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Down Dumfriesshire way (Part 2)

Down Dumfriesshire way (Part 2)

If you haven’t read part one (Saturday to Tuesday), it is here.
Which brings us to Wednesday: it rained, so we watched the Olympics on TV and made just one brief foray out to the Lockerbie Truck Stop, to get a paper.

On Thursday, we had two objectives: one, to visit a Historic Scotland property so that we could use our membership card and two, to meet up with a fellow blogger. Given these requirements, the obvious places to go to were Caerlaverock and Dumfries. The ride down to Caerlaverock was fairly straightforward, riding along the pretty, quiet roads of Annandale, although it was somewhat into the wind. At Dalton we had the novelty of finding a village with a pub (which hosts a Thai restaurant), but it was too early for lunch so we carried on south. Apparently, Dalton also has a Pottery Art Café, which is the sort of business which I had hoped to see more of, but we didn’t, because we took an even quieter road (and there were no signs for it in the centre of the village).

Further along the road, before reaching Ruthwell, we missed the opportunity to see the Ruthwell Cross, one of the finest Anglo-Saxon crosses in the UK. I think there was a sign for this, but it wasn’t until I did the research for this post that I realised it was worth a detour. Oh well, next time. We also missed the Savings Banks Museum, this one was clearly signed posted in Ruthwell, another thing to visit next time round. It was at Ruthwell that we picked up the NCN 7 Lochs & Glens (South) cycle route. For few miles we were side on to the wind for a change rather than a head wind, but it wasn’t to last. At Bankend we turned straight into the wind once again, I took the front forging forward allowing Ulli to shelter behind me. It was hard work but didn’t mind, well until the road started to rise up I started to flag, at which point Ulli promptly nipped out and dropped me. That girl watches too much pro cycle racing on TV… *Sigh*. (She tells me she was doing a Froome, to my Wiggins being left behind, without the race radio calling her back.)

Arriving at Caerlaverock Castle, I was relieved to find that Historic Scotland has a lovely little café with friendly staff and good food. The castle was the seat of the Maxwell family, and in times past would not have been a comfortable place for a member of the Johnston clan, but those days are gone. In the August sun I rather enjoyed wandering about taking photos of this relic of the past in complete freedom.

Caerlaverock Castle

Caerlaverock Castle

It was also interesting to take the short walk through an area of wet woodland to the site of an earlier castle, it was fascinating. There is very little of this type of woodland left in Scotland today, but at one time it would have covered large areas of southern Scotland. So much so that the Romans thought that Northern Scotland was an island cut off from the south by a sea of bog and swamp.

The other good thing about visiting Caerlaverock Castle is that it has a café (have I mentioned the café already?), which is probably why the cycle parking was also full. As it was now late lunchtime, we took full advantage of the café facilities, before setting off for the place a blogging friend of mine calls Big Town, yes, the mighty metropolis that is Dumfries. To get there was simply a case of following the NCN 7, but some of the signage is rather interesting in its suggested routing.

The NCN 7 cycle route goes where?

Once you have found your way across the Nith, it is a straight forward ride into Dumfries.

Riding the NCN 7 beside the Nith

Riding the NCN 7 beside the Nith

Once in the great metropolis, we looked for the café where we had agreed to meet the lovely Sally Hinchcliffe AKA Town Mouse, who is not nearly as disgruntled as she likes to make out (unless you leave a cheeky comment on her blog). The café in Dock Park would make an idea cycling café, if they went to the effort of adding some cycle parking.

It is one of the ironies of Dumfries and Dumfriesshire that with a little effort it could be a cycling paradise, if they invested in decent infrastructure and made it more welcoming. This is an economically fragile area which has great tourism potential but, they really are missing a trick. A recent European study found that cycle tourism is worth over €44 billion per annum. That is a very big cake, and it is growing. It is also one which Scotland should be trying to take a large slice of, an argument I am sure Cycling Dumfries is making to the powers that be on a regular basis.

After a wee infrastructure safari around Dumfries, looking at the bike hire scheme, some of the pedestrianised centre and some badly congested roads which could easily be sorted out by a Dutch traffic engineer, we could easily see what great potential Dumfries has. If only the town council could see it, Dumfries could be a true cycling town and a very much more pleasant place to live and visit. Interestingly, there are quite a few bike shops in Dumfries, which suggests that bicycle ownership is fairly high. As I was having a wee bit of bother with getting smooth changes on my rear gears, we were taken to probably Dumfries’s best bike shop: Kirkpatrick Cycles. New gear cable fitted, we wended our way home.

Friday: as this was our last full day for touring, we chose to have a relatively flat day, taking in Ae and Lochmaben. The day was punctuated with threats of rain, this never really came to anything (if you discount one short shower where we took cover beneath some trees for ten minutes). This however did offer the opportunity to take a dramatic landscape photo.

Storm clouds over Ae Forest

The Forest of Ae is a part of the 7stanes (a network of eight mountain biking centres in southern Scotland), and as such I had expected to find a café and shop. But no, the 7stanes website tells me that “Ae, Scotland’s shortest village name is only 20 minutes from the M74 motorway” and “No catering or bike hire available onsite until further notice. Nearby Dumfries has plenty of food and drink options” which says a lot about how this area is failing to capitalise on it cycle tourism potential, they don’t actually expect people to cycle there. Riding up to the village of Ae, there is a pub, but it is only open in the evenings, great.

So onwards, next stop the Barony Country Foods farm shop, or at least that was Ulli’s choice of next stop. However as the Carse of Ae is on a rather good downhill run, I shot straight past and didn’t stop until the road flattened out. Ulli wasn’t best pleased as we pedalled back up the hill. Shopping completed, we carried on to Lochmaben in search of a café for lunch. Fortunately there is a baker’s and café in the middle of the High Strett which served the purpose, sadly no cycle parking outside.

Lunch over, we headed off to see Lochmaben Castle which is now much ruined. It has had a long and turbulent history until the mid 17th century, by which time it had seen its last siege and was gradually abandoned. Originally build by the orders of Edward I of England in 1298, it should not to be confused with an earlier castle built by the Bruce family a short distance away, which is now one of the greens of a nearby golf course. This Lochmaben Castle consists of a few substantial ivy covered walls which could pass for a lost temple in a rain forest. To make sense of it, you really need to read the interpretation boards.

Lochmaben Castle

Lochmaben Castle

It changed hands throughout the wars of independence. At one time it was under the control of Archie the Grim, 3rd Earl of Douglas. Sometime later during a lull in the wars between England and Scotland, James IV stopped by for an evening of cards with Lord Dacre, Warden of the English March. According to the Lord Treasurer of Scotland, James lost 46s 8d that night. Another royal visitor was Mary Queen of Scots who slept there, well she did get around a lot. A relative of Mary’s, the Earl of Bothwell, captured the castle in 1592, after he entered disguised as a woman and left a door open for his followers. It also played a role in the bitter feud between the Johnstons and the Maxwells, as did most of Dumfriesshire. At some time after 1628 Lochmaben Castle fell into disrepair and stone was robbed out to build Annandale House on the High Street in Lochmaben.

Saturday: We had to be out of the cottage a couple hours before we were due to catch the train we had a reservation for, so we took the long way to the station. Due to a slight disagreement over route, it ended up shorter than intended, however this did mean that we had to fill in time by going to a bakery in Locherbie and putting more money into the Dumfriesshire economy.

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Down Dumfriesshire way (Part 1)

Down Dumfriesshire way (Part 1)

The decision to take a cottage in Dumfriesshire had been very much last minute, so route planning to get from the station in Lockerbie to the cottage at Yett by Johnstonebridge was sketchy. While we waited for the rain to pass, we stood in the shelter of the station roof looking at the map. To me the obvious route was to follow the National Cycle Network (NCN) Route 74 to Johnstonebridge and then backtrack a couple of Km south. This was slightly longer than winding through the minor roads, but had the advantage of being straightforward, without the need to stop at every junction to check the way, what could possibly go wrong? Well the NCN 74, called the “Moss, Motte and Motorway Cycle Route”, follows the B7076, formerly the A74 which has been replaced by the A74(M).
NCN 74 - Moss, Motte and Motorway Cycle Route

Got all that? Good, I shall continue, the road was straight and fast, so not so pleasant to cycle on, it was also right next to the Motorway. We quickly decided the best thing to do was to look for a turn off onto the first minor road and find our way along the roads less travelled, so it was we found a more relaxed route to the cottage…

The road even less travelled...

Arriving at the cottage we were meet by the owner, who had offered to get us a few groceries, when we told her we were arriving by train and bike. This was the first time we had attempted a cottage based holiday by bicycle, we had our things in our panniers but not much in the way of food. Therefore, having unpacked and found our way around our home for the week, the next priority was to find out where the local shops were and get some food in. This is where advance planning is helpful, but we hadn’t actually done much. The nearest village is Johnstonebridge, about 2 Km away, had (like so many villages in this area) lost it shop. There is however a motorway service station by Johnstonebridge, accessed via the NCN 74, which offers limited shopping (mostly in the petrol station). We had also been told the Lockerbie Truck Stop has a small shop. This is 3 Km south of the service station along the NCN 74, and explains why there is so much heavy traffic on a B road (we later found there is a back road which can be used for access without the heavy traffic). As we set off to cycle there, the rain started. We arrived only to find that the shop closes early on Saturdays. The ride back to the cottage was wet, so we were glad that it was equipped with a washing machine, in which we could spin dry clothes, and central heating. Fortunately, we had enough food to cover our evening meal and breakfast.

Sunday morning, the rain had passed over night and so we ready to start exploring the local countryside and visit Lockerbie for some shopping. To the west of the motorway there are lots of quiet roads and odd wee places to explore, the likes of Applegarth.

Applegarth church

Arriving in Lockerbie one finds there is little of interest you hold you there, so we just nipped into Tesco, picked up the shopping we needed and headed home. One of the good things about a cycling holiday like this is that going out for the shopping is enjoyable, even if all you do is go to a very dull supermarket. It is the journey either side which makes it fun (and the sunshine helps as well).

The following day we decided to try going in the opposite direction and head for Moffat, again trying to use the wee roads where possible…

a quite road

and were rewarded with great views of the Annandale landscape. At one stage we had to pull of the road to let a herd of cows, which were being moved between fields, pass. On another part of the road we had to take it slowly as there was a loose heifer and we had to let her find her own way back into the field she had come from.

Moffat itself is a pleasant wee town, which would have great charm if its central area wasn’t used as a car park (there must be some hidden corner where they could be dumped to keep them out of sight, although the obese owners of these obese vehicles might object to having to waddle that far). The town is fortunate enough to have a fine range of local shops, probably due to the absence of a major supermarket (unless you count the Co-Op in Station Yard). Oddly Moffat markets itself as a “Walkers are Welcome town“, and yet there isn’t a single walking or outdoor equipment shop. Nor for that matter was there a bike shop, although there were a fair number of local utility cyclists. It is a shame that it has yet to market itself as a “Cyclists are Welcome town” as it has great potential.

After lunch at a Moffat café we headed north to visit the Devil’s Beef Tub. Most visitors go to see the Devil’s Beef Tub from above via the A701, but following our theme of taking the road less travelled, we rode to the bottom of the Beef Tub, where the Border Reivers once hid their (usually stolen) cattle. Riding up the glen towards Corehead, which the Beef Tub is a part of, it was easy to see why it was a good place for hiding cattle.

Riding up to the Devil's Beef Tub

The hills rise up and enfold the head of the glen, an easily defensible area:

Riding up to the Devil's Beef Tub

Time for a digression: Corehead and the Devil’s Beef Tub have great cultural and historical significance in the Borders. In the 13th century the laird of Corehead Tower, Sir Thomas Halliday, was married to the sister of one William le Waleys (or wee Wullie Wallace, as he is sometimes known). Just for the sake of historical accuracy, it should be pointed out that he didn’t paint his face blue, and it is very unlikely that he spoke with an Australian accent. What is more certain is that he raised the Border clans at Corehead for his first attack against the English in 1297. The rest is a Hollywood movie, which the SNP now find slightly embarrassing. Sometime after, this area passed into the ownership of the Moffat clan, who held the land until they lost a feud with the Johnstons of Annandale. The Johnstons were one of the most powerful of the Border clans, and noted for their feuding (usually with the Maxwells, with whom they managed to have a continued feud lasting around 400 years, the longest in Border history). The Moffats suffered their greatest calamity in 1557 when the Johnstons set fire to a local church while most senior members of the Moffat clan happened to be inside. Seventy years later all the Moffat lands had passed to the Johnstons on account of the Moffats accruing massive debts. One final note on the Johnstons, following the Union of the Crowns in 1603: when King James VI rode south to become King James I of England, he needed to pacify the Borders. To achieve this, he deported or executed the worst of the troublemakers. This included a good many Johnstons who were bundled off to Ireland, where they became known as the ‘Gentle’ Johnstons. It is from this group that my mother’s family descends.

OK, back to the story of our cycling holiday. On the ride back from Moffat we spotted a pair of Red Kites (Milvus milvus) and a spitfire, one of the great things about riding a bike is that you have the opportunity to look around for these sort of things as well as the freedom to stop and stare. We also passed a place called Wamphray, which looked like it might be worth another look.

Tuesday: we decided to strike out towards Eskdalemuir, via Wamphray and Boreland, then returning via Castle O’er and Lockerbie. The first part of this ride took us back for that second look at Wamphray, this time up past the mill and the church. As we passed the mill I thought I must take a photo of that on the way back, but we didn’t come back that way, so you will have to make do with this property schedule [the owners did like the property schedule they had made public remaining public, so it has been removed]. However, we when we got to the Church, I did stop and get the camera out.

Stone in Wamphray church yard

After leaving the church, we stopped again further up the hill to take some photos, oh hang on, I think I might have the got the roof of the Mill in this one…

View over Wamphray, to Annandale

Dumfriesshire is a great place for cycle touring, but there is just one thing with touring though this sort of landscape, you just have to keep stopping to take more photos.

Dumfriesshire landscape

Arriving at Boreland we were disappointed to find there was no tea room or even a shop, so we pressed on towards Eskdalemuir. On the map the road is shown as passing through wall to wall trees, but as we came by, it was bounded by large areas of clear fell, which are slowly being replanted. The road itself was mostly quiet with the exception of the odd timber lorry, fortunately they gave us plenty of space.

Watch out for timber lorries

Arriving in the village of Eskdalemuir, we were again disappointed to find that there was no shop of café, however we weren’t to downhearted, as we knew that there was one just up the road, at the local Tibetan Buddhist monastery.

Eskdalemuir Tibetan Buddhist Centre
some more pictures here.

Personally I wasn’t overly impressed by the café, but Ulli liked it. This was also the first place that we saw cyclists in any numbers, probably because it was the only cake stop for miles around. This is one of the differences between the Borders and the Highlands, in the Highlands just about every small community has a bookshop/art gallery/café/ ceilidh place and a pub. Whereas the Borders lack these amenities, which is a wee bit of a nuisance. However, there is a solution to this, promote cycling in the Borders! There are lots of interesting wee roads and the place is ideal for cycle tourism. This will lead to increased demand for cake stops, B&Bs, small shops and other economic activity, after all on the mainland of Europe cycle tourism is worth over £20Bn a year.

Cake consumed, we set out for Castle O’er, following the White Esk upstream on the west bank. We noticed two sets of signs along this road, first there rather faded ones saying National Byway cycle route and the second set of signs were for the Eskdale Prehistoric Trail. This second set was supplemented with a number of display boards along the way, explaining the lumps and bumps in the landscape, showing the long history (and prehistory) of human settlement. It was an interesting ride. One such site was the Deil’s Jingle near the confluence of the White and Black Esk, which was a late iron age or early medieval boundary. There are also a number of bronze age and iron age settlements and hill forts. So it was that we wound our way to Lockerbie and from there we took our now familiar way home.

Just noticed that this post is getting a wee bit long, so I am splitting it in two, in the second part we visit, Caerlaverock, the Forest of Ae, Lochmaben, and meet another Blogger (who is lovely). Part two will be along shortly…

part two will be along shortly…

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