Reasons to be cheerful.

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P1340541I have just a passing fancy for Gin. In any list of things that I may be addicted to it will be way down the list, with McVities digestive at the top. I did once find myself checking the WWW. to see if it was possible to become addicted to digestives. Google claims it is not, but that did not fully put me at ease. Sloes are easier to say no to, being bitter and hard. The WWW. calls them tart acid and astringent, which is enough to stop any thought of including any in my 5 a day. One of those bog bodies that turn up after thousands of years had his stomach full of sloes, which is a curious thing.P1340562

Just like you would have neither sodium or chloride in your kitchen, something magical happens when you combine sloes with gin and add a whole load of sugar. You put the mix in an air tight container and place in a cool dark cupboard. Two or three months later you have something close to nectar of the gods. Well it is for me.

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Which brings me to two reasons to ride a bike at this time of year. One of which is to harvest sloes which you have been watching ripen to maturity over the summer and noted where the best bushes are. The second reason is a little more contrived. I have mentioned the Coffee Outside movement before, but you can think of it as a picnic designed by hipsters. It makes the perfect excuse to ride a bike and eat cake.

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We met up with our pal Nipper Varney in the harbour car park in Kirkcudbright a week or so ago. He describes himself as a keen but overweight and over-the-hill cyclist whose enthusiasm far outweighs his talent. His focus this year was to create a 300 mile in 24 hour charity ride around our bit of Scotland. He owns something that looks like a gravel bike and he likes both coffee and cake, so he was more than qualified to ride along the coast with us.

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We rode out along National Cycle Route 7 towards Gatehouse, but at Knockbrex took a left to the coast. You can do this section on a road bike, but something with a little more rubber makes it fun. You could pick any of the wonderful bays to stop in, but we stopped at the very first, Carrick Bay. In the height of summer you would not often get it to yourself. But 9.15 on a grey Sunday threatening heavy rain and you have one of the finest places in South West Scotland to have a picnic all to yourself.

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Part of the concept of Coffee Outside is to make the brew fresh and as close to barista standards as possible. We use a Titanium stove made in Japan by Evernew, warm milk and wooden cups made by hand in Finland. To complete our hipster credentials we use bioethanol in our stove.

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Ardwall Isle and it’s ruined chapel make a splendid middle distance thing to sit and contemplate with Cairnsmore of Fleet making the occasional appearance  as low cloud moves across Wigtown Bay. Too cool to sit for long, we pack the bikes and ride to Sandgreen and link tracks together to Cally Woods and into Gatehouse of Fleet.

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I wanted to show Nipper one of our significant trees. I had read somewhere about a tree close to Gatehouse that locals call ‘ the meeting tree ‘. I can not find any clear reference to which tree this is, but the one we want to ride to would be a candidate. History says that local people met at a tree to consider things of importance and to reach a collective answer to the troubles of the day. I think this tree would work.

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Every time we visit it, just off the road beyond Castramon Wood the light is perfect. It has the supermodel ability to look good for a camera. The light no matter what the day, is always perfect never less than flattering.

Back on the bikes we go exploring dead-end tracks which is probably when I lost a pair of stupidly expensive Oakley’s out of my back pocket. Which is why many hours later I am back here on my own in failing light retracing our wheel marks and scanning the ground. The glasses remain lost.

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Back to Kirkcudbright by the coast road to close the loop and end the Coffee Outside experience. I recommend the concept to you. The ride can be short or long the location of your choice, but the coffee has to be good.

 

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Get out and do stuff

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P1340432We found time to go to the man made Sand Martin home near Tongland. It had been busy just a few weeks ago with birds flying in and out. Now there are none, which came as a surprise. They are often the first of the Hirundinidae to get here and though we pay less attention to it, the first to leave. So, I guess that I lit the fire last night and passing thought about turning on the heating means that summer is fading.

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But there are good things and wonderful things about this time of the year. Berries and mushrooms for two. Walking the quiet lanes of Galloway would be great, but takes too much time, which is where the bike wins. Slow enough to glimpse the field full of mushrooms near Palnackie and fast enough not to take all day over it.

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We have biked to a particular wood 4 times now to gather Chanterelle, which are early this year. Not once have we found them, but you still get a nice bike ride. So you have to be open to failure. I asked a hunter we met in the USA about coming home empty handed and he had a great response, ” If you knew you were going to get something it would be called shopping “.

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Many of the bike rides at the moment are slower affairs often with the intention of noting where the good patches of Sloes are for a few weeks time, or picking Brambles. They are both destined to turn a poor gin into something magical. So, I guess I am not talking about a route to bike or a destination but more about just getting out.

A few days ago we knew we needed to get out early as we had things to do. Just 7’c and the first ride with long fingered gloves as we set off on the bikes at just gone 7.00am to go ‘ shroomin ‘. Low sun casting the first long shadows since spring and the world still in bed on this Saturday morning.

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The great thing about now is that to get that first person out of bed feeling you do not need to be up stupidly early. It is a feeling that can set you up for the day with enough of a feeling of smugness to put a spring in your step well into the afternoon.

Over the bridge at Bridge of Dee, with the river high once more and moving with some purpose to Kirkcudbright. Threave Castle is catching the first sun. This is the best side to view the castle and early morning the best time of day. Not a breath of wind. We turn right then left at Glenlochar, by the bridge where you first see the Sand Martins in Spring.

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The River Dee here is perfection, the landscape in a quiet way, as beautiful as any in Scotland. We have the sun behind us and are chasing our shadows along the quiet lane. We ride into Ken-Dee Marshes reserve and can hear ducks on the loch to our right. This is a special place and little visited. We heard the years first Cuckoo here which feels like yesterday and years ago.

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The track is bumpy. I have been here on a road bike on knife like tyres but this is easy on the wide rubber of the gravel bikes. Some of the best trees in Galloway line the track further on and the river as it becomes The Black Water of Dee does a good imitation of a Highland stream as it flows over rocks. It is wonderfully Guinness Black, which I guess is where it got the name Black.

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The wood we are here to visit is on the left. We park the bikes and send up a dozen Corvids. The Ravens are not happy that we have stopped. Now it is time to search under the Beech trees. There are many mushrooms all but one beyond our limited knowledge. Not a sign of Chanterelle. But just before we give in, there is the most perfect Boletus.

We wrap it in a coat and it goes in the big bag under the saddle. That will do for the morning. We are back home before 9.00 having had a small adventure and seen Galloway at its best, with dew on the grass and golden and warming to a new day.

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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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