Walk of the Week: Solway Firth and Gretna Green

VALENTINE'S Day is here and Gretna Green will be enjoying an influx of visitors eager to experience the town's romantic vibes, or at least take a photo of the place to where, for centuries, people used to elope from south of the border to escape the red tape surrounding marriage.

However, the area also offers a chance to stretch the legs and enjoy great views across the Solway Firth to the Lake District, making it ideal for a break on a long journey south, or if you only have a few hours to spare. This waymarked walk is one of a number near Gretna Green – the tourist information centre at the Gateway outlet centre next to the M74 has all you need to know.

The route leaves the town of Gretna and drops down to the edge of the Solway Firth via a country lane. A fine stroll along the edge of the merse (salt marsh) follows before a return by more country lanes. One of the first things you notice as you enter the town is the layout of its streets, which are in a grid formation far different from the original Gretna Green.

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The town dates back to the start of the First World War, when a serious lack of ammunition in Britain led to the building of a massive factory that straddled the Border between Dornock (west of Gretna Green) and Longtown (by the River Esk). Its main job was to produce an explosive, dubbed the Devil's Porridge by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle on a visit in 1916. This huge undertaking employed 30,000 women and men from across the globe, and they needed somewhere to live – hence the creation of Gretna.

Once this has been left behind, quiet country lanes lead you to the merse. Immediately a fantastic view opens up across the Solway Firth to the Lakeland fells. If the weather is warm, it is well worth taking a picnic to enjoy on the soft, springy grass of the merse. On a sunny day, the water creeping over the mudflats looks mirrorlike as the reflected light bounces off them.

Before you leave the merse, you pass (on the right) the site of the Battle of Sark, where in 1448 the Scots defeated the Duke of Northumberland's army, killing 3,000 of his men. More country lanes then return you to Gretna at the end of a peaceful stroll, a world away from the horrors of war.

Distance 2 miles. Height climbed Negligible – about 40ft in total. Time 1-1 hours. Map OS Landranger 85. Parking In the centre of Gretna there is a car park on the left side of Central Avenue, just past the shops.

In summary Continue down Central Avenue for about 100 yards and then go left, down Loanwath Road. As it turns into Sarkfoot Road (at a left-hand bend) go right, down a country lane.

This takes you over a disused railway line to reach a large white gate with a "Strictly Private" sign on it and a stile to the left. Cross the stile and follow a hedge – mainly of gorse – on your right, to reach another stile. Cross this, ignore a kissing gate on the right, and continue straight on.

Further along, go through another, metal, kissing gate, walk a few yards then go right, up another country lane. Follow this for about half a mile to Old Graitney farm, where you turn right to follow a minor road back into Gretna.

Follow Empire Way for a few hundred yards before going left, up Central Avenue. (There is no street sign – it starts opposite a green footpath sign.) The car park is another few hundred yards up the road, on the right.

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Refreshments There is little in Gretna, one of the best places around is Smiths Hotel in Gretna Green.

While you are in the area Gretna Green is the place to head for all things matrimonial and the world-famous Old Blacksmith's Shop (01461 338224, www.gretnagreen.com). From Easter you can also visit the Devil's Porridge exhibition (01461 700021, wwwdevilsporridge.co.uk) to learn all about the impact the First World War had on the area. It is at Eastriggs, about four and a half miles west of Gretna on the A75.

• This article was first published in Scotland on Sunday, February 14, 2010

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