Where? Kirkconnel/Sanquhar, north Dumfriesshire
How? train from Glasgow Central (or Carlisle if travelling north) to Kirkconnel/Sanquhar, return buses from Wanlockhead/Thornhill/Carronbridge, if needed, run to Kirkconnel and Sanquhar
Why? one of Scotland’s best-kept secrets; the beautiful, unspoilt Nith valley, undiscovered by tourists, ideal walking/cycling country, direct access to Southern Upland Way http://www.southernuplandway.gov.uk/cms/ on National Byway cycle route http://www.thenationalbyway.org/welcome.asp birthplace of the bicycle http://www.drumlanrig.com/visit-drumlanrig-castle/drumlanrig-castle/cycle-museum yet, within easy access of Glasgow and Carlisle.
But: very isolated outside of the villages, can be bleak with high rainfall and infrequent transport, so vital to check timetables and plan in advance; proper equipment, sufficient supplies and spares are vital
Info: routes shown on maps; OS Explorers 320, 321, 328, 329
Terrain: steep gradients away from valley floor, often wet and muddy
Refreshments: hotel, pubs, cafes in Sanquhar and Thornhill, tearoom at Drumlanrig Castle http://www.drumlanrig.com/visit-drumlanrig-castle . Blackaddie Country House Hotel in Sanquhar http://www.blackaddiehotel.co.uk/ is located in beautiful surroundings and has gained a very good reputation for its food
Separated by the bleak and brooding Lowther Hills from its more famous neighbour, the Clyde, the River Nith follows a southerly course from its source in East Ayrshire to the Solway Firth. Best known for its excellent trout and salmon fishing and associations with Robert Burns, the majority of its valley lies in Dumfriesshire; from the bleak, open vistas of Upper Nithsdale, through a dramatic, gorge-like stretch between Mennock and Carronbridge – Highlandesque, in terms of its spectacular beauty – to the wide flood plain of Dumfries and thence into the Solway.
This is undiscovered Scotland; usually hastily bypassed on the M74 and West Coast Main Line 15 miles or so to the east. Undiscovered, of course, also means unspoilt and non-commercialised. But, linked by rail to Carlisle and Glasgow, with direct access to the Southern Upland Way and with world-class on and off-road cycling opportunities, it’s an excellent area for booters and bikers, with plenty of history, culture and even some foodie options thrown in.
It’s also a remarkably easy area to get to: change at Carlisle – about four-five hours from London and around three from the Midlands on the West Coast Main Line – take the service to Glasgow via Dumfries and you arrive in Sanquhar/Kirkconnel (both villages have stations) in just over an hour. Similarly, the same service in reverse from Glasgow takes about 90 minutes.
Increasingly popular with off-road bikers as it’s right in the heart of the Seven Stanes series of world-class MTB courses, www.sevenstanes.org.uk this corner of SW Scotland is also ideal for road cycling and touring and every type of walking, from the most testing long distance footpath in Britain to riverside rambles http://www.uppernithsdale-events.org/walking A 15 mile trail focusing on the coal and lead mining heritage of the area has recently been opened linking Kirkconnel to Wanlockhead. It crosses rough moorland, with some spectacular views, but is strenuous, so proper equipment and hill-walking experience are necessary http://www.geolocation.ws/nearby/en?loc=55.420516,-3.823472
Although not renowned for copious amounts of sunshine – it can be bleak and cool even in the middle of summer – it is usually mild and the area’s plentiful rainfall results in a lush, emerald vista of deciduous woodlands and fast flowing streams (as well, regrettably the ubiquitous midges). It’s refreshingly untouristy and the evening light lingers long, from April right through to August.
Sanquhar boasts the oldest post office in the world http://www.networkun.co.uk/business/sanquharPO.html and the town holds a historic Riding the Marches every year http://www.sanquharridingofthemarches.com/
The area, generally, is noted for its salmon fishing and, for admirers of Scotland’s national bard, it is smack in between Robert Burns’ birthplace near Ayr, and his grave and mausoleum in Dumfries.
Definitely worth a look is the beautiful and historic church in Kirkconnel that dates from the early 18th century. However, the first church in the village is thought to have been established by St Conal in the eighth century. Closed down during the period of Covenanter unrest in the 1680s, a Celtic cross now marks the site, about two miles out of the village, and a recent renovation project has restored the site of the original kirkyard. http://www.kirkconnel.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=81&Itemid=211
Both Kirkconnel and Sanquhar have strong historic links with the Covenanters – people in Scotland who signed the National Covenant in 1638 opposing any interference by the Stuart kings in the affairs of the Scottish Presbyterian church. In 1680 the preacher Richard Cameron, issued the famous Sanquhar Declaration, renouncing allegiance to Charles II. This, and a second declaration in the town, by James Renwick five years later, set out the basis of future religious freedom in Scotland.
Boot and Bike Options:
i) walk along the Southern Upland Way out of Sanquhar east towards Wanlockhead – about 8 miles
From Sanquhar station follow the signs for the Southern Upland Way east. http://www.southernuplandway.gov.uk/cms/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=119&Itemid=322 Make sure you visit the award-winning Museum of Lead Mining http://www.leadminingmuseum.co.uk/home.shtml and return by bus to Sanquhar railway station. http://www.travelinescotland.com
ii) walk/cycle from Sanquhar along minor roads and forest tracks to Kirkconnel and back – about 11 miles, off-road bike needed
From Sanquhar station go down Station Road, cross the A76, then straight head along Blackaddie Road. Cross the bridge and keep straight ahead. The road then follows Euchan Water past a lovely waterfall. The scenery is superb and after about two miles you will reach a coniferous plantation. Cross a ford (you may need to lift your bike over a gate here), keep on the track through the rest of the trees, descend to cross a burn and follow the track through the next plantation. Keep on the track until a cattle grid, turn right, cross another grid and then continue along the side of Corserig Hill. Keep going until the track splits, bear left on the well-defined path and follow this through Librymoor Plantation until you see Kirkconnel Cemetery in front of you. Turn right on to the minor road that runs behind Kirkconnel and continue on this for approximately three miles. At Blackaddie Bridge, turn left and follow the road back into Sanquhar.
ii) cycle from Sanquhar to Drumlanrig Estate near Carronbridge – 17-20 miles, depending on route, off-road bike needed if riding the forest trails at Drumlanrig
Follow above directions from Sanquhar station to Blackaddie Bridge, then turn left and follow the minor road with the River Nith on your left; past Menock and Eliock Wood the valley is spectacular. At Burnmouth the road heads south, away from the river. Continue for about half a mile to Burnsands where you can either turn left and follow the road direct to Drumlanrig Castle (about 2-3 miles) or go straight on for about five miles, where the road then loops round back to Drumlanrig. http://www.drumlanrig.com/drumlanrig-outdoor-activities/cycling
Visit Drumlanrig Castle http://www.drumlanrig.com/visit-drumlanrig-castle sample the mountain bike trails (variety of routes available, off-road bike needed), pop into the Scottish Cycle Museum (Kirkpatrick MacMillan, a Drumlanrig blacksmith, rode a bicycle he invented the 60miles to Glasgow in 1839, heralding the age of the bicycle), http://www.drumlanrig.com/visit-drumlanrig-castle/drumlanrig-castle/cycle-museum or enjoy the many walking routes through Drumlanrig forest.