Monday, 13 March 2017

A Weekend in the Southern Uplands

Lots of things came together to make this trip; my parents were heading to near Gatehouse of Fleet for a weeks holiday and I felt compelled to go visit them, I wanted to get an overnighter in to get back into the frame of carrying bags, my Jones was needing a good workout and best of all the weather forecast was looking stunning!

Also I was keen to scope out an alternative to the Southern upland way that I had plotted after my deathmarch infested epic of 2 years previous. The section of the SUW between St. Johns town of Dalry and Moffat is bleedin' horrible so this alternative misses out the misery and still includes some nice riding....

So as per two years ago I abandoned the heap at Moffat Friday evening and headed up the minor road west of the M74 into the forest. The SUW was ignored and my route took me through Ae forest via various forest tracks - all easy pedalling in the deepening gloom. I departed Ae onto a back road that loops through the North Western corner of the forest and out into the moors. Darkness had fell completely as I turned off at Garroch farm into the hills. This is a fine route which heads NW over a small pass to Kettleton Byre Bothy. It was pitch dark but I managed to find the bothy on the second go. Just after I settled in a local guy turned up (with firelighters) so we had a convivial evening talking bikes - he had previously ran a bike shop and now worked as a guide in the alpine bike parks and often wandered up to this bothy for an overnight stay.

Kettleton Byre - small but perfectly formed...

The next morning dawned crystal clear and cold. I descended down to Durisdeer and after a few back roads started the crux of the day - The Enterkin Pass. This climbs most of the way up Lowther hill - the highest point on the SUW - however according to my research would hopefully be a considerably easier prospect than the gruesome SUW route up the east flank.

At the top of the first climb and looking into the Enterkin burn. My destination is the notch between the hills on the horizon.

The section through the valley bottom was a wee bit wet but was obviously drying fast in the strengthening sun. I'd describe this section as 'Engaging' - a few challenges but mostly straightforward although I'd probably give this route a miss in severe wet weather as it could be pretty boggy. There followed a short steep climb out of the valley bottom onto a steep side slope and a real goat track of a path climbing steadily to the summit.

Looking back down the hard bit.

And the final climb. With the right gearing or legs you'd probably get up this but I was content to push. Amazing how nice hike-a-bike can be in the sunshine.  If you were to use this as part of a West to East SUW route it would be an ace descent.

After a short descent down the SUW into Leadhills it was a longish section of gravel road through various bits of foresty. The SUW does two moor crossings missing out this section but they are horrible.... This track spat me out onto a wee road which takes you all the way into Sanquhar and lunch. This was eaten sitting on a bench in the sun - I can't remember the last time I did such a thing.... From Sanquhar I headed up another minor road which ends at yet more forestry. There is a huge windfarm going up here plus the required substation, some kind of Scottish Water Scheme and massive Logging. Fortunately access is still permitted (just watch out for big dump trucks) plus I was able to make use of the site toilet (cheers guys!) for a bit of pre-climb weight loss..... I'd used this route on my ride in 2015 but rather than rejoin the SUW and the grim climb over Ben Brack this day I exited the forest by a much lower level ROW to Lorg. I was unsure of this trail but it turned out to be fine, albeit somewhat boggy.

Polskeoch Bothy on the SUW just by the turn off to Lorg.

This bothy seems to be getting used by bawbags as there was a fair bit of rubbish about and the door was knackered. Strange as Kettleton byre was clearly not getting any such attention despite being much closer to civilisation. From Lorg to St. Johns Town of Dalry it was all road but the SUW looks like a further bog trot so not really worth the effort. In Dalry I enjoyed a pint in the Sun and then followed more wee roads up into the main Galloway Forest Park. I said farewell to the SUW here but I plan to do the whole lot this summer using this alternate.

Looking north west where the SUW cuts through from Clatteringshaws to Glentrool. This is a great route and features yet another Bothy at White Laggan.

I turned south here along more forest roads past Loch Grannoch and down towards the water of fleet.

Water of Fleet Viaduct.

Thereafter was a steady road descent down to Gatehouse of Fleet and a few more miles to where my folks were staying.

A perfect end to a perfect day.

Family duties discharged, I set off on the Sunday for a leisurely trundle along various back roads and the odd trail to Ae village. The cafe by the bike trails provided a bacon roll and coffee to fuel the last climb up through the forest on NCN 10 back over to Moffat. In future I'll give this a miss as it takes you a long way round and involves a fair bit of uneccessarry climbing. Fine if you like wind turbines but there is a shorter, easier route via the Ae water which Joins NCN 10 a few k from where it emerges from the forest.

My plan is to include this in a bike friendly version of the Southern Upland Way - more details when I ride it all.

Phil Clarke March 2017

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