The Wanlockhead Tour

June 2006
145 km

When I moved to the Paisley area in 2005, a new horizon of cycle tours opened up. In particular, Lanarkshire and Ayrshire. On the map, this area does not offer much. Too heavy populated with too busy roads. Not enough mountains and too much boring road-along-a-field cycling. But I had a closer look and found some viable routes. One of them was the chance to go over the mythical Wanlockhead hamlet, the highest village in Scotland and United Kingdom (although a Yorkshire village is five meters higher..... so they say). So I hatched a plan, including a long train journey down to Lanark and then on my bike over the hills at Wanlockhead and home again through Kilmarnock. A nice 150 km/90 miles tour with some good climbs.
Another important reason was that I had to park my cycle and hitch a ride with an ambulance in Sanquhar back in 1995. This was after a horrendous ride from Fort Williams where I got a sunstroke and midge-bite poisoning. I cannot remember anything of the road from I left Kilmarnock to I parked the bike at Sanquhar. That incident was a bit of a trauma for me and I therefore wanted to see the places again. In short; I wanted a kind of a closure.
I was expecting a tough ride and I ate well and right during the week before the ride. I was therefore in top form when I took the train from Paisley via Glasgow and Motherwell to Lanark. The train journey took me around 90 minutes and gave me plenty of time to prepare myself for the coming blood, sweat & tears

I disembarked from the train at 0900 in the morning in the old mining town of Lanark. The first miles was down the hill towards the small Hyndford Bridge at Clyde River. This being 50 km/30 miles upstream from Glasgow, the river was pretty small here. I crossed the bridge and went up a steep hill through the Lanark Area towards Uddington where the road dropped vertically down to that small village.
The cycling was pretty arduous. From this small village, the road was going vertically up a disused road in the direction towards Abington.

Leaving Lanarkshire

Over the moor towards Abington

This is the old mainroad to Carlisle and London from Glasgow and it was pretty bizarre to be the only one on that road. The road was going over a moor here and it felt very isolated. The road was pretty undulating too with some big hills up and down. I eventually reached Abington and the turnoff towards the valley taking me up to Leadhills and Wanlockhead. Abington was nothing special. Just a small village. My mind was in any case on the road up to Leadhills. It started with a small vertical climb up to the entrance to the valley. From there, the road was moderate steep through a narrow gorge until a couple of kilometers before Leadhills.

Looking back down the valley just before Leadhills

Arriving at Leadhills

I was pretty excited when I arrived in Leadhills. The landscape was pretty barren and moon-like. I bought some water in the only shop/post office in Leadhills and headed out on the road again.

Looking back again at Leadhills from the road to Wanlockhead.

As the picture suggest; the road out of Leadhills towards Wanlockhead is pretty steep. This was the steepest climb on the road from Abington to Wanlockhead. But thankfully, I had the company of a small railway throughout these two miles.

The highest railway line in United Kingdom (Leadhills to Wanlockhead).

I finally reached the top of the tour and the climb and I was rewarded with some good views towards Leadhills and down to Wanlockhead.

The highest point of the tour ! Looking down towards valley from Abington to Leadhills

Looking down towards Wanlockhead (to the right, hidden). Two local sheep wishing me welcome (not !).

Yes, I was here !! This is one of my “trophies”.

Wanlockhead is an old lead mining town with it's own mining musem which is it's main attraction. I would add another attraction too: It's similarity with the weirdo going and comings in the cult TV series Twin Peaks. I was expecting a meeting with a weirdo massmurderer (with a shotgun) anytime up there or a strange encounter with the Log Lady. Wanlockhead has an ambiance which cannot be described. It is most certainly the strangest place in Scotland I have ever visited. The barren landscape, the mining museum, the sheep, the river and the strange centre of the village. Weird, weird, weird.


I left Wanlockhead after missing out on becoming murdered. The road from Wanlockhead followed a narrow gully vertically down to a river. Some of the fences was missing and the hole revealed a vertical drop down to a river. Not a good idea to loose the brakes here... The brakes was therefore working overtime. The road then followed this river towards the main road at Mennock. This was the end of the funny part of the tour. The rest turned out to be a grind up the valley. The road was here pretty flat past Sanquhar Castle until reaching Sanquhar. I stopped for half an hour before the road towards New Cumnock. I stopped at the police station where I had to park my bike back in 1995. A poignant moment with myself followed.
The 60 km/40 miles long road to Kilmarnock is a major road between Ayrshire and England. The traffic is therefore pretty heavy. The road to Kirkconnel was pretty flat. Then the road rised up into some technical climbs past a graveyard and some farms.

The climbs up from Kirkconnel towards New Cumnock.

Looking towards New Cumnock (hidden in the far distance in the valley).

The climbs was actually bigger than I thought, looking back from the top. I also spent far more time on the climbs than estimated. It was hard cycling and I was running out of steam. The road was also uninspiring. I was quite happy when I reached the top.

Looking back towards Kirkconnel and Sanquhar.

My happiness was shortlived. The road was very undulatng road past New Cumnock and Cumnock. I was bored out of my mind and the road did not give me any rest whatsoever. Grind and utter grind along farmfields and up hills. The landscape was scenic, but I was running out of daylight and good weather. The rain duly arrived.
I eventually reached Kilmarnock after a nasty descent from the moor through heavy rain on very slippery roads. I was glad I did not fall of my bike, but I was far beyond schedule and I had to crack on with the last fifteen km/ten miles to Paisley. The road took me past Kilmaurs, Dunlop and Stewarton on some undulating roads. The rain had turned into some drizzle and the road conditons was pretty dangerous. I considered cycling round Gleniffer Braes and thereby avoiding the vertical drop down to Paisley. But I cracked on up the hill and over the moor to Paisley again.
I took it easy down the hills and I arrived in my flat at around 2200 after 12 hours in the saddle.

The first part of this tour was OK and pretty good fun. But most of the twelve hours in the saddle was spent on the road between Sanquhar and Paisley. I do not think I will do this tour again on a bike. But I am both happy and proud of this tour. It was a very special experience.