Dumfries and Galloway

Dumfries and Galloway is home to some of the most glorious scenery of the Scottish Lowlands, scenery which for this particular Scot, even after all these years, can still fill me to bursting every time I see it. 

Donald Greig, co-author of Slow Travel Dumfries and Galloway

A first visit to Scotland’s southwest corner is a trip of discovery. It sounds clichéd, but time and again visitors who have come to our home in Moffat have expressed their astonishment and delight at what they have found. ‘We never knew this was here’ is the general view after we have shown them the area.

The hills and moors of the Southern Uplands combined with over 200 miles of coastline make this an ideal holiday spot, especially for anyone who loves the outdoors and wildlife. The Southern Upland Way crosses the region and brings peace and isolation for walkers, while the Colvend coast and the beaches of the Machars and Rhins are ideal family holiday territory.

Watersports enthusiasts are catered for at Loch Ken, nature enthusiasts love the marine life and wild, open spaces, and bird lovers find sanctuary at the internationally important wetlands centre of WWT Caerlaverock. Photographers and artists aren’t disappointed either: the area has long been known for its quality of light, especially along the Solway Firth and in the Artists’ Town of Kirkcudbright.

In more recent times the lack of light pollution has become celebrated, too: Galloway Forest Park, the country’s largest, was also its first Dark Sky Park. Few places offer such startlingly clear star-gazing. To top it off, this is an area where ‘slow’ living is still the norm, somewhere to take the foot off the accelerator, ease the pace and relax into a way of life that values quality not quantity, all that is local, individual and authentic.

Bradt on Britain – our Slow Travel approach

Bradt’s coverage of Britain’s regions makes ‘Slow Travel’ its focus. To us, Slow Travel means ditching the tourist ticklists – deciding not to try to see ‘too much’ – and instead taking time to get properly under the skin of a special region. You don’t have to travel at a snail’s pace: you just have to allow yourself to savour the moment, appreciate the local differences that create a sense of place, and celebrate its food, people and traditions.

Food and drink in Dumfries & Galloway

One of the most noticeable things about the high streets of Dumfries and Galloway is that many still have an independent butcher. This is in keeping with the region’s reputation for locally produced meat, but it nonetheless comes as a pleasant surprise in a day when for many people a pre-packed joint from a supermarket is the only option. Greengrocers, too, are not uncommon, and every town has at least one baker.

This is very much a part of the world where individuality and distinctiveness hasn’t been completely lost in town centres. Castle Douglas in particular is celebrated for its range of independent shops and is the region’s official ‘Food Town’. It even has its own high street brewery. In the far west, Stranraer now hosts an annual Oyster Festival.

Local produce

Local specialities suggest the region has a sweet tooth and include Moffat Toffee (available from the eponymous shop in Moffat), Cream o’ Galloway ice cream, Galloway Lodge Preserves range of marmalades, jams and jellies, and chocolate from the Cocoabean Company. Locally produced meat and locally caught fish are both widely available, the latter notably from smokehouses in the west of the region.

A few producers to note are Galloway Smokehouse, Marrbury Smokehouse, Clash Farm and The Ethical Dairy. The Little Bakery in Dumfries has teamed up with the Galloway Cattle Society to produce the Galloway pie: Galloway beef in a rich gravy encased in a Scotch pie shell with a puff pastry top.

An increasing number of distilleries and breweries is spread across
the region making whisky, gin, rum and beer. There are also a couple of surprising producers (surprising for this part of the world, that is), one is a winery and the other a tea grower.

Farmers’ markets

Farmers’ markets are the place to go for a good cross-section of local producers. Markets are held regularly in Moffat, Langholm, Lockerbie, Dumfries, Creetown and Wigtown. Up-to-date details of where and when are posted on the Dumfries and Galloway Farmers’ and Community Markets website. Regular stalls at the markets cover an impressively wide spectrum of foods and crafts, from fudge, beer, chillies and cheese to artists, jewellers and soap-makers.

When to visit Dumfries & Galloway


Celebrate the Bard at the Big Burns Supper

A a seven- to ten-day musical and arts extravaganza held around Burns Night (25 January) described as ‘a non-stop, head-banging modern interpretation of what a modern celebration of Robert Burns could look like.’ Raise a glass or two to Scotland’s national bard in the city where he spent the final years of his life, Dumfries, Dumfries & Galloway.


Go nuts! Red squirrel spotting and walnut racing

On the edge of Lockerbie in Dumfries & Galloway is the small, yet perfectly formed Eskrigg Nature Reserve –  a place that offers an almost guaranteed sighting of red squirrels. In February each year you can also join in some eccentric fun and try your hand at a spot of walnut racing.

Red squirrel Eskrigg Nature Reserve Dumfries and Galloway Scotland by Bob Little/Eskrigg Nature Reserve
© Bob Little/Eskrigg Nature Reserve


Snowdrops in bloom

The Scottish Snowdrops Festival runs all over the country to welcome the first signs of spring. In Dumfries and Galloway head for the Dunskey estate on the Rhins, near Portpatrick, to follow the snowdrop walks, navigate through the maze and pause for a cup of tea. Other venues include Galloway House at Garlieston; Logan Botanic Gardens on the Rhins; and Cally Woods at Gatehouse-of-Fleet.


Go wild in the country!

Wild Spring Festival, part of Wild Seasons, is Scotland’s largest and longest running wildlife festival with over 100 family-friendly events across Dumfries & Galloway. Go wildlife canoeing on Loch Ken, spend the day birding at WWT Caerlaverock, or even take a nocturnal wildlife tour using hand-held infrared cameras. The range of activities is impressive. 


Enjoy a Spring Fling with the region’s artists

Billed as ‘Scotland’s Premier Art and Craft Open Studio Event’, Spring Fling involves around 100 artists and makers across Dumfries & Galloway opening their studio doors to the public to showcase their work.  It’s a visual feast of unique talent hd between 23 and 25 May.


Classic and vintage entertainment at the Moffat Car Rally

The biggest classic car event in Scotland takes place in Moffat, Dumfries & Galloway, each year on 27 and 28 June, with 900 vintage motors from all over the world making their way to the north of Annandale. Includes live music, children’s attractions and serious engine revving. Go to www.sre-scot.co.uk for more information.


Langholm Common Riding

Langholm Common Riding Dumfries and Galloway Scotland by Donald Greig & Darren Flint (Slow Britain)
© Donald Greig & Darren Flint (Slow Britain)

Dumfries & Galloway’s oldest continuous Common Riding is a lively affair, starting with a flute band parade at 05.00 and running until the ‘cornet’ hands back the flag at 21.30 in front of the town hall. Dozens of riders gather in Langholm’s town centre before heading out to ride the town boundaries in time-honoured tradition and then returning to parade through the town and cross the river. Last Friday in July.


Galloway Country Fair

A two-day event held in the grounds of Drumlanrig Castle, celebrating rural life and bringing together food and drink, country sports, entertainment, rural crafts, children’s activities and much more. www.gallowaycountryfair.co.uk


Lockerbie Jazz Festival

Now spreading its jazz hands wider than Lockerbie the ever popular and growing Lockerbie Jazz Festival (25–28 September) is a firm fixture on the September calender in Dumfries & Galloway. Offering a wide range of jazz and blues from Trad to contemporary, plus a tempting workshops for budding singers, concerts and a whole load of community groups performing. Events also taking place in Moffat and Annan. See www.lockerbiejazz.com for more info.


A page turner of an event: Wigtown Booktown Festival

Now in its 16th year, Wigtown Book Festival in Dumfries & Galloway offers more than 180 events for adults, children and young people spanning literature, music, film, theatre, arts and crafts. Running from late September through to early October, the festival has welcomed speakers such as Ian Rankin, Celia Imrie, and Joanna Lumley.


A dash of autumn colour at the Wild Autumn Festival

From October and on into November there are over 100 family-friendly wildlife events across southwest Scotland, including Dumfries & Galloway, enjoying spectacular autumn colours and large scale wildfowl migrations from the Arctic Circle. Part of Wild Seasons.

Where to stay in Dumfries & Galloway

For information about accommodation, see our list of the best places to stay in Dumfries & Galloway

What to see and do in Dumfries & Galloway

Mull of Galloway

The Mull of Galloway is Scotland’s most southerly point (latitude 54.6351°N) and actually further south than Penrith and Hartlepool. It’s an awesome and inspiring place: indeed, one guidebook writer in the 1950s described it as: ‘grand, high and frightening. A great point of headland thrust down in to the southern seas, a fortress whose stacks of cliffs bristle with knives and spears of rock, buttresses and crenelated and corbelled’. Nothing has changed.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Mull_of_Galloway_Lighthouse_dumfries_WikiCommons-1024x588.jpg
© Krzysztof Hryniewski, Wikimedia Commons

The Mull of Galloway Experience

The Mull of Galloway Experience includes the lighthouse and associated buildings run by the Mull of Galloway Trust, adjoining RSPB reserve, and the superbly positioned Gaille Craig Coffee House , built on the very edge of the cliffs with a grass roof and vertiginous drop from the terrace. At the lighthouse itself is the main tower (small charge) and lighthouse keeper’s cottages, which are now run as holiday lets, plus an exhibition (small charge) in the engine room. Movie buffs will know that the lighthouse was the main setting for the 2018 Gerard Butler film, The Vanishing.

There are 93 steps from the bottom of the lighthouse tower up to the first gallery, followed by two ladders, one to reach the outside viewing platform and another from there up to the light itself. The views are worth it: to Ireland and the Mountains of Mourne in County Down, and to the Isle of Man, just 19 miles away (and yet so far if you want to go there; the nearest ferry from the mainland departs from Heysham, just under 200 miles away). On a clear day you can see to Cumbria, too, and of course eastwards across to the Machars and north back up the Rhins. There’s no disabled access to the tower, but there is an accessible viewing platform at ground level and access to the exhibition.

This is a good place to bring the kids, with lots to see and do. Come on a Sunday if you can to hear the foghorn at 13.00. Brought back into working order almost single-handedly by volunteer Stevie Burns, it is the only one working on mainland Scotland and produces the most extraordinary, evocative sound that reverberates off the cliffs and out to sea, conjuring up images of days past when ships relied on it to navigate safely.

The sound is unique, as it was for all foghorns, so that ships could identify which one they were hearing. Incidentally, if you choose to get married here, not only can you tie the knot at the top of the lighthouse tower, but the foghorn can be sounded to mark the occasion.

The exhibition is fun: huge red tanks that fill with compressed air for the foghorn, an explanation of semaphore and a chance to try out your Morse code, a display on lighthouse keepers past, and the story of James Birnie, the ghost of the lighthouse, who was the only keeper who actually died here.

RSPB Mull of Galloway Reserve

Minke whales, porpoise and dolphins, puffins and guillemots are all visitors to the area, and adjoining the Mull lighthouse is the 30-acre RSPB Mull of Galloway Reserve. The main display is housed in a cottage that was home to the workers who built the lighthouse. The reserve consists mostly of maritime heath and cliffs, but also includes the Scare/Scaur Rocks six miles out to sea, and a wide range of birds can be spotted here.

A seasonal ranger runs the reserve and can point out other wildlife, including voles, mice, roe deer, a quite spectacularly iridescent beetle (the rose chafer beetle), and, controversially, weasels, which pose a threat to ground- and low-nesting birds.

Related books

For more information, see our guide to Dumfries & Galloway:

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