May, rides in Galloway.

In the west of Scotland, on hearing the cuckoo for the first time, pull off your shoes and stockings, and, if you find a hair on the sole of the left foot, it will be the exact colour of the hair of your future spouse. If no hair is found, then another year of single life must be endured. The days are already full of light here and getting lighter by a minute or two at dawn and dusk every day. Saturdays ride into the Galloway Forest had 7 Cuckoo calls in total, something of a record.

April, like last year was dry as winter leaves, and we waited for a band of flames on the horizon every evening. It happened last year and took days to put out and spread across our Galloway Forest playground. We need cows or sheep amongst the trees to keep the grass down. Tinder dry, the bike wheels failed to grip on the pea gravel and kicked up clouds of dust. The barometer failed to drop for weeks, cold clear days upon days. A splash from the hose and the bikes were clean and back in the sheds.

We had rides that had been planned for months that needed dry conditions. One after the other they got ticked off, even the long hike-a-bike through bogs where you risk the bike being lost to the swamp. There is one route in particular with a mythical dry and ridable path through the forest, possibly with the most exquisitely rare flowers fringing both sides of the path. It is talked about often and most people know someone who saw quad bikes come through or has a friend who did it twenty years ago to visit a pub/bothy/girlfriend. It is like the search for the North West Passage a fable or allegorical tale. You will never meet someone who says they themselves have done the route, nor is it on any map.

We have now tried both routes that you could string together after time on the web flicking between every type of map. The first option was shorter and you went into the murk of bog up to your hips in places. The second option we did a couple of weeks ago in the full drought conditions. It was longer and you went into the murk up to your knees. It links together some world class gravel for a 60 mile route of beauty and variety and people still say we went the wrong way and there is another way.

The weather broke a few days ago, first with an evening of rain, as a bank holiday weekend came along and pandemic-hit holiday cottages opened it turned to snow as the temperature plummeted. I took a series of photos last week with the drone ‘ what would make this perfect would be if those far hills had snow on them ‘. Ten days ago it was red zone fire hazard and now deep snow and we are lighting a fire in the evenings.

The rhubarb came up strong healthy and magnificent, the best ever. A night of -6’c left it limp and unhappy and needing to be used soon. There were three nights in a row of -6’c and plants in the greenhouse were frost nipped and died. Night sky, short as it is was December clear which is always the payback when you live in a UNESCO Dark Sky Park.

According to Scottish lore, the frequent calling of the cuckoo is a sign of the fierce ‘gawk storms’ of rain that commonly coincide with its arrival. Today is May 6th and great columns of cloud are stacked up over the Galloway Forest that we can see from the kitchen window. The wind is from the north and has been for days now and the wild birds in the garden are keen to come to the feeders still. Siskins, Goldfinch and Chaffinch have dominated the garden this year and now we have Redpoll most days and of course Sparrowhawk to keep things vigilant.

We have just completed work on a gravel cycling festival that will become an annual event here in Galloway. I will write about it in a few days time. It has been a huge undertaking but the best bit has been creating three routes of distinct character, one for each day of the festival. We are working with the team behind the Paris and Berlin Marathons and most big cycling events in Europe – Raiders Gravel Festival is going to be huge – I will let you all know about it very soon.

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