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.
Having finally made my mind up, it was time to relax, take a seat by the window and watch the world go by. The fact that all the chocolates are made by hand using the highest quality ingredients is a testament to Gillian's dedication to create a fantastic product and her design background ensures they look as good as they taste. I certainly had no complaints.
Neuro's Bar, Restaurant & Spa
With lunchtime approaching it was time to seek out something more substantial to eat than biscuits and chocolate! I was keen to check out Neuro's in nearby Dumfries, a recently opened bar, restaurant and spa with their own market garden and an ethos for using fresh. local ingredients.
Reading through the lunch menu I was faced with some pretty enticing choices and decided to opt for the scallops with a side of sweet potato chips and a healthy fresh juice to ease my guilt for consuming so many sugary treats already. My food was really delicious and my carrot kick juice with carrot, orange, ginger and turmeric, tasted suitably refreshing and definitely put a zing in my step!
After lunch, head chef Thomas Francis, took us on a tour of their market garden and as we meandered through the grounds he told us the fascinating history of the Crichton Estate where Neuro's is located. Formerly a sprawling psychiatric hospital established in 1838, the estate had lain deteriorating before been taken over by the Crichton Development Company and the Crichton Trust who worked to regenerate the area. The former hospital buildings have a new lease of life and Neuro's is actually housed in the former hydrotherapy suite so it is fitting that it has an onsite spa too.
Thomas is passionate about creating dishes inspired by Dumfries and Galloway produce and he enthusiastically explained about the seasonal vegetables, herbs and edible flowers that they grow in their own garden on the grounds to supplement what they buy from local suppliers.
Tucked away in a fascinating historical estate, Neuro's is well worth seeking out.
A.D Livingston & Sons
After lunch we made the short drive back to Castle Douglas and went on a wander of the town centre which is filled with cute wee independent shops and businesses. An intriguing lane filled with rustic furniture deserved further investigation and we followed the wooden furniture trail to the workshop of A.D Livingston & Sons, antique restorers & furniture makers.
Another family business now in its second generation, we were met by Ian Livingston who runs the company with his brother Kenny. As we entered the charming workshop, Ian welcomed us in his worn apron surrounded by furniture, tools and wood shavings and it really felt as if we had stepped back in time.
The brothers have over 35 years of experience in restoring, buying and selling antiques and their clients include the National Trust for Scotland and various local museums. With a shop, workshop and showroom filled with wooden furniture, antiques and home accessories, this is the perfect place to pick up a bespoke piece for your house. I love the fact that in a world overrun by technology, traditional skills like this are still being kept alive in this little corner of Dumfries and Galloway.
Designs Gallery & Cafe
Just next door to Livingston & Sons is Designs Gallery & Cafe, packed full of colourful creations, it has become South West Scotland's leading independent gallery for contemporary applied art. It is one of those places where you don't know where to start looking as everything is so tempting and pretty.
Exhibitions by regional and international artists in the gallery space complement the quality gifts for sale in the shop.
After a long day exploring and with a cafe downstairs it would have been rude not to finish off our day in Dumfries and Galloway's Food Town without sampling the menu which makes the most of local ingredients (well that's my excuse for eating again!). As it was a nice day we could enjoy making use of the outdoor seating area in the pretty garden and we agreed that it was most definitely time for some cake all round and the large home-baked slices were a delicious end to a foodie day out.
Original Barbour Tartan Collection - Autumn/Winter 16
Touring the South of Scotland was not only about connecting with the heritage of Barbour, but also about celebrating the launch of their Original Barbour Tartan Collection for Autumn/Winter 16. I chose items from the collection for our tour of Southern Scotland and for our visit to Castle Douglas I opted for the Barbour Straiton Wax Jacket (classic and practical), the Barbour Arran Tunic (simple and versatile), Barbour Essential Slim Trousers (just love these!) and Barbour Naomi Loafers (comfortable and smart).
My tour of Southern Scotland was in collaboration with Barbour, however as always, all opinions and experiences are my own.
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