3am Monday morning and while awake suffering a bout of insomnia I decide that Finn and I should take advantage of the forecasted favourable weather to go on another microadventure. Five hours later we were up and getting ourselves sorted for an overnight bivvy at Loch Enoch in Galloway Forest Park. I had envisaged a coastal bivvy but pictures I’d seen of the white granite beaches of Loch Enoch, 500m up in the hills, nestled below southern Scotland’s highest mountain, Merrick, had intrigued me. Apparently the sand here was once collected and sold for sharpening scythes and knives. It looked idyllic and the perfect spot for our first serious hike and wild bivvy with just the two of us. As usual it took longer than expected to pack up and pick up fuel, supplies and a map before we could head on our way.
After a slow drive cross country on winding, sometimes single track roads and a late lunch in the car park at Loch Trool, by 3pm we were on our way up the path leading to Merrick. As we followed the rocky, tumbling burn it felt pleasantly rebellious to be heading out on our adventure while everyone we passed were returning from theirs. Two retired gentlemen stopped to chat when they saw my heavily laden bag and when I told them our plans they looked first at each other, than incredulously at me. When I enquired about the state of the path to Loch Enoch as indicated by my map they suppressed a knowing laugh. “Path? No, there’s no path. Just follow the burn. Why aren’t you taking the Loch Valley route? You do realise you’ve still got a long way to go don’t you?” I laughed nervously and gave them a casual “ah, well, we’re well equipped. We can always sleep wherever”. On the inside I’m starting to panic and question what we’re doing (as I seem to do on every trip…) They looked at me once more, than at Finn. “Well, good luck” they said smugly and were on their way. I decided to dismiss their comments as unwarranted negativity and thought they probably dismissed us as unprepared and naive. Well, I thought, we’d show them! Unfortunately, we were naive (though prepared). The path indicated on our map didn’t exist and the 5 miles or so uphill through what was essentially bog, with thigh high vegetation in parts was excruciatingly slow. As we followed the burn uphill and started to scramble up the steep slopes hemmed in either side by forestry plantation, I realised we were following the wrong burn. Cue another panic. I decided we needed to cross the stream, climb the opposite bank and fight our way through the closely spaced conifers to leave the forest.
Nearing the edge of the plantation we heard voices ahead. We’d not seen a soul since we left the footpath that ascends Merrick and as it was now early evening the voices were quite a surprise, but a welcome one after the earlier minor panic of being lost in the forest. It was a family of five from Germany who turned out to be even happier to see us than we were them, as they really were lost and without a map. I momentarily felt less naive and more prepared as I showed them our position and instructed them on the route back to the car park. We didn’t hang around as the minute we stopped we were ambushed by the scourge of Scottish summer camping. The midge. I fairly dragged Finn over the next stretch of boggy, pathless terrain as to stop or slow down would mean instant attack. Cue another panic. What was I thinking of bringing bivvy bags as opposed to a tent? In Scotland. In August. We’re going to be eaten alive by midges! How could I be so naive? I strode on, head down, aware of the sun starting to go down and busy formulating a back up plan in my head, leaving Finn behind shouting “wait for me mum, WAIT FOR ME!” This was to form the refrain of much of our trip. He is quite happy to walk for miles through pathless bog without complaining, but it has to be at his pace, which was unfortunately slower than that of the midges.
I could see the col up ahead over which our destination lay but it took an age to reach and when we did it was a false summit. When we finally reached the col and could see beyond we both gave a whoop of joy at the view of Loch Enoch spread out before us, larger than I imagined, serene and stunningly beautiful. We shouted our thanks to the wind for keeping the midges away and stopped for a celebratory ration of dark chocolate. But not for long. By now it was 7.30pm and where were the fabled beaches? We spotted one directly opposite on the furthest side of the loch. I groaned. I didn’t think I could face skirting the loch for at least another mile over pathless bog. Thankfully, the chocolate had given Finn a spring in his step. He marched straight through the hummocky terrain and ankle deep mud singing the same line of a song over and over and over. For the entire next hour. Despite the monotonous singing I was so grateful for his company and cheerfulness. Tired and fed up of the rough, challenging walking, it was Finn who kept both our spirits up to the end, until finally, at 8.30pm we arrived at our beach. It was simply beautiful and despite wanting to linger and watch the sun set behind Merrick I was conscious of the impending darkness and hurried to set up camp, until Finn stopped me in my tracks. He was singing once again, this time with pure, childlike joy and delight… “I love today, I love today, today is the best day of my life…” For a few minutes time stood still as I watched and wished my husband was there to share the moment too. Finn had declared this tough, relentless slog over bog and moorland as the best day of his life and his expression of joy will forever be one of my cherished memories.
An hour later, tucked up in our sleeping bags and in darkness, the silence was all encompassing. The high elevation of our position and the light breeze was just enough to keep the midges away (thank you, thank you…) Every little noise was amplified by the quiet isolation. We listened to the lapping of the waves on the shore a metre from us, the flapping wings of wild geese taking off from the loch and then a noise that sounded to both Finn and I very much like a wolf. Cue another panic as I tried to recall whether or not wolves had been reintroduced in Scotland. For two hours after Finn had settled down I sat up and looked around nervously at every little sound I heard, but we were utterly alone. The moon was so bright there was no need for a torch. It’s light reflected off the loch and I marvelled at my moon shadow. Then the stars came out. It was spectacular. Galloway Forest Park is one of only a couple of officially designated Dark Sky Reserves in the UK as a lack of light pollution allows for an exceptionally good view of the night sky. Once again I counted my blessings and buried myself deep in my sleeping bag to keep warm.
The loch looked even more beautiful as the sun rose behind us the next morning. We honoured our usual morning ritual of reading stories in ‘bed’ and followed breakfast with a ‘refreshing’ dip in the icy waters of the loch. I was expecting a more straightforward walk out via Loch Valley as implied by the two gentlemen we met the previous day. They had the last laugh as it was far from it. After the first couple of miles we found a path, but the route was even more boggy than the day before, if that was even possible, and it took an arduous 6.5 hours to get back to the car, accompanied by the ever repeating “WAIT FOR ME MUM!”
As we approached the car we high-fived. We’d done it! All apart from the 2.5 hour drive home. Finn remained awake for the entire journey. I obviously need to think of something a little more adventurous to tire him out next time.