Best Walking Routes in Dumfries and Galloway
I’ve been enjoying a particular fascination with Southern Scotland over the summer. Littered with historical powerhouses and very much off the beaten tourist track, there’s an awful lot to love. This month my attention swings to finding some of the best walking routes in Dumfries and Galloway. With vast green spaces like the Galloway Forest Park and many miles of unpopulated terrain, options are plentiful. Here are my two favourite spots so far, but with such a huge area to explore future follow-up posts on the subject are a certainty.
Grey Mare’s Tail
Scotland excels at waterfalls and has several of the most impressive in Europe in its armoury. Grey Mare’s Tail is the fifth highest waterfall in the UK and undoubtedly one of the best looking.
It’s found within a 20 minute remote drive from the pretty wee town of Moffat in Dumfries and Galloway’s north-eastern corner. There is a viewing area for those just interested in seeing the falls from below, but the highlight is the hike up to the right, headed to Loch Skeen. I chose a particularly foul day to take this on – thick drizzle and mist obscured much of my photography attempts. Regardless, the views are still crazy good.
Each step rewards more than the last and the constant crashing sound of the numerous waterfalls here is the perfect accompaniment. While I am told that my end destination of Loch Skeen is lovely, my arrival was met with a 360 degree haze that obscured all vision. Munro-baggers will know this frustration well – reaching a Scottish summit and seeing, well, nothing. I’ll be back for a proper look at the loch when the sun’s out.
Naturally the day was not without incident. At the top of the waterfall roam a herd of wild goats. Beautiful and surprising, I inadvertently startled one of the males when wandering a little off track….and he was none too pleased. He was looking the business with his horns and all. Fully expecting him to dart off at the sight of me, he instead started menacingly trotting straight for me – eye contact locked. Have you ever looked into a wild goat’s eyes? Sheer terror. They make sheep look innocent. Awkwardly humbled, I let him win and took off at speed before things turned ugly/embarrassing. He took pity and didn’t pursue for long. Fortunately I was not in kilt on this occasion – can you picture it. Yes, an Ace Ventura, I am not.
I’d allow around 2 hours return for the walk and it is steep but well-pathed throughout. You will be tempted to head off-track to get better vantage points over the stunning landscapes all around, but be careful as it’s an awful long way down!
Comparing Southern Scotland to the Isle of Skye is not territory that I’ve wandered into before but this stretch is amongst the most densely scenic in the country and I can’t help but see similarities. Obviously there’s no Quiraing and there’s no Old Man of Storr, but the dramatic scale of Grey Mare’s Tail can stand proudly against even Skye’s best waterfalls.
The adventure need not stop there as you can jump over to the Scottish Borders within a few minutes’ drive or head west to my next chosen walking route….
Galloway Forest Park
The drive through South Ayrshire sets the tone for the scenic beauty to come in Galloway Forest Park. Another vast stretch of relative wilderness, the area has long been a mecca for cyclists and walkers. There are numerous chunks of the park to target individually but an excellent starting point is the area around Glentrool. With its own visitor centre and numerous routes of varying levels of difficulty and length in the vicinity, you’ll be quickly whisked to the heart of the Forest.
Walk around Loch Trool
The route I’d suggest is the Glen Trool circuit, which skirts the beautiful perimeter of Loch Trool. Backed by the fabulous views of Merrick (the highest peak in the area), I think the Loch is just as good as its more famous rivals in the Highlands. The route begins at Caldons car park (a 5-10 minute drive deeper into the Forest from Glentrool Visitor Centre). Following the green route markers, start by weaving through the trees to approach the loch from the south. By the time you reach the lochside, the views over to Merrick will quickly become fabulous. Rolling peaks surround the water and the walk is a peaceful release passing waterfalls, burns and wildlife throughout.
Every good Scottish walk needs a bit of history and Glentrool has plenty of that courtesy of Robert the Bruce himself. Before the run-up to Bannockburn, in 1307, Robert was on the run from the English. He took refuge in these parts as an outlaw, plotting his ascent to the throne. Luring the English cavalry into the Forest, Bruce and his men attacked the cavalry by hurling boulders down from above and pitching men and horses into the loch in a state of chaos and disarray. The surviving horsemen promptly bolted. It’s a tale that would have made Robin Hood proud!
An eternal tribute to Scotland’s soon-to-be king (in the form of a boulder, his supposed weapon of choice) is to be found at Bruce’s Stone on the loch’s northern side. It’s also my personal favourite viewing spot and offers a stunning vista over the scenery below. The route for the more demanding ascent of Merrick itself is also nearby and signposted from the path. For those more interested in the historical side, you can drive to Bruce’s Stone by just continuing along the road from Caldons car park for a few minutes.
The circular walk can be done in around 2 hours but factor in extra time for a picnic and plenty of photo stops. Low-level with only occasional inclines, it is suitable for almost all ability levels. If you see more than a handful of people throughout the route I’d be surprised – another wonderful plus for exploring Dumfries and Galloway.
You can listen to more of my highlights in Dumfries and Galloway with the below clip of my Radio Scotland broadcast. Just click play.
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