Loch Trool

Loch Trool from Bruce’s Stone

On our second day in Newton Stewart last December we drove to Loch Trool, about 8 miles away, to take the 5 mile walk around its shores. We parked near Bruce’s Stone and started by climbing the small mound to view this huge boulder. It commemorates the battle of Glen Trool which took place on the other side of the loch in 1307. Leading a mere 300 Scots, King Robert Bruce enticed an English force of 1500 into an ambush. The Scots rolled boulders down the steep slopes knocking men and soldiers into the water with archers picking off the survivors as they fled. Today it looks much more peaceful.

Retracing our steps to the road, we looked for the path down to the loch, and followed it across several burns to Glenhead Farm.

The words at the farm are by Galloway novelist SR Crockett (1859-1914) and read “Glenhead I saw for the first time in the broad glare of a mid-noon sun. All the valley swam in a hazy blue mist…” A little different from the day we were there!

As the name suggests, at Glenhead we had reached the top of the loch and were now walking in the opposite direction (westwards) along the other side. The path, now part of the Southern Upland Way, meandered up and down from the lochside to the forest above it. Sometimes there was even a chance to rest for a few minutes.

Before turning eastwards again we took a short detour to visit the Martyrs’ Tomb in Caldons Wood. The walled enclosure commemorates the death of six Covenanters put to death in 1685.

Walking back to the car along the last section of the walk we were treated to some beautiful reflections.

Then it was time to go back to our hotel, and the following morning we packed up and left for home. We weren’t expecting this to be the last break we would have for some time, but so it turned out.

A gale in Galloway!

Mull of Galloway Lighthouse

On the first day of our short break in Newton Stewart last December we planned a walk round the Mull of Galloway, Scotland’s most southerly point. Our guidebook describes it as a “dramatic windswept headland” which it certainly is. When we got out of the car at the lighthouse at its tip we could barely stand up. We turned right at the sign above to take a circular route to the lighthouse and made it as far as the first corner which we literally could not turn. We were blown right back.

We managed to get to the lighthouse (built by Robert Stevenson in 1828 and now automated) by a more direct route. I’m not sure that the gallery above gives any impression of how wild it actually was. We were certainly amused by the sign on the small visitor centre inviting us to come in out of the “breeze”.

Back at the car, we abandoned the rest of the walk and decided to head for Portpatrick instead. Plenty of wild sea on show here!

We had lunch and enjoyed a wander round the pretty village. The green house with the quirky outdoor decorations, Smuggler’s Cove, had a donation pot for the upkeep of the harbour which is run by a charitable Community Benefit Society.

Daylight was fading as we left, but we made one last call before going back to our hotel, Stranraer. The only other time we have been there was about 30 years ago for what we still remember as the best wedding ever. Although that day’s happy couple has long since divorced, the North West Castle Hotel where the reception was held is still there. At the time, Stranraer was a busy ferry port connecting Scotland with Northern Ireland, but in 2011 this business moved a few miles away to Cairnryan. There’s a lot of desolate space along the waterfront now, though some parts of the port are still in use.

The town was decked out in its Christmas decorations. The local crafters had been busy.

The Castle of St. John is a medieval tower house, built around 1500, and the Old Town Hall, built in 1776, now houses the Stranraer Museum.

We weren’t sure at the time what the rusty structure below was, but subsequent research tells me it is Blind Johnnie’s Monument.  John Alexander played street music on the recorder or his squeeze box, both of which are now in the Museum. He died at the age of 70 in 1905, and when in 2012 Stranraer residents were given their say on which character from the town’s history should be selected for a new piece of artwork they chose him. Opinion is apparently divided but I like it now that I can see what it is.

By this time it was fully dark and time to head back to Newton Stewart to prepare for dinner. We were cold and ready for some good food and drink!

Newton Stewart

Creebridge House Hotel

Between Christmas and New Year 2019 we spent three nights in the Creebridge House Hotel in Newton Stewart, Dumfries and Galloway. Apart from this one photograph of the hotel (which was excellent, by the way) we don’t seem to have taken any pictures of Newton Stewart during the day, but the it looked very pretty by night as you can see below.

On the way there and back we stopped both times for lunch in the excellent Balkenna Tearoom just outside Girvan on the Ayrshire coast. I loved their quirky collection of teapots, of which this is a small selection.

On the way home we also stopped in Girvan because the views over to Ailsa Craig and Arran were just stunning.

In the next couple of posts, I’ll tell you what we got up to during our short stay.

April Squares: Crawick Mulitiverse

Crawick Multiverse is a former open-cast mine owned by the Duke of Buccleuch who commissioned a landscape artist, the late Charles Jencks, to transform it into the artland it has been since 2015. There are plenty of features siting on top of other features, as you can see, but it’s not so much top of the world as out of this world! The site’s themes are space, astronomy, and cosmology, with features and landforms representing the sun, universes, galaxies, black holes and comets.

Read more: Crawick Multiverse.

Linked to Becky’s #SquareTops challenge.

Crawick Multiverse

On Easter Monday we set off for home after a lovely weekend in Galloway. We planned to stop at Crawick Multiverse, but were first distracted by the Red Deer Range in Galloway Forest Park. I admit I wasn’t too keen, as I thought the deer would just be a few specks in the distance, but they came right up to the hide.

Onwards to Crawick. What is it, I hear you ask? A former open-cast coal mine, it lay abandoned for 30 years until the landowner, the Duke of Bucclech, commissioned landscape artist Charles Jencks to transform it into the artland it has been since 2015. The site’s themes are space, astronomy and cosmology, with features and landforms representing the sun, universes, galaxies, black holes and comets. Having seen Jencks’ work at the Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh and at Jupiter Artland I was very keen to visit Crawick. It didn’t disappoint.

I’m not sure I can explain much more – you really have to see it. All the features have names, but I haven’t included captions because a) I can’t remember which is which in some cases and b) it would be very time-consuming to label them all. The two mounds with spiral paths which appear a lot represent the Milky Way and Andromeda, but other than that I’ll let the slide-show do the talking.

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There is absolutely nothing else at Crawick Multiverse – maybe this will change in the future, but for the moment the ticket office is a Portakabin and there’s also a portable toilet. If you want to eat, the nearest town is Sanquhar – although you might find, as seems common in this area, that kitchens keep very restricted hours. However, we had a good lunch in the Oasis Restaurant, part of the Nithsdale Hotel.

So ends our short stay in Galloway, a beautiful part of the country to which I can’t wait to return.

Two Galloway gardens

Glenwhan Gardens

We arrived at Glenwhan Gardens just in time for morning coffee in the friendly tea room. This was Easter Sunday so I had expected it to be busy, but the weather was dull and damp and we seemed to be the first people there. Not so – apparently a woman had arrived earlier with a small girl in tow and enquired about their Easter Egg Hunt. When told she would have to pay the garden fee to participate, she stormed off saying it would be cheaper to go to Tesco to buy an egg. I would say 0/10 for parenting skills there! We spotted bags of mini-eggs hanging throughout the garden but, although it got a bit busier, we didn’t see many children. What a shame.

Anyway, after coffee we admired the peacock in the car park before heading through the entrance with its lovely stained glass panel.

Started in 1979, the 12 acre site was created from a hillside of bracken and gorse, with two lakes created by damming up bogs. The paths wander upwards to various viewpoints – it’s just beautiful.

There are many sculptures dotted around.

My favourite is the Peace Pinnacle, seen here from both sides.

The garden is surrounded by 17 more acres of wild land – it was even wetter under foot than the rest of the garden, but we enjoyed the moorland walk all the same.

As luck would have it, we passed the tea room again just in time for lunch (delicious) before returning to the car and setting off for our second garden of the day. However, we decided on another stop in between.

Glenluce Abbey

Glenluce Abbey was founded in 1191/2 by Roland, Lord of Galloway. The ruins are now in the care of Historic Scotland.

Finally, it was on to Castle Kennedy Gardens.

Castle Kennedy

The castle ruins date to the 16th century, but the gardens are more recent being the inspiration of the second Earl of Stair in the early 19th century. I was struck by the terraces and landforms, very reminiscent of contemporary work by Charles Jencks (and we’d be visiting one of his creations the next day). However, they have been there since the beginning, created by men with carts and horse-drawn equipment. Amazing work!

Lastly, at the top end of the gardens we found Lochinch Castle, which was rather more comfortable looking than Castle Kennedy!

We got wet several times throughout the day and it was cold (spot that I’m wearing gloves, even though it was April) so it was good to head back to our cosy cottage to dry out and warm up. We were leaving the next morning and planned to go home via Crawick Multiverse. Coming next!

Isle of Whithorn and Wigtown

Harbour at Isle of Whithorn

A tale of three walks

Easter Saturday (and also John’s birthday) was the first full day of our stay in Galloway.

Isle of Whithorn

Our first stop was Isle of Whithorn for morning coffee in the recently built Village Hall. From there, we set off for a walk round the “Isle” which is actually a peninsula – although Isle Head has a very narrow connection.

From the bay opposite the Hall we continued down Main Street to the harbour.

Looking back from the harbour, we could see on one side the castellated-effect sea wall of  the Captain’s Garden, a 19th century private house, and the Kirk, and on the other side Harbour Row with the Steam Packet Inn, named for the days when the Isle of Whithorn was a key destination for Galloway’s steamship trade.

Onto Isle Head where we found the Solway Harvester Seat, a tribute to the seven-strong local crew of the fishing boat Solway Harvester which sank in a storm off the Isle of Man in January 2000, and a witness cairn dedicated to St Ninian, an early Christian missionary. It’s situated in what was once the Isle’s lifeboat station.

Close by are the ruins of the 13th century St Ninian’s Chapel. And here’s a lovely picture of the birthday boy standing next to it!

Climbing to the top of Isle Head, there were good views back to the chapel and the village.

At the top is the Isle’s most prominent landmark, a square, white tower known as the Cairn which has been a navigational aid for hundreds of years. Next to it is another memorial to the men of the Solway Harvester.

From here, we retraced our steps back to the car and headed a few miles round the coast to St Ninian’s Cave.

St Ninian’s Cave

St Ninian’s Cave is somewhere John remembers visiting as a child, so he was keen to go back. From the car park it’s about a mile down the wooded Physgill Glen to a stony beach.

Turning right, the approach to the cave is obvious (though hard on the ankles).

It’s surrounded by crosses and other tributes in every nook and cranny.

The views back along the beach are beautiful.

Once again, we retraced our steps to the car. This time we were in search of lunch, but were about to learn that this is almost impossible in Galloway after 2pm. We stopped in a few places on our way to Wigtown where, fortunately, we found a suitable café – can’t have John starving on his birthday!

Wigtown

County Buildings

Wigtown used to be Galloway’s chief town, but declined over the 20th century until 1997 when it was designated Scotland’s national book town. The Wigtown Book Festival was inaugurated in 1998, and these two things have kick-started a regeneration as an attractive town for visitors. However, I resisted the siren call of bookshops and we set off on the town trail, starting at the magnificent County Buildings which seems to have pretensions as a French Château.

A short distance away was the church to which we returned via a long loop, enjoying the views from Lovers’ Walk and Windyhill.

A boardwalk then took us to the Martyrs’ Stake. In 1685, five people were executed in Wigtown for refusing to accept Episcopalian services and, in particular, that the King had the right to call himself head of the church. Three men were hanged, but Margaret Wilson (aged only 18) and Margaret McLachlan were sentenced to be tied to a stake within the flood mark of the Blednoch stream until they drowned. Today, a granite memorial marks the spot.

The path continued through wetlands to the harbour (rather muddy looking) and a bird hide before returning to town via Station road – with an appropriate weather vane.

After that it was back to our comfortable Wren’s Nest for the night. The next day did not dawn so bright, but we braved the rain to visit two Galloway gardens.

Wren’s Nest

View from Wren’s Nest

The Easter weekend coincided with John’s birthday this year, so as a gift I booked a short break in Dumfries and Galloway. Our accommodation, Wren’s Nest, was bijou (read tiny), a former farm building converted into a one-room cottage, but it was perfect for our needs. (There’s also a larger cottage, sleeping four, on site.) The owner, Janet, lived next door in the farmhouse and was an absolutely lovely person, so helpful. Not only that, she provided champagne for our first night! Apparently, we were the first people ever to stay in Wren’s Nest so this was a lovely way of marking that. (Both cottages can be booked via holidaycottages.co.uk).

The nearest town of any size was Newton Stewart and we stopped here for a look around on our way down to the cottage. Despite the dreich* weather we took a circular walk between two bridges over the River Cree.

Fortunately, the next day dawned brighter and we set off to celebrate John’s birthday on the Isle of Whithorn.

* Dreich (Urban Dictionary definition) – A combination of dull, overcast, drizzly, cold, misty and miserable weather. At least 4 of the above adjectives must apply before the weather is truly dreich.

On being 90

Last month, we celebrated my Mum’s 90th birthday. Here, she describes the weekend on her own blog.

It was always sunny

Chris Mitchell 90thOn the 21st October 2016 I became a nonagenarian. When I was a wee girl I was very proud to have been born on Trafalgar Day, which in these far-off times was celebrated widely. I was also exactly six months younger than Princess Elizabeth of York, which pleased me when I was old enough to know. When I began to feel I might make it to ninety I had a trawl through the internet to see who, apart from Nessie and Nancy, Paisley Methodist friends, might be sharing the occasion. There were quite a lot, most of whom I’d never heard of, but two appealed to me.

John and I were tremendous fans of the first and had a great admiration for him. He is now regarded as a National Treasure, not surprisingly. He opened our eyes to the wonderful wildlife in many places in the world which few of…

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