Reasons to be cheerful.

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

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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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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