One of the few good things to come out of a global pandemic is that so many people are now choosing to reconnect with nature. Spending less time endlessly scrolling through social media and more time with real life interactions. It has rekindled passion, kindness, compassion and a motivation to be a better person in many of us. For Dude and I this includes spending time together. I don’t just mean being in the same room watching television. More about sharing experiences, laughing together and as cliché as it may be, making memories. So when we were invited to spend a couple of nights off grid in south Ayrshire for a wild swimming retreat at Creeside Escape shepherds hut we jumped at the chance.
Staying in an off grid shepherds hut
Nestled on the border of south Ayrshire and Dumfries and Galloway, Creeside Escape is perfectly located. With open views of the river Cree, our nearest neighbours were the sheep we shared the field with. We were, after all, staying on a working farm. From here we were just thirty minutes from the coast and nearest beach. The pretty town of Newton Stewart with it’s supermarkets and take aways is just 12 miles away.
As usual we had packed for every eventuality and the car was stuffed with waterproofs, walking boots, my cold water swimming kit and cameras. We had also packed our reading books and our Trivial Pursuit board game for evening entertainment.
Upon our arrival, loaded up with bags, we made our way on foot across the field. It’s just a short trek from the car to the shepherds hut and we managed to carry all the clothes and food we would need for our two night stay before the rain came down!
Opening the door we immediately felt at home. A double bed at one end dressed with plumped cushions and a cosy wool blanket. A table and chairs below the mounted shelves of cute mismatched crockery on display. A kitchen sink with a window view and a wee wood burning stove in the corner. Tucked away behind the door was the bathroom. A space big enough for an eco toilet and a sink but no shower facility. For those not au fait with camping or glamping this may come as a shock but a couple of nights without a shower is not the end of the world.
We settled straight in to getting some dinner on the go and had chosen to bring burgers with us to cook. Using the small gas camping stove dinner was ready in no time at all. As we tucked in we listened to the rain hammering down on the roof of the shepherds hut.
Before it got too chilly Dude got the wood burner going. The wood, firelighters and matches are all provided to help make it nice and toasty. In such a humble space it didn’t take long to warm up and the wind and rain outside were soon forgotten.
To pass the time we played Trivial Pursuit. I even found the receipt from when I bought it in 1999! To say we were worried if we would even know any of the answers to these questions is an understatement. We had a real good laugh whilst we worked our way around the board collecting cheeses. So much so that we played it on the second night of our stay too. There are a small selection of games and books already on the shelves if you don’t fancy taking your own.
After a good nights sleep we woke to the sound of the nearby grazing Galloway cattle in the next field. Much better than any other alarm call. Using the gas stove we boiled the whistling kettle to make a cafetière of fresh coffee (we had brought this with us). Tea and coffee is provided at Creeside Escape but we always enjoy our regular fresh coffee from home. After breakfast it was time to explore.
Explore Galloway Forest Park
Creeside Escape is just on the outskirts of the Galloway Forest Park and the options for cycling, walking, wild swimming and wildlife watching are endless.
We decided to pop down the to visitor centre at Glen Trool for a walk. It was brunch time when we arrived and thankfully the visitor centre was serving fresh sandwiches and hot drinks. So we enjoyed cheese salad butties with a coffee whilst watching a red squirrel in the trees.
It had been pouring with rain earlier in the morning for my swim (more about that later) but had now cleared up. To help us get to know the area better we chose a 7km trail. We passed just four people around the entire route whilst we basked in the views, watched buzzards soar and listened to the sound of waterfalls. Many of the open views lead our eyes out toward the hills in the distance and in between were swathes of trees. We were too late to witness the heather in bloom but I imagine it is really pretty.
There are plenty of bike trails across the Galloway Forest Park too. Something for everyone, from beginners to adrenalin junkies, including a skills area to practice.
I was also surprised by how many bigger peaks are in the area too. It might not be a munro but at 843m, Merrick is the highest mountain in the Southern Uplands and can be accessed via Glen Trool.
Back in 2009 this area became designated a Dark Sky Park, the first one in the UK. Just one hour away from the Shepherds Hut you can visit the Observatory. Although I’m told on a clear night you can sit outside the accommodation and see more stars than you’ve ever dreamt of. With very little light pollution the chances of seeing thousands of stars, planets and even the Milky Way are really good (providing there is no cloud). Sadly we didn’t get any clear nights but I guess this means we shall have to come back another time.
If you have followed my blog or Instagram for any length of time you’ll know I’m addicted to swimming in cold water. Since lockdown was lifted and leisure centres remained closed so many other people discovered (or endured) the joys of open water swimming.
After taking dips in the river Cree with her daughter over the summer, Sarah, the owner of Creeside Escape is also now a convert. Our invite to south Ayrshire also extended to Sarah sharing some of her favourite lochs with me. Here’s how I got on:
After all the rain overnight I wasn’t sure what the water levels would be like, how easy it would be to get in and out but felt reassured by Sarah’s instructions on where to park and get in.
When we arrived the rain had stopped and it sure was pretty but the clear skies didn’t last long. I had just about managed to get changed when the first downpour came over. I felt bad leaving Dude on dry land and getting soaked. Bless him. I would never swim alone in somewhere new so it was nice to know I was being watched over.
This loch has to be one of the most peaty coloured water I’ve ever swam in. It looked like I’d been given an orange spray tan from a reality TV programme! As I stayed in the water more showers came and went and I became hypnotised watching the rain bounce off of the surface of the loch. A really pretty place to swim and no hike back to the car with a bag full of kit.
I had decided that it would probably be easier if I got changed in the car, the showers were too heavy to do my usual faffing outside.
It was nice to have had the local knowledge for this dip. Looking on the OS map it’s easy to find places I might think look okay but in reality might not be safe at all.
For my second swim of the trip I was invited to join Sarah at one of her favourite lochs just a few miles away. A total change in weather compared to the day before. Just a hint of autumn; cold fresh air and water temperature still in double figures. Perfect.
In fact it was more than perfect because I had a swim buddy. Someone who was just as excited about getting in the cold water as I was. Striding out in to the water we chatted about my swim from the day before and how stunning the scenery at this loch was.
Without even realising it as we swam straight out from where we had entered the water our conversation petered out. Immersing ourselves in the moment. Watching swans, taking in all the reflections and colours.
As we swim back to the shore Sarah tells me about her plans for making wild swimming retreat at Creeside Escape Shepherds Hut a reality. Giving visitors the opportunity to enjoy their first cold water experience safely and supervised with the option of hiring wetsuits, tow floats and changing robes if needed. With plans to study for an STA level 2 Open Water Coaching qualification this means Sarah can safely take swimmers into an open water environment.
For anyone like me whose partner doesn’t swim this is also a brilliant option. Knowing that someone will know the safe entry points, best place to park or just to share the experience (and cake) with is great.
Off grid experience
Our off grid and wild swimming retreat at Creeside Escape was filled with new challenges, quiet places and ignited a love for the Galloway Forest Park. Staying in such quirky accommodation helped us to reset and take time away from the outside world. Having so many options for walks, bike rides and secluded swim spots practically on the doorstep means less travelling and more time really getting to know the area.
The Shepherds hut is available to stay in for ten months of the year, closing for lambing season in March and April. If you want to break up the cold, dark months of winter with a cosy getaway we highly recommend this quirky accommodation.
** Gifted** We were invited to stay at Creeside Escape in exchange for this blog post.