Ravenglass to Dumfries / New Abbey to Stranraer / Girvan to Port Glasgow

Our VanOn this excursion, we were travelling in a camper van for the first time, getting to know the advantages and shortcomings of travelling like a tortoise with a home on our back. By the end of the week reversing the vehicle had become a fine art but we still had not figured out how to empty the waste water tank.

We decided to begin the trip in the Lake District as we wanted to visit the nuclear power station at Sellafield and were hoping to get as far as the Mull of Galloway. The April weather was as unpredictable as usual and the Midlands were suffering from the worst floods in living memory - the forecast was freezing winds from the north (huge arrows on the weather map), snow and wintry showers - "you're going where?.... Scotland ? .... Ha Ha".


A county of harsh and heathery uplands and beautiful lakes, sculpted by the Ice Ages. There is a narrow coastal strip between the sea and the mountains. The area is pictuesque and often full of tourists, in spite of the frequent rain! It is also famous for Cumberland rum butter, sausages and a rather delicious sauce.


Esk EstuaryWe packed up the van and left in the early afternoon, arriving on the Cumbrian coast at 6pm. We settled at Walls caravan park in Ravenglass. It was pleasant and set in a small woodland where three rivers meet - the Esk, the Mite, and the Irt.

Before the port silted up, it enjoyed prosperity when slate from the Lake District was loaded onto boats in the harbour.

Roman bath houseWe walked down the primrose-lined lane to the remains of the well preserved Roman Bath House. From AD 78, one thousand Roman soldiers occupied Ravenglass. It served as an important naval base and command centre for the occupation of the northwest of England. Little of the fort remains today except the Bath House, It was called Glannaventa, known locally as Walls Castle.

MuncasterThe next morning was bright and sunny and we drove past the sandy estuary to Muncaster where there is a 19th century castle and a flour mill set alongside the pretty Ravenglass and Ersdale narrow gauge railway known as "T'La'al Ratty".

The three-foot gauge railroad was built in 1875 to carry iron ore from Nab Gill, to the Furness Railroad at Ravenglass but the mines failed in 1882. It was reopened recently to provide a scenic ride.

Muncaster Watermill, in operation since 1455 was once an oat mill and now makes organic wheat flour using 'French burr' stones. When we arrived a chimney fire was threatening to put a stop to that! Fortunately the owner was able to rescue the situation.


St Peters Church at DriggDriving north, we passed Drigg where in the salt marsh, there is the largest colony of black-headed gulls in Europe, but also a repository for nuclear waste from Sellafield.

SeascaleThe roads were lined with daffodils as we crossed the Cumbria Cycle Way and coastal railway at Seascale and we could see the snow topped mountains of the Lake District to our right.

This is a small resort with good sands and there were some canoeists out in the sea braving the wind. An old round tower dominates the bay next to a golf course.


Windscale and Calder Hall atomic stationsAbout 2 miles north are Windscale and Calder Hall atomic stations, where in 1957 a leakage into the atmosphere caused the banning of milk sales over 200 sq. miles. Now there is a £5 million visitor centre at the site, which is a huge public relations exercise.

Visitor Centre

We were taken round the site by coach, having first been vetted by a policeman. On board, videos filled in details of the processes as the guide pointed out the nuclear piles, Thorp re-processing plant and £2 million pound vessels used for transportation of fuel on the private railway. It was all impressive to say the least and complimented by a no-expense-spared exhibition with massive hands-on models and displays. And - - it was free!

BraystonesWe decided not to eat in the restaurant (just in case - he he) and drove on to a tiny hamlet called Braystones where we found a pretty spot to park by the River Ehen with a good view of the power station as well. The road north is very narrow but we could see over the hedges to the sandy shore with the railway running in between. The bright yellow of the gorse bushes made it a pretty ride.

St Bees

St Bees St Bees lies a little way inland and the red sandstone headland, some 300 feet high, is the most westerly point of Cumberland. The story goes that St Bega, a seventh century Irish maiden was shipwrecked here and became the guest of Lord Egremont. She asked him for some land to build a nunnery; it was midsummer's day but he said she could have as much as was covered in snow the next day, a small patch was covered and he kept his word.

LighthouseThere is an RSPB nature reserve with the only British colony of black guillemots. The beach is strewn with gem-stones, which makes it a popular place for collectors. In the past, at Fleswick Bay, contraband was unloaded by smugglers under cover of darkness.

St BeesThe Cumbria Coastal Path runs along the heritage coast on its way from Carlisle to Milnthorpe. On its way it passes the remains of several old mines and quarries. The mining shafts followed coal seams out to sea for as much as 5 miles. Saltom Pit, begun in 1729, was the world's first undersea mine shaft.

There were people on the beach, despite the sleety showers. St Bees is the end of the coast to coast walk from Robin Hood's Bay and there is a path to the headland where you can see black guillemots.


Whitehaven The road diverted inland from the coast and we could see the white buildings and factories of Whitehaven in the valley ahead of us. This is a seaport and coal-mining town with pits extending miles out to sea.

The first Earl of Lonsdale built a castle and developed the town, it was one of the first planned towns in England. The Georgian town centre was built to a design by Christopher Wren, and still boasts over 250 listed buildings. There is a complicated harbour with twin lighthouses, once the third largest port in Britain with a ship building industry.Whitehaven

WhitehavenApparently smugglers once took refuge in a cave and had to live on rum, butter and sugar - the resulting Cumbrian delicacy is rum butter, made with the addition of nutmeg - yum, yum.

The town was becoming a bit tatty but has a visitor attraction called The Beacon - telling the social history of the place. We didn't stay long and the 24hr petrol station was shut.


WorkingtonThis was called Gabrosentum in Roman times and in the 9th century the monks fleeing from the Danes tried to sail from here to Ireland, unfortunately the Lindisfarne Gospels were washed overboard. Mary Queen of Scots spent some time at Workington Hall, a ruin now.

WorkingtonIt is an industrial iron and steel town, but its prominent feature is now a wind farm on the shore to the north.

The wind turbines - at least 20 of them - could be seen for miles and walking underneath them is spooky. We were amazed at their size and the whooshing noise they made. Today was very windy so they were at full throttle, standing proud in a long line along the golf course.


Maryport This is a sweet little town at the mouth of the Ellen River with a harbour, now closed to shipping and with Roman stations on the cliffs. It took its name from the wife of a local landowner who built the docks and harbour in the 18th century.

The town takes the shape of a grid iron pattern and has a cobbled market square. Fletcher Christian, leader of the mutiny on the Bounty was born nearby, and so there are exhibits in the Maritime Museum here.

AllonbyDriving north, there are sand dunes all the way with a path called the Allerdale Ramble, which is the start of the Cumbria Coast Path. The unfenced road runs almost on the beach along Allonby Bay with rocky outcrops with names like Dubmill Scar, Lownagstock Scar and Stinking Crag.

BeckfootThe remains of some 17th century saltpans can be seen here too. The coast is a long bank of shingle with muddy sand stretching for a mile at low tide.

We stayed at Beckfoot on a small campsite beside the beach and went for a walk in the freezing wind, collecting driftwood and watching the sunset.


SillothAnother sunny day dawned and we continued north to Silloth, a small port on the Solway Firth that became a resort with the coming of the railway in 1856. In the distance we could see Criffel Hill in Kircudbrightshire. The streets are wide and cobbled and we stopped at the harbour, complete with funfair and holiday camp.


Just past the town is a squat white lighthouse on the grassy promenade. The farthest north we could get was Skinburness, a small village with a huge hotel, and from there an old sea dyke takes you south-east across the marshes. The trouble was, it was only suitable for small vehicles so we had to make a detour. The marshes are the channels of the rivers Waver and Wampole and on the other side we could see the NATO radio antennae on Bowness Common.

AngertonThe road took us through Abbeytown where we crossed the River Waver but we couldn't find the abbey remains, and on through Newton Arlosh where St John's Church has an interesting square tower. The walls are 5ft thick as a defence against Scottish raiders, having only one door, from the first floor inside the church. Cattle were kept in the nave for safety during raids.

Having crossed a dismantled railway several times, we came to an area of National Trust at Angerton. A narrow bridge took us over the Wampole and we stopped to look at the river where notices to bathers warned of quicksand. There was a railway to the Scottish shore until 1935 that carried iron ore.


Bowness-on-SolwayThe northern coast of Cumbria faces Scotland along the Solway Firth with a nature reserve on the marshes. The most northern point is Bowness-on-Solway, which marks the start of Hadrian's Wall, a great Roman stone-built barrier against savage northern tribes, which stretched all the way to the east coast; nothing remains at this end unfortunately.

Burgh by Sands

The lovely coast here belongs to the National Trust and the unfenced road is frequently flooded with depth warning notices all the way to Burgh by Sands, where there is a strongly fortified church built entirely of Roman stones.

It is a peaceful coastline with good vistas over what is called Bowness Wath, the channel of the River Eden from England and River Esk from Scotland.


Citadel The first crossing point of the River Eden is in Carlisle, so a lengthy detour through the town centre was necessary to reach the main A74 going north. We made the most of this to go shopping for a radio and fan-heater. In spite of its size, Carlisle is the ancient county, a well-laid out place with a wide central market, a medieval guildhall, castle, museum and gardens.

Cathedral ceilingCathedralCarlisle's Cathedral, with its famous 14th century stained glass window is worth a visit.

In 80 AD, the Romans founded Carlisle as a base for Hadrian's Wall defences and it became the centre for their Western frontier for 250 years. They established the garrisons of Luguvalium and Petrianum, but by the 5th century, the Romans had left but their fort, known as Caerligaluid, prospered.

Castle The magnificent Castle founded in 1092 stands as testament to the years of fighting over the English-Scottish border. It was once the prison of Mary, Queen of Scots and is still home to the King's Own Royal Border Regiment today.

The longest siege of the town was in 1644 when it fell to the Scots and from where Bonnie Prince Charlie made his proclamation in 1745.


The region is dominated by the Southern Uplands extending west to the Galloway Forest Park. This is Robert Burns country with countless museums and shrines. Cutting through Annandale, the M74 connects Carlisle with Glasgow and we were forced to drive along it to reach Gretna.

Gretna Green

On leaving the main road, we drove over a girder bridge and passed the 'Welcome to Scotland' sign - one road sign we always look forward to seeing.

Blacksmith's shopGretna Green is well known for elopements and quick weddings, but nowadays marriages over the old anvil in the Blacksmith's shop are so trendy and fashionable that they need to be booked well in advance! Four thousand weddings take place there each year.

Blacksmith's shopIn 1754 Lord Hardwicke's Marriage Act stated that, in England, if either party to a marriage was under 21, then they could not marry without parental consent. This Act did not apply to Scotland, where you only needed to be 16 years old to marry with or without parental consent and a couple had only to declare their intentions to be husband and wife in the presence of two witnesses, and their word was law.

Gretna Green is the first village on the Scottish side of the border, well situated to take advantage of the differences in the two countries' marriage laws. The buildings are also a tourist attraction and we were given a guided tour between weddings. The marriage anvil and coach are on display as well as a honeymoon bedroom.

The Solway Coast

Annan Driving west along the flatlands of the Solway Firth, we passed through Annan, a small Victorian town popular with salmon fishermen.. Further on is the coastal village of Powfoot with a tatty caravan park and car park (where we had an argument with the low metal barrier).

runic cross

The next place of interest is Ruthwell for two reasons. One is the 18ft runic cross bearing the oldest surviving fragment of written English dating around 680AD.

It is displayed in a massive glass case and dominates the inside of the local church. The floor around it had to be lowered to get it in.

savings bank museumThe second is the savings bank museum, the site of the first Scottish savings bank, which is tiny but interesting.

Brow Well is the place where Robert Burns is supposed to have tried to cure himself - of what I am not sure, and there isn't much to see. To the south near the estuary of the River Nith is the wildfowl and wetlands centre - 1400 acres of salt marsh and mud flat, famous for barnacle geese which return in their thousands each winter.

Caerlaverock CastleNearby is Caerlaverock Castle (lark's nest), a 13th century triangular castle with round towers and a double moat. We tried to visit the castle but the ancient gateway to the car park was too small to drive through and there wasn't anywhere outside to stop - anyway as it was a bank holiday it was full of tourists.


DumfriesThe first bridge over the Nith is inland at Dumfries, where there are five bridges, the oldest dates back to 1426. This is a bustling textile town nicknamed Queen of the South, which specialises in stockings and knitwear.

Berns StatueBurns lived here from 1791 until his death in 1796 and wrote his best poetry including 'Auld Lang Syne'. He is buried in a mausoleum in St.Michael's churchyard.

Burns HouseAt his favourite pub - The Globe - you can sit in his chair but if you cannot recite one of his poems in full, you will have to buy a round of drinks! You can also visit the Bum's Centre, Statue and House.