Day 171 The Cumbria Coastal Way

Wednesday 23 September 2015

Drumburgh to Skinburness

15 miles

Ade and Jackie’s house

Today was to be the first time on my trip that I would be joined by friends for a whole day’s walk. I met Ade and Jackie when we were all camping opposite Holy Island, Northumberland. They are friends of Maggie, and now also of me. They are experienced walkers, climbers, mountaineers and expedition leaders, so I was in good company for the day that was to unfold. It was nice to have good company for the walk and to have someone else navigating.

We drove a couple of miles back to Drumburgh, from where we could pick up the Cumbria Coastal Way and we set out to follow this all the way to Skinburness. The main thing I want to point out is how pleased I was that someone as experienced, and qualified, as Ade had the same navigational problems as I’ve suffered and several times we lost the non-existent path. Hallelujah, it’s not just me!!! 

A stile but no paths!
 Things started off ok but it wasn’t long before the signposts disappeared, the path disappeared and we were fighting our way through, almost impenetrable, thick reeds and other vegetation. We saw a couple of deer, who seemed very surprised to see us. Jackie found a stile – it was buried in the head-high vegetation with no sign of a path either side, but it did have a CCW sign.  

A mini “Stone Henge” at Newton Arlosh
 We worked hard for our 15 miles today; it should have been shorter but crossing the Skinburness Marsh at the end was a wiggly affair. There were dykes crisscrossing the plain and finding places narrow enough to cross them was sometimes difficult.  

A random sculpture in the middle of the marsh
 We all got wet feet at some point. We also had cows to worry about (some are really inquisitive) and fences barring our way that needed to be crossed. I managed to rip my waterproof jacket in one fence that we had to climb through (fortunately Ade mended it later).  

Jackie making her way across the marsh (jumping from tuft to tuft)
 Walking with Ade and Jackie meant regular breaks with treats, sandwiches and hot chocolate. What a luxury. The route did take in New Abbey and we took a look in the magnificent building that was destroyed by fire in 2006 and has been rebuilt. It was worth a look.  

New Abbey
 By the time we reached the (second) car at Skinburness we were tired. It had been a long day fighting the lack of paths. We made it back home just before the rain came. It was nice to have an evening in front of the fire.  

 

Day 170 Welcome to ENGLAND – Walking Hadrian’s Wall

Tuesday 22 September 2015

Gretna to Port Carlisle (via Carlisle)

17 miles

Kirkland House Bunkbarn

It was a misty start to the morning but the sun was going to burn through. I walked down the road to the River Sark and the border. Just before the border is the first (or last) house in Scotland, The Old Toll Bar. Another scene of many weddings.  

The Old Toll Bar – the first/last house in Scotland
 Unlike when I crossed the border into Scotland on the East coast, this time it didn’t rain. I’m hoping that’s a good omen.  

I made it around Scotland!!!
 Having walked across the border (where were the pipers and Dougie MacLean to bid me farewell?) I promptly walked back into Gretna and caught a bus to Carlisle to avoid a road walk. I was in Border Reiver country and all day I was to be reminded of the incessant tribal warfare that blighted this area for about 300 years, mainly between 1296 and 1603. It wasn’t just between the Scots and the English, but was tribal in the 40 square miles of ‘Debatable Lands’. I have learned the origin of the term bereaved (be-revived). 

I needed some new inner socks as my feet have been a bit sore and I worked out that it was my threadbare socks. I popped into Cotswolds to buy some new ones and then walked down the High Street. I couldn’t resist stopping at Watt’s Victorian Coffee Shop and was rewarded with an excellent coffee and cake.  

A wonderful coffee shop in Carlisle
 The place is full of Victorian knickknacks and a visit to the toilet involves walking through a basement that could be a museum! It was a shame the man who roasts the coffee wasn’t in as apparently he happily shows customers round his tiny office. 

Is this a museum or the way to the toilet?
 Carlisle has an historic quarter, a castle, a Roman fort and of course it is Hadrian’s Wall country. There is a lot to see in Luguvalium! 

Crossing the bridge to Carlisle Castle
  I walked past the Norman castle that was once the temporary prison of Mary Queen of Scots and headed out of the city along the River Eden and out to the the route of Hadrian’s Wall and Vallum.  

The River Eden from Carlisle, the Pennines in the background
 I passed through the villages of Beaumont and Burgh-By-Sands, and stopped in both to look at their respective churches. St Mary’s in Beaumont was built on the site of a fort, the only church on Hadrian’s Wall, and has great views over the surrounding countryside, including Carlise and the Solway plain.  

St Mary’s Church, Beaumont
 St Michael’s church in Burgh-By-Sands is typical of many of the local churches in having a tower at one end where the locals used to barricade themselves in when their village was attacked by Reivers. This was also where King Edward I (The Hammer of the Scots) lay in state after he died whilst his Army was crossing the Solway Firth to wage war on the Scots in 1307.  

King Edward I statue, Burgh-By-Sands
 I took a detour out onto the marsh land to look at the monument that was erected on the spot where he died (he was old and ill). I can’t believe an Army attempted to cross this marsh land; surely it would have got stuck in the same mud I have sunk in! 

King Edward I memorial on the Solway marsh
 The last section of the walk was along the road that crosses the edge of the tidal plain and evidently gets covered regularly during high tides.  

Beware of the tide on this road
 The Hadrian’s Wall Path was well signposted all day; it makes such a difference.  

Cows grazing on the tidal marsh with Galloway acros the Solway Firth
 I had booked to stay in a bunkhouse and was the only one so I had plenty of room to spread out.  

Spreading out in the bunkhouse
 The old lady who owns Kirkland Farm, Daphne, keeps the cleanest Bunkbarn I have ever seen and we had a lovely chat. She has lived in Port Carlisle all her life and she was showing me photos of her at school in 1952. Funnily enough nearly all of her school mates also still lived in the locality; this is one of those places where people never leave.  

 

WEEK 24 Kirkudbright to Annan, Dumfries and Galloway

  

47 miles walked 

(total 1,262 miles walked)

A late start to the walking week after making the most of friends’ hospitality while I got my phone fixed. I was sad to leave the Highlands behind but Dumfries and Galloway is a little gem. Such beautiful rolling countryside; it reminds me of England! There are some nice houses around here too. 

Autumn is coming; camping is getting colder and damper. I’m carrying on with it for the moment but I’ll be forced to reassess soon. Nice to have some lovely weather again this week. The sun has come out for my final week in Scotland.  

A panoramic view from the top of the Mark of Mote
 Dumfries and Galloway has historical significance as a place that was central to the bloody wars of independence in the 13th and 14th Centuries. It was the home of the Bruce and Balliol families. 

I finally feel like I’m back on the move, albeit with a mix of walking and public transport. I still have an aversion to road-walking inland with the sole purpose of covering the miles. Not my idea of fun. When I can access coastal paths the walking and the views are excellent.  

I feel like I’ve been in Scotland for ages and I’m rather taken with it. In a way I’ll be sad to leave it behind as I continue my journey into England. 

I think this cow was auditioning for the band The Cure

Day 169 Last Day in Scotland – Devil’s Porridge, Deaths and Marriages

Monday 21 September 2015

Annan to Gretna Green

11 miles

Hazeldene Hotel

It rained all night and carried on until 10am. The forecast was for it to stop raining late morning so I had a lie in. I was very cosy in my tent so I was in no hurry to get up. Fortunately I didn’t have a long walk today so I could take my time. It proved to be a good decision as, although I packed my tent away wet, I didn’t really get wet at all today. 

Breakfast was self-made ox tongue and tomato sandwiches (left over from yesterday) followed by a coffee and an iced apple turnover from the bakery in town. That’s got to be a breakfast fit for a king?! 

The width of the Solway firth – England and Scotland in view
 I walked out of Annan and down the side roads towards the Solway Firth at Battlehill. From here I was able to walk just over a mile alongside the estuary before being forced inland again. 

A crab on the path (yes, this is a path – it rained a lot last night)
  I stopped to watch 3 men dressed in oilskins cleaning and repairing their, rather impressive, stake net while the tide was out.  

Stake nets for catching fish in the estuary
 There were good views across to England and I enjoyed listening to all the waders picking at the mud.  

A good view of the mud and of England
 I was advised by a man from a house overlooking the estuary not to attempt the path around the (now decommissioned) Eastriggs Explosive Storage Depot as no one walks that way, which I took to mean the path would be completely overgrown and possibly non-existent. As it turned out I’m glad I headed inland to Eastriggs.  

Excellent museum in Eastriggs
 Eastriggs has a brilliant little museum called The Devil’s Porridge Museum. With a name like that I had to check it out. The term was coined by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who, as a newspaper reporter, decided the mix of nitroglyceride and gun cotton looked like porridge.  

Memorial to animals in war outside The Devil’s Porridge
 I had no idea that this coastline was once the site of the UK’s largest, and quite secret, WWI munitions factory. A 9-mile long factory built in a desolate landscape out of reach of enemy aircraft, with excellent rail links and a good water supply (the River Esk). When we ran out of ammunition in 1915 Lloyd George had this factory built and at its height it manufactured 1,100 tonnes of cordite a week. All by 30,000 workers, most of whom were women, and their feat played a big part in securing better jobs and votes for women.  

A map of the extent of the munitions factory, including the new towns of Eastriggs and Gretna
 The museum tells this story and I spent a couple of hours looking around. The factory was built by Irish navvies and the alcohol problems were so bad that the government bought all the pubs in the area under a State Management Scheme that introduced watered-down beer, licensing hours, a drinking age and other rules. The government owned these pubs until 1973!

The factory was opened in 1916 and the towns of Eastriggs and Gretna were new towns, designed by the best architect and built to provide all the facilities necessary to ensure contented workers. The factory was only open for a couple of years but it made a huge contribution. What a fantastic history.  

This was the old row of shops in 1916 Gretna
 The other story told in the museum is of the UK’s worst rail disaster that also happened just outside Gretna in 1915. Five trains were involved and 227 people died, almost all of them TA soldiers from the Leith Battalion of the Royal Scots, on their way to Gallipoli. Only 6 of those men made it to Gallipoli. It was such an horrific crash that some men amputated their own limbs to escape the raging fire. Those that couldn’t escape were possibly shot after the officers drew lots to decide who should have the task of putting them out of their misery. How hideous. 

I walked along the roads into Gretna and admired its layout and the few surviving buildings from 1916. There aren’t many left but the wide streets and new town layout were still evident.  

Clive House Hostel (for female workers) is now houses
 Just across the motorway is Gretna Green, where I was staying. I walked past The Old Smithy, the famous site of many runaway weddings by the ‘Anvil Priests’. It’s clearly a big commercial enterprise now.  

The Old Smithy, Gretna Green
 For my last meal in Scotland I had to choose as a starter the deep fried haggis with whisky sauce. No contest.  

Deep fried haggis in a whisky sauce – farewell Scotland
 The hotel had a free jukebox but, unfortunately I couldn’t find Dougie MacLean and ‘Caledonia’. 

Random fellows sat outside a house on the edge of Gretn

Day 168 Bus to Annan

Sunday 20 September 2015

Dumfries to Annan

Rest Day (bus)

Galabank campsite

According to the map today’s route to Annan was all on roads a reasonable distance from the coast. After yesterday’s road walk I couldn’t face 20 miles of it today so made a late decision to get the train straight to Annan. This would give me an unexpected day off. 

Annoyingly, nearly everything is shut on a Sunday, or if it is open, it’s not until after 2pm. I was hoping to visit one of the museums in Dumfries or Annan, and I would really have liked to have seen Caerlaverock Castle, on the Eastern bank at the entrance to the Urr estuary. Unfortunately none of this could be worked out on a Sunday (Caerlaverock Castle was open but the only bus didn’t leave Dumfries until 2pm and then I’d be stranded). 

There was nothing for it but to have a lazy morning and then sit in Starbucks (just about the only place open in Dumfries) catching up on my blog until the first train in the afternoon. Needless to say, even the trains weren’t running on a Sunday and there was a replacement bus service to Annan instead. 

Annan is another town on the Robert the Bruce trail and the town hall boasts a statue of him dressed in armour. 

Annan town hall, complete with Robert the Bruce statue on the front
 It’s a shame I wasn’t here in July when the Riding of the Marches takes place. This sounds like a carnival with a twist as townsfolk re-enact checking the town’s boundaries to ensure everything is as it should be and this year 140 people turned out on horseback.  

 The campsite is next to Annan Athletic FC stadium. This seems to be a feature of the Galloway towns – they all have a council-owned campsite and often next to the football ground (Dalbeattie was the same, in Kirkudbright the campsite was next to playing fields). I like it that Galloway tries to provide for its guests. 

I managed to find a pub/betting shop that was showing the rugby on one of its 12 screens. I felt slightly self conscious as it was full of mostly men watching football and a few young ladies in the corner wearing hot pants, skimpy tops, furry boots and a lot of make-up. I think I stood out a bit. Still, no one bothered me and I sat happily in the corner with a pint and a free scotch pie as a bonus.  

The rain came at about 7.30 and I was all set for an early night, until I met Marie-Anne in the toilet block. She is also camping on her own and is on a 6-month sabbatical. She’s on her way to Mull and has been to Skomer helping the wardens with the Manx Shearwaters. Next month she’s off to walk the Camino De Santiago trail. We swapped tales and had a good old natter, and before I knew it, it was 10pm. 

WEEK 22-23 – Skye

  

10 days travelling around Skye

Campervan 

I had always planned to visit Skye rather than walk around it and this had to be planned in advance, without knowing where I’d be at this point. It all turned out rather well as it happened and I really enjoyed my trip back up North, via Glasgow, Knoydart and Inverness, to get to Skye. My Skye road trip became my farewell to the Highlands, a place I’ve loved (despite the bad weather). 

This was a gastronomic and wild swim tour of Skye and I loved it. Having a campervan was great and there was an even mix of wild camping and campsites. I think we actually had a whole week without rain…unheard of in Scotland for me this summer. 

I think we travelled to every corner of Skye, crisscrossing from Waternish to Trotternish to Strathaird to Sleat to Duirnish to Minginnish. Highlights as follows:

1. All the wild swimming. I made it into the Fairy Pools at Glen Brittle (in spite of the worst midges I’ve experienced), dipped in various pools carved into rocks by the burns and went in the sea at Point of Sleat and Talisker Bay.  

Swimming at Lealt Falls, North of Portree
  
The walk to the Fairy Pools at the foot of the Black Cuillins
 
 
A beautiful beach for a swim at Point of Sleat
  
A chance for some body surfing in Talisker Bay

 2. The Cuillins. What magnificent mountains. Although I didn’t walk up them I did get a boat from Elgol to Loch Coruisk and walked up Sgurr na Stri, the 495m high hill that faces the Cuillins.  

Loch Coruisk
  
What a view of The Cuillins
  
Looking back at the Cuillins from the boat (Sgurr an Stri on the right)

 3. Great food. I was lucky enough to sample 2 great restaurants: Loch Bay in Stein (sea food only) and The Three Chimneys at Carbost. Thank goodness for wild camping so no need to drive anywhere! The. There was The Oyster Shed in Carbost and a lovely cafe in one of the houses I have previously admired on Grand Designs.  

The Oyster Shed, with view of The Cuillins
  
One of my favourite Grand Designs houses, Trotternish
 
4. Wonderful views. Sunny days make for great views. It was also nice to stand at the Point of Sleat and look across at Knoydart, Mallaig and Eigg.  

Walking the Quiraing, Trotternish
  
Views of the Small Isles from Sleat
  
Coral Beaches, Claigan, near Dunvegan
  
Kilt Rock waterfall, North of Portree
  
The Cuillins
  
Morning mist at Portree
 
5. The wildlife. There was always something to see. I didn’t manage to see an otter but I might have seen a pair of Eagles soaring above Glen Brittle. They were certainly enormous but too far away to identify. I saw a buzzard immediately after that was much closer and yet smaller.  

Highland coos
 Such a great holiday. Hopefully I’ll be back soon.  

 

WEEK 21-22 – Mallaig to Shiel Bridge

  

 

54 miles walked

(total 1,215 miles walked)

What a great way to start walking again after 4 weeks driving down the coast and a couple of weeks at home. I needed the exercise!

I was a little nervous about being in the wilderness for a couple of days but it didn’t turn out that way and anyway I coped. I was fortunate to have reasonable weather as well; hopefully Scotland’s wettest summer is coming to an end?!

As it turned out I really liked being in the wilderness. Rather than worrying about it I felt quite liberated by it. Stunning scenery helps of course…especially when you can see it! I think it also helped psychologically that I was only out for a few days and so just had to make it to Shiel Bridge.  

Loch Hourn
 The best thing though was having my first, really successful wild camp. I was so happy that I managed to light a fire and enjoy being in a beautiful place. Obviously the fact that it wasn’t raining or blowing a gale made a big difference to the experience.  

   
Such a wonderful week – my favourite so far.  

 

Day 167 Following the River Nith to Dumfries

Saturday 19 September 2015

Southerness to Dumfries

18 miles

The White Hart pub

Today’s walk was split into 2 sections, linked by a bus that left Kirkbean at 12.16 pm. I therefore had enough time to go to the cafe for breakfast before tackling the first 6 miles. I set off along the sandy beach of Gillfoot Bay – the tide was out so the sea was a long way out.  

Looking back across Gillfoot Bay to Southerness Point
 As I rounded the edge of the beach at Powillimount things got a little more interesting. The signpost indicated a path but in fact it appeared that one had to walk across the beach/rocks. Beach is a slight misnomer as the tide comes right in here (although not covering the rocks) and so the sand is actually mud in places. I found this out when my right foot sank to the very top of my boot. Luckily I moved quickly to pull it out as visions of cockleshell pickers in Morecambe passed through my mind! It wasn’t that bad but I did have a very muddy, and heavy, boot that would require cleaning later. I was a bit more careful where I clambered after that.  

My boot later after removing most of the mud
 I passed by the Thirl Stane (a sandstone arch) and the Devil’s Stone (a big stone said to have been chewed off the visible a Criffel mountain and spat onto the beach by the devil). It was warm and sunny walking along the shoreline. 

Thirl Stane
  
Is this the devil’s stone? (Wonderful house in the background)
 
There was an organised beach clean going on at Carsethorn, where I left the shoreline and walked inland to Kirkbean to catch the bus along the main road to New Abbey.  

Beach clean-up at Carsethorn
  
An old soldier at Carsethorn
 
 Presumably this town was named soon after 1273, when Lady Devorgilla of Galloway commissioned the Abbey. It became known as Sweetheart Abbey as the Lady was so devoted to her late husband (John Balliol who founded Balliol College at Oxford University) that she had his heart embalmed and kept it in a special casket that she was later buried clasping to her bosom. What a great story.  

Sweetheart Abbey
 Above the town is a large monument commemorating Wellington’s victory at the Battle of Waterloo. 

Waterloo monument on the hill overlooking New Abbey
  New Abbey is a pretty little town. From here I followed a path across the fields of sheep and cows, following the course of the New Abbey Pow (essentially a creek) to the bank of the River Nith. Airds Point provides a neck in the river where it suddenly widens into the estuary. I know tides move fast over sands but I had never walked beside an incoming tide with the water keeping pace with me, until now. Unbelievable.  

Airds Point – the tide on the right kept pace with me walking!
 It was a nice walk through some woods by the river before I came out onto the main road. I had to walk about 3 miles along it before I could get onto a cycle path next to the river again for the last stretch into Dumfries. The tide must reach up a long way because the river was flowing the wrong way! 

Dumfries has a lot of bridges. I crossed over the Kirkpatrick Macmillan bridge, named after the Dumfresian inventor of the velocipede in 1840; the first pedal cycle. How apt that it is a cycle path. (This area is big on cycle trails and there’s a lot of mountain biking trails in the forests and hills.)

Kirkpatrick Macmillan Bridge over the River Nith
 I found my destination and immediately went out shopping for a brush to clean my boots. I bought a feast from Tescos and decided to have a night in as I was pooped. I wasn’t too disturbed by the very loud band playing in the pub until 2 am. I was staying right by the site of Grey Friars Monastery, where Robert the Bruce slayed the Red Comyn in 1306 to pave the way to Scottish independence. History everywhere. 

 

Day 166 Into The Solway Firth

Friday 18 September 2015 (Happy Birthday Mum)

Dalbeattie to Southerness 

7 miles

Parkdean Tourist Park

The couple parked near to me in their campervan (I was jealous) kindly offered me tea and toast this morning. I sat in their van chatting for a bit before I had to hurry to get the bus down the main road to Kippford. Bill and Ann have had a campervan for 20 years and travelled all over the UK. Such a lovely gesture to make me breakfast reminded me of Jackie and Dave from Essex.   

The pier at Kippford, looking up the River Urr
 Kippford seemed like a nice small town on the bank of the Rough Firth. From here I walked my second Jubilee Walk in as many days (there was also one in Dundrennan) that wound up through the woods and back down to Rockcliffe.  

A woodpecker on the Jubilee Walk
 I took a short diversion to climb the Mote of Mark, a small hill named after the King of Dumnonia (I have not made that up!),that seems to have been an important (and tiny) settlement. It was occupied in the 5th-6th Century, when it was part of the BritishKingdom of Rheged, and was destroyed, probably by the Northumbrian Angles, in the 7th Century. Amazingly, artefacts from France and Germany have been found here.  

Looking South to Castlehill Point from the top of Mote of Mark
  
Rough Island and Rough Firth from the Mote of Mark
  
Looking back up Rough Firth from Mote of Mark to the mountains beyond
 Rockcliffe had some large and good looking properties overlooking the estuary.  

the Rockcliffe shoreline
 The tide was out and there was a causeway to Rough Island across the mud flats that extend a long way out. A small all-terrain vehicle was towing a trailer across the flats to the Island- I’ve no idea what for.  

An ATV driving across the mud flats
 There is a wonderful coastal path all the way around the cliffs at Castlehill Point and along to Sandyhills Bay. This was my first proper coastal path, up and down the cliffs, since Fife. I was lucky to have a beautiful, sunny day to enjoy it.  

The mouth of the 3 joined Bays: Auchencairn, Orchardton and Rough Firth
 The views along the coastline were outstanding.  

A beautiful coastal walk
 With a low tide so much sand/mud is exposed in the Solway Firth that it looked like I could almost walk across it. I could also see the faint outline of the Lake District mountains the other side of the Solway Firth and the huge wind farm.  

The hazy view across the Solway Firth (windfarm in sight)
 I passed through Portling; another village with magnificent houses. Then it was around the headland and into Sandyhills Bay.  

Looking back to Barcloy Hill
 
Port o’ Warren and Mersehead Sands with the tide out
  The area by the Saltpan Rocks was littered with cockle shells and you must need some sort of licence to harvest them. 

Not me Guv’
  Sandyhills Bay itself was not particularly spectacular and the only place to get a cup of tea was at the caravan park’s shop. This place needs a cafe!  

Sandyhills Bay on the left and the coast to Southerness
 I was intending to walk the next 7 miles to Southerness but it was all on road and there was a bus due in 20 minutes. I had slipped over earlier in the day and my neck was a bit sore so I decided to call it quits and see if I could do some laundry and maybe watch England start their Rugby World Cup campaign.  

It’s a long way to the sea from the beach
  
An old RAF bombing target on Mersehead Sands
 
Southerness is a place made up of 2 huge tourist parks full mostly of static caravans. It was reminiscent of the East Coast of England. One of the parks accepted tents, albeit at an expensive rate. It’s not my favourite kind of place but it’s showing the Rugby World Cup opening England match so I’m not complaining.  

A memorial to the schooner Elbe that sank in 1867, what a great view

Day 151 Bus to Inverness

Thursday 3 September 2015

Ratagan to Inverness

1.5 mile walk, bus trip

I left Ratagan Youth Hostel in plenty of time to walk the short distance to Shiel Bridge at the head of Loch Duich. From here it was an expensive bus journey (£20) to Inverness, where I was to meet Sally, pick up the hired campervan and head back to Kyle of Lochalsh for 10 days on Skye. I was really looking forward to seeing Skye ‘from the inside’ instead of looking across the water at it. 

The bus journey was nice; good views of Loch Ness. I sat next to the cleaner from the Glenelg Inn that I met yesterday and we had a good chat. 

I don’t feel like I’ve earned another break from walking but the Skye trip has been planned for ages and I am looking forward to it. 

I still can’t see the tops of the Five Sisters of Kintail