A snowdrop & Bluebell Ride from Gatehouse
Setting out from Gatehouse-
Gatehouse of Fleet itself only dates back to the mid-1700s. Initially just a staging post on the route to Ireland, the town developed after the entrepreneur James Murray of Broughton built his mansion, Cally House, in 1765. However, there is evidence that the area has been inhabited since prehistoric times, with the sites at Cairnholy and Trusty’s Hill Fort providing fascinating glimpses into the past. The Pictish stone carvings known as the De’il’s Specs (Devil’s Spectacles) at Trusty’s Hill Fort are particularly unusual.
Also in the local area are Cardoness Castle, the 15th century, six storey tower house of the McCullochs, and the roofless old kirk at Anwoth. Cardoness Castle is remarkably well preserved, and visitors are able to climb the narrow staircase within the tower.The views out over the Fleet Bay from the battlements are well worth the climb.
A short climb out of town-
The OS map of Gatehouse of Fleet has enough exotic symbols hinting at the hand of man over the ages to keep a dozen or more archaeologists busy for their entire careers and beyond. Off we go to discover more. We start by turning left up Castramont Road and pass the church, just for the sheer joy of shortly turning right at Memory Lane. You are now on the road to Laurieston. The climb up onto the moorland is one of the great cycling routes in Scotland, but that’s for some day very soon as you now take the first left.
Already you have some fantastic views, and In the valley of the Waters of Fleet below there are the remains of a Roman fort, a standing stone and a settlement and you have cycled just a mile so far. Galloway has possibly a thousand miles of quiet road and lanes, which is what makes it such a wonderful place to ride a bike. I can’t help thinking that this narrow lane is one of the most wonderful.
Lagg Burn drops from the moorland above and passes under the road and it’s worth just stopping to listen to it. In anything but a drought, it has a little too much purpose about it to be called babbling. There is a footpath signed to explore another day.
Carstramon Wood - A Scottish Wildlife Trust gem-
Carstramon Wood ( just one of the three ways to spell the word that you can find on the map ), is one of the largest semi-natural broadleaved woodlands in the area. The oak trees were once used for making charcoal and supplying the local mill with wood to make bobbins. There will be some snow drops from the end of January but the real treat are the Bluebells of May and early June..
Most local people have a strong opinion on which beach is the best, or even which butcher you should use. Some may also have a short list of the best places to go to see bluebells, and this is one that is on most people’s list when you ask. You will want to have a camera with you to catch them and the Beech trees coming into leaf. Our favorite tree is in a clearing on the left. Straight out of central casting for Lord of the Rings, it is a wonderful moss covered specimen. Somewhere around here is a tree called the ' meeting tree ', that I have read about. This may be the one.
Dead end routes and roads with grass growing are always worth exploring-
There are more walking routes to return to, but for now continue along through this beautiful woodland to the junction. You will be taking the left turn, but if you have time go straight on. You pass into open country now, with a great view right up the glen to the open moorland and one of the three hills in the area called Cairnsmore. Not sure which is the highest? This may help:
There’s Cairnsmore of Fleet,
And there’s Cairnsmore of Dee;
But Cairnsmore of Carsphairn’s
The highest of the three.
At 2,333ft, the one in front of you is the most southerly Graham in Scotland and it’s position overlooking the coast, makes it look even higher. A photo taken pointing into the hills here could be mistaken for one taken in the Highlands. Time to turn and go back to the other track you noticed and explore it. Again it goes nowhere, but is a stunning ride along the river. Now turn back and continue your route over the bridge to Nether Rusko, checking for dippers and lazy fish as you go over.
To your right now is Rusko Castle, dating from 1565 it stood unloved and unlived in for a 100 years. But in 1972 it was bought by Graham Carson an entrepreneur and community champion with an ambition to restore a castle and the means to do it. He would drive around the countryside at the weekends looking for his dream castle.
Time to turn for home-
You turn left now after the climb to return to Gatehouse on the old military road, with the Waters of Fleet down in the valley to your left. The biking here is easy and the views stunning. With time on your hands you could take a right to visit Anworth Old Kirk. Dating from the 12th century, the kirk sits in a peaceful spot and has some fascinating tombstones. Fans of The Wickerman will recognise the kirk from some of the most iconic scenes in the film, and the schoolhouse from the film also sits just across the road.
On the hill between here and Anworth is Trusty’s Hill hillfort. In 2012 an archaeological dig here proved that this insignificant local fort had once been a major centre of Dark Ages Scotland “The archeological evidence suggests that Trusty’s Hill was not just a settlement but was also an important metalworking centre with access to significant resources and craftworkers for the production of high-status jewellery.” So well worth a visit sometime soon.
Time for scones at The Mill on the Fleet
Back to the route and you follow National Bike Route 7 into town and across the wooden bridge at The Mill on the Fleet. A converted mill and now the place to eat the finest scones in the area. On a sunny day you can sit outside and watch the river flow by. Often there are craft exhibitions and there is a second hand bookshop vast enough to swallow you for a couple of carefree hours.
Out onto the main street and you have closed the circle after as little as 6 and a bit miles. If you took all the detours you could bring this up to more than double that. There are galleries, crafts and some of the best second hand shops to visit now after what should have been a most enjoyable introduction to the joys of small adventures on a bike. Still not seen enough snowdrops? then head across the road to Cally Woods for some of the best displays in Galloway and a fine cream tea at Cally Palace.