A Year on the Road
A long and memorable week celebrating anniversaries, leaving the Ayrshire Coastal Path, passing more harbours, rounding lighthouse headlands, traipsing round another vast loch, and walking down yet one more peninsula to reach Scotland’s most southerly point.
Conditions underfoot have seen me slopping about in dung-filled marshy areas, tramping on rutted tracks pot-holed by cattle, swivelling on large beach pebbles, and sliding along steep slopes on a muddy cliff path. Overhead, the weather allowed me to wear a T-shirt on just one day; I wasn’t so lucky for the remainder.
Trafalgar Day (21 Oct) marked our wedding anniversary and a year since leaving HMS Victory in Portsmouth, during which time I’ve walked over 3,300 miles. The RNA branch in Skegness very kindly proposed a rum toast to us on 21 October, while we enjoyed ‘sippers’ of tea in the Victory Van!
To some, my progress over the past year might seem slow, but when I look back there have been many disruptions. After starting the walk, five weeks were given over to the final WRNS100 events in the Autumn; we had a 2 week break at Christmas; a further 6 weeks were lost to the unexpected (bad weather, a wedding, a funeral, route planning and injury); and finally, my weekly rest day. These have all affected my schedule - not that I am making any apology for completing a mere 3,300 miles!
Castle ruins have featured this week at Dunure and Dunskey, but it was the magnificent Culzean Castle, that caught my eye. Formerly the home of the Marquess of Ailsa, to avoid inheritance tax the property was gifted to the National Trust of Scotland in 1945, but with a stipulation. The apartment at the top of the castle was to be given to General Dwight D. Eisenhower, later 34th President of the United States, in recognition and thanks for his role as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe.
I was reminded of the 45th President of the United States when I walked by Trump Turnberry with its vast hotel complex and golf course! It seemed almost incongruous to find a lighthouse at the end of this course and a war memorial sited on the course itself. Formerly an airfield, Turnberry’s history dates back to WWI and the memorial commemorates men of the Royal Flying Corps, as well as Australians and Americans who also served here in WWII.
The Marquess of Ailsa also owned Ailsa Craig, a tiny island about ten miles off the Ayrshire coast. Apart from being home to thousands of puffins and gannets, the island, shaped like a chocolate bombe dessert, is famed for its granite which is considered to provide some of the best curling stones for Scotland’s ancient sport. The Craig’s unmistakable shape kept me company for many miles as I walked down the south Ayrshire coastal path, along Loch Ryan’s Coastal Path into Stranraer, up the other side of the loch and around Corsewell Point bordering the Irish Sea.
Up in the hills on the Ryan Trail, where I crossed from South Ayrshire into Dumfries and Galloway, I was slightly taken aback by the huge expanse of Loch Ryan. In the distance, I could see the pimple of Stranraer at the loch head. Below me, P & O ferries were leaving from Cairnryan bound for Larne, and Stena Line ships heading to Belfast. In 2011 Stena moved its business down the loch to Cairnryan from Stranraer. Their new port is situated close to the former WWII military port and on the same site as the old concrete production works, where parts of the D-Day Mulberry Harbour were constructed.
With a long walk ahead of me up the other side of the loch I didn’t linger in Stranraer. I will probably remember the town for its beach of shells and the derelict Stena terminal, alongside the delipidated harbour railway station where train services have recently been withdrawn.
I could have cut across a neck of land from Stranraer (6 miles), avoiding a much longer walk up, round and down a peninsula shaped like a hammer-head, but of course that would have been cheating! I elected for the longer route (64 miles), aiming for the hammer’s claw at the far end of an area known as The Rhins. Ultimately, I was aiming for the lighthouse on the very tip of the Mull of Galloway.
Walking up the western shore of loch Ryan I noticed a large concrete slipway. Here, flying boats were hauled into RAF Wig Bay’s maintenance sheds before and after WWII. Stranraer was one of the RAF’s largest flying boat training bases and two massive hangars were built as flying boat workshops. All that remains of the huge Wig Bay facility are some concrete blocks once used to secure flying boats in their pens and the concrete hangar floors, one of which is being used as an off-road driving instruction area!
Just past the mouth of Loch Ryan I turned the corner, past Corsewall Point, heading for another lighthouse at Black Head where I picked up the first part of the Southern Upland Way. My route into the picturesque harbour of Portpatrick was over springy green turf, bordered by bracken and gorse. The coastline could easily have been mistaken for Devon or Cornwall, as could the rolling green hills covered in herds of dairy cows and beef cattle.
Making my way along tracks and minor roads I frequently felt like the Pied Piper of Hamlin. Scores of young bullocks looked inquisitively over a fence, kicked up their heels and decided to keep pace with me as I walked nearby. This happened time and again. As well as livestock I was struck by the sheer number of game birds, particularly pheasants, that flew ahead of me, scurried into the undergrowth, ran across fields, or made me jump as they erupted from hedges.
Nor had I anticipated being taken hostage by one particularly handsome cock pheasant after I’d stopped to remove my waterproof jacket. Initially seemingly friendly, his manner soon changed and made my next 15 minutes extremely tiresome. I was trapped while he herded me as if I were a flock of sheep and he the sheep dog. At every attempt I made to pass, he came at me flapping his wings, trying to peck my legs, and hands. No amount of talking or cajouling had any effect. The matter was finally resolved when I found an old stake which I used to keep him at bay. Eventually he decided he’d had enough fun and let me continue on my way to the Mull of Galloway. Arriving at the Mull, Scotland’s most southerly point, we could see Northern Ireland and to the south, the Isle of Man. I celebrated reaching this landmark with a well-earned coffee and cream scone in the café – delicious!
That night we remained parked alone in the lighthouse car park and as darkness fell watched the lighthouse giving its single flash every 20 seconds. It was an eerie sight on a dark, cloudy night and I was glad it wasn’t Halloween!
See Photo Album Numbers 52 – Sippers at RNA Skegness; Mull of Galloway Trail; A Year on the Road