The best coastal walk in Scotland, or even just the best walk in Scotland, is going from Rockcliffe to Kippford – two pretty villages in the Dumfries & Galloway area. Obviously I’ve not done every walk in Scotland, so this is a grand claim, but I’m going to roll with it.
It’s a good afternoon/morning potter if you’re staying in Kirkcudbright or the surrounding area. And if you enjoy this post, you might also like my guide to Kirkcudbright.
Right, on with the walk…
Arriving in Rockcliffe
You can do the walk from Rockcliffe to Kippford or from Kippford to Rockcliffe. I prefer to start in Rockcliffe.
The seaside village of Rockcliffe is just off the Dumfries to Dalbeattie road in South West Scotland.
There’s not much other than the beach in Rockcliffe, just one tearoom/gift shop. It’s called The Garden Room Cafe (no website to link you to, sadly). As well as cakes and so on, it also sells bits of local art and other gifts. We have a gorgeous picture of Rockcliffe from there that Chris secretly bought for me on our last trip and snuck into the car to present me with when I was having the usual post-Scotland blues when we got home. The lady in the shop only took cash (which we never have) and so he almost couldn’t buy it, but she was nice enough to let him have it with the promise of sending a cheque in the post (which we obviously did). It now has pride of place on our fireplace.
Anyway, before you start your walk, you can have a photo taken with the ‘Welcome to Rockcliffe sign’ and get a Mr Whippy ice cream (if you’re there in summer). Them’s the rules.
Before the walk: Rockcliffe beach
The walk has to start with an obligatory frolic on the beach (possibly with said Mr Whippy in hand).
Depending on whether the tide is in or out, the water can be right up to the rocky wall round Rockcliffe beach or all the way out past Rough Island. Rough Island is (surprisingly) an island, and a nature sanctuary. You can walk to it in low tide, being careful not to get caught and die. No one lives on it apart from sea birds and it’s only little. You could make it part of this walk actually, if you timed it right.
Rockcliffe beach is a rocky beast, with the slipperiest seaweed I’ve ever fallen over on. So again, try not to die.
It has plenty of rockpools where you may or may not be able to find a crab to befriend.
A practical note: the walk doesn’t take very long and it’s very easy. You won’t need any hideous walking boots or anything. Converse or some other flats are fine, unless you plan on doing some serious scrambling about in rockpools.
Starting the walk from Rockcliffe
Once you’re crabbed out, walk back up to where the ‘Welcome to Rockcliffe’ sign is.
On the left of this are the toilets, and past them is the little path that marks the start of the walk. It goes up into the woods, which are owned by the National Trust for Scotland.
I believe you can also start the walk from the official Rockcliffe car park, but this is not what we do and I feel it’d eat into valuable ice cream and beach time…
Pretty houses and cottages in the woods
One of the best things about the early stages of the walk: all the gorgeous houses and cottages you go past. Some of them are impossibly cute and you’ll be looking the postcode up on RightMove when you get home.
Just follow the path up through the woods, going through two sets of kissing gates.
Opening up into meadow
The path then comes out of the woods and into the light. Or rain, depending on your luck.
These photos are all from July and it was scorching (31 degrees!).
After the meadow action, the path goes over a cattle grid and past some gorgeous Victorian houses that overlook the estuary. Continue trundling along.
There’s a bit of an incline with a cottage ahead. You should see a boulder with ‘Kippford’ carved on it and possibly an arrow pointing right. I can’t quite remember if there’s an arrow. Anyway, go right.
Wild flowers and potential squirrels
One of the nicest things about doing this walk in summer is the abundance of colour from plants. As well as the wild things, a lot of the houses en route have really pretty gardens that you can peer into like a weirdo.
Oh and some of the ferns are really good. I normally only like flowering plants with colour, but there are some ferns making what feels like a tunnel along the way. Amazing.
Being from the red squirrel outpost of Formby originally, I’ve always got half an eye out for a red squirrel (there’s a sentence no one has ever said). Dumfries & Galloway is one of the few other places in the UK where red squirrels are doing okay. And you may spot one on this very walk. Unfortunately, we didn’t this time, but my dad did when he did the walk in January, so they are definitely still in residence there.
Arriving at Kippford: the money shot
The path eventually splits. You need to take the left option going downhill. It’s self-explanatory from here on in. You’ll come out onto a path lined with houses and you can see Kippford beach ahead.
If you go left at the road, you will come to the famous Kippford Leaning Tree.
I don’t actually know if it’s that famous but it’s always involved in every photo of the beach.
There’s also a bench if you’re horrendously unfit and need to sit down. Or if someone is taking 41,872 photos of said tree and you get bored waiting.
Obviously, you now need to mess about on the beach for a bit. Kippford beach is a shelly little number, and although I love Rockcliffe, I have to admit it’s a bit better. Just look at it!
Also, it’s even better for finding crabs to say hello to. We always catch some from the little rockpools and put them into the bigger, better ones, with added seaweed for cover, so that they don’t get eaten before the tide comes back in.
This time, we also saw a jellyfish – a live one!
You can spend ages here. Especially if it’s 31 degrees…
On to Kippford village
When you’ve had your fill of beaching, head back up onto the path that is now really a road. It’s dead easy from here on in. Head left (if you’re facing the road from the beach) towards Kippford.
And brace yourself for the best bit of the whole walk. Yes, even better than 164 calories of Mr Whippy joy.
When you’ve been walking towards Kippford for a few minutes, you’ll come across a local artists’ house and garden…
THIS IS THE BEST BIT!
The first person to see a little face or eye peering at them from the undergrowth wins a prize of your choice.
An artist who lives here has installed a sort of open-air exhibition of all kinds of weird and wonderful creatures outside her/his house. Strategically placed eyes make otherwise normal stones and bits of driftwood into magical beasts peeping out at you along the path.
I’ve tried several times over the years to Google the name of the person who does these, but all I ever find are other people’s photos. Anyway, they’re brilliant. They’ve been there for at least 20-odd years, but they don’t always stay in the same place and there’s always a few new ones to spot.
[Edited to add: since publishing this blog post, I got a lovely message on our blog’s Facebook page. A Kippford local tells me that it was an artist called Bill Smart, who has passed away, but his family now keep the creatures going!)
Civilisation ahead: arriving in Kippford
After the excitement of spotting all the little creatures, you’ll almost be into Kippford village itself.
There are a few beautiful houses, gardens and cottages to take in along the way. When you get to the row of cottages in my second shot below, that’s when you’ve reached Kippford.
There’s a bit more going on in Kippford than there is in Rockcliffe. But it’s still not very busy, which is excellent. Some adorable cottages along the front are worth a mooch past.
Have a look in The Ark, a gorgeous little tea room and gift shop that also sells ice cream for humans and dogs. Next to it are the cute cottages you’ll have walked past on your way in. Some of them are holiday lets and one in particular is so pretty, I really want to stay in it one day.
Looping back (or not)
Right, I feel like I can’t just leave you abandoned forever in Kippford, but I have to admit that this is where the walk has always ended for me. This time, I did the walk with Chris and my dad. My mum drove their car round to Kippford to meet us and off we went somewhere else. But if it had just been me and Chris, without my parents, we’d have had to waddle back to Rockcliffe to get to our car. We’d have to take the road up the hill and follow the Jubilee Path back to Rockcliffe, which sounds very straightforward. Apparently, this path also has some nice views.
So, if anyone doesn’t get a lift off my mum in Kippford and ends up doing this, let me know what it’s like.
And that concludes the best coastal walk in Scotland and a little exploration of two of the prettiest villages in the world. I’ve been going to these, usually while staying in Kirkcudbright, since I was tiny. Even now in my 30s, having seen loads of hidden gems all over the world from an art island in Japan to a car-free oasis in Gothenburg, nothing quite compares to this part of the world.
Rockcliffe to Kippford – the best coastal walk in Scotland: useful information
How long the walk is
How to get there (and away)
Sadly, we break our no-driving rule when it comes to a trip to Dumfies & Galloway. To get to Rockcliffe to begin the walk, we drive from Kirkcudbright and it takes just over half an hour. I won’t patronise you with a link to Google maps, but it’s easy enough.
Where to stay
There are places to stay in Rockcliffe and Kippford, but I wouldn’t actually recommend either village as a base for exploring the Dumfries & Galloway area, unless you know it really well and want some kind of self-catering/not doing much malarkey. There just aren’t enough places you could walk to to eat and drink in the evenings to warrant either village as a base for us. You could of course drive out to other places or feed yourself, but who wants to cook on holiday and who wants to drive ever?! Nearby town Kirkcudbright is perfect to stay in – loads of places to walk to of an evening and it’s quite central for day trips. We like the Selkirk Arms, but see our Kirkcudbright travel guide for more info.
When to go
We went in July this time and got lucky with the tropical weather. Yes, this is in Scotland. My parents also went to Kirkcudbright in January this year and my dad did this walk and still enjoyed it even without the sunshine. It could get a bit muddy/slippy in wet times, so you may need uglier footwear depending on the weather, but it’d never be unwalkable. As far as tourists/busy-ness go, Rockcliffe and Kippford don’t tend to get heaving. Obviously at the height of summer there are more people about than in the quieter months, but I have zero tolerance for screaming children/any children and can’t honestly remember noticing any round there, ever. So there’s no bad time to go really.
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If you enjoyed this post, you might also like others in my Dumfries and Galloway collection:
- a Kirkcudbright travel guide
- a day in Castle Douglas and Threave Gardens
- a day in Gatehouse of Fleet and Mossyard beach
- a secret beach: Carrick Bay
- visiting Sweetheart Abbey in New Abbey.
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