My husband does not particularly enjoy driving with me for one main reason – it takes a long time to travel anywhere as I often demand that we ‘stop!’ or ‘reverse!’ so that I can hop out to take a photo. This was particularly irksome for him as we travelled along the A708, crossing from the Borders into Dumfries and Galloway during our recent holiday in southern Scotland. As soon as we entered the stunning Moffat Valley, adorned in its autumn cloak, he knew it was hopeless. It was not my fault that it took so long to reach Moffat: the patchwork of fiery orange and red thrown across the hills beckoned me closer; the Grey Mare’s Nature Tail waterfall (the fifth highest in the UK) practically begged me to get out of the car; the road that snaked ahead into the ‘V’ of the landscape called back at me to run up onto the rust-stained hill for a spectacular view. As I said, not my fault at all…
We did eventually reach Moffat, ducking under the A74 and heading down towards Kirkcudbright, passing Dumfries and Castle Douglas on the way. Our destination was the peaceful Orroland Estate perched above the Solway Firth. We stayed in the lovely Cutlar’s Lodge and were again met with fresh flowers, a set for tea and a cake. Having spent a large part of the day in the car, we immediately threw on some layers and went out into the grounds to stretch our legs. As well as the house itself being ideal for families (sleeping up to 6, with a cosy living room and spacious dining room), the setting is a haven for children (and those who are seeking somewhere peaceful to relax). I saw myself as a mother of older children, looking out from the kitchen onto the grounds beyond as they explored the area (that includes a pond, loch and well-kept gardens).
We were lucky enough to take a peek at the magnificent Orroland Lodge during our stay on the estate – a Victorian shooting lodge overlooking the coast and offering spectacular sea views. If ever you needed somewhere for family get-togethers, this fantastic lodge has room a-plenty (including seven bedrooms, a large kitchen, dining room and drawing room). After daydreaming about a family Christmas or New Year in the lodge, we left it gazing out at the Solway Firth (sparkling in the autumn sunshine) and walked along a quiet woodland lane down to the rocky beach. Accompanied by a meandering stream, I thought how truly idyllic it is there; tucked away from the world on the edge of the coast, with the sprawling grounds of the estate fanned around it.
Melinda and Robert Kennedy, owners of Orroland, very helpfully gave us some suggestions for things to see and do during our stay, and after poring over tourist brochures and maps on the first evening, we decided to focus on two areas: the Galloway Forest Park and the Colvend Coast.
The Galloway Forest Park
I learnt that it is possible to see four of Scotland’s Big Five (red deer, red squirrel, otter and eagle) in the Forest Park and so I made this my aim for the day. Despite being convinced that I saw an eagle, the wildlife I actually encountered included only one of these – red deer. The Red Deer Range is a fantastic way to get up close with these magnificent animals (I was particularly awe-struck by being in close proximity with the ever so majestic stag).
The others to make it on to my wildlife list were wild goats and red kites. You can visit the Red Kite Feeding Station just outside Laurieston and watch as the sky colours with a swirl of red kites. It was an amazing sight, with about 80 kites swarming above us, the swoosh of their wings filling the air as they suddenly dropped in unison. (Although for my son it was the zigzagging pheasants on the estate that peaked his interest more than the sight of the red kites). I did, however, see a red kite away from the Feeding Station, swooping overhead as we walked near Mossdale, which almost filled me with more delight than the sight of the lunchtime feeders. (There are a number of walks marked along the Red Kite Trail where you can spot them in the countryside).
The highlight of the Forest Park for me, however, was our drive along Raider’s Road. This scenic forest drive is a single track road that detours off the A712 just before Clatteringshaws Loch and cuts through the forest. It costs £2 to journey along this road but it is £2 well-spent – I fell in love with the scenery and tried my husband’s patience yet again with numerous demands for photo stops. Half way along you’ll find the Otter Pools – an idyllic place to picnic (and in summer clamber over flat rocks). As I stood in front of the river, eyes trained on any potential otter-like ripples, my husband found an inky stream weaving its way through the trees, which stopped my in my tracks with its simple beauty.
The Colvend Coast
The forecast reassured us that one of our two days in Dumfries and Galloway would be spilling over with sunshine, which we earmarked for our coastal day. The Colvend Coast is the section of coastline from Kippford to Sandyhills, and is part of a National Scenic Area. As recommended in the EmbraceScotland interview with a local photographer, we walked from Kippford to Rockcliffe along the Jubilee Path. It is a real gem of a walk, between two picturesque, seaside towns, and my heart swelled with the joy a sunny autumn walk can bring. We packed a picnic and veered off the path slightly to climb up the Mark of Mote, a hill that overlooks the Solway Firth. With the sunshine on our face and the stunning views laid out before us, it was the best place we dined on holiday.
After walking back to Kippford, we drove to Sandyhills Beach – a lovely thumbnail of sand, with marshy reeds forming a patch of stubble along the water’s edge. It was hard to believe that it was the end of October; my husband in a t-shirt and my son crawling happily around in a sweatshirt, combing the beach for anything I would object to him trying to eat. With the autumn shades of the hills behind, it was a lovely place to relax for an hour or so (and I imagine it must be very popular on a sunny summer’s day).
Before heading back to Orroland, we made a stop at the Mersehead RSPB reserve to catch a glimpse of the pink-footed geese. There is no charge to enter but a donation of £1 is suggested, and there are two hides to view the bird-life. I heard the geese before I saw them, and could tell from the choir of squawking that there must be a great many of them congregated in the wetlands. A family in the hide informed me that the birds usually moved location at this time of day; I knew as soon as I left the hide that the geese would take it as a sign to take to the skies. And they did. I was walking along the track back to the car-park when the sound of the airborne geese reverberated around – the beating of so many wings unlike anything I’ve heard.
On the morning we reluctantly packed up and waved goodbye to Orroland, we stopped at a rather soggy Kirkcudbright to have a look around. Even in the pouring rain, I was utterly charmed by the Artists’ Town, with its lines of brightly coloured houses. This lovely seaside town is top of my list of places to explore on our return trip to south west Scotland – and return we most certainly will.
EmbraceScotland/ASSC Marketing Administrator Emma Gibb loves being a tourist at home and now, as a mother of one, is enjoying discovering more of ‘family friendly’ Scotland.