Pedal the low road: cycling coast-to-coast across southern Scotland | Scotland holidays

The weather-beaten curves of a battered stone wall information me out of Langholm, an idyllic previous textile city tucked between the hills of the Esk valley, eight miles north of the English border.

As I pedal slowly round a steep nook, a lamb and her mom, grazing on the grassy fringes, scurry off up the street. I admire their present of religion in my biking talents, however on gradients of 9%, I wouldn’t have been capable of hold their tempo even when they’d crawled off. I pause for a breather on the MacDiarmid Memorial, an enormous, steel sculpture of an open e book, embellished with photographs from the work of the good poet Hugh MacDiarmid, who was born in Langholm.

Scotland cycle

The art work depicts thistles, trout, eagles and ploughs, whereas the inexperienced of the forests and farmland behind shine by way of the silhouettes etched out of the framework. “Scotland small? Our multiform, our infinite Scotland small?” MacDiarmid famously wrote.

It actually doesn’t really feel small once you’re biking throughout it.

Memorial to Hugh MacDiarmid at Langholm.
Open e book … the memorial to Hugh MacDiarmid at Langholm. {Photograph}: Stuart Kenny

I’ve been on my bike for a couple of days at this level, driving the Kirkpatrick C2C; south Scotland’s new coast-to-coast route, which runs 250 miles from Stranraer in Dumfries and Galloway on the west coast to Eyemouth within the Borders on the east. The waymarking will come subsequent yr, however the route is on-line now for skilled cyclists impressed to experience by the world’s first ever mixed UCI World Championship occasions, which began final week, and are at present being contested round Scotland.

“The bike is a part of our identification and tradition right here,” says Paula Ward, of South of Scotland Enterprise, one among varied tourism our bodies concerned within the creation of the Kirkpatrick C2C. “The realm is well-known for biking already, however this offers folks a pre-logged route that you would be able to obtain,” says Ward. “That makes it simple to come back right here to the south of Scotland to discover, having watched one thing just like the World Championships or the Tour of Britain.”

The route is called after Kirkpatrick Macmillan, the Dumfriesshire blacksmith extensively credited as having invented the primary pedal-driven bicycle within the 1830s. “It’s one among our common truths,” says Ward. “The south of Scotland gave the world the bike.”

A break on the road out of Langholm.
A break on the street out of Langholm. {Photograph}: Stuart Kenny

Dumfries and Galloway is usually referred to as Scotland’s forgotten nook, and after the decline of the textile business within the 80s, Langholm risked changing into Scotland’s forgotten city. The Langholm Initiative was arrange in 1994 to vary that, and in 2019, they led a group buyout of the native moorland. Right now, the group owns 4,200 hectares (10,500 acres) of this elegant countryside – and has remodeled an previous grouse moor into the Tarras Valley nature reserve.

The Kirkpatrick C2C cuts by way of the center of the reserve, on a single-track street searching to Solway Firth. The moorland is dotted with naturally regenerating birch, rowan and alder timber, spreading up the valley from the traditional forest, alongside the River Tarras. I cease to observe wild goats butt horns along with the street, and spot a hen harrier gliding within the distance.

I had rolled out of Stranraer a couple of days earlier, after breakfast on the Fig & Olive cafe, the place the bathrooms are plastered with posters of traditional climbs and a biking jersey is framed on the wall.

Big Water of Fleet viaduct near Gatehouse of Fleet.
Massive Water of Fleet viaduct close to Gatehouse of Fleet. {Photograph}: Larum Inventory/Alamy

There are two steered itineraries for the route – a four-day “Challenger” experience or an eight-day “Explorer” possibility, each masking the identical 250 miles. I go for a model of the latter, driving a median of 30 miles a day, with in a single day stays in Wigtown, Fort Douglas, Dumfries (the biggest city on the route), Langholm, Hawick, Melrose and Coldstream earlier than reaching Eyemouth. The route combines sleepy B and C-roads and nationwide cycle routes to information you safely throughout the nation.

My first day stretched 32 miles previous ocean, forest and farmland to Wigtown, Scotland’s charming Nationwide E book City. There, I explored the nooks and crannies of The Bookshop, Scotland’s largest secondhand bookshop. I socialised at The Open E book, a not-for-profit which lets vacationers run a bookshop for every week, and met The Bookshop Band – people musicians Ben Please and Beth Porter – who write songs impressed by books and carry out them in bookshops. “It’s the group right here that makes it particular,” Please says. And, presumably, the 15 bookshops.

After an evening within the Booktown Bunkhouse, I descend from misty vistas of the salt marsh and mudflats of Wigtown Bay by way of farmland, to the River Cree and Newton Stewart. The route turns away from the coast, into the Galloway Hills, and I detour previous Creetown to see the Massive Water of Fleet Viaduct, a part of an previous railway line featured in John Buchan’s The 39 Steps.

In the Tarras valley.
Within the wild Tarras valley. {Photograph}: Stuart Kenny

I quickly attain the pastel homes of Kirkcudbright, a harbour city with MacLellan’s Fort at its centre and a vibrant arts scene. It’s right here that trail-setter Pete Corson, who supplied the backbone of the Kirkpatrick C2C route, runs biking tour operator Trailbrakes. “You come previous Barlocco Island, and it’s unspoiled and rolling,” he says, of the part of path on his doorstep. “You observe gorse bushes, and are available to a view down Kirkcudbright Bay, out to the isle of Little Ross.”

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I ride on, via winding climbs and pastoral panoramas, to Castle Douglas, a town known for its food and its cycling. The two collided back in 2016. “Mark Cavendish crashed into the Chinese on the corner on the Tour of Britain,” David Fulton, owner of the King’s Arms Hotel, tells me. Cav would return in 2022 – this time sprinting safely past the Jade Palace to win the British National Road Championships. There’s a reason these events keep coming back here.

“It’s a cycling town,” Fulton says. “We’ve got hills, coast and this huge network of quiet roads.” I’m served a calorie-rich full Scottish breakfast at the hotel (marginal gains) before being sent on my way.

In Dumfries, I grab a coffee at the Frothy Bike Co – a magnet for cyclists hunting hard-earned caffeine, and via Lockerbie and a lush road by the River Esk, I roll into Langholm, 150 miles in. After the Tarras valley, the route passes from Dumfries and Galloway into the Scottish Borders.

Hermitage Castle.
Hermitage Castle. Photograph: Stuart Kenny

I descend to Newcastleton, unfortunately one day late for the Copshaw Common Riding – an annual festival where they mark the town boundaries. In most Borders towns, this riding occurs on horses. Here, they use bikes – though not before some peculiar pageantry. The “snogging of the sod and supping of the tequila” particularly stands out on the eccentric order of ceremony.

Six miles on, I come to Hermitage Castle, a fierce 14th-century fortress. I’m the only visitor and am left to explore the ancient staircases alone. Mary Queen of Scots once rode 25 miles on horseback to visit her future husband, the Earl of Bothwell, here, and Sir Walter Scott adored the castle. The remainder of the route passes through an abundance of Scott history – from Selkirk, where the Waverley author sat as sheriff, to Abbotsford, his lavish Tweedbank palace.

I cycle past the 12th-century Borders abbeys of Melrose, Dryburgh and Kelso, before a buzzard leads me into Coldstream, where I spend my final night at Bank House, overlooking a bend in the Tweed that marks the border. Golden hour has hit the river when I wake. Siskins flutter around damp roadside hedges, and hares dash through fields as I ride the final 25 miles to Eyemouth.

Sunrise over a beach near Eyemouth.
Sunrise over a beach near Eyemouth. Photograph: Helen Hotson/Alamy

When gulls begin to circle, I know I’m near. One final climb, then I roll down to the east coast waves, which lap gently on to Eyemouth beach, backdropped by red sandstone cliffs.

As a Scot, there’s something special in riding this coast-to-coast, putting home into context and bringing the map of the country to life. The Kirkpatrick C2C is a cycling colossus; an education in Borderland beauty and community, with a deep literary, historical vein throughout.

“Scotland small?” The words of MacDiarmid pop back into my head as I watch a tourist toss a fish down to a chunky harbour seal. It doesn’t feel small when you’ve cycled across it.

The Kirkpatrick C2C runs 250 miles from Stranraer to Eyemouth. Get more details from Scotland Starts Here

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