Today I planned to park at Glencaple, then take a bus to Dumfries, where I would change to another bus to get back to Clarencefield. It would be a late start to my walk and a precarious beginning… but at breakfast my kind host steps in and offers me a lift. Yay!
We drive in convoy to Glencaple, and then he drops me off at Brow Well.
It’s another dull day and will involve many miles of road walking. Yet again much of my route will follow long-distance cycleway number 7.
There is something very tedious about road walking, especially when the views are monotonous and the road is straight. It’s just a question of putting one foot after the other and trying to keep up a reasonable pace.
Every vague bend in the road becomes an important milestone. This collection of houses is called Cockpool.
Frustratingly, I’m actually walking away from the coast at this point.
I walk past a wooded area and spot the hub of a car wheel perched in a tree. Did it spin off the road and land in the branches? Or did someone place it there?
Luckily my road is quiet, with only a few farm vehicles – and the occasional cyclist – to interrupt the pace of my plodding. Ahead is Criffel. It’s definitely getting larger.
The farms in the area look very neat. In Cumbria the barns and fields seemed much messier, for some reason. Maybe there is more land to spare here? Maybe it’s because it’s the end of the winter season and the landscape still looks bare? Or maybe Scottish farmers are just tidier?
A large house, built of warm stone, stands out against the green fields. Behind it is a raised hill with a crown of trees.
I consult my map. The house is called Upper Locharwoods, I think. The tree-topped hill is Ward Law and the site of an old Roman Fort. I wonder if you can visit it? And does much remain of the Roman ruins?
Onwards. I’ve walked 4 miles (it seems longer) and reach Bankend. Here I will cross a little river called Lochar Water.
Across a field I see a ruined tower. It’s too far away to go and explore.
My road ends in a T junction at Bankend. Now I turn left, back towards the coast, nearly doubling back on myself in a hairpin fashion.
Another mile or two of road walking and I reach a turning to Blackshaw. My plan is to follow this road and walk down to the Caerlaverock Nature Reserve. It means doubling back on myself again, but from there I’ll be back on the shoreline and I can follow a Core Path that runs along the edge of the Merse.
I hesitate. What about Ward Law and that Roman fort? It’s out of my way, but a signpost points invitingly up the hill…
…and proves irresistible. I’m so utterly bored with road walking, this diversion will be fun! So I walk up a farm track, and then through a copse of trees where the path is carpeted with black plastic sheeting. Weird!
Among these trees I catch sight of a black rabbit. A black rabbit? Is it a genetic mutation? Or an escaped domestic pet? I see it several times – whether it’s the same black rabbit or a series of different ones is unclear.
Beyond the copse of trees is a path along a ploughed field. Signs warn me to stick to the path. It runs alongside an electric fence, presumably to make sure the signs are obeyed!
On my way up, which is quite a steep climb, I wonder about Scotland’s famous right to roam, and how much ‘right’ a walker actually has.
After a lot of puffing I reach the top of the hill. And it’s worth it.
There is no sign of the Roman fort, apart from the usual raised mounds, but the crest of the hill is covered by a collection of wonderful old trees. There is a carpet of bluebells underfoot, just beginning to come into bud, and the views are wonderful.
In fact, the whole place has a peaceful and mysterious feel to it. I could stay up here all day and admire the views. There’s Caerlaverock Castle below.
An information board tells me this hill was used as a lookout point, a signalling place, and a meeting spot. A handy panoramic map tells me I am 23 miles from Carlisle and… crikey… I’m only 10 miles from Silloth! After a week’s worth of walking, I haven’t got very far.
I peer out across the estuary. Is that Silloth over there? I think I can make out the trees that line the edge of Silloth’s promenade, but the light is too hazy and dim to tell for sure.
I stop for a picnic lunch. And then set up the timer on my camera for a self-portrait. Unfortunately, as I run to get into position, I underestimate the steepness of the slope and nearly tumble down the hill. The photo is rather blurred, and catches me teetering off-balance and holding onto a tree for support!
It’s time to continue my walk. Onwards. Back down the steep hill I go. The views are really wonderful, despite the gloomy weather.
It’s a mile and a half to Blackshaw, but this little lane is far busier than my previous road, and I have to keep stepping onto the verge. There’s tractors, a post office van, a delivery lorry and several cars.
Caerlaverock Nature Reserve covers many acres of the estuary, but this is one of the few access points for visitors. The car park is surprisingly small, and empty. But a couple arrive and park their car while I’m reading the information board.
The couple is armed with binoculars and cameras. Bird watchers, I think. I’m not sure if there’s much to see at this time of year.
You get to the shore along a farm track. I pass a barn full of cows. Poor things. I bet they’re dying to get out after a long winter shut up. (I often think kind thoughts about cows when they’re locked away. My thoughts when they’re roaming menacingly through the fields are not nearly so charitable!)
Down the muddy track. The couple is well ahead of me now. Good. I feel very anti-social today.
There is a boardwalk across the first stretch of marsh, and… oh, no… cows. What are they doing out of their barn? I’m not sure they’re allowed on the Nature Reserve.
I spot a large group of cattle milling about behind a fence at the top of a bank. They’re mooing and frisking like a bunch of naughty school children. It makes me think the ones that have got down to the marsh have escaped somehow.
I walk past the cows without incident, and reach a fence that seems to separate the drier part of the marsh from the coastal part of the marsh. If I wasn’t so tired, I would see if I could walk closer to the water, but I decide to stick to the bank instead, where the walking should be easier.
Now I’m walking up another estuary and I’ve doubled back on myself again. (My route today has been a series of V-shaped bends without much forward progress!) Ahead is Criffel.
The ground is very marshy in places and I’m glad to reach another board walk. Ahead is a weird structure. I think it might be a café or an information hut, but it turns out to be a bird hide.
I’ve reached the grounds of Caerlaverock Castle, and I spend some time walking through the Castle Woods. I was hoping to visit the castle itself, but find myself unwilling to go the extra few hundred yards, or pay the extra fee.
So I turn back and retrace my path through the woods. These are ancient woodlands, full of natural broadleaf trees and pools of water. I hear the sound of a woodpecker drilling in the distance, but can’t catch sight of the bird.
Now I’m back on the road again. The River Nith is on my left, behind a screen of trees. Open farmland to my right.
Through gaps in the trees I get views of the estuary and Criffel. The light is getting worse as the afternoon progresses and Criffel looks rather menacing.
This road is also cycle route number 7, although I don’t see many cyclists.
It’s another 3-4 miles to Glencaple and my parked car. The place looks rather pretty, set on the banks of the river, although what might have once been a bustling wharf is now a very quiet car park.
I’m sad when I think how much industry has been lost from these coastal villages. A boat’s hull lies on the grass, and is carved with the names of ships that were once built here.
The tea room turns out to bc closed due to a fire. Shame. I wonder if it will ever open again.
A bus pulls into the car park. It’s one of the few buses that travel here from Dumfries, and I’m pleased to see it. I will need to catch it here tomorrow morning when I resume my walk.
I climb into my car and set off for my hotel. It’s been a better day than I anticipated, despite all the road walking. The highlight was definitely my diversion up to Ward Law hill.
Miles walked today = 13 miles
Total around coast = 3,085.5 miles