Staying local in lockdown with a walk in the hills above Loch Bradan in Galloway Forest Park
Far from keeping me locked in my house, the tightest of the recent lockdown levels has opened up somewhere new for me to walk. A resident of South Ayrshire for the past decade, I’ve walked every step of coastline between Lendalfoot to the south and Irvine to the north. For the most part, the going is remote, spectacular rugged and beautiful but when it comes to training for the mountains, the coast has it’s limitations.
When the Covid Protection Level for South Ayrshire reached Level 4 there was no more travelling outside the region for exercise, even to other regions at the same level and most of the mountains fell out of bounds. After walking the Prestwick Promenade a trillion times and occasionally clambering along the rocky shores to the north of Dunure, I decided it was time to pull out the map and see if there was anywhere else I could train.
I soon found myself tracing in detail through the western region of Galloway Forest Park. I’ve driven down here a few times over the years. Always at night and always to see the stars. Galloway Forest Park is one of the few ‘Dark Sky’ regions around the world where there is virtually no light pollution. Hence, when the stars are out, they are shining in all their glory and the sight is well worth the short drive. It was only during this most recent lockdown however that I started to look at the park through the eyes of a rambler.
On first driving to the small car park opposite the Dam Wall at the end of Loch Bradan, I very quickly found myself in a wide expanse of wild, hilly terrain ideal for trekking and map reading. We’ve even spotted a few inviting wild camping spots at the side of the loch.
The original plan for today was to follow a small hill path from loch Braddan all the way through to the much larger Loch Doon some 4 or 5 miles away. As we reached the edge of the high ground above Loch Bradden, I could see Loch Doon in the distance and my morale began to flag. It was plain to see that the reality on the ground was way beyond my ambitions on the map and the decision was to take a quick break and return along the path back to Loch Braddan.
Our second change of plan came as we walked back along the path. The largest summit around us, standing at 480m, looked tantalisingly close and it was just too tempting to step into the boggy terrain and climb up towards it. Soon we were standing by a small cairn with amazing views all around us. We could see the whole of Loch Braddan spread out below us. We could also see some heavy rain sweeping across towards us from Loch Doon and so we plodded our way back to the path. Sitting on a small stone just above the loch with my flask of tea, I had just finished commenting on how lucky we had been with the weather when the rain hit us. It was torrential and it hit us hard as we squelched our way back along the path towards the car.
Soon we were back in the car, drying off and driving through small country roads that linked tiny, beautiful villages as we wound our way back towards the main A77 just south of Minishant. I’ve now been to Loch Braddan 3 times in just over a week. From my first visit which was little more than a walk around the car, the walks have got a wee bit longer each time. With other peaks to explore, a walk round the loch and several paths towards Loch Doon, I am pretty sure I’ll be back here often. If I find myself in the dark under the glow of a billion stars at the end of one of these shortened winter days, all the better.