BY TIM HEDGLEY, TRAVEL EDITOR
IN 2013, Tourism in Scotland is being focused on its natural heritage and reputation as a land of natural beauty.
Scotland has some of Europe’s best wildlife and scenery, so a few weeks ago I decided to explore Dumfries and Galloway, better known as D&G.
Most of us drive along the A75 from the ferry terminals and head for either Ayr or Carlisle, as we do the interesting and beautiful side of D&G generally gets forgotten as its passes you by in a blur.
Making a trip to Scotland is an opportunity for you to not only see something special, but even better- experience it. Dumfries and Galloway is the perfect escape from the stresses of modern life and few can remain unmoved by the unspoilt beauty of this corner of Scotland.
Take a walk along the deserted beaches or stroll through the rugged grandeur of the Galloway Forest Park, where you’re more likely to see a deer or bird of prey than another human being. Admire the ancient ruined castles and monuments that set the imagination alight or simply snuggle up in front of a huge open fire and enjoy the utter relaxation that being away from it all brings. Some of the most magical wildlife can be seen in Scotland at wintertime but it’s a great place to visit any time of the year.
Whether it’s spotting elusive colour changing species such as Snow Buntings, rare Scottish Ptarmigan and Mountain Hare, or dashing through the landscape on a mountain safari, it has never been easier to discover magical wildlife experiences closer to home. This January proved especially interesting, with BBC 2’s Winterwatch and Winterwatch Unsprung filming for 4 days in the Scottish Highlands.
So if you thing D&G is a place just to pass through, here are a few reasons to take the foot off the accelerator or step off the bus and spend some time in D&G.
The Scots poet, politician and journalist, Hugh MacDiarmid was born in Langholm and is celebrated with a memorial of an open book and a cairn on the north flank of Whita Hill, near his hometown.
Caerlaverock Castle is Britain’s only triangular castle – today visitors can enjoy a siege warfare exhibition, a children’s adventure park and a nature walk leading to an earlier castle in the woods.The establishment of Wigtown as Scotland’s National Book Town was the first proclamation of the new Scottish Parliament in 1999.
The Gallie Craig Coffee House is an award-winning environmentally sensitive creation that is built into the cliff top below a turfed roof and provides views on a clear day of Ireland, the Isle of Man, Wales and the Lake District coast.
The cult film The Wicker Man had many scenes shot in the Dumfries & Galloway area. Logan Botanic Gardens and Castle Kennedy gardens together formed the gardens for Summerisle Castle.
You can look round Broughton House and see the art gallery and studio built by Edward Hornel, to overlook his fascinating Japanese garden.
Although I was in Scotland for just a weekend, I was able to visit a considerable number of fascinating places. My first task however was to get across to Scotland and as I tend to do I booked my ticket with Stena Line.
Stena Line offers low fares, new levels of comfort and a speedier ferry travel service to Scotland, Britain and Holland. And with their extensive route network, Stena Line gives you more flexibility and choice. Whilst on board you’ll enjoy relaxing in comfortable surroundings as well as great choices in food, shopping and entertainment, including free WiFi, movies and Curious George for the kids.
If you have never tried the Stena service from Duncrue docks in Belfast, then trust me its worth a try. The new superfast ferries across to Cairnryan are great value and a real breeze to do. The superfast boats offer new levels of luxury ferry travel at very affordable prices. For great fares check out http://www.stenaline.co.uk.
Once in Scotland, obviously I needed a base from which to explore and rest my head of an evening, and surprisingly I came across the Cally Palace (www.mcmillanhotels.co.uk/cally-palace-hotel/) This stunning hotel was originally an 18th century country mansion, just outside Gatehouse of Fleet and is now a wonderful golf hotel. At the Cally Palace you can step back in time in terms of period style and elegance, whilst enjoying all the modern comforts of a four-star golf hotel. The hotel’s 56 bedrooms combine spacious accommodation with breathtakingly wonderful views of the estate grounds and the Dumfries & Galloway countryside beyond. My stay in the Cally Palace was interesting, the décor was clearly from a time years ago, which integrated with its classical architecture, and the dining experience was right up-to-date and was superb!
The Cally Palace has its own exclusive golf course, as well as an indoor leisure complex with swimming pool, that enables you to make your stay as active or as relaxed as you choose. The drive up to the hotel was breathtakingly beautiful and the warnings of Red Squirrels, interesting and exciting. Passing past a few cottages and then the vista of this magnificent 18thC building and the wonderfully kept parkland’s, set me thinking this was going to be amazing, and indeed it was.
I checked in early, approx. 10-30 am (which is early for a hotel) my room was ready. Check in process was seamless and staff, were very friendly.
As you walk through the hotel you get an impression of a well-kept 18thC formal house with oil paintings, fine furniture, large formal rooms with high ceilings and flocked wallpaper.
This was clearly a magnificent house and it is still being kept to a very high standard.
My room was on the 4th floor and was quiet, my bathroom was well equipped and the shower would pull scales off an armadillo.
Needless to say a quiet night was had. Breakfast beckoned and I was off to explore the surrounding countryside. Dining in the Cully Palace restaurant was enjoyable; the standard of food preparation was excellent, and the quality was also top class. The menu choices were good. In order to preserve its “Yesteryear ambiance”, the hotel insists on a “dress code” for dinner; so don’t be turning up in your shorts and football top here!
All in all, the Cally Palace is a nice four-star hotel set in beautiful surrounding and provides excellent service.
My first foray into D&G was to the Laggan Outdoor Activity centre. Set on the stunning Galloway coastline.
The Activity centre offers first class outdoor Activity Holidays or individual Outdoor Activities.
It is home to the UK’s longest zip wire and lots of fun outdoor activities.
For some amazing fun try the Forest Adventure Segway, which is a great way to enjoy the outdoors and spot some wildlife.
So if you are considering a fun packed weekend or even a boys weekend do not pass by this place, it is amazing!
Check out Laggan Outdoor Centre, Laggan, Gatehouse of Fleet, Castle Douglas, DG7 2EST: 01557 840217W: www.lagganoutdoor.co.uk/
TAKE A TANK FOR THE DAY
If there is a soldier in you, or just someone who wants to drive a tank then this place is the one for you. Galloway Tanks offers unique tank driving experiences, situated in the rolling farmland of Galloway, South West Scotland. It hosts one of Scotland’s largest collection of military vehicles and you can get to drive them too. 18 Tons of steel, 240Hp, are you up to the challenge.
Galloway Tanks has an interesting mix of British and American military vehicles. So go on and give Galloway tanks a call Tel/Fax: +44 (0)1988 600639; Mobile: 07850 629 361; Galloway Tanks, Penkiln Farm, Garlieston, Scotland DG8 8AB, http://www.gallowaytanks.co.uk
Cream O Galloway, fun for all the family.
If something a little more sedate is more your cup of tea then try a visit to Cream O Galloway
Where you can fill your day with fun and flavour. There’s action and adventure with adrenaline pumping slides, pedal karts, bikes, our unique woodland adventure playground and indoor play areas.
You can explore the nature trails, do some wildlife spotting in the hide or take part in one of their special wildlife events. There’s a designated dog walk where canine friends can run free and walkers with dogs under control are welcome on the green or purple waymarked nature trails.
Woodland walks and adventure playground- Built by the farm staff, Level 1 includes the mini-maze and the roundabout. Level 2 includes balancing beams and scramble nets. Level 3 is the 50-foot viewing tower. Level 4 is the famous 3D Maze. Cream O Galloway, Rainton, Gatehouse of Fleet, Castle Douglas, Kirkcudbrightshire, DG7 2DR, tel: 01557 814040; W: www.creamogalloway.co.uk; F: http://www.facebook.com/creamogalloway; http://www.visitscotland.com/wsimgs/dh021007036.jpg%5BProductMain%5D
If you are into a more historical slant then Threave Castle, is sure to please .
The estate is split into four main elements; Threave House a restored Scottish baronial-style house, Threave Garden made up of landscaped gardens and themed ‘rooms’, Threave Sculpture Garden containing over 30 works by Scottish sculptors and Threave Nature Reserve, featuring landscape ranging from wetlands to woodlands. Threave Castle, Kelton Mains, Dumfries and Galloway DG8 8PY; T: 07711 223101; W: www.historic-scotland.gov.uk; F: http://www.facebook.com/historicscotland
Kirkcudbright is a pretty town on the Solway coast that is popular with artists and has a ruined castle. Kirkcudbright (pronounced kir-coo-bree) sits on the banks of the River Dee and is the only town on the Solway coast with a working harbour. It’s an attractive town with a colourful blend of medieval, Georgian and Victorian buildings. Kircudbright became a magnet for Scottish artists in the late 19th century and is a great place to visit.
Galloway Forest Park-UK’s first Dark Sky Park
Galloway Forest Park in the South West of Scotland was named as the first Dark Sky Park in the United Kingdom. The prestigious award, announced by the International Dark Sky Association (IDA) in November 2009, confirms Galloway as being one of the best places for stargazing in the world. It has long been a favourite destination for astronomers and amateur stargazers thanks to the limited number of buildings within the forest park’s boundary ensuring light pollution is kept to a minimum.
Hidden in the South West of Scotland, Galloway Forest Park was established in 1947 and is the largest of its kind in the United Kingdom covering 300 square miles. The Forest Park is managed by Forestry Commission Scotland and welcomes around 850,000 visitors each year. It sits in the heart of Galloway and has some of the most beautiful and dramatic scenery in the South of Scotland.
Part of the selection process involved giving a rating via a sky quality meter, which measures the darkness of the sky overhead. The higher the sky quality meter reading the better, with the darkest reading, such as would be recorded in a photographer’s dark room, of 24. Galloway Forest Park was rated 23 on the scale, giving it a gold tier Dark Sky Park award status – the highest achievable and the best condition for viewing distant galaxies.
All in all Dumfries and Galloway has a lot more to offer the visitor than just driving through it. So next time you are across the pond, just give D&G a little time and you might just be amazed at what you find.