Monday, 3 June 2019

Winter bikepacking in Dumfries.

Back in February my friend Ian got in touch to see whether I'd fancy joining him for a bikepacking trip in the Galloway Forest Park. We made plans based on a GPX file that Ian had got from another cyclist and as the time neared the forecast looked okay as well.
I met Ian in the small village of Mossdale on the western side of Loch Ken just after lunchtime and we loaded up our bikes ready for two nights out.

The first section of our route took us along an old disused railway line which was relatively flat and well surfaced allowing us to make decent progress towards Creetown.
Unfortunately our progress came to an abrupt halt just before we reached Loch Skerrow as a bridge had collapsed leaving a dodgy river crossing as the only option for further progress on our intended route. Although the crossing wasn't very wide the water was deep and fast flowing and after a brief recce and discussion we decided that our only safe option was to backtrack and detour round the obstacle. 

The detour involved a significant backtrack and reroute around the northern side of Stroan Loch and would add a fair bit of extra time to our ride and leave us potentially short of daylight. The positive was that the scenery was great. 

We pushed on as quickly as we could, keenly aware of the fading winter light. Eventually after an incredibly wet section riding in flooded vehicle tracks we rejoined our original route at the far side of the downed bridge. After another stint on the disused railway we turned off at Cullendoch and joined a forest road heading north towards Loch Grannoch Lodge where we intended spending the night. A final brutally steep climb led us to a high point where we could see Loch Grannoch ahead, relieved that we'd reach our destination with a little daylight left we rolled down the hill to the old Lodge. 
We quickly pitched our tents next to the derelict buildings of Loch Grannoch Lodge and were able to take shelter inside the building to cook our dinner. Although this gave us shelter from any rain showers it was very cold so after eating we both retired to our respective tents and the warm sanctuary of our sleeping bags for the night. 
The next morning the weather was pretty good (although it had rained during the night) so we packed up and ate breakfast while I tried to dry my sleeping bag which had got damp from condensation in the tent overnight. 

Soon we set off again, initially retracing our route from the previous night before turning north along the ridge above Loch Grannoch. 

The forest road led us eventually towards the dam at the end of Clatteringshaws Loch where after a short hop on the main road we turned off to follow the minor road which runs along the edge of the loch.
We followed the road until it ended and then took to forest roads once more as we wound our way up towards Loch Dee. 
Sooner than expected Loch Dee came into sight, at this point we knew we were close to the bothy that was to provide our accommodation for the second night so we lingered and enjoyed the views and the welcome early afternoon sunshine. 

We followed the forest road a little further until the bothy came into view then turned off onto the boggy track that led up the final climb. 
The bothy is White Laggan and inside it was in great condition and even had a fire still burning in the wood burning stove to make us feel extra welcome!

I hung my still damp sleeping bag over the drying rail to air properly and we ate a late lunch before heading out to collect as much wood as we could to burn during the evening ahead. We also pitched our tents in the hope that they'd dry out a bit from the night before however this proved to be a vain hope as it absolutely poured with rain during the late afternoon and early evening. We passed a pleasant evening in front of the fire before heading for our sleeping bags before it got too late. 
The next morning dawned cold, clear and frosty and our tents were covered in ice from being soaked prior to the temperature dropping overnight. 

We ate breakfast, packed up and tidied the bothy before setting off down the boggy access track to retrace the first part of our route from the day before. Loch Dee was looking even more beautiful in the morning sunshine. 

Once we reached Clatteringshaws Loch we followed the Southern Upland Way around the northern shore as an alternative to staying on the road.
This eventually brought us out near the dam that we'd passed the day before where we turned onto the Raider's Road forest drive which we would follow back towards our starting point.
I imagine that during the summer this would be quite busy with cars but as it was winter (and the forest drive was closed) we had it to ourselves. The track roughly followed the Blackwater of Dee river and was very pretty. We decided to stop for an early lunch at the "Otter Pools" picnic area as it was so idyllic. 

Once we hit the trail again it wasn't far back to Stroan Loch (where we'd detoured on day one). It was looking beautiful in the late morning sunshine. 

It was a short ride back from Stroan Loch to Mossdale (where we'd left our cars) including a fun singletrack section into the village.
Thanks to Ian for putting the plan for the trip together and Jeff Price ( providing us with his GPX file as inspiration. 

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