This is an extract from the first draft of our very-nearly-finished travel guide, ‘Adventures in SW Scotland: A collection of 100 locations to visit in SW Scotland’. Each of the 19 chapters are focused on a different location in Dumfries & Galloway, South Ayrshire and South Lanarkshire and highlights a few of our favourite places to visit in each town or village. The aim is to have the book finished and printed by Christmas, so in the mean time I am sharing extracts from it as I go along. Below is the whole of the tenth chapter of the book, centered on a handful of wonderful places within the Galloway Forest Park.
Galloway Forest Park was established in 1947 and covers 299 square miles, making it the largest forest in the UK. Much of the Galloway Hills lie within the park and there is good but rough hillwalking as well as rock and ice-climbing to discover. Within or near the boundaries of the park are several well developed mountain bike tracks, forming part of the 7stanes project. In November 2009 the International Dark Sky Association conferred Dark Sky Park status on the Galloway Forest Park – the first area in the UK and in Europe to be given this title.
The north part of the park can be reached in less than half an hour from Rigg House – if you head to Straiton (see Chapter 15) you’ll find a road which runs right through the park. Of course, we have only told you about a tiny handful of the places to visit within the Forest Park so just use the following locations as a starting guide and get exploring!
This is the largest of the lochs which lie within the Forest Park and provides enough interesting and beautiful sights to fill more than just one visit. Discover the ruins of Doon Castle and climb the hills above it for incredible panoramic views of the loch. By the shore of the loch you’ll even find the remains of old buildings and jetties which were erected during the First World War when the area was used as training space for pilots – Loch Doon was thought to be ideally suited for such an establishment with its surrounding steep hills affording the ideal position for target ranges.
Loch Trool is a narrow, freshwater loch in the very heart of the Galloway Forest Park and is reported to be the darkest place in the UK at night. The loch and its surroundings are ‘renowned as having some of the finest scenery in southern Scotland. Lying in the heart of the Galloway Forest Park it offers the visitor a perfect example of the unspoilt and untamed nature of Galloway as you circumnavigate the loch on the Glentrool Trail’. You can choose to do the 5.5mile circular tail or head to the Glentrool Visitor Centre which acts as the trailhead for one of the world famous 7stanes mountain bike trails.
Towering above the loch is the highest peak in southern Scotland, the Merrick (2764ft). Popular with climbers and hikers alike there is a clearly defined pathway to the summit by way of Benyellary. We haven’t yet tried out this walk but we look forward to completing it on a clear day where we will be rewarded with 360-degree views of Galloway and Ayrshire.
Like much of SW Scotland, Loch Trool holds a special connection to Robert the Bruce. It was by the shores of the loch where, in April 1307, the Battle of Glen Trool took place which saw Robert the Bruce and his 300 men defeating a 1500-strong English army. By luring the enemy along the steep sides of Loch Trool, the Scots managed to ambush them and knocked them into the water with boulders. Today you’ll find Bruce’s Stone on the north shore of the loch – this large granite boulder was erected to commemorate the Battle of Glen Trool and sits on a commanding viewpoint overlooking the loch and the battle site.
Clatteringshaws Loch & Visitor’s Centre
Clatteringshaws Loch was formed in 1935 with the water piped to Glenlee power station. This was the first large scale hydro-electric power scheme that was developed in Scotland; it preceded those in the highlands which were all developed after World War 2. I absolutely love all the Art Deco style Hydro power station buildings which you see dotted all over the area – I just hope they all get a jet wash and a lick of paint at some point soon!
There is no trail around this loch, just a short path which disappointingly stops when you reach another granite boulder commemorating Robert the Bruce’s victory over the English, but the views across the water are lovely on a clear day. Another slight disappointment we discovered was that the car park for the visitor’s centre was operated by a private parking firm, Parking Eye, based in Chorley, Lancashire. On the day we visited, all the ticket machines were out of order and the visitor’s centre was closed so we didn’t dare park there – we know what those parking companies are like! These sorts of things always frustrate me as I’m sure it would make much more sense to have a local company operating the car parks – or better still, they could be operated by the Forestry Commission so that all the profits could go back into forest maintenance. Maybe I’ll write them a letter about the issue some day.
Dark Sky Observatory – Dallmellington
The Scottish Dark Sky Observatory occupies a fantastic hilltop site on the edge of the Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park. This publicly accessible educational observatory has some of the darkest skies in the UK and two large telescopes through which to observe the night sky. To book a visit to this fascinating place, please call: 01292 551118
Galloway Activity Centre
Exactly an hour directly south from Rigg House takes you to the Galloway Activity Centre on the shores of Loch Ken. Here you can try your hand at sailing, kayaking, windsurfing, archery and much more. Check the website and pre-book your activities.