Gatehouse of Fleet had much for us to appreciate. Across the road from our overnight spot was the Mill on the Fleet. A working water mill that was once at the heart of a mill village, similar to Saltaire in Yorkshire and New Lanark in Lanarkshire where a planned industrial village provided education and housing for the mill workers and their families. We loved the mixture of stories from history with bang up to date ecological information about the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere. The notion of an area that is of equal benefit to nature and to people is refreshing and inspiring.
On a less positive note, something that Gatehouse will be remembered for is the moment when I tripped over a wooden plinth in the van and face planted – fortunately onto the only available open space by the kitchen. One minute I was striding up the van on some mission that after the event completely escaped me, the next my foot caught on the end of a bit of furniture and I found myself face down on the rug with Poppy sniffing my ear in concerned surprise. No serious damage done, thankfully, but the dog bowl that my hip landed on wasn’t comfortable at all. After some tea and sympathy from lovely nurse Shirley I came to the sad conclusion that I have inherited the family tendency to fall over things that most sensible people have no problem avoiding. My mother was a tumbler and so was my eldest sister… I would rather have inherited something else, like the ability to save money, but there you go. So this is probably a good moment to apologise for laughing when Shirley fell out of the van onto the step that wasn’t there.
After our free night in Gatehouse we retraced our steps to go and spend two nights at Solway View Campsite. When we phoned to check availability the owner told us that we were coming to the “best campsite in the world”. That was a small exaggeration, but only a small one. The views and the facilities are lovely and the pitches massive. Every pitch has a picnic bench and a firepit. You can buy wood from the owner and sit round your own campfire if that’s your thing. If you’re planning on visiting don’t forget your marshmallows. If we had any reservations at all, it was that for a motorhome it’s a bit too remote. Campers and caravanners who have the use of a car to tour the area would find it an ideal spot. Motorhomers with bikes who had more energy than us would be fine too but the 5 miles of winding, up and down, single track road to Kirkcudbright inspired us to leave the bikes on the back and sit outside in the sunshine. We enjoyed chats with our nearest neighbours, strolled through the fields and lanes, looked out over the water and read and slept a lot. Not much excitement but plenty of chill out time. Wait a minute – there was a little excitement. We’d been asked to keep the dogs on leads except in the dog exercise field. No field is going to keep Poppy constrained and she escaped over the distant fields in the wake of a rather surprise hare. It took us and Jude, our neighbour, a fair while to get her back. Once we had her on the lead she glanced up at us with a puzzled ‘What’s all the fuss about?” look.
Moving on from Kirkcudbright bay we took a gentle tour around the Whithorn Peninsula after stopping for provisions in Newton Stewart in the rain. As we made our way towards the Isle of Whithorn the rain stopped and we came upon a possible free overnight stop. There is a field with a P for Parking sign right at the end of the harbour road where motorhomers and campers are welcome. It is owned by the local hotel and there is an unspoken expectation that campers will make use of their bar and restaurant now and again in exchange for a free break. We seriously considered staying there but decided that the uneven space that was available would be too difficult to level the motorhome on. One of the resident motorhomers told us that he regularly spends a week there. Great if you have kids as there is a big playground right next door and of course the beach.
We took the short walk to St Ninian’s Chapel, sauntered round the village, looked at the boats and moved on, finally landing at Port William where there is a community owned campsite. I’ve had my eye on this place for a while because of the interesting way the local community works together with the limited resources they have. The campsite on the edge of the sea offers big pitches, old but clean and functional facilities, free wifi and a warm welcome for £12 a night, or £15 if you want electric hook up. There’s a playground next door and a café and pub in the village. Great for a quiet break but the south westerly was blowing a hoolie so we only stayed for one night.
Onward and upward, the next morning we headed for Stranraer and a delightful wee site on a farm five miles beyond the town. Here we found a fully serviced pitch in a little sheltered corner of the farm, plenty of thoughtful touches including the fun filled and boisterous welcome of the owner’s children who brightened up our day with a guided walk around the fields and a peek at their precious find of a wagtail’s nest in an old piece of farm machinery. We were amazed by their knowledge of the countryside and the workings of the farm as well as their confidence. This is the first time on the whole trip that the magical sense of connection we sometimes get when we meet new people has been with children.
Our tour around the South West of Scotland has brought some surprises. The countryside here is dramatically different from the North West, with rolling pastures and lush green fields as far as the eye can see. The local accent gradually changes as you travel west and here, just a few short miles from Ireland, we found to our surprise that the locals sound more Irish than Scottish. Shirley has a tendency to pick up the accent of whoever she is talking to, so I’m waiting with bated breath to hear her morph into a local.
Our original ‘plan’, if you can call the vague chats we have about routes plans, was to hop over to Ireland at this point and spend some time there. Life being deliberately slow and plans being constantly open to change has led us to the decision that we can’t do Ireland justice in the time we have left on this part of the tour. We’ll save that for another time.
There is something very special about taking life at a gentle pace and stopping to breathe the air for no other reason than we just can. A tour like this offers a unique opportunity. It gives you the space to consider what is really important about your life, your possessions and the way you use your time. It highlights the stuff that gives you a spring in your step and the things that sap you of energy. I’ve made a few half joking comments about wondering why we have a house in this blog and now, into the fifth month of the tour, we have the answer to that. It’s important to us to have a base, a place where we’re known and recognised. It’s important to us to have somewhere we call home. For the first time last night, as we lay in bed chatting about the day, we began to look forward to being home again.
After here we’ll wander up towards Ayrshire to hopefully meet up with some more friends and possibly hop over to the Isle of Cumbrae if it seems like a good idea at the time. We’ll just wait and see – how good is that?