Circular Forest Walk
Distance - 3km/2miles
Time – 1½ hours
Difficulty – Moderate
Surface – roadside pavement, minor road and beaten earth
Stout shoes or boots recommended
Parking: is available in the centre of Creetown by the Clock Tower.
Route: From the car park, turn right onto the main street then left at the signpost for Kirkmabreck Church. Follow the road uphill, around various bends, past the church to the start of the path through Balloch Wood. Turn left into the woodland at the entrance board and follow waymarkers for the Burnside Trail.
Immediately upon entering the wood you come to the Balloch Wood Stone Circle: seven granite slabs distinctively elevated off the ground on stainless steel pillars. Each stone has been inscribed with haiku poems written by local schoolchildren and local iconography to provide the visitor with thoughts for their walk through the wood.
Continuing past the Stone Circle the path initially follows the edge of the wood through a mixture of conifer and broadleaf woodland, including a stands of Italian Alders. On your left are excellent views over Creetown and the Cree estuary, with Kirkmabreck church prominent in the foreground. This church, built between 1831 and 1834 replaced two earlier churches in the area.
A fork in the path marks the outward and return legs of the loop - you may either turn up right into the larch trees along a woodland ride which provides easier access through the forest for the less able, or keep left alongside the dry stane dyke on your left hand side. Keeping left, the path soon makes a sharp bend to the right as you approach the Balloch Burn, running through the steep sided gorge below. A pair of wooden slab and pillar chairs on the right hand side are the first of a set of hand crafted seats provided courtesy of Dumfries and Galloway Council Access Department for visitors along the length of the path network.
Beyond here the path starts to climb through the mixed woodland above the burn, the only section which has never been planted and therefore remains as nature intended, before descending into the gorge where a mass of woodrush, hanging ivy, ferns and mosses cling to the sedimentary Greywacke stone walls. Grey wagtails can sometimes be seen darting from boulder to boulder over the fast-flowing burn.
Also look out for the ‘Chalybeate’, or ‘Red Well’ appearing as a hole in the rock on the far side of the burn, its location indicated by an interpretation panel beside the path. The word Chalybeate refers to any water that contains iron salts and was often thought to have curative properties. The water from this well these days, however, is highly poisonous and not for drinking!
Slightly further along the path is a further interpretation panel about red squirrels and a feeding station. The endangered red squirrel thrives in woodlands like Balloch Wood, and its bushy tail can often be seen bounding from tree to tree. One of the best times to see squirrels is during the months of January and February when their courtship chases take place and the trees are without leaves making squirrels easy to spot!
Soon the path leaves the burn and begins to climb up to the right, with a dry stane dyke and a small stream on your left hand side as far as Cardoon Bridge, indicated by a wooden post at a gap in the wall. This point marks the meeting point of three paths, with the Pond Trail indicated by a wooden post over the Bridge, and a stone slab indicating both the Burnside Trail back the way you have come, and the Larch Trail returning back through the larch trees to your starting point.
Choosing to return via the Larch Trail, you descend among the tall, slim trunks of the Larch Trees and other, mainly coniferous, woodland. Here, away from the noise of the burn, the contrasting quiet is occasionally interrupted by the calls of birds such as great tits and coal tits.
This is a good area to spot red squirrels since larch are a particular favourite of theirs. Continue to follow the waymarkers back to the start of the loop before retracing your steps to the car park.