We survived the night on our cliff top campsite just outside the village of Portpatrick – the wind still buffering us and there was rain in the air. It was a bit damp going to the ablution block. Hubby hadn’t been happy here since we arrived – being high on an exposed coast in unpleasant weather conditions wasn’t his cup of tea. We made an executive decision to move on to find somewhere else and decided to leave straightaway. We headed off without breakfast, after quickly and efficiently packing up.
Hubby had found Great Luce beach on the other side of the peninsula, thinking it would be a great place for a walk and stretch The Dog’s legs. So we drove through tiny lanes, surrounded by sheep pastures and stubby wind-bent trees. It was misty and murky with the drizzle, it seemed someone had plonked a Tupperware box over the area, it was that grey. It was quite windy too, the birds struggling against the wind. When they tried to land on the telephone wires, they would overshoot and let the wind push them back so they landed elegantly, clinging tightly onto the wire once they touched base – when they took off, they just got whipped off in the other direction. We ended up in the village of Sandhead and parked up on a vast stretch of grass bordering the beach. And what a splendid beach it is, possibly one of the best beaches in Britain. We donned wet weather gear including The Dog and stepped onto this vast arc of sand, stretching some 6 miles around Luce Bay. It was stunning even in the mizzle. We spotted, way out on the horizon, three stumpy lumps and decided to head towards them across the sands. The Dog was extremely happy, a big smile on her face and looking at us as if we were the best humans in the world. The drizzle and wind was on our backs, and we laughed at The Dog galloping around. We walked and walked, those three stumps refusing to come any nearer, remaining little dots out to sea. But we were determined to reach them regardless. The beach used to be a bombing practice area years ago and the old airfield nearby is disused but still under MoD ownership. We could see the control tower and other associated buildings sitting on the edge of the beach. So we bent our heads down and strolled across channels and sandbanks. The Dog started to give us quizzical looks “where the hell are you two going?”
We finally got within spitting distance of them before a deep channel stopped us in our tracks. The three structures were actually in the sea as well. From where we stood, they looked like three concrete conical towers stood in a line. They must of been the targets. It was a slight anticlimax after all that trudging. We stood for a minute or two and then turned around, directly into the wind and rain and beat a hasty retreat. Of course, the weather really closed in, the distant village of Sandhead disappeared and there was no way to escape it. It was a bit of a trudge, our heads down with the village not getting any closer, but finally we hit the grassy car park and The Van. We had walked 6.5km. We quickly stripped off, dried ourselves and decided to hunt down a full English/Scottish breakfast. Nearby Newton Stewart seemed an obvious town to find it. So we travelled along the country lanes, past sheep fields and pastures, little woods and hedges – things weren’t so stumpy and wind blown here, but it was reasonably flat. We decided that the white exterior paint market was the industry to be in around here – with all these white cottages, you would never be out of business! We picked up the A75, the main trunk road from the M74 motorway to Stranraer. We know this area a little bit as our daughter lived here for nearly a year in a nearby village and as we googled Newton Stewart cafes, she happened to text us over something different and we picked her brains.
Newton Stewart is a pretty bustling little town just off the A75, but it was busy as we drove through trying to spot eateries. We found the Riverside restaurant our daughter had recommended, next door to the Sainsburys supermarket, so parking was a lot easier. We gave them a quick call to check about dogs. Dogs were welcomed except between the hours of 12 noon and 2pm when they got busy over lunch. I glanced at the Van clock – 12:09. Ho hum, major rethink. Parking on the High Street looked a nightmare so we decided to continue to Gatehouse of Fleet which we knew had a cafe.
The cloud was so low by now, you couldn’t see the hills and mountains of this area. Even the pylons looked like they had been chopped in half, totally headless. It wasn’t pleasant at all. It’s very pretty around here with the coast, the villages, the mountains, estuaries and marshlands and the commercial tree plantations, managed by the Forestry Commission Scotland, but you just couldn’t see to admire it. We jumped back onto the A75, when I saw signs for Kirroughtree Visitor Centre in the Galloway Forest Park. Our daughter had also recommended that, so we turned up a little single lane and headed into the woodland. We were starving. We found ourselves in a large car park with a modern wooden Visitor Centre. It was the hub for walking and biking through the forest as well as other activities. It was also a Dark Skies centre for star gazing and to our delight, you could camp overnight in the car park if you were prepared to be off grid. Oh why didn’t we find out about this earlier? However we resolved that we would return without dog, but with bikes and do a weekend here.
We scampered to the cafe. They didn’t do full English breakfasts, but a sausage bap and coffee sufficed. Why is it when you’re really wanting something, you can never find it? The Visitor Centre was light and airy with information boards along the walls showing the bike and walking routes. Happy, we returned to the Van and picked the A75 back towards the motorway – it was still miserable, still raining, a day of curling up on a sofa, fire on and sleeping, though the low cloud had lifted and we could see further afield. We decided to head to Ambleside, where we were due to meet some more friends the following night. It was getting late, so we carried along the A75 following the coastline of Dumfries and Galloway overlooking the Solway Firth, the flat marshes to our right. We passed the town of Dumfries where our other daughter, when she was young, innocently and endearingly mispronounced it as Dumb Fries. When we stopped laughing hysterically much to her mystification, we told her it was pronounced “Dumfrieze” and since then have always referred to it as Thick Chips in her company, much to her annoyance.
Soon we were on the motorway and within minutes passed back into England, just beyond Gretna Green. We pulled off at the Keswick turn off and headed west towards that town, the lovely and beautiful Lake District mountains starting to loom into view. We cut a corner off and popped up just north of Grasmere and followed the valley down, passing the lakes. Cars were parked everywhere – in lay-bys and lanes. A few people were walking as if they were in a town – fashion wear and umbrellas, their car probably only a few hundred yards away while they admired the lakes and fell sides. But it was just so pretty with the trees just starting to turn. We entered Ambleside, full of tourists milling around and a few bedraggled walkers just coming off the hills and followed the satnav through town and out the other side. We were looking for our camp site at Skelwith – it seemed so far out of Ambleside (we were due to walk in to meet the friends. After a little research it transpired to be 2.2 miles away, a 40 minute walk which would be perfect). Finally we hit the entrance and followed a seemingly endless road to the reception area and checked in. This was a lovely site, mainly devoted to static caravans, but with four areas for tourers like us. We could go off and chose our own pitch, so off we went to check it out and ended up pitching up on a corner, near the toilet block. Though it felt a bit crowded, there was still lots of room between us all. It was a good spot.
So we nested, got all our sodden walking stuff out and hung it from door handles and door edges, hoping it would dry. It was still drizzling, but we were under a tree and so sheltered. We looked like Widow Twankey’s and all her laundry. We had a plan – order pizza (the local takeaway delivered to the site), then go to the site shop to get beer and watch “Strictly Come Dancing”. We timed it perfectly – I went to the well stocked shop for the beers – it had most things covered while Hubby and The Dog went to meet the pizza delivery man. It was a lovely site sheltered in the trees, little off shoots with static caravans arranged neatly. It was quite a substantial site, slowly working its way up the hill. It was a very well run too – it even had an outdoor dishwasher!!! It was the most expensive site of the whole trip, but well worth it – everything was clean, tidy, well maintained and I didn’t have my usual reservations about the showers.
So we collected our pizzas and went back to the Van to consume them. I suffered another culinary disaster when my ordered vegetarian pizza arrived as a basic Magherita! Where’s me vegetables? I couldn’t believe it, but as I couldn’t change it, I ate it anyway.
It was still quite warm, so we sat with the side door open, The Dog lying on her mat, watching people and dogs wander past for late night wee walks. It was supposed to be nice tomorrow so we could have a chill day and maybe a quick walk before meeting the friends. We closed our door and settled down for the night.
Sorry for the lack of photos today – the day just wasn’t conducive for pictures – so clagged with cloud and rain, there was no views to be had!