Christine Gordon's latest challenge to walk the length of Scotland began with the Mull of Galloway Trail and the Loch Ryan Coastal Path. Well, actually, it began with tea and cake, like all good walks.
I need a challenge in my life and, having got to the point of almost completing a lifetime mission of climbing every mountain in Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales I was looking for something new. I read Cameron McNeish and Richard Else’s book, Scotland End to End, and was inspired to walk the length of Scotland.
My plan to follow the route outlined in the book changed when I discovered that their start point at Kirk Yetholm is not Scotland’s most southern point and that their end point, Cape Wrath, is not its most northern, so I decided to devise my own. This led to me discovering the Mull of Galloway Trail, a two-day walk that starts at the lighthouse on the Rhins of Galloway and ends 25 miles later in Stranraer. It is a waymarked trail, which is described in the Mull of Galloway trail leaflet. I did this walk with a friend over two days, using two cars, one at the start and one at the midway point in Ardwell.
What a great way to begin and end a walk. There is a lovely seasonal café at the start and, with the demise of the Tourist Information Centre in Stranraer, a bar at the end.
Starting with tea and cakes and ending with tea and cakes seemed, to me, a perfect reason to undertake the walk.
But there are many more reasons to walk the trail. Driving to the start point along a single-track road is dramatic and it is often possible to ascend the lighthouse before starting your walk. Walking a little beyond to the cliffs just south of the lighthouse on a windy day allows you to experience the exhilaration of the sea breaking against the cliffs, before walking past the lighthouse to begin the trail proper along the east coast line of the Mull of Galloway.
Walking high above the sea and the exposure to Scotland’s wild and windy land and seascape continues the feeling of exhilaration, before you drop down to walk along the beach, past coastal villages, caravan parks and picnic areas. There is one part of the route where you need to check the tides to make sure you can walk along a concrete sea wall, with the waves splashing onto the path, rather than walking along a more boring road.
This is not a greatly populated area and there is no feeling of overcrowding. Even when passing the caravan parks and villages, you tend to meet only a few friendly dog walkers who are keen to stop for a chat. While this part of the trail is largely on reasonably flat terrain, it does have its challenges. Walking along a beach means having to negotiate a range of sand conditions that vary with the tide, as well as stony areas and sand dunes. I certainly found my poles helpful in negotiating some of the trickier ground underfoot.
As you get closer to Stranraer, the route moves away from the coastline to more farmland. For several miles it travels along quiet country roads before going past a house into a field where there is a warning to take care if the bull is there. The route then takes you through some wooded areas as well as fields before you find yourself on the outskirts of Stranraer where you follow the road to the now non-existent TIC, which the trail route declares is the end point of the walk. Instead, there is an information point and a bar that serves coffee and cake as well as more substantial meals, beers and wine.
Waymarking on the route is good and the paths are generally clear. There are signposts every mile to encourage you on your way, but I don’t mind admitting that I was glad when we arrived at the 25-mile marker, which signalled the end of the trail.
Loch Ryan coastal path
The Galloway trail ends where the Loch Ryan coastal path begins. Again, this is a waymarked trail, whose route is described in the Mull of Galloway trail leaflet. It is a route of 12 miles and can be easily walked in one day. It does not have the mile markers of the Mull of Galloway trail, but the waymarking is generally good.
The official route takes you along the side of the A77 road to Ayr; however, I recommend dropping down onto the beach as soon as possible (just after a petrol station) and walking along this through a caravan park and onto a trail where you pass a ship wreck and emerge between two pillars to join the official route. Taking this route allows you to walk away from the road, giving a greater feeling of being part of the environs. It also allows you to experience a shell beach that continues for some considerable distance. This, in my view, is much more interesting than following a busy road.
The official route then takes you along the beach before you re-join the road to continue past the Cairnryan Ferry Terminal and the village of Cairnryan where, in spring, you walk past blossom-laden trees before dropping back to the coast line and a picnic area.
Here, the route changes. Instead of continuing along the coastline you cross the road and walk in moorland terrain with a variety of good paths and less distinct grassy trails to reach the village of Glenapp, which comprises a lovely church and a couple of houses. This is a lovely end to the walk but, sadly, there is no café so you will either need to carry your own coffee and cake or take the bus back to the start of your walk in Stranraer.
Alternatively, you can continue your walk northwards by joining the Ayrshire Coastal Trail, the next stage of my Scotland south to north walk.
There is no public transport to the start of the Mull of Galloway Trail, so you need to organise your own. There are buses from Stranraer to Ardwell and several other villages on the route.
There are regular buses between Stranraer and Glenapp.
I have videos of my walk on YouTube: