Monday 21 September 2015
Annan to Gretna Green
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’.