Today we left England behind and crossed to border into Scotland. We also got rained on for the first time since we left Lands End. We cycled a gentle 73 miles with only 2,800 feet of ascent to Moniaive. It was a day of many changes of scenery, land use and culture. The ride was full of interest and even the rain didn’t spoil our fun.
The weather forecast promised rain from 13:00 so we had an early start and left Penrith at 07:15. We left Penrith behind and headed North on a minor road alongside the M6. We were in Northern Lakeland and still in the foothills with dry stone walls and open pasture grazed by sheep and lambs. This changed over a few miles to a smoother landscape where the soil is more fertile. The walls changed from grey to red sandstone. The enclosed fields become smaller, with more frequent farms and as the fertility of the soil improved sheep gave way to arable and dairy.
We shared a few miles with local cyclist, another Steve. We were surprised that he had visited West Dorset recently. He was impressed with our ‘home’ hills.
Progress to Carlisle was swift on quiet lanes with smooth surface. The minor roads we choose to ride are usually rough with frequent potholes so we really appreciate a bit of smooth. Carlisle was having its rush hour when we arrived at 08:30 but guided by Garmin we successfully made our way through the historic market town, crossing the magnificent River Eden and out the other side heading north to Scotland.
It felt that the smooth road built beside the M74 was just for us. The M74, just yards away, was crammed with traffic yet the parallel minor road was quiet. We were beginning to feel the chilly wind off the Solway Firth as we cycled across this cold, bleak ‘no mans land’ towards the Scottish border.
We stopped briefly for the obligatory photos when we entered the grimness that is Gretna Green and moved on, blinkered to our surroundings until we emerged onto the B721.
Across the vast expanse of the Solway Firth we could see the distant hills of the Lake District. It was with incredulity that we realised that it was only 24 hours earlier that we were catching our first exciting glimpse of the same hills from the south near Lancaster.
The wind buffeted us as it blasted unheeded across the Solway Firth. The Solway Firth is a huge estuary fed mainly by the Eden and Exe rivers. It was drizzly and ‘dreich’ and we hastened onwards to Annan where Steve had promised himself his second breakfast.
We chose the Cafe Royal as it was busy with local people chatting away with a strong Scottish dialect. How things change in a few miles. Steve was satisfied by his ‘Full American Breakfast ‘ and this actually kept him going for the remaining 37 miles.
We wrapped up warm as we left the cafe as the forecasted weather was on its way.
We chose to take a detour around the salt marshes on the Solway Firth. The marshes are an important bird habitat especially for over wintering geese and waders.
This is a harsh exposed environment which covers a huge area. Attempts are made to use the land with limited success.
As we turned to the north and climbed away from the salt marshes the soil improved and there was grass, trees and increasingly successful arable farming.
The roads were empty and as we gained height we enjoyed views back across the salt marshes and on towards the hills of Dumfries and Galloway.
We came into Dumfries the back way and found the charming town centre on the River Nith. It was 13:00 and as predicted it started to rain properly.
We left the main A76 for a minor road and undulated along the Nith valley, with the ever present river adding charm to the landscape of lush green rounded hills. Even the rain did not dampen our spirits and we enjoyed the ride as we gradually gained height to the hamlet of Dunscore and continued up the Nith to Moniaive.
The surrounding hills were increasing in height and the terrain becoming more dramatic. The tops were hidden in the mist and rain.
Moniaive is an historic village, if a little odd! Rain stopped play and our exploration has been limited.
Tomorrow we climb onwards to the head of the Nith and over the watershed to Carsphairn. We have 67 miles to ride before 15:00 when we catch the ferry from Ardrossan to Brodick on the Island of Arran.
Today’s GPX track is here.