10 things to do on holiday in Dumfries and Galloway
Dumfries and Galloway is a great place to have a holiday, as a couple or with friends. Our family has been visiting an area called The Machars, just south of Newton Stewart, for a generation and through this website, Glorious Galloway, we would like to share some of our favourite places. We keep more detailed information, maps and leaflets at our holiday cottage, Burnside. We would be delighted to host your stay, as well as be your guide to Galloway. Check out our website and the link to our booking page at www.homeaway.co.uk below…
Great holidays in Dumfries and Galloway, South West Scotland
1.Hiking and Walking in Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland
There is fabulous walking in Galloway, from the coastal plains of The Machars up into the remote Galloway Hills and Galloway Forest Park.
The Machars hosts one of the finest coastal walks in the country, from Garlieston to Cruggleton Castle, pictured. It begins on the old grain wharf in Garlieston, in view of the quayside where steamers once tied up on voyages to and from the Isle of Man. The path edges by the sea, past the formal gardens of Galloway House and vast beach at Rigg Bay before it climbs up through deciduous woodland onto the cliff tops, and stretches out to the old fort, which once kept watch for English invaders. Only an iconic arch remains, but it is a beautiful spot for a picnic or a snack if your plan is to eatat the cosy Harbour Inn, back in Garlieston.
Another coastal route takes in St Ninian’s cave, once the retreat on the holy man who brought Christianity to south west Scotland. The route descends neat little valley by a stream into St Ninian’s Bay, pictured, from where a thin path threads a southerly route around cliffs and coves and passes through the old Second World War gunnery school at Burrow Head, before dropping down into the picturesque fishing village of the Isle of Whithorn and ending, we’d suggest, in the Steam Packet Inn on the harbourside.
There are great walks in the Galloway Hills and Galloway Forest Park, too including, The Merrick, the highest peak in the region, and at its base, Loch Trool, pictured, a beautiful loch where Robert the Bruce defeated the English army in 1307. Nearer Newton Stewart, various ascents of Cairnsmore offer stunning views across Wigtown Bay and Kirroughtree Forest Park provides easy woodland walks and a welter of wildlife.
From Burnside Cottage, you can walk to Port William and enjoy fantastic views across Luce Bay to the Mull of Galloway, or walk around the White Loch, in the grounds of Monreith House, which was once home to Gavin Maxwell, author of Ring of Bright Water.
2. Wildlife in Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland
One of the animals we love in Galloway is the red squirrel. We were lucky enough to find one sitting in the lane close to our holiday cottage, Burnside, on our last visit. I have never seen that in more than 40 years of visiting. However, Kirroughtree Forest Park has lots of them and they are easy to spot in a small enclosure, where wardens encourage them.
Galloway is teeming with wildlife. Around Burnside more than 20 species of bird have been spotted, among them one of my favourites, the Yellow Hammer, which sing their hearts out on fence posts and hedgerows on bright summer evenings. Hares and deer are also common, as well as weasels, stoats, voles and an otter occasionally patrols the stream at the bottom of the garden.
The Galloway Forest Park is a fantastic place to see wildlife and the Forestry Commission does a good job of making it as accessible as possible in a good guide to the park, with details on lots of activities and their locations.
They include, the Red Deer Range, a special reserve for deer north of Newton Stewart on the A712 New Galloway road, where rangers conduct guided walks from April to September. Also, in this part of the forest park is a wild goat park, home to an ancient breed of long-horned, hairy goats that have been valued for thousands of years for their milk and fur and the Red Kite trail.
A lot of activities and information are organised around the three visitors’ centres in the forest park. There are also cafes and good toilets at these locations. Walks from Clatteringshaws Visitors’ Centre give great views of water birds, ospreys and The Merrick, the highest of the Galloway Hills. This is also a good place to see red kites.
Kirroughtree Visitors’ Centre is home to a special area devoted to red squirrels and wonderful forest walks. There is a beautiful man-made loch, Loch Bruntis, in the woodland above the visitors’ centre where we have watched swifts swoop and take a drink on the wing. Pine martins also live in the forest. Colour-coded walks guide you through the forest.
Delightful short trails at Glentrool Visitors’ Centre are also a good way to spot wildlife, including the charming and tiny goldcrest. There are tumbling rivers and streams, which are a torrent in winter and create cool pools for your feet in summer.
3. The Gardens of Galloway
Galloway benefits from the warming effect of the Gulf Stream, which flows up and across the Atlantic from Mexico. As a result, the local micro climate is milder than one would expect at this latitude and it sustains exotic plants that have no right to live in Scotland.
The result is verdant growth in the fields and hedgerows and truly spectacular formal gardens around the coast, populated with exotic plants. These include Glenwhan Gardens, Castle Kennedy Gardens, pictured, and the Logan Botanical Gardens close to Port Logan, a delightful little fishing port that is well worth a visit.
Closer to Burnside Cottage are the more modest Galloway House Gardens at Garlieston, which are maintained by volunteers. While not so exotic, these gardens are lovely with the sea lapping the very edge of them at high tide.
4. Cycling in Galloway
There are wonderful opportunities for cycling on and off road, to suit all abilities, in Galloway. Dumfries and Galloway Council promotes four routes in The Machars (the area south of Newton Stewart), one of them passes Burnside Cottage. Full details and a map are kept at the cottage. If you don't have your own bikes you can hire them (including electric bikes!) from Kirkcowan Cycles in Newton Stewart. They also hire bike racks for the car and may deliver bikes to the cottage subject to availability. There is wonderful cycling on the roads and forest trails in Galloway Forest Park, around the beautiful Loch Trool.
The off road cycling at 7Stanes mountain bike centre at Kirroughtree is magnificent, pictured. The colour-coded routes suit all ages and abilities. The Green Route is a gentle introduction and if you feel like a challenge, take on the Blue Route (or the Red or Black Routes!) The trails wind their way through forests in wonderful countryside and it's great fun. Mountain bike hire is available at The Breakpad, Kirroughtree.
5. Visit Galloway Artists
Kirkcudbright is the artistic centre of south west Scotland but there are scores of artists across the Galloway region. We keep a list at Burnside Cottage and many are happy to receive visitors, although it is best contact them first.
The pictures displayed at Burnside are the work of our favourite local artist, Lisa Hooper, whose print, OystercatchersII is pictured. She is based in Seymour House, Port William. We love her prints because we think they resonate with our experience of the area, featuring scenes, ports and wildlife that are familiar to us.
Major arts events in the area include, the Spring Fling in May when hundreds of studios in Dumfries and Galloway are open to the public and the Kirkcudbright Art and Crafts Trail, when the town’s artists open their doors and others from across the region display their work.
6. Stargazing in the galloway forest park
When you look up at night in Galloway, the chances are you will see a whole lot more than usual. More than 7,000 stars and planets can be seen on a clear night and the bright band of the Milky Way arcs across the sky. The region has one of the darkest skies in Europe, which makes it a fantastic place for stargazing and the magnificently named, Dark Sky Rangers, act as guides to the universe in the Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park.
The rangers are very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the Galloway sky and they can be booked directly or you can attend one of the events they host at Kirroughtree Visitors’ Centre and at other locations in the Galloway Forest Park.
They use laser pens to pick out planets and stars and regale their audience with tales from deep space as satellites and the International Space Station drift past in full view. It is a brilliant evening.
7. Cafes, pubs and restaurants in and around The Machars
Galloway has some excellent places to eat and drink. See our guide to 11 favourite pubs, cafes and restaurants in Galloway.
Among our favourites are the Steam Packet Inn at the Isle of Whithorn, a pub on the harbourside that serves excellent beer and fine food, including steak and seafood. The Clansman restaurant, serving home-cooked food in Port William, is within walking distance of Burnside Cottage (three-mile round trip) along Garnet’s Walk, a short ridge path with wonderful views across Luce Bay. Meanwhile, The Pheasant is a high quality Itailian restaurant in the village of Sorbie, where chef Andrea Cuomo, pictured, works his magic in cosy, but stylish surroundings.
8. Forage for great food and drink in Dumfries and Galloway
This corner of south west Scotland is known for its fine foods. See our guide to the best food and drink in Galloway.
Visit butchers in Wigtown and Newton Stewart for the local speciality, salt-marsh lamb, as well as some of the best steaks you will ever eat. Excellent smoked salmon is available at the smokehouses at Creetown and Carsluith, as well as King Scallops and wet fish. King Scallops are fantastic in Dumfries and Galloway. They are landed at Kirkcudbright and the Isle of Whithorn, where scallop dredgers are often seen tied up.
Some of the best lobsters in the world come from the west of Scotland and if you contact Paul Maguire, a local fisherman, (his number is kept at Burnside), and meet him on the quayside he’ll seel you a lobster off his boat. Visit the award winning cheese-maker, Galloway Farmhouse Cheese, in Sorbie or the Sulwath Brewery in Castle Douglas, or the microbrewery at The Steam Packet Inn, Isle of Whithorn and have yourself a carry-out.
9. St Ninian, Robert The Bruce and the Wigtown Martyrs… Explore Galloway’s history and heritage
The Machars and its hinterland harbour a suprising depth of history. Whithorn Priory has been a place of pilgrimage for centuries on account of St Ninian bringing Christianity to south west Scotland and setting up a church in the town in the 5th century AD. A visitors’ centre now tells the story of the saint at Whithorn in an engaging display, which includes a cosy cafe..
Religion has played a major role in the social history of The Machars. Towards Stranraer, there is Glenluce Abbey, the ruins of an impressive Cistercian house, founded in 1192. And Wigtown still marks the passing of The Wigtown Martyrs, pictured. Among them were two women, who were tied to stakes and drowned in the Bladnoch estuary in 1685 for refusing to obey the king and join the Episcopal Church. It is a harrowing tale and a stone marks the spot where they died.
The Drumtroddan Standing Stones are up to 5,000 years old and within walking distance (about 1.5 miles) of Burnside Cottage on the Whithorn road. Meanwhile, the Torhouse Stone Circle, near Wigtown, pictured, has archaeologists scratching their heads. This type of stone circle is usually found in north east Scotland, rarely in the south west. The Bronze Age monument consists of 19 large granite boulders. There are three large upright stones in the centre of the circle, known as King Gauldus's Tomb. Galdus is a mythical Scottish king.
While at Loch Trool there is Bruce’s Stone, commemorating the strong connections of the Scottish King, Robert The Bruce, with this area. Bruce, pictured, outwitted the English army sent by Edward I in the hills, forest and glens of south west Scotland, prior to assuming the Scottish throne, and he defeated some of the invaders on the banks of Loch Trool having lured them from their own camp at nearby Clatteringshaws Loch.
While this corner of Scotland is now off the beaten track of the M6/M74, in the 12th, 13th and 14th centuries that route was not open to invading armies due to the treacherous and boggy ground. The road north lay through Annan and lands now known as Dumfries and Galloway.
10. Curl up in front of the fire at Burnside Cottage
Burnside Cottage has a wood burning stove, so on cool evenings you can curl up in front of lovely log fire. We maintain a good supply of wood at Burnside for guests to use - have as much as you like - and there is usually some kindling available to get you started.
Of course, if the weather is bad, you don't have to go out at all. Catch up on reading or doze off in front of a film. We keep a wide selection of films and box sets on DVD. And there is free wifi, too.