Ayrshire, Dumfries & Galloway, Scotland

Exploring the Galloway Forest Park (and beyond) – from lockdown to Loch Doon

Scotland’s self-catering accommodation was given the green light to reopen on 3rd July – woo hoo. As soon as we heard the news, we started checking out accommodation for an impromptu trip to celebrate. But where to? We love the South of Scotland, especially in and around the Galloway Forest Park. We love glamping too, so a return visit to 3 Little Huts near Gatehouse of Fleet seemed like a great way to recommence our Scottish adventures.

The forecast for 3rd July was horrendous throughout Scotland – rain, rain and more rain. It’d be wet and humid, but we’d be free to roam and roam we would.

Loch Doon, Galloway Forest Park

There are several routes we could’ve taken to reach Dumfries and Galloway for our post lockdown trip, but none were more apt than the one that winds past the shore of Loch Doon in the Galloway Forest Park.

From lockdown to Loch Doon – yippee.

The Galloway Forest Park is vast (almost 300 square miles) and incredibly beautiful. There are car parks and visitor centres dotted throughout it. It’s a popular place for walking, cycling, wildlife spotting, fishing, photography, astronomy and more.

Arriving in the Forest Park, we passed the Scottish Dark Sky Observatory sitting on a hilltop near the northern shore of Loch Doon. The observatory is open to the public and worth visiting to learn about the night sky, or to gaze in wonder at millions of twinkling stars.

Not far from the observatory is a visitor centre and cafe. It’s a good place to spot Ospreys during nesting season. Ospreys would have been a bonus, but our hopes were pinned on a caffeine fix. Sadly, we got neither, as the visitor centre and cafe were closed.

Loch Doon Castle

The atmospheric view of Loch Doon made up for the lack of coffee.

When we reached Loch Doon Castle a few miles further down the road, we braved the rain for a potter.

The 13th century fortress was built on a small island on the loch, possibly by Robert the Bruce, but more likely by his father. It saw its fair share of turbulence over the years, passing backwards and forwards between Scottish and English control.

Loch Doon Castle, Galloway Forest Park Loch Doon Castle, Galloway Forest Park

The castle no longer stands on the island. It was moved brick by brick in 1935 and rebuilt on the shore, as it was at risk of being destroyed by a hydroelectric scheme raising the water level on Loch Doon.

The boy was delighted to find himself back on his travels, exploring castles. He dragged me inside, like a husky pulling a sled.

There we met a hare sheltering from the rain. It was as surprised to see us, as we it. It bounced around the castle looking for a way out. We moved away from the castle’s only entrance/exit point, standing still and quiet (even the Wee White Dug) until it escaped.

Hare, Galloway Forest Park

Once it was gone, the boy enjoyed a long overdue castle sniff-fest.

Loch Doon Castle, Galloway Forest Park Loch Doon Castle, Galloway Forest Park

Carrick Forest Drive

We left Loch Doon Castle, wet but happy. It was nice to explore Scotland’s remote corners again. Keen to stay dry for a while, we decided to do the Carrick Forest Drive. The 6 mile, two way route lets you can enjoy the rugged scenery of the forest park from the comfort of your car.

The drive was like a Scottish safari, as we spotted red squirrels, a field mouse, rabbits and lots of different types of birds along the route.

Leaving Loch Doon we drove to Newton Stewart in search of elevenses. We almost jumped for joy when we discovered the town’s fab wee coffee shop, Brew Ha Ha open for takeaway.

One coffee and delicious scone later and we were good to go.

Mull of Galloway Lighthouse, Rhins of Galloway

Besides acres of lovely woodland, Dumfries and Galloway also boasts miles of stunning coastline. We wanted to experience both during our short visit, so after leaving Newton Stewart, we headed to Scotland’s most south westerly point.

The Mull of Galloway Lighthouse stands at the tip of a peninsula known as the Rhins of Galloway. It’s a remote, rugged and incredibly beautiful spot with a short walking trail, a RSPB nature reserve and visitor centre, lighthouse exhibition (you can climb to the top of the lighthouse) and Scotland’s most southerly coffee shop.

When we last visited, on a chilly January afternoon in 2019, it was blowing a hoolie and dusk was falling. We didn’t linger long.

Fast forward to July 2020 and the wind was still blowing when we arrived, but not at hoolie level. The sky was a lighter shade of grey (marginally) AND the rain had stopped.

I’m no fan of heights, but keen to make the most of a temporary respite from rain, I embarked on a cautious ramble round a trail that loops round the tip of the Rhins of Galloway.

I’m glad I did. The walk was a riot of wildflowers, including thistles, foxgloves and the last of the seasonal sea pinks. They added a welcome pop of colour to a dreich day.

Mull of Galloway Lighthouse Mull of Galloway

The Nine Tides

We stopped at the southern tip of the peninsula at a spot known as Lagvag point. Mr G was in his element. He loves a clifftop ramble, despite my constant nagging about him getting too close to the edge.

Mull of Galloway

On a clear day we’d have been able to see the Isle of Man and Ireland, but we saw something far cooler. A patch of sea in front of us was a swirling maelstrom.

We were witnessing the Nine Tides – a natural phenomenon that occurs 90 minutes after low tide, when opposing tidal rips, swirl around the tip of the Mull of Galloway.

Local legend says the Nine Tides were conjured up by witches trying to wreck a ship carrying a witchfinder, travelling to Scotland from Ireland.

Natural phenomenon or witchcraft – you decide.

Nine Tides, Mull of Galloway

Seabird spotting

The RSPB nature reserve at the Mull of Galloway is home to a variety of seabirds. We decided to see how many we could spot.

A set of steps behind the lighthouse led us to a clifftop foghorn surrounded by a sturdy wall. It was the ideal place for a feardie like me to peer over a cliff to look for seabirds.

Fog horn, Mull of Galloway Fog horn, Mull of Galloway

We ended up staying there for ages, mesmerised by the swirling mass of birds below us. They were nesting on the cliff, bobbing on the sea and swooping into it to catch fish. We spotted shags, kittiwakes, guillemots and a solitary gannet. We’d hoped to spot a puffin or two, but there were none to be seen.

Despite the lack of puffins, it was an amazing experience.

Seabirds, Mull of Galloway

Behind the building that houses the lighthouse exhibition, is another viewing platform, which gives a difference view of the cliffs below.

Mull of Galloway Lighthouse Mull of Galloway

The Mull of Galloway Lighthouse and exhibition will remain closed for the duration of 2020. It’ll reopen in Spring 2021.

Walk – Cally Woods, Galloway Forest Park

Keen to get more walking done and in need of more caffeine, we headed to Gatehouse of fleet (close to our accommodation) to track down a flat white/cappuccino and somewhere to walk.

We found coffee at Galloway Lodge Preserves on the town’s main street. Besides coffee, cakes and light meals, they sell delicious homemade preserves.

For our walk, we headed to Cally Woods on the outskirts of Gatehouse of Fleet. Woodland walks are often our go to, when we want to avoid a soaking.

There are several short trails within Cally Woods. We explored two of them.

The Motte Trail is a 3/4 mile loop through lush, green woodland. The trail takes its name from Cally Motte which is on the route. A motte is a man made earth mound, that once had a defensive structure on top of it (probably wooden). The motte, which was occupied by an Anglo-Norman night, would originally have been surrounded by farmland. Anglo-Norman knights were granted land in Galloway and encouraged to move to the region to keep the unruly locals under control.

Cally Motte, Galloway Forest Park

Today, Cally Motte is a grassy, lump covered in tall ferns. It’s hard to make out from ground level. Climb to the top though and you immediately become aware of its excellent defensive position.

Cally Motte, Galloway Forest Park

I spotted a teeny frog, no bigger than a fingernail sitting on a rock on top of the motte. A miniature king of a pleasant, green fortress.

Galloway Forest Park

Leaving Cally Motte we picked up the Bush Bridge Trail (1.25 mile) which led us along the course of the Bush Burn (Scots word for stream). We walked in silence listening to the sound of the forest – a bubbling burn, leaves rustling in the breeze and birdsong – blissful calm.

Cally Woods, Galloway Forest Park

Glamping in Dumfries and Galloway

Earlier this year we spent a wonderful weekend exploring Dumfries and Galloway. Our base for the trip was a luxury shepherd’s hut at 3 Little Huts near Gatehouse of Fleet. We loved it.

Not only was it comfortable, cosy and fitted with all mod cons, but it was conveniently located on the edge of the Galloway Forest Park and a stone’s throw away from the South West Coast 300 (SWC300) route.

3 Little Huts

Besides a sea view, this time we also had a coo view. My favourite was a handsome, young Belted Galloway bull. Belties always make me smile, as they look like mint humbugs.

I remember when Highlander Mr G saw one for the first time and excitedly pointed out the funny stripy cow.

We spent a peaceful night in our cute little hut, blethering, gazing out to sea and toasting the return of our freedom to roam.

3 Little Huts Scottish travel blog

We woke the next morning, feeling refreshed and raring to go. After polishing off bacon and tattie scone rolls for breakfast, we said goodbye to 3 Little Huts.

Our stay had been short, sweet and oh, so relaxing.

Walk – Wood of Cree, Galloway Forest Park

We were in no rush to head home, so decided to explore more exploring the Galloway Forest Park.

The Wood of Cree is located a few miles north of Newton Stewart. It’s a great place for walking and wildlife spotting, so we headed there.

We had a choice of trails, but there was otters spotting potential on the Woodland Trail (1 mile), so we chose that one. The trail takes in ancient woodland (there are 150,000 oak trees in the wood of cree), streams, waterfalls and wildlife too – if you’re lucky.

We set off along a grassy path, that skirted an area of wetland. The grass was long either side of the trail and wet too. We were soon stopped in our tracks by a flooded section of path. Keen to spot otters and with the otter pool and an otter viewing platform in sight, we continued.

Feet squelching, we navigated our way through the puddle, thinking we were home and dry. We weren’t. Next came a huge flooded section of path that snaked off round a corner out of sight. We tiptoed in and were soon standing ankle deep in cold puddle water. Admitting defeat we retreated, looking back longingly at the otter pool. To make  matters worse, I could see a small dark shape on the surface of the water. So close, but yet so far.

Changing into dry socks and footwear, we decided to chase waterfalls instead. If there’s one thing rain’s good for, it’s making waterfalls look amazing.

We had far more success finding waterfalls than we had spotting otters. We also spotted a beautiful deer, so all was good with the world again.

Scottish travel blogWood of Cree, Galloway Forest Park

Homeward bound via the Galloway Forest Park

It was time for us to head home. We stuck with the Galloway Forest Park for our journey home, making a couple of short stops in the forest park en route.

The first was at the Glen of the Bar viewpoint. The Glen of the Bar is a deep, tree-lined gulley. There’s a wooden viewing platform over it, which offers a fabulous view over the treetops.

Historians think the glen’s early dwellers used the gully to herd and hunt wild animals, as a large number of animal bones have been discovered at the end of the gully.

I love discovering history hidden in plain sight.

The Glen of the Bar, Galloway Forest Park Glen of the Bar, Galloway Forest Park

Our final stop was at the Grey Mare’s Tail. A lovely waterfall, located close to the roadside near Glen of the Bar. It’s not ‘the’ famous Dumfries and Galloway Grey Mare’s Tail, but it’s definitely worth visiting, if you’re in the area.

Grey Mare’s Tail, Galloway Forest Park Grey Mare’s Tail, Galloway Forest Park

The waterfall reminded us, that rain on a road trip isn’t all bad. Without rain, Scotland’s waterfalls wouldn’t look half as dramatic … and then, there’s whisky.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this jaunt in the Galloway Forest Park. If you’re planning a trip to Scotland, maybe you’ll consider travelling south in search of lochs, glens and mountains.

Until next time …

26 thoughts on “Exploring the Galloway Forest Park (and beyond) – from lockdown to Loch Doon”

  1. Samantha, I really enjoy your blog. Scotland is high on my list. I especially enjoy that you feature your Wee White Dug. I also own two Wee White Dugs and know they would love to explore Scotland. Alas, I am is the U.S. so they remain North America travelers. When restrictions are lifted, I will make it a priority to see as much of Scotland as time allows.

    1. I’m so happy you enjoy the blog. You’ll love Scotland. Lots to see and do. North America is incredible too. Your wee dugs must have some fantastic adventures over there. 😍

  2. Great to read your posts again. Here’s to many more Scottish adventures. Hard to read though as I was supposed to be doing D&G in my trip home this year but last week brought the official cancellation of my flights.

    1. It’s nice to get out and about again. Hopefully things will keep progressing positively. Such a shame about your trip. Hopefully you’ll be able to rearrange soon.

  3. Hello we are new readers me and my westie Mack. Planning a big trip, pet passports permitting for 2021. I think your guidance will be invaluable…Looking forward to more.

    1. Welcome – you and Mack are going to have a wonderful time in Scotland. 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿

      1. We both got as far as Skye in 2019 from our home in Brittany France . So one step further hopefully to Harris and Lewis then North and South Uist🤞

  4. Glad to see that Casper is on the move again. Thank you for the beautiful photos. Love the Scottish word “driech”, it really conveys the feeling of the weather.

    1. He was delighted to get out and about exploring again. Dreich is a perfect word for those grey, yucky days.

  5. Glad you and the Wee White Dug ( and Mr. G, of course) are back out and about. Glad Scotland has started to open up again. I love your photographs but I particularly love the waterfalls. I don’t know, but there’s just something about waterfalls.. I enjoyed the revisits during the lockdown but it’s good to have you back live again (so to speak).. Take care.

    1. It was so nice to explore again, despite the rain. It was fabulously quiet so it felt like we had the whole area to ourselves. Take care

  6. Hi there Greetings from South of the border and Watford Gap! Good to see you again. Glad there are ospreys in D&G I would have definitely gone to see them, mag ificent birds. Great that the three of you could break out. I say, with all of Casper’s outfits he must have his own wardrobe or closet. Loved the photos of the waterfalls.

    1. Greetings Janet, I hope you’re well. It was lovely to ramble properly again. Even though it was a flying visit we managed to fit loads in. The boy is the best dressed in this household by far. 😂

  7. YES! Seeing your post was a welcome touch of ‘normal’ – and a delightful jaunt through SW Scotland was PERFECT. Your photography is really great – and love the creamy flow of the waterfall images. And when you say you’re not keen on heights, then make the climb to the top anyway – we’re there cheering you on, a bit breathless in even reading your description. The wee boy’s smoking jacket (night-robe) is priceless. He looks very suave – and so cute! IT’S SO NICE TO HAVE YOU BACK!

    1. Ha ha – he has a fine collection of smoking jackets for lounging in. I do try to fight the fear of heights but know my limitations. It’s lovely to be back. 😊🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿

  8. Such a joy to read your latest blog report, fresh off the press ! Great to see you’re able again to enjoy new adventures ! 👌👍 Thanks for sharing them with us 🙏

    1. Thank you, it was so nice to explore Scotland again. 😊🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿

  9. Such a delight to virtually travel with you again. Living in the Midwest, USA, I can’t imagine having access to such beauty. I’ll take the dreich days over the summer heat any day! 🙂 Thanks for taking us along…looking forward to the next time!

    1. Thank you, we’ll hopefully be heading to the Highlands in a couple of weeks all going well. It was lovely to get out and about properly again. Luckily most of lockdown has been beautiful and sunny. Now that we’re free to travel the rain has arrived. 😂

    1. Thank you, it was lovely to go on a mini adventure again. 😊🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿

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