HAVING enjoyed several weeks of decidedly un-Londony sunshine, I returned to Galloway at the beginning of June to find it just as bakingly hot but underneath muggy, grey skies. The humidity didn’t make for perfect walking weather but I didn’t care; I walked anyway.
I returned to Scotland via the London to Glasgow sleeper — more because I’d never done it before than for any practical necessity. Another train took me down to Stranraer, where I caught a taxi to Port Logan. The taxi driver was either highly interested in my walk, or else was really good at feigning interest. Either way, he observed that plenty of people set off walking from Portpatrick, heading east along the Southern Upland Way, but he’d never had a passenger want to go to Port Logan and walk the coast there before.
‘Is there even a path?’ he asked me. My answer was a confident ‘er…’
One thing of which I was certain was that there was no path marked on my Ordnance Survey map. The route viewer on the Dumfries & Galloway Council website seemed to indicate that one of its Core Paths led along that section of coast. Indeed it described Path 425 (Port Logan Estate) as an ‘easy level walk from the main road through to the coast.’ That sounded lovely. If only it were true.
Port Logan Bay
Port Logan Harbour
My taxi dropped me off in Port Logan and I wasted several minutes ambling out onto the harbour pier and back again. Both it and the bell tower that graces its end were designed by the famous bridge-building engineer Thomas Telford (1757-1834). Telford’s many other works include the Menai and Conwy suspension bridges. Those two were still in his future in 1818 but Port Logan’s quayside was already small stuff compared to what he’d accomplished.
Port Logan Beach
There were, as I’d feared, no signs for Core Path 425 in Port Logan. Or indeed a path. Since the tide was out and the beach was sandy, I began by following the water’s edge as I made my way round Port Logan Bay. As he’d left, the taxi driver had pointed to a building at the bay’s far end, telling me that it was the ‘fish pond’ and that I should see it. It was on my way, so I decided to make for it. I’m no fishist.
The sand was soft and quite hard going as I tramped along the beach. This is no way diminished my inevitable joy at going for a walk beside the seaside. I passed a rather ugly outfall pipe, embedded in a brick pillar that had been stranded by erosion of the dunes behind it. This could have been grim and off-putting but in my mood of relentless positivity, I merely found it interesting and quirky.
Logan Fish Pond
When an opportunity presented itself to leave the sand and join an access road to the fish pond, I did so and this quickly conveyed me to the grounds of Logan Fish Pond Marine Life Centre. I stood in a courtyard, fairly sure that my way onwards lay through a gateway but I remembered the words of the taxi driver and entered a small shop-cum-ticket office. There I was greeted by one of the proprietors and I bid her tell me what the fish pond was.
‘It’s a pond with fish in,’ she said levelly.
Logan Fish Pond was cut out of the rock, enlarging a natural blow hole, between 1788 and 1800. It was built as a tidal trap to furnish the local laird with guaranteed tasty fish suppers in a time when there were no refrigerators. Still part of the Logan Estate, the fish pond is leased to tenants, who operate it as a tourist attraction. Today, a sluice gate regulates the water levels, reducing tidal fluctuation, but otherwise it is very much as built.
I paid my money and went down to look at the fish, of which there were many types. In addition to learning a great deal about the fish, I also discovered that the pond was under new management and had only re-opened that month after some much-needed refurbishment.
To be honest, I was pleasantly surprised by the fish pond — I hadn’t expected to find a pond full of fish too enthralling, no matter how knowledgeable the proprietor sounded or how many shrimp he threw in to bring the fish to the surface. But he was indeed knowledgeable and very engaging and watching the fish brought a strange kind of calm, as watching fish often does. It was, I decided, money well spent.
What Does ‘Path’ Mean, Anyway?
Heading back up to the entrance, I enquired as to whether there was a path. The other tenant was talking to a local and they gave me as an answer a sort of noise that meant ‘yes… ish.’
The previous tenant had deliberately let the path overgrow and had been strongly opposed to walkers, I was told. If I didn’t mind fighting my way through the vegetation, there was a path as far as the old boathouse. Beyond that, well… Someone had walked through the previous week and not turned back so presumably they continued on but there wasn’t really a clear path as such. On the other hand this was Scotland and so I had a right to roam if I cared to.
I decided I cared to. They wished me luck.
Old Boat House
The path to the boat house was indeed badly overgrown but not so much as to be impassable. I pushed my way through a wall of foliage and emerged blinking, ruffled and slightly scratched into a small rocky cove.
The boat house had clearly seen better days. It was also, as promised, the end of the actual path. But, leading off from there, was the faint track of others’ feet which I endeavoured to follow.
There were two main contenders for whose trail it was that I was following, walkers having been largely discounted: anglers or teenagers. Fishermen have long made trails to otherwise inaccessible coves (as did smugglers but I discounted them as improbably historic) while teenagers are always drawn to ‘secret’ places to do the things they’re not supposed to do. A number of discarded alcohol containers could have been evidence for either.
Not Everyone Can Join Cove Club
If the track was faint, it was also steep and precarious in places as it hopped from one rocky cove to another. This lent the coves an air of exclusivity—you had to be pretty determined to go there, it wasn’t happening by accident.
I cove-hopped for maybe three or four coves, glad I had thought to take my walking poles with me. Before long I came to a cove with no clear way onwards unless I clambered up rocks to a low cliff-face and followed the line of a fence. I almost turned back but decided that no, I’d give it a go.
On reaching the top, I found the ‘path’ again, insofar as a line of slightly-trampled grass is a path. One or two people, or possibly sheep, had already walked where I was walking.
Mull of Logan
I bimbled along by the fence for a while, trying not to trip and fall off the cliff while greatly enjoying the view. I had come very little distance since the boat house as the cove-hopping had been quite slow. And my progress was still intermittent; the occasional stream and valley needed crossing, involving more descent and ascent. I doubt I’d managed more than one mile an hour since the fish pond but that hardly mattered as I was having fun. Judging by the almost-untrodden state of the ‘path’ I was getting to see stuff that you normally only saw from a boat. The Devil’s Bridge, for instance.
The view inland was less spectacular but across the fields, atop Mull Hill, loomed a crenellated tower.
If not a model, the tower is nothing but one wall, the end of a building no longer standing. It serves no purpose now, except possibly as a daymark for passing vessels, but is described on nineteenth century maps as a beacon. The gable of the vanished structure is visible on its landward side, revealing that the ‘tower’ was only ever a single wall forming a castellated facade.
Port Gill & Drumbreddan Bay
If the ‘tower’ was deceiving in its appearance, so was the terrain ahead, which didn’t look all that challenging at first glance.
It wasn’t easy. And though no lemons were harmed in the course of my perambulation, I fairly tired myself out dealing with streams, mud and gorse bushes and more verticality than I was counting on. But I pressed on, albeit slowly, emerging from one particularly dense gorse thicket to see:
I made my way down the barely-existing trail, which quickly became boot-eatingly squelchy. At the bottom I came close to the caravan visible next to Port Gill. There, a slightly-incredulous couple bid me good day. I learned that they regularly holidayed in this remote spot and that they were surprised to see me approach from the direction in which I had on account of there being no path. Yes, I agreed, I’d noticed that.
Pointing the Way
We chatted amiably for a bit and Mr Remote Holidayer opined that I’d never reach Portpatrick by sunset if I stuck to the pathless coast. I agreed with him; I’d lost too much time already and now planned to join the road network. Where, I asked them, was the nearest road access? They had to know, they’d towed their caravan there somehow. I got out my map.
Mr Remote Holidayer, who had been working on his 4×4 as I approached, reached into his vehicle and then turned around brandishing a knife. This was not a development I was expecting and my shock must have registered in my face. He looked at me confused, I looked at the knife. He looked at me looking at the knife.
‘For pointing at the map,’ he said, ‘my hands are oily.’
Well, duh, of course.
Mr Remote Holidayer advised me strongly against trying to use the road he drove down as it was badly overgrown in the sort of way that doesn’t stop a Range Rover or its ilk but is highly problematic when on foot. Instead he directed me onwards to Drumbreddan Bay. There was a gorse thicket between me and the track to Drumbreddan Farm, he said, but the cattle had recently been let out into the fields and they had trampled a path right through it.
That worked for me. I trotted along, not encountering the cattle, and soon found myself in the exciting land of trans-gorse possibilities. I had really enjoyed much of my trailblazing episode but was now quite relieved to be escaping from it.
Drumbreddan means ‘ridge of the Britons’, which reminds us that before Gaelic-speaking Scots crossed over from Ireland the region was home to Cumbric-speaking Britons. Drumbreddan itself is a 50 m ridge with a farm at the foot of its northern slope.
I followed the track from the shore towards the farm but turned off to the left before I got there. A gated track ran north, roughly parallel to the coast, and it was this way I went. I had assumed that a farm track would be much safer than the pathless coast I’d been traversing but a sign attempted to warn me of some sort of hazard ahead.
I traversed the track without incident or difficulty and began to make up time. About half a mile north the track would meet a proper road and head northeast past West Ardwell. Once again, I turned left before it got there, taking instead the access road to South Ardwell Farm, from which a footpath led towards Ardwell Point. For once, this footpath was actually real and even had waymarks to prove it.
It came to an end beside an isolated cottage and as I consulted my map to check that I knew where I was (I did) a man emerged from the cottage and asked if I was lost. We chatted briefly and he pointed out the path I should take next, which was handy as I’m not sure I’d have recognised it as the path. His cottage was at the far end of the road running up past West Ardwell but I continued to shun that road, taking a route round Ardwell Point. This is a knobbly, rocky headland on which stands all that is left of Doon Castle.
Doon Castle is — or was — a broch, a type of prehistoric circular stone tower. Opinions have varied with archaeological fashion as to whether they were defensive or domestic or a mixture of the two but the truth is we don’t actually know. Not that Doon Castle would be much use as either in its current state.
Having rounded Ardwell Point, I found myself back within sight of the cottage. I could have taken the road inland, past West Ardwell, but shunning it had served me well so far so I elected to continue doing that. I sat on the edge of the slipway that led down to the beach of Ardwell Bay and considered my options. Dead ahead lay the cottage at Saltpans with its own road at the far end of the bay. How did three quarters of a mile of beach sound to me?
The first half of the beach was glorious sand, flat and with just the correct amount of firmness. This came to an end at a line of rocks beyond which the beach was all shingle. Shingle, you may recall, is one of my least favourite things to walk on. The rocks decided to distract me from this fact.
The thrift was quite pretty but not quite enough to take my mind off the unmitigated pebbly hell that is shingle. The beach decided to have another go at florally softening the horror.
I gave the beach eight out of ten for effort and crunched my way over the shingle to the far end of the beach. There nestled Saltpans, another isolated cottage.
The road that began at Saltpans rose steeply at first and bent around sharply to the right. Partway up, I found this mysterious door…
While a wizard is never late, arriving precisely when he means to arrive, I was still trailing laggardly behind my schedule; accordingly, I left the door alone and pressed on up the road towards Clachanmore.
Clachanmore or Low Ardwell
Clachanmore (Clachan Mòr – big hamlet) is not as big as its name might suggest, comprising just a handful of buildings scattered around a crossroads. It had an old red phone box, which looked out of order, and a nineteenth century schoolhouse (built in 1831) which served as an art gallery from 1993 to 2003 but is now a private dwelling.
Meikle Float to Meoul
A lengthy session of road walking now followed, as I wended my way through even tinier hamlets (often just a couple of houses) with names like Mid Ringuinea, Cairngarroch and Kirklauchline. On the way I encountered some chickens who finally answered the old joke:
Taking the Biscuit
I had run out of water by now and the heat and humidity was getting to me. Espying a couple watering their garden, I silenced my horrified southern sensibilities and engaged them in actual conversation. Worse, I asked them if they might refill my water bottle. Clearly, I should sit in a corner and die of shame (but quietly so as not to disturb anybody). The couple turned out to hail from the English Midlands and were no strangers to walking themselves. They not only refilled my water bottle but robustly insisted that I accept half a packet of chocolate hobnobs to go with it. Oh God, the guilt and embarrassment.
Strapping Great Beasts
And so feeling like I had betrayed southeastern English reticence with every delicious biscuity bite, I trekked onwards past the hamlet of Meoul (which had a far less impressive ex-schoolhouse) and on towards Portpatrick. I was watched as I went by fields of Belted Galloway cattle, big black beasts with a broad white stripe around their middle.
An Easy Choice
In time, I came to a junction where a choice awaited me. Ahead, the road led to Portpatrick but to my left it led down to Port of Spittal Bay and Knockinaam Lodge. This hotel and Michelin Star-rated restaurant was built in 1869 as a hunting lodge and provided a secret location in WW2 for Winston Churchill and General Dwight Eisenhower to plan the D-Day landings. The hotel lies at the end of a dead-end road but a coastal footpath leads off from it, taking a rather more scenic route to Portpatrick
I had intended to take the coastal route. I meant to, I really did. I even wandered down the hotel access road to find where the path began. It began, it turned out, with quite a lot of up and I was already feeling uncomfortably warm. I ummed and ahhed for several minutes before concluding that if I wanted to do the path that much I’d already be on it. I thus took the road route instead.
The road was quiet and easy going and Portpatrick soon crept into view.
On the left of the photo above, the stubby ruin of Dunskey Castle can be seen. A sixteenth-century tower house built by the Adairs of Kinhilt on the site of a previous castle. The earlier, fourteenth-century castle was plundered and burnt in 1489 by Sir Alexander McCulloch of Myrton. The later castle was begun in 1510 and sold in 1620 to Lord Montgomery, who extended it. It changed hands again in 1648, passing to the Blair family but was abandoned and derelict by 1700.
Drawing level with Dunskey Castle brought me to Portree, which comprises a bar, the odd house and a caravan park. The bar was busy but furnished me with a much-needed cold drink and a quick sit-down before the final push. My drink drunk, I passed beneath a disused railway bridge, which once carried the western end of the Portpatrick Railway. I was on the home stretch now, with only a mile or so to go, and before long I was checking into the comfort of my hotel.
Portpatrick (Port Phàdraig) began as a fishing village and its harbour was developed at different times by two men whose handiwork also graces far-off Plymouth (plus a multitude of other places). One was John Smeaton —architect of the third Eddystone Lighthouse — who improved Portpatrick Harbour in 1770. The other is John Rennie in 1821, whose works include the 1824 London Bridge and Plymouth’s breakwater and Royal William Victualling Yard.
I didn’t have much chance to look around the village as I had arrived quite late and very much needed to eat. My hotel room had a splendid view of the aforementioned harbour, which greeted me the following morning when I threw my curtains open.
Portpatrick is about five miles from Stranraer, which is now the nearest railhead. I opted to get to there by walking the westernmost stretch of Major William Rickson’s (Old) Military Road, which made for a pleasant start to my homeward journey but doesn’t count at all towards my mileage.
This time: 15 miles
Total since Gravesend: 2,476½ miles