Thomas Tallis School 2017

Yuanshuang Xu and Iloagba Juliet

Documenting wildlife and star signs of Galloway Forest

On the Tuesday 2nd of September the two of us set out from the urban city of London for a tweleve hour journey to the see the wilderness of Scotland in Galloway Forest. The plan ahead was promising a four day hike in Scotland, travelling from the south of the forest to the north then returning to Newton Steward on the last day to catch the coach.

As scheduled we arrived early in the morning in a small town called Newton Steward, it was a beautiful town full of greenery, and very quite as the residents there were mainly comprised of elderly people with the odd sightings of some adults. We both took a deep breath, enjoying the unfamiliar sensation of fresh air and headed off for a 9.6 miles walk to the glentrool camping site where we will camp for the night. The walk proved to be challenging, taking us 5 hours instead of the planned 4 hour walk, the weight of the luggage with our tents, camping equipment, clothes and food for 4 days, along with the constant rain shower was not in our favour. Arriving at the camp site still in high spirit we set up our tents and cooked our first ever meal in Scotland- soup noodles with canned veg and meat. After lunch we set off light weighted on a hike along the mountain trail in
Glen Trol lodge, taking us 5 hours for a 10 mile walk. Due to the rain we didn’t see a lot of wild animals, we did see though lots of slug. As we got higher and further into the mountain we saw far in the distance three wild deer running in the bushes, this was the first time either of us saw a wild deer, we both watched in amazement as they disappeared into the woods , it was certainly a highlight of our trip. With no sighting of anyone throughout the whole trail and the sky getting darker we increase our pace through the forest, heading back to the camping site. Fortunately, we made it back to the camping site for dinner at 8 pm just as it was getting darker. At night before bed we planned to star gaze and was aiming to find stars and star signs such as the uras major, uras minor and the Polarise etc. However, we had no luck as it was either cloudy or raining, so we decided to have an early night. Discussing about the hike we done for the day, we realised that a 23 mile hike across the forest to the Scottish dark sky observatory may take us a min of 15 hours, which seemed to be beyond our ability, so we decided to ask the workers at the camping site for advice of better routes to take, but the worker told us that it wasn’t possible to walk to the observatory unless you have a car or maybe cycle. In the end we still decided to carry on with the plan, challenging ourselves setting the goal to get as close as possible.

During the night we were faced with the first challenge of camping in a temperature of under 10 degrees, with wet weather and sleeping in the wrong type of sleeping bag. The tent started to get really damp along with condensation inside the tent, we found ourselves even with multiple layers on, shivering. It was 2 am in the morning and we were unable to get back to sleep. Luckily, we brought some ginger drink, which kept us going through the night.

Early morning, at 7 o’clock we packed our tents and set off for a challenge to the observatory. With terrible luck the rain started getting heavier and more frequent, we found our foot steps getting more and more heavier as the weight of our luggage increased due to the rain. Before we knew it we walked for 5 hours and a total distance of 10 miles, however, this time we were exhausted and wet. Even with rain coats and multiple layers our clothes was soaked completely. The next camping site ahead of us near the observatory is only a piece of land for caravans providing no toilets or showers, therefore, even if we did make it would be like wild camping. Which was do able except by this point our tent, clothes and sleeping bags were already soaked from experiencing 5 hours in rain, meaning we will have to sleep in wet clothes and sleeping bag throughout the night. Already shivering, we knew that this wasn’t a wise option, we have to head back to the camping site to find a way to dry our clothes and sleeping bag. Disappointed we headed back to the camping site, but with some luck this time round we bumped into a sight that we would of never been able to see in London. Sheep. Hundreds of them running across the road, in the distance we thought they were trees blocking the cars, but it was actually the sight of a farm transferring his sheep from one location to another- We have to say we probably seen more sheep than humans throughout our whole stay.

After we got back to the camping site we had to change our whole plan, but for the day we stayed in the camping site because it was raining to heavily, and spending most of the day drying our clothes and planning for the next day. Again, we had no luck with star gazing tonight, although we did get to see some glimpse of moonlight occasionally, it was surprising how bright the moonlight was, we were able to see the different arrangement of tree on the mountain even from a far away distance. Hoping for a good night sleep we went to bed, “Déjà Vu” we found our eyes meeting at 2 pm again, this time we were not only shivering but also wet. We could not help but laugh as we got up for another ginger drink.

For the third day we went on a adventure into the woods abandoning the paths and roads, we found ourselves surrounded by many unfamiliar plants. There was green, pink, brown, red, and even yellow plants, the place seems peaceful and untouched as if we were the first to discover and leave our trials in the place. Full of fascination of the different wild species of mushrooms, trees and bugs our day went quick and we headed back to the camping site for our last night. Again no luck with star gazing and seemingly developed this unconscious fear towards sleeping we decided to just spend the night in the boothy (a small kitchen like space for the campers to use), enjoying our ginger tea.

Finally, on the last day of our stay we saw the Scottish Sun for the first !! With joy we said good bye to the camping site leaving behind the great memories. We then headed to the tourist information site in newton steward, where the staff kindly allowed us to leave our luggage there, allowing us to continue with our plan to go to the Kirroughtree visitor centre. After a brief stay at the visitor centre we walked back to Newton Steward to collect our luggage and leave for the coach back to London.

At this point we were both sad but also relieved at the same time, sad that the trip has ended so quick and that we weren’t able to explore this spectacular place in nice weather, but also excited to be able to go home and have a warm and cosy night in our beds.

This experience has definitely been challenging but also rewarding, it has taught us many survival skills and the importance of team work. We cannot express how much we appreciate the Mark Evison Foundation for this opportunity. Special thanks to Margret and Caroline who supported us through the application and the rest of the team for this once in a life time experience!