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Back at the end of June this year we had a trip up to Scotland with some friends, for a weeks holiday. We actually stayed in Kirkcudbright, but had a few trips out by car and by public transport. On the Wednesday (wed been there since Saturday) we decided to catch the bus to the nearby town of Castle Douglas. This is what we found
~~~WHERE IS CASTLE DOUGLAS?
The town is near to the centre of the Dumfries and Galloway area of Southern Scotland. It is in a part of the region known as the Stewartry and is located roughly between the towns of Gatehouse of Fleet and Dalbeatie. We went there on the local service bus from Kirkcudbright. The McEwan's bus numbers 501 and 505 run frequently from Kirkcudbright to Dumfries, stopping in Castle Douglas. We caught the bus from the Harbour stop at Kirkcudbright and the journey takes about 20 to 25 minutes. When you get to CD (as it is known locally) you can either get off at the bottom of the main street (King Street) or at the top of the same street near the Tourist Information Centre.
~~~A BIT OF HISTORY.
Castle Douglas was only really bought into existence as a town around 200 years ago. There isnt actually a castle in Castle Douglas either! The area where the town is sited is really where the historical heritage of the place comes from such as Threave Castle (to be found nearby), which was a stronghold of the Black Douglas Clan and built in the 14th Century, Carlingwark Loch (a pretty lake) and the prehistoric standing stones which are not too far away. The area has been populated by settlers throughout history (and even pre-history) and evidence of occupation by the Celts and the Romans has been found, in the form of Roman forts and Celtic Crannogs in the loch. The importance of the location mainly comes from the fertile land and the prospect of good farming land was the main draw.
In recent times CD has become known as the regions Food Town. Drawing on the agricultural past and the advent of railways (in the mid to late 19th Century), which bought in a ready supply of fresh ingredients from other areas, the town now has a respected food and drink industry. There are top class restaurants, food producers and retailers, selling and promoting the food of Scotland via a plethora of cafes, restaurants, shops and hotels. The tourism in the town has built up as a result, as has also has a positive economic effect on the farming industry as a whole, due to increased outlets for their goods.
~~~WHAT DID WE DO IN CASTLE DOUGLAS?
I would recommend staying on the bus to the top of Kings Street rather than getting off at the bottom. You can then walk the full length of the main bit of town and get the bus at the bottom to go home. You could do this the other way round, but we found the best pub to eat at and the main reason for our visit (Ill reveal all later!) didnt open until a little later and were towards the bottom end of the road. Getting off here also means you can visit the Tourist Information centre straight away to find out whats on and where to visit (theres a public toilet here too for post bus journey rushes), rather than finding it just after youve explored the town!
The TIC is by the main public car park (which strangely is free, unlike many public car parks these days) and public toilet block (basic, but not bad on the cleanliness front). It isnt a big TIC but it does have some friendly and knowledgeable staff and also some nice souvenirs and gifts. One of the friends we were with bought a souvenir plate to take home as a gift she had looked at the same one in the TIC in Dumfries and it was more expensive there. Because the one in CD is smaller and the place isnt quite as commercial as Dumfries it was worth looking in there for a bargain. We found a few useful leaflets about the Food & Drink events and retailers here and set off down the street to look in the shops and soak up the atmosphere.
What I did like was that there were lots of interesting shops as well as the usual retail outlets. There arent any big department store type shops ether, adding to the relaxed small town feel. The major retailer seems to be Gowans, who have several shops in town, including a childrens wear shop and ladies and gents stores. These seemed pretty reasonably priced and were small and friendly too. Other interesting shops included a rather nice craft and gift shop and a whisky and wine retailer who sell some locally produced drinks as well as nationally (and internationally made drinks). There are also some very good independent food shops the butchers looked especially nice. Unfortunately we couldnt really buy anything to take back because of our long drive back home to Derbyshire and we were also planning to spend a few hours in the town and didnt want any food to go off. Look out for the Toffee Shop, Corsons Bakery, In House Chocolates & Deli and Littles Butchers all on King Street.
After some shopping, and drooling over yummy looking food, it had got to around 11.30 am and we had got to the bottom part of King Street. We had skillfully timed the visit to coincide with calling in for a couple of pints at Sulwath Brewery, located at 209 King Street. The visitor centre attached to the brewery actually opens up at 10am, but we decided that would be far too early for a beer (hence getting off the bus at the top of King Street). The visitor centre has a bar and a small gift shop where you can buy beer related gifts and (of course) bottles and containers of Sulwath beers. It had proved very difficult getting hold of local beer in Kirkcudbright as with most places the most local of beers are denied access to local pubs and we had so far been treated only to London Pride and Black Sheep Bitter (and a whiff of fumes from a just finished cask of Deuchars IPA). So, starved of interesting beers a visit to Castle Douglas, the home of a micro-brewery, was the order of the day for us.
Thankfully we werent disappointed! The brewery does tours at £3.50 each (including samples of their beer), but we just called for a beer and were welcomed with smiles and friendliness. Even though we werent doing the tour we were still treated to a sample of each beer on the bar there were four to choose from, so we tried a sample of each and then chose a pint of each to buy. I had Black Galloway porter, but we actually all opted for a different one. We werent rushed off and could have stayed there as long as we wanted over the drink. Lunchtime was beckoning though, so we asked which was the best pub to eat at and promised to call back later to get some beers to take back home.
The pub the chap behind the bar recommended was the Douglas Arms Hotel at 206 Kings Street so, not far to walk at all! This former coaching inn looked very nice from the outside, so we headed in for a meal and a beer. The Douglas Arms also sells Sulwath beer (cynically you could say this was why it was recommended), so we could also have a decent pint with our lunch! The food was excellent and reasonably priced main course was around a tenner I had chicken breast, stuffed with haggis and wrapped in bacon. This was lovely and the other meals looked tempting too. Dinner was washed down with a pint of Sulwath Criffel and very nice it was too!
This took us up to around 1.30pm. We decided that we should start thinking about heading back to Kirkcudbright soon and only had time for one more drink. The unanimous decision was to go back to the brewery bar and sample another beer and get our souvenir bottles to take back on the bus. It was the same friendly bloke behind the bar. He asked about how wed enjoyed our beer and lunch and pulled us another pint this time I had a Galloway Gold cask lager. We picked which beers we were going to take home and Alun and I opted for a mixed palate of 12 bottles giving us two each of a few of their beers (Criffel Ale, Knockendoch, Galloway Gold, Black Galloway, Ciull Hill) and an extra one of the Criffel IPA.
so, our visit to Castle Douglas was at an end. We carried our bottles the very short distance to the bus stop, more or less across the road from the brewery. We all commented about how well the town had been planned! There is very little walking involved in a trip to CD all of it is via shops and things to look at, it has a brewery, a good range of places to eat and stay and has a regular bus service to surrounding towns. We also all agreed that it would be a good base to stay in if you are planning to visit the Stewartry area of Scotland. Above all you will never go hungry in Castle Douglas .you might have a job staying sober too!
The most outstanding feature on King Street is the large octagonal clock tower built in 1935 on the site of an earlier town house and steeple which had burned down. A short distance along Abercrombie Street from the clock tower is the town hall dating back to 1863, while nearby is the RC Church of St John the Evangelist, built in 1868. This is one of five churches in Castle Douglas, including the Parish Church in Queen Street and the nearby former Parish Church, converted to a theatre in 1992. Castle Douglas is increasingly seen as a base for those touring South West Scotland. It is centrally located in a part of the country which always turns out to be larger than expected. It also has a couple of outstanding visitor attractions in its own right.