At some point, I promised a post about travelling in Dumfries and Galloway, one of the nicest parts of Scotland and also one of the most awkward to get to by public transport. A day trip I have wanted to do for years has been to Kirkcudbright, which will require getting to Dumfries and then at least another bus. I have been there before, at least twice, but only passing through. I am keen to revisit MacLellan’s Castle but also to see Broughton House, an NTS property which my former colleague Frances used to manage. It belonged to Hornel, one of the Glasgow Boys group of artists. There is also the Stewartry Museum, which I read about in one of those ‘out-of the-way good places’ type of books and I would dearly like to see, being a fan of old-fashioned museums and especially those outside the cities. Having said all that, Kirkcudbright remains an absolute bugger to get to so I may need to plan an overnight somewhere or get up very, very early to pull it off.
Getting to Dumfries isn’t too much of a problem. There are buses every hour from Glasgow, heading down the M74 through nice countryside via Hamilton, Lesmahagow and Moffat. (I only mention Lesmahagow because it’s a delightful name, second only to Ecclefechan in my affections.) Dumfries is a nice town with possibly the most scenic bus station around, right next to the river Nith with its weir. Nith is also my favourite river name in Scotland owing to its lisping name. It’s a nice place to walk by, while thinking of lousy puns, and I did that for a wee while one afternoon last summer, thinking I couldn’t live there but it’s a nice place all the same.
I invariably pass through Dumfries on my way somewhere else. Usually it’s Carlisle. The bus ride to Carlisle is long and passes through many towns and one-horse villages on its way across the border. But it gets there, just not very fast.
Also near Dumfries is Caerlaverock Castle, one of the finest castles in Scotland, sitting in the middle of a beautiful nature reserve by the Solway Firth. It looks like a castle too, complete with two prominent towers at the front and a moat. It also has very friendly staff, as proven one day when the pin fell out of my glasses right outside the place. They helped me search for it and when we failed produced a spare to see me home, affixed with some government-issue sellotape.
Between Dumfries and Stranraer are some fine historic places, including Dundrennan Abbey, the place where Mary, Queen of Scots spent her last night on Scottish soil before crossing the Solway to her eventual doom in England. (It took them nearly twenty years to do her in, mind.) I also like Threave Castle, which sits on an island complete with a ferry to take you over the few yards of water. Threave is one of four Historic Scotland properties with a ferry, the others being Inchmahome Priory in the Trossachs, Lochleven Castle near Kinross and Inchcolm Abbey, and it is possibly the best gig in the employ of the State anywhere in the land, with the possible exception of stewarding at Skara Brae or Maeshowe up in Orkney.
One day, I decided to take the train down to Stranraer. I left my house on the Saturday morning and planned to take one train down and the next one straight back up. The train down took two hours and passed along the Ayrshire coast before going up onto the moor towards Barrhill and then down to Stranraer, a place that could charitably be described as no’ nice. Instead of taking the train back, I noticed there was a bus to Dumfries leaving soon and jumped on that instead, sitting back for another few hours for the journey 70 miles along the A75, through fields and countryside and fine coastal scenes. Then I took another bus, now thinking of home, down to Carlisle where thankfully a Virgin Pendolino sped me home to Glasgow and I didn’t take a bus for a wee while. I like seeing the country but there are limits, even for me.
I may have written here about going to Logan Botanic Garden, which is not far south of Stranraer. It’s beautiful, benefiting from the Gulfstream to be able to sustain exotic plants like Eucalyptus trees and palms. On my first visit, when I was in that particular part of the world on a camping holiday, it was there that I saw the first sunshine of the holiday. (We were also on the way home.) It was gorgeous, confirmed by a return visit in the summer.
I don’t have much cause to visit Dumfries and Galloway that often. I like it very much but it is an effort. Kirkcudbright is a definite must, maybe this year, maybe next. Day trips with an effort are always the best, especially if there’s the chance to watch the world go by en route and enough to do when I get there. There are always new places to discover and thankfully as I continue to travel, that continues too as I stop where I once passed by and look a little closer at what I see and initially disregarded.