The Cairndale hotel
We were officially in Scotland for a party, but that wasnâ€™t going to start until the evening. This gave us the whole day free to explore Dumfries and the surrounding countryside. Of course, it isnâ€™t really exploring when the person you are with knows exactly where to take you and keeps pointing out places he used to get drunk. But it is possibly more fun.
I woke up very early that morning. The hotel room was hot, and I had forgotten to speak to reception about. Iain was sleeping in a particularly self satisfied looking way, so I decided not to wake him up too much. Instead, I went to the hotel pool, via the cool statue across the road.
The cool art across the road is a long coil, like a spring where someone has pulled it to the point it doesnâ€™t spring back any more.
It was shining in the early morning light, and two seagulls were wandering about it. Seagull one looked like he was trying to mate with seagull two, who was having none of it. I now know what the seagull for â€śnah, gettoff, Iâ€™ve got a headacheâ€ť sounds like. This episode was far funnier than it should have beenâ€¦
Back to the hotel. The pool was amazing, especially given the price of the hotel. I know Iâ€™m used to Southern English pricing, and Scotland is a cheaper nation, but still. The pool was big enough to do proper lengths in, there was a spa pool and a steam room and a sauna, and had I been inclined (which I wasnâ€™t) there was a decent sized gym. Local people can join the gym as an alternative to the leisure centre across the road, and I had a nice chat with a man who was trying to work out if he would have known my boyfriend.
I forget about this Scottish trait when I spend too much time in England. With a total population of 5 million, there isnâ€™t a huge chance that any Scot will know any other Scot. But it is just high enough that you might have mutual friends, where the first part of the conversation is spent working out where you are from, where you grew up, what school you went to (and therefore what religion you probably are), and who your parents are. I was in a business meeting the other day where it turned out that one of the senior bods knew the garage that my great grandfather worked in, and thought he might have gone to school with my dad. Of course, Iâ€™ve never yet been out with two Irish people who didnâ€™t turn out to actually know each otherâ€™s cousins or friends.
I digress. I had a lovely time in the pool, got some breakfast, and returned to a sleepy boyfriend reluctantly acknowledging he might have to get up.
We got ourselves sorted and went out exploring.
The first stop was Castledykes park. Castledykes park is just under the hospital, and above the river. It is the site of yet another impressive episode in the Wars of Independence, because Bruce first raised the royal standard for himself there. These days, it is a pleasant park with nice trees and flowers, big slopes where the castle used to be, and some slightly random toadstool sculptures. The photos will follow. Next, we went to Glencaple, which is a small village which was a river port in the early days of the industrial revolution. You would never know that now. There are some nice park benches shaped like ships, commemorating the ship yard, tobacco trade and tea imports from when this was a thriving harbour.
More importantly, there was a nice shop selling icecream. Last week it was snowing â€“ this week, the temperatures had come up to shirt-sleeves and icecream weather. It is a strange country!
We carried on around the coast to Caerlaverock castle, with Iain taking absolute delight in showing me how well his car can corner, and me turning progressively greener. It was pure relief to see the castle come round the bend.
Whilst I am in Scotland, because of my long absenses, I suffer horribly from a sort of dĂ©jĂ vu. Except in most cases, I really have seen it before â€“ itâ€™s just that I was eight at the time.
I had no idea that the castle filed under â€ścool triangular one â€“ mum will shout at you if you jump in the moatâ€ť was called Caerlaverock. But I recognised it straight away, and bored Iain horribly with a rambling story in which I tried to work out exactly how old I was last time. The admission fee was quite expensive. We watched the little video in the exhibition space, in which Tony â€śBaldrickâ€ť Robinson recounted the English siege, and I drew Iain a coat of arms. You shouldnâ€™t leave me alone near colouring pencils. Then we explored the castle. Normally, we are in places that Iain knows more about than me. I am, however, something of a geek about castle design. I blame my History teachers for being quite good. So I cheerfully explained why spiral staircases go round the way they do (the defenders have a free sword arm, and the attackers sword arms are stuck next the waâ€¦ sorry).
And we puzzled some passing tourists by calling the newer (that is, sixteenth century) parts of the castle â€śsloppy new buildâ€ť because they werenâ€™t canon proof. You can only get away with that in countries where the term â€śNew Townâ€ť refers to a 300 year old settlement and â€śNew Abbeyâ€ť has a medieval ruined abbey in the middle! Having conquered both the ruin and the remains of the old castle, and played at pushing each other in the moat (narrowly avoiding a very wet journey home), we headed off towards Mabie forest. We did stop briefly in New Abbey to look at the outside of Sweetheart Abbey. Sweetheart Abbey is a beautiful ruined abbey church, made of red sandstone, but the admission fee was too high for the same day as the castle and we moved on.
Mabie forest is above Dumfries and really lovely.
It is mixed pine and deciduous, and was commercially managed in the past, but not too intensively. Itâ€™s full of lovely little burns and glades, birdsong, and parts of the paths look over Dumfries and some rare habitat bogland towards the Solway Firth. The fields are currently full of lambs and calves, and more sex mad seagulls. We had a wonderful walk. Itâ€™s also very easy terrain and dry underfoot â€“ I was in flat shoes rather than trainers or hiking boots and had no bother at all. After our walk, it was time to get some lunch.
We had left it too late for a lot of the pubs, but we went to Southerness for pie and chips. I miss fish and chips down south. Although, obviously, you can get hold of it easily, the fish is nowhere near as fresh and the batter nowhere near as crispy in Manchester, Essex, Swindon or London as it is in coastal Scotland.
And Scotch pies are also not the same back in Manchester, so I was determined to have both whilst I was here. It was still a lovely day, and we sat on the beach to eat our food.
Southerness beach was really sandy when Iain was young, but the longshore drift (not climate change â€“ natural changes to coasts caused by the tides, in this case) had taken the sand further round the coast and it is now a rocky shore full of tidal pools. This has left the lighthouse rather higher above the beach than it used to be. A group of volunteers have opened the lighthouse for visitors, so we went up for a look. The view was lovely.
Finally, it was time for the party.
We drove off to find Orroland lodge and join our friends. Iâ€™m not going to bore you with the party too much â€“ this is a travel blog â€“ so I will tell you about Orroland in tomorrowâ€™s entry.