Galloway Forest Park is in the lowlands of Scotland, on the country’s western outcrop, in Dumfries and Galloway. Known as “the highlands of the lowlands”, the Park’s 373 square miles (96,600 hectares) are more accessible to people travelling up from England than the far north of Scotland – but its beauty is largely unsung south of the border. It’s a wild, unspoilt place. I feel almost reluctant to reveal some of its secrets here.
Are the secrets of the Galloway Forest Park safe with you? If so, read on.
Rustlings, and the sounds of creatures skittering through the undergrowth, are almost constant when you take a quiet stroll through the forest. It’s not just wild rabbits, red squirrels and kites (there’s a red kite trail in the Park, with feeding stations). Red and roe deer roam freely, and it’s not uncommon to see stoats. Ospreys nest in the vicinity, and you might even be lucky enough to see a white-tailed sea eagle. It really is a haven for some of the finest wildlife the British Isles can offer.
Our favourite was the family of rabbits, whose babies regularly hopped out to nibble grass and shrubs just outside the window of our forest cottage.
In Scotland the Right to Roam allows people to camp responsibly on any land (with some exceptions – people’s gardens, for instance). Wild camping is permitted in the Galloway Forest, although campers must be responsible, and follow the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. So: bury your waste when you go to the toilet, don’t use the forest’s wood for fires (take a stove instead), and always take away your rubbish.
If you’re looking for more tips on wild camping, why not check out the section on ‘Outdoor Adventures’ my friend Kirstie wrote for this Halfords guide. We stopped for a nice cup of tea with Kirstie on our way up from London. I can guarantee she knows her stuff.
If you’re daunted by the thought of wild camping, there are plenty of ways to make it more comfortable. A decent tent, and airbeds always help. There are bothies in the Forest, which offer basic shelter. If you want something a little less wild, several campsites nearby offer running water, showers and even caravans to sleep in.
Galloway Forest Park was the first area in the UK to be given Dark Skies status. This means there’s no light pollution, so you can see the stars better than in other parts of the country. On a clear night, almost 3000 stars twinkle overhead. Any of the Park’s three visitor centres give great views, especially Clatteringshaws, which is furthest from any light. You can find out more on the Forestry Commission website.
The clarity cuts both ways. It’s as easy to see Galloway Forest Park from space, as it is the Great Wall of China.
Galloway Forest isn’t all trees. 250 lochs hide within its 373 square miles. Loch Trool is perhaps the most picturesque, and near the trailhead for the world-famous 7 stanes mountain bike trails. Fishing enthusiasts will find several places to catch pike, perch, roach and other fish.
Flora and fauna
The majority of Galloway Forest Park’s trees are evergreen, but you’ll also see birch, beech and larch trees on the hills and moorland. If the one million trees don’t make you gasp, there’s also the comforting, subtle beauty of heather, gorse and broom. As the seasons change, snowdrops and then bluebells spring up. One thing to watch is the thistles. They’re pretty enough, but fierce and prickly when picked.
Ah, yes. There had to be a downside. Midges are the scourge of Scottish summers. Although this year was supposed to be a record year for numbers of the tiny biting insects, we did manage to avoid too many bites, with the help of a decent bug spray. It does mean that you have to think twice about taking off your jumper and exposing your arms on a summer’s afternoon, though.
Have you heard of the Galloway Forest Park?
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This is a collaborative post. All views are my own.