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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Thornhill a Spring Day Loop.

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The Jackdaws have been inspecting our chimney this week. The land is still winter bleached, but we have seen the first Primrose in flower. Today the clouds are white and bold against a deep blue. It is the start of the Simpsons in the sky and best of all, we have nothing to do today but ride our bikes.

Today’s ride starts in Thornhill and quickly takes us into a Highland landscape. The first thing I noticed when planning the route is just how many Thornhills there are in the world. I mention this as we came close to accidentally booking a hotel in the wrong country once, so I would be a bit careful with Thornhill if you plan to stay.

 

We are early and the town is not yet awake as we ride around the roundabout.  With a tall column topped with Pegasus, the Queensberry family emblem it is all rather grand. The Queensberry family will be with us all through the ride. We ride by the new school and then under the railway bridge. As we head for the hills the quiet road starts to gain height quickly. We have a suggestion, if you drop much under 4 mph, it is best to walk. You will thank me for that advice and you may even hear Skylarks.

It has been a hard winter with a cold late spring. There are lambs in the fields, but some are wearing plastic mac overcoats. I remember a local farmer used to save up all his bread wrappers for lambing. New born lambs wore designer coats by Sunblest and Mother’s Pride.P1300377

We take a minor left along a potholed tree lined narrow road. Time to stop and take some photos of the clouds chasing shadows across the hills. There are Curlews calling their watery song. The surface improves after a quarter of a mile or so and you get your first glimpse of Morton Castle. There are few more beautiful ruined castles in Scotland and not many with such a long and complicated history. There is an artificial loch on three sides which is a quite recent addition. Approach quietly, and you just may be in luck and spot an otter. I did a few months ago and it made my day.

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This is some of the finest scenery in Southern Scotland with most of the peaks still hanging onto snow. The highest road in Scotland goes up to that white pimple, the radar for air traffic control. I am standing by the gate to the castle when hounds come running out of the woodland. They are working hard, breathing and slobbering and full of canine intensity. Two go left and one goes right. A Raven calls, Kraa.

On we go and we have an option. Straight on to drop down to Drumlanrig or right and a slightly longer route. This is easy cycling now, and quiet with the main road over to your left with the first of the years motorcyclists thundering along. The first right is the road we are after. It is a dead-end now, but was once the main road through the hills to Edinburgh. It pops up all through Dumfries & Galloway, often marked on OS maps as it goes. Here it also follows the line of a Roman road, so the area has never been so quiet.

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Durisdeer Kirk is worth this detour out and back, particularly if you time your ride with the Sunday tea in the church, served from the 3rd Sunday in July till last in September. There are many things worth seeing across our land that are unsigned and here is one of these pearls. A small sign points you to a back door – The Queensberry Marbles. The Aisle predates the current church and houses the spectacular marbles of the 2nd Duke of Queensberry and his Duchess. Outside there is a perfectly placed bench to sit and listen to one of the most active Rookeries I have ever come across. A walk around the gravestones includes amongst the notables, William Lukup the master of works during the building of Drumlanrig Castle.

Retrace the route a couple of miles and now take the right turn to drop into the valley. Drumlanrig is straight ahead and signed all the way as you cross first the A702 and then the A76. Once again you have a route option as you enter the grounds and ride over the bridge. Turn right first, if you are staying at Drumlanrig you will love the grand entrance along the alleyway of trees. You get the finest view of the castle as you follow the signs for the tearoom. If you want a longer ride, take a right for a loop along National Cycle Route 7.

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You could dive into the cafe and then continue, but check openings as this has a very short season. The final stop is the village of Penpont. Again, check the opening of the tearoom here to save tears, tantrums and bouts of Hangry. Again, you can drop here at just the right moment and take advantage of ‘ tea & lite bites ‘ at the church hall and you will be made most welcome.

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Just a short ride now to close the loop. In the field to your right, just before the tight bridge over the River Nith is the 9th century cross in the field to your right. It is the only Dark Age cross in Dumfries and Galloway still standing in its original position. It is one of those times when moving slowly and perched just above the hedges, you get to see things you will miss in a car.

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Thornhill has a dizzying array of places to eat. If you have managed to turn up to the three or so on the long route you will now need a plan. Main food is at The Buccleuch & Queensberry and the finest coffee & cake venue for miles around is Thomas Tosh tucked at the side of Morton’s Street. There are several other great places, so you will find a seat.

The route is as little as 6 miles, and as long as 24 miles if you follow all the options. Only the first part is steep enough that you may need to walk and all of it is on beautiful and quiet roads.

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