We are back home after 48 hours of exploring the very edge of Galloway and the bit just beyond that cyclists refer to as ‘ The Ayrshire Alps ‘. It is early evening and I have poured a single malt Jura and we have the heating on. ” We managed not a single thing of what I had planned to do “, probably 8 miles of the 60 I had loaded into the Garmin.
Creeside Escape is the toe in the waters of tourism for Creeside Farm. They share our philosophy of doing things well and being fussy about the small details. They have invested in a shepherd’s hut that ticks all the boxes of the Escape bit of their company name. We had a night booked and I had bought a map of the area featuring a whole load of trees.
The idea was to get two rides done, a 20 mile exploration of tracks and a 40 mile road ride to include a great cake stop in the middle of nowhere. We arrived in the small village of Barrhill in sunshine. This was the good weather day and we would do the gravel ride.
Riding with a gps is great and I know the little quirks of the Garmin 810 well enough to trust it without taking a paper map. But it is always the first 400 meters where you are going to go wrong. We were on the right route but going clockwise when the gps expected the reverse. Which is why it congratulated me on a great ride and shut down as we passed what it expected to be the end of the ride.
Heading out of Barhill again and with the Garmin happy, we took a left and began to climb. The first abandoned farm of the day, now a host for Jackdaws and weeds. Commercial forest is dominant here and still has something of a pot of gold and possibly magic beans to buy up land.
The first views were back in the direction of home towards hills that we recognise the names and contours of. Galloway Forest, big enough to drop Manchester into and it’s our local playground.
Off to the right another abandoned farm steading and a family lost to the land. Up ahead there are Rhododendron in full bloom the colours of Asia and an estate up for sale. We are still climbing and riding towards highland landscapes ahead. Two miles on and more Rhododendron and a big house, very big.
We miss the turn it is that overgrown and have to ride around until we are convinced that we are on the route. We walk over fallen trees and half a mile of bog. We find out latter that the owner is in dispute about the maintenance of the track. Just 12 years and it is gone, returned to the moor. There is now no way through.
We turn around and look for a track to link across to our route. This is great riding, tough but rewarding and I can see us getting close to the purple line on the gps screen. Then the track ends. Happy, happy and then nothing, a typical forestry track just short by about 250 meters. We push the bikes through the forest and try to find a way through.
The first bog we avoid but as soon as you have wet feet you get bold. No way through the dense trees and then it is into the bog up to my thigh. Knowing when to turn back is a skill and we have gone too far already. We are carrying and pushing the bikes which means that the pedal hits the back of my calf with a horrid force. Limping now I am not in the best of moods as we return to the track and turn back.
Then we have a magical encounter with 2 very young Roe deer. Small as rabbits they are stumbling across the track just ahead of us. Their mum is off to the side trying to get them organised. I have never seen them this young before. A blessing of an encounter with the wild.
Back at the car after just 14 miles of biking and some horrid forward and backward bog stumbling. The one open shop in Barhill has an industrial strength aroma of bacon coming out of the open door. Two bacon sandwich and a tea each turn the day around.
Late afternoon now and we drive to the shepherds hut and embrace the retreat part of the plan and soon have large cups of Earl Grey in hand. This is an upgrade on crawling into a tent, but shares much of it’s of elemental purity. The wind has got up and rain is now falling and they both add to the pleasure.
In the morning my leg does not feel good enough to encourage us high into the moors for the planned 40 mile ride. But just a few miles away at Glentrool there is a road we have always wanted to ride towards Newton Stewart. It’s National Route 7 and we follow it as far as the Wood of Cree. This little tucked away spot is one of the largest broadleaf forests in Southern Scotland. Just in from the road is our favourite waterfall in the area, unsigned and rather overlooked.
The ride back to Glentrool shows why they refer to this as a ‘ bit of the Highlands in the Lowlands ‘. Merrick, just a few feet short of being a Munro, dominates the horizon. It’s a great short ride and enough to justify a cafe visit at the Glentrool cafe. A constant stream of walkers comes in looking for food and advice. We are happy to be amongst outdoor folk and rather proud that they are visiting our little bit of Scotland.