I’ve selected a nice endpoint to this walk… in the car park in Dalbeattie Town Wood. The last couple of miles, on this very hot day, will be strolling through this shady wood, how delightful……
I park up, pay the £5 per day charge by downloading yet another parking app (I must have five or six of them now) and walk round the corner to the bus stop, where there is copious free parking. Annoying.
I need to catch two buses to get to Caulkerbush, and there’s only a 6 minute gap between the two, at Sandyhills. The bus arrival time comes, and goes. Ten minutes later I realise I’ll miss the connection now, and start walking back to my car to get my electric bike instead. Then the bus turns up. Now I have a fast decision to make, and within a few seconds choose to get the bus to Sandyhills, start the walk from there, and fill in the gap from Caulkerbush to Sandyhills some other time. I’m happy with that, as my legs are aching from the last two days walking, and a shorter walk today is just what I need. And I’m happy not to have to do any cycling.
The bus arrives at Sandyhills, and I spot the connecting bus waiting there. Damn, that’s blown my excuse for the shorter walk! But my mind is already made up, and so I pretend that the bus isn’t there. It’s not a big bus, and if I face the other direction there’s no sign of it.
The view in the other direction isn’t that nice… overflowing rubbish bins, a toilet block, and the entrance to a caravan park.
I skirt the toilet block, pass a cafe, and take the path down to the beach. Sandyhills is a wide beach, and stretches out a long way with the tide right out.
I turn right, as my clockwise adventure requires, and follow a path over the grass at the top of the beach, where a wooden footbridge provides access to the western side of the beach.
The beach on the other side is odd but nice, islands of raised grass surrounded by pools of bleached-white sea-shells, with occasional patches of shells strewn over the grass. Low but steep cliffs form an impenetrable barrier at the top of the beach.
Further out towards the distant water, fishing nets hang off poles, waiting for the return of the tide.
The sea has hollowed out caves in the cliffs, and at one point a huge arch has been created, named “Needle’s Eye” because of its shape. To get some appreciation of the size, I take a selfie under the arch.
My route app, Komoot, pipes up to tell me the planned route is 200 yards to my right. I look right, and upwards, and not fancying that climb decide I’m quite happy where I am for the moment…
Round the corner there’s an exit off the beach. A slipway leads past a house and onto a lane, which winds very steeply upwards and onto a dirt track. I’m puffing a bit and wonder to myself why I didn’t just stay on the beach. Oh well, I’m here now, so continue onwards for a while. The track then eventually heads downhill again… good, I’d like to get back on the beach after all this tiring up-and-down stuff.
Much to my dismay, just before the beach the track finishes at some houses, where there’s a sign reading “Private. No entry to the beach”. The only onward path is up a very steep hillside. Cursing under my breath about inconsiderate householders not allowing people to tramp through their gardens, I walk through the gate and start the torturous climb up the steps.
A lovely patch of foxgloves attempts to cheer me up, with a little success.
The path very soon reaches a considerable height, with amazing views back the way I came and the way I’m going. It often doesn’t seem worth it when you’re doing a long steep climb, but once the pain wears off the rewards normally overcome the discomforts….
The hot weather has caused a deluge of wildflowers to open. I snap a picture of some flowers for the Plantsnap app to identify (Sheep’s Bit), shortly before a handy sign does it for me.
The path ahead stretches out over the hills along the cliff’s edge. This really is the best of coastal walking. Short-cropped grass, easy to walk on, magnificent views, glorious sunshine… it even makes the steep uphill bits bearable!
I peer down onto the beach below, and realise all that steep climbing was definitely worth it. If I had been allowed back onto the beach at those private houses, I’d now be contemplating a scary cliff-climb, a swim, or a long walk back…
The path passes through a big patch of gorse with no obvious route around, and I’m thankful I’m not wearing shorts today, then it dives down a very steep slope. I meet a shorts-clad mountain biker at the bottom coming the other way, and we exchange greetings. I turn around to watch him, first on the slope and then negotiating the gorse, and smile a little smile. Unnecessarily cruel of me.
Peering over the edge of the cliff, there is a cormorant in a nest perched precariously on a ledge, with a couple of chicks. Wow! That’s new for me, never seen that before.
Set a little further down the cliff is a monument to the schooner Elbe, which sunk in 1867 near the rocks here in heavy weather.
The story of the shipwreck is quite exciting, told here shortly after it happened…
On a December day, in the year 1867, the Elbe left Maryport, bound to Palnackie, having on board a more valuable cargo than the usual traffic of the river. She was commanded by Captain George Wilson, then a young man in his twenties, the second son of the subject of our sketch, his crew being five of the smartest seamen that any river could boast of. Captain Samuel Wilson being in Maryport on business took the opportunity of coming as a passenger. With so much skill and experience on board one should never have expected such a dreadful disaster as overtook the gallant ship and crew. Such was the opinion, of the firm who shipped the most valuable part of the cargo, and for the only time in their business career they refrained from insuring it, though valued at £500. Nothing of any importance took place on the passage across the Firth, and the vessel let go her anchor in the usual anchorage in Balcary. Bay. Next tide it was blowing a gale from the S.W., and the sea being very heavy the vessel struck the ground very hard in floating. It is well known to all sailors that there is the greatest risk of a vessel bursting her cables while dealing with the ground in a seaway, and before she is fairly afloat. This was the first mishap to the ill-fated vessel. As one cable snapped; another was let go: Even hawsers and ropes to her kedges were tried,and at last, after several attempts, her head was canted to go over the Rack, between Heston and the mainland.
Her sails were quickly set by her wearied crew to drive her into the safety of Gibb’s hole;. but none but sailors can imagine their feelings on finding that the vessel’s rudder was gone, and, worse than this, the long boat’s painter had snapped, and she was soon driven by the strong wind and sea out of their reach and sight. One hope was left, and one only, that by skilful maneuvering the sails and attempting to steer with a spar, she might fetch into the mouth of the Water-of-Urr, even if they had to run her ashore at Rockcliffe.
Their situation was now so desperate that the people were gathering on the high points to watch the struggle for life of the brave-hearted mariners. Many of the onlookers, were sailors and realised the danger, but alas! There was no Balcary lifeboat in these days and the small boats at Rockcliffe could not live in such heavy sea. Several times the crew thought she was coming in towards the bar, but this vain hope was shattered by the wind veering to the northwest, making it under their crippled condition, impossible to come near the river’s mouth. Their fate they knew must soon be settled, for to add to their danger, if any addition could be made, it was found that the heavy striking in the Balcary anchorage had caused her to make water, and very soon she must sink under their feet.
All sail was set tight on the vessel, and every effort was made by the despairing crew to bring her inshore. They were assisted most wonderfully in this brave attempt by the very high spring tide, and that it was just the top of high water. Higher and higher she looked, and it was seen that if she but held her course she would strike the shore at a point a little to the eastward of the old ruins of Glenstocking. As she neared the rocks Captain Wilson, always cool and confident even in danger, called out to his crew, “Every man for himself,” and to “stand by.” Suiting the action to the word, he threw off part of his clothes, and this example was followed by the others. Nearer and nearer the rocks she came, and, to their great wonder and surprise nothing stopped her. Half of the crew run out to the bowsprit end, ready to jump into the sea the moment she would strike the ground. In breathless anxiety they held on till the bowsprit actually overhung for a minute, the extreme point of a big rock. The foremost two actually dropped on to the cliff as she crashed into it. The next surge threw her back, and again she leapt forward, allowing another two to drop. Backward she plunged with her two remaining crew, viz. Captain Wilson and the young mate Robert Clachrie.
Their turn had now come, and the younger man stretched out his hand to assist the older man. It was not required. Active as a cat, he hung on to the stay, until, wonderful to say, another sea again brought her over the rock. Both jumped, and just avoided the downward blow of the bowsprit as it swept past the rock. The providential part of’ the story has now to be told. No fourth time did she come towards the heaven-sent rock, and the wind veering still more to the north-west caught her top-sails aback, slewed her off the shore, and she stood away seaward as if again under the command of her crew. An eyewitness has informed the writer that he watched her as, with all sail set, she repassed the mouth of the river, steering the usual course down the Firth. When opposite the Rascarrel heughs she was seen to make a final plunge and gradually sink from view. A few days after a search was made, but not even her masts could be seen. She must thus have gone down in the deeper part of the channel, as very shortly afterwards the logs of timber that formed part of her cargo were washed ashore.
No one died, so I’m not sure why they built a memorial. Perhaps the loss of a £500 uninsured cargo was misery enough! That’s £46,000 in today’s money, which doesn’t seem like very much.
A little pink flower grabs my attention… English Stonecrop apparently, the most gentle of border reivers. It goes into my collection. Honeysuckle and Bloody Cranesbill (wild geraniums) make up a pretty threesome.
Rounding a corner I come across a ruined building called “Low Glenstocking”, a fortified farmstead built around 1614. The building overlooks a beautiful tiny beach set in a deep hole called “Bogle Hole”. I don’t know what a Bogle is, but it doesn’t sound very scary to me. I’d take on a Bogle any day. [It turns out a Bogle is a goblin or a spectre. Yeah, no problem.]
In the middle of the beach is a little island called Gutcher’s Isle, where a hermit used to live according to the nearby information sign. It’s a nice place, but not much room for a garden on top of that rock. The hermit was prone to sleepwalking, and only lived there a couple of days (it didn’t say that on the information sign).
I climb down into the hole to see if I can catch the Bogle. It’s a lovely little beach, but no signs of that creature, it must have been scared of me and ran/floated away.
The clifftop path dips downwards and swings right, but there’s a side path going down towards Castle Point – a headland poking into the Solway Firth. Being closer to the coast that’s the route I must take.
Beyond Castle Point, out in the firth, is an island, Hestan Island. It has a lighthouse on it, which I would like to visit, but it’s cut off by the sea at the moment. It goes in my collection anyway. I’d like to visit “Daft Ann’s Steps” (according to the OS map) at the southern end of the island too – a series of pinnacles where, legends say, a girl attempted to lay stepping stones ahead of her to reach Balcary Point and drowned. Seems like a good shortcut to me, taking at least 20 miles off the route through Dalbeattie, and one that I might have tried to recreate, possibly also drowning in the process. But I decide on the long route.
At the pointy end of Castle Point is a pointy thing that points out loads of other places. Castle Point is a nice place, and I stop for while to eat my lunch, using the convenient pointing block as a table.
Leaving Castle Point, I pass Nelson’s Grave. This wasn’t the Admiral Lord Nelson, or even Willie Nelson or Rickie Nelson, but the far less famous Joseph Nelson of Whitehaven, who died when the ship he was on, The Ann, was wrecked near this point in 1791. He was buried near where he was found, and his wife later came here to build this memorial to him.
The path drops down to the shore and meanders along a rocky sandy shoreline and through shaded glades, until coming out onto a private tarmacked lane.
Looking left over the estuary is the tidal Rough Island. At the moment the tide is low enough that you could walk over to it, the main river channel being the other side of the island.
Shortly I reach the village of Rockliffe. There’s not a great deal here, to be honest, except for a disappointing beach and some holiday cottages. Wikipedia sums it up with “The village has a car park and a public toilet, now including a defibrillator, but no other facilities to speak of“. And that’s being quite kind.
There is an ice cream van though, and I make good use of that, sitting on a bench to soak up the lack of atmosphere with a cornet and a couple of drinks. A sign restricts parking to 20 minutes… about 18 minutes longer than you need.
At the end of the village, the path passes into a glade of trees, from which a small jetty pokes out into Urr Water. This is similar enough to a pier for me to consider it a compulsory act to walk to the end of it, and it makes it into my collection of piers of the UK.
The view from the end of the jetty southwards towards the open sea is a plain of estuary mud.
The jetty is inspirational enough to have had a couple of oil paintings done from it though, fancy that. The rocks on my left-hand side I can only assume were the inspiration for John Threlfalls’ “From Rockliffe Jetty“…
Here’s the other one…
The path from Rockliffe to the next village of Kippford is quite short, passing through a nice shady wood – relief from the scouring Galloway sun (who thought that would ever be a phrase?) – and popping out next to the river again.
Kippford is quite a nice place, feeling almost “seasidy”, although the only beach is formed of white shells, and wouldn’t be such a great place for a swim.
I’m starting to worry that I form instant opinions of a place, good or bad, which then never change, and that I might be filtering what I see along the way based on my initial thoughts, just confirming my opinion. Like some sort of coastal-walk-town-confirmation-bias. I realise that I might end up offending residents of, most recently, Southerness and Rockliffe, and previously Workington, Barrow, Banks, Blackpool, North Liverpool (oops, so many of them!). So I think I should apologise…
Sorry if I thought your town was crap.
There, that should settle it.
A lane runs along the waterfront (or mud-front as it is now at low tide), through the village centre with pretty cottages, and on to a marina with lots of sailing boats.
I take some time in the little wooden bus shelter for a drink, and to pour the remaining contents of my water bottle over my head, and sit for a while with a small wet towel perched on top of my head, gradually cooling down, but attracting weird looks from passers-by. A cafe opposite the bus shelter has an advertising sign for ice creams, but just as I stand up to go and buy one a girl comes out, takes away the sign and locks up. Perhaps she was concerned about reports of a strange guy with a wet towel on his head.
The road out of Kippford stretches uphill, gradually steeper and steeper, very unwelcome in today’s heat. I pass a garden using a fishing crate for decorative purposes, all the way from Donegal – “No Unauthorised Use” it says, brought all the way over here by special permission then.
At the top of the hill, the road joins my old antagonist, the A710, which is the route into Dalbeattie closest to the coast (or estuary), and therefore should be my preferred route. However, it has no pavement, and I don’t fancy getting swatted by cars and lorries, so take a more scenic route through Dalbeattie Forest.
The lane into the forest heads upwards to a barrier, and just beyond is a bench, where I sit for a rest.
The problem with this hot weather here at the moment is that whenever I get into some shade, flies start buzzing around my head. It’s been happening on all my walks this week. They’re like small house flies, they don’t bite, but they are really annoying. A couple of them start buzzing round me as I sit, and I wave them off as usual. Then I feel a sting on my stomach, look down and see one on me. A few more start buzzing round me, and I feel more stings, on my hand, both arms, and neck. I jump up and run up the track as fast as I can until they don’t seem to be following me anymore. They’re clearly not flies, but little black wasps.
“B*****ds” I shout at them, which is of course very helpful, and makes them feel guilty about what they have done and fly back to their nest. Hmmm, well that would have been nice.
Now my problem is that my hat, camera, phone, and rucksack are strewn around the bench. I spot the wasps’ nest on the underside of the bench, right where I was sitting, with the little angry blighters flying round looking for some more people to sting.
I find a long stick with a hooked end and approach tentatively within reach of my stuff, trying not to upset the wasps, or even breathe (do they detect the carbon dioxide we breathe out? I know some flies do, but not sure about wasps). I manage to hook up my hat, then my camera, and then my rucksack, but I’m not going to get my phone like that. I realise I’m going to have to go in close for that, and run towards the bench fast enough to avoid the wasps, while still being able to bend down and grab the phone on the way through. I feel like a fire-fighting plane scooping up water from a lake, but I don’t hold my arms out at right angles for wings, I’m just not enjoying this enough to do that.
The mission is successful. Still rubbing my stings, muttering questions about why any benevolent god would invent wasps, I continue up the track into the woods. I pass a guy coming in the other direction, who mentions how annoying the flies are. I would have agreed ten minutes ago, but I’m thinking now that the flies are quite benign. I warn him about the wasps and continue onwards.
I decide to take a more minor path through the trees, which hopefully will give me views across the valley, but unfortunately doesn’t. Back in shade again, out come those bloody flies, and I’m continually paranoid that they’re actually wasps.
Then back out in the sunshine and the heat, the flies disappear, and large clumps of foxgloves show off to the sun.
After the wasp stings, and now with my legs feeling quite tired, and the flies continuing to buzz round my head, I’m getting a bit irritable and want the walk to finish, but this woodland walk just seems to go on and on and on. So much for the delightful stroll through the shady wood that I had imagined when I left several hours ago.
Finally, I round a corner and see my car in the car park, and can finally collapse into the driver’s seat, which is of course far too hot as it’s been sat in the sun for six hours!
This walk was completed on 12th June 2023 and was 10.7 miles long.
Here’s an annotated map of my walk today:
And here’s the real-time recorded map of my actual route, which you can pan and zoom around: