On Friday 3rd of April, ten brave members of Ayr Burners set out on a true adventure.
The group consisted of eight men, Jo, and me on a mix of mountain bikes and cyclocrossers.
After meeting in Sanquhar, the riders had a brief discussion about the day ahead, before setting off for the first challenge of the day: the six and a half mile long Mennock Pass climb, into Wanlockhead.
On the climb of the Mennock Pass
Wanlockhead stands at 1531 feet tall, and is the highest village in Scotland. The group stayed together for the majority of the Mennock climb.
Once we reached Wanlockhead, we stopped to don our rain capes, because we had been warned of the beast to come next: the Green Lowther Hill, a fearsome climb averaging roughly 8 percent the whole way, with sections of 23 percent. The climb takes you up the road to the large radar station at the top, commonly referred to as the ‘golf ball’. We begun the climb, and the group fragmented fairly early, with JP, Rod and David up ahead, I was in fourth place, and Lindsay was chasing, with the rest of the riders behind. Sure enough, within five minutes half the road was covered in a thick layer of snow, and visibility was at a minimum. After a good twenty minutes of climbing, the riders began to reach the top, welcomed in by the sight of the golf ball radar station.
Capes and fuel kept the day epic for all the right reasons
After regrouping, and taking on board an energy gel or two, we began the descent of the hill. Only, after less than two minutes of descent, we turned to the left, and took the more interesting off road route down to Wanlockhead, where the group finally got a very well deserved coffee stop, at the Wanlockhead mining café.
Next on the agenda was part of the Southern Upland Way route, all off road of course. This was where the ride got very ‘interesting’. We crossed a small wooden bridge, and immediately began the off road climb up a very large hill. Most were rendered to doing a cyclocross dismount (which many had learnt to do in previous Burners skillz sessions) and push up the hill. Some somehow managed to cycle a fair bit of this steep moorland path.
Climbing the Southern Upland Way on ‘The Path to Heaven’ as the old Ayr MBC used to call it
After what felt like a lifetime, we reached the top, and from there a kind of pattern started, where we would descend down one muddy hill, before pushing up another. It went on like this for an hour or two, when eventually we reached the top of another off road climb. The ride leaders were faced with two options – climb up yet another hill, or descend down to the left. Naturally, we chose the latter.
After what felt like a lifetime of riding on muddy off road sections, where some got to see wild grouse, we finally made it to a small forest, in which there was a gravel single-track path, which offered a good bit of respite for our tired legs.
The group then had a great morale boost, when after leaving the forest, we saw the first glimpse of the town that we’d been longing to see all day – Sanquhar.
In between us and our warm journey home was now just a short mile or so of fields, and an equally brisk road ride. The final challenge of the day was nothing to do with the terrain or our tired legs. No, it was a field of grazing bulls. Luckily for us, though, rider and farming expert Jason Kean assured us that it was safe to pass by.
Finally, the Burners’ just had to ride the smooth tarmac road which brought us back to the Sanquhar railway station, which signalled the end of a brilliant days riding of 27 miles and nearly 4,000 feet of climbing.
All in all, great training for next week’s Burner’s ride, the Ronde