Gravel Riding in Galloway

We used to ride nothing but road. Big miles and long days, with Audax or endurance events most weekends. My road bike had 19mm tyres and no one thought that was strange.

I think the road surfaces now would make riding on finger width tyres just too engaging. Pumped up tight as a drum you could ride over a penny and call it heads or tails by feel. We ventured off road on our road bikes just to see where this and that track went. Pals were members of the ‘ rough stuff fellowship ‘ but said little about what they did and we never thought to ask. We loved tarmac.


We had mountain bikes, but there was never anything like love between us and them. We rode around the world for 4 years and I was up to 32mm and loving riding rails to trails and Scandy dirt roads. We had gone feral when we returned and bolted for the beautiful landscape of Galloway four years ago. Then three years ago we were introduced to the future at our local bike shop, a gravel bike. We bought the entry models and went for our first ride on near slick over inflated rubber. We could hardly stay upright. We changed the tyres, but it took us a year or more to believe that tyres could be ridden with so little pressure. We were hooked totally and in love with wilderness rides.


If there was anything that I would shoplift it would be maps, and this new gravel bike obsession required a lot of close study of maps. Bing maps is the best place to lose hours of your day as it has all the OS tucked away in a button at the top right of the screen. Now the forestry commission plants trees and grows sticks. They build much of the gravel cycling infrastructure without realising that you want to ride from A to B. Many of their tracks are wide, fast and beautifully surfaced with the finest gravel offering panoramic views of the mountains. Many go nowhere and are waiting to catch you out.


There are those that entice you and almost meet up. It is a huge area to pick out those gems that link to produce gravel heaven. Routes must have a flow and tell a story with a beginning, middle and end. There must be a perfect place to stop for a wild coffee or a cafe at just the best point in the ride.

A web of minor and B roads link together the gravel ride drove roads, cliff top paths and the forestry single and double tracks. The GPS has been essential in learning the hundreds of square miles of our playground. The link between the kitchen table, the paper and online maps and dozens of local history books and the perfect ride. Galloway has just 6 people every square kilometre, less than almost anywhere in the UK. It lost thousands to clearances and forestry, but the faint traces of that loss are still there to be found. There are forts and stone dykes in the middle of the wilderness. Spring rides in the Galloway Highlands always have the possibility of rare birds, flowers or some new discovery. When you do meet people here, they have time for a chat, the pace is slow and all the better for that.

Gravel riding can be hard, miles can feel like double that of a road mile, but the rewards are unique. It is not about the Strava segment, there are almost none here. But it is about experiencing the ride in a deep way through your senses. The heart of our playground is Galloway Forest. 300 square miles, with the darkest night sky in Britain. Add to that the coastal tracks with views across the Solway and you have the perfect place for an adventure just over the border in Scotland.


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