Home to Stranraer

Christine was still washed out after her winter covid infection, her steady recovery having stalled, and decided to play safe and remain at home, hoping to catch us up in Dumfries if feeling better by Monday. I felt an overwhelming sadness as we said goodbye. Our first holiday was to Dorset in 1974, wild camping as we were young and poor but Christine’s birthday fell halfway though and we treated ourselves to a night in the best hotel in Dorchester and a good clean up and a good meal not cooked on the camping stove. All our cycling holidays have been together until now, fifty years later.

Rowan and I rode to Bangor station to await the 13:40 to Warrington, where we’d wait around 50 minutes for our connection to Carlisle. A couple of minutes before the train was due, it was announced that the new 197 train built by CAF had broken down. A current railway jibe is that CAF is an acronym for “call a fitter”.

So I booked bike reservations for the 17:27 Avanti from Warrington Bank Quay to Carlisle and caught the 14:07, changing at Llandudno Junction. This missed our original connection, the 16:15, by about ten minutes so we prepared to wait another hour for the 17:27, only to be informed that it was running only as far as Preston. The train despatcher couldn’t allow us on the 17:15 as there were no bike spaces but procured reservations for the 18:27, another hour’s wait.

Every time the announcer begain “we are sorry that…”, my heart sank. The cause was always “a broken down train”, was it the same one causing all the trouble? Eventually ours rolled in, reaching Carlisle at 20:15. We’d booked the station hotel with our Tesco vouchers and had a room to myself as Christine had dropped out, as did Rowan of course. By time we’d checked in, stored our bikes and eaten at the nearby Pizza Express it was 22:00 so we returned to shower and sleep. The room was rather warm and I could hear the station announcements but didn’t sleep too badly.

After a standard corporate hotel breakfast we took the 09:54 to Kilmarnock, very lightly loaded and formed of two class 156 units, each with six bike spaces though unfortunately by hooks. There was one other cyclist, who’d caught the 05:xx from Abergele that morning. He knew our old friend Luke, commenting “everyone knows Luke”, which does appear to be the case.

It was only 23 miles to Ayr, we stopped at Drift cafe in Troon for lunch as the rain started, still wet when we left but it wasn’t heavy and had petered out by the time we reached Inverlea Guest House in Ayr. Liz normally requires a two night minimum stay but kindly allowed us to overnight. It was a perfect stay, one of the best guest houses we’ve used and just a couple of doors from the Fox and Willow who fed us well. I’ll be very surprised if we get better food or accommodation during the remainder of the holiday.

After a restful sleep, we left at nine for Stranraer, a lovely ride through undulating pasture with views of the Ayrshire Hills and a long isolated section over moorland encountering only a couple of vehicles. We heard a cuckoo and lots of nesting curlew. Our route incorporated an interesting looking track around Lochinch Castle but a sign by the gatehouse proclaimed “Private” and the track looked rough and narrow. We were tired by this stage so we didn’t chance it, continuing to the A75 for a short stretch before regaining our route. We checked in to Neptune’s Rest guest house at 15:40 after 57 miles. Unfortunately our rooms faced a busy road and the blind was inadequate for the early morning light.

Stranraer is a typical port town, run down and with nowhere appealing to eat. We settled for a Belhaven pub, offering a vegetarian menu though of standard chain pub quality. I noted that it’s now part of the Greene King empire and that Belhaven Best at 3.2% abv is little more than flavoured water. Before the takeover,Belhaven was excellent ale in 60/-, 70/- and 80/- variants. The current effort would be about 10/-.

After a poor sleep, we caught the 09:20 bus to Portpatrick and walked along the coast path past Dunskey Castle, returning to search in vain for a good cafe for lunch. We settled for indifferent coffee and cake at the hotel, walked along the coast path for a short way in the opposite direction and caught the 13:20 back to Stranraer, which stopped conveniently outside Tesco so we bought bread and cheese to sustain us. In the afternoon we walked to the station, situated by the derelict harbour a good walk from the town, the rails rusting between the flourishing weeds. We couldn’t face more pub fare in the evening, nowhere else appealed so we finished off the bread and cheese.

Day 1 : Stranraer to Creetown