A view of the river that we swam in during the rain

Staycation: A weekend in rural Dumfriesshire

Coronavirus has changed the travel plans of many people over the last 18 months, me included. Not being able to travel abroad easily from the UK has made people look for an alternative staycation within the British Isles. This was the exact situation that me and a few of my friends found ourselves in this summer.

After weeks of discussions about where we could go and when we would all be free, it was decided that the start of August would be the time, and rural Dumfriesshire would be the place. It was chosen as fortunately one of my friends has a very small cottage in the middle of nowhere that we could stay at for free. This staycation in the middle of nowhere would turn out to be the highlight of my summer.

So, the plan was set and before I knew it, I was in my car starting the 4 hour drive from my house to the middle of nowhere Dumfriesshire. The drive itself was not too bad. There were 2 of us in the car which made the time pass much more quickly. However, once we crossed the border into Scotland, the road became only one lane, something that created some frustration when we got caught behind tractors!

There is something about driving through country roads during the summer belting out songs at the top of your lungs that can’t be beaten. It truly does make the drive fly by. Before I knew it, we had arrived. It was amazing to finally get there. I had not seen two of the friends that I was going with for a long time, almost two years in one case due to the pandemic.

The next three days were the highlight of my summer. It was Scotland so the weather was not something that we could rely on, so we made sure to just do what we wanted no matter if it was lashing down with rain. After spending the first night catching up with each other after such a long time, we planned the next day to go to Galloway Forest Park.

Galloway Forest Park is a 774km squared park just north of Newton Stewart, about a 40 minute drive from where we were staying. It is a naturally beautiful place. It was of course slightly raining when we went, but that took nothing away from our enthusiasm. After having a coffee and cake overlooking one of the lochs at a beautiful viewpoint, we set off on a short hike. Despite being a day in August, we didn’t see any other people. It was just the four of us having the time of our lives, walking through beautiful countryside, feeling very much like main characters in the rain.

We sang at the top of our voices and laughed about the stupidest things, but that was all that we wanted to do. As the rain began to fall much more heavily, we decided to stop and have a swim in the river. It was like a scene from a movie. The four of us splashing around, jumping and swimming in the river, no care at all for anybody else who might walk past. Despite the rain and lack of sun, the water itself was surprisingly warm, which made it much easier to enjoy. It was moments like this that made it the best few days of my summer. I felt as though my worries melted away as I jumped into that river.

After the rain began to subside, we made our way back home from the Forest Park. Despite a real close call with death on the way home, you need to be wary of Dumfriesshire drivers, we made it back to relax and take some much needed showers.

In the evening we went to a local pub for a few drinks. When I say local, I actually mean a 20 minute drive away along some very questionable country roads. As the driver, it took a lot of concentration to miss the numerous potholes that scattered the roads. The pub itself was full which meant that we had to sit outside. You might have thought that on an early August evening this would be lovely. However, it was freezing. Although it had actually stopped raining by this time in the evening, it certainly hadn’t warmed up at all. After taking everyone back to the house, it was time to start preparing dinner.

All of the food that we ate whilst in Scotland was homemade. It felt as though we had left the real world behind, we had time to just relax and enjoy everything. This night it was homemade pizzas. When I say homemade, I mean everything about it. The dough was created in a bread maker and then the toppings were placed on. Honestly, if I had the time every night to make those homemade pizzas, I certainly would.

Our evenings were spent in the small living room of the house. A fire in the corner to keep us warm with the howling winds and rain outside, playing cards and of course drinking a few of Scotland’s favourite beer: Tennents.

One of the benefits of this location was its proximity to the beach. Just down the road is an old manor house, Dumfries House. Whilst the house is privately owned, it has a public garden and a beach. The beach itself is stunning. The sand might not be white or the waters crystal clear, but it was just us and a handful of others who were there. It felt as though we were in on some secret that the rest of the world didn’t know, and I felt extremely lucky to be there.

After our exploits in the river the previous day, we went into the sea here. It is important to point out that everybody else who was in the sea that day was wearing a wetsuit. In comparison, the four of us had nothing but our swimming shorts on, something that didn’t limit our enjoyment in the slightest.

The walk back to the car was a painful one for me. I had decided that in order to avoid getting sand in my socks and shoes, I would go barefoot. I can’t explain how much of a mistake this was. The walk back to the car was entirely on gravel. To make it worse it felt as though it was about a mile long, I’m sure that in reality it was only a few hundred yards. Despite this mistake being clearly my fault, that obviously didn’t stop me from complaining to everyone else all the way back. I’m surprised that they put up with me.

Our trip to the beach was a short one. Not because we didn’t enjoy it, but because we had booked to go on a whiskey distillery tour. I am not a big whiskey drinker, but it felt rude not to go to at least one distillery whilst in Scotland. The one that we chose to visit is called Bladnoch, Scotland’s southernmost distillery.

Me inside Bladnoch Distillery

We were given a tour of the buildings and the whole process of whiskey making. It was something that I knew nothing about. However, to see how such a complicated drink could be made from so few constituent parts was incredibly interesting. Of course, at the end of the tour was the bit that we had all been waiting for: the whiskey tasting. We were given two different whiskeys to taste as well as some of the new make, the name given to the liquid before it has been aged to whiskey. The new make is 69% alcohol so you might think that it tasted terrible. However, it had one of the weirdest tastes I have ever experienced. You could certainly taste the alcohol, but as it hit your tongue, it seemed to evaporate.

The whiskeys themselves were also far nicer than I expected. As I mentioned, I am not a big whiskey drinker, but I was surprised how much I enjoyed them. So much so I bought a bottle of one!

The rest of the day was spent in and around the garden of the little cottage. It was, as it turned out, the only real sunny day out of all the days in Scotland so we made the most of it sunbathing and playing sports in the garden.

Unfortunately, on the final day the weather really began to turn. We woke up to a light drizzle and decided to go swimming in the sea again. This time we picked a different beach, and it was definitely a mistake. This beach was not only massively stony, but the sea itself also contained copious amounts of seaweed. As we got into the sea, with many shouts given the temperature, I noticed that there was a local old man walking along the path next to us, chuckling at how ridiculous the 4 of us must have looked.

After returning home for a much needed hot shower, we decided to head down the coast to St Ninian’s cave. This is said to be the cave where the St Ninian lived when he came to Scotland to spread the word of Christianity in the 4th century. Unfortunately, as we were arriving there, the heavens opened, and it began to pour down. This didn’t alter our mood. We embraced the rain and more than once you would have heard the phrase, “it’s only rain.” Due to the weather, it was only the 4 of us on the beach. Again, this was one of the highlights of the trip. Yes, it was lashing it down with rain, but the 4 of us didn’t care. We were out there just having a good time and exploring new places.

View along the beach from St. Ninian’s Cave

We returned back to the cottage for what was our final night. The whole long weekend had been brilliant. It was a reminder that we didn’t need to go anywhere sunny or exotic to have an amazing time. We just had to travel with each other and not worry about anything for a few days. A staycation in the middle of nowhere with your friends is something that everybody should try.