A short ride, and it looks like spring.

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We are teaming up with Dumfries and Galloways What’s Going On to try to get people out on their bikes. The concept is to start with a stunning but short ride just to get the confidence. All the rides will feature a stop for coffee & cake in the finest tradition of all the best rides. I had a vague idea of the route but as ever when we went exploring dead-end roads we found some fantastic open views that were more than worth having to turn and come back. We started and ended in Gatehouse of Fleet.

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Gatehouse of Fleet itself only dates back to the mid-1700s. Initially just a staging post on the route to Ireland, the town developed after the entrepreneur James Murray of Broughton built his mansion, Cally House, in 1765. However, there is evidence that the area has been inhabited since prehistoric times, with the sites at Cairnholy and Trusty’s Hill Fort providing fascinating glimpses into the past. The Pictish stone carvings known as the De’il’s Specs (Devil’s Spectacles) at Trusty’s Hill Fort are particularly unusual.

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Also in the local area are Cardoness Castle, the 15th century, six storey tower house of the McCullochs, and the roofless old kirk at Anwoth. Cardoness Castle is remarkably well preserved, and visitors are able to climb the narrow staircase within the tower.The views out over the Fleet Bay from the battlements are well worth the climb.

The OS map of Gatehouse of Fleet has enough exotic symbols hinting at the hand of man over the ages to keep a dozen or more archaeologists busy for their entire careers and beyond.Off we go to discover more. We start by turning left up Castramont Road and pass the church, just for the sheer joy of shortly turning right at Memory Lane. You are now on the road to Laurieston. The climb up onto the moorland is one of the great cycling routes in Scotland, but that’s for some day very soon as you now take the first left.

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Already you have some fantastic views, and In the valley of the Waters of Fleet below there are the remains of a Roman fort, a standing stone and a settlement and you have cycled just a mile so far. Galloway has possibly a thousand miles of quiet road and lanes, which is what makes it such a wonderful place to ride a bike. I can’t help thinking that this narrow lane is one of the most wonderful.

Lagg Burn drops from the moorland above and passes under the road and it’s worth just stopping to listen to it. In anything but a drought, It has a little too much purpose about it to be called babbling. There is a footpath signed to explore another day.

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Castramon Wood ( just one of the three ways to spell the word that you can find on the map ),  is one of the largest semi-natural broadleaved woodlands in the area. The oak trees were once used for making charcoal and supplying the local mill with wood to make bobbins. There will be some snow drops from the end of January but the real treat are the Bluebells of May and early June..

Most local people have a strong opinion on which beach is the best, or even which butcher you should use. Some may also have a short list of the best places to go to see bluebells, and this is one that is on most people’s list when you ask. You will want to have a camera with you to catch them and the Beech trees coming into leaf. 

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There are more walking routes to return to, but for now continue along through this beautiful woodland to the junction. You will be taking the left turn, but if you have time go straight on. First there is Castramon House to your right and our favorite tree is in a clearing on the left. Straight out of central casting for Lord of the Rings, it is a wonderful moss covered specimen. You pass into open country now, with  a great view right up the glen to the open moorland and one of the three hills in the area called  Cairnsmore. Not sure which is the highest? This may help.

There’s Cairnsmore of Fleet,

And there’s Cairnsmore of Dee;

But Cairnsmore of Carsphairn’s

The highest of the three.

At 2,333ft the one in front of you is the most southerly Graham in Scotland and it’s position overlooking the coast, makes it look even higher. A photo taken pointing into the hills here could be mistaken for one taken in the highlands. Time to turn and go back to the other track you noticed and explore it. Again it goes nowhere, but is a stunning ride along the river. Now turn back and continue your route over the bridge to Nether Rusko, checking for dippers and lazy fish as you go over.

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To your right now is Rusko Castle, dating from 1565 it stood unloved and unlived in for a 100 years. But in 1972 it was bought by Graham Carson an entrepreneur and community champion with an ambition to restore a castle and the means to do it. He would drive around the countryside at the weekends looking for his dream castle.

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You turn left now after the climb to return to Gatehouse on the old military road, with the Waters of Fleet down in the valley to your left. The biking here is easy and the views stunning. With time on your hands you could take a right to visit Anworth old Kirk. Dating from the 12th century, the kirk sits in a peaceful spot and has some fascinating tomb stones.Fans of The Wickerman will recognise the kirk from some of the most iconic scenes in the film, and the schoolhouse from the film also sits just across the road.

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On the hill between here and Gatehouse is Trusty’s Hill hillfort.In 2012 an archaeological dig here proved that the local fort had once been a major centre of Dark Ages Scotland “The archeological evidence suggests that Trusty’s Hill was not just a settlement but was also an important metalworking centre with access to significant resources and craftworkers for the production of high-status jewellery.” So well worth a visit sometime soon.

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Back to the route and you follow National Bike Route 7 into town and across the wooden bridge at The Mill on the Fleet. A converted mill and now the place to eat the finest scones in the area. On a sunny day you can sit outside and watch the river flow by. Often there are craft exhibitions and there is a second hand bookshop vast enough to swallow you for a couple of carefree hours.

Out onto the main street and you have closed the circle after as little as just over 6 miles.If you took all the detours you could bring this up to more than double that. There are galleries, crafts and some of the best second hand shops to visit now after what should have been a most enjoyable introduction to the joys of small adventures on a bike. You may have biked a little over 6 miles or as much as twice that.

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Here we go 2018!

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We packed so much into 2017 and yet we did not sleep in a tent or bivvy once. Not one night! Moving home down to Scotland’s south west in Galloway. A quiet, more remote area of outstanding beauty and peace and a lifestyle we love. Hundreds of miles of quiet roads, forest tracks and beautiful beaches.

We still try to bike at least 100 miles every week but I think we stop more than ever. People like to chat here, they tell you things if you stop, things you will never know if you race by.

We have a big list of things we want to do, but we ticked off one a couple of days ago. In Dumfries and Galloway there are two places to watch Starlings come together in their thousands to murmurate. A spectacular dance as the sun rises or sets. We caught this one at Mersehead Nature reserve, just along the coast from us. The 1 minute film shows how special being outside in nature is. Get on your bikes, sleep in tents, go for walks and get out and do stuff in 2018.

The headlong rush to Christmas…

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One moment you look and it is late September and the next time you glance at the calendar it is early December. Two weekends have already been lost to ice making it just too slippy for our skill levels on the bikes. That is not to say that there was no one out, we just do not feel lucky enough to stay upright.

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Today we woke to the first snow of winter, so I guess we can put the fingerless gloves into deep storage till late March. That goes for the short sleeve jersey and short shorts. I had forgotten how to turn on the central heating, and had to look it up in the manual. Now every morning begins with bringing the house up to temperature after a night of freezing temperatures.

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We have got used to mild winters. But there is a reason why Scotland is famed for its knitwear. So, out with the chunky knits and what a great idea vests are in combating that trouser shirt interface draught. Overboots, longfinger-deep winter gloves, and a buff are all in constant use now. Cross training is log splitting for the next 4 months.

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I have told you about our new bicycle holiday company business. Well that involves spending hours at a computer at this stage. There are evenings following mysterious roads on Bing Maps ( I only recently found that the most wonderful maps in the world are on this – ordnance survey ).

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In all the rush to get ourselves into companies online brochures for 2018, we did not get time to do our usual high production value Christmas cards. This has in previous years begun as early as June and in the post in the first week of December. We have got a card though.

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It began when we took delivery of a stainless steel exhaust system for our van. I was outside cleaning a bike and the postman shouted down ‘ your silencer is here ‘. But how did he know? Well an exhaust system has a particular shape that no amount of package is ever going to hide. This became the story for the Christmas card.

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So HAPPY CHRISTMAS, and get out and ride your bikes now and in the new year. We would love to see you here next year so add cycling in Scotland to your bucket list with Galloway Cycling Holidays. There, see how much marketing has become part of what we do.