September is one of my favourite months and I usually stick a week's leave in the diary to get away cycling to catch the tail end of summer. At this time, there are the last of the rich greens in the landscape and blue skies filled with clouds of swallows and martins, about to embark on their own September journey. This year I cycled in the south of Scotland, starting at Ayr and crossed Galloway, Dumfries and the Borders to end back home in Portobello. It was a journey through rich farmland and rolling hills, along meandering back roads that dipped regularly into pleasant wee towns with numerous cafes serving up coffee and gluten free cakes.
The start of the cycle looked very much like the end! This photo of the bike on the first day at Ayr promenade on the west coast could as easily pass for Portobello in the east on the last day as I rolled up to my front door.
Soon out of Ayr, I cycled to a place I'd always wanted to see - Electric Brae. It's famous for its optical illusion so when I was pedalling uphill, my legs knew it was up but my eyes were sure the road was going downhill! The coast road here also gave lovely views across a shimmering sea to the rock of Ailsa Craig.
Beyond Electric Brae the road left the coast to climb through the Galloway hills to Newton Stewart. I was using national cycle route 7 here and every now and then would pass a marker. The back road that the route uses was beautiful, especially as it passed through the Wood of Cree, still green and fresh like early summer. The road popped out eventually into Newton Stewart, a busy wee town with a lovely clock tower.
Beyond here I cycled onto the Machars, a peninsula south of Newton Stewart that dips into the Solway Firth. It has a special character all of its own and standing stones at Duntroddan. There were great little back roads that all seemed to lead to Wigtown, famous for its numerous book stores and annual book festival.
Back on route 7, I cycled eastwards now using a helpful stretch of disused railway line. The line itself was flat of course but, as you'll see below, the access was not! The route then climbed back into the hills and more rugged landscape above Gatehouse of Fleet. It's a smart little town with neat rows of cottages and a working water mill.
Beyond Gatehouse the route passed closer to the seas of the Solway Firth again as it dipped into Kirkcudbright, a lively town with a working harbour and vibrant arts culture. It'll be most memorable to me though for the huge slice of gluten free carrot cake that it served up.
It was time to head inland again on a high road to Castle Douglas before following an old military road into Dumfries. As you might expect of a military road, it was poker straight on the map but what that didn't reveal of course, was that it was a real roller-coaster of a ride.
From Dumfries my route followed the waters of the River Nith before turning east again along the Solway coast to Annan. I camped a night near here and listened to the geese coming in at dusk to roost on the salt flats and I listened again to them leave in the morning. It's such an evocative sound that heralds the change of seasons.
At Annan I left the coast for the final time and cycled inland to pass into the Borders at the town of Langholm before cycling a high pass into the Ettrick Valley. It was a beautiful slice of pastoral life in this quiet nook of the country. In the morning golden sunshine bathed the landscape as I set out on my final day cycling home to Portobello.
There were four climbs to take me to Innerleithen and then through the Moorfoot Hills. The final pass closed in around me before opening up again to a view of Edinburgh and the Pentland Hills. I was on national cycle route 1 now and followed its winding course until I came upon familiar trails and the final run home.
It's nice to cycle all the way home from a trip, eventually coming upon routes that you use each day in normal life. It makes you see things in a new light as you approach them from a different angle, both physically and metaphorically. And it's nice to have crossed from one side of the country to the other, soaking up everything in between.
Start: Ayr Train Station
Finish: Portobello, Edinburgh
Route: From the train station I headed straight to the promenade to pick up national cycle route 7. It uses some bike path but mostly back roads to Maybole and then passes through the Galloway Hills to Newton Stewart. I left the route to cycle round the Machars for a half day - there are brilliant, empty single track roads here. From Newton Stewart route 7 uses a bike path on a disused railway line to Creetown then continues on mostly back roads to Dumfries and along the Solway Coast to Annan. Quirky and cheap camping at Mossdale on the route before Powfoot - right at the beach with birds all around. From Annan, I used back roads to Langholm, then passed into the Ettrick Valley from Eskdalemuir (which now has a fabby cafe with gluten free caramel apple cake) and then over to Innerleithen on back roads. From Innerleithen to Porty I followed national cycle route 1 on back roads to Bonnyrigg and then on cycle paths. I used two wild camps then formal campsites at Creetown, Mossdale and Wardlaw in the Ettrick Valley. The Mossdale and Wardlaw sites were lovely - highly recommended.