Many visitors to Scotland arrive in Edinburgh or Glasgow and spend a few days in the Central Belt before travelling north to tourist destinations in the Highlands and Islands. Yet, if they took time to discover South Scotland they’d also find hills, lochs, glens, pretty towns and villages, unspoiled beaches, ancient ruins, delicious local food and drink, great places to stay and amazing dark skies.
We recently spent four days in Dumfries & Galloway following an itinerary arranged by Scotland Starts Here. This blog features the highlights. So, if you’re one of those visitors described above, read on to find out what you’ve been missing.
Discover South Scotland: Day 1, Gatehouse of Fleet & Solway Coast
The first stop on our Scotland Starts Here – discover South Scotland itinerary was Mossyard Beach on the Solway Coast.
Mossyard is a lovely beach with lots of rock pools to explore. As soon as we set foot on the sand the boy set off like a hare to run round in circles.
Once he’d burned off some energy, he cooled his paws with a paddle then joined me by the rock pools where I was trying (and failing) to prise a limpet from a rock. Limpets are the super glue of the natural world.
Gatehouse of Fleet
After leaving the beach we visited the nearby town of Gatehouse of Fleet for a wander. Gatehouse of fleet is a lovely town with white painted houses, independent shops and an old watermill. It’s also a UNESCO Biosphere Community, which means the locals are committed to conserving the town’s natural resources and promoting its cultural heritage.
Our accommodation: Laggan Seaview Snugs
Our home for the night was on a working farm with holiday accommodation located a stone’s throw away from Gatehouse of Fleet. Laggan has a wedding venue (GG’s Yard), restaurant (Gather) and self-catering accommodation consisting of cottages and snugs. There are two types of snug – woodland and hillside. Both have sea views and all are individually styled.
Ours was a hillside snug called Hillside Hideout. The Scandi-style interior was modern and comfortable. There was a vestibule and an en suite living/sleeping area with a bed, fridge, armchairs for gazing out to sea and an outside terrace with patio furniture.
It was the perfect relaxation pad.
Dinner: Masonic Arms, Gatehouse of Fleet
After resting for a while, we returned to Gatehouse of Fleet for dinner at the Masonic Arms.
The 18th century inn looked cosy and inviting from the outside.
And it was. Our table was next to a roaring fire, much to the delight of the boy. After ordering soft drinks, we turned our attention to the menu.
I started with a tofu, olive and quinoa salad and Mr G had soup. Both were tasty.
For my main course, I had beef madras. The beef was tender and the sauce hot, but not burny. Mr G had fish and chips. Both dishes were lovely.
We finished with Ecclefechan butter tart (for me) and blueberry and banana cake (for Mr G). Mr G won the battle of the puddings – his was really light. Mine was filling and left me feeling like I was going to burst.
Snug in our snug at Laggan
Back at Hillside Hideout we slipped our PJs on, poured a wine and beer, settled in the armchairs and asked the smart speaker to play us some tunes. And there we sat chatting, watching lights twinkling on the Solway coastline and listening to music.
Discover South Scotland: Day 2, Gatehouse of Fleet – Wigtown
Breakfast: Gather at Laggan
We woke the next morning to sunshine. It was time to leave our snug, but we’d be lingering at Laggan a little longer to eat breakfast at Gather.
With its achingly cool interior, Gather is an Instagrammer’s dream.
However, the outside terrace (where dogs are allowed) was my kind of hangout. The seats are heated and the view gorgeous. By the time our breakfast order of hot filled rolls, coffee and orange juice arrived, I was wearing a tee-shirt and sunglasses. Breakfast was excellent, and being able to eat it outside in early March without freezing was an unexpected bonus.
Cairn Holy Neolithic burial site
We reluctantly left the toasty seats and view behind to visit our first itinerary stop of the day.
Cairn Holy chambered cairns are a pair of Neolithic burial cairns located on a hill overlooking Wigtown Bay. There’s something really magical about the ancient monuments, which local legend says mark the grave of a mythical warrior king known as Galdus.
The cairns may well have held the remains of a brave warrior in real life, but we’ll never know – and that’s half the charm.
Gem Rock Museum, Creetown
I wasn’t sure what I’d make of our next itinerary stop, but it was an absolute gem (quite literally). Creetown Gem Rock Museum houses a vast collection of crystals, rocks, fossils and meteorites from around the world.
I was drawn to the pretty coloured stones like a magpie to shiny things. They were all the colours of the rainbow and natural too. We live on such an amazing planet.
The thing I loved most though was the crystal cave – a walk through replica cave filled with huge crystals. Some even glowed in the dark.
The museum isn’t dog friendly, so Mr G and I took it in turns to visit – Mr G reluctantly. Like me, he ended up loving the museum, especially the crystal cave, which he described as having serious Superman vibes.
We left Creetown with a pocket full of kryptonite (joking) and headed to Wigtown on the Machars Peninsula.
Lunch: Cobwebs, Wigtown
Wigtown is Scotland’s National Book Town, and books would come, but first food.
Cobwebs is a family-run cafe that’s extremely dog friendly. The boy was presented with a plate of fresh chicken and biscuits during our visit. He devoured every last morsel in the blink of an eye.
The human food at Cobwebs was equally well received. I had chicken strips in peppercorn sauce with chips and Mr G had a soup and sandwich combo.
A tour of Scotland’s National Book Town
After lunch we met local resident Renita Boyle for a bookshop tour. Renita is Wigtown’s resident storyteller (what a job) and a published author too. From the minute we met, it felt like we’d known her for years. Renita introduced us to so many lovely, talented people who all shared a common passion – books.
The boy loved Foggie Toddle Books and took a real shine to owner Jayne. Foggie Toddle is Wigtown’s childrens’ bookshop. That didn’t stop me from buying a colourful book bag, featuring Wigtown bookshops and one of Renita’s childrens’ books.
The boy was also keen to visit The Bookshop which is Scotland’s largest second-hand bookshop. It was a no go though as it’s guarded by Captain, the territorial bookshop cat. Captain features on the cover of owner Shaun’s best-selling books about his life as a bookseller.
Luckily, there were no hostile cats in The Old Bank Bookshop. We spent ages there chatting to owner Joyce. I bought a couple of books too. Well a girl’s gotta fill a book bag when she buys one.
After leaving The Old Bank Bookshop we popped into ReadingLasses for coffee and cake. The popular coffee shop also sells books by female writers. If you visit Wigtown, ReadingLasses is a MUST. Their cakes are amazing.
Our accommodation: Hillcrest House, Wigtown
We said goodbye to Renita outside ReadingLasses and headed to our accommodation to check-in. Hillcrest House is a large Victorian villa surrounded by a mature garden. Owners Andy and Nic made us feel welcome from the second we set foot over the threshold.
The B&B has six guest rooms, which are named after literary figures. We stayed in Barrie, a spacious sea view room with a cheery yellow colour scheme.
Before getting ready for dinner, I lay on the bed watching the warm orange hues of golden hour creeping across the landscape.
Dinner: The Pheasant, Sorbie
After a busy day we were looking forward to sitting down to dinner at The Pheasant in the neighbouring village of Sorbie. The award-winning restaurant serves authentic Italian food and it’s dog friendly too. We’ve spent many happy holidays in Italy and love Italian food.
We received a warm welcome on arrival and were shown to our table and given menus. The restaurant had a nice mellow vibe. There were several starters, mains and desserts on the menu. It was quality over quantity, which made choosing easy.
We both started with tagliollni al salami (handmade pasta, with pan cooked Napoli salami, black olives and passata). It was delicious.
For my main course I had pollo alla senape e salvia (pan cooked chicken breast in a mustard and sage sauce, served with diced roasted potatoes and salad). It was equally delicious. Mr G had tagliatelle al salmone (homemade pasta with smoked salmon, courgette and cherry tomatoes, pan cooked with a touch of cream). His empty plate stood testament to how much he enjoyed the dish.
Having eaten our body weight in cake earlier, we skipped pudding.
We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to The Pheasant. It was great finding authentic Italian cooking in a wee Scottish village.
Discover South Scotland: Day 3 Wigtown – Isle of Whithorn
Our third day in D&G dawned with more sunshine. We’d slept like logs and now we were ready for breakfast.
Breakfast was served in a nice sunny room overlooking the garden.
We both had porridge with a dollop of local honey to start, followed by a pot of coffee, fresh orange juice, a bacon butty (for me) and smoked salmon and scrambled eggs (for Mr G).
Now we were ready to spend another day exploring the Machars Peninsula.
Sorbie Tower, the ancestral seat of clan Hannay
Our first stop was Sorbie Tower just outside the village of the same name. The 16th century fortified tower is the ancestral seat of Clan Hannay. You can’t visit the inside of the tower as restoration work is being carried out. The outside is fairly well-preserved, so it’s worth visiting for that alone. Next to Sorbie Tower is an odd grassy mound. It’s all that remains of the first castle to stand, which was a 12th century motte. The man-made earthen mound, would originally have had a wooded fort on top of it.
A coastal Hike: Galloway House to Cruggleton Castle
Now it was time for our first hike of the trip. Our walk started at Galloway House, a large Georgian mansion surrounded by mature woodland and gardens.
We joined the waymarked trail from a car park which gives access to Galloway House’s grounds and the shore. The trail led us into woodland, past a walled garden and after a short while we reached a tree fringed bay. During WWII portable harbours were tested in the bay. They would later play an important role in the Normandy landings. You can still see the remains of one in the bay.
We skirted the bay, then followed the trail uphill through a twisted and gnarled wood that was teeming with crows.
We emerged from the wood on a clifftop path with a fabulous view. The last leg of the trail led us over farmland to our final destination – Cruggleton Castle. The 13th century castle stands on a site that was occupied from the Iron Age to the 17th century.
All that remains of Cruggleton Castle are a defensive ditch, some grass-covered stonework and a solitary arch from a vaulted cellar. The ruins sit precariously on the edge of a cliff with an unprotected drop. The views of the surrounding countryside are dramatic if not a little and hair raising.
We completed our hike by retracing our steps back to the car park.
Lunch: The harbour Inn, Garlieston
After our morning ramble we were ready for lunch. We had a table booked at The Harbour Inn in Garlieston – a pretty village located round a sheltered bay.
The Harbour Inn was hooching inside, which is always a good sign. We were seated at a table with a sea view and given menus. The boy was offered biscuits, which he gratefully accepted.
Mr G and I ordered tattie and leek soup with bread to start. It was lovely and followed by an equally love cheese and haggis panini and chilli chips, which we shared.
After lunch it was time to head further south.
St Ninian’s Chapel, Isle of Whithorn
Isle of Whithorn was our final itinerary stop on the Machars Peninsula. Despite the name, it’s not an island. It’s a Mainland village, but the location at the tip of the Machars Peninsula gives Isle of Whithorn a real island feel.
The village is home to a tiny medieval chapel which stands by the edge of the sea. St Ninian’s Chapel was a stop on an ancient pilgrimage route which took in a number of religious sites in the region. It dates to the 1100s but the surviving remains are from the 13th century.
On a sunny day when the sky and sea are blue and the wind is calm, it’s an incredibly tranquil spot. On a stormy day, it’s wild and exposed and a whole different experience.
Our Accommodation: The Steam Packet Inn, Isle of Whithorn
A stone’s throw from the chapel is The Steam Packet Inn – a favourite lunch spot of ours. We’d be spending the night there and having dinner too. The inn has been refurbished since our last visit, so we hardly recognised the place. It looked amazing.
Besides a public bar and restaurant, inn has seven guest rooms, six of which boast a harbour view. We were delighted to find our room was one of them. It was fresh and modern with a large window overlooking the harbour and an outside seating area.
There were armchairs too – perfect for people watching with an afternoon refreshment. And that’s exactly what we did. With wine and beer in hand, we watched people come and go below until the sun set and darkness fell.
Dinner: The Steam Packet Inn, Isle of Whithorn
It wasn’t just the decor that had gone upmarket, the menu had too. After ordering our starters and main courses we were brought canapes, followed by freshly baked rolls and butter. Both were delicious.
My starter was a home baked muffin, with smashed avocado, peppers, mushrooms and barigoulle sauce. I loved it. Mr G had seared local king scallops with celeriac puree, Stornoway black pudding, roast chorizo and parsnip crisp. He said it was superb.
For our main course we had butter poached halibut, wild cep risotto and smoked butter veloute. Only I had mine minus the halibut. The fish and non-fish versions of the dish were both full of flavour and incredibly tasty.
We finished with clootie dumpling served with custard and ice cream. The traditional Scottish pudding is always a big hit.
Full and content after a brilliant day, we toddled upstairs to bed and quickly fell asleep.
Discover South Scotland: Day 4, Isle of Whithorn – Kirkcudbright
After a breakfast of porridge, sausage butties, smoked salmon and scrambled eggs we left Isle of Whithorn and headed north to the Artists’ Town aka Kirkcudbright.
A Kirkcudbright Art Tour
Kirkcudbright is a beautiful harbour town that became a Mecca for artists after the First World War.
To find out more about the town’s artistic links past and present, we met up with Fiona from Kirkcudbright Art Tours.
Five minutes into our tour we met local artist Stewart Morrison. He was working on a painting of a cottage bathed in dappled sunlight. It was fascinating hearing Stewart describe what his artist’s eye was translating onto canvas.
Broughton House and Garden
After leaving Stewart, our attention turned to a well-known artist from the past – EA Hornel. Hornel was part of a group of artists known as the Glasgow Boys. He lived and worked in Kirkcudbright for many years. His elegant Georgian townhouse Broughton House is now managed by the National Trust for Scotland.
Sarah from NTS very kindly gave Fiona and I a private tour of the house, while Mr G sat in the garden with the boy. What Sarah didn’t know about Hornel, wasn’t worth knowing. She was a mine of information.
On display inside Broughton House are a fine collection of Hornel’s exquisitely coloured paintings.
There was also a fantastic collection of works by Robert Burns on display too, which was an added bonus.
Our house tour ended in the garden which was a lush, green paradise. Living in such a beautiful place, it must have been easy to find inspiration to paint.
Back on the art trail
After leaving Broughton House our art tour continued. Fiona covered many more well-kent names including Peploe, Oppenheimer and Jessie M King. She pointed out the quaint houses they’d lived and worked in and the scenic spots they once painted.
Our final stop was The Birch Tree Gallery, where artist Joshua Miles was busy working on linocut prints. He took time out to explain how his intricate prints were created. His work was stunning and incredibly detailed.
Lunch: The Garrett, Kirkcudbright
After our enjoyable and informative art tour we visited The Garret Hotel with Fiona. The hotel was closed, but preparing to open under new management and we were given a sneak peek inside. The Garret has a bar, restaurant and large back garden, which looked like a great place to spend an hour or three on a sunny afternoon.
Although not open to the public yet, the chef had kindly made us lentil soup and cheese scones. OMG – they were deeeeeeeelicious.
We could happily have spent several more days in sunny D&G, but it was time to head home.
Our Scotland Starts Here – discover South Scotland itinerary had been fabulous from start to finish. We enjoyed every second of the trip. I hope you’ve also enjoyed this virtual tour. Maybe it’ll inspire you to discover South Scotland for yourself.
Our accommodation, food and experiences were provided by Scotland Starts Here, however all opinions are my own.
Until next time …