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A Cycle on the Celtic Fringe … Part 25

Fixing the puncture was easy enough. Putting the back wheel back on the bicycle with juggernauts thumping past, on the road to Ireland, was another matter. The choice was between risking jutting into the path of the lorries or to actually stand among the gorse. I got some interesting scratch patterns but didn’t die. Another mile of being frightened out of my wits brought a right turn signposted to Dalton and Lochmaben. I didn’t bother working out if they were on the route to the ferry. I was born in Dalton…not this one… but it felt like a friendly, caring hand reaching out.

The world changed when I swapped 75 for 7020. Suddenly the only sounds are birdsong and the whizz of my own tyres. It’s an almost perfect road to ride along and the evening sun makes it the perfect time to ride it. Gentle undulations slowly become hills; the first I’d had to climb in Scotland. I see four cars in the first five miles.

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At Dalton I pause, and am consulting out of date maps, when a lady, takes a break from tending a well kept garden and, comes to see if I need any assistance. I told her that in the last forty years I had twice travelled to Dumfries. On both occasions I seen the signs to Dalton and both times had wanted to visit. I told her  that this visit was more to do with avoiding the trunk road.  She is delighted to welcome me to the village. “If you’d have arrived an hour or two ago we could have used you in the village cricket team; we’re were one short. Would you like a cup of tea? I could fill your water bottles up for you while I’m making it. Oh you’re from near Nottingham are you. My husband is driving there tomorrow morning to watch a day of the test match. No it’s no trouble at all. I’ll just call him while I get you a slice of cake.”

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The husband emerges, and after appraising that I am no rival to his wife’s favours, leans on his garden wall and asks about my route and how he can be in Nottingham in as many hours as it has taken me days. He seems very keen that I join him in drinking some beer. I tell him that I’ve fallen out of the habit, so he contents himself with telling me which pubs do bed and breakfast between Dalton and Dumfries. He makes a special point of telling me which ones do an excellent pint of bitter just in case I have second thoughts on imbibing.

Once the two of them are together they make a complete picture of the sort of friendly, agreeable, helpful people you want to live in lovely villages like Dalton. Neither was born in the village but both come from nearby towns. Their house is of the one storey whitewashed kind that characterises the county. The garden is a labour of love. They both agree that going to Lochmaben is the way for me and I see no reason to disagree. The tea and cake provide a perfect fillip and the evening sun dips low as I pedal the last few miles of the day.

The place they had particularly recommended is closed but as I ride into Lochmaben the first pub I pass, The Crown, has a b & b sign. A friendly and rather beautiful woman behind the bar signs me in, shows me one of several garden flats around a large lawned beer garden that goes down to one of several lochs in the town. I’m very happy to accept. I make tea while I shower and proudly note the 79 miles I have travelled today; the same as on day one but without the struggle.

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Part of the pleasure of a journey like this one is the planning. The sitting at the kitchen table at home with maps and mugs of tea. Everywhere I’d stopped so far is where I’d intended to stop. Lochmaben was different. I hadn’t heard of the place until I saw it on a sign where I wanted to leave the A75. I’d never heard the name spoken until I met the lovely couple in Dalton, and now I was here. I liked the elements of chance that had brought me to this neat historic town. There were another three weeks of the journey ahead of me, and on only one day out of those weeks did I spend the night where I had intended at the start of the day. The rest were where the wind blew me; and that was one of the very best things about the whole adventure.

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There is a statue of Robert the Bruce in the centre of town. There are claims that the great liberator was born here. There are several competing claims. Lochmaben strengthens its particular case by pointing out that the town’s Latin motto translates as “From us is born the liberator king”. It’s a dubious reinforcement; the motto was adopted many years afterwards. Bruce’s role in history is well known to Scottish people but is obscure to the English. We know he was victorious at Bannockburn but have no idea where Bannockburn is (Near Stirling), nor who he was fighting (The English). We do, however, know about the spider. We’ve been told it in countless school assemblies in pre-motivational speaking days. Bruce took inspiration from a spider that kept swinging until it crossed the divide to continue its web. We were told simply that “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try and try again.” WC Fields would add “Then give up…there’s no point in making a complete sucker of yourself.”

I like the message and I’m sure it did some of us some good. I certainly prefer it to exhortations to “step up to the plate”, “get into the zone” and “front up”. I ponder on the purpose of motivational language. In the hands of a skilled educationalist it is amazing and life enhancing. It also tends to avoid clichés and speaks to the individual. All too much of what we get comes from lumpen sportsmen who have little to say but insist on saying it anyway.

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The town is a popular centre for recreation. On the biggest of the lochs there is sailing and Scotland’s other sporting delight, golf, features with several local courses. I don’t much care for golf but somehow my antipathy is dissolved once I get north of the border. Maybe it’s because Scottish golf courses play alongside the natural beauty of the landscapes they inhabit rather than the habit of English golf courses to force themselves  on the environment.

I buy milk and my first Scotch pie from a local grocer and settle in for a comfortable night’s sleep.

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I always feel a bit of a fraud when I stay at a pub or inn. Not drinking and then going to bed and sleep at nine o’clock seems a little anti-social. There is no resentment in my welcome at the breakfast table. “Sit yourself down and help yourself to cereal. You’ll be wanting the full-Scottish and I’ll pop and extra sausage on for you as you’re on your bicycle.”

There are two other parties; two road diggers with severe hangovers and a family of four from Germany. I eat rather more than their combined efforts before being sent on my way to Dumfries.

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