low expectations and this is just a quite small structure and warrants just a 4 car parking place. Our neighbour John was there and so was Joe, so we made a crowd of just four.

Joe is passionate about this place and lives just a quarter of a miles away. He has missed few sunrises here in the nine years he has lived here and is the font of all knowledge on this group of stones. He has the energy and enthusiasm of a spaniel.

The sun touched the crest of the hill. Which is when things became magical as several hundred tons of rock placed by people in the 4th millennium BC came into a perfect alignment. How did they do that? Joe had several answers, the most plausible being ” I don’t know “.

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Then it was into the car and up half a mile of sump ripping track to watch the sun set for a second time. What a moment. The Spring weather delivered a perfect clear sky and as the first stars became visible we looked for further alignments back at the cairn.

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The second small adventure came about quite by chance. If you go into the search engine called BING and click on maps, you get in the version for the UK – Road, Aerial, Streetside and Ordnance Survey. Few people seem to know that the OS is there. As you zoom in on OS it becomes an exceptionally detailed OS map that we all know and love.

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I had it zoomed in putting together bike routes and strayed across a bit of the map – STONE CIRCLE. I asked around and no one knew much about it. Easter is a good time to walk to a stone circle, and so we did.

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It is not easy walking, not helped by the path only going half way there. Straight away it is obvious that the whole glen has only recently faded from knowledge. Field patterns and abandoned crofts and forts are scattered across the landscape next to Loch Mannoch. The map shows just a single standing stone, but there are half a dozen or more. We splashed our way across the burn and tried to find the circle.

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To get a better view we climbed a small hill. So focused on finding the circle, it was not until the top that we realised we were climbing a man made cairn. Thousands of small melon sized stones had been sourced and piled up. I have no idea if it is a chambered cairn with a tomb or not, but the size and the effort of work is staggering.

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We have a wonderful landscape here in Galloway, so often remote – perhaps more now than for thousands of years. History here is touchable an experience just a walk or bike ride away. Anywhere else both of these sites would have hundreds of visitors and here they are waiting for us.

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