The A75 trunk road across Dumfries and Galloway completely bypasses a triangular peninsula called the Machars which projects south into the Irish Sea and is defined by Luce Bay to its west and Wigtown Bay to its east. This easily overlooked area offers a great deal for the visitor including a wealth of prehistoric relics, Scotland's most southerly distillery, and the cradle of Christianity in Scotland.
The main route shown in dark blue on the map is 70 miles long, starting and finishing in Newton Stewart. The route is described as if travelling clockwise, though there is no especially compelling reason for this and it could equally be tackled in the opposite direction. The optional excursion shown in light blue from Port William to the Drumtroddan Stones and the Drumtroddan Cup and Ring Markings adds a further four miles in total.
Newton Stewart is an attractive town traditionally best known for its game fishing. Nowadays it is also 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.
Heading south from the town you cross the A75 at a roundabout and move onto the Machars proper as you head towards Wigtown. In what has become known as Scotland's Book Town you find a large central square that is home to around a dozen bookshops, with many more elsewhere in the town. It is also the home, each Autumn, to the Wigtown Book Festival. The sometimes turbulent history of Wigtown is reflected in a number of monuments commemorating the Wigtown Martyrs.
A little south west of Wigtown is Bladnoch, home to Scotland's most southerly distillery, Bladnoch Distillery. The main road south passes through the village of Kirkinner and a little beyond it a B-road heading off obliquely to your left leads to the attractive village and harbour of Garlieston. It is difficult to believe today that this quiet place played an important part in the preparations for the D-Day landings.
South of Garlieston you follow a B-road that runs a little inland from the sea, possibly pausing en route to experience one of Scotland's spookiest churches, Cruggleton Church: and that is a view formed on a bright sunny day and without being able to explore the interior!
The coast road brings you to Isle of Whithorn a beguiling village and associated harbour, though no longer an island. On the shore just to the north of the village stands the ruin of St Ninian's Chapel: the first of a number of encounters you will have on this tour with places associated with St Ninian, the man who brought Christianity to Scotland. To find the second you need to head four miles west, to a well signposted car park that is the start of a mile each way walk to St Ninian's Cave, on the rocky south western shoreline of the peninsula.
Moving on, Whithorn itself is an exceptionally attractive town, and possibly Scotland's oldest continuously occupied settlement. Whithorn Priory lies just to the west of Whithorn's main street. It is a remarkable place, and a confusing one. It has been home to an active church for the better part of sixteen centuries and was the site of the first Christian church in Scotland. You leave Whithorn heading south west on the A746, passing a mile from the town the track leading to Rispain Camp, once thought to have been Roman in origin (hence the name) but now known to be an Iron Age homestead.
After the road regains the western coast of the peninsula you pass beneath the bluff that is the site of Barsalloch Fort, and a mile and a half further enter Port William. Here you have the option of an excursion inland to the Drumtroddan Stones the Drumtroddan Cup and Ring Markings which adds about four miles to the tour. On the rather bleak shore north west of Port William are the remains of Chapel Finian.
Following the A747 along the coast eventually brings you to a T-junction on the A75. Turn left, then take the first right, signposted to Glenluce. Before exploring the village, first follow the signs to the ruins of Glenluce Abbey, founded in about 1192 by Roland, Lord of Galloway. It is then worth driving through Glenluce itself, a quieter and apparently less prosperous place since it was bypassed by the A75 in 1989. You rejoin the A75 just to the east of Glenluce and head back towards your starting point in Newton Stewart: with a slight diversion en route to see the attractive village of Kirkcowan.
Visitor InformationDistances: The main circular route covers 70 miles, starting and finishing at Newton Stewart. The suggested excursion from Port William adds a total of 4 miles.
Fuel: There are petrol stations open at least some of the time at Newton Stewart, Wigtown, Whithorn and Glenluce.