Distance – 11km Time 3 hours 30
Terrain – clifftop paths, footpaths and lanes Map OS Explorer 309
Access parking along the harbourside; buses from Stranraer
Picture-perfect Portpatrick has ruined many an entrepreneur who tried, and failed, to create a port here and tap into the shortest crossing to Ireland. Today it’s a leisurely place – a pint of the local ale, an ice cream on the prom – though the harbour is still used, notably for the annual Lifeboat Festival. Portpatrick is also the start point of the 344km coast to coast Southern Upland Way (SUW).
From the harbourfront, head towards the RNLI lifeboat station, stopping to peruse the SUW information board before climbing the cliff, complete with snippets of local geological history carved into the steps. At the top pause and survey the scene below, with its tiny harbour of bobbing boats and, even on the finest day, crashing waves.
Although a port here was deemed essential for the lucrative cattle-droving trade from Ireland, the frequent westerly gales made its approach treacherous and ultimately the calmer waters of nearby Loch Ryan proved more feasible.
Go left at the lane around the golf course and along the clifftop, which makes for vertiginous but stunning walking with arguably some of the finest vistas in Galloway. Thousands of herring gulls and fulmars jostle and cry for prime spots on the precarious ledges, while out at sea sleek gannets with their pointed wings ‘dipped in black ink’ fish these waters.
Drop down to the inlet at Port Mora, continue over rocks coated in bright lichens and stepping stones lapped at the highest tide, and carry on past the Dropping Cave. The cascading waterfall here was reputedly a ‘kill or cure’ panacea for all manner of ailments, notably for children suffering with whooping cough. We don’t recommend trying it!
Continue along the back of the beach and up over the cliffs before quickly dropping down into Port Kale. The quirky, double-octagonal building was the housing for the telegraph cable, laid from here to Ireland in 1852 and in operation until 1983.
The Return Walk
Go over the wooden bridge and on around the bay to climb once again the steep cliff face. Pass over Ouchtriemakain Moor, where owl pellets litter the ground, frogs lay spawn in the boggy areas and birds such as stonechat and wheatear can be seen. Soon Killantringan Lighthouse appears on the horizon. This is historically a treacherous stretch of coast for sailors with some 70 ships wrecked here in the 150 years before the days of GPS. Killantringan was built in 1900 by D A Stevenson of the celebrated family of Scottish lighthouse builders, and also had a clifftop foghorn.
At the lane by the lighthouse turn right and follow it for about 2km up to the B738. Turn right here, leaving the route of the SUW and following the road for another 2km to the second set of wrought-iron gates attached to stone pillars. Turn right through the gates and then almost immediately take the footpath steps on the left to pass along the edge of the wood. At the track by the Glen Walks car park go left, then right at the track fork, signed Portpatrick, dropping down to the main Portpatrick road.
Turn right at the road and follow Main Street back down to the harbour. Time permitting, take a look at ruined St Andrew’s Kirk, tucked away on St Patrick Street. Built in 1629, the round tower is thought to be much older. Once back at the water keep an eye open for black guillemot, with their distinctive red feet, that make the harbour their home.
Pocket Mountain books are available online at most good bookshops and at Waterstones Byres Road
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