By the harbour of Port William, a man leans on a railing, staring out to sea. The plaque in front of him carries a quote from the Welsh poet, W.H. Davies: “What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare.”
I absolutely agree with W.H. Davies. My walks are slow, and my mileage low, because I take plenty of opportunities to simply stand and stare. And take photographs of course.
Anyway, the bronze man above is going nowhere in a hurry. It’s a great piece by the sculptor Andrew Brown. Perfect in detail and placed in the perfect setting too.
I walk around the harbour and say goodbye to Port William…
…from here I face 7-8 miles of road walking along a route utterly devoid of villages, until I reach a place called Auchenmalg. At least the road hugs the coast and the scenery is beautiful.
The narrow footpath soon disappears, and I walk on the edge of the tarmac. There isn’t much traffic, but the few cars and lorries are hurtling along at tremendous speed.
I consider walking along the shore, but it is covered in rough shingle and an unfriendly scrumble of rocks, and so I decide to stick to the road.
After a couple of miles, I pass a small holiday park of static caravans and notice a sign to Elrig. I’m not turning off, but Elrig was the childhood home of Gavin Maxwell (the Ring of Bright Water author).
Like yesterday, there are regular milestones along my road. “G” – I check my map – yes, it must refer to Glenluce, my destination today. Only 11 miles to go.
Apart from the passing cars, the only living things I meet are sheep and cattle. These cows look rather fine and I love the colour of their coats. I think they’re a breed called Red Poll.
Parking places exist, although I don’t see any coastal visitors, apart from this one camper van. I feel a twinge of envy. What a great place to set up camp – although there are signs saying no overnight stops are allowed.
(I’ve learnt in rural Scotland, as in rural Wales, most parking regulations are taken as mere suggestions and usually ignored.)
Onwards. The road is hemmed in by a high ridge on my right. If only there was a path along that crest – it would make a fabulous walking route.
Down on the road, I lose sight of the sea behind a screen of bushes, but over to my left a fishing vessel is slowly keeping pace with me. The crew seems to be checking pots – lobster or crab.
The thick vegetation on either side of the road makes me feel a little claustrophobic. And causes a problem when I realise my bladder is full and I can’t find a secluded spot out of sight of passing traffic. Not for some time, anyway!
A full bladder isn’t my only problem. The sun is bright behind me, and I notice that oncoming drivers are squinting into the glare and are having trouble seeing me. So, for that reason, I decide to switch and walk on the left hand side of the road, instead of the right.
I pass a turn off to Chapel Finian. If only it wasn’t up a hill and another couple of miles along a lane I would be tempted to go and explore… but I have a longish walk today and a bus to catch. Can’t afford lengthy diversions.
Another mile stone. Glenluce. 8 miles. I feel stupidly annoyed with myself for missing G9 and G10, which I must have passed unnoticed, because I meant to photograph all the stones. Well, I’m not going back to find them… onwards.
I’m still walking on the left hand side of the road, instead of the right, because of the bright sun behind me. I can hear cars coming from 1/2 a mile away, and have plenty of time to step onto the verge when I need to.
Anyway, the one thing I can’t hear coming up behind is, of course, a cyclist.
So, when a wobbly guy overtakes me on his bike, he makes me jump. He should have sounded a warning, I think. And then he has the cheek to shout at me over his shoulder. “You’re on the wrong side of the road.” He shouts it twice.
I’m really annoyed by this. Unreasonably annoyed. Partly it’s the feeling of betrayal as cyclists and walkers should stick together, as we both share the same common menace (car drivers) don’t we? And how dare he yell instructions at me. I’m an experienced walker and I’m walking on this side of the road for A VERY GOOD REASON!
Still fuming, I come around a bend in the road and see Auchenmalg Bay ahead of me.
Good. I’ll soon be able to get off the road. My plan is to follow a Core Path (assuming it’s possible) up over the far headland and across the cliffs.
It’s a lovely bay. My OS map suggested the beach would be mainly shingle and so I wasn’t expecting to see so much sand.
As soon as I can, I head down to the shore and walk along the sand. My anger disappears and I feel much better.
Finding a rare piece of driftwood, I balance my camera and take a self-portrait. Does my bum look big in this?
After miles of road walking, being on the beach is blissful. Just me and the seagulls. What’s that land over there? I think it’s the Mull of Galloway – the southernmost point in Scotland. I’ll be there soon.
As I draw level with the village of Auchenmalg, I head back to the road. Don’t want to miss the pub! I spotted it on the drive to Port William and have my heart set on a proper sit-down lunch – the first for several days.
In somebody’s garden, I spot a brown bear leaning on a sign. “BEEN FISHING.” Makes me chuckle.
I pass a holiday park – Luce Bay Lodges. That explains something that was puzzling me. I was wondering how such a small place could support a pub.
The pub is on the bend. It’s had a makeover and an interior that looks oddly modern and out-of-place. There are several people sitting in the restaurant, but I have a light meal in the bar, along with a half-pint of cider, and a good rest.
[John Merrill, the famous long-distance walker, never stops while he’s walking – not for a rest, not even for a drink. He says he doesn’t stop because he finds it hard to get going again. But I find a decent midday rest – and a decent midday meal – really revs up my energy levels for the afternoon.]
After lunch I walk along the beach, pick up a track, and then the Core Path leading up to the top of the headland. The path is well sign-posted. A good omen. It’s a steep climb, but the views are fabulous.
On the way up, I noticed a couple were following me. They’re the first walkers I’ve seen all day, so I’m a little disappointed when they reach the top and then seem to give up.
The first part of the path is difficult. The cliff has slipped, there are signs of cattle hooves (grrrr!), and the grass is overgrown enough to make it hard to see what lies underfoot. In places the nettles and thistles are a nuisance too.
But, when the path improves and I can raise my eyes from the ground and look around, the view ahead is wonderful. This is proper coastal walking at its best.
My lovely trek over the headland is less than 3 miles, but is the best part of the day. And I meet a group of young people carrying huge back packs. 16 or 17 years old, I think.
“How far is it to Auchenmalg?” asks one boy. And says “much obliged” when I tell him it’s about a mile away. Very polite. He warns me the slope ahead is very steep.
Further along, and I see another group of young people. They look exhausted and are studying a map. “How far is it?” they ask me. They’re heading for the campsite in Auchenmalg too. “A mile. You’re nearly there.”
I walk around the edge of a ploughed field and spot another group. They are studying a sign at the entrance to the field, and then, after some discussion among themselves, make their way straight across the ploughed earth
They look bowed down by their packs. Makes me glad I only have to carry a light day pack – which always feels heavy enough by the end of the day!
When I get to the other side of the ploughed field, I look at the sign the kids were studying. “Please keep to edge of crop field.” I chuckle. Well, they did look very hot and tired. I’d probably have done the same thing and ignored the sign too.
Further along, and another group of youngsters come over the crest of the slope.
“How long does this hill go on for?” a girl asks me. She’s very hot and sweaty.
“You’re nearly there. Only a couple of miles. An hour maximum.”
“Ooooh, noooo!” she wails, in a Scottish accent. “Another two miles. Oooh, noooo!”
Oh dear. I meant to cheer her up!
“What are you all doing?” I ask, although I’ve guessed correctly. The Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme.
She tells me they’ve walked all the way from Glenluce. “Actually just beyond Glenluce.” I don’t have the heart to tell her that’s where I’m going and I’ve already walked 9 miles.
(I never did the Duke of Edinburgh scheme at school. In those days I wasn’t an outdoors person and the idea of traipsing across some rain-swept moor carrying a huge pack on my back was my idea of a living hell. How my attitudes have changed!)
Now I can see clearly that I’m walking along the edge of a huge bay. Luce Bay. Most of the water, and the land at the top of the bay, is taken up by an MOD firing range. But there’s no firing today. Everything is very peaceful.
I’m over the top of the headland and going downhill, when I meet a solo woman walker. She has stopped on the path and seems to be waiting for something. I notice her looking ahead and watching the last group of teenagers wind their way up the slope.
Turns out she is one of the teachers. Her job is to make sure they all survive the hike, while pretending not to be there.
The path winds down the hill towards a village called Stairhaven.
The boy I met earlier is absolutely correct. The slope is very steep. Perhaps this is why the place is called Stairhaven? In fact, I’d be grateful for a set of steps. No wonder those young people looked tired.
I make it to the bottom without breaking a leg, and join a quiet lane. This should take me the next 3 miles to the top of The Machars peninsula, and into Glenluce.
I’d forgotten about the time and, with a stab of anxiety, I check my watch. There are only a couple of buses a day to Port William and the last one leaves at 17:26. I relax when I realise I’ve got plenty of time.
The road is lovely. Just light traffic. I walk high above the bay…
… and then along the side of wooded valley, where a little river (The Water of Luce) drifts down to join the sea.
Somewhere ahead is the dreaded A75, and I was wondering how I was going to cross this busy road. I needn’t have worried. There’s an underpass.
Decorating the walls of the underpass are some bright paintings. The work of primary school children. I take lots of photographs and really enjoy the simplicity of the painting and the sheer happiness of the mural.
[I’ve put a collection of my photographs of these paintings on my Ruthless Ramblings blog. Do take a look.]
I arrive in Glenluce with over an hour to spare before the bus. It’s the day of local elections and the polling station is open. So is the pub. I don’t know if these two facts are connected, but I pop in and order a diet coke (no more cider because I’ll be driving later).
There are 3 old boys in the pub. I think they’ve been there since lunch because they’re very jolly and very loud. They assume I’m walking the Southern Upland Way, which runs nearby, but I explain I’m walking the coast. After that they lose interest in me, and I can’t understand a word they say (they’re speaking in Scottish) but it involves a lot of swearing – which is the only part of their conversation I do understand!
After a while, I go and sit in the sunshine and wait for the bus to Port William.
A woman has come to pick up her children from school, but they’re worried about their friend. His mother hasn’t turned up. Neither has his father. The woman spends the next 20 minutes on her mobile phone patiently trying to track down the boy’s parents. “Nay bother,” she keeps saying at the end of each fruitless call.
The boy is misbehaving, jumping on benches and generally showing off. “He’s not mine,” the woman says to me, apologetically. It’s a relief to all of us when a man (his father?) finally shows up and takes him away.
An old guy has been hanging about, and I realise he is waiting for the bus too. He wears a man’s dark suit jacket and a pair of shorts. All rather scruffy and down at heel (there are cobwebs on the back of his jacket). We discuss the lack of buses.
“Everything has changed for the worse,” he says, shaking his head mournfully. His voice is upper crust and English. “Used to be several buses a day. Everything changed for the worse.”
It’s a rather downbeat end to a beautiful day.
You can read more about Andrew Brown, the sculptor, on his Facebook page.
Miles walked today = 15 miles
Total distance around the coast of Britain = 3,300 miles