At breakfast, which involved a fair bit of meat for me, although Jan restricted herself to scrambled eggs and toast, there was a German in a kilt. I was fascinated by this idea and wondered about the possibilities of mixed national dress. Lederhosen with sporran and bagpipes? Grass skirt with a stripy smock and a string of onions? Clogs, assegai and not much else?
We bade farewell to Robertson & Emma and, as we were loading the bikes, we noticed a blue signpost indicating a cycle route. It was NCN 7, was pointing towards Castle Douglas, which was where we wanted to go, so we set off. I didn’t recall seeing a cycle route on our OS map but we decided to give it a try.
It was magnificent. Built on the course of an old railway, the Maxwelltown Path was opened in 2006. It takes the discerning cyclist out of Dumfries along perfectly traffic-free routes. It’s flat, wide and smooth and leads directly to the minor road that we were heading for. Better still, it crosses the river Nith at a point where low sandy cliffs mark the river bank and there were sand martins flying around. I couldn’t tell at first that they were not swallows, but I trained my binoculars on them and I could see them making for holes in the sandy cliff.
The morning was fraught with faffage. This was the first day’s laden touring Jan had done on her new solo machine, and every so often we would stop to tweak the panniers because her heel was catching, or to allow her to catch her breath after a bit of a hill. There was nothing especially steep all day but we had to do something to pass the time as our ride was only meant to be about 30 miles.
The scenery was wonderful: nothing like the grand stature of the Highlands, but gently rolling, an occasional top just exceeding 1000 feet and the road climbing up to about 500 feet but not much more. There was a fair bit of interesting wildlife: buzzards, lots of chiffchaffs and a few oystercatchers although what these shore-dwellers were doing so far inland I’ve no idea.
We had a light shower during the morning which persuaded me to put on my new Paramo jacket, but I soon became too warm and had to remove one of my other layers. The rain didn’t last long but what there was seemed to roll off the fabric and I remained warm but not too sweaty. Mind you, we were not exactly putting in a great deal of effort.
There were no tea rooms to stop at and we hadn’t taken any sustenance with us (we had intended to buy something in Dumfries, but our route along the cycle path took us away from the shops) so we only needed to stop to swig from the water bottle. We stopped for one such break in the open gateway to a field and hadn’t been there long when a tractor pulling a spreader full of muck appeared. I moved my bike and the the tractor entered and started spreading its steaming load over the grass. I was surprised at how quickly the spreader was emptied and when the tractor left again the trailer was with inches of running over my back wheel. A narrow escape.
At about 1.30 we arrived in Castle Douglas, some 18 miles from Dumfries, which had taken us almost three hours to cycle. I had thought that solo touring might speed us up a bit, but so far, no. We found a cafe and enjoyed a pleasant lunch washed down with plenty of tea and then dropped into the Co-op for a bottle of water for Jan, some cake for later, and jelly babies which, as luck would have it, were on a 2 for the price of 1 offer.
The sun put in an appearance during the afternoon, which was a pleasant bonus over the forecast weather. There was gorse in flower, and that always looks much better in sunlight. Just south of Castle Douglas there is the Carlingwark Loch, which was very attractive.
The descent into Kirkcudbright is fairly steep, and beset with pot-holes and hair-pin bends. Once in the main street we quickly found the Anchorlee guest house and settled in. For our evening meal we adjourned to the Selkirk Arms where, it is alleged, Mr. Burns wrote his famous Selkirk Grace,
Some hae meat and canna eat,
and some wad eat that want it,
but we hae meat and we can eat,
and sae the Lord be thankit.
Just to be awkward, we each had fish, and my turbot fillet on a prawn and noodle broth was absolutely superb.