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The whole region is unspoiled and remote, quiet and authentic, and is often known as Scotland’s forgotten corner.
From its border with Ayrshire, Dumfries and Galloway climbs over the Lowther and Moffat hills and summits southern Scotland’s highest peak, Merrick, before tumbling into the Nith Estuary with its woodland and merse. It takes in former coal mining villages and moorland and spills onto one of Britain’s most dramatic coastlines – 200 miles of it. It dips to Scotland’s southernmost point, the Mull of Galloway, which rears up beyond a narrow neck of wave-sculpted land where waters collide in a kingfisher-blue melee. The whole region is unspoiled and remote, quiet and authentic, and is often known as Scotland’s forgotten corner.
For those who turn left at Gretna Green, leaving the throng heading north, it’s like being given the keys to the Secret Garden. It’s a land that might have been penned by a writer, where gorse glows gold atop rugged granite coves, trees are cast horizontal by the wind on clifftops that drop onto treacherous shifting sands, black cattle with wide white belts graze in gloriously unkempt meadows, and whitewashed fishing villages bask like paperchains beside cyan waters. Flowers are as vivid as the eye can imagine – explosions of pink fuschia and orange montbretia – and the hills are huge and remote with views over lochans, rivers and wooded valleys. It feels quiet, because this vast landscape (it’s almost 2,500 square miles) contains one of the country’s smallest unitary authorities: there are just 60 people per square mile.
The hub of the region is Dumfries – the ‘Queen of the South’ – famed for its connection with Robert Burns, who worked, wrote and drank in the town in his final years. Head west from here towards the Machars Peninsula, where empty moorland slopes down to beaches with rock pools and views to the Rhins, and you’ll find Wigtown, the National Book Town, with wizened streets lined with more than 20 independent bookshops. It’s on the same peninsula as Isle of Whithorn, one of Scotland’s earliest Christian centres. Eastwards along the Solway Firth AONB, Kirkcudbright is the official ‘Artists’ Town’. This honeycomb of colourful Georgian and Victorian facades on the Scottish Riviera ripples out from a busy natural harbour where fishing boats bring in scallops. It’s close to food town Castle Douglas. Inland from here there’s historical Annan, which has strong links with Robert the Bruce, and Moffat, with a lively cultural scene amid hills that have been dubbed the mini Highlands.
There are ten regional scenic areas in Dumfries and Galloway, including the Moffat and Langholm hills and the rocky Rhins coast around the pretty seaside town Stranraer where seabirds nestle. There are also the national scenic areas of the Nith Estuary, East Stewartry Coast and Fleet Valley. At the core of the region, in the Galloway Forest, is the UK and Europe’s first Dark Sky Park. The park lies in Scotland’s first biosphere – the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire UNESCO Biosphere, which meanders across burns, lochs, hills, bogs and rivers where species including red deer, wild goats and pine martens roam.
Dumfries and Galloway’s hills, castles and seas tell tales of drama and intrigue – of Prehistoric nomads, Viking settlers, early missionaries and bloody battles. Nowhere escapes a connection with a notable historic figure. To name but a few – in the 13th century, William Wallace chased the English army out through the Nith Valley. Robert the Bruce was descended from the Lords of Annandale, and John Paul Jones, the founder of the US Navy, was born on the Solway Coast in 1747. Pioneering female engineer Dorothée Pullinger designed The Galloway – “a car built by ladies for those of their own sex” – in the 1920s near Kirkcudbright, and Thomas Telford, who laid the foundations of the Industrial Revolution, was from Eskdale. You can see his first major Scottish bridge across the Dee at Tongland.
They say that the name Dumfries derives from the Viking “Fort of the thicket”, which translates into the Gaelic Dùn Phris. It was in the 8th century that the Vikings landed, eventually going on to settle, and without them, Dumfries and Galloway may have remained part of Northumbria.
Their tale recently told out in what has been described as “one of the most important UK archaeological finds of the century”, when a metal detectorist uncovered Viking treasures in a field close to Kirkcudbright in 2014. The Romans had set foot here before them – there’s stunning evidence of a complex of Roman forts at Glenlochar – and the Picts, Saxons and Danes are known to have made their way through. Earlier still, Prehistoric peoples left their mark in cup-and-ring carvings, standing stones and chambered cairns.
One of the region’s most fascinating tales is that of the early missionary St Ninian, who reputedly landed in Galloway at the end of the 4th century and established Whithorn on the Machars peninsula as an early Christian centre. The town is home to the Latinus stone – the earliest inscribed Christian monument in Scotland – and a 12th-century cathedral. In more recent history, Dumfries and Galloway played an important role in war work, going out on a limb to do the unexpected, such as described at war museum The Devil’s Porridge.
Dumfries and Galloway has an excellent road system that makes getting to even the remotest parts of the region easy by car or bike. The region is serviced by Stagecoach Buses, with MegaRider tickets available for easy travel around multiple towns. They also have a number of train stations connecting from Lockerbie.
Getting to Dumfries & Galloway
National Express offer services to Dumfries and Stranraer for those travelling from outside Scotland, with Stagecoach Bus options from Glasgow and Edinburgh. The nearest airport is Glasgow Prestwick and Glasgow International, between an hour and ninety minutes away. Dumfries & Galloway is also accessible by boat from Larne and Belfast and by train via Avanti West Coast.
When to go
For avoiding rain, the best time to visit the region is from June to September, which are usually the sunniest months. But, for those who can brave the cold – and want to celebrate the national bard – the region comes alive in January when it celebrates the Big Burns Supper to kick off the new year.
Where to stay
Dumfries & Galloway has a number of accommodation options, including hotels, self-catering and campsites. Coastline lovers should head for the rugged Rhinns of Galloway, while artistic types will love the artists’ haven of Kirkcudbright. For larger towns with more accommodation options, Castle Douglas and Dumfries are particularly popular.
Eating & drinking
With hundreds of miles of coastline available, you won’t be surprised that seafood is one of the region’s top delicacies – particularly scallops and lobster. It’s often served alongside locally reared, award-winning lamb and beef, as well as local farmhouse cheeses produced with local milk.
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