For anyone who loves peace and isolation, arriving at the Rhins is like reaching the Promised Land. This narrow strip, less than 40 miles long and never more than five miles wide out on the peninsula itself, is almost completely surrounded by water, sparsely populated – a recluse’s dream. It would be possible to hole up here in a cottage for a week and hardly see or speak to another soul. On a still day there is an intense calmness about the place that penetrates the consciousness and makes you wonder if you’ve been teleported to a lost land. On a blustery day, it is invigorating and life-affirming. We find the Rhins beguiling.
The beech hedgerows and copse woodlands of east and central Dumfries and Galloway grow ever-more scarce as you approach the Rhins, giving way to a landscape of undulating hills of lush green fields sprinkled with patches of scrub gorse and sedge. It is an open and stark place wrapped in a vast, uncompromising sky. The only wood to be seen is in the mile upon mile of fence posts and leaning telegraph poles linking isolated cottages and farmsteads. In the sun the Rhins is a place of vivid colours: lime green fields, shocking blue skies, dark blue seas, the sharp tangy yellow gorse of spring, startlingly white cottages, red-painted barns, and not forgetting the mixed black and white of both Friesian and Belted Galloway cattle.
For anyone who loves peace and isolation, arriving at the Rhins is like reaching the Promised Land.
The peninsula stretches from Corsewall Lighthouse, the most northerly point you can reach by road, down to the Mull of Galloway, Scotland’s most southerly point. The name Rhins is derived from the Gaelic ‘roinn’ for ‘nose’ or ‘promontory’. The west coast is etched by a line of cliffs, the east is gentler. Farming (dairy and beef) and tourism are the main industries. No matter which direction you travel, you soon hit a coastal road and you don’t have to be here long before an island mentality sets in. The pace is just that little bit slower, pleasantly soporific in parts. The mobile library still does the rounds of the villages, country lanes wind through the middle of farmyards, and people you don’t know wave as you pass in the car. And like any good ‘island’, the Rhins also boasts not just a super choice of beaches, most of which are covered throughout this chapter, but also a number of lighthouses.
But the Rhins is not just about grinding to a standstill. There is much here to see and do: walks and beaches, museums and monuments and, thanks to the mild climate, gardens galore. Scotland’s Garden Route encompasses many of them and even if your gardening knowledge extends only to weeds, you’ll find a garden here to stir your interest. Although the Rhins is in the direct line of the prevailing weather coming in from the Atlantic, its climate isn’t as bad as you might expect due to the Gulf Stream or as it is known in this particular part of the world the North Atlantic Current. If you take a look on the UK Met Office website there’s a handy interactive map which shows the averages – daily, monthly, seasonal and annual – of just about every weather condition you could want to know about. Suffice to say, don’t be surprised to find palm trees in front gardens and herbaceous borders stuffed with a veritable plethora of southern hemisphere plants and shrubs. It’s what many visitors come here for.
The people of the Rhins know well that they are custodians of a piece of Scotland that is unique and special.
The people of the Rhins know well that they are custodians of a piece of Scotland that is unique and special, and there is a pride in the area among both established families and incomers, of whom there are a fair few. For some, leaving the Rhins even for a day or two is a wrench, such is the hold that this place can take. Nonetheless, day trips to Belfast are a popular jaunt for locals in need of some retail diversion. Ireland is only two hours away by ferry and the ‘Galloway Irish’ is a term which you will likely come across. There’s a distinctive Irish twang to the local accent.