Stage 92, 6th June: Palnackie to Seaward
Not an overly exciting day as Dumfries and Galloway continued to under-sell itself by giving me rare but tasty glimpses of its coast without allowing me to get too close. It was becoming more than a little frustrating that an enticing coast is only accessible via the occasional dead-end track – no use to me. Instead I trudged six miles down the A711 to verge hop my way to Auchencairn. Then rare farm lanes and tracks took me towards the coast but only enough to give me distant sightings of that blue wet stuff I vaguely remembered as sea.
At Dundrennan the pretty farming village was framed by the ruins of a once grand Cistercian abbey (photo). But the pleasure was short-lived as I rejoined the A711 to skirt MOD land and run up the estuary to Kirkcudbright getting repeatedly passed by the same fleet of tractors and trailers shuttling freshly cut hay. A few of them got a little too close for my liking and nearly harvested me in the process.
Eventually I settled at a cracking little seafront – YES, SEAFRONT – campsite to experience my first Scottish midges and enjoy a bit of beach combing with Phil, finding a handful of Pelican’s Foot shells as precious keepsakes.
Rest Day, 7th June: Seaward
In short, it absolutely chucked it down all day – Oh well, never mind.
I took Phil back to Dumfries with thanks for his few days in charge of the bus and enjoyed a cooked breakfast at Morrisons before heading back to the campsite to catch up with some laundry and reorganise Snickers cupboards once again. The result of months of support drivers all buying little items in good faith had built up a bit and finding things was beginning to become a bit of a mare. I liked the result of my reorganisation, it had my kind of logic to it. However, my logic isn’t necessarily normal and the vast array of condiments, spreads and ingredients will probably find new homes again once the boredom of waiting for me at the end of a wet day strikes again on another support driver.
Stage 93, 8th June: Seaward to Carsluith
This week was always going to be a strange one in terms of support crew. The MS society from Stranraer had volunteered to look after me for a week which I had found impossible to fill with family and friends. So first up were David and Caroline who arrived at 8:30 for a very quick introduction to Snickers before I set off to make up with Dumfries & Galloway.
Lanes and then tracks took me around some gently undulating and very pretty coastline. Hidden in some woods, Knockbrex castle was waking up to the day after a wedding and a few hungover guests lurched down the lane looking less than enthusiastic in their wish to help clean up the marquee.
Fleet Bay then opened out to reveal Ardwall Isle sitting a few hundred yards offshore (photo), a lush and wooded island with a lovely looking beach. It looked uninhabited and I dreamt for a while as to whether I could build a house there. The dreaming stopped when realism kicked in and the romance of a private island got a little lost in the practicalities of a) building on it, b) living on it and c) getting anywhere else from it. Also the family wouldn’t be that happy at living in utter isolation and my desire for a hermit lifestyle isn’t one I think I could sustain beyond a few weeks of holiday retreat. So I think I will cross that one-off the list and as I do so, I can almost hear my family sighing with relief.
From Carrick Shore it was tracks to Airds Bay and Sandgreen. A woodland walk then took me up the dreaded A75 for eight miles. In truth it wasn’t that bad. Wide verges, sections of old road and the odd back lane kept me well clear of the trucks and traffic heading to the ferry at Stranraer. Eventually I reached my rendezvous point at Carsluith and lay down on a roadside bench to wait for David and Caroline to pick me up. I dozed off listening to the French Open tennis final (Nadal won again) only to wake half an hour later feeling a little chilled. It was only then that it dawned on me that I hadn’t quite made it to the correct rendezvous point and as I turned the next corner I had a guilty admission to make as to why I was a little later than expected.
That evening David and Caroline treated me to the slightly strange experience of an Indian restaurant in a Scottish castle. Our curry was served by an Indian David Walliams lookalike who put his thumb hard down in the middle of my naan bread as he placed the plate on the table. Even though the curry was actually pretty good, I was expecting a rough night.
Stage 94, 9th June: Carsluith to Kirkinner
Fortunately the rough night didn’t materialise but I was still expecting a rough day as the weather forecast from home was pretty grim.
The day started dry, but the odd drip of rain gradually became dribbles of light rain which progressed within the hour to persistent heavy rain. I really didn’t fancy trucks spraying me all the way along the A75, so I dipped a little further inland through Creetown to follow Cycle Route 7 up and through forestry which provided me passing shelter from the downpour.
Eventually the forest released me back down onto the A75 near Newton Stewart and again I averted the trucks by heading straight into town and taking a hairpin left back down the A714 towards Wigtown. Turning off the road when its accompanying cycleway petered out, I wandered down puddle filled lanes keeping as tight to the estuary as I could. The book capital of Scotland awaited. Wigtown, with its oversized square and town hall, was devoid of activity and the whole place seemed as if it was just waking up as the rain finally gave us all a break and gave my clothing a chance to dry out. Unfortunately my feet then got very wet as I waded through long grass along the top of an old railway embankment testing my now extremely permeable and heavily worn boots well beyond their limited capability.
With soggy toes I squelched my way down a short stretch of the A746 to Kirkinner and a rendezvous in the correct place with David and Caroline who were lurking guiltily outside a pub. Together we headed back to a nearby campsite where Lesley at Drumroamin was extremely welcoming and told us of a previous coastal walker who had stopped by some years back. He was 72 and carried a big rucksack. I’m 50, carry a day sack and live in a motorhome. He did 4,000 miles over a year. I’m trying to do 5,000 miles over 10 months. In this game, there is no official route nor are there any set rules. I’m sure some purists would belittle our 4,000 or 5,000 mile efforts, but then others are very good at exaggerating their mileage too. Either way – they are all very long walks and for me, this is not about bragging rights, it’s just a personal ambition and an item to tick off in my bucket list. Hopefully it might actually raise a few pennies for a couple of very good causes too, though I’m not a celebrity doing a few days of hard graft on prime time television for high-profile charities, so getting exposure and donations is a slow process. I’d love to raise millions too, but celebrities and large corporations seem to live in a different world where having a high-profile for charity seems to bring benefits to more than just the charity. I am beginning to think that my efforts to raise money need a significant boost.
That evening my campsite neighbour, Helen from Wilmslow, joined Snickers for a chat and a wee dram or two. We chatted away until it got dark, which was much later than I thought. It was grand to just chew the cud without any thought as to my logistics for the next day. Hopefully I might even have recruited a future support driver too.
Stage 95, 10th June: Kirkinner to Monreith
With a great weather forecast from home proving bang on again, my mood was up. The rain abated just after 9am and with David and Caroline now gone, Ray took over to drop me off in Kirkinner.
Another four mile road walk took me to Garlieston where tracks took me past the front door and through the gardens of the very grand red-brick Galloway House with rhododendrons in full flower splashing the greenery with vivid pinks and purples. My route took me right through the heart of the estate via a small private beach and dense woodland back up to the road into Isle of Whithorn, which isn’t an island at all but is still a pleasant little place to sit on the rocks and eat my marmite sandwiches.
From here a proper coast path took me across cliff tops with seals barking on the rocks below and sea birds soaring the rising air along the cliff edge. At Burrow Head I unexpectedly bumped into last night’s neighbour, Helen, again who had now met up with her friends for a walk across to St Ninian’s Cave. After brief introductions and a quick communal look at a seal balancing itself precariously on a slither of rock offshore, I marched off ahead.
St Ninian’s was clearly quite a popular place. A dozen or so retired couples were stumbling around the shingle beach carrying heavy cameras and looking into cave entrances with curiosity. I carried on up through more woodland and around several deserted farms and their cottages. My guess was that their desertion was recent, maybe within the last twenty years or so. But why they were deserted beat me and I saved it to question Ray that evening back at the campsite.