The decision to take a cottage in Dumfriesshire had been very much last minute, so route planning to get from the station in Lockerbie to the cottage at Yett by Johnstonebridge was sketchy. While we waited for the rain to pass, we stood in the shelter of the station roof looking at the map. To me the obvious route was to follow the National Cycle Network (NCN) Route 74 to Johnstonebridge and then backtrack a couple of Km south. This was slightly longer than winding through the minor roads, but had the advantage of being straightforward, without the need to stop at every junction to check the way, what could possibly go wrong? Well the NCN 74, called the “Moss, Motte and Motorway Cycle Route”, follows the B7076, formerly the A74 which has been replaced by the A74(M).
Got all that? Good, I shall continue, the road was straight and fast, so not so pleasant to cycle on, it was also right next to the Motorway. We quickly decided the best thing to do was to look for a turn off onto the first minor road and find our way along the roads less travelled, so it was we found a more relaxed route to the cottage…
Arriving at the cottage we were meet by the owner, who had offered to get us a few groceries, when we told her we were arriving by train and bike. This was the first time we had attempted a cottage based holiday by bicycle, we had our things in our panniers but not much in the way of food. Therefore, having unpacked and found our way around our home for the week, the next priority was to find out where the local shops were and get some food in. This is where advance planning is helpful, but we hadn’t actually done much. The nearest village is Johnstonebridge, about 2 Km away, had (like so many villages in this area) lost it shop. There is however a motorway service station by Johnstonebridge, accessed via the NCN 74, which offers limited shopping (mostly in the petrol station). We had also been told the Lockerbie Truck Stop has a small shop. This is 3 Km south of the service station along the NCN 74, and explains why there is so much heavy traffic on a B road (we later found there is a back road which can be used for access without the heavy traffic). As we set off to cycle there, the rain started. We arrived only to find that the shop closes early on Saturdays. The ride back to the cottage was wet, so we were glad that it was equipped with a washing machine, in which we could spin dry clothes, and central heating. Fortunately, we had enough food to cover our evening meal and breakfast.
Sunday morning, the rain had passed over night and so we ready to start exploring the local countryside and visit Lockerbie for some shopping. To the west of the motorway there are lots of quiet roads and odd wee places to explore, the likes of Applegarth.
Arriving in Lockerbie one finds there is little of interest you hold you there, so we just nipped into Tesco, picked up the shopping we needed and headed home. One of the good things about a cycling holiday like this is that going out for the shopping is enjoyable, even if all you do is go to a very dull supermarket. It is the journey either side which makes it fun (and the sunshine helps as well).
The following day we decided to try going in the opposite direction and head for Moffat, again trying to use the wee roads where possible…
and were rewarded with great views of the Annandale landscape. At one stage we had to pull of the road to let a herd of cows, which were being moved between fields, pass. On another part of the road we had to take it slowly as there was a loose heifer and we had to let her find her own way back into the field she had come from.
Moffat itself is a pleasant wee town, which would have great charm if its central area wasn’t used as a car park (there must be some hidden corner where they could be dumped to keep them out of sight, although the obese owners of these obese vehicles might object to having to waddle that far). The town is fortunate enough to have a fine range of local shops, probably due to the absence of a major supermarket (unless you count the Co-Op in Station Yard). Oddly Moffat markets itself as a “Walkers are Welcome town“, and yet there isn’t a single walking or outdoor equipment shop. Nor for that matter was there a bike shop, although there were a fair number of local utility cyclists. It is a shame that it has yet to market itself as a “Cyclists are Welcome town” as it has great potential.
After lunch at a Moffat café we headed north to visit the Devil’s Beef Tub. Most visitors go to see the Devil’s Beef Tub from above via the A701, but following our theme of taking the road less travelled, we rode to the bottom of the Beef Tub, where the Border Reivers once hid their (usually stolen) cattle. Riding up the glen towards Corehead, which the Beef Tub is a part of, it was easy to see why it was a good place for hiding cattle.
The hills rise up and enfold the head of the glen, an easily defensible area:
Time for a digression: Corehead and the Devil’s Beef Tub have great cultural and historical significance in the Borders. In the 13th century the laird of Corehead Tower, Sir Thomas Halliday, was married to the sister of one William le Waleys (or wee Wullie Wallace, as he is sometimes known). Just for the sake of historical accuracy, it should be pointed out that he didn’t paint his face blue, and it is very unlikely that he spoke with an Australian accent. What is more certain is that he raised the Border clans at Corehead for his first attack against the English in 1297. The rest is a Hollywood movie, which the SNP now find slightly embarrassing. Sometime after, this area passed into the ownership of the Moffat clan, who held the land until they lost a feud with the Johnstons of Annandale. The Johnstons were one of the most powerful of the Border clans, and noted for their feuding (usually with the Maxwells, with whom they managed to have a continued feud lasting around 400 years, the longest in Border history). The Moffats suffered their greatest calamity in 1557 when the Johnstons set fire to a local church while most senior members of the Moffat clan happened to be inside. Seventy years later all the Moffat lands had passed to the Johnstons on account of the Moffats accruing massive debts. One final note on the Johnstons, following the Union of the Crowns in 1603: when King James VI rode south to become King James I of England, he needed to pacify the Borders. To achieve this, he deported or executed the worst of the troublemakers. This included a good many Johnstons who were bundled off to Ireland, where they became known as the ‘Gentle’ Johnstons. It is from this group that my mother’s family descends.
OK, back to the story of our cycling holiday. On the ride back from Moffat we spotted a pair of Red Kites (Milvus milvus) and a spitfire, one of the great things about riding a bike is that you have the opportunity to look around for these sort of things as well as the freedom to stop and stare. We also passed a place called Wamphray, which looked like it might be worth another look.
Tuesday: we decided to strike out towards Eskdalemuir, via Wamphray and Boreland, then returning via Castle O’er and Lockerbie. The first part of this ride took us back for that second look at Wamphray, this time up past the mill and the church. As we passed the mill I thought I must take a photo of that on the way back, but we didn’t come back that way, so you will have to make do with this
property schedule [the owners did like the property schedule they had made public remaining public, so it has been removed]. However, we when we got to the Church, I did stop and get the camera out.
After leaving the church, we stopped again further up the hill to take some photos, oh hang on, I think I might have the got the roof of the Mill in this one…
Dumfriesshire is a great place for cycle touring, but there is just one thing with touring though this sort of landscape, you just have to keep stopping to take more photos.
Arriving at Boreland we were disappointed to find there was no tea room or even a shop, so we pressed on towards Eskdalemuir. On the map the road is shown as passing through wall to wall trees, but as we came by, it was bounded by large areas of clear fell, which are slowly being replanted. The road itself was mostly quiet with the exception of the odd timber lorry, fortunately they gave us plenty of space.
Arriving in the village of Eskdalemuir, we were again disappointed to find that there was no shop of café, however we weren’t to downhearted, as we knew that there was one just up the road, at the local Tibetan Buddhist monastery.
Personally I wasn’t overly impressed by the café, but Ulli liked it. This was also the first place that we saw cyclists in any numbers, probably because it was the only cake stop for miles around. This is one of the differences between the Borders and the Highlands, in the Highlands just about every small community has a bookshop/art gallery/café/ ceilidh place and a pub. Whereas the Borders lack these amenities, which is a wee bit of a nuisance. However, there is a solution to this, promote cycling in the Borders! There are lots of interesting wee roads and the place is ideal for cycle tourism. This will lead to increased demand for cake stops, B&Bs, small shops and other economic activity, after all on the mainland of Europe cycle tourism is worth over £20Bn a year.
Cake consumed, we set out for Castle O’er, following the White Esk upstream on the west bank. We noticed two sets of signs along this road, first there rather faded ones saying National Byway cycle route and the second set of signs were for the Eskdale Prehistoric Trail. This second set was supplemented with a number of display boards along the way, explaining the lumps and bumps in the landscape, showing the long history (and prehistory) of human settlement. It was an interesting ride. One such site was the Deil’s Jingle near the confluence of the White and Black Esk, which was a late iron age or early medieval boundary. There are also a number of bronze age and iron age settlements and hill forts. So it was that we wound our way to Lockerbie and from there we took our now familiar way home.
Just noticed that this post is getting a wee bit long, so I am splitting it in two, in the second part we visit, Caerlaverock, the Forest of Ae, Lochmaben, and meet another Blogger (who is lovely). Part two will be along shortly…
part two will be along shortly…