Dumfries and Galloway is an area of Scotland that borders England and yet it can often be overlooked by visitors. After just a week travelling around the area, I would recommend turning left at Gretna Green and exploring a beautiful part of the country. The road network is good, with the main A75 slicing through the region to the ferry terminals at Stranraer, so it doesn’t take long to drive from east to west.
Castles and Abbeys
The first stop on our journey was Threave Castle which we found enchanting. We loved its idyllic location and the short boat ride to reach it. There are other fine castles in Dumfries and Galloway which, unfortunately, we didn’t manage to see. We ran out of time to call in on the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch and Queensberry at their magnificent home, Drumlanrig. Likewise Caerlaverock Castle, which I had been keen to visit because of its unique triangular shape.
If you don’t see a road sign for a castle then you’re bound to see one for an abbey. We were bewitched by the romantic tale surrounding Sweetheart Abbey which was built in 1273 by Lady Devorgilla of Galloway as a memorial to her husband, Lord John Balliol. The grieving widow had his heart embalmed and placed in an ivory casket. When she died, her body and his heart were buried together. This shrine dedicated to love is well worth seeing. It’s situated in pretty New Abbey, with another attraction, the Corn Mill, at the other end of the village.
I’ve already written about Scotland’s own book town, Wigtown, which attracts visitors with its annual book festival. Likewise, Kirkcudbright was a favourite of ours: its art connections and kirkyard trail worthy of note. If you are on the west coast, spend an hour or two in the seaside town of Portpatrick: the pastel-coloured houses are a real treat.
You can’t come to Dumfries and Galloway without a stop in Dumfries itself. The connections to Robert Burns are numerous here. The Robert Burns Centre is a good place to start. From the town centre, cross one of the oldest bridges in Scotland, the Devorgilla Bridge over the river Nith. Admission to the centre is free and you will learn about Burns’ last years spent in Dumfries. Take a look at his house and then visit the very handsome mausoleum where he was eventually laid to rest at St Michael’s and South Parish Church.
Dumfries and Galloway is a region blessed with relatively mild weather, thanks to the Gulf Stream prevalent on this west coast. Tropical plants grow well here, hence there are gardens galore. En route to Knockinaam Lodge we paid a visit to Logan Botanic Garden which is an offshoot of the Royal Botanics in Edinburgh. We chose a beautiful day to visit and were rewarded with the most fabulous collection of exotic plants from Chile, Australia and New Zealand. I can recommend stopping for lunch here too: a delicious salad and sandwich menu plus some excellent cakes.
The picturesque inlets along the Solway Firth were well-known for smuggling. Soak up the history with a stop in Balcary Bay where you can look out over to Hestan Island, a hiding place for the contraband. Dougie and I stayed in the lovely Balcary Bay Hotel which also has a smuggling past. Read about our bracing walk along the headland, taking in the splendid views from the cliffs.
If you’re tempted to just take the coastal roads along the Solway Firth, Wigtown Bay and Luce Bay you will be rewarded with some beautiful scenery: castles, abbeys and standing stones pepper the route. But a large part of Dumfries and Galloway is actually forested and it’s worth venturing into the interior to explore it. The Forest of Galloway is one of the darkest places in Scotland and has therefore been named as the UK’s first Dark Sky Park.
We drove through the park in the daytime, however, so weren’t able to see an inky sky full of stars. We did stop at the Clatteringshaws Visitor Centre by the huge loch. There are a number of walks here but we chose a quick ten minute one to see Bruce’s Stone. Legend has it that Robert the Bruce rested here. Dougie looked at the image on the information board and decided to do the same.
Feeling adventurous, we also braved the Raiders’ Road Forest Drive. We paid £2 to drive along a ten mile stretch of road which meanders through the forest. It’s not tarmacked so it’s a bumpy ride in places but it was a great experience and, half way, you are rewarded with the sight of the Otter Pool. We didn’t see otters but it was a wonderful place to park up and feel at one with nature.
As we didn’t get the chance to see the stars in the Galloway Dark Sky, what better alternative than a visit to Crawick Multiverse. You may remember our visit to Northumberlandia; a landscape of the female form created by Charles Jencks in an area which had once been an open cast coal mine in the north east of England. Jencks has been busy again in another former mine. This time, working with landowner, the Duke of Buccleuch, he has carved out an incredible piece of art based on astrology and space. We climbed up and around the large mounds of Andromeda and the Milky Way and peered down onto the sun amphitheatre from one of the high viewing points. It’s a glorious place for children to run around, allowing their imagination to run wild too.
This really only touches on what there is on offer in Dumfries and Galloway. During our week we stayed in some wonderful hotels, ate superb food and saw the most unexpected beauty through the car window and on our walks When you drive through Scotland you will often see the words ‘Haste Ye Back’ as you leave a town or village. Never have such words meant so much to us – I think we need to take them up on this very soon.
Having worked with Visit Scotland before on a trip to Glasgow and Edinburgh, the team there were happy to provide Dougie and me with a media pass from their partner organisation, ASVA (Association of Scottish Visitor Attractions) to gain complimentary entry into a number of places on our trip, including Threave Castle, Sweetheart Abbey and Logan Botanic Gardens.
Linking to #MondayEscapes