I am running along a hedge-lined country road and the sun is warm on my back.
The sun is very warm, I think to myself. This is probably the first truly sunny day we have had this year and sweat pours from my hairline. But the air is sweet, thick, filling my lungs so that, despite being out for longer than is usual for me, I am not out of breath. I am utterly relaxed and as I run I feel the stress of daily life is being pounded out of my body.
I run downhill now, towards the sea. In the distance I can see a lighthouse. It is white with golden-yellow brickwork in what I think of as the archetypal Scottish lighthouse design. In fact, this lighthouse, Corsewall, was designed by Robert Stevenson of the famous Stevenson engineering family that designed scores of lighthouses across Scotland and who is perhaps better known as the grandfather of Treasure Island author Robert Louis Stevenson.
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I feel like I have struck gold myself because, even though I am only two hours from Glasgow, this is a land of tranquillity and one with a rich history. As I continue towards the lighthouse I feel that history flowing down through my feet, into the soil and out to sea.
It is a magnificent clear, sunny day and off to my left, across the water I can just see the Kilroot power station outside Carrickfergus in Northern Ireland, where my grandfather, as a scaffolder, helped build his own monument in the form of the colossal industrial smoke stack.
I reach the lighthouse but allow myself only a passing glance at the glistening shoreline before turning back. It is all uphill on this final stretch back to the house, with only the occasional bemused look from a cow for company. But, with the help of that sweet country air, I power up the slope, on to the single-track lane and up to the oasis that is Dundream house.
Dundream is a luxurious green retreat perched on a hill outside Stranraer. I jog up the lane and on to the broad wooden decking. Walking around the house, I can fully appreciate the 360-degree views of the countryside and coast, from the Glenapp Hills and Loch Ryan in the east to the Mull of Kintyre, Arran and Ailsa Craig off the coast to the north. At the western side of the house I can see the unmistakable sweep of the Mourne Mountains across the water in County Down.
It is on this side of the deck that I find my parents sitting at the large outdoor dining table, reading. Their feet are up and pointed towards the Mournes and their home in Belfast. I point out this out to them and we spend a not inconsiderable amount of time finding our bearings: if the Ailsa Craig is at 12 o'clock then that means Larne is at 9 o'clock and Belfast at 7 o'clock - maybe it's an Irish thing.
I go inside, although, with the enormous windows flooding the interior with light, it is difficult to tell the difference from outside. I cross over the beautiful reclaimed beech flooring past the huge open-plan kitchen and upstairs to the master bedroom where I find my wife lounging by the floor-to-ceiling windows. She is watching swallows sweep in to land above her head in the nest just above the window. I join her for a while to watch this hypnotic cross between bird watching and plane spotting.
Dundream - named after an ancient iron fort - is the vision of Elaine Hamilton who has worked hard to create the perfect sustainable retreat in the north Rhins of Galloway. The house has stunning views from every room and has been designed to provide relaxation or offer respite for those in need of a break. It also has disabled access as a key component, from the open-plan living room and kitchen to the downstairs bedroom and toilet and sloped outdoor decking. Certainly Dundream has a soothing effect on my family, even if we did not take up the reflexology, aromatherapy or massage treatments on offer. We did sample the local produce that Elaine has tied in with, like the Loch Arthur cheeses, Blandoch whisky and John Mellis honey.
It is getting on for dinner time by now and we decide to forgo the tempting offer of an in-house caterer and instead book dinner at the Corsewall Lighthouse. Our table at the lighthouse looks out on the sea, where it is not uncommon to see porpoise, seals and even the occasional basking shark.
By the time we finish dinner, the sun has started to dip below the horizon, bathing the coastline and countryside in a warm orange glow and when we return to the house to watch this spectacular sunset, we are taken by how the light has transformed Dundream. The light shifts again as we sit on the wooden deck to watch the last rays of sun drop from view, bringing the curtain down on a glorious day.
Thomas Hawkins stayed at Dundream, Kirkcolm, Stranraer, Dumfries and Galloway. For more information, contact Elaine Hamilton on 07517373470 or visit www.dundream.com, firstname.lastname@example.org).
Five OTHER Activities in the area
Wild food Foraging
If, like me, you are a bit of a foodie, you could do worse than give Mark Williams a call. Mark is wild food aficionado and can organise a day out sampling the finest local food you've never eaten. My wife and I joined Mark in Portpatrick and he took us on a guided tour of the edible local flora and fauna. From common hogweed to elderflower, Mark worked brought us on a culinary voyage of discovery ... then blew our minds when he explained that flavours such as mustard, coconut and pineapple were growing at our feet. Mark's common hogweed and smoked haddock kedgeree was incredible. www.gallowaywildfoods.com for more information.
Portpatrick Dunskey Golf Club
The stunning golf courses at Portpatrick benefit massively from the amazing views and on clear days you can see the Isle of Man, Mourne Mountains and Mull of Kintyre as you make (read duff) your way round. Portpatrick also offers top coaching in the form of two PGA professionals who can arrange clinics prior to your round. I enjoyed some top tips from the soon-to-be-departing James Erskine, whose sage advice helped get rid of my recurrent slice - and, no, it wasn't to give up golf for good. For more information or to book contact the pro shop on 01776 810273.
The Harbour House Hotel
Stop for lunch or dinner at the Harbour House in Portpatrick and enjoy the fresh sea air blowing in when the bi-fold doors are opened fully in the sun room. The views across to Northern Ireland and the Mull of Kintyre aren't bad either.
StenaLine to Belfast
If the views of the Mourne Mountains aren't enough, you can drive 25 minutes up the road to Loch Ryan and hop on the ferry to Belfast for a day of shopping and culture. Once off the boat, it is only a short distance to the Titanic exhibition and Game of Thrones television set.
Visit www.stenaline.co.uk for prices and timetables
Wigtown Book Festival
Wigtown's famous book festival is one of the UK's best-loved literary events and is increasingly including visual arts and the tiny Swallow Theatre in its programme. This year's festival runs from September 26 to October 5. www.wigtownbookfestival.com