A Blast on the Bike in Galloway: The Big Country Loop

I was definitely feeling withdrawal symptoms after a fairly adventurous September (although anything would have felt adventurous after the first half of the year…) and wanted to head out again on a big ride on my bike. Cases were beginning to rise again, so closer to home was going to be the best bet. I opted for the 7 Stanes Big Country Loop, starting and finishing in Glentrool. It’s not a technical or difficult ride by any stretch and contains a fair amount of road riding, but the views were great and there was enough climbing to make it tough on the legs! Plus, it’s easy to forget how brilliant Galloway actually is between visits – other than the lack of big mountains, there’s no real need to go anywhere else for a great day outdoors.

[Oct ’20]

My Cairngorms overnighter has sent my brain into overdrive and left me with many complicated and far-fetched ideas for future biking trips, but as I only had one Saturday to play with, I needed to settle down and pick something simple for a change. Glentrool – one of the 7 Stanes – seemed like a great option. The 35(ish) mile Big Country loop would do nicely, with some long climbs and fast descents as well as plenty of views. It was October too, so most of the dreaded midges would have disappeared by now.

I changed the route ever so slightly and started/finished at the Bruce’s stone car park rather than the visitor’s centre just outside of Glentrool village. This would cut off an out and back to reach the loop, but made no real difference other than that.

The journey started with an easy stretch of road (mostly downhill) back towards the visitor centre. After a couple of kilometres, I turned off the road, crossing the Water of Trool to join a logging track that slowly climbed through the trees. This part of the route involved a small amount of climbing, but allowed for a quick descent back to tarmac, where I joined NCN7 towards Newton Stewart. Other than a lovely waterfall just off the road in the Wood of Cree, there was nothing particularly exciting about this section. It was a pleasant day and the scenery was very picturesque, so I definitely wasn’t complaining!

Lovely waterfall in the Wood of Cree

The tarmac lasted for around 6/7 miles and I reached the outskirts of Newton Stewart. There are a few shops in the town and it would make an ideal place for a snack stop, but I had enough food and water with me so I continued on my route, skirting around the edge of the town and headed for the small settlement of Auchenleck – once again this section is on tarmac, but this makes it easy to eat up the miles and reach the interesting parts faster.

Outskirts of Newton Stewart

A short distance before Auchenleck, the trail turns south east to join another logging road. The tarmac sections of the route were now done (although there isn’t anything more technical than gravel tracks) so I stopped for a bite to eat before a short climb to reach the Old Edinburgh Road, passing a couple of small lochs on the way.

Snack stop
Heading for the Old Edinburgh road

After a few miles I reached Black Loch, where I turned north and started the steepest and longest climb of the circuit. The route also passes an art installation at the loch, but I never bothered stopping for a look – art isn’t really my thing.

The climb from here isn’t difficult, just fairly long and sustained. Once some height is gained there are some great views of Galloway’s rugged hills. At the highest point of the first section of the climb, I stopped for another snack break and gave my legs a few minutes to recover. After a short descent, there was another small section of climbing before a long, fast descent to reach Craigencallie house. There’s a small car park reached by taking the minor road alongside Clatteringshaws Loch, so this would make a good alternative start/finish point to the circuit if approaching from the east.

From here the track undulated towards Loch Dee and passed close to White Laggan bothy (Bothies were closed at the time of my trip, so that’s one for another day too). Once the loch was out of sight, there was another fast descent towards Glenhead.

Loch Dee

I was now only a couple of kilometres from the car, but there were pleasant surroundings to finish off what had been a great few hours on the bike. The last obstacle was a very steep climb back up to Bruce’s Stone to reach the car park and I pulled up at the car a few minutes shy of 4 hours after leaving.

Gairland Burn

My route was 34 miles in total, with 1000m of climbing and an average speed of 8.7mph. This was on a hardtail with 2.6inch tyres, so something with a little less rolling resistance would probably be a bit quicker on the tarmac. This was a great circuit though and one that I’m keen to do again as part of some training for bigger adventures, so I’m sure I’ll be back for another blast on the bike in Galloway!

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