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!
It's not every day you get invited on a trip to a mystery destination in Scotland (well I certainly don't!), so needless to say when I received such an invite from VisitScotland, I immediately cleared my diary and packed my bag for all eventualities. Okay they did specify dress cosy and warm but that seemed a bit vague so I stuffed my rucksack with as many clothes as I could fit, although the fact that one of the zips burst was a sign that I might have packed a few things too many, oops! The trip was a media event to coincide with the launch of their new global marketing campaign 'Scotland - A Spirit of its Own'.
In search of some top secret #ScotSpirit I boarded a minivan in Glasgow, accompanied by a group of journalists and bloggers from around the UK and Ireland and we quickly set off towards our still undisclosed destination.
I was delighted when we eventually stopped and I realised we were in the depths of Galloway Forest Park in a stunning spot overlooking Loch Riecawr. It seemed rather fitting that our secret destination turned out to be in Dumfries and Galloway, a region which still remains secret to many tourists despite it being rich with scenery and steeped in history. Our immersive local experience provided an opportunity to discover some of the elements that make up the Dumfries and Galloway #ScotSpirit.
After a quick chance to stretch our legs, a children's playpark provided a viewpoint and variety of unconventional seating for the group to sit quietly, while we were encouraged to reflect and inhale the unique detail of the surrounding landscape, looking for original photography ideas rather than randomly clicking away with our cameras and phones. Thankfully we had some expert advice on hand from one of the park's new Dark Sky Rangers, Morag Paterson, who handily also happens to be a professional photographer and artist.
In 2009 Galloway Forest Park gained status as an International Dark Sky Park, the only one in the UK and only one of four in the Western world. In a bid to increase tourism to the area in the quieter months, four Biosphere Dark Sky Rangers, from a variety of backgrounds, have been trained to use their personal specialisms in a way that will encourage wider use of the park, with photography being just one of the activities on offer.
Getting a literal flavour of an area, is an essential ingredient to any immersive local experience but how do you provide an authentic fine dining setting in the middle of a remote and commercially undeveloped forest? Well naturally you deliver the restaurant to the park! This is much easier when the restaurant happens to be a converted shipping container on wheels pulled by a tractor.
Once you realise it is one of the latest brainwaves from brothers, Tom and Dick Lewis, of the family run Mhor brand, the quirkiness of it all makes perfect sense. Owners of a hill farm in Perthshire, an esteemed hotel, motel, fish restaurant and bakery among other smaller ventures, a transportable eatery seems like a perfect addition to the family.
However, it is also their passion for local produce that made them the perfect hosts for the evening and both brothers were on hand to tell us more about the ingredients behind the delicious dishes which were either sourced from within 30 minutes of our location or raised on their own farm.
I know first hand that travelling anywhere for any length of time can add up financially. As you may have guessed I love to explore Scotland at every opportunity and share all the wonderful places I find on my blog. Like most people I don't have a huge bank account and my travels are funded by my 'real' job but there is a way to stay in some pretty special places for cheap and even better for free!
Yes, I'm going to use the 'C' word, if you want to travel on a budget then it is time to embrace camping.
My most recent camping trip took me along the west coast from Ayrshire to Dumfries and Galloway. For 2 people and our four legged companion we managed to visit some pretty special Scottish places and our accommodation costs for 4 nights were only £36. The possibilities for camping are endless but this is a summary of my trip which you could easily do or seek out your own little haven under canvas.
We spent our first 2 nights in the lovely village of Maidens in Ayrshire with a beautiful harbour view, a handy picnic table, 2 minutes from a toilet block and a couple of minutes from the beach where we watched the sunset. Can you believe we enjoyed all this for free? We basically found a nice piece of public grass and pitched our tent.
This is classed as wild camping which is permitted in Scotland providing you follow some common sense rules. For more info have a read at the Visit Scotland guide.
People passing by kept commenting on how envious they were as we had such an idyllic place to stay for the night. Camping may not be for everyone but for me it's hard to beat if you're looking to save money and still have a great adventure.
There is a hotel in Maidens if you don't fancy cooking and it is nearby Culzean Castle and Country Park which is worth visiting for the day, you can read about it on my blog. As I sat on the rocks watching the sunset with our tea brewing on our little camping stove I did wonder if life gets any better than this?
Ever since stumbling across a link to the Mull of Galloway on social media I have been inspired to visit Scotland's most southerly point and I was excited to finally get there this week. For some reason I have never reached the extremities of my country and recently added them to my Scottish travel 'to do' list.
As I drove down the Rhins of Galloway peninsula on the southwest corner of Scotland looking towards the Irish Sea I expected it to be a harsh and windswept environment, however it is anything but.
Instead you are met with wide sweeping vistas of sandy beaches and colourful patchwork fields. There is a peacefulness and lush beauty that I didn't expect and I was also rewarded with the sight of my first Red Kite hovering and swooping over the farmland below.
Drummore is the last little town you pass heading south and If like me you still enjoy sending mail the old fashioned way and not via virtual messaging then Scotland's first and last post office is situated here and makes a unique postal stop. Across the road you can also stock up on supplies at Scotland's most southerly store!
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