Grand Tour of Northumberland

Route Out – Coldstream to Cornhill on Tweed to Town Yetholm to Kirknewton to Wooler to Harthope Valley. For route map click here.

Route Back – Harthope Valley to Chatton to Belford to Lowick to Ford to Crookham to Braxton to Cornhill on Tweed to Coldstream. For route map click here.

See route on Strava.

  • Weather – mainly bright, sunny and reasonably warm but very windy at times and cloudier later in the day.
  • Bike type – road bike
  • Distance travelled – 67.93 miles
  • Riding time – 5 hours 22 minutes
  • Maximum speed – 36.9 mph
  • Average speed – 12.6 mph
  • Height climbed – 4500 feet

It’s a long time since I’ve posted anything on here but don’t worry, I haven’t thrown away my bike and started playing computer games day and night… In fact, I’ve been cycling more than ever and I’ve really just not had enough time to write about any of the brilliant routes that Dad and I have been riding recently. But it’s the school holidays just now and today is very windy so there’s no hope of a bike ride, so I’ve decided to rewind to a sunny day exactly 1 year ago to tell you about a really nice route we cycled on in North-East England.

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It’s less than an hour’s drive from our house to the town of Coldstream which is basically the last place in Scotland before you head across the border into England. So we started the route here and immediately crossed over the River Tweed via a magnificent old bridge and entered the Northumberland region of North-East England. After a short time on the reasonably flat and smooth A697 road, we came to a village called Cornhill on Tweed where we turned right onto a minor road that took us mainly south and slightly uphill through some lovely, peaceful countryside with views of the Cheviot Hills in the distance. After a very long straight section of road, we came to a cross roads and went straight over onto the B6352 which took us over the border and back into Scotland again. This is a very nice part of the country and to be honest, you can’t tell whether you are in Scotland or England around here – it all just looks the same.

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The road more or less follows the Bowmont Water for quite a few miles until reaching unusually named Town Yetholm. After crossing a bridge over the river on the left, we soon came to the similarly named Kirk Yetholm as the road headed north-east again, following the river but on the other side this time, and skirting right round the edge of the Cheviot Hills. This is a really nice, quiet road with fantastic views of the hills and the river valley. It has some ups and downs but nothing too hard at all. Soon, we crossed the border back into England and a sign told us that we had entered the Northumberland National Park. The road keeps going around the edge of the hills in almost a semi circle for quite a long time and Dad and I agreed that this was one of the most scenic and enjoyable stretches of road we’ve cycled on. Eventually, we arrived at a junction with the A697 road again and turned right heading for Wooler. We could have taken the main road all the way from Coldstream and saved ourselves 10 miles or so but I think it’s fair to say that taking the long cut on the quiet, picturesque back roads was a good idea.

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Wooler is supposed to be a nice old market town but there was some sort of gala day taking place so we couldn’t cycle through the town centre when we were there. Instead we diverted around the outskirts on the main road and then followed a sign on the right which pointed to cycle route no.68 (also known as the Pennine Cycleway) and the Harthope Valley, which is where we were heading next. This part of Cycle Route 68 is really hilly with lots of short but steep ups and downs so it’s hard going but the views are good at least. Soon enough we came to Middleton Hall where we turned right onto a very narrow, straight road which looked as though it was climbing vertically up to the sky – it looked that steep! The sign warned of a 1:5 gradient and it definitely felt like it. As the road headed up into the trees, it was hard to even keep our front wheels on the ground and we both ended up zig-zagging across the road to help us keep going. Thankfully, it wasn’t a long climb and after a short section of flat, we crossed a cattle grid and finally we got our first view of the Harthope Valley. This must be one of the most scenic valleys in England and I would definitely go back there to have a walk in the hills one day. We sped down a very steep slope into the valley and cycled along the narrow road, following

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the river further and further into the hills. It was all slightly uphill and into a very strong wind so the going was very slow. It was also surprisingly busy with cars full of people heading out to enjoy the beautiful countryside and although the views were stunning, I was glad to finally reach the end of the road at a farm. From there we turned around and sped back down the hill, wind-assisted, in half the time it had taken to cycle up the valley. That really was great fun! We then had to cycle up the short but stupidly steep hill to leave the valley behind, before heading down the scary 1:5 gradient road back to Middleton Hall as safely as we could.

We then turned right onto route 68 once more for a short while, cycling through deserted rolling countryside. After a few miles we turned left and arrived at the A697 yet again where we turned right and cycled south-east for less than a mile before taking the next left turn onto the back roads again. We were now heading generally north-east again, though miles and miles of almost traffic free roads through fields on barley and wheat on mostly quite flat gradients. This was a really pleasant area to cycle in. Eventually, a couple of miles north of the village of Chatton, we turned right onto the B6349 and started heading uphill once more. This was a long gradual climb that seemed to go on forever. Thankfully the views behind and to the left were incredible, and you could see practically the whole of Northumberland. The Cheviot Hills looked amazing from here.

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From the top of the hill, we sped down to the town of Belford where we stopped at a shop to buy more water to keep us going for the journey back. Then we turned left, up another short but steep climb until we could see some nice views of the Northumberland coast a few miles away on our right. We could even see Holy Island and Bamburgh Castle away in the distance. Just before reaching the extremely busy A1 road, we turned left onto a more suitable minor road which more or less stayed parallel to the A1 for a while before heading west at Fenwick. From this point on the ride became a bit of a struggle. It had clouded over by now and the wind was really strong and blowing straight into our faces, making progress very slow as we cycled along the B6353 in more or less the same direction and slightly uphill for what seemed like forever. Thankfully, we eventually arrived in the historic village of Ford and the road suddenly became very fast and steeply downhill for a bit, passing a castle along the way, before we turning left across a bridge over the River Till and then quickly right again to head for Crookham.

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After Crookham, we took a very quiet and narrow back road to a place called Branxton which was signposted as being the site of the Flodden Field battle which took place between English and Scottish armies in 1513. Despite the signage, we didn’t really notice the battle site – it must just be a random field now and soon enough we were back onto the A697 once again for an easy few miles back to Scotland where we rounded off the day with a fish cake supper for tea.

It had been a long but really enjoyable day out, despite the wind making things difficult for long periods. Northumberland is a beautiful part of the country, perfect for cycling. I have been back there several times since – hopefully I will find time to tell you about those adventures before too long!

 

Tour de Galloway day 7 (final stage): Newton Stewart Loop

Route – Newton Stewart to Minnigaff to Creebridge to Newton Stewart. For route map click here.

See route on Strava.

  • Weather – mainly cloudy but warm and dry with very little wind.
  • Bike type – road bike
  • Distance travelled – 9.35 miles
  • Riding time – 39 minutes
  • Maximum speed – 26.2 mph
  • Average speed – 14.4 mph
  • Height climbed – 476 feet

On the final day of our summer holiday in Galloway, Dad and I just had time for a short cycle around the Newton Stewart area. Since I had been the quickest over the first 6 days of the “tour”, the final stage was more or less a procession to celebrate my amazing victory over Dad… Anyway, the route may have been short but it turned out to be one of the most pleasant of the entire week.

We started off by following the river Cree northwards on the cycle path of Cycle Route no.73 for the mile or so into Newton Stewart. The path ends when you reach Aldi and Sainsburys and we then had to cycle through a car park and along a back street until it ran out and rejoined the main road through town. There we turned right and then right again over the old bridge across the River Cree. Just over the bridge we then turned left and followed the minor road out of town. We cycled gradually uphill along the narrow, fern-lined road, through the trees for a mile or before the trees parted to give us a magnificent view northwards across the valley to Glen Trool away in the distance. It was

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one of the best views we’d had all week and the highest mountain in the region The Merrick was clearly visible. The road was completely deserted and was so peaceful to cycle on. After a few miles we reached the high point on the road and turned a corner to the right and one of the most impressive hills in the area – Cairnsmore of Fleet – came into view. After seeing this hill from a distance and from other angles earlier in the week, the close up “side view” was an unexpected surprise. After that we sped down the slight hill to the junction with the A712 road.

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The A712 road is commonly known as the Queens Way and is a stunning road to travel on through the heart of the Galloway Forest from New Galloway to Newton Stewart. Despite being an “A” road it is quite quiet and looks like it would be a fantastic road to cycle on. Today though, we only had time to ride on the few miles back to Newton Stewart and that was so much fun. It was a lovely road surface, all slightly downhill and very fast with nice views and it was so quiet that we didn’t see any traffic whatsoever. The perfect cycling road you might say… Soon, we turned right and cycled through Creebridge on the outskirts of Newton Stewart and back across the bridge into Newton Stewart again. This time we avoided the cycle path and rode up the main street through town and back to Nether Barr via the fairly quiet A714 road.

It was a very short but rather nice way to end our Tour de Galloway. Galloway is an amazing area of Scotland to go on holiday. If you like peace and quiet, beautiful beaches, walking in the hills and forests and most importantly, cycling, you would love it there. I’ll definitely be returning there soon!

Tour de Galloway day 6: Glenluce Loop

Route – Newton Stewart to Wigtown to Bladnoch to Luce Bay to Achenmalg to Glenluce to New Luce to Challoch to Newton Stewart. For route map click here.

See route on Strava.

  • Weather – bright but fairly cloudy, some sunshine, warm with a bit of a breeze.
  • Distance travelled – 50.86 miles
  • Riding time – 3 hours 32 minutes
  • Maximum speed – 29.5 mph
  • Average speed – 14.4 mph
  • Height climbed – 2035 feet

Dad and I have done a lot of evening cycle rides this year. Because it stays light till quite late at night in the summer in Scotland, it means you can actually manage to get a decent length of cycle in before bedtime. The longest evening ride we’ve ever done was on day 6 of our holiday in Galloway in July. Dad thought my planned route was a bit ambitious and was worried we’d have to cycle back in the dark, but after an early tea, we were on the road before 5:30pm as we began our race against the setting sun…

As with many of our Galloway routes, we began by heading down the quiet back road to Wigtown before scooting through the town centre and onto the A714 for the mile or so south west to Bladnoch. It was Galloway’s equivalent of “rush hour” so the A road was relatively busy with 3 or 4 cars having to overtake us along the way… We crossed the impressive bridge next to the distillery, over the River Bladnoch and then almost immediately, turned right off the “busy” road onto the B7005. A quieter road you could

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not imagine as we cycled generally west or south west through The Machars for an endless number of miles through peaceful countryside. There were very few settlements at all other than occasional farms and almost no signs of life apart from cows and sheep in the fields. It was nice but rather bleak as well and a bit of a plod as we were heading slightly uphill and straight into the rather strong wind all the way. Eventually we spotted the sea ahead and the road headed steeply downhill to Luce Bay.

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Luce Bay looked like it would be a lovely place to visit on a sunny day. There is an endless stoney beach there right next to the road and you could image that when the tide goes out, there would be miles of sand and mudflats to enjoy. Today, the wind was rather annoying so we didn’t stop this time and continued on along the A747, first along the coast and then uphill through Achenmalg which seems to be some sort of a holiday village. Soon after the village we turned left onto a narrow back road that took us straight back down to the coast again and an even prettier part of Luce Bay, before heading north for a couple of miles. At the junction we crossed over the busy A75 road to enter the town of Glenluce.

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Our journey then continued north through beautiful tree covered countryside, along a lovely smooth, deserted road. It was perfect cycling conditions and the trees even gave us shelter from the wind as we passed Glenluce Abbey along the way. The road steadily climbed uphill but we hardly noticed as the gradient was shallow for most of the time and we were really enjoying this part of the ride. Soon we arrived at a village called New Luce and it was here that Dad had to consult the map to make sure we didn’t miss the turning that would take us back to Newton Stewart. We almost did miss it actually as it was one of the most narrow roads we’ve been on and Dad was slightly concerned that it would turn out to be a dead end… Thankfully it wasn’t (though after a couple of miles we did see a dead end sign straight ahead at one point, resulting in Dad panicking for a minute before realising our road was just hidden from view as it turned round to the right!) and after a steady but easy climb up to the top of an open moor, we were rewarded with some amazing close up views of a massive wind farm. The turbines seemed to go on forever as we cycled along the smooth narrow road and it almost felt as though we were cycling along the top of the world for miles and miles and miles. It was probably one of the best roads I’ve ever cycled on and will definitely be going back there.

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After the wind farm, the road took us gradually downhill for quite some time, in and out of the trees with the low sun shining through the branches as we passed some small lochs on the right. After a while we came to a junction with the B7027 where we turned right and rode through the edge of the Galloway Forest for a while on one of the smoothest roads I’ve ever experienced. We saw evidence of lots of forestry operations going on and there were piles of logs everywhere, but at this time of night there was nobody working and we had the road and the forest to ourselves.

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Soon, we came to the A714 and sped the last few miles back down the hill to Newton Stewart. It was getting quite late (almost (9:30 pm) by the time we got back to our accommodation but it was light enough that we hadn’t even needed to put our lights on until the final couple of miles: we had beaten the setting sun with several minutes to spare! Our Glenluce loop had been an amazing circular route through hugely varied and picturesque landscapes with almost nobody else on the road. A highly recommended evening out!

Tour de Galloway day 5: Machars Meander

Route – Newton Stewart to Wigtown to Bladnoch to Kirkinner to Garlieston to Sorbie to Whauphill to Culmalzie to Newton Stewart. For route map click here.

See route on Strava.

  • Weather – dry, mainly sunny and quite warm with very little wind.
  • Bike type – road bike
  • Distance travelled – 34.59 miles
  • Riding time – 2 hours 22 minutes
  • Maximum speed – 27.7 mph
  • Average speed – 14.7 mph
  • Height climbed – 1257 feet

Because of the rubbish weather and dark evenings it has been really hard to get out cycling recently. However, this afternoon Dad and I finally managed to get out for our first cycle ride in 3 weeks. Unfortunately, it rained for most of the 3 hours we were out and it turned out to be a rather grim plod. Much less grim, however, was our summer holiday this July when the weather was lovely and it was light till late in the evening and we were able to go cycling everyday. On day 5 of our Tour de Galloway, after enjoying a nice day at the beach, we managed to get our bikes out after teatime to go for a meander through The Machars…

The Machars is the name of the peninsula to the south of Newton Stewart in Galloway and it is made up of a mainly quite flat rural landscape with picturesque little villages dotted around the coast. Our route began with a quick 6 mile blast down the minor road from Nether Barr to Wigtown which we’ve written about previously. After a short ride through the town centre we turned left onto the A714 road and sped down the slight slope at around 25 mph for the mile or so to the distillery at Bladnoch. The main road was fairly quiet but after crossing the impressive bridge over the River Bladnoch, we decided to turn left onto an even quieter back road which took us under an ancient,

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overgrown railway bridge and through the middle of nowhere for a couple of miles before looping back around to the main road again. It was kind of a pointless long cut but we like long cuts and if there’s a chance to avoid a main road, we usually take it! On the A road we went left and headed south for a while on the mostly flat, fast and smooth road, passing through a couple of small villages on the way. Shortly after Kirkinner, we turned left onto the B7004. This road is the longest, straightest road I’ve ever been on and was slightly downhill all the way to the coastal village of Garlieston so we raced the 4 miles there in no time at all. Or at least it would have been quick if Dad hadn’t kept stopping to take photos along the way. I suppose it was quite a scenic ride as we passed in and out of the trees on our way to the coast. We stopped at the harbour to enjoy the views over the mud flats of Garlieston Bay bathed in evening sunshine.

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After that we headed west along the B7004 again but soon turned off onto the B7052 and headed generally west again for a few miles through pretty much deserted but picturesque Machars countryside on a road that varied from amazingly smooth to terribly bumpy to anything in between. This seems to be typical of most of the roads in Galloway so it’s always wise to keep your eyes pealed so you can try to avoid the worst of the bumps and potholes…

When we reached the village of Sorbie, we turned right and headed north on the A746 for a short distance before turning back onto the B7052 again, heading generally north-west for many miles. We saw no traffic at all for what seemed like hours as we cycled through the sun-drenched countryside. In fact it seemed spookily quiet. It was as if everyone had stayed indoors to watch the England v Croatia semi-final of the World Cup which was being played that evening – when they could have been out cycling, enjoying the beautiful countryside and weather! Anyway, we eventually reached Culmalzie where we turned right briefly before heading more or less north again for a long time through a deserted landscape of endless cow fields with the Galloway hills far away in the distance.

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England were already 1-0 up by the time we came to a junction with the B733 road. Here we went right for half a mile before turning left onto a very narrow road that was covered in loose chippings. It wasn’t the nicest road to cycle on but it also took us up the only real hill of the day so it was actually a pleasant change from all the easy, flat roads we’d been on for the rest of the trip. We were heading north-east for the final few miles back to Nether Barr with the late evening sun starting to set. Unfortuanely, I realised that one of my tyres had a puncture so we had to stop and Dad spent an age changing the inner tube. By this time, Croatia had equalised so we took off back down a rather steep hill towards the junction with the A714 road again. Speeding down the rather bumpy narrow road we enjoyed amazing views of the Cairnsmore of Fleet hill straight ahead, towering above the otherwise fairly flat landscape. It looks like it would be a fine hill to climb one day and probably has brilliant views from the top.

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So, after a quick half mile on the main road back to our accomodation in the fading daylight, we had made it back in time to watch the extra time period of the England v Croatia match. Sadly for England, they experienced Scotland-like glorious failure as Croatia scored with 10 minutes to go to reach their first ever World Cup final…

Dad and I normally prefer slighty more challenging and hilly cycle routes but our easy meander through the Machars in the evening sunshine was very enjoyable and highly recommended.

Tour de Galloway day 4: Gatehouse of Fleet to Kirkcudbright

Route – Gatehouse of Fleet to Kirkcudbright to Borgue to Carrick Bay to Gatehouse of Fleet. For route map click here.

See route on Strava.

  • Weather – fairly cloudy but bright and reasonably warm with light winds.
  • Bike type – road bike
  • Distance travelled – 25.29 miles
  • Riding time – 1 hour 54 minutes
  • Maximum speed – 31.1 mph
  • Average speed – 13.3 mph
  • Height climbed – 1290 feet

On day 4 of our summer holiday in Galloway, Dad and I were up reasonably early and drove the 20 miles or so to the picturesque little town of Gatehouse of Fleet. We parked on the appropriately named Fleet Street in the outskirts and set off on our bikes, cycling north-eastwards through the town centre for a short distance, crossing a bridge over the Water of Fleet before heading out of town on the B727 Old Military Road. Although it didn’t look it, our legs told us this road was suspiciously uphill as it turned the corner and took us back southwards with trees on both sides of the road. A mile or so later we turned left onto a very narrow country road which headed even more steeply uphill. The road had recently been covered with loose chippings so it wasn’t the most pleasant ride up the hill but we made it to the top soon enough. From there we could see the sea far way on the right – and that’s exactly where we were headed. But first we discovered we had some dangers to negociate on what should have been a lovely quiet road in the middle of nowhere. Tractors! And there was seemingly a constant stream of the massive

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farm vehicles carrying trailers full of silage to and from the farm at the top of the hill. This was extremely annoying as each time a tractor flew around a corner, we had to move quickly over and stop on the grass verge to avoid being flattened. I would say this was the busiest and most dangerous road I’ve ever cycled on and it came as a bit of a relief when we finally made it down the other side of the hill and came to a junction with what was seemingly now only the second busiest road in the region – the A75!

We actually only cycled on the main road for about 20 yards before turning off onto another minor road (this one very quiet thankfully) and headed mainly downhill on our way to the coast. Eventually we came to another main road, the A755. Here we turned left and sped down the hill for a mile or so to Kirkcudbright, crossing over the impressive old bridge as we entered the harbour town. Kirkcudbright is a lovely town with a brilliant fish and chip shop but it was too early for a fish cake supper so we turned around and headed back over the bridge again. Then we took the next left onto the B727

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and followed the signs for Cycle Route no.7 which took us right along the side of the River Dee estuary, giving us picturesque views back over the bay to Kirkcudbright. This road was quite windy and although there were no big hills, it was rather more up and down than you’d expect for a coastal road. It was also quite busy with traffic at times, though no tractors this time… After a while the road took us back inland and we reached a village called Borgue. There we turned left onto a much quieter, mostly single track road which seemed to take us mainly downhill as we headed back towards the coast again. The views over to the islands in the bay and the hills of Galloway far beyond

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were quite nice. Eventually we arrived at a junction and went left at the sign for the beach and cycled the last mile or so along a bumpy narrow road down to Carrick Bay where we stopped for a snack and to enjoy the views from the beach. Carrick Bay is one the nicest beaches I’ve been to. It’s quite a stony beach but there’s lots of sand when the tide goes out. In fact, when we were there earlier in the holiday, the tide was right out and we were able to walk through the shallow water and mud flats all the way over to one of the islands. There’s also loads of rock pools there and this is the only beach where we’ve ever seen live prawns swimming about in the pools. As Dad discovered though, they are impossible to catch! He did catch a tiny crab though…

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After the beach we headed back along to the junction and turned left onto the quiet road again. The road took us past many fields of cows and then we passed the Cream o’ Galloway visitor centre where we considered stopping for an ice cream but somehow or other, we managed to simply cycle past without filling our faces with a scoop or 2. Most unlike us… Soon enough we came to a long and straight section of narrow road with lots of long grass at the sides. There was a sign warning that the road was liable to flooding but thankfully, it was dry enough today and we didn’t have to do any swimming… Just before the road reached the busy A75 again, we turned left and followed the cycle route 7 signpost which took us off road onto a lovely smooth cycle path. It wasn’t smooth for long though as the path headed into the woods and turned into a rather less lovely

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rough, slightly overgrown forest path. We kept going anyway but it was really quite bumpy and not at all suitable for our road bikes. Thankfully, we made it back to Gatehouse of Fleet without crashing or having any punctures. Actually, it was lucky we took the bumpy route as it meant we cycled right through the very impressive Cally Palace Hotel and Golf Course before heading back through the town to the car, so it turned out to be a rather nice way to end a very nice circular route.

Tour de Galloway day 3 (time trial): Newton Stewart to Wigtown

Route out: Newton Stewart to Wigtown. For route map click here.

Route back: the same way but in reverse.

See route on Strava.

  • Weather – sunny and warm but rather windy.
  • Bike type – road bike
  • Distance travelled – 13.18 miles
  • Riding time – 50 minutes
  • Maximum speed – 28.0 mph
  • Average speed – 15.7 mph
  • Height climbed – 300 feet

Dad and I have been out cycling so much over the past couple of months that we haven’t had much time to write much on here, but now that the evenings are getting very dark, we are going to try and catch up with all the best cycle routes we’ve been on this summer. We will start by going back to our holiday in Galloway in July…

Day 3 of the Tour de Galloway was the time trial day. After a fun day out at the beach and also the Cream of Galloway adventure playground (where we ate lots of ice cream obviously) we only had a short time after tea when we could get out on our bikes. I decided to invite my little sister Isla along with us for a time trial race from our accomodation just south of Newton Stewart down the very quiet coast road to Wigtown about 6 miles away. This is part of cycle route no.73 and the road is extremely quiet, very narrow and mostly flat and with the strong wind at our backs we were able to race along at a good speed – my average speed was over 18mph on the way there amazingly, though Isla wasn’t quite so fast… The only hazzard we came across along the way was an annoyingly wide milk tanker that took up the whole width of the road which meant we had to move our bikes completely off the road and into the long grass at the side to avoid being squashed!

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The road follows close to the River Cree estuary and just outside Wigtown Dad thought he saw an osprey swooping down close to the water looking for fish. After 6 miles of near flat riding, the short but steep hill that takes you up into the town centre of Wigton is a bit of a shock but even Isla managed to cycle all the way up without getting stuck. We stopped there for a few minutes to have a drink before turning around and heading back the way we came.

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On the way back we were forced off the road once again by the same milk tanker heading back from the dairy farm with a full tank of milk this time. We were significantly slower on the way back as it was straight into the strengthening wind the whole way. At times, no matter how fast Isla pedalled, it seemed like she was going backwards! Eventually we made it back to the Nether Barr where we were feeling a bit peckish so we had a bowl of Aldi’s Special Flakes before getting the map out to plan the route for day 4 of the Tour de Galloway. So stay tuned for that – I promise it won’t take us another 2 months to write up the next chapter…!

Tour de Galloway day 2 (mountain stage): Glen Trool Forest and South Ayrshire Alps

Route – Newton Stewart to Glentrool to Straiton to Loch Trool to Glentrool to Newton Stewart. For route map click here.

See route on Strava.

  • Weather – Cloudy and cool to start with but hot and sunny after lunch. Not much wind.
  • Bike type – road bike
  • Distance travelled – 77.67 miles
  • Riding time – 5 hours 51 minutes
  • Maximum speed – 33.8 mph
  • Average speed – 13.3 mph
  • Height climbed – 4898 feet

On the second day of our summer holidays Dad and I were up nice and early and after a breakfast of Aldi’s version of Special K (surprisingly tasty and very cheap), we were out on our bikes before 9am. Before going to bed the night before, I had planned a very long route for us which turned out to be rather more hilly than expected. But I really like hills so we had a cracking day out in some of the most beautiful countryside in the south of Scotland.

To start with we took the cycle path alongside the River Cree into Newton Stewart where we saw a heron creeping around in the shallow water looking for its fishy breakfast. Then, after a brief spell on the main street and a quick cycle over the grand-looking bridge across the river, we turned left onto a minor road, following the Cycle Route no.7 sign – we were going to follow route 7 for most of the day. This quiet single track road soon took us out into the countryside, basically following the River Cree northwards, going in and out of the trees for quite a number of miles. This area is called Wood of Cree and looked like a nice place to go for a walk. Although it looked mainly flat, it actually felt very slightly uphill as we cycled along the deserted road. Eventually we came to a junction and turned right and here the landscape changed as we entered the Glen Trool

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Forest. Here the trees are mainly conifers and there’s lots of evidence of forestry operations (ie. trees being chopped down!) and signs warning to watch out for forestry lorries. It was Sunday though so we didn’t see any lorries at all, or even any cars as we had the lovely smooth, narrow road all to ourselves. Soon we reached Glentrool village but instead of turning left into the village, we went right, heading into some even more remote countryside of the Glen Trool Forest.

From this point on, the road starts to climb more noticably uphill, not enough to have to use any low gears but enough so that your legs really do start to complain – especially as it goes on like this for a long long time (10 miles or so I think). Sometimes the road was lined with spruce trees on both sides but sometimes we had great views over to the Galloway Hills on the right as we cycled along, in and out of the trees. This area has the most wild blueberries I’ve ever seen – and they were very tasty! At some point we passed 2 signs: one was warning that from this point on the road is only gritted during daylight hours; the other was warning that we were about to enter Ayrshire!

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The warning signs weren’t necessary though as Ayrshire turned out to be perfectly lovely and at this point the road really did start climbing much more steeply as it wound its way quickly up to the high point of the so called Nick of the Balloch climb at around 400m high. We stopped at the top for a blueberry feast before speeding down the north side of the Balloch as fast as we dared. There are crash barriers on the left side to protect you from a very steep drop if you were to lose control on one of the twisting corners, but thankfully we made it down the steep hill safely enough. We passed a large group of cyclists heading up the other way. It looks like it would be a very impressive, but hard, climb from that side so I think I will go back there another day to give it a go.

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After a very brief flat bit at the bottom of the Balloch, we immediatly began climbing up the next steep hill of the “Ayrshire Alps”. This hill is known as The Pilot for some unknown reason and it was quite a hard slog up to the top of the single track road but we did spot an ancient stone signpost which told us we were 10 miles from a place called Maybole and 24 miles from Newton Stewart. The descent down the other side of the hill gave us a grand view over the Ayrshire countryside and some wind farms in the distance and we enjoyed speeding down the hill into the valley below. Well, at least I enjoyed it – Dad was unfortunate enough to be stung on the elbow by a wasp whilst travelling at over 30 mph! At the bottom of the hill, the sun finally came out and we turned right onto a rather bumpy single track road for a few easy miles past fields of sheep and cows until we arrived at the village of Straiton where we decided to stop for lunch. It was our usual fare: crisps, oatcakes, salad, apples and (for Dad) cheapo Aldi chocolate.

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After lunch we cycled through Straiton (which seemed like a nice little place) and then turned right at the sign pointing to Newton Stewart and we began our long journey home. At first the road was quite flat with 2 lanes, though it wasn’t all that busy. The views of the valley and the hills in the distance were quite nice in the sunshine. After a while the road narrowed and began to climb upwards into the hills. It was long but quite a gradual climb which took us back into the Galloway Forest again. At one point we crossed a bridge over the oddly named River Stinchar and then the road began to climb

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ever more steepy until we finally reached the top – the highest point of the day at well over 400m. From there we had a great view over to the Balloch hill we’d cycled over a couple of hours before, as well as the road ahead, disappearing off down the hill in front of us. It looked like a fun and fast descent – and it was! Soon enough we were back onto the same road we had cycled up this morning. In this direction, heading south towards Glen Trool, it was really great fun. It was nearly all slightly downhill and smooth tarmac with hardly any traffic to be seen as we said goodbye to Ayrshire and sped back into Galloway. The fast fun seemed to go on for endless miles and with the sunshine and blue skies replacing this morning’s grey, low cloud, the views of the hills and the forest were much more impressive.

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It wasn’t long before we reached the sign welcoming us back to Glentrool village. But again, we avoided the village and turned left and decided to cycle the 4 miles or so right into the heart of the Glen Trool Forest and the stunning hills surrounding the picturesque Loch Trool. The road was fairly flat apart from a couple of short but very steep climbs right at the end, just before we got the end of the tarmac at the parking area for Bruce’s Stone. Bruce’s Stone is a monument that was errected to commemorate Robert the Bruce’s victory at the Battle of Glen Trool in 1307. The stone is just a big boulder with nothing historic about it so is not really worth looking at, despite all the tourists that flock there to get their picture taken. The views of the hills and the loch are grand though.

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We then cycled back along the narrow road and this time turned left and finally did go along the road through Glentrool Village and after a mile of two we came to the junction with the A714 road. It would have been a nice easy 5 or 6 mile ride downhill from here to Newton Stewart. But I was still feeling full of energy so after a brief time on the main road we turned right onto the narrowest, and possibly the nicest, road of the day. As usual it was suspiciously uphill but this was made up for by the increadible views behind us back to the hills of the Galloway Forest where we’d been only half an hour before. The

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road took us past Loch Ochiltree as we climbed up and around a small grassy hill. From the high point we had a lovely long and straight slightly downhill stretch which took us quickly to the junction with the B7027. Here we turned left onto the smoothest road in the world. It was such a pleasure to cycle on it as it took us through areas of the Galloway Forest that had recently been cut down. It was also mostly downhill and very fast and before long we came to another junction with the A714 once more. We could have been there much quicker if we hadn’t taken our long cut, but we’d have missed out on some of the best views of the day so I was glad we’d gone the long and hilly way. After that we turned right and sped down the hill for a mile or so to Newton Stewart where we stopped at the Co-op to buy ice lollies to try and cool ourselves down! Then it was only a half mile or so back to our accomodation at Nether Barr where we arrived just in time for tea (mushroom risotto) – so that was well timed. It had been a bit of an epic adventure through some beautiful countryside and definitely one of the highlights of our holiday in Dumfries and Galloway.