Saturday, April 14, 2012

Walk 290 -- Monreith to Garlieston

Ages:  Colin was 69 years and 342 days.  Rosemary was 67 years and 119 days.
Weather:  A cold start and finish.  It was cold in the wind but there was a lot of sunshine.  It was really warm where there was no wind.
Location:  Monreith to Garlieston.
Distance:  23 miles!  (When I planned this Walk I thought it would be 17 miles, but we discovered a number of brand new coastal paths along the clifftops which weren’t marked on the latest OS maps — I don’t know why we buy them! — which extended the Walk by six miles!  (Oh, and we also went wrong a couple of times!) 
Total distance:  2893 miles.
Terrain:  A lot of quiet roads.  We also walked on tracks and undulating cliff paths.
Tide:  In, going out.
Rivers:  None.
Ferries:  None.
Piers:  None.
Kissing gates:  Nos.274 to 289 on the cliff path from the cave to Isle of Whithorn.  No. 290 at the ruined chapel.  Nos.291 to 297 on the new coastal path towards Garlieston — until we turned off it because it got too dark.  Twenty-four total has beaten all records for a Walk!
Pubs:  ‘The Steam Packet’ at Isle of Whithorn.  An excellent pub which we visited several times, not only on the Walk.  Colin enjoyed Fyne Ales ‘Jarl’, ‘Cobbler Stout’, ‘Maverick’ and Houston ‘IPA’ among others.  I drank Magners cider, a local cider called ‘Thistly’ something, and Fentiman’s ginger beer.  Their pub lunches were ACE!
‘Historic Scotland’ properties:  No.34, St Ninian’s Cave.  No.35, St Ninian’s Chapel.
Ferris wheels:  None.
Diversions:  None.
How we got there and back:  We were staying in our caravan on a site in Garlieston.  This morning we caught a bus in the village to Monreith where we alighted at the top of the beach steps exactly where we had finished the last Walk.
At the end we were at the caravan.  It was already dark.

I already had a blister on my left heel, but I had put a fresh ‘Compeed’ plaster over it this morning and hoped it would be OK for the day.
We marched through the tiny village of Monreith on the road.  A notice told us that it was originally named ‘Milltown of Monreith’ after the many mills powered by the local burn.  The mill workers lived in the village.  We encountered little traffic.  A milepost just beyond the village told us it was two miles back to Port William, when we knew for a fact it was three!  As on the last Walk, we felt all these mileposts had been misplaced.
There were loads of daffodils by the wayside, but they were mostly finished by now.  The narcissus were nice though.
We crossed an overgrown stream which we would hardly have seen if it wasn’t for a Council notice on the bridge telling us it had been strengthened using European dosh.  So there are some advantages of belonging to the EU then!
We passed a footpath off towards the sea signposted ‘Maxwell’s Otter’.  Apparently Gavin Maxwell, who wrote ‘Ring of Bright Water’, used to walk his tame otter on the beach at Monreith.  In his memory a bronze sculpture of an otter has been erected on a rock down there.  We would have liked to have seen it, but it was a dead end and knowing we had a long Walk ahead of us — though we had under-estimated just how long — we couldn’t spare the time to divert.
We walked under a rookery which spanned the road.  Colin clapped his hands, and the birds took off with a cacophony of squawking!  I said I wished I’d had my camera out and taken a video of them doing that.  Colin said he would do it again, but the birds weren’t nearly so noisy the second time and the video was a bit of a flop!
We pressed on.  We passed an animal park where a number of ponies trotted across the field to greet us.  We also passed a couple more misplaced milestones.
We had driven along this road a few times in recent days, and this morning we came along it in the bus.  I had noted a derelict lodge, once the proud entrance to a big estate, and had got it so fixed in my mind that it was the place we turned off the road that I didn’t study the map carefully enough.  Even when we passed a farm clearly labelled ‘Low Craiglemine’, I thought “It won’t be long now!”

Further on I said, “It must be further than I thought!” still convinced that it was the derelict lodge where we left the road.
At last we came to it — yes, the building was in a sad state with no roof and trees growing up inside.  Colin couldn’t resist going in, he would!  I said, “Look out of one of the windows and I’ll take your photo!”  He answered, “I can’t, the floor over the cellar has gone!”
We followed the track which was once the driveway to this old estate, whatever it was.  It was a bit muddy, but we coped.  We passed some pheasant feeding stations, though there were no signs of any pheasants about.  We came to a field gateway where we sat on a log and ate our pizza/pie.
It was then that we realised we were in the wrong place!  This track finished at the field gateway — we should have turned off at Low Craiglemine Farm further back.  Colin was keen to yomp across the fields and catch up with the track we were supposed to be on further along.  I wasn’t — you never know what hazards you come across doing that, and I didn’t want to have to climb through a hedge or over a barbed wire fence at the other end.

Colin hates retracing his steps (so do I, for that matter) but I managed to persuade him to backtrack just as far as the lodge, then continue along the road for another mile or so until we came to another track leading down to the one we should have been on.  He made a lot of fuss about it being ‘further’, but he did it!

Back on the correct path, we twisted through woods with ivy-covered trees — not well managed these days, obviously.  There were also some exotic specimens brought from foreign parts, but now neglected.
We came out to open fields and a derelict farm buildings — I mean really derelict as in falling down.  Yet the fields either side of us were well used.  A good track between the fields for about a mile led us to another small wood.  And there we came across yet another derelict building, a small cottage.  Doesn’t anyone live in these parts anymore?
We went downhill to a nice stream and a pretty waterfall.  It was lovely with the sun shining through the trees which were not quite in leaf yet — a dappled effect.
We came out on to the track leading from a car park to the cave on the beach, which we had recced yesterday on our ‘rest’ day.
Then we made a second navigational error.  Yesterday we had walked down this track to the beach to look at St Ninian’s Cave, and to recce out how we could connect with the coastal path towards Whithorn which wasn’t very clear on the map.
The tiny cave at the western end of the beach is little more than a dent in the cliffs, but it was reputedly used as a place for personal prayer in the fifth century by St Ninian, the first Christian missionary to Scotland.  In medieval times, pilgrims would stop off here to pray on their way to St Ninian’s shrine on the Isle of Whithorn.  Even in the 1950s there were decorated stones inside the cave — they have since been removed to a museum.  But we found a crude wooden cross outside, so the cave is still revered by some.
As we left the beach, we failed to walk right along to the eastern end.  If we had we would have seen the rough path leading up to the clifftop, but we had become convinced that the way to connect with the coastal path was to turn off the track at a ‘Beware of Bulls’ notice which was partway down, cross a stream and go round behind an ancient fort.  So that is what we did today — we didn’t even go down as far as the beach. 
But we were wrong!  Round behind the fort the path disappeared.  (We met no bulls, by the way.)  We walked along next to a wall looking for a way through, but there wasn’t one.  Colin climbed over the wall and found a way down through gorse bushes to a track.  I followed, partially demolishing the wall as I climbed over!  We thought we were there, but as we advanced along the track we realised we weren’t.  We could see a signpost on the coastal path, so at least we knew it existed (you never know in Scotland), but there was a water-filled ditch between it and us which was too wide to jump.  The ditch went under a barbed wire fence, and there was a pheasant-shooters stile over said fence.  We climbed over — it was a bit dodgy — and came to a place where the ditch was much narrower.  We could jump over it, but only if we landed in impenetrable brambles or wall-to-wall gorse!  Colin found a way through the gorse, and I followed him — this involved climbing a vertical slope.  What a mess we had got ourselves into!  At last we came to a kissing gate on the coastal path — but realised, to our horror, that we were at the wrong corner.  At the point of the gate we had to climb over the fence which was topped with barbed wire.
We were there — really really there at last!  We watched as a young couple walked calmly up from the eastern end of the beach and passed us — aaarrgh!! 
The path was quite difficult at first.  This bit was not marked on the OS map which was why we had got ourselves into such a pickle.  We sat down out of the wind to eat our sarnies.  My blister was giving me grief despite the ‘Compeed’ plaster over it, so I added a ‘blister plaster’ to it to give it more protection.
The path improved when we reached the top of the cliffs, it got much wider and there was a choice of routes across the grass.  We had magnificent views towards South Rhins and the Isle of Man.  Many of the rocks were twisted, and in most cases the strata was vertical — there had obviously been a lot of movement in times gone past.
At the most southerly point of this peninsula we came to a caravan site.  This was the only part of the coastal path where we met other people, apart from that couple who had walked so nonchalantly up from St Ninian’s Cave beach.
There were fishermen on the shore, and a memorial seat covered in flowers.  It was in memory of someone called Peter Brannigan who lived locally and died aged only thirty-three.  “And his beloved Shane” we assumed referred to his dog — we wondered if there had been a tragic accident on the cliffs involving the dog.
We were a bit disappointed with a signpost which told us we were not yet halfway between the Cave and Whithorn — we were already feeling quite tired and felt we had walked a lot further than it said we had.  The blister on my heel was still giving me grief, so I took some painkillers.
There were amazing rocks at this site.  It wasn’t easy to find our way through the caravans, but we coped and continued towards Whithorn.  We said “Goodbye!” to South Rhins, and caught our first sight of the Lake District (England!), but it was very misty and couldn’t be photographed.  We continued up towards a Second World War look-out post.
After a smooth mown patch the path got bumpy again, but later it was flat along the edge of fields for ages.  (This part of the coastal path did not appear on the OS map.)  We caught sight of the Isle of Whithorn, and then the village of Whithorn — it looked glorious in the sunshine.  The path followed closely along the shore, going through parkland and even over a new footbridge before reaching the village. 

We passed a very attractive planter with a wall decoration.  Beyond the Post Office we sat on a bench to eat our apples.  We walked past a row of colour-washed houses, one of which was shocking pink!
We passed the pub (brave!) and continued on to the Isle of Whithorn to look at the ruined chapel.  The ruins we were exploring date from about 1300, but this chapel replaced an earlier one on the site.  Since about the 5th century pilgrims have flocked to this remote peninsula, enduring many hardships as they travelled over land and sea.  They were followers of St Ninian who built a church here, was Bishop of the area and died here in 431.
Nearby was a pile of stones with writing on each one.  They commemorate people’s loved ones who have died — parents, spouses, siblings, children, stillborn babies, friends, even pets — and more are placed there every day.  A polished granite stone had this message on it:   The Witness Cairn  / Celebrating St Ninian 397 to 1997 / Inaugurated 11th May 1997 / Dear visitor pilgrim, you are invited to add your own stone to this cairn as a symbol of an act of witness which you have completed or which you now pledge.  It was difficult to read because it was written in an odd script, but the last bit was something about Churches Together in Scotland in co-operation with the people of Whithorn and the Isle. 

Another granite stone was a memorial In memory of the local men who died at the sinking of the fishing vessel “Solway Harvester” off the South-East coast of the Isle-of-Man on the 11th January 2000.  Seven names were listed alongside their ages — three of them were teenagers and the eldest was only 33.
We take the fish on our plates so much for granted, yet fishing is one of the most dangerous jobs on the planet.  It is right that we should commemorate these brave men and boys.
Then we went to the pub!  We had been to this pub a couple of times before on our ‘rest’ days because they do fantastic lunches at very reasonable prices, and the ale is first class with a range of beers and ciders from which to choose.  (It is in the CAMRA ‘Good Beer Guide’, of course.)  Today we just stopped off for a drink as we still had seven miles to walk back to Garlieston.  There was an obese couple sitting near us — absolutely grotesque in size!  On the News this morning they were discussing a plan to ban the advertising of junk food because the obesity problem is bankrupting the National Health Service.  I know I still need to lose a few pounds, but I just can’t understand how anyone can allow themselves to get morbidly obese.  They must feel awful all the time, and they look dreadful too.
It was after 5pm when we set out to yomp to Garlieston, about seven miles and mostly along roads we thought.  I took some more painkillers because my heel was still feeling sore.  We set up quite a pace because ‘route-marching’ is the only way when fatigue sets in.
About two miles out we came to a signpost pointing across a field towards the sea.  It said, “Coastal path to Garlieston, 6 miles”.  Eh?  That meant it was eight miles from Whithorn to Garlieston, not seven as I had measured from the map.  And there was no vestige of this footpath printed on our oh-so-expensive up-to-date OS map!  We dithered for a minute or two, then decided to risk it.  Neither of us like walking on roads — though these ones were very quiet — and our original Rule no.1 says we must take the “nearest safe path to the coast”.
The first signpost pointed us across a field towards the sea, and from then on we walked a route within sight of the shore which was nice.  There were lots of kissing gates, all brand new.  But the path itself was difficult to see because it was not well walked.  After passing through a kissing gate, we had to look ahead to see where the next one was and make towards it.  Because of the undulations in the terrain it was not always possible to see it straight away, so we just had to guess until we spied it.
Of course, our progress was much slower than when we were on the road — no hope of ‘route-marching’ here.  The sun was sinking low and we still had several miles to go.  The path was uneven, the gates were in obscure places and there was plenty to trip over if we weren’t careful.  We were tired, and we knew it would be foolhardy to hurry under those circumstances.
There were plenty of hazards — like earthworks and World War II concrete constructions — and we felt it was not the place to be after dark.  After about two miles we came to the top of a rise and I voiced my misgivings.  We had no hope of getting back to Garlieston before dark, especially as the last couple of miles past Rigg Bay would be through a wood.  So we decided to ditch the coastal path, and worked out a way of getting back to the road.
We went back one field so we could get through a gate, then followed a stream up to a farm.  We guessed the farmhouse must have access to the road, but when we got there we couldn’t get out of the field.  We made our way round to the other side of the house where we found a gate, but this just led into another field.  We followed the fence along, and came to another gate with an electric fence running along the top of it.  Colin carefully unplugged this while I opened the gate.  We both slipped through, then I closed the gate and Colin plugged in the electric fence again!  It was a few yards to another gate — no electric fence this time — and we were on a trackway out to the road.
Then we really hoofed it, easy when walking on tarmac.  Traffic was negligible.  We saw a fox in a field, and a cow with two very young calves in another — a quick “Aah!” and on we went!  We sat on a wall by Cruggleton church to eat chocolate.
A couple of days later we came back to look at this church which is all by itself in a field but surrounded by trees.  It is very old — I wonder what happened to the village it served? — and had been restored by the Victorians.  After negotiating a very muddy path to get to the door we found it was locked!  So we never did find out what it was like inside.
We marched on, ignoring a track to Rigg Bay which we passed just as the sun was setting behind a hill.  If only it had been daylight — that would have been a lovely walk!  After that it got dark very quickly, but we didn’t lose our way because we were on the road.  We had been wise to leave the coastal path when we did.  We made up a new rule to suit these circumstances:  If it is getting dark and we are in danger of still being on a coastal path when we can no longer see where we are going, then we may cut across to the nearest road in the interests of safety.  By the time we had entered Garlieston and got back to our caravan, it was pitch dark.

That ended Walk no.290, we shall pick up Walk no.291 next time at our caravan in Garlieston.  It was half-past eight, so the Walk had taken us twelve and a half hours!  We were exhausted, but we made some tea and heated up a big pizza for our supper before falling into bed. 

The next day was a ‘rest’ day, and we felt we had been ‘cheated’ out of a pleasant walk through the woods at the end of Walk 290.  So we decided to walk from the caravan to Rigg Bay and back in the sunshine.
We walked past the harbour, which was a bit dry because the tide was out.  A ship’s anchor was left on the side as an ornament.  Soon we passed through a gate on which there was a notice telling us this was the coastal path — one mile to Rigg Bay and seven to Whithorn.  The path from thereon was flat, easy walking and very pleasant with the sunshine filtering through the trees.
There were bluebells in the woods to our right, and we saw a heron fishing in the shallows to our left.  We heard and saw a woodpecker.  We sauntered along revelling in the fact that we didn’t have to get to a certain point in a certain time.  It was very relaxing.
Further on we could see a manor house to our right.  We had passed the entrance to this on the road last night in the dark.  It looked a grand house, and we wondered if a family still lived in it.
On reaching Rigg Bay, we turned round and sauntered back.  It was a nice little stroll, very enjoyable.
Pity we had to miss out about four miles of coastal path last night because darkness overcame us.  We should have divided Walk 290 into two Walks, then we could have enjoyed them both in daylight.

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