Hiking in Scotland is one of the best activities to experience the full range of beauty this country has to offer. Unfortunately, you’re not the only one thinking that, which is why today I’m introducing you to a great hike off the beaten track: Grey Mare’s Tail Nature Reserve in Dumfries and Galloway.
Dumfries and what? – you might ask… Next to the most famous regions of Scotland, the Highlands & Islands or other well-known areas like Fife, Perthshire or Aberdeenshire, Dumfries & Galloway is the forgotten little brother of Scottish counties. Tucked away in the southwest of Scotland, basically halfway between Glasgow and Northern Ireland, the region is a hidden gem that most do not have on their radar.
Good for you, if you came here for relaxing hikes in the vast and empty mountain landscape. The hills might not be as high or dramatic as further north in the Highlands, but Dumfries & Galloway certainly has a lot to offer.
The Grey Mare’s Tail Nature Reserve in the Moffat hills is a spectacular hanging valley named after the UK’s fifth highest waterfall, which plunges down from Loch Skeen for 60m before reaching the valley. There are several hiking trails in the reserve, but the strenuous, yet rewarding hike up along the waterfall and to Loch Skeen is an absolute must do!
Btw. I only started looking into this area in more detail after reading about it over at Adventitious Violet!
Hiking up Grey Mare’s Tail
As soon as we left the motorway leading south and made our way the small and winding A708, we knew we were in for a treat. Lush green hills were rolling left and right of us; houses were far and few between and hand-made stone walls lined the edges of the road. Then suddenly, a traffic jam in front of us – we were the only car, but a flock of at least 100 sheep, followed by three excited sheep dogs and a farmer on a quad-bike. Ahead we could see another car blocking the road and an open gate leading the sheep into their late summer enclosure. We had encountered Highland-life – and did not even have to go to the Highlands.
Finally at our destination we found a spot on the nearly empty car park. Parking is free for members of the National Trust of Scotland and £3 for everyone else. We changed into our hiking boots – hiking in Scotland is generally not a trainers-business – and set off. The round trip to Loch Skeen is about 5 miles and you should allow 2-3 hours including plenty of photo stops and a little lunch break.
The main trail starts at the west side of the burn – keep right at the fork, cross the footbridge and through the interpretation area in an old sheepfold. From here the path climbs steadily along side the waterfall – it’s easy to follow and very well maintained, but gets pretty steep at times. Luckily the views are so pretty, I could just blame them for all the breaks I needed to take. Someone has to take the photos after all!
The Grey Mare’s Tail waterfall becomes more beautiful with every step you take, and the trail soon traverses alongside a steep gorge. We spotted hairy wild goats braving the rocky face of the gorge as well as a few lost lambs trying to find their mothers – luckily they were reunited within a few loud baa’s.
Once we passed the top of the waterfall, the trail evens out and we continued to stroll along the casually meandering river and a few smaller waterfalls. The wind had been picking up as we climbed higher, and sunshine and rain were taking turns by the minute – a typical Scottish day.
After a little break in a wind-sheltered corner, we walked on to Loch Skeen, which surprised us with strong head winds and beautiful views! Seeing that it was rather uncomfortable in the wind, we cut out shoreline expedition short and simply returned back towards the car park.
On the way back down we met a lot of walkers only just starting their hike and were happy we had arrived here early enough to beat the crowds!
Good to Know
To reach Grey Mare’s Tail Nature Reserve you need a car. The car park at the beginning of the trail lies about 1.5 hours away from Glasgow and the nearest town is Moffat, where you can find several cafes and restaurants to refuel after your hike!
We followed the description of the trail given at walkhighlands.co.uk (find it here), but there are also a few signs describing the walk in the car park below the waterfall. The trail is pretty straight forward, so a map is not essential in good conditions.
Have £3 in coins at hand to pay for parking at the Pay-and-Display machine. For more info check out the National Trust for Scotland website and consider donating, as they are the ones keeping the trails safe and open for your adventures!
Do you have a favourite hike in Scotland that is off the beaten track? Would love to hear about it!
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All photos by Kathi Kamleitner except otherwise stated.