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Virtual Lands End to John O'Groats .... Week 5

Saturday 25 April Penrith-Annan 38 miles. Total 530 miles

From Penrith, the route continues north, again on the A6, which is remarkably quiet with wide wild-flower filled verges, because the M6 takes all the traffic. After 18 miles pedalling, the route arrives at Carlisle, the county town of Cumbria. Carlisle has held city status since medieval times, via a grant endowed by the reigning monarch. Cities only had the association with having a cathedral, since the time of Henry VIII, who founded dioceses in 6 English towns; and introduced the requirement for a cathedral, and granted them city status by issuing letters patent (a right given by a monarch).

Carlisle Cathedral, a cathedral since 1133

Carlisle started as a Roman settlement, and due to its proximity to the Scottish border has a long history of military encampments. In the industrial revolution it developed textile and manufacturing employment. The Victorians also made Carlisle a major railway hub and here, developed the biggest marshalling yard in Europe. In modern times, the city hosts Cumbria University, and the student population supports much of the economic activity in the city.

The virtual route continues north west to Gretna, then turns due west. Gretna was at the heart of the munitions industry in WW1 and WW2 and has a fascinating museum, The Devil’s Porridge. The Devil’s Porridge was the explosive mixture inside bombs. It is made from cotton fibres, and nitric and sulphuric acid. Highly dangerous work, usually conducted by women, in Nissan huts, built well-spaced out, with substantial earth banks between each one, so that if one exploded, the rest (hopefully) were protected from subsequent detonation. If you are in the area, and enjoy museums, I’d thoroughly recommend this one. Absolutely fascinating.

From the museum at Eastriggs, the route heads to Annan, where Jim and I camped at the Galabank campsite. Amongst Annan’s claims to fame are that Bonnie Prince Charlie stayed at the inn on the High Street, while on the run from a failed battle; and that Robert Burns worked as an exciseman here in the 1790s.

Monday 27 April. Annan-Moniaive 34 miles. Total 561 miles

From Annan, it is more or less flat riding to Dumfries – it is called the lowlands for a reason! We rode into the town along the River Nith, then up into the town centre. There is a large car park along the riverside – because the river floods with frustrating regularity. Dumfries is an area where the buildings are built from the local red sandstone. The town centre, like many that we have cycled through, is largely pedestrianised.

Dumfries Academy has several ex-pupils who have made their name in popular culture: Henry Duncan started the world’s first commercial savings bank; James Anderson captained SS Great Eastern when it laid the first transatlantic telegraphic cable in 1865; JM Barrie, author of Peter Pan; Jane Haining, international diplomat; John Lawrie (Private Fraser in Dad’s Army); Robin Philipson RA, member of the Edinburgh School; Alex Graham, cartoonist of Fred Basset; and Jock Wishart, circumnavigator in a powered vessel.

When Jim and I actually rode this route, we had done about 35 miles in total by the time we reached Moniaive, and I was absolutely spent. Jim found a little picnic area, and realised it would make a great spot for wild camping, so we pitched the tent. Later I cooked dinner - Smash potato and tinned chilli con carne. It looked extraordinarily like dog food when I opened the tin, but it tasted good. Fortunately it tasted like chilli. I don't know what dog food tastes like, and I don't really want to know!

Thursday 30 April. Moniaive-Patna. 32 miles. Total 595 miles

Since entering Scotland, the roads have been significantly quieter than in England. Jim frequently complains that much less money is spent on Scottish roads than English, which may be true, but for cyclists the Scottish roads are idyllic to ride. In some places, the main road obstruction is sheep, which cyclists end up herding by bike!

Pedalling this route, takes you past the Scottish Dark Sky Observatory at Loch Doon, East Ayrshire. It is on a hilltop in the Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park, sited here because of low levels of light pollution and clear horizon views. Scotland has some of the largest areas of dark sky in Europe, which are most often found in rural areas, free of urban light pollution. Here, the average person can see over 1,000 stars with the naked eye, including the Milky Way, whereas in a city probably only 100 are visible. Visits to this Observatory need to be booked in advance, but it would be a fascinating part of a trip.

Patna as a village was established in 1802 by William Fullarton. His father had worked for the British East India Company and the town is named after the city of Patna, in India. William Fullarton owned coalfields in this area and the town was built to provide accommodation for miners. Subsequently the area developed industries in textile and weaving, and tourism for walkers and anglers.

Fifth week completed. Roads in Scotland are idyllic for cycling. Looking forward to crossing to the Scottish Islands in a slightly unusual route to John O’ Groats.


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