Last Sunday we packed up our rental car in Glasgow and set out for Galloway Forest Park, about two hours away. The park is supposed to be one of the best places in the UK to stargaze and we were excited to go.
The navigation system in our rented Ford Focus tended to send us on circuitous routes on rural roads. That was okay, because the scenery was gorgeous — green, green grass spotted with white sheep seemingly everywhere, dramatic dark clouds against a blue sky.
But it was a little unnerving because these rural roads were two-way streets, but they were so narrow that if another car approached in the opposite direction, either we or they would have to pull to the side of the road. Luckily, we’d be able to drive miles and miles before we saw another vehicle.
And many of these roads were unnamed. As in, the local residents refer to them as something, but there’s no official name on the books.
About halfway to the park, we came around a bend to a stunning panoramic view — a thick, green forest was on the left of the road, and to the right was a gently sloping field gave way to a small village about five miles in the distance. The dense forest featured green pine trees with perfectly zigzagged peaks, reminding me of a child’s drawing.
“I’m pulling over for a photo,” Mike said, and aimed the car to what looked like a grassy green shoulder. The long grass disguised the fact that it was a ditch. The soft earth gave out under the left front tire and it sunk in. The undercarriage was flush against the ground at a lopsided angle.
We tried to get it out. We tried and tried so much that tendrils of smoke flew up around the stuck tire and the grass against the tailpipe burned. I put it in first while Mike pushed. Nothing worked. In fact, the spinning, stuck tire seemed to dig in deeper with each attempt.
Luckily, we still had cell service. We called Budget Rental Car’s roadside assistance number, which was on the key chain. We called repeatedly over the course of four hours and talked to a different person each time, all kind and sympathetic and wanting to help, but the problem is we didn’t know where we were. According to our GPS, we were on an unnamed road.
About a quarter-mile back was a farm and I remembered seeing some signs, so we walked down there and took photos of a sign that read “Glenalla Farm” at the top of a long, unpaved driveway. So long that we couldn’t see a house or farm from the road. Close to that was a sign that said “Glenalla Forest” and another that read “Blair.”
We were out there with the car for about a half hour when a bicyclist came by. We flagged him down and asked if he knew the name of the road. He didn’t, despite being a local. He introduced himself as Paul and gave us his phone number in case our other options ran out.
While we were out there, five or six vehicles came upon us and stopped to ask if we were okay — a guy on a BMW motorcycle, some young guys wearing rugby clothing, a couple in a Land Rover with a big barking dog in the back who offered to hook up a leather dog leash and pull us out, and a few others. We were hesitant to take him up on his offer because if there was any damage to the rental car, we’d be screwed.
Mike managed to look up our map coordinates and gave them to roadside assistance, not realizing that it pegged us at a spot about 20 miles from where we actually were. We kept calling back with updates and they kept saying they were an hour away, 30 minutes away, five minutes away, but they never showed up.
The breeze blowing through the forest had the same light wooshing sound of a car approaching in the distance. We played the rural Scotland version of a game played in Philly. Instead of “Gunshots or firecrackers?” it was “The wind or a car?”
We ate the sandwiches we’d packed. We took a bunch of photos. We laughed at the absurdity of our situation. When it started to drizzle, I sat in the backseat of the car and applied mascara to pass the time.
All the while, we kept an eye on a spot in the distance where we could see a car if was approaching. We’ll never forget the scenery because we stared at it for so long.
But I knew we were going to be okay. We had cell service. The weather wasn’t bad. And we had each other. If I’d been out there alone, I’m sure I would’ve been terrified, although a woman stranded by herself might have yielded a more urgent search mission.
Still, it was so funny to be stuck like this. It gave me a deep reverence for Scotland, although it was perplexing.
Then, a local guy in a Ford Festiva stopped. He had a mini bobblehead on his dashboard that said, “Farmer Life” and offered to talk to roadside assistance for us.
We passed him the phone and he was able to tell the dispatcher specifically where we were, the best he could, despite admitting we were out in the middle of nowhere in a sea of unnamed roads. It seemed the dispatcher had a firmer, yet still uncertain, grasp on our general location and said the crew would be out soon.
The farmer, whose name was Leslie, seemed doubtful that they’d ever be able to find us, so he offered to pull us out himself if we could wait a half hour for him to return with a truck. We got stuck around 11:45 a.m. and it was about 3:30 p.m. at this point. We took him up on his offer.
Not long after, we heard the sound of a large vehicle approaching and a massive red farm tractor appeared. It was Leslie — he brought his tractor! He attached a rope and made the first attempt at pulling the car out, but it snapped right away. Next up: A sturdy chain. It did the trick.
We tried to offer him money, but he refused, saying he did his good deed for the day and waved as he drove off in his tractor. Mike called roadside assistance and cancelled it. Finally, we were on our way to the park!
Unfortunately, it was too overcast to see any stars, and we were a little too hyped up, anyway. We checked into the quaint, charming hotel called the Creebridge House in the village of Newton Stewart and settled in at the bar, sipping whiskey and local beers, chatting with the bartender about our predicament and rehashing it through laughter.
A few days later, as we prepared to leave Scotland for home, I asked Mike about his favorite part of the trip. Exploring the four castles we’d visited? Touring two whiskey distilleries? Walking the bustling streets of Glasgow and Edinburgh? Checking out some tiny, lovely villages as we traveled around the country?
“Getting stuck,” he said with a smile.