A level coastal walk with long vistas, lonely beaches and a choice of lengths starting at RSPB Mersehead...
This is a lovely walk at all times of year, but it is particularly interesting in winter when the migrant birds gather in their thousands at Mersehead RSPB nature reserve. We walked from Mersehead to Southerness and back a distance of about 7.5 miles. It would also be possible to do it one way only by leaving a vehicle at each end, or the beach at Mersehead can be enjoyed by doing a 2.5 mile loop around just the nature reserve.
We started at Mersehead nature reserve car park which was busy with tree sparrows, and paid our £3 for parking to the friendly volunteer in the reserve visitor centre. Here you can also check out what birds have been sighted recently and get a hot drink whilst watching the busy feeders.
From the carpark we turned right back along the road we had driven down, then just past the cottages, we took the rough farm road to our left at the corner. The circular route around Mersehead is shown in their leaflet. Our route takes us along the first part of that but then continues along the beach.
The first section of the path leads between merse on the right and grassland on the left to the dunes at the coast. Look out for barnacle geese that arrive in the autumn to overwinter on the Solway - they gather at Mersehead in their thousands. We also saw significant numbers of Lapwing which are present all year round. Spring and summer visitors include reed warblers.
At the dunes you get a good view of the coast to the West towards Sandyhills beach.
Our route takes us in the other direction along the long sandy beach.
If the weather is fine you can see the peaks of the Lake Distsrict on the other side of the Solway Firth.
If you want to do the shorter loop around the RSPB site only look out for the sign on the dunes and loop back off the beach. Otherwise continue following the waterline.
The route becomes more of a saltmarsh than a beach in places and you need to pick out the path between wet areas. We did the walk at low tide, but do pay attention to where the tide is so you don't get stuck the wrong side of a widening stream.
It wont be long before you can spot the lighthouse that marks your destination on the horizon - as you would expect Southerness lighthouse is visible from quite a distance. First you will notice a golf course on the shore on your left then, once you get round the headland, the distinctive lighthouse is ahead.
Southerness lighthouse is the second oldest lighthouse in Scotland and dates back to 1748. It was built to guide ships heading into the Nith Estuary and what was then a major port at Dumfries. The lighthouse was decommissioned in 1936 and now houses a small privately run museum/shop at the top which is only occasionally open (free but donations welcome). I have looked but can't find any information about opening times which I suspect are irregular so don't expect to be able to go inside; it is worth climbing to the top if it is open.
If you have time you can explore Southerness village which has its own rather unique atmosphere. This small village with a few permanent residents multiplies in size in the summer as it hosts two large holiday parks and two golf courses.
Head back by retracing your route - keeping an eye out for the tide. We had to retrace our steps in one section as we had missed the plank placed across one of the streams crossing the beach.
Once back at RSPB Mersehead take the first path inland. This is clearly marked by a signpost at the top of the dunes.
The route now passes through the gate shown then along a woodland path and back to the main farm track past the hides. We didn't go into the hides this time, but they can be reached by a short detour from the main path.
Most of this walk is along sand and thus not suitable for most pushchairs, mobility scooters or wheelchairs. Parts of Mersehead are accessible - see their accessibility statement for details. The Car Park is open from dawn to dusk and is £3 for non RSPB members. Toilets and refreshments are available at the visitor centre check their website for opening hours. The walk can be quite wet in places so waterproof footwear is advised. Dogs are welcome but should be on a lead when birds are nesting on the ground (1st April - 15th August).
You can download a map of the core path from Mersehead to Southerness the Dumfries and Galloway Council website.
About the author
My husband Michael and I run Kirkennan Estate Holiday Cottages - 3 comfortable cottages ideal for walkers or bird watchers. In our spare time we love exploring the beautiful local area and finding walks we haven't done before. If you are looking for accommodation in the Dumfries and Galloway area please do take a look at our cottages. You would be most welcome to stay.
A cozy cottage ideal for couples. The Mews can sleep up to 5 in 2 bedrooms and welcomes up to 3 dogs. It has a bath for aching limbs and a woodburning stove to recover by in the evening.
Woodsedge sleeps 5 people in 3 bedrooms and again welcomes up to 3 dogs. It is level access throughout so ideal for family groups where some are less mobile. It has an open fire and enclosed garden at the rear.
The Lodge is our largest cottage and sleeps 5 & 2 in 4 bedrooms and also welcomes up to 3 dogs. It stands on its own in a large garden. It has a bath, a shower and an open fire.