Sunday, 8 April 2012

St Ninian's cave

Leaving The Machars, looking north to the Galloway Hills

High water springs, Port William
Easter Day 2, part 2! The fine weather held and turned into a lovely morning so we headed off to The Machars, aiming for a walk to St Ninian's cave.  This wasn't to see the cave - reputedly the hermitage for St Ninian who was from the Whithorn priory- but for the walk itself.  We had a number of targets for the visit, including the possibilities of early bluebells in the beech wood but most of all there was the lure of wild garlic or ransomes as they are also known.
South from Port William, Monreith's headland in the distance
Last year we visited at this time and the farmer was moving his two young bulls down the valley. They were somewhat playful and dashed about crushing the garlic - a smell that stays with you for a long time. This year we have our own cooker and a chicken ready in the fridge -a marriage made in heaven!
Red-legged partridge
The coast drive along the edge of Luce Bay was colourful, as the ubiquitous gorse was in full flower and mixed with blackthorn blossom, pressed tight against the cliffs by the persistent south westerlies. Gorse in particular is everywhere here, as the area is a classic area of lowland glaciation so there are drumlins, roche moutonee & raised beaches all providing areas of poor fertility for agriculture, ideal for gorse colonisation. It also provides cover for the animals in summer, when the flies start to bother livestock.
At Port William the full spring tide was at it's maximum, and the first yachts of the year were going into the water. The bronze statue at the harbour entrance definitely had a fine view. We headed on south, choosing not to stop at the memorial to Gavin Maxwell at Monreith (one of the nicest I've seen, being a bronze otter -Tarka- overlooking one of the best views on the coast.)
Beech wood with ransomes along stream
wind-formed trees
St Ninian's cave is about a mile from the car park, a walk down a small valley filled with beech trees, and a range of smaller vegetation.  Besides the ransomes there were marsh marigold in the streams, celendines, the remainders of a long abandoned garden (with a large yellow arums) and yes bluebells! These are really early this year due to the unseasonal warm spell in March, and only a few were flowering, but they were there. As we neared the end of the valley the tall straight beeches gave way to shorter more gnarled trees, formed thanks to the efforts of the onshore winds.
Looking north to St Ninian's cave
When we got to the shore we turned left away from the cave and made our way over the large pebble bank to the cliff path. Here there was a range of other spring flowers including primrose, violet, coltsfoot, celandines, and the least common of them all, dandelion! There is a steep climb up to the top and the path follows along the edge of a precipitous drop over cliffs populated mainly by gulls with the odd pair of shags and on the water we spotted a pair of razorbills. The fields to our left were a mixture of gorse, scrub and pasture and were were rewarded for the effort of climbing the path with good views of stonechat, rock pipits and best of all, larks in full song right along the cliff. The sun shone with some light cloud and we could see in the distance the Isle of Man, sitting under a light bank of cloud coating its high ground.


Male stonechat
Fleeting glimpse of female stonechat

Rock pipit

Herring gull

The farmer's two bulls

Map of The Machars

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