Another day of driving ahead, this time exploring South West Scotland. We left Holmhill Country House mid-morning, after a splendid breakfast and a bit of quality time with our hosts. We headed towards the foothills of the Southern Uplands, to Moniaive.
The weather this morning was in stark contrast to the day prior. The overcast cloud had broken into fluffy white cotton balls, the rain had dried up and the sun glistened against an azure blue sky. We might get some photos today.
Everywhere the clouds were casting beautiful shadows against the green hills, and as we slowly drove West we searched for some foregrounds. Just outside Moniaive a late blooming field of rapeseed flowers shone a golden yellow, it stopped us in our tracks. For too long we flitted about the field, photographing the flowers against the hill; light dappled the surface and dark clouds rose up from behind.
Leaving the fields and the foothills, we hoped for some vast terrain to appear, but as we journeyed along the winding roads nothing grand rose up, except until we reached a view of the towering Galloway hills in the distance. We headed straight there.
As we approached the park, famous for its dark skies, the clouds grew heavier, and when we crossed the boundaries it became dull and overcast.
The road from New Galloway takes you past the magnificent Clatteringshaws reservoir, which sits below Craigencallie in the distance. With tripod and camera I fiddled to get a decent photo from the water’s edge in the dying light, and before the ensuing rain swept in; meanwhile Sam relaxed with tea and scones in the visitor centre.
We’d be back.
A bit behind schedule, and needing to get to our destination before nightfall, we continued on the A75 to Stranraer, then north towards Kirkcolm, aiming for Corsewall Lighthouse. Of course, as soon as we left Galloway park the skies cleared again, and, now on the West coast, the sea looked tranquil and blue.
Stopping at a small beach on the way, just to take a quick look back across Loch Ryan, we were lucky to find a bathing common seal. The first seal either of us had ever seen, and despite our excitement, it was quite calm and happy for us to approach and get some photos.
Sunning itself on an old pipe, it quizzically looked at us, occasionally glancing to see if we were too close. Balancing on the pipe it posed; looking left, looking right, now up – thank you; a seal glamour shoot. Then it flopped back into the water and swam out to sea, its head bobbing above the surface.
The lighthouse sits at the head of a hammer-like protrusion which sticks out from the South West edge of Scotland. It offers views across the Irish sea – to the North and East are the coasts of Scotland, and the beautiful island of Ailsa Craig, and to the West the edge of Northern Ireland.
Now, a little rant. We booked to stay in Corsewall Lighthouse. It’s a bit pricey, but includes a 5 course meal and a “champagne breakfast”. This would be a small slice of decadence on our budget holiday, just for one night. Having just stayed somewhere with phenomenal modern style and taste, we had high expectations.
The landscape itself is beautiful, the lighthouse is nestled at the edge of the coast, amidst scraggy rocks, migrating sea birds and fields with wild horses. It’s in the middle of nowhere and everything, from the outside, looks superb.
But the hotel is a tragedy. The buildings became a hotel in the 90s when the lighthouse was automated and needed no keeper to live with it. You can tell it was the 90s because none of the decor has been touched since; creaky wooden doors, garish blue lighting, chintzy photos and worn carpets – the place needs a lot of work. Even though there’s a 270 degree sea view outside, and a wonderful working monument to watch, all the rooms look inland, at the road in, slightly below a wall that obscures everything else. Given the surroundings, it’s a scandalous waste of potential.
Not to dwell, but it’s the up-selling of this dated place that bothered us most. This would all be fine at a moderate price. But to suggest the luxury of fine dining with a 5 course menu and a posh brekkie, simply to serve pub food, and then the worst porridge Samantha has ever tasted (“all I can taste is salt”) with no champagne in sight; that’s bordering on fraudulent. So, come here, the views and the photography are spectacular, but don’t stay here.
We didn’t spend much time in the hotel, thankfully. The weather was lovely, and in the evening we took our tripods out on the rocks in hopes of a dazzling seaside sunset. The Gannets treated us to a display of their fishing prowess while we waited. Europe’s largest sea-bird, they fired themselves into the sea like darts, diving with speed to catch fish; breathtaking.
The clouds gave us a brief dance in red before all went dark.
After dinner the skies cleared – though I wasn’t sure at first. Stepping out into the cool nighttime air, the sky above looked a little cloudy, across the sky there was a faint band of cloud. Oh no, I can see stars, that’s the milky way. Above us the lighthouse was on, it’s beams of light encircled the horizon, illuminating distant shores. Sat precariously on the dark rocks (we had torches), waves crashing beneath us, we let the camera take a stack of long exposures while I pointed out the star constellations to Samantha.
Even after being awake so late, we got up for dawn to make the most of our surroundings. Secretly I’d hoped for rain, so I could go back to sleep and dream some more. But Samantha is excellent at making me stick to my early morning commitments; she hasn’t yet needed to drag me out of bed. We had clear skies to the East, and as the sun came up its low light gave the world a glowing golden halo; the day’s first ferries crossed the cyan Irish sea, flocks of Gannets searched for their breakfast, Ailsa Craig appeared to grow in the early morning stillness and everywhere we looked the dew sparkled.
Someone once said to me, “if you spend all your time trying to take pictures you’ll miss the beauty”. If we hadn’t wanted to take pictures, this glorious morning might have escaped us. None of our photos quite capture the pleasantness.
Post-breakfast and we still weren’t quite done here. After checking out I went down to the rocks to try some super long exposures, 8 mins per shot, while Sam photographed abstract reflections of the lighthouse in rock pools.