In the steps of pilgrims and princes
A great find for accommodation for the last two days of the route was Hawthorn House in Port William. There are, in fact, few B&B premises in the area, particularly out of the summer season. No other guests were staying on these days and so Hilary and Tim, who were perfect hosts, upgraded me to the bedroom featured on the website! The warm welcome, comfortable room and huge breakfast set me up for the final day of walking the Whithorn Way. It was an ideal conclusion to a fairly long trek!
Given I was staying in Port William, I walked back to Chapel Finian where, in the cold and bright morning light, the coastline of the Mull of Galloway was clear and I could also see the Isle of Man. The return route along the A747 has no footpath, though there is an old telephone box in someone’s garden!
The route taken here differs from the recommended Whithorn Way in that this route more closely follows the coast to Port William before heading inland again; the more popular route remains further inland and takes in the village of Mochrum. Pilgrims would have walked by a variety of routes and it is highly likely that the coastal pathway from Chapel Finian would have been such a way – so this is an arguably authentic route to take.
Walking east into the sunlight made for a good view of Port William. This small fishing village retains an attractive harbour from which some working fishing boats still sail, fishing for scallops, crab, lobster or Solway cockles. The route, though, does not remain at the coast but heads inland along High Street which leaves the town, passing Dourie Farm on the left. The reasonably wide B7085 road is a straightforward walk with a few hills and turns with a turn right onto the B7021 towards Whithorn.
Less than a mile along this road, in a field to the left, are the Drumtroddan Standing Stones. Erected possibly five millennia ago for reasons now unknown, these large, carved and mysterious stones speak of a way of life and thought and belief we find difficult to imagine.
One stone remains upright, standing ten feet tall; until a decade ago, two of the stones were still erect. The site has a commanding view and it is clear that, whatever their purpose, a deal of technical ability and care was involved in locating, transporting and erecting these stones here.
Nearby are stones with cup and ring marks engraved into the surface, hinting (as the alignment of the three other stones does) of a possible religious significance. They are a stark reminder that human religious views have been actively expressed in this area for thousands, and not merely hundreds, of years.
The road continues through the scenic and green Machars, a well farmed area with plenty sheep and cattle – and, these days, llamas, too! They were friendly and appeared happy to be photographed!
The road towards Whithorn has long, straight sections dotted with farms. Not all the animals are friendly – the two dogs in the yard of Barwinnock Farm were a bit friendlier than I might have hoped. One tried to take a bite out by backside, and the teeth marks are still evident in my wallet! However, that excitement apart, the route continued on until, over the brow of a hill, the roofs of Whithorn can be glimpsed.
I felt more of a sense of achievement than I was expecting as I caught sight of the final destination. As it turned out, I had been walking for a week and a half, all told. The route runs downhill slightly past New Bishopton farm and enters Whithorn from the north.
The Whithorn Trust shop, exhibition and offices sit on the corner and, through the arched entry, the ancient priory and more modern parish church are visible. The priory served also as a cathedral and, through the gifts of pilgrims including Margaret wife of James III, James IV and James V, became wealthy. However its fortunes changed following the Reformation and the last Catholic prior, Malcolm Fleming, was imprisoned for saying Mass in 1563.
Much of the archaeological work carried out on the Priory was supported by the Third Marquis of Bute, the richest man in Europe, a convert to Catholicism who was the foremost architectural patron of his day.
Having arrived a little before one, I was hoping to attend St Ninian’s Priory Church of Scotland for the Ninian Moment, a short time of reflection and prayer held then in churches of all denominations across the area. Sadly, it is only provided during the summer season and had finished just a couple of weeks before I arrived! I did, though, take a certificate for having completed the Whithorn Way; having walked it in effect in both directions I felt some sense of achievement in sticking it in my bag.
The return walk from Whithorn, having enjoyed a coffee and a cake in the Whithorn Trust tearoom, was also straightforward (though I detoured through the field at Barwinnock in case my friends tried another bite) and arrived back in Port William just ahead of dinner time. It may have been possible to walk a circular route continuing through Whithorn towards Glasserton and turning right onto the A747 towards Monreith. As it was, I arrived in Port William as the sun was setting over the shore and harbour and headed to The Clansman for food!
The final image I’ve selected is of the statue of the fisherman at the pier beside Port William, looking west towards the setting sun. I like the image of someone seeking something beyond the horizon, or perhaps waiting for a friend to return from a dangerous voyage. I was looking forward to returning home to comfort and security. But I also had a bit of a yearning to go further, see more, look out for other adventurers, and discover in all this the quiet but persistent presence of something bigger, older, broader and more inviting than I had expected back at the start on Easter Monday.
There again, resurrection and new horizons have always gone hand in hand.