The Wrang Way Roond
As much as I’d like to I cannot take the credit for the concept of riding from Ayr to Lockerbie via Wanlockhead, mainly off road and on cross bikes. That honour falls to Marcus Shields, he who hails from Sorn but habitually resides in that there London.
Lost for Years
Marcus started out on this journey when he was a fresh faced lad of 14 but ended up, due to a navigational error, in Sanquhar. The story could have ended there (as might have Marcus) but no our Marcus is made of stern stuff. He went out and bought maps, feverishly planned the correct route and trained for almost 20 years before inviting me along to sample the long forgotten delights of up-country Ayrshire.
Armed with little more than an inner tube between us we left the end of Ayr Pier, with Arran aglow behind us in the early morning light, on Monday past at 07:30 (it would have been earlier but I am suffering from Date Of Birth Syndrome and needed a lie in).
Crossing the wee wooden bridge by the flats we promptly took our first wrong turn and ended up having to u-turn before tackling the not piss poor but perfect pedalling pave of Cathcart Street and Ayr’s Auld Brig.
Local Heroes Indeed
Up the river with a pedal we headed following the River Ayr Path to Auchincruive and the, perhaps unique, monument to another two, albeit lesser known, local heroes by the names of Wallace and Burns. I was familiar with Wallace and Grommit so I had to Google this pair – for clarity’s sake I understand one is an Australian actor chappie and the other is awffy guid wi wurds aboot mice and old friendships not being forgotten.
Choosing the wrong (North side) of the river we quickly found ourselves carrying the bikes through the mire (shite) of a farmer’s field whilst hoping that scaring sheep didn’t count as a crime in these parts – I’m sure they’ll have experienced worse in this airt ……
Large Boabby Sighted
Past Stair and Failford we rumbled on and on to yon big estate outside Mauchline. Under the World’s longest single span masonry arch at the Haugh …… onto firm trails now and the yard’s fair sped by. The sighting of a huge “Boabby” at Catrine led to earnest discussions whether this was in homage to Louison Bobet or our own Boabby MacLean.
Into Sorn and Marcus had his maw primed for our visit and the first meal of the day was troughed.
A little behind schedule we elected to take the road to Muirkirk leaving the delights of the River Ayr Walk to the ….. err, walkers. Now I’ve always hated that hill out of Sorn (despite which I once won the “most aggressive rider prize” in a race that climbed it – but only because I decked the organiser for including the hill …… irony) and Marcus, now looking like a snail due to the exceptionally full Camelbak he had collected from his maw’s hoose, was cheerily half wheeling me and engaging me in conversation that required long replies (remember this bit).
Through Muirkirk, for the first time without being stoned, and up past Kaimes and onto the Foundry Road – the world’s first tarmac road courtesy of John Loudon MacAdam (we passed his cairn).
A long stony climb onto the moors to the right of Cairn Table took us to lunchtime and some Tennents Energy Lager was consumed with gusto.
4×4’s have ripped the fragile moorland environment to buggery and this protected hen harrier breeding ground, one of the most important in Europe, is, in parts, just an unrideable quagmire (giggidy, giggidy, goo).
Between the muddy bits there was some spectacular riding and crossers make these kinds of journeys possible as the speeds are generally much faster than on a mtb. The lack of suspension and effective brakes makes the descents exciting and the whole thing a hoot.
If I learned anything from this trip I learned not to pish on an electric fence. Take it from me those Ghostbuster lads were right – you should never, ever cross the streams, ever. Suffice to say I did and I was rewarded by the full pulsing blast, and not entirely unpleasant it was either, doon ma own boabby. Still that said it did warm my clammy chamois nicely and good progress was soon resumed.
Dropping down, we crossed the B740 Sanquhar to M74 road and headed into some forest roads, direction Wanlockhead. We were both starting to feel the effects of many miles of bog walking and were getting peckish.
The wind spun and the fine tailwind became a headwing up long exposed drags past felled hill sides. Hunger was announcing it’s arrival but all was good until we came across a section (now on the Southern Upland Way) of wind felled trees blocking the forest road.
Tackling this section put us in a maze like horizontal forest and made for exceptionally difficult going. By slowing down we were starting to chill but eventually making the other side after much manhandling ….. of bikes. A section that would have taken 1 minute to ride took over 20 to pick our way through ….. and then Marcus punctured (I had my only flat of the day earlier).
Wanlockhead was reached thanks to a gel split between us. The highest village in Scotland is, however, closed on a Monday so the road was followed over the hill to Leadhills where the highest shop in Scotland was open and very welcoming – just don’t plan a visit on a Wednesday because it too is closed and the rumour is that Wanlockhead takes a sympathy half day as well.
An indecent amount of food was consumed (I swear they do the best microwaved Scotch pies anywhere and that’s not just the knock talking). The plan had been to continue on the SUW cross country to Moffat and then join some other offroad Way or some such down to Lockerbie.
Given the time of day and Marcus’s requirement to catch the 19:11 from Lockerbie to Euston we decided to complete the ride on the road. Downhill it was too ……..
The darkness fell, lights were lit and show me a bit of downhill road and I’ll soon hit TT mode. Now remember that bit about being haulf wheeled earlier ….? Well the great thing about riding round the world is that I’ve got a fair reserve of stamina left over from it. I’m pretty shite for the first 9 or 10 hours but when I get through that I kinda get warmed up and catch my second wind.
My lips are sealed and what happened on the road stays on the road …. all I’m saying is the man in the pub in Lockerbie was curious about why Marcus’s face was dirty and mine was clean.
Well, despite our best efforts Marcus missed the train by about 10 minutes and had to stay the night in one of the finest establishments the town had to offer. My long suffering partner Chez drove up in the van from the Lakes to collect me – babes, as soon as the burns have healed from that electric fence incident I’ll make it up to you, promise.
Guinness concluded the day – 80 miles …. 60-65% off road and the rest on MacAdam’s finest in about 12 hours. A grand day out …. as that Wallace and Grommit pair would have said.
As a footnote I should add that my one big regret in 30 years of cycling is not buying a cyclocross bike before I did. Over the last 3 years it’s opened up a whole new world of daft trips (this one and another across the High Atlas in Morocco are two highlights to date) and has revolutionised my training (hill reps up forest roads = no cars). If you do one, sorry two things as a result of these ramblings – 1) buy or try a cross bike and 2) don’t pee on a live electric fence. Trust me on both …. would I lie …?
Happy trails and keep it rubber side down.