The tide is high. A ferry leaving from the far side of the loch sends a flurry of waves crashing up onto the concrete walkway. I decide to stay dry, and stick to the road.
On a spit of shells, a group of oyster catchers stand and watch the waves coming in.
Today I’m walking around the end of Loch Ryan and up the other side, past the ferry ports. By this evening, I will have left Galloway behind and crossed the border into Ayrshire.
My path seems to have various names: either the Mull of Galloway Trail according to my OS paper map, or the Loch Ryan Coastal Path according to a nearby signpost.
I walk past a parking area, with an information board and a snack bar. The wind is cold and whips through my light fleece. It’s tempting to stop for a hot coffee… but much too early to take a break… Onwards.
The path runs parallel to the A77. It traces the edge of the shore, swings round the curve at the top of the loch, and then leaves the water to run around the periphery of a holiday park. (My Garmin suggests the footpath actually runs straight through the park. But my paper map, and the nearby signposts, indicate I should follow the road.)
There is a pavement and cycleway running alongside the road. It’s not particularly pleasant, busy with lorries heading towards the ferry port and with speeding cars. I’m pleased when the path turns onto a farm track, and climbs back towards the shore.
At the end of the track, the path continues along the top of a ridge of cliffs. It’s lovely up here, with great views, but a shame the light is too dull for good photography.
Coming down off the cliffs, the path joins a track heading for the shore. An elderly gentleman is taking his dog and a little girl for a walk. (Is he her granddad? Or, even, great granddad?)
The path is clear and well signposted. I’m making good progress.
There are even proper metal bridges across small burns. Shame to find a patch of Japanese Knotweed growing near a stream. Looking at its browning leaves, I suspect the local authorities have already had a go at poisoning it with herbicides. (You can see the plant to the right of the photo below.)
The shore widens out into a grassy headland. Leffnoll Point.
It’s already lunch time. (I had a late start today, as the first bus I could reasonably catch didn’t leave until nearly 11am.) I find a bank to shelter from the wind, sit down, and tuck into my picnic.
A short while later, I meet a man walking with three dogs. “Carrying on with your walk, I see,” he says. This remark is a little confusing – but a few moments later he explains. “Was reading your blog yesterday. You’re Ruth Livingstone, aren’t you?”
I’m both thrilled and astonished. Last year a B&B couple in Grange over Sands recognised my name from a Countryfile article I wrote, but nobody has recognised me while out on the trail. Not until now!
Onwards. The ferry port is ahead.
An information board tells me the flat area I’m walking across was once a huge railway yard, holding hundreds of wagons, during WW2. After Southampton and Liverpool were badly hit by German bombers, the military used Loch Ryan as an alternative deep water harbour, because it was out of range of enemy aircraft.
Hard to imagine it now. So quiet.
As I get closer to the ferry port, the path climbs up and follows the low cliff. It is very overgrown, as you can see from the photo below, and I have to watch my step. Mustn’t twist an ankle in a rabbit hole.
I rejoin the road to walk past the ferry port. “Welcome to Cairnryan.” Apparently, this is the shortest crossing point to Northern Island. Opposite the port is a smattering of buildings, including a couple of B&Bs.
Further along, I reach Cairnryan proper. It’s a pretty village, consisting of a single row of houses along the shore.
At the other end of Cairnryan is a little headland – Cairn Point – and a lighthouse.
Another information board explains this area was used in WW2 to construct some of the components for the Mulberry Harbours – the temporary harbours needed during the D-Day landings to support allied troops.
And, apparently, there was a large oyster farm here too. No sign of one now.
In fact, there’s another ferry port here. Another one? I hadn’t realised there were two. The first one was P&O. This one is Stena Line.
At this point, the official path leaves the main road and climbs up a hill along a quiet lane. I had fleetingly wondered if I should try to stick to the A77 (following my Rule Number Two). The road isn’t very busy, but it has no pavement and the traffic includes huge lorries. Everything hurtles along, fast and furious. NOT a good idea, I decide.
Up the hill I go, glad to leave the main road behind. The sun has come out and the day feels much warmer. It’s the first serious climb I’ve done for some time, and I soon begin to puff and pant.
The views are wonderful. On the other side of the loch, the northern tip of The Rhins glows in the sunshine. I can even trace the route I walked – along seemingly interminable roads – when I was over there. Meanwhile, a P&O ferry is just entering Loch Ryan, while the Stena ferry below me is preparing to leave.
My lane curves up the hill, through a narrow band of woodland. An information sign explains this is an old coach road – the main road in the 18th century, linking Stranraer and Ayr. Hard to imagine horse-drawn coaches pulling up this steep incline. Bet the passengers had to get out and walk!
The tarmac road fizzles out at a farm-house, but the coach road continues as a gravel track. Really beautiful up here. Fields of sheep, great views, and – I suddenly realise – not a cow in sight… yippee!
Uh, oh. I just tempted fate. Here’s a whole field of them, and they’re meandering all over the track. Well, I have no choice but to continue.
I creep along next to the fence, stumbling in the long grass by the edge of the field. The cows watch me closely, but don’t come near. Once I’ve got past the main herd, I feel safe enough to rejoin the track.
At the top of the field, these two small heifers are guarding the exit route, but they don’t seem very intimidating. I snatch a quick photo. They gallop off when I get closer.
Nearly out of harm’s way, I stop and take a photo looking back. The cows are still watching me. They look quite nice really, friendly even – from a distance.
There are sheep in the field as well. They seem to be admiring the view. Must admit, it’s pretty fine. The long strip below is The Scar, on the edge of little bay called The Wig, where I walked yesterday.
Right at the top of the hill is a series of brick structures arranged in circles. I know, before I look at my map, these are old gun emplacements from WW2.
Nearby is a standing stone, called the Taxing Stone. It’s origins are mysterious, but it’s supposed to mark the burial-place of King Alpin, who was killed in AD 741, although this is unlikely. It also serves as a boundary stone and, I presume, might mark the edge of a taxing district? Or, maybe, it’s the place where you had to pay a toll to use the road?
Down below, the Stena Line ferry is heading out of the mouth of Loch Ryan. The ridge of land on the horizon must be… Ireland! No. I pull out my map. It’s actually the Mull of Kintyre. But, further away and to the left in my view, is another faint blue outline. THAT must be Ireland.
Onwards. The coach road is now barely visible, just a strip of flattened land running alongside a tumbled wall. It leads to a devastated area of logged woodland… But I see it crosses another field of cattle. Hmm. Wonder if I can avoid them?
And so I leave the official path and stick to the lower field, which is only full of sheep. The cattle watch me from the other side of the fence.
Meanwhile, the sheep watch me from this side of the fence. They are weird looking. Slightly sinister. Black faces with white snouts, and very thick horns. A breed called Rough Fell, I think.
I balance my camera on a fence post and take a self-portrait. It ends up looking remarkably natural, although I must point out I am walking in the WRONG direction!
Ahead the ground dips. Galloway Burn runs through the bottom of a narrow, but steep-sided, valley. It marks the boundary of the Galloway region, and the beginning of Ayrshire. Wow. I’ve been walking through Galloway for so long… can’t believe I’m finally leaving it behind!
Negotiating the ravine is tricky. The path disappears into a mass of bracken and ferns, but at least there is a little bridge at the bottom – even if it only consists of a couple of planks of wood – and then a gate at the top to aim for as I scramble up the other side.
I’m in Ayrshire! Finally. Yes, I’m making progress and will soon be turning northwards.
The footpath leads me over an area of moorland, obviously used for grazing cattle, as the soft ground bears their muddy imprints. Luckily, I see no sign of any beasts, but I have to pick my way with care. The ground is boggy and uneven underfoot.
I follow footpath signs along a meandering route – first dropping down the hill for some reason, then ambling along the slope, and then climbing up to the top again.
And here, at the top, I come across a wide track. Takes me by surprise. Why so broad and so large? Then I realise: it must be a logging track.
It makes easy walking, although slightly surreal to be marching along this major road with not a vehicle in sight.
The route begins to swing around, heading north. I’m leaving the coast behind and walking along the ridge of a river valley called Glen App, with the Water of App flowing below, out of sight. Over there… I check my map… is Penderry Hill. 309 meters high. My next walk will take me over the shoulder of that hill…
…but I’m getting ahead of myself. First, I need to get to finish this walk at Glenapp Church, where I left my car this morning. Onwards.
I follow the track along the side of the valley. The view ahead is lovely.
I reach a guard-post, where – to my surprise – a man is shutting up for the day. I hadn’t expected to meet anybody up here at all. It seems the footpath has been diverted from its original route. He points to where the new path continues. Up that track, round the corner, and past the bulls… BULLS!
I really hope he means I should walk past the field of bulls? But, no, the footpath sign indicates I should go through a gate and into the field. And there are at least 40 or 50 bullocks milling about, right next to the gate. Behind them is a huge, empty field.
Why are you all in this corner? Why? Why here?
I try saying “shoo” in a fierce manner, but they just stare at me. I walk further up the track until I reach the top of the field, where I can climb over a gate. I creep along beside the fence, stumbling through boggy ground and tripping over cow pats.
Below, the bullocks watch my unsteady progress with interest. I even fancy I hear them sniggering to each other – “Look at that crazy woman. Why isn’t she on the path? Why is she walking through a marsh?” But at least they leave me alone and don’t come up to investigate.
With the bullocks safely behind me, I rejoin the path and continue along the field, which turns out to be truly enormous. Finally reaching the other side, I pass through a gate, where a sign informs me I’m on the IAT (The International Appalachian Trail).
I wonder if they have trouble with bulls on the Appalachian Trail? I know they have trouble with bears. Bears are probably worse than bulls… probably.
Onwards. I love this part of the walk. The sun is shining over my shoulder, slipping in and out of clouds, lighting up the valley ahead.
I lose my way. Am I following a sheep trail, a cow path, or a footpath? Not sure. Ferns crowd around me. I dip down into another steep ravine, the slope is treacherous and earth slides away under my feet. Surely I’m lost?
Then I see a half hidden post, poking out through undergrowth. I force a route through to investigate the post and realise it marks the crossing over the burn. Nor really a bridge. Just one rotten plank of wood. Still, I’m lucky I spotted it!
The scramble up the other side of the ravine is equally steep, but going up is always easier than going down… up through ferns and tall grasses… up and onto… goodness me! Another surprise! Another logging track.
A deer is as surprised as I am. Stands for a second staring at me. Only 10 yards away. Then turns and sprints off. Ahead is another deer (just visible in the photo above). But, before I can take a decent photo, it too sprints off.
Over to my left, another deer watches from a field. I manage to take a shot of this one. The lovely stone wall ends up in perfect focus, but the deer is an artistic blur, I’m afraid.
Onwards, along the track. It leads along the hillside, slowly taking me downwards. In Glen App below are farms and fields. More deer mingle with the sheep.
Finally, I can see the little church. Glenapp Church (also known as Ballantrae Parish Church, for some reason.) That’s where I’m heading.
Another information board appears by the side of the track. (I must say, navigating the Mull of Galloway Trail may be a little dodgy in places, but they do like to keep me informed.)
I learn about Elsie Mackay, whose father was an earl and managing director of the P&O shipping line. [Later, I research her life on the Internet, as the information board provides the barest of details.]
Elsie was a remarkable woman, extremely rich, who worked as a nurse in WW1, eloped (the marriage was declared null), became an interior designer for P&O, had an alternative career as an actor using the stage name Poppy Wyndham, and became an accomplished aviator. In 1928 she took off from RAF Cranwell with Captain Hinchliffe, on a secret mission to become the first aviators to fly east to west across the Atlantic. Sadly, her adventure ended in tragedy when their plane was lost at sea.
Her family installed a stained glass window in her memory in the little Glenapp Church. One of the panels bears a likeness of Elsie. [I couldn’t take a decent photo in the church, so the one I’ve used here is taken from the information board.]
What a woman! She makes my adventure look like short walk in the park.
The sun goes behind a cloud and never reappears. My track winds slowly down into the valley, following a lazy hair-pin bend. I startle rabbits, who hop across the gravel and dash off to hide in the grass. Around a corner, I meet a fox. He slinks off the track and into a patch of bushes.
I’m growing tired, as I always do at the end of a walk, no matter how long it is. This one wasn’t long, to be honest, but I’ve had a steep hill to climb and a couple of tough scrambles.
At the bottom, in the valley, the track joins the main A77. “WARNING. FAST MOVING TRAFFIC.” Yes.
It’s only a few hundred yards along the road to Glenapp Church. I take several photographs, annoyed by the poor light, and then head down a little lane to find my car.
Well, today I’ve passed another milestone. I’ve finished the Mull of Galloway Trail and am about to start on the Ayrshire Coastal Path. Yes. I’m making progress!
You can read more about Elsie Mackay here: www.elsie-mackay.co.uk
Walked today = 12 miles
Total around coast = 3,403 miles