AFTER a day and night of continuous rain, I was unsurprised to find the sky grey but delighted that it seemed to have temporarily run out of water to drop on my head. I came within seconds of missing the bus by dint of waiting at entirely the wrong bus stop but the driver took my stupidity in his stride. It was only after the bus was underway that I realised that my stupidity extended further than that — I had left my delicious packed breakfast in the fridge at my B&B. Still, at least this meant I couldn’t sit on it.
My first task on arriving in Drummore, therefore, was to procure a substitute breakfast. I raided Drummore’s shop — the most southerly store in Scotland — for breakfast snacks, undermining as I did so the shopkeeper’s scolding of a schoolgirl for breakfasting on chocolate. My unchallenged commission of the self-same offence stoked the bonfire of the teenager’s indignation into a towering inferno. It was so unfair. And she was right, it clearly was. The shopkeeper backpedalled, recognising the fact. ‘And you’re just as bad,’ she conceded, glaring at me.
‘Ymff,’ I agreed, through a mouthful of chocolate, ‘umff, mm mmm.’
Duly scolded, I headed back down to the harbour, stuffing more chocolate into my face on the way.
Drummore harbour’s history is one of bitter legal battles over who controls it and what they can or cannot do. It was privately built in the early 19th century for the benefit of the lime industry. In the 1870s it was owned — as was pretty much everything else in the area — by John Dalrymple, the Tenth Earl of Stair.
Lord Stair was then the Governor of the Bank of Scotland, Lord-Lieutenant of neighbouring Ayrshire and generally a powerful man. It was his influence for instance that ensured that the Portpatrick & Wigtownshire Joint Railway would never be extended to Drummore as he didn’t want trains crossing his land. But, if Lord Stair was opposed to trains, he was quite keen on ships using Drummore harbour and paying him harbour dues. Boat-owners were rather less keen.
The dues were challenged in Scotland’s highest civil court, the Court of Session, which found that Drummore was not a statutory harbour — most ‘proper’ ports are administered by statutory harbour authorities, each governed by their own legislation — and the earl had no right to charge dues.
Air Ministry Ownership
In the 1930s, with war looming, the Air Ministry took control of the harbour by compulsory purchase. Its facilities serviced the Luce Bay bombing range — floating targets were stored there — and the Air Ministry naturally favoured its own use over those of others, though local fishermen did still use the harbour. In 1964, the Air Ministry was absorbed into a unified Ministry of Defence but, apart from changes in signage, this had little effect on Drummore harbour. Forty years later, in 2004, the MOD decided that it no longer needed Drummore and sold the harbour to Drummore Harbour Trust Ltd. And that’s where the new problems started.
Drummore Harbour Trust Ltd
One might think that a company named Drummore Harbour Trust Ltd would operate for the benefit of the harbour and the community that uses it. Especially if, despite its name, it is not actually a trust — which would run the port for profit — but a charitable company limited by guarantee. But if that’s what the locals initially believed they quickly decided otherwise: it did very little for Drummore harbour and earned even less trust.
To a certain extent its hands were tied — it was not a statutory harbour authority, remember, and so had no enabling act to grant it appropriate powers. Even so, its actions upset Drummore’s residents. Local fishermen took it to court for restricting their access to the harbour, only to lose when the Court of Session followed its own precedent, ruling that Drummore not being a statutory harbour, there was no right to mooring.
The trust did, it seemed, want to provide mooring to pleasure boats, with the apparent intent of making Drummore harbour a successful marina, except that would require considerable investment. Not only was there no obvious investment put into the harbour but even basic maintenance was said to be lacking, giving concern that the harbour would actually become unusable.
In 2007, a worried Kirkmaiden Community Council wrote to Dumfries and Galloway Council asking them to use their legal powers to take over the harbour and redevelop it. Meanwhile, a petition signed by 300 Drummore residents led to the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator investigating Drummore Harbour Trust Ltd. The trust didn’t take this at all well.
In 2009, for instance, a complaint was made against three Dumfries and Galloway councillors for dishonesty, alleging that they had lied about the harbour and trust to try to secure a Harbour Empowerment Order. Scotland has an independent body for investigating such things and its Chief Investigating Officer’s subsequent report exonerated the councillors of all wrongdoing; the complaint was dismissed.
The OSCR meanwhile made nine recommendations to Drummore Harbour Trust to bring it in line with the sort of behaviour expected from a charity. Rather than comply, it chose to have itself shut down, forcing the regulator to protect the now-defunct company’s assets. When the legal wheels have finally finished turning, Drummore harbour may yet see its fortunes transformed.
It tried to rain as I walked through the outskirts of Dummore away from the harbour. The sky and sea were the dullest of greys and a small islet — also dull grey — lurked almost invisibly on the misty horizon. This was the awesomely named Big Scare, the largest of the Scare Rocks. The Scares are leased to the RSPB and home mostly to gannets and guillemots. I guess that makes them Scary birds.
The road I was on followed the coast and soon left the houses of Drummore behind. It curved around the edge of a bay until it reached a farmhouse where the road turned inland and I branched off to sink into a track up to my ankles. I knew it would be muddy underfoot, thanks to the previous day’s rain, but the path had also been churned up by cows, and I squelched along it half-walking, half-wading, as it ran above a rocky beach. After a while, the path turned the corner of Cailiness Point, revealing in the distance the Mull of Galloway, Scotland’s most southerly point.
Mull of Galloway Trail
The path continued squishy, bordering on pourable. At one of its runniest points I passed a small mechanical digger, left standing unattended by the path; it looked to be slowly sinking under its own weight. Thereafter the path grew less distinct — it had hitherto mostly been made by the tracks of the digger, I realised — and I relied on the waymarks of the Mull of Galloway Trail to tell me where it was. It certainly wasn’t on my map.
The waymarks led me along the beach and soon brought me to Maryport:
Maryport merely comprises a farm with a caravan site on its land. The only person I met there appeared to be a security guard wandering around the caravans, which were unoccupied as it was still out of season. He nodded to me, satisfied I wasn’t trying to steal anything, and I nodded to him, satisfied that he was satisfied. I drank some water and looked across the grey seas. And that’s about as exciting as Maryport got.
A Path of Slippery Narrowness
On the far side of Maryport the coast became more vertical. Initially, the path ran below the cliff but soon climbed atop it, becoming somehow even muddier on the way. Then, just as I wondering if the ground could actually get any less solid, it changed tack entirely and began a new game.
The path firmed up to just ‘treacherously slippery’ but narrowed dramatically as it did so, running between a fence on one side and a dramatic drop on the other. I picked my way carefully along this, my sense of balance being almost as minimal as my desire to go for a plummet. Fortunately, it soon widened out again, just in time for me to meet a man coming the other way with an excitable dog; had I met them just five minutes earlier someone would have had to back up. And it wouldn’t have been me.
Man With Dog
Man With Dog bid me hello in accent that was every bit as English as mine. He was staying nearby in a cottage, he explained, and taking his dog for a walk (well, obviously). The dog ran around me in circles to provide emphasis.
Man With Dog was keen to know if the path ran all the way along the coast, which led me to wonder where he thought I’d just come from if it didn’t. I explained that it did, naming where it went to, and noting its exploration of the concepts of ‘narrow’ and ‘squelch’. Man With Dog frowned at this, he had other plans for the day than hiking all round the coast. He would, he said, turn around and go back to the cottage the way he had come. And, having said that, he immediately did the exact opposite, taking his dog onto the Path of Slippery Narrowness. Ah, whatever…
The path became altogether more reasonable as it dropped down into Portankill, a small bay where a stream meets the sea. The stream is called the Kirkburn and you won’t therefore be at all surprised to learn that the ruins of a church stand beside it a little way upstream.
The church was basically in the middle of nowhere, which made it inconvenient and it was replaced with a church much closer to Drummore in 1638. The new one was built with the patronage of James Dalrymple, 1st Viscount of Stair, ancestor of the illegal-due-charging earl.
Cave of St Medan
I decided not to head upstream looking for the church but pressed on along the coast. The path climbed atop the cliffs once more and carried me over the Cave of St Medan. This was hidden away down at sea level and, though there was a path down to the cave, a sign indicated it was dangerous and to only be taken with a local guide. Not being a saint, and thus unlikely to be restored by divine intervention in the event of an accident, I decided not to go looking for it.
St Medan (or Medana) was an eighth century Irish princess said to be extremely beautiful. Accordingly she had several suitors, the most persistent of which was a soldier. Given the choice of him or a nunnery, she was all for the wimple but Soldier Boy couldn’t accept this. Accordingly, she fled from his attentions, crossing the Irish Sea and taking up residence in the cave. She took her handmaidens with her of course — one has to maintain one’s royal standards, even if living as a hermit.
From her cave, Medan ministered to the local community until one day the soldier showed up in Galloway, because crossing the sea to escape you is clearly just playing hard to get. Medan then made what can only be described as a miraculous escape: Specifically, she is said to have stepped onto a stone that then floated across Luce Bay to Monreith, where she built the (now-abandoned) Kirkmaiden Chapel. The soldier apparently took this as some sort of flirting as he promptly decided he’d not stalked her enough and followed her yet again.
The exasperated Medan demanded to know what it was about her that so attracted him and he waxed lyrical about her eyes. Well in that case, she replied, he could have them — and she plucked them out and threw them at his feet. The soldier fled in horror, his fantasies ruined forever. Apparently even his obsession only went so far; the tale would be a lot more disturbing if he’d taken her pretty eyes with him. Meanwhile, Medan, having literally made her disinterest blindingly obvious, washed her bleeding face in a well and her sight was miraculously restored. Or so the legend goes.
A half mile further south from St Medan’s Cave, I reached the bay of East Tarbet, beyond which was the Mull of Galloway (Maol nan Gall) itself; a mull — from Gaelic maol and cognate with Welsh moel — is a rounded, treeless hill or mountain.
The tip of the headland is prone to a nightmarish interplay of seven tides which sensible mariners went nowhere near. Instead they would beach their boats at East or West Tarbet — two bays separated by a narrow isthmus — and port the boats or their goods overland. The name element ‘tarbet’ derives from this practice, coming from Gaelic an tairbeart. Today this means ‘the isthmus’ but a more literal translation would be ‘across-carrying’, identifying it as a site of portage.
A couple of dilapidated buildings stood at East Tarbet at the top of a slipway. These were used in the past when paraffin oil and stores for the lighthouse were delivered by steamers working for the Northern Lighthouse Board. The board was established by Parliament in 1786 to administer lighthouses and other navigational aids in Scottish waters. The NLB is thus a public body, unlike its English counterpart, Trinity House, which is a private chartered corporation.
Mull of Galloway
Approaching the Mull
The path dropped down a steep hill to East Tarbet’s shore and passed within a stone’s throw of the road to the Mull of Galloway Lighthouse. The easy route would have been to join that road but I stuck to the path as it climbed back out of East Tarbet and along the top of the coastal slope. A brisk breeze was blowing and the mull, being treeless, offered a perfect opportunity to warm the wind for the benefit of others by gifting it all of my body heat. I felt so virtuous.
The Mull of Galloway is said to have been the last stronghold of the Southern Picts before Galloway was overrun by Irish Gaels. According to local legend the Picts dealt with the greyness and windiness by brewing ale from heather, using their own secret recipe. This heather ale was said to be the most wonderful of beverages and this intrigued the King of the Scots, who decided to crush the Picts and capture the Mull, aided by a traitorous Pictish druid. The King won but the Picts were, if anything, too crushed — he ended up with only two prisoners, an old man and his mortally wounded son.
Realising that if he didn’t get the secret from these two, he would never obtain it, the King agreed to spare one if the other revealed the recipe. Knowing his son was already weak and dying, the old man agreed and the son was thrown from the cliffs to his death. Having promised to reveal the secret to one man only, the old man now led the druid to the highest point of the cliffs and, grasping him firmly, leapt to his death, taking the traitor with him.
There are various versions of the heather ale legend in different parts of Scotland and Ireland and even within Galloway the tale comes in various forms, with different identities for the attacking king. Some identify him as Niall of the Nine Hostages, fifth century king of Ulster and ancestor of the Uí Néill dynasty. Others, like the poet and novelist Robert Louis Stevenson, preferred to remain vague on the subject; he wrote of the legend in his poem Heather Ale: A Galloway Legend in which the Picts appear to be dwarfs.
Stevenson was no stranger to the Mull of Galloway thanks to the family profession (which he spectacularly failed to follow). His father, Thomas Stevenson, was a prolific engineer who designed many lighthouses for the NLB, as did his grandfather Robert Stevenson — by far and away Scotland’s most famous and accomplished lighthouse engineer. It was the elder Robert who built the Mull of Galloway lighthouse in 1830.
Gnaeus Julius Agricola
I stood at the end of the Mull of Galloway and watched the tides churn below. I could just about make out the Isle of Man in the distance but on a clear day one can also see Cumbria and Ireland from the mull. Perhaps the most famous person to do so was Gnaeus Julius Agricola, Roman Governor of Britannia, who mused that he could conquer Ireland with a single legion. Perhaps fortunately, he never got to put this to the test although he does appear to have given refuge to the exile Tuathal Teachtmar, who later returned to Ireland with an army and seized the high kingship.
Agricola was recalled to Rome in 85 after an eventful seven years as governor, during which he’d subdued much of Wales and Cumbria. I set my sight upon a more modest goal: to conquer cake.
Tea and Cake Break
There is a café near the lighthouse and I had been assured that it would sell me delicious cake, which I could devour. There was, it did and I duly devoured.
The weather took this as a sneaky opportunity to drop more water onto everything while I wasn’t looking but since I was in the warm and dry and had both tea and cake I didn’t care. The weather, it turns out, likes to have an audience and the rainclouds stormed away in a huff to find someone more appreciative. Trying to distract me from cake is never the way forward.
The little sticky-up stub in the photo above is Kennedy’s Cairn. Listed in 1994, its origins are a bit of a mystery. It served as a lookout in both world wars and may have been similarly used to spot poachers in centuries past. Archaeology has identified Mesolithic flints around sits base suggesting that the current cairn is merely the modern form of a structure that has stood there for millennia.
As the extra rain had upgraded the ground from ‘boggy’ to ‘quagmire’, I cut back to the road and let that lead me off the mull. It drew close to East Tarbet, bringing me within metres of my inbound route, and then to West Tarbet, the corresponding bay across the isthmus. West Tarbet is often home to seals but unless seals are a lot whiter and woollier than I remember them, I sadly saw none.
At this point I attempted to pick up one of the Dumfries & Galloway footpaths that are signposted and waymarked across the council area. I went wrong almost from the start. I’m not sure exactly where and how, but I soon found myself on a path rather than the path; one that appeared to be little more than a narrow sheep trail. I had my suspicions when it became interestingly narrow, squeezing me between gorse bushes and a fence. The gorse was clinging to a river bank, which quickly became more of a gully. The fence was electric, as I discovered the hard way.
Prickled and shocked, I kept going determinedly forwards until the path ended in a particularly dense gorse thicket. I had to descend the bank of the gully — Glen Auchie — to where it looked like another path led up on the far side of the stream. Only it didn’t. The stream wasn’t too hard to cross but the ‘path’ on the far side was far too steep and ran straight into another gorse thicket. It was without doubt a sheep trail and I lacking two pairs of hooves, was not going to be able to follow it.
Not wanting to retrace my steps to West Tarbet — I was a hundred percent sure I’d re-electrify myself on the way — I cast about for an alternative route. And I found one. True, I did have to follow another sheep trail, crawling on my hands and knees beneath a gorse bush. Yes, I did have to jump the stream twice. And yes, I had to scrabble up a path that was almost as steep. But I made it. The trail led me back to a path beside the fence and this led me back to a waymark which strongly suggested I could have just strolled there had I gone the right way. Oh well, I was on it now. The path led me along an undulating coastline, formed of rocks with obvious strata, tipped and folded in various patterns.
West Cairngaan, Cardrain & Pulinkum Farms
After a while the path turned inland along a track that turned into a road. This met a public road at West Cairngaan Farm and I had the choice of heading north towards a B-road or turning west to a farm named Cardrain, where the public road ended. I took the latter, passing through the farmyard and onto a muddy unmade track that connected Cardrain Farm to the neighbouring farmhouse of Pulinkum. The farm track might have been squelchy in places but traffic was certainly no issue.
Regaining the Road
At Pulinkum Farm, the track became surfaced, passing by a few cottages before it rejoined the public road. I now had a couple of miles of winding country lane ahead of me as I headed north. This would take me away from the coast but that could hardly be helped. And it wasn’t unpleasant.
Fortunately, I like fields. This was lucky because he road slowly climbed as it went, which meant that the view showed me more and more of them. It also showed me the sea in two directions — both behind me at the end of the road and ahead on the far side of the peninsula. I followed it for about two miles until it brought me to Damnaglaur, a clachan or satellite hamlet of Drummore. From there I could clearly see the waters of Drummore Bay, whereas the other coast was far behind me. I had come back to within a mile of my starting point that morning.
Damnaglaur was pretty enough in a ‘handful of houses’ sort of way. It sat at a crossroads where the road I had been on met a couple of B-roads. One of these, the B7065, led me northwards another mile to Drummore’s other satellite…
This, like so many places in Galloway, was called Kirkmaiden — a popular place name in those parts, referring to a church dedicated to the Virgin Mary. In this case the church was built in 1638, replacing the church on the Kirkburn that I had passed earlier that morning. Kirkmaiden was tiny.
My main reason for going to Kirkmaiden was so that I could leave it — or rather the B7065 — by taking a left turn in the centre of the village. This put me onto another narrow country lane, which then wound its way westwards towards Clanyard Bay and the western coast of the peninsula. There I would find Castle Clanyard.
The Castle was there when I arrived. It’s even in the photo above. The thing is it’s a bit ruined. But that’s okay, right? What could be romantic than a ruined castle by the sea?
Once the largest and most splendid castle in the parish, Clanyard was the home of a branch of Clan Gordon. Its name is thought to derive from Old Norse klungr, meaning rough ground, the site being not too hospitable.
In its heyday the castle was an L-plan stone tower house but it had a short life, being constructed in the early 16th century and abandoned in 1684. The tale of the Ardwell ‘Murder Stone’, as mentioned in my previous walk, involved a young Gordon of Castle Clanyard. The lad in question was a rival of young McDowell of Logan for the affection of the beautiful daughter of McKinna, laird of Barncorkrie. Unfortunately, Gordon was about as good at accepting rejection as St Medan’s soldier boy. He kidnapped the girl, taking her to his relatives at Gatehouse of Fleet, and had his rival murdered. They then took control of Barncorkrie (more-or-less next door to Castle Clanyard), which land-grab is what it was all about anyway.
I headed north from what was left of Castle Clanyard, once again following a farm track. This started well enough, though obviously it was going to be muddy. I hadn’t gone far, however, when I came to a cattle grid upon the crossing of which I met the cattle it was there for.
They were all bullocks, destined for a fate involving gravy and horseradish sauce, and they were just old enough to be bold and frisky but not quite large enough to do anything unless all their mates backed them up. What they decided to do in unison was come take a closer look at me. Now, I could see from their body language that they were curious rather than aggressive but it still made my stomach turn over when they converged on my position at speed, running from all corners of their field.
I stood my ground and they slid to a halt just beyond arms reach. Having surrounded me, they realised that they didn’t know me and so watched my every move. Mostly they were still curious, so mostly I wasn’t too worried — my primary fear had been that they might not stop in time in the slippery mud. There were, however, a couple of individuals who were getting just a tad too jumpy. And so I resolved to try to keep those two in sight — if they’re going to be aggressive, they’d much rather attack you from behind — as I walked slowly along the track across their field.
As I went, I simultaneously tried not to present my back as a clear target, nor stare them into a state of rising terror. I talked to them loudly and rather more confidently than I felt. Most of the cattle followed me at a distance of maybe three paces. The two troublemakers jumped around a lot more but fled to the back if I looked at them. And thus, like the dancers in some weird bovine ballet, we moved together to the exit.
The exit was of course another cattle grid. They watched me with their big brown eyes as I crossed it and then began to moo as I walked off. I think in retrospect they hoped I was bringing fun foods. Bad luck, boys
Nearing Port Logan
The farm track continued north before becoming more overgrown and intermittently muddy. It reached its absolute zenith of muddiness before meeting the access track of another farm. Here I had to pass through a gate and the farmer had left some instructions:
Muddy farm tracks led me squelchily northwards until I could see Port Logan ahead. I was perilously close to missing the bus I was aiming for although, since it wasn’t the last one, another would come if I hung around long enough. There would be little to do while waiting however, so I put on a final burst of pace.
Port Logan was originally called Port Nessock (Port Neasaig) and comprised a single row of houses. The hamlet was developed in 1682 when the lairds of Logan had a harbour pier constructed. This was replaced in 1820 with a quay and tower designed by Thomas Telford (1757-1834). A causeway road leading to the pier cut off the houses from the shoreline and Colonel Andrew McDouall had rather expected his tenants to move to a new row of houses. Instead, they found that the causeway acted as a windbreak and they chose to stay put, relying on their upper storeys to retain a sea view.
I caught the bus with no time to spare whatsoever. As in ‘the bus and I arrived at the bus stop simultaneously.’ I clambered aboard and it whisked me back to my B&B, where the landlady had been most puzzled by my leaving my breakfast in the fridge.
This time: 15 miles
Total since Gravesend: 2,461½ miles