42. Rascarrell to Dundrennan

It’s Friday morning, 10:45am, and I’m working from home, stuck in a Microsoft Teams meeting with my boss’s boss and several others.

11:15am, the meeting end-time approaches but there’s no sign of wrapping up. We’re normally allowed to finish at 12:30pm on a Friday if we’ve done our hours, and that’s what I’d planned for… a 1pm exit from the house, the long drive up to Dumfries & Galloway from my home in Milnrow (near Manchester) and then a shortish walk that evening. Working full time means I need to make the most of the weekend.

It’s 11:30am, the official meeting end time, and we’re about half way through the document we’re reviewing. I’m getting edgy. If I’m late leaving then I’m late arriving, and even though dusk is late on these long June days, the weather is cloudy and it’ll be getting dark by the time I finish the walk. The meeting drags on and on and on and on…..

What do you think about that Paul?” asks my boss’s boss. I’d drifted off again.

Errr, sorry can you just repeat that last bit, my headphones are playing up?” I try, rather feebly. Luckily my obvious ruse isn’t challenged.

12:15 pm and finally we’re released. Fifteen minutes to tidy up my work for the weekend and I’m free!

Sometimes Google Maps can be ridiculously optimistic about journey times. Luckily this time it’s feeling depressed, and I beat its pessimistic estimate by a good 30 minutes, arriving in Dundrennan and parking up outside the abandoned church in plenty of time. Dragging my heavy electric bike out of the boot, assembling it, and swinging my rucksack on, I switch on the bike and get a reassuring 5 lights out of 5… fully charged.

Twisting the control on the handle lurches me forward, but within a few seconds the top two lights flicker off and I’m down to 3 out of 5. I don’t like cycling, and the thought of having to pedal disheartens me. Oh well, off we go. It’s only 6 miles to the walk’s start point, and mostly downhill, so hopefully it’ll last out. I need a new electric bike with a really long range.

It’s been a while since I was last at Rascarrel, October last year in fact (I had to look that up). I don’t like it much, probably based on the unpleasant owner of the land around here, as I described in the last post, but it’s not a particularly pretty place anyway. Holiday chalets, a rocky beach, and a trickling stream disgorging farm run-off into the sea.

I lock my bike up, and quickly get going, crossing the concrete bridge and walking past the new chalets on the western side of the stream, waving to the holiday makers sat on their chalet porches. I get to the end of the track, and realise in my haste I’ve already gone the wrong way. I give them another wave on the way back.

It’s clear why I missed the route I should have taken, it’s through here…

Yes, that’s a path

It’s a steep climb, through gorse, bracken, brambles and hawthorn. I reach the top, scratched but otherwise unhurt. I guess I’m the first person to come through here for a while. The path continues to run along the coastal side of a dry stone wall where brambles and gorse stretch into the distance, so I elect to walk along the other side of the wall, through a meadow, to save my remaining blood stocks.

The views over the bay are nice enough.

The meadow comes to an end, and I’m forced back into the undergrowth. Thankfully the gorse and brambles have given way to a sea of bracken, not easy to wade through but less malevolent.

The path’s through here…
…then along here. Obvious, really.

There are still some occasional prickly encounters, but they have their compensations.

The path, what there is of it, descends down to a bay, and fed up of wading through the bracken, I fight my way down onto the beach. This is Barlocco Bay, a mix of red sand, pebbles, and vegetation.

Thrift

A couple of years ago a group of local residents, dismayed by the amount of plastic pollution on this beach, decided to organise a clear up. Access to the beach is quite difficult (as I’ve discovered), but they managed to convince Skyhook Helicopters based in Fife, who had a flight passing nearby, to lift 29 huge bags of rubbish off the beach for them. Take a look at their video:

Unfortunately there is still quite a bit of plastic rubbish around, perhaps washed up since the clear-up.

The western end of the beach features these odd ‘watering holes’ that are quite common on British beaches… small, deep pools surrounded by grass. I’ve no idea how they form.

This giant turtle must have seen Medusa at the bottom of this one:

At the far end of the beach the vegetation gets dense and tall again, and I climb over the wall into the meadows to make progress easier. This works fine for a couple of fields until I reach a small valley, where a dense thicket grows in marshy ground.

I don’t fancy wet feet, so look around for an alternative route. Often streams are easier to cross on the beach, but it’d be a titanic battle through head-high vegetation to get down there, so I head upstream to the top of the field.

Battling my way into the trees, I find the stream narrow and easy to cross, even if the bracken field on the other side is a little harder.

I manage to find a track leading through the bracken which makes walking much easier. Unfortunately the track simply circles a little wooded area, heading back the direction I came from. The alternative is a path through head-high bracken, so given no choice I set off through it. The bracken doesn’t last long… it’s soon joined by a mix of hogweed and stinging nettles, all head high. Just in case that wasn’t unpleasant enough, the ground underneath becomes boggy and littered with rocks. This coastal walking is so much fun.

The clear route ahead

Eventually I fight my way through, my skin tingling with a hundred nettle stings, climb over a stone wall and into a meadow. At the far end of the field is a gate which I guess is the best route onwards. I climb over the gate, and it looks like there’s a track leading down to the beach.

However, there are large boulders all the way down. After a few minutes, having progressed maybe 30 yards, I realise this is a lost cause, and make my way back up again. I’ve made about 200 yards in the last half hour! Further up the field is another gate leading into a thick forest, maybe I’ll have more luck with this.

Walking through pine forests like this is relatively easy, and I get to the other side and out into another meadow. Young cows are loosely gathered in the top corner quite far away, so I amble leisurely across, heading for a style on the other side. Thank god the drama is over.

Was that thunder I heard? Hooves? I look around, then decide to up my pace…

I make it to the style before they do, then chat to them once I’m safely through – they’re only inquisitive young bullocks, friendly even, but they’re several times bigger than me and I don’t fancy a hug. This coastal walking is so much fun.

A little footbridge leads to a small fenced off area of woodland. This is the second one I’ve come across this evening. There’s even a complex little gateway for small animals, with separate girls’ and boys’ entrances, like a Victorian school. The gate’s too small for me, I need to walk around.

In the next meadow I disturb a hare. He ‘hares’ down to the bottom of the meadow, then stops to give me a long hard stare, fists out like a kangaroo, indignant that I disturbed his tea.

I cross the meadow and climb over another style. I feel like I’m almost back in civilisation now, compared with what I’ve come through. The path leads onto a short track which ends in someone’s garden. This is Orroland Lodge. It’s a holiday home, but I don’t feel comfortable walking through their garden, rented or not, so I veer off into the woods, furtively skirting around the property.

Exiting the woods I find myself on a grassy track heading north-westwards, which is the direction I want to go, but which immediately swings round to a direction I don’t want to go.

Wading through deep grass north-westwards again, I find yet another style, picking up plenty of stings from the nettles on the way, refreshing the previous stings that had worn off a little. This coastal walking is so much fun.

There ahead of me is a metalled road, woohoo!

At the top of the lane, I come to a junction and lovely gardens. There’s a couple of ponds, wildflower meadows, and lawns, really nice.

After leaving Orroland, I head westwards along a track, following some guy and his wife out for an evening stroll…

In the distance, south-westwards, I can make out the bay at Port Mary, from where Mary, Queen of Scots, is said to have left Scotland for the last time in 1568, after fleeing the Battle of Langside.

Port Mary

She crossed the Solway Firth to Workington on 16th May 1568 at night with twenty companions. The unexpected arrival apparently provoked a dispute amongst the English border officials, who I guess legitimately wondered why a bunch of Scottish tourists would choose a dump like Workington for a weekend away.

I pass a collection of the biggest barns I’ve ever seen. This is the home of Rerrick Park Holsteins, a family run dairy farm. There must be thousands of cows in those sheds…

At the top of the lane, according to the OS map, is the remains of Rerrick church, and its graveyard. The map says “remains of” for the church, but in practice there is nothing but the cemetery left. Many of the gravestones are very grand, making up the perimeter wall.

One grave in particular, more humble, is noteworthy. It is of four members of the Hamilton family.

At 23:38 hrs on the 17th July 1944, during the Second World War, a Bristol Beaufighter took off on a training flight from RAF Crosby-on-Eden near Carlisle, piloted by Henry Wiles and Eric Young who were both 21. For unknown reasons, at around 1am it crashed in flames into the Hamilton’s house in Dundrennan, 43 miles away, killing James Hamilton, 35, Georgina Aitken, 32, Henry Hamilton, 10, and Agnes Rae Hamilton, 8, as well as the pilots. The Operations Record Book for the RAF Station simply states “Cause Unknown. Crew Killed“. Very sad.

From the cemetery, I follow Fagra Road, really just a narrow lane, down towards the village of Dundrennan. At the top of a rise on my right, a spooky house peers across the landscape.

The lane dips downhill, and allows fine views over Dundrennan Abbey.

At the bottom of the hill, the lane passes over Abbey Burn and enters the village. Turning left to head towards the abbey, I pass the spot where the plane apparently crashed, now just a gap between the houses where a garden has been planted and a shed, but no signs to mark the spot.

The site of the Hamilton’s house

I get to the abbey, but it’s closed. Not that I would have gone in anyway with a £7.50 entry charge… you’d at least expect a roof for that much.

I make my way back into the village to my car, passing the abandoned church, outside of which a plaque has been mounted next to the war memorial to commemorate the tragedy of the air crash.

The plaque was unveiled on the anniversary of the crash in 2010, a ceremony attended by Georgina (Ina) Mary Wood, nee Hamilton, the sole survivor of the crash. We are lucky these days to have lived on an island free from the direct consequence of war for so long. Lucky indeed.


This section was completed on the evening of 7th June 2024, and was about 6.3 miles long.

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

17 thoughts on “42. Rascarrell to Dundrennan

  1. I was there about a week ago! Well done for finding a more coastal route although are you sure there was meant to be a path beyond Rascarrel Bay? I used the Dumfries and Galloway Core Paths map and it doesn’t show a path west of there (see https://new.dumgal.gov.uk/leisure-sport-culture/parks-outdoor-spaces/core-paths). For this reason from Rascarrel Bay I followed the road north up to the A711 and turned left along it, then took the minor road south of it that goes to Stockmoss Smithy/Stockmoss Cottages and took the right fork. Then just west of Rerrick High Road and east of Fagra on the OS map I found a path signed back to the shore, so followed it. (This also isn’t on the core paths map but given it was signed I followed it). I got down to Port Mary then followed a path west to the road and Port Mary Bridge.

    I am interested to hear how you get on next! I headed south from the bridge into the ranges and got to Burnfoot Bridge. From here there was meant to be the “blue” path through the ranges. Despite there being no red flags flying and no activity or training listed on the gov.uk website I found the gate padlocked and another much more sturdy padlocked gate beyond with barbed wire all around. So although the path was supposed to be open when the ranges wern’t in use, it wasn’t open! I ended up having to go most of the way around the ranges on the road. I hope you had better luck!

    1. Hi Jon, I guessed you were there quite recently! In answer to your question… no, I’m quite sure there isn’t a path beyond Rascarrel Bay!!! There are occasional gates and styles which suggest that someone considered putting a path there, but ended up not bothering! Komoot (whose maps are from OpenStreetMap) shows a path going a little beyond Rascarrel, but not far. I looked at the satellite pictures and it looked easy… so much for that!!!

      I haven’t actually done the army ranges yet, I skipped that as there was live firing this weekend, and so I moved on to Nun Mill Bay and from there walked round to Brighouse Bay, and then on to Gatehouse, those two walks I’ll write up shortly.

      My intended route from Dundrennan to Mutehill through the ranges is here: https://www.komoot.com/tour/1626053158
      Hopefully I can get closer to the coast than that though, I’ll just have to see when I get there, and hope I don’t tread on any unexploded mines! I’m planning to go along that Netherlaw Burn path, but it’s marked with No Entry signs on the OpenStreetMap source that powers Komoot, perhaps because of those padlocked gates.

    1. Thanks Ruth, but I didn’t have much choice! When I got to the worst part I was so far from any easier tracks I had to keep going anyway. Just don’t believe the aerial photos😊.

  2. What a thrash!
    Oh! Those business meetings. I felt for you – been there, done that.
    I once actually fell asleep in one to be awoken by the phrase you quote “wWhat do you think of that Con….?”

    1. Yeah, they make wading through nettles feel positively enjoyable!
      A few years ago one of my colleagues, who’s still working with us, actually fell off his chair asleep. I blame PowerPoint.

  3. That’s more like Apocalypse Now! I took the easier road route after Rascarrel Bay, which also passes the giant Wicker Man, which is not quite as scary as those ferns. I’m surprised you did not pick up a few ticks for your efforts! 🙂

    1. I did check for ticks actually, after seeing a program the other day where they dragged a blanket across some park in London and collected a few ticks there. I thought they only lived up the top end. Horrible little critters.

  4. The first half of this looks and sounds more like an expedition through the Amazon jungle rather than a pleasant walk – the coastal scenery isn’t exactly inspiring either. Well done on your perseverance but I have to wonder if it was worth the hassle. I like the Orroland gardens though and the interesting but sad story of the Hamilton family.

  5. Was it worth the hassle? I guess it’s one of those things that are enjoyable in the sense that you’re happy when it’s over 😂.
    I do like to keep as close to the coast as I can, but no, it really wasn’t worth the hassle.

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