If you were to guess the location of the highest villages in Scotland, I bet your first thought probably wouldn't turn to somewhere south of Glasgow in the heart of the Scottish Lowlands. Yet, not only does Wanlockhead in Dumfries and Galloway hold the claim to fame as the highest village in Scotland at 1531 ft above sea level, it is also the next door neighbour to Leadhills, the second highest village in Scotland, situated just across the regional border in South Lanarkshire.
Both settlements developed and grew thanks to the discovery of the most important lead-zinc deposit in Scotland which brought mining and jobs to the area, with gold and other rare minerals also found locally. Although mining no longer takes place, the evidence of it is everywhere, from the visible heaps and shafts to the libraries, cottages and museum.
Easily reached in less than an hour on the M74 motorway from Glasgow, a combined visit to Leadhills and Wanlockhead makes an ideal day trip. This is an area that definitely doesn't get the attention it deserves on the Scottish visitor trail despite having plenty of history and numerous unique attractions.
As heading off the typical tourist route in Scotland is my speciality, I decided to leave Glasgow behind and head south to make a day of it among the beauty of the Lowther Hills. To say it was a unique adventure is an understatement and the locals I encountered were as friendly and passionate about their area as they come.
If you're looking for a day out with a difference, I highly recommend the short detour from the motorway to visit these two distinctive Scottish villages. If you still need convincing, here is a summary of what I got up to along with a few more ideas for exploring these underrated regions -
Leadhills and Wanlockhead Railway
My first stop, and one of my main reasons for visiting Leadhills, was to take a trip on the Leadhills and Wanlockhead Railway. It is Britain's highest narrow gauge adhesion railway at almost 1500 ft above sea level and was built on the original track bed of the Caledonian Railway which closed in 1938.
During the summer months you can take a 25 minute rail journey to the village of Wanlockhead, although disappointingly on the Saturday that I arrived there were no trains running. Despite checking ahead as advised on social media and on the website there was no mention of a closure and there were several other disappointed visitors that turned up while I was there. I'm assuming this is down to the fact that the railway is run by volunteers, so just be aware that checking ahead does not guarantee the train will be running when you get there.
However, I did enjoy looking around the small station and the signal box, there is also a rather unique toilet which is basically a shed on the platform with a toilet inside! If all had went to plan, the train would have taken me on a journey along a line that connects Scotland's two highest villages, passing the disused Glengonnar Mine along the way.
Leadhills Railway is an interesting wee place and the train journey is still something I would love to do so I'll try again at some point in the future and report back with more info.
Hopetoun Arms - the highest residential hotel in Scotland
As Leadhills is Scotland's second highest village it might not come as a surprise that it is home to the highest residential hotel in Scotland at 1297 ft above sea level. As my plans for the day had gone awry, I decided the Hopetoun Arms was a good place to get a cup of tea and reassess my itinerary. I hadn't actually made any real plans for the day other than taking the railway to the mining museum, however the hotel staff came to my rescue and provided me with a leaflet for the Leadhills Heritage Trail. It piqued my interest and I decided that it would be next on my agenda, but not before I finished my generous serving of tea.
The Hopetoun Arms is a family run hotel with a homely atmosphere, with historic charm and period features. This year it has also won the Scottish heat of the 'Window with a View' contest after a guest submitted a photograph from his bedroom view overlooking the village and the surrounding Lowther Hills. You'll have to book a stay and decide for yourself if the hotel has the best view in all of Scotland.
Leadhills Heritage Trail
Thanks to the Leadhills Heritage Trail leaflet, I spent the next hour on an interesting saunter through the village. If you don't manage to pick up a leaflet, there is a board with a map of the route just opposite the hotel, although it doesn't have as much information on it.
The circular trail is marked with 9 points of interest and one of the more notable sites is the grave of John Taylor who is recorded as having died in 1770 at 137 years of age! There were poor birth records at the time and his age was calculated by his personal recollection of an eclipse of the sun in 1652. Accurate or not, he sounds like an interesting character and his story has made him a local legend.
Other attractions along the way include the Leadhills Miners Library (see below), the village square and the curfew bell which was rung to inform minors of shift changes and accidents.
The Leadhills Heritage Trail is an easy walk and helps to bring the story of the village to life. It also encourages you to explore some of the backstreets and historical objects which you might otherwise miss.
I love coming across scenic walks in Scotland that are hardly known outside their local area and its even better when they are steeped in history and legend. Crichope Linn near the hamlet of Gatelawbridge in Dumfries and Galloway certainly ticks all those boxes. I only came across the details of the trail thanks to local literature provided for guests during my stay at the nearby Trigony House Hotel and I was immediately intrigued. A search on Google provided some spectacular images of the waterfall and gorge, along with a few tales of the famous visitors that had once frequented this now almost forgotten about part of southern Scotland. It was time to explore this hidden gem for myself...
The entrance to the walk is easy to miss with just a rustic sign pointing the way from the quiet, minor road. A small parking area nearby is enough to accommodate a few cars and the start of the route was concealed by greenery when I visited. At the bottom of this blog I've pinned the location on a Google map to make it easier for you to find.
The first section of the trail runs through a wooded area before meeting up with a stream that flows down from the waterfall ahead. Occasional remnants of an old footpath are the only survivor of a network of tracks, bridges and viewing points that existed when Crichope Linn was a popular destination for Victorian tourists. Today it is a bit more hazardous to get around with muddy narrow paths, slippery rocks and fallen trees. The current atmosphere of overgrown abandonment makes it hard to imagine that this was once a famous and well frequented Scottish beauty spot.
After a short jaunt through the trees, the path opens up to reveal mossy covered red sandstone walls that tower upwards either side of the gorge. Countless visitors over the centuries have left their mark on the soft rock faces and it is even said that the initials of Robert Burns can be found among the stone carvings. I didn't spot them but he did live at nearby Ellisland Farm so there is every possibility that he visited here.
Other famous literary figures that definitely were inspired by the unique scenery were Thomas Carlyle and Sir Walter Scott who featured Crichope Linn in his novel 'Old Mortality'.
As you might have guessed from the amount of time I spend there, I have quite a soft spot for Dumfries and Galloway in the south west of Scotland. Despite having covered much of the region there are still a few pockets that have eluded me and the stretch of the A76 from Sanquhar to Dumfries is one of those spots that I've yet to fully explore. Recently I was invited to experience a stay at Trigony House Hotel which is handily located just off the main road, in the heart of this very area. With a reputation as being genuinely dog friendly, National Pet Day seemed the perfect excuse to take our lurcher Willow away for a night at this multi-award winning country hotel.
Trigony House Hotel was the former shooting lodge for nearby Closeburn Castle which is one of the oldest continuously inhabited tower houses in Scotland. Today it is run as a country house hotel set in over 4 acres of woodland and gardens.
As we drove up the front drive, I couldn't help but think how romantic it looked with it's ivy exterior and characterful lanterns. The interior is a mix of period features and rustic country homeliness. I definitely felt more like I had arrived at a friend's home than a hotel as there is a really relaxed vibe, with guests chatting away to each other like long lost acquaintances and dogs lounging around the public rooms.
Dogs are great conversation ice-breakers and I'm sure their presence helps the conversation flow between fellow owners. During our stay there were 5 other furry companions being treated to a night away, with the resident Retriever Roxy also making a regular appearance to welcome canine guests. Having a dog is not compulsory to stay at Trigony House but I would think you would have to at least like them to stay here as they are permitted in all public rooms other than the dining room.
There are only 10 bedrooms at Trigony House and it's small size adds to the intimate atmosphere. On arrival we were warmly welcomed and shown to our bedroom which was in keeping with the homely country feel. It was light and spacious with a big comfy bed, sofa and plenty of storage space. Willow was pretty excited to find a welcome bowl on the bed with doggy biscuits, the canines definitely get looked after at this hotel. There was also a little map of the grounds showing the enclosed dog exercise areas which were perfect for letting Willow have a good run around.
Our room had a lovely view over the gardens to the hills beyond and we could hear plenty of bird song from the surrounding trees which I found very therapeutic. After a long day travelling, our room was a nice calming space to sit with a cup of tea and muse over the different leaflets and local walking suggestions.
Check out my Dumfries and Galloway blogs for more local inspiration
MY PICK OF THE BEST
Wigtown was once the chief town of Galloway with considerable strategic and commercial importance. Today most visitors are drawn by its many book shops and annual book festival.
It is a great example of a historic Scottish town that has reinvented and regenerated itself in the face of an economic downturn. Wigtown harbour once thrived with coastal trade until new road and railway networks were built which bypassed the town and inevitably contributed towards a decline in prosperity and population.
In 1998 Wigtown was designated Scotland's National Book Town and this has led to a general revival, with many buildings refurbished and new businesses opening.
As someone who has always rejected electronic reading devices in favour of paper and print, I was pretty excited to spend a day in this paradise for book lovers. I visited all but one of the main book shops in the town as it was closed at the time and thought I would share a round up of my top picks. Each book shop has its own charm and unique speciality so it really is worth setting a full day aside so you have plenty of time to browse around each one.
Some of the bookshops in Wigtown have cafes and most of the town's cafes have books so there are plenty opportunities to grab a refreshment, with or without some reading material.
I was also delighted to see that several of the shops had signs saying that they welcomed dogs which is a bonus for owners like me that sometimes struggle to find dog friendly indoor activities on holiday. I must say that so far, I have found Dumfries and Galloway to be the most dog friendly region in Scotland and this is one of the reasons I keep going back. On a side note if your business welcomes dogs, a sign on the door is really helpful as dog owners aren't mind readers! I can guarantee that if I can take Willow somewhere with me, I will visit and spend money - other dog owners will do the same which can only be good for your profits.
Anyway I digress, as promised, here is my pick of Wigtown's book shops...
This is Scotland's largest second-hand bookshop and the oldest in Wigtown, with approximately 100,000 books spread over a mile of shelving! I could easily have spent days browsing the row upon row of books on every subject. Had the fire been lit to combat the chill, I might even have been tempted to move in permanently.
While the books take centre stage, their theatrical setting wouldn't be out of place in Diagon Alley. Wandering through the tardis of rooms is like stepping into a magical book filled world with a flying violin playing skeleton to welcome you and lots of quirky nooks and crannies to discover or hide away in! Needless to say I couldn't resist the temptation of so many wonderful reads and left with my bag a good bit heavier and my purse a good bit lighter.
I regularly sing the praises of Dumfries and Galloway in southern Scotland and today I want to delve a little deeper into this underrated region by sharing one of my favourite parts; the Rhins of Galloway. This south western peninsula is home to the most southerly point in Scotland at Mull of Galloway, with coastal scenery dramatic enough to rival anywhere on the north coast. Not many tourists venture this far south which is a shame as they are missing out on rich history, beautiful scenery and some quirky character.
I have visited the Rhins of Galloway several times over the past few years and have sampled the best the area has to offer, In this blog post I wanted to share with you my recommended list of things to do in this scenic part of Scotland and I hope it inspires you to explore this Scottish hidden gem for yourself. All but one of the places I've mentioned are also dog friendly which makes a refreshing change. There is nothing worse than feeling restricted in what you can do when you take your furry friend away with you. This is not the case in the Rhins of Galloway as there are plenty of places that make you and your dog feel genuinely welcome.
Mull of Galloway
Visiting the Mull of Galloway is an absolute highlight for me and I'd go as far as to say it is one of my favourite places in Scotland (as a Scottish travel blogger I don't make that statement lightly!).
The road south through the Rhins of Galloway takes you past Scotland's most southerly store and post office in Drummore before ending at the Mull of Galloway Lighthouse and Gallie Craig Coffee House with its turfed roof and breathtaking views. On a dry day I can't think of a more dramatic spot in Scotland to sit outside and enjoy a pot of tea with a freshly baked scone.
I love lighthouses and it is a real treat to be able to explore inside one. The Mull of Galloway Lighthouse has an exhibition on the ground floor which is also dog friendly, however you will have to leave your pooch below if you also want to climb the 115 steps to the top of the lighthouse. I was lucky to visit on a clear day and was rewarded with views of Scotland, England, Ireland and the Isle of Man!
The surrounding area is an RSPB nature reserve and a walk along the clifftops is a must to really appreciate the spectacularly wild landscape. Did I mention that this is one of my favourite places in Scotland?!
Portpatrick is a pretty harbour village with some nice places to eat and is the perfect spot to potter away for a couple of hours, enjoying the scenery and seafood. I usually stop by The Crown Hotel or The Harbour House Hotel as they are both dog friendly.
On a sunny day there is nothing better than picking up some local ice-cream and watching the boats come and go from the harbour. Portpatrick is also home to Dunskey Castle, one of my favourite castles in Scotland. The atmospheric ruins are dramatically perched on a cliff top and a walk down to the shore below reveals a big spooky cave which is apparently haunted! I have stayed at the adjacent Castle Bay camp site a couple of times and waking up to the view of Dunskey Castle is something special.
The Southern Upland Way is a long distance walk that starts in Portpatrick and even if you only follow the start of the route you will be rewarded with some great viewpoints over the village.
The choice of unique accommodation in Scotland has exploded over the last few years, with an ever-growing number of people (myself included) looking to spend the night somewhere more memorable than a bland hotel room.
I've stayed in a few unique places recently including a fishing boat, railway signal box, yurt and converted train carriage and I've become a bit addicted to taking staycations in quirky residences around Scotland!
Airbnb is fast becoming my go-to website for affordable or unusual accommodation and this summer I stumbled on an absolute gem in Glenwhan Gardens when I was searching for a little getaway.
The Shepherd's Hut at Glenwhan Gardens in Dumfries and Galloway ticked all my boxes -
Needless to say, I booked it immediately and a few weeks later myself, Mr Adventures Around Scotland and Willow the dog set off for our four night break in the stunning Rhins of Galloway, one of the most underrated parts of Scotland in my opinion.
Despite regularly visiting this area of Scotland, I'd never actually visited Glenwhan Gardens before and although it is only a short detour off the main road, you do need a car to get around if you stay here.
As we approached the Shepherd's Hut I was delighted that it was even cuter in real life than in the photos, however it is the setting in the gardens that makes this such a special place to stay.
Drumlanrig Castle is not exactly a hidden gem; it is the Dumfriesshire seat of the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch and sits in the Queensberry Estate which covers over 90,000 acres of southern Scotland after all! However, you could easily travel around this scenic part of Dumfries and Galloway completely unaware of its existence.
Although I have been to Dumfries and Galloway many times, I had never actually visited Drumlanrig Castle until I was recently invited to go on a tour. It was already on my radar for visiting this summer as it was used as an Outlander filming location, however the invite brought forward my visit and I was lucky enough to get a private tour of the castle before it opened to the public for the summer. I also had one of the best afternoons in a long time going on a Land Rover tour of the estate and soon discovered that the castle and surrounding area have so much to offer that I wanted to share 5 reasons why I think you should visit Drumlanrig Castle for yourself.
1. Take the Drumlanrig Castle tour
120 rooms, 17 turrets and 4 towers - Drumlanrig Castle is seriously impressive inside and out. The best way to learn about its colourful history and to admire its lavish interior is on a guided tour. Unfortunately the castle tour season is a pretty short one, only running through July and August with a few other select days through the year, but it is worth timing your visit to coincide with the opening dates in my opinion.
Drumlanrig Castle is considered one of the finest examples of 17th Century Renaissance architecture in Scotland and has been the seat of the Douglas Family for generations. In 1684, William 3rd Earl of Queensberry, was made 1st Duke of Queensberry in recognition for his loyalty to Charles II. The castle which stands today was built to reflect his new status, incorporating some of the 14th century castle which had previously occupied the site. However, after spending only 1 night, the Duke decided he didn't like his new abode and moved back to Sanquhar Castle, he was obviously hard to please!
During the guided tour you can view Drumlanrig Castle's renowned art, furniture and silver collections and learn about life at the castle through the centuries. You will also discover more about some of the colourful characters that have visited Drumlanrig Castle over the years and view the bed that Bonnie Prince Charlie and Neil Armstrong slept in, not at the same time obviously!
My guide was hugely knowledgeable and although the tour only covers a fraction of the castle, it gave me a real insight into one of Scotland's most powerful families.
2. Go on a Land Rover safari
I am really not exaggerating when I say that the Land Rover tour from Drumlanrig Castle is seriously one of the best things I've done in ages. I'll be honest and say that I was a little apprehensive that 3 hours might be a bit too long. 'What if I get bored?', 'What if it's too shoogly and I feel sick?' or worst of all 'What if I'm in the middle of nowhere and need to visit the little girl's room?!' Thankfully none of these worries transpired as I was having way too much fun and by the time my 3 hours was up and we arrived back at the castle I was pretty sad it was all over, time really did fly by.
My guide, Brian, has worked on the estate for 50 years and what he doesn't know is very likely not worth knowing. In fact, I'm pretty sure that there is nothing that he doesn't know about Queensberry Estate. For the entire tour he had me engrossed with stories from history, facts about land management and wildlife, all punctuated with some humorous anecdotes.
We rumbled through woods, across fields (literally!), stopped at points of interest and took to the hills, thanks to our off road mode of transport, normally inaccessible areas were no longer off limits. The hilltop drive really was a highlight and the views were just superb. Travelling by Land Rover really does mean anyone can access the stunning scenery, even those who wouldn't normally have the ability or time to reach the hill tops.
We saw so much wildlife, covered diverse landscapes and stopped at historical sites. This really was a unique experience and one that I'll not forget, it definitely ranks as one of my favourite things that I've done in Scotland.
As a Scottish travel blogger that prefers to head away from the typical tourist trail, finding inspiration for new places to visit is not always easy. Hidden gems are by their very nature difficult to discover.
With a free day to go exploring I found myself struggling to come up with somewhere new and unique that was an easy drive from Glasgow. After trawling through the internet for way too long, I was about to give up hope of finding some divine inspiration when I chanced upon Crawick Multiverse, only a one hour drive away in Dumfries and Galloway. A former open cast coal mine, transformed into an artland inspired by space, astronomy and cosmology, it certainly ticked the boxes for being unique and within a reasonable driving distance. Excited by the prospect of a new adventure, I quickly grabbed my camera, made up a packed lunch and jumped in the car. Before long I was turning off the busy motorway and found myself negotiating quiet country back-roads, the lush rural scenery mentally transporting me a million miles away from the city.
Arriving at the unassuming car park of Crawick Multiverse, I paid the entrance fee and picked up a map of the site. On advice from the visitor assistant, I followed the path anti-clockwise as she explained this would take me uphill to a ridge with sweeping views over the area and the countryside beyond.
It was a glorious day and as the trail gained height, the views opened up and I got my first glimpse of the many enormous stones found on the site (over 2000 and counting!) which have now been utilised to create the unusual artworks.
As I reached the top of the ridge, the views across the artland and the pretty valley beyond were spectacular. This is definitely the best place to get a good overview of the standing stone artwork that spirals and swirls in patterns below.
The area which was once deemed a scar on the landscape has been transformed thanks to the famous landform artist Charles Jencks and funding from the Duke of Buccleuch, the local landowner. Now a community asset and thought provoking space, this is a fantastic example of imaginative regeneration. Although it was still patchy in places when I visited, it is a place that will continue to improve with time as the newly planted greenery flourishes and blends with the surrounding fields and hills.
Follow my Scotland travel adventures on social media
If you have found my blog useful and would like to support me in creating future Scottish travel content, you can by me a coffee on my Ko-fi page. All 'coffee' donations are hugely appreciated