Saturday, June 30, 2012

Walk 297 -- Caulkerbush to New Abbey

Ages:  Colin was 70 years and 53 days.  Rosemary was 67 years and 196 days.
Weather:  Mostly cloudy, but we did have fleeting glimpses of the sun.  Showers, some very heavy.  There was a cool wind.
Location:  Caulkerbush to New Abbey.
Distance:  13 miles.
Total distance:  3006 miles.
Terrain:  Mostly roads, some of which were quite busy.  A track and a lovely beach.  Flat, mostly.
Tide:  Out.
Rivers:  No.360, Southwick Water.  No.361, Prestonmill Burn.  No.362, Drum Burn.
Ferries:  None.
Piers:  None.
Kissing gates:  None.
Pubs:  None.
‘Historic Scotland’ properties:  No.44, Sweetheart Abbey.  No.45, New Abbey Corn Mill.
Ferris wheels:  None.
Diversions:  None.
How we got there and back:  We were staying in our caravan in Dalbeattie.  This morning we drove to New Abbey and parked by the abbey.  Then we caught a bus to Caulkerbush.
At the end we came to the car park in New Abbey.  We drove straight back to Dalbeattie for our tea and biscuits in the caravan.

Once more we are walking on our grand-daughter’s birthday!  Kelly is 21 today, though kids celebrate their ‘Coming of Age’ at 18 these days — not like in our day.  Kelly is a sensible and mature young lady now.  She has been accepted on a nursing degree course by Sussex University on conditions she gains at least a C grade in the Maths GCSE exam she took earlier this month.  Results are due in August, and the whole family are keeping our fingers crossed for her.  She has a lovely manner, she will make a wonderful nurse!
We started today’s Walk in the hamlet of Caulkerbush, also known as Southwick.  My Canadian cousin, Paul Scott, married a fellow Canadian, Suzanne Dempster, back in the 1970s.  Suzanne’s ancestors came from Southwick, so we took lots of pictures of the village to send to her.
We crossed Southwick Water on a bridge which was originally built in 1789, but demolished and rebuilt in 1999 — funded by Europe, no less.
We passed the grand entrance, with lodge, to Southwick House, and wondered if Suzanne’s ancestors used to work on the estate.  Looking over the wall we could see the main house with its clock tower.
Opposite was the entrance to Mereshead Nature Reserve.  We decided not to go down there even though it was nearer the sea, because it looked as if it was a dead end from the map.  Later, in Southerness, we picked up a leaflet which indicated we may have missed out on four miles of sandy beach by this decision!  (But then, again, we may have come unstuck with barbed wire fences or soft sand dunes impeding our progress — who’s to know?) 

We passed a cottage owned by a timber contractor — we knew that because a sign on the wall told us alongside a beautiful painting of shire horses.  We found out later that this painting, and others we passed along the way, were done by a talented local artist.
Honeysuckle was in full bloom at one of the cottages — I could smell its sweet scent but Colin couldn’t as he seems to have lost his sense of small recently.
We passed what looked like the back entrance to the Southwick estate.  On a blind bend in the road we noticed a mirror which had been put there to enable people emerging from the adjacent driveway to see traffic approaching.  We made use of it to take our 3000-mile photograph because we had reached that milestone, more or less.  Yes, we have walked 3000 miles along the coast from Bognor Regis!  Quite an achievement, and it has only taken us fourteen years!
We came across a seat that was shaped like a dog, so we sat on it to eat our pies.  We had lovely views across to the Solway Firth, and beyond to the Lake District, but it was cold!  You wouldn’t think it was the end of June and officially Summer.  We remembered a geology field day we enjoyed back in March on our own Malvern Hills when we had basked in the sun on the top of Ragged Stone Hill in a heat wave.  The weather’s gone crazy!

We turned into a lane towards Southerness, and passed a ruined tower called ‘Wreaths Tower’ in ancient script on our map.  Apparently it was another tower house built in the 16th century, quite the fashion in this part of Scotland at that time when influential people had to constantly watch their backs.  For all its grandeur, there’s not much of it left 500 years later.
We came to a scattering of cottages at West Preston.  A man with a Geordie accent hailed us from his cottage.  I thought he said, “You can’t get through!” and was puzzled.  But he had said, “You can get through!” indicating the track past his home leading westwards back towards the nature reserve.
We said we wanted to walk along the beach, but when he started talking about double barbed wire fences, etc, we lost interest!  He thought we were going west, but we said, “No!  We’re going east!”  There seemed to be a lot of misunderstandings, and we came to the conclusion that his mind was a little up in cloud-cuckoo land.
But he did tell us that all the paintings we would be seeing on cottages further down (including the timber merchant’s we had already seen) had been done by a local artist.  We listened politely to his chatter — perhaps he lived on his own and had no one to talk to — and we left him to his musings as soon as we could do so without causing offence.
We continued towards Southerness, passing several cottages with beautifully executed paintings on their walls.  Even the plea to park safely outside a house selling bread, jam, cakes etc was delightfully illustrated.
Further on, a notice on the gate of a field told us the horse inside had been micro-chipped.  Rural crime is on the increase these days, and horses all over the country have been targeted — it is a sad reflection of our times.
The resort of Southerness is caravans, caravans, karaoke bars and chip shops — not our type of place at all.  In the public toilets we found all the locks ripped from the doors and the cisterns held on by chains.  BUT it was clean and everything worked as it should — well done the local Council in the face of such vandalism!
We walked on to the seafront.  There, on the beach, was the old lighthouse with its door open.  So we went inside to find an information room on the ground floor, and a notice inviting us up to the ‘lantern’ room.  We could hear an odd noise coming from above, and it took us a while to realise it was someone sweeping.  We climbed the stairs and the sweeping stopped as we neared the top.  There was the man with the broom, tidying the little ‘lantern’ room which he had set out as a shop.
We read the history of the lighthouse — it was built in 1748 but was too short.  It’s light couldn’t be seen from very far, so in 1791 the top was raised.  It closed in 1931 because it had outlived its useful life due to fewer ships passing along the Solway Firth on their way to Carlisle.  It was bought by its present owners in 1995 as a tourist attraction.
We thought it an odd thing to do, buying a redundant lighthouse, but each to his own.  We didn’t want to purchase any of his knick-knacks, but we felt we had to make a donation by the way he was standing in the corner staring at us!  So we looked at the views, dropped a few coins in the box and made our escape!
We walked eastwards along the top of the shelly beach.  There were wild roses growing there which looked and smelled wonderful — though Colin couldn’t smell them.  As we turned a corner we found we were out of the wind, so we sat on a rock and ate our sarnies.
Round the next corner we came to a wide expanse of sandy beach.  The tide was right out, so we took a short cut straight across.  There were two small streams to cross but they were both very shallow so we kept our feet dry.  We avoided all the pools.  The wind was blowing sand up, but it was behind us pushing us along, so that was no problem either.  What was of more concern to us was the colour of the sky — it was black!  We put on our wet-weather gear so we were ready.
We left the beach by the car park at Powillimount where one of the ponies in a field was wearing a coat to keep it warm.  (It’s the end of June!)  As we walked up the road we got pounded with rain, almost hailstones it fell so fast.

We turned right at a lodge and passed a private cemetery belonging to the Blackett family.  A memorial plaque listed four military members of this family from the 19th and 20th centuries, one of whom died in the First World War “of wounds”.  Another plaque told us that the lychgate was made from oak grown on Arbigland — the estate we were walking through.
The rain had eased, but we were being bothered by flies.  Next we passed “John Paul Jones Cottage” which is a museum.  John Paul Jones was born in this cottage in 1747, the son of a gardener on the Arbigland estate.  At the age of thirteen he joined the Navy, and became known eventually as the “Father of the American Navy”.  But the British regarded him as a pirate!  He had a colourful career and died in 1792, at only 45 years old.  We didn’t visit the museum as we hadn’t time — we still had a lot of walking to do.
We turned left through some woods, then right on to a road.  We were still bothered by flies, and couldn’t shake them off until we got to the top of a hill where the wind blew them away.  Relief at last!  But it was still very damp with misty rain in the air.
We walked down into the village of Kirkbean where we crossed a ford to get to the church.  It is an odd looking building, erected in the 18th century.  Unfortunately it closed two years ago and may be sold with planning permission to turn it into a private house.  I don’t know what will happen to the graveyard in that case.
We sought out the name “Dempster” because my Canadian cousin-in-law’s ancestors are buried here.  We found the grave of David Dempster who died in 1935 aged 73 years — before Suzanne was born so she never knew him.  But she did have relatives in Lockerbie whom she has visited occasionally.
We returned to the village and walked along the stream to the main road junction through a little park.  It was pouring with rain, but we found a delightful little verse on a fence, written by the Kirkbean School in the summer of 2000.  It said: 
I  listen  to  the  river  run
Birds  sing  like  never  before
I  smell  all  sorts  of  flowers
You  could  not  ask  for  more 
We came to the bus shelter and sat in there out of the rain to eat our apples.  The shelter had been decorated by the local schoolchildren back in 1991, and was a lovely mass of colour.  They had painted jungle scenes, and it really cheered us up on such a miserable day.  We do hope that these colourful paintings are not left to go to wrack and ruin — already they are showing signs of neglect.  On the seat in the corner was a copy of today’s newspaper, the Sun, with a house number and road pencilled on it.  We have seen this before, in parts of rural Scotland, newspapers being ‘delivered’ to the village bus shelter for the locals to pick up.  Obviously the recipient of this paper hadn’t yet made his or her way down to the pick-up point today.
Before we left I took some painkillers because a blister on my heel was causing me grief.  Colin has glued a small piece of foam rubber into the hole in the back of my boot, but it doesn’t seem to have done any good.  I have put a large ‘Compeed’ plaster over my heel, but that hasn’t given me much relief either.
We donned our high-viz gear and started down the road.  The rest of this Walk, all the way to New Abbey, was along this fairly busy road.  Traffic was fast and few vehicles slowed down.  In places there were no verges to escape to and one car ‘bipped’ me because I stayed on the road.  I don’t know what he expected me to do!  We had magnificent views across the Solway Firth from our route, and we stopped at a viewpoint to eat our chocolate.  We didn’t really appreciate the magnificence of the mountain called Criffel which rose to nearly six hundred metres to our left because we were too close to it.  When we were further away on subsequent Walks, we were able to see just how much it stands out.
We route-marched on, observed by the local cattle in adjacent fields.  We passed a wooden squirrel gatepost, and then came to another decorated bus shelter.  This one was festooned with children’s self-portraits painted in 1991.  Those ‘children’ would be about thirty now — I wonder what they think of their artwork today!
The children are very active in this area, obviously taking on a lot of local concerns.  As we entered the village of New Abbey we came across an illustrated poster tied to a post which told us: 
Dogs  are  nice
Poo  is  nasty 
Quite right too!  People should clean up after their dogs.
Twisting through the narrow streets past an ‘Eggs for sale’ notice with a toy chicken on top of the post, we came to Sweetheart Abbey where our car was parked. 

That ended Walk no.297, we shall pick up Walk no.298 next time by the entrance to Sweetheart Abbey in New Abbey.  It was five o’clock, so the Walk had taken us eight and a half hours.  It was pouring with rain, so we drove back to the caravan in Dalbeattie for tea and biscuits. 

Sweetheart  Abbey 
We visited Sweetheart Abbey in New Abbey the following day, but we didn’t stay long because it was still pouring with rain and somebody has nicked the roof!
This Cistercian abbey was founded in 1275 by Dervorguilla of Galloway in memory of her husband, John de Balliol.  Built in a deep red local sandstone, it was founded as a daughter house to Dundrennan Abbey.  Because it was a new monastery, it became known as New Abbey.
When Dervorguilla died, her husband’s embalmed heart, in a casket of ivory and silver, was buried alongside her.  The monks renamed the abbey Sweetheart Abbey as a tribute to her.  Both graves have since been lost.
The monks dominated the area for three centuries with their increasingly rich farms and horse-breeding centres — until this abbey went the way of all abbeys at the time of the Reformation. 

Monks’  Mill 
There has probably been a mill in the centre of New Abbey since the 13th century as part of the Cistercians’ agricultural empire.  But the present buildings were erected in the 18th century, long after the monks had departed.  Even so, it is known locally as “Monks’ Mill”.  In the 19th century the building was heightened, and the number of millstones increased from two to three.
It closed in the late 1940s when increased mechanisation made it non-viable, but everything was left in place just as it was.  It is now owned by ‘Historic Scotland’ who only run it occasionally due to the fragile nature of the machinery. 
We had a guided tour of all the levels and found it to be very interesting.  Colin bought some porridge oats, having been persuaded that they were far superior to that bought in any supermarket!  (Certainly a superior price, but he didn’t think they tasted any different.  I don’t like porridge, so I couldn’t give an opinion.)

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