I leave my car in the village of Auchencairn, and my husband drives me to the layby on the A711 so that I can start today’s walk exactly where I ended yesterday’s walk, next to the Screel Woods.
I push aside a niggling sense of frustration. The nearby shore is so fragmented and indented, I know I’m going to walk all day – but will only end up a mere 2-3 miles further down this road.
But it’s not the end point that’s important, I tell myself. Today I must simply focus on the journey, and not the destination. Onwards.
After 20 minutes of road-walking, I reach the track which should take me from the road and back to the coast. To Torr Point. Pleased to see the way is actually signposted.
The track is rather dull. Past farms, through fields. Ahead I see a mass of pines. That must be Torr Wood – and my heart sinks. Pines!
I find a sign that says “Footpath” and head off into the woods, where I walk along a pleasant, wide, grassy path. It’s rutted in places. A logging track, maybe?
The woods are actually much nicer than they appear at first glance. I’m never fond of the sterile atmosphere you find inside a plantation of pines, but some young broad-leaved trees liven up the place. There is plenty of bird song, and the new trees are just beginning to spring into leaf.
The track fizzles out. I follow a narrow path, overgrown in places. Then I ignore a footpath sign that suggests I should head inland, and continue following a vague trail towards the shore, until I arrive at a lovely rocky cove.
Nameless on my map, the cove’s little beach is covered in sea shells and it overlooks the Almorness peninsula, where I walked yesterday. Unfortunately, with the tide out, the main impression I get is of… MUD.
Never mind. It’s a pretty place. I perch my camera on a rock and take a self-portrait. Today is sunny – but cold. Although I’m wearing a thick fleece and my winter jacket, I soon feel chilly when I stop walking.
I’ve reached a dead-end. When I try to follow further paths along the shore, I end up climbing through thick gorse and wrestling with brambles. So I turn back and retrace my steps to find the footpath sign – the one I ignored earlier.
The path takes me up the slope of Torr Hill and then dissolves into a series of green spaces, fringed with gorse.
On a map, the tip of the peninsula – Torr Point – looks so… well, so very definite. On the ground, however, it’s hard to see where I should be going. I follow several false trails, until I eventually spot a path leading down between two fences.
It’s somewhat muddy, but is definitely a proper path.
A few minutes later, I emerge from a screen of trees and find myself at Torr Point. Across the water is the Almorness Peninsula, and Almorness Point – which I almost got to yesterday.
I was disappointed with myself for not battling through to the tip of Almorness Point yesterday, and this is one reason I was so determined to get to Torr Point today! Well. I’ve made it.
Built into a rocky slope, a strange brick structure catches my eye. I assume it is a rather sooty barbecue, but why is it such an odd shape?
In fact, it turns out to be a tar pot, where fishermen used to dip their nets in liquid tar to preserve them.
A Tar Pot at Torr Point. The alliteration tickles me!
I decide I can’t follow the shore, the ground is too rough and overgrown. So I turn back along the path, and catch sight of a red squirrel leaping up a tree trunk. Too slow to catch a photograph, I’m thrilled to see the squirrel. It’s the second day in a row and the second red squirrel of the day. (This morning, my husband and I were delighted when a red squirrel came to feed at the bird table right outside the window of our B&B.)
Back on the slopes of Torr Hill, and I lose the footpath again in a wide open plain of grassland, but spot a couple of walkers in the distance, and set off after them.
I’m heading up the western side of the peninsula, towards the apex of Auchencairn Bay. Auchencairn village is just across the water.
I reach a cottage, and the beginning of a track. It’s the same track I followed earlier this morning, before branching off into the wood, but I’m hoping not to have to retrace my route.
There should be a footpath across the marshy edge of the bay. Yes. I find footpath signs just on the other side of the cottage. But the tide is coming in rapidly, and I worry whether it’s still possible to make my way across the top of the bay.
I set out, through the marsh. The path is clear in places, confused in others. Sometimes there is a board walk. Sometimes there is only a narrow path through mud.
A deep stream creates a difficult barrier, until I backtrack and climb through to the landward side of the fence, where I find a flat bridge over the water.
Eventually I reach the other side of the bay, just as a dark cloud closes in and drops of rain begin to fall. I spot a convenient bird hide, overlooking the bay, and run inside.
It’s dark and peaceful in the hide. I open one of the flaps and watch the rain falling on the waters in the bay outside. Can’t see any birds. Time for a snack and a rest.
Luckily the shower is soon over, and I leave the bird hide and resume my walk along the path, crossing the edge of a field, following the bank of a pretty stream.
There are cows in the field. They straddle the path, and are reluctant to move until I raise my stick and said, “Shoo!”.
I’m perturbed, therefore, to meet two young girls at the kissing gate that marks the entrance to the field on the other side. “Where are you going?” I ask. “Be careful. There’s a deep stream here and cows.” In beautiful Scottish accents they tell me they’re going to the bird hide. And no need to worry, they know where it is.
Although I let them go past, I am worried. They are very young, 7 or 8 years old, maybe. Should they be out on their own? Is this normal in Scotland? Do you let young children roam around on the own?
Then, in the next field – a playing field – I spot a man chasing a black Labrador. Well, ‘chasing’ is too active a verb. He is calling to the dog, but the dog is wandering off sniffing the bushes, deliberately ignoring the man. Eventually, the man manages to collar the dog and sets off in pursuit of the children.
He must be their dad. I wait and watch until he catches them up. Then I breathe a sigh of relief.
Through the playing field, and I’m on the outskirts of Auchencairn Village. There’s a pretty Millennium Garden, with a bird table disguised as a dove coop – although I don’t see any birds, doves or otherwise.
I stop for a quick rest and another drink, aware I’m slowing down. Being so near to the village has made me feel my walk is nearly over, but I’m not even half way to completing my planned route today!
A quiet road leads along the shore. It’s the weekend, and a number of cars cruise past. I meet several strollers, and dog walkers.
Through the screen of trees on my left, I catch views across Auchencairn Bay. The tide has really come in, now. It looks much prettier when full of water.
I pass an imposing tower building. The gateway to Auchencairn House.
Across the water, I see fishing nets strung in a line, and get a great view of Hestan Island. Now fully surrounded by water, it’s difficult to believe it’s really a tidal island and that Peter Caton once waded across from Almorness Point to reach it.
Further along the road is Balcary Bay. A popular place, with a pretty beach, and dominated by a hotel, the Balcary Bay Country House Hotel.
I go into the hotel – hoping for a sit down and a refreshing drink. The place has tartan carpets. People in smart clothes are sitting drinking coffee on comfortable sofas. I can see a formal dining room (starched tablecloths) but no informal bar. In my walking boots and battered clothes I feel very out-of-place, and beat a hasty retreat.
Next, I walk through the car park to the beach and take some photographs of the view across the bay. A building that looks like a castle sits on the other side. “The Tower” says my map. I wonder if it’s open to the public?
I follow the road, which comes to an end just on the other side of the hotel. A motorcyclist, looking stiff and unsteady after a long ride, climbs off his bike and heads down towards the beach. A notice board describes local walks. I see a mother and son who are just setting out for a walk, and meet a family who are just returning from theirs.
There are several routes I could follow, but the coastal footpath runs up the hill and across an open field. I climb up the path, and enjoy a great view over Balcary Bay. The motorcyclist, still in his high vis jacket, is lying on the beach.
At the top of the field is a gate and a path leading into woodland.
Sadly, the “Tower” turns out to be a private house and is not accessible to the public. I decide it’s a fake tower anyway! Looks very modern. But what a wonderful place to live.
The woodland turns out to be a small band of trees on the slope above a row of private houses. I meet another group of people coming back from a walk.
And, when I emerge on the other side of the trees, I discover why it’s so popular. It’s beautiful. This is Balcary Hill, covered in bright yellow gorse.
Dead ahead is Hestan Island, of course. Behind the island, (to the left in the photo below) is Rockcliffe. To the far right is the long strip of beach that runs in front of Mersehead Nature Reserve. In fact, I can see all the way to Southerness and its lighthouse.
Wow. What a beautiful place.
To be continued…