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 and below I've listed my pick of the best Wigtown book shops.
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 the best book shops in Wigtown...
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.
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