Make the most of summer on the Solway Coast
This scenic stretch, dubbed the Scottish Riviera, is neglected by British tourists. Rhiannon Batten finds out what they're missing
Sunday 07 August 2011
Why go here?
Neglected by British holidaymakers but their loss is the pioneer's gain. Fringing the Solway Firth to the north is an area of quiet, unassuming beauty with rolling hills, velvety lochs, ruined castles and hidden beaches – most of them all but empty. It is dubbed the Scottish Riviera by more upbeat locals, and its western reaches were named one of the 50 most authentic places on earth by the British Airways High Life magazine. This stretch of coast lies within the county of Dumfries and Galloway. Time a trip for 20-21 August, when the 10th Galloway Country Fair takes place within the grandiose surroundings of Drumlanrig Castle, outside Thornhill (gallowaycountryfair.co.uk). Or you could go next year and see The Great Unknown, a giant sculpture by the artist Cecil Balmond marking the border between England and Scotland (gretnalandmark.com). It should be in place, outside Gretna, at the very end of the Solway, before the 2012 Olympics and planners hope it will do for the west coast what the Angel of the North did for Tyneside.
The great outdoors
Marking the Solway Coast's very western tip (and the most southerly point in Scotland) is the Mull of Galloway (mull-of-galloway.co.uk), a wild headland that's surrounded by an RSPB nature reserve and features a lighthouse designed by Robert Stevenson, grandfather of the famous Scottish writer. Just inland, is Logan Botanic Garden (rbge.org .uk) and, further east, Galloway Forest Park (forestry.gov.uk), home to two of the 7 Stanes mountain biking trails (7stanesmountainbiking .com) and, since 2009, the UK's first Dark Sky Park (forestry.gov.uk/ darkskygalloway). Continuing east, you'll come to Loch Ken and its Red Kite Trail (gallowaykitetrail.com). Or head to the coast to try the region's newly launched blokarting operation (like go-karting with a sail) on one of the region's best beaches (f5karting.co.uk). If you prefer to walk, make for remote Cairnhead to hike between some of local artist Andy Goldsworthy's Striding Arches, a series of installations out on the hills (stridingarches.com).
The places to eat and drink
Unfathomably for an area so blessed with fresh produce, the panini and pizza reign supreme along Scotland's Solway Coast. For something more local, you need to know where you're going. Pack a picnic at Loch Arthur, a farm shop and creamery at Beeswing that is renowned for its semi-soft Criffel cheese (locharthur.org.uk). Stop for ice cream or organic homemade beefburgers at Cream o' Galloway farm, near Gatehouse of Fleet; there's a recently introduced Scoop Your Own Sundae service for children here on Sundays (creamogalloway.co.uk). For more decadent dining, try Knockinaam Lodge, way out east near Portpatrick, for Michelin-starred blowouts (knockinaamlodge.com) or Trigony House Hotel in the west, for largely organic dishes in an unpretentious setting (trigonyhotel.co.uk).
The inside attractions
Wigtown, Scotland's answer to Hay, hosts a “boutique” book festival from 23 September to 2 October (wigtownbookfestival.com). This year, visitors can get physical with a series of literature-themed outdoor events with adventurer Robert Twigger, including mountain-biking, sea-swimming, running and canoeing. For the defiantly flabby, speakers include A N Wilson, Fergal Keane and Maggie O'Farrell. Also, Scotland's southernmost distillery (bladnoch.co.uk) is in the adjacent village of Bladnoch. It's worth the half-hour detour to the painter and ceramicist Andy Priestman's new studio near Glentrool (andypriestman.tumblr.com). West of here is the Whithorn Story visitor centre, which mark the area's connections with St Ninian (whithorn.com). The Mungo to Ninian Heritage Trail leads from Glasgow to Whithorn along a medieval pilgrim route. In the east, don't miss the spectacular triangular castle of Caerlaverock (historic-scotland.gov.uk).
The retail therapy
Wasps (Workshops and Artists Provision Scotland) runs a range of artists' studio spaces across the country. Its newest location, the first in Dumfries and Galloway, opened less than a year ago in Kirkcudbright (waspsstudios.org.uk). The site often hosts open studio events. This was dubbed the Artists' Town ever since a high-profile colony of artists worked here in the early 20th century. An exhibition of work by the “Glasgow Boys” is running at Kirkcudbright Town Hall until 29 August (kirkcudbright.co.uk). If you miss it, stop by at the friendly McGill Duncan Gallery in Castle Douglas (mcgillduncangallery.com) or Gracefield Arts Centre</>\[David Ryan\] (http://ind.pn/nttYrO). Thomas Tosh, in Thornhill, offers more general shopping, alongside exhibitions (thomas tosh.com). Finally, look out next year for the opening of The Stove – an artist-led project in the centre of Dumfries intended to include a café, exhibition area, performance space and creative workspaces. Though it's not yet open, you can keep up with developments on the Commonty blog (thecommonty.blogspot.com).
How to get there
Cruggleton Lodge, outside Garlieston, sleeps four. Rental prices start at £580 per week (gallowayhouse estate.co.uk). One week's car hire from Glen Rental, in Dumfries, costs from £121 (glenrental.co.uk).
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