Two buses needed this morning, and my first bus is running 10 minutes late, so I see the second bus setting off as we pull in. Just missed it. Damn! That means I have two hours to kill in Stranraer, and won’t arrive in Glenluce until nearly midday.
I spend the time walking around Stranraer’s lovely Agnew Park and have coffee and cake in a café. When I finally get there, Glenluce appears to have its own logo – and the design is a little odd-looking.
From Glenluce, the route taking me closest to the coast would be the awful A75, but I have no intention of risking my life on its unfriendly verges. Instead, I follow a minor road out of the village and… and find the explanation for the Glenluce logo.
It’s an old railway viaduct.
Just after the viaduct, I make a sharp left turn and cross over the river (the Water of Luce) via a road bridge, and then another left turn to walk down the other side of the river.
I’m following the track of an old road, now a cycle way, and closed to through traffic. Vegetation is slowly invading the decaying tarmac.
The old road / cycle way takes me back onto the A75, but follows a separate track beside the road.
I’m not staying with the A75 for long, because I plan to head off down a minor road which runs a mile or so inland and parallel to the coast. (I did wonder if it was possible to walk closer to the shore, but there’s a golf course in the way, and I’m not sure how walker-friendly that route might be.)
The road I’m going to follow is shown on my OS map as an ‘Old Military Road’, and I expect it will be similar to the wonderful old military road I followed over the hills from Kirkcudbright.
But, when I come to the turn off – oh dear – the ‘minor road’ looks like a fairly major road after all.
Confused, I check my Garmin, and end up even more confused, because the Garmin doesn’t even show this stretch of the A75 – the one I’m on at the moment. Instead, it suggests my ‘minor road’ is, in fact, the main route into Stranraer.
[Eventually I work out my Garmin maps are old, and don’t show the new section of A75, because it was constructed fairly recently.]
Oh well. I’ll have to follow this not-so-minor road and hope for the best. Luckily, traffic is light, although the vehicles that do pass me are going screamingly fast.
On either side of the road is agricultural land. A group of cattle are standing on a smouldering heap of rotting silage and dung. Beyond the cattle, I can just make out the sands of Luce Bay – and a weird pyramidal structure on the edge of the water. A lighthouse? A navigation marker?
Here’s an old mile stone. Stranraer 8 miles. Not that anyone would take this route to Stranraer nowadays.
Onwards. I switch over from my OS Explorer map (number 310) to a new map, number 309.
Each map switch always seems like an important stage in my trek, but I know this new map – double-sided and covering the whole of The Rhins peninsula – is going to last me a very long time.
I come to Piltanton Bridge. Turning right here would take me back to the A75, but I’m carrying straight on.
And very soon I can turn off the road. I’ve come to Torrs Warren Plantation, which is marked on my map with a blue footprint – and that means walking routes.
The forest path makes a pleasant change from the road, and the trees provide welcome shade. I perch on the side of a slope and have a late picnic lunch.
It’s very peaceful among the trees. I pass a fenced off pool of water. And then I begin to see signs… CAUTION. BEES AT WORK.
But that’s an obvious and meaningful sign. The others I find are less obvious. Less meaningful. Like this one – a tube of something stuck on the branch of a tree.
Or, sometimes, very obvious, but equally meaningless. Like this blue plastic cutout, attached to an old tree trunk.
Or this duo of plastic ribbons, discreetly tied around a sapling.
Or a double sign – one high, one low – suitable for both giants and dwarves.
I guess someone has marked routes through the woodland, whether for walkers or mountain bikers isn’t clear. It’s all rather mysterious.
The plantation is narrow and I soon come out the other side. Between me and the sea is a great mass of vegetated dunes, which I can’t see over. And a fence, with another sign. This one is unambiguous.
DANGER AREA KEEP OUT.
I was expecting to come across the fence, because this area of coast is all MOD land and used for bombing practice. Nevertheless, it’s disappointing to find I can’t get through.
Perhaps I can walk a little further through the woods and come out onto the road further down? I set off along a promising path… and startle a deer. Just manage to catch a quick (and not-very-good) photo of the animal as it poses on a ridge, before it crashes off into the undergrowth.
Onwards, and my promising path becomes less and less promising. I climb over tree trunks, under fallen branches, push through ferns, beat aside brambles, until…
… until I’m back up against the MOD fence. Oh well. I’ll follow it as far as I can.
I reach the end of the woodland and the MOD fence turns a corner. Now there’s only a a farmer’s fence blocking my route. On the other side is a jumble of bushes, gorse, tall grasses and bracken. I know the road I want is somewhere ahead, just a few hundred feet away, although I can’t see it.
Reluctant to turn back, I climb over the farmer’s fence and make my way across the wasteland. This turns out to be a big mistake, as the going is much harder than I anticipated, overgrown and with uneven ground, and… and something catches the corner of my vision.
Instinct takes over. I stop in mid stride. Balance on one leg. Heart thumps.
It’s an adder!
Only a young one, yes, but large enough to do damage. It draws its head back, poised to strike. I take a rapid step backwards. And then remember to swing up my camera to take a shaky, out-of-focus photograph, before it slides off into thicker grass.
Uh oh. I haven’t seen an adder for some time, and I’d forgotten all about snakes. I would like to watch my step very carefully from now on. But the grass is so thick, it’s impossible to see where I’m putting my feet. Just have to hope for the best.
Heading for what looks like higher ground, I make another big mistake. I’d forgotten the basic architecture of a peat bog, which is formed from layers and layers of piled up moss. So the high ground turns out to be… the heart of a boggy quagmire.
I sink in up to my hips, feel moisture oozing over my boots and up to my knees. Yuck. There’s a horrible sucking, squelching sound as I pull myself free. And then a loud crashing sound… and a deer springs up from a dip. It’s only a couple of metres away from where I’m standing. We stare at each, both of us equally startled. And then it leaps away.
The next 50 yards are hard work. I can’t see where I’m putting my feet because of the grasses and reeds, and so I’m constantly plunging into boggy pools. It’s such an utter relief to reach the road. There’s only a hedge to push through now…
…I leap across a ditch and tumble out through the bushes.
Whew. I thought I hated road walking. Now I’m just grateful for tarmac beneath my feet and a total absence of bogs and snakes.
I expect to find I’m covered in mud from the waist down. In fact, the moss has acted as a cleansing sponge, so I’ve ended up with clean trousers – slightly damp, yes, but completely free of mud. How amazing.
Onwards, down the road. I walk past MOD fences and gates.
A few cars whizz past, but this is a minor road, and much quieter than before. Over the fields I see a military lookout station. Not a person in sight.
It’s only 2-3 miles of road walking. The immediate scenery is boringly flat, but the hills in the distance liven up the landscape.
A sign warns of low flying aircraft. I don’t see any.
I come to the point where a footpath heads off to the left towards the coast. I don’t spot it at first, as its cunningly hidden between an MOD access road and the driveway to a quarry.
This footpath forms part of the Mull of Galloway Trail, which is a relatively short long-distance walking route (35 miles) and runs from the southernmost tip of Scotland, through Stranraer, to Glenapp further north, where it links with the Ayrshire Coastal Path.
I’ll be following the trail from here to the tip of the Mull, and I feel a sense of relief. At last. I’m back on a proper recognised trail. And here is a special signpost – oh, I love the logo.
The path is narrow, takes me towards the MOD lookout post, and along the side of the quarry road. But, yippee, there’s the sea ahead.
I become aware of a man following me along the path. He’s taking his dog for stroll on the beach. I stop to let him go past and we talk about the lovely weather. He tells me it’s possible to walk all the way along the beach from… I forget where he said… but…
“I thought the beach is MOD land.”
“Yes. But they don’t often use it, and there’s no red flag flying. Anyway, it’s Friday afternoon, and they’ll have cleared off for the weekend.”
Realisation hits. I could have got onto the beach much further up, maybe somewhere quite close to the golf course, and avoided that slog along the road, and the awful plunging bog, and… oh dear. Well, I didn’t know, did I? Shame.
He points out the pyramidal structure on the beach, the one I thought might be a lighthouse or navigation mark. Turns out it’s an old target used during bombing practice.
If I’m walking towards Sandhead, he tells me, there’s a stream in the way. But if I head towards the dunes over there – he points again – I’ll find a bridge.
His dog begins to bark impatiently. It’s a lovely springer spaniel, similar to the one my daughter owns, and eager to get on with their walk. I watch them go off across the sands together.
Oh, I would love to have a dog. Maybe one day.
Onwards. I head off towards a hump of sand dunes to find the bridge.
Crossing the stream, I clamber up the highest dune. It’s not very high, to be honest, but it gives me a great view looking north over Luce Sands. That’s the route I could have walked, if only I’d known.
Turning to look south, and there’s another wonderful view. Sandhead Bay. Should be an easy stroll along the beach from here.
And it is an easy stroll. Lovely. The sand is firm enough for walking, but much softer than tarmac and gently corrugated with ripples made by the receding tide. Ahead, in the distance, bright specks… kite flyers? No. Kite surfers.
I relax and thoroughly enjoy this last section of today’s walk. It’s late afternoon, the sun is bright in my eyes, and the wind gently pushes me along from behind. Perfect walking weather.
Drawing closer to the kite surfers, I begin to take photographs.
Love the coloured shapes against the sand.
Looks like a festival campsite. But those are beached kites, not tents.
In fact, there is a campsite – or a caravan site – just inland. And above the dunes is a line of large vans – the type that surfers tend to use.
The wind has picked up. The kites zip about at great speed. At times it looks like a collision is inevitable… but they always manage to avoid each other.
I reach the end of the beach. Sandhead Bay. It’s a beautiful spot, only marred by piles of stinking seaweed thrown up at the far end of the beach.
It’s gone 6pm and families have arrive to play in the nearby park. There’s a weekend feeling in the air. Before I drive back to my B&B, I sit on a bench and have a snack and a drink, and then balance my camera on the armrest for a self-portrait.
Some people have complimented me on my ability to take decent self-portraits with my camera’s timer. I decide to put this one on the blog – just to prove I don’t always get it right. Well, I am IN the frame, but only just!
Today has been a shorter walk than normal, but very eventful and full of ups and downs. I’m glad to end on a high.
Miles walked today = 10.5 miles
Total around coast = 3,310.5 miles