A serious climb but plenty of descent.
Wanlockhead - the highest village in Scotland
At 469 metres Wanlockhead is a little village with a long history. It was called Winlocke until 1566, from the Gaelic Cuingealach, meaning narrowness, or narrow place. The Romans took gold and lead from there and there are claims of Roman roads and the remains of a fort to be seen. Perhaps you can imagine being transported back two centuries to see the heather thatched dwellings housing the miners who extracted lead ore and the families who smelted it. The Museum of Lead Mining has a mine to explore and a tea room. There is also a shop, plus craft workers, and a community centre.
Leadhills was also a lead mining village; now there are clusters of white and grey stone cottages, plus a shop, a post office and pub. Allan Ramsay was born in Leadhills in 1685, he became one of Scotland's most famous poets. It was through his influence that a library was formed in 1741, allowing lead miners and their families access to books. This can still be visited today. Equally famous was William Symington, who was born in Leadhills in 1763 and worked as a mechanic in the Wanlockhead mine. In 1787 he patented an engine for road locomotion and in 1788 he constructed for Patrick Miller a similar engine on a boat 25-feet long with twin hulls, the paddlewheels were between the hulls. This was launched on Dalswinton Loch. In 1802 he built the Charlotte Dundas at Grangemouth, one of the first practical steamboats ever built.
Sanquhar Tolbooth Museum is located in Sanquhar Townhouse which is one of the most handsome early Georgian townhouses in the country. It stands on the A76. Lesser buildings would have been demolished to make way for road traffic but this has been there since 1753. Displays include Sanquhar knitting, a famous tradition, the mines and miners of Sanquhar and Kirkconnel, and what life was like in Sanquhar jail. Sanquhar became a royal burgh in 1598 but it did not really start to grow until the 19th century. A small shop at 39-41 High Street claims itself to be the oldest Post Office in Britain (1763).
This circular route passes through the Lowther Hills. From Mennock you climb to Wanlockhead, Scotland's highest village, a 300 metre climb. The route is generally hilly but with fine open views. Wanlockhead was a lead mining area, and there is a mining museum in the village (tea room). There is also an open air museum, with beam engines, a smelt mill, and period furnished cottages.
Just beyond Wanlockhead is Leadhills, gold and lead were mined here from Roman times, and gold from this area is incorporated in the Crown of Scotland. There's a tea room and a pub in the village. After Leadhills keep on the B797, going downhill at last, then turn left towards Crawfordjohn, a short climb then a further descent. Between Crawfordjohn and Sanquhar it's nearly all descent, the open moorland slowly changing into farms and trees as you approach Sanquhar.
Do not use the A76 to get from Sanquhar to Mennock; use the following instructions to get to the minor road on the other side of the river. Shortly before Sanquhar, cruising down the B740 you pass under a stone railway bridge, turn left and cross Crawick Water on a metal footbridge. Turn right after this and pass behind a housing estate, keep on to the church ahead. Cross the main road and follow the signs for tourist information. Follow the one way system past Burns Lodge, left to Queens Road opposite a pond, pass a park on the left and turn left over a bridge to cross the River Nith.
Sanquhar has the oldest post office in Britain, functioning since 1763. The museum in the Tolbooth is worth a visit, it was designed by William Adam.