The Jackdaws have been inspecting our chimney this week. The land is still winter bleached, but we have seen the first Primrose in flower. Today the clouds are white and bold against a deep blue. It is the start of the Simpsons in the sky and best of all, we have nothing to do today but ride our bikes.
Today’s ride starts in Thornhill and quickly takes us into a Highland landscape. The first thing I noticed when planning the route is just how many Thornhills there are in the world. I mention this as we came close to accidentally booking a hotel in the wrong country once, so I would be a bit careful with Thornhill if you plan to stay.
We are early and the town is not yet awake as we ride around the roundabout. With a tall column topped with Pegasus, the Queensberry family emblem it is all rather grand. The Queensberry family will be with us all through the ride. We ride by the new school and then under the railway bridge. As we head for the hills the quiet road starts to gain height quickly. We have a suggestion, if you drop much under 4 mph, it is best to walk. You will thank me for that advice and you may even hear Skylarks.
It has been a hard winter with a cold late spring. There are lambs in the fields, but some are wearing plastic mac overcoats. I remember a local farmer used to save up all his bread wrappers for lambing. New born lambs wore designer coats by Sunblest and Mother’s Pride.
We take a minor left along a potholed tree lined narrow road. Time to stop and take some photos of the clouds chasing shadows across the hills. There are Curlews calling their watery song. The surface improves after a quarter of a mile or so and you get your first glimpse of Morton Castle. There are few more beautiful ruined castles in Scotland and not many with such a long and complicated history. There is an artificial loch on three sides which is a quite recent addition. Approach quietly, and you just may be in luck and spot an otter. I did a few months ago and it made my day.
This is some of the finest scenery in Southern Scotland with most of the peaks still hanging onto snow. The highest road in Scotland goes up to that white pimple, the radar for air traffic control. I am standing by the gate to the castle when hounds come running out of the woodland. They are working hard, breathing and slobbering and full of canine intensity. Two go left and one goes right. A Raven calls, Kraa.
On we go and we have an option. Straight on to drop down to Drumlanrig or right and a slightly longer route. This is easy cycling now, and quiet with the main road over to your left with the first of the years motorcyclists thundering along. The first right is the road we are after. It is a dead-end now, but was once the main road through the hills to Edinburgh. It pops up all through Dumfries & Galloway, often marked on OS maps as it goes. Here it also follows the line of a Roman road, so the area has never been so quiet.
Durisdeer Kirk is worth this detour out and back, particularly if you time your ride with the Sunday tea in the church, served from the 3rd Sunday in July till last in September. There are many things worth seeing across our land that are unsigned and here is one of these pearls. A small sign points you to a back door – The Queensberry Marbles. The Aisle predates the current church and houses the spectacular marbles of the 2nd Duke of Queensberry and his Duchess. Outside there is a perfectly placed bench to sit and listen to one of the most active Rookeries I have ever come across. A walk around the gravestones includes amongst the notables, William Lukup the master of works during the building of Drumlanrig Castle.
Retrace the route a couple of miles and now take the right turn to drop into the valley. Drumlanrig is straight ahead and signed all the way as you cross first the A702 and then the A76. Once again you have a route option as you enter the grounds and ride over the bridge. Turn right first, if you are staying at Drumlanrig you will love the grand entrance along the alleyway of trees. You get the finest view of the castle as you follow the signs for the tearoom. If you want a longer ride, take a right for a loop along National Cycle Route 7.
You could dive into the cafe and then continue, but check openings as this has a very short season. The final stop is the village of Penpont. Again, check the opening of the tearoom here to save tears, tantrums and bouts of Hangry. Again, you can drop here at just the right moment and take advantage of ‘ tea & lite bites ‘ at the church hall and you will be made most welcome.
Just a short ride now to close the loop. In the field to your right, just before the tight bridge over the River Nith is the 9th century cross in the field to your right. It is the only Dark Age cross in Dumfries and Galloway still standing in its original position. It is one of those times when moving slowly and perched just above the hedges, you get to see things you will miss in a car.
Thornhill has a dizzying array of places to eat. If you have managed to turn up to the three or so on the long route you will now need a plan. Main food is at The Buccleuch & Queensberry and the finest coffee & cake venue for miles around is Thomas Tosh tucked at the side of Morton’s Street. There are several other great places, so you will find a seat.
The route is as little as 6 miles, and as long as 24 miles if you follow all the options. Only the first part is steep enough that you may need to walk and all of it is on beautiful and quiet roads.