21 June 2013
The tent was pretty hot when I woke up after a restless night, due to roosting oystercatchers making a racket for most of it. I had also awoken with a start at about 03.00 to the sound of something being set upon and probably eaten, hopefully it was just a fox getting a rabbit or pheasant, and nothing more sinister; I had thought the campsite felt a bit spooky. It took a while to get back to sleep after that due to a slightly overactive imagination. All this led to a slightly later start than usual, not getting on the road until about 10.45 post a shower, bike checks and breakfast.
It proved to be a lovely day as I rode west from Stranraer, over the top of the peninsula to Portpatrick where I could gaze over to Ireland and Belfast, only about 21 miles away. Portpatrick is a lovely small town, and a great spot in the sunshine, so I decided to stop for an early lunch.
Selecting a pub, the Crown Hotel, by the enclosed harbour, I had a coffee whilst I waited for midday when they opened for lunch. There was a stag party indulging in a morning beer before setting off to play golf, wearing shirts that I think probably broke the Geneva convention; truly lurid affairs which required my sunglasses to combat. Thankfully they left after not too long.
Frank, whom I’d met last night, also turned up on his bike having had a bit of a ride around the peninsula, and joined me for lunch. I tucked into a substantial lasagne verdi whilst we continued our conversation from the previous evening, also having a look at each others bikes.
Frank didn’t have to catch his train until 14.15, but I still had a fair distance to travel, so had to get on my way whilst he enjoyed Portpatrick some more, and a pint of real ale. Good luck with your future tours Frank, I’ll keep an eye on your adventures via Twitter.
Before leaving I had a quick read of the information sign at the end of the harbour, which recounted the tales of some of the shipwrecks around the coast here, some 70 significant ones in the last 150 years, attesting to the difficult waters of the Irish Channel, its rocks and sometimes violent weather. The Portpatrick lifeboat has helped many a crew and passengers in trouble, and is still moored in the harbour ready for action.
After stopping at the town general stores I rode up out of Portpatrick, then south through scenic countryside, not without its hills, before finally ending up in Ardwell on the east coast of the peninsula. I’d had to navigate my way through a bit of a maze of country roads, avoiding dead ends and tractors, but it had been a pleasant ride so far.
I turned up to Sandhead from Ardwell, rather than cycle all the way down to Drummore and the Mull of Galloway, which was most definitely a dead end. I followed the coast all the way around Luce Bay, turning on to the A747, and stopping for a break and some ginger biscuits at Port William.
The midsummer sun was proving pretty strong, so I topped up on the sun cream to avoid burning. It was a fantastic day weather wise, however clouds looming over to the west boded of less pleasant weather to come.
Continuing on my way I passed a field of cows who either regarded me solemnly, started following me, or pegged it in the opposite direction, strange beasts. There are a lot of stone circles and old forts in the area, indicating the region has always been populated by various nations and cultures over the years, whose bloodlines have no doubt all mingled to an extent to give today’s residents. I was half tempted to seek out one of the stone circles, it being the summer solstice, to see if anything mystical was happening. There were a few sheep I could think of that could do with a damn good sacrificing, and it surely wouldn’t hurt to try and appease any gods listening and ask for nice weather; alright it might hurt the sheep but they had it coming after their antics on previous legs.
Unfortunately there were no sheep to hand, and the cattle didn’t look particularly in the mood for participating in any Druidic rituals, so I pedalled on, arriving in the Isle of Whithorn, which is a seaside village and not and island, where I stopped for a breather.
It’s a nice seaside village and harbour, and the site of the ruined 13th century Saint Ninian’s Chapel. It also had a couple of nice looking pubs that I was severely tempted to stop at, cycling being thirsty work in the heat. Pedalling around each ‘sticky-out’ bit on the coastline does culminate in a lot of miles. Tempting to stop as it was, I probably wouldn’t have got going again, so I gritted my teeth and pedalled on.
I rode on up to Garlieston, and then to Bladnoch after crossing the river bearing its name. The Inn in Bladnoch looked too good to pass up, and besides I needed to stop to decide where I was going to camp for the night, and they had free wifi. I had a quick half whilst checking my route and possible campsites. It was already 18.30 and I’d done about 70 miles. Whilst I’d been thinking about heading for Castle Douglas it looked like a bit of a stretch for today. Luckily there were lots of campsites to choose from before then.
The A714 took me north through Wigtown, where there was a disappointing lack of toupees in evidence, before I turned on to the A75 crossing the River Cree just below Newton Stewart, and cycling back the other way alongside it to Creetown. A cold South Easterly had started up so I was keen to stop sooner rather than later, as it looked like the weather was definitely changing. Just past Creetown I found the Castle Cary Holiday Park, which looked promising even if it might cost a bit more. I was therefore pleasantly surprised to find it was only £5.00 a night, and it had a pub/restaurant on site – The Lairds Inn. All in all a bit of a win with clouds closing in rapidly, so I pitched my tent and headed to the Inn for dinner, and to celebrate the Summer Solstice.
The staff at the Inn were very accommodating, and I dined on sizzling spicy chicken as the rain started to tip down outside, enjoying a few pints of ale. The Inn is converted from part of the old castle, which dates from around 1580, and looks great inside, with open fireplaces, stone walls and wooden beams abounding. The landlady did say she didn’t like being on her own in the place late at night, which didn’t surprise me, old buildings like this do sometimes have a weird feeling about them. She hadn’t actually seen any ghosts, but had had a few strange experiences by the sounds of it.
Despite the solstice latterly turning a little soggy it had been a good day, with 85 miles covered through some nice countryside and coastline, gentle hills, lots of cows and thankfully very few sheep. I was getting some good legs in now so would soon be back in England and heading further south, with only abut 2000 odd miles left to do.