St Ninian’s Cave to Isle of Whithorn

Walking Route

St Ninian’s Cave to Isle of Whithorn


This walk finishes at the end destination of the long distance Whithorn Way route, however it has some variations to the route.

It also has some difficult sections with unfenced cliff edges on the coastal sections. At parts there are muddy patches, shallow and tree-roots on the path from the car park to St Ninian’s Cave.

The walk from the public car park at Kidsdale to St Ninian’s Cave is a favourite walk with locals; it can also be the starting point for a longer, more challenging cliff walk via Burrowhead to the Isle of Whithorn.

The first stretch from the car park is through the wooded glen of Physgill burn (the path is muddy at times) where there are displays of wild bluebells in spring, with pungent wild garlic. The beach at the end of the first stretch is all shingle and may require care when walking.

Walk towards St Ninian’s Cave, which you can see to your right, to visit one of the most significant pilgrimage sites in the country, associated with St Ninian of Whithorn, and mentioned as far back as the 8th Century in a Latin poem written at Whithorn. The Cave is protected by Historic Environment Scotland and you can find carved crosses in the rock, left by pilgrims from the 700’s onwards, to today. The Cave has been the setting for the annual Roman Catholic pilgrimage, which is still held in August every year. It is also famous for another reason: one of the scenes of the cult film, The Wicker Man (1973), was filmed here.

You may spot guillemots or grey seals on your walk, which finishes at the Isle of Whithorn. There are remains of Iron Age promontory forts, at Castle Feather which was later a medieval castle site. You will also pass the remains of Mary Mine, near Tonderghie, which was a copper mine in the 18th and 19th Centuries, but perhaps was mined as far back as the Bronze Age.

At Burrowhead, you are at the southernmost point of the Machars peninsula; in World War II, this was used as a camp for target practice over the sea, but now it is a holiday village with caravans. Here is where the most dramatic scene of The Wicker Man film took place; the burning of the policeman Sergeant Neil Howie, in a giant wicker effigy.

The walk to the village of the Isle of Whithorn now turns towards Wigtown Bay and you reach the village at a point facing Isle Castle (privately owned). This was built in 1674, one of the last tower houses to be built in Scotland. The Isle of Whithorn acquired its name because it was once genuinely an island, separated from the mainland, and was the port belonged to the Prior of Whithorn. Today, the quay is a continuation of the mainland.

It was once the haunt of smugglers bringing goods from the Isle of Man, which can be glimpsed out to sea, and, according to local story, they used the narrow channel between the island and mainland to escape a government cutter. The end-point of the Isle, at Isle Head, is a favourite local look-out point: story has it that you can glimpse five kingdoms (England, Scotland, Ireland, Man, and the Kingdom of Heaven). The local micro brewery is now called Five Kingdoms Brewery.

5mi / 8km
Total climb:
131ft / 40m
Total descent:
262ft / 80m
Our best efforts have been made to ensure the accuracy of data, however the data and geographic information contained along route lines and on maps should be used for informational purposes only.

What you'll see

St Ninian’s Cave - Whithorn

Scenic Views

St Ninian’s Cave is a place of pilgrimage, visited as far back as the 700’s AD.

Tonderghie Mary Mine - Isle of Whithorn

Ancient, Industrial, Ruins

At Tonderghie there is evidence of 18th and 19th Century copper mining.

Burrowhead - Isle of Whithorn

Scenic Views

The cliffs at Burrowhead are the southernmost point in the Machars.

Isle of Whithorn Castle - Isle of Whithorn

Buildings, Historic Buildings, Monuments & Statues

One of the last tower houses to be built in Scotland, a date-stone gives the name of the builders, Patrick Houston and his wife Margaret…

St Ninian’s Chapel - Isle of Whithorn

Early Christian, Religious Buildings, Ruins

Built in the 12th Century, this was most probably a reception chapel, built to receive pilgrims arriving by sea.