The village of Auchencairn stands on the A711 coast road from Dalbeattie to Kirkcudbright. Close to the northern end of the village a junction beside the war memorial gives access to a minor road that first follows the line of the Hass Burn before turning south east to follow the shore of Auchencairn Bay and Balcary Bay. The road is a little over two miles long, and forms a cul de sac, but if you have the time is well worth exploring.
Auchencairn Bay is one of many bays that indent the north side of the Solway Firth. Some are larger than others and Auchencairn Bay and neighbouring Orchardton Bay are between them relatively modest in scale, being only some two miles long. Their mouth is jointly defined by Almorness Point to the north east and Balcary Point to the south west. Immediately behind Balcary Point is a secondary bay known as Balcary Bay.
The mouth of Auchencairn Bay is given further definition by Hestan Island. Because the bay is broad and shallow, the island is accessible on foot at low tide from Almorness Point via the Hestan Rack, a tidal causeway of shingle and shells. Hestan Island is uninhabited today, but has not always been so. The island has been home to a lighthouse since 1850, and until it was replaced by an automated light, a lighthousekeeper lived on the island in a cottage which still stands. In the 1200s the island was owned by Dundrennan Abbey and used for trapping fish. In the 1342 Edward Balliol, briefly (and arguably) King of Scotland built a manor house here. Its ruins are still visible at the north end of the island.
For an island measuring just 450 metres by 250 metres Hestan Island offers no shortage of interest including caves believed to have been used by smugglers at various times, and the remains of copper mines dug in the 1840s.
The road that runs along the shore of the bay from Auchencairn passes lines of stakes once used for catching fish. It also skirts the estate of Auchencairn House. A screen of woodland means that this is not visible from the road, though its fairytale gatehouse is. The house itself was built in about 1860 for Ivie Mackie, the Lord Mayor of Manchester. It comprises two main ranges and from its raised location offers commanding views over Auchencairn Bay and Hestan Island.
At the head of Balcary Bay stands the very attractive and strikingly white Balcary Bay Country House Hotel. It would be difficult to imagine a more beguiling location for a quiet getaway. The road concludes in a parking area a little beyond the hotel, and from here you can explore the coastline around Balcary Point. In the shelter of the point itself is Balcary Tower.
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