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The Galloway Kite Trail – our guide to this excellent route in Southwestern Scotland

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The South of Scotland is a wonderful part of the UK, and we've previously published guides about both the Galloway Forest Park and the Southern Upland Way which have been very popular. But not many people realise that this part of the UK is one of the best places to spot Red Kites in the country.

Spotting a Red Kite is a dream for most birdwatchers, and to actually have the chance to see one in real life would be considered to be a very rare and special moment. In Scotland between 2001 and 2005, around 100 Red Kites were released into the wild at Bellymack Hill Farm, and the area around the farm has since been one of the best places in the UK to spot the birds. A useful trail called the Galloway Kite Trail outlines where to stop in the area for the best chance to spot a Kite, and includes a number of viewpoints which have been specially designed to give you the best chance of seeing them. We wanted to publish a guide about this trail for anyone planning to follow it in 2023, let's get into it:

Where does the Galloway Kite Trail start and end?

The trail is 24 miles in length and is typically followed anticlockwise around Loch Ken. You can start and finish from any point along the trail and it is quite flexible, but we find people tend to start at Barstobrick Visitors Centre and finish at the Mossdale Walk section. Cycling is typically the recommended way to follow the trail as the route is fairly flat, and there are cycle racks along the trail too, but walkers and families taking a gentle stroll are also welcome.

What sections are there to stop at?

The Galloway Kite Trail is a great route to cycle along, but it's mostly about setting aside enough time to stop at the 6 viewing areas along the route. The 6 areas are:

 

Barstobrick Visitors Centre & Neilson’s Monument

Bennan Viewpoint

Secret Cages

Parton Walk

Bellymack Hill Farm kite feeding station

Mossdale Walk

 

Each viewing area has its own unique features and is worthy of a separate section to go into more detail about why you might like to stop there, here is a breakdown of each viewing area:

Barstobrick Visitors Centre & Neilson’s Monument - 1.1km

Starting from the car park at the Barstobrick Visitor Centre (about 3 miles south of Laurieston), this walk from the visitors centre to the monument is great for panoramic views of the Galloway Kite Trail and is a great chance to spot Kites and other birds on the hillside. There have even been reports of golden eagles being spotted in this area, which is certainly worth bringing a pair of binoculars for. The monument itself is very interesting to visit and learn about as it dates from the Victorian era and is a monument dedicated to James Beaumont Neilson. He was the inventor of the hot blasting process used in smelting coal.
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Bennan Viewpoint

From the car park, the uphill circular walk here is 2.5km long. The viewpoint itself overlooks Loch Ken and is a great place to sit for views across the area, giving you a very good chance to spot some Kites. Bennan wood is alongside Loch Ken, and keeping an eye on this area is usually your best bet at spotting a Kite. Woodpeckers are often spotted from the viewpoint also, as well as red squirrels and roe deer. To get to the viewpoint you'll need to choose between the lower and less steep route (2.5km) or the shorter, steeper path (1km), it just depends on how much of a workout you're looking for!
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Secret Cages

The story on how the kites were first released in Galloway can be learned here at The Secret Cages, which sounds like the name of a Harry Potter movie or something. The reason for this name is that the location was kept secret to avoid crowds, with even the materials used to build the cages being dropped in by helicopter. The first kites were released here in 2001. It sounds odd but we actually find this area to be a little bit eerie for some reason, but it's also very interesting. The Secret Cages are located at the Bennan Viewpoint.
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Parton Walk & View Point - 4.8km circular walk

To reach this circular walk you'll need to park in the layby at Loch Ken Holiday Park. The entire circular walk is just under 5km, but the first viewpoint can be reached after about 1km. From this viewpoint, you'll see the wetlands to the South and the hills of the Rhinns of Kells to the Northwest. The next viewpoint is the Glenlaggan viewpoint which is a great area to spot Kites, and then you can walk back along the trail towards Parton Village which you can stop at if you wish (we love the small church here, pictured).
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Bellymack Hill Farm - Kite Feeding Station

If you're going to stop at one location along the Galloway Kite Trail, this is absolutely the place to do it - it's about a 50 minute drive from Dumfries, and you could just head directly here rather than going round the whole trail. Kite feeding takes place here every day at 2pm, allowing you to get about as up close and personal to these amazing birds as you'll ever get. Some purists prefer to spot Kites in the wild rather than at a feeding site like this, and we totally understand that. But we also think there is something really special about this experience. Learn more here - bellymackhillfarm.co.uk
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Mossdale Walk & Kite Sculpture - 2.5km circular walk

This trail starts from the car park near this great wooden sculpture of a red kite, created by local sculptor Peter Bowsher. The circular walk is lovely and will allow you to enjoy views of natural attractions such as Mossdale Loch, Old Bridge of Dee, and the Airie Hills. You can spot Kites just about anywhere on this trail, but probably your best chance to spot one is over any wooded area. You'll also almost certainly spot other birds like buzzards and hen harriers.
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What should you be aware of before heading along the Galloway Kite Trail?

As you can probably tell, this trail is probably best explored by bike, as there is no way you could really complete it in a day on foot while finding time to look out for Kites. It's doable on a push bike, but an electric bike could also be a good option. We also want to be clear that you could simply pick 1 or a few of the viewpoints listed above to head to rather than heading to all of them.
Hopefully, this guide has inspired you to follow this excellent route and to spot some Kites. We've also got guides about other cycle routes in Scotland, and routes in England like the Coast & Castles route, the Borders Abbey Way and the Exe Estuary Trail. We also have a guide about the very underrated Scottish Gallery Trail. Happy travels!

Finn is the editor of You Well and has been writing about travel, health, and more for over 10 years.

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