South West Scotland, the Mull of Galloway and Kirkcudbrightshire – this area was a real highpoint for me. I loved the landscape. Moorland and farmland patched with forestry. The lochs and the Southern Uplands in the background, rising in a palette of rich greys and greens, mauves and ochre. The skies are vast and the light is extraordinary – no wonder this region is such a haven for artists.
I stayed with my friends, Richard and Cathy Agnew, near New Galloway; Baa happily parked outside their dining room window and me sleeping in their lovely spare bedroom. Baa’s bunks were firm and unsprung, so my back really enjoyed three days in a good bed, and I loved having a bit of banter with old friends instead of just talking to Baa.
Cathy had been with me on Arran and when we docked at Ardrossen she headed home and I went down the coast stopping to see the new Robbie Burns’ Museum at Alloway. Scots are very proud of their national poet and the new museum is very smart (opened in 2011) and child-friendly. But I found it disappointing – dark and disjointed – and hurried on to Turnberry.
On the way, I dropped in to Culzean Castle which has strong associations with US President Dwight Eisenhower who first went there to meet with Winston Churchill in 1946. I expect he flew into Prestwick airport which, Cathy told me, was strategic in WWII because, due to some geographical quirk and its position at the top of Ayr Bay, means it is never foggy. I can see why he liked Culzean and returned several times, because it is stunning and sits dramatically on a promontory looking out across the Atlantic. The original castle was 16th century but it was rebuilt by Robert Adam in the 1780s. I am sure it’s wonderful inside too but it was almost closing time when I got there. So I just walked around the grounds, and noted in my diary that I had the most delicious ice cream sitting under a beautiful, spreading tree. (I ate a lot of ice cream on this trip, and the Culzean Vanilla was one of the very best.)
The sign at the entrance to the village of Turnberry says “Golfing Perfection” and it did look pretty magical when I drove in. Clear blue skies cloaked the resort – smart white stucco cottages, the clubhouse and, on the hill, the glamorous hotel looks out over all that is the Trump Turnberry resort, towards Ailsa Craig, a small volcanic island sitting out in the Firth of Clyde, which Cathy and I had seen from the bottom of Arran.
I set out from my comfortable lodgings on day trips and first headed for Stranraer, remembered by most people as the place where you get a ferry to Northern Ireland. But you don’t any more, since Stenna Line moved their ferry terminal round to Cairnryan on the east side of Loch Ryan, and left Stranraer looking pretty forlorn. Grass was growing through cracks in the deserted queuing lanes and the whole place felt like early closing day.
I set off down the Rhinns of Galloway – the ‘hammerhead’ which sticks out of Dumfries & Galloway into the Atlantic – to Portpatrick, a fishing port and a popular holiday resort. It was the strangest day, foggy and sunny at the same time, and I felt I was in Cornwall rather than Scotland. Portpatrick was quietly bustling, with visitors riding in pony traps, picnics on the beach and children playing happily on the sand with the village rising eerily out of the heavy mist behind them.
It was the same all the way down to the Mull of Galloway, past shallow beaches, children playing in rockpools, the shoreline far out in the mist. The Mull of Galloway is the most southerly point of Scotland; there’s a lighthouse and a car park and apparently, on a clear day, you can see the Isle of Man. Not so today – I could just see happy holidaymakers eating ice creams on the clifftop, shrouded in mist.
I headed back north towards Newton Stewart and the Southern Uplands, and as soon as I turned inland from the Rhinns, the fog lifted.