Much lesser-known than other Scottish walks, the 250 mile St. Ninian's Way is inspired by a 4th century saint, assumed to be the first Christian missionary to Scotland.

The full route runs from Carlisle in England to South Queensferry near Edinburgh. I think the 126 mile stretch between Carlisle and Whithorn is the most scenic stretch.

There is a marvellous sense of progression throughout, and you overnight at many pretty villages. The best time to do this walk is in high summer when you can appreciate the long evenings with skies staying light until well after 11pm. It's a delight to enjoy the villages with a gentle stroll after a good feed at your hotel or an old pub. But even in summer be prepared for rain and wind!

Accommodation is plentiful at the overnight stops though it is advisable to pre-book. The main choices are hotels and B&Bs with some campsites en route.

The start point of Carlisle is well connected with bus and rail links. The end point of Whithorn is connected by bus to the town of Newton Stewart with onward connections to the Dumfries train station.

St Ninian’s Way isn’t widely offered as an organised walking holiday, although you might find a specialist operator who can help. Most walkers book their accommodation independently, and you might find B&Bs who can arrange luggage transfer on an ad-hoc basis.

UK Scotland St Ninian Way Whithorn in Dumfires and Galloway

The historic town of Whithorn, calling point for pilgrims on St Ninian's Way

St Ninian's Way

Distance: 126 miles (202km)

Duration: 10 to 12 days

Start point: Carlisle

End point: Whithorn (for Part 1)

Difficulty: A largely flat or undulating route with some hilly farmland and moorland sections

Suitable for: All levels

The walk begins at Carlisle Cathedral which traces its roots to 1122 as a monastic church. Allow time to see this, the second smallest of England's ancient cathedrals, before walking through flat farmland and over the estuary of the Esk and Eden with great views onto the Solway Firth before crossing into Scotland. The day ends shortly after in Gretna, a village with a long history. Thousands of couples say “I do” here every year, following the tradition of young English elopers who since 1753 flitted over the border to marry under Scots law.

From there the waymarked path broadly runs parallel to the firth. Highlights include sections of lovely walking through farmland, especially from Castle Douglas to the attractive village of Gatehouse of Fleet. Look for the distinctive local black and white banded Beltie cows and enjoy the song of the swooping lapwings.

From Gatehouse the route meanders through hill and moorland to drop down to Creetown. Then the Way passes through the town of Newton Stewart before heading south to the quaint booktown of Wigtown. This marks the head of the Whithorn Peninsula where there is a fine coastal track from Garlieston to Whithorn. Here there is the finest collection of early Christian carved stones in Scotland. The intricately engraved stones include towering crosses and the Latinus Stone, Scotland’s earliest Christian monument which dates from around 450 AD.

If you’ve got longer you can extend your walk with the rest of the full pilgrimage route onward to South Queensferry or, for a shorter extension, the Whithorn Circuit is an interesting 8 mile/ 13km walk (5 hours) beginning in the centre of Whithorn and following a road to the pretty causeway-linked Isle of Whithorn and visits St Ninian's Chapel. From here it goes along a rough coastal path to St Ninian's Cave – a shallow depression in the rocks. Enjoy views from the remote beach to the Isle of Man. A track and road completes the return.

Watch out!

Midges are less of a problem in this part of Scotland though you should be aware of sheep ticks. These match head-sized biting insects thrive in grasslands where sheep, cattle and deer graze and can attach themselves to walkers’ ankles and legs, or other body parts if you rest on the ground. They can transmit the serious Lyme disease. Check your body carefully at least once at the end of each day and remove any parasites with a dedicated tick-removal tool, washing the area with antiseptic.

St Ninian’s Way day by day

Day 1: Carlisle to Gretna (11 miles/ 18km)

Day 2: Gretna to Annan (11 miles/ 18km)

Day 3: Annan to Bankhead (13 miles/ 21km)

Day 4: Bankhead to Dumfries (10.5 miles/ 17km)

Day 5: Dumfries to Castle Douglas (17 miles/ 28km)

Day 6: Castle Douglas to Kirkcudbright (10.5 miles/ 17km)

Day 7: Kirkcudbright to Gatehouse of Fleet (14 miles/ 22km)

Day 8: Gatehouse of Fleet to Creetown (12 miles/ 19km)

Day 9: Creetown to Newton Stewart (7.5 miles/ 12km)

Day 10: Newtown Stewart to Wigtown (8 miles/ 13km)

Day 11: Wigtown to Garlieston (9 miles/ 14km)

Day 12: Garlieston to Whithorn (7.5 miles/ 12km)

Hidden Gems

One of the earliest Christian sites in Scotland, Whithorn is said to have been founded by Saint Ninian who died there in 432 AD. But there is much uncertainty around Ninian's identity. There is a lot of information in the town at the Whithorn Priory & Museum about the saint and the area’s claims to be the cradle of Christianity in Scotland.

About the author

St Ninian's Way (Carlisle to Whithorn)

Fergal MacErlean

Dublin-born Fergal fell in love with Scotland as a student, settling there to become a journalist and cycle guidebook writer. In addition to his guides covering Scotland, he has written for the BBC, New Scientist, BBC Countryfile Magazine and many travel publications. Andalusia is a second home.

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