Walking The Whithorn Way

The Pixar film ‘Up!’ starts with a young girl, Ellie, telling her new friend Carl that ‘adventure is out there!’ While the two have some adventures as a couple, it is only as an older man ─ and on his own, to some extent ─ that Carl embarks on a trip which changes his life. Carl is not as lonely as you might think, and gains some unexpected companions on the way. He discovers Ellie was right, and that adventure is almost as close as the next corner ─ though its boundaries extend much further! It’s possible to discover adventure right on the doorstep of west central Scotland. I hope these pages might encourage you to start an adventure of your own ─ possibly quite near your front door.

On Easter Monday, 2018 I began ─ almost by accident ─ something of an adventure which involved a round walking trip from Glasgow Cathedral to Whithorn Priory. I try to provide a description of each section of the route I walked. This isn’t necessarily the official or best way, but it got me there. Where possible, I have linked to points on OpenStreetMap to identify some of the important junctions and turnings.

As well as providing directions, I give some general background to a few of the sights, and sites, along the way. I’ve included some pictures I took, too. There are more things to see, many detailed in Julia Muir Watt’s guidebook below, but I point out some of those I found noticeable.

I also try to say a little about my reflections on each of the eleven sections. As I walked I found that, at times, I was thinking nothing. Some of the time, an issue or a problem from work, or life, ran through my mind. At other times, and part of the wonder of the walks, was that I came across things which made me think differently, or prompted me to remember what I’d long forgotten, or intrigued me to discover more. I found that writing these down in this blog helped me to think; for all that they are personal and don’t necessarily bear any connection to you, I hope nonetheless you find them to be of some interest.

Many people have found walking long distances an enriching experience. For several centuries prior to 2017 the Church of Scotland, in its Reformed tradition, had not taken the idea of pilgrimage seriously. That year’s General Assembly changed the outlook, however, and affirmed the place of pilgrimage within the life of the church. It encouraged people and congregations to explore opportunities for pilgrimage locally; a year later, I gave it a try.

There are many pilgrim paths across Scotland, some stretching back to the earliest Christian communities here which thrived more than a dozen centuries ago. One route is the Whithorn Way, a 143-mile walking route from St Mungo’s Cathedral in Glasgow to the Priory in Whithorn, described in one of two helpful websites.

It passes within four miles of my home and, over eleven days, I walked it in both directions. There’s a taster as a trailer by Julia Muir Watt on the other useful Whithorn Way website.

In nearly three hundred miles there and back again, pilgrims walk through a fascinating mixture of countryside and coast, past castles and cliffs, in Renfrewshire, Ayrshire, and Dumfries and Galloway. Walking this way connects us with our past, an ancient heritage going back to at least the twelfth century and very possibly earlier. It was an adventure outside and in, as I walked and as I thought.

Guides

The Whithorn Way website is a great help both in providing the route and splitting it into a series of walks, each of which is manageable in a day. A set of detailed route instructions is also available.

Julia Muir Watt’s Walk the Whithorn Way guidebook also gives a deal of information on the route as well as containing much fascinating background material.

Round Trips

One of the difficulties I faced was that I wanted to walk on my own. Had there been a companion, we might have arranged transport such that we only needed to walk one way. While public transport is available for the northerly portion of the route, it becomes much less frequent south of Barrhill.

So I hit on the idea of walking each stage as a circuit. That meant I could park virtually anywhere on the day’s route, walk to one end, then to the other, and finally return to my car. Of course, this required me to walk in both directions – but there again, every walk has these. I was struck how different they were, not least as the sun moved across the sky and let me see things in, literally, a new light. I was able to complete each of the eleven sections in both directions in a single day, though I did fine-tune two sections near the end as I explain later. A couple of those days did involve pretty lengthy walks.

Fancy a walk?

I’m hoping to walk shorter sections of the Whithorn Way again in the spring. If you’d like to join me, get in touch using the form below.


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