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Kirkcudbright (Scotland)

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Kirkcudbright (Cille Chuithbeirt) is a town in the south of Scotland in Dumfries and Galloway. Kirkcudbright enjoys a sheltered position in the estuary of the River Dee on the north Solway shore. Only about 25 miles west of Dumfries the town is easily acc

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      31.07.2007 20:11
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      A great base for exploring this area of Scotland.

      At the end of June four of us (myself, my husband and two friends) went away for a week to Scotland. I had never been to this area of the UK before so I was really looking forward to experiencing lots of new places. We usually stay in a cottage or flat, so a trawl of prices on the internet led us to a first floor apartment in Kirkcudbright. Our first test was to learn how to pronounce the name – a quick chat with some Scottish friends of ours enlightened us to the correct way to say it. So…we were booked and going to Cur-coo-bree for our holidays!

      ~~~WHERE IS KIRKCUDBRIGHT?

      Kirkcudbright is in the Dumfries and Galloway region of South West Scotland. The town is located on the Dee Estuary, near to the point where it touches Kirkcudbright Bay. It was once the County town of the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright; the area between the Nith and Cree rivers. It is still an administrative centre for the region.

      ~~~A BIT OF HISTORY.

      Kirkcudbright is known as the Artists Town because it apparently has exceptionally good light and surroundings. The name Kirkcudbright means Kirk of Cuthbert - this comes from the 8th Century church that occupied the site originally. This was when the area formed part of the Kingdom of Northumbria and was strategically important because the natural harbour of the Dee was a good mooring for boats. This is one of the reasons why the town built up and by the 13th Century it was used by the lords of Galloway as a major harbour facility. It eventually became a Royal Burgh in the mid 15th Century, by which point it was one of the busiest ports in Scotland.

      In the following years the town saw itself taking part in Witch trials and even held famous prisoners in its Tollbooth. The importance of the town as a harbour is reflected in the fine houses (especially on the High Street), where even Robert Burns graced the place for frequent visits. The Kirkcudbright you will see today is a small bustling town, with a good range of shops, a harbour, museums and a few art galleries. It maybe isn’t as strategically important in the area as it once was, but it is still a nice place to visit.

      ~~~WHAT IS THERE TO SEE?

      I was pleased to find that there was quite a lot to do in Kirkcudbright. We had chosen it primarily for the location and as a base to visit the surrounding area – Dumfries, Castle Douglas, Stranraer and Gatehouse of Fleet are just a bus ride away! So when there were things to do in the town itself we were pleasantly surprised.

      ***The Castle***

      The most dominant attraction, and one that can be seen from most places in the town, is the castle. MacLellan’s Castle is the ruin of a 16th Century noble’s fortified house. It is now maintained by Historic Scotland and is open to the public between April and November. We didn’t pay to go in, but spent quite a while looking at the outside – as there is no roof, we didn’t really see the point in paying to see what we could mostly see from the outside anyway! We were able to experience the atmosphere of the place fine from the pavement next to the castle and read about it from our guide books and print outs off the internet. The town’s war memorial is located on the street in front of the castle – an impressive statue with a sword (that totally freaked me out after watching the episode of Doctor Who a couple of weeks before, with the moving statues in it!).

      ***The Tollbooth Arts Centre***

      The arts centre can be found in the corner of the High Street (one of the main streets of Kirkcudbright and an L shaped street) and is housed in the old Tollbooth. The Tollbooth is where prisoners were often imprisoned – including Elsbeth McEwen (a famous witch tried and executed nearby) and John Paul Jones (a famous American Naval hero). Now, the Tollbooth is a finely restored historic building which has replaced prisoners with art. A visit here will cost you nothing! It is also a great place to learn about the artistic history of Kirkcudbright – there is an audio-visual presentation and a variety of exhibitions of paintings and other artistic offerings. We found it very interesting and a nice place to spend an hour or so – there is a café on the ground floor too if you want to stay a little longer.

      ***Broughton House & Garden***

      Also located on one part of the High Street this 18th Century town house is another testament to the historic heritage of the town. Broughton house has only been open to the public since 2005, but it is well worth a visit for anyone with an interest in art (and beautiful things in general). Broughton was the studio of E A Hornel (one of the famous “Glasgow Boys”) and I enjoyed looking round his studio and seeing his notebooks and getting an insight into his life. I also liked walking in the pretty gardens – a bonus because the weather on the day we visited was pretty sunny. The house is now owned by the National Trust for Scotland and bear in mind that it does cost £8 each to get in (£5 for concessions), so if you’re not an art fan you may not think it worth going.

      ***Harbour Cottage Gallery***

      The harbourside setting of this gallery makes it a convenient place to pop in while looking around the harbour and marina area. It is housed in an old fisherman’s cottage and has a programme of exhibitions showcasing the art of the region. We just had a little look around and really enjoyed it. The entrance fee was only about £1.50, so it didn’t break the bank either!

      ***The Stewartry Museum***

      The town’s museum was built specifically for this purpose at the end of the 19th Century, a little way along St. Mary’s Street. Admission is free and I would recommend a visit. There are a variety of exhibits including natural history and human history, as well as some changing exhibitions about the local area. I was more interested than the rest of the people I was with because I’m a bit of a history buff!

      ***The harbour & marina***

      A walk beyond the High Street will take you to the Sailing Club and Marina. To be honest there isn’t a lot to do here – just a few seats to sit on actually and a few privately owned boats. Access to the jetty where the boats are is for sailing club members only, so you can really only sit at the side by the estuary and watch. The harbour is much more interesting. It is a working harbour and you will see a few fishing boats arriving and anchoring by the harbour walls. Around here there is also a statue of a woman holding a child, made of wood, dedicated to those lost at sea. Near the harbour you will find a pretty decent tourist information centre too.

      The main bus stop is near the harbour and TIC, where you can catch buses to the surrounding towns – but beware because a lot of the buses were run by several different companies and seemed to take a degree to understand when and where they were going (for example a couple of routes had the same number!).

      ~~~SHOPPING.

      For a small town there are some pretty good shops offering a variety of produce. We were staying on a self catering basis, so the two supermarkets were very welcome – there is a Co-op on St. Cuthbert’s Street and a Somerfield just off the High Street. There are quite a few shops on St. Mary’s, St. Cuthbert’s and the High Street, including antiques shops, a couple of take-aways, galleries, cafes, pubs and restaurants. We did find that all the take-aways closed really early, so we had to plan when to eat like a military operation!


      ~~~FINAL THOUGHTS.

      As a base for a holiday in the South West of Scotland you can’t go far wrong with Kirkcudbright. We found it to be a friendly and pretty town, with lots of lovely painted buildings and lovely little art galleries. From here we could explore a the area – we had day trips to Dumfries, Castle Douglas, Gatehouse of Fleet and a few trips out to a local brewery and a distillery. We also found a good amount of things to occupy us in the town itself meaning that we didn’t have to spend money on bus fares or petrol every day. Wandering around the town was pleasant and flat. Nothing was too much of a trek away and there were no hills to climb to reach all the points of interest.

      I thoroughly recommend Kirkcudbright and was really glad we chose to stay there for our week’s holiday this year. I was given the chance to see a part of the country I had never visited before from a good starting point.

      ~~~USEFUL INFO.

      Kirkcudbright TIC
      Harbour Square
      Kirkcudbright DG6 4HY
      01557 330494

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