One of the true hidden gems in Dumfries & Galloway is the tiny village of Stairhaven, which lies on the north-west side of the Whithorn peninsula. Even Google Maps seems to struggle with it, focusing instead on the nearby hamlet of Auchenmalg.
Heading south on the A747 towards Port William and the Isle of Whithorn, a tiny sign on the road reads ‘Stairhaven’ and points to a small side-road. It is here you will come to one of the most remote and most pretty villages in Dumfries & Galloway.
It is a village which is relatively unknown to the tourists and has one of the nicest coastal walks in the entire region: the Stairhaven Coastal Circuit. The circuit is an easy 5-mile circuit, high on rugged coastal cliffs with spectacular views into Luce Bay, the Irish Sea, out to the Isle of Man and beyond. As an added bonus, the walk features a wonderful variety of wildlife.
Driving along the twisty country road I finally saw the sea and, down below the coastal road, the white houses of Stairhaven came into view. I pulled into the large (FREE) carpark at the shore front and was immediately impressed.
I’d never been in Stairhaven before and it was a particularly blue, sunny day. The sparkling sea was shimmering in Luce Bay and the row of white houses looked idyllic in the quiet, peaceful village.
The big carpark has a free toilet block (which is open seasonally from April – September) and a nice information board which tells you a little about the history of the area, the local wildlife and gives a map of the coastal circuit.
I was soon booted up, with my camera at my side and strolling along the row of houses to the start point of the walk at the south point of the village. The walk is well signposted for the entire loop, so you should have no bother getting going.
Absolutely No Dogs
One thing I have to highlight is the large sign at the start of the walk which states ‘Strictly No Dogs: Livestock on Path’. I am always sympathetic to farmers and the damage so many walkers with untrained dogs can cause to livestock. However, I did find it very disappointing to not be able to take Messi on this beautiful coastal circuit that, as it turned out, had next to no livestock on it when I did it. I have done a lot of coastal walks in Dumfries & Galloway and many have ‘dogs on leads’ signs but this is the only one with a strict ‘no dogs’ policy so just be aware of it if you are planning on doing this walk!
The ‘worst’ part of the day, and by ‘worst’ I mean ‘steepest’, is this short first section as the path climbs up through gorse bushes and rocky outcrops to get to the top of the coastal cliffs high above the village below. The effort is well worth it and the views were spectacular.
The little coastal path follows a narrow strip between the fence to the left and the gorse and cliffs to the right. It gently flows, up and down, along the coastline and is very easy going.
On such a bright, sunny day, I couldn’t stop myself pausing to take in the view over and over again. The shimmering, turquiose sea was contrasting with the yellow flowers of the gorse bushes and the gentle breeze was making the going very pleasant.
At a mere 5-miles I was in no rush and was taking many, many pictures.
Of all the coastal walks I’ve done in Dumfries & Galloway, the Stairhaven Coastal Circuit is easily the one where I spotted the most wildlife. Red hares, cormorants, seals, reven’s nests, roe deer and a million seagulls.
I’d spent a wee bit of time creeping to the edge of the cliff faces and checking the rocks and coast below. I was hoping to see some marine life and I wasn’t disappointed. Two seals were basking out on a little rocky outcrop and I took plenty of pictures of them. It didn’t take long for the darker seal to drop into the sea but the grey one watched me, looking increasingly concerned by the weirdo with the camera.
Eventually it dropped into the sea and floated, watching me until I politely excused myself.
The path skirts along the steep cliff faces and I startled a raven which flew off it’s nest, giving me a great look at the chicks in the nest.
I’ve always had a soft spot for cormorants. I always think they wouldn’t look out of place in Jurassic Park with their sleek, black profiles. It’s always fun watching them perched on rocks, wings raised for drying, in their colonies. This walk wasn’t a disappointment on the cormorant front and huge numbers of them were dotted along the coastline.
One of my favourite encounters of the day was two hares getting up and running off. One zig-zagged through the gorse and vanished. The other did the classic hare trick: lying low and still and waiting for me to leave. I took a few pictures and made sure to loudly proclaim “wow, I don’t see him” before heading off (I like to think it gives them a wee sneaky-morale boost).
My favourite encounter of the day was with a roe deer and it’s the only encounter I didn’t get a photo of. While curling along the coastal path I almost bumped into a roe deer, who had been lying to my right, at the top of the cliffs, looking out to sea. This buck had chosen a stunning spot for a seat, in a little clearing between two gorse bushes, but apparently hadn’t factored in…me.
It burst up out of the grass, startled. I froze, also startled.
We exchanged glances and one of those daft moments ensued where we both just stared at each other.
He then decided the best course of action was to run away, down over the grassy cliffs, into the gorse bushes and back up to the path where I’d been. I muttered under by breath an apology for disturbing him and carried on along the little path.
Heading to Auchenmalg
At this point the path enters a cattle field opposite a farmyard. Three cows were alone in the field and seemed baffled by my presence, following me at a distance for a little while before losing interest. At the foot of the field was a wonderful, secluded bay which would make a lovely spot for a picnic!
Eventually I stopped for a look back and took in the views of where I’d been. It had been a beautiful walk and I was now at the half-way point, not far from Auchenmalg. A few sheep were strolling around in the field next to me and at this point I don’t think I’m allowed to put a blog post up without a picture of sheep!
A brief walk further brought me up and over a small ridge and rewarded me with stunning views to Auchenmalg and Lucebay Holiday Park: a caravan park nestled below the cliffs and looking out to sea.
I couldn’t resist taking a detour down onto the beach to listen to the waves and admire the coastal cliffs I’d been walking on. In perfect timing, some grey clouds had drifted over and were making things quite atmospheric!
I was pleasantly surprised that I had the beach to myself and I spent a while taking pictures and strolling along through the shingle. Thankfully, the moody clouds parted almost as quickly as they’d appeared and I headed back up to the little road that leads to the tiny village of Auchenmalg.
Auchenmalg is a very small little village with some pretty houses. The road climbs upwards through a small farmyard and then through open fields. The walk at this point is a simple stroll along a quiet country road back to Stairhaven. I passed some walkers who were enjoying the nice weather and I was enjoying watching the cows and sheep lazing about in the fields. I even spotted some more roe deer and hares.
Thankfully, the road was very quiet with barely a car in sight.
The walk ends with the road dropping down into Stairhaven: the village was as quiet as it was when I’d started, with the sea lapping up against the rocks and a few locals doing some gardening.
I’ve done a lot of coastal walks in Dumfries & Galloway and I must say that the Stairhaven Coastal Circuit is one of the best. At 5 miles it’s a nice length (not too easy and not too taxing) and the secluded location of Stairhaven makes it one of the lesser-known routes in the region.
The abundant wildlife is the icing on the cake of a fantastic coastal walk. Just make sure you don’t bring a dog!
Distance: 5 Miles
Toilets: FREE (Seasonal April – September)
Start Point Postcode: DG8 0JL