The light is dull this morning, but at least it’s not raining. I walk out of Newton Stewart along the A714. Wigtown is only 8 miles away, says the signpost, but I know my route will be a little longer because I intend to divert away from the A road as soon as I can.
Traffic is light (it’s a Sunday morning), and there’s a narrow, uneven pavement to walk along. But I can see a cycle way running just below the road and to my left, although I can’t see a way of reaching it. How frustrating!
Eventually I do find a connecting path, and can leave the road to join the cycle way. It has a good, tarmac surface and I make rapid progress.
Below me the River Cree meanders in lazy loops. It looks in no hurry to reach the sea.
The cycle route suddenly decides to join the A road, and now becomes a combined pavement/cycle path.
I approach a short row of isolated houses. Lamachan View. This is where I will turn off along a minor road. Although I can’t actually walk along the shore, the minor road will make for a quieter walk, and will take me closer to the water.
A signpost tells me I’m heading to Carty Port and Moss of Cree. I check my map. The names are impressive, but I notice they refer to a couple of houses and a boggy piece of woodland.
The map also informs me I’m passing ‘St Ninian’s Well’. I try to spot it across the field, but can only see a hole in the ground where an orange digger has been at work. Is that it?
I pass by Carty Port without really noticing it. Was it once a little harbour? Now there’s no obvious port left – or not one I can see, anyway.
Further down the lane is an equestrian centre, where a car towing a horse-box manoeuvres into the driveway. It’s the only car I meet for several miles.
Ahead is a dark mass of woodland. Pines. That must be Moss of Cree. It looks strangely sinister.
I look behind me and am relieved to see a lady in the distance. She’s walking her dog along the road. Good. I’m not entirely alone in the universe.
The lane deteriorates into nothing much more than a track, with grass growing in the centre. Broadleaf trees crowd on either side, and arch over my head, forming a dark, green tunnel.
When I look behind again, the lady with the dog has disappeared. Must have turned back.
I begin to notice odd things about the wood. There’s an old and battered sign, asking me to ‘Keep Scotland Tidy’ and ‘Take Your Litter Home.’ Why is it here? There are no paths, no parking places, and I don’t see any litter.
Further along is another sign. I almost miss it because it’s painted on a tall plank of wood and is camouflaged among the tree trunks. ‘ALWAYS AND FOREVER’ is painted in white letters on the wood. Is it some sort of memorial? Or a declaration of love?
If it’s a token of love, it certainly makes a bigger and bolder statement than the lonely padlock I saw yesterday – the one attached to the railings in Newton Stewart.
I’m still mulling over the ‘ALWAYS AND FOREVER’ message, when I spot a pale figure lurking in the trees, and nearly drop my camera! But it’s not a ghost. It’s a statue of a lady. How odd to see it here.
Then I come across a miniature burial ground. Among the little headstones, a terrifying figure is trying to crawl up from under the ground! The hand-painted sign reads ‘LET ALL THE POISONS THAT LURK IN THE MUD HATCH OUT.’ Crikey! A sinister message and a zombie.
Someone either loves the macabre or has a weird sense of humour.
And now even the roadside plants take on a menacing air. I have a feeling these alien-looking stalks will turn into something really common and ordinary. Ferns? Reeds? But at this stage, thrusting up through the ground, they look distinctly spooky.
The woodland on my left gives way to sheep fields. This is more cheerful, but why is there a line of dead trees over there?
Onwards. I leave the woods behind and the scenery becomes more ordinary. I walk past farm houses, fields of sheep, and then reach a bridge over a little waterway.
I pause on the bridge and realise the stream is heading for the open mouth of the estuary, now just visible as a gleaming expanse on the horizon.
A mile or so later, and I come to another bridge. This one takes the road up and over… not a stream… an old railway line, I think. Pull my map out. Yes. ‘Dismantled Railway’. Shame it has not been turned into a footpath or cycle route.
My lane joins another road, where an ancient road-sign – wonderfully battered and weathered – points the way to Wigtown. Turn left.
A couple are walking ahead. They’re slow strollers, and I soon begin to catch them up. But their little terrier is clearly unhappy and doesn’t like me coming up behind him. Keeps stopping and turning around. Eventually, the couple get fed up with dragging him along and stop to let me go past.
‘Didn’t we see you earlier?’ asks the woman. ‘Did you set out from Newton Stewart?’ She had noticed me earlier this morning while driving along the road.
They tell me I can follow the path along the old railway line around Wigtown, and also tell me not to miss the Martyrs’ Memorial
I follow the old railway line, now a gravel track, and reach an information sign. It tells the story of how two ordinary women (Margaret McLachlan, aged 63, and Margaret Wilson, aged only 18) refused to acknowledge the king as the divine head of the church. As a punishment they were tied to a stake and allowed to drown as the tide came in.
How horrible. I’d heard this story before, but it makes the tragedy very real when I see the actual spot where these two women were killed. Although it looks like a mere puddle now, back in 1685 the river channel was much deeper.
I’m very moved by the little platform and the simple stone memorial, carved to look like a stake. Men can be brutal to other men, but they can be particularly brutal to women who dare to defy them.
Feeling rather subdued, I sit at a nearby picnic bench for a rest and a snack.
Looking over the marsh, I can see the waves in Wigtown Bay and the hills beyond. They’re the same hills I walked over the day before yesterday. The atmosphere is still rather murky, I’m afraid, but I can just make out the masts of the transmitter station on top of Cambret Hill.
I continue walking along the old railway track, and then cut inland, following a road, and walk into the centre of Wigtown. This is the book capital of Scotland, apparently, and it certainly has more than its fair share of book shops.
Unfortunately, because it’s Sunday, all the shops are closed. A pity. Luckily there’s a café open, and I drop in for a cup of tea and a cream scone. Followed by a slice of herb and wild-flower flavoured cake. (Nicer than it sounds.)
The café is almost opposite the same bus stop where I caught the bus back into Newton Stewart this morning. You can see it on the right in the photo below. My car is parked nearby.
Hmm. I’m tempted to end today’s walk now, but it’s only 3:30pm and, after my a short walk yesterday, I’ve still got bags of energy left. And the sun’s finally come out. Hooray! I decide I’ll walk on a little further.
I have a long walk planned for tomorrow, and the first part of my route involves making a semi-circular circuit around Wigtown. So, I decide to go and complete the first part of the walk today, making the most of the improved weather AND reducing the mileage I will have to cover tomorrow.
So, in good spirits, I set off back towards the footpath I left earlier, and pick up the road that leads to Wigtown Harbour.
It’s hard to imagine sleepy Wigtown with a working harbour. Turns out the harbour is… well, pretty much empty. I’m not sure if any ships actually use it nowadays. It’s high tide at the moment, and I guess they could all be out at sea… but somehow I doubt it!
I follow the path around the edge of the harbour. The views across the water are lovely. The sun really does make all the difference and I take some pleasing photographs.
I reach a point where the path just stops.
A sign asks me to put my dog on a lead, but the bank beyond is impassable, covered in thick brambles and gorse. If the tide was out it might be possible to walk down along the shore, but the high tide has turned the grass into swamp.
I turn back. Luckily I’d seen a Core Path sign earlier, and I know there is another way around the harbour. This second path follows a more inland route and should join up with my earlier path to form a complete circuit.
‘River Circuit’ promises the official sign. Good.
But I’m about to learn, again, that Core Paths are treacherous things. After a hundred yards, my progress along the track is blocked by a gate. ‘NO ACCESS’ says a sign. ‘LAMBING IN PROGRESS’. Apparently the route reopens on the 1st June.
The 1st of June?! Well, I can’t wait that long. Actually, if there had been nobody around, I would have been tempted to climb over the gate and carry on. How much harm can one woman – without a dog – do?
But, unfortunately, a farmer is driving around the nearby field in a battered jeep. He’s checking his flock the lazy way, and creating far more disturbance than I would. But I lack the courage to climb over his gate while he’s looking. And I also lack the patience to wait until he disappears.
Saddened, I turn back. And come across a ewe and her lamb who have somehow strayed onto my track. (I had wondered where all the black sheep go when they grow up – well, here’s one.)
She flies into a panic of course, and charges about in a mindless way, until I manage to slide past her. Then she gallops off down the lane – towards the shut gate – with her lamb bouncing along beside her.
Ah, well. I’ve no idea how she got here, but I’m sure the farmer will let her through the gate and back into the field
That’s definitely my walk over and done. Time to go back into Wigtown and find my car. But I’m glad I tried to find a way through today because, now I know this path is shut, it will save me from making a disheartening false start tomorrow.
Miles walked today = 11 miles
Total distance around the coast of Britain = 3,243 miles