Like much of coastal Dumfries and Galloway, the Rhins offers some fine beaches. The following list is not exhaustive but offers a range of options.
Genock Rocks/Braid Port - good for seals
Salt Pans Bay - accessed from the ruins of 16th-century Galdenoch Castle (no dogs allowed on beach). Bay once used for panning salt from the sea.
Broadsea Bay - sandy beach, access down a dirt track with gates or alternatively walk along from Killantringan Bay.
Wig Bay - on the western shore of Loch Ryan.
New England Bay - picnic area, caravan site, makes for a pleasant stop-off point with views of the Machars across Luce Bay.
Ardwell Bay - wide sandy beach running into rocky area at one end and headland at the other.
Of the various lighthouses in Dumfries and Galloway, three of them are on the Rhins. Each is mentioned at the relevant point in the main text; a summary of their main features can be found at www.bradtguides.com/rhinslighthouses. More information can also be found in the excellent ‘Lighthouse Library’ section of the website of the Northern Lighthouse Board (www.nlb.org.uk), the general lighthouse authority for Scotland and the Isle of Man.
All three lighthouses were designed by members of the prolific and talented Stevenson family: Robert was responsible for Corsewall and the Mull, while his grandson David A(lan) Stevenson designed the lighthouse at Killantringan. (The writer Robert Louis Stevenson was, of course, also the grandson of Robert.) Lighthouses were something of a Stevenson pre-occupation; between Robert, his three sons Alan, David and Thomas, and his grandson David, over 150 years they designed most of the lighthouses in Scotland.
Corsewall – located on the northwest tip of the Rhins, Corsewall has been in operation since 1817. Both the tower and elevation are just over 110 feet high; the tower is not open to the public. The light, which assists sailors in the North Channel of the Irish Sea as they approach and exit Loch Ryan, was automated in 1994 and is now remotely monitored from the Northern Lighthouse Board’s offices in Edinburgh. It flashes white every 30 seconds and has a nominal range of 22 nautical miles. There’s a lighthouse attendant at Leswalt in the north Rhins who can deal with day-to-day maintenance issues both here and at the Mull of Galloway. The surrounding buildings at Corsewall are privately owned and operated as the Corsewall Lighthouse Hotel.
Killantringan – first lit in 1900, Killantringan stands on a rocky promontory a few miles north of Portpatrick. Over the years it has come to the rescue of mariners in distress many times, the first being just 8 weeks after it came into operation. The tower itself is just over 72 feet tall; its elevation just over 160 feet. Following a review in 2005 by the three general lighthouse authorities of the UK and Ireland, it was decided to discontinue Killantringan. Its light was switched off permanently on 11 July 2007. The tower and surrounding buildings are now in private ownership.
Mull of Galloway – the lighthouse at Scotland’s most southerly point has been both a literal and symbolic beacon since it was built in 1828. The tower is just over 85 feet high and the elevation just over 324 feet. The light flashes white every 20 seconds and has a nominal range of 28 nautical miles. Visitors can climb to the top of the tower and the lighthousekeeper’s cottages are now holiday lets. In 1988 the lighthouse was demanned, since when it has been remotely monitored from the offices of the Northern Lighthouse Board in Edinburgh. Since July 2013 the surrounding buildings have been owned by the Mull of Galloway Trust. The Mull lighthouse is a member of the Association of Lighthouse Keeper’s ‘Passport Scheme’ (www.alk.org.uk)
The building itself dates from 1776 and at one point the ground floor was a jail while upstairs was a debtor’s prison and meeting room for burgh officials. After a new town hall opened in Lewis Street in 1874, this one was used by various groups including Galloway Rifle Volunteers, the town fire brigade, the local Temperance Union and, from one extreme to the other, a gentleman’s club. It became a museum in 1984. At one point there were also two shops downstairs, including the local butcher, John McHaig. There is a cracking old black-and-white photograph of him on display in the museum, standing outside his shop complete with a menagerie of animals hanging from hooks along the shop front.
Dunskey Castle, near Portpatrick
A castle belonging to the Adair family has been recorded here from the 14th century, though what remains today dates mostly from the early 16th century at which time it was rebuilt by William Adair of Kinhilt, who is also believed to have built the castle in Stranraer. Later still it was remodelled and expanded by Sir Hugh Montgomery, who was laird of Dunskey from 1608 until his death in 1636. In 1648 the estate was bought by the Reverend James Blair, after whom it is assumed Blair Terrace in Portpatrick is named. He opted to move a little further north to Killantringan though, where he built Dunskey House, and by 1684 Dunskey was a ruin, as it has remained ever since.
LOGAN BOTANIC GARDEN
Logan Botanic Garden represents a significant chunk of botanical history. Originally part of the grounds of Logan House owned by the MacDouall family, the development of the gardens started under Agnes MacDouall in the 1870s. Agnes was a fanatical gardener and is said to have planted the first eucalyptus trees here and her sons carried on her work, collecting plants from around the world on their travels. The MacDoualls eventually sold the estate and put it into trust, but the trust ran out of money. However, the chair of the trust happened to be from the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh, who at the time were looking for somewhere to grow tender species, and so the gardens at Logan were acquired.
Richard Baines, curator of Logan Botanic Gardens, is especially proud that in 2014 the gardens had the first king protea ever to flower in Scotland. 2014 also saw the opening of the new conservatory, ‘the first all green greenhouse in the UK’ says Richard, with solar panels and air source heat pumps. Logan has been described as Scotland’s most exotic garden and plants from all over the world are thriving. Hoopoes wouldn’t look out of place here, which is perhaps why one turned up one year, blown off course but nonetheless quite at home. There is still an active programme of plant collecting going on. Richard Baines has travelled to Chile and South Africa and was just about to head off to Vietnam when we last saw him. It’s impressive what he manages to fit into his time, not least as he has five acres of his own to tend at home!
THE MULL OF GALLOWAY
The lighthouse complex at the Mull was previously owned by the Northern Lighthouse Board, but in 2012 it was acquired by the local community with the aid of grants from the Scottish Land Fund and the Glasgow Galloway Society, plus money raised locally. The Mull of Galloway Trust now owns everything except for the lighthouse tower itself, which is still a working lighthouse and remains in the care of the Northern Lighthouse Board, managed on a daily basis by the Trust for visitor access.
Historically, there were usually three lighthouse keepers here at any one time from the date the light started working in 1830 through to 1988 when it was automated. Ninety four of those keepers, those from 1837 onwards, are commemorated by name on a plaque in the exhibition. No-one knows why the keepers of the first seven years aren’t mentioned.
The recipe for heather ale
If Robert Louis Stevenson is to be believed, the recipe for heather ale was lost when an invading chieftain captured a Pictish father and son, and demanded they tell him the recipe. The father persuades the chief that he cannot divulge the recipe for fear of reprisal from his son but suggests that if his son is killed first then he will be able to speak freely. The son is cast from the cliffs ‘and the sea swallowed his body’, upon which the canny father reveals:
True was the word I told you:
Only my son I feared;
For I doubt the sapling courage
That goes without the beard.
But now in vain is the torture,
Fire shall never avail:
Here dies in my bosom
The secret of Heather Ale.
And so disappears forever the recipe for heather ale, which incidentally is believed to have been not just alcoholic but also had strong hallucinogenic properties.
RSPB MULL OF GALLOWAY RESERVE
Fulmars and razorbills jostle for space on the narrow cliff ledges in spring, with eider ducks and shags becoming a feature in winter months. Summer brings gannets, while in autumn sand and house martins congregate prior to their migration to warmer climes. Various birds of the Auk family, including guillemots, black guillemots and puffins, can be seen too. There are also kittiwake and peregrine falcon star species, but there are plenty of others, including meadow pipit, stonechat, linnet and whitethroat. The Mull’s location is also a great point for visible migration towards the end of the season; on one occasion over 1400 skylark were counted passing overhead.
We met seasonal ranger Jone Ayres who was spending her second season here. ‘It’s not just about birds’, says Jone. ‘There’s plenty of wildlife here if you know where to look: voles, mice, a family of roe deer, and a quite spectacularly iridescent beetle (the rose chafer beetle). Controversially, there are weasels here, too; they’re interesting to see, but a threat to ground- and low-nesting birds. It’s a bit too blustery and exposed for butterflies, but one or two day-flying moths might be spotted, notably the brightly coloured Cinabar moth and similar Five-spot Burnet’.
Jone’s enthusiasm is infectious and her knowledge extensive. In the studio area she has plenty to engage kids, including colouring desks, films and webcams, with lots of webcam videos of wildlife and bird events filmed over past years. Jone will also send them off on an activity tour looking for specific species and items. There are recordings of bird sounds and, for the ghoulish, bird skulls to try and identify. And if you fancy getting a closer look at the wildlife, there’s always the option of a boat trip from Drummore.