The first bus I try to board is full of people, and is the wrong one. “I’m going to Gatehouse, not Brighouse. You need the council bus,” says the driver, rather sniffily.
The next bus that arrives is empty. The journey to Brighouse Bay normally costs the princely sum of £1. I have my fare ready in my hand, but I must look very down-at-heel because the driver decides to let me travel free of charge.
Brighouse Bay is lovely this morning. I follow the path along the shore.
Actually, I’m quite worried about the walk today. It will be 15-16 miles to Gatehouse of Fleet, if all goes well, and that’s a long distance for me. And I mustn’t miss the last bus home from Gatehouse. It leaves just after 5pm.
[I know Alan Palin had a difficult time negotiating this section. You can read about his experiences on his blog. I’m hoping for better luck.]
Through trees I catch glimpses of the nearby holiday village. I push aside my hostile feelings towards caravan parks. I believe the existence of this holiday camp is the only reason there’s a bus service provided to the bay.
I come out of woodland and walk through an area of grass and gorse bushes. To my right is a golf course.
A family come towards me along the path, with a lively springer spaniel leading the way. They are the first, and only, walkers I will meet all day.
I’m following a Core Path. The information sign is not encouraging. Danger – cliffs. And just to make sure I understand: Caution – steep path. And then, in case I’m not dissuaded yet, it’s a Long Walk.
Actually, it’s a lovely path with a beautiful clear sea and interesting rock formations. Yes, there are some steep descents, but nothing too strenuous, or too dangerous. Certainly it’s much tamer than the north Cornwall coast.
I hear a buzzing sound on my right. A helicopter? A drone? No. A cold-looking young man is mowing the golf green.
I reach Borness Point and the land flattens out ahead. That’s Ringdoo Bay, I think. Somewhere, just past the bay, the Core Path turns inland, before joining a track that should lead me to my next waypoint, Kirkandrews.
I reach the end of the bay, and begin anticipating the turn…
… and, sure enough, I soon spot a signpost. “Whitehill 1 mile”. I recheck my OS map. Good. At Whitehill I should pick up the track I need. Why did Alan find this route so difficult? Pfff – it’s a piece of cake.
The path leads across a field and then through a new plantation of pines. These trees aren’t on my map! The pines are hard to negotiate – thickly spaced and scratchy. The easiest way is to follow the boundary wall, where there’s an indistinct path in the grass.
Out of the pines, and across another field, and I take a quick look at my Garmin. That’s strange. I seem to be a mile or so off my intended course. I pull out my OS paper map. If I’m heading to Whitehill, I should be on the right track. Maybe the map on my Garmin is wrong? Or maybe the Core Path has been diverted?
Oh well. I should be OK if I stick to the path. Onwards. I pass a farm on my right…
… and reach another unexpected feature. A pond. This isn’t on the OS map either, nor on my Garmin map. And I’ve lost the signs for the footpath… oh no!
I walk around the pond a couple of times, startling a couple of quacking ducks, before deciding the path must loop around by the edge of the field. Soon I find a gate that takes me onto a road, and I’m relieved to see a familiar footpath sign pointing back the way I’ve come. Borness Coast, it says.
But there shouldn’t be a road here! I look at my OS map again, and check it against my Garmin. I can’t believe it! There are two places called Whitehill. A mile or so apart. I’ve come inland too early!
For a moment I consider striking off across the fields in a straight line, towards Kirkandrews. Scotland does have a “right to roam”, doesn’t it? But I’ve noticed the fields are bordered by barbed wire, electric fences, and deep-cut waterways. I check my watch. I really can’t afford to miss the last bus… what should I do?
In the end, I decide to follow the road. Yes, I will end up doing 2 sides of a triangle and will add an extra 2-3 miles to my route, but road-walking will be quicker than blundering around trying to find my way over hostile territory.
A mile up the road I reach a tiny place called Chapelton, and come across another Core Path sign. It’s pointing, in the right direction, towards Kirkandrews, so I follow it…
…but it only takes me a few hundred yards along a lane, and then joins another road that runs parallel to the original one.
Perhaps at this point I should head off across the fields to Kirkandrews? But a fencepost offers an ominous warning – DANGER OF DEATH – (even if the sign has been tacked on upside down!). No. I’ll stick to the road.
The road is more a track than a road, to be honest. Seems to go on for a looong time.
I pass a field where three big horses – not quite as big as shire horses, but pretty large – come trotting over to see me. “I’ve got no food for you,” I lie. Actually, I have an apple in my rucksack, but I’m saving that for my own lunch.
They look pleadingly at me, and I nearly pull the apple out, but then one of them starts biting the neck of its neighbour, clearly trying to hog any treats for itself. “That’s it. I’m not rewarding bad behaviour. No apple for you today.”
[Someone on Twitter asked if other long-distance walkers talk to random animals while out on a long hike. Yes. Most of us do!]
The end of the road is in sight. I’m on the outskirts of a village called Borgue.
Borgue is one of the few villages in the area to have a bus service (in fact, my bus to Brighouse Bay went through the village this morning!). I could end this frustrating walk – and solve my fear of missing the last bus home – by catching the bus back from here. It’s tempting. But a quick check on the timetable shows me I have several hours to wait…
Don’t be a wimp. You can still make it to Gatehouse of Fleet by 5pm. Onwards.
I turn left, and head down the road towards Kirkandrews, picking up my walking pace. The weather has got worse. Low clouds. Moist mist. Terrible for photography.
I don’t deviate to look at the remains of Kirkandrews church. Nor do I wander into nearby fields to find another “Cup and Ring marked Rock” – as shown on my map. No time for that. Onwards.
Past Kirkandrews, and I come across an impressive building. Part barn, part castle. Its roof looks Dutch, but its tower is proudly British – or Scottish. A weird building. Now clearly abandoned and falling into ruin.
The road runs parallel to the sea here. I think there should be a Core Path running even closer to the shore, but I feel pressurised for time, and now deeply suspicious about the whole concept of Core Paths. So I don’t go exploring to see if I can find it.
Actually, walking along the road is pleasant, with sea views and only the occasional car trundling past.
I reach an area of woodland. No bluebells, but wild garlic lines the roadside. It isn’t in full flower yet, but the smell is making me hungry. I pass a logging area. Firewood for sale.
At Bar Hill, the road winds around the inland side of the hill’s lower slopes. I think it might be possible to walk around the hill by the coastal route – there are some vague footpath signs – but I feel reluctant to try in case I have to turn back. (Fear of missing the last bus is a nagging worry.)
Anyway, the woodland road is very pretty.
I reach Knockbrex. I promised myself a lunch break when I got here, and was hoping to find a village green and a bench. But it isn’t a proper village. There’s an imposing driveway leading to a large country mansion, which I suspect is now divided into flats, but not much else.
Across the field, in front of the mansion, I snap a photograph of a grazing deer.
A few minutes later, I pass a castle. Well, probably not a real ancient castle – seems too modern – but it looks wonderful, and is available to rent as a holiday let. Wow!
But I’m really hungry and tired now. It’s 1:30pm. Time to refuel.
The roadside verge is rough and overgrown, but a stone stile set into a wall looks inviting. Perfect. The stone steps providing a ledge to sit on, and also provide a side table for my picnic.
A car rumbles past, and I see the occupants craning their necks. Bet they’re wondering what that strange old woman is doing crouching by the wall!
After rest and refreshment I continue along the road.
It runs close to the shore and overlooks a new stretch of water – Wigtown Bay. And now I’m heading up Fleet Bay. The islands out there must be… the Islands of Fleet.
It’s a shame the atmosphere remains murky and my photographs don’t do justice to this beautiful place.
The road has fizzled out, but there’s a clear track to walk along. I reach Carrick Bay with its lovely beach, and walk past holiday huts, tucked along the shoreline.
Here I sit down for another rest and to enjoy the view. And there’s a family strolling on the sands. What a great place to stay.
Further along is Sandgreen – a holiday park of static caravans. At this point, I’m going to turn inland and walk up the estuary along a track. It runs just a few hundred yards parallel to the shore, and is a designated Core Path – but I’ve grown suspicious of these paths. They seem very unreliable.
I wander among the static homes, and soon spot the track. It looks reassuringly straightforward.
And it is straightforward. In fact, it’s very straight. I make good progress, climbing steadily uphill through a lovely avenue of trees.
To my left, I catch glimpses over Fleet Bay. It looks hillier over there. Wilder. I feel a thrill of excitement as I wonder what my next walking day will bring. Sadly, the weather is still too murky for decent photographs.
A posse of young lambs scrutinise me from the other side of a fence. Cheviots. It’s a breed I’ve never really come across before, but I really do like them. Love those ears.
Farther along, the track skirts the edge of woodland and a deer park – although I see no deer – and reaches a place called Cally Mains. I am expecting a sewage works for some reason (maybe its the word ‘mains’ and its connection in my mind to water treatment plants), but Cally Mains turns out to a collection of neat farm buildings.
I’m too tired – and hurried – to take any decent photographs. It isn’t a very interesting farm anyway, being too clean and organised! But I do snap an out-of-focus photo of a parrot in an outbuilding.
The track continues through woodland until, with only a couple of miles to go until I reach Gatehouse, I hear the thunder of traffic. I’m about to cross the dreaded A75. Yes, there it is. And, luckily, there’s an underpass.
Beyond the underpass is Cally Palace Hotel, with lovely gardens and a golf course.
Walking through the grounds of the hotel, following the access road, I enter the woodland of Cally Park. A sign promises red squirrels – but I don’t see any.
This is Forestry Commission land, part of a network of forests that makes up Galloway Forest Park. Funnily enough, compared to the wonderful woodland I passed through yesterday, I find this forest oddly sterile and uninteresting. Perhaps I’m just tired…
… in fact I was hoping to find a picnic bench. I’ve made such rapid progress, I could afford the time to have another rest and a snack. But I don’t come across a convenient stopping place.
Next thing I know, I’m heading down a path towards Gatehouse of Fleet.
I arrive on the main road at 4pm with an hour to spare!
The Murray Arms hotel is right opposite the bus stop and – what a miracle – the pub is actually open. I’m the only customer, but enjoy a delicious pint of cider, while chatting to the barmaid. She’s returned to Dumfries and Galloway after spending her teenage years in England. We both agree it’s a wonderful place.
The bus driver recognises me. “But weren’t you the woman trying to get to Brighouse Bay this morning?” I explain I’ve walked here from there, and he looks amazed.
Post walk notes:
This walk ended up being shorter, and quicker, than I originally feared. Road walking – as much of it turned out to be – is always easier than hiking through open countryside, but not as interesting.
And I learnt an important lesson. Not all the Core Paths shown on the map are complete. Some are very much work-in-progress. The trick is to check the map and click where is says ‘click here for further details’, to make sure the route actually exists!
Walked today = 15 miles
Total distance around coastline of Britain = 3,212 miles