LURED by a weather forecast that promised sunshine in Scotland and rain in London, I headed back to Galloway in the middle of April in order to get in a couple more days of walking. The weather was sunshine and small fluffy clouds for most of the journey to Scotland. It was also sunshine and small fluffy clouds for most of the journey home. Can you guess how it was in between?
It rained. A lot. Well, obviously.
It wasn’t so much that the weather forecast was wrong per se, so much as the sunshine was in northern Scotland and I was in the southwest. Fortunately, I have learnt to regard the weather forecast with much the same level of trust and reliance one might place in the chance arrangement of tea leaves or the quantitative evaluation of magpies. That is, none at all. I had therefore packed waterproofs. I donned these with a sense of smug self-satisfaction as I surveyed a grimly grey sky and saw that the forecast for the day had been hastily revised.
A bus, the driver of which was visibly surprised to have a passenger, conveyed me back to the village of Glenluce, where my last walk had ended. There, I joined the throng of rain-bedraggled locals who were sheltering in the nearest shop. Though I only wanted to buy some water and some chocolate, I took my own sweet time about it, vaguely hoping that the rain might ease off in the meantime. This was of course a ridiculous hope; I was a fool for even thinking it.
A short time later this surprised and happy fool made his way out of Glenluce amid just the lightest spots of drizzle. I needed to head south, crossing the A75, since I was heading for the Mull of Galloway — Scotland’s most southerly peninsula. I decided to do this by being contrary and heading north-west instead. This meant following what is now a minor road to the old bridge over the Water of Luce, which I did mostly to see this:
The Bridge of Park
The old road bridge — the Bridge of Park —was just beyond the viaduct; you can just about see it in the photo. It and the road I was on used to be the route of the A75 until the Glenluce Bypass was constructed in 1973, incorporating a new bridge further downstream. The exact age of the old bridge is apparently a matter of debate, with some records suggesting construction in the late 18th century and others as far back as the 16th. In either event, it was widened early last century.
Old Military Road
Having crossed over it, I immediately turned south — the old A75 route was essentially a horseshoe bend — and headed back towards the A-road’s modern course. While the road out to the bridge from Glenluce is still useful — a turn-off continues upstream to New Luce — the part across the river now serves little purpose. Accordingly, it was gated off, restricting it to cyclists and pedestrians.
Being one of the latter, I strode boldly down its centre. You could still clearly see that what was now a cycle path had once been a road of some majority, its past glories slowly fading. Perhaps it was this, or my spirits being literally dampened, but a melancholic feeling overtook me.
I quite like melancholy, so that perversely cheered me up. At the far end was another gate, a cottage and the busy A75, dominated by lorries from the ferry port at Portryan. Thankfully, there was a cycle path beside the roaring traffic and this carried me the short distance to where my map became useless.
Useless is perhaps a bit strong. The Ordnance Survey map I was using was printed in 2012. Since then, a new bypass has been built to detour round Dunragit, both sparing the tiny village from heavy traffic and ironing out a kink in the route of the A-road. Needless to say, the new route is not on my map. But the OS isn’t alone in this — while the Dunragit Bypass is on Google Maps in map view, at the time of writing it doesn’t yet show up on the satellite view or on Streetview, which means that Google will show you the course of a road heading across pristine fields. When I discovered this, it amused me immensely.
I had been expecting the Dunragit bypass and therefore wasn’t surprised to find myself at a junction that didn’t exist on my map. I risked life and limb to cross the bypass in a gap between lorries that wasn’t as wide as I’d have liked and then set off down the A-road’s previous course. Thus far everything I’d walked on was or had once been the A75.
I followed this road — now part of the B7084 — westwards as it followed the line of Luce Bay and made its way upstream alongside Piltanton Burn. Between the road and Luce Sands were some low-lying fields, an isolated farm and a golf course. The latter dissuaded me from getting closer.
My not entirely rational loathing for golf courses wasn’t my only reason for staying on the road. I had given some consideration to walking along the beach but two problems quickly presented themselves.
One was that I would have to cross Piltanton Burn and I wasn’t sure how easy that would be. The second problem was that most of Luce Sands makes up an MOD bombing range, which potentially offered an unrivalled opportunity for the worst possible way to cover a large area in a brief amount of time.
These days, the beach is open to the public more often than it is not but I had been unable to find out ahead of time and the risk of ending up as a thin red mist was not one I was all that keen to take. Besides, the road wasn’t all that bad. Its surface was firm, whereas off-road was pretty muddy, and the fields beside it had tiny lambs gambolling in them. I would, I decided, stick with the road, wheresoever it might take me.
This is what happens when they re-plumb the roads. You end up with a main road going nowhere. It is, of course, the old A75 coming to an abrupt end while its new course is somewhere off on the right out of sight. I love that the centre lines forbid overtaking whether you are crashing into that fence or have just broken out of it.
The picture was taken at Whitecrook — basically a farmhouse and a couple of other buildings — and the old A-road was forming a short, forgotten spur off the B7084 beside it. I returned to the B-road via the curve on the left and then spent some time wondering when I would reach a turn off shown on my map. This was where the B-road had originally branched from the A-road and the answer — obvious in hindsight — was that I already had. That’s it in the photo above.
I realised what had happened some minutes later as I passed through the hamlet of Droughduil, which was some way down the turn off.
Droughduil appeared to comprise two houses and a school and lay half a mile directly south of Dunragit, whose name — originally Din Rheged—hinted at its history as a once important fort in the British Kingdom of Rheged. It was only fitting, then, that Dunragit contained an old motte or castle mound, as did Droughduil.
Droughduil Mote (with just one t) was hidden away in Mote Wood, an outlying limb of Torrs Warren Forest. I completely failed to resist this interesting diversion and went off in search of it.
Droughduil Mote was long assumed to be a mediaeval motte and maybe it is. But, if so, the castle builders were reusing what was already there. Archaeologists studying the area around the turn of the millennium discovered that it was much older and connected to a neolithic cursus monument (a feature comprising parallel banks and ditches). Thanks to the wonders of science, the material comprising the mound has been dated to around 2500 BC. Just slightly older than mediaeval then.
Torrs Warren Forest
Having satisfied my desire to look at a bump in the ground, I returned to the road just in time for the rain to intensify its efforts. The road crossed Piltanton Burn via a nineteenth century bridge and meandered through the edge of Torrs Warren Forest, which was a Forestry Commission plantation along the northern edge of the MOD range.
I briefly considered taking a path through the trees to the beach but dismissed the idea. I may have solved one issue by crossing the burn at the bridge but the second, namely the possibility of being exploded without warning, still put me off a stroll along the sands.
A Red Flag Beach
I consoled myself with an egg sandwich — the landlady of my B&B had provided me with a packed breakfast — and continued along the road. A little further along it forked (I took the left fork, staying close to the coast) and I started to see entrances to the MOD’s special centre for making a Really Big Splash.
Seeing the warning flags gave me a warm glow of satisfaction that I had made the right decision; I had picked one of the rare days when the range was in use.
I let the road carry me southwards until a few miles later where it fed into the A716 (which was the main road from Stranraer). The A-road — which was actually no larger than the B-road — had a pedestrian pavement beside it, providing me with increased road safety for the last half mile into Sandhead. Well, nearly into Sandhead. The A-road actually bypassed this little coastal village but I saw no need to do likewise. I had been told that there was a tea room in Sandhead and I really fancied a nice cup of tea.
On entering Sandhead, I passed beneath Balgreggan Motte, which overlooks both village and A-road at the former’s northern end. Like most mottes, it was once topped with a wooden bailey and excavations have shown that this ended exactly as you might expect for a flammable defensive structure.
Sandhead is linear and its shop and cafe were naturally at the far end. The rain eased off again as I ambled down the high street, taking note of my surroundings. Sandhead used to be a site for the landing of coal and lime but its main industry was its creamery, long since closed down. Today the creamery has been converted into flats.
Tea Shop & Village Green
The tea shop, when I found it, looked depressingly shut. Had my incredible knack for getting to cafés just after they’d closed struck again? But it was only mid-morning! If so, my Special Gift of Thirst had found a new way to manifest, for the café didn’t open at all on Tuesdays. I leave the day of the week that it was as an exercise for the reader.
Cruelly denied, I made use of the village shop to purchase some more snacks. These I ate forlornly on the village green, overlooking Sandhead Bay. The tea shop quietly mocked me from nearby.
Now that I couldn’t have one, I wanted a cup of tea all the more. I did have a soft drink and a bottle of water but neither of those were quite the same. Disheartened as only a tea-deprived Englishman can be, I plodded south out of the village.
Mull of Galloway Trail
The road climbed steadily as it left Sandhead but a footpath led off down to the beach. There, I found my first waymark for the Mull of Galloway Trail, a 24-mile footpath from Stranraer to the mull. The beach was stony, its pebbles as grey as the sky. I crunched along a shingly path for about half a mile to a cottage that had once been Ardwell Mill. There, a man appeared to be trying to get a dog into a car; the dog clearly thought it was a game.
The dog was easily winning. I didn’t pay them much heed.
The path continued along the shoreline for about another two miles although I took to the road in some places where the A716 had swung across to run directly by the coast — it just made the going easier. Soon I found myself in Ardwell, an even smaller village with a shop but no tea room at all.
Ardwell has all of two streets. It also has a beach shop but, given the weather, that was hardly doing a brisk trade. The rain, as if to emphasise the point, promptly worsened, becoming a kind of dense misty drizzle that badly reduced visibility. My packed breakfast had included a satsuma, so I ate this to show the weather that I simply didn’t care. It didn’t care whether I cared or not. I didn’t care if it cared if I cared. It all got very recursive.
The Murder Stone
The houses that line Ardwell’s two streets are mostly still owned by the Ardwell Estate, which lies to the south of the village. Just inside its gates is a stone engraved with the single word ‘murder’.
The Murder Stone is thought to be a nineteenth century creation but refers to a much older tale. It involves the beautiful daughter of McKinna, the laird of Barncorkrie, and her two rival suitors: McDowell of Logan and Gordon of Castle Clanyard (all within half a dozen miles of Ardwell).
Gordon decided that wooing was too much hard work and abducted her instead, taking her to Cardoness Castle near Gatehouse of Fleet (over fifty miles away), where another branch of Clan Gordon lived. McDowell promptly rode to Cardoness to demand her release but he was denied and rode away empty-handed. On his way home he was overtaken by Gordon men at Ardwell, dragged from his horse and slain. The Gordons subsequently took control of Barncorkrie in 1551.
Day of the Triffids
I didn’t see the Murder Stone itself although I did find an information sign about it erected by the Rotary Club of Stranraer, which created and maintains the Mull of Galloway Trail. The trail headed south from Ardwell via footpaths beside the road. One of these turned out be completely flooded, forcing me to duck under a wire fence to go round it. In the process I managed to put my hand upon the stingiest stinging nettle I’ve ever had the misfortune to be stung by. It stung.
Now, I’ve been stung by nettles before. You don’t get to be as clumsy as I am and then go into the countryside without getting stung by nettles. I am, I fear, drawn towards them by some mysterious nettle-mammal attraction. I do, therefore, have more than a passing acquaintance with how a nettle sting feels. They sting for a bit — the clue’s in the name — and it’s annoying and you tut and mutter irritatedly and then it quickly goes away.
Not this nettle.
This nettle was small and young and ambitious. I reckon it was hoping I’d drop dead from shock and my carcass would feed its growth into a giant, venomous monster capable of uprooting itself and laying waste to the land. It bloody hurt. I stared in utter disbelief at my hand, incredulous that so small a nettle could instil so much pain. I actually watched my finger and wrist start to blister. It felt like the blasted thing was trying to melt my hand off…. and succeeding. Worse, it continued to sting for hours. I’ve still got a mark on my wrist ten days later. That’s not a nettle; that’s a fucking triffid.
Chapel Rossan Bay
And so, swearing profusely, I followed the path away from the road as it doubled back on itself and headed for the coast. Above Chapel Rossan Bay, it passed through a wood that was carpeted with snowdrops, which was lovely. So lovely, in fact, that I was almost ready to forgive the Kingdom Plantae for the hideous stinging sensation that one of its members had inflicted on my hand. Almost but not quite.
WW2 Lookout Post
The path followed a fence for a while then dropped down some steps to run at a lower level. The path continued through the wood just above a rocky beach and I could see the waves through the trees. It was quite pleasant.
The path emerged from the wood to run along a grassy trail at the top of the stony beach. The rain was still misty and the visibility was poor but that just lent things an air of mystery as they loomed out of the grey.
‘None,’ is the rather disappointing answer, unless she was the miller’s daughter and it was wholemeal flour in her hair.
The tower is actually Logan Windmill and was built in the late 17th century. It functioned up to the mid-19th century before falling into disuse. At which point, the cap with the sails was removed and some totally spurious crenellations added because no one did faux-mediaeval romantic folly quite like the early Victorians.
Portacree & Balgown Point
At this point ,the A716 had swung inland and I half expected the Mull of Galloway Trail to do the same, following an access road to get back to it. Instead it clung resolutely to the beach. The path was initially windswept and grassy but after a while the land rose slightly and began to be flanked by gorse. Even under a grey sky the yellow was fairly intense. Had it been sunny, the gorse flowers would have been dazzling.
New England Bay
Eventually the path met a track which led back to the A-road, now running alongside the coast. The rain had finally eased again off but visibility remained poor.
For all that it was supposed to be an A-road, traffic was light bordering on non-existent. Even so, when a separated footpath became available on the landward side I took it. This cut alongside a wood called the Grennan Plantation and then climbed over a low hill. Ahead, in theory, I could now see my destination. In practice Drummore dissolved into the grey. No matter though, I’d get there soon enough.
The final stretch of my walk returned me to the road, walking alongside a sea wall into the outskirts of Drummore (An Druim Mòr, ‘the great ridge’). Drummore is Scotland’s most southern proper village, discounting a few farmhouses and hamlets, and sits where the Kildonan Burn meets the sea. Its layout anticipated the arrival of the railway but, thanks to landowner opposition, trains never made it that far.
A footpath led down from the A716 to near the waterfront and something about it suggested it was once a road. It turns out that it was indeed the village’s Lower Road but a landslip in the 1960s saw it closed to traffic. It has since been designated Drummore’s ‘artwork trail’ which actually means, well, lots of this:
The trail led me into Drummore and to the bottom end of its main street. At the corner stood a dilapidated old watermill, its wheel sadly still.
Heading back up the hill towards the bus stop, I finally found a café, where I might find a cup of tea. Except, I didn’t even check to see if it was open. Instead I ensconced myself within a handy pub and idled away the time to the bus with a beer.
Drummore’s King’s Hall is a former village hall and theatre that hasn’t seen full use for over 40 years, which is something like two thirds of its existence. One can only assume that the mason wasn’t literate. While the backwards N is most noticeable, I can cope with an И. That reversed apostrophe though — that’s making me twitch.
Exit by Omnibus
A bus whisked me back up the peninsula and into Stranraer, where I was staying and I may have attempted to eat my own bodyweight in Chinese food. That night as I crawled into bed I felt quite satisfied. It had been a good walk despite the inclement weather and I had mostly enjoyed it. Apart from that bloody nettle, that is.
This time: 17 miles
Total since Gravesend: 2,446½ miles