A Cycle on the Celtic Fringe … Part 29
The convenience store across the road gets its first delivery at 4.30 am. It only wakes me up a little bit. It’s the 4.50 delivery that wakes me up fully. I wonder at the sleepy town putting up with the shouting and the banging of doors and the groaning of tailgates and the rattle of shuttering.
I try to sleep on but a third and a fourth van driver, who I imagine have heavy milages and tight schedules, arrive. The shop doesn’t look busy enough to accept so many deliveries.
I make tea and set about the long letters to family back home that are really pages and pages of notes. I have a vague intention of turning these notes into a fully written travelogue but I’ve had these intentions before. Hope defeats expectations. There is something glorious about re-living the previous day in words. Re-living it again eighteen months later, as I actually do write it all out, is almost as good. This is life worth living, re-lived, examined and enjoyed threefold. I write for two hours, have another power shower and arrive in the dining room at the same time as two elderly couples from England. We are greeted with brisk friendliness by our hostess. She tells us to sit where we want, to help ourselves to cereal and juice and asks after how well we slept.
Our English couples seem to be in uniform. Both men are in blue and both women in pink. They have matching scowls and copy each other in having very little to say. A sixth diner joins us. He’s scrubbed and dressed as a salesman and has the easy patter to confirm this.
There is an inevitability about my main order. “So, a full Scottish. Would that be with black pudding or haggis?” I choose haggis and I choose right. It will be my second of two Scottish breakfasts. I can get good black pudding in England and will, no doubt, be getting more in Ireland. And haggis goes so well with a cooked breakfast.
This breakfast is particularly fine. The tattie scone is really good and they know how to do mushrooms which, to me is a sign of a decent cook. There is also as much tea and toast as I can manage and I can manage plenty.
It’s my fourth fried breakfast out of the six days of the journey. There isn’t a worse start to the day you can give yourself. When I was younger it was fuel, but in my fifties it takes a while to even start digesting it all. For fifteen miles each morning I’m doing little other that carrying an extra half stone around with me. Once I’m over those fifteen miles it gets easier.
I take one last walk around the town. The woman in the post office is either solicitous, concerned that I don’t pay may than I should, or is a finer deliverer of blue-chip filth than even Humphrey Lyttleton. “No, you will not be after needing the big letter stamp. See, it slides through my slot perfectly.” There is a hint of a knowing look as she asks if there’ll be anything else I’ll be wanting.
I’m pedalling lazily through the village by quarter to ten, following a middle aged fellow who has ridden into town for a newspaper. He’s taking his time and makes the perfect pacemaker.
We pass the The Ship Inn where one of the most enjoyable of twentieth century detective novels was written and out into the countryside. The route is one taken in the novel. I’m neither heading for mystery or murder but beginning a four mile ascent through rich green shady woodland. I see a dozen nuthatches and can hear woodpeckers. Each quarter mile brings a fresh layer of vegetation as plants thrive at their favourite altitude. The car that goes past me is driven courteously and the driver waves. Broadleaf gives way to conifer and as I continue to climb that moment when the trees give way to open space and a landscape from another world is revealed; a lovelier world.
Up here there are drifts of heather, banks of bilberry, upland sheep and miles and miles of moorland, with rocky outcrops, and much higher hills beyond. To strike out northwards across this would be to enter a British wilderness. We may be a small island with nearly seventy million people but there are still places where you can walk and see not a soul, where you can get so lost that you will need those more expert than yourself to lead you to safety; where you can walk for more than a day without seeing a single road.
Once again I’m torn. I’m within half a day of the ferry ports now and as keen as I have always been to return to the island of Ireland, but this is the most beautiful landscape I have ever seen. I want to stay and draw it; to scratch down verses; to sit and soak it in and remember.
The compromise is a brew of tea to celebrate making a good climb without getting out of the saddle. I’d filled the waste bin in the hotel with a dozen items that no longer seemed so essential to be carting around. I discover that I have swapped them for the room key. It’s becoming a habit.
Refreshed to the tip of my soul I begin the long descent. The feeling of privilege is huge. These are the first days of the school holidays and I’ve got beauty, from horizon to horizon, all to myself. If this was the Peak District or the English lakes I’d be able to see at least a dozen people in lurid hiking gear. Here I share the world with a pair of buzzards and sheep who are content to be herded a hundred yards before bleating their true feelings at you.
Nothing lasts forever and Creetown is heralded by a young mother screeching at her three year old daughter. Creetown itself is a seaport with working quarries. The granite that went to build Liverpool docks came from here. They’re big docks; must be some quarries. The town has a working class charm. The simple streets have an industrial flavour despite the geographic position.
Beyond Creetown the cycle network have excelled themselves. A whole route has been constructed to keep you off the main road. You can see the thundering ribbon in the valley below from time to time but the path way keeps you safe. It, being a cycle route, comes with cyclists. I hail them down to ask if they are going to be passing through Gatehouse. The third couple are and are happy to pass the room key back to the hotel. They are friendly and pleasant and are cycling Wigtownshire, Kirkcudbright and the Mull of Galloway. They’re on an organised holiday where their hotels are booked for them and their luggage carried from stop to stop. If they hadn’t been dressed from top to toe in logo emblazoned lycra I might have been even more impressed. What is it about the twenty first century that brings people into the great beauty of the British outdoors in order to save you getting bored at the endless loveliness of it all? It wasn’t always like this. Now then Wordsworth, when you’ve finished showing Coleridge the quiet way up Greenhead Ghyll to look at an abandoned sheep fold why not have a look at some unfit middle class people who have squeezed themselves into puce and magenta spandex with Burger King splashed across the front?
For six days Newton Stewart has been a destination. The name and it’s western position has added to its allure. I can’t help but feel a tinge of disappointment as I enter the outskirts. I cycle up and down the main street and feel I may already have seen all there is to see. A shop advertises lattes and cappuccinos. I call in and ask for an Americano with milk. “Sorry,” says the young woman, “Would ye maine saying that again.”
The proprietor takes over. “It’s fine. I’ll deal with it.” He adds, sotto voce, but not so sotto voce that I can’t hear. “”It’s a white coffee!” I like the town much more after that.