Saturday, 3 March 2012

Scoops Reports 2012 - 3 March 2012 Wigtown – Bladnoch circular

3 March 2012 Wigtown – Bladnoch circular  Report by Cath Birkett

(All captions welcome)

The promise of wet and misty weather did not put 16 ramblers (Cath, Frances, Richard, Andrea, Jim, Ken, Sue, Margaret, Audrey, Linda, Peter, John, Mary (from Cairnryan), Charlotte, Pam (WW’s niece) and a potential new member, Alex, who came with Pete) off their Saturday walk, and their constancy was rewarded with a fairly warm and sunny day.  We were joined for a short while by Mary Sloan who stayed with us until we reached the Old Station House. The weather was much better than that forecast and I soon regretted donning my waterproof trousers except that they did, at least, save my trousers from getting more mud added to that caked on them last Tuesday.  My jacket was removed for a while until we stopped for lunch when it was a bit exposed to the wind which stayed with us until we got back to the cars.
A circular walk around Wigtown began at the County buildings and proceeded down Bank Street, out through the portals of the old east gate, to the churchyard where many viewed the pre reformation church which was used until the mid-1800s. The inscriptions on the graves of the martyrs, Margaret Lachlane and Margaret Wilson, caused great interest.  They endured a watery death at the stake in 1685, for adhering to their Covenanting faith and refusing to swear allegiance to the king.
Interest on the opposite side of the road was found in a stone carved with a cross in the garden of ‘Croft-an-Righ’. This is thought to be the site of a Dominican monastery, founded in 1247 by the mother of John Baliol, Devorgilla. The only lingering memory of this now is in the names of the surrounding area - Friarland, Monk Hill, and Friar’s well.
Passing to the end of the lane, the walkers took the path by the former harbour, where a stone memorial was erected in 1936 to mark the spot where the martyrs died. This area is no longer subject to regular tides; the river has altered its course and the harbour is now situated further south. The route for the walk went along by the old railway line and past the site of Wigtown castle where eyes were strained to see the remains, in the lumps and bumps of the marsh grass.
Leaving the old railway track by the former station house, it was interesting to see a thermometer above the door; the warm day surely was not one degree above freezing!
A newly flooded piece of wetland provided good bird watching with swans, coots, moorhens and mallards in evidence and a great flock of geese which took to the air as the walkers passed. The path skirted the reeds and arrived at the river Bladnoch , where the high level walk along the bank allowed a good view of the flotsam left by recent tides, a pair of dummy legs seeming to have got stuck in the act of climbing over a fence.
The old Bladnoch railway bridge caused an obstacle in the river walk, but all negotiated it with alacrity, and the distillery was approached with many wishful thoughts of a dram. Although the building was closed, a fortuitous meeting with the owner, well known for his Irish hospitality, provided a warming taste of twenty year old amber liquid. We were especially pleased to see Cath’s two contributions to the ‘Aspects of Wigtownshire’ tapestry displayed in the visitor centre – the tapestry is absolutely wonderful.
The company now jollied along a narrow path between the river and the leat which provides water for the distillery. This leat allows sweet water, from above the tidal limit and therefore uncontaminated by the briny sea, to be brought about a mile and a half to the works. It was dug in 1830 by the same navvies who were also paving the streets of Wigtown.
Half way down the leat the ramblers crossed a narrow walkway and Cotland woods were entered. The promises of bluebells were much in evidence, but willow catkins were the only flowers seen here today. Not far from gate where the woods were left, some fallen trees provided a good seat for lunch, with a view back to the distillery and the surrounding countryside, pretty and green in the weak sunshine.     We would have been far too early getting there if we had not had the detour and distraction at the distillery!  

Onwards and upwards the refreshed company strode, with ever expanding views over the water to the hills beyond.  A few days earlier this had been the route for the Junior Cross Country Championships for Dumfries and Galloway, and the way was still just as muddy as the runners had experienced, sometimes with mire oozing right over boots.
Not long afterwards, we came to a gate through which Cath was headed.  I told her that we had gone uphill here and she turned back, taking us the way I had said, then retracing her steps to go where she had been headed as I was wrong! Sorry Cath. 
Sheep and lambs were a distraction as fields were crossed, past Cotland Loch and over the brow of House Hill until at last the Kirkcowan road was reached, crossed, and a newly cleared lane taken, still deep with mud, skirting Kirvennie Hill and linking with Broadfield farm track over more muddy fields. By Hollybush house, Common Moss Lane was entered, a grassy track which soon brushed some of the mud from the boots.
After we had gone over the prow of the hill and headed for an ‘obvious’ gateway I suggested that we had headed to the right, sure that this time I had got it right, but I was wrong again!  There was no other gateway and we ended up at a dyke and a barbed wire fence!  We headed upwards again and went in a totally different direction from the one I had insisted was where we were to go.  I did not recognise the scenery around us, probably because we had not gone that way as this was a longer route!!  Cath was brilliant, as usual, in guiding us to the gateway which brought us out onto the Kirkcowan road along which we walked for a short way before turning off into the field and then the old lane, passing by the remains of an unfortunate sheep who had met his demise some time ago by the look of it!  Richard’s comment was ‘That’s what happens when Rambler’s can’t keep up’ – brilliant! 
The streets of Wigtown were found again via Lovers Walk and Kirkland road.  Wigtown Motor Company was the final place of interest to be passed, with its huge pile of spare car parts. This firm was originally begun as Wigtown Engineering Company, by Ronald McCutcheon, known locally as the ‘King of Speed’.  From 1946 onwards he won races on his motor cycle, including the Isle of Man TT races, he developed the ‘Buckler Special’ racing car, and also competed in power boat racing, winning the Daily Express Cup.
It was a relief to get back to the cars and removing our disgustingly muddy gaiters and boots.  Did you get your shirt muddy too Jim?!
Once back at the county buildings and boots changed, a warm welcome was given to the ramblers at Bay house where the company repaired for tea.  I had phoned ahead to the Bayview Bistro to let them know that 16 of us would be there about 2 – 2.30pm and hoped that they would have enough scones for those of us who wanted them.  The service was good (the waitresses brought a plate of sandwiches for us which, they said, would only have been thrown away otherwise – they were soon demolished by some), the natter and laughter flowed and we all seemed to enjoy yet another perfect end to a good walk!  Better than that, Andrea offered to make scones for us for after the walk in a fortnight’s time when it is unlikely that we would finish it in time for anywhere to be open for us as it will possibly be a long one (dependent on the weather).

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