Wheels of fortune!

Posted on July 10, 2012 by admin

In Galloway Forest, Dumfries, New Galloway on 10 July, 2012

When I was presented, before I’d had dinner, with a checklist pre-order menu slip to specify what I’d like for the breakfast half of the ‘bed and breakfast’ deal, I got carried away and ticked everything. I can’t remember the sporting diet I was advised from my Olympic cycle training days, but I don’t think it was a full cooked breakfast.

Unfortunately it’s no fun having a full stomach ready to be churned when the roads between Dumfries and New Galloway are littered with a full house of roadkill bingo. It wasn’t just the fox, rabbits, frog, hedgehog and badger that had rotten luck, but my bike too! Fixing a puncture in the rain is no fun, but at least it’s possible. Fixing a broken back wheel which eventually died after three years of being on death row isn’t. I guess it was bound to happen – all the spokes were loose, and I’d been counting on the strength of the rim itself to hold it together. And it had done, for years, until I hit a bump a couple of miles South of New Galloway. Considering all of the places it could’ve given up the ghost, it wasn’t so bad – outside an outdoor activity centre, on a day when the people who I was meant to be meeting were waiting just a 10 minute drive away. It certainly could have been a lot worse (i.e. 5 days ago, on an unknown farm track in a Devonshire valley). It was still a little bad though, as my bike is ‘vintage’, and thus requires special love and attention. And funny sized obsolete 27” wheels. I was ferried around to 2 ‘local’ bike shops, a rubbish tip to skim the junked bikes, and eventually driven all the way back to Dumfries (where I’d started that day) by Jodie Noble, of Catstrand, to go to a bike shop with the most diverse selection of wheels in Dumfries and Galloway[1]. A claim to fame if I’ve ever heard one. Anyway, my bike was eventually fixed, with eternal gratitude to my temporary chauffeur.

But what is CatStrand? “Dumfries and Galloway’s newest arts and community venue”, that’s what. A converted schoolhouse with a free IT service, a lovely café, weekly youth clubs and art meets, and an auditorium for theatre/music/film.

What do CatStrand do? They’re in charge of the Giants in the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere Reserve, the first in Scotland[2]. Unsurprisingly, this one ticks all the same boxes as the previous two – a core, buffer and transitional zone, links between landscape, wildlife, and a sustainable community – but instead of being focused around the mouth of a river system, with the catchment area leading into it defining the transition zone, this biosphere is focused in the centre of Galloway forest, and the catchment area leading out of it defines the zone.

After being rescued by Jodie, she took me to CatStrand HQ to meet Nic, part of the Biosphere Reserve team, and Bruce, a freelance journalist with the BBC[3], and then ship out to the forest and see the Giants, and shoot the breeze. There were midges, but the heads were looking great. Well loved by the primary schools who planted them, they were very very mossy. To the point that one was nicknamed “Hairy Tony”. And it sounds like they’re still well loved, with CatStrand and the community interacting fantastically – film wokshops, story telling exercises, painting Giants with giant paintbrushes, even picnicking with the Giants. If my bike hadn’t fulfilled the promises of the bike store man all those years ago, I would’ve even had an escort of local cyclists to come cycle in to the forest to see the Giants with me.

Cycle escort or no, it was certainly an eventful day. I retire for the evening in St John’s Town of Dalry, a couple miles North of CatStrand. I supped at the Clachan Inn, and got the low-down from the locals on Dalry history: bird capital of Scotland (apparently), former meeting point of the Covenanters, and part of the Galloway forest dark sky zone. More interestingly, it’s now a small town where everyone in the pub knows each other’s name (not quite like Cheers, but similar) and sitting in there for half an hour felt like I was in their living rooms. Tomorrow to Moffat, which, it turns out, is not that easy to get to from here if I want to at all costs avoid returning to Dumfries for the third time in two days…

I hope my bike has a couple of its nine lives left.

I really hope it stops raining.

[1] The shop was run by a guy my age. He’d bought the place 2 years ago, and ran it all by himself. And was expanding into the shop next door. Not too shabby, like!
[2] In a parallel sequence of events to the Dyfi Valley Biosphere Reserve, the Galloway forest biosphere was established in the 1970s, rule changes stripped it of its title in the 90s, and as I cycle, UNESCO meets to decide whether it fits the criteria now.
[3] Giants in the Forest and their biosphere home (possibly with garbled explanations of what I’m doing from me) may appear on BBC Radio Scotland’s ‘Out of Doors’ show on Saturday morning. Keep your ears peeled. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0074hjr

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