Dumfries and Galloway (Scottish Gaelic: Dùn Phrìs is Gall-Ghaidhealaibh) is a region in the southwest of Scotland.
The main England-Glasgow transport corridor cuts through the east of this region, with railway and motorway running north from Carlisle to cross into Scotland.
- 1 Gretna still has a wedding industry, though there's no practical need for couples to go there.
- 2 Lockerbie is indelibly linked to the 1988 Pan Am flight disaster.
- Beattock is the little village where road and rail climb the moor over into Clydesdale and descend towards Glasgow.
- 3 Wanlockhead is a lead-mining village in the hills.
The region's other towns are along A75. Heading west:
- 4 Annan helped brew "The Devil's Porridge", an essential ingredient of World War I munitions.
- 5 Dumfries is where Robert Burns spent his last years; it's a good base for exploring the castles and hills beyond.
- 6 Rockcliffe a charming coastal village featuring Victorian country house Baron's Craig, along with occasional views of the Cumbrian coast.
- 7 Castle Douglas has impressive Threave Gardens.
- 8 Kirkcudbright near the coast was popular with the "Scottish Colourists" and remains an artists' colony.
- 9 Gatehouse of Fleet has Cardoness Castle.
- 10 Newton Stewart is the base for exploring Glen Trool forest and the Machars peninsula.
- 11 Wigtown has many book shops and an annual Book Festival in early autumn.
- 12 Whithorn, once an island, had the first church in Scotland, established by St Ninian in 397 AD.
- 13 Stranraer is the port for ferries to Northern Ireland, which nowadays sail from nearby Cairnryan.
- 14 Portpatrick is a small fishing village, and was the main port for Ireland until Stranraer developed.
- 15 Drummore is a village near the Mull of Galloway, the southwest tip of Scotland.
The region of Dumfries and Galloway was created in 1975 by merging the counties of Dumfriesshire, Kirkcudbrightshire and Wigtownshire. This was part of a nationwide reorganisation of local government: some of those changes proved unworkable and were revoked, but this part of Scotland has a coherent regional identity so this particular change has lasted. Administratively it's a "unitary council", a bit like a metropolis, if that term can apply to quiet pastures and forested hills studded with castles.
The region is lowland and fertile along the coast of the Solway Firth. It has a short border with England around Gretna, which eloping English couples used to dash across, while to the north rise the Southern Uplands. The valley of the River Annan is a transport corridor into those hills but not necessarily out of them: follow it too far and you land in The Devil's Beef Tub, where your plaintive cries will be answered only by the moorland peewits. But by the time Glasgow grew into a city destination in the 19th century, road and railway engineering advanced to carry the routes over Beattock summit into Clydesdale. So for most travellers nowadays Dumfries and Galloway is just a brief green blur five minutes beyond Carlisle.
The Solway coast is shallow but was a good way to get around in bygone ages when small ships could draw up in any tidal creek. So invaders and raiders often landed here. The "Gall-" in Galloway is from Gaidheil, the Gaelic for a stranger or foreigner. As with Galway and Donegal, it's not clear which strangers are meant, as there's quite a choice. The Vikings are obvious suspects but it might also mean rival Celtic chiefdoms, and in medieval times battles for the crown of Scotland were fought here. Banditry continued after the wars, hence all the castles - mostly simple fortified dwellings rather than barracks or palaces, and now in varying states of dilapidation. The coast and creeks were also good for smuggling when taxes rose sharply in the 18th century. Many people were employed either in smuggling or in law enforcement, and often both. One beneficiary was the poet Robert Burns, wnose last attempt at farming was at Ellisland near Dumfries, but employment as an exciseman allowed him to give that up, and to do more writing in the short span that remained to him.
Burns' associations remain the biggest tourist draw, and other cultural magnets are Kirkcudbright for its painters and Wigtown for books. Sweetheart Abbey, Caerlaverock Castle, Drumlanrig and Threave Gardens are among its other big sights. But mostly it's a quiet region of coastal vistas, grazing cattle and the occasional thwack of a golf ball.
Glasgow is closer, but consider Manchester Airport (MAN IATA) for its excellent range of flights, competitive fares, and good onward transport.
Trains from London Euston and Manchester rush north from Carlisle towards Glasgow Central, mostly non-stop, but every couple of hours they call at Lockerbie and Motherwell.
A loop of line runs west from Carlisle via Annan, Dumfries, Sanquhar and Kilmarnock to Glasgow Central. Trains run hourly as far as Dumfries, continuing to Glasgow every couple of hours.
Trains run from Glasgow Central via Ayr to Stranraer but don't serve the Cairnryan ferry terminals.
Buses run direct from Edinburgh and Glasgow to Dumfries, otherwise change in Carlisle.
National Express formerly ran overnight from London across the region to Stranraer and Cairnryan, but this remains suspended in 2022.
Citylink / Ulsterbus 923 runs from Glasgow via Ayr to Cairnryan (connecting with the ferry) and Stranraer.
See Stranraer for ferries from Northern Ireland, which sail to Cairnryan a few miles north of town. The operators are Stena Line from Belfast (with connections from Dublin and Londonderry), and P&O Irish Sea from Larne.
Train is the best option between Carlisle and Lockerbie, and Carlisle, Annan and Dumfries.
All the villages have at least occasional buses M-Sat, radiating out from Carlisle, Dumfries, Newton Stewart or Stranraer. There's next to nothing on Sunday.
Taxis are another option for short journeys, with most towns having at least one taxi company.
You'll need a car to visit the remote castles and forests out in the countryside.
- Robert Burns sites are mostly in or near Dumfries, but see Annan for the curious pool where he bathed in forlorn hope of a cure.
- Old churches and abbeys: best is Sweetheart south of Dumfries. Scotland's first church was at Whithorn, but the present ruin is 12th century.
- Castles are mostly well-ruined, but Caerlaverock is impressive for its islet site. Dumlanrig is a grand palace built for bling not defence.
- Gardens: the best are Threave near Castle Douglas and Port Logan towards Drummore. Scotland's Gardens is a scheme that opens up private gardens once a year in summer, with all proceeds going to charity. There are some 40 participating gardens in this region, dates staggered so there's one open most weekends.
- Glen Trool is a forest park above Newton Stewart with forest walks, a circular walk around Loch Trool, and a path up Merrick the highest hill in southern Scotland.
- Southern Upland Way is a long-distance hiking trail, from the coast at Portpatrick, through the forests and foothills before leaving the region at Wanlockhead to cross the Borders to Cockburnspath on the North Sea coast. Most walkers just do short there-and-back afternoon sections.
- Fishing casts over the small lochs and rivers, or from shore along the Solway Firth. Local tackle shops can advise and sell permits.
- Football: the pro soccer teams are Queen of the South in Dumfries, Annan Athletic and Stranraer. Rugby Union is not as big a sport here as in the Borders to the east.
- Golf: lots of courses, though none rank as championship: head to the Ayrshire coast for Turnberry and Troon.
- Pub food and the hotels are often your best bet. The town main streets have the usual cheap and cheerful outlets.
- Fish and shellfish may have been imported from far away, but the west around Newton Stewart and Stranraer has a small fishing trade.
- Smokehouses in Newton Stewart prepare newly-smoked fish, cheese and meat.
- Dairy is the region's main style of farming, so look for local cheeses and ice cream.
There are two whisky distilleries in the region, both of which can be toured: Bladnoch near Wigtown, and Annandale near Annan. A few others make gin.
Most local pubs provide a range of real ales. There's a handful of micro-breweries.
Usual precautions for traffic and safeguarding valuables.
You need to dress for the weather but the hills are of no great height, and it's unusual for roads to be snowbound.
- East are the Scottish Borders. Approach routes that are scenic yet A-road are A701 from Moffat via Devil's Beef Tub and Grey Mare's Tail towards Selkirk, and A7 the old Edinburgh road via Hawick.
- Northwest is Ayrshire for more Burns connections, golf, and the islands of the Forth of Clyde.
- Glasgow is the must-see city north.
- The mountains seen across the Solway Firth are in the English Lake District: scenic but crowded in summer, and it's sure to rain.