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Galloway touring is all about South-West Scotland and the advantages of the gentle and relaxing touring that can be enjoyed here. So I will describe of the places you'll find on your touring. It is based on a bit of a reprise - a Galloway visit we made recently. For example, from our Wigtown base we tootled (see below) to a number of destinations in the South-West.
After some rural meandering - a back road from Creetown - we found ourselves at Gatehouse-of-Fleet . This is just a nice wee place. There is plenty of background information at the Mill on the Fleet, a former bobbin mill overlooking the River Fleet. Stop me if I get too technical here but bobbins were important thingies in the textile industry of old. Alternatively, I do wonder if 'Bobbin Mill' is a made up term that b & b business, cafes and pubs throughout the UK call themselves to sound more rural and authentic.
I also hope the folk promoting the area don't mind me saying this: but part of the attraction of Galloway touring is that the area never seems to have totally committed itself to tourism, so that the towns don't feel like dedicated tourist towns - I'm think of, say, Callander or Pitlochry in the Highlands, both fine places, but very dependent on the important industry of tourism. There are no equivalents in Galloway. This is a plus point. Yes, really. In spite of the Gem Rock Museum, the Red Kite Feeding Station, the Cream of Galloway visitor centre, plus the gardens, the castles, the forest walks, the nature reserves and much more, I've always felt that Galloway is quite happy if it could just get on with its agriculture and its forestry and its little shops.
Having said that Galloway doesn't seem dependent on visitors, you can be sure there is still plenty to see in Galloway. But it is essential to adopt tootling mode. By tootling, I mean going slowly. If, for instance, the little town of Castle Douglas has an attractive air of the 1950s about it, almost old-fashioned but in a good way, then your Galloway touring speed should be equally 1950s. You have enough of a choice of rural back roads in which to discover the fun of relaxed Galloway touring. Mind you, after a day on the back-road loops behind Gatehouse-of-Fleet or Creetown, or traversing the Raiders' Road, a Forestry Commission road between Clatteringshaws and New Galloway, you may find that returning to the hurly-burly of the A75, the main east-west artery, is a bit of a shock!
That's why the photograph above is especially poignant. In the distance is the Big Water of Fleet Viaduct. This used to carry a railway from Dumfries west to Stranraer, the ferry gateway to Ireland. It closed in the 1960s. Just to make sure that the railway would never open again (cynics say), the British Army - and, get this - blew up the neighbouring Little Water of Fleet viaduct as part of a training exercise. Imagine, and it wasn't even at war with anyone. So, no east-west rail link may explain some of the heavy traffic on today's main arterial route. And the industrial archaeology of the 'Port Road', as the old railway used to be called, is still in places a poignant part of the hill landscape of Galloway.
What do you do if you have miles and miles of not hugely productive moorland and poor soil? In Scotland, you plant lots of trees on it. You swathe the landscape in acre after acre of muffling conifers. The Forestry Commission is the government agency charged with this task - turning trees into a cash crop. What makes it OK is that these days, monoculture is diluted a bit, at least round the edges, and the Commission have a keen awareness of their role as a resource for countryside recreation. In short, they let people in to the forest and even make paths, put up signs and interpret the place - they positively encourage everyone to lose themselves in the trees.
In some places, for instance, they are especially good at mountain bike tracks. Everywhere, they sign the car parks, the long walks, the short walks, the views. They do interpretation centres and campsites. And in the 96,600 hectares, or 373 square miles of the Galloway Forest Park they have done something unique in Scotland (and beyond): they have created a Dark Sky Park.
Using a measure called the Sky Quality Meter scale that goes from 1 to 24, where 24 is a photographer's dark room and 8 might be a typical reading from, say, Edinburgh at night (ie not very dark), the relatively unpopulated and therefore unlit Galloway Forest Park gets readings of 21.5 to 23. So, that's pretty dark. Actually, it's bumping into your partner and tripping over tree-roots dark. Which is why you feel you can fall into the sky on a good night, there are so many stars. (There are only three other dark sky parks in the whole world - two in the USA and one in Hungary. See dark sky park. The picture above shows one of the viewing areas at Kirroughtree.
The best features of Galloway touring are the upcountry loops. To be blunt, the Solway coast is OK, though if you are a curlew or a redshank, or just about any other wading bird with a long thin probing beak, then it is five star. But if you take a Galloway south to north cross-section, then this goes from tame coast to productive fields, attractive woods, picturesque towns, then up to upland grazings and moor, all backed by rolling lonely hills. And it's on the back roads that you get the sense of Galloway of old: smugglers, Covenanters, lonely shepherds and all. In short, it's all just pleasant and satisfying.
Just to make sure you know where Galloway is, follow this Galloway touring link. There's more information on some of the towns.
Or return to the main seven day tour Scotland.
Or return to the scotlandinaweek home page.
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Scotland in Three Days