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Monday, 23 December 2013

Wigtownshire Ramblers - Craigengillan Winter Solstice outing, December 2013

It's the 21st of December, the winter solstice. 
Today I'm walk leader and I've arranged what I hope will be a memorable day. I've been hoping the weather would be good to us. Nineteen of us gathered in Newton Stewart Riverside car park to maximize car sharing. Two of our walkers were travelling direct to the start.  
Our five car convoy then headed across country and up the A713 to the northern end of the Galloway Forest Park.
A rough track from the Loch Doon road brought us down to the Dark Sky Observatory at Craigengillan where we parked the vehicles.

(The day's report will follow the pictures. Thanks again to Scoop for her excellent contribution, especially since a number of my photographs were ruined)
Here's a picture of the observatory I took a while before it's completion.

It was a dull day, but the weather forecast I had seen gave me hope for later in the day.
We began by heading downhill towards the Craigengillan Estate.

All walkers were suitably wrapped up for protection against the biting wind.

After passing the old gashouse we rounded the lovely thatched cottage called 'Forget Me Not'.

Arriving at the house we need to wait a few minutes for our tour guide. We head for the stables.

The horses all seem nicely contented, looks like a nice place to be a gee-gee.

After an introduction to the house and gardens and the story of the Link to Buckingham Palace (read report) we set off. Our guide is Fi McLelland, the lady of the house. The yew tree above is around 600 years old.
(Note to other Ayrshire rambling groups, you'll get a warm welcome at Craigengillan) 

Admiring the lowest of the chain of ponds.

This cracking photo is from Scoop's camera.

It's a maze of paths and terraces.

We're accompanied on the walk by two of Fi and Mark's very friendly four dogs.

The dome houses the water supply to the stables.

The glasshouse with original fittings.

Considering how the house and gardens had been neglected when they took it over in 2000, they've completed a tremendous amount of work. It's an ongoing project however, there's still a lot to be uncovered.

Heading for the house.

Sedan, frontage hall and front door leaded window.

Fi's great grandparents.

Jansen design and other treasures.

The billiard room and tapestry.

Not easily noticed, Fi told a story of someone not liking the tapestry because of the dog attacking the swan.
Close up bottom right.

Old french paintings, a harp and the ornate stair flight.

Feet warming by the welcome log fire.
We have to go and face the weather now!

Start point of our Ness Glen walk. (Nice photographs on the link)

The copious flow of the Doon (Scoop).

A collage of what I could recover from my camera after enhancements.

Bridge over the Doon (Scoop)

Loch Doon (Scoop)

Party Atmosphere (Scoop)

Four of mine that did come out.

Two more from Scoop.
A good day was had by all despite the weather.

Wigtownshire Ramblers Saturday the 21st of December
Twenty one ramblers gathered at the Dark Sky Observatory for today's special winter solstice outing.
A downhill walk brought us into the Craigengillan Estate where we passed the ruins of the gashouse and the picturesque 'Forget me not' thatched cottage.
Arriving at Craigengillan House, on the ancient pilgrims route between Paisley Abbey and Whithorn, we spent a few minutes admiring the horses in the stables while we waited for our tour of the house and gardens to begin.
Soon our tour guide and the lady of the house with Newton Stewart connections, Fi McLelland, appeared.
She began by welcoming us and then telling the extraordinary story of the discovery that linked their house to Buckingham Palace, Mount Stuart, Luton Hoo, Windsor Castle and Sandringham. A few years ago, her partner Mark Gibson, the owner of Craigengillan, and herself were wondering what to do about a stone lined pond in a section of the garden that had been abandoned for at least 60 years.
Hoping to uncover an inlet or drain the couple started digging and, to their surprise, uncovered “a network of sandstone rocks, paths and tumbling waterfalls covering at least two acres”. They were soon hooked and spent every spare moment getting down and dirty, digging and clearing vegetation. Invited to a garden party at Buckingham Palace, they were amazed at the similarity of the palace rock garden to their own.
More detective work and a pure chance phone call finally revealed that James Pulham and Sons, designers and builders of rock and water gardens to royal houses also designed and created the garden at Craigengillan, between 1904 and 1910.
Now Fi took us on a tour of the gardens and the original glasshouse. We saw stately majestic trees which included a 600 year old yew, we walked uphill on steps, terraces and stepping stones on what has been uncovered so far of the rock garden. We walked around the chain of ponds that are connected by wee burns and waterfalls. We were amazed that there is so much more to be discovered. We also looked in the glasshouse with it's 100 plus year old fittings.
After the garden tour we now divested ourselves of our walking boots for a tour of the house. When Mark Gibson took over the house in the year 2000 it was in a severe state of neglect requiring extensive renovation.
Inside, we were first shown the beautiful hall and staircase, designed by Jansen of Paris. We learned some of the history of the McAdams family who's home it was for almost 400 years. Of John McAdam, the engineer and his kin John Louden McAdam who invented Tarmacadam (tarmac), and of some of the tragedies that befell the family. Next we moved into the billiard room. Here the most imposing feature is the 18th century french Aubusson Verdure tapestry that fills one wall. Fi explained how the previous house owner hadn't wanted the tapestry to be sold with the house, however East Ayrshire planning committee ruled that "The removal of the tapestry would be detrimental to the architectural significance of Craigengillan House and the morning room contained within", so fortunately it stayed with the house. The house featured in Country Life in 2010. More of the house was explored before we retired to the sitting and dining rooms for tea, coffee and cream and jam scones. Here we were to admire more historic items and warm up at the roaring log fire. We thanked our hostess for a wonderful tour.
We reluctantly now donned our boots to continue the day with a walk up Ness Glen.
By now the sky was darkening and the day turned dreich. On reaching the Doon we saw that the river was in a copious flow. The walk up the glen with it's high cliffs and tumbling waterfalls wasn't being fully appreciated due to us having to watch our footing on the slippy and narrow path. Two thirds of the way up the glen and just beyond the footbridge our path was blocked by a fallen tree which was impassable. Our detour now took us over the river to climb the path to cross the Loch Doon dam. Just before reaching the Roundhouse we again accessed the Ness Glen path to follow the high route back to the observatory. The walk back to the observatory in fading light meant us treading carefully along the slippery path and across the just as slippery bridges and decking. Slippery tree roots were many and we were lucky that no walker came a cropper though there were many near misses.
Eventually we arrived back at the observatory where boots were discarded for more comfortable footwear.
We were welcomed into the observatory by the facility manager Rob Ince, where at least we'd be dry for a while.
The presentation began with slides photographs and a film about light pollution. After a while we climbed upstairs to the observation platform, here Rob pointed out the light pollution to the north and west while the view south and the Galloway Forest Park was relatively dark. Now we entered the housing which contained the smaller 14 Inch Schmidt Cassegrain telescope with Rob explaining it's workings. From here we crossed into the dome where we saw the larger 20 Inch Dall Kirkham telescope and watched as Rob operated it and the opening, closing and rotating of the dome. Sadly the rain was incessant and we weren't able to observe any of the night sky.
Back downstairs we were now treated to a wonderful slide show of the heavens, while Rob pointed out some of the well known and lesser known stars and galaxies of the night sky.
After the presentation we thanked Rob for an excellent presentation and climbed into our cars. The rain now began to turn to driving sleet making negotiation of the estates roads and tracks more difficult. After some of the six cars took a few wrong turns we all eventually arrived at the Clachan at St Johns Town of Dalry. Now we could settle down to refreshing drinks and a three course Christmas dinner.
It was ironic that on the way back to Stranraer and Newton Stewart the stars glowed brightly in the night sky.
Apart from the disappointment of not being able to view close up planetary objects, we all agreed it had been a good day out.
Next week’s walk on the 28th of December will be a moderate 5 mile walk in the Mull of Galloway region.
The walk will start at West Cairngaan Farm.
Meet at the Riverside Car park in Newton Stewart at 09:00 or the Breastworks Car Park in Stranraer at 09:30 or the walk start at West Cairngaan (NX 128 319) to share transport.  New members are always welcome but please contact the walk leader for further details on 01776 840226. If going direct to the start please contact the walk leader to ensure there are no changes.


  1. This has been such an exceptional tour! Thank you so much for sharing this. You may have had some rain, but it looks to me that everyone enjoyed themselves. Merry Christmas to you!

  2. Linda phrased it perfectly, an exceptional tour indeed! Wonderful images by Scoop, and oh wow, 'Forget Me Not' cottage and its position totally won me.

  3. Interesting about the rock garden and the 150 foot artificial cliffs at Blackpool in the They certainly thought big in those days. I must get down to Ness Glen sometime as it keeps cropping up as a favourite place in outdoor walks and Alex has mentioned it before as well.

  4. Thank you Linda, I've had a lot of good feedback and it's been mostly very good.

    Hi Rose, there is another delightful cottage but with a slate roof along the same line, but almost hidden. It's called 'Find Me Out' It doesn't have a thatched roof however. 'Forget me not' really is beautiful.

    Hi Bob, there's an English Heritage brochure published in 2008 with a picture of Pulham's Blackpool construction. Pulhamite
    You'll have to keep an eye out for the handful of other Scottish sites. Ross Hall, Glasgow is mentioned.
    Merry Christmas.


Thanks for all your comments. I may not get to reply to them all, but you may be sure they'll be appreciated.

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