Harbours and exotic gardens of the Rhins peninsula
Much of the Rhins peninsula, stretching down to the dramatic headland of the Mull of Galloway, is rocky and wild; but oases of calm and colour offer rich rewards to the visitor. There is good sailing on the sheltered inlet of Loch Ryan – though swimming there is not recommended – while the influence of the warm North Atlantic Drift allows a variety of exotic plants to flourish in acres of carefully tended gardens.
In the 18th century, ships sailing from the Clyde to the West Indies often sheltered inside Loch Ryan when overtaken by storms, close to a village known as ‘the Cairn’, During the Second World War this quiet lochside settlement, by then called Cairnryan, became one of the main landing points for supplies from the United States.
The wartime harbour is now largely derelict, and though the village houses are bright and colourful, an extensive shipbreakers’ yard on the outskirts gives the area a semi-industrial atmosphere.
Shore fishing from Cairnryan has produced several record catches, notably a 54 lb tope. Sea-anglers fishing from boats, however, have to avoid the two car-ferry routes, one from Cairnryan and one from Stranraer, which pass out through the mouth of the loch to Larne in Northern Ireland.
Lochryan House, east of the harbour, was built in 1701 in the Dutch style of architecture, which is unusual in Scotland. The house is not open to the public.
Curving round the head of Loch Ryan,
Stranraer is the railhead for the main ferry and freight service to Larne. Cruises to
Larne in summer are linked with bus tours to the Giant’s Causeway and the Mountains of
The railway pier forms the east side of Stranraer’s natural harbour sheltered by the Rhins of Galloway. On the west side is the fishing quay, beyond which an area of reclaimed land known as Clayhole Bank includes a swimming and boating lake as well as a beach where low tide reveals extensive sands. Boats can be hired, and there are sailing and sub-aqua clubs.
The old Castle of St John dates back to 1510, while the house called North West Castle, overlooking the railway pier, was built by Sir John Ross, the Arctic explorer who spent much of his life in search of the North-west Passage; his house is now a hotel. Stranraer Show is held in July, and there is a pipe-band contest on the first Saturday in June.
Castle Kennedy Gardens, 2Vz miles east, contain the ivy-clad ruins of Castle Kennedy, which dates from the 15th century and was burned down in 1716. It was then the home of the 2nd Earl of Stair, a field marshal who used the troops under his command to create mounds and terraces in a garden notable also for its splendid displays of magnolias, azaleas, rhododendrons and other flowering shrubs.
Also within Castle Kennedy Gardens is Lochinch Castle, which was built in 1867 to replace Castle Kennedy and is the home of the present Earl and Countess of Stair. It is surrounded by its own more formal Victorian gardens.
In the two world wars, this inlet of Loch Ryan was a base for sea-planes and flying boats. A launching ramp built for the flying boats is today used by Wig Bay Sailing Club, the main sailing centre on Loch Ryan.
The north side of the bay, an area of shingle known as Wig Sands, ends in a curving spit of land called the Scar. All this area, which is rich in bird life, is reached by an unmade side road starting beyond the sailing club. Terns nest there in early summer, and hundreds of eider duck assemble off the Scar. In autumn and winter the tidal margins provide food for dunlins and redshanks, and oystercatchers are raucously present at every season. 0 CORSEWALL POINT Deep-cut rock fissures which bring the waves battering upwards into plumes of spray form the invigorating surroundings of Corsewall lighthouse. Designed by the grandfather of the novelist R. L. Stevenson, the lighthouse was opened in 1816 at the north-western tip of a windswept, well farmed but almost treeless peninsula. Today it operates automatically.
Although jagged and dangerous from the sea, the coastline here is not high and there is good scrambling among its lichen-covered rocks. Lady Bay, on the east side of the peninsula, is a stretch of sandy shore sheltered from the prevailing south-westerly winds and looking across to the hills above Finnarts Bay.
Set around a cliff-girt inlet on a forbidding and enclosed coast, Portpatrick is one of the brightest villages on the Rhins peninsula, with ranks of colour-washed houses, villas and hotels spreading upwards from a secure harbour. For hundreds of years this was the Scottish end oi a short sea crossing from Donaghadee in Northern Ireland. But the waves eventually destroyed the Victorian piers, and in 1862 the Irish packet-boat service was transferred to Stranraer.
There is a tiny stretch of sandy beach in the outer harbour, which is also a base for sailing and water-skiing. Two golf courses are laid out above the northern cliffs. Pathways run up the cliffs, then down again to bays along the coast, where there is good shore fishing. Boats may also be hired for sea-angling. From the southern cliffs, another pathway leads to the high ruin of the 15th-century Dunskey Castle.
LOGAN BOTANIC GARDEN
In this windy south-western corner of Scotland it is astonishing to find a garden packed with exotic trees and flowering shrubs from South America, China, Australia and New Zealand. But the warm air brought by the North Atlantic Drift, as well as walled enclosures sheltered by banks of native trees, allowed the Victorian lairds of Logan to create a local mini-climate. Plants which in most of Britain need to be cultivated in glasshouses flourish out oi doors at Logan.
Some of the most striking sights are the avenues of cabbage palms and Chusan palms, the water garden, the Australasian tree ferns and, in the middle of the lawn, a vivid scarlet Patagonian fire tree. Since 1969 the garden has been associated with the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh, and is open to the public every day in summer.
Ardvvell House, 2 miles north, has a more traditional Scottish garden. Open in summer, it has a fine display of spring flowers, shrubs and rock plants, and there are pondside walks with views over Luce Bay.
A sea-wall carrying the road flanks a long, curving shingle beach. Low tide reveals stretches of firm sand, but strong winds can make bathing hazardous. There is good sea and shore fishing around Port Logan Bay, although the 19th-century harbour which gave this village of whitewashed houses its name has long since been abandoned.
On the north side of the bay is the curious Logan Fishpond, a tidal pond excavated from rocks behind the shore in 1800 to catch fresh fish for the kitchens of Logan House. But the fish soon came to be treated as family pets rather than as food for the table. The pond is still stocked with tame cod, which come to be fed by hand. It is open to the public most days in summer.
MULL OF GALLOWAY
The southernmost tip of Scotland, guarding the entrance to the Solway Firth, is a wild peninsula ringed by precipitous cliffs of multi-coloured rock. A narrow but well-surfaced road winds up from the isthmus between West and East Tarbet bays to the lighthouse set up in 1830, which can be visited. The view from the tower extends to Ireland, the Isle of Man, the Lake District and even the tips of some Inner Hebridean peaks.
The Mull of Galloway’s cliffs, now an RSPB reserve, are a riot of sea-birds in summer. Rock ledges at all levels are crammed with nests, and there is a constant bustle as adult birds fly to and from the offshore feeding grounds. Gannets are sometimes seen as they cruise by from their own colony on the deserted rock stacks known as the Scares in the mouth of Luce Bay.
On this headland, according to legend, the two last Picts, a father and son, turned to face the Scots who had driven their race into the far south-western corner of their country. Rather than betray the secret of the Pictish drink known as heather ale, the old man let the Scots hurl his son over the cliffs, then leapt over after him.
Scotland’s southernmost village runs uphill from a row of whitewashed cottages overlooking a sandy beach at the edge of Luce Bay. It has a harbour which, like many of those on the Solway, dries out at low tide.
Once a centre of smuggling, Drummore is now the main sea-angling centre on the west side of Luce Bay. Skate, bass and porbeagle shark are found, and the biggest tope ever caught in Scotland, weighing 62 lb, was hauled aboard a boat out of Drummore. Boats may be hired locally, but fishermen using their own craft must beware of the strong tides south of Drummore and around the Mull.
Sandhead, with a parking and picnic area fronting the beach, is at the western end of miles of uninterrupted sands which stretch across the head of Luce Bay. The public can only reach 2 miles beyond the village, however, because the remainder of the dunes and beaches are part of a bombing range. eyond the prohibited area, the Forestry Commission’s Bareagle Forest includes several hundred acres of conifers planted to stabilise the shifting dunes. A forest walk through Sitka spruce and Corsican and Monterey pine leads to a picnic area 2 miles from the public road at Ringdoo Point, beside the tidal outflow of the Piltanton Burn.
The village is set back from the narrow opening of the glen which gives it its name. To the west are the shoreline links of the Wigtownshire County Golf Club, looking across the water to Bareagle Forest at Ringdoo Point.
The village grew after the founding in 1190 of the Cistercian Abbey at Glenluce. The abbey ruins, which include a chapter House added in the 15th century, occupy a peaceful site 1 1/2 miles north-west, among farmlands by the windings of the Water of Luce. They are open to the public.