Six of us gathered at the LCV toolshed on the Friday evening looking forward to our weekend away. Willie was our designated leader and he and Sarah shared the driving between Edinburgh and Dumfriesshire. The traffic on route was kind to us so we pushed on to Castle Douglas for our chip shop stop. Thanks to Sarah's googling we found a terrific one (Moore's) which served an impressive selection of takeaway items, including a special of the day "mango chilli prawn wrap" - traditional chippies take heed!.
Our accommodation for the weekend was the sizeable Carlingwark Outdoor Education Centre in Castle Douglas. Given we were small in number we managed to get a bedroom each with the freedom to snore as we liked after a hard day's graft.
Friday night's weather forecast warned of double blob rain and high winds for Saturday. Sure enough we woke up to heavy rain and some of us made good use of Peter's gaffa tape to seal holes and dodgy seams in waterproofs in anticipation of a soaking. We doned LCV's high viz waterproof jackets and headed off to meet Chris Archbold, SWT reserve manager at Knowetop's loch, giving the mini-bus several undercarriage showers on route courtesy of the large puddles. While on route I got a phone call to say it was snowing heavily in Edinburgh and it got me wondering what the weather had in store for us...
Knowetop Lochs is a cracking reserve featuring two small lochs separated by a ridge of woodland and fringed by reed-swamp, bog and willow scrub, with areas of wet and dry heath.
Chris took us on a tour using the well-marked circular path around the reserve that includes a boardwalk over the boggier sections. It was good to see the small section of boardwalk erected by LCV a few years ago serving its purpose well. On the walk, Chris pointed out signs of otter activities including otter spraint and well-worn trails and we took up his offer to smell the muskiness of the spraint (which smelled surprisingly ok!).
A treat awaited us at the end of our walk when Chris shone a torch into a bat box that he had constructed out of pieces of an old summer house. We saw living proof that the bats liked their new home! We started our task of pulling up conifer saplings beside the loch and progressed steadily towards the woodland where we had a sheltered lunch munching on delicious rolls filled with a selection of hummus, Spanish tortilla and cheese salad prepared by David, our catering manager. Aurélie's superb homemade vegan cookies and carrot cake filled our tummies even more and gave us more than enough energy to tackle the bigger trees in the afternoon.
Amazingly the heavy rain and winds forecasted never transpired and the light rain emphasised the lovely colour of the lichens and mosses.
The return journey gave us lots of views of red kites flying above, no doubt enticed out to hunt after a long period hunkering down out of the rain. Back at the outdoor centre, preparations for dinner were interspersed with woops of excitement watching the end of the Scotland vs England rugby game. Dinner itself was a splendid event starting off with David's "amuse bouche" of refried beans and tortilla chips, followed by a hearty vegetable soup, then a vegan paella and salad, followed by rhubarb tart and custard. We could hardly move afterwards!
Sunday dawned a completely different day with blue sky and sunshine showing off the lovely daffodils on the banks of Carlingwark loch. We packed up the minibus and drove to Carstramon Wood which is a semi-natural broadleaved woodland with oak trees, ferns and lichens and breathtaking bluebells in later springtime.
Our task for the day was to remove beech saplings/young trees which were in danger of crowding out native trees and bluebells. We also had freedom to remove the odd rogue rhododendron. Our previous year's tasks at the woodland meant there was less Beech to remove than other years, so for some of us it made for a very pleasant walk through the woodland tackling the odd unwanted specimen.
While wandering through the woodland, I caught glimpses of roe deer and a hare and our lunchtime bench offered us an entertaining view of pheasants arguing for the title of top dog.
On Chris's recommendation we took a slightly different route back to Dumfries via Laurieston and while we didn't see any eagles (a regular feature in that area) we were rewarded with surperb views of the surrounding countryside. Thanks to all for what was yet again a great weekend in Dumfries and Galloway.