Are you looking for an incredible 20-mile cycling route in Nithsdale? Of course you are. Well here is my account of my most favourite bike ride I have ever done, and one which I know I will be repeating many times. I had two main goals for this adventure and a strict time frame to stick to and I am so happy that it all worked out, pretty much perfectly. I think that the hours I have spent thinking about and planning this route definitely paid off and I really hope other people want to give it a try.
As I seem to be prone to doing just lately, I cheated slightly by hitching a lift for the first mile or so – Jay gave me a lift up the first steep part of the forestry track opposite Guildhall Bridge Pets Hotel In Kirkconnel, just up to the first cattle grid which saved me an hour of uphill cycling. It was 11.15 am by the time I set off and soon I was whizzing around the edge of Mynwhirr Hill and up past the wind turbines on Carcarse East and Mid Hill.
This forestry track is one I know well. But this track changes; as different sections of the forest are harvested, or as newer trees start to grow, the views and the surroundings and the shapes on the hills shift and create new vistas and patterns. It might be ‘just’ a pine tree plantation to some, but to me it is an Enchanted Forest.
Around midday, just past the ruin of Euchanhead, I was treated to a summer shower; an intense power shower which soaked me right through and turned the tyre tracks of the timber lorries into two little muddy streams running alongside me. I tried to shelter in a dense patch of forest, but the rain still managed to find me. But thankfully it stopped and the sun came out with enough time to dry off a bit before arriving at Polskeoch/Chalk Memorial Bothy at exactly 1.30 pm.
I intended to only stay for an hour at the bothy, but in the end I stayed on for an extra 30 minutes – the rain started up again and was coming down hard so I was grateful to be nice and dry. I had purposefully planned the route to pass by Polskeoch as I wanted to begin sticking some of my wooden books onto the mural, which was my first goal of the adventure. Annoyingly I only put about 20 of the little wooden blocks in my bag as I didn’t want to carry too much weight, but I wished I had taken more as it proved to be a very satisfying task. I only hope that the glue doesn’t fail me!
By the time I finally stepped out of the bothy at 3.00 pm, I was surprisingly hit with bright, warm sunshine which was really quite wonderful. The rain was thankfully done for the day. I retraced my trail for a few hundred yards, before taking the right-hand footpath, handily marked by the Southern Upland Way post. And this is where the roller-coaster begins. Keep your hands and feet inside at all times…and scream if you want to go faster.
Past Polskeoch cottage I went, then past Dalgonar and Polgown, with the track rising up and down in perfect humps, with sweeping twists and turns down towards the old Covenanting territory of Scaur glen. As the track wound down past Polgown Craigs and the beautiful old sheep folds on the left, the scene before me opened up further, revealing a wide vista of interestingly shaped hills and patches of rocky craigs. It was just truly amazing. And I think I spotted an Andy Goldsworthy sculpture although I didn’t stop to cross the burn and check, giving me the perfect excuse to redo this route again soon and do some investigating – this glen is Goldsworthy’s canvas so I know there are some hidden sculptures dotted around here.
I have not had that much fun on a bike since I was a kid! Dead proud of myself I was too, as I cycled up inclines that I know I couldn’t have managed 6 months ago. Up and down I went, so many times in 3 hours that I lost count of how many dips and rises I covered but I cannot underestimate how much fun this was. I wish I was doing it again, right this second.
After about an hour or so knew I was close to the main reason for my adventure – Glenwhargen Craigs. With me I had carried a postcard I had found on ebay, written in 1920, which depicted a beautiful scene with the words: Glenwhargen Craigs, near Sanquhar. Because of the postcard, I had been fixated on finding the exact scene the photo was taken from, so I was excited at the prospect of finally finding it. And at 4.30 pm, I found myself looking at the black and white shot of a scene from 100 years ago and looked up to find the exact same view before me. With the exception of the wind turbines on the distant hills, this glen has managed to stay frozen in time, just the way it should be.
Scaur Glen was once a great and remote hiding place for the Covenanters during the latter half of the 17th century and is dotted with old farms which once provided sympathetic shelter to the persecuted Presbyterians. I passed farm names which I recognised from Covenanting tales: Shiel, Hallscaur, Corfardine and Woodend and places where conventicles were once held. I need to re-read R.M Ballantyne’s Hunted & Harried: with parts of it set in this very location, it would be good to plan a trail which follows the characters’ footsteps. Here the sun shone brightly and the aroma from the rich and varied abundance of wildflowers, freshly watered from the rainfall, filled the air as I leisurely cruised passed. From the farm of Laight onwards I don’t think I barely peddled once.
By this point I had crossed over from OS Explorer map 328 (Sanquhar & New Cumnock) and onto 321 (Nithsdale & Dumfries) and by 5.30 pm I realised that I didn’t have far to go to reach my destination of Penpont, thus meaning I was easily going to hit my 6 pm target time. I actually surprised myself at how well I had managed to stick to my schedule all day and so rewarded myself with a 20 minute sunbathe in a sloping field beside Glengar Hill, looking out across to Auchenbainzie Hill. It was really quite lovely. And within 10 minutes of hopping back on my bike I arrived in Penpont and felt very happy to see Jay and the kids waiting for me at the war memorial; happy to see them, but really gutted that the roller-coaster was over.
Truly the best bike ride I have ever done.