The southwest corner of Scotland, Dumfries and Galloway, has stately homes, deserted hills and ruined abbeys to compete with the best of the Borders. It also has the Solway coast, a long, indented coastline of sheltered sandy coves that’s been dubbed the “Scottish Riviera” – it’s certainly Scotland’s warmest, southernmost stretch of coastline.
Dumfries is the largest town in the region, and only really a must for those on the trail of Robert Burns. Further west is enticing Kirkcudbright, once a bustling port thronged with sailing ships, later an artists’ retreat, and now a tranquil, well-preserved little town. Contrasting with the essentially gentle landscape of the Solway coast is the brooding presence of the Galloway Hills to the north, their beautiful moors, mountains, lakes and rivers centred on the Galloway Forest Park, a hillwalking and mountain-biking paradise.
Galloway Forest Park is Britain’s largest forest park, with a spectacularly varied landscape of mountain peaks, lochs, coast and moorland, cut through by the Southern Uplands Way. It has visitor centres at Clatteringshaws Loch, Glentrool and Kirroughtree. Each has a tearoom, several waymarked walks and information on activities and events. The only tarmacked road to cross the park is the desolate twenty-mile stretch of the A712 between Newton Stewart and New Galloway, known as the Queen’s Way. There’s a Wild Goat Park on the Queen’s Way in the heart of the park and, a mile or so further up the road, a Red Deer Range.
Both Glentrool and Kirroughtree visitor centres have mountain bike trails, which form part of southern Scotland’s outstanding mountain-biking facilities, known as the 7 Stanes. Of the two, Kirroughtree, three miles east of the town of Newton Stewart, is by far the most varied and fun, with lots of exciting singletrack trails for all abilities and good bike-rental facilities.
About seven miles east of Newton Stewart, at the Grey Mare’s Tail Bridge, various hiking trails delve into the pine forests beside the tarmacked road, crossing gorges, waterfalls and burns. Clatteringshaws Loch, meanwhile, a reservoir surrounded by pine forest at the southeastern edge of the park, has a fourteen-mile footpath running right around it. Serious hikers should head for Glentrool, at the western edge of the park, about ten miles north of Newton Stewart, where a narrow lane twists the five miles over to Loch Trool. From here, you can follow the Gariland Burn to Loch Neldricken and Loch Enoch, with their silver granite sands, and then on to the Devil’s Bowling Green, strewn with hundreds of boulders left by the retreating glaciers. Alternatively, you can head for the Range of the Awful Hand, whose five peaks include the Merrick (2746ft).
KIRKCUDBRIGHT – pronounced “kir-coo-bree” – hugging the muddy banks of the River Dee ten miles southwest of Castle Douglas, is the only major town along the Solway coast to have retained a working harbour. In addition, it has a ruined castle and an attractive town centre, a charming medley of simple two-storey cottages and medieval pends, Georgian villas and Victorian townhouses, all brightly painted.