Wild Routes

The Wild Goose Chase

The Wild Goose Chase


“The pursuit of something as unlikely to be caught as a Wild Goose – a foolish, fruitless or hopeless quest.” (Anon. 1592)


Don’t be put off by the title!  This itinerary provides a great opportunity to see all the species of geese that visit Dumfries & Galloway over the winter, linking seven wildlife attractions plus many different landscapes and habitats right across the region. 

The tour can be followed west to east or, as in the description below, from Caerlaverock, between Annan and Dumfries in the east, to Loch Ryan, north of Stranraer in the west.  It roughly follows the A75 corridor and links several other Wild Routes and Wild Places along the way for a total of about 130 miles – see map. 

It’s a chance to see and sample a huge amount of the landscape and wildlife of Dumfries & Galloway.  Our Wild Route provides information on other things to see and do plus places to stay in along the way.  So why not plan a short (or long) break in which to enjoy it to the full?

Wild Geese in Dumfries & Galloway

Each winter, between early October and April, some 50-60,000 geese migrate to Dumfries & Galloway to escape the freezing conditions of their northern breeding grounds.  Many others overwinter in other parts of the UK but Dumfries & Galloway is particularly attractive to geese – and other migrant species of ducks, swans and waders - because of its long coastal fringe, warmed by the Gulf Stream, and its wide inter-tidal zone which provides a variety of habitats and feeding areas.  This is in contrast to the snow capped mountains to the north and west. 

Six species of geese in particular visit the region in large numbers. Click on the links below for more information or download this ID guide and checklist.

  • Pink-footed geese – the most common species of grey geese in the region, found right along the Solway;
  • Greylag geese – another common species, usually found on the Solway but also on inland lochs and waterways;
  • Greenland white-fronted geese – particularly associated with sites in the centre of the region, on and around Loch Ken, but also around Luce Bay, in the west;
  • Barnacle geese - including the entire population of geese from the island of Svalbard (Norway) in the Arctic Circle;
  • Canada geese – flocks can be found in many parts of the region;
  • Pale-bellied brent geese – to be found in the west of the region on and around Loch Ryan.

The Itinerary

The tour starts at the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust Reserve of Caerlaverock, 12 miles west of Annan and 10 miles south of Dumfries, on the B725.   The reserve is a destination for a good day out at any time of year but comes into its own in winter when the area attracts thousands of migrant barnacle geese and whooper swans from the Arctic Circle as well as several species of duck and waders.  Feeding times at the new observatory provide a guaranteed spectacle but there are plenty of other hides and walks about the reserve for visitors to enjoy.  

From Caerlaverock head north to Dumfries to cross the River Nith and travel down the west bank of the estuary to the RSPB's Mersehead Reserve, between Kirkbean and Sandyhills on the A710.   This is one of the RSPB’s flagship reserves.  It includes comfortable facilities in the main visitor centre for viewing the birdlife of the merse plus a variety of walks around the site, with hides overlooking wetlands to the north and a 4km coastal path taking in a good family beach to the south.   The reserve is a particular draw in late autumn and through the winter when migrant barnacle geese and whooper swans arrive in their thousands.   

Away from the coast, on the southern edge of Castle Douglas, Carlingwark Loch is a large freshwater loch encompassed by a circular footpath with a wildlife viewing hide on the path known as Lover’s Walk on the east shore. The area is a Site of Special Scientific Interest for the range of plant and animal species which can be found in and around the loch, including mute swans, little and great crested grebe and various species of ducks, some of which are only present during winter months. 

Head out of Castle Douglas to the A75 and continue north on the A713 for just over a mile to the left turning for Glenlochar where, on the other side of the metal bridge, brown tourist signs point right to the RSPB's Ken-Dee Marshes Reserve.  Follow this narrow country lane for about 3.5 miles to the small car park near the entrance.  This linear reserve runs parallel with the southern end of Loch Ken and presents a number of opportunities for birdspotting, including a dedicated viewing platform for Greenland white-fronted geese which graze on the shores of the loch in winter.  There are two further hides overlooking wetland areas further north. 

A mile or so further west on the A75, on the western outskirts of Castle Douglas, is the National Trust for Scotland's Threave Castle Estate with a car park and visitor centre half a mile up an old farm track at Kelton Mains.  This wetland site, straddling the floodplain of the River Dee, offers a great variety of attractions at different times of the year around a mile and a half loop but in winter months it is a prime location for viewing Greenland white-fronted geese, swans, ducks and various species of waders. 

Further west, the next major centre for migrant geese is along the shores of Wigtown Bay Local Nature Reserve, managed by Dumfries & Galloway Council.  During the winter, the area is host to thousands of pink-footed, greylag and barnacle geese as well as pintail, shoveler and wigeon as species of duck plus waders such as curlew and oystercatchers. 

Climb up to the visitor centre in Wigtown Town Hall for the best views of the whole area or walk down to the harbour where a superbly situated bird hide offers views over the artificial wetland of Castle Field on one side and the Bladnoch Estuary on the other.   Four miles south of Wigtown, on the opposite side of the estuary, the RSPB’s new Crook of Baldoon Reserve, can be accessed along a potholed former farm track. 

Continue on the A75 to Castle Kennedy, about four miles east of Stranraer, where – until the end of October - Castle Kennedy Gardens offer another opportunity to view resident and migrant geese on, or grazing around the shores of, the two beautiful lochs.   

From Stranraer, head north on the A718, along the shore of Loch Ryan to Wig Bay, just below Kirkcolm. At the car park at the southern end of the bay a broad track heads out to the shingle spit known as ‘The Scar’. At high tide this is a great place to view pale-bellied brent geese plus wildfowl and wading birds such as wigeon, curlews, oystercatchers, turnstones and golden plover. 


Hutton Lodge

Situated on Cycle Route 7 and the Solway Heritage Trail just 1½ miles from the WWT Caerlaverock nature reserve, Hutton Lodge is a traditional red sandstone, detached residence offering 2 comfortable en-suite bedrooms. Our spacious garden is a wildlife sanctuary for many bird species. Garden plants have been specially chosen to attract birds, butterflies and insects throughout the year.

Tel: 01387 770216 / 07925 191 450

Castle Douglas

Isla Cottage, Springholm

Nestling in the village of Springholm, Isla Cottage, a 4 star B & B provides the perfect base to begin exploring Dumfries & Galloway’s varied wildlife.  Red Kites and much more can be seen from the two well appointed ensuite guest rooms.  Wonderful countryside views and a breakfast of locally sourced products make for a memorable stay.

Contact:  Caroline & Stewart McKean, Isla Cottage, Springholm, Castle Douglas DG7 3LP

Tel: 01556 650275 / Mob: 07974782145


The Waterhouse

The Waterhouse boasts three traditional properties: a handcrafted wooden eco lodge (the Waterhouse Lodge) which sleeps 4, an eco glamping style chalet/log cabin (the Boathouse) which sleeps 2, and Westwater Lodge which sleeps 4. Naturist optional in all 3 Lodges and gardens. 3 miles from the coast, it nestles in an acre and a half of densely planted cottage garden, a wildlife sanctuary teeming with bird species.

Tel: 01557 331266


Kirklauchline Cottage, Portpatrick

Kirklauchline Cottage, near Portpatrick, is the perfect place to get away from it all. A 150 year old Galloway crofter’s cottage beautifully appointed, comfortable and stylish. Set in a rural location with stunning sea views across to Ireland and the Mountains of Mourne. Sleeps 4 and pets are welcome.

Contact: David and Alison Smith

Tel: 07824 770968

Rickwood House

Portpatrick, midway between Corsewall  Point and the Mull of Galloway - an ideal base to explore the rugged coast of the Rhins Peninsula which abounds with seabirds.  Rickwood House is a family owned award- winning guest house with eco-friendly wood pellet heating.  Portpatrick Harbour is famed for its Black Guillemots

Tel: 01776 810270

Knockinaam Lodge

Sitting in its own cove with lawns running down to the sea, this exceptional 1869 shooting lodge is nothing short of glorious: a Michelin Star in the dining room, 150 malts in the bar, 10 gorgeously appointed bedrooms and a level of service you rarely find in such far-flung corners of the realm.

Tel: 01776 810471


Barend Holiday Village

Escape to the peace and quiet of cosy, well-equipped, comfortable lodges, overlooking loch, forest or Solway.  Sandyhills beach, walks, riding and free fishing nearby.  Enjoy our dark skies and wildlife from the comfort of your own balcony.  Indoor heated pool, sauna, pet friendly bar, restaurant, wifi, boules courts, on-site.

Tel: 01387 780663


Sandyhills, Dumfries & Galloway, DG5 4NU

Mersehead Cottages

Within Mersehead Nature Reserve A pair of semi-detached holiday cottages, Barnacle and Shelduck, are open on the reserve for bookings throughout the year. Both have two bedrooms, kitchen, lounge/dining room, bathroom, open fires, and easy access to the reserve's nature trails and beaches.

Follow the links for more information:

Barnacle Cottage

Shelduck Cottage



Unusual Escapes

Set in 80 acres of meadow, woodland and ponds, Gorsebank is a haven for nature and wildlife.  Our Pods, Wigwams & Bothies  provide comfortable accommodation for all year round camping allowing you to get up close and personal with our wonderful natural world.  Our few horses and Herdwick sheep share the land with foxes, badgers and roe deer.  The occasional red squirrel visits us from the the forest and otters pass across our streams and ponds. We are open all year, and our location lets you explore both the coastline and hills of the wonderful Galloway countryside.

Tel: 01556 610174 / 07814 501214


Brora Lodge, Wigtown

Brora Lodge is a comfortable, modern, 4 Star Bed and Breakfast residence located in the historic town of Wigtown.  Feel at home in this luxury base to explore the many sights and attractions of the Galloway area such as Wigtown Bay, the UK's largest local nature reserve, the RSPB nature reserve at Crook of Baldoon or nearby Galloway Forest Park - home to the UK's first Dark Sky Park which hosts many wonderful scenic places to see and wander in splendid natural beauty.  You'll be pleased to know that we are in a Midge free zone!

Tel: 01988 402 577

Most of the locations in The Wild Goose Chase also feature in other Wild Routes which focus on smaller areas with a range of local attractions.  These include:

WWT Caerlaverock Reserve - see The Flooders Trail 

RSPB Mersehead Reserve - see Merse Magic

Wigtown Bay LNR / RSPB Crook of Baldoon - see Curlew Coast

Wig Bay, Loch Ryan - see From the Wig to the Mull



Look for local nature-based events and walks to enhance the enjoyment of your stay by clicking here.

Other Information

  • Public Transport

  • Visit the Stranraer to Ayr Line Supporters Association website for information about reaching the west of Dumfries and Galloway and special days out by rail.