At the end of July, after a full day of heavy rain and the ground sopping wet for walking the next day, it was a fine opportunity for a cycle run in the sunshine to explore the area around Kirkcowan and Newton Stewart.
We found the fast flowing bonnie River Bladnoch in spate when we stopped to have a look at the old bridge at Shennanton, built in the early 1700’s to carry horses and foot traffic on the ‘Old Military Road’. Up until 2009 this wonderful old bridge had two arches spanning the river but frost and flood have taken their toll and now sadly only one arch remains with no necessary funds available for repair.
Orange berries on the rowan trees lined the quiet country roads with rosebay willow herb filling the hedgerows and the heady scent of meadowsweet and honeysuckle filling our lungs.
A wren hopped along a mossy dyke in a dark woodland ahead of us when we stopped for a break and chaffinch kept us company flitting back and forth between the trees. In the woods we found marsh woundwort, hypericum, knapweed, eyebright, purple tufted vetch, pineapple weed, ox-eye daisy and a lot of ragwort.
On a moorland track a wee frog popped out onto the path in front of us, quickly disappearing, as we watched the sun shimmering over lonely Loch Eldrig. Red squirrel are in this area near Dirnow but, once again, none seen by us!
It was a tough wee push up the hill beside Culvennan Fell, four buzzards mewing and soaring above us, but oh it was worth the effort with such fine views from the top and the unfamiliar hills of Cairnsmore of Fleet on the skyline before us. On this lovely quiet side road leading into Kirkcowan village we came across a thorn bush sculpture of a huge bird - maybe a monster blackbird we thought! This was made years ago by local shepherd Sam McQuirter, now long gone, but still kept nicely trimmed by someone from the village about a mile away.
South of the village, we secured our cycles to a post to take a short walk along to the River Bladnoch on an old footpath, passing a derelict farm, to look for the stepping stones where folks must have crossed long ago to make their way to the kirk from the farms on the east side but the stones were completely submerged by the swollen river.
Atlantic salmon in this great river are facing problems because of the many man-made changes similar to other rivers and streams in Scotland and important work is in place to improve the salmon’s habitat and survival chances. This riverbank is also badly affected by the invasive non-native Japanese knotweed, giant hogweed and Himalayan balsam.
Crossing the River Tarf on our return, the sun was still shining when we watched a female stonechat searching for food on a lawn, in competition with a pied wagtail and some greenfinches. Sadly, no tearoom visit en route for us today!