41. Balcary Bay to Rascarrel

Yesterday evening was a bit of a disaster. I was driving the 12 miles from the end of the walk at Balcary Bay to my hotel in Kirkcudbright, and with just a mile or so to go I remembered my bike, still locked to a tree in the layby near Palnackie.

Damn! I keep doing that, forgetting the bike! I thought about going back, but then decided I might as well check into the hotel first since I was nearly there.

After checking in and dumping my bags in the room, I drove the 12 miles back to my bike, put it in the car and drove back to the hotel, only to discover my room key was missing. I searched down the sides of the car seats, underneath the seats, in the boot with the bike… nowhere. It must have slipped out of my pocket when I was unlocking the bike in the copse of trees. Damn! So I drove back to Palnackie, by which time it was dark, and scrambled around in the gloomy undergrowth looking for the key… nowhere.

On the drive back to Kirkudbright I realised I’d have to tell the hotel owner, and probably get fined and charged for another key. I got back at a quarter past eight, fifteen minutes after dinner had finished, flustered and sweaty, and was let into my room by the hotel owner. There was the key, on the bedside table. I looked sheepish and asked if there was any chance I could still have some dinner… I didn’t think he’d be too keen to have me in his dining room looking like this, but he took pity on me.

So now it’s the following morning, and hopefully I’ll be better organised and things will go a lot smoother. However, I pulled a muscle in my hip a couple of days ago, and it’s still a bit problematic. I’ve also hurt my ankle somehow, god knows how, and that is paining me a bit too, so I decide to cut the planned 15 mile walk down to 10 miles, and end at Dundrennan rather than Mutehill. So I drive to Dundrennan, and park up in the layby opposite the bus stop, with 30 minutes to spare before the bus arrives. It’s a sunny day, and I feel things are going to go well today, albeit I’m still a bit apprehensive with my injuries.

The bus time comes and goes. I wander over to the bus stop to check the timetable. There’s the bus time, 9:37am, so why isn’t it here?… then I notice “Mondays to Saturdays” at the top of the timetable. No buses on a Sunday. Damn again! I think about driving home to Manchester to forestall any further disasters, but it’s a lovely sunny day, perfect for walking, and it’d be a shame to waste it, with all the rain we’ve had this summer, so I drive back to Balcary Bay. At least I can do a there-and-back walk and get a few more miles in along the coast. I park the car in the same car park as yesterday, and off I go.

The car park at Balcary Bay

Round the corner at the far end of the car park, a path is signposted through a gate and up a farm track. At the top of the track, there’s an option to turn right to Rascarrel avoiding the clifftop, or left into a field following the coastal route, which of course is my route.

At the far end of the field a metal gate leads onto a path with thick woods of rhodedendron on the right, and a long thin garden on the left. The owners of the garden are clearly not too keen on visitors.

On the left down below by the shore is Balcary Tower, a house built around 1860 by a Colonel Johnstone to house the family’s governess, who apparently doubled up as his mistress. The house was recently put up for sale, as this sales brochure describes. Quite something!

Balcary Tower

A little further onwards, a cottage sits near the shoreline, with its own slipway down into Balcary Bay, at the head of which sits a sailing boat. There are some very nice properties along here, and I wonder if people live in them full-time or if they are holiday homes.

The path passes through a gate, with a warning to keep your dog under control – not a big problem for me, and opens out onto the cliff top and into bright sunshine. The view is wonderful. The Almorness peninsula far left, across the blue waters of Balcary Bay, Hestan island basking in the sunshine, and the sun glittering off the water to the south, shadows marking the sharp contours of the cliff plunging below me. The air is cool and still, a perfect autumn day.

Hestan Island

The path follows the curving periphery of the headland, centred on Balcary Hill, to the easternmost Balcary Point. In every direction the view is beautiful.

The path climbs, occasionally skirting perilously close to the edge, until a wooden fence protects walkers from the steep fall down onto the rocks below.

Down below is a geological feature, marked on the OS map as “Lot’s Wife”.

Lot’s wife

In the bible, Lot’s wife is mentioned in the book of Genesis, which describes how she became a pillar of salt after she looked back at Sodom. Lot was Abraham’s nephew, and escaped the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, managing to avoid the bothersome process of petrification. His wife must have been a lovely person for Lot to fall for her, because judging by this statue she certainly wasn’t blessed with the best of looks.

Near the top of the climb, I perch my camera on a post to take a selfie, back the way I came, with Hestan Island in the background. I can’t help notice the similarities with Lot’s wife.

The path reaches a gate, with a side section presumably to stop animals trying to squeeze around it and risking the alarming drop into oblivion.

It would be a very brave animal to take that on.

At the top of the hill I meet a couple looking puffed, sat on a bench. They’ve just climbed up from the other direction. After exchanging pleasantries about the weather and the views, I pass by and head on down the path, which falls away at an alarming inclination… no wonder they’re puffed. At the bottom of the short sharp descent is another bench, where I decide to eat the rest of whatever I have left in my rucksack. I was hoping to top it up a bit, but didn’t manage to find a shop that was open this morning, so all I’m left with is a Pepperami, some Garibaldi biscuits, and the leftovers of my orange squash from yesterday. It’ll have to do.

At least the view takes my mind off being hungry.

Off to my right lies the Isle of Man, a wispy shade of blue-grey in the haze. It doesn’t look that big, but checking the map I realise I’m looking at it from the north-east, so I’m seeing it “end on”, at its narrowest.

Isle of Man

The path passes a field with the remains of stone and brick buildings. On the OS map they’re marked as “Mine (disused)” and “Homestead“.

The path now heads gently downhill into the valley towards Rascarrel Bay.

Near a point on the map marked “Shafts” is a breeze block shed. I peer inside to see what it might be hiding. I can squeeze my phone through the gap to take a picture with the flash, it looks like an old engine. I can’t work out what it may be for though.

I’m down at sea level again, and wondering what the sea temperature is like… how about a paddle? Why not! There are jumbled boulders between me and the water, so I grab a stout piece of driftwood for support and make my way to the shoreline.

That’s deep enough… it’s pretty cold!

I dry off and make my way back to the path, which opens out onto a grassy field. Holiday chalets occupy the far end.

A quaint old wooden sign points the way back to Balcary Bay, on to Rascarrel, and inland to Loch Mackie, whilst threatening to shoot your dog. Friendly.

The farmer here has a bit of a reputation. He built these holiday chalets here against strong local opposition, throwing previous tenants off his land in the process.

The original huts were built of wood, stone and corrugated iron and were owned by “hutters”, local people who would come here for weekends. They had been here since the 1930s when they were built at the height of the Scottish hutting movement with the then farmer’s permission. However, when the estate changed hands from the original owner, Jim Hendry, to his daughter, Fiona, and her husband, Tommy MacTaggart, everything changed. The relationship between the hutters and Tommy soured.

He imposed a 670% ground rent increase, from £150 a year to £1000, and said if they fail to pay they will be evicted, their shacks levelled, and they’ll be asked to cover the demolition costs. After a three year legal fight, which was lost by the hutters, the chalets were built. They’re very nice chalets, but it’s a shame that the old traditions were wiped out so brutally.

After these wooden chalets, a track winds through bushes and trees to posher chalets.

The Rascarrel Burn separates two sets of these posher chalets. An old footbridge over the burn leads nowhere now, as a road bridge has been built to allow cars access to the chalets on the western side of the burn.

Looking far out to sea, past the wind turbines of Robin Rigg Wind Farm, I can just make out the white buildings of Maryport, Cumbria, which I passed through in May 2021. They’re not going to be visible for much longer.

Since my car is back in Balcary Bay and I need to retrace my steps, I finish the walk here. It’s a convenient place to ride my bike to on the next walk, whenever that may be.

This section was completed on 22nd October 2023, and was about 3 miles long (plus another 3 mile return walk of course).

Here’s the real-time recorded map of my actual route, which you can pan and zoom around:

14 thoughts on “41. Balcary Bay to Rascarrel

    1. Yeah, I seem to spend a disappointingly large part of my life in confusion and panic…
      If you’ve a spare £1.1m down the back of the sofa maybe you could buy The Tower Anabel!

  1. We have all had horrendous key moments. Better get used to it.
    A good read, I was surprised it was only 3 miles. (one way)
    Not a good start with all those gates and private notices, So much for Scotland’s freedom to roam access. Willing to bet the owners are English.
    It doesn’t get any better on Mr Farmers Chalet land. There has always been a good tradition of hutting in southern Scotland. But along comes commercialisation.
    There are a few web sites devoted to hutting.

    1. 3 miles was probably about right, given my hip and ankle problems. Every mile further was an extra mile back too, and I didn’t fancy spending a night immobilised on the top of a cliff!
      I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the owners of all the big properties round there are English. There were a lot of English accents around there, in the countryside. Reminded me a bit of Cornwall, where all the locals are found in the non-touristy towns, and the scenic parts are full of emmits & grockles!
      Thanks for the link about the hutters – that’s answered questions I’ve had for quite a few walks now.

  2. The beginning of this story made me laugh Paul – to be honest I was waiting for the point on your walk where you either fell into a bog or got covered in cow slurry 🙂 This looks like a very scenic walk and I like the look of Balcary Tower, I think I could quite happily live there.

    1. No bogs or slurry pits this time Eunice, thankfully!

      It would be a very nice place to live, but you’d need a small fortune to buy anything there I expect. Lots of rich incomers I think. I’d definitely recommend the walk if you’re around that area though.

  3. There are many ways with keys. I Put car key in shorts back pocket. Walked up Long Sleddale then to Tarn Frag. Did exhilarating bum slide down steep grass. On return no car key.

    Icy morning setting off to deepest Lancashire to meet BC (your commenter above,. Set car engine going to defrost. Went back in house before setting off in car. Arrived to meet BC. Decided to move car to better spot. Would not start. Key left in house back home but with engine already running I had been able to set off. Arrived back home on back of Green Flag’s low loader much to my embarrassment and the amusement of my neighbours. Remarkably BC snd I are still good friends.

    1. My new car is one of those button press ones too. I had a panic one day when I got to work and couldn’t find the key! I was always wary when I lived in houses where the door locked as you pulled it closed, I’m just not organised enough to cope with that!

  4. We all have days like that, but yes I know that can be pretty stressful (I ended up losing my phone on my łast trip to Scotland with similar panic). I also once lost a hotel key on a walk but fortunately it was one of those plastic credit card like ones so they didn’t charge me to replace it.

    Lovely blue skies and I’m pleased to see what look like pretty decent paths. This is one of the few bits of coast I have left to walk on the mainland so good to see that.

    Nice to see the Isle of Man. I walked around that a while ago (probably about 10 years ago now…) with a friend of mine and had a great time. I do remember at the north coast it said on a clear day you can see the coast of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. We could see none of them! It is beautiful though.

  5. Oh, that key story – could have happened to any of us! I’m glad I’m not the only one who forgets to pick up my bike sometimes too. And no buses on a Sunday is pretty much a rural norm, but glad you could change your plans and have a lovely walk anyway.

  6. It must have been the 4th time I’ve forgotten that bike. The first time I did it I was 20 miles towards home on the M6 before I remembered!

    I had even planned the Sunday bus route with Google Maps, and when I checked back at the route afterwards it plainly said “Monday” at the top 🙄.

  7. Room keys are like the One Ring, they have a mid of their own and malicious intent. I was once chased down the street in Weymouth by a B&B owner asking for their key back, and I could have sworn I’d already given back but no, Bilbo-like, I found myself saying ‘no, wait, it’s here in my pocket.’

    Forgetting your bike, on the other hand, that’s entirely on you! 😉

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