First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
The Solway Plain, leading north to the vast tideway of the Solway Firth that separates England and Scotland, is a most extraordinary landscape. Squelching with juicy peat and water, teeming with wildlife, dotted with remote farmsteads and rimmed with giant saltmarshes, sands and mudflats, it is as lonely and windswept as any lover of wild places and enormous skies could want.
We set out from the Solway Wetlands Centre to follow the RSPB’s Red Trail around Campfield Marsh on the northern edge of the Solway Plain. Cumulus clouds blew around the blue sky like ships in a gale, and a beautiful rich smell of sun-warmed heather and spicy bog myrtle wafted to us from the moss, as Cumbrians call their bogs.
The trail led past a field of fodder radish, specially planted to attract butterflies and birds, the pink and white flowers fluttering with peacock, painted lady, large white and red admiral. Beyond the crop we traversed a piece of wet birchwood, the tree trunks rising from bog pools as still and black as looking-glass.
Out on the wild expanse of Bowness Common a duckboard trail led across the wet moss, aiming for the dramatic silhouettes of the Lake District’s northern fells outlined in pale grey on the southern horizon, Skiddaw rising like a king over all. Tiny green and gold lizards basked on the edge of the duckboards, flicking away and out of sight in the blink of an eye. We stopped to watch a wheatear on a post, laterally striped in brown and pale olive, its white tail flashing as it darted away across the bog.
Turning off the trail, we made for the isolated farm buildings of Rogersceugh, perched conspicuously on a low drumlin mound. From here the view was sensational, out across a dozen miles of green and purple moss to the Lakeland fells, the southern Scottish hills across the Solway, and away in the east the big mountain hummock of Criffel.
Back at the Wetlands Centre, we took a stroll west along the coast road. A thousand oystercatchers stood head to wind on the strand, the fleets and sandbanks of the Solway lay in glinting lines, and across the firth Criffel rose from the Scottish shore in a stately curve, with evening light pouring from behind it.
Start: Solway Wetlands Centre, RSPB Campfield Marsh, North Plain Farm, Bowness-on-Solway, Cumbria CA7 5AG (OS ref NY 198615)
Getting there: M6 Jct 46; Bowness-on-Solway is signed from A689 western Carlisle bypass. From Bowness, minor coast road towards Cardurnock; Campfield Marsh RSPB is signposted on left in 1½ miles.
Walk (5½ miles, easy, OS Explorer 314; map/guide available at Solway Wetlands’ Centre. Online maps, more walks at christophersomerville.co.uk): From car park, walk between stone gateposts. Follow Discovery Zone path; turn right through gateway and follow Red Trail arrows clockwise. In 1⅓ miles, beside giant wooden compass carving and post with red ring (206600), turn left on boardwalk trail to Rogersceugh Farm viewpoint (214597). Back to compass carving; complete Red Trail. Through entrance onto road; left for ½ a mile to left bend for superb view across Solway Firth; return to car park.
Conditions: Boardwalk or damp grass paths; wear waterproof footwear.
Lunch: Picnic; hot drinks at Solway Wetlands Centre; or Highland Laddie PH, Glasson CA7 5DT (01697-341839; highlandladdieinnglasson.co.uk)
Accommodation: Midtown Farm, Easton, Drumburgh, Wigton CA7 5DL (01228-576550, midtown-farm.co.uk) – really friendly, excellent B&B.
Campfield Marsh RSPB Reserve (01697-351330, rspb.org.uk/campfieldmarsh) Always open. Solway Wetlands Centre open daily 10-4; manned at weekends.
The January Man – A Year of Walking Britain by Christopher Somerville (Doubleday, £14.99).