Kirkcudbright is pronounced Kerr-coo-bree. Who would have guessed? It’s a pretty town with pastel-coloured buildings and a pleasant park in the centre. Much nicer than Dalbeattie, and there’s a buzz to the place.
Today I’m planning to walk to Brighouse Bay – a refreshingly straightforward and pronouncable sort of name!
BUT – only 3 buses a day run from Brighouse Bay to Kirkcudbright, and the last bus back leaves at 3pm. Knowing I’m unlikely to have finished my walk by then, I first drive to Brighouse Bay, park my car, and then catch the 9.40am bus back into Kirkcudbright.
(I only explain this to show how much forward planning might be required if you want to go long-distance trekking in rural areas!)
I begin my walk by doing a circuit of Kirkcudbright, ending with a walk along the river, where I discover Kirkcudbright has a dock area and a marina. The tide is out, and it looks rather a muddy mess at the moment.
The bridge is cunningly disguised as a suspension bridge. But when I get closer I realise it is actually made of concrete.
From the other side of the river, I take photographs looking back at Kirkcudbright.
I turn off the main road and follow a lane into a village called The Stell. There is no pavement, but luckily the road is quiet and runs close to the coast, making it a pleasant walk.
This is one of the national cycle routes – route 7 – and a few cyclists whizz by. The sun has come out and I think of my hubby. He would love this area. I wish he was here.
I reach a place called Mill Hall. Yesterday, I could see this bay – Nun Mill Bay – from the opposite side of the estuary. It’s a dramatic place. A mix of rock, sand and mud.
A sign tacked to a tree attracts my attention. DANGER. Quicksand. Please stay clear of the wreck.
A wreck? Ah. there it is. Out in the middle of the bay you can see the ribs of a stranded ship. With the tide out, surrounded by mud, it does look fatally attractive.
From Mill Hall onwards I plan to follow a Core Path to Ross Bay. From there I’ll continue around the headland until I reach Brighouse Bay.
At the turn off into Mill Hall I notice a collection of signs. All rather unfriendly. Dead end. Private Road. No cold calling zone. No parking. But where is the Core Path?
Eventually, more by luck than anything, I find the path, hidden away at the dead-end of one of the dead-end roads, tucked behind a parked car and a roped off patch of green grass.
[Tip for other walkers: turn left off the main road into Mill Hall, and then left again at the T junction. Follow the road as it swings around to the right, and keep going to the end of the tarmac. The path carries on straight ahead of you.]
Not a promising start. The path begins as narrow alley next to a portable toilet, running between high wire fences and a mass of rhododendron bushes.
I soon come across another warning sign. Forest Operations. Looks like they’re trying to clear out the rhododendrons.
But, a short time later, I leave unfriendly Mill Hall behind and enter a lovely wooded area.
Now the path runs on a slope above the water. Through the trees I catch glimpses of the estuary below.
It’s all serenely peaceful in the woods. Bluebells everywhere. Birds singing. Wonderful.
From my map, I read the names of features I’m passing above: Goat Well Bay, The Devil’s Thrashing Floor. Wow – what a name!
I peer down. No goats. No sign of any devil, thrashing or otherwise.
I seem to be alone in the woods, so I’m startled when I hear a dog barking. It seems to be coming from up a tree and I catch a glimpse of a large bird in the branches. There is no doubt it’s the bird making the noise. I watch as it puffs up its throat and lets rip with the distinct barking sound.
How weird. I take a photo of the bird, convinced it must be something unusual. But, when I blow up the photo on my computer at home, it looks like a boring old crow
Onwards. I meet a single family out for a walk, otherwise it’s just me and the bluebells.
Sadly, the official core path route leaves the wood before you get to Ross Bay. (In retrospect, I think I should have ignored the signs, and carried on through the woods, but I wasn’t sure if I could get out the other end.)
I walk past a deserted and atmospheric graveyard, and the remains of Senwick Church.
The path more or less follows the edge of the wood, through grazing fields, past a holiday park, and a landscape laid out as some sort of outdoor course. For horses? Or cyclists? Not sure.
It is frustrating to be walking so close to the woodland, but not actually in it – especially when I can see bluebells among the trees and hear birds singing. Never mind.
I soon emerge onto a plateau overlooking Ross Bay. There’s the headland of Meikle Ross ahead.
I walk down into Ross Bay and join a road. It’s an odd place. Partly beautiful and partly mucky farmland, along with a great pile of junk.
The road continues around the edge of the bay to a group of holiday cottages (white buildings in the photo below). I walk past fields of cows with young calves. And a BULL! Glad I’m behind a fence.
In front of the holiday cottages is a rocky beach. I sit down and watch the tide coming in, and tuck into my picnic lunch.
After a good rest, it’s time to follow the Core Path as it leads up a track, and around the slopes of Meikle Ross hill. Signs warn me my dog could be shot if found among the sheep and ends with a final warning: “In view of previous problems any incidents will be reported to the police.”
The sign provides all sorts of instructions and information, but what is lacking is any indication of who the field actually belongs to, or how to contact the farmer in an emergency. (This lack of useful info will soon become all too relevant…)
As I approach the top of the slope, I see a couple of backpacking walkers. They seem to be staring at something in the field. A few moments later they continue on their way, and I pass them coming down. They nod a greeting but don’t stop for a chat.
I reach the top of the slope, and I suddenly realise what they were staring at… an injured calf.
The calf struggles to its feet as I approach, and then stands, awkwardly, on three legs, holding its other foot in the air. I walk a little closer and the poor thing totters unsteadily, eyes rolling, obviously frightened and exhausted, but unable to put its fourth hoof to the ground.
I realise the little calf has broken a leg, or maybe dislocated its shoulder. Very distressing. And it must be in terrible pain. Poor thing!
Where is its mother? I look around, but the other cattle seem to sense the calf is a lost cause, and have retreated to the far end of the field. It’s been deserted.
What should I do? Where is the farmer? Does this field belong to the scrappy farm I passed earlier, the one that’s now a mile away, on the other side of Ross Bay?
I look after the backpacking men, who have nearly reached the bottom of the field, and consider calling out to them. Will they think of going to the farm and telling the farmer? Surely they will. They must! By the time I decide I ought to check for sure, they’ve gone too far and are out of earshot.
Should I run after them? Well, I can’t run in my boots, but perhaps I could walk quickly and catch them up? Or should I just backtrack all the way to the farm myself and raise the alarm? But does the calf really belong to that particular farm? And, even if it does, will the farmer actually be there? If I do go back, it will add an extra 2 miles to my walk, and it might be all for nothing. Perhaps the calf belongs to another farm altogether?
In the end, not knowing quite what to do, and from force of habit, I just carry on walking along my planned route.
Long after I’ve left the field, I feel distressed, and then terribly guilty. The poor baby calf is obviously in great pain. If it isn’t found, and stays out here all night, it will surely die of shock, or of dehydration, or be attacked by a fox, or by a dog. Maybe I should have gone to raise the alarm. What’s an extra 2 miles for me compared to its pain and suffering?
But after making the decision to carry on, I feel very reluctant retrace my steps. And, with every additional step, I become even more reluctant. The other walkers will raise the alarm, I tell myself. Of course they will.
From the headland there is a good view of Little Ross, an island with two lighthouses. But I’m still mulling over the damaged calf, and find it hard to enjoy the rest of the walk.
I lose the path over the headland, and end up climbing over some difficult fences. Much further out, over the water, another island sits on the horizon. The Isle of Man, I think. Check my map. Yes, it must be.
The coast is craggy and the cliffs are high. In places the path seems to have slipped away and I come across damaged fences. There is a sense of wild isolation about this area.
I pass a flock of sheep. They’re the pointy ear brigade. Cheviots. Seems to be a common breed up here. There’s a black lamb among them and I wonder, not for the first time, why we often see black lambs but rarely see black sheep.
I come down off the slopes of Meikle Ross. Ahead is a low isthmus of land called Fauldbog. Not a very nice name! To the left (in the photo below) is Fauldbog bay, while to the right – just visible in the photo – are the farm and cottages of Ross Bay.
I’ve walked a mile around the headland, but am almost back where I started. I have another chance to raise the alarm now. I could cut across the fields to the farm and tell them about the calf.
But my direct route is blocked by stone walls, by electric fences, and by fields containing cows and calves. And perhaps it’s the wrong farm?
I decide to carry on. In fact, the Core Path is about to lead me directly through a field of cattle. I hesitate. The field is boggy – Fauldbog obviously lives up to its name – a mire of mud and slurry pools. And the cows sit right across the route.
It doesn’t take me long to decide there is NO WAY I’m going to cross that mucky field and risk my life among the cows, so I follow the edge of a stone wall instead, climb over several gates, and eventually work my way up towards higher land.
This is better. A lovely rock path above the sea, with the fetid stink of cow dung replaced by the delicious honey-smell of gorse. If only I wasn’t worrying about the calf…
I come over the slopes of another hill – the Mull of Ross – and resist the temptation to walk up to the cairn on the summit. Ahead is Brighouse Bay.
I drove here this morning, of course, and so the beauty of Brighouse Baby doesn’t take me by complete surprise. It does, however, look even nicer this afternoon with the tide coming in.
My path joins a track that runs down the side of the bay.
I walk across the beach, where a series of rolling waves glide calmly towards the shore. The Isle of Man is neatly framed at the mouth of the bay. Towards the left of the bay (just visible in the photo below) is a head bobbing in the water. A seal? It’s the first one I’ve seen this year.
As I reach the far side of the bay, I disturb a heron, and just manage to catch a photograph of the bird taking off. They always look so large and ungainly, its hard to believe they can actually fly!
I’m alone, apart from a couple strolling along the sand with their dog. Their car is the only other vehicle in the car park.
It always takes me some time to get back into my car at the end of a long walk. First I must save my route and switch off my Garmin, then I must have a snack and a drink, stow my rucksack away, and change my boots into shoes for the drive back.
As I’m doing all this, the couple I saw earlier return from their walk. But they seem to have picked up a third person. It’s a woman in a wetsuit. She’s been swimming in the bay. Turns out it wasn’t a seal I saw earlier – it was her!
She tells me she comes here regularly because it’s a safe place to swim. She does occasionally meet a seal and, sometimes, a conger eel. A conger eel? Aren’t they giant, dangerous, deep water predators? She’s pulling my leg!
[Later, I read up on conger eels and discover they’re not uncommon around the western coast of Scotland.]
High points: gorgeous bluebell woods and the wonderful Brighouse Bay.
Low points: shame and regret because I did nothing to help the injured calf.
Walked today = 12 miles
Total around coast = 3,197 miles