The Solway Firth is internationally recognised as a crucial habitat for thousands of migrating birds, particularly during the winter months. Caerlaverock Nature Reserve is the beating heart of the Solway, home to an incredible assortment of flora and fauna, including the entire population of Svalbard barnacle geese, which fly in every year after
a 2,000-mile journey from
the Arctic to spend their
winter months here.
When the reserve first
opened in 1957, only 2,000
of the Svalbard geese wintered at Caerlaverock. But 55 years later, the numbers have swelled to more than 31,000 each year. Combine this with thousands of pink-footed geese and several other species of wildfowl and waders, including dunlin, knot, oystercatcher and goldeneye, and you have a colourful and noisy few months. It is thought that around 140,000 birds spend their winters here, dining on the worms, cockles, crabs and shrimps that inhabit
Caerlaverock is also the northernmost breeding ground of the natterjack toad, and is home to the rare tadpole shrimp, Scotch argus butterfly, roe deer, otters, orchids and holy grass, a scarce coastal plant found only in Scotland and Ireland.
This easy walk explores the reserve, the ancient Castle Wood and the wonderful Caerlaverock Castle. A short, optional climb on to Ward Law presents a superb view over
the Solway Firth.
From the car park, walk along the track into the reserve beside the Solway Firth,
where the sights and sounds of the wintering wildfowl and waders are remarkable. Listen out for the yapping chorus of the barnacle geese. The track skirts Castle Wood, home
to alder, ash, hazel, birch and oak. Cross
a bridge and continue past a hide from where the track
bears left into Castle Wood.
Continue along the
track by the original site of Caerlaverock Castle on to a boardwalk. Follow this out of Castle Wood to the fantastic remains of Caerlaverock Castle, which was built in 1270 and survived many attacks, but was almost destroyed by marauding the Covenanters (religious dissenters) in 1640.
The castle is open year round, except Christmas and Boxing Day, and there is also an excellent visitor centre and café.
For the optional extension on to Ward Law, walk through the car park to the B725. Go straight across on to a farm track and head right at a fork.
A fenced track then climbs
easily to gain the atmospheric summit of Ward Law.
This used to be a watch station
for Clan Maxwell and you can see why – it grants an exemplary view of the Solway Firth. From here, retrace your steps back to Caerlaverock Castle and through Castle Wood to the start.
HOW TO GET THERE
Caerlaverock Nature Reserve
is nine miles south of Dumfries. There are regular buses from Dumfries to Caerlaverock.
FIND OUT MORE
Caerlaverock Castle Café
Caerlaverock Castle DG1 4RU
01387 770 244
The excellent visitor centre at Caerlaverock Castle has a café, which serves an excellent array of food and drinks. The café is only open Friday-Sunday between November and March.
The Nith Hotel
Glencaple DG1 4RE
Positioned on the banks of
the River Nith just four miles
from the reserve, the Nith
Hotel provides lovely accommodation, excellent
food (much of it locally sourced)
and some beautiful views of
the Galloway countryside.
Burns Street, Dumfries DG1 2PS
Dumfries is a bustling town
with plenty of visitor attractions, including Robert Burns House. Burns lived the last few years of
his life in this building, which has been restored into a fine museum.
OS Landranger Map 84
Grid ref: NY 019 653.
Distance: 3¼ miles (6km).