Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Walk 301 -- Annan to Gretna

Ages:  Colin was 70 years and 63 days.  Rosemary was 67 years and 206 days.
Weather:  Cloudy, turning wet.
Location:  Annan to Gretna.
Distance:  13 miles.
Total distance:  3054 miles.
Terrain:  Muddy swampy paths which eventually got impossible.  A lot of road-walking. Flat.
Tide:  Out.
Rivers:  No.370, Dornock Burn.  No.371, River Sark, which is the border with England!!
Ferries:  None.
Piers:  None.
Kissing gates:  Nos.336, 337, 338, 339, 340, 341 & 342 between Annan and Whinnyrig.  Nos. 343 & 344 on the last path in Scotland!
Pubs:  None.
‘Historic Scotland’ properties:  None.
Ferris wheels:  None.
Diversions:  None.
How we got there and back:  We had moved our caravan from Powfoot to Carlisle a few days ago.  This morning we drove to Gretna and parked in the ‘Outlet Village’.  We walked towards the main village, and caught a bus to Annan from the first bus stop we came to.
At the end we came to the border with England!  It was pouring with rain, torrential, but we still took photos from under Colin’s umbrella — I shall merge them on the computer at a later date.  We walked a couple of hundred yards to our car, and returned to our soggy caravan in Carlisle.  (So glad we’re not in a tent!) 
We have walked the entire coast of mainland Scotland, from Berwick-upon-Tweed to Gretna!  This part of our epic trek measured 1850 miles, and took us 5½ years. 

After resting for a few days in Carlisle to allow my blister to heal, we set off to walk from Annan to Gretna — our last Walk in Scotland.  We started the Walk at the junction where the cyclepath from the bridge over the river emerged into a road.  We walked down towards the estuary through an industrial area.
There were pictures of boats and things on the walls of a distribution centre, they looked quite jolly.  Further down we passed fishing boats which were stranded at low tide — they looked as if they hadn’t been used for a long time.
We walked further down and realised we were coming to locked gates.  There was no way through!  So we retraced our steps and exited to the road through the distribution centre — luckily the gates were open.
It was about a mile down to the estuary.  There we found a footpath signpost pointing to Whinnyrig — we were pleased to know we could get through because we no longer trust our maps.  BUT, following this sign, we ended up inland by some houses instead of where we expected to be.  A couple of old gents had followed us up this path,  so we asked them about the track marked on the map which doesn’t go anywhere near the houses.  They said we should go on and take the road to the sewage works because the path across the marshes was not good and really no-go.  We discussed this and decided to go back and assess it for ourselves.
Track it was not, in fact it was hardly a footpath.  We thought we would start on it and see how we got on.  It was pretty bad at first, but it did improve further on.  We stood only on the tufts of grass as the water-filled holes between them were quite deep.  Whenever we came to a stream we looked for the lowest point to jump across.  I couldn’t have done it without my walking poles.  (It reminded us of the swamp we crossed before reaching Sandwood Bay, all the way back in the wilds of Cape Wrath!)
We eventually met up with a path which came down from the road, but that would have been a much longer way round.  Our path was much better after that as it was up on a bank and reasonably level, though it was overgrown.  We were glad we were wearing overtrousers because the long undergrowth was very wet.

We came to the bank of an old railway line, and climbed steps up on to it.  A wooden footpath signpost pointed back the way we had come saying: “Shore walk   Summergate”.  Now we had come from Waterfoot, Summergate was the long way round we had avoided.
There was a pipeline along the length of the old railway, but there was a good path alongside it.  We walked down it towards the estuary.  What we didn’t realise at the time was that this railway used to lead to a bridge across the Solway Firth to Bowness on the English side.  This bridge, a viaduct, was opened in 1869 at which time it was the longest bridge in Europe.  In 1881 it was damaged by ice floes — yes, ice floes! — and closed for three years until it was repaired.  In 1921 it was deemed unsafe and closed to all traffic.  But it remained in place for the next fourteen years, during which time thirsty Scots used to cross it on foot each Sunday to visit the ale houses in Bowness because Dumfries & Galloway was a “dry” county!  The viaduct was eventually demolished in 1935.
Near the end we turned off the old railway bank, went through a farm and proceeded along a road to Whinnyrig.  There was a small car park there, and we sat on an information board (for lack of a seat) to eat our quiche / pasty.  The board told us that there used to be a ford across the Solway Firth at this point which was important for cattle drovers until 1863.  But it also warned us that “The Solway can be treacherous with hidden channels and a tidal rise of 7 metres.  In some conditions the tidal bore can reach a height of about I metre and travels at about 617 knots,  DO NOT ATTEMPT TO FORD THE ESTUARY.  A quote from Sir Walter Scott’s Red Gauntlet written in 1824 but still true today:  He that dreams on the bed of the Solway may wake in the next world.  So we decided to stick to plan A, walking to Carlisle and back on the English side, even though it is many miles further.
The next stretch of beach was impossible, and we had to go three sides of a rectangle on minor roads to get to Battlehill.  From there on there was a path marked on some maps but not on others.  There was also a small river about a mile further on, and no sign of a bridge on any map.  We decided to chance it!
The beginning of this path was in good nick, but inevitably it deteriorated the further away from civilisation we walked.  It was overgrown and swampy, but the occasional boardwalk gave us hope.  We reached the river — and there was a FOOTBRIDGE!  “Hurrah!”  We didn’t see it until the last minute because of the height of the swamp plants, and our hearts had sunk very low.  But now we were on top of the world!
After that the path led us down on to the beach.  There was a lot of driftwood about, so we made use of it — we sat on a log to eat our sarnies.  It was very quiet sitting there, no man-made noises to disturb the peace.  A great feeling of contentment came over us, it was wonderful!
We continued to Dornockbrow where the path led off the beach.  It was a track at first, then a path again which led back on to the beach.  It was not too bad to walk until we reached a broken pipe.  We found our way over this with difficulty, but then all traces of a path disappeared.  The going was fraught with problems, holes everywhere.  The potential for breaking an ankle, etc, was very high.  We realised that we couldn’t walk four miles over this kind of terrain.  The path is clearly marked on the OS map, but in reality it simply does not exist — even this near to the English border we were still having problems with the Scottish footpaths.
With heavy hearts we turned round and retraced our steps.  We went round the end of the broken pipe as the tide was still going out.  About half way back to Dornockbrow we were able to ‘escape’ on to a lane which took us through a farm to the main road.
Then it began to rain!  It got more and more intense and didn’t let up for hours.  We came to a decorated bus shelter — pity it was desecrated by stupid kids writing obscene graffiti — where we changed into full wet-weather gear and topped it with high-viz vests.  Then we route-marched in the rain for three miles — horrid!  The traffic is so fast, and gave us no leeway.  Every time a vehicle came towards us, we stepped off the road to let it pass.  But we couldn’t walk on the verge, it was too sloping, narrow and uneven.  Sometimes we wondered if we wouldn’t have been better off on that beach.  We were badly frightened by a car overtaking from behind, we weren’t expecting that!  A police car came towards us and they waved — we think in approval of us wearing high-viz clothing and stepping off the tarmac as they passed.
We were very relieved when we reached Rigg and could turn off this busy road.  There was a millennium stone by the village hall, and a seat!  We sat on it to eat our chocolate despite the rain.
We continued for another couple of miles along this much quieter road.  It was almost pleasant, in comparison to the road we’d just left, regardless of the rain.  We came to the outskirts of Gretna and passed the most extraordinary house.  It was a very ordinary bungalow on an estate, but it had a junk-looking extension on its front.  The front garden was packed with vehicles, then there were huge logs — almost whole trees — lining the front hedge.  In the road there were parked no less than five trailers carrying boats, a crane and goodness knows what else.  We felt sorry for their neighbours.
We came to a footpath we hadn’t noticed on the map (too wet to keep getting it out and studying it).  It cut off a large corner.  It ran alongside the River Sark, the border with ENGLAND!  The rain seemed to get even more intense, and I began to get emotional.  I could feel the tears welling up.  I said, “It’s England over there, the other side of this little river, and I’m crying!”  Colin replied, “Don’t be so silly!”  (Typical male attitude!)  But we have walked THE ENTIRE COASTLINE OF MAINLAND SCOTLAND!” I blubbered.  That still didn’t move him, I think he found the rain just too much to bear.
I said, “Our last Scottish footpath, will it scupper us?”  And it did!!  We came to a barbed wire fence!  Then we looked more carefully, retraced a few steps, climbed down a bank and there was the stile emerging on to the road.
We passed the last house in Scotland, where you can get married if you like, and crossed the river bridge into England!  My blister seemed to have miraculously cured itself, must be the excitement of coming ‘home’.
There was no one about in the torrential rain to take photos of us by the roadsign welcoming us into England.  So, using Colin’s umbrella as a shield for the camera, we each took a photo of the other and I merged them later on the computer.

That ended Walk no.301, we shall pick up Walk no.302 next time by the ‘Welcome to England’ roadsign on the edge of Gretna.  It was twenty past five, so the Walk had taken us eight and a half hours.  We walked a couple of hundred yards to our car, and returned to our soggy caravan in Carlisle.

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