46. Brighouse Bay to Gatehouse Of Fleet

Just to the south of Kirkcudbright on the OS map are the words DANGER AREA in red capital letters. This marks the Kirkcudbright firing ranges, where the army carry out live firing and active training exercises. My route goes right through the middle of the range, and this weekend they are active. Now I’m not that keen on being run over by a tank, or even just being shot, so I decide not to walk that section today. The MoD do publish the dates in advance, but not much in advance… the June dates only went online on May 28th, which left little time for forward planning, other than to shuffle my walks around a little. So today I’ve decided to jump ahead three sections and walk from Brighouse Bay to Gatehouse. Why three? Well if you’re going to cheat you might as well do it in style, and it made the logistics easier anyway. I’ll fill in the gap eventually, I promise.

My electric bike, apparently, is fully charged, but today I’d have to ride it ten miles to get to the start of the walk. Yesterday it played a game with me where the charge level started with 5 lights, filling me brimful with confidence, before rapidly dropping down to 3 lights, and filling me with utter dread. Today I just don’t trust it. So, parked up in my car on Gatehouse Hight Street, I phone for a taxi. There are two taxi companies in Gatehouse, two taxis, and two taxi drivers… it’s not a big town. How much extra business does the guy who comes top on Google get I wonder? He gets mine because he has half a star more than the other one.

I’d say it’s deserved. He’s a chatty guy who describes the local area as we make our way through the lanes to Brighouse Bay. Business isn’t great, moderately busy at times at the weekend, then sometimes not a single fare through the week, so he makes up with some gardening jobs. It’s beautiful here of course, but rural areas like this aren’t the best place to make a living. That’s why I left Cornwall at 18 and never went back.

He gets a good tip from me. Those Scottish notes would be no good to me in Manchester anyway, they’d just elicit skeptical frowns from shopkeepers (although it’d probably be easier to spend than the Danske Bank tenner I brought back from Derry last time).

I sling my rucksack over my back, and descend the slope down onto Brighouse Bay beach.

Glorious. That’s the Mull of Ross there across the water, hiding Meikle Ross and Little Ross island behind it.

I turn right, walk along the beach a little, then pick up a well defined path that meanders through the trees just atop the lapping waves. This is coastal walking at its best. Memories of yesterday’s battles with head high bracken, nettles, and hogweed are quickly dispelled. The path heads into a forest.

In the deeper, darker parts of the forest, rocks are covered in a thick blanket of luscious moss.

Occasionally the trees clear and I get views of the water. Meikle Ross is now poking its nose out from behind the Mull of Ross. Little Ross island is still in hiding. This looks like a nice spot for lunch.

The path emerges from the woods. In the distance ahead of me I can see Burrow Head, faded to blue-grey in the haze. It’d be about 10 miles away if I was a crow, but there’s 60 miles of walking before I’m there.

Swinging the camera round to the left, I can just make out the mountains of the Isle of Man. This is with the contrast turned up…

Much nearer, here are some wildflowers I encountered along the way.

The coastline here is a jagged line of inlets, tiny bays, and steep cliffs, making for spectacular views. This bay is too small to have a name of its own, but the OS map marks the whole stretch with the evocative name “Rumblekirn”, which the 1824 Scottish Gallovidian Encylopedia poetically describes as “gullets on wild rocky shores, scooped out by the hand of nature; when the tide flows into them in a storm, they make an awful rumbling noise“. The full description can be found in “Word & Places – Understanding names on Scotland’s Southern Coast“.

My Komoot app shows this path fizzling out shortly at Borness, resurrecting itself half a mile later on, and I had planned some cross-country stuff to fill the gap. Aerial views show a relatively easy crossing, but they always do, and after yesterday’s battles through head-high vegetation I’m feeling a little apprehensive about that section now. The OS map also shows two streams that I have to cross, so I’m hoping I don’t get wet feet.

This signpost re-assures me that nothing could possibly go wrong, as there’s a path all the way…

Hmmm, OK. Well I guess I should be thankful they’re not prickly and don’t sting.

I start wading. Rapeseed looks nice in fields when you’re driving by, but towering over your head blocking your way it starts to lose some of its allure. It’s not particularly difficult to wade through, but after a few hundred yards I start questioning what I’m doing. Was yesterday not enough?

Eventually I emerge from the field of rapeseed onto a rough rocky beach. In between grassy confines are pools of spiral shells.

Deep and wide, they remind me of the shell beaches at Almorness, but they were cockle shells – these are Auger shells apparently, according to this guide. There are several of these pools, the white ‘beach’ at the top right of this picture is one…

Hopping from rock to rock takes a little concentration, but is effortless compared with wading through rapeseed, so I’m in a fairly good mood. This beach isn’t exactly Formby, but I quite like it here. It’s miles from anywhere with no other people around. No-one stupid enough to battle their way here to sit on a beach with no sand… except me.

Here’s the first of the streams, easy. Streams are often easiest to cross when they splay out onto the beach, especially a stony beach. This one adds a patch of yellow flag iris for decoration… lovely.

The ‘official path’ clearly runs along the top of the beach, but I’m quite happy down here on the beach where I can see for more than 18 inches. Even the signpost is struggling to keep its head above the vegetation up there.

I spot movement out of the corner of my eye to my right, and I manage to snap a picture of a rapidly retreating white bum.

Roe deer

I get to the second stream, which again is very easy to cross. It’s the vegetation which is holding me back on these walks, rather than the geographic features.

At the other end of the beach the path heads up a hill and reaches a tall, metal barrier. The barrier runs steeply downhill towards the cliffs, but doesn’t reach the end. A yellow arrow marks the route of the path to go down and around the barrier and back up again. What is the point of this? I guess it’s to stop farm animals, but it’s the coast side of the dry stone wall. It makes me angry, so I decide to climb over it. There’s barbed wire strung around it too, and I manage to pierce my thumb getting over, which of course makes me angrier still. I hate barbed wire. My only consolation is that by climbing over it I refused to comply with whoever put it there!

The next mile or so is wading through long grass at the top of the cliff, a little tiring, but compared with previous obstacles it’s not too bad. The views are nice anyway.

The path descends down to sea level, then becomes a track, then finally arrives at a lane. I’m relieved to be able to walk on tarmac again.

The lane leads down to the hamlet of Kirkandrews. The derivation of name is unclear. Some think it was named after a Northumbrian or Irish saint who established a church here in the first millennium, others that a church was built and dedicated to St Andrew, patron saint of Scotland, before 1174.

A pretty white cottage has striking views over Kirkandrews Bay, including a small inlet to moor their sailing boat.

The village consists of about seven houses, a church, and a separate graveyard. The graveyard has a small enclosure in the centre, which I decide to explore. There’s not much inside though, a yew tree and a memorial stone to a family from the 1850s.

A little further down the lane is a small church, Kirkandrews Kirk, built like a miniature castle in the Arts and Crafts style. It was constructed by James Brown of Knockbrex in 1906, in his spare time when not performing funk and soul numbers. He has his grave here, with an Art Nouveau memorial. All very nice, but all a little odd.

At Roberton Bridge, I take a sharp left turn onto a lane – National Cycle Route 7 apparently although I don’t meet any cyclists – which then immediately crosses the Pulwhirrin Burn, where a herd of cows are chilling out having a picnic by the stream in the sunshine, and who can blame them?

The lane runs parallel with the coast. The wind is very strong today, but much more tranquil than it can be, trees shying away from the salt and the wind.

The lane soon passes a very unusual building. Now called “Coo Palace” – Scots for cow – it was originally called Corseyard Farm and was built in 1914 for the same James Brown who had Kirkandrews Kirk built. Incongruous in the extreme, it consists of a large barn with a bright red roof, a castle tower, and battlements and turrets around the periphery, as all dairies should to protect against demonic vegans. It’s been converted into some sort of investment holiday home scheme now.

Afflecks Palace

This James Brown, who it turns out isn’t the writer of “I Got You (I Feel Good)”, was a draper from Manchester, who made his money from the shop Affleck & Browns in the 1860s. The shop closed in 1973. In 1982 the building was re-opened as Affleck’s Palace, a market for alternative clothes, record stores, and cafes, which I know well, and is still going today. This gives me an excuse to post a picture of Affleck’s palace, just because I want to.

He might have written songs too, who knows.

I’ve had enough of tarmac for a bit, so I’m fortunate that the route now veers left off the lane and onto a grassy path heading down to the shore. I pass three old ladies rapaciously plundering an elder tree, one of them half way up it. I guess they’re gathering the flowers rather than just letting off steam. I pass quickly by before they vent their furies on the nearest Englishman. I certainly don’t risk taking their photograph. They really should pay more respect to their elders.

The path leads to a sandy beach with another strange mini-castle. On the OS map this is called “Point of the Bar“, and marked “Landing stage (disused)“. There’s a dilapidated pier leading down to what looks like a boathouse. There’s a standalone turret as well, just to add to the madness. This all bears the unmistakable hallmark of that Mr. James Brown again. Apparently this was his swimming hut.

I decide to have a rest here, have a snack and lie down on the beach for 15 minutes in the sunshine. Dry sand can be very comfortable when you shape it to your body. I doze a little, not in a hurry to move on.

The blue sky and sunshine almost makes it look tropical. It isn’t. It’s 13°C. This June has been the coldest for years. Last year when I was here it was 29°C.

The path continues through undergrowth, past a semi-circular stone seat to the hamlet of Knockbrex. Just offshore is Barlocco Isle. I wonder why Barlocco Isle is here, but Barlocco Bay, which I passed through yesterday, is twelve miles to the east? Why “Barlocco” anyway, an Italian surname? Who knows.

Knockbrex isn’t even a hamlet, really it’s just the huge house and some associated cottages. My problem is with some of its other residents though…

That’s the path they’re standing on. Cows with calves can be a bit unpredictable, so I decide to walk past at the bottom of the beach, as far as I can get from them. Some of the calves are curious and come closer to me but the mothers don’t seem to care. Other adults just stand staring at me… daring me.

“Come on then if you think you’re hard enough”

The path comes to a style at Carrick Foreshore where a lane stretches out to left and right. I turn left, and shortly pass a path leading up to Knockbrex Viewpoint, which I ignore. Viewpoints are great, but generally require you to go uphill. After a few miles of walking I’m not keen on doing that, and the view is nice enough down here anyway.

Here’s Ardwall Isle basking in the sunshine…

This island is often called Laurie’s Isle by locals. According to the Words & Places document mentioned earlier…

Locally it is also known as Laurie’s or Larry’s Isle and this alternative name held in oral tradition refers to a fisherman and shepherd, Laurence O’Hagan. He originally came from Ireland and lived in a humble cottage on the island 150 years ago. Known as Laurie Higgin, he was believed to be a good boatman but drowned one morning in June 1867 when returning to the island from Gatehouse of Fleet. There are a number of tall tales of Laurie being involved in smuggling or wrecking to supplement his income and establish a tavern on the island.

There is often an element of truth to these stories and although by the time Laurie lived on the island the smuggling trade was in decline there are several secret ‘brandy holes’ where contraband could have been hidden. Archaeologists excavating a monastery site on the island revealed the remains of what appeared to be a tavern established long before Laurie lived there.

At Carrick Bay the track passes a nice beach and a multitude of holiday chalets which seem to go on for miles. I was planning to walk out to the end of Carrick Point, but I just don’t feel like it, so head on along the track.

I reach a lane, which stretches dead straight up to the Sandgreen Caravan Park, where there is a nice wide beach, Airds Bay. A sign claims that this is a private beach, which I suspect is not the case. The land above high tide can be private, but that’s not part of the beach, that’s above the beach. Between the low tidemark and high tidemark is called the foreshore. Although a very few foreshores in the UK are owned privately, the vast majority are not.

Sandgreen beach

Approximately half of the UK foreshore is owned by the Crown and managed by The Crown Estate (as well as virtually the entire UK seabed out to 12 nautical miles). Other owners include the Duchies of Cornwall and Lancaster, local authorities, RSPB, National Trust, MOD, with only a tiny bit in the ownership of private individuals. The Crown Estate gives what it calls a “general permissive consent” for “non-commercial public access along the foreshore” it controls.

When people put up signs saying “Private Beach”, they generally just don’t want anyone else on their beach, but it is highly unlikely that they can legally stop you, unless they are one of the tiny fraction who do own that bit of foreshore. Access to the beach is a different matter of course – they can stop you from crossing their land to get to the beach – but if you arrive by walking along the foreshore, or by boat, then you’re OK. Anyway, rant over.

I walk through the caravan park, and onto a track that leads uphill into Cally Mains Wood. Apparently “Mains” is Scots for a farm, usually the principal farm on an estate, and sure enough I soon pass the farm, with a huge old stables building.

Mandatory red tractor picture

After the farm I veer left off the road towards the river. The track heads under the new A75 and joins the River Fleet at a point where the river runs dead straight. This is no natural feature.

The Water of Fleet between Gatehouse and the sea was always navigable for small craft, but a canal was constructed in 1824 to improve the navigation and reclaim land previously covered at high tide. The canal straightened out river meanders and was 1400 yards long. It accommodated the passage of vessels of up to 160 tons. A new harbour was built at the northern end of the canal by David McAdam, a local shipping agent, which he called “Port McAdam”. Little of it exists today.

I reach the canal, to find what looks like the remains of a bridge across the canal. Looking at a map from 1849 these were flood gates, presumably to stop flooding of the town, or perhaps to keep water in the canal at low tide, I’m not sure.

Downstream towards the sea
Remains of the floodgates
Upstream towards where Port McAdam once stood

Across the other side of the river stands the imposing tower of Cardoness Castle, the 15th century tower house of the MacCulloch family. The story of how they lost it is interesting. From Wikipedia

In 1684, Godfrey MacCulloch shot his neighbour William Gordon in the leg, partly as a result of a long-standing feud (rising from a land dispute) between his family and the Gordon family. Gordon later died of the infection caused by the wound. McCulloch was found guilty and sentenced to death. Although he initially escaped to France, he was captured when he returned to Edinburgh in 1697 and beheaded at the Mercat Cross. McCulloch had been living in Scotland since 1694 under the alias “Mr. Johnstoune”. He was the last man to be executed on the Maiden. Following his death, much of his family emigrated to America, and Cardoness Castle, which had been owned by the family since c. 1470, was abandoned.

Cardoness Castle

The local traditional story of how the land around here came to be owned by the MacCullochs is also a good one…

A certain laird of Cardoness, having exhausted his resources in the building of his castle, joined a band of border thieves, and amassed considerable property by plunder. During twenty years of married life his wife had borne him nine daughters; but this did not satisfy his now increased anxiety to perpetuate his name, and he threatened his lady that, unless at her approaching confinement, she produced a son, he would drown her and all her nine daughters in the Black Loch, and look out for another wife.

The probability of his carrying out this threat was not doubted for a moment, and hence great was the joy of the lady and her neighbours when she actually presented her husband with a boy. It was now mid-winter, and the lake firmly frozen over, whereupon the laird announced his determination of giving a grand fete on this same Black Loch. In accordance with his orders, on a certain Sunday his whole family was there assembled excepting one daughter, who was unable to join the party. The revels were at their height, when suddenly the ice gave way, and the old sinner was plunged himself into the dark waters and perished miserably, with all his family, only excepting the one young lady, who, having thus narrowly escaped the same fate, shortly after, married one of the McCullochs.

I always thought Dancing On Ice was a bad idea, which is why I don’t watch it.

I retreat back the way I came, a few hundred yards, and head into the woods of Cally Park. The track emerges from the woods at the grand Cally Hotel, once the Cally Palace, built in 1763.

During the years of World War 2, Cally House was used as a residential secondary school for children who were evacuated from various schools in Glasgow. The BBC have a page with a personal account of someone who was evacuated there. There’s also a film about it here, complete with comical 1940s Scottish and posh English narrators.

The building certainly isn’t beautiful, having a sort of brutalist nature about it, but the grounds are still quite impressive. The land at the front of the hotel is now a golf course, and I happily trespass through it heading roughly in the direction of the town centre. It’s not such an easy navigation, as there are loads of paths that intertwine and end up going the wrong way, but I eventually pop out at the bottom of Gatehouse High Street.

Gatehouse High Street

My car is parked up at the top end of the street by the clock tower, so it’s an easy stroll back, and a short 5 mile drive to the Star Hotel in Twynholm.

This walk was completed on 8th June 2024, and was 13.8 miles long. Here’s the real-time recorded map of my actual route, which you can pan and zoom around:

11 thoughts on “46. Brighouse Bay to Gatehouse Of Fleet

    1. Yes, that church does look like the classic Playmobil castle! The Affleck & Brown shop in Manchester looks dull in comparison, perhaps Mr Affleck reined him in a bit!

    1. Thanks Mel. Yeah, we’re still waiting for summer here in the UK. It’s been pretty much raining here since the end of June last year (2023). We’ve barely had a few days together with no rain, and the temperature has barely exceeded 20. I don’t know why anyone still lives here! I plan on retiring somewhere warm and dry in a few years!

  1. Brilliant. Many a “bloggers gift” along the way. Your Scottish “coo” brought back a memory. When I was very young we visited grandma. In her bathroom was a small pottery glazed jug with the inscription “Stracht frae the coo.” That remained as an unexplainable ear-worm for many a year when one day when I was about thirty and Ear-Worm did one of its periodic resurfacings the light dawned and I was liberated – “Straight from the cow.”

    1. Thanks Conrad. It’s funny how those childhood things stick in your head for your entire life isn’t it!

  2. I remember also being frustrated about that firing range as I was also there at the end of May and wanted the times for the first weekend in June but they wern’t available. Sounds like we must have been in the area at the same time.

    I did this walk in the other direction from Gatehouse to Kirkcudbright. I thought Gatehouse was lucky to have that woodland and park so close to the centre even though as you say there were many paths and finding the right one was hard!

    I walked down to White Bay then managed to follow the foreshore to Knockbrex Bay but it turns out as I found much of what is marked as sand on the map is actually a mixture of sand and mud so not as easy as I hoped.

    If I can tempt you, the Isle of Man has a lovely coast path. I well remember that 3 way “Path” signpost you found right in the undergrowth. Coming the other way was, at some point on a path but having battled through I was sure I had lost it until I saw that sign. But I never could get to it buried in the undergrowth and also had to cross the stream on the beach.

    I usually find when walking on a road I end up longing to not be on the road, perhaps closer to the shore or on a surface easier on the feet. Then when battling along overgrown paths or non-existent paths I wish for a smooth tarmac road to walk on!

    1. Hi Jon, my plan for the firing range follows Ruth’s route quite closely, which sticks fairly close to the coast, but needs the firing range to be open. I plan to head down to Abbey Burn Foot from Dundrennan, then over to near White Port . I fancied visiting Port Mary but not sure I will, not that there’s anything there, just that it’s where Mary QoS left from. I’ll see when I get there!

      Road walking is fast, easy, but gets dreadfully boring very quickly, doesn’t it. Short grass is best, closely followed by damp sand, but that makes up so little of coastal walking. Head high vegetation is by far the hardest, most boring, and should be avoided at all costs!

  3. Ah, the ‘we put up a sign and if you neglected to pack a machete that’s your own failure’ school of footpath management. I know it well. Or at least much better than I wish to.

    With respect to firing ranges, you should be aware that even the short-notice schedule they publish is subject to even shorter-notice cancellation as dictated by the needs of the service. So don’t be too surprised if you rock up on an absolutely, definitely, scheduled non-firing day to discover red flags flying and loud bangs.

    Looks like you had good weather for it! Also, I love the mossy stone! There’s something about moss that’s really tactile; I can never resist reaching out to touch it.

    1. When you see the footpath marked on a map, it gives you some sense of hope that it may actually be present, doesn’t it. Perhaps not in Scotland. I reckon there’s some guy somewhere up there drawing lines on maps giggling to himself… “he he he, that’ll piss off some wee English tourist bastard!”

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