Dumfries & Galloway extends from beyond Langholm in the east to Portpatrick in the west, a distance of some 90 miles in a straight line. It also extends north from Scotland's most southerly point, the Mull of Galloway (which is on the same latitude as Penrith in Cumbria and Hartlepool on Teesside) to a point north of Sanquhar on the same latitude as Ayr. For accommodation in Dumfries & Galloway see the links in the "See and Stay" menu above. See the map below for an outline of the area and links to surrounding areas.
The most southerly part of the English/Scottish border meets the Solway Firth a few miles north of Carlisle. Taking a left at the Scottish border brings you first to Gretna with, a little north of it, Gretna Green. It is a little bizarre to find villages whose economy revolves around the act of marriage: but here they are. Gretna Green. became the centre of the industry because it was the first settlement eloping couples found in Scotland.
West of Gretna is Annan, a town built of remarkably red stone on the east side of the River Annan, a mile or so north of where it flows into the Solway Firth. Travel west again and you come to the pretty village of Ruthwell. This is home to a Savings Bank Museum, while the parish church, a little to the north of the village houses the magnificent Ruthwell Cross. A mile to the west of Ruthwell is Brow Well, where Robert Burns unsuccessfully sought a cure for his final illness.
Travelling north along the M74 you pass the village of Ecclefechan en route to Lockerbie, sadly best known because of the disaster that took place here on Wednesday 21 December 1988. This is commemorated by the Garden of Remembrance and Lockerbie Air Disaster Memorial. In Lockerbie you find Dryfesdale Parish Church. A mile and a half to the south of Lockerbie is the fascinating Ukrainian Chapel at the old Hallmuir Prisoner of War Camp.
Lochmaben is an ancient town lying four miles west of Lockerbie on the main road between it and Dumfries. Its location is unusual as it is hemmed in by three separate lochs: Castle Loch to the south, Kirk Loch to the south-west, and Mill Loch to the north-west. On a promontory projecting north from the southern shore of Castle Loch are the remains of Lochmaben Castle.
Further north and just to the east of the A74 is Moffat an exceptionally attractive market town once famous for its healing spring waters, and now better known for its large choice of hotels. It is also home to South-West Scotland's largest parish church, St Andrew's and to a number of hotels, including the Annandale Arms. In the remote countryside to the south-east you find Eskdalemuir, home to the largest Buddhist Temple in the Western world. Further in this direction the A7 passes through Langholm, a town whose history is intimately connected to the textile industry.
The main settlement in the area and administrative centre of Dumfries & Galloway is Dumfries. Built on a curve in the River Nith some miles north of where the river enters the Solway Firth, Dumfries is often referred to by the name of its football club: Queen of the South. Anyone wanting to stay in Dumfries should consider the Cairndale Hotel, on the east side of the town centre, which we found to be excellent.
Dumfries is a fascinating place in which to spend a day. It makes the most of its close links with the poet Robert Burns who spent his final seven years here. Pilgrims on the trail of the bard can visit the Robert Burns Centre, Robert Burns House, and Robert Burns Mausoleum, as well as a number of other locations associated with him including his favourite pub, the Globe Inn. The town is also home to Dumfries Museum and Camera Obscura, and to the Old Bridge House Museum, which stands at the west end of Devorgilla Bridge, built in 1432 and one of the oldest standing bridges in Scotland. Near the old military road south-west of Dumfries is Lochrutton Church.
Just north of the Dumfries bypass is Lincluden, home to the remains of Lincluden Collegiate Church which are found on the outskirts of the built up area. Not much further out is the Twelve Apostles Stone Circle, while a little to the east is the excellent Dumfries and Galloway Aviation Museum.
Following the A76 north from Dumfries takes you up Nithsdale. The first major settlement you encounter is Thornhill, whose grid plan and wide main streets focus on the mercat cross in the central roundabout and whose origins may date back to the Romans. Close to the bridge over the River Nith here is the Nith Bridge Cross. A mile to the south of Thornhill is the excellent Trigony House Hotel.
In the Lowther Hills to the north-east of Thornhill is one of Scotland's most attractively located castles. Unsignposted and little visited, Morton Castle most certainly qualifies as Undiscovered and is a lovely spot in which to pass some time. Rather better signposted is the magnificent Drumlanrig Castle, three miles north of Thornhill. The castle offers an excellent visitor experience, and the formal and informal gardens are worth a visit in their own right.
Further into the hills is the tiny hamlet of Durisdeer. Once a staging post on a Roman road through the Lowther Hills it is now the end of a very minor road, and home to the magnificent Queensberry Aisle. Further up Nithsdale is Sanquhar. This is a stopping off point on the Southern Upland Way as well as being home to the superb Blackaddie Country House Hotel and to Sanquhar Castle, one of Scotland's more neglected castles.
The Lowther Hills to the east of Sanquhar are the surprising location of Scotland's highest village, Wanlockhead, which stands at 467m or 1531ft. This only exists because of the lead found in these hills and it is the home of the excellent Museum of Lead Mining, as well as the Wanlockhead Beam Engine.
South of Dumfries and to the east of the River Nith lies the remarkable Caerlaverock Castle. On the opposite side of the estuary of the Nith is the village of New Abbey, built largely to service Sweetheart Abbey. This lovely name loses some of its attraction when you discover its origin. The lady who endowed the abbey carried her (late) husband's embalmed heart around in a cask for many years until her own death, whereupon she was buried here with his heart. Also in New Abbey is the New Abbey Cornmill, a fascinating working mill in the care of Historic Environment Scotland. On the northern edge of the village in Shambellie House is the National Museum of Costume.
Further south again, at Arbigland, close to the village of Kirkbean, is the John Paul Jones Museum, celebrating the life and achievements of the founder of the US Navy, who was born here. South of Kirkbean is Southerness, a combination of old village and much modern holiday resort.
Head south-west from Dumfries along the Dalbeattie road and you pass the pretty - and very Cornish sounding - village of Kirkgunzeon. Not far away is Drumcoltran Tower, a castle built by the Maxwells in the 1550s.
Close to the main A75 west of Dumfries is Castle Douglas, located at the north end of pretty Carlingwark Loch. It serves as an important regional centre for a large area of rural Galloway. There's been a settlement here for many centuries, although until the end of the 1700s it was known as Carlingwark.
On the outskirts of Castle Douglas is the National Trust for Scotland's Threave Gardens, while nearby and a little to the north of the A75 is the magnificent Threave Castle, the stronghold of Archibald the Grim built on an island in the River Dee.
A few miles south-east of Castle Douglas, is Dalbeattie, which gives access to a fascinating stretch of coast including the villages of Kippford and Rockcliffe. North of Dalbeattie is the tiny village of Haugh of Urr.
South of Castle Douglas, a diversion from the A75 brings you to Kirkcudbright. This is a detour well worth making, for Kirkcudbright is, by some margin, the most attractive and interesting town in south-west Scotland. Kirkcudbright featured on tourist maps from a very early date, making its name as a haven for artists. It is easy to see why: with a beautifully preserved and fascinating town centre, with MacLellan's Castle at its heart, and with a riverside location complete with a busy quayside, Kirkcudbright has something for everyone. A striking feature on the town's High Street is Broughton House and Garden, offering a window into the world of eminent artist E A Hornel.
South from Kirkcudbright a loop of road takes you through Dundrennan, home to Dundrennan Abbey. Close by is the attractive village of Auchencairn. A minor road from Auchencairn leads to Balcary Bay. A little further, near the village of Palnackie, is the remarkably complete Orchardton Tower.
Beyond Castle Douglas the A75 bypasses Twynholm en route to Gatehouse of Fleet, one of Scotland's most attractive villages. Close to the latter is Cardoness Castle. Seven miles west of Gatehouse of Fleet, and looking across Wigtown Bay to Wigtown is Carsluith Castle. Two miles before you reach the castle from the east a signposted minor road gives access to two of Scotland's most spectacular chambered cairns, Cairnholy I and Cairnholy II.
As it heads west across Dumfries & Galloway the main A75 bypasses the large triangular headland known as The Machars. This easily overlooked area is well worth exploring. The west coast of The Machars comprises a strip of raised beach that offers little shelter for boats. The exception is where the beach is cut by the valley of the Killantrae Burn, and here you find this coast's only harbour, Port William.
The focus of the southern end of the Machars is the ancient town of Whithorn, thanks to St Ninian regarded as the cradle of Christianity in Scotland and just possibly Scotland's oldest continuously occupied settlement. Whithorn Priory lies just to the west of Whithorn's main street. Just west of Whithorn is Rispain Camp, once thought to have been Roman in origin but now known to be an Iron Age homestead.
Three miles to the south-east of Whithorn is the Isle of Whithorn, whose main role through history was to service the seaborne flow of goods and pilgrims bound to and from Whithorn. Following harbour improvements of the 1790s it became the home port for up to a dozen trading vessels, though these same improvements included a causeway that joined the Isle of Whithorn to the mainland. On what was once the original island you find the remains of St Ninian's Chapel. Four miles round the coast to the west is St Ninian's Cave, thought to have been used as a place of prayer by St Ninian, and a place of pilgrimage by others ever since.
Heading up the east side of the Machars you come pass the rather spooky Cruggleton Church en route the attractive port and resort of Garlieston. A little further north you pass through the village of Kirkinner en route to Wigtown, Scotland's Book Town. This is the home, each Autumn, to the Wigtown Book Festival. And as an added attraction, nearby Bladnoch is the location of Scotland's most southerly distillery, Bladnoch Distillery. The sometimes turbulent history of Wigtown is reflected in a number of monuments commemorating the Wigtown Martyrs.
The Machars Peninsula is also home to a number of fascinating prehistoric sites. These include the Torhouse Stone Circle three miles west of Wigtown. The area surrounding Port William is a treasure trove of ancient monuments, including Chapel Finian five miles to the north, the Drumtroddan Cup and Ring Markings and Drumtroddan Standing Stones two miles to the east, and Barsalloch Fort on a promontory above the shore a mile and a half to the south.
North of Wigtown you rejoin the main A75 near Newton Stewart. This is seen as a natural base from which to explore the Galloway Forest Park, covering a vast area stretching north and east from Newton Stewart and sufficiently remote to have been made one of the few Dark Sky Parks in the world. Follow the A75 south-east from Newton Stewart. and you come to the attractive village of Creetown, largely made from locally quarried granite. Head west from Newton Stewart and the A75 passes a mile to the north of the attractive village of Kirkcowan.
The south-west tip of Scotland is a hammer shaped piece of land known as the Rhins of Galloway. Twenty miles from north to south, The Rhins has a very island feel. On the north side of the neck of land that prevents The Rhins from actually becoming an island is Stranraer, the largest town in the area. Stranraer's origins date back nearly 500 years to the building in 1511 of Stranraer Castle, also known as the Castle of St John. This now stands in the centre of the town, but it was originally built behind the broad beach at the head of Loch Ryan. Nearby is the excellent Stranraer Museum. Stranraer is no longer home to the Irish ferries, which now all run fromCairnryan, nearer the entrance of Loch Ryan.
The Rhins has a number of villages. Drummore is a small port lying just north of the Mull of Galloway, the spectacular home to a lighthouse and the most southerly point in Scotland. On the west coast is Port Logan an attractive village with, as the name implies, a harbour. Just to its north is one of Galloway's major attractions, the Logan Botanic Garden. A little further north is the village of Sandhead, looking out over Luce Bay. Nearby are the Kirkmadrine Stones, some of the oldest known Christian monuments in Scotland.
The largest settlement in the Rhins is Portpatrick on the west coast approximately opposite Stranraer itself. In the early 1600s this was linked by a military road to Dumfries designed to improve access to what by then was the main port for the short crossing to Ireland. Today Portpatrick forms the south-west end of the Southern Upland Way long distance footpath.