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.
Kirkmadrine Church and Stones
The atmospheric walk up the tree-lined avenue to Kirkmadrine Church can be a spooky one, especially when you are on your own, on a gloomy day, with thunder roaring overhead (take my word for it!). In my opinion this is one of the most interesting historical sites to visit in the Rhins of Galloway.
The current Kirkmadrine Church was built in the late 1800s and is home to the Kirkmadrine Stones which include three of the oldest Christian memorials in Scotland, dating back to the 500s AD. The stones can be viewed through a glass fronted porch and were all found in the vicinity of the church, confirming that a much earlier Christian Church once existed here.
The church is no longer used but I manged to take a few photos through the grilled windows with the use of a flash which illuminated some of the interesting interior features including the altar and tiled floors. I would love to get a proper look inside at some point!
I have visited many beautiful beaches in Scotland and Port Logan definitely rates highly on my list. Personally it is also my favourite beach on the Rhins of Galloway with nice walks along the coast. There might not a lot to do in this pretty coastal village but this spotless sweep of sand is enough of a reason to take a detour here. You will find another local Rhins of Galloway hidden gem at the Logan Fish Pond, a quirky little attraction that is surprisingly fascinating. It is the UK's and possibly the world's oldest natural marine aquarium. Previously a sea-fish larder, it is now home to a wide range of local marine life. Getting up close to some weird and wonderful local fish might seem like an unusual way to spend some time, however I can assure you it is a lot more fun than it sounds. Another bonus is that it is a dog friendly attraction and definitely a unique place that you really need to experience for yourself.
On my most recent trip to Dumfries and Galloway I stayed in a cute Shepherd's Hut in Glenwhan Gardens. This was the first time I had visited the gardens and really wished I had discovered it sooner.
If I could design my own fairy-tale garden, it would look a lot like Glenwhan, in fact I think I might have found my own magical garden kingdom in this little corner of the Rhins of Galloway. Overlooking Luce Bay and the Mull of Galloway, paths weave through colourful plants and flowers from around the world. Mainly developed by one woman, this little jewel is worth seeking out.
Glenwhan is properly dog friendly and I was even allowed to take Willow into the tearoom with me for lunch. Your dog can also stay with you in the Shepherd's Hut and I loved our 4 nights there. You can book a stay there through Airbnb and if this is your first time using the site you can use my discount code to receive £25 off your first Airbnb stay totaling over £55.
Another historical and dog friendly attraction in the area is Glenluce Abbey, now cared for by Historic Scotland. There is a little exhibition worth looking at before you explore the abbey itself. It provides an overview of the history of Glenluce from its beginnings in 1192 when it was founded by the Earl of Galloway and there are some artifacts from the site on display. It was also appreciated that the guide filled up a fresh bowl of water for Willow to enjoy after her visit around the grounds, being the dog of a travel blogger is thirsty work!
The former Cistercian Abbey is mostly ruins, however the Chapter House has some nice surprises. There are some beautiful stone carvings to see but testing out the acoustics is the really fun part. Even the vocals of a mediocre singer can produce a haunting angelic melody which echoes around the building. If you visit don't forget to try it out for yourself.
As you wander around the remains you can follow in the footsteps of some famous visitors including Robert the Bruce, James IV and Mary Queen of Scots who seemed to stop off at every historic place in Scotland at one time or another!
Castle Kennedy Gardens
Thanks to the mild maritime climate, exotic plants and flowers thrive in the Rhins of Galloway which might explain why there are so many interesting gardens to visit in this small area.
Castle Kennedy Gardens have evolved around the ruins of the castle which was once home to the Earls of Stair before it was destroyed by a fire in 1716.
The landscaped gardens were originally created by the 2nd Earl of Stair in the 1730s and are an ongoing project today. I couldn't have chosen a wetter day to visit which meant Willow and I spent much of our time sheltering under the tall trees. Even on a dreich Scottish day, the gardens still looked impressive as we followed the marked trails past the White and Black Lochs, over bridges and down tree-lined avenues.
I would love to go back on a sunny day to fully appreciate the beauty of this place as being soaked to the skin did tend to put slight dampener on our visit (quite literally).
Logan Botanic Gardens
Yes, another garden! In fairness I've not mentioned all the gardens that you can visit in the Rhins of Galloway, I've selected three that not only do I think are the best but are also very different from each other.
Visiting Logan Botanic Garden is like being transported to somewhere considerably more tropical than Scotland! Themed areas had my imagination running wild as I walked through plantations inspired by South and Central America, Southern Africa and Australasia. You can even listen to a digital audio guide while you walk around although I didn't bother as I just wanted to enjoy the sounds of nature but I'm sure it would enhance your visit if you were interested in learning more.
My wanderings took me to the highest point in Logan Botanic Garden which overlooks the Rhins of Galloway and I finished off with a seat next to the fish pond in the walled garden. I didn't sample their Potting Shed Bistro, however it was a previous winner of Dumfries and Galloway's cafe of the year so might well be worth stopping off.
For me the only downside is that these gardens are not dog friendly.
Take the ferry from Cairnryan to Belfast
It may come as a shock, but I do occasionally travel outwith Scotland although I don't usually write about it here. On this occasion I'm making an exception as the Cairnryan Ferry Port in the Rhins of Galloway means you can easily pop across the water to Northern Ireland in just over 2 hours.
During the summer I discovered the great day trips on offer by Stena Line Ferries and decided to book a trip to visit a couple of Northern Ireland's famous tourist attractions. I thought £30 was a bargain for the return ferry fare and coach tour at the other end. Although it was a long day starting at 7am and returning at 10pm, it was also an easy day as the super comfortable and well equipped ferry was really relaxing and as we were picked up and dropped off at the ferry terminal in Belfast Port, it was all hassle free.
You could also travel as a foot passenger and get the bus from the ferry terminal into Belfast and choose your own sailing times or join an organised tour like I did. They run a few different options including a Game of Thrones themed tour and the one I did which made a few different stops including Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge and The Giant's Causeway. We also managed to view some Game of Thrones locations on our travels which was a real highlight for me.
Hopefully this has given you some ideas of things to do in the Rhins of Galloway and my plan is to do similar guides from more areas of Dumfries and Galloway in the future. If you've enjoyed this blog post or found it useful don't forget to share it :-)
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