Graham's End to End - Part 5

Graham’s Great British Jaunt Part 5

It was time to leave the land of flood, tempest and water! Contrarily the weather had made a positive step with sunshine and a tail wind when I left Ayr for Alloway, once a small village now famed as the birth place of  the national poet of Scotland. A complete industry has grown up around Robert Burns with the National Trust for Scotland in the forefront and stories are rife about its financial position after investing in a new centre here. I saw the new centre, but I missed the cottage where he was born, but for the next two days I came across many Burns trails and sites associated with him in Galloway. I was off course, but gained the A713 which led south to the village with the Indian name of Patna and to Dalmellington where the pavement brought relief from the terrible road surface which was inflicting pain to my feet. The surface was composed of large granite chippings and non existent tar which had been washed away many years ago.
The road climbed to Carsphairn with excellent views to Merrick, the highest hill in the Southern Uplands, and hereabouts the county boundary brought a welcome change in the road surface to one of blissful smoothness.

Several groups of cyclists on stripped down bikes with following cars were heading north obviously bound for John O’Groats. At St. Johns Town of Dalry tea and a strawberry tart were taken and at my next stop by the roadside basking in the warm sunshine I listened to an owl in the woods calling in mid-afternoon. A stretch of riding by Loch Ken brought
me to Castle Douglas for the night and another comfortable bed and breakfast of four star standard 53 miles was the day’s tally.

I had mapped out a way along a minor road parallel with the main road into Dumfries, and I had thought in the planning that I would surely have a west wind on my back – no such luck as the wind came strongly and persistently from the east. I was blessed with sunshine with no traffic until Dumfries, which along with Ayr was the largest town encountered since the start of the ride. My route took me along the banks of the River Nith to Glencaple and Caerlaverock Castle overlooking the Solway Firth.

The castle is magnificent. It is triangular and moated. It was built of red sandstone in the late 13th century, but after the English civil wars in the 1640s it fell into disrepair and little has changed since then apart from being in the care of Historic Scotland. For the visitor it provides excellent snacks. The afternoon gave a sun blest, but hard ride into the wind to Annan on quiet roads continuing to Gretna Green where I came out of a side road opposite the famous blacksmith’s cottage, favoured by eloping couples in days past as it was the first house in Scotland where marriage laws were more relaxed than in England.

I continued eastwards on a national byway slipping under the main rail and road links between north and south to cross the border into England for Longtown, which I had always imagined to be in Scotland. One lives and learns. Here I found a four star bed and breakfast and opposite was the Graham Arms for beer and food. Longtown was largely laid out by Robert Graham with a fine bridge over the River Esk and claims to have the largest sheep market in England, a claim I would dare not argue against judging by the millions of white dots on the hills stretching in all directions over the past few days.

Next morning the A7 quickly took me into Carlisle which is a historic city with castle and cathedral on the old A6 which terminates here. Here I again met two young girls last seen at Fort Augustus and hoping to reach Lands End three days before me. I should have invited them to follow me as they were taking the traditional A6 to Penrith and Kendal. Carlisle was a nightmare before the M6 was built and many End to Enders still persist on the old A6 when going north or south, but this is a mistake as there is a good wide and level road to the east of the motorway.

Find Carlisle station and out past the race course to reach this road and you will have it to yourself to Penrith, which was reached in time for lunch. The Tourist Office put me in touch with the Hawes Water Hotel which gave the best stop for the whole ride.

After Eamont Bridge south of Penrith I had the lanes to myself through the small villages of Askham and Bampton, and it seemed to be a good decision to miss Shap and the A6 to Kendal. Hawes Water is a reservoir first used in 1941 and formed from two small lakes.   The ride above the water side was bliss with views across to Harter Fell. Hawes Water Hotel replaces the old inn and hotel at Mardale now below the water. Afternoon tea and then dinner in the company of Rod from Totnes who was a lifelong visitor to the hotel followed by a good sleep and breakfast and the now rare presence of red squirrels on the terrace and bird tables put me in a happy frame of mind.

The district is reputed to have the sole remaining golden eagle in England, but I suspect that this is now a ploy to attract visitors – more fancy than fact.

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