Explore little-known places
The adventure started in the south-west of Scotland, near Dumfries. The tourist guides easily praise the landscapes of the northern region, the Highlands, but have more difficulty for the southern part… And yet, the landscapes are more than fantastic!
I stayed almost 6 weeks in the picturesque town of Castle Douglas, so I had the opportunity to explore the surroundings! And it’s thanks to the advice of my host in Workaway, books, and a website that I was able to find these gems. So here is a small non-exhaustive list of places I recommend you to see, and to visit without moderation.
1. Galloway Park - The Merrick
Time : 4h – 5h –— 13,25km –— 875m ascent
Galloway Park is one of the largest parks in the region. It is therefore a must to visit, even if only for a walk. If you decide to climb the Merrick, you can start your walk at Loch Glen Trool. Stop here to see Bruce’s Stone. It celebrates the victory of the Scots against the English in 1307 (I recommend you take a look at this story). Afterwards, you will have the chance to walk along a waterfall, between hills, up into a forest, before reaching the top of Benyellary (843m). The view is impressive, and you can even see a bit of Northern Ireland! Then it’s just a short walk to the top of Mount Merrick at 1120m.
If you venture up here in autumn/winter, be sure to bring good waterproof shoes, I was up to my ankles in mud! I couldn’t venture to the top of Merrick, due to the darkness that was starting to fall (thank you winter). I preferred to stop at the Benyellary summit and go back. But I’ll definitely be back to finish it!
2. Balcary Coast
Time: 2h – 3h –— 7,5km –— 208m ascent
The beginning of the walk starts at a dead end. You will have to cross meadows, more or less occupied by cows, to reach the coast! You will then walk a few centimetres from the cliffs, with a front row seat to enjoy the view of the cliffs and the North Sea. The scenery is spectacular, and the path sometimes hazardous, which makes it a hike you will remember!
I’ve been there twice. The first time, with rain, the waves were hitting the cliffs, the seagulls were chirping, the mist was crashing against my face, but even in bad weather, it was incredible. The second time I was lucky enough to have a beautiful blue sky. The landscape was like transformed with the sun’s rays overhanging the cliff. I was dazzled by this spectacle. Strictly speaking.
Time: 2h – 3h –— 7,25km –— 266m ascent or 3m if you stay on the beach
A beautiful cliffside walk awaits you if you decide to go there! You start from Sandyhills beach and then walk to a footpath available on the cliff tops to Rockcliff (another beach). But if you are lucky with the low tide, go for a walk on the beach along the cliffs, it is a new landscape to discover. But be careful, the tide can come in very quickly!
Once again, I loved this landscape so much that when I had the opportunity to go back, I rushed there! The tide was low, very very low, so I was able to walk along the coast for an hour. Being at the foot of the cliffs is impressive, and worth the diversions!
4. Mull of Galloway
Time: 2h –— 1km –— 90m ascent
This place is known as the most south-westerly point in Scotland. You will have to cross a huge green area that will spread out before your eyes and pass through a sheep farm. Slow down, as they are often close to the road, or even on the road. Once you reach a large car park, you can park and walk to the lighthouse via a short circuit with a great view of the cliffs. The lighthouse is about 26m high and 99m above the sea, overlooking a good part of the coast. In addition, it is possible to walk down behind the lighthouse via a steep staircase to the foghorn! And if you want more, there are several walks in the area!
Due to the covid, the lighthouse was closed, but it was a great time. We were alone in the world (Porridge, and me). So we could enjoy the sunset in peace and quiet. And above all, we were lucky enough to have the last rays of the sun on Scottish soil, and that is priceless.
5. Screel Hill
Time: 2h30 –— 5km –— 331m ascent
The climb up this hill is not too strenuous, although some points are a bit steep. You start out in a forest, and after about 15 minutes you start to see the North Sea and the horizons. The place is beautiful!
This was my first and last walk. I had loved the hill so much that I wanted to come back. The advantage of staying 6 weeks in the same place is that you can return to your favourite places! So I took advantage of this during my stay!
This town is quite well known in the Dumfries area, as many artists (painters, musicians, actors) have passed through this town. This is why you will find several galleries and museums dedicated to the art of painting. You will have the opportunity to see colourful houses, but also a small fishing port!
Even if you can’t pronounce the name of the city correctly, I strongly invite you to go there. The charm of this town will surely seduce you, and don’t hesitate to stop in the galleries to discover the local artists.
7. Bladnoch Distillery
Time: 1h – 3h
The Bladnoch distillery has known different owners, but has managed to stay intact! It is the last whisky distillery in the area, and its recent renovation is worth a visit! Guided tours are proposed, and I advise you to stop there to understand the complexity of this beverage. The place is beautiful, the guides very nice, and the gardens incredible! A little bonus of the visit is the tasting of 3 whiskies from the house!
Fun fact: Prince Charles and Camilla attended the inauguration of the restoration of this distillery. They also signed a cask of the first vintage.
Time: 1h –— 2km –— 55m ascent
This small port is not unlike those in Bretagne (France). And yet, this is Scotland! Portpatrick is a small town that is well worth a stop for lunch. Whether in one of the restaurants or with a picnic on the cliffs overlooking Northern Ireland! When you arrive, walk along the harbour breakwater and onto the small islet in the harbour. Then climb to the top and let the path guide you. On a clear day, you will have the chance to see Northern Ireland.
It was a walk I really enjoyed, with few if any people on the paths. The city seemed to be asleep by the winter. This place has a real cachet, even in this period.
9. Cruggleton Castle
Time: 2,5h –— 6,5km –— 62m ascent
To reach the remains of Cruggleton Castle, a beautiful walk awaits you! You start on a path between the sea and the forest, then continue to a beach. You then continue through a wood which gradually rises to a hill. At the top, you will come face to face with a view of the arch of Cruggleton Castle. The view is extraordinary between sea, sky and land, and the waves of the sea rocking you, the spectacle is magical. But continue on your way, and cross a field of vegetables, a meadow of sheep and cows (the view is still fascinating here), and climb a staircase to reach the arch! The view is incredible, and with the sunset, it couldn’t be more perfect.
Cruggleton Castle has been through the ages, the Scottish battles, but it is wars of inheritance that will lead to its ruin. This is one of the walks that will stay with me for a long time, if only for the grandeur of the place. And probably also because I had to walk in the dark with the flash of my phone (alone) and with 13% battery.
10. Threave Castle
Time: 1h –— 2,5km –— 18m ascent
Near Castel Douglas, it is possible to see an old 40m tower that has stood the test of time. This is Threave Castle. Known as the seat of royal power in the 16th century, it was built on the Isle of Dee, and is surrounded by the river of the same name. In summer, you can cross by boat, just go to the pontoon and ring the bell! You can also walk along the path and go to one of the 3 shelters to watch the birds!
It’s a simple but effective walk. You are lulled by the charm of the landscape, and the trickling of the river. In winter, the pier was closed, which I regretted, I would have liked to see this castle more closely…
I travelled during the covid-19 period, and in winter, so many places were closed, nevertheless, I still loved it! If it makes you feel any better, I did these walks alone and I was 23 years old with no particular hiking skills.
The South West of Scotland is a little known gem, and yet it would benefit from being better known. If you ever visit Scotland, spend a few days here, you won’t be disappointed!
My fav places
Walkhighlands a free website that lists ALL the walks in Scotland (even in the south)! When I discovered this site, I swore by it!
Dumfries and Galloway by J. Fallis: for the best ideas for walks and hikes
Guides Voir, SCOTLAND – Édition Hachette: to understand Scottish culture and pick up some ideas for walks
Lonely Planet, SCOTLAND: for good deals on restaurants, accommodation, but also experiences