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Awesome Ride Through Hail and Hills

Heading up Mennock's Pass

The weather often plays a part in the memorability of a ride and my recent ride during a visit to Scotland certainly had plenty of both; weather and memorability!  This was a stop-off ride, just off the A74(M) from Abington on my way up to Glasgow.

As I drove up the M6 past Carlisle and along the A74(M) into Scotland my weather report was still showing snow and wintery showers and I passed through a fierce sleet and hail shower as if to confirm that conditions would be none too conducive to road cycling.

The Weather Forecast
The Weather Forecast

So I decided to stop at Abington services and reconsider my options.  Of course once I’d stopped, the weather cleared and the sun came out; but for how long?  I made my way to the car park in Abington village; still pondering, not sure, should I ride, will my planned route be clear of snow, are the roads I want to ride even open?

The 'free' parking at Abington
The ‘free’ parking at Abington

So being as the sun was out I decided to head off on my bike and turn back later if necessary.  The route that I had planned to ride was one that I had plotted on Strava several months earlier.  It includes climb number 63 from the 100 UK Climbs Book, covers 56 km and takes you from the A74(M), over the hills to the A76 at Sanquhar and up and over again via Leadhills back to the start point. You start off 250 m above sea level, drop to 118 m at the lowest point just past Sanquhar and then climb up to 469 m at the peak before dropping back down through Leadhills to the end of the loop.  It took me just over 2 hours 30.

So off I headed out from the car park back to the A74(M) junction, over the roundabouts and down the road signposted ‘Sanquhar’.  The road surface at this point was horrible, not pot holey just made from nasty course aggregate.  Fortunately it wasn’t long before I could turn off left and join a quieter and smoother alternative.

The weather's holding up nicely
The weather’s holding up nicely

Along this road, by way of a short flurry of hail, I had a few signs of what was to come a little later.  I could see the dark clouds rapidly rolling in from the north west but by the time I had realised, I knew I was too far out to head back and outrun it.  So I continued on bracing myself for what was to come.  It started a few minutes later; face stinging cold hail, blowing in from ahead and to my right.  For a while I was able to continue, head down, using my helmet as a shield but eventually after passing the end of a wooded area, the hail became too heavy and I was forced to stop and face the other direction.

Facing away from the hail
Facing away from the hail

I then decided to head back; so after letting the gritting lorry pass, I reluctantly started riding back along the road.  It was only a few hundred yards later that the hail passed and the sun came out again and I decided that maybe I’d made a hasty decision.  So I turned around once more and carried on with my ride.

Which turned out to be an excellent decision as from there on in the weather held up just fine.  Sure it was blustery in parts and plenty cold enough up on Mennock’s Pass but the rain, hail and snow all held off and the sun even popped out at times.

The weather's looking better!
The weather’s looking better!

From my hail stop, the road initially went upwards and I slithered my way through a section where the hail had settled into an icy layer on the road.  Then the sun came out and the road started to point downward, so I picked up the pace and enjoyed a fast winding ride down to the A76 at Sanquhar.  At Sanquhar I took a left and rode through on the main road and out the other side, turning left onto the B797 at Mennock.  It is from here that the climb begins; number 63 in the 100 UK Climbs Book and one that rises 332 metres over 11.4 km.

Heading up Mennock's Pass
Heading up Mennock’s Pass

Of all the big UK climbs that I’ve been up this probably rates as one of the easier climbs.  It never reaches the steepness of Winnat’s Pass, it doesn’t have the elevation gain of Holme Moss and it isn’t as unrelenting as Cairn O’mount but it’s a great hill in it’s own right.  The scenery is outstanding, as you can hopefully tell from the photos and it’s a fun hill to ride; it’s a kind hill, one where you get some steep bits but you also get plenty of shallower parts too, so you get a bit of rest in between the tough efforts.

Once I reached the top, I soon found myself surrounded by thick snow.  The road itself had been well cleared but on the sides there was plenty lying; enough to make a good snowman.  I wasn’t shopping for any sculpting activity though as my feet were quickly getting cold now.  The early hail had made the roads wet and the spray from my front wheel had in turn moved that wetness into my socks and shoes.

It's snowy at the top of the pass
It’s snowy at the top of the pass

So with cold feet and the sun departing from the scene, I started the final descent back down to Abington and my waiting car.  As I mentioned earlier on, the weather held up well and I got back to the car in the dry; but as if to show me what could have been the rain came down moments after I’d put my bike away and started my engine.

I rarely, if ever regret going out on a ride and this was no exception.  I may have been unsure before heading out, with the weather being as it was, but I’m sure glad that I did.  This was a really good ride and a good quality route that I would happily ride again; maybe in warm summer sunshine next time though.

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