Rambling round St Helena's Isle
Doom and gloom over the weather forecast was set aside by the walk leader when she arrived at the County Golf Club, near Glenluce to be met by an amazing number of walkers '“ there were 30 of us in total, including four new ones! Having welcomed these and given a very short description of the walk she led us briskly down towards the shore. All the time aware that the dry weather at this stage was a bonus and with the wind pushing us on, we made good time as we walked alongside the crashing waves of Luce Bay. Having startled a large flock of oyster catchers (know by a local historian in his earlier days as '˜sea pyots') which rose noisily as we passed their grazing ground, we left the beach to skirt the golf club. This proved to be somewhat more difficult than expected as a large area had been flooded by constant recent rain.
Soon we reached the bridge over an outlet of the River of Luce and then the ground before us deteriorated as did the water-proofing of some of our boots, as we jumped from one tiny oasis to another to avoid the sodden grasslands. It was then easy to see how the area known as St Helena’s Isle had got its name when one of our group gave us its history. In 1836, Sir James Dalrymple-Hay of Park Place, which we would see later, had a cutting made to divert some water from the River Luce to loop round and create an island. His son John became a ship’s captain (and later an Admiral) and returned from a visit to St. Helena’s Isle with cuttings from a willow tree which was growing beside Napoleon’s grave. He planted the trees on the island and named it St. Helena’s, none of which seemed to have survived!
The footpath led us towards woodland where we were delighted to still see numerous large clumps of snowdrops which we stopped to admire alongside the fast flowing Water of Luce. Another pause was taken as our walking companion, who had supplied earlier information, told us that a cottage we could see close by was a former toll house where a large part of its income in the 1800’s would have been extracted from drovers taking Irish cattle to markets in the South. The railway came in 1860 and it was about this period that the local authorities took over the roads and tolls became a thing of the past. As we neared the tumbling water of the weir, one of its resident herons took off in laborious flight.
On reaching the road, once the main A75 which ran through Glenluce before the village was bypassed, the viaduct came into sight. Passing under this magnificent structure, the walkers took the road towards Castle of Park. We decided that it would be easier to face the slithering and sliding of the uphill track on our left rather than to leave it for the downhill one later but first we had to navigate a recently fallen small tree. Further minor diversions from the muddy footpath through the Wood of Park ensued for a short while, through the shrubby undergrowth in native woodland before we were on firmer ground. Pine needles carpeted our way through a large area of tall conifers until we reached the old railway line which is now a wide track running through the wood. After a very short stretch along the track we turned to our right and then, enclosed by rhododendrons, and walking in single file we climbed in a zigzag fashion to reach a clearing through the trees, the path eventually curving back to the track.
As we emerged, we could see the castle towering above and, still relieved at our good fortune with the weather, we sat on a bank covered in bluebell leaves beneath wide trunked, ivy entwined trees and ate our lunch. From here we had a good view of the restored tower house which was the seat of the Dalrymple - Hay baronetcy.
Lunch finished, we regrouped to head back towards the Viaduct and cross the bridge over the Water of Luce. Taking the road opposite and following the Pilgrim’s Way footpath sign, we walked beside the river before turning into a field. Guided by way markers, we reached a stile and crossed over the fields of Fine View and Scrimple. A gate on the other side of the field led us onto a track, with its improving surface. After crossing a concrete farm road we were once again on muddy ground but our footing became easier as we crossed a couple of soggy fields and descended to the road, coming out opposite Glenluce Abbey.
By this time the threatened rain had begun to fall and hoods were once again adorned. From there it was all road-walking – with occasional flooded sections, using the bridge to cross over the Water of Luce before going under a railway bridge to reach and cross the new A75. A short section of original road was walked before we crossed the old A75 and walked alongside it for a few minutes before reaching the County Golf Course. Here we were welcomed into its restaurant, with its excellent refreshments and service.
The walk for Saturday 4 March is one of 8 miles over the Clints of Dromore via Craig Hill over rough moorland with splendid views, classed as being between moderate and strenuous! Meet for car sharing at Breastworks, Stranraer, at 8.45am, at Riverside, Newton Stewart at 9.15am or at the walk start, Forest Gate car park (NX 538 622) at 10am. For further information, if going directly to the walk start or joining us for the first time, please phone the walk leader on 01988 840268.