Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Walk 299 -- Dumfries to Powfoot

Ages:  Colin was 70 years and 57 days.  Rosemary was 67 years and 200 days.
Weather:  Wet!  Wet!  Wet!  Brightening later but there were still showers.  Wet again at the end.  It was hot and humid, no wind.
Location:  Dumfries to Powfoot.
Distance:  20 miles.
Total distance:  3036 miles.
Terrain:  Mostly road-walking, but we found three paths which were not marked on the map.  At Kingholm Quay we continued along a river path, then crossed a field and along a track to the road.  Approaching Glencaple we were able to get off the road on to a squelchy river path.  Through Castle Wood we found a good path which took us round to Caerlaverock Castle.
Tide:  In for most of the day.
Rivers:  No.366, Lochar Water.  No.367, Brow Burn.
Ferries:  None.
Piers:  None.
Kissing gates:  None.
Pubs:  None.
‘Historic Scotland’ properties:  No.46, Caerlaverock Castle.
Ferris wheels:  None.
Diversions:  None.
How we got there and back:  Yesterday we moved our caravan from Dalbeattie to Powfoot.  This morning we walked a mile from the caravan site to the village of Cummertrees where we caught a bus to Dumfries.  Then we had to walk another mile down the riverside until we reached the footbridge where we finished the last Walk.
At the end we came to the caravan, so we went straight inside and had our tea and biscuits.

There was solid continuous drizzle for most of this Walk.  It was very wet and it didn’t let up for hours.  The few photos were taken with difficulty.
We walked from the bus station in Dumfries alongside the river, and were amazed at how much water was flowing over the weirs.  It was brown, full of silt that it had scraped off the mountains, and looked wild.  We started the Walk at the footbridge, the first bridging point on the River Nith.
We followed a cycleway alongside the river as far as Kingholm Quay.  The water was quieter here because the river is wider.  We should have been able to see the mountain called Criffel opposite, but the cloud hung too low.  We found a wet bench partially shielded by a high hedge, so we sat on it to eat our elevenses — Colin had a pie and I had crackers and cheese as I am a bit fed up with pies.
At Kingholm Quay a new path, not marked on our map, continued along the river bank for another mile.  A notice told us this was a new initiative, and showed a map of a circular walk ending back at Kingholm Quay.  It was a grassy path, but of good quality even in this wet.
After a mile or so we came to a place where the yellow footpath arrows directed us away from the river, though the path seemed to continue.  We looked at our map and dithered.  We strongly suspected that the continuing path was unofficial and therefore quite likely to lead us into a swamp.  We dared not risk it with the long Walk we had planned, so we followed the yellow arrows across a footbridge over a ditch, along a field and out on to a good track.  This went straight up to the main road, but part way along it the yellow arrows directed us left.  We ignored them because we didn’t want to return to Kingholm Quay.
It was a long stretch of road, quite busy.  Not much fun in the rain.  After a couple of miles we were once more next to the river, apart from a strip of swampland.  By now we were getting a bit hungry again and wanted to stop for lunch.  There was a hedge alongside us and through it we could see fishermen’s benches overlooking the river, but we couldn’t get to them because of the hedge.  At last we came to a footpath sign directing us through a gap, but by now those benches were about half a mile back.
We walked on southwards following the footpath along the swamp — certainly better than the road.  It wasn’t a bad path, a bit squelchy underfoot but there were boardwalks in the worst places.  The tide was right in and almost at our level — considering the amount of rain we have had recently we were lucky to get away with just muddy boots.  We came to a log and sat on it to eat our sarnies — not as comfortable as a bench, but it sufficed.  The rain occasionally stopped, but never for more than a few minutes.  The clouds hung low and visibility was very poor.
We came to Glencaple which used to be a bustling port.  In the 19th century ships from here traded with the Americas, and there was also a local ship-building industry.  They imported tea and tobacco mostly.  Now it is very quiet, with just a few fishing vessels in the small harbour.  How times change!
We came to a beacon with an attached notice welcoming tourists and informing them of all the services in the area.  There was also a notice to motorhome owners saying there was no charge for them to park overnight by the harbour, but a donation would be appreciated to help with the maintenance — honesty box below.  Nearby we passed a millennium cairn which was built ‘to remind people of the unique place we live in’.
There was a row of terraced houses opposite.  One of the front doors opened and out came an elderly lady with a white stick followed by a little girl of about three.  The old lady said, “Oh look!  The rain has ruined all the flowers!”  The little girl replied, “Perhaps they’ll grow again, Grandma!”  They came out on to the pavementless road and slowly walked along with all the traffic whizzing past.  They seemed oblivious as to how vulnerable they were, one too young and one too old.  We wondered who was looking after who.  They eventually came to a bench on a grass verge where the grandmother spread polythene bags so they could sit and eat their lunch looking at the view.  But then it started to rain again…..  There were a series of wooden benches as we left Glencaple, each with writing on them.  One said, “Enough tea leaves were landed here to make 14 million cups of tea.”  On the other side it said, “Enough tobacco leaves were landed here to fill 750 million pipes.”  Yes, indeed, times do change.
There followed about three miles of road walking which we found quite boring in the rain.  Occasionally it stopped, but it started again almost immediately — it never really left off.  We passed a notice warning us of fast flowing tides and quicksands, but since the tide was in and the river flowing at speed we weren’t at all tempted to enter the water today.
We could see the water towers we walked round at Airds Point two Walks ago, and the cloud lifted momentarily so we could see most of Criffel — but then it disappeared into the gloom once more.
Having reached the mouth of the estuary, the road turned eastwards away from the River Nith.  In a field we saw a herd of belted galloways, but then we were in the county of Dumfries & Galloway so that was appropriate.  This particular type of cattle will eat practically anything, and are grazed at home on our Malvern Hills to keep the undergrowth down and prevent bracken from taking over. 
 We came to Castle Wood where we cleared the tall undergrowth (overgrowth?) round a picnic table so we could sit and eat our first chocolate.  There was an information board which had a map showing a footpath going round the other side of the wood to Caerlaverock Castle.  This path was not on our OS map (they’ve failed us again!) but we decided “it’s got to be better than the road!” — so we took it.
It was a good path which wound through the trees, then followed the edge of the wood.  It took us past the foundations of the ‘old’ castle, then out of the woods past the ‘new’ castle.  (We didn’t stop today because we still had a good many miles to cover.  The following day was not only a ‘rest’ day but it was brilliantly sunny.  So we came back by car to explore the castle in the sunshine.) 
Caerlaverock  Castle 
The first Caerlaverock Castle was built in 1220, one of the first stone castles to be constructed in Scotland.  It was erected at the head of a tidal inlet which was banked up to form a small harbour.  But it was built on a swamp, and after only about fifty years it started to collapse.
So a new, more substantial and elaborate castle was constructed on firmer ground about two hundred yards to the north.  This castle was moated and triangular in shape.  It was the stronghold of the Maxwell family for four hundred years.  
Being very near to the border it was besieged by the English several times, undergoing partial demolition and reconstruction each time.  In the early 17th century the Maxwells constructed a completely different kind of building, more like a manor house, within the walls of the medieval castle.  Once more it was besieged by the English, and subsequently the whole place was abandoned.
We really enjoyed exploring the ruins on a bright sunny day, unlike the wet and miserable day when we had passed it on our Walk.  We thought the ruins were stunningly beautiful, sitting there surrounded by a moat. 
Back on the Walk, we exited the castle through an archway and were out on the road again.  The rain eventually stopped and it got hot and humid — too hot for comfort.  We ignored a lane signposted to a nature reserve and visitor centre because it was a dead end, several miles on the wrong side of the next river, Lochar Water.  We marched on to Bankend which was the first crossing point.  There we sat on the wall of the bridge to eat our apples.  We were both fed up, and my heel was sore where the blister was giving me grief again.  I was finding it difficult to cope.  The Walk was boring with all this road-walking, and we still had eight miles to go.
We talked ourselves into ‘march-mode’ and carried on.  After another three miles we came to another bridge where we sat on the wall to eat our second chocolate.  We only had water left now, and Colin had forgotten to refill his bottle before this Walk so he shared mine.  We both felt hot and drained.
We came to Brow Well, famous because Robbie Burns once visited here.  Whether he actually drank from the well is not recorded, but we were not tempted 216 years later.  It’s slimy — yuk!  No wonder there is a big red notice saying the water is not suitable for drinking.  It is a ‘chalybeate’ well, meaning the water is full of iron, and that accounts for the colour.  But even if we were dying of thirst, I don’t think we would be tempted to taste that slime.
Shortly after that we turned into a lane leading to the village of Ruthwell.  At least we were away from the bulk of the traffic for the rest of the Walk, for cars were now few and far between.  We walked past a farm and up to the village.  There is a Savings Bank Museum in the village (closed by the time we were walking through), a tribute to Henry Duncan who started the Scottish Trustee Savings Bank.  In 1810 he opened the world’s first savings bank for ordinary people, paying interest on their modest savings.
Getting everywhere seemed to be taking a long time. We were both tired, hot, fed up and my heel hurt.  Then it started to rain again — it was too much!  I didn’t put my cape on because I was too hot.  I thought it would only be a shower, stopping and then I would dry out again.  It wasn’t, and I got soaked.  I was too tired to think clearly.
I knew we were on the ‘home straight’, but I had underestimated how far it was to the track leading to our caravan site.  It was two miles, but I thought it was only about half a mile.  I sent Colin on to make the tea because I wanted it to be ready in the caravan when I arrived.  I thought we were nearly there, but we weren’t.  Every farm building I saw over to the right I thought must be ours, but as I got nearer to each one I realised it wasn’t.  Colin was getting further and further ahead, and was now lost to view.  I was wet, hot, and my heel was excruciatingly painful.  My brain was reeling and I began to panic.  Supposing we were on the wrong road? — it was ages since we had looked at the map.  I called out to Colin to stop, but he was so far ahead he didn’t hear me.  I didn’t want to stop and get the map out to check the route because Colin would get even further ahead, and if we were on the wrong road……  I called out again and again, trying to hurry my pace, and eventually he heard and waited.
When I caught him up he was almost on the track leading to the back entrance to our caravan site through the farm.  I was so relieved, but he was unsympathetic.  I’d got upset because I was really tired and in pain.  Colin was grumpy because he was hot and dehydrated.  There was no appeasing him, so I sent him on again and followed slowly.
The coastal path officially goes through the expensive Powfoot caravan site on the Solway Firth with its muddy fields, camping pods, high-pressure salesmen and weird animals like alpacas, emus and pot-bellied pigs.
It reminded me of the convent school where I was educated and was so unhappy — everything was extra and expensive.  Showers cost £1 a time over and above our camping fees which were more than we normally pay anyway.  We couldn’t get over that.

That ended Walk no.299, we shall pick up Walk no.300 next time from our caravan parked at Powfoot.  It was twenty past eight, so the Walk had taken us ten hours and twenty minutes — no wonder we were out of our minds with fatigue!  Colin had the tea ready, and we both felt a lot better after a couple of cups.  My heel is a mess though.

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