Most of you will have heard of Gretna Green, the town by the Scotland/England border where lovers have traditionally eloped to get married in secret. What is less well known is that Portpatrick once served a similar purpose for Irish lovers. Until 1826 the Church of Scotland took advantage of Portpatrick's position on the Rhinns of Galloway, the closest point on the Scottish coast to Ireland, by running a profitable line in quick and easy weddings with no questions asked. The crossing from Ulster was just 21 miles, and eloping couples could be married within a couple of days of disembarking in Scotland. Aside from blushing brides and their grooms, this crossing was used to send mail to Ireland and to bring cattle back the other way. However, Portpatrick's time as a ferry port was to prove short-lived due to the ferocity of the sea off this coast. Over the years the efforts of John Smeaton (he of Smeaton's Tower in Plymouth), John Rennie and Thomas Telford proved unequal to the task of protecting the port through their respective harbour and lighthouse constructions, so that the packet boats were forced to move to Stranraer, which had the advantage of a much calmer disposition being located on the shores of Loch Ryan.
That is not to say that Portpatrick became a backwater with the departure of the packet boats. It has developed into a much loved and attractive small resort offering sailing and other water-borne leisure activities. There is a small sandy beach backed by cliffs with a clifftop golf course. The ruined 17th-century Old Church, or St Andrew's Kirk has a distinctive Irish-style round tower; the graveyard here is a reminder of the savagery of the seas off this coast judging by the number of graves housing victims of shipwrecks hereabouts. Portpatrick is one end of a long-distance path, the 212-mile Southern Upland Way (the other end being at Cockburnspath on the North Sea). For a shorter walk, head along the clifftop path towards the south, which offers fine sea views and which leads to the ruined 16th century Dunskey Castle.
Map of the area.
©2008 Arnold Price, via Wikimedia Commons