The term ‘Hidden Gem’ is perhaps an overused idiom, but it is one which describes South-west Scotland perfectly. This pocket of land in the corner of Scotland is a true hidden gem, hiding in plain sight and so often by-passed as people head up or down the M74 – it has been said that unless you are catching a ferry to Arran or Ireland you’d have no reason to venture into this ‘secret’ land. But to those of us who have explored and fallen in love with this beautiful and varied terrain, that assumption seems like madness.
One of the very best ways to experience this part of Scotland would be to drive the South-west Coastal 300, a newly designed circular route which covers approximately 300 miles and takes in over 100 towns, villages, beauty spots and points of interest – not to mention all the many wonderful pubs and cafes and, of course, amazing guest accommodation along the way! The drive takes you down the stunning South Ayrshire coast, along the picturesque Dumfries & Galloway coast and up around the rural heaven of the D&G border, taking in a little bit of Lanarkshire. The route has a perfect balance of breath-taking views, varied wildlife, inspiring culture, fascinating folklore and a rich and interesting history with attractions dotted along the way to suit the whole family.
Disclaimer time: we have covered only a fraction of the SWC300 – we have yet to visit a whole chunk of Dumfries & Galloway which means we still have lots of exciting adventures ahead of us – the whole western tip is still a wonderful mystery to us so I’ll update this blog when we have ventured further! But for now, we are fortunate in that Rigg House B&B lies on the SWC300 route, right along the top just before you cross the border to Ayrshire, so over the past year we have become familiar with a wealth of amazing places to visit close by.
The stretch of the route west from Kirkconnel to Dunure is one which we do at least once a month and is perhaps my most favourite drive anywhere in Scotland. The road passes through beautiful villages with slogans on their welcome signs like Dallmellington – ‘A Village in the Stars’ and Straiton ‘Rambler Territory’, as well as the inspiring village of Alloway (the birthplace of the Bard of Scotland, Robert Burns) before reaching the picture-perfect harbour village of Dunure. This little portion of the SWC300 takes just under an hour, but we’d definitely recommend making a full day of it and making lots of stops along the way.
One of our favourite family days out was our first visit to Alloway, retracing the steps of the eponymous character from one of Burns’ most famous poems, Tam O’Shanter, followed by a late lunch at Dunure’s Harbour Café and watching the sunset on the beach. Even just this small section of the SWC300 offers up a variety of landscapes and wildlife, along with many cultural connections and fascinating historical tales. Venture a little further down from Dunure and you’ll come to the wide stretch of Croy beach and the incredible Culzean Castle and its extensive grounds. If you have young kids itching for a good playground, then you’ll find possibly the best one in the area here.
From Rigg House B&B to the east the SWC300 takes you through the village of Sanquhar just ten minutes down the road. This little village at the heart of the Upper Nithsdale region is packed full of history, arts and culture and is a criminally under-appreciated gem of a place with many very hidden beauty spots which we love to share with our guests. A brand new trail – Discover Upper Nithsdale – is currently in the final stages of planning and will offer visitors the opportunity to find out more about the local points of interest which handily fall along the SWC300 route.
You’d be crazy to pass through Sanquhar and not stop off at Crawick Multiverse which lies on the site of an old coal mine just before you reach the village. Stop off for lunch at The Burnside Tearooms, The Nithsdale Hotel or A’ the Airts and learn about the history of the striking Sanquhar knitting pattern. If you are interested in finding out more about the history, geology and folklore of Sanquhar and Kirkconnel then we’d advise a visit to the Tollbooth Museum where the volunteers will happily help you with any questions – although there is sadly no longer a Tourist Information Centre in the area, this place is a good alternative.
The beauty of the SWC300 is that despite the coastal aspect of the name, the circular route actually covers a large part of inland territory as you will see as you continue on. Not far out of Sanquhar the route veers off the A76 and up through the awe-inspiring Mennock Pass and up into Scotland’s highest village, Wanlockhead. Parking up and breathing this air is an absolute must-do. In fact, spend a full day here – visit the Lead Mining Museum for loads of interesting local history information and scramble up the hills for the best exercise and views you could ask for. Finish off your day with a pint in Scotland’s highest pub, the Wanlockhead Inn – and if you’re not done with exploring this beautiful area you could book one of the Inns little glamping pods and spend a whole other day exploring the hills of ‘God’s Treasure House’…keep your eyes peeled for gold!
The only other part of the SWC300 we have been able to explore a little is the stretch along the Solway Firth between Bourge and Sandyhills, but we have only really scratched the surface. If you were doing the whole drive properly over the space of a couple of weeks you would be wise to stay for at least a couple of nights at the wonderful Solway View camp site and definitely a few days in Kirkcudbright, before leisurely continuing on to Kippford, Rockcliffe and the beautiful Sandyhills beach. Like the places in the north of the county, the southern coast also offers ruined castles and abbeys, artistic connections and places so beautiful and peaceful that you’ll never want to leave.
If you are looking for a great escape from city life, but you don’t want to travel too far, then the South-west Coastal 300 is your perfect holiday idea. A logical starting point for most visitors coming from the south would be Dumfries but you can chose to start and finish the tour where ever you want. Why not even go off course for a few days when you reach Newton Stewart and head north into the wilderness of the Galloway Forest Park for some wild camping under a blanket of stars? Make the most of your time in this region by heading across to the Galloway Activity Center on the shores of Loch Ken for a wide range of outdoor activities and watersports before heading back down to rejoin the SWC300. Take a look at the Visit South-west Scotland website for details of B&Bs, hotels and self-catering accommodation along the route and get planning your adventure today. Like everyone who visits South-west Scotland, you too will fall in love with this hidden gem. www.visitsouthwestscotland.