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.
For the first stop on my tour of the South of Scotland with Barbour I wanted to showcase some of the local produce at the Food Town of Castle Douglas, for the second stop I wanted to reveal a very different side to the region. Kirkcudbright has become known as the Artists' Town and you only have to spend 5 minutes walking around the streets to see why. Numerous galleries, workshops and decorated spaces are evidence of the many artists that have been drawn to this pretty harbour town on the Solway Coast. Although it is only 10 miles along the road from our first stop at Castle Douglas, Kirkcudbright has a very different look and feel, thanks to its coastal position complete with working harbour, splashes of bright colour and the imposing ruins of Maclellan's Castle standing guard over the town (complete with Rapunzel letting down her hair during our visit!).
Image Credit - Sean Elliott Photography for Barbour
We arrived 2 days before the opening of The Kirkcudbright Arts and Crafts Trail, an annual event where venues open their doors and public art displays take over the streets and lanes. Although we were early for the festival, we were in time to view the Kelpie Maquettes which had arrived the previous day and were already causing a buzz. If you have read my blog before you will know how much I love these sculptures by Andy Scott and although they are mini versions of the real thing I was still pretty excited to see them.
While we were waiting for the galleries to open, we had time to meander around the streets and admire the pastel coloured houses and smile at the quirky art on display every place we looked. At times Kirkcudbright feels like one big gallery, with many of the locals putting on their own little garden exhibitions and tempting you to discover more artisan treasures and curious window displays down hidden lanes. This is the kind of secret magical world that I love exploring!
When Barbour first approached me about taking them on a tour of Southern Scotland, I was a little curious as to why they had chosen to explore this often overlooked part of the country. After a bit of research it turns out that Barbour has quite a few connections to the area that I hadn't realised before, including the fact that the company founder, John Barbour, was actually raised on a farm in Galloway before moving across the Border and opening his first Barbour store in South Shields.
The clothing range is known for its use of tartan which was first incorporated as a lining in their original oilskin coats to celebrate John Barbour's Scottish roots. The Barbour name originates from Ayrshire in the South West of Scotland and the first exclusive Barbour tartan was inspired by incorporating the Ayrshire District tartan 'sett' in the design. They now have seven exclusive tartans that feature heavily in their products.
These connections also explain why Sam Heughan of Outlander fame makes an ideal choice as Barbour's first Global Brand Ambassador as he was born in New Galloway, not far from the farm where John Barbour lived.
Still run as a family business which is proud of it's heritage, I can understand why the south of Scotland is important to Barbour and I was delighted to have another excuse to promote some of the hidden gems that make this part of Scotland worth adding to your travel itinerary. With four days to explore, I decided that our first stop would be Castle Douglas, an 18th Century market town that is also designated as Dumfries and Galloway's Food Town, the perfect place to showcase some local Scottish produce.
Irvings Homestyle Bakery
There is nothing like the smell of baking to start off a foodie themed day and a trip to Irvings Homestyle Bakery didn't disappoint with hunger inducing aromas wafting through the air! Situated in a little retail estate, the small shop at the front is just a taster of what goes on behind the scenes and we were lucky enough to be shown around by Keith Irving, the second generation of the family business.
Large rotating ovens were hard at work, along with the many employees that the business has been able to take on thanks to their success. It is hard to believe that this thriving operation started with Keith's mum, Mrs Irving, baking biscuits in her kitchen to sell in the farmhouse shop.
Mrs Irving is still on hand to make sure the baked goods retain the look and texture you would expect to find in a farmhouse kitchen and it was lovely to meet the enterprising woman who started everything off, using recipes handed down through generations of her family. It was very inspiring to see mother and son beaming with pride for their business which has expanded from humble beginnings to supplying retailers, hotels and restaurants.
It would have been rude not to leave without a pack of Scottish shortbread which went down a treat with a cup of tea back home on Bute.
In House Chocolates
There's nothing like a mid-morning coffee and chocolate fix to keep your energy up during travel adventures and In House Chocolates in Castle Douglas town centre sent me into chocolate heaven! The owner Gillian Warden has developed and produced several Gold Winning chocolates and the shop is filled with tempting creations such as Violet Creams, Drambuie Truffles and Belted Galloway shaped chocolates that were just too cute!
If choosing your chocolates isn't hard enough, then the 25 types of coffee ground to order or 14 teas available will only add to your dilemma.
The last time I planned a trip along the coast of Dumfries & Galloway, car trouble meant we had to turn back. This time I was determined to get further than Mull of Galloway, Scotland's most southerly point, although this is without doubt the most dramatic part of the coast.
After dropping my husband off at the train station in Girvan, Willow and I hurtled south towards Stranraer. I took a notion to stop at Castle Kennedy Gardens as it offered pretty walks, ideal for Willow and I to stretch our legs. Unfortunately, we were not long through the entrance when the heavens opened and we were both completely soaked. Willow was not impressed that I persevered with our walk despite the rain getting heavier and eventually I resigned to returning back to the car dripping wet, although we had wandered long enough to get a taste of how pretty the gardens would look on a drier day!
I had planned to return to one of my favourite campsites at Castle Bay near Portpatrick with a view towards the atmospheric Dunskey Castle and Ireland across the water, so made this our next stop (it cost me £11 per night). With grim weather forecast for the rest of the day I quickly set up the tent during a calm and dry period between the heavy showers and enjoyed a cup of tea with a pretty decent view.
As predicted the heavens opened once again and I sat cuddled up to Willow, cosy in our tent until the wind picked up and the back started sagging! I was convinced I must have put the tent poles in the wrong way and spent the next wee while taking down the tent and re-building it, battling the wind and rain just to find out that the tent poles were fine all along! At that point my camping neighbour returned and saw my pathetic predicament and quickly helped me figure out that I had forgotten to peg down 2 loops on the inside and I felt duly stupid and eternally grateful. By the time I finally settled in for the night I was wet through, miserable and feeling more than a bit sorry for myself. I slept on and off, listening through the night as the rain eventually softened and the wind was reduced to a gentle breeze. A lesson learned the hard way and hopefully the last of my camping mishaps!
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