devil's porridge

Solway Wiggles

I’ve ridden nearly 300 km since the last post (I had a weather-induced rest day on Friday in the middle). And yet, in a straight line, I’m only 100km from where I started in Stranraer. Yesterday’s 110 km (69 miles) only got me just over 40km (25 miles) away from my start point, after a roughly 160 degree turn in the middle of the day.

There’s no doubt that I’ve been back in the west of the UK, as the road has wiggled around headlands and through hills around the Solway Firth. I didn’t really know much about the area, as English tourists tend to either stop to the south in the Lake District, or burn straight through to Glasgow on the motorway.

More should stop, as both the coast and interior of Dumfries and Galloway are lovely.

The two pictures above are on the way from Stranraer to Whithorn. I was super happy to be following a quiet, beautiful coastline that I’d never heard of, without the recent stresses of dodging showers all day.

The coast dives in and out of various estuaries, making following it a lengthy and time consuming process. In many cases, there are towns with bridges, but these are usually a detour of several miles upstream.

So I decided to cut inland a little to get a straighter line to Dumfries. But then you hit hills. The area really has it all; although hilly, these are not massive mountains, and mostly benefit from roads engineered with moderate gradients (if a few awful road surfaces).

The inland area is as pretty and quiet as the coast. And the area is also the UK’s first ‘dark skies’ zone, so you can even have a nose at the stars without background light pollution (if you get a clear night).

Dumfries town was pleasant enough, and a day of awful weather on Friday gave me the opportunity to wash my clothes for the first time in, erm, much too long.

It’s another place with a Robert Burns connection. He was born over on the west coast in Ayrshire, but spent a lot of his later life in Dumfries. You can certainly see how being in the midst of such stunning landscapes would be inspiring for a writer.

I wasn’t expecting an encounter with Devil’s Porridge on the way to the English border yesterday (Saturday). In the modern world, I’d imagine some sort of weird, spicy breakfast cereal. But it turns out that it was actually the explosive cordite.

As well as being the Scottish centre for eloping English couples to get married, Gretna was also the location of the biggest factory in the world during the First World War, turning out delightful explosive material to help everyone out in the trenches. There’s a little museum there now, just a couple of miles short of the border.

Crossing the border back into England brought with it the feeling that the trip is coming towards the end. That’s still a while off, as there’s still a large chunk of the English North West to get round (I’m starting in Maryport, above, on the Cumbrian coast this morning), as well as the whole of Wales. But I do feel sad to have left Scotland behind for this trip; it’s been great.

Those pesky local lockdowns haven’t yet impinged on my route, but there are more of them every few days. Liverpool and South Wales are probably the ones I need to keep the closest eye on. But for today, it’s more of the standard bike touring issues – near storm force headwinds, and those west coast wiggles. I’d better get cracking, as it’s not going to be quick today…