Dumfries and Galloway is not the most famous county in Britain, granted, but it deserves more credit than it currently gets. I admit I do live there, and so I am bound to be in favour of it, but there is something special. The down points are the presence of caravan parks and residential homes every four paces, also there is a constant presence of rain and Sellafield across the solway in Cumbria. The people are so friendly and eager to help. If you wish to get away from it all then I recommend Dumfries and Galloway wholeheartedly. Particularly the smaller communities. The villages are so quaint and cheery, with a strong basis on old fashioned values and ideals, there is little crime and violence. The progress of the last two decades has not really hurt the villages, particularly the smaller ones such as Palnackie and Auchencairn on the A711 from Dalbeattie.I live in the area between Castle Douglas and Dalbeattie which in my opinion is one of the nicest. Castle Douglas has basically no crime and it is on the whole a very prosperous town with bright prospects. There is a good mix of age groups and many good amenities such as pubs and restaurants In conclusion, a lovely part of Britain which deserves more credit.
Peter Pan, by J M Barrie, everyone has heard of. And Auld Lang Syne by Robert Burns. And maybe the Thirty Nine Steps by John Buchan.
Barrie went to school in Dumfries where he spent his happiest days (Victoria Terrace). Burns had a house in Dumfries (Burns Street). Part of the Thirty Nine Steps was filmed in the local hills and valleys.
The gentle hills of Galloway are like the ones in the Rupert Bear books:
gently rounded, with clumps of trees, rocky outcrops ....the occasional castle or gypsy caravan?.... fluffy little clouds and deep blue sky.
When it's not raining, the light is incredibly bright and the air so very clear (hence the attraction to artists).
Actually it does NOT rain a lot. The climate tends to be very mild. A drier version of Cornwall or the Lake District.
Gavin Maxwell, author of Ring of Bright Water, was born here.
Near Thornhill is exotic, multi-turreted 17th century DRUMLARIG CASTLE, with paintings by LEONARDO DA VINCI and REMBRANDT. This is one of Britain's sexiest castles. It is home to the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry. (Queensberry was the father of LORD ARTHUR DOUGLAS). Like most places in this part of Scotland, it is not well sign-posted. It is 4 miles North of Thornhill, along the A76. Look out for the decorative cupolas, Renaissance-style colonnade, Baroque horseshoe stairway and lovely gardens. The castle is open 22 April-13 Aug, and 26 Aug - 31 Aug. Tel 01848 330248.
Coastal KIRKCUDBRIGHT is an "artist's town", associated with the GLASGOW BOYS. Sadly the art in SOME of the local galleries is Woolworths/pretty flowers and hills/amateur stuff. Not too much sign of modern 20th or even 21st century art!
On the other hand, KIRKCUDBRIGHT has
1. Broughton House and Garden. This is where the artist Hornel lived. You can see his Japanese-style pictures of little girls and his magical garden.
2. A fascinating local history museum.
3. The Tolbooth Art Centre which has some superb examples of work by Scottish Colourists. Frequent exhibitions of top class modern art from the UK and overseas.
4. A zoo!
5. Various events/festivals in the tourist season. Perhaps the occasional mock battle.
6. Second hand bookshops.
7. A fabulous JAZZ festival in mid June.
8. Some very comfortable Bed and Breakfast places.
Weapons testing near here has led to worries about radiation on some bits of nearby coast. "Although 27 tonnes of depleted uranium have been fired into the sea at the Kircudbright range none of the shells has been recovered despite extensive searches....the controversial shells ...blamed for causing...Gulf War Syndrome..." according to The Galloway News.
WIGTOWN, which looks very French and has great views, is a book town with 20 book businesses. THE BOOKSHOP has the largest stock of second hand books in Scotland!. Other bookshops have everything from antiquarian to music books to gay and lesbian to fantasy to first editions..... (Some of the locals do not seem too enterprising and you may struggle to find lots of places to eat and drink).
GATEHOUSE OF FLEET has a vast and wonderful second hand book shop, run by poet Robin Munro; the Cally Palace Hotel has AA one rosette food and a super golf course; Georgian buildings; bonny views of hills.
NEW ABBEY is associated with John Balliol, the founder of Balliol College, Oxford. This pretty village has one superb garden (not always open), quite a nice abbey, a museum of COSTUME and a great tearoom.
DALBEATTIE has the friendliest people in Britain. It has the fabulous DALBEATTIE MUSEUM of Victoriana (open mainly June-August at present). The officer on the deck of the Titanic, when it sank, was a man from Dalbeattie. Learn more about this and Dalbeattie's history when you talk to Tommy Henderson at what is one of Scotland's best small museums! The Dalbeattie area has wonderful roads for cycling. Try cycling about 4 miles to:
HAUGH OF URR : drink REAL ALE (Red McGregor etc etc) at the LAURIE ARMS restaurant/pub. The gents toilet is full of naughty postcards; there are two log fires.
The National Trust's hilly THREAVE GARDENS, near the town of Castle Douglas, has a magical walled garden, glasshouses, an Eastern style pond, rock plants, tall trees, rhododendrons.... and heavenly views on a clear day. (The restaurant food is good but not London museum standard)
LOGAN BOTANIC GARDEN
is the most EXOTIC in the UK! This garden is 14 miles South of STRANRAER at port Logan. Open March-October. There are water, walled, terrace, woodland and other small gardens, with tree ferns, palm trees, climbers.... World class and there's a nice licensed restaurant.
Crossmichael, near Castle Douglas, has Scotland's best restaurant,THE PLUMED HORSE.
It's worth coming to Scotland just for their gourmet food. MICHELIN one star.
The world's best real ale is produced by Sulwath Brewers in Castle Douglas. Tours can be arranged. (see below)
BUDDHISTS will enjoy the SAMYE-LING Tibetan Centre at Eskdalemuir. Here you will find a magnificent golden-roofed temple, and the oldest Tibeten centre in the West.
ROCKCLIFFE is an Enid Blyton sort of coastal village with mystery islands, beaches, rock pools and (according to the local papers) smugglers not too far away. Great for walks. Nice tearoom. Yachts and pubs at nearby Kipford. (Wash your hands after building castles on the beach. Watch out for incoming tides).
Loch Ken, near Castle Douglas, is for WINDSURFERS. The Galloway Sailing Centre (tel 01644 420626) at Loch Ken can tell you about Dinghy Courses, powerboating courses, canoeing courses, gorge scrambling and quad bikes....
Family fun can be had at CREAM O' GALLOWAY, Rainton, Gatehouse of Fleet, Castle Douglas. www.creamogalloway.co.uk Open Easter until October. This place has an adventure playground and nature trail.
Dumfries has THE ICE BOWL for skating. Tel 01387 251300
Try Rhonehouse to Kirkcudbright ( 7 miles, deserted road, flowers, sheep, rabbits, little hills like babies' buttocks, country cottages, and roast salmon washed down with Criffel real ale at the Selkirk Arms).... or Castle Douglas to Dalbeattie via haugh of Urr or.....
Almost everywhere is for CYCLING, FISHING, WALKING, and JOHN BUCHAN ADVENTURES. There's also golf. Or you can sit in the old inn, by the log fire, reading a detective novel and sipping a whisky.
John Buchan adventures? This area has traditionally been used by the armed forces for hush hush training of special forces (and 'Moslem terrorists', according to newspapers). Expect to see the occasional Hawk fighter, tank, or men dressed as trees. Loads of spies.
Military aircraft have crashed into local farms about five times in the last two years. "The latest crash was only seconds away from Lockerbie, in one direction, and Dumfries in the other..." according to The Dumfries Courier.
LOCKERBIE - There were many advance warnings that a bomb was going to be placed on a US aircraft at Frankfurt airport. For example, on 5 December 1988, the US Embassy in Helsinki had a telephone warning that "within the next two weeks" an attempt would be made to place a bomb aboard a Pan Am flight from Frankfurt to New York. On 8 December 1988, Israeli forces raided a PFLP-GC camp in the Lebanon and captured documents describing a planned attack on a PanAm flight out of Frankfurt. On 18 december 1988 the German BKA was tipped off about a bomb plot against Pan Am 103 in the next two or three days. On 20 December 1988, Israel's Mossad gave a similar warning...
Pan Am Flight 103 hit Lockerbie on 21 December 1988. On that flight "were at least 2 US Intelligence agents and a Mr Khalid Nazir Jafaar." The Dumfries and Galloway police began to investigate. But for two days it was "difficult" for them to collect evidence as "CIA agents combed the countryside for the luggage of the dead American intelligence agents and a suitcase full of heroin....59 bodies were left lying around Lockerbie until 24 December...but by then there were only 58 bodies..." according to Lester Coleman (see Dooyoo books).
see also www.thelockerbietrial.com
HOW TO GET THERE?
NATIONAL EXPRESS coaches (www.gobycoach.com)
will whisk you from London, Birmingham, Manchester etc to Dumfries, Castle Douglas etc. Very cheap. Recommended.
A grotty little train will take you from Carlisle to Dumfries. The train used to go to Stranraer, but not any more.
Dumfries Railway Station has no shop or cafe and there will be a long queue for information or tickets.
Recently I wrote,
"Outside the railway station, you may find that the MacEwans bus has not turned up.
You'll probably have to walk.
Bus services are poor. MacEwans buses travel too fast. Stagecoach buses have little leg room and are TOO FAST and there aren't enough of them. Why is SAFETY not a priority? Is the Council listening?
"MacEwans Coaches boss is ready to defend his company after it was branded unreliable this week... Members of the environment and infrastructure committee were told that while Stagecoach Western - which has also attracted a significant number of complaints - had improved, MacEwans had failed to and in some cases had become worse..." Dumfries Courier Oct 13, 2000.
WHERE TO STAY?
You could stay in DUMFRIES.
The Station Hotel, opposite the station, possibly has the best food in Dumfries. Service varies. AA 3 stars. Comfortable. Tel 01387 254316. firstname.lastname@example.org. Not cheap: prices about the same as the Cairndale Hotel (below)
The Cairndale Hotel, Telephone 01387 254111, on English St. is very central and has a heated indoor pool and other leisure facilities. But it's not cheap.
DUMFRIES is a small town with some attractive Victorian and medieval architecture (and some horrid 60's buldings). You will see lots of young people who look unemployed and seriously malnourished (drugs? AIDS? poverty?). Some of the school kids from JM Barrie's old school look as scruffy as you'll get (although they will politely offer directions). You begin to think you are in the Third World.
"A man has been accused in court at Dumfries of being concerned in the supplying of HEROIN to others in the grounds of DUMFRIES ACADEMY.... (The accused) pleaded not guilty to the charge alleged to have taken place over a NINE MONTHS PERIOD..." Dumfries Courier.
You will seldom see a policeman in Dumfries and Galloway.
Dumfries has few restaurants you would want to recommend, other than the STATION HOTEL and BARBOUR's DEPARTMENT SHOP restaurant. The pubs tend to sell that terrible McEwans or Tennants beer rather than the tasty local real ale.
For a pub with exotic decor try The White Hart on Brewery St (Guinness and pool table).
The Gracefield Arts Centre always seems to be closed and the food there is nothing great. The Gracefield, 28 Edinburgh Road, is normally open Tuesday to Saturday 10am to 5pm. Tel 01387 262084 to check. Just occasionally there are superb exhibitions of modern art.
Burns' House is reasonably interesting, but not worth the trouble of a long journey.
Amazingly, Dumfries has no museum honouring the author of Peter Pan!!
"It was the original Never Land, the inspiration for Peter Pan. But the Dumfries townhouse Moat Brae, auctioned yesterday for £80,000, is not destined to become a shrine to J M Barrie...It was in the Enchanted Garden of this house, chasing, climbing, and prowling through the undergrowth, that the young Barrie met Captain Hook, Tinkerbell and the other characters..." -Glasgow Herald.
Had this house been bought by Dumfries Council it could have brought in millions of tourists from all over the world.
Dumfries has the fantastic, world-class, Victorian, CHRICHTON buildings, Bankend Rd www.chrichton.org.uk
Formerly this was one of the biggest mental institutions in the world - world famous and set up by a rich philanthropist; now it is university buildings. BUT, you can visit the 80 acres of GARDEN, see the Crichton Museum.......rock garden, pond, exotic trees...
Dumfries also has one of Britain's best looking church - St Michaels. Robert Burns is buried outside.
There is a THEATRE; linked to J M Barrie! Worth a visit.
Shopping in Dumfries? There are lots of charity shops, a run-down untidy Wooolworths, a Marks and Spencer where I have never been able to buy anything my size, three bookshops, a WH Smith selling what some would consider porn mags....
There's also BARBOUR's rather good DEPARTMENT STORE.
As an alternative to Dumfries, try CASTLE DOUGLAS!
Castle Douglas is a comfortable little town (apart from the very occasional mugging) in a nice central position, surrounded by hills and castles and sheep.
It has the best shopping in the area,
loads of cafes including The Scottish Pantry (sofas, carpet), Designs Cafe/Gallery (arty), Street Lights (arty) and PJs (not expensive).
a caravan park,
a cycle shop,
a boating loch,
a little art gallery (The McGill Duncan Gallery has had paintings by Redpath, Eardley, Oppenheimer etc. ),
a superb second hand book shop,
Weekend DISCOS and live music at the Market inn
a swimming pool!
Massage and fitness centre,
the Sulwath brewery which produces the world's tastiest real ales
For example, Knockendoch is a dark copper coloured brew tasting of deeply roasted malts. It will delight any connoisseur! The brewery offers tours)
Castle Douglas is a FOOD TOWN and has excellent butchers and other food shops.
NOWHERE in town has an AA Rosette or Michelin star.
Try the KINGS ARMS Hotel or try the URR VALLEY HOTEL, one mile out of town, set in 14 acres of woodland, and with a country house feel, or try THE IMPERIAL.
The Imperial Hotel, 35 King Street, Castle Douglas DG7 1AA, tel 01556 502086, www.thegolfhotel.co.uk email@example.com
is similar to the Douglas Arms but with decor which is more Victorian. Former coaching inn. Listed building. The lounge bar has old pictures of semi-naked children. The Imperial is immensely popular with LOCALS and golfers. Good sometimes-home-cooked food. No real ale. Children welsome. Recommended by the AA.
OR try the CREEBRIDGE HOUSE HOTEL in NEWTON STEWART. The food is first class (in the restaurant rather than the bar) and not too expensive. AND they sell Knockendoch real ale! A highly recommended hotel.
NEWTON STEWART has the excellent KIRROUGHTREE HOUSE hotel tel 01671 402141
which has an AA 3 Rosette restaurant!!! (same no. of rosettes as Cheznico, The Dorchester, The Savoy...}The hotel is AA 3 stars. Posh interior.
PORTPATRICK, on the coast, somewhat remote, has the wonderful KNOCKINAAM LODGE HOTEL, tel 01776 81 0471 the
restaurant of which has AA 3 Rosettes! (same as London's River Cafe, Bibendum....)
The people of Dumfries and Galloway are the people who ran Hong Kong (Jardines and Flemings...) and ran a large part of the Empire! You'll bump into Galloway people in Africa, South America and Australasia.
Strangely, this area has more millionaires than most places. Lots of big houses. They must like the scenery.
"Scotland puts a smile on your face" according to the Glasgow Herald. "The Scots are the happiest people in Britain, according to a new study of the nation's mood....In Scotland the LifeIndex score was 6.6 out of ten. London had the lowest score 5.4 ....."
"Pupils in first year drinking to excess" says the Glasgow Herald. More than a quarter of first-year secondary students in NE Scotland have had so much to drink they have been too drunk to stand up, a new report revealed....A study by Glasgow University showed that 85% of students in the Angus area had consumed alcohol by the time they completed their first year of secondary school..."
"Almost 60 children, including some as young as eight, were found in possession of offensive weapons such as knives and baseball bats during the first week of a crackdown on violence by police throughout Scotland...." Glasgow Herald.
To be fair, Dumfries and Galloway has a lower crime rate than Glasgow, London, Rwanda..... It has the best crime clear-up rate in Britain.
TO SUM UP - THIS IS BETTER THAN the Lake District or Cornwall if you have a romantic sort of mind.
Dumfries and Galloway will appeal to -
CYCLISTS, fishermen, WALKERS, foodies CARAVANERS, booklovers, JOHN BUCHAN/JM BARRIE/GAVIN MAXWELL FANS, Enid Blyton children..........
www.theaa.co.uk (for hotels)