Scotland’s hidden gem: Cycling, walking and a family catch up
It is far more likely that the G-Force and I will head north of our home in Glasgow for outdoor adventures in Scotland, yet each time I visit the southern Scottish region of Dumfries & Galloway I am reminded just how delightful it is.
Here are a few things I (re)discovered during a weekend break for a family get-together to celebrate my mum’s 70th birthday.
A peaceful haven: Dumfries & Galloway is much less visited than other regions in Scotland. People seem to prefer to head further north, straight to the Highlands in many cases, and end up bypassing this area. While this maintains the fabulous tranquillity of the region it means many visitors are missing out on a wonderful gem. D&G is a superb area with sublime rolling landscapes, a long and stunning coastline and plenty of quaint villages and towns to visit.
So easy to access: D&G is surprisingly easy to reach. We had booked to stay at Cavens Country House Hotel, in Kirkbean, south of Dumfries. We arrived from Glasgow via the M74. The town of Dumfries is only about 30 minutes from the Moffat turn off on the M74. My sister arrived from further west, in Ayrshire. My brother from Livingston. And my parents came from the Chester area of England. While we all had to drive to arrive at the hotel, none of us felt it was too arduous for a weekend break.
Do as much or as little as you fancy: Visitors can stroll huge sandy beaches, climb hills, walk many miles of waymarked trails and cycle a wide network of country roads (including plenty of National Cycle Network routes). There are numerous tourist attractions, too, including lighthouses, castles, museums, abbeys, a chocolate factory and wildlife parks.
Our family group enjoyed a variety of activities over two days including a trip to Laggan Outdoor Centre at Gatehouse of Fleet, where some gave the exciting zip wire a try. They had heard about the zip wire after watching a video of me doing the Human Slingshot, also found at Laggan Outdoor Centre. Those who tried it really enjoyed it. (Although, it’s worth noting that if you weigh more than 15.5st and the wind is in the wrong direction you won’t get to descend the zip wire. My brother-in-law found this out to his annoyance just as he was about to be launched from the top.)
My parents fancied the lighthouse at Southerness and the bookshops of Wigtown. My sister and her husband wanted to take Ed for walk on one of their favourite beaches, Mossyard, near Gatehouse of Fleet.
I also squeezed in a bike ride and decided that the roads between Dalbeattie and Gatehouse, including a stretch of the NCN Route 7, looked just about perfect. Although the weather was a little wet and misty I enjoyed the rolling route on mostly smooth tarmac. The roads seemed almost traffic-free, especially compared to those near Glasgow.
D&G is the home of cycling: Kirkpatrick Macmillan, who invented the pedal bike, was born in Keir in 1812. In 1842, he designed and built the first rear-wheel driven bicycle.
There’s cycling for all: I have cycled a number of times in Dumfries & Galloway and always enjoyed the experience. I have no idea why I do not head to this area more frequently for longer bike rides. As well as plentiful quiet country roads for cycling, there’s the 7stanes network of mountain bike trails centres. Our hotel, Cavens, was mid-way between two 7stanes centres of Mabie and Dalbeattie.
Drumlanrig offers more trail cycling on graded routes form easy to difficult. You could bring you own bikes or hire.
There’s walking for all: Everywhere I looked I spotted signposts revealing paths to stroll or hike. In fact, I think you’d be hard pushed to beat the diversity of walking options in this region, including routes along the long and stunning coastline, in vast and atmospheric forests and on moorlands, hills and mountains.
If there had been time, I would have loved to run up nearby Criffel Hill. The route from New Abbey, close to Cavens Country House Hotel, to the 570m summit would be great for an off-road run. (I will be back to do this route.)
And there’s even more to do outdoors: Including golf, horse riding, fishing, wildlife and bird watching.
I have been here before: I ran a section of the GB Relay a couple of years ago and passed through Kirkbean and also past Sweetheart Abbey at New Abbey (well worth a visit, too). See Running the GB Relay 1 and Running the GB Relay 2. I had forgotten about the run in D&G until we arrived at Kirkbean!
Luxury does mix with outdoors pursuits
While I might normally favour a couple of nights away in Fern the Campervan when walking, cycling or enjoying other outdoor activities, sometimes I do like a bit of luxury.
This weekend we stayed at Cavens Country House Hotel at Kirkbean, south of Dumfries, and were treated to exactly the right type of luxury accommodation. Our family enjoyed the very comfortable and relaxing surroundings of the small four-star hotel, set amid beautiful rolling countryside.
Owners Angus and Jane were the perfect hosts. For most of the time it felt as though we were in our own country house. We made ourselves at home and enjoyed relaxing in the guest sitting rooms or in our spacious bedrooms.
Then, as if by magic, Angus or Jane would appear to offer afternoon tea and cake, fix the first drinks of the evening, to recommend somewhere to visit, to offer a small snippet of local history or to serve our delicious home-cooked meals. Yet they were never “too much there”, if you know what I mean?
It is rare that hotels find that true balance of generous hospitality but without being oppressive or OTT, yet Angus and Jane have done so perfectly.
The hotel was smart, clean and beautifully out-fitted but, at the same time, it wasn’t so posh that you felt you couldn’t relax or wander in wearing walking or cycling clothing.
If you like the great outdoors and also enjoy a bit of pampering after a day or walking or cycling then this is a lovely place to stay. (They also have a handy boiler room for drying out wet kit.)
Our family likes things to be relaxed: If you know me then you’ll know I am none too keen on being overly dressed up and formal. The rest of my family is similar and especially my mum. She didn’t want a fuss for her 70th but she wanted something special with just close family around her.
Cavens got the whole weekend just right. We didn’t have to dress up for dinner (although we could have done so if we’d wanted to and we certainly wouldn’t have looked out of place); we could sit around and relax or be busy outdoors; and we could have over-eaten to our heart’s content or simply enjoyed, as we all did, the perfect size of portions during our three-course meals and breakfasts.
The location was also ideal for suiting a range of people. We had two teenagers, adults who prefer less active activities and those, like me, who like to do something more energetic. If the occasion arises again I am sure we will return.