318 Isle of Whithorn to Port William

I set off from the Isle of Whithorn in a great mood. It’s a brilliant day for walking. The morning is mild – no wind – and the landscape is flooded with warm sunshine.

01 Isle of Whithorn, Ruth walking the coast of Galloway, Scotland

Today, again, I’m planning follow a Core Path, but am dismayed when I see cattle in the field ahead. They’re hiding among the sheep. Oh dear. I really, really hope I’m not going to endure another day of anxiety and fear…

02 stock grazing, Isle of Whithorn, Ruth walking the coast of Galloway, Scotland

… but the cows remain at a safe distance, and beyond the field the paths runs along a fenced-off strip of coast. This is more like it! No cows to worry about, and a glorious walk along the top of cliffs.

03 cliff top hike from Whithorn to St Ninian's Cave, Ruth walking the coast of Galloway, Scotland

In fact, this section turns into a joyful 5 miles of easy walking, under a cloudless sky and surrounded by stunning scenery. Not another person in sight.

04 walking to Burrow Head, Ruth walking the coast of Galloway, Scotland

Look at those dramatic rocks! They must have been thrown up into a vertical position during some unimaginable geological upheaval.

05 wonderful cliffs, Burrow Head, Ruth walking the coast of Galloway, Scotland

I round Burrow Head, the southernmost point of The Machars peninsula. Ahead is a holiday camp, the only blot on this otherwise pristine landscape.

06 Burrow Head Holiday Farm, Ruth walking the coast of Galloway, Scotland

The path goes through the camp and I regain the cliff on the other side. Here’s an interesting bench. The signs are crudely carved, but beautifully weathered. DANGER. SLIPPERY SLOPE.

07 danger slippery slope signs, Ruth walking the coast of Galloway, Scotland, to St Ninian's Cave

I don’t care about slippery slopes. As long as there aren’t any cows…?

No cattle in sight. Just a deep blue sea and more dramatic rocks. Look at the colours of those cliffs! Wonderful.

08 coloured rocks, Ruth hiking to St Ninian's Cave, Galloway, Scotland

There are well-worn paths around the holiday park, but very few people about. As soon, as I leave Burrow Head behind, I’m on my own… apart from a group of fishermen perched on some rocks. No, not fishermen. Cormorants.

09 cormorants on rock, Ruth hiking the coastal path, Galloway, Scotland

No woodland here, and so no bluebells to enjoy today, but plenty of other flowers. I’m hopeless at botany – is this sea thrift growing on the cliff? I think so.

10 flowers on the cliff, Ruth hiking the coastal path, Galloway, Scotland

I walk past the remains of ancient forts, now only discernible as a few bumps in the ground. Love the names I read off my map. Ducker Rock, Stank, Castle Feather (remains of), Rock of Providence, Mary Mine (a real mine, now disused), Devil’s Arch (which I never see), Lobbocks (pardon!)…

…and then I’m looking down at shingle beach with a cave at the far end. This must be Port Castle Bay, and that is  St. Ninian’s Cave.

11 St Ninian's hermit cave, Ruth hiking the coastal path, Galloway, Scotland

The place is deserted. I drop my rucksack on the shingle and set off for the cave. The beach is longer than it looks.

When I look back to check my rucksack is OK, I can’t even see it among the stones, although I notice other people have arrived at the far end of the bay. This makes me feel uneasy, because my rucksack contains everything I need – money, water, food, map, keys, etc.

Anyway, I don’t expect anybody will want to take my stuff, will they? But the thought makes me anxious to reach the cave and get back.

The cave looks impressive from a distance, but when I climb up I discover it’s really very shallow. Doesn’t offer much protection from the weather, so I wouldn’t like to spend many nights here, as St Ninian may, or may not, have done.

12 St Ninian's cave and crosses, Ruth hiking the coastal path, Galloway, Scotland

The cave is still a place of pilgrimage. Wooden crosses, carved signs, little rosaries, and faded flowers are littered around the rocks. I stand at the entrance and look back along the beach.

13 view from St Ninian's Cave, Ruth hiking the coastal path, Galloway, Scotland

Time to go, I still have miles of walking to do. And I’m worrying about my rucksack.

I stumble back across the shingle and am relieved to find my little green backpack waiting for me. (I’ve had the same pack since I started my coastal trek and would hate to lose it.)

A couple are sitting on rocks and settling down for the day, applying suntan oil. Their spaniel runs up to say hello…


…and the man asks if I like the area. Oh yes, I certainly do.

He tells me he lives in Glasgow and his friends and neighbours go abroad for their summer holidays – Canary Islands, Benidorm, Ibiza – and have no idea what he’s talking about when he says he’s going to the Isle of Whithorn. ‘Where’s that?’

I leave them to their sunbathing.

The official Core Path comes to an end at St Ninian’s Cave, but I was going to try to follow the coast further. Unfortunately, my confidence was badly dented by the cow-induced anxiety of yesterday, so I’ve decided to head inland and follow the road instead.

The path up to the road runs along the bottom of a gorgeous little valley, Physgill Glen.

14 path up Physgill Glen from St Ninian's Cave, Ruth hiking the coastal path, Galloway, Scotland

I walk through a stretch of bluebell woods and then up a little lane. It’s a good two miles up to the main road.

15 lane from Kidsdale, Ruth hiking in Galloway, Scotland

I’m normally despondent about road walking, but it’s hard to maintain a bad mood when the sun is shining and the scenery is glorious. My only real anxiety now is… sunburn!

16 roadwalking in Galloway, Ruth hiking to Port William

I join the main road and turn left. No pavements, but only light traffic, and I make rapid progress. (Rapid for me, I mean. I actually think I hit the dizzy speed of 3 mph along this section!)

17 road to Port William, Ruth hiking, Galloway, Scotland

Road walking is, I’m afraid, inherently boring. But there is always something to see if you keep your eyes open.

Ahead is a war memorial. It’s on a crossroads, but otherwise seems to be in the middle of nowhere. I sit on the grass nearby and apply another coating of sunblock to my arms.

18 War Memorial Herds Lodge, Ruth Livingstone walking Galloway

Onwards, and I notice a roadside marker stone. “P” and “6”. Does that mean 6 miles to Port William?

19 old milestone, Ruth Livingstone on the road to Port William

Further along, a side road has been deliberately blocked by a trailer and a pickup truck. Why? Road works? Unlikely, because a road repair crew would use official signs. Maybe a farmer is moving his cows?

20 blocked road, Ruth Livingstone in Scotland

I can’t see anything happening down the lane, despite having a clear view to the end.  It remains a mystery.

Just behind the trailer is a sign. “Galloway Astronomy Centre.” I look around but don’t see any giant telescopes. Maybe there’s an observatory hidden among the trees?

21 Galloway Astronomy Centre, Ruth hiking in Scotland

Further along and another road marker. “P” and “5”. Yes, must mean five miles to Port William.

22 5 miles to Port William, Ruth Livingstone in Galloway

Want to know the best thing about road walking?

No cows to terrorise me. The only cattle I see are safely behind fences.

23 cattle in field, Ruth hiking in Galloway, Scotland

Another mile, another mile stone. This one is harder to read. 4 miles to Port William.

24 milestone four to Port William, Ruth hiking in Galloway, Scotland

I see a sign to Monreith Animal Park, and then a group of tiny Shetland ponies – who stand and watch me go past. Not much grass in that field.

25 Shetland ponies, Ruth hiking in Galloway, Scotland

Finally, I come to a turn off to St Medan Golf Course, and another sign tells me this is also the way to the Gavin Maxwell memorial. Who is Gavin Maxwell? No idea. Maybe a war hero? Or a local politician? Anyway, this is the turn I need.

I stop first for a late picnic lunch on a convenient bench, and then I head down the lane towards the golf course. Rather irritatingly, my progress is continually interrupted by cars coming up behind me. I guess a lot of people have decided it’s time for a quick game of golf on this fine afternoon.

There’s a Core Path sign up ahead. It points to the memorial and is also the “Coast Path to Monreith.” Excellent.

26 path to Gavin Maxwell monument, Ruth hiking in Galloway, Scotland

I read the information board and discover Gavin Maxwell wrote “Ring of Bright Water“, a book about his pet otter, who he sometimes brought for a walk along the beach below.

The memorial to Gavin Maxwell consists of a beautiful bronze statue of an otter perched high on a rock. Very striking.

27 Memorial to Otter, Ruth hiking in Galloway, Monreith

I feel a bit confused, however. Is this Tarka the otter? I thought he hung out near Barnstaple, in Devon – not Scotland. How odd. Maybe he lived in both places?

[Later I realise I’m confusing two different otters, two different authors, and two different books!]

The view from the memorial is wonderful. To my left, southwards, is glorious curve of beach. Front Bay, according to my map. The golf course is situated on the low headland on the other side.

28 Back Bay, Monreith, Ruth hiking in Galloway, Scotland

I’m tempted to walk down and stroll along this beautiful beach to the end and back again. But today’s planned walk is a long one for me (16 miles) and I know I’ll be pushing my endurance levels if I set out on an unplanned deviation.

To my right is another wonderful view. That’s Monreith Bay – and that’s also the direction I need to head in order to reach Port William.

29 Monreith Bay, Ruth's coastal walk, Galloway, Scotland

The walk down to Monreith is lovely, with a clear path, fragrant gorse, and a total absence of cows. When I reach the rocky outcrop in the middle of the bay, the tide is too high to continue on the beach, so I climb up into the village and join the road.

30 Monreith, Ruth's coastal walk, Galloway, Scotland

A hundred yards or so later, I climb down a steep slope to regain the beach again, and pass by a couple of weird metal sheds.  ‘PUBLIC TOILET’ – according to the signs on the doors.

31 ugly public toilets, Monreith, Ruth's coastal walk, Galloway, Scotland

Wow! Really? I’ve never seen such uninviting public conveniences!

The beach is pleasant, if rather rocky. I walk to the end and perch on one of the large boulders. Time for another snack.

32 Luce Bay, Monreith Bay, Ruth hiking to Port William, Galloway

I’m fed up with road walking, and so I decide to try to follow the shore from here to Port William. If the going gets too tough, I only need to cross over 50 yards of rough scrub, and I can rejoin the coast road.

The shore is a bit of a scramble, but passable.

33 rough shore to Port William, Ruth's coastal walk, Galloway, Scotland

As I near Port William, I realise it’s oddly laid out for a coastal village. There’s no road or lane along the shore, just the backs of houses. I can see the harbour wall ahead…

34 harbour wall, Port William, Ruth's coastal walk, Galloway, Scotland

…but as I get closer, the wall looks more and more unfriendly. Oh dear. I can’t see an easy route through, so I turn back, retrace my steps a little, scramble up the bank with difficulty (it’s covered in boulders as a flood defence, I think) and reach the village green.

35 Port William, Ruth Livingstone in Scotland

I walk along the street, heading for the place I left my car this morning. On the wall of a house is a sign: “ON THIS VERY SPOT IN 1677 NOTHING HAPPENED”.

36 nothing happened, Port William, Ruth's coastal walk, Galloway, Scotland

It’s a variation on the sign I saw yesterday, but not quite so amusing, because the other sign took the trouble to mimic an official notice.

I’m parked outside a village supermarket, and I go inside to try to find a card to send to an old friend who has developed some serious health problems.

37 Ruth Livingstone hiking to Port William, The Machars, Scotland

But all they have are birthday cards and jolly congratulations cards. Not appropriate. So I buy a cold drink and leave. Time to head back to my B&B.

Miles walked today = 16 miles
Total distance around coast = 3,285 miles


About Ruth Livingstone

Walker, writer, photographer, blogger, doctor, woman, etc.
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28 Responses to 318 Isle of Whithorn to Port William

  1. Oh Ruth! Gavin Maxwell! You must read Ring of Bright Water and then Maxwell’s biography , Maxwell’s Ghost by Richard Frere. Maxwell was one of the most enigmatic characters I have come across. He was steeped in natural history, but there is much much more.You must not miss visiting the site of Camusfeàrna, the isolated cottage where Maxwell lived with the otters. You will come to it at Sandaig, NG 771 147when you get up to the north west coast of Scotland. It is on the shore but a bit tricky to get to (not difficult but just locating the not so obvious path). I am not often dictatorial about recommending books and the like, but for me this was one of the most memorable stories ever, The location of the cottage is without any exaggeration, one of the most evocative and atmospheric places I have visited and I really mean that. Maxwell came from a fairly well to do family who had their estate in the region you are walking through.

    • Thanks for the recommendation, Conrad. I’ve just ordered Ring of Bright Water from our local library.

      • Chris Elliott says:

        Hi Ruth – I have just returned from Scotland from my last trip. I have now reached Mallaig. I read Conrad’s comment with interest as I have always been a keen Gavin Maxwell fan ever since seeing Ring of Bright Water when I was at school in the late 1960’s (?). When I return to Scotland in June to walk my next stretch I will be completing the stint in Glenelg which is just beyond Sandaig. The memorial for Maxwell (I presume) is actually marked on my OS map and so I shall make the detour to it as I pass. That is assuming I make it to Glenelg in the first place. I am really concerned with my walk from Mallaig as I am going to attempt to walk the south shore of Loch Nevis which not even David Cotton attempted. It will be by far the most difficult thing I have attempted on my walk to date. I just hope I am up to it. I will let you know how I get on in July when I return, and if I can add more input to Conrad’s note above to help you, for when you get there I will. Regards Chris

        • Oooh, sounds tricky. Will be interested to hear how you get on. I’m wondering if other people have walked that section or not. Yes, please let us know.

          • Chris Elliott says:

            I cannot find any record on the Internet of any coasters walking the south shore of Loch Nevis but a friend of mine put me in touch with a friend of his who has walked it and said it was do-able as long as you stay high – but he was only carrying a light day pack! I will let you know more in July….

          • Chris, I’ve been looking at my books. John Westley walked the south shore of Loch Nevis on the 3rd June, way back in 1991. He describes hail, rain and snow! Resulting swollen streams “reduced my progress along the steeply cambered southern shore of Loch Nevis to that of a non-equine steeplechase”. Fingers crossed you have better weather!

  2. Ring of Bright Water is a good read, but the biography is so much more revealing following Maxwell’s life beyond Ring. He did write a follow up – Raven Seek thy Brother
    but unless you are really hooked I would go straight on to the biography.

    • Thanks for recommending that, Conrad. I’ll read the Ring first, and then the biography too. The edition I’ve ordered from the library actually contains 3 of his books, The Ring of Bright Water, The Rocks Remain, and the Raven one.

  3. owdjockey says:

    Hi Ruth, I also share your liking of this area for walking. I remember as a young lad having to do Ring of Bright Water for “o” level, the film of the same name is definately worth a watch. A complex character, I suppose the Bipolar disorder did not help. In later life I read one of his earlier books, Harpoon at a Venture, a venture into setting up a basking shark fishery on the island of Soay, a venture that I am glad to say failed.

  4. Anabel Marsh says:

    I read Ring of Bright Water at school. I see from the comments I am not the only one. I wish I’d known about that memorial, it’s beautiful. We also visited St Ninian’s Cave – out and back along that lovely valley path whose name I now know! John remembered visiting it as a child and has wanted to go back for years.

  5. brunowski25 says:

    Hi Ruth,
    my family and I holidayed in Port William just 6 weeks ago; the 1st time we’d ever spent any time in that part of the world, and we absolutely loved it. What a beautiful place. The place we stayed is pictured in your photo of the ‘unfriendly’ harbour wall, and had the most incredible view out to sea. A magnificent place, and your recent walks are making me want to head right back again!

  6. snowgood says:

    I would further endorse Ring of Bright Water – well worth reading, I still remember it despite not reading it 40 odd years back. Lovely walk, nicer than sitting in my Horsham office.

  7. snowgood says:

    oops – not sure how “not” got in there! I did read it!

  8. gillianrance says:

    Sharing your fear of cows Ruth, it can put me off walking a route if I know there are fields involved, it really does make me very nervous too. But on a walk this week I had to pass through a field of cows, fortunately they were at the top end and some people were crossing the field near them. I hoped they would chase them before me! And not to add to your fears but my friend and I were involved in a fracas with Shetland ponies who took umbrage to us crossing their field. I think it was probably my friend’s dog that unsettled them but it’s made me careful around all livestock now. What a lovely walk though, 16 miles would be more than I can do.

    • Ooh, err. I’ve not been afraid of Shetland Ponies, but now… one more thing to add to the list of dangerous animals I might meet! 16 miles is just about the limit of my comfort zone.

  9. Eunice says:

    The scenery around Burrow Head reminds me very much of that between Rhoscolyn and Trearddur Bay on Anglesey. I love Ring Of Bright Water, went to see the film with my mum when it first came out and got the book not long afterwards.

    • Yes, it’s very similar Eunice. Beautiful coastal walking. I’m looking forward to reading the book, Ring of Bright Water. Think I must have seen the film, but I can’t remember it.

  10. Will French says:

    Hi Ruth. Just discovered your great website. Having started in 2009 on the SWCP and kept going, me and the wife are on a slightly more leisurely mission to yours. You won’t know it, but you passed us early this year coming out of Carlisle. We have v similar rules to yours though we may be a bit more relaxed than you in seeking alternatives to road walking – especially main roads. That’s something we think can always be justified by adherence to your Rule 1.

    Our method is to do things in 4-7 day chunks starting and ending at transport nodes and staying in B&Bs. Planning each stage is getting complicated as we get into more remote parts and our extra years bear down on our maximum daily range. So your route descriptions are becoming essential reading.

    Anyway, can you answer a question re the Isle of Whithorn to Port William section (No 318). It sounds trivial but you might save us an overnight B&B stop. Your blog describes how you turn off the coast at Ninian’s Cave and walk all the way up to the A477. But why? Our maps show there are minor tracks that seem to shave a couple of miles off your route and which I imagine keep you away from the cattle that are as much of a worry to us as they are to you. The most direct route, anyway, seems to be along the coast. Were it not for the cattle did you think it would be worth a try? It’s not a core path, but that doesn’t always seem very relevant the deeper we go into this part of Scotland,

    V best wishes


    • Hi Will and wonderful to hear from you. Did we actually meet near Carlisle? How amazing. Like you, I prefer staying in one place for a few days and using it as a base for several days walking. Now, to answer your question… I had a really horrible day the previous day, with cows and calves… and so I decided to stick to proven routes. Alan Palin did walk the coast from St Ninian’s cave to Port William. He had to climb over several walls, but managed to get through. His account is here: https://walkingthecoastofgreatbritain.com/2016/07/08/121-garlieston-to-port-william
      If you do decide to do the coastal stretch, I would be interested in hearing how you get on. Best wishes, Ruth

      • Will French says:

        Thx. We’re planning to go later this month and will let you know how we get on.

        No we didn’t meet in Carlisle. Sorry if I misled you. You passed through while we we dozing in London. However your description of the walk across the Metal Bridge caused us to divert inland into Longtown. Well worth it, we thought. And just to add, if you’re interested, that we use a different B&B every night. So far never stayed at the same one twice. It means carrying everything for a week, but its simpler and we enjoy our bath straight after the day’s walk.

        Keep going. Will

        • Yes, Metal Bridge was horrible. Well worth the diversion. Wish I’d planned to do that, but I was running out of time and at the limits of my walking-endurance… so had to cross that wretched bridge.
          Ah. I misunderstood how you organise your trips. I do really admire you carrying everything on your backs. I walk the easy way, I’m afraid.

      • Will says:

        Strong winds and driving rain made the walk to St Ninian’s Well a real struggle last Thursday. So we opted for a quieter afternoon and followed quiet farm tracks inland to join the A747 about 5 miles from Port William. It worked out well.The weather improved and the route took us past some quite mysterious abandoned farms.

  11. Karen White says:

    Maybe the road to the Astronomy place was blocked off because they were waiting for aliens to land……just a thought. :o)
    The otter statue is beautiful and situated in a perfect spot. I will always remember the devastating moment in the film of Ring of Bright Water when Mij the otter is killed. It made such an impression on me that I would never watch the film again.
    Glorious views of Front Bay and Monreith Bay.

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