I enjoyed a three-day trip driving the new South West Coastal 300 in south-west Scotland. For novelty, and enjoyment, I hired a classic car, Triumph Herald.
The 1969-built Herald has been beautifully refurbished by the owner of Kippford Classic Car Hire, based just south of Dalbeattie.
Driving the car brought back many fond childhood memories of day trips with my nan at the wheel of her dark green Herald as we headed, with my siblings, to the English seaside.
The smell of the old leather seats, the smooth wooden dashboard and the array of ancient-looking dials and gauges instantly transported me back 40 years.
Bluebelle still prefers to drive at the more sedate speeds of yesteryear, yet this turned out to be the perfect pace to enjoy a drive-and-see holiday in the south-west of Scotland.
What is the SWC300?
The third in a series of circular road routes to be established in Scotland, following suit from the now world-acclaimed North Coast 500 and the more recently founded North-East 250, the SWC300 is located in Dumfries & Galloway, as well as dipping into South Ayrshire and East Ayrshire.
Based on a motorbike route, but with several additional sections, the 300-mile-or-so driving loop reaches the most southerly point in Scotland at Mull of Galloway, as well as passing through Wanlockhead, Scotland’s highest village at 1531ft above sea level.
The SWC300 features fabulous coastlines, including two lowland peninsulas, and several traditional “Doon the Watter” seaside hotspots of Ayrshire.
Inland, the route winds through a delightful rolling countryside, vast forests and crosses dramatic moorlands.
The SWC300 is seen by local tourism businesses as a 21st century lifeline to attract more visitors to a less-frequented area of Scotland.
Ian McAndrew, who is part of the SWC300 organising committee and owner of Blackaddie House Hotel in Sanquhar, said: “The route circles a huge but less visited area of Scotland and we have many providers who will happily cater for many more tourists.
“I don’t believe it will never feel busy in Ayrshire and Dumfries & Galloway so it is a win-win for visitors and businesses alike.”
You can access your own choice of starting point and then drive clockwise or anti-clockwise, whatever you fancy. Or dip into the route for a day at a time.
A three-day trip on the SWC300
While three days had seemed like the ideal length of time to drive the route, I soon discover a week or more would be better because there are so many pretty villages, historic towns and attractions to visit.
The SWC300 sticks as much as possible to quiet country roads and, on occasions, it feels as though I am the only vehicle for 10 miles. Inevitably, there are some stretches that are busier with traffic but these are rarely too long.
It’s possible to start anywhere on the circular route although I expect most people will access from the major routes, including the M74 and M77.
Section 1: Kippford to Portpartick, Dumfries & Galloway
Picking up Bluebelle from Kippford allows me to become familiar with her quirks and foibles during an hour’s drive to Borgue, near Kirkcudbright, where I stay an all-mod-cons wooden wigwam at Solway View Holidays.
I find her to be in surprisingly good shape for her years (she is just a year younger than me but has enjoyed more cosmetic upgrades than I have! She even has a new five-speed gear box. I wish had one of those, too!)
The winding A711 runs close to the shore of the Solway Firth, the watery border between Scotland and England, and has plenty to see and do.
- Go for a walk across the sands of Auchencairn Bay and look across to Hestan Island.
- Stroll around the artists’ town of Kirkcudbright
- Visit Dundrennan Abbey or a stroll back through time.
While I have enjoyed a cosy night in the wigwam and a hot shower at Solway View Holidays, Bluebelle requires a little choke assistance (rememeber those?!) to get her started. We head off gently, following the narrow B272 west, and then the A75, towards the Machars Peninsula.
I am tempted to divert to numerous attractions marked by tourist signs, such as one pointed to Laggan Outdoor activity centre at Gatehouse of Fleet (home of a fantastic zipwire, as well as other fun activities) and another to Creetown Gem Rock Museum. (I am frustrated I did not afford myself more time for this new driving route.)
The landscape grows ever more rural and gloriously green fields, like plumped up duvets, roll and billow towards a shoreline of pebble beaches and a turquoise sea.
I am keen to visit Wigtown, Scotland’s famous book town. As I arrive, I realise I have chanced upon the annual book festival, which 20 years ago put the quiet town on the world map. I enjoy a coffee in a cafe as authors and avid readers mill around, eating, reading, chatting and looking purposeful.
Again, I realise I should have scheduled more time to potter and pottle about a bit more.
Continuing with my whistlestop tour of the SWC300, I head further south on the Machars through a landscape of lowlands farmland and shoreline to the Isle of Whithorn.
Strangely, despite its name the picture-postcard sea port settlement is no long an island after a causeway was built in the late 18th century. It is also the location of the ruined 13th century Saint Ninian’s Chapel.
Nearby is the village of Whithorn, where St Ninian’s Church is famous as the so-called birthplace of Christianity in Scotland. It’s believed the original church (now in ruins) was founded more than a century before Columba’s church at Iona.
I take the time for this detour and I am impressed by the feeling of serenity. This might be a popular destination but today I am alone to transport my thoughts back through time to 731AD (impossible to imagine, actually, although fascinating to try…)
The SWC300 features another harbour, Port William, a little further on, where I join a man for a while – in fact, a statue – at his leaning post looking out across moody Luce Bay. It seems like a wonderfully scenic place (although chilly in the winter) to rest for eternity.
I round on to another leg of land, this time the Rhins of Galloway and with the sun shining I make frequent stops to gaze at beautiful headland vistas of sandy bays and sea.
I have been told that this area of Scotland benefits from a favourable climate thanks to the Gulf Stream, a warm Atlantic ocean current that originates in the Gulf of Mexico and passes along this part of the Scottish coast.
Each time I stop I am sure I have seen the best vista yet, but then I see another one and pull over again.
Eventually, I join a single-track tarmac road signposted south to the Mull of Galloway. On the west side of the narrow stretch of land are steep, rugged cliffs and inlets of crashing waves, while to the east, the landscape is softer landscape with many sandy beaches.
The Robert Louis Stevenson-designed lighthouse, the most southerly in Scotland, was completed in 1830 and sits atop a 260ft high cliff. There are a dizzying 150 steps to the top. This tip of the Scottish mainland feels perfectly wild and far-flung and as the sun begins to set the drama of this location is accentuated.
Making the return journey north on the Rhins and then to Portpatrick, where I spend the night, I immediately see why the seaside town is so popular with holidaymakers. A lovely harbour, pastel-coloured houses, a wide bay and a backdrop of low cliffs easily charm.
Other places to visit:
- Martyr’s Stake, Wigtown
- Burrow Head for a walk
- Logan Botanic Garden.
There are plenty of cycling options in this part of Scotland.
Where to stay
This is where I stayed (and ate) but there are plenty of other options.
First night: Solway View Holidays, near Kirkcudbright.
Evening meal: Selkirk Arms Hotel, Kirkcudbright.
Second night: Four-star Rickwood House Hotel in Portpatrick.
Evening meal: Fernhill Hotel, Portpatrick.