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A Cycle on the Celtic Fringe … Part 26

Breakfast is in the bar of The Crown. It is overseen by an old man who seems to be well versed in over-seeing. And decidedly un-versed in helping. Like many small hotels there is a set way of doing things and an assumption that everyone will know what the set way is without being told. Some people like routines. I am suspicious of them. I have no objection on principle but feel a sadness when the routine is seen as the right way of doing things because it is the way we do things. It stifles creativity and stands in the way of actual thinking, exploring and advancing. It’s limiting effects are as keenly felt in national governments and schools as in small hotels.

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There are tables laid out for one, for two and for four. No-one is allowed to eat before 8.30. This isn’t simply a matter of routine; this is to allow the attractive young mother who does absolutely all the work, to provide her husband with his breakfast, get her children to the child-minder’s and man the hotel kitchens. She is one busy woman. She is also pleasant and calm, friendly and accomplished.

I am directed to the table for one. Two road-builders nurse hangovers. One sees the cure in eating, the other in abstinence. The German family have their breakfasts ordered by the father who, in broken English, recites a list of what they would like excluded from their full-Scottish. Through simple mis-understanding, this is exactly what they are served. They eat slowly but without complaint.

I get an extra sausage and my first taste of haggis. I like haggis but wouldn’t put it forward as a national dish. It works well with bacon and eggs though.

My legs have stiffened up over-night and the mile-and-a-half-long-hill out of Lochmaben stretches the fibres nicely. I use it as a warm-up; just find a low gear and go up very slowly. It’s a grey and drizzly day, only a little after nine and I’ve got the whole day ahead of me. I’m on the main Dumfries to Lockerbie road. I’m only four or five miles from that town. The quiet, peaceful towns and villages I have discovered in this area make me contemplate the events of December 1988 when a little Scottish town became the centre of world news and the site of the worst terrorist attack on Great Britain. I say a silent prayer for the victims as I ride through the falling rain.

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The upper Eden Valley is a glorious red sandstone. Dumfries is more of a mudstone. It is distinctive, but it is not handsome. It is a town I like though. My size of a town. Big enough to have all you could wish and small enough to have it where you want it to be. I have an issue with the signposting. I’m quite a good navigator, yet nearly miss the entire town centre. A young man puts me right and directs me down a road with a proper cycle shop on it. Kirkpatrick’s is an old fashioned shop run by a man who knows about bicycles. He stocks things a true cyclist needs and not just the fancy designer stuff to make the air-head look good. There is a wonderful old bike in the window and the philosophy of the shop is to give the customer what they actually need; be this parts, a new bike or first class information. The slogan is “At Kirkpatrick Cycles we don’t sell bikes, we simply tell the facts to let you make an informed decision”

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I rate the shop highly, buy two tubes and ask the best way to Stranraer. He questions whether I wouldn’t be better off heading up towards Troon and Ardrossan and getting a ferry from there. He says I’ll enjoy the route through the south west highlands. His wife stands away in the background and observes in a tone that brooks little disagreement that “There’s not much to see in Stranraer. Troon’s nicer”.

Marks and Spencer provide me with a packet of their very nice drinking chocolate. They come in individual portions wrapped in silver cigar shaped tubes. Waterstones provides me with a modern map which includes cycle routes. The staff are helpfulness personified. I hand over the muddy brown bank note I was given in change at the bike shop and get a smeary blue one in return.

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Outside it is a friendly version of any small town in Britain. Groups of young people impress each other while annoying everyone else. Young mothers with tattoos and cigarettes, old people getting in the way, especially the one with the bicycle, and groups of eastern Europeans looking a little lost. The town centre is nicely laid out and could even be called attractive. After an hour though I feel I might have done all that I need to do and wander westwards. The River Nith is wide and splendid and under-used as a feature of the town. I cross a fine bridge and follow cycle network signs that take me through a park, over another bridge and onto a disused railway. It all points in the direction of Castle Douglas. I had seriously considered following routes up into Ayrshire but this route was so very pleasant that I found myself choosing the Loch Ryan ports almost by distraction. I wanted the rail line to go on and on. Of course it didn’t but it soon became glorious country lanes. This part of Scotland is truly wondrous, and heading in a fast straight line to the ferry isn’t the way to see it. The day remains grey and wet but it’s  lovely. It is the day when I finally fall in love with the National cycle network 7.

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There is only so much you can write about the pleasures of cycling. You pedal, you pedal some more. Sometimes you get short of breath, sometimes you recover while free-wheeling down hills. You see a lot of fine countryside, you experience whatever weather is around directly onto you skin and you think a lot of thoughts. Some people cycle to exercise their bodies. I certainly do this. Having done severe damage to knee and ankle joints I need a non-pounding form of exercise. Cycling and swimming work for me. But I find the exercise it offers to the spirit and the brain is what keeps me turning the pedals. I simply think better and more clearly when I am riding a bicycle. The experience is enhanced considerably if I’m riding through lanes as beautiful as these.

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