Dumfries & Galloway - The authors’ take


Going Slow in Dumfries & Galloway

For those who are just discovering the area, we welcome you to a part of the world which, in this day of mass-market living, remains true to itself and is resolutely and irresistibly real, a sure hallmark of the best of ‘Slow’.

Often described as ‘Scotland’s forgotten corner’, Dumfries and Galloway is one of the country’s most under-explored areas. The reason is almost completely due to the quirks of geography and perceived isolation. Bordered to the south and west by coastline and to the north by wild moorland and hill country, the region has for centuries been seen as a remote rural outpost. The easiest access point has traditionally been from the east and that hasn’t changed today. The M74 cuts across the eastern corner and follows, out of necessity, the north–south travel route of old, for the Annan Valley and Solway Plain offer the most viable place for a major roadway. This means many travellers enter and leave Dumfries and Galloway in less than an hour heading for points north or south with ne’er a moment’s thought for what lies east or west. And, it has to be said, the motorway route gives little away: the flatlands around Carlisle stretch up past the eastern end of the Solway Firth and the region presents a distinctly demure face. There are few geographical features of note other than at the northern boundary where the Moffat Hills loom large to the east and the Lowther Hills to the west. What can be seen of those hills gives just a hint of the wilderness that awaits those who slow down and make time for a diversion, for 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.

Langholm © Tom Hutton
Langholm © Tom Hutton

Dumfries and Galloway is a large region, by road almost 120 miles from Langholm in the east to Portpatrick in the west, and over 55 miles at its deepest point from Kirkconnel in the north to Kirkcudbright in the south. What’s more, it is sparsely populated. Out of Scotland’s 32 unitary authorities, it is the third largest by area but only the twelfth largest by population, with a population density of just 60 people per square mile. This compares with the Scottish average of 168, the UK average of 660 and English average of 1,072. Beyond the main towns of Dumfries, Stranraer and Annan, all other settlements have a population of less than 4,500.

Our advice is not to attempt to cover all of the region in one go. 

Our advice is not to attempt to cover all of the region in one go. Any one of the six areas into which we have divided the region offers sufficient breadth and depth of interest to fill a Slow week or more. And despite its size, once you’re here, if you do want to cover more ground the transregional A75 offers quick and convenient access to most points on a road which, even on a bank holiday weekend, rarely feels busy.

While researching, we have been told time and again by accommodation owners that a significant number of their guests originally stopped for just one night on their way northwards but, having once had a taste of the area, have returned, often repeatedly, for longer. And therein lies the nub of it. As many friends who have come to stay have proclaimed: ‘I never knew that this was here!’ But what is the ‘this’ that they refer to?

What’s more, you can be on a pristine sandy beach in the morning and at Scotland’s highest village (and micro-brewery) by the afternoon. 

Certainly the grandeur and variety of scenery combined with sense of space and a distinctly slower pace of life rank highly. A day spent in the Dumfriesshire Dales or Galloway Uplands soon confirms – if confirmation were needed – that, while the north of Scotland undoubtedly has majestic mountains, you don’t have to travel those extra four or five hours (if coming from the south) to find summits that impress. What’s more, you can be on a pristine sandy beach in the morning and at Scotland’s highest village (and micro-brewery) by the afternoon. And speaking of travel times, it’s worth pointing out that it takes less than an hour longer (according to the AA website) to get here from London than it would to Penzance. For those already in Scotland, it’s even better. Glasgow and Edinburgh are only a couple of hours away, and even Aberdeen is less than five hours’ drive. Distance, therefore, is not the obstacle that some may perceive it to be.

Individuality and authenticity are what make Dumfries and Galloway so appealing. A history which encompasses so many events and people that have been central to the development of a nation; a landscape that is more varied than you would find in most other parts of the country, from upland peaks to sandy beaches; an economy still based largely on agriculture (farming accounts for around 70% of the area), centuries of sheep, dairy and beef farming having shaped the landscape; and closely related, a commitment to locally grown produce, which here is a tradition that has never faltered and in recent years has enjoyed even more support than ever. One of the most iconic sights of the region is the distinctive Belted Galloway cattle, completely black except for a white stripe around the middle, set against a background of lush green hills.

For those who are just discovering the area, we welcome you to a part of the world which, in this day of mass-market living, remains true to itself and is resolutely and irresistibly real, a sure hallmark of the best of ‘Slow’.

Langholm © Sandy GillLangholm © Sandy Gill

The authors’ story

At the last minute we booked a room at somewhere called Craigadam near Castle Douglas, where a quick overnight stay turned into a three-day exploration.

For several years before writing about Dumfries and Galloway we had been contemplating a move but couldn’t decide to where. All we knew was that we wanted to live somewhere ‘more rural’; and for me (Donald), it would ideally be in my home country of Scotland. It was only when we stopped off in Dumfries and Galloway that everything fell into place. We had been exploring the Ardnamurchan peninsula and were heading south again and needed somewhere to stay. At the last minute we booked a room at somewhere called Craigadam near Castle Douglas, where a quick overnight stay turned into a three-day exploration and a trip down memory lane, for I had spent several happy childhood holidays in the Stewartry. We couldn’t believe that here was a part of the world which, despite its comparative proximity to so many major urban centres, still felt like somewhere that offered a gentler, ‘Slower’ (in every sense of the word) pace of life. And so to Dumfries and Galloway we moved eight months later, a homecoming for me and a step into a new country for Darren.

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