Balloch o'Dee campsite

In a nutshell

Where:

Balloch o’ Dee, 6 miles west of Newton Stewart, Dumfries and Galloway.  Web:  www.ballochodee.com Tel: 07967 666 908

Cost:

Tents £10/night.  Campervans £12/night.  Adults £2.50/night.  Children and dogs free.  Bothy £45/night.  Roundhouse £40/night.

Facilities:

Fairly basic (in a good way).  Undulating site, short grass.  Lots of fire pits dotted around the site (wood for sale on site).  Attractive modern toilet block (unisex).  Bothy and Roundhouse for hire.  Bushcraft walks.  No mobile phone reception.

What I liked:

Positive encouragement to have campfires.  Informal site (too informal, in fact!).  Galloway Dark Sky Park (lots of stars). Welcoming owners.  Lots of fluffy, baby farm animals on site (ponies, puppies, rabbits, turkeys, hens).  Hippy toilet block.

Not so wild about:

Limited camper information (no reception, no signs, no visitor information).  Kind of scruffy.  It’s a longer journey than you think.


Review:

I’d heard lots of recommendations about this site but hadn’t had a chance to visit until last weekend.  It’s relatively new, with the owners operating the site since 2010 but it’s clear that it’s quickly built a reputation as a laid-back and informal site.  The main draw for me was that campfires are positively encouraged; there are fire pits dotted all around the site.  I was slightly sceptical reading the website which mentioned that campers sometimes sit around the campfire singing songs.  But yes, on this occasion we were ‘treated’ to not one but two singing guitarists that evening …

Now I wouldn’t confess to knowing Dumfries and Galloway particularly well and have only made infrequent trips over the years for work.  But one thing you should know is that it’s a big region.  I underestimated the time it would take – a good two hours cross-country along some fairly tortuous roads from the M74 south of Abington and a full 2.75 hours back along the A75 via Dumfries to Glasgow.  Now this might be fine if you’re planning on staying for a few days but for a ‘quick’ overnighter I hadn’t banked on the length of the journey.  That said, the site is in a very peaceful rural location with great views of surrounding hills from the site and the access lane from the A75.

The other thing I hadn’t expected was how popular the site would be.  While this was an English bank holiday most visitors appeared to be Scottish, with several large groups.  We got there fairly late and managed to secure about the last free firepit.  But for perhaps 80 to 100 campers that night I have to say that everyone was queueing for the two toilets and showers in the small (but very attractive) toilet block.  If you’re looking for a quiet stay, my advice would be to avoid the busy weekends.

This site is definitely quirky.  From the hippyish toilet block (lit with tea lights and sparkly LEDs at night) to the farm animals (rabbits, ponies, turkeys, puppies) freely milling around it’s certainly different from other sites I’ve been at.

But while this informal, chilled-out approach was endearing for a while I soon realised that this is actually the biggest issue with the campsite.  We couldn’t find anyone to speak to when we arrived (no campsite office), so just found a pitch ourselves.  Someone else asked me where they should put their rubbish (I had no idea since no one told me either), and the only two signs on the whole site are the one at the front gate (see below) and one asking campers to wash their hands after handling the animals.  With no campsite office, no means of informing visitors about places to go or things to do nearby, and no regard for health and safety (think firepits and a shoogly trampoline) the initial appeal of the site’s informality soon formed an impression of a slightly unprofessional approach.  Hobby campsites might have survived in the past but I’m afraid the world has moved on and expectations have increased.  It wouldn’t take much to introduce a more professional approach; I hope the owners do this soon.

My other issue with the site is that it’s … well, quite scruffy.  It is a farm after all and therefore you wouldn’t expect a tidily manicured site, but with free range hens in and around the toilet block and public areas I felt there could have been a little more regard for hygiene.  The slighly bizarre ‘Ranch House’ (see photo below) seemed to double as the hen house as far as I could gather.  I think it is probably intended as a wet weather shelter but I for one wouldn’t fancy spending my day in among the hen droppings ..!  I guess what I’m saying here is that the owners could usefully clean up the site’s public areas, put the hens behind a fence and perhaps convert one of the (unused?) outbuildings into a wet weather cooking area and/or reception.

That said we enjoyed a great campfire (I think most firepits were in use that night) and loved looking up at the stars.  This is one of the few places in the UK devoid of major settlements and light pollution is extremely low.  Galloway Dark Sky Park is gaining popularity (there is an observatory nearby) and for me this is a major draw for coming to a site like this.

So all in all we enjoyed our stay.  The animals were a big hit with my 9 year-old son and the campfire and stars the highlight for me.  It’s kind of quirky and I think most people seem to like this but it would be even better if the owners made the transition from having a lifestyle business to running a tourism business.

Balloch o'Dee campsite

 

Balloch o'Dee campsite

 

Balloch o'Dee campsite

 

Balloch o'Dee campsite

 

Balloch o'Dee campsite

Further reading:

Top 10 campsites in Scotland that allow campfires

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

9 Comments on “Campsite Review: Balloch O’Dee, Dumfries & Galloway

  1. Having recently completed a photo trip to Dumfries and Galloway which if you are interested can read about here http://bit.ly/1o1uzT5 I can highly recommend this wonderful area of Scotland. Pity I didn’t know about this campsite before my trip because it looks a great spot although some of the points mentioned make it less desirable. Still seeing as one of my sites was £23 per night it maybe worth a try on a future trip.

    • Thanks for the link to the report of your photo trip. Although my own trip was a flying visit I should take a bit more time to explore next time (it’s a big region !). Your photos are wonderful – I think you really managed to capture the character of Dumfries and Galloway with its big landscapes and skies.

      • Thanks for taking the time to take a look at the photo trip review and pleased you enjoyed it. Yes certainly worth a revisit as there is lots still to see.

  2. Hi
    I’m glad you enjoyed your stay with us at Balloch O Dee and thanks also for the feedback and suggestions.

    What we have tried to do at Balloch O Dee is to set-up the type of campsite that we would like to stay on – which is a relaxed simple site where we can have a fire, a hot shower and a clean toilet.

    It is a farm as you point out, and we made the decision to keep the hens and ponies ‘free range’ because that was the best environment for them and at the same time our kids told us that it would be so much nicer for the campers children to be able to interact properly with the animals, and we agreed.Of course this does mean that there is some hen and horse poop about the farm which we endeavor to clear up wherever possible. Personally, i think its a price worth paying to see animals in their more natural environment rather than behind a fence.

    The lack of signs thing i have to say is entirely down to me. I hate signs everywhere. i hate being told where to go and what to do (even if its for my own good!) i like to explore, make mistakes and find out for myself. We don’t have an office as you point out, nor will we ever have an office, i don’t think we need one. Most people are greeted in the yard with a tour of everything and and explanation of whats where and useful tips on how to get the best from the site so perhaps you missed out on that which is a shame. Perhaps a little handout might be a good idea for busy times.

    You are absolutely right, the world has moved on, and sometimes i fear, not in the right direction. In a highly sanitised world riddled with health and safety rules and regulations i want Balloch O Dee to be a little escape from most of that nonsense! I cant imagine many safer places than Balloch O Dee!

    Do you really need me to tell you that if you put your hand in the campfire it will hurt? Do you really want me to only allow 1 child on the trampoline (as per H&S) at a time so your kids have to have a ticket and que up for ages? Perhaps some people do but that’s not what we would want or need as a family.

    We have put sand filled fire buckets by some of the fire pits and we have more people trip over these than we have ever had problems with the fires!!

    I am so pleased that you recognised that It is a lifestyle business to us and not a highly professional, slick tourist operation – that’s just how we want it and whilst i accept that this may not suit everyone, its the way we would always like it to remain. 🙂

    Thanks again for coming and we hope to see you again soon

    Me, Haze, the boys and the menagerie xx

    • Hi James,

      Thanks so much for commenting and providing your own perspective on the issues I raised. I absolutely respect your right to run the site the way you want to. I personally found the experience a little different to what I’d expected but as you say, many people clearly like it that way.

      There is of course a balance to be struck between rules-driven campsites and somewhere that is totally free rein. Clearly, most people adopt a sensible approach and accept their own responsibility but the point of some basic ‘rules’ is to protect you against legal action should the worst happen. (I do however share your dislike of strict rules and you may like my tongue-in-cheek post on this from last year: https://wildaboutscotland.com/2013/04/19/beware-the-curtain-twitchers/).

      If you don’t want an office, even a leaflet (as you suggest) or a notice board would inform campers about where to find things, what they can do in the local area and so on. It would also release you from ‘meet and greet’ duties. Just a suggestion.

      I’ve removed my comment about the lack of recycling facilities (even if I personally didn’t find any bins !).

      Thanks again for commenting and I hope your site goes from strength to strength.

  3. I realise this conversation was a couple of years ago but I want to say that I agree wholeheartedly with James, the owner.
    I came for the music weekend with just my dog and loved every minute. It was probably the windiest, wettest muddiest 2 days of the year but everyone pulled together and carried on, making the barn a magical place. The many children had a fantastic time and I think they will grow up with a far better store of experiences than those who don’t have such adventurous parents.
    I’ll be going back for sure.

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