I’ve had my confidence badly rattled by several scary encounters with cattle, yesterday and the day before. Today I plan to stick almost entirely to road walking, as I head from Ardwell to Portpatrick. (There is a short distance of coastal path towards the end of my route which I might follow if the way seems clear of bovine bovver.)
Ardwell seems very familiar now, with it’s pretty white cottages.
It’s the third day in a row I’ve caught the numer 407 bus – and the third day in a row I’ve travelled with the same elderly man, the man I first noticed walking up the hill to Damnaglaur. Funny how quickly you fall into a comfortable routine… but I remind myself this really is the last time I’ll catch this bus.
From Ardwell I follow a quiet country lane, heading westwards towards the far side of The Rhins peninsula.
Soon I spot a footpath off to the left and, hoping I’m not going to end up diverted miles out of my way, I follow it through woodland. Bluebells and dappled sunlight.
I dodge out the way of a jogger, coming up noiselessly behind me, but otherwise meet nobody. The footpath runs along the edge of the Ardwell House estate, and ends just opposite Ardwell church.
It’s a large church, considering how tiny Ardwell is.
From here I turn left along the road. Not much traffic, but I’m overtaken by a dustbin lorry. It’s strange to see such a large and clumsy vehicle manoeuvring down these narrow lanes.
I soon slip into an easy rhythm of walking. Flat tarmac can be tough on the feet, but at least I make good progress. There’s woodland to my right. The farm ahead is called Low Clachanmore.
Less than a mile further, and I reach Clachanmore. It’s hard to tell the size of a place just by looking at my map – some places with impressive names turn out to be single farmsteads! – but Clachanmore is a reasonable collection of houses situated on a crossroads.
It even has a telephone box. Since most telephone boxes in England no longer contain telephones, I’m delighted to see this one has a working handset inside. Can’t resist a photo… and so I manage, inadvertently, to capture a reflected self-portrait too.
Straight over the crossroads, and my quiet lane becomes even quieter. I’m enjoying the walk far more than I anticipated. Yes, it’s a boring old road and with no sight of the sea, but the sun’s shining and the landscape is lush and gentle.
Brown shapes leap through the grass in the field next to me… hares! I swing up my camera, but only manage a blurry shot before they’re off over the brow of the hill. Crikey. They can really shift.
My lane swings closer to the sea. A place called Float Bay is only 1/2 mile away, across those fields. At Float Bay I could – if I was feeling brave – pick up a core path and follow the coast of a mile or two… but… but… BUT… just look at those cows in the field.
I come to the spot where I must make up my mind. Do I head for the coast here? Or do I stay on the road? I’m torn both ways. What should I do?
As a medical doctor, and a logical scientist, I don’t believe in omens or messages. But I can’t avoid noticing a planter full of blood-red tulips. Blood red? Well, they’re so deeply red they’re almost black, so maybe more blood-blue… like venous blood, not arterial blood… but why am I quibbling about details? Blood-coloured flowers are never a good omen.
And, almost directly opposite, is an even more ominous sign. A sign with a photo of a bull, and with some real live cattle glowering at me from the field behind.
To reach the coastal footpath, if I want to, I must walk along a track and right through Little Float Farm. A farm that’s clearly dedicated to raising bulls!
OK, I’m not superstitious and I don’t believe in guardian angels, or guiding spirits, or anything… but somebody seems to be TELLING ME SOMETHING.
I decide to stick to the road. Onwards. Up to Mid Float, which turns out to be a collection of rather fine houses.
Beyond Mid Float, and off to my right, is a standing stone. I normally enjoy spotting ancient stones, but this one looks disappointingly unromantic, I must admit, sitting squarely in a neatly rolled meadow.
The names of the hills are equally prosaic. Water Hill and Thistle Hill to my left, Brunting Hill and Horsepark hill to my right.
Mid Float is behind me. I walk past a place called Float and another called Meikle Float. Farms and fields. Very little traffic. Nobody about. I haven’t met any other walkers today, but I do meet a cyclist cruising down the hill.
And, of course, I’m never truly alone… there are cattle in every field. They look quite sweet, I suppose, friendly even, when viewed from the other side of the fence.
I hear a rumble behind me and am overtaken by another large truck. A recycling lorry. It stops beside a green bin and a trio of men leap out. Before I realise what’s happening, they pull open flaps in the side of the lorry, flip open the green bin and start sorting through the rubbish, expertly flinging card, plastic, etc into the innards of the vehicle.
They’re actually sorting the recycling at the roadside, rather than taking into a depot. How odd! Never seen that before.
Before I have time to get my camera out, the whole process is over and the men leap back into the truck. All I manage to snap is the backend of the vehicle as it drives away.
Further along the lorry stops again. I pull my camera out – ready this time – but suddenly realise one of the men is taking advantage of the stop to… ahem/cough… to relieve his bladder.
Oops! Embarrassed, I put my camera away, but the man’s companions have noticed and start nudging him, laughing. Luckily I’m too far away to hear what they’re saying.
Further on, at a crossroads, the road has been resurfaced. Signs warn of loose gravel. This isn’t good news, as gravel makes an unfriendly walking surface and thrown up chips could damage my face or eyes.
Onwards. I hold my hands in front of my face every time a car goes by. Luckily that’s not very often.
A short time later, I realise I’ve almost caught up with the recycling lorry again. It stops beside a smallholding, the men jump out, there’s more frantic hurling of objects into the body of the truck, and then – long before I get there – they zoom off. That’s the last I see of it.
When I finally reach the smallholding, the place is cluttered with the usual jumble of rusted machinery, piles of wood, and bags of rubbish. There are even a few old boats lying about. I stop to talk to the horse.
High on a telegraph pole I spot a large bird. Swing my camera up and manage one fuzzy shot…
…before it flies away. Another fuzzy shot. I think it’s a buzzard.
How do wildlife photographers do it? I’ve had the chance to photograph hares and buzzards today, and all I’ve managed to capture are brown blurs!
I pass another farm. This one is abandoned. The buildings might still be used for storage or to house animals, but it seems eerily quiet. The white-painted walls give the place a ghostly look.
Something small and brown is coming down the road towards me. A dog? A cat? No – it’s another hare. I swing my camera up but – too late – he spots me, screeches to a halt, pirouettes a 180 degree turn, and sprints away. All I get is a fuzzy shot of his disappearing rump.
Over the brow of the hill, and another gently rolling landscape, full of warmth and colour… and safely fenced-off cows.
I reach the turn off to a place called Knockinaam Lodge. (Weird name. I want to call it Knockingham.) This is the turn off I must take if I want to walk the final few miles along the coast.
Looking down the lane I can see the sea. Yes! So close. And no cows in sight.
OK. I’ll risk it. If I meet any bovine bovver, I can always change my mind, turn around like the hare, and come back to the road.
The walk down towards Knockinaam Lodge is lovely. Firstly, there’s the cheery sight of the sea ahead. Secondly, I’m going steadily downhill, which is always good news for my legs. Thirdly, there are bluebells and woods on either side.
I cross a little river and notice thousands of midges dancing just above the water. (At least, I think they’re midges. I don’t go down to find out!)
On the news last night, BBC Scotland were broadcasting dire warnings about the billions of midges about to hatch out. 21 billion, according to Dr Alison Blackwell.
I’ve not experienced a Scottish midge attack yet. Not looking forward to it.
Nearby is a wonderful old postbox, with the letters G and R on either side of the crest.
I think, it’s a George V box, manufactured probably in the 1920s or 1930s, although it’s so weathered it looks older than that.
There’s some haphazard lettering stuck where the collection time should be displayed.
WEE KNOCK INA AM
Not an official post office box, I guess. Must be the letter box for a house or cottage nearby.
Anyway, I love the colour combinations – the dark-purple shades around the posting slot, the burnt-orange rust on the front, the moss-stained woodwork. Very photogenic.
At the bottom of the lane is Knockinaam Lodge. A smart hotel. I was half thinking of stopping for afternoon tea, but it looks a bit posh, so I decide to carry on.
The core path heads off to the right over a stile, from where it climbs steeply up the hill. Fixed to the stile is a broken sign: “Path to Hu-. Via Morro-.”
I pull out my map. Can’t see a place called Hu-anything, or a place called Morro-anything. Oh dear. Well, this must be the core path to Portpatrick. Must be the right way.
The stile is high and the earth beneath has eroded, so it’s not easy to haul myself over. From there it’s a steep plod up the hill – the steepest climb I’ve made in some time.
I’m winded when I get to the top and so not in the best of physical conditions when I see what is facing me at the top. Uh oh. Cows.
But these are young heifers and seem more interested in drinking out of the trough than in trampling me to death, so I cross the corner of their field without any bother.
From here there’s a great view down over Knockinamm Lodge and the nearby bay, rather unappetisingly called Port of Spittal Bay, according to my map.
I turn to the north, towards Portpatrick, and follow the path across the top of the cliffs, coming to another beautiful bay, Morroch Bay, with a few houses perched below the cliff. What a wonderful place to live.
Morrock Bay? The penny drops. That must be the “Via Morro-” mentioned on the signpost by the stile.
This is an excellent path. Clear on the ground, well signed, with handy kissing gates, and a complete absence of cattle. The sign beside this gate (to the right of the photo below) says “Path to Hush – Hush” and points to the right.
I check my map again. No place called Hush-Hush is marked on my map. Maybe it’s a B&B? Anyway, that explains the other part of the broken sign, the “Path to Hu-” part.
Further along and another sign. PUB IC FOOTPATH. Yes, I know. Not the most original vandalism and I’ve seen it before. Still, it makes me smile.
Ahead I spot the first walkers I’ve seen all day. A couple with a dog. They soon disappear out of view, and I decide to sit down for a picnic snack. The views are wonderful – looking back at Morroch Bay.
While I’m sitting there, another walker comes along. A man on his own.
He lives locally, he tells me in an Essex accent, but he’s hoping to move down to the Isle of Wight. Partly to be near his children who now live in England, and partly because – I gather – he’s tired of the Scottish weather. Hard to believe, on a day like this, but it’s usually blowing a gale and hammering rain.
Before he retired, he owned a farm up here, mixed, including cattle. He confesses being wary around cows. “Very unpredictable,” he says. “One moment they’re acting normally, the next moment….” He shrugs and rolls his eyes. I’m relieved to know that even a seasoned farmer can find cattle scary.
I watch a gannet diving into the blue bay beneath me. It comes up with nothing, circles again, folds its wings and plummets down. Comes up with nothing, circles again, and hurtles like a bullet, throwing up a thin plume of water. Again and again.
Onwards. I see ruins perched on the cliff ahead. Dunskey Castle.
Before I reach the castle, the path heads down into a little ravine. There’s a bridge at the bottom, over a little burn with pretty waterfalls.
[I take some photographs of the tumbling water, but the light is too poor and they don’t turn out well.]
I walk around the edge of a little cove, where there’s a camping and caravan park. People are walking about. Some are wandering about the castle ruins – fenced off with Keep Out signs but, I guess, too tempting to resist
From here to Portpatrick there is a choice of paths. You can go down and follow the cycle way. It runs between high cliffs through a little gorge. Or, you can follow the higher path along a ridge of land next to the sea.
I stick to the higher path. It’s a very dramatic route, with an impressive view of Portpatrick ahead.
This view takes my breath away. I really didn’t know anything about Portpatrick when I booked myself into a local B&B. It’s a beautiful place.
I walk down to the quay and take photographs of the lighthouse. There is a row of pretty buildings on the far side of the water, including the pub where I’m going to meet some old friends tonight.
My friends are with a group of motorcyclists on a biking tour. They’re on a mission to visit the centre of each country in the British Isles. (Don’t ask me why!) Anyway, they’re staying in Portpatrick tonight before catching the ferry over to Ireland from Stranraer tomorrow. It’s sheer coincidence they’re here at the same time as I am.
This is my 13th consecutive day of walking and I’ve been away from home for nearly two weeks. The thought of meeting up with friends is really enticing. I’m looking forward to it immensely.
Here is a photo of myself and the bikers. A wonderful evening. Good food. Great whisky. Excellent company.
And I stayed up late enough to see the stars – a first on this trip.
Miles walked today = 11.5 miles
Total around the coast of Britain = 3,355