Tuesday, September 15

A week in Bladnoch

Scotland was very kind to Jon and I last week when we pitched up in one of the more remote parts of the lowlands for our September holidays - the weather was fine and sunny nearly all week, and our waterproofs stayed firmly in the rucksacks. It was something of a relief considering we hadn't realised quite how little there was to do in the area if the weather had been different. The fact that we were staying close to Wigtown, the 'National Book Town of Scotland' might have at least meant we had plenty to read in front of the fire, but thankfully we did not need it.

The nearest town of any size was Newton Stewart, which straddles the River Cree and has a couple of  lovely bridges. It's not obligatory for there to be lovely bridges at my holiday destination but I do seem to pick 'em! As well as the beautifully-proportioned stone arches of the town bridge, we came across this lovely little suspension bridge over the river just upstream of the town centre, which dates from 1911.

Closer to our cottage in Bladnoch we had another stone arch road bridge, as well as the remains of this railway crossing just downstream. Our cottage was in the middle of the row shown on the far bank - the 'main street' of the hamlet.

As they had north-facing gardens, quite a few of the cottages had instead resorted to benches out on the front pavement for catching the evening rays. The fact that the local pubs struggled to supply any decent ales on tap meant that we were out here most evenings supping on our bottled Scottish craft beers from Aldi.

We spent the days doing an awful lot of walking, mostly around the lochs and forests of the Galloway Hills. My particular favourite was from Glen Trool to Loch Dee - about 13 miles there and back, and barely a soul to be seen, not even fishermen in the distance.

We lunched by the deserted loch then I managed a refreshing dip in one of its tributaries before the walk home, again along tracks with no-one else in sight. 

Here and there the forests offered up mysterious items that we had to seek out online when we got home - no interpretation boards here. This large stone inscribed with runes that we found on the way to Loch Dee turned out to be one of the 7 Stanes after which the Scottish biking trails are named.

The large surf-board-like sculptures that we came across at a number of different locations turned out to be Rosnes Benches, another project aimed at bringing art to the forests. Not quite as successfully, in my opinion, could have at least done with a leaflet or some kind of information in the visitor centres.

And Kirroughtree forest trails provided a rather quirky little bridge which carries the mountain bike trail over the footpath on a giant wheel! 

But who needs art and bridges when you have spectacular scenery in which to soak up the September sunshine? We did have a few off-piste adventures testing our nerves in Scotland's open access environment - wading barefoot through knee-deep water (this stream about 2 miles further on) to cross a 'ford' and tramping over rough forest routes made by tracked vehicles in search of a road - but thankfully nothing too hair raising, and we did get to see red squirrels and red deer along the way.

This loch-side wild camping spot does look rather idyllic in the photo but in reality there was a strong, cold wind blowing which made me reluctant to dip into the water. Most days I was constantly looking for the right spot and not finding it, so the swimming was rather limited.

Even when we found a lovely sandy beach, sufficiently sheltered from the wind, our timing was badly lacking and we ended up being there when the tide was out among the seaweed and rocks and far from being swimmable.

Instead we soaked up a few late afternoon rays in the deserted churchyard.

We did manage to see some interesting wildlife, but the otters proved rather shy and all we saw were several sculptures at various locations, reminding us of what we were missing.

The slow worm in the middle of the path might have looked a bit dead, but when gently poked with a stick it slowly slunk away into the grass, its beautiful copper body glinting in the sun. 

The only day when the sun stayed away for most of it was Wednesday, the day we took the early ferry for a day trip to Belfast. This costs the princely sum of £10 on a Wednesday for foot passengers,  including a ticket for day-long bus travel in Belfast, so it seemed rude not to take advantage of it. The 'super fast' ferry from Stranraer only took a couple of hours, so we had a full day in the city.

I wasn't keen on the aggressive bus-tour salesmen that seem to line the streets of Belfast - however holy its citizens believe they are, they are not above making a nuisance of themselves with tourists who are trying to have a leisurely stroll. 

We had a look at the Titanic museum, and even a good lunch there in the bistro, but shunned a visit to the museum itself and instead satisfied ourselves with a trip around the Nomadic, a former tender of the Titanic which was based at Cherbourg. This turned out to be a fascinating visit, my favourite aspect being the fact the ship was moored in a dry dock, and the former caisson gate is also 'moored' right next to her!