Best outdoor/Adventure experience – Galloway Cycling Holidays – that’s us!

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I have no idea where the year went. From the first bulbs flowering in the garden at the end of January to the point where we are stumbling into the dark days of December. Now there are long nights of hard frost and fires lit by four in the afternoon to keep this 300 year old  house habitable.

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We are on the flightpath for the geese as they commute from their roost in fields at Threave Castle to the coast. Dusk and the first stars come earlier every day. What we were calling afternoon a few weeks ago is now evening. Sounds of geese passing low overhead and the first sharp frosts of winter mornings – the earth cold deep frozen and metal hard.

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It is time to go to the woods with our bikes. We start as late as possible to get the warmth of the sun but early enough not to be caught out by the early setting and chill air by 2pm. Get it right and you can have some of the best rides of the year.

We go exploring new tracks that link places we have walked or seen on maps. Fire roads, farmtracks, drove roads and ancient trading routes. There is always a risk with a new route and we have had a couple of unexpected river crossings. The gps helps but navigation is only as good as the course you plot.

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Off road routes will always have harder climbs. Short and punchy ascents that get the blood flowing and help to keep some of the fitness of those long summer rides. We take a flask of coffee and home made cakes and pull on an extra layer of clothing. The stops are always planned to have the best views and a pool of sunlight. It is now too cold to go through the ritual of lighting a stove.

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We are so busy in the summer that we can go weeks without meeting friends. Our neighbour Lizzie has the same problem and refers to us as “ my winter friends “. If we find time to feed ourselves in the peak of summer we are doing well. Our little cycling holiday business is a most demanding mistress.

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Year two of guests on bikes has gone very well. In the height of summer we were informed that we were nominated for Scotland’s Tourism Thistle Award for Best Outdoor Company. Nomination is a wonderful but abstract reward for getting things right and a string of great reviews. It would usually be as far as it goes for such a small and young company. But we made the West of Scotland final and were rather thrilled.

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This is the tourism oscars and requires dressing up, tickets with a big venue and food. We turn up for the evening out in Glasgow, far beyond our usual bedtime. We do everything, there is only the two of us. Our website, the photography, the bike servicing, the guiding, the bookings, the logo and social media and marketing is all our work. Which is why, when we won the WEST OF SCOTLAND BEST OUTDOOR / ADVENTURE EXPERIENCE we both were more amazed than words can express. We won!

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I say it is all our own work but we know it is the random things that make a bike holiday with us special. The farmer that stops for a chat, the cafe staff that talk about the area, the car driver that waves. Then of course there is the landscape and people of Dumfries & Galloway. The unknown bottom left bit of Scotland, the left turn after Carlisle and the border. Our patch, the best place to ride a bike in Scotland our home. Thanks everyone.

 

You must not be scared!

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Sything shapes of Swallow and House Martin cut up and down the main street through our village and they sound permanently slightly angry. The curve of the season has reached its apogee and now just a few days after midsummer the sunset is a little earlier. Not a bad thing, the amount of light this far north can wear you out.

We are trying to speed-learn our new home area. Build a catalogue of routes that tick every box, cover every wish list. It has been great fun and the area is stunning. Every day we try to find a new gem or a way of linking things together in the most perfect way.

Scrolling through Facebook yesterday I came across an old interview with Steve Jobs, always worth a few seconds, so I let it run. ” Whenever you start a company you must never be scared of failure “. I played that bit again. It was back when Steve looked less groomed, less slick more geek.

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I thought about what Steve said as we rode out this morning. We try to ride early every morning or at least take a long walk just to remind ourselves why we live here. Like every day the ride confirmed what we know, this area is just perfect. Rush hour and the first 40 minutes we had just 2 cars.

I don’t think Steve ever took on a bike holiday company. I think he knew he was destined to win even if his first logos were rubbish and the computers looked agricultural. On this mornings ride we just kept on shouting ” WOW! ” which is a good thing I think Steve would agree. We know we are in the perfect place.

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We are putting together a wonderful new website for Galloway Cycling Holidays. Every ride I carry a camera and try to get the peach of an image for the company. But that is not enough. We have a Facebook company account and it is VERY PUSHY. The world wants a moving image, films and they had better be good. So now Zuckerberg is having a go at us.

I am not sure Steve had to put up with this sort of pressure, but we have done it anyway. Two films, both 1 min 20 in length that try to put across what we are about. Trying to condense all the joy we have ever got from pedalling a bike and all the sheer WOW of this area.

So, here they are. They may not quite be Citizen Kane, but we are more than happy. What do you think?

Then we went for the big production. Drone, stormy sky and a remote location.

 

Cycling and dreaming at the kitchen table.

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This morning there is rain, just soft enough to enjoy and the first for quite some time. The weather is warm enough to have windows open a little and the sound of the garden for company at the kitchen table. Sparrows are now supposed to be rare, but you would not think that for a moment around our home. Their calls are loud, more jazz than anything even slightly classical. They are the bullies at our feeders.

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Having a beautiful garden and being a cyclist are mutually exclusive, with peaks in both coinciding with the height of summer. Crisp cycling tan lines now obvious in post ride shower and plants so heavy with blossom that they fall over each other. I know it is a food chain out there in the garden, an abattoir for some even. But it does look stunning. We have decided to call it a wildlife garden. A choice made for us when Esther’s prized specimens in the raised bed were identified as weeds by a gardening neighbour.

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Spread out in front of me are local maps as I plan routes for our new bike touring business. 1:25,000 and the same area at 1:50,000 by Ordnance Survey and all featuring the reassuring Crown Copyright symbol. These are the maps I am most in love with and the ones I have had the longest and most passionate relationship with. It began at school in geography lessons and the occasional field trip. I did not grow up in a house of books or maps, but I could not live without either now and would probably shoplift both without a single pang of guilt if we fell on hard times.

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The big project for us at the moment is rebranding the bike touring company that we will be running. Every bike ride is now research. Is this good, too hilly, how can we make a loop and where is the nearest coffee and cake? The logo is now finalised and began with a stupid question, like most good things – ” can we have a cow on a bike? ” The cutest cow in the world, the one that will turn the wavering carnivore away from meat is the Belted Galloway. Our local cow, and a bit of a bovine celebrity,  hardy enough for the uplands and unmistakable from the hairy ears to that white belt. I first saw them down on the moors of Dartmoor 30 years ago and could not believe my eyes. Our Belted Galloway rides a sturdy bike and is called Robin.

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We are working on the content and style of the new website, but at the same time we wanted to do a 1 minute film that would put across our company values and mood. Riding a bike can be about speed, about the buzz and that perfect line around a fast descending bend. But it can be about looking over the hedge, stopping to take things in, talking to the people you meet. We have just 60 people per square mile here ( the scottish average is 168 ) and an amazing almost maze like series of quiet roads passing through beautiful villages. The little film introduces the quiet adventures that you can have here and the interesting thought that I came across; ‘ you can’t be sad whilst riding a bike ‘.  I hope you enjoy it – turn on the sound!