After entering the country by an unconventional route last time out, my first walk in Scotland starts not from Gretna, but from Dornock, a little village 6 miles west of Gretna.
As usual, I park my car at the end of this section, in Powfoot, and catch the bus to Dornock. I first needed to get to the point that I set foot in Scotland, which is a tiny island in the mud about 4ft by 2ft in size. Actually finding this little island again is going to be tricky, as one little mud-island looks very much like another.
A lane takes me down from Dornock village to the coast. In a field right next to the huge Vivers Lamb Processing plant, a sheep looks at me belligerently… oh, if you only knew, little lamb.
An abandoned house sits next to the lane. I always wonder why people leave a house like this. What reasons were there for it just to be left to decay?
The lane dips steeply downhill to join the coast.
Across the Solway, I can see the little village of Bowness, if I zoom in enough.
To get to my mud-island, I have to traverse a patch of demanding ground where deep water-filled holes are hidden by the long grass. It takes some minutes just to get the few dozen yards to my little mud-island, but eventually, by using GPS records and comparing the picture from last month, I’m pretty certain I’m standing in the right place!
I make my way back to the path without getting wet feet, and continue westwards, through a stile and over a rather impressive footbridge.
A thicket of reeds blocks the view of the sea to my left. Bindweed twines its way through the reeds to the sunlight, where it shows off its beautiful pink-tinged flowers.
The path passes underneath a partly fallen tree branch, where children have pinned up paintings and decorations. I think the theme is elephants, a common wildlife feature of South Dumdriesshire, but I’m not totally sure.
The path continues, winding through stands of graceful bronze-headed rushes, little boardwalk bridges crossing the multitude of streams that trickle down to the shore.
Another bridge crosses over a larger stream, and leads onto the stony beach.
The worst surface to walk on is a beach strewn with large stones, small boulders. They’re small enough to roll under your feet and twist your ankle, but too large to ignore. Every step requires concentration, and I don’t like concentrating if I can help it. This beach isn’t the worst of all, but it’s close.
Bricks and broken building blocks are strewn across the beach. Even blocks of carved sandstone have found their way here somehow. A search on old maps shows no sign of any buildings that have been demolished, so someone must have thought that what this rather unpleasant stony beach really needed was a scattering of building debris. And then set to it, to make their dream come true. I guess it takes all sorts.
As the beach goes on, the building debris gets increasingly substantial. A huge chunk of concrete, threaded with steel rebar, lies dumped like a dead spider on its back at the top of the beach.
At the bottom end of the beach sit small mud islands topped with luscious grass.
A little further on, I come across a metal stand, but can’t work out what it’s for. The mystery is solved when I see another one on which haaf-nets are stacked. On my last section I waded across the Solway Firth with a couple of haaf netters, so I know what these nets are straight away.
The path turns into a track which joins a lane where the Annan Haaf Netters have a hut to store their gear in, and a big sign outside explaining what it’s all about.
The lane ends at two farms, the delightfully-named Whinnyrig, and the mundanely-named Seafield. Right next to Seafield are the northern remains of the Solway Junction Railway viaduct across the Solway Firth, which I described in my blog when I passed the southern end. I won’t bore you with the story of it now, since I probably bored you with it last time round… just follow the link if you have a low boredom threshold.
I’m new to walking in Scotland of course, and yet to test the Right To Roam legislation. Actually, I’m yet to read it so I wouldn’t do at all well if I was tested on it. I’m dubious whether I can walk through the farmyard at Seafield, especially as it has a couple of flowers in it – does that make it a garden? I decide to clamber down the embankment onto the marshy patchwork of mud islands and make my way to the viaduct that way instead.
This Scottish end of the viaduct embankment is much better kept that the Cumbrian end. Probably because it has been appropriated to run the wastewater pipe from Chapelcross Nuclear Power Station down to the shore. Luckily the nuclear power station closed in 2004 so maybe no water flows down the pipe anymore. Unluckily, the waste from nuclear power stations is still dangerous for around 300,000 years. Luckily I don’t know about what’s in the pipe while I’m here. Hopefully there won’t be another “Unluckily”. The pipe seems remarkably small to be anything to do with a nuclear power station anyway, so maybe the source of that information is dubious.
The views over the Solway from the end of the viaduct are quite entrancing.
The colours in some of these photographs are a bit strange. Unfortunately I had my camera set to “Old” which put a sepia tint on all the pictures, and Photoshop could only do so much to reverse it. One day I might read the instruction manual for my camera. Maybe.
Willowherb lines the path, and has gone to seed, producing pillows of fluffy white down… soft clouds waiting for the breeze to help them take flight.
I follow the path along the viaduct embankment up to Annan, where steps drop down onto Seafield Road. Past the old Hecklegirth logging factory and over the railway line, the road then joins Scott’s Street – the main road through Annan.
Annan town centre is lined with grand old red sandstone buildings from the 19th century, interspersed with a great many bakeries – my kind of town! Solely for the purpose of encouraging the economic growth of this small town, I visit a couple of the bakeries and proceed to sit on a bench opposite the Queensbury Arms Hotel, to ponder on its faded glory, between mouthfuls of sausage roll and cake.
At the far end of the town square lies Annan Town Hall, built in 1878. In 2007 a statue of King Robert the Bruce was positioned in pride of place on the pedestal. He was a fearsome warrior and could hold his own in battle even while holding the wrong end of his sword and carrying a pint of lager. What a guy.
At the far end of town, next to the River Annan, is the Bluebell Inn. There are lots of pubs called The Bluebell around the country, and I always thought they were referring to the flowers, which I thought quite quaint. This one just makes me feel stupid now, although I’m not the only one.
Just this eastern side of the river, steps lead down to a riverside path, which gives good views of the Annan Bridge, designed in 1824 by Robert Stephenson, grandfather of Robert Louis Stephenson, but no relation to Pamela.
The path leads downriver to a footbridge – the Millenium Bridge – which sits beside the railway viaduct over the River Annan.
In 2021, two other footbridges in Annan were washed away as water levels reached their highest for 50 years. They’re planning to rebuild them apparently, but I’m not sure why a small town needs three footbridges and a road bridge, that’s just greedy. Perhaps it’s an attempt to compete with neighbouring Dumfries which has ten, bridge-envy being a common vice in these parts.
Over the one remaining foot-bridge, the path circles round and passes underneath an arch of the railway viaduct, and continues southwards down the west bank of the River Annan. A small boatyard on the opposite bank is working on a fishing trawler, the sound of hammers resounding off the metalwork like a gong.
On this side of the river, two old piers represent all that remains of a dock – in the 18th and 19th centuries, Annan was a major point for emigration to the new world.
The path wends its way southward into the countryside, over a little stone bridge. In amongst the bushes, I spot a small section of railway line. This was the Newbie Branch off the Glasgow & South Western Railway, and once served the Newbie Brick and Tile Works and the Cochran boiler factory, which I’ll shortly encounter.
The path becomes a lane, which leads into the village of Newbie. Newbie consists of two huge factories and maybe 30 houses.
The lane heads southeastwards towards the coast, then a grass path skirts close to the water down to Barnkirk Point. There used to be a lighthouse here, built in 1841 out of timber, with a fog bell and two white lights, one shining down the Firth and the other upstream towards Port Carlisle. In the early 1960s its lights were replaced with a single huge bright orange one, as it burnt to the ground, leaving just a charred stump now.
The view towards the old Solway viaduct hasn’t changed much over time, only there are no more fishing boats today…
I follow the path round the point, which leads to a farm called Newbie Mains. This apparently was the site of Newbie Castle, but that was demolished in 1816 to build the old barn of the farm. I think the swing probably isn’t original, young children back then would have been less capable of scaling the structure to get into the baby seat.
On the machair beyond the top of the beach lies the bleached-white remains of a large tree, while up on the hill the four despotic robot-heads of Chapelcross Nuclear Power Station – Conquest, War, Famine, and Death – survey their vanquished lands, threatening the same fate on anyone considering insurrection!
I continue along a well-maintained mown grass path, past hawthorn bushes cringing from the salty wind, to a set of steps leading down onto the beach. A huge flock of oystercatchers sit on the beach a few hundred yards ahead, flying off in small groups as I approach.
The end of a walk, even a relatively short one like this, is not the best time to have to walk across soft sand, pebbles and shingle. My calves are aching, I can see the village of Powfoot in the distance at the end of the beach, and I just want to get there as soon as I can. There’s no other way though, as annoyingly, a high barbed wire fence at the top of the beach prevents any chance of finding an easier route.
Above me was the site of the Powfoot Nitro-cellulose factory, founded in 1940 by the War Office to make propellants during the second world war. Later the site was re-opened to cope with the demands of other wars, including Korea and the Falklands. Processing ceased at the site in 1993, and it is now being decommissioned, which involves removing all remaining explosives residue. I guess I’m lucky the barbed wire fence is there after all.
I reach a stream called Pow Water, and head up the beach to the pretty village of Powfoot. The village was created at the start of the 19th century with a small harbour, and was expanded several times in an effort to create a new seaside resort. Two local builders who had made money in Liverpool returned in 1894 and developed several rows of houses, which stand to this day, although the harbour is now gone. The project was never fully completed, but thankfully my walk has.
This walk was completed on 3rd September 2022 and was 10.3 miles long.
Here’s the annotated map of my walk:
and here’s a real-time recorded map of my actual route, which you can pan and zoom around: