22 June 2013
Rain, lots of rain. It had been raining when I got into my tent the evening before, and was still raining in the morning when I woke up. I lay in my sleeping bag for a bit contemplating what to do, before eventually deciding it couldn’t be helped and I needed to get on. I wanted to maintain at least 80 mile a day legs for a bit to give me some leeway in getting around to Suffolk in time for the Latitude Festival, and had emailed them to ask if I could reserve a ticket, so the race was on.
I got up as the rain stopped, perfect timing, meaning I could breakfast, shower and pack up relatively quickly and with a mostly dry tent. It was my brother’s birthday so I sent him a message, and would call later assuming I find dry land; everywhere was a little soggy.
After visiting reception to pay up for last night, I was on the road by 10.00, pedalling from Creetown down the coast, under grey skies and into a rather blustery wind. The wind was supposed to be a Westerly, or South Westerly, but seemed to keep changing its mind during the morning session, buffeting me around a bit. The sea in Wigtown Bay was looking progressively rougher, with plenty of white horses and churning waters. There was definitely the possibility of worse weather to come, but it’s so unpredictable in Scotland, it could have been sunny again in a few hours.
I pedalled down the A75, past Ravenshall Wood, and Mossyard where I’d considered heading for to camp up last night; I was glad I hadn’t as it didn’t look as good as the Castle Cary Holiday Park and Lairds Inn. I made my way up the side of the Big Water of Fleet, crossing the river just below Gatehouse of Fleet, and turning off the main road on to the B727 down to Borgue. Imagine my ‘relief’ to be passing fields full of sheep again, phew, at least they weren’t in the middle of the road or ambushing me for a change.
Passing through more farmland I cycled up to Kirkcudbright, crossing the River Dee (I think there are a few River Dees around), another sticky-out bit of coastline done. There were several yachts of different shapes and sizes making their way up the river to the marina, including one nice looking catamaran, which I always have trouble spelling for some reason. The yachts were all using their engines rather than being under sail, the wind being somewhat unpredictable and feisty.
I had a bit of a cycle around the town, dodging the frequent groups of OAPs on tour that seemed to gravitate towards my heavily laden and potentially lethal bike. People use their ears more than they realise for crossing the road, and don’t necessarily look both ways as per the green cross code! I’d have flattened a few people if it wasn’t for my bell, or hollering, or evasive manoeuvres learnt from tackling sheep infested roads.
Kirkcudbright is a pretty town, with its castle, marina, and several galleries, as well as the Belfry Cafe where I stopped for a bite to eat. The Belfry turned out to be a great greasy spoon, and I ordered the all day breakfast, after briefly contemplating the roast beef, all very reasonably priced at around a fiver. It proved to be a good choice, with lots of carbs for the ride ahead. I’d try and find somewhere for a roast tomorrow, when I’d be back in England, touch wood.
Suitably refuelled, and after a quick chat with the mistress of the house concerning the merits of hearty Scottish fare, I got on my way again heading down the A711 along the coast. There are a few dead end roads you can take to get closer to the coast, however I ignored these pedalling all the way around to Dalbeattie. I’d considered visiting Castle Douglas, but that would have meant a detour inland which given the weather I wasn’t really up for, so it would have to wait for another day.
With quite a bit left to do today I crossed the Urr Water, and pressed on round yet another sticky-out bit, past Dundrennan and its Abbey, with my brakes squealing a bit too loudly down one of the few larger hills of the day; I’d need to adjust them later.
Dundrennan Abbey was built in 1142, as a Cistercian Monastery, but fell into ruin following the reformation and the land passing to the crown. Mary Queen of Scots spent her last night in Scotland there, in 1568, before being imprisoned by the English.
There’s an MOD firing range and exercise area along the coast at Dundrennan too, and the red flags were up although I didn’t hear any bangs. I did see a few military helicopters flying about, hovering a bit, and then flying off, so some kind of exercise was going on. It would be fun to abseil out of a helicopter, as long as the rope proved to be long enough and the helicopter didn’t decide to ascend during the abseil.
I rode past Sandyhills and its big beach, which didn’t look very inspiring given the weather. There were still a few enthusiastic punters out on the sand, with kids building castles and people picnicking. Good to see other folks carrying on regardless of the weather, in that fine British tradition of forcing themselves to enjoy the seaside whatever the conditions.
At New Abbey I stopped for a break to have a quick look at Sweetheart Abbey, another Cistercian monastery, which proved to have a slightly morbid tale behind it. The Lady who built it was so devoted to her husband, that when he died in 1269 she had his heart embalmed and kept it in a casket of ivory and silver, as her ‘sweet and silent companion’. Lady Devorgilla lasted for another 20 years, keeping the casket close to hand, before she was buried alongside her husband, John de Balliol, with the casket clasped to her bosom. Call me conservative but that’s a bit odd if you ask me, reeking slightly of necromancy and lichdom. Their son was briefly king of Scotland, but met a tragic end, as so often seems to be the case with royalty of the period.
The abbey is built out of distinctive local red sandstone, which looks pretty impressive.
King Edward I stayed at the abbey one Christmas, and fought quite a few battles in the area suppressing the Scots in the Anglo/Scottish War. He spent a bit of time campaigning in the region, generally beating people up, before running out of money and having to retreat as troops and barons deserted. The pope had said his campaign was illegal anyway but he’d been trying to ignore that, obviously trying to route out all the necromancers! (this post might be going a bit odd)
There’s also a handy toilet handy incidentally, which I was quite glad of, and lots of well marked trails for hikers and bikers.
With time-a-ticking, and the weather not really showing much sign of improvement, I rode on to Dumfries, passing some very muddy mountain bikers loading their bikes back on to their cars, after what must have been a good days off-roading. I’d being seeing signs for Dumfries for days, but found it to be rather unimpressive after a quick look around. Really I’d been expecting more after it being heralded for the last 200 miles or so.
The coast road beckoned once more, so I cycled on through Glencaple, and round to Bankend before scooting along to Annan via minor roads that traversed the railway line several times. There’s a large area of marshland that doesn’t have any roads through it along that stretch, but no doubt has lots of interesting wildlife, and I passed signs to at least one more castle and a famous well.
I didn’t stop as I was enjoying the benefit of a tailwind for once, which had really helped with my average speed over the course of the day, once it had decided which direction to consistently blow from.
I arrived in Annan, which isn’t far from Gretna Green and the border, at about 19.00, and found the campsite just outside the town post shopping for dinner. I’d been noticing more and more English accents as I got closer to the border, which sounded a bit odd after so long in Scotland.
Unfortunately it started to rain in earnest as I pulled up to the campsite, having only been spitting for the last few miles. I had to put my tent up as it turned torrential, before diving inside and phoning the warden to let her know I was on site. I spent the rest of the evening cosy in my tent, feasting on pitta bread, cheese and peanut butter. I couldn’t be bothered to cook as I’d have got soaked, even if I’d sat in my porch area, and didn’t fancy one of my ration packs cold that were my back up meals.
Dry land had eluded me, but I gave my brother a call anyway to wish him happy birthday, celebrating with a can of beer which meant having to make a run for the toilet about 30 minutes later, and getting wet anyway. It was great to have a chat, a bit of a morale boost given the weather, and I was looking forwarding to getting back into England the following day.
Post a good days riding, having covered just over 91 miles, I drifted off to sleep pondering what it must have been live up here in the 13th century, during the Anglo/Scottish war. I can’t imagine it was an easy life, and the average life expectancy must have been low – perhaps that explained the suspicious signs of the dark arts being practiced at Sweetheart Abbey (I’m sure Lady Devorgilla was completely innocent really). Mind you I believe the average life expectancy in Scotland is still lower than in the rest of the UK, which needs to be rectified, so maybe there’s still the odd Lich about.