Caerlaverock

The Caerlaverock Estate, owned by the Lords Herries of Terregles, covers 5,200 acres on the east side of the Nith, encompasses the villages of Glencaple and Bankend, and includes several farms which incorporate arable land, permanent pasture, wetlands and woodlands. The estate also includes part of the Caerlaverock National Nature Reserve managed by Scottish Natural Heritage, part of which is in turn managed by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT).

For visitors, the main attractions are walking and wildlife watching, and visiting the splendid Caerlaverock Castle, dating from the 13th century and now in the care of Historic Environment Scotland.

Caerlaverock Castle © rphstock, Shutterstock

WWT Caerlaverock Wetland Centre

WWT Caerlaverock is, in our view, one of the absolute highlights of Dumfries and Galloway. If you have an ounce of interest in wildlife, or simply in being outdoors in a beautiful place, you could easily lose yourself for a day – or longer – here.

And kids will love it, too. There are family events throughout the year, balance beams and stepping stones, pond dipping in the summer, and a tower to be climbed that offers terrific views over the wetlands and that houses what are believed to be the largest binoculars in Scotland (not yet restored, but they’re working on raising the funds for it).

© WWT Caerlaverock Wetland Centre

It’s an international place, with connections around the world. In winter the Icelandic and Norwegian flags are flown, the former for the whooper swans and the latter for the barnacle geese, for it is to the Solway coast each year that the entire population – all 40,000 of them – returns from Svalbard, around 10,000 of which are usually to be found in the WWT reserve. Several bird hides offer good vantage points, and the Sir Peter Scott Observatory is an impressive state-of-the-art facility at the whooper swan pond, complete with touchscreen swan database.

There are trails to be followed and nests to be spotted, evening events and occasional walks accompanied by rangers. And when it all gets too much, you can always retreat to the Cathan Coffee Shop in the visitor centre.

Caerlaverock National Nature Reserve

Covering almost 20,000 acres, Caerlaverock National Nature Reserve is a vast flat expanse of sand, sea, mud and merse (saltmarsh) stretching almost ten miles along the Solway Coast south of Dumfries. Around 85% of the area is made up of tidal flats and mudbanks that disappear at high tide. This is a haven for wildlife of all sorts, from birds to the rare natterjack toad.

This is a truly special place. Unlike many other firths, the Solway Firth remains in a largely natural state, undisturbed for the main and, for the birds that return year after year, a vast natural larder on the saltmarshes and mudflats. Local farmers subscribe to the ethos of the area, too, providing safe grazing for geese in their fields, with any costs incurred being met by the Solway Goose Management Scheme managed by Scottish Natural Heritage.

Visitors can access both the nature reserve generally, which is free of charge, and the WWT reserve, for which either membership is required or an admission fee is charged for non-members.