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.
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!
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.
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”.
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.
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: