If you had asked me a few weeks ago what there is to do in and around Moffat, my meagre offering would only have extended to the Grey Mare's Tail Nature Reserve and the Woollen Mill, although personally I would give the Woollen Mill a miss unless you enjoy outdated tourist outlets which primarily cater for multiple coach parties.
This is shameful on my part as I pride myself on knowing most parts of Scotland reasonably well and I have travelled pretty extensively around most other areas of Dumfries and Galloway, a region that I have a real soft spot for. However, for some reason Moffat had fallen under my radar until recently. This is despite the fact that I visited frequently as a child and have happy memories of walks among the green, rolling hills. Perhaps more recent memories of coach stops at the aforementioned woollen mill are responsible for not leaving me with a burning desire to return to the town!
Thankfully, I was encouraged to factor Moffat in to my recent travel plans thanks to Susan Barker, who invited me to stay at her lovely Victorian guesthouse, Dell-Mar, (details below) and revisit the town with a fresh local perspective. During my short stay I only managed to scratch the surface of all the things there are to do in Moffat and the surrounding area so will definitely need to return. However, I did fit in quite a few things during my trip and combined with some of the nearby places that I've visited previously, I've put together this list of my recommended things to do which you will be happy to hear now exceeds my previous single suggestion!
Things to do in and around the town of Moffat
EXPLORE MOFFAT TOWN CENTRE
With free parking and a plentiful offering of independent businesses, including shops and cafes, Moffat High Street is a joy to explore. Many of the buildings have retained their historic character which adds to its attractive appeal. Some places of note to look out for as you walk around include Moffat Museum, the famous Moffat Toffee Shop, the Star Hotel (see below for more info) and the Moffat Ram, a bronze sculpture which sits on top of a fountain.
The sculpture was commissioned in 1875 to celebrate the town's long association with sheep farming and the wool trade. The sculptor of the ram was William Brodie who is probably best known for another of his statues, Greyfriars Bobby in Edinburgh. If you look closely, you will see that the ram has no ears, a mistake that was publicly pointed out at the unveiling ceremony to the rather embarrassed Brodie!
VISIT THE WORLD'S NARROWEST HOTEL
Officially recognised by the Guinness Book of World Records - The Famous Star Hotel, which dates back to the late 1700s, is the narrowest hotel in the world. It is a mere 20 ft wide although thanks to its height and length it manages to pack in 8 en-suite bedrooms, 2 bars and a restaurant.
The distinctive tall, narrow building is found on the High Street and visiting it is a unique experience that should be on your Scotland bucket-list.
Situated in 5 acres of ground overlooking the surrounding countryside, The Dryfesdale Country House Hotel in Lockerbie is a welcoming place to relax. I recently stayed for the purposes of a review and found my Garden Suite, with its own patio, the ideal hotel solution for those that covet some outdoor space.
The Dryfesdale Country House Hotel is part of the Best Western portfolio although it is privately owned with a distinctive individual personality. The hotel building originally dates back to 1762 when it served as a Church Manse. In 1953 it began a new life as a hotel and in recent years it has undergone major refurbishment by the current owners, the Wright family, although some character features have been retained. The hotel now offers 29 bedrooms, private function rooms and the Kirkhill Bar and Brasserie.
The extensive surrounding grounds and long beech lined drive, provide the feeling that you are firmly in the country as soon as you arrive. In fact you are actually only a few minutes drive from the main A74 road which connects with Carlisle, making this a convenient base for exploring both the south of Scotland and the north of England.
One of the highlights of my stay was the friendliness of the staff. The welcome I received and the customer service was exemplary, making guests feel at home seemed to be a real priority. I could often overhear staff chatting away with other guests, asking about their day with genuine interest. It sounded more like old friends catching up and the guests did seem to appreciate the personal attention.
It is nice to stay in a hotel that not only has relaxing surroundings but also a homely atmosphere and I did feel it was a place I would like to stay at for a little longer next time.
I stayed in one of spacious Garden Suites which sit in their own little extension and come with a small patio space. As it was a warm and dry day, I couldn't wait to slide open the doors and let the room fill with fresh air and the sound of birdsong. I've never stayed in a hotel room where I could bring the outside in like this before and it was a real treat.
Rather than lie back on the bed and watch the massive TV or chill out on the couch, I opted to make myself a coffee and sit outside. I might even have stepped in and out several times just because I could! Having this outdoors extension meant I could stroll around the surrounding gardens and take in the views of the hills in the distance without wandering too far from my room.
I think you can tell how much I loved the outdoor freedom but you're probably wondering about the other facilities in the room, so I'll fill you in...
The Auldgirth Inn has recently undergone a contemporary makeover while still retaining some of its original charm. This new chapter in its fascinating history has seen it transformed in to the kind of accommodation that feels more like a destination rather than part of a journey.
I recently stayed for the purposes of a review and although I think you should visit for the location, you should definitely stay for the food...
The Auldgirth Inn is only a 15 minute drive from the busy town of Dumfries and sits just off the main A76 road, yet it still has a country charm. Reachable in under 90 minutes from Glasgow and 2 hours from Edinburgh, it is near enough for a short break, yet far enough to feel like a proper escape from the city.
There are some nice walks on the doorstep and I personally enjoyed a little stroll across the road to the picturesque old bridge. Fans of Robert Burns will be in their element as the poet spent the latter years of his life living in the area and being inspired by the scenery. Just over 2 miles away is Ellisland Farm where he lived for several years and wrote some of his finest work. In Dumfries itself you can follow a Burns trail which includes the house he spent his final years and eventually died in.
If you have been following me for a while, you will probably know my love for Dumfries and Galloway already. It is such an underrated but rewarding region and I have already written quite a few blog posts about things to do in the area which should give you plenty of ideas on how to fill your time.
I've no doubt that Rabbie would have enjoyed a few libations at The Auldgirth Inn, which would have been his local pub back in his days at Ellisland Farm. However, with 500 years of history under its belt, I'm sure the inn has also welcomed many an interesting traveller with a story to tell over the centuries.
The lounge is the perfect place to sit with a dram by the fire and let your imagination run wild about the previous guests that may have frequented the inn.
Until recently, the last major refurbishment of the inn was in 1804, and in 1971 Historic Environment Scotland gave the building a Category B listing. In the last couple of years it has undergone a modern face lift thanks to new owner Robert McAleese who has put Auldgirth firmly back on the local map.
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.
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