Is there anything worth seeing in South-west Scotland? Well, yes actually, quite a lot of amazing things in fact. For the past few months I have been researching and writing a book about our top 100 places to visit within an hour of Rigg House B&B and it is something that I can’t wait to share with our guests (and potential guests!) when it is finished.
The book is split into 2 parts – Dumfries & Galloway and Ayrshire and each part contains chapters which detail various points of interest in the different areas and towns. In no particular order I’m going to begin sharing sections from some of the chapters, starting with one of our absolute favourite places to visit in the whole of SW Scotland; the Gorge Walk at Boswell’s Coach House. This wonderful place is just 25 minutes from Rigg House, over the border into Ayrshire.
Cumnock KA18 2LR
PLAYGROUND — TEA ROOMS
Continue down the road for a couple of minutes past Barony A Frame and you’ll reach the home of the Scottish biographer and diarist, James Boswell (1740 – 1795), a contemporary and friend of the English literary figure, Samuel Johnson. The house and stables are set in the heart of the 500-acre Auchinleck Estate, a stone’s throw from the main Auchinleck House which has been owned by the Boswell family since 1504. Nowadays the coach house is a thriving wedding venue, gift shop and tea rooms and a busy riding school.
But for us the main attraction in visiting Boswell’s Coach House is the spectacular Gorge Walk which leads from the car park, away from the coach house itself. We were told about this place by a friendly local we met at Barony A Frame one sunny morning in June – in reality he totally underplayed it when he described it as ‘a pleasant walk’ as it immediately became one of our favourite places to visit in this book. In fact, if we were measuring all 100 locations in terms of Best First Impressions then the Gorge Walk would probably come first. And since our first visit we have spent so many happy, sunny days here – I almost don’t want to share it!
Follow the signs which takes you past Auchinleck House (and possibly a few Highland cows in the fields if you’re lucky!), and continue along the footpath through the woodland. There are many spectacular treats along this short walk. If you’re not paying attention you may even miss the truly amazing hidden ruins of Auckinleck Castle.
Dating back to the thirteenth century this crumbling structure was built on top of a rock stack on the banks of Lugar Water constructed from beautiful local red sandstone, with part of the castle’s interior simply quarried straight out of the cliff side. This curious mixture of sandstone blocks, sitting alongside the deep red weathered rock face gives this whole area a very mysterious and fairy-tale atmosphere. Part of the ruins lie in a little clearing in the woods, back from the cliff edge, where you can see how nature is slowly claiming back the land with huge cedar trees now rising out through the castle tower. Stare up at it for long enough and it becomes difficult to see where the castle stops and the tree begins.
This area also holds another hidden secret which can only be found if you are looking for it – and even then you may not find it. High up in the cliff sits an 18th century grotto known as Wallace’s Cave, carved out of the sandstone and almost completely hidden from view if you don’t know where to look. Access to the grotto is a perilous narrow path beside a vertical drop and some rock-cut steps. There are, I would imagine, few other places in SW Scotland which make you feel more like Indiana Jones than this place does.
If you wish to properly explore this Castle and the Cave on the Cliffs here are some words of caution gained from experience:
Firstly – it is not suitable for young children at all. We are not overly cautious when it comes to letting our kids explore places as we encourage them to be quite feral, but the day we took them up the cliff path to the top of the ruin was, in hindsight, not exactly a good parenting decision. (I should add here that nothing bad happened I’m happy to say, its just that it was really quite a scary experience). Secondly – definitely do not take kids up there (or even go up yourself) if you’ve had a beer or two with lunch, especially if you’ve developed an irrational fear of heights as you’ve got older. And thirdly – DO NOT go up there with young kids, and if you’ve had a beer, and if you are wearing flip-flops. Only an absolute idiot would do these 3 things. In a nutshell; it is really bloody dangerous so only do it if you are good with heights, sober, over the age of 12 and wearing proper footwear!
After you have explored the heights of the castle (if you have dared do so), continue down the steep-ish path through the woods down to the river. And there you will find our little bit of paradise – a tiny sandy ‘beach’ opposite a big red cliff with crystal clear sparkling water. Imagine that scene in the film ‘The Beach’ when Di Caprio sees the beach for the first time…that’s how if was for us the first day we found this spot – exactly the same, but in miniature. It was the beginning of the amazing summer 2018 heatwave so being at this place felt like we were on some tropical island – even the sand was almost too hot to walk on that day! As soon as we got home, I ordered a rubber dingy and over the summer months we spent many hours on our ‘secret beach’, having picnics and floating down the water in our boat. Lying in the water beneath the castle and watching the sparkling ripples, projected and dancing on the cliff side is a very happy way to spend a few afternoons.
As I write this it is approaching the end of November and outside the sky is as grey as steel. Those summer months already feel long ago, but it will be the memories of happy days at places like the Gorge Walk which will help to get me through the winter. And it will be the first place I will want to visit when springtime comes back around.