Best outdoor/Adventure experience – Galloway Cycling Holidays – that’s us!

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I have no idea where the year went. From the first bulbs flowering in the garden at the end of January to the point where we are stumbling into the dark days of December. Now there are long nights of hard frost and fires lit by four in the afternoon to keep this 300 year old  house habitable.

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We are on the flightpath for the geese as they commute from their roost in fields at Threave Castle to the coast. Dusk and the first stars come earlier every day. What we were calling afternoon a few weeks ago is now evening. Sounds of geese passing low overhead and the first sharp frosts of winter mornings – the earth cold deep frozen and metal hard.

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It is time to go to the woods with our bikes. We start as late as possible to get the warmth of the sun but early enough not to be caught out by the early setting and chill air by 2pm. Get it right and you can have some of the best rides of the year.

We go exploring new tracks that link places we have walked or seen on maps. Fire roads, farmtracks, drove roads and ancient trading routes. There is always a risk with a new route and we have had a couple of unexpected river crossings. The gps helps but navigation is only as good as the course you plot.

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Off road routes will always have harder climbs. Short and punchy ascents that get the blood flowing and help to keep some of the fitness of those long summer rides. We take a flask of coffee and home made cakes and pull on an extra layer of clothing. The stops are always planned to have the best views and a pool of sunlight. It is now too cold to go through the ritual of lighting a stove.

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We are so busy in the summer that we can go weeks without meeting friends. Our neighbour Lizzie has the same problem and refers to us as “ my winter friends “. If we find time to feed ourselves in the peak of summer we are doing well. Our little cycling holiday business is a most demanding mistress.

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Year two of guests on bikes has gone very well. In the height of summer we were informed that we were nominated for Scotland’s Tourism Thistle Award for Best Outdoor Company. Nomination is a wonderful but abstract reward for getting things right and a string of great reviews. It would usually be as far as it goes for such a small and young company. But we made the West of Scotland final and were rather thrilled.

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This is the tourism oscars and requires dressing up, tickets with a big venue and food. We turn up for the evening out in Glasgow, far beyond our usual bedtime. We do everything, there is only the two of us. Our website, the photography, the bike servicing, the guiding, the bookings, the logo and social media and marketing is all our work. Which is why, when we won the WEST OF SCOTLAND BEST OUTDOOR / ADVENTURE EXPERIENCE we both were more amazed than words can express. We won!

Best Outdoor-Adventure Experience RW (1)

I say it is all our own work but we know it is the random things that make a bike holiday with us special. The farmer that stops for a chat, the cafe staff that talk about the area, the car driver that waves. Then of course there is the landscape and people of Dumfries & Galloway. The unknown bottom left bit of Scotland, the left turn after Carlisle and the border. Our patch, the best place to ride a bike in Scotland our home. Thanks everyone.

 

Three rides and a walk, mostly with a flask and flapjack.

P1300254Autumn of all four seasons is alone in being defined for me by a most distinct smell. Wood smoke and rain on the first night that is dark not much after 5pm. What was the afternoon just days ago but now we agree to call evening. Last night was the first of these nights and I opened the window and leaned out to enjoy it. I remember a ride near here at a time when I had disappeared  down the rabbit hole of endurance cycling.

P1300276P1300294My pal John was even further down that hole and was known as ‘ John The Beast ‘ because of it. As part of the madness that had gripped him, he was attempting to ride 3 Super Randour Series in a year and a 200k every month of that year. Schooled by ‘ The Brothers ‘ in Ireland using a carrot and stick method without necessarily using the carrot. John became a hard living trawler man who looked forward to being invited onto Russian deep water boats for a drink. John, to this day is a hard man.

P1300352P1300365My proudest moment on the bike was pushing him to the point of being sick during a fast 200K in the Highlands. He remains one of the few people I have ever known who I would want by my side on a lion hunt. He could encourage you out onto your bike on nights like last night and make it sound like it was going to be fun. I have no idea exactly where I was but I remember the smell of that dark Autumn ride, the woodsmoke of cold damp villages.

P1300407The geese are here in huge numbers now, arriving during a string of frosty nights unseen but clearly heard as they came over our house. We work in the garden as they fly out to the coast in the morning. Potatoes, cabbages and apples did well this year and onions are strung up in the shed. Wood for the house has been cut, sorted and stacked and the raised beds all have a thick duvet of pony poo.

P1420646P1420660You have to pick your days for longer rides and start early. Roads that we have used all summer now have different sightlines as the trees open up. The ride up to Corsock along the Urr valley now has a beautiful river down steep banks to our left with strings of small waterfalls. Then there are the colours to enjoy and clear far horizons once you have gained height.

P1420664P1420693Some trees start late. Every year I think that the Ash at the end of our garden is dead when it fails to flush into leaf until early June. Oak does the same and stands as counterpoint to all the screaming russets and reds.

P1420746P1420761We pick a day for a cliff walk and pack a flask and flapjack and pull on winter boots and coats. Rascarrel Bay, a loop with views across the Solway to the mountains of the Lakes. Still and crisp with dark clouds moving away to the South. It is a short walk and we spend much of it stopping a looking and taking it all in.

P1420774A long ride with flask and flapjacks to explore a road we have failed to ride all year. We climb for the first third of the ride into the hills and towards Irongray before we cross the A75 to close the loop back to Castle Douglas. New roads are always a thrill and the lack of a cafe means that a flask stop is important.

P1420821The next day the high pressure holds off the poor weather to the south of us and I can get out on the gravel bike into the woods of Laurieston Hall. I love the garden and wood piles there and the dozens of onions hung to dry. A very special place with links to Brian Eno and Bowie and one of the gems of Galloway. Just 25 miles but every one of them perfection.

P1420840The final ride begins at the bike centre in Kirroughtree and we start the climb on steep forestry fire and extraction roads. It is a maze of mountain bike routes here and the car park has a good turnout midweek. We cross the Queen’s Road and pick up the Old Edinburgh Road to the Loch of the Lowes for a Flask and Flapjack stop.

P1420886P1420927We cut across to the main Queens Road before we pick up a wide track that peels away to the left. This is unexplored territory for us and we come across a series of waterfalls and woodland tracks that give great views of the back of Cairnsmore of Fleet. We pick up farm tracks that lead to the very rough road that runs the right-hand side of Palnure Burn. Just 21 miles in length as we close the loop back at the car, it has to be one of the best short gravel rides in Scotland.

P1420934P1420939All of these small adventures were done this week as we took full advantage of a run of the most perfect weather. You just have to pick your day now and get out early. The joy of tingling fingers and red cheeks and that most wonderful of modern inventions the hot shower make it worth every last bit of effort. Carpe diem people, carpe diem!

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70 miles with a flapjack & flask.

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The summer ended and autumn came in so fast this year. I checked with other people and there is agreement that it was fast. Adjusting to the lack of light this far north is hard every year. Not days ago I was moaning that it never gets dark enough for a good nights sleep and now you need lights on the bike.

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For all the downsides of crashing into winter, if you can pick your day for a ride here in Galloway you can have the best day of the year. A long ride requires an early start and a bit of planning. There are a few gifts that Autumn brings. Geese in huge numbers and mushrooms and apples, then there is the colours of season’s change.

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The best area is that around Thornhill. It has more broadleaf trees than the coastal area where we live and a low but bright sun makes the quiet roads there a perfect spot. We planned a 70 mile loop from home with 1 coffee outside stop with flapjacks and 2 cafe visits. Which brings us to the question of flapjacks.

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The size of the tin is important to get the depth of the flapjack correct and the key thing for use on the bike, is stability. Once the mix is in the baking tin then you need to press it down and into the edges and corners – use a mashing tool and do not hold back on the compression.

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A 26cmm square tin is what you need and 400g butter into which you melt 100g demerara sugar and 8 tablespoons golden syrup. Combine 400g jumbo organic Oats with 300g fine Oats and 250g dried fruit.

In small batches mix these all together in a food processor and empty into the baking tray. Fork it out and then pound it flat with the mashing tool. Gas mark 3 for 40 minutes and then just after it comes out score the cutting lines. This makes an calorie filled snack to sit in the bikebag next to the flask full of the highest quality coffee.

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We headed out along “pony-poo” road, northeast toward Kirkpatrick Durham, going straight through the village and continuing to climb as we moved away from the coast and into the uplands. Dairy gives way to beef and sheep as you climb and then you are up on the open ground. Glenkilin is perhaps one of the highlights of the ride. It has a few Henry Moore sculptures which I think are replacements in fibreglass for the originals that were stolen from here.

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The best place to camp and today’s outdoor coffee stop is at the head of Glenkilin on the bridge over the river that feeds the reservoir. A perfect place and enough heat in the low sun to make the stop comfortable and allows time to linger. Time now to climb over the watershed and to pass the largest collection of Belted Galloway cows that we know of.

P1420438P1420443The next section is along the Cairn Water, just to pick up the forests of beautiful flame coloured trees, with stands of Beech along the road making this detour special. With so much rain, there is also the treat of the waterfall at Routin ( many falls both sides of the border have the name Routin? ).

P1420458 P1420477We cross over the river at Irongray and start a very long climb back along the valley. Ahead is the promise of a cafe stop at Moniaive. There are a couple of cyclists at the door and all indications are that it is closed, which is confirmed by a note in the window. This is a disaster and a bit strange as I had checked for opening times. We wanted to say thank you as the Glenwhisk cafe as this is the final few days before closing. It is always worth checking the door, which opens to reveal people sitting and drinking coffee and eating cake. They had forgotten to take the CLOSED note down

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More climbing after the cafe, and now on stiff legs as we got chatting and stayed for over an hour. We are on the A702, but you would not guess it to be an A road if you were shown a photo of it. It is the easier of the two routes to Dalry and enough for a long day like this. A few weeks ago I was driving here in the early morning and came across a wild pig boar standing at the side of the road and looking at me as I came to a stop. It took perhaps a minute to pull all the clues together and confirm I am looking at a very big pig!

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We turn towards Balmaclellan and then head to New Galloway and the Smithy cafe. It soon closes for the winter putting a big gap in cafe map when planning routes. We are now closer to home and on familiar roads and again the legs are weary as we pedal along Loch Ken. Every parking space is full and every small bay has an arc of fishermen. Yes it is men and I can not remember the last woman that I came across doing this. More than half of the 10 other cyclists we have met have been women cyclists today, which is great to see.

The sun is now low in the sky as we turn at Laurieston. The sky is full of Red Kites all taking advantage of the feeding station up the road. They are playing with the wind, holding it and then letting it spill as they fall. We have never seen this many.

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The bikes are still quite clean as we reach home, that may be the final time for months. One of the greatest inventions that humanity has ever produced is the shower. We have just fitted a powerful beats that replaces the squirting thing that gave up on us. Oh joy oh joy. 150 miles done this week, which may be a total that takes a while to equal.

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