There is no bus service to the tip of the Mull of Galloway. So, today I’ve planned a circular walk from Drummore to the Mull and back again.
I park in a tiny village called Damnaglaur. (I’ve chosen this spot to reduce the amount of road-walking I must do at the end of the day.) From here it’s a mile’s walk down the road to Drummore.
Sunshine, a clear sky, blue sea, and a perfect day for walking. Drummore is an interesting place. I love this funky coffee shop. And… what’s that?
Yes. A skeleton is perched on the wall next to the menu board. Hmm. Not sure if that’s an entirely positive advert for the food they serve here!
At the bottom of the high street is the harbour, looking very picturesque with the tide in. It’s clearly a working harbour too, with fishermen arriving in vans and standing on the quayside.
I walk past the broken ribs of a wrecked ship. This reminds me of some awful news I heard this morning…
…yesterday a motor launch went missing after setting out from Port Logan, a few miles up the coast (or maybe from Port Patrick, the reports were conflicting). Apparently heading for Stranraer on a fishing expedition. Three men on board. Now missing.
On a day like this, with the water calm and beautiful, it’s easy to forget how dangerous the sea actually is.
I leave the harbour and walk along the coast road. It’s lined with bungalows, curves around Cairngarroch bay, and comes to a dead-end after a mile.
From here, the Mull of Galloway Trail is clearly marked. I walk along a path beside the shingle shore, through scrub and grassland, with a wonderful view back across the water to Drummore.
I reach Calliness Point, where the coast turns a corner and I lose sight of Drummore.
The next place I’ll come to is Maryport Bay. The path is flat and easy, and I walk through gorgeous smelling gorse – the sun has really brought out its perfume.
Maryport Bay turns out to be a lovely little cove, with a sandy beach below the shingle. I was expecting a village, but Maryport seems to consist entirely of a holiday park. Not many people here in May, just a few strollers on the beach.
Beyond Maryport, the path disappears and the Mull of Galloway Trail continues along the beach. The Mull seems straight ahead and drawing steadily closer. (Sadly my photographs are poor because I’m walking southwards and directly into the sun.) I’ll soon be there.
At first I’m walking along a strip of sand, but then the shore deteriorates into a jumble of rocks and shingle. It’s hard going, rough and slippery with decaying seaweed. Quite a struggle.
Overhead I hear the drone of a helicopter. Look up. It’s the coastguard. The chopper has come from the direction of the Mull and flies slowly along the edge of the sea.
A short while later they come back, hovering above me and – or so I assume – checking me out. They must still be looking for the boat that went missing yesterday. But surely if it was so close to the shore they would have been spotted it by now?
And then I realise, with a sense of horror, they’re probably not looking along this shore for an obvious boat, but for wreckage. Or for bodies. Oh dear. After that thought, I can’t help keeping my eyes peeled.
The rocks take on a new air. Sinister. Menacing. Ready to rip the bottom out of a hull, or shred the skin of anyone unfortunate to be washed up on their ridges. Every flapping piece of plastic caught on a stone catches my attention.
The path along the shore seems to disappear. I head up to the bank, but it’s completely overgrown with brambles and weeds and there’s no obvious path there either.
I continue my slippery journey along the rocks, until I come to a stream that cuts a deep channel across my way – a place with the ominous name of Portankill. I can’t go forward, and so make a dangerous and difficult scramble over treacherous stony ridges to reach the grassy bank.
Once on the bank, it’s a steep climb up a slope that’s crumbled and sodden with hidden springs. I scramble up on hands and knees, holding onto tufts of grass to stop myself slipping downwards, and collecting plenty of mud on the way up.
I reach the top – whew, what a relief! – and spot the path. It’s very obvious and very clear along the top of the bank. There you are! You wicked path. Playing tricks on me. Where have you been?
The views are wonderful, but photography is still difficult with the sun bright in my eyes.
I walk past little coves, through thickets of golden gorse. I love gorse bushes, but they do form impenetrable barriers if left unchecked. Sadly, unless cut back, it’s only a matter of time before the path here becomes completely blocked too.
Below the sea is clear and a vivid ultramarine colour. Haven’t seen such gorgeous colours since I was in Wales – it makes a wonderful change from the browns and greys of estuary water.
The rocks are dramatic too. And I’m surprised to come across a great patch of bluebells covering the open slopes – what are they doing up here with no trees about?
I walk through a field of sheep. Big sheep. Very chunky… oh, they’re rams. I better give them a wide berth.
Must be approaching a car park, because I begin to meet other walkers. A man sitting on a rock and staring out to sea. A couple settling down for a picnic lunch. But the place isn’t exactly crowded.
I climb up a hill. Only 50 metres, according to my map, but it seems high – and on the other side is a lovely view. East Tarbet Bay.
East Tarbet Bay sits on the isthmus at the beginning of the Mull of Galloway, which stretches out for a mile from here. The tip of the Mull forms the southernmost point of Scotland.
I head down into the bay, where an information sign explains the name Tarbet comes from a Norse word meaning to draw, or pull, a boat. Here boats were brought ashore and pulled over the narrow isthmus of land, so avoiding the rough passage and dangeros waters around the tip of the Mull. Seems sensible to me.
On the other side of Tarbet bay, I begin to walk up the northern coast of the Mull. I’m still following the Mull of Galloway Trail, although a sign tries to warn me off. The way is steep and difficult, it says.
Pfff. No. Compared to where I’ve just been, this path is easy peasy.
Later the way becomes less distinct, disrupted by muddy streams and landslips. At one point, I think I’ve lost the path completely and might be following a sheep trail – but it’s going in the right direction and I carry on.
The slope gets steeper, the trail becomes very narrow and, as I climb higher, I feel dizzy when I look down. Better not lose my balance here! I’m grateful I’ve brought my pole with me.
I climb up towards the top of the slope, where I walk along a clearer path beside a wire fence. The views are wonderful. I stop to take photographs, looking back towards the base of the peninsula. There’s East Tarbet Bay.
I haven’t yet reached the tip of the Mull of Galloway, although it feels like I’ve come more than a mile. It’s almost a relief to reach a stone wall and realise I can’t get any further along the slope. I pass through a gate in the fence and follow a path up the slope.
At the top of The Mull is a flattish plateau of grassland. From this position, you can really get a sense that the Mull is a peninsula, because you can look all the way back to the narrow isthmus connecting it to the mainland.
There are people about. I walk through a car park.
A stone wall has a sign in memory of David Little who drove an ice cream van. I wish he was still here… I’m hot, tired, thirsty and hungry and could really do with a cold drink. Or an ice cream.
I walk onwards to the visitor centre. It contains plenty of information about birds, but doesn’t sell anything to eat or drink. Hard to believe this place – clearly popular with visitors – doesn’t have a café! Oh dear.
I want to ask one of the staff if there is somewhere I can buy a drink, but he’s busy talking to an old lady about brown butterflies.
So I sit on a bench in the shade under the overhanging eaves, and open my snack box. At least I’ve got some chocolate bars and plenty of water in my water bottle – even if it is unappetisingly tepid.
After a brief rest, I head towards the lighthouse and notice a large white H marked on the ground with white paving slabs. A helicopter landing site. I wonder if that’s where the helicopter I saw this morning took off from?
There are a variety of paths around the tip of the Mull. Visitors stroll about, some with binoculars and on the lookout for birds – gannets maybe. I don’t see any.
I follow paths towards the end of the headland, keeping as close to the edge of the cliffs as I can, determined to make sure I really do get to stand on the southernmost point of Scotland – even if I’m not sure exactly where it is!
The sea below is ruffled and full of competing currents. Looks like a dangerous place for shipping and, to reinforce that impression, I spot an old fog horn perched on the side of a cliff.
I’m still hoping to find a café but, although the lighthouse is open to visitors, it doesn’t sell drinks. At the front of the lighthouse is a mini car-boot sale, which seems incongruous given the setting. The stalls outside sell plants and trinkets, but no drinks either.
I do, however, find one of those touristy signposts. It’s somewhat reassuring to see that I’m actually closer to John O’Groats than I am to Land’s End or London. Am surprised to see Senegal up there – until I realise it’s there because Senegal is the gannets’ winter home.
As I begin heading up the southern side of the peninsula, I stop to take a photograph looking back at the lighthouse. It’s really a fine structure. Imposing.
There’s a coastguard vessel parked overlooking the sea, and various official people milling around. I guess they’re part of the search party trying to find the missing boat.
Ah. An information sign tells me I’m finally, really standing on the southernmost tip of Scotland. Carrickcarlin Point. It seems like an important milestone on my coastal trek. Time for a self-portrait.
I take another photograph looking ahead at the cliffs along the coast – and spot something built into the side of the slope, hidden under a grasssy roof. A café! Knew there must be one up here. I’ve found it at last.
The café is very crowded and hot inside. I buy a bottle of cold Sprite and sit outside in the shade. Afterwards, feeling much better, I set off for the final part of my circuit of the Mull.
Much of the land on top of the Mull is composed of one single enormous field. A cattle field. And the beasts lie roughly along the way I want to go.
Luckily I can walk on the other side of the fence – away from killer cows and close to the edge of the dramatic cliffs. Wonderful views.
At the bottom of the peninsula, the ground slopes down and into a pretty cove. This is West Tarbet, the twin to East Tarbet, which is only a 100 yards away across the isthmus.
I wasn’t sure of the way forwards from here. The official Mull of Galloway Trail ended back at the tip of the mull. (It does seem a rather strange place to stop, as there are no public transport links, and any long-distance hiker must end up stranded!)
Actually, there is a fantastic plan to create a coastal path all around The Rhins peninsula. BUT – it only exists as an idea at the moment. The website warns the next section is: “Part of Rhins coastal path, not yet developed. No waymarking or furniture, dykes and electric fences in a number of pleaces. Field with stock”
To be honest, it’s the “Field with stock” that really puts me off. My plan, therefore, is to simply follow the road back up to Damnaglaur.
But then I see a man walking towards me along the not-yet-developed path. A proper hiker, with a back pack. Is there a way through along the coast, I ask him? Yes, he says, for a short distance anyway. I pull out my map, and he shows me how he came down a track and joined the coast a mile or so along.
Of course, I decide to follow the coast up until I meet the same track. But I soon lose the path, and end up sliding down into a dry river valley on my bum…
…picking up gorse scratches and new dirt to add to the existing mud on my trousers. Luckily, after that the way improves. I walk along the rocky shore, across another dry river valley, and up a hill.
It’s a beautiful and unspoiled part of the coast, and with great views looking back to West Tarbet and the Mull.
I reach the point where the path heads inland to pick up a track. Somewhere in the field just to my right is a standing stone. I can’t see it, and the field is full of cows, so I don’t go exploring.
I follow the track northwards to a farm called West Cairngaan. Here I join a road, although I later realise I could have stayed on the track for another half mile and joined the road at a farm called East Cairngaan.
The road is… well, it’s a road. But I meet no traffic and the surrounding countryside is lovely.
It’s a steady climb and, near the top, a great view looking back down over the Mull of Galloway.
This is the closest encounter I have with cows today, when a group of young heifers come over to the fence in the hope I might have brought them some feed.
My minor road joins the main road, although there really isn’t much difference, just a few more cars as visitors begin returning from the Mull. I pass isolated houses with fabulous views.
Then a gentle slope downhill towards Damnaglaur.
When the village comes into view, I have a heart-stopping moment when I realise my car has disappeared. There were no parking places in Damnaglaur, so I left it on a grassy verge. Towed away? Stolen? Oh, no…
…it’s just around the bend, exactly where I left it.
Walked today = 13.5 miles
Total distance around the coast of Britain = 3,334.5 miles