Saturday, May 19, 2012

Walk 295 -- Dundrennan to Dalbeattie

Ages:  Colin was 70 years and 11 days.  Rosemary was 67 years and 154 days.
Weather:  Dry, mostly overcast.  A bitterly cold wind.
Location:  Dundrennan to Dalbeattie.
Distance:  15 miles.
Total distance:  2979 miles.
Terrain:  Tracks, some grassy and some muddy.  Lanes and road-walking.  Just out of Auchencairn we came across a new path which took us round the marshes for a mile or so.
Tide:  (Didn’t get near the sea!)
Rivers:  No.357, Urr Water.
Ferries:  None.
Piers:  None.
Kissing gates:  No.307 on a back lane.  Nos. 308 to 311 on the new path round the marshes.  No.312 at Orchardton Tower.
Pubs:  ‘The Old Smuggler’ at Auchencairn which said it sold Sulwath beers but it didn’t.  But there were a couple of real ales for Colin — Cairngorm ‘Howler’ and William Brothers ‘May Bee’.  I had a shandy as it is more thirst-quenching.  The bar is a boat!
‘Historic Scotland’ properties: No.43, Threave Castle which we didn’t have to visit because it is inland, but we did (on a different day) because it is interesting.  Not only is it on an island in the middle of a river and only accessible by boat, but also a couple of ospreys were nesting on a nearby tree!  (I really did mean ‘on’, and not ‘in’!)  A telescope was set up on a special viewing platform. No.43, Orchardton Tower.
Ferris wheels:  None.
Diversions:  None.
How we got there and back:  We were staying in our caravan in Dalbeattie.  This morning we walked into town and caught a bus to Dundrennan.  Then we walked a mile up the lane to Fagra Farm where we finished the last Walk.
At the end we walked from the causeway back to our caravan.  Almost immediately we went into town to dine at the Kings Arms Hotel — very nice meal and reasonably priced.
Unfortunately I developed a stress fracture in my left foot on this Walk.  By the next day I couldn’t put that foot to the ground.  I could only walk with a pronounced limp, and didn’t want to in case it put my back out.  So we gave in and came home. 

Threave  Castle 
Threave Castle, the remains of which stand on an island in the River Dee, was built in 1369 by Archibald ‘The Grim’ who later became the third Earl of Black Douglas.  He was the most powerful magnate in southern Scotland in his time.  In the mid 15th century, King James II finally overthrew the mighty Black Douglases, and Threave Castle succumbed after a two-month siege.
When we visited the castle we had to walk half a mile from the car park to a small jetty from which we were ferried across to the island.  We explored the castle, which is bigger than most we have come across in this part of Scotland.
When we were ferried back we were taken on a five-minute ‘cruise’ along the river where we saw a heron fishing in the shallows.
Then we walked along to a viewing platform which had been set up by the local Wildlife Trust to look at ospreys which were nesting on a nearby tree — and I do mean ‘on’ and not ‘in’!
High-power telescopes had been set up so we could see them more clearly.  We were told they hadn’t yet laid any eggs this year because they had only just arrived due to the cold Spring weather.  But everyone was hopeful that they would successfully nest as they had in previous years.  It was exciting to watch these magnificent birds! 
We started today’s Walk on the lane near Fagra Farm where we had emerged from a footpath at the end of the last Walk.  We soon came to a cemetery where we turned on to a concrete road which later became a quality track.  We had views across the Solway Firth, but it was all in the distance — we didn’t get near the sea today.
We could just about make out the mountains of the Lake District (England!) on the horizon, and we noted a modern windmill ‘farm’ out in the estuary.  There were wild flowers everywhere, especially bluebells.
We found a worm trying to cross the track, but it wouldn’t go into a large puddle which was in its way, and it couldn’t find its way round.  After watching it struggle for a while, Colin flicked it into the grass on the other side so it could continue on its journey.
(We must value worms, we depend on them for our very lives — Charles Darwin taught us this.)
We walked through a farm, then down to some cottages which had a different name than the one written on the map.  The junction of tracks was confusing too and Colin was unsure that we were in the right place.  I was confident, mainly because there was simply no other way to go.
There was a stone unicorn head on a wall and there were wild and stray garden flowers all around.  One of the cottages was a B&B.
We turned left up a tarmacked track which led us through posh gateposts with stone birds on top.  I thought I could see a gravestone up ahead, as it was a stone cross.  But it turned out to be a name-board for the cottages below, the correct name we had been looking for when we thought we might be lost.  (We were not lost at all, just confused!)
At that junction we touched on the corner of a tarmacked public road, then immediately turned right on to a grassy track which was muddy in places.  This took us across to a farm where we turned on to a stony track which led uphill.
The bright yellow gorse by the trackside was almost blinding, and we had wonderful views across the fields to Solway Firth.
The sun came out, but it remained bitterly cold.

It was there that my left foot began to hurt as if I had sprained it, yet I had been walking quite normally and done nothing knowingly to cause an injury.  I tried to ignore the pain, but it gradually got worse.  We walked down through a farmyard where it was very muddy and difficult to get by.  Most of it was farm s**t — the countryside is all about pooh!
Still the wildflowers excited us, and a tree that had partially dropped its blossom made us think of weddings.
We sat on a wall further on to eat our pies.  It was a bit nippy in the wind so we didn’t stay long.  The track turned into a tarmacked lane, and eventually we reached the main road.  So we donned our bright yellow waistcoats for the march down into Auchencairn.  We took a short-cut street in the village to get us off the main road for a few minutes — this was officially further from the sea, but since we were nowhere near the sea anyway we didn’t care!  This came out at the village pub, but we were ten minutes too early for opening time.  So we waited on a bench outside.  By now my left foot was really painful and I was glad of the rest.  The pub didn’t do Sulwath’s ales, as advertised, but it did do other real ales so Colin was happy.  The bar was a boat!
As we got up to leave I felt a sharp pain through my foot.  I took more painkillers and carried on, but it became more and more difficult to ignore.  At the exit to the village we passed the War Memorial and a children’s playground.  And there we came across a walkers’ signpost pointing vaguely towards the sea — there was no such footpath marked on our OS map, but we’ve sort of got used to this  lack of information by now.  The sign told us it led to “High Paton”, and there was a map showing us that it was a circular walk emerging on to the road a little further north.  We decided to take it.
A footbridge took us across a small stream, then we followed the path down to the marshes on a boardwalk.  We turned a corner and found we were out of the wind, which was bitter today.  We couldn’t believe how different it was, so we made the most of it by sitting on a wall to eat our sarnies.  We looked across the marshes to Auchencairn Bay, about half a mile away, and I said, “This is the nearest we shall get to the sea today, so take it all in!  For we have to walk inland all the way to Dalbeattie in order to cross the river called Urr Water."
Further on, out in the wind again, we turned on to a good track to return to the road.  There were lots of puddles, and many of them had hundreds of tiny flies buzzing about just above the water.  I took a video of them.  I took more painkillers because the pain in my foot was quite intense, but they had no effect.  We plodded alongside the road for two more miles, me trying not to limp.  The traffic was intermittent, but when it did come it was fast.  Not pleasant.  We passed a field where Shetland ponies were grazing -- beautiful animals but I think they can be feisty at times.
We decided to turn on to the lane to Orchardton Tower even though it was a loop which was much further.  We’d both had enough of the road by then, and this tower is an ‘Historic Scotland’ property.  We thought it would just be another ruined tower that we would look at from the road, but found there was more to it than that.  It was built in the middle of the 15th century, and lived in until the middle of the 18th century.  It is unique in that it is the only round tower house in Scotland — and why not?  Curves are so much more calming than straight lines, I’ve always wanted to live in a round house (though how I’d arrange the furniture is another matter!) 
There was no warden, but the tower was open with a spiral staircase inside.  There was a lovely carved piscina in one room.  The notice told us it is not known whether it was put in by the laird as an ornament or whether the tower doubled as a chapel.  We climbed the staircase.  We had nice views of the surrounding countryside from the top, very pastoral.  But we were a long way from the sea by now so we had no sight of that.  There was a narrow seat at the top, and we found that we were partially out of the wind if we sat on it.  So we used the opportunity to eat our apples.
The lane led north to the village of Palnackie where we could have walked down to the river — but we didn’t because it was a dead end.  That is where we had to rejoin the main road which we stayed on for the rest of the Walk.
The road was alongside the river at one point, and we could see the sweeping meanders — almost oxbow lakes.  My foot was still giving me grief.  We sat on rocks at the entrance to a caravan site to eat our chocolate.  When we got up I don’t know how I had the courage to continue.  But I just gritted my teeth and carried on, I was that determined.
Further on there was a bit of twisty road where it climbed between two walls.  The road narrowed there, and there was nowhere to escape the speeding traffic.  We had passed that spot several times in the car, and this morning on the bus.  I was quite concerned for our safety on that stretch.  But we had also noticed a two private driveways to posh houses going off one side just before and after the tricky bit and we wondered if they connected up.  We decided to give it a try — this is Scotland, after all, where we have the ‘right to roam’.  We were quite relieved that they did join up, and that we met no one to tell us we shouldn’t be there.  By the exit there was a fine display of forgetmenots under a tree.
Now we had a mile and a half of fairly straight road up to the traffic lights by the river bridge.  The traffic was very fast on this stretch and it was a bit hairy!  We crossed the bridge, and then a half mile of causeway into Dalbeattie.
That ended Walk no.295, we shall pick up Walk no.296 next time at the end of the causeway in Dalbeattie.  It was ten to six, so the Walk had taken us eight hours fifty minutes.  We walked through the town back to our caravan — I was relieved to get the weight off my painful left foot.
It transpired that I had sustained a stress fracture in one of the tiny bones in my foot due to plantar fasciitis (flat feet to you and me!)  I am convinced that it was caused by all that pounding on five miles of unforgiving concrete roads through Kirkcudbright ranges — the so-called ‘footpaths’ the military had opened.  Today’s Walk, so soon after, had been the last straw.  The only treatment is rest until the bone heals.  The next day I couldn’t put that foot to the ground, I needed crutches and the pair left over from my broken leg era (I had to buy them abroad) were in the attic at home.  So we packed up and returned to Malvern. 
Frustration!  This year had started so well, and we had planned to get to Carlisle this session.  I am a very impatient patient!

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