Thursday, 19 November 2015

Solway sojourn - superlative steak sandwiches and a Selkirk saying

We paddled into a steady headwind on our way into Kirkcubright Bay, this would be the only stretch where we'd do so on the whole of our Solway journey.  I wasn't quite firing on all four cylinders when we set out and so just put my head down and paddled until gradually I felt better and the easy rhythm returned.

Kirkcubright Bay pretty much matched my preconception of what paddling in the Solway Firth might be; a wide open bay enclosed by mainly low ground with extensive mud and sand flats at low tide.

We'd timed our departure from Little Ross Island to arrive at Kircudbright about an hour before high water.  This meant we'd have the flood tide in our favour on the way up, we'd land with a minimum of mud-plugging, have time for luncheon and then have the ebb in our favour on the way back out.

As we entered the River Dee (one of two rivers given this name in Scotland, the other rises in the Cairngorms and flows to the sea at Aberdeen) we felt the insistent push of the flood tide overcoming the river flow and passed this trawler wreck - better days indeed.

We tried to land at the slipway in Kirkcudbright, but found it to be a lethal mix of a steep slope overlaid with slippery mud.  I found it difficult to stand when I stepped out of the boat and it was clear that we wouldn't be able to safely move our boats.  Instead we backtracked and landed adjacent to the marina pontoons on reeds and more mud, but at least it was flat!

We removed our paddling outer layers and took a stroll in warm sunshine through the streets of Kirkcudbright (pronounced "Kirk-coo-bree" and meaning Kirk of (St) Cuthbert).  Saint Cuthbert (c. AD634 – 20 March 687) was a saint of the early Northumbrian church in the Cetic tradition and is mostly associated with northern England, though he grew up near Melrose in the Scottish borders.  Cuthbert's remains were kept here for a time after being exhumed from Lindisfarne, they were later re-interred at Chester-Le-Street in the north of England.  The town became a Royal Burgh in 1453, so it's fair to say the place has history.

I really enjoyed our stroll around the town; it's neat, tidy and has a well-kept air.  Several houses were being whitewashed on the day we visited, and their doors and window frames being repainted in bright and cheerful colours.  It's a place I'll re-visit and explore some more.

Probably the most prominent building in the town is the ruin of MacLellan's Castle.  Completed in 1582, it was built  by Sir Thomas MacLellan, Provost of Kirkcudbright partly from stone recycled following the destruction of Greyfriars Convent in one of Scotland's many religious upheavals. Standing at the head of a broad street, it's a fine sight.

We reached our destination, the Selkirk Arms, just as the doors were opening for luncheon.  This hotel has a unique place in history too; for it was here (and not in the border town of Selkirk) that the poet Robert Burns wrote the famous "Selkirk Grace" in 1749:

"Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it,
But we hae meat and we can eat,
Sae let the Lord be thankit."

We were shown to a table with comfortable upholstered seats despite the fact we were clearly in outdoor wear and ordered a round of sports recovery drinks while we perused the menu.  We chose different starters, but all chose the Hot Galloway Beef Sandwich on Sourdough bread.  It was, quite simply, the best steak sandwich I have ever tasted!

The mark we give to truly exceptional food and drink establishments is 12/10, but the Selkirk Arms gets an an almost unheard of 13/10 because the owner and chef Chris is himself a sea kayaker and came out from the kitchen to chat with us about this and other trips.  If you are into superb food, prepared simply from quality local ingredients - the Selkirk Arms should be high on your list to visit!

Replete, we made our way back to the boats just a few minutes after high water.  Other vessels were taking advantage of the tide too, the Belfast registered "Mytilus the Mussel" (B-449) was also departing from Kircudbright harbour.

After she passed, we changed back into paddling outer-wear and got back on the water.  Already the ebb which would carry us back out into Kirkcudbright Bay was gathering pace.