Southern Upland Way Day 4: Bargrennan to Loch Dee

Published 23 January 2012

Cartoon of a walker in a forest saying "What a lovely forest!"

From Bargrennan the Southern Upland Way barely leaves the forest for the next eighteen miles, most of it spent in the Galloway Forest Park. At 300 square miles in size, it’s the largest forest park in the whole of Britain. I’d not been looking forward to it, having visions of endless rows of ever-continuing conifers so I was happy to find it started with a nice path of mixed tress as the route took a gentle stroll along the edge of the forest with the River Cree flowing merrily nearby.

It may have been often muddy and occasionally blocked by fallen trees but the path was certainly one to put the walker in good spirits. It was forest walking like it should be; almost woodland-like and a delight to go through.

It put me in a good mood that remained even when the trail turned off down a wide gravel road at Clachaneasy. Not even the now-falling rain could dampen my spirits. With some gloomy looking clouds overhead, I wrestled my pack to the ground and dug out my waterproofs. No sooner had I got them on and the rain stopped. Wow, I thought. Such rain prevention skills must be cherished.


In Brigton Woods

Bigton Wood, a sign told me, was managed by the Cree Community Woodland Trust and they’d been busy in the area, removing the coniferous trees and replacing them with more native varieties and making a haven for wildlife. The Southern Upland Way went right through it, coming alongside the Water of Minnoch which flowed by.

“Ultreia!”

Oh knackers. Another kist to find then as I crossed over a stile to leave the wood and enter another part of the forest park. For a minute I thought nothing of it, other than that I had a Waymerk to find, but then I finally realised there was something unusual. The little plaque was on the side of the stile rather than pointing directly at me. Was it marking the start of the area I should be looking in, or the end? Or even the middle? Had I already missed it? Or was it right nearby?

I certainly hadn’t seen any kists in Bigton Wood. Not that I’d actually been looking for any. I’d been wandering along the path soaking up the views and barely paying any attention. But then I hadn’t seen a Southern Upland Way waymark for a while either.

Could I find the kist? Could I heckers. Unless the kist was shaped as a fallen tree, of which there were plenty, I’d walked right past it earlier. The fallen trees didn’t help me on my hunt though. Several large ones had clearly been uprooted by winds and were blocking the path, slowing progress. In rapid succession I had to walk around one, climb under another, straddle a third and even do a little pirouette around a fourth, although that was less to do with actually needing to and more about showing off. And as I left the woodland I sighed. Having missed the first one, I’d never be able to collect the full hoard but it would have been nice to at least get most of them. But out of the first three, I’d managed to find just one which was hardly a record.


A glimpse of Loch Trool through the trees

The Ordnance Survey’s symbol for Coniferous Forest can cover a lot of different scenarios on the ground. Certainly the forest I had covered in the morning was nothing like that I’d travelled through the previous day, despite sharing the same symbol of two upside down ‘v’s on a stick. And now as the Southern Upland Way began to follow the Water of Luce, it all changed again.

Gone was all the dense undergrowth; this was a gentle path in a light woodland alongside a busy river. Every so often the path would pop off away from the water, only to return shortly after. As I walked on I thought I could hear voices, yet never saw anyone. I had still to see a single walker after three and a half days so when I arrived at Glen Trool and found fifteen vehicles in the car park I was so astounded that other people were out there that if I’d had a hat, I would have eaten it there and then.

But then, as I passed through the long closed Caldon’s Wood campsite, I saw a dog and then two walkers following it. They were day hikers admittedly, but for the first time I was not alone. When I turned a corner and saw a woman getting into a car, well it was like stepping right back into civilisation.

The people just kept on coming; the Southern Upland way had been joined by a Forestry Commission trail that looped around Loch Trool. It looked like it would take about ten minutes on the map but I seemed to spend hours on it as the path jerked up and down, round and round. I consoled myself with the thought that when I got to the end of the loch, I could sit by its shore and rest as the water lapped along the edge. It was a wonderful idea, ruined only by the fact that the path started heading steeply uphill instead, and with no sign of coming down again. In the end I gave in and sat on a tuft of grass at the side of the path in order to rest my weary feet.

The Giant Axe Head sculpture in Galloway Forest Park

A giant axe head

The track headed ever upwards, joining up with a forest road and heading through trees until the forest ended and wild moorland began. Off in the distance Loch Dee stood, dark clouds hovering overhead. I looked down to the ground for no real reason and suddenly found myself looking at a large stone with what appeared to be runes engraved on it. There was no reason given; no explanatory plaque or interpretation board. Just a lot of unreadable text and two three letter acronyms on the base. NGS. RLD. Only later did I discover that this 1.5 tonne sculpture was called the Giant Axe Head and was one of seven pieces of art dotted around the forest parks of Scotland.

After the previous day’s trials and tribulations there was absolutely no way I was going to change my plans and pass the White Laggan bothy in favour of some probably non-existent wild camping spot, but thankfully I arrived there at a slightly more sensible time of 5pm. An old stone shooting lodge now converted to a simple shelter for walkers, the bothy was a short way uphill from the main path but someone had painted a large saltire on the side of the building to aid navigation to it.

White Laggan Bothy

Opening the door, all hope of a remote, solitary bothy experience was gone as I found it occupied by a young couple who were perhaps themselves hoping that no one else would walk through the door. They seemed unlikely occupants who had walked up the forest road with sleeping bags, a 3 litre water carrier, two whole boxes of wine (white and red, naturally) a large camping stove and food all squeezed improbably in to three small rucksacks. Shortly after I arrived they went fishing, taking one of the wine boxes with them.

The bothy had sleeping platforms spread over two rooms and given the state of the kitchen, it was well used to people turning up with alcohol. In one corner a large box was full of empty Budweiser cans and bottles piled up neatly. You had to wonder at someone’s thought processes. This was an isolated building that was a quarter a mile up a grassy hill off a forest track. The nearest road was miles away; the nearest building even further. Dumfries and Galloway’s bin lorries certainly didn’t pay White Laggan a visit. Yet someone had managed to lug a load of full beer bottles along the several miles of paths in order to get here, but couldn’t be bothered to take the far lighter empties with them and had left them, neatly piled, in a corner ready for the local council to collect. Bonkers.

Still, as I sat eating my tea I looked out the large kitchen window at the brooding clouds which were slowly disappearing. In their place blue sky was slowly being revealed. Tomorrow would be a good day I decided. The rain was going, things would be splendid. And I wasn’t even wearing my waterproofs.

Next time, the rain begins to fall and fall in style as I struggle through it to the amazingly named St John’s Town of Dalry.

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