Newton Stewart to St. John’s Town of Dalry

My wife must love me very much.

It was a bright, cold day in April and the Garmin told us it was 9.52 or thereabouts. We headed north towards snow-covered peaks. We were full of an excellent breakfast from the Flowerbank Guest House as we were heading up the Cree valley. The scenery was stunning and our progress was slow. However, we only had 34 miles to do today so there was no particular hurry.

After a few miles we came across some RSPB notices about the nature reserve we were travelling through, and amongst the information about the various species which one might see if one was lucky was information about how Dumfries and Galloway boasts Britain’s highest population of mainland otters. There was a sign to “The Otter Pool” and as one of my unfulfilled ambitions is to see a real live wild otter (I achieved the otter roadkill milestone last year on the Isle of Mull) we sat for half an hour or so beside the Otter Pool and all we saw was a brace of pochard being chased away by a pair of carrion crows.

We carried on and around midday we had completed about 11 miles and we found ourselves at the Glentrool visitors’ centre where we had an early lunch consisting of toasties. Mine contained cheese and ham. We did well to arrive when we did because when we left the place was heaving with people many of whom were queueing up for lunch.

A couple of miles after leaving the visitors’ centre we ran out of road. I knew this was going to happen and had warned Jan of the fact, but I don’t think that either of us was prepared for what Sustrans thinks is a cycle route. It was too rocky to be ridden and also too steep. We walked for the first couple of hundred circuitous yards and then I tried riding. I could manage but it was not easy to keep going on account of the vagaries of gradient and surface quality. Jan made an heroic effort to ride, but given her shortage of solo practice and inherent suspicion of anything remotely dangerous, we were going to have problems as we had about eight miles of quite vicious offroad to do before being reacquainted with tarmacadam firma. Words were exchanged and they were not conducive to matrimonial harmony.

As luck would have it, after a mile or so of mostly completely unrideable cycle route, we crossed a stream adjacent to which was a Forestry Commission van, and the road improved. We managed to ride a bit, but the gradient was still a problem. A couple of times I rode my bike to the top of a climb and walked back down towards Jan, rode her bike to the top of the climb while she walked, and so slow progress was made. When we came across a slope that neither of us could cycle up, I gripped my bike by the stem with my right hand, placed my left hand on Jan’s saddle, leaned forward and pushed the bikes. I felt like a number 8 at the back of a scrum preparing for the longest pushover try in the history of rugby union.

Eventually we reached the summit of our ascent, about 900′ up and not far from the Rig of the Jarkness. From that point at least we had the slope in our favour most of the time and Jan started riding extremely well. We kept up a steady 6 or 7 mph for most of the rest of the offroad bit and at about 5 p.m. we finally reached a metalled surface once again. We circumnavigated the south side of the Clatteringshaws Loch and we were within shot of the Porridge House, our abode for the night. We arrived there at about 7.20 and by 7.50 we were in the Clachan Arms and I was ordering the venison casserole out of which they had run when we were last here some 5 years ago. It was well worth the wait.

As I opined at the start of this post, my wife must love me very much. I dragged her, kicking and screaming, out of her comfort zone and made her cycle some horrendously difficult terrain on a diet of chocolate chip biscuits and jelly babies and here we are at bed-time and all is forgiven.

I am a very lucky chap.

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