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Where is Galloway, I hear at least some of you ask. Well, the uncertainty of exactly where is part of its attraction. Plenty of folk visit Scotland yet miss Galloway - mostly because when visitors arrive by road from the south, (or 'England' as we sometimes call it), many of them are relentlessly drawn, like so much tourist matter, to the black hole of Edinburgh. And that simile is truly touch and go, because Edinburgh is really a very attractive destination and you can understand why they are intent upon it. However, a sharp left turn just over the Scottish Border can be very rewarding because you'll discover Galloway.
Truly, I don't think many of these Edinburgh-focused visitors to Scotland ever ask the question - where is Galloway. No, they just hurtle on northwards through the Scottish Borders. Many even ignore the Scottish Borders' strap-line 'Scotland's leading short-break destination'. (Unless they mis-read it as 'Scotland's leading short-bread destination. I know I do.)
(Left) This helpful, hi-tech, no-expenses-spared, sophisticated diagram 'Where is Galloway' explains the phenomenon, and shows the way people hurtle past. However, it doesn't apply if you're coming from the north, as we were recently, in which case I recommend the Robert Burns Museum haggis in Alloway, Ayr, for lunch, on the way. If you are travelling downwards, as it were, you could hold your viewing device upside down to see the map. Actually, you're right, Googlemaps have nothing to fear here.... Anyway, this page is an account of a wee excursion we made recently. We came over by the moors and high woods to drop into Newton Stewart, strung along the River Cree. The RSPB have a nature reserve, the Wood of Cree, nearby. The riverside oakwoods are just filled with birdy goings-on. And they even have pied flycatchers. (Well, I'm sorry, but that impressed me.)
We stayed at Wigtown - in an immaculate b & b called Brora Lodge - recommended. Galloway communities often have highly characteristic painted frontages to the houses, and a wide main street, where fairs and markets used to be held. Wigtown confirms to this pattern. It's attractive. Unhappily, Wigtown is associated with a horrible story from the time of the Covenanters. (The 17th-century religious confrontations in Scotland were as extreme and unpleasant as any war fought in the name of religion today.) Apparently, the story goes that this mother and daughter, for their beliefs, were tied to a stake and left to drown when the tide came in. See what I mean? It's a hopeless theme for a visitor attraction.
So, with a couple of monuments in town recalling the event, Wigtown suddenly came up with a good idea. It would become a book town. Today, it's stuffed with bookshops. Extraordinary. It has the second biggest book festival in Scotland, held in autumn every year. It's all terribly respectable and middle-brow. In 2011, for example, they even had one of those weird feet 'let-fish-chew-at-your-skin' therapies exhibiting in their food and drink tent. No, I don't get the connection either. Perhaps it was just intended to be a footnote. Possibly it was a food and drink tent intended for fish, but they let us in. Maybe it was symbolic of being tied to a stake and nibbled by fishes when the tide came in. Gruesome. I feel sorry for the fish. Anyway, I expect in a couple of years you'll be able to download Wigtown and its festival on your Kindle or other reading device
From Wigtown, you can go west to explore Galloway's gardens. That stand-by of the tourist brochure writer, the Gulf Stream, helps here. The mild airs of Galloway take the edge off the winter cold and this is appreciated by the tender plants that are found here in the Mild West - such as cabbage palms and tree ferns at, say, Logan Botanic Garden.
Anyway, what else is here? I suppose that instead of asking where is Galloway we should be asking what is Galloway about. Well, it's got one especially endearing feature. You can park in its towns for free. Yes, unlike the punitive regime that is Edinburgh's parking regulations, there are no grasping city authorities treating visitors with cars as cash-cows. No, the Galloway folk actually want you to park your car (sensibly in a car-park of course) then go and explore. And, frankly, it's worth going to Galloway for that reason alone.
This feature makes, for example, the town of Kirkcudbright (pictured left) even more attractive. We like this town, for its colour and neatness and for its points of interest. Broughton House is worth a visit, especially as you feel the artist E.A Hornel, one of the Glasgow Boys, artist has just popped out and could arrive back home at any moment. (I expect, if he did, he'd be surprised to find the National Trust for Scotland had moved in.)
The harbourfront is quite interesting, at least worth a stroll, and verges on the picturesque, - see my fishing boat painting below - while there are quite a few crafty and arty little shops. The High Street Gallery is especially friendly and worth a browse. I admit I had to crouch in the foliage to take the picture above, in order to blank out the Winnibagos / campervans parked in front of MacLellan's Castle on the skyline in the centre of town.
On this occasion, as part of our 'Where is Galloway' trip, in our excursion we also took in Castle Douglas. For some time Castle Douglas has promoted itself as a 'food town'. It is said to have a high concentration of food related businesses in the town. Well, it certainly has three butchers and a couple of delis and some sweet shops and cafes and if you stand at one point on the main street nearly all the shops in view are called 'Gowans' and sell dresses for farmers' wives (possibly).
In other words, it's full of charm and idiosyncracy and slightly mysterious, mainly because you expect a 'food town' to be more obviously, well, foodie. So, the streets are not paved with pies and, to be honest, we wondered up and down and never really found anywhere we fancied for lunch. This was just a case of having our expectations set too high perhaps. (Anyway, according to a chatty local we met, Tesco is doubling the size of its outlet in the town - so that's going to finish off a few food businesses. Oh dear.) But, like these other Galloway places, the main street is well worth a look. Definitely. And they do have food events on an annual basis.
For more info on the area that further answers the original question 'Where is Galloway', follow this link.
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Scotland in Three Days