A Hidden Scotland Guide
With two of Scotland’s most notable sons having strong links with the area, it’s little surprise that Dumfries and Galloway oozes history. As the homeland of the legendary ‘Outlaw King’, Robert the Bruce, as well as the final resting place of National Bard Robert Burns, the region plays a key role in Scottish heritage.
Dumfries and Galloway can also claim Peter Pan author JM Barrie as a notable former resident, while there are numerous castles and sites for history buffs to enjoy too.
Built in the 13th century just south of Dumfries, Caerlaverock Castle paints a stunning picture across the south-west Scotland landscape. Its twin-towered gatehouse and wide moat make it a perfect example of a medieval stronghold and, as a result, also a popular filming location.
Overlooking the River Dee and only accessible by boat on its picturesque island, Threave Castle is located just outside of Castle Douglas. The fortress was built in 1369 by Archibald ‘the Grim’ and was later inhabited by Margaret, Lady of Galloway.
The remains of 12th century tower house, Dunskey Castle, sit just outside of Stranraer overlooking the Irish Sea. Despite being derelict since 1700 – having only had the building work completed 80 years previously – the ruins make for an incredibly picturesque spot perched on the rocky coastline.
Looming over Wigtown Bay, Cruggleton Castle is a fascinating example of an archaeological site which spans many periods in history. Excavations of the site in both the 1970s and 1980s showed Cruggleton Castle was first used in the first century, with evidence of use extending all the way to the 17th century.
A trip to Drumlanrig Castle offers far more than just a step back in time. While the stunning 17th century castle is itself a sight to behold, the 90,000-acre estate also provides opportunities for scenic walks, bike rides, mountain biking, fly fishing and game shooting. You can also wander round the castle, built by the Duke of Queensberry, and admire its impressive paintings and tapestries, including the Buccleuch Art Collection.
The site of the monastery where Robert the Bruce participated in the infamous murder of John III Comyn, Lord of Badenoch, the Category A listed building can be found in the heart of Dumfries. Although the present Greyfriars Church was rebuilt in 1868, the nearby Friars Vennel pays homage to the original friary.
Found near Eskdalemuir, Girdle Stanes and Loupin Stanes are linked by a line of stones, which are thought to be the remains of an avenue connecting the two sites. Girdle Stanes today had just 26 of the original 40 to 45 stones, with the others washed away by the River Esk, so the circle is now incomplete, while Loupin Stanes has just 12 stones forming an oval shape.
Located just to the north of Dumfries, the Twelve Apostles stone circle is the largest on mainland Scotland. Not quite a true circle and comprising 11 stones rather than the 12 the name would suggest, it’s an intriguing place to visit and wonder as to its origins.
The ruins of the 12th century Cistercian Abbey can be found to the south of Castle Douglas. The Abbey was where Mary Queen of Scots spent her last hours in Scotland back in 1568 following the Battle of Langside and was home to a community of Cistercian monks for more than 400 years.
Found to the south of Dumfries, the Abbey of Dulce Cor – or Sweetheart Abbey as it is better known – was a 13th century Cistercian monastery and remarkably retains much of its original features and structure. A stone effigy of Lady Dervorguilla, who founded the abbey, can still be seen, albeit a 16th century copy of the original destroyed during the Protestant Reformation.
Dating back to the mid-1400s, Orchardton Tower is a unique sight in Scotland. The unusual free-standing round tower can be found south of Castle Douglas and is such a rare example as it was built by first inhabitant, John Cairns, more than 200 years after the round tower went out of fashion, being replaced by square towers.
Two cairns sit atop a hill offering impressive views across Wigtown Bay, where they have been surveying the landscape since 4th millennium BC. The tombs are known as Clyde Cairns, said to be characteristic tombs of this part of Scotland. Cairn Holy II is also believed to be the tomb of mythical Scottish king Galdus.
One of Scotland’s earliest Christian sites, many still flock here to follow in the footsteps of the legendary St Ninian. The priory was built in the 1100s and while today not much is left standing, you can still visit St Ninian’s shrine – the route taken by medieval pilgrims.
Garlieston Mulberry Harbour played an important role in the preparation for the D-Day invasion during World War II, as it was one of three sites used to test prototype harbours to be used in Normandy. Garlieston, while remote, also offered similar tidal conditions to that of Normandy, making it an ideal test site. Today, a monument remains in the form of surviving elements of the prototype harbour, including seven floating pontoons and a stone and concrete plinth.
Within the grounds of Parton Parish Church, the Old Kirk can be found – the final resting place of James Clerk Maxwell, his wife and parents. Maxwell was a prominent mathematical physicist, famed for developing formulae governing electricity and magnetism. He also developed the idea of the Maxwell distribution in the kinetic theory of gases.
Found between Dumfries and Gretna, Dino Park at Hetland guarantees kids a roaring time at this adventure wonderland. With soft play for little ones to burn off some energy, velociraptors, triceratops and the notorious t-rex to get up close to, and a Dino Den and Dino Mine to explore, youngsters will be occupied for hours on end.
Great fun for the whole family, Dumfries Museum and Camera Obscura can be found in the heart of Dumfries. Set in an 18th century windmill, the museum itself is packed full of local history for young and old to enjoy, while it also boasts the world’s oldest working Camera Obscura, offering a 360 panorama of the surrounding landscape.
Located just south of Dumfries, Mabie Farm Park offers a wonderful array of outdoor fun and adventure for all ages. Little ones will enjoy the menagerie of animals, including goats, donkeys, alpacas, rabbits and guinea pigs, as well as the play barn, while older explorers can let loose on trampolines, go karts, quad bikes and a whole range of other activities too.
To the north of Dumfries, Dalscone Farm Fun is a must when on family holidays in Scotland. Kids will love meeting the meerkats, llamas, donkeys and plenty more furry friends. There are also great activities to enjoy, from the indoor soft play with an area dedicated for toddlers, a pedal car circuit, climbing frame, slides and ball cannon, to the outdoor activities including crazy golf, go karts, bumper boats, a play fort and trampolines.
Situated along the River Nith in Dumfries, Moat Brae is a fantastic place to take youngsters during family holidays in Dumfries and Galloway. Set within the very house which inspired JM Barrie to write Peter Pan and create Neverland, children can explore the house and gardens and the magic set within.
Located on the banks of the beautiful Loch Ken, Galloway Activity Centre boats a fantastic array of outdoor adventures to get to grips with. On the water, you can have a go at sailing, kayaking, windsurfing, stand up paddleboarding or take on the wobbly water park, while back on dry land there’s laser tag, climbing, archery and mountain biking to set pulses racing.
The Lowlands version of the infamous Highland Games, the New Galloway Scottish Alternative Games are held in August and competitors can take part in the Gird n’ Cleek World Championships, archery, tractor pulling or tossing the sheaf.
The 18th century market town is packed (or should we say ‘jam-packed’…) with delicious local produce to sample. With bread and cheese to preserves, fish and meat, there’s plenty to set every foodie’s mouth watering. There is also a fantastic range of restaurants and cafes to work your way around too.
In close proximity to both Wigtown and Castle Douglas, Cream o’ Galloway is deserving of a sport at the top of any hitlist for family holidays in Dumfries and Galloway. More than just a working dairy farm, it boasts a highly acclaimed ice-cream parlour, with plenty of quirky flavours to sample. We all love chocolate and vanilla, but how about banoffee, gooseberry and elderflower or whisky, honey and oatmeal. Well, there’s only one way to find out! Then you can work off the sweet treats with a round of crazy golf, farmer-led tour, or nature trail walk.
As one of the UK’s tallest waterfalls, it’s easy to see why Grey Mare’s Tail is a captivating place to enjoy a bit of time in the great outdoors. Found just outside of Moffat, the nature reserve provides breath-taking views, not just of the plunging falls but also the native ospreys, goats and peregrine falcons. Ranger-led walks are also available.
Found within the spectacular Galloway Forest Park, Otter Pool is one of the most popular attractions in south-west Scotland and it’s easy to see why. Along the route of the 10-mile Raiders’ Road forest drive, the series of shallow pools located where the neighbouring Blackwater of Dee widens out, provide a beautiful and tranquil spot to enjoy a picnic or simply while away some time drinking in the views.
A 10-mile route through the stunning Galloway Forest Park, Raiders’ Road forest drive is a wonderful way to see some of Dumfries and Galloway’s most breath-taking natural sights. The road itself can be a little bumpy but take it steady and it will be well worth it. The route passes the mesmerising Otter Pool, as well as Stroan Loch and the start of Buzzard Trail.
One of the most prominent hills across Dumfries and Galloway, providing stunning views across the surrounding landscape from its summit. It’s so prominent, in fact, that on a clear day it can even be seen from across the border in the Lake District.
The largest ancient wood in southern Scotland, Wood of Cree is located just to the west of Galloway Forest Park, near Newton Stewart. Its spectacular bluebells come alive in spring, while it’s also a wonderful spot for birds, including willow tits, barn owls, tawny owls, warblers and pied flycatchers, plus eight types of bat.
The highest mountain in the Southern Uplands, casting an imposing shadow across the Range of the Awful Hand, Merrick stands at 2,766 feet, making it a must for keen walkers. While there aren’t really any rock climbing routes at Merrick, in the winter there are a few good ice climbing options. Head to Glen Trool car park – near Bruce’s Stone – for the shortest walking route to the summit.
Britain’s first coast to coast long-distance path, the Southern Upland Way connects Portpatrick in Dumfries and Galloway to Cockburnspath on Scotland’s east coast, across 214 miles of stunning scenery. Among the most challenging of Scotland’s Great Trails, it has the wonderful benefit of also offering smaller sections of route which is a lot more family-friendly too.
Nestled in the middle of Drumlanrig Castle, Morton Castle and Closeburn Castle, Crichope Linn is a real hidden gem in the heart of Dumfries and Galloway. The gorge and waterfall can be found by following a short path through woodland, along which you’ll pass red sandstone walls towering over either side of the gorge. Many inscriptions have been left here over the years – one supposedly even by Robert Burns.
To the west of Dumfries and Galloway, stretching 25 miles north to south are the Rhins. At the peninsula’s southernmost tip is the Mull of Galloway – the most southerly part of Scotland – while you’ll also find Portpatrick, Glenwhan Gardens and Glenluce Abbey.