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Nice Weather for Ducks on Our Wild Goose Ride

It’s fair to say that when we waited at the meeting point in Dock Park on Tuesday in the steady rain we weren’t really sure if anyone was going to turn up for our Wild Goose Chase ride down the Nith to Caerlaverock.

Riders in the rain in Dock Park
Setting off. Photo (c) John Henry

But it takes more than a little rain to put off some people, and in the end we had a group of eight (including ride leaders and wildlife experts) set off along the river to learn more about the natural world we can too easily take for granted these days

Group at Caerlaverock looking out across the river
Very dreich river view
At Glencaple – photos (c) John Henry

It’s fair to say that the river views weren’t all that spectacular, but it turns out the phrase ‘nice weather for ducks’ has some basis in reality and the weather didn’t put off the wildlife. With the help of Faith and Angus from WWT Caerlaverock, and Adam from Nature Scot we were soon spotting the difference between barnacle geese and pink footed geese, and were also rewarded with the sight of a hen harrier harassing a group of waders at the edge of the merse and several curlew flying past us as we cycled. We even heard a skylark singing overhead – perhaps he’d gone up high enough to get out of the rain!

bikes cycling in the reserve
Riding through the reserve – photo (c) John Henry

Once at WWT Caerlaverock – after we’d warmed ourselves up with hot drinks and plenty of biscuits – we had the rare treat of a guided tour by bicycle in the reserve itself.

Group looking at sheep on the way into the hide
Meeting the sheep! Photo (c) John Henry

In fact the whole day was a real VIP experience with three guides to answer all our questions and give us a great tour. Sure it would have been nicer to do it with dry feet, but at least the mild weather meant nobody got that cold. And we even had a tailwind to blow us back home!

Next outing will be our Halloween ride – a night-time excursion to celebrate the coming of the winter dark and test out our lights on the Speddoch loop! Book your free place here and lose your fear of the dark!

Missing Links: Lockerbie to Dumfries

This is the latest in our series of detailed ‘missing links’ posts as we explore the gaps in the active travel network in and around Dumfries. Coming in no particular order (as we manage to write them up) we continue with a look at the routes between Lockerbie and Dumfries. This submission is put together by Cycling Dumfries member Keith Walters.

Creating a direct cycle-friendly route from Lockerbie station to Dumfries would open up the region to visitors from Edinburgh who want to bring their bikes. This would also provide direct routes from Torthorwald (which would be very commutable by bike if it wasn’t for the road) and Lochmaben.

The main road between Dumfries and Lockerbie A709 is fast, narrow, hilly and bendy – so not a road you would want to cycle along unless you are a cyclist who could keep up with the traffic and even then it is risky because of the traffic. The end of the cycle provision just past the Peel Centre on the Lockerbie road puts a cyclist straight into a narrow bendy road:

Lockerbie Road

Coming out of Dumfries you also have to cross two awkward roundabouts with no protection for cyclists, one across A75 the other quieter below: 

Roundabout

Heading up the hill out towards Lockerbie there is again room on the side of the main road to add a cycle path which would make the experience of heading to Lochmaben a much better one:

Road

As a route it can be broken down into three sections: Dumfries to Torthorwald; Torthorwald to Lochmaben (a lovely destination in its own right) and Lochmaben to Lockerbie.

If you were drawing a straight line from the centre of Dumfries to Lockerbie it would go through Torthorwald and bypass Lochmaben to the South. Unfortunately there doesn’t appear to be any suitable roads following this route. There is also the problem of crossing the River Annan if not using the A709 route, which has a narrow traffic light controlled bridge. 

Lockerbie is a decent sized town but the main feature from a Dumfries point of view is the train station offering access to Edinburgh and further north that you can’t get directly from Dumfries. A decent cycle route between the two towns would also enable rail visitors from Edinburgh to more easily access Dumfries by bike.

It would also be a joining point between NCN 7 which runs Carlisle to Ayr via D&G and NCN74 which goes from Carlisle to Glasgow on a more direct route.

Potential solutions – see map below

  1. Cycle path that follows A709 (blue route)– There appears to be enough room on the side of the road to build a decent width cycleway on the crucial stretches. Looking back along the road to Dumfries from the above roundabout there appears to be room for a cyclepath:

2. Add eastbound extension (red route) to cycle path going up to Heathhall /Locharbriggs which would take you through quieter roads to Lochmaben. The problem is there are so few roads and it is very hilly. This would also involve building some cycle path from the end of the Caledonian Cycleway where it ends in Locharbriggs to enable cyclists to safely get across the Edinburgh Road and then head out towards Tinwald.

3. Build a cycle path to Collin and then head from there to Lockerbie through Hightae (purple route) using the back roads as a basis. Again there is the problem of crossing the River Annan if not using the main road. There is also the problem of the roads not being of great quality in terms of road surfaces and not following a straight line from Collin to Hightae, which would add difficult mileage to what is a more straightforward route on the red route suggestion.

Dumfries to Lockerbie options map

In short, the best solution would be to build a cycle path from Lochmaben to Lockerbie alongside the main road or at least to get you to traverse the existing bridge and then use the back roads to cut across to the North of Dumfries.

Coming out of Lochmaben toward Lockerbie there is a back road running parallel to the North of the A709 which could be utilised, but it then brings you out on the A709 to get over the bridge. You would need a dedicated pathway there until the bridge and then beyond towards Lockerbie.

Before you get to Lockerbie Cemetery on the left there is a quieter route up to the North which could take you to Lockerbie Town Centre. However if you only did the cycle path for that stretch of the A709 you would end up with it appearing to start halfway along road and then finishing in middle of nowhere.  

So of these options the blue route would be the best, but some combination of either of the other two might be more achievable with signposting and construction of some shorter linking cycle routes.

If there are any missing links you’d like addressing please get in touch with your suggestion. Include what the problem is, why its important and any suggestions you have.

Missing Links: New Abbey Road

This is the latest in our series of detailed ‘missing links’ posts as we explore the gaps in the active travel network in and around Dumfries. Coming in no particular order (as we manage to write them up) we continue with the New Abbey Road which is a barrier to accessing this corner of the region and its many attractions by bike.

The New Abbey Road does not feel like a safe road to cycle. It has quite a lot of traffic, much of it going very quickly. There are many points of interest along the road which would be great to be able to access easily by bike; Mabie House and Forest, Kirkconnell Flow, Airds Point, Shambellie House and Forest, New Abbey (corn mill, pub, shop, abbey, tea room…) Not only are these places used by tourists but they are also popular attractions for local people. Closer to Dumfries there are several areas of housing within sight of the town, but the only route is to use the New Abbey Road. 

Enabling more people to cycle along this route has huge environmental and health benefits and not just for the people doing the cycling! Replacing car and van journeys on this route with bike journeys decreases pollution for people living next to the road. This includes pollution from exhausts, particulate matter which comes off car brake pads and tyres and noise, all of which contribute to poor health, especially an increased risk of coronary artery disease, heart failure and strokes

New Abbey is only 8 miles away but it feels a lot further by bike, especially if you are trying to get there via a safe and comfortable route. At the moment safe routes include a diversion along the Kirkconnell road, which although is a route with stunning views, those views have to be earned, as the hills are numerous and steep! Taking this route also involves a hairy half mile on the New Abbey Road from the Moss Road round the Mabie Forest corner to the Kirkconnell turning. 

Bike in countryside
Lovely view but there’s another reason for stopping – a rest!

Another diversion involves taking the old military road out of Dumfries, cutting across at Beeswing and taking the Kinharvie road into New Abbey. Again a lovely route but it nearly doubles the distance to New Abbey!

New Abbey route

Looking closer to Dumfries, Laghall, Cargenholme and Islesteps are within 3 miles of the town centre. But all current routes require an uncomfortable section on the New Abbey Road. Lockdown was an opportunity to experience cycling on the New Abbey Road with very little vehicular traffic. And what a difference it made. It was a reminder that this is actually a lovely road, made unpleasant by the lack of a safe route.

At the moment a shared use path extends from the 30mph of the town, to Mavis Grove. It would be great if this could be extended for as far as possible really, but at least another mile to include all the housing between Islesteps and Mavis Grove. 

Walking and cycling path
Looking towards town along the New Abbey Road.

There is a wide verge for most of the way to Islesteps which makes this a feasible option. At the point the road bends through a right angle in the run up to Islesteps, there is less room for a separate path, so how about extending the 30mph of Islesteps to include this section, making rejoining the road from a shared use path acceptable. From Islesteps it would be a case of creating a safe, separate route on the 60mph sections to New Abbey.

Road bend
The bend before Islesteps – should anyone be going at more than 30mph around  here anyway?

In rural settings with 60mph roads this is often done by providing a walking and cycling route adjacent to the road but the other side of the hedge or dyke, with the path running through fields. Excellent examples of this are in the Lake District but it has also been done locally. Eskdalemuir to the monastery being one example. We’re happy to hear any suggestions you may have too.

Path next to road
Eskdalemuir path

We’re Pedalling on COP26 in Glasgow!

Who’s up for a bit of an adventure to raise awareness of climate change and the role bikes could play in combatting it?

As you may know, Glasgow is hosting the UN Climate Conference (COP26) in November. We believe bikes are part of the solution to climate change – and we’re going to take that message to the powers that be by cycling there from Dumfries to take part in the Global Day of Action on November 6th, along with Pedal on Parliament and a whole host of other groups.

We’ve decided to join groups from around the country (and further afield) but organising our own Pedal on COP: a two day ride from Dumfries to Glasgow (setting off on Thursday 4th November) to join the Cycling/Sustainable Transport bloc for the march in Glasgow.

Pedal on COP banner

Here’s the schedule:

  • Thursday 4th November: Gather at Dock Park at 8:30am for a 9am departure. People may join us for the sendoff, or may come along for part of the ride if they don’t want to go the whole way
    • 1pm (approx): Lunch at Wanlockhead
    • 2pm (approx): Arrive Leadhills
    • 4pm (approx): Overnight stop in Abington. There is a campsite for the really hardy, or a Days Inn at the service station.
  • Friday 5th November: Assemble at 8:30 at Abington Services (we will meet the 7:30 X74 coach service from Dumfries, arriving at 8:34 in Abington, which takes bikes, if anyone wants to join us for the day).
    • 10 am (approx): Arrive Lesmahagow (again, we will meet the 8:45 X74 coach from Dumfries, arriving at Lesmahagow at 10:10).
    • 3pm (approx): Arrive Glasgow.
  • Saturday 6th November: Assemble at Kelvingrove Park for 12 noon for the march to Glasgow Green and a rally there.

There may be a gathering of other groups who have cycled in and cyclists from Glasgow that evening to celebrate on Friday evening.

This is not a ride to be undertaken lightly! Our route is about 95 miles and goes over the Mennock Pass, with over 1,500 feet of climbing. But we’ll be riding it over two days to give ourselves plenty of time to arrive in Glasgow in time for the big march on Saturday. As with all Cycling Dumfries rides, we’ll set a gentle pace (probably about 10mph) and always at the speed of chat. We should be able to keep to the hours of daylight, but days in November are short so you will need to have lights as a backup in case we get held up.

The route will pass through Wanlockhead – so there’s a fair bit of climbing

If you want to join us let us know by emailing cyclingdumfries@gmail.com or contacting us through social media. You’ll need a roadworthy bike, good waterproofs and winter weather gear, and you will be responsible for your own food and accommodation on the way and in Glasgow (although we might be able to help put you in touch with people in Glasgow who can put you up).

If you can’t make the ride, you can still join the march! Just get yourself to Glasgow on the Saturday to join the bloc assembling at Kelvingrove Park – sign up here.

We’ll have a ride planning, bike fettling, banner making and pizza eating night on Tuesday 2nd November (instead of our regular monthly meeting) to put the final touches on the plan – all welcome (you don’t have to be planning to do the ride). Details of exactly when and where to follow.

Famously, Kirkpatrick McMillan didn’t just invent the pedal cycle, he supposedly rode it to Glasgow. Let’s follow in his wheeltracks to show that his invention is still not just relevant but vital to tackle the problems of the modern day.

Kirkpatrick Macmillan statue with 'This Machine Fights Climate Change' slogan

Rood Fair: An Update!

A quick post updating on the situation with the Fair and the Whitesands after our post last week.

We attended a short but very productive meeting on Thursday with two officers from the council and the Fair operator, to discuss a way forward for future fairs.

This year, the fair doesn’t have as many rides as usual, so the Whitesands is actually passable on a bike with care. However, it does mean cyclists weaving in and out of people attending the fair, which with kids running about isn’t that safe and is also a bit annoying for all concerned.

The council have proposed that from next year, a 2m wide path be maintained along the river side of the Whitesands for the full length of the path, and that it be barriered off from the fair set up (using the same barriers that currently run along the road). This will help keep rides from encroaching on the path and also offer a clear through route for those walking and cycling through (the barriers can be opened in places when the fair is running to allow access to all the fun).

This approach will be trialled during the spring fair, and we hope if it is successful it will become the norm for all events making use of the Whitesands. Failing that, we have some ideas for alternative diversions for bikes – but this should mean no diversion at all, which is ideal.

Thanks to Council staff Matthew Crossan and Mike Grunwell of the Council Roads Team for looking into this, and to Climate Champion Dougie Campbell for chasing the issue up.

And now we just need the rain to stop so everyone can enjoy the fun of the fair!

Missing links: Holywood and Ellisland

This is the latest in our series of detailed ‘missing links’ posts as we explore the gaps in the active travel network in and around Dumfries. Coming in no particular order (as we manage to write them up) we continue with another community that is so close to being well connected, but just isn’t quite there.

Holywood is around 4 miles from the centre of Dumfries, only a little further than Locharbriggs is. As well as people living there, there is the primary school taking children from beyond the immediate area of Holywood. This could be a quick win, as there is an existing footway along the A76. At the moment it is a shared footpath (for pedestrians and cyclists) only as far as New Bridge. From here to Holywood the footway is for pedestrians only, meaning technically people shouldn’t cycle on it.  

A76 road and shared use path.

This footway could be widened for the half a mile to Holywood, creating a traffic free and direct route to and from the town.

Ideally the existing shared use path would be better maintained. Broken glass is a common problem on this stretch as well as large muddy puddles in wet weather. The various access points could also be improved by giving people on foot and bikes priority. Having dropped kerbs round the corners makes navigating on a tandem, trike, or adapted cycle more difficult. A raised table crossing (similar to the photo below) is a great way to do this.

An alternative route entirely uses the A75 bypass as a bridge to cross the river from Nunholm to the Gullyhill road bringing you into Holywood from the south east. Using the A75 as a crossing is only really possible on foot as it involves pushing a bike up to the bypass on a steep, stepped footpath and crossing the crash barrier on each side. This is also a very narrow path and due to the nature of the A75, quite unpleasant as a person is buffeted by every passing lorry. 

A75 route map

With the addition of a ramped crossing up to the bypass this could be a viable route for more people. It is however an unlit route, whereas the A76 is lit as far as New Bridge. 

Looking further up the road, Ellisland is a short ride from Holywood through lovely countryside.  Being one of the homes of Robert Burns, we’re including Ellisland as extending the route to here is a good tourist opportunity. The route takes in the back roads from Holywood but the last half mile on the A76 is unavoidable. This road has fast traffic and puts off many a person on a bike. 

A76 road

So close but yet so far – from the Ellisland turn, the Holywood road is just around the corner

It may be possible to put in a shared use path alongside the A76  from where the back road from Holywood comes out, all the way to the track to Ellisland. Or maybe there’s a cross country route that could be explored? A riverside route linking to Friars Carse would add even more scope for leisure and tourism rides and link up to the road to Allanton, opening up even more routes for journeys by bike.

A Journey to a Journey Garden on our Dalswinton Curiosity Ride

We’ve renamed our longer ride programme (riding every month except in July and August) ‘Curiosity Rides‘ to reflect the fact that the planned destination is often just a starting point – we may take the opportunity to explore a couple of points of interest along the way. There are so many hidden delights in the countryside around Dumfries – often barely known even to people to have lived here for years – that it’s almost always worth the detour.

Group photo at start of the ride
Say cheese! A rare group shot where everyone is actually looking at the camera

This Sunday’s ride out to Dalswinton was no exception. Eight of us gathered at the Rowing Club for our 11 am start (including 4 electric cycles, one a trike – making it our first 50% e-bike ride!). The weather forecast was a little dodgy but it played out in our favour for the first half of the ride, as we sailed north up the Caledonian Cycleway and along Quarry Road on what proved to be a brisk tailwind.

Sign warning of grumpy cows
Posted with no comment

Once at Dalswinton Estate, we’d intended to stop to for lunch and explore the lakeside walk but were put off by an abundance of signs (including one banning picnics, not to mention the ‘grumpy cows’). So, at the suggestion of Viki (our tail ender) we continued on to Dalswinton church, AKA the Tin Tabernacle, to explore the Journey Garden in the woods behind.

Group arriving at Dalswinton Church

This proved an inspired choice; the garden is well worth a visit. It’s a spot designed for contemplation and has a great view out over the Nith Valley/

Bike and view from the garden.

After a pause to refuel (at least we didn’t have to queue …) and chat, the rain began to threaten so we headed back, taking a slightly different route home (based on the route of one of our old history rides) to avoid spending too much time on the Dalswinton road, which can be a little fast for our tastes.

Group at lunch

We made it home with one bar left on the battery of Daisy the electric trike, and the rain just starting to begin in earnest. That felt like a bit of a result.

Sign for the garden "May your blessings outnumbere the thistles that grow"
Our blessings outnumbered the thistles indeed

Hopefully we’ll be as lucky for our next few rides. Don’t forget that we’ve got the Wild Goose Chase Ride coming up during the half term holidays (19th October – book here), as well as an old favourite – the Halloween night ride – at the end of the month.

Wild Geese Returning

As well as our new Curiosity Ride series, we’re repeating last year’s collaboration with the Stove and WWT Caerlaverock to run a Wild Goose Chase ride as part of the annual Wild Goose Festival

Wild Goose Festival. Nature - Creativity - Place

Celebrate the return of the geese to our shores by join us and a couple of wildlife experts from Nature Scot and Caerlaverock on a ride along the Nith Estuary and down to the Wetlands Centre. We’ll be setting off at 10am from Dock Park on Tuesday 19th October for a gently paced ride with plenty of stops along the way. The total will be about 16-20 miles (depending on the route we take back). Places are free but please do book.

View across the Nith

Here’s how it went last time.

Fair’s fair…

After a year’s interruption due to the pandemic, we note with somewhat mixed feelings the return of the Rood Fair this coming weekend. While this fair offers a grand day out for young and old, and is an ancient tradition in the town, it also means severing the cycle route through the Whitesands for the week that it is on.

adaptive cycles making their way through the fair.
Buddies members making their way through the fair in previous times, after some rearrangement of the barriers by obliging fair showmen

According to the council’s road closure notification, cyclists who would normally enjoy the traffic free route along the Whitesands, will have to take the same diversion as the cars – up St Michael’s Bridge Road, down St Michael’s Street and down Nith Street – all large and in some cases multi-lane roads that are not inviting to cyclists. The Whitesands is the A75 of cycling in Dumfries -as well as being part of the National Cycling Network, it joins up many of the routes out of Dumfries to the south and east. Cutting off access to it without providing a reasonable alternative is not acceptable for a council that has recently declared a climate emergency.

St Michael's Street, multi-lane road
Does this look like an inviting alternative to the Whitesands?

We don’t wish to disturb the operation of the fair, which has been coming to Dumfries since time immemorial. But we do believe that with a little imagination, it would be possible to make space for cyclists at least as far as the Suspension Bridge, allowing them to cross over (on foot) and proceed along the traffic free path on the other side of the river. We have suggested this to the council and objected to the closure but haven’t yet received any reply. Indeed, we made the same suggestion last year, and in previous years, in a tradition that is almost as time-honoured as the fair itself. We hope that this time our plea will not fall on deaf ears. But you may wish to plan your routes accordingly next week, just in case.

Curiosity Rides coming this Autumn

What better way to enjoy the countryside whatever the season than by bike?

Cyclists.

We’re planning a monthly programme of sociable rides for 2021/2022, exploring the quiet roads and cycle routes around Dumfries. They’re longer – about 20-25 miles – than our summer ones and a wee bit hillier, but they’ll always be taken at an easy pace, and on quiet roads, with an emphasis on taking time to discover some hidden delights of the area rather than just putting in the miles.

Most rides start at 11am on the last Sunday of the month, meeting at the rowing club at Nith Avenue – see map – to avoid having to deal with the Dock Park crossing. There’s a car park there if you need it, and plenty of space to spread out safely while we assemble.

The ride schedule so far:

Because of COVID, our rides have changed a little. In order to manage numbers safely and keep within Scottish Government guidelines, we will limit rides to 15 and participants must book in advance (the rides are still free though). We will no longer have a cafe stop mid ride, so we suggest people bring something to sustain them and we’ll take a break somewhere suitable for people to refuel.

This will be outdoors – so dress not just for the cycling but also make sure you will be warm enough when we stop, or perhaps bring a couple of warmer layers to put on.

Rides will continue regardless of the weather unless in the opinion of the ride leader it would be dangerous (or no fun), so bring a waterproof and whatever you need to stay warm on (and off) the bike. All of the routes will keep to quiet rural roads, residential streets and cycle paths wherever possible and the pace will be ‘at the speed of chat’.

If you  have any questions about these rides or don’t know if they will be for you, feel free to email cyclingdumfries@gmail.com for more information. Keep checking the Curiosity Rides page as more rides are added.