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Dumfries & Galloway - When and where to visit
The places listed below make idea bases for exploring Dumfries & Galloway.
Portpatrick © Kevin Eaves, Shutterstock
The ‘Gateway to the Galloway Hills’: access to Galloway Forest Park and the 7stanes centre at Kirroughtree. Ideal for walkers and cyclists.
Scotland’s National Book Town is replete with cafés and popular with bird lovers, with two reserves nearby.
The cradle of Christianity in Scotland, a village atmosphere and easy access to the beaches of the southern Machars.
A delightful fishing village set around a picturesque harbour, within easy reach of the Mull of Galloway.
Compact and cultured, the gateway to the idyllic Glenkens, with Galloway Forest Park and Loch Ken nearby.
Gatehouse of Fleet
An overgrown village with literary connections, peacefully located on the banks of the Fleet.
Ancient and historic with pretty cottages, a delightful working harbour and fine artistic legacy.
Independent shops and cafés, stately Drumlanrig on the doorstep, and access to beautiful Mid Nithsdale.
Surrounded by hills, an ideal base for walkers, with a good range of shops and restaurants.
The ‘Muckle Toon’: a popular centre for arts and crafts amidst fine hill and moorland scenery.
Southern Scotland’s largest town, the perfect base for Burns enthusiasts and bird lovers, with Caerlaverock Wetlands Centre and the Nith estuary nearby.
Dumfries and Galloway’s Food Town, known for its eclectic range of shops, plus easy access to the Colvend coast.
A nuthatch at Eskrigg Nature Reserve © Andrina Laidler
There is no denying that travelling around the area by public transport can be tricky, particularly when trying to get to some of the more out-of-the-way places.
There are three train lines, each running north–south. In the east of the region the main national West Coast line runs through Annandale but has only one station, at Lockerbie. Some trains from the south do stop at Lockerbie en route to Glasgow or Edinburgh, but others only stop at Carlisle where you have to change to catch a local train.
The Nithsdale line is particularly scenic. From Carlisle, the route passes along the eastern end of the Solway to Gretna and Annan, and then on into Nithsdale, to Dumfries and north through the Nith Valley to Glasgow via Kirkconnel and Sanquhar, the only station on the Southern Upland Way walking route. Bikes can be taken on the train to Sanquhar to tie in with the Southern Upland Cycleway.
Also scenic is the western line from Stranraer which cuts up the eastern edge of the Rhins into Ayrshire and on to Glasgow. There are particularly good views on the return journey across the moors at Glenwhilly, down over the Main Water of Luce Viaduct, of Glenluce Abbey and of the Mull of Galloway. On the clearest of days, you can even see the Isle of Man.
Michael Pearson’s excellent book Iron Roads to Burns Country offers lots of details and stories of these routes. Significant chunks of the region, notably the Stewartry and the Machars, have no trains at all having lost their lines in the Beeching cuts of the 1960s.
Bus services offer more options with most places you could wish to visit having a service or two, although frequency can vary widely and even the more popular routes peter out in the evening and on Sunday. We advise not to head off on a day trip by bus without first doing a bit of planning to make sure you can get back. Do double check the timetables and perhaps carry a local taxi number with you, although be warned, mobile phone signal can be very patchy in places.
We have outlined key transport options at the start of each chapter. For the more adventurous we are told that hitching a lift still has some success in the more remote areas. Local public transport information is provided by South West of Scotland Transport Partnership, or alternatively the traveline.
If you are driving, watch your speed (this is a Slow guide after all)! On the main trunk roads, which are often quiet in comparison with many other areas of the UK, it is tempting to put your foot down but the local police are exceptionally diligent and are regularly spotted with mobile speed cameras. Note that unlike England, Scotland doesn’t offer the choice of a speed awareness course instead of a fine.
The area is a delight for walking. Most of the countryside, from mountain to forest and moorland to seashore, is accessible with observance of the Country Code.
For any keen walkers from the English side of the border, using a Scottish OS map for the first time can be a confusing affair. Where are all the dashed lines indicating footpaths and bridleways? The right to roam means there is no need for these symbols, but it can make it a little harder to determine routes that have been used before or to know if you are likely to end up at an impasse a few miles in. While contentious at the time of finding its way on to the statute book, few landowners we spoke to had any issues of note. That said, avoiding walking close to sheep during lambing is appreciated and if you do find a lone lamb please leave it alone as the mother won’t be far away. Needless to say, at any time of year if there is livestock around dogs must be kept on the lead.
Local bookshops hold a wealth of walking information as does a Google search for any area you happen to be visiting. Over the years we have taken to using a highlighter to add routes of interest to our OS maps. There are numerous quality walking books to the area: Pocket Mountains’ Dumfries & Galloway 40 Coast & Country Walks is a handy little guide with a fine selection of routes all clearly presented. The classic Pathfinder Guide series also nicely covers the area. Dumfries and Galloway Council produces a fine selection of free walking and cycling booklets, plus they can be downloaded from www.dumgal.gov.uk (look under ‘Environment’ and then ‘Outdoor Access and Paths’).
A number of long-distance routes cross the area. The most famous is the Southern Upland Way running 212 miles from Portpatrick in the west across to Cocksburnpath on the east coast. The Annandale Way, established in 2009, is a 55-mile long-distance walking route which runs from the source of the Annan at Annanhead at the evocatively named Devil’s Beef Tub down to Annan on the Solway Coast. The new walk in the region is the Mull of Galloway Trail, which runs from the Mull to Stranraer and continues north as the Loch Ryan Coastal Path for a total distance of 35 miles to Glenapp in South Ayrshire where it links with the Ayrshire Coastal Path.
(Photo: Parton Cottages © Donald Greig/Darren Flint (Slow Britain))
The many miles of quiet lanes and forest tracks offer cycling opportunities for all levels of ability, from a simple ride out along the estuary flats through to something more hair-raising like an extreme black grade mountain bike run. Linking Sunderland and Inverness, National Cycle Route 7 (NCR7) passes right through Dumfries and Galloway taking in Gretna, Dumfries, Castle Douglas and Newton Stewart before crossing Glen Trool Forest on its way north. The Newton Stewart via Glasgow to Inverness section also forms part of EuroVelo 1 Route, which starts in Portugal and follows the Atlantic seaboard through France and Ireland. In the east the NCR74 links Gretna to Lockerbie and Moffat on its 74-mile route northwards to Douglas ( www.sustrans.org.uk). A Southern Upland Cycleway is currently in development. Mainly on quiet roads, it is a signed route following the Southern Upland Way from Portpatrick in the west, running across to Moffat and eventually reaching the east coast. Currently there is a signed route from Glenluce to Sanquhar and a website in the making. The area also offers some fine mountain biking and is home to a number of the world famous 7stanes trails, the series of seven mountain biking trail centres which span the south of Scotland.