299 Gretna to Annan

It’s my first proper walk in Scotland, and I’m freaked out by the absence of public footpaths on the map. First thing to do is visit the tourist centre (as suggested by Alan Palin). Rather bizarrely, the centre is located in Gretna’s large retail park.

01 Gretna Green retail park, Ruth coastal walking in Scotland

A very helpful lady gives me an excellent map showing bus routes, and an equally excellent leaflet full of bus timetables. But she seems perplexed when I ask about walking routes.

OK. I’m on my own, then. But I’ve looked at David Cotton’s website and Alan Palin’s blog, and I know they both followed the shore all the way to Annan.

I head back to the Sark Bridge and find a path sign pointing along the river bank. So they do have marked paths in Scotland, after all. Over there is England. But I’m in Scotland! (I still can’t really believe I’ve made it this far.)

02 Scottish border, Ruth in Gretna

The path starts off well, but then I come to a section where the bank is crumbling away.  I tread a precariously narrow strip between barbed wire and muddy slope.

03 River Esk, Ruth walking in Gretna, Scotland

I reach the mouth of the River Sark, and begin walking along the bank of the Solway estuary.

04 Solway shore, Ruth walking from Gretna

Gretna is soon left behind and I reach the little hamlet of Stormont. Here I find another footpath sign, pointing back to Gretna. Information boards tell me about local wildlife, and also mention the famous Lochmaben Stone, which lies nearby

05 boats on Solway Shore, Ruth walking from Gretna to Annan, Scottish coast

I continue onwards along the shore for a few hundred yards until I reach the mouth of the another river. Kirtle Water. Over there, across the estuary, is Cumbria.

06 Kirtle Water, Ruth walking the coast from Gretna

I follow the river bank and look across the fields, searching for signs of a big stone. There it is… in the middle of a ploughed field. To get to it I must scramble through a barbed wire fence and then plod up a little hill.

07 Lochmaben Stone, Ruth walking the Solway Coast, Scotland

This is all that remains of a prehistoric stone circle. In the 19th century a tenant farmer attempted to clear the stones out of his way by burying them, but his excavations were discovered in time and the largest stone – the Lochmaben Stone – was saved. It has served as a local landmark and a meeting place for centuries.

I love finding these ancient monuments, and I place my hands on the granite surface and think of all the history this stone has seen. It’s an ‘erratic’, which means it was carried here by a glacier many millennia ago. It certainly seems very alien in this landscape of ploughed fields and river mud.

After taking photographs of the stone from every angle, I continue with my walk, traipsing back along the field towards the river bank, which I follow until I find the road bridge.

08 bridge, Ruth coastal walking, Dumfries and Galloway

A mile along the road and I turn left into Rigfoot. It’s a tiny village, but in a garden I see two boys of about 10 years of age playing with a group of younger girls. One of the boys lines the girls up, making them lie down in the grass in a row, and then takes a running jump over their little bodies. Like Evel Knievel – but, luckily, without a motor bike!

I would like to take a photo of their antics, but am reluctant to photograph other people’s children without permission.

Onwards. Through Rigfoot to tiny Redkirk…

09 Redkirk and farmland, Ruth's coastal walk, Scotland

… and then along a farm track. Here’s another footpath sign. I’m surprised that Scotland actually seems to have proper, signed footpaths after all. What was I worrying about?

10 core path to Browhouses, Ruth Livingstone walking the coast of Scotland

I follow the track through farmland until, after a couple of miles, it turns down towards the shore again.

11 back to the Solway Shore, Ruth Livingstone in Scotland

This is very pleasant. I walk along a raised bank, covered in flowering gorse bushes, and pass through another little hamlet – called Browhouses.

12 Browhouses, Ruth walking the coasline of Dumfries and Galloway

From here, a good track runs along the edge of MoD land. Behind the fence is a large area where ammunition was stored during the war. I’m not sure what happens here now, but the fence is obviously still in place and well maintained.

13 track along MOD fence, Eastriggs, Ruth's coastal walk

Notices tell me the MoD land is a PROHIBITED PLACE and warn of guard dogs. I don’t see any dogs, nor security cameras, nor anybody… it’s a lonely and deserted landscape.

14 MOD signs, Ruth walking the coast, Eastrigg

I make good progress along the track until it abruptly comes to an end and my way is blocked by a fence, beyond which is an overgrown patch of land. Oh no! Am I going to have to turn back?

15 Torduff Point, disappearing path, Ruth's coastal walk, Dumfries and Galloway

I force my way through some brambles and gorse bushes, picking up several scratches, and find a narrow passage between two high fences. One fence is protecting the MoD land. The other fence is encircling a deep pit of water.

16 Deep excavations, Ruth walking the Solway Coast

Beyond the pit is a crumbling mess of deserted buildings. Their foundations are slowly slipping down the bank and the shore is littered with tumbled bricks and smashed concrete.

17 eroded shoreline, Solway coast, Torduff Point, Ruth's coastal walk, Scotland

This is Torduff Point. A place I had hoped would be pretty and scenic, but isn’t. Ah well. Onwards.

The MoD fence continues, but the ground beside the fence is now too overgrown for easy walking, so I take to the mud instead. There are footprints here – something I find very reassuring to see. And I wonder if these might be Alan’s prints. He walked this route a year ago and it’s possible the tide hasn’t reached this far.

18 walking on muddy shore, Ruth's coastal walk

After a while the mud turns to marsh. I climb back up to the fence, but the ground is very chewed up and difficult to walk along, and eventually becomes obstructed by a mess of driftwood and debris, so I head down to the marsh again.

19 difficult shoreline, Ruth's coastal walk to Annan

This turns out to be a mistake. The bank disappears under a forest of tall grasses, making it difficult to see the ground underfoot…

20 dangerous marshes, Ruth near Eastriggs, walking the coast

… which is a problem because the ground is threaded through with deep water channels and picking my way from clump to clump of dry grass is not easy. One false step and I could twist an ankle. Or even break a leg… oh dear.

21 marshes, Ruth off Torduff Point, walking the Solway coast

After fighting my way along the bank for some time, I head back to the fence again. There is a narrow path here, and even some handy planks of wood that someone has placed over the little streams.

22 walking the fence, Ruth on the Dumfries and Galloway shoreline

Eventually, and to my relief, I reach the end of the MoD land and a pleasanter landscape of fields. I love this time of year – baby lambs are leaping about!

23 stampeding sheep, Ruth Livingstone

Following the shore, I find another footpath sign. Good news. It means the route will be easier now, I hope. And what’s that hill ahead in the distance? My old friend, Criffel.

24 back on the core path, Ruth walking the coast to Annan

Criffel reminds me of Black Combe. It, like Black Combe, is impressive enough to look like a mountain, but doesn’t quite make the grade, being 40 metres too short.

Onwards. I’m close to the village of Dornock, and I know David Cotton had difficulty crossing a little river here, but I’m relieved to see there’s a proper bridge.

25 bridge near Dornock, Ruth Livingstone's coastal walk

Further on and I reach a ford. A sign warns me of deep channels. Oh dear… but there is a handy bridge here too, and I cross the ford without even getting my boots wet.

26 ford near Battlehill, Ruth's coastal walk, Dumfries and Galloway

From the bridge, I take a photo looking back along the shore where I’ve just walked. There’s Torduff Point across the bay.

27 looking back to Torduff Point, Ruth walking the coast from Gretna to Annan

Looking over the estuary, I can make out familiar landmarks on the other side. Cumbria. Those white buildings are in Port Carlisle. And the long, low structure (to the left of the photo below) is the remains of the harbour wall. I smile when I remember meeting the young couple who thought they’d actually found Hadrian’s Wall.

28 looking over Solway Firth at Port Carlisle, Ruth's coastal walk, UK

Now I reach a collection of houses, a place called Battlehill, and the path along the shore seems to come to an end. It might be possible to continue along the bank – I know Alan did – but I’m fed up of fighting through reeds and marshes, so I take the easier route and follow a quiet road as it makes a circuit inland.

29 inland detour via Sandhills, Ruth's coastal walk to Annan

After a mile or so, I turn left at a T junction and am soon back on the banks of the estuary. This is Whinnyrig.

30 coast at Whinnyrig, Ruth walking the shore to Annan

An easy track takes me to next tiny place – Seafield. It looks like a scrap yard, with a motley collection of buildings, machinery, piles of rubble, and several skips full of junk.

31 Seafield scrap yard, Ruth's coastal walk, Solway

Here is an old railway embankment where a viaduct used to carry trains across the estuary to Cumbria, and I remember seeing the other end of the missing track when I walked through Bowness on Solway a few weeks ago.

32 old railway embankment, Seafield, near Annan, Ruth Livingstone

I stand at the end of the embankment. The wind has picked up and is blowing hard and cold. I look across a bay of mud. On the other side is Barnkirk Point – I should get there tomorrow. And beyond, a blue hump on the horizon, is Criffel.

33 Criffel, from Annan, Ruth's coastal walk

I follow the embankment inland. It’s tempting to keep going, as the path along the top will take me all the way into Annan, and I’m feeling tired…

34 along railway embankment to Annan, Ruth's coastal walk, Scotland

… but instead I turn off to the left and follow a footpath along the shore. I was worried this path would be marshy and muddy, but it follows a raised bank and is surprisingly dry.

35 marsh bank to River Annan, Ruth's coastal walk, Dumfries and Galloway

The marsh to my left is called Annan Merse. I know these wetlands are supposed to be teeming with wildlife, but they look rather bleak and desolate to me.

36 Annan Merse, Ruth walking the Solway Coast

After a while, my nice, dry bank disappears, and I’m picking my way across marsh, leaping across waterways and balancing on dry tussocks. Occasionally I find a handy bridge, but most of the time it seems to be a matter of finding my own way.

37 lost in the marsh, Ruth hiking to Annan

It takes a surprisingly long time to cross the Merse. Impossible to walk in a straight line.

Finally I reach the other side of the marsh and another raised bank that marks the mouth of the River Annan. Here there is a memorial cairn to Robert Burns (every significant place in Scotland, I’m soon to discover, will host a memorial to Robbie Burns!). I balance my camera on a bench and take a self-portrait.

38 Ruth at Waterfoot, River Annan

From here I follow a quiet road all the way up to Annan. The river is somewhere on my left, but I don’t see much of it until I reach Annan itself.

39 walking into Annan, Ruth Livingstone along the coast

Well, I’ve survived my first day of Scottish walking. Some of it was easy. Some of it was hard. But I’ve been surprised to discover there is a network of paths in this area, after all, and I’m optimistic about making good progress tomorrow.

Additional info: You can read more about the Lochmaben Stone on Wikipedia. The networks of paths is shown on the Dumfries and Galloway Council’s website: as Core Paths.

Postscript: I arrived back in my B&B to find an email from Chris Elliott, who walked this section of the coast in 2015, and he warned me the path along the MoD land was non-existent and the route was dangerous in places. He was ‘lucky not to break a leg’ and suggested following the road instead. Great advice. But too late for me!

Miles walked today = 15 miles
Total around coastline = 3,060 miles


About Ruth Livingstone

Walker, writer, photographer, blogger, doctor, woman, etc.
This entry was posted in 19 Dumfries and Galloway and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to 299 Gretna to Annan

  1. Jacquie says:

    That looks like 15 miles of very tiring walking. A lovely picture of the silvery mud with bird tracks. Glad it went well.

  2. 829b says:

    I am so pleased your blog has emerged from the Scottish mists and that you have not been dragged off by a rampant haggis.

  3. Glad you are back on the trail Ruth – yes, Scotland is weird when it comes to paths, it all seems a bit half hearted, like they bothered to install a sign, but didn’t walk the route to see if it was navigable! I can assure you there are spectacular and well marked trails in Scotland, but as we both know, not necessarily along the coast!

  4. jcombe says:

    Glad you enjoyed your first Scottish walks. I will find these post useful when I come to walk this stretch of the coast (probably next year). Sounds like you got the authentic Scottish coastal walking experience! Namely, barned wire fences, paths not marked on maps, paths that come to a sudden and unexpected dead-end and paths that are really hard to find on the ground! But at least there were some proper bridges to cross the streams and rivers.

    Still I’m glad you made it in the end and good to see there are at least some paths that are signed.

    • Hi Jon. I always feel nervous when other people say they find my paths useful for plotting routes, as I’m sure half the time there MUST be an easier way, it’s just I didn’t find it! Knew Scotland would be a challenge, but so far so good.

  5. What an adventure Ruth! Scotland is the section I have the most concerns about completing but it will be a while before I get there so for now I am studying you so that I can be prepared!!

  6. owdjockey says:

    Well done Ruth on the first leg of your Scottish journey.

  7. babsandnancy says:

    Fantastic to finally be in Scotland. I’m in a process of catching up with your blog as I’ve been busy lately. Particularly love a couple of the pictures of the beach with the Criffel in the background – very atmospheric

  8. babsandnancy says:

    We have got 4 days from Easter to write up still – it’s a different process when there’s two of you sharing not only the walking but the also the writing! The only thing that is done solo is the generally the planning – which I’m more than happy with! Then another four days to look forward to in the summer.

  9. jcombe says:

    Making a start on the west coast of Scotland and so did this walk yesterday. I followed the same path from Gretna Green to the road leading to Old Graitney (didn’t see that stone). Then I followed the road to Redkirk and onwards (as it became a track) to Redkirk Point. As the tide was out I was able to make it almost the whole way on the mud and sand at the edge of the marshes. Just a couple of places where I had to go onto the marsh or pebbles/rocks at the back of the beach. Thankfully this made the part around Torduff Point easier than you had. Having said that the mud was still a bit squelchy in places, you sink about 2cm into it in places. it wouldn’t be possible to go this way at high tide, of course. Then I managed to follow the shore and marshes all the way to Waterfoot other than the old railway embankment with that odd pipe on it. Annan was a pleasant surprise at the end.

    • Hi Jon, and welcome to Scotland! Yes, it does sound as if you had an easier walk than I did. I have no idea why I didn’t walk on the mud too. Perhaps the tide was in. Can’t remember now. Annan is a nice place. Look forward to reading your write-ups in due course.

  10. rob23notts42 says:

    Hi Ruth. I discovered your blog recently and am enjoying it. I walked from Land’s End to John o’ Groats in stages, finishing just before you started your walk , funnily enough. I covered some of the same ground as you have or will have walked and later wrote a blog about it called ‘Walking Land’s End to John O’Groats the easy way’. My trickiest test was in the section you describe here and I was interested to see what you made of it. It seems that not much has changed since my walk. I look forward to seeing what happens when you get to the other overlapping parts of our walks. Good luck. Robert Milnes.

  11. Karen White says:

    The Lochmaben Stone is an incredible ancient stone. If the farmer was excavating to buty the other stones, presumably they are under the ground somewhere in the vicinity.
    The walk along the stretch of MOD land looked awful but parts of the rest of the walk very lovely.

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