Southern Upland Way Day 2: Stranraer to New Luce

Published 16 January 2012

Cartoon of a tree, with the caption 'Wow!  just look at that tree!'

I returned through Big Plantation the next morning and rejoined the Southern Upland Way. The trail went along more quiet woodland paths with little to hear besides the birds chirping in the trees above. There was no one around, or so I thought until a Royal Mail van suddenly came hurtling round a sharp corner in the forest road, causing me to leap into the bushes, fearing for my life.

That van was all I saw for quite some time until the Way began to approach a housing estate at Castle Kennedy. Even the woodland path that took me to it had a sense of civilisation. The deserted railway line connecting Glasgow and Stranraer was just the other side of a small wall, and the woodland was full of concrete platforms where buildings once stood. During World War II the RAF’s finest had trained here, but afterwards the airbase was quietly closed down and presumably the buildings that once stood here had been dismantled; the trees left to rule once more.

Leaving the woods I was suddenly surrounded by life. At Castle Kennedy’s primary school, sports day was in full flow as a teacher set off a group of seven year olds on what looked to be the old classic of the egg and spoon race, and children and parents looked happily on.

The ruins of Castle Kennedy

Nearby was the main tourist highlight of the area; Castle Kennedy itself. The now ruined building lent its name to the airfield and village, and was a little further down the road. The replacement Lochinch Castle was built nearby, and the grounds were made into a set of gardens for the castle owners. Now open to the public, the Southern Upland Way followed the access road to the castle and came alongside a large loch, with Lochinch Castle standing proudly at the other end.

A steady stream of cars and motor-homes passed me, heading for the castle’s car park and the chance to explore the sculptured gardens. My guidebook and a Southern Upland Way information board had both implored me to do likewise and who can argue against an information board? The man at the entrance desk kindly asked if I would like to leave my pack with him whilst I explored the gardens, and obviously I could not refuse such an offer.

Just beyond the entrance stood Castle Kennedy. An accident in 1716 saw the fire sweep through the building. Thankfully no one died, however the blaze was so bad that the only things that could be saved were three paintings. Now the forlorn ruins sit covered in weeds and ivy, almost as a centrepiece to the various gardens and earthworks which were re-done in the early 19th century.

I’d been given a map on entering, and I set off following a walking route which seemed to show off the sculptured banks of earth and rows of trees at their finest. Free of the shackles of an 80 litre rucksack, I positively bounded along happily, down past Lovers Loop and into the strangely heather-free Heather Garden. Much of it looked so modern that it was hard to imagine that most of the park was designed and laid out over 200 years earlier.

The moorland of Glenwhan Moor
No one around on Glenwhan Moor

Heaving my pack back on, I headed on towards New Luce. A farm road eventually gave way to a rough track over fields and moorland and a large group of cows watched me pass with only mild interest; just the odd one running off as if petrified by my existence whilst the rest stood and watched grimly.

The fields gave way to a brief stretch of deserted road. Whilst at Castle Kennedy I’d felt oddly guilty; walking through those gardens with no rucksack on whilst surrounded by so many people, seemed strangely wrong. Surely I should be suffering with a weary, aching back in total isolation rather than being in the company of so many tourists. Now I was back where I belonged. My shoulders were certainly aching and there was once more no one around. A deserted road, no people, no cars, no sounds except birds tweeting in the trees.

Glenwhan Moor then added in the sound of gushing streams as the trail weaved its way along an undulating path on the edge of a forest plantation. Felling had clearly occurred a few years before and the odd new tree was trying to poke its way through amongst all the tree stumps.

“Ultreia” proclaimed another sign. Oh no, not this game again I sighed, knowing that my luck had thus far not been particularly great in this area. Which is why I was pleasantly surprised to find that the kist stood bold as brass right next to the path.

A Southern Upland Way kist called Iron and Ivy Midlife

To be fair it was a rather tall thing, like a pole sticking out of the ground, sculptured to make it look like it was wrapped in ivy. Sited right next to the path, it would have been hard for anyone to miss it but that didn’t dampen my sense of achievement. Bending down I lifted up a hatch and to my delight found a box full of bronze coins marked “Hoard Fox”. I reached in, scooping up a handful of coins and letting them fall through my fingers. I was tempted to take a handful, to fill my pockets with these coppery delights, before deciding that such an act wouldn’t really be in the spirit of the thing. And besides, they’d weigh too much.

Instead I pocketed my solitary piece of treasure and headed on my way with a sense of renewed vigour.

Cows can be dangerous

“Single file through the crop meadow please. Dogs must be under control. Cows can be dangerous. Proceed at your own risk” proclaimed a sign at the edge of a field.

“Cows can be dangerous?” I thought, passing through the crop field, preparing myself mentally to enter the home of the questionable bovines. Just what were the farmers doing on this farm? Was this small place a breeding centre for the world’s most evil cows? I approached with trepidation as a row of animals and their calves eyed me up. One of them broke wind and I fled the scene just as fast as my legs could carry me.

Having run to safety, I found myself on yet another road. This one at least was special. It was the road to New Luce where I intended to stop the night. The mile and a half detour off the route would be a bit of a pain, but it would be worth it as I’d be spending the night at the pub. Not in a room, but in the field next to it where the owners allowed people to camp. I could pitch up, have a pint and have someone cook me food to boot. Superb.

Okay, it wasn’t a four star campsite like Stranraer, but with a riverside location (and midges as well), it came in a lot cheaper. Only a mere £5 a night, free showers and toiletries in an indoor bathroom, and use of the residents lounge just in case the midges got bad.

The Kenmuir Arms pub at New Luce

And of course the pub meant beer. The thought of a pint had kept me going for the afternoon. It was always nice to end the day with a pint of the finest ale; a just reward for a walk well done. After pitching and freshening up, I made my way to the bar and discovered I wasn’t actually alone on the Southern Upland Way.

“Now we’re retired, we don’t do anything more than 18 miles in a day” proclaimed a white haired man with his partner who had arrived for food not long after me, and who was disappointed to find out the pub had run out of haggis spring rolls (“homemade haggis, homemade chilli sauce,” the landlord had told me as he had placed the last portion in front of me a short while earlier.)

They’d done the eastern section and now they were doing the west with a plan to do the middle “at some point this year”. It was also the first time they’d not carried their own luggage “although the rucksack doesn’t seem any lighter!”

I thought of my own pack, considering the difference in weights between this one with my camp gear, and the one I’d normally carry if I was walking between hostels or B&Bs. Having my luggage transported? If only…

But then as I lay in my tent that night, midges buzzing around outside excitedly as the Water of Luce flowed passed the pub, I began to wonder if I’d have it any other way. Lugging that extra weight may be hard, but the results could be so special.

I mean, who wouldn’t want acute back-ache?

Next time, there’s chaos and mayhem as the remote bothy is reached too early in the day, and the midges come out and attack with vengeance.

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