“Au revoir Scotland, Hello England” Day 6: Cumnock to Gretna

We stayed at the Adamton House Hotel near Prestwick last night with a vantage point over the Firth of Clyde and the island of Annan. Set in its own grounds, and with a lovely Victorian country house frontage, the 1970s ‘express wing’ at the back is the business end with hundreds of rooms. Ours was very clean, if a little compact, and looked as though it had been re-decorated and re-carpeted fairly recently. It’s age was only given away by the advocado bath suite!

Breakfast was taken in the old building and Jer took advantage of a full breakfast. Despite the books saying that you should be on a heavy carb diet, Jer is mindful that he also needs high calorie foods to maintain his energy levels, particularly first thing. The only logistical problem with waiting for breakfast time is that it pushes the start back. By the time we’d checked out and driven the 14 miles or so to the start point in Cumnock, it was 8:45am before Jer got going.

The route today would largely take us down the A76 passing New Cummnock, Sanquhar (I wonder how you pronounce it), Mennock and around the top of Dumfries. The road then joins the A75 which we leave at Collin on the B724 so that we can take the coast road overlooking the Solway Firth. This leads to Annan and Gretna shortly after. The weather forecast is for showers and however much we squinted at the weather map, we felt it inevitable that it was still going to get Jer at some point.

As we stopped just off a roundabout, I set off at the same time as Jer and went ahead to the 20 mile stop (turned out to be a little over 21). From New Cumnock, both the feel of the road and the scene in front was much improved from yesterday and you actually wanted to reach for your camera. Neither of us did much of that at all yesterday. Being a Saturday, the hustle and bustle of the A76 had abated to leave an acceptably quiet road that twisted and turned. The A76 was fast redeeming itself. Coupled with the appearance of the grass-covered summits of the Lowther Hills to the left and the tumbling River Nith below to the right, it felt like we were entering the Highlands once more. At this point, the weather was overcast but dry. Not so for Jer who phoned to say that he was watching a black cloud that was making the world quickly disappear behind him. He was calling to say that he was going to take shelter at a bus stop and let it race on ahead. As it turned out, the blackness swerved to one side and he caught the edge of a short shower before the way was clear.

The first stop was taken at a picnic site by the Nith where a group of rookie canoeists were being instructed on health and safety before being allowed to ride the water down to Dumfries. Jer caught up with me a good 20 minutes earlier than I had predicted and took me by surprise as he suddenly appeared at the window. He was in really good spirits. He was excited to tell me that the section was the best cycling he had ever done. The wind was at his back and for the most part, the road was both good and downhill. One cup of tea and a mug of soup later he was off and looking forward to more of the same. The next 20 mile stop would be at Dumfries.

As I drove the next 20 miles I smiled as I knew Jer would like this next leg. The road followed a beautifully steady downhill route alongside the Nith, first passing through the pretty town of Thornhill and then through a gorge-like avenue with trees clinging on to steep craggy slopes. Those canoeists would have great fun through here. Finally opening out again, the terrain flattened and looked distinctly like a parkland estate with well kept pasture fields interspersed with isolated mature trees.

The road continued downwards to Dumfries and our next scheduled stop. I pulled in at a McDonalds on the ring road at 42 miles and once again, Jer caught me up in quick time. He’d cycled the distance today in just 3 hours, a great average of 14 miles an hour. That compares really well with the 11 miles an hour that he’s been achieving so far – admittedly in trying conditions. A sedate cuppa and cheese burger (oops) and Jer was off again. He had only 25 miles to go and we decided to split the journey in half.

After roundabouting our way out of The greyness of the ubiquitous out-of-town shops and housing estates, we took the B724 at Collin (what a great name) and headed on the scenic route to Gretna via Clarencefield and Annan. Apart from the railway embankment, the landscape was now pretty flat as we approached the Solway Firth. Off to our right the Solway was marked by wind turbines standing on the most enormous masts in the Firth. From what I could tell the tide was out exposing miles of mad flats. I stopped at the 55 mile marker just beyond Clarencefield and once again Jer was not far behind. Delighted with his progress on flat scenic roads with the wind behind him he was in very buoyant mood and threw in the possibility of heading beyond Gretna today and stopping just shy of Carlisle. I moved on to a lay-by just outside of Gretna to plot a route.

Jer calls the miles like today “free miles” as there is virtually no effort needed in completing them. It’s a relative term of course but I know what he means. I could see a way down as far as Carlisle to give him an extra 8 miles but I was reticent to go any further for one major reason – Radio 1s Big Weekend in Carlisle. Over 40,000 people are expected to turn up today to see Lady GaGa et al and the town would be heaving. Our route for tomorrow takes us right through the middle and I managed to convince Jer that we would severely pay for the couple of extra miles to get to the other side if we tried today. He agreed and we stopped short at yet another out-of-town shopping ‘centre’. We’ll have much better luck with Carlisle early tomorrow morning. Oh, and just one more thing…he’s only gone and cycled into England!

In all Jer clocked up an incredible 75.6 miles in 5.25 hours, an awesome average of 14.4 miles an hour. The weather was also kind and stayed dry nearly all the way. Rarely will there be days like this and Jer has got a wonderful Cheshire cat smile. The day ahead looks tough so to bring the total miles for the next leg down into the 50s means that Jer will hit the ground running.

Jer finished in good time for us to go back over the border to Scotland and take some pictures in front of the signs welcoming us to both England and Scotland that are within feet of each other. It feels good to be through Scotland as far as the challenge goes but we will both miss the magnificence of the Highlands. Such is life. England now beckons.

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