The Grand Depart – Section 1 | Day 1

Annan to Bowness

Mouth of the Annan
Well, here we are at Waterfoot at the mouth of the river Annan. It is 08.30 on Saturday 4 April and RowAround begins, albeit virtually. The premise is simple – turn right and keeping Scotland off the starboard bow carry on ‘til we get to the Tweed. Some legs will have majestic mountains, stunning lochs and clear blue/green seas; we have the Solway Firth with low vistas and grey sea which turns to pewter when the sun shines.

Leaving the Annan

The sun is not shining today but we are very lucky to have a southerly fresh breeze. Our first hop is straight across Firth to the Bowness-on-Solway – or at least as straight across as a 4 knot tide will allow. Again we are fortunate as later this week that tide could be up to 6 knots. So we set off aiming at a point 5 miles west of our destination and if the cox gets this right we will ferryglide across in about an hour.

Looking across to Bowness-on-Solway from Annan
We are heading to Bowness to make contact with our nearest skiffie neighbours and SCRA’s newest member club. Prior to Covid-19 they had planned to launch the Bowness Belle in time to participate in RowAround press launch at Gretna but unfortunately this had to be postponed. Cumbrians from Bowness, Anthorn and Burgh by Sands have been coming across to row with Annan since last summer and later some will participate in their first skiff event by rowing the next leg.

Bowness Beach
The Bowness Belle was to have been launched from the beach area next to the village. Bowness was inspired to build their own skiff after being involved in the Annan Bell Raid (see bottom of page for more info).

Bowness to Silloth

Following a crew change and waiting for the tide to turn, the next leg runs from Bowness to Silloth. Yes, we do know this is RowAround Scotland and these places are both in England, but we have a fresh breeze to work with and need the shelter of the southerly shore. This is a ten-mile leg which starts off fine, following the Eden channel and being pushed along by the ebb. The most dangerous part of the journey would have been passing the remains of the Solway viaduct where there are notoriously difficult waters to navigate. The viaduct was only in place between 1869 to 1921 and was a rail and walkway between Bowness and Annan.

The span of the viaduct taken from Annan looking towards Bowness, with the Lake District fells in the distance
View towards Annan from the viaduct on the Cumbrian side, with Burnswark Hill behind
The Anthorn Masts

Passing the Anthorn masts, erected to communicate with nuclear submarines and which now sends out the time signal, the world suddenly changes as we enter the mouth of Moricambe Bay, a vast bight in the north Cumbrian coast. This is known locally as Hudson’s Bay due the large number of planes of that name that ditched here during WW2 since the area was home to half a dozen training airfields. The rowers have to work hard in this exposed place to get to a bit of shelter at a headland called Skinberness. This is where Walter Scott wrote Redgauntlet which includes the lines, ‘He that dreams on the bed of the Solway wakes up in the next world’.

Barnacle geese; recent northerly winds seem to have kept the geese in the area longer than usual. They fly to the Arctic to breed, returning to the Solway in the late autumn.
Silloth Promenade
The last mile is along Silloth promenade, built in Victorian times when Silloth was known as the Cumbrian Riviera. The skiffs then beached at the RNLI slip.

Silloth to Hestan

La Malouine
Since the wind had moved into the south a second skiff had left Annan on a trailer earlier this morning and departed from this very slip about two hours ago heading back across towards Scotland. Aiming towards the granite bulk of Criffel which dominates this piece of coastline, at only 570m it appears higher since it rises from sea level, the goal is to reach Hestan, an islet at the mouth of the Urr. Normally this is a tricky passage as it involves crossing various channels and a number of rigs, but today the tideflow is moderate and the breeze helpful. Soon the turbines of Robin Rigg loom large, this was Scotland’s first offshore windfarm coming on stream in 2009, so the rowers have to buck up their technique as photos are taken for our leg sponsors EON. Then the masts of La Malouine hove into view, riding at anchor in the lee of Heston. Captain Roy Kerr had brought her down the Urr from winter quarters at Palnackie to be the mothership and accommodation for the following legs.

Pride of Annan
Annan rowing at sunset on the Solway

“Controlled Crying” – a story told by our storyteller Jan Bee Brown
Some notes from the Annan Ladies

The Annan Ladies are really going to miss their rowing over the next few weeks:

The best thing is meeting some great people and rowing with them in a team is good fun. The actual rowing is quite physical and helps me to stay stronger. Rowing has given me a different way of knowing the Solway estuary and sometimes the light and the water and the views are quite breath-taking.  I have to also mention getting the chance to row in the Skiffie Worlds 2019 – That was a bit of surprise, I never thought at the age of 56 I would get to compete in a world championship! So much fun. — Fiona S.

Rowing is an ideal combination of physical exercise, fresh air, team effort and good companionship:  you cannot fail to feel better for it! I hope never to forget the absolute delight of rowing out into the Solway the very first time and being surrounded by such wonderful scenery: we are so lucky to have that experience.  And it was just as good on repeat! — Amanda R.

The first time I tried rowing was in the ‘Pride of Annan’ on Castle Loch at Lochmaben. I was in the bow doing quite well, following the stroke, listening to the cox when a swan came into land on the water on the port side; I was transfixed. I completely lost timing and ‘caught a crab’ ending up like a sheep on its back with my legs in the air. Thankfully nobody had a camera so my embarrassment was not recorded for posterity. — Christine M.

I started rowing nearly 3 years ago when I retired and for me it is all about the exercise and positive mental health benefits, being part of a team and meeting new people and the amazing rowing out on the Solway. I love it, I am addicted. — Aileen C.

Coastal rowing is a fantastic sport. No matter your age or fitness levels you can take part and get out into the fresh air and see some great scenery and wildlife. — Mary G.

Friends look at me in astonishment when I mention that I love coastal rowing! What’s not to like; fresh air, a great work out, a catch up on the week’s chat and a fantastic feeling of well-being. Have a think about it, it is has got to be worth a try! — Claire T.

The Annan Bell Raid

The Bowness Bell
Every year, the Annan club stages a re-enactment of a raid that took place in 1626 when some people from Annan rowed over the Solway Firth to Bowness and stole the bell from the church. This was the maximum insult in those days as the church was the heart of the community. Unfortunately on the way back with a combination of small boat, big bell and a lot of alcohol the bell was lost and has never been found. The people from Bowness were not happy with this situation and came over the Solway and stole the bells in Dornock and Middlebie. These bells are still installed in the church in Bowness and every year the minister from Middlebie requests the return of his bell, which is politely declined.

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