Southern Upland Way: Day One

28th April 2013 – Portpatrick to Stranraer: 9.5 miles, 1,320 feet

“Of all the exercises, walking is the best” Thomas Jefferson – American President (1743 – 1826)

The Harbour House Hotel is excellent. It was quiet and well maintained, having had an obvious recent refurbishment in the area I was accommodated in at least. The room was lovely, with a sea view and although the head room was a little restricted and I had to duck to get into the room, the shower and the bay window, it was still great.

Breakfast is from 08:00 which suited me just fine, as I only had 10 miles to do today and I didn’t want to leave until about 10:00, otherwise I’d be knocking on the B&B at midday, or more likely trying to kill time in some nasty back street boozer.

Besides, I figured a late start may avoid the weather I’d been listening to since 04:10. I’d been woken by the wind battering against the west facing windows of my room. The howling and the rattling of the frame suggested it was pretty awful and it continued steadily as I tried to sleep. It was still going strong when I finally roused myself at 07:40. By the time I’d showered and gone down to breakfast at 08:30 the wind had dropped thankfully. It had been replaced by a steady light rain though. Ho Hum!

Breakfast was ace!

Excellent breakfast at Harbour House Hotel

Excellent breakfast at Harbour House Hotel

I shared the dining room with a pair of elderly ladies, obviously well travelled, as they discussed India and South Africa but concentrated most of their attention on the terrible service they were getting here. Their complaints seemed a little harsh in my view. One of them complained to the waitress that she’d asked for a fried egg, and been given two! She’d asked for a small portion of mushrooms and did this look like a small portion to her? The other moaned that the tea had been brought too early and was now stewed. “Can I have some hot water for it please”…”do we have to listen to this music at breakfast? Can you switch it off please dear” …… and so it went on. They reminded me of my brother!

I felt like asking the poor girl to switch the music back on, just to be awkward, as they’d not even asked me if I was listening to it. I wasn’t and was also glad of the quiet, but even so….

I said my thanks to the girl and ignored the ladies as I made my way upstairs. I mooched around the room for another hour before finally heading out at 10:00. It was warm enough, the wind had dropped and the rain had stopped. There was even some blue sky in the north, exactly the direction I was heading in.

I found the start of the path and wound my way up the cliffs, using stone steps which seem to have a geological history time line engraved into them, which was novel. I climbed through several million years of layers in about 5 minutes.

The cliff top path was great. Very similar to the start of Wainwright’s Coast to Coast path from St. Bees, but actually better in my view. The path sticks close to the cliff edge and drops into a couple of small bays, into the first of which I explored to look for a couple of small pebbles to take to the east coast. I couldn’t help but consider the dichotomy of this situation. I’d sawn the handle off my toothbrush down to a barely usable nub, I’d saved weight everywhere and now I was picking up a couple of hundred grammes of rock to carry with me! But it’s traditional, so I had very little choice. I found two small ones, with nice features and stuck them in my pack. I dipped my boots in the sea and hauled myself out of the cove using the chain beside the steep steps that are provided.

Boots dipped on the west coast of Scotland

Boots dipped on the west coast of Scotland

A Coast to Coast tradition that translates to Scotland

A Coast to Coast tradition that translates to Scotland

After a short time I could see the lighthouse at Killantringan, still a fair way ahead, across a short section of cliff top moorland. This was my favourite part of the day, the blue sky was above, there was only a slight sea breeze and I felt fantastic! It was good to be walking again, with a long distance path ahead of me.

Lighthouse at Killantringan

Lighthouse at Killantringan

The lighthouse marks the end of the lovely cliff top section though and I soon found myself on tarmac, heading inland, steadily uphill. The heavens opened shortly after and I donned my Paramo jacket, after a quick experiment with the umbrella I’m carrying, but it was too windy. Although the umbrella can cope with the wind, the rain was coming horizontally from my left and I was going to be soaked very quickly. I was glad I’d decided on the waterproof overtrousers from the outset, being worn over no trousers. A trick I picked up from Rambling Pete and one I’d used on my last couple of walks to great effect.

I passed a couple of homes beside the road, exchanging hellos with a man at one of them, before heading up Killantringan hill to bag the trig point at the top. It stopped raining at that point and didn’t start again until I was in the pub in Stranraer.

Trig Point at Killantringan

Trig Point at Killantringan

I passed my first wind farm today. I’ve never been so close to one of these things before and I’ve had a bit of a rethink about them. I’m still dead against them in certain locations, but at an individual level they are a thing of beauty. Both an engineering masterpiece and an actual beautiful object. They are incredibly tall, much bigger than you’d probably think and their blades are curved in the vertical plane, looking sleek and stylish. If you placed one next to the Angel of the North for example, I’d rather look at the wind turbine every day. The blades make a slow revolution, irrespective of the wind conditions, and this is also a majestic sight.

As a mass they are awful though. They dominate the landscape, they hum and their sound travels for a good distance across the open moors. The infrastructure that supports them creates a scar on the environment that will not soon disappear. This doesn’t even take into account the minimal amount of contribution they make to the National Grid supply. It seems illogical that so much resource and investment can be made into something that contributes so little to the nation’s electric supply.

I would love to know what the carbon investment is to build, install and maintain a single wind turbine, and how many hours it must turn to repay that initial investment. I imagine it’s many, many years. I just don’t see the benefits of placing these things in the wild and remote sections of the Scottish countryside. Perhaps they have a place offshore, where they have less environmental impact, but please keep them off the hills!

As well as the major wind farm on Broad Moor, every farm and many of the houses on the walk today seem to have their own small wind generator. I would imagine these are well subsidised by the government. Even when the wind was barely blowing this afternoon, the turbines I saw were whipping away, no doubt providing some benefit to their owners. In an area where the wind is so prevalent, I would imagine they are a sound investment on an individual level.

Anyway, enough of environmental politics, back to the walk.

Broad Moor is the location for the first Kist of the walk. A Kist being a hidden container with a small cache of Waymerks, which are coins, specially minted for the Southern Upland Way. This is a great idea I think and I’m hoping to find as many of these special caches as I can along the route. There are 13 all together, but I think one of two of my diversions miss out a couple of Kists.

Kist on Broad Moor

Kist on Broad Moor

Finding location information for these Kists, on the web, before I started the walk, was very difficult. No one seems to want to reveal their exact position, which I suppose is a good thing, but is still frustrating for a control freak like me. I’m half tempted to make a special page with detailed information on how to find the Kists I do actually locate. The first one was a doddle, almost immediately after the Southern Upland Way marker post with the special ‘Ultreia’ plaque on it that tells you to keep your eyes open for the Kist. I pulled out a lovely silver coin, the first of many I hope. There were still plenty in the Kist, so the stock has either been replenished recently, or they are not being picked up very often. The fact that I saw no one other than the homeowner at Killantringan hill suggests that this is a quiet path, something that all the walking journals I’ve found on the Web also agree with.

As I wandered into Stranraer at 13:50 I realised it was way too early to turn up to my B&B, so I sent a quick Tweet out, suggesting I was looking for the nearest pub. Within just a couple of minutes I’d got a response, from Paul Byrne (@prb43) recommending The Grapes on Bridge Street as the only pub in Stranraer that was listed in the CAMRA pub guide. I searched for it on Google maps and found it was only a couple of hundred yards away. I made a beeline for it.

Entering Stranraer

Entering Stranraer

What a wonderful little place it is too! It’s run by a guy named Jimmy, as you would expect in Scotland, and after I’d been served and sat down, he came over to say thanks for coming in and visiting. The bar is tiny, and it was pretty busy this afternoon, with lots of locals all having a jar and a jaw. I’d mentioned the distance I’d walked when the barman asked me where I’d walked from and I think this is what had prompted the owner to come over and say hello. It was difficult to ignore me as I’d entered, I’m a big chap and the bar was small and people had to make space for me at the bar, which they did with good humour and generosity. “There’s room here for ya, big yin”. I was gasping and ordered a Shropshire Gold from one of the two hand pumps on the bar. It was while the pint was settling and the barman was waiting to top it off that he asked me if I’d walked far (I was sweating a bit in the warmth of the bar). I explained I’d come from Portpatrick, about 10 miles and had had this pub recommended to me, so I’d sought it out and here I was.

Jimmy had then come over while I was relaxing at an empty table, to say his thanks. That’s the first time ever, I’ve been thanked for coming into a pub. If you’re ever in Stranraer, look up The Grapes on Bridge Street, it’s a super little pub. I stayed for a second, going for the other cask ale they had, a pint of ‘Cotleigh 25′ which was even nicer than the Shropshire Gold. I had some shopping to do though, so called it quits after that, said my farewells to the owner and the barman and headed out to find a shop. I was rocking a little as I made my way down the street, I don’t drink often enough to walk straight after two pints! How bad is that?

As a final service, Jimmy had pointed me towards the local Morrisons, where I bought water, lunch items and some bits for a picnic tea in my room. I didn’t really fancy wandering round town looking for somewhere to eat this evening, so I figured a night in would benefit from some snacks.

I arrived at my B&B at about 15:30 and received another warm welcome. Marilyn showed me to a lovely big room with loads of space, huge windows and a soft comfy bed. After a shower I’m feeling much cleaner and I dare not lie in the bed in case I fall asleep! A Sunday afternoon nap after the pub is something I haven’t done for many, many years!

Day Two >>

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