I bloody love Scotland. As I have written many times before, I had wanted to live here for over 20 years so the fact that we made it happen is an actual Real Life Dream Come True. There has not been a single day since we moved here that I have not felt incredibly grateful to be here, especially as it contrasts so greatly with our ‘old life’ in Manchester. Sometimes I feel annoyed for not making the move sooner so I have to remind myself that all things happen in their own time, the way they are meant to happen. And we were definitely meant to be in this place, at this time.
It is a very exciting time for South-west Scotland right now with Visit Scotland (the Scottish government’s tourism board) recently announcing a half million pound advertising budget specifically for this area. As we have been saying since we set foot here in Dumfries & Galloway, it is amazing to think that an area as fascinating and beautiful as this lies so close to England, yet it seems to always have been overlooked as a tourist destination as holiday makers head for the Highlands.
This blog is evidence that South-west Scotland is awesome and is a part of Scotland which is well worth many visits. We have pretty much everything here to keep the whole family happy, from the nature lovers and the active types, to the culture seekers and the history geeks – take your pick from hill walking, mountain biking, skiing, fishing, stargazing, bird watching, gold panning, horse riding, golf, spa days, museums, galleries, ancient castle ruins, stately home castles, beaches, caves, forests, adventure playgrounds, farm parks, music festivals, book festivals, art festivals, oyster festivals…I could go on. We have so much to offer our guests in regards to interesting and scenic day trips but…(I’m finally getting to the purpose of this post!)…there is one major let down right across this whole region – just one issue but one which really frustrates me. And that is the fact that Scotland, or at least this part of the country, does not seem to have even the slightest hint of ‘cafe culture’. If I’m being totally honest, going out to eat just doesn’t seem to be much of a ‘thing’ here.
I feel like such a hypocrite writing that last part, not least because I used the annoying hipster-associated term ‘cafe culture’. I think perhaps part of our problem is that we used to live in a Manchester suburb which was famous (infamous? ridiculed?) for its wealth of cafes, bars and restaurants, and although we of course knew that living in rural Scotland would be very different from all that, I still feel that S.W Scotland could do with catching up, just a wee bit. I know it sounds like I want the best of both worlds but I don’t think that is the case at all – I certainly don’t want a bunch of cafes with Edison light bulbs and mis-matched china to suddenly start springing up everywhere, I’d just like the existing businesses to open for longer, or at least serve hot food for more than a couple of hours a day.
Over the past year we have noticed so many missed opportunities and the loss of potential income for loads of business throughout the region, even over the summer holidays – a time when all businesses should be working flat out to make as much money as possible to carry them through the quieter winter months. That’s certainly what we have been doing here at Rigg House B&B! When cafes at tourist attractions stop serving hot food at 2pm (New Lanark Mill Cafe), or when tourist-focused shops in busy tourist towns close at 4pm on Saturdays in the height of summer (Kirkcudbright), or when a cafe next to an adventure playground closes 2.5 hours before the playground closes (Culzean Castle), or when a main focal point for an area doesn’t even open the cafe over the Autumn/Winter school holidays (Drumlanrig Castle) it is quite frustrating both as a visitor to these places and as someone who is trying to promote the area. I won’t talk about the cafe at the Galloway Adventure Park other than to say that it is the biggest missed opportunity of them all.
I appreciate that of course every situation is nuanced and nothing is black and white – simply opening places for longer periods throughout the year does not automatically result in more visitors to the area – these things take time. Sometimes in life you just have to play the long game. But I do believe that this is a case of ‘build it and they will come’ – it will just take time. If this part of Scotland could move forwards just a little bit and adopt more of a tourist-friendly approach in terms of variety, reliability and availability of the types of businesses which holiday makers need and expect, then it will give people even more of a reason to visit S.W Scotland.
As more new visitors ‘discover’ this amazing part of the world, all businesses (especially tourism-associated ones) in the whole area have a duty to give each and every one of them reasons to want to return. We all need to make visitors know that S.W Scotland truly has (or will have) it all. Providing hot meals in cafes at 3pm would be a really good way to start.