The southwestern region of Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland, is notable for its quaint towns, picturesque scenery, good fishing, mild weather and a history of cattle rustling. Dumfries is 78 mi/125 km southwest of Edinburgh.
The splendid fishing port of Kirkcudbright (pronounced KIR-coo-bray) is where Mary, Queen of Scots, spent her last night in Scotland and where Lawrence of Arabia lived for a short while as a child. It has art galleries and Broughton House (http://www.nts.org.uk/Property/Broughton-House-Garden), the former home of the Glasgow Boy E.A. Hornel, now a National Trust attraction. Kirkcudbright has an active community that organizes a series of events throughout the summer months (http://www.kirkcudbright.co.uk/summerfestivities.asp). Robert Burns wrote his famous Selkirk Grace in the Selkirk Arms Hotel there, and near the harbor is the award-winning Polar Bites, selling possibly the finest fish-and-chips to be had anywhere in the U.K. http://www.polarbites.co.uk.
West of there is Wigtown, Scotland's official book town, which boasts more than 20 bookshops, including the largest antiquarian bookshop in Scotland. http://www.wigtown-booktown.co.uk.
A short distance south is Whithorn, the cradle of Scottish Christianity, where archaeologists have unearthed evidence of St. Ninian, who founded his church there long before St. Columba landed on Iona or St. Augustine settled in Canterbury. The town still follows the same medieval street layout. http://www.whithorn.com.
Farther west on the Rhins of Galloway is Kirkmadrine, with a churchyard that displays Scotland's earliest Christian monuments (some dating back 1,500 years), and Port Logan has its botanic gardens and a pond where you can feed fish from the sea by hand (http://www.mull-of-galloway.co.uk/the-area/port-logan). North of there on the coast is the fishing village of Portpatrick, which is the perfect place to watch a sunset on a warm summer evening. http://www.portpatrick.net.
South of Dumfries at Caerlaverock are the remains of a unique moated castle, a National Nature Reserve, and a Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust sanctuary that is very popular with bird-watchers. (http://www.wwt.org.uk/visit/caerlaverock). Nearby is the unusual Caerlaverock Castle with its three towers and walls forming the shape of a shield. http://www.historic-scotland.gov.uk/propertyresults/propertyoverview.htm?PropID=PL_047.
At the village of New Abbey are the remains of a Cistercian abbey and a working corn mill owned by the National Trust for Scotland. The abbey was built by Devorgilla de Balliol and is known as Sweetheart Abbey, because the hearts of her and her husband were interred there. Not far away at Mabie Forest is one of southern Scotland's world-famous 7 Stanes Mountain Biking Centres. http://www.7stanesmountainbiking.com.
East of Dumfries is the tiny village of Ruthwell, where Rev. Henry Duncan founded the Savings Bank movement. In the tiny church there is an ornately preserved, eighth-century early Christian cross. Heading north from Dumfries through Nithsdale leads to Moniaive (http://www.moniaive.org.uk), which boasts several music festivals and has regular concerts and live pub-music sessions. It is also where Tartan chocolate was first created and is still made. http://www.tartanchocolate.co.uk.
Leadhills and Wanlockhead are former lead-mining communities, and Wanlokhead is Scotland's highest village. In these villages, you'll find the oldest subscription library in the world and the Museum of Scottish Lead Mining (http://www.leadminingmuseum.co.uk). The gold for the Scottish Crown jewels came from there, and panning for gold is a popular tourist activity in the summer.
The post office in Sanquhar, established more than 300 years ago, is the oldest working post office in the world. There's a small but rather comprehensive museum in the Old Tollbooth (http://www.dumfriesmuseum.demon.co.uk/sanqtoll.html). A' the Airts Arts Centre regularly hosts concerts and art exhibitions, and it has a rather splendid small cafe. http://www.all-the-airts.com.
Galloway Forest Park in the west has some of the finest scenery in Scotland and also some of the best walking. It is also one of only four dark-sky parks in the Western world and a magnet for stargazers. There are numerous waymarked forest trails that include everything from a 0.5-mi/0.8-km stroll to a few miles/kilometers of serious walking and the western section of The Southern Upland Way long-distance footpath. In the Galloway Hills there are no trails, waymarks or, in most cases, even sheep tracks. It is possible to spend two weeks walking and wild camping there and not meet another human being. http://www.forestry.gov.uk/darkskygalloway.
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