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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The last days for summer rides.

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The shorter days are here. Days when light is of a premium, precious and never to be wasted or taken for granted. Your horizons shrink. Short summer rides now repeated have become major treks when you need to be home by 3.00pm. We try to take final rides to places that will be beyond the bike horizon, say goodbye to cafes that shut for winter. Wooden doors that have swung freely all summer now need the attention of a sanding block as they soak up the air moisture.

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We are out every morning, either on bikes or walking and watch the first rays of sun touch the tops of the mountains to the north. Near the coast south of us, Screel Hill faces the rising sun and keeps us waiting for its warmth. Many miles to the north Merrick, the highest mountain in the southern uplands is high enough to already catch the golden light. Already there have been a few days when the light catches the first snowfall there. It looks unlike northern mountains, much less angular, more whale backed.

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We had the first big storm of winter. Winds close to 100mph only held back a little by Ireland being between them and us. I closed the curtains early, lit the woodburner and drank wine. It raged most of the night. Few people slept well and in the morning many trees were down and that was the end of autumn colours for this year.

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The end of this year, but if you look close there is already signs of next. the corvids are back in their trees. They appear to be happy now the branches are bare. They sit high up and rock as the wind catches the branches. At the bottom of the garden we are lucky enough to have a Raven. He, she, it can never be mistaken for a crow. It is a KRAA rather than a Caw. It stops you dead when they call.

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I read recently a description of the world of crows, ravens and the other corvids, and their constant displeasure of any other bird flying in their territory. They just can not leave them alone, not once. They, and the birds of prey live in a constant state of war. More often than not the corvids win, as they are much smarter by far. The birds of prey live lives at a blur of speed and reaction.

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On morning rides now you have to check the outside thermometer, at least two forecasts or even three and pick the best. Wind from the north now and it will be cold, often bitterly so. On with the thermals and overboots and try to find two gloves that match. It is a lazy wind, one that does not bother to go around you.

The winter birds are here. Last of the daylight and we can hear the pink footed geese come in to roost by the castle a mile away. Already the Blackthorn bush in the garden has been stripped of fruit by our local thrushes and visiting Redwings. The hedgerows are bare already and many cut within an inch of their lives by contract mowers in a hurry. Every few feet there are robins, some from as far away as Russia.

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We live on the edge of a Dark Sky Area and have almost no light pollution. Vivid and crisp milky way stretching across the sky is normal. But then there are the 10% nights of total clarity when the number of stars doubles. We try to get out for a walk on these nights just around the lanes near home. Five minutes and we are in another world. ” Look at that! “, and I had time to turn around and focus on the second best shooting star of my life. Horizontal to the horizon and visible for what could have been 10 seconds.

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So, what have we been doing these last few months? Well busy times, very busy. Our new cycling holiday business needed a website and we had to learn our patch. This is hard, as it is 200 miles long by 100 wide. We need to know every quiet road, every cafe and every comfy B&B and where the hidden things are.

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We kept on seeing great routes on the maps that involved running on tarmac, then off road and then along farm tracks, before returning to the road. So we bought two gravel bikes. Wide-tyred, drop handlebar go most places dream machines called Diverge by the makers Specialised. We love them.

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I bought our first bikepacking saddle bag to keep clothes and the camera safe and out of harms way. We have no bike handling skills, so the bikes are far beyond our ability. That said, you do just have to point them and pedal. We have been exploring the hills that these bikes open up for us, and will be offering this gravel experience as part of our trips.

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The whole planning a company I find difficult. I don’t like to over think things, preferring to trust in luck or instinct most of the time. I concluded that planning to ride around the world was counter productive. You have to do some planning to get visas and make sure you are not setting out into a 3,000 mile ride into a brutal headwind. But beyond that, planning is only there to calm your nerves. Too much just becomes part of the mass that holds you back, part of the inertia. If you look at too many guidebooks you will end up where everyone else goes. The world is not a bad place and you will not starve to death.

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The starting a business thing does actually require a lot of planning. Luckily Esther is genetically inclined towards planning, thanks to her being German. She has gone on a file and A4 divider buying feeding frenzy. And thank goodness one of us did. Our new website is up running and looks fantastic. We also have a Facebook page, where we post bike stuff about this area and the rides we do. It is an outlet for creativity that does not come with the weight of expectations that writing a blog here holds – it is 100% fun.

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A talk in Rhonehouse

At the start of the year we moved. Not too far, just up and over the watershed from one side of Scotland to the other and a little bit south. Home is now a 240 year old house in the wonderful village of Rhonehouse. We are on record as saying that we do not enjoy gardening or house renovation, or most other things that could get in the way of going out on our bikes.

Somehow, we have bought a place requiring a 1,000 hours of DIY and a full-time gardener. We will have to adapt. The positives are beautiful countryside, quiet and more than enough storage for as many bikes as we could ever want.

As a sort of hello from us, we are giving a talk on the 28th of April. Just a short distance from the table where I am writing is Rhonehouse village hall, which is where it is going to be. Friday is a good day for talks I hope and 7.00pm not too early or late.

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