Thursday, May 17, 2012

Walk 294 -- Kirkcudbright to Dundrennan

Ages:  Colin was 70 years and 9 days.  Rosemary was 67 years and 152 days.
Weather:  Steady light rain all day.
Location:  Kirkcudbright to Dundrennan.
Distance:  16 miles.
Total distance:  2964 miles.
Terrain:  Some very muddy paths and tracks.  Some stony tracks.  A lot of concrete roads and lanes.
Tide:  (Didn’t get near the sea!)
Rivers:  No.356, Abbey Burn.
Ferries:  None.
Piers:  None.
Kissing gates:  None.
Pubs:  None on the Walk.  But we did visit the Sulwath Brew Pub in Castle Douglas several times while we were in the area.
‘Historic Scotland’ properties:  No.40, Dundrennan Abbey (which we visited on a different day).
Ferris wheels:  None.
Diversions:  None.
How we got there and back:  We were staying in our caravan in Dalbeattie.  This morning we drove to Dundrennan, parked the car, then caught a bus into Kirkcudbright.  (We had to pay our fares today!)
At the end we walked a mile along a lane from Fagra Farm to Dundrennan where our car was parked.  We drove back to Dalbeattie for tea, biscuits and a lie-down. 
No free bus fares today!  Unlike two days ago, we had to pay for our bus ride this morning.  It rained practically all day, so we embarked on a pretty soggy Walk.  We didn’t take many photos because we didn’t want to risk the cameras getting wet.  Those we did manage to take, we were huddled under Colin’s umbrella trying to face away from the wind so they aren’t very good.  They were bunched in groups, and occasionally we got drips on the lens.
We walked alongside the river in Kirkcudbright until we had passed the harbour, then we had to go inland a little because buildings blocked our way.  We came out at the marina.  From there we walked through a park — all this in the rain.  At the other end we merged into a housing estate, trying to keep as close to the river as we could.  We wondered if we would be able to get out at the other end because we have been ‘trapped’ in housing estates before.  But we found an unofficial path, obviously much used by the locals, which led round the end of the perimeter fence into a marsh.  It was a bit boggy underfoot, but we coped.  We carried on along the edge of what was once a wood of fir trees but was now cut down.  We came out on a track which led all round St Mary’s Isle — only it isn’t actually an island, just a long thin peninsula.
Now if it had been a sunny day with the sunlight dappling through the trees, the next part of our Walk would have been truly beautiful.  But it was a grey, drippy and gloomy day — despite that it was still beautiful!
I love trees, I love woods in the springtime with their pale green new leaves and the assortment of wild flowers on the woodland floor.  Added to that, we had glimpses of the river, now an estuary, through the trees on our right.  It was boggy in places, but we didn’t let that spoil our enjoyment.
There was the all-pervading scent of wild garlic which was prolific in the woods.  As a child, Colin used to call them “stinking nans”, it was a local name in Derbyshire.  We recalled the time when our own children were young and we took them for a picnic in woods at this time of year.  Maria was about six at the time.  She came trotting back to me and said, “I’ve just been running through the smelly grandmas!”  Ever since then, these lovely Spring flowers have been known as “smelly grandmas” in our family!
We came to the end of the ‘island’ where we could see an extra bit of land, detached, through the trees.  Near there we found a log where we could sit without getting too wet, so we stopped to eat our pies — in the rain!  The path curved round and followed the other side of the peninsula, almost back to where we had started.
We merged on to a potholed road, and further on some workmen were filling the potholes with stones.  Eventually we came out on to the proper road which had recently been retarmacked with those horrible little stones which are not properly embedded in the tar.  We thought we were going to get splattered with tarry grit, but we didn’t because the traffic was light.  A sweeping lorry came along, supposedly picking up the surplus stones, but it was quite inefficient.  The road looked just as bad after it had passed by.  There was a pavement for the mile we had to walk this road, so we didn’t need our bright yellow waistcoats.
The road went inland so we turned off along a lane.  Further on the lane went inland so we turned off along a track.  It was a well made-up track as far as the turnoff to the lifeboat station. After that it was a bit muddy.
We were alongside the estuary, and had glorious views of it through the trees — at least they would have been glorious if they hadn’t been so uniformly grey.  But we remained in good spirits because we were surrounded by wild flowers and trees with their new leaves, a lovely green even in that dull light.
We also found an unusual coloured snail sliding across the track.  We sat on a log to eat our sarnies — in the rain!
Further on we passed a car stuck in the mud.  Two men had given up trying the drive it out, they had only got themselves stuck in deeper with their efforts.  The track had narrowed to footpath width long since, so we don’t know why they were there.  We could only conclude that they drove on too far after the track had deteriorated into a muddy footpath — but where did they think they were they going?  They had tried to turn round by driving off the side, and got themselves into even deeper mud.  They seemed to be quite cheerful about their situation, they said they had phoned for help and a Landrover was on its way to haul them out.
The path emerged from the trees at Torrs Point, and there it became a narrow cliff path around the Point.  At last we were at the mouth of the estuary and should have had views across the Solway Firth — but not on a rainy day like today, we could barely see back across the mouth to the peninsula we were on during the last Walk.
However we did have views ahead along the next bit of rocky coast.  Little did we realise that it would be the last view of the coast on this Walk, of which we had so far completed less than half.  There were several stiles to get over, one of which presented me with a lot of difficulty because the steps were much too high.  Or is it that I’m getting old?  These days I find I have to look at a stile and plan how I’m going to climb over it before starting to climb up.  My back problem limits my flexibility in twisting over a stile, and my thigh muscles are not strong enough to haul myself up huge steps nor to lift my legs very high to get over the top.  Far better to have a kissing gate!
We climbed up to an entrance to the military ranges.  Way back on our last Walk we had stopped to chat to a local man who was sitting on his garden wall.  He gave us lots of tips as to how we should proceed, and had asked if we knew that the MOD had now opened a footpath through Kirkcudbright ranges.  He told us that if we wanted to walk there (we did because it is nearer the sea) we should ring up beforehand to make sure they were not shooting on the day we wanted to walk through.  So yesterday we had called in at Kirkcudbright Tourist Information Centre where they furnished us with a leaflet.  So we had a sketchmap of the open paths through the ranges and I rang the number on the leaflet to be assured we could walk through today quite safely because they had no plans to shoot.
Once inside, the paths were well waymarked and we were warned not to wander off them on pain of death!  (I don’t think they know themselves how much unexploded ordnance lurks in the undergrowth, they have been shooting there for so many decades.)  We walked through woods at first which was very pleasant, and we admired the many wild flowers we passed.
We came to a building with toilets, but it was completely locked up.  Colin needed to change his pad — yes, he still has to wear small ones, and on wet days like today his artificial sphincter does not work as well as it might.  There was no one about, so he did it outside!
From there the route across the ranges was quite zigzag and rather like a roller-coaster.  We were disappointed that it was not footpaths, but unforgiving concrete roads for miles and miles.  And warning notices were everywhere about the dangers of wandering off these roads.  We only saw the sea from a distance, we never got up close.  Altogether it was quite tedious, especially in the rain.  There was nothing much to look at, except the odd rusty tank.  We sat on the wall of a bridge to eat our apples — in the rain!
A white van was buzzing about and passed us twice on our journey through.  It didn’t seem to be going anywhere in particular and I’m positive they were keeping an eye on us, making sure we were genuine hikers sticking to the route and not up to any mischief.  I expect they had us on their radar — I felt a little spooked.  (We have experienced this before when walking across military land, both at Shoeburyness in Essex and Thorney Island in West Sussex.)  There were warning notices everywhere about the dangers of wandering off the concrete roads.  But sheep and cattle were grazing all over the place, don’t they ever get blown up?
Colin worked here for a few weeks back in the 1970s.  He was working for Plessey at the time, and most of their contracts were for the MOD — he often worked alongside the Army.  All these years later he couldn’t remember much about the work he did here, but when he saw the Sergeants’ Mess in the distance he exclaimed, “That is where I was introduced to Glayva!”  (Of course, it is only the important things in life that stick in the memory!)
Soon after the bridge where we ate our apples, there was a fork in the road with no waymarks.  Help!  Are we going to be blown to smithereens?  We made an educated guess as to which way we should proceed — and got it right, thank goodness.  A bit further on the concrete road turned into an ordinary track which was much easier on the feet.
We passed a ‘Portaloo’ which was not locked, but it was dirty and didn’t flush.  But there were fresh tissues and toilet paper in there, so it was obviously intended to be used.  We didn’t — I’d rather hide behind a bush than use toilets in such a state.
The track led us on to a tarmacked road which turned down a stream valley.  It was very pretty, there were carpets of smelly grandmas….er, sorry — wild garlic!  This was the best bit of the whole ranges walk.
We came to an exit gate to the ranges where we sat on the wall of a bridge to eat our chocolate — in the rain!  Then it was uphill, uphill, uphill, higher than we’d been all day — a real sting in the tail when we were so tired.  At least the rain ceased and gave us a break.  We were amused by the cows rushing along next to us in adjacent fields — this happened in several fields.  At last we emerged on to a lane near a farm called Fagra.  The way on was to turn right, but we didn’t do that today.

That ended Walk no.294, we shall pick up Walk no.295 next time in the lane by the farm called Fagra.  It was five to six, so the Walk had taken us nine hours exactly.  We turned left and walked down into Dundrennan where our car was parked.  We drove straight back to Dalbeattie where we had our tea and biscuits in the caravan.

Dundrennan  Abbey
We visited Dundrennan Abbey on a different day, but it was still pouring with rain.  Or it was until just before we arrived, then it stopped but it was still very drippy.
The abbey was founded in the 12th century by Cistercian monks from Rievaulx Abbey in Yorkshire.  It was connected to Glenluce Abbey, which we have already visited, and Sweetheart Abbey, which we shall pass by soon, because they were all founded by the same monks.  Also this abbey was where the tragic Mary Queen of Scots spent her last night in Scotland, the land of her birth, before she fled to England where she mistakenly believed Elizabeth I would protect her from her enemies.
There is not much of the abbey left, but enough to show it must have been very impressive in its time.  Colin was much more interested in a swallow’s nest he spied inside one of the arches.

To tell the truth, Colin would far rather have spent the day at the Sulwath brew pub in Castle Douglas which we did manage to visit several times when we were in the area.

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