From the front door we could hear waves rustling. Westwards, the cottage overlooked a stepped garden exploding with colour; facing East, grassy fields where playful rabbits bounded; and to the south, the hazy swathes of the Solway Firth. In short, Sanderling Cottage was heaven. This beautifully renovated 17th-century property with timeless seaside-inspired decor lies at the bottom of a bumpy single track road outside Colvend in Dumfries and Galloway - and it was our home for a week of much-needed escapism.
The area is known as the Scottish Rivera - and, even if this might seem dubious given the often chilly temperatures, I could see why. Craggy cliffs dappled with coastal blooms play out against a dramatic seascape. Much of the landscape is estuarial, with mudflats meeting wet sandy beaches and grassy banks. Inland, rolling agricultural land is mowed by large herds of dairy cattle including Galloway, which are unique to the area with their broad white belts.
Dumfries and Galloway is one of the least populated regions in Britain, so the sense of escapism it offers is virtually unparalleled. A rocky cove (you find them all along this coastline) was a short stroll from the cottage. We went there each evening to watch the waves roll in, sidestepping the jellyfish strewn across the beach by the tide, peeling our eyes to spot sea creatures in rock pools, and playing with Merry, a cute collie-corgi cross (we think) who was allowed to roam the beach freely by his local owner.
The area is full of attractions, from castles to chocolate factories and exotic gardens, but our agenda was to relax. Being by the sea was the order of the day. One of the loveliest walks nearby is the coastal stretch from Sandyhills to Kippford. From Sandyhills' vast beach of sand and mud flats laced with stake nets, the path leads along rambling cliff tops that give way to razor-sharp rocks. We passed a colony of cormorants and a Celtic hill fort. Rockcliffe is a charming clutch of white cottages arranged around a half-moon shaped beach overlooking Rough Island, a nature sanctuary accessible by a causeway. We called for refreshments at The Garden Room, which has an excellent selection of home baking, and enjoyed the sea breeze and utter peace and quiet. Kippford has an altogether different feel, with a stretch of houses facing a lively marina.
Other days involved a hair-raising walk at Balcary Bay along what was advertised as "danger cliffs", in such wind and rain that we felt we might be blown from the tops, and climbing the Merrick, at 843 metres the highest peak in the area. It's an attractive route from Loch Trool that opens onto views encompassing the Isle of Man and Arran. One day dawned gloriously sunny, and we went sea kayaking (me) and stand-up paddle boarding (Tim) on the west coast off Maidens. In the clear depths we could see jellyfish gliding and sea kelp tying knots over the sea bed. Afterwards, we walked along the beach to Culzean Castle's grounds. Here, from the shaded clifftop woodland above an azure sea, it felt as if we were in the groves surrounding St. Tropez.
This is an area I could happily return to time and again. It was a treat to move slowly, watch seas birds, laugh at rabbits playing, potter around and eat lots of cake. Another thing - the locals were so friendly. I must mention the newsagent in Castle Douglas (dubbed the area's "food town"), who laughed at Tim's sunburn contrasted with my milk-bottle skin, and said, "well, white is the new tan!", and the lady in the town's craft supplies shop, who had named her artist mannequin Mike and spoke to it like it was a child. Oh the scenery, the slow pace of life, the fact that the only timetable is that set by the tide ... As we munched fish and chips outside The Mariner in Kippford on our last day, a stiff breeze lifting our food from our forks, we looked out at the scenery and wondered to ourselves if this was perhaps heaven on earth.
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