THE final day of my mid-March adventure did not begin with blue skies and sunshine but with a comfortingly familiar overall greyness and grimness. Having prepared myself for meteorological misery with a hearty breakfast and warm clothing, I ventured out once again…
Missed the Shops
Visibility was poor as I stood at the side of the A747, ready to set off along the road. To my left, Port William curved around the bay. The village square, and the nearest shops, were half a mile away in the wrong direction. I should, I realised then, have stocked up the previous evening. I stood and stared at Port William, trying to decide if I should divert to purchase water and snacks. Port William tried to shroud itself in mist.
Outer Luce Bay
Hitting the Road
The A747 clung close to the shoreline as it curved westwards into the mist. The volume of traffic was mercifully light though the vehicles themselves were mostly heavy. Low hills loomed ahead, pinning the road between their high ground and the sea.
For the next few miles I would pass through no villages, only the occasional farmhouse or side-road. The A747 crossed the streams of Barr Burn and Old Mill Burn, the latter with a ruined building right beside the bridge, which may or may not have been the mill.
More burns followed and the miles rolled past until my legs began to tire and I rested on the beach somewhere near Chippermore Point. At least that was the name on the map but neither it nor the actual ground showed any hint of a headland; the shore there was just a straight line. Still, at least I had a beach I could relax on:
For some reason I didn’t spend all that long on the beach, instead I regained the road and continued north. When I had travelled some five miles north of Port William, I came upon a house beside some ruins. The latter were all that remained of Chapel Finian, built in the tenth century.
Chapel Finian is dedicated to and takes its name from St Finian, an Irishman who is said to have studied at Whithorn and in Rome before returning to Ireland to teach. If his name sounds rather similar to St Ninian, the suppose founder of Whithorn, you’re not the only one to think that; there is a distinct possibility that they were actually one and the same.
Chapel Finian is believed to have been used by Irish pilgrims on their way to Whithorn to visit the shrine of St Ninian and, next to the sea and the road as it is, the chapel would have been a welcome sight to those landing on the shore. There they could give thanks for surviving their crossing of the Irish Sea and also for not having to spend another minute on that God-awful shingle beach.
8 Miles to G
Chapel Finian was a pleasant place to sneak another rest, and I enjoyed the peace and relative comfort as I contemplated what was left of its walls, the site of its holy well and the fact that I was really regretting not detouring to the shop back in Port William. I couldn’t sit there all morning though, I still had a way to go.
As it happened, G meant Glenluce — my actual destination — and eight miles was about right. I pressed on, plodding along a road that was more or less the same as what had gone before. This could have been boring but I was in good spirits. Ahead yet more hills loomed in the mist. I paid them little heed; the road would go round them, not over them.
In the spirit of inclusivity the road did both things, climbing in height to go round the side of some hills near a place called Garheugh. The B7005, whose other end I had passed near Bladnoch two days earlier, joined the road as it climbed. It didn’t rise all that far, maybe twenty metres, before curving around atop a low cliff to reveal Auchenmalg Bay.
A Burning Question
While grey waves washed onto pebbly beaches to my left, the right was mostly craggy rocks and undergrowth. A small burn tumbled and splashed along its course at a steep angle to pose the question: was it a stream or a waterfall?
Beside the Bay
The road dropped sedately back to sea level, turned west and straightened out along the shore of Auchenmalg Bay. Broad swathes of sand now showed along the beach below the level of the pebbles. Ahead a low hill, the Mull of Sinniness, lurked at the end of the road.
The Cock Inn
As I followed the road above the shoreline it passed the doors of a couple more houses before reaching the limits of Auchenmalg. This is a tiny hamlet comprising a handful of houses, a dairy farm, a village hall and a holiday park. And also, just past the latter, is this:
Said to be the second-oldest pub in Scotland (after the Sheep Heid Inn in Duddingston, Edinburgh, which was established in 1360), the Cock Inn was a godsend, as I was feeling quite thirsty by this time. I was slightly concerned that it might not be open — most locals were at work and it was too early in the season for the holiday park to generate much custom — but my fears went unrealised.
I enjoyed a leisurely lunch and a drink and chatted awhile with the landlady. She was, she explained, trying to discover exactly how old the Cock Inn was but so far had not had much success. I wished her well and she, in turn, insisted I accept a free apple to help fuel my walk. I actually ate it afterwards, accompanied with some stilton, but I’m sure that post-walk refuelling counts.
On the Impermanence of Openings
Refreshed, rested and victualled with fruit, I departed the Cock Inn just as other customers were starting to appear. A narrow metalled path led uphill from behind the pub but this soon ended at a wooden fence. There was no gate. I looked at the fence and a man on the far side of it, who’d clearly stopped his van to eat a sandwich, looked at me looking at the fence.
‘There used,’ he said, ‘to be a gate in that.’
Mull of Sinniness
Ascending the Mull
Having climbed over the fence, I was back on track. The track soon became a narrow footpath climbing up the side of the Mull of Sinniness. This is a 76 m hill, though the path doesn’t rise above about 50 m.
I realised as I ascended that I was feeling rather warm. While I had been stuffing my face with cheese toastie, the cloud cover had started to dissipate and the sun was now breaking through. Looking back down on Auchenmalg Bay, visibility was greatly improved.
Rock and Stroll
On the far side of the Mull of Sinniness, the path dropped back down to about 20 m and ran atop a series of low cliffs adjoining a rocky shore. I now started to meet a few scattered other walkers, who had emerged with the improving weather to take an afternoon stroll. As well they might.
Drinking it in
The path began to climb again slightly and veered inland along a stone wall. I sat by its corner and took in the view, downing a can of soft drink I’d bought in the pub.
Continuing on, I passed Garliachan, a promontory fort near Laigh Sinniness. As is usually the case with Iron Age forts, it’s harder to see from the ground — just an overgrown lump — than it would be from the air. Not a great deal is known about Garliachan; presumably it was inhabited by Britons of the Kingdom of Rheged.
Inner Luce Bay
Beyond the fort the path began to undulate a little. It passed the remnants of a broch (a kind of ancient, hollow-walled roundhouse) before eventually dropping down onto the road in the hamlet of Stairhaven. There isn’t much in Stairhaven besides a few houses and a public convenience (which was locked) so I headed west along the road. This was the main road into, through and out the other side of Stairhaven and it led directly to Glenluce.
The road turned north and ran close to a low cliff overlooking Luce Sands. This is a broad, flat expanse of sheltered sand that extends several miles along the coast at low tide. Its landward margin comprises the largest and most complex dune system in southern Scotland while its sand flat is criss-crossed by tidal channels and the streams of Piltanton Burn and Water of Luce.
The road ran north from Stairhaven for about two and a half miles, during which distance it left the sands behind and headed inland, passing several farm tracks on the way. The last mile or so ran alongside the Water of Luce until the road met the busy A75 just south of Glenluce. Fortunately, someone had recognised that crossing the A75 was a great way to kill cyclists and pedestrians and so an underpass had been provided. And thus, unpancaked, I arrived in Glenluce.
Glenluce (Clachan Ghlinn Lus) is very much a village of the past. The twelfth century Glenluce Abbey once stood nearby but that was abandoned during the Reformation. Major William Rickson’s military road once connected it to Newton Stewart and Portpatrick but most of the Newton Stewart stretch is merely a footpath today. The railway arrived in 1862 but was axed by Beeching in 1965, leaving the elegant Glenluce Viaduct as little more than an attractive folly. And the A75, which once passed through its centre, bypassed it in 1990.
Glenluce’s Main Street hinted at faded glories, with several closed-down shops and pubs. Fortunately one pub was still open and served me a drink as I whiled away the time until the next bus. I could have waited outside but the skies were greying over again with menace.
The bus arrived bang on time and carried me westwards to Stranraer. On the way it passed through the smaller village of Dunragit, thought to be one of the courts of the Kings of Rheged (its name being derived from Din Rheged, ‘fort of Rheged’). I shall discuss Stranraer itself when I get there on foot but suffice to say I had a relaxing evening and caught the train home the next morning. My first walking trip of 2016 was complete!
This time: 14 miles
Total since Gravesend: 2,429½ miles