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.
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.
Once it was gone, the boy enjoyed a long overdue castle sniff-fest.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Behind the building that houses the lighthouse exhibition, is another viewing platform, which gives a difference view of the cliffs below.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 …