Updated: Nov 30, 2022
We've been dreaming of a bothy hunting trip to Scotland - so when the biking, brewing bros @stohk suggested a sneaky late November gravel ride in the land of dark skies and the bothy - we grabbed it!
Although we had passed through Galloway many a time - en-route to "Scotland" (in my mind it starts when you reach Glasgow in the west or Edinburgh in the east) - little did we know that such an accessible and stunning gravel riding paradise existed.
We're headed for the intriguingly named Gatehouse of Fleet which is actually the gateway to Galloway Forest Park. As a world-class environment that demonstrates a
balanced relationship between people and nature - the park is a designated UNESCO Biosphere and enjoys Dark Sky Park status. Latter is thanks to spectacular night skies and northern light shows.
And thanks to local adventurers - Warren and Esther who run Galloway Cycling - the area is now home to some of THE most spectacular and extensive gravel riding routes on the planet.
En-route - we popped into the fabulous Frothy Bike Co in Dumfries - just in time to hear another local Ed Shoote introducing his latest book - Gravel Rides Scotland (@1lovemountains). A fitting intro to our weekend in Scotland, Ed's handy and beautifully illustrated guide puts the spotlight on a curated selection of epic gravel routes across Scotland. The evening suitably enhanced by Stohk brew's generous donation of its highly drinkable XPA.
Thanks to customary rural hospitality Warren had kindly arranged some super comfy and warm digs with the landlord of local establishment The Ship Inn - an award winning pub, restaurant and hotel in Gatehouse.
It's a beautiful sunny, chilly Saturday morning as we faff, saddle 'n bag up before rolling into Gatehouse along the picture-perfect high street to meet our guides - Warren and Esther, joined by Paul of The Biking Explorers and another local gravelista - Greg.
Crossing the bridge over the raging Water of Fleet river - the route ramps up quickly and onto the forest tracks behind the village. As we wind our way up, and up - we're just blown away by the stunning scenery. Dreamy golden heather-covered hills to one side - and far reaching views to the ocean to the south - we're soon gushing and exhausting every known superlative to ascribe to the eye-popping scenery. To which Warren coolly responds with "....this is nothing -wait till we get into the park proper..." For the next 20k's or so the route follows seemingly endless, sublime forest tracks - a gravelista's dream! Gently undulating - under Warren's watchful eye - the route gently meanders along immaculately maintained gravel roads - making for a dreamy, smooth, rolling ride. We're going deeper into a textured landscape and mountainous area regularly interrupted by one jaw-dropping scene after another -crossing crystal-clear streams, rapids at Otter Pool - we cut through ancient woodland and stop to soak up the far-reaching views to the mountains beyond and to the north.
Our ever-attentive guide announces "...scone and coffee is about 20 mins away". Sure enough we soon roll into an the astonishingly well-stocked Clatteringshawscafé perched on the edge of another visual extravaganza - Clatteringshaws Loch.
Before long we're chased out of the warmth of the caff (days are super short at this time of the year), picking up the trail which follows the loch shores - yet another visual delight. We've got another 10km's to go before reaching our destination and digs for the night. There's a final 100m steep, rutted, soggy climb up to our first EVER bothy night! Our guide and hosts kindly show us around the spartan facilities before heading back home - not before leaving us with a generous gift of yet another Dumfriesian gem - the utterly delicious and irresistable Man O'Sword scotch whiskey from Annandale Distillery.
TBH our bothy was far better equipped than we expected - complete with bunk-beds (luxury!), communal & food prep area and most importantly - a wood burning stove (AND firewood which had kindly been hauled up the hill by our fellow guests)
In such a remote location - we're surrounded by yet more (you guessed it) stunning views reaching across the valley, Loch Dee - and the mountains in the distance.
As it turns out we're sharing the bothy and all manner of facilities, fire, cake, candle-light, spinach, Man O'Sword scotch, games and shanties - with the most amazing and friendly bunch of hikers on their annual birthday/reunion/bothy pilgrimage.
"Wow" - that just elevated the whole bothy experience to another level - which kinda embodies the bothy spirit: share, respect and sing shanties together (I made that last one up).
The weather was most considerate - kindly dumping a load of rain during the night - so that we could wake to a cloudy sky which soon started to break up - casting the distant hills in pools of golden light.
The second day of riding leads us out of the valley and after a gentle climb on yet more sublime, smooth gravel trails, past the most enormous log-pile on the planet - the last 20k's a gentle, sweeping descent through ever-changing landscapes. Now dotted with sheep, ancient trees and rivers - before we hit the outskirts of Gatehouse.
It's lunchtime - just in time for a most excellent roast dinner at the award-winning Ship Inn.
A few days on and we're all still somewhat dazed by what has been an extraordinary and unforgettable experience. Met some truly lovely, welcoming, generous people, rode on fabulous gravel routes in the spectacular Galloway Forest, spent our first night in an iconic and remote Scottish bothy. The whole experience has given us plenty of food for thought - ride in beautiful places - Wild Scotland.
Huge thanks to:
Aled, Gareth & Matt - @stohkofficial
Warren & Esther - @gallowaycycling
Ross - @frothybikeco
Jonathan - @ The Ship Inn
Paul - @thebikingexplorers
Thanks also to partners:
Our forray into Galloway Forest was planned by the stohk bros as a pre-cursor to Short Day Out . To mark the winter solstice - Short Day out is a multi-brand, multi-disciplined communal event which runs from 16 - 21 December.
The best ones will receive a must-have patch to commemorate the winter solstice!
There are prizes to be won too!
Stay tuned for news and to sign up to Wild Cycles' Short Day Out. Ride the winter solstice out on the shortest day of the year on a chilled Lights n Laps of Richmond Park on 21 December. Expect a chilled ride at party pace and a spectacular light show!
Light up, wrap up warmly and roll up for a chilled ride and light extravaganza in west London. Don't forget your lights and to stand a chance to win a prize for the best-lit-rig - make sure your rig is embellished with all manner of festive illuminations.
Our mission is to ride in beautiful places, to share our experiences and encourage others to follow. We hope to inspire you to explore your local area and visit beautiful places like Galloway Forest - the perfect setting for a totally unforgettable and incredible ride.