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.
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.
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?!
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.
I stopped to watch 3 men dressed in oilskins cleaning and repairing their, rather impressive, stake net while the tide was out.
There were good views across to England and I enjoyed listening to all the waders picking at the mud.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
For my last meal in Scotland I had to choose as a starter the deep fried haggis with whisky sauce. No contest.
The hotel had a free jukebox but, unfortunately I couldn’t find Dougie MacLean and ‘Caledonia’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Above the town is a large monument commemorating Wellington’s victory at the Battle of Waterloo.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
Rockcliffe had some large and good looking properties overlooking the estuary.
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.
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 views along the coastline were outstanding.
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.
I passed through Portling; another village with magnificent houses. Then it was around the headland and into Sandyhills Bay.
The area by the Saltpan Rocks was littered with cockle shells and you must need some sort of licence to harvest them.
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!
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.
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.
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.
After a good night of sleep I woke to a still morning and the sun was coming up. I did another quick check of my legs for ticks after removing 3 yesterday, but I couldn’t find any. The calm sea was too good a swimming opportunity to miss so I ran in naked.
By the time I was dressed and packing up the midges were out. I was determined to stay for breakfast and I needed to clear the remnants of my fire. I cooked sausage and beans (well re-heated a ration pack), made a cup of tea and tried to dodge the midges.
I was away early and walked a different track out of Sandaig that was easy to follow. I was still on a high after my successful wild camp and so the 4 mile road walk to Glenelg was easy.
The Glenelg Inn had a sign outside saying it was open all day and inviting people in. I decided to test their hospitality (and make use of their facilities). I had an excellent coffee, the best bacon and egg sandwich I’ve had in Scotland, and a nice chat with the cleaner. It seemed like they were used to people dropping in off the hills and they were unfazed by my appearance. I realised this must be normal when I passed the community hall with its advertisement for hot showers inside.
Glenelg seemed like a nice little town on the edge of the wilderness. Glen More comes down to Glenelg Bay and the ruins of Bernera Barracks sit in the middle of the open space.
Not far out of Glenelg is the ferry terminal (jetty) for the 6-car ferry to Skye. It was just loading as I passed.
Here the road ends and I headed off on a signposted coastal path to Ardintoul and then Totaig. The path to Ardintoul was good and there were great views of Skye and then the mainland.
From Ardintoul things got tougher. Firstly the path indicated on the map did not appear to be where it should be. I found the beginnings of a path but quickly found myself fighting my way through bushes and undergrowth. Not easy with a big pack. I knew I had to cross a burn that was rushing through a bit of a gorge so I had to find the path.
I did find a footpath sign, buried in thick undergrowth!
Eventually I came out on a deforested hillside, where my problems seemed to get worse (mitigated by a stunning view).
There had to be a path because I wasn’t about to retrace my steps all the way to Glenelg and then have to come over the mountains. I found a sign for the “dirty 30” and footprints skirting a ditch. I pressed on. Sometimes it looked like there was a path through the scrub, and sometimes it didn’t. I pressed on. I was continually scouring the map and terrain for clues. Eventually I went into a dense forest. There was another “dirty 30” sign and lots of footprints (generally through deep mud) as well as ticker tape tied to trees. Whether this was my path or not was unclear but it had to lead somewhere so I followed the clues. Thank goodness they didn’t use bread…I felt like I was Gretel! The mud was incredible; at one point my pole stuck in by at least 10 inches. Considering this path had an innocuous signpost at the beginning it was not somewhere I would choose to walk. I was thankful when it finally came out above Totaig and I rejoiced in the great view of Eilean Donan Castle at the juncture of Lochs Alsh, Long and Duich.
By now I was pretty tired and I struggled through the last 3 miles along the road to Ratagan. I arrived at the Youth Hostel at 5.05 pm and it opened at 5. Perfect.
I spent the evening washing all my kit and prepping it to be stored for 10 days while I am on Skye. I was very tired and dinner was a very unappetising frozen chilli provided by the hostel. I am so glad I walked this section and really looking forward to heading on to Skye tomorrow.
Autumn is on its way. My tent and everything around was covered in a heavy dew this morning. I had not been cold overnight but my sleeping bag was worryingly damp and I had to pack it away in this state. My tent was also packed away quite wet, but at least it wasn’t heavy.
I got away just after 8am and stopped at Tescos for breakfast of a banana and pain au chocolat. The sun was coming up as I left Kirkudbright and for the 2nd day in a row I applied sun cream. Yesterday I had to find it languishing at the bottom of my bag where it had been since Lossiemouth.
I headed to Mutehill, a small hamlet made up of some rather nice, large houses overlooking the estuary. The tide was out and the waders were in residence; there were quite a few lapwings making a good racket.
From Mutehill I was then off the main road and walking on paths or tracks along the side of Manxman’s Lake and Kirkudbright Bay as far as Torr’s Point. Here I left the shade of the woody path and turned inland and onto the Army training area. The sun was beating down but I was making good time walking on well-marked roads.
There weren’t too many views of the sea but it was a peaceful walk.
And then my curse struck again…the path signs disappeared at a 4-way junction. The OS map does not show all the army’s tracks and the map I had to get from Tourist Information was next to useless. Brilliant.
I guessed at where I was from the topography and had an idea of where I was headed so had to go off-piste to try and get there. I followed cow tracks and climbed fences until I reached an enclosed area for controlled explosions; I didn’t cross that. I was getting rather exasperated so when I hit a road I followed it out. I met some tree cutters who kindly verified my location and I walked along roads until I got out of the training area.
I had lost a bit of time and realised my plan of walking to Balcary Point, overlooking Auchencairn Bay, needed reviewing. A 20 mile walk was not on so I scaled back and headed to Dundrennan where I could get the bus to Dalbeattie (always in my plan) a few stops earlier. I need to ease myself back in to constant walking.
The bus came as dark clouds were getting closer. It was raining when I disembarked in Dalbeattie so I headed for Tourist Information to find a campsite and a cafe. I found both. After an hour sheltering in a really nice cafe the rain has stopped and I walked up the road to the campsite and pitched my tent. It was quite wet but didn’t take long to dry out with a bit of mopping up. Fortunately my damp sleeping bag seemed ok. Time for a bit of planning and dinner in the Kings Arms.
Maggie dropped me at Glasgow Central Station in good time for the train to Dumfries. It was another lovely day and the 2 hour journey passed quickly as I watched the countryside roll by. We passed through Perth (lovely old buildings on the banks of the river) and Stirling (magnificent castle atop a hill). I had an hour to kill in Dumfries so was able to wander into Robert Burns’ town and see his statue. I also saw the alleyway leading to the brilliantly named Hole I’ The Wa’ Inn.
Back at the well-kept Dumfries Rail Station (winners of the best station award in 1986 and 87) I caught the bus to Twynholm, just North of my final destination, so I would at least get a walk in today.
It was past lunchtime when I got off the bus and there was a lovely community garden in Twynholm so I stopped to eat my packed lunch (thanks Maggie). I got chatting to a couple of people who were preparing the garden for its 10-year anniversary party this weekend. It did look very well kept.
I had 3.5 miles to walk along (mostly) quiet roads to the bridge across the River Dee into Kirkudbright (pronounced Kir-Coo-Bree).
The town’s sign called it the Artists’ Town and it certainly looked quite cheery in the afternoon sun with its terraced houses painted different pastel shades.
The campsite is on the side of the hill overlooking the town roofs. I pitched my tent and went off to walk around the town. I needed to go to Tourist Information to get a map of the MOD range that’s on the coast and has public access when not in use. I can walk through it tomorrow. I walked past the marked out remnants of Kirkudbright Castle (there’s nothing left of it). It claims to have been quite an important castle in the 13th Century and was a base used by King Edward I of England for his forays into Scotland. These days Kirkudbright is a port where King and Queen scallops are landed and processed to send abroad.
I walked out of the town and around the 3 mile loop of St Mary’s Isle, a blob of land that sticks out into the Dee Estuary. It was a nice peaceful walk through trees, no great views but nice anyway.
I finished off my day with dinner in the Kirkudbright Bay Hotel. There was only one choice for me on the menu as I felt compelled to eat macaroni cheese and chips at least once before I leave Scotland.
Today it felt good to be back walking, back on course and a bonus to be enjoying the best weather in the country at the moment.