Kerr and I arrived at Caerlaverock Nature Reserve mid afternoon. We’d chosen the perfect day for our camping weekend; the sky was cloudless and the breeze off the water blew the scent of salt across the grass. We began our walk in the forest, following the trail as it weaved through the trees. A trickling stream criss-crossed beneath us, water glistening as it caught the sun. The path was dappled with patches of light that shifted as the breeze stirred the trees.
Soon we emerged into the open. Despite the breeze, the sun was strong and before long we’d both abandoned our jackets. A Red Admiral butterfly fluttered from reed to reed, buffeted by the breeze. As it rested on a patch of undisturbed grass I managed to snatch a few shots before it took to the air again, soon getting lost in the swaying grass.
We followed the track on until grassland dissolved into farmland. Cows gazed at us quizzically as we passed, large eyes blinking. Before long we reached the end of the first field, where the only route to the next was crossing the stream over a felled tree. Balance is not my strength, but with Kerr’s help I reached the other side without getting soggy.
The obstacles weren’t all behind us though. I wouldn’t say I have a phobia of cows, but I certainly make an effort to avoid sharing a field with them, something I inherited from my mother. So when we emerged from the tree bridge and saw a herd forty-strong, I was a little apprehensive about going any further. Not only were they everywhere, they were also the friskiest cows I’d ever met. When they spied us, they broke into a run and spread out, covering our path to the gate. We were just contemplating the best course of action when they turned tail and retreated quickly back to the far end of the field. I knew my choices were to face these herbivorous, harmless creatures head-on or stumble back across the tree and find a new way round. Seizing the day, I gripped Kerr’s hand and we made our way slowly but surely across the field.
We were two thirds of the way across when I snuck a glimpse to the side and, to my horror, saw the entire herd stampeding right for us. The inevitable terror set in and I dragged Kerr towards the gate. He was telling me not to panic as I launched myself at the gate, wading through sticky mud in my haste. We’d just dropped down on the other side when the first cows reached us. I locked gazes with them, and for a moment they were cute and endearing again. Suddenly they took off again, galloping after each other like horses at the Grand National. I’d never seen such energetic cows in my life.
After all the drama, I was glad to be back on a tranquil, cow-free track up to Caerlaverock Castle. Two rabbits popped up out of the long grass, standing tall. Too tall in fact. I lifted my binoculars and saw that our rabbits were in fact hares, and my suspicions were confirmed when they pelted at the speed of lightning into the next field. They were small though, perhaps leverets exploring their new surroundings. I’d only seen a handful of hares before so it was a great sighting.
Leaving the hares behind, we headed past the castle and back to the car, where I’d foolishly left my cream soda Barr to boil. We left Caerlaverock behind and made our way to our camping spot. Buildings gave way to trees and before long the only sound was the radio. Once we were parked up, Kerr was determined to carry all our kit down to the site on a single trip, so I made the descent down the marshy hill with some trepidation. With my gaze fixed firmly on my feet, I almost didn’t notice just how incredible the spot was. From my vantage point on the hill, I gazed down at a flat clearing perfectly sized for a tent and campfire. The site was in a fishbowl, trees curled around it on all sides and a gurgling stream providing the perfect moat.
After hopping across the stream and setting down our kit, I congratulated Kerr on finding the perfect hideaway for a weekend’s camp. The flies and midges soon made their introductions, so before anything else we spritzed each other with repellent in the vain hope they’d keep their distance. First up was the tent, and in no time it was pegged in place overlooking the west side of the forest. The sun was beginning to set, transforming the woodland into a pinstripe suit of dark shadows and bleached highlights. A buzzard shrieked overhead, and I peered upwards just in time to see it appear in a suspiciously Batman-shaped break in the trees.
Soon Kerr had a magnificent fire going, and the sound of cracking wood was added to the hushed forest soundscape. Dinner was gnocci with chorizo – fried by yours truly on our fire – and with full bellies we sat back and relaxed, watching the flames flicker. A tawny owl hooted in the distance, and once the sun had finally sunk below the hills the first pipistrelles appeared. I’d been worried I’d feel the cold, but huddled by the fire I couldn’t have been cosier. Watching the flames for so long soon made me drowsy. We cleared up the dinner things and waited for the fire to fizzle into smoke and crisped kindling, before retreating into the tent for an early night.
I woke to the soft patter of rain on the tent. After such a beautiful day yesterday, it seemed we wouldn’t be so lucky today. We’d planned on cooking bacon and eggs for breakfast, but the darkening sky didn’t look promising so we decided to hit the road a little earlier. Once everything was packed up we headed back up the hill, which was getting slippy with the rain. We had just made it back to the car when the heavens opened. On the drive back home, the rain lashed on the windscreen and the sun was nowhere to be seen. We couldn’t believe our luck.