The drive to the viaduct was a little slower than expected because we came to a “temporary obstruction, 15 minute delay” sign. I turned off the ignition, put on the brake and sorted out my rucksack. When I looked up the cars in front of me had gone. I can’t have been there too long, or the drivers behind were very patient because there was no tooting before I drove on.
This was Mabel’s first big walk. I wondered if I would be carrying her on the way back but she coped admirably.
This is a straightforward walk along the route of the the old railway except where it would have crossed its viaducts. The Big Water of Fleet viaduct is deemed unsafe and closed to the public. Some folk were walking along it, but we walked up to the bridge at Cullendoch and then back to the old railway, now a forestry track. The Little Water of Fleet viaduct is long gone.
The railway is as straight as a Roman road and cuts straight through rocky obstructions. There has been extensive felling so the views have changed, with Cairnsmore of Fleet and its shoulders Meikle Mulltaggart and Craigronald dominating the horizon.
The Little Water of Fleet flows under the track and one could easily miss it if you weren’t looking. I only realised we had crossed over when we came to the track junction that is 100m past it. I am certain there was a signpost “Mossdale footpath” when I was last at this junction but there is no sign now.
We decided to carry on along the old railway, which is now a cycle/footpath rather than a forestry track. Christy had found a huge stick to carry along but gradually gnawed it down to a twig and lost it in a muddy waterway. He could only be tempted away when I found him another stick. Mabel, despite her diminutive size, kept up, tramped through any water she could find and showed no sign of running out of steam.
Loch Skerrow was deep blue in the sunshine. I had intended to bring binoculars to check Craigherron Island if I came here again, but I hadn’t, so I still don’t know if its trees are rowans.
We had lunch on the old railway platform, then picked up our bags and headed back the way we had come.
Stroan Loch-Skerrow Halt-Little Water of Fleet-and back
It’s a year since I blogged a walk. The last few months can be put down to lockdown, and the last couple of weeks due to a swollen ankle. But I haven’t been idle. I’ve entered grandfather-hood, lost slippers to new puppy, visited Monino (one off the bucket-list) and skied in Bulgaria. I have embarked on a ship wearing a smile, and disembarked wearing a mask. My Tai Chi has been renewed, I’ve made toffee apples and designed a (simple) computer game. My “no more medical reading’ oath was been comprehensively broken with a recall from retirement, and my beard shaved off so I could use an FFP3. And last of all, as the last post shows, the ticks eventually got me.
This return to country-walks was planned as a team outing, if two can be called a team. Perhaps doubles would be more accurate? I had chosen to delegate, or shirk (depending on your view), the choice of walk, and had been given a short-list. I chose Stroan to Skerrow. Not particularly arduous, known to both of us, and not too far for my dicky ankle. It was a one car outing but we decided two cars would sit better with the coronavirus guidance.
The morning was a little grey, but the previous day’s rain seemed to have held off. I got my stuff together, loaded the car and wondered how to pass the next 15 minutes. Then I noticed the messages on my phone. My doubles partner couldn’t play. But the outing was already picking up momentum. I was dressed for the part. The dog was jumping about. No fool that spaniel. He’d read the signs, and guessed a walk was in the offing. What to do? Of course…
<sing>“Walk on, walk on, With hope in your heart. And you’ll never walk alone” </sing>
(I wouldn’t be alone because Christy could share a car with me – dogs are exempt from coronavirus restrictions.)
There were a few spots of rain as I drove along, but it turned out to be a T-shirt day. There were quite a few cars in the parking area but space enough for me. I got booted up, grabbed my bag and released the spaniel. He found a stick and we were ready to go. There were several tents and folk wearing midge nets, so rather than spending time at the loch itself we set off along the old railway track straight away.
We paused mid traverse for me to enjoy the views across the loch and down the Black Water of Dee. And yes, the waters do look black. I kept Christy on a short lead as we crossed the viaduct but then he was free to swap his stick for a branch.
The hedgerows were a delight of wildflowers with meadowsweet (sniffed to rule out anosmia), hare-bells (photographed because they are pretty), sneezewort (looking like bleached ragwort) real ragwort. Yarrow, lady’s bedstraw, orchids, wild valerian, spearwort (that I almost missed), St John’s wort, ragged robin (said to be common but I rarely see it), marsh thistle and creeping thistles (that I often confuse), clovers and cleavers, hemp-nettle (mistaken for dead nettle at first), yellow toadflax and willow-herb, small and large. Plenty of others though, noticeably, no daisies.
I am always stuck by the stone walls which are built over humps. I have wondered why, if the railway itself was cleared, these wee humps were left behind. A closer look showed that these walls are built on outcroppings of granite ( or possibly massive erratics protruding from the ground.
I have walked to Skerrow Halt a few times and there are descriptions here from 2011
and 2018 with more information and history.
Things have changed since that last walk. Lyons Wood is being felled by the Forestry and they have upgraded the track for their vehicles. What had been a narrow overgrown waterlogged track beyond Airie Farm is now a wider, well-drained forestry track, devoid of greenery except at the hedgerows. The track continues on a few hundred metres beyond the entrance to Lyons Wood, but after the entranceway the track has not had much vehicle use. Its rocks have not become embedded so it is like walking on scree, albeit flat. I was glad to be wearing walking boots.
It was a weekday so there was some work going on in the woods, but only one vehicle as far as I could see. But that one vehicle made quite a bit of noise. An irregular arrhythmic bashing. Each one made Christy drop his stick for a moment and stand very still.
Once past the fresh quarry that no doubt supplied the path’s rock, we were walking once more on a grassy track. It felt better to be walking on the more ‘natural’ railbed rather than those loose rocks. Out of the woods I could see Airie Burn flowing through a wilderness stretching to Fell of Fleet. We were not far from Skerrow Halt. The old unfenced bridge over Grobdale Burn has been replaced with a high-sided bridge, its wood still untainted by weather or moss.
There were burnt trees and charred fence-posts beside the path. The fire was in April three months earlier but already there is new growth covering the black bare ground. In places the underlying peat has been uncovered and has been eroded by rainfall. I had thought the growth looked a season or two old but nature is obviously quicker than I thought. Hopefully the ground will quickly be stabilised and protected. There is a different flora here. Yellow cats-ear lined the track with occasional hawkweed and a real dandelion here and there, heather, wood sage, knapweed, yarrow, bog asphodel, and fruiting mosses on rocks. And a large stand of tufted vetch among the ruins of the railway halt.
The remains of Skerrow Halt were much as I remembered them. I think this is the first time I have seen them in sunshine. I wonder how long they will persist. Standing beside the old platform I could hear rushing water in the culvert below. No doubt it will erode the ground in time.
From the Visit South West Scotland Website: “Those with an interest in lost railway will find the walk worthwhile. After closure of the line, Loch Skerrow halt was abandoned, its few houses left to decay until the Army on exercises finished the job with ordnance as a few remaining pieces of smashed equipment bear witness. Parts of the platform remain though nature is overtaking them. Water still flows from a culvert that would have fed the pumps. Standing on this desolate spot on a warm summer’s day, sufferers from railway nostalgia can perhaps visualise the sight and hear the sound of the “Paddy” on its way to the coast.”
I don’t have an interest in lost railway and I find it hard to reconcile these remains with photos of the station when it was being used. It seems so much smaller in real life. The burnt fencing adds a strangely unreal look to the place. The rocky slopes of Airie Hill beyond it call out to be scaled but I suspect the ground leading to them would be a punishing slog. Best attempted with morale-tanks fully topped-up. The sound of running water beneath me drew my attention back to the loch and I recalled it would originally have been named the rocky lake, Loch Sceireach.
A small building by the lochside is possibly the ‘boathouse’ marked on the OS map. Something to investigate another day. There are several small islands within the loch, and three even have names. Blaeberry Island and Gull Island are self explanatory. But Craigaherron Island isn’t named for herons but instead is Creag a’chaorainn, rowan crag. It was too far away to tell if the trees there are rowans now. I should bring binoculars next time. It had a building on older OS maps (150 years ago)..
I decided to press on and see if I could get across to the forestry track on the far side of the Loch. As I had done in 2011. So on I walked, past the gates that had marked the end of the easily passable path back then, but now separate two easily walkable sections. Indeed a cyclist had past me at Skerrow Halt and was nowhere to be seen, so I presumed the track was open all the way to Big Water of Fleet.
Once the track had crossed Loch Lane I began looking for a way across. I had been able to see the track all those years ago, (I checked the photos) but now all I could see were trees and very boggy ground between me and them. I walked on and after passing through a rocky cutting, I could see Cairnsmore of Fleet. I was in the Little Water of Fleet’s glen. Devil’s-bit scabious seemed to be plentiful here.
We came to a forestry track. A boulder and several huge tree trunks had been strategically placed to prevent vehicle access but looked to have shifted at some point. The railway track beyond here was overgrown and impassable. I tried. This was an elevated section that would have led to the viaduct proper. The viaduct itself is long gone having been was demolished by the Royal Engineers in 1987. All that now remains is this elevated ground with a small bridge spanning a tributary of the Fleet.
This is close to the place we had reached one rainy day four years earlier having walked from the Big Water of Fleet viaduct. I walked around to the track that would take us back along the north edge of Loch Skerrow, but then stopped to think. This was supposed to be a walk to ease me back in to walking. I reckoned it would be 12 miles if I did the circular route, 9 if I turned about and retraced my steps. The weather was good, but I didn’t want to overdo it, so I called Christy back, we turned about and headed back towards Skerrow Halt.
When I was walking back at Skerrow Halt I kicked myself that I hadn’t walked the extra couple of hundred metres down to the river. I hadn’t ‘linked up’ with my previous walk. I wasn’t going to go back though.
There had been a great many wildflowers along the way. I wasn’t specifically looking for them and had I been I’m sure there would have noticed others. But it had struck me that I hadn’t seen any daisies. They were here though. I spotted a single group of daisies on the path as I was walking back towards Skerrow Halt, and just after that, a single ox-eye daisy. I think my flower senses were able to relax after that.
Skerrow Halt provided seating for lunch. A couple on a tandem cycled by and seemed surprised when I said “hi”. They obviously hadn’t prepared for such an occurrence. Christy ignored them. He had better things to do – chewing his stick.
Walking back we passed half a dozen other walkers and a dog that stole Christy’s stick. Luckily the owner (of the dog, not the stick) returned it.
I was pleased I had chosen the shorter distance because the last mile or so was a bit of a bore.
Back at the car I had a drink of water and poured some for Christy. He didn’t want any but we would be home soon enough and he could have a drink then. It had been a good walk. There were a couple of flowers I didn’t recognise but I had photos and could look them up at home.
Direct Message me for the story of the after walk problems.
The forest. My friend these many long days. Happy, I wandered her green dappled ways. My spirits she raised, my soul was reborn. With a lightness of touch her gifts did transform.
Her offering I bore, unseen, and unknown. A spirochaete favour. Its cover now blown. (Non-luetic, I add. Before rumours spread!). It’s Erythema migrans I’m sporting instead. Two lesions at once, less rare than I knew. Coursing my blood this spiral mildew?
To lift the enchantment, wash my blood clean The four-ringéd tincture, the doxy-cycline? Bacteriostatic, broad-spectrum, and cheap. Saviour of many, makes spirochaetes weep. But a substrate of enzymes whose power I induce The weapon is weakened. For me it’s no use
If four rings won’t cut it, will three rings suffice? The evidence is sketchy, but suggested by NICE… Beta lactam it is then, I can walk in the light. And Bacteriocidal, that’s good amiright?
In the darkness of night, I wake chilled to the bone I didn’t expect it but it’s name is well known But how to include it, in metre and verse? Jarisch-Herxheimer, it makes poets curse.
The lesions are larger, but paler this morn, My chills are now gone, to treatment I’m sworn, Am-ox-icillin, now culled of its “y”, And adjuvant therapies that appeal to my eye
Ardbeg, toffee apples, fresh fruit from the bowl Vitamin D, ‘cos she said so, and avocado Some yoghourt to balance the microbiome. And coffee of course, while perusing a tome.
The forest. My friend these many long days. Happy, I will wander her green dappled ways. My spirits are raised, my soul is reborn. For better or worse her gifts will transform.
We decided to take the Gondola up to Yastrebets and explore the Markudjik slopes. Over breakfast I squinted at my phone checking various maps. How would we get to the Gondola? It wasn’t really clear. But the piste map had a route marked as “ski slope connection”. We could reach it by skiing from the nearby chairlift. Why walk, in ski-boots, when we could ski there? It was a no brainer, in my estimation at least, though my ski-buddy would later claim her opinion had been ignored. Pah!
The six-man chairlift is close to the ski depot, but the journey is treacherous nonetheless. One must take care not to make eye contact with the hawkers outside the many eateries and under no circumstances should one speak to said fellows unless willing to hear the entire menu in three languages. Then one must avoid the temptation to buy hand-knitted socks from the matrons guarding their wares beside the path. With that done all that is left to face is ten metres of polished ice ending in a short frozen slope. Much easier than walking to the Gondola, which for all we knew was reached via an assault course.
So, we were whisked up the chairlift, skied off with only minor mishap, turned past the bitch (with her five pups), avoided the snowboarders who had chosen to lie down in groups wherever the path narrowed and along the gentle Martinovi-Baraki One. I picked up the necessary speed to carry me along the flat section leading to the Rotata and looked for the Ski slope connection. And there it was. And a sign. “To Gondola”. Even better, a caterpillar of pre-teens in yellow ski-school gilets had been led that way. So it couldn’t be too arduous.
Well. By the time I reached the Gondola the thought echoing in my mind was the Car Rental Desk scene from Planes, Trains and Automobiles. I tried to fit my own experience into its framework. I would have preferred not to have shuffled my way along a ski connection where other people were happily skiing in the opposite direction or had to relinquish what momentum I had built up to avoid toboggans crossing my path. And I would have preferred not to ski through lumps of mud mixed with snow, churned up by a JCB and then frozen solid or crossing a busy fucking road before shuffling uphill through more churned and frozen mud. And I would have preferred not to have skied the final section on a surface more suited to ice hockey than skiing while dodging more toboggans. But was done. We wouldn’t do it again. Apparently someone had not wanted to do it in the first place.
The gondola itself was reached by climbing a set a steps, but that’s to be expected. What I did not expect was a gondola designed for Hobbits. Or a fellow rider who thought bringing his board into the cramped gondola was a good idea. But it is a 5km ride so by the time we reached the top I had calmed down. After all it could only get better.
The views were excellent, the snow just right and the slopes begging to be skied. I adjusted my boots, clicked on the skis and set off down to the Markudjik slopes, and down M1. A Goldilocks run. Not too easy, not too hard. Then I waited my turn for the drag lift.
Drag lifts are easy enough to use. Shuffle up to the start, grab the pole as it passes, and put the button between your legs. Keep your skis straight, stay upright, and keep in the tracks until you reach the top. If you’re a cool dude you might let your arms hang at your side, ski on one leg, or grab a selfie to share with your mates.
Markudjik One’s lift rises 900m and its quoted speed is 3 m/s. It is a little steep in places but nothing that looked particularly worrying. I’m not one of those cool dudes who rides lifts backwards or does yoga on the drag-lift. But I still approached the lift with a certain nonchalance, my thoughts on the next downhill ski. The ascent, as far as I was concerned, already done.
I shuffled up to the lift, took hold of the pole and was jerked out of my nonchalance. Before I had a chance to straighten my skis, I shot forward as if fired from a trebuchet. I got the button positioned but almost lost my footing as my skis diverged. But the drag soon slowed and I got myself sorted out. I breathed a sigh relief and took a look around letting my hand fall from the pole. The lift’s evil spirit noticed. Warp speed was enabled again and I found myself weaving from side to side on the mini-moguls that had replaced the even tracks beneath my feet. I thought I might be pulled over and hung on with both hands as I fought to control my balance.
I had just got into the rhythm of the lift when the drag’s vector shifted from horizontal to near vertical. My thighs gripped hard as the button fought to escape. I wished the button had been larger as I felt myself being lifted off the snow. Then there was more ferocious acceleration, but horizontal, thankfully. I looked ahead hoping the end might be near. But there was no end in sight.
I began to wonder what to do if I fell off. Or when I fell off. There was no nearby piste, only the tops of conifers sticking through rough snow. I would have to ski back down the steep narrow path of the drag lift, and, avoid the passengers it was throwing about. I decided to be positive and not consider failure. If I could just hang on for another couple of minutes.
Then came the first steep section. It approached at break neck speed then I was suddenly slowed as if the the lift was going into reverse. I thought my skis would slip backwards under me. But I managed to hold on for the ever so slow ascent. And I was ready for the next steep section.
Soon the end was in sight. Just a few metres to go. Then it was all over. I cast away the pole, skied off the drag, and waited. When my companion joined me I wondered if the experience had been the same for both of us. I forced a smile and with all the composure I could muster admitted “that wasn’t pleasant”. She thought so too. We agreed it should be a once in a lifetime experience.
After the next descent I skied on past the unpleasant M1 drag-lift, and past the sign “M2A, M2B, and M3 are not suitable for beginners”, heading for M2’s chairlift. I planned to take it, ski along to M1, down that and across to the chairlift again. And repeat until lunch.
From the chair lift there were great views of M2’s slopes. M2A is a black run and looked it. M2B is a red run, but with its wide gentle slope looked more like a blue run. I assumed it to be an “easy reds” that could just as easily have been a “slightly tricky blue”. It called to me like a Siren. And I answered its call.
Half an hour later, shaken and perturbed, I rode the same chair-lift, looking across at M2B and trying to fathom how I could have so misjudged its slope. I saw, as I had before, its gentle slope but now I noticed the trees beside it. A forest of trees all growing at an angle. But I had stood on that slope (and lain upon it) and could swear the trees were vertical. I looked up to the horizon and the penny dropped. A mountain ridge hid the true horizon. A false horizon had fooled my senses. Suddenly I saw its true nature.
Did I enjoy those wide empty gentle slopes? Obviously, the answer is no. But standing at the top of Markudjik 2B I still saw before me a wide gentle slope. I turned my skis down the slope and suddenly my perception shifted.
In my mind there might be a room. Its door is marked “Spatial awareness – authorised entry only”. In that room, at that time, stood a rather haughty chap. The type accustomed to being heard and having his opinions count. His badge read in gold lettering “VP” (Visual Perception). His posture was self-assured as I stood atop M2B. But as I turned my skis downhill, the door to that room from its hinges and in strode an older, much ignored fellow. His faded badge read Vestibulo-Somatogravic Perception. He struck Visual Perception a hard blow, knocking him from his feet. Then stepping over his prone adversary he took control, slamming a fist on a red warning button, and announcing “This slope is bloody steep”.
Bloody steep? Yes, but the piste was wide and for the most part empty. I could take my time and zig-zag down. But on one zag, about a third of the way down, I picked up just a little too much speed. The decelerating turn uphill came just a little too late and in the enforced sharp turn my skis collided. The uphill ski loosened and I came to a stop. No problem, take a breath, click my boot back in and carry on.
But that boot refused to click back in. After a great many attempts it was clear an alternative plan was needed. I could take off both skis and walk down to try again where it was less steep. No, it was too steep to walk down safely. I poked the snow beside the piste. It was too soft and deep. Perhaps, I could take off both skis, sit down and slide? No, it would be too difficult to hold two skis and two poles while sliding down. Drift down on the remaining ski then? I tried it and fell over. So the choice was made. I slid down twenty metres on my side, using the attached ski for speed control and the other, like a rudder, for positioning. It seemed to take forever. A further attempt at getting the ski on failed. One or two people skied past. None offering to help.
I aimed for a short section where the gradient eased and there my ski clicked on easily. I looked back up the slope at the flattened snow I had left behind. I wish now I had taken a photo but it just didn’t cross my mind at the time. Instead I took a breath, turned down the hill, and skied down the rest of the slope.
Another once in a lifetime experience.
Just to add to the strangeness of the day. As I paused a little further down the slope I saw what I thought was a pine cone coming up the slope and crossing my path. When it was much closer I saw it wasn’t a pine cone but a small creature. Later Googling suggested it might be a European Snow Vole.
I had planned to have Tripe Soup for lunch since it seemed to be a traditional Bulgarian dish on all menus, but by the time we stopped for lunch it was sold out and I had to make do with chicken soup. But rest assured I tried the tripe soup before the week was out.
An unco sough i’ the gloamin’ An’ a flaff o’ risin’ win’, A glisk o’ stoundin’ waters By the weirdly licht o’ the mune, An’ the fell dark tide o’ Solway Comes breengin’, whummlin’ in.
Dorothy Margaret Paulin
This final section of our Ravenglass to Bowness coastal walk was a short stroll around the Cardurnock ‘peninsula’ from Anthorn, where the River Wampool meets Moricambe Bay, along the coastal road to Bowness-on-Solway, completing Hadrian’s Coastal Route where our Hadrian’s Wall walk had begun.
We started a little east of Anthorn, with the the mudflats of Moricamb Bay beside us and the imposing radio masts ahead. The route was entirely on minor roads so, thankfully, did not involve the river crossing shown in this photograph.
Completing the route was undeniably a satisfying experience both because we had completed another long distance walk, but because we had also joined the two Hadrian walks. We were spared the usual excitements of difficult terrain or navigational challenges and did not need to venture on to mud-flats or marshes. The tides were not a problem and the only water we had to cope with had fallen from the sky. At the start it was raining heavily enough that I donned full waterproofs (and even put a coat on the dog), but the day was warm and when the rain lessened I was quick to shed the ‘not-so-breathable gore-tex.
Across the bay Grune Point was just visible. I found myself thinking that it should perhaps be Grüne Point, but set aside concerns of umlauts when I remembered the area’s grim history. During WW2 these waters came to be known as Hudson Bay because many of the Lockheed Hudson bombers based at RAF Silloth were lost here. The Hudsons tended to sink rapidly after ditching, possibly because their bomb bay doors buckled on impact and the treacherous local tides and shifting sands often made rescue impossible. Research by Ian Tyler shows that a staggering 1,833 men were lost due to their aircraft crashing in the Solway during ww2. At low tide it is still possible to see the remains of some of these aircraft.
There is not much to Anthorn village itself. Even the old chapel has been taken over by a private house. There are older buildings many looking to have farming origins, a couple with water pumps (defunct, I presume) in their yards, but many of the houses look to be ex-military. Before the radio station was here, Anthorn had an airfield operated by the Fleet Air Arm as HMS Nuthatch. Its name in line with a tradition of naming RNAS air stations after birds – e.g. RNAS Prestwick is HMS Gannet, and some further examples can be found here). I must admit that when I looked at the list I had not realised some of them were birds. I am wiser now. The old runways and taxiways of the airfield are still visible though they are slowly losing their battle with nature. A taxiway beside the road were I paused to remove waterproofs was covered with flowering stonecrop.
Other legacies of the military airfield are several buildings on the airfield’s perimeter. We speculated on their purpose but could not come up with any convincing possibilities. Most are now repurposed into some sort of agricultural use. A little research on returning home has revealed these to be WW2 era “shooting-in butts” which were used to test aircraft mounted machine-guns.
The area is dominated now by the 13 huge radio masts of the Anthorn Radio Station. Its LF transmitters broadcast the National Physical Laboratory’s time signal for the U.K. (the ‘pips’) and support eLORAN navigation systems, while VLF which can penetrate seawater is used for communication with submerged submarines. These ‘very low frequencies’ are ‘long-wave’, so I wonder whether the old tale of our nuclear submarines being able to tell if the country has been destroyed by listening for BBC Radio 4 (on long wave) might have a grain of truth. You might be able to see from the photographs that the tops of the 227m masts were lost in the clouds as we walked by.
This photograph shows the minor road we were walking along. Despite the appearance there were quite a few cars along the way. The beech tree on the right had a huge trunk and must be several hundred years old.
Once we reached the northern part of the peninsula there were larger stretches of salt marsh between us and the Solway mudflats. I still find it strange to think that Edward I’s invading armies would have crossed into Scotland across the Solway. Perhaps the water channels were different then.
As we approached what remains of the railway viaduct we noticed a strange cloud over Annan I think. I only had my wet weather camera which does not have any optical telephoto so the photographs are not especially clear. Presumably it was from a fire but it was shaped like a tornado. I looked about at the nearby terrain and wondered where we might shelter if it was. There was no shelter so I think we would be done for.
The Solway Rail Viaduct was in use between 1869 and 1915, carrying iron ore from the mines of West Cumberland to foundries in Lanark and Ayrshire. Falling rail traffic forced its closure in 1915 and the viaduct was demolished in 1935. There had been proposals to convert it into a road bridge, but by that time the structure was in poor repair. It is interesting to think how such a road might have altered the areas on both sides of the Solway. The only memorial to the viaduct was this bench back in Anthorn village.
The Road sign where we had begun our Hadrian’s Wall walk in 2017 marked the end of our 2019 Hadrian’s Coastal walk. It seemed fitting to celebrate the accomplishment with a photo.
An’ ah’ve thowt o’ auld friends that have wandered by Waver, An t’ days o’ lang sen when we’d youth on our seyde, Bit theer’s some o’ them sleep in ‘at abba, i’ churchyard, An’ theer’s some o’ them scattered through ways far an’ weyde
Criffel, sitting on the western horizon like a paused sunset, was our companion for much of this trail. But now our attention was drawn towards Anthorn’s radio masts, which shifted around like a compass as our direction of travel changed. We walked beneath a grey sky but in warm summer air. There had been heavy thunderstorms the day before and the the rain machines were taking a well earned break.
We began at Abbeytown, and since this was planned to be a relatively short walk we took a dawdled to look at the old Abbey. The inscription above the door reads Chamber fecit fieri hoc opus Anno domini mdvii. It originally read ‘Robertus Chamber’, who was the Abbot. It translates as ‘This work was done by Robert Chamber 1507.’
We left the churchyard to follow the B5307. A “public footpath” sign but with no discernible footpath on the ground, showed where last week’s walk should have emerged. The day was a little cool at first but it soon warmed up and my choice of one layer (t-shirt) proved correct. The hedgerows were well filled with wild roses and though the honeysuckle and meadowsweet were in bloom, their scent was not noticeable.
The River Waver was now a diminutive waterway which could have passed muster as a large drainage channel. On closer inspection though half of the greenery on either bank is actually growing in the water so the actual river is perhaps three times as wide as it seems. A two lane road bridge spans the river but it has no space for a pavement, so we hurried across when the flow of cars thinned.
Most of the day was road walking and the traffic was busy enough to force us on to what verges there were quite often. The vast majority of drivers gave us a wide berth. But not all. In some places I was wary of stepping off the road because it was unclear if there were ditches hidden beneath the grass. The road winds around the corners of fields reflecting field boundaries of bygone days. This gives them an old fashioned feel and if the traffic were similarly old fashioned (horses and carts) our walk might have been carefree. But it is not the nineteenth century, cars are fast and quiet, and hedges mean drivers cannot see beyond the bends. So extra care is needed when walking.
Our route took us off the busy B5307 onto a minor road that skirting the marshes near Salt Coates but when we arrived the road was closed. Not a new experience for us. There was no explanation, and for some I recalled a photograph of a huge crater caused by a WW2 bomb going off in a field in Germany this week but dismissed bombs as a likely cause for this road closure. More likely the road had been swallowed by the marshes. We decided to assume the closure was for vehicles. We were pedestrian (the noun, not the adjective).
The road being closed I let Christy off his lead, free to snuffle about in search of sticks. The road crosses the pre-Beeching railway line, wide enough to accommodate two tracks. Ahead, and surprisingly close, we could see Anthorn’s masts. Actually about 3 miles away.
As we approached the marshes we spotted a track extending out beyond the road but once we drew closer we could see there was no track, just two parallel fences. The road turned left running beside the marsh with fences both sides but a wide verge. The fences were hung with flotsam showing how high the tides can carry the water here.
Where the road swings away from the marshes, close to Salt Coates farm, our way was blocked. We had found the reason for the road closure. A lorry was dumping its load of tarmac and workmen were laying it. There was no way past. I investigated the possibilities of getting into the adjacent fields but had to categorise these as ‘impossible’ on one side, ‘difficult’ the other. Audrey assigned the task to ‘not doing it’. We decided to hang about until the workmen had finished this particular batch of tarmac, but as time wore on it was clear that would be quite some time, so we asked them if it would be safe to squeeze by. Luckily there was just verge that the dog could avoid walking on the hot tarmac. Given the difficulty getting him to walk on the verge, and the close relationship between verge and ditch I perhaps should have just carried him. Anyway, we got past the tarmac without him treading on it or me slipping into a ditch. A double ended JCB a little further along spotted us coming and paused while we passed.
Then we were back on the B5307 and in no time at all arrived at Newton Arlosh, built following the 1303 inundation of Skinburness. We had both read the book containing that phrase and been intrigued by it. Inundation suggests something a little more than just ‘flooding’, including perhaps a suggestion of being overwhelmed. I vowed to research the 1303 inundation. It would appear that Skinburness and the way leading to it were washed away in flooding. The coastline would likely have been further west than in the present day. There had been plans to build a church there but when the village was lost, the church was built instead at Newton Arlosh. Those were dangerous times for reasons other than natural disasters so the new church, was also intended to provide a refuge from “the hostile invasions and depredations of the Scots”.
The name ‘Arlosh” suggests it was built on land cleared by burning. It is strange now to think of this area as forested, though perhaps the burning was of scrubland. Complementing the fourteenth century Anglo-Norman Church, St John’s is a twenty-first century community defibrillator. There is also a pub, the Joiners Arms, where the road forks.
We took the road signposted to Powhill and characteristic RAF buildings ahead at Kirkbride airfield. We crossed a bridge which seemed not to actually cross anything but would once have spanned the railway of which no sign remains now. The large pond here was my reminder for where we needed to leave the road.
A signpost indicated a public footpath, but pointed across an overgrown field defended by a chaste gate (did not swing). It didn’t look to be a path so we walked on to where there looked to be a break in the hedgerows further along the road.
We reached Longlands, found no other path so headed back to the original sign and walked through the long grass. Another rusted gate bordered someone’s lawn. But across the lawn, behind the house, I spied another public footpath sign, so over we went. There was a stile hidden in the corner, almost lost amongst thornbushes and nettles. On its far side a deep ditch. Was this the way? We thought not, but could find no other way out.
There is a much overgrown dyke beside the ditch. Monks’ Dyke on the map. It was difficult walking, the ground hidden, uneven and narrow with a sharp drop onto a barbed wire fence at the left or into a deep ditch on the right. The plants behaved like evil spirits eager to rob us of comfort, stinging, pricking and whipping at every opportunity. I fought through them and found another stile, this taking us to easy walking through scented mayweed beside a field of wheat. Relief.
But easy did not last. The next stile, similarly hidden within tangled thorns and guarded by tall nettles, was also adorned with barbed wire. A small plaque reassured us we still on the public ‘footpath’. We stepped into a virgin meadow, its tall grass rippling in the gentle breeze. The dog bounced along like a springbok, while we stepped high as if struck with foot-drop.
Another stile, of the same ilk, and another unmown meadow. The grass sapped our energy. My hips groaned, foreseeing coming stiffness. Audrey, walking behind me, was reciting from a thesaurus, “stung, scratched, bruised, nicked, gashed, pricked, whipped…” . At the next hedge, there was neither gate nor stile. No way through to the next field. We walked up to the northern corner. No escape there either.
We paused to cool our tempers with cold water. The map was consulted and with a sigh of resignation we made our way back to eastern corner to search more carefully for a way through. We did find a rusting gate in the SW fence but it was locked shut and backed up with barbed wire. Beyond it another overgrown jungle.
We chose to abandon the ‘public footpath’. There was definitely a gate in the NW corner and a farm in the distance beyond that. On the basis that the farm had to have an access track we headed that way. The gate opened onto a track along the route of the disused railway. We needed to go east but our choices were NE (overgrown and long unused by the look of it) or SW (had been used by vehicles). Having not packed a machete or scythe we could only choose SW. This meant we were heading in the wrong direction but sometimes that is the only way.
The track brought us to our old friend the B5307 not far from Arlosh House Farm. The Anthorn masts were now behind us, but we were walking in the right direction and the road was easier walking than the meadows.
We were on the look out for a place to sit for lunch and a kind chap at the Kirkbride Bowls and Tennis Club allowed us to sit on one of their benches. In my mind we had almost finished the walk. The Wampool bridge was just up the road, and from there it was a short walk back to the car at Anthorn. So it was with renewed vigour that I strode out for the Wampool Bridge.
There is a single lane bridge across the Wampool, and a sign warns that the bridge is weak. It does not stretch to a pavement so we had to time our crossing carefully. The river flowed well belw us but flotsam on the roadside fences showed how high the waters might rise. I had thought the Wampool was Woden’s Water, but I see it actually takes its name from the words for ford, vaðill, and river or water, pol. So presumably Wampool was originally a place rather than a river.
The Watters o' Wampool, hoo slowly they gleyde, Past meedows an' marshlands, ta Solway's dark teyde, The sea suin surrounds them, theyre lost in its waves. The watters o’ Wampool hev gean ta their graves.
John Tiffin Coulthard
Across the bridge is a junction. We read the sign. Right: three miles to Bowness, left: two and a half miles to Anthorn. “Two and a half miles?” I squeaked, incredulous. How could that be? By now even the dog seemed to be tiring, walking behind me rather than forging ahead. But we trudged on, the masts revealing more detail as we drew closer.