10 Spectacular Coastal walks in the South

by Sara Barton, 5th April 2022
Berwickshire Coast | Scottish Borders
10 Spectacular Coastal walks in the South

Who doesn’t love a blustery walk along clifftops, sea air filling your lungs, seabirds whirling overhead and the sun glinting majestically off the waves beneath? With two coastlines the South of Scotland is the perfect destination for a coastal walk and you may be surprised by the stories associated with some of the places these walks will take you. From monuments to ancient kings to the discovery of the age of the earth, in this Scotland’s Year of Stories the echoes of tales gone by are all around you.

Mull of Galloway circular

Distance: 10.5km; 6.5 miles

Walk the rugged coastlines of the southernmost tip of Scotland, the Mull of Galloway, on a sunny day and you will be well rewarded. Starting from the car park behind the splendid lighthouse, there are bustling seabird colonies, dramatic cliff scenery and stunning views. This walk explores the coast on both sides of the peninsula and there is a shorter option returning partly by road that would reduce the walk to 3.5km

Did you know Mull of Galloway Lighthouse was built by Robert Stevenson, grandfather of the author Robert Louis Stevenson (Treasure Island; Kidnapped)?  It was first lit on 26th March 1830. In addition to building lighthouses, Robert Stevenson invented intermittent and flashing lights, earning him a gold medal from the King of Netherlands. Although the family business was in building lighthouses, RL Stevenson was convinced his path lay in words: Following a stint working in the family business he commented “indeed I had already my own private determination to be an author; I loved the art of words and the appearances of life”. But he did use his words to remember his grandfather in his work Records of a Family of Engineers (1896).

Coastal walks in the south of Scotland
Walk the Mull of Galloway circular and see one of the lighthouses built by Robert Stevenson, grandfather of author Robert Louis Stevenson.

Distance: 6.5km; 4 miles

This walk is a perfect introduction to the Berwickshire Coastal Path – a short section that offers you a glimpse of the longer multiple day trek. It is by far the most popular of the full route and the key point of interest along the route is Coldingham, first mentioned in the early 700s by the original English historian Bede, who wrote of Colud’s fort. The village of Coldingham represents the settlement of the descendants of Colud.
As you walk, watch out for Twelve Bronze Trail Markers by artist John Behm – they link the four sculptures commemorating the East Coast Fishing Disaster of 1881, when 189 lives were lost. Each marker has a plate on the top from which a rubbing can be taken – collect all 12 to form a patchwork picture celebrating all aspects of fishing life.

Coldingham, Visit Berwickshire Coast
The settlement of Coldingham was first mentioned as Colud’s fort in the early 700s by English historian Bede.

Distance: 10km; 6.25 miles

Get a feel for Scotland’s only coast-to-coast route, the Southern Upland Way, by easing yourself in gently with this stunning coastal walk as far as Killantringan Lighthouse. You’ll become a dab hand at spotting the little white thistles that mark the sign posts as you climb up to the top of the cliffs from Port Patrick.

Portpatrick was the departure point for many Scots who left seeking richer land in Ireland. These Ulster Scots as they later became known would go on to spread far and wide. Indeed, did you know that no fewer than 17 American presidents (including Bill Clinton and Barak Obama) have claimed ancestry to these hardy folk?

Descending and ascending again you’ll have marvellous views over the Irish Sea as you make your way to Killantringan Lighthouse. This lighthouse opened in 1900 and was designed by David Alan Stevenson, uncle to Robert Louis Stevenson.

Picturesque Portpatrick is the start of the Southern Upland Way, or a shorter day walk to Killantringan Bay.

Distance: 15km; 9.5 miles

You may want to tackle the wonderful Berwickshire Coastal Path (BCP) with its distinctive blue circle with white wave waymarkers in stages. If so, this first section is a gentle introduction with easy walking above the picturesque Cove harbour. It passes through Pease Bay, managed by the Scottish Wildlife Trust as a Nature Reserve, and you should keep your eyes out for woodpeckers, treecreepers, dippers and various tits and finches.

If you cast your eyes to the rocky outcrops along the coast you will find the evidence that proved to 18th century geologist James Hutton his theory the world was much older than the Church’s estimate of 6000 years. A boat trip to Siccar Point in 1788 by Hutton and two colleagues revealed the existence of horizontal red sandstone overlying older steeply pitched sedimentary rocks known as greywacke – this juxtaposition of two entirely different rocks confirmed the Hutton’s theory and launched the modern science of geology.

Coastal walks Berwickshire Coastal Path Siccar Point
Modern day geology was born when Thomas Hutton saw these rocks at Siccar Point from the water in in 1788.

Stranraer to Glenapp

Distance: 18km; 11.75 miles

This is a serious day walk but with stunning scenery and panoramic views of Loch Ryan and the landscape around it. The Loch Ryan Coastal Path starts in the heart of Stranraer at the Tourist Information Office and heads north to meet the Ayrshire Coastal Path at Glenapp Church. There are ten information boards along on the route. As you pass the old ferry terminal at Stranraer, watch out for the creation of the Unexpected Garden project taking place during 2022.

Following the coastline you’ll see the new ferry port at Cairn Ryan and a peak at the first of the Lighthouses on the new Lighthouses of the Rhins trail before you head up for spectacular views over the Irish Sea.  En route you will pass the Taxing Stane, a standing stone said to commemorate Alpin, King of the Scots of the ancient kingdom of Dalriada. It is said he was killed during a battle by the Pictish king in nearby Glenapp in the summer of 834. You can catch the bus back to Stranraer at the end of your walk – it is safest to wait at the bottom of the hill track.

Loch Ryan Lighthouse can be seen as you walk the Loch Ryan Coastal Path. Credit: Scarlett Visuals

Distance: 11km; 7 miles

Opt for this walk to see the dramatic sheer-sided rock jutting out into the sea that Sir Walter Scott renamed Wolf’s Crag and used as one of the settings in his novel the Bride of Lammermuir. The masonry remains you see today were once Fast Castle, visited by Mary Queen of Scots. Expect wonderful dramatic coastline, excellent bird viewing and the picturesque fishing village of St Abbs at journeys end.

A more poignant story is told in the small bronze sculpted figures you will see at the last look out. They represent the wives and children of three local men lost at sea in the great storm of October 1881. The hurricane devasted the fishing fleet of the East Coast and of the 45 boats that left from the fishing villages along the coastal path only 26 returned. This left 93 widows and 267 children fatherless.

coastal walks St Abbs
The Berwickshire Coastal Path offers spectacular views and hidden coves.
Distance: 8km; 5 miles

St Ninian is now thought to be the man who brought Christianity to Scotland with evidence of his settlement in nearby Whithorn dating to 450 AD. This walk is the last section of the Whithorn Way, taking in the beach cave where Ninian sought solitude for prayer. It is still a site of an annual summer pilgrimage. From the pebbled beach you head back along the beach and begin your ascent of the clifftops. The walk follows the coast along to Burrowhead and ends at the charmingly scenic Isle of Whithorn where you will find refreshment at the Steam Packet Inn.  Today “the Isle” is no longer an island, but the long ruined 13thcentury Saint Ninian’s Chapel is a testament to the its history as the first landing place for pilgrims – the water was the highway of the time.

Harbour at Isle of Whithorn
The Isle of Whithorn – your journey’s end, but once the first place pilgrims would arrive.

Brighouse Bay circular

Distance: 7.25km; 4.5 miles

Start this enjoyable circular walk on the sandy beach of Brighouse Bay. You’ll follow the coastline atop the cliffs with views to the south of the Isle of Man, to the east of Cumbria and west across Wigtown Bay to Burrowhead and the Machars Peninsula on a clear day. Then the path turns inland for a ramble through some of the region’s rich dairy pasturelands.

Did you know that the fields that you pass by all have names? These were often given by farmers to help labourers identify the area of land to be worked. And while many on this walk make sense in farm or geographical terms such as Small Cairn Field and The Piggery, there is also the fabulous name of Big Timmorin. Where could this name have come from? The Borgue Field Names Project authors’ comment: “A very intriguing name. ‘Timorous’, with its echo of Burns’s ‘wee, sleekit, cowerin, timorous beastie’.

Set off from the sandy beach at Brighouse Bay. Credit: Barry Russell

Balcary Circular – Rascarral Bay 

Distance: 7.25km; 4.75 miles

This is one of the best coastal walks in the area, heading along the clifftops and then the shoreline between Balcary Point and Rascarrel. It is popular among locals and visitors alike. From your starting point, take note of the Balcary Bay Hotel. According to local wisdom it is said to have been built to front a smuggling operation, with several caves beneath the building. The area was once popular with smugglers and perhaps as you follow the coastline and its small coves and inlets you will see why. Stunning views back to Rockcliffe and out to Hestan Island yield yet more possible hiding places for wee smugglers’ boats.

Did you know that just down the road is the ruins of Dundrennan Abbey, the gothic abbey where Mary Queen of Scots spent her last hours in Scotland in May 1568?

Dundrennan Abbey, Historic Environment Scotland
After your walk you can see the gothic ruins where Mary Queen of Scots spent her last hours in Scotland.

Kippford to Rockcliffe

Distance: 5.25km; 3.25 miles

Starting in Kippford, this popular wooded coastal walk fringed with wildflowers takes you from the picturesque village of Kippford  to Rockcliffe, part of a National Scenic Area. Take a moment to admire the windswept hawthorne tree which won UK Tree of the Year in 2021. If the tide and time allow, take a detour out to Rough Island over the mudflats and a causeway. However if it is May-July please respect the request from National Trust for Scotland to stay away. Nesting birds breed there at this time.

In Rockcliffe you can explore the 6th century ramparts of the Mote of Mark. Try to imagine this bustling trading post with contacts in France and the Mediterranean more than 1500 years ago.  It was named for Mark, King of Dumnonia and succumbed to fire in the 7th century.  Today, it offers a magnificent viewpoint over the Rough Firth and across the wider Solway to the mountains of the Lake District.

Coastal Walks Kippford to Rockcliffe circular
Start from Kippford for a scenic walk to Rockcliffe and see where the King of Dumnonia once had a European trading post.