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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



A short ride, and it looks like spring.


We are teaming up with Dumfries and Galloways What’s Going On to try to get people out on their bikes. The concept is to start with a stunning but short ride just to get the confidence. All the rides will feature a stop for coffee & cake in the finest tradition of all the best rides. I had a vague idea of the route but as ever when we went exploring dead-end roads we found some fantastic open views that were more than worth having to turn and come back. We started and ended in Gatehouse of Fleet.


Gatehouse of Fleet itself only dates back to the mid-1700s. Initially just a staging post on the route to Ireland, the town developed after the entrepreneur James Murray of Broughton built his mansion, Cally House, in 1765. However, there is evidence that the area has been inhabited since prehistoric times, with the sites at Cairnholy and Trusty’s Hill Fort providing fascinating glimpses into the past. The Pictish stone carvings known as the De’il’s Specs (Devil’s Spectacles) at Trusty’s Hill Fort are particularly unusual.


Also in the local area are Cardoness Castle, the 15th century, six storey tower house of the McCullochs, and the roofless old kirk at Anwoth. Cardoness Castle is remarkably well preserved, and visitors are able to climb the narrow staircase within the tower.The views out over the Fleet Bay from the battlements are well worth the climb.

The OS map of Gatehouse of Fleet has enough exotic symbols hinting at the hand of man over the ages to keep a dozen or more archaeologists busy for their entire careers and beyond.Off we go to discover more. We start by turning left up Castramont Road and pass the church, just for the sheer joy of shortly turning right at Memory Lane. You are now on the road to Laurieston. The climb up onto the moorland is one of the great cycling routes in Scotland, but that’s for some day very soon as you now take the first left.


Already you have some fantastic views, and In the valley of the Waters of Fleet below there are the remains of a Roman fort, a standing stone and a settlement and you have cycled just a mile so far. Galloway has possibly a thousand miles of quiet road and lanes, which is what makes it such a wonderful place to ride a bike. I can’t help thinking that this narrow lane is one of the most wonderful.

Lagg Burn drops from the moorland above and passes under the road and it’s worth just stopping to listen to it. In anything but a drought, It has a little too much purpose about it to be called babbling. There is a footpath signed to explore another day.


Castramon Wood ( just one of the three ways to spell the word that you can find on the map ),  is one of the largest semi-natural broadleaved woodlands in the area. The oak trees were once used for making charcoal and supplying the local mill with wood to make bobbins. There will be some snow drops from the end of January but the real treat are the Bluebells of May and early June..

Most local people have a strong opinion on which beach is the best, or even which butcher you should use. Some may also have a short list of the best places to go to see bluebells, and this is one that is on most people’s list when you ask. You will want to have a camera with you to catch them and the Beech trees coming into leaf. 


There are more walking routes to return to, but for now continue along through this beautiful woodland to the junction. You will be taking the left turn, but if you have time go straight on. First there is Castramon House to your right and our favorite tree is in a clearing on the left. Straight out of central casting for Lord of the Rings, it is a wonderful moss covered specimen. You pass into open country now, with  a great view right up the glen to the open moorland and one of the three hills in the area called  Cairnsmore. Not sure which is the highest? This may help.

There’s Cairnsmore of Fleet,

And there’s Cairnsmore of Dee;

But Cairnsmore of Carsphairn’s

The highest of the three.

At 2,333ft the one in front of you is the most southerly Graham in Scotland and it’s position overlooking the coast, makes it look even higher. A photo taken pointing into the hills here could be mistaken for one taken in the highlands. Time to turn and go back to the other track you noticed and explore it. Again it goes nowhere, but is a stunning ride along the river. Now turn back and continue your route over the bridge to Nether Rusko, checking for dippers and lazy fish as you go over.


To your right now is Rusko Castle, dating from 1565 it stood unloved and unlived in for a 100 years. But in 1972 it was bought by Graham Carson an entrepreneur and community champion with an ambition to restore a castle and the means to do it. He would drive around the countryside at the weekends looking for his dream castle.



You turn left now after the climb to return to Gatehouse on the old military road, with the Waters of Fleet down in the valley to your left. The biking here is easy and the views stunning. With time on your hands you could take a right to visit Anworth old Kirk. Dating from the 12th century, the kirk sits in a peaceful spot and has some fascinating tomb stones.Fans of The Wickerman will recognise the kirk from some of the most iconic scenes in the film, and the schoolhouse from the film also sits just across the road.


On the hill between here and Gatehouse is Trusty’s Hill hillfort.In 2012 an archaeological dig here proved that the local fort had once been a major centre of Dark Ages Scotland “The archeological evidence suggests that Trusty’s Hill was not just a settlement but was also an important metalworking centre with access to significant resources and craftworkers for the production of high-status jewellery.” So well worth a visit sometime soon.


Back to the route and you follow National Bike Route 7 into town and across the wooden bridge at The Mill on the Fleet. A converted mill and now the place to eat the finest scones in the area. On a sunny day you can sit outside and watch the river flow by. Often there are craft exhibitions and there is a second hand bookshop vast enough to swallow you for a couple of carefree hours.

Out onto the main street and you have closed the circle after as little as just over 6 miles.If you took all the detours you could bring this up to more than double that. There are galleries, crafts and some of the best second hand shops to visit now after what should have been a most enjoyable introduction to the joys of small adventures on a bike. You may have biked a little over 6 miles or as much as twice that.