Sometimes, it’s good to do something on the spur of the moment. In fact, I’ve often planned to be more spontaneous.
So we visited Portpatrick on an impulse – not to labour the point, without any forethought. It’s a wee seaside town on the west coast of Scotland – more accurately on the Rhinns of Galloway. The Rhinns of Galloway is that hammer-shaped peninsular on your map, in the south west of Dumfries and Galloway. Portpatrick is at the end of the A77 and pretty much as far west as you can go thereabouts without getting your feet wet. The Isle of Man lies about 45 miles to the south and Northern Ireland is around 20 miles to the west.
By tradition a fishing village, in former times Portpatrick was also a busy seaport, a conduit for trade between Ireland and Scotland, until Stranraer’s more sheltered harbour gradually gained ascendancy. These days, it’s a popular holiday destination where people go for sea angling, golfing, walking, or to watch the boats go in and out while the gulls wheel and squawk overhead. Sometimes, there’s a traffic jam. And there’s an annual folk festival in September.
I know Portpatrick’s a popular place because we bowled up in out-of-season March, shortly after the place had stopped being snowbound, to find it heaving. My theory is that some of those stranded by inclement weather hadn’t quite managed to navigate their way out of the taverns that run along the waterfront. Anyway, this is where spontaneity first let us down, because it was late afternoon, we hadn’t booked anywhere to stay overnight and many of the bewilderingly large number of bed and breakfast establishments were full. Eventually, we were generously allowed to lodge in one close to the harbour – provided we agreed to take out a second mortgage. The room was scrupulously clean, but appeared to have been created by dividing a former broom cupboard into two. It boasted an ensuite that could also have been euphemistically described as ‘compact’. Indeed, if inclined to multi-task and a certain amount of physical contortion, it might have been possible to perform certain essential tasks simultaneously.
Squeezing our way outside, half of Scotland seemed to have noisily migrated into the bars and eateries, so we considered it expedient to make sure we could dine later by reserving a table somewhere. Our B&B actually turned out to be a small hotel with a restaurant so, not knowing any better, we plumped for that. You might say it was a spontaneous thing. And I must confess that bit worked a treat, because the meal was really excellent, the staff were a delight and we had a wonderful evening. There were just two downsides. Firstly, the proprietor was one of those individuals whose bonhomie seemed somewhat exaggerated (though I’m sure it was sincere) and extended to … touching. Now, I don’t know about you, but as a middle-aged male Brit I require a reasonable amount of personal space; actual touching (apart from a good, firm, manly handshake) is normally reserved for the memsahib, very close friends, my GP – and of course the rugger club. The second thing was that this tactile toady had a thing about Frank Sinatra’s greatest hits. I’m partial to hearing a little of Ol’ Blue Eyes myself, but after ‘My Way’ struck up for the third time I called a waitress over and asked – no, pleaded - whether they could possibly change the CD. Perhaps they could take a musical quantum leap and try a bit of Crosby (before he joined Stills and Nash), or even Matt Monro. The waiting staff seemed delighted that someone had dared speak up and rapidly replaced Frank with the latest ‘Now That’s What I Call Music (feat. Take That, Robbie Williams, David Guetta etc); I’m convinced the service got even more betterer from then on.
In between extricating ourselves from the ensuite hutch and eating, we had a wander round the town. It’s an attractive place, with pretty houses clustered round the harbour. We watched the boats go in and out while the gulls wheeled and squawked overhead – as you do. At this point I should return to the shortcomings of spontaneity. You may be familiar with the maxim, “proper planning prevents poor performance” – also known as ‘the 6 Ps’ (I know, you only counted 5 – there’s a missing adjective before ‘poor’). So the absence of any planning before our brief visit to Portpatrick meant that we completely missed seeing the old kirk, St Patrick’s, the local ruined castle, Dunskey, as well as a nearby hill fort. In fairness, we did have limited time. It simply means we’ll need to go back. And while we’re there, we could pop down the coast to Logan Botanic Gardens too. Regrettably, I can’t remember the name of the place we stayed in…
For more information, visit Portpatrick’s website.