A short visit to Gatehouse of Fleet in Galloway. No high mountains to climb, probably just as well as I am accompanied by three young girls and an elderly dog. Despite this, the Fleet Valley always feels wild and peaceful, a hidden gem.
Very few people visit here and the birds and animals thrive. I see deer, red squirrels, red kites and buzzards every time I visit. It’s designated as a National Scenic Area but it’s far more special than that being completely unspoilt and having a unique combination of rugged coastline, wooded valleys, wild pathless hills and huge forests.
It rains a lot here and the trees and plants love it. The valley is full of trees, ancient woodlands covered in moss and lichens. Higher up the valley the native woodland is replaced by miles and miles of Forestry Commission spruce in the Galloway Forest Park which was the first area in the UK to be given Dark Sky Park status in 2009.
The highest hill is Cairnsmore of Fleet at 711m and there is a good path up to the top but it’s not particularly wild or exciting. The smaller hills are much more interesting, but they involve wet tramps through bogs and over tussocky grass that make even the shortest walk seem like hard work. You’re guaranteed not to meet a soul though and the views over the sea to Ireland and inland to the Galloway Hills make the effort worthwhile.
Further north is Glen Trool and the Merrick which sees more visitors. The Merrick has a good path being the highest hill at 843m, but again it’s not the most interesting hill around there. For that you need to get off the beaten track and explore Craignaw and Loch Enoch, rugged pathless country, only 600m high yet some of the hardest walking I have ever done.
The names of the hills invoke a sense of the magic of the place – Buckdas of Cairnbaber, Gairy of Pulnee, Rig of the Jarkness and Sheuch of Lammashiel are some of my favourites. I’ve spent hours pouring over the map picking out strange hill names and wondering what they mean. Maybe I should get a life 😀.
The coastline is wild too. No huge cliffs or gorgeous sandy beaches to pull in the tourists, just small rocky coves lashed by rain and wind in winter and often summer too. There is a long history of smuggling with easy access to Ireland. Some caravan sites are starting to spring up around the coast now but most traffic passes straight through on the A75 on its way to Stranraer.
I’ve been coming to Gatehouse of Fleet for 19 years and have visited in every month of the year. From endless rain in November, cold frosty walks on Cairnsmore at New Year, frogs croaking on Craignaw on a beautiful April day, bluebells in Castrament Wood in May and wild coastal walks in September. Long bike rides on lonely forestry tracks, swimming in the sea at Brighouse Bay and wild camping with the midges near Glen Trool. Every time I visit here the place casts a spell over me and I never want to leave.