One of last week’s adventures led us to the Grey Mare’s Tail Nature Reserve, with one of the UK’s highest cascading waterfalls. As the crow flies, it looks only a short distance from Biggar to Grey Mare’s Tail but getting there involves a rather more lengthy detour around the hills of the Southern Uplands including a car-sick-inducing stretch of winding road down the Moffat Water Valley.


The last time I walked these hills was over 10 years ago as a PhD student accompanying a group of undergraduate geography students on a field trip. Glacial geomorphology was never my strongest subject but feeling nostalgic for my academic days I couldn’t help but point out to Finn the spectacular example of a hanging valley. I felt a twinge of pride as Finn seemingly appraised the scene and exclaimed “let’s just stop here for a moment mum and admire the view… Of the car park”. Oh well, maybe Finn’s not quite ready to follow in the footsteps of his geographer mum. But wait. As he raised his stick and pointed it down the valley, I followed his gaze. “Yes, Finn! Can you see the deep U-shape of the valley that was carved out by a glacier?” “Actually, I’m following that car with my stick until it disappears round the bend”. Yes, well, give him a few years…


Is it a U-shaped glacial valley? No, it’s a car park!


Finn bounded up the steep but well constructed footpath clinging to the gorge with ever changing views of the cascading waterfall. Then he stopped to admire a large beetle in his path. And so began The Great Grey Mare’s Tail Beetle Rescue as I was instructed to remove every single beetle (and there were many) off the path to avoid them being stepped on, even those who had already suffered the fate of feet. “They’ll more quickly decompose into the earth off the path mum”. Maybe biology is more his thing?


Another beetle saved


Hide and seek in the hummocky moraine

Then the heavy rain started. Now Finn is not usually too bothered by the rain but he does object to putting on his waterproof outer-layers. I’m quite happy if he wants to get himself soaked down at our local park but it’s a different matter up in the hills where a cold, wet child is a danger. On this occasion I won out in our battle of wills but Finn made it quite clear for the next 40 minutes that he was unhappy about the outcome. On nearly every one of our walks we go through a stage where Finn complains about the wet or the heat or the path or lack of path. However, if I’m able to see the whining through with patience and calm something always then catches his imagination after which he’ll walk (or run) for hours without complaint. It’s a bit like having a bored child at home. If you can resist the temptation to intervene, they’ll eventually have a flash of creativity and start a project that will keep them engaged for ages. On this occasion Finn’s flash of creativity was discovering the myriad little drainage ditches along the path, most of which contained water which could be conveniently flicked at mum with the clever wielding of his stick. This very stick was one found on our previous walk to Loch Enoch and which has accompanied him on our adventures since. It’s Finn’s equivalent of a multi-tool.


The ‘stick’

Another picnic in the rain

Another picnic in the rain

People we meet are often surprised to see a such a wee person out in the hills and apparently enjoying himself and he’s always complemented on his fine choice of waterproof clothing. Our hikes along the more popular paths often become quite social occasions as we stop to chat to everyone we meet and to befriend every dog we pass. Close to Loch Skeen, the highest large, natural upland loch in the Southern Uplands, we met a group of National Trust for Scotland employees and volunteers making improvements to the footpath. On our return leg they were very interested to hear Finn’s opinion of the completed repairs. “Good” was Finn’s eloquent response. In return for his valued input he had his photo taken for the NTS twitter page, resplendent with his green jacket and ever present stick.

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As I walked the meandering path through the hummocky moraine I was lost in daydreams of my student days so was surprised when we finally stumbled upon the tranquil shores of Loch Skeen. Cue a lot more splashing of water until Finn eventually deduced that splashing the water into the wind would just result in giving himself a soaking. Maybe that was the idea but rocks and water were all that were needed to detain him at the loch side for an hour and put a big grin back on his face. The clouds parted and we were suddenly bathed in sunlight as we made our way back down the gorge, Finn long having forgotten about wanting to remove his waterproofs.