Author: John McCracken
In Darvel a good number of us can see the windfarm from our gardens however as far as access goes we still think of the visitors centre as the main entry point however there are a number of places this fantastic piece of wilderness can be accessed and explored from our side.
With the weather turning finally into something akin to Spring I decided to head off road on to the forest roads of the windfarm. With a 200km race on similar terrain to train for the roads of the windfarm are the perfect training grounds.
I used a route I have become familiar with over the last few years that I first did as part of a larger group at an organised cycle during the Walking Festival along with the pupils of Loudoun Academy’s cycling group. With modern cycling GPS I was able to save the route and follow it on my own.
The route starts with a workout on the legs straight up cemetery brae before following a series of short climbs till you reach the top of the Calder Water climb and head back downhill towards the bridge which crosses it with the windmills to your left.
Not far on from this point where the road continues on to Strathaven you will notice a junction for High Browncastle which almost doubles you back on yourself and is signposted as a dead end. Take this road and just keep going. You will pass some pretty new refurbished farm houses and a few farm buildings until you reach the end of the road at a farm. Without going into the farm and taking a left of the building you will see a stile (you will have to dismount) which when through puts you on to the first of the rougher stuff. A double track road will bring you out at your first viewpoint. I always stop her for a bike selfie as no matter the weather the view is tremendous.
Heading down a slight incline I usually stick to the left and head into some more mature pine trees, following the main forest road to the left. You will soon find yourself going downhill, but watch your speed as the bend at the bottom has a steep drop into a burn at the bottom. Scrubbing speed at this point is a good idea though as there is an interesting, if slightly surprising sight at this point worthy of investigation.
Raised above the road is a fenced (overgrown) garden with more natural trees and a grave with monument in the middle. Closer inspection reveals it to be the resting place of a Euphemia Whyte and William Smith of Newmilns with dates from the 1800’s marked on the stone. Maybe our local historians will know more but it does come as a surprise to find this in what can only be described the middle of nowhere.
Leaving Euphemia and William behind continue to the right this time till you find yourself on what is known as the Spine Road and follow signs for Uplawmoor. Throughout the windfarm there are now signs directing walkers and cyclists. I wouldn’t solely rely on them though. I once followed a sign for “Darvel via Mucks Bridge” to 3 dead ends. I skipped past the first sign I saw for Darvel which cuts out about 2-3km but as it was a nice day and I know where I am going I added a slightly larger loop but it does bring you to the same exit point of the windfarm.
The exit point is at a crossroads on a steep slope. Behind you is an abandoned farm of which I don’t know the name, again our local experts may know more and ahead is the double track back on to tarmacadam. Be careful on the double track. It has a downhill profile but some deep puddles which if taken at speed may see you over the handlebars. All can be negotiated with care.
At the bottom of the double track you will find yourself back on the road to Darvel. Follow the road and you won’t go wrong. You will eventually find yourself back on the locally named “5 mile” where you can choose to cycle towards Newmilns or take a left into and back out of the valley with Darvel’s answer to Alpine Switchbacks. Being a cycle for the Darvel blog I chose to go left and pass the entrance to Fleming’s Birthplace. An ideal photo op for a Darvel ride.
I headed back down cemetery brae and back into Darvel again taking care on the steep decent to finish in one piece.
Some advice! If you want to do this ride and have GPS use it to help you. As wonderful a place as the windfarm is with its recent addition of signposts it is easy to get lost. On that note, if you’ve never been in this part, do it on a good day. It really is wild territory and I have been caught out freezing cold and close to hypothermia there IN MAY!!
This is not a route for a road bike or slick tyres. It is perfect for your mountain bike which I often do it on. You will notice my bike in the pictures looks like a drop bar road bike. It is actually a Cyclocross bike, an off road discipline for which the bike is designed. Cross bikes are a great bike for non-technical trails like these. Indeed most manufacturers now make a genre very similar called gravel bikes which do the same thing. These bikes are excellent for all round cycling. When the gravel tyres are switched to slicks you have the perfect road bike too.
Keep an eye out on DDCC Facebook page as I hope to run a guided ride of this route for those who wish to have a supported run in the windfarm with someone who knows the way.
The full route for download can be found by clicking https://www.strava.com/routes/18042581