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.
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…
… 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.
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.
Look at those dramatic rocks! They must have been thrown up into a vertical position during some unimaginable geological upheaval.
I round Burrow Head, the southernmost point of The Machars peninsula. Ahead is a holiday camp, the only blot on this otherwise pristine landscape.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!)
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.
Onwards, and I notice a roadside marker stone. “P” and “6”. Does that mean 6 miles 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?
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?
Further along and another road marker. “P” and “5”. Yes, must mean five miles to Port William.
Want to know the best thing about road walking?
No cows to terrorise me. The only cattle I see are safely behind fences.
Another mile, another mile stone. This one is harder to read. 4 miles to Port William.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
…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.
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”.
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.
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.
- You can read about Gavin Maxwell and his pet otter on his Wikipedia page.
- And about the Tarka the Otter book on this Wikipedia page.
Miles walked today = 16 miles
Total distance around coast = 3,285 miles