Exploring Dumfries and Galloway in south west Scotland
Eastward From Kirkcudbright - the A711 Coastal Route
The A711 coastal route offers the visitor fine views across the estuary of the Dee, and thence to Dundrennan Abbey. This 12th century Cistercian Abbey is where, on 15th May 1568, Mary, Queen of Scots, spent her last night in Scotland. She sailed from the foot of the Abbey Burn across the Solway to Maryport and her eventual murder at the hands of Queen Elizabeth. The Abbey is a stately and venerable ruin, and the village of Dundrennan shows considerable recycling of the building material.
The road continues, rising to give a magnificent vista of hills, the Solway firth and the English mountains of the Lake District from an interpretative viewpoint above the picturesque village of Auchencairn. This is the East Stewartry Coast, designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, also a sometime haunt of smugglers, whose caves and inlets abound along the rocky coast. To this day much of the coast is only accessible on foot, but well worth the effort.
Auchencairn Bay with Hestan Island is balanced on the left by the mass of Bengairn and Screel Hill, a miniature mountain easily accessible via a good footpath from an opening off the Gelston road. There are also a mountain bike trail and paths along the rocky burn in which rough amethysts may sometimes be discovered.
Another two miles along the A711 a small diversion brings us to Orchardton Tower, a fine cylindrical tower house, built in the 15th century by one John Carnys. The vaulted basement is rectangular, surmounted by round rooms. There is evidence of use as a chapel and primitive sanitary arrangements. A fine turnpike stair joins the floors and leads to the parapet walk. The remains of surrounding workers quarters and farm buildings lie at the base.
Walking over the rough ridge to the Northwest brings you in one mile down to North Glen, overlooking the oxbow bends of the Urr Water. Views are spectacular, the mountains of the Lake District being visible in clear weather, and there is time and space to sit and reflect at The North Glen Gallery, where Ed Iglehart, his family and associated artists ply their trades. Advice and information on local walks, wildlife and other natural history is available as well as (sometimes) self-catering coffee, etc.
Alternatively, one can travel by road, passing through the village of Palnackie, a minute seaport, which not so long ago saw ships carrying granite from the Dalbeattie quarries to pave the curbs of London. The harbour is now quiet, overlooked by the outcrop known as Raven's Craig, a worthwhile viewpoint for the energetic.
Dalbeattie is a granite town, though the local stone now goes mainly for road metal. The Dalbeattie Forest has many fine, well marked trails and bike routes, reached by turning onto the A710. This, the Colvend Coast road, leads past the sailing resort of Kippford, on the scenic Urr estuary.
There are beaches at Rockcliffe and Sandyhills which are joined by a fine footpath. Peregrine Falcons may be sighted as the road rises again to give wide views across the Solway before descending to New Abbey, so named to distinguish it from the older Dundrennan. Sweetheart Abbey is a grand red sandstone ruin containing the grave of Devorgilla with the embalmed heart of her husband John Balliol, in whose memory she founded Balliol College at Oxford.
Nearby is Shambellie House, which contains a collection of two hundred years of European fashionable dress. It is part of the Royal Scottish Museum and well worth a visit. Also nearby is Kirkconnell House, said to be one of the longest continuously occupied houses in Scotland. There are fine walks signposted for the visitor, especially to the Watch Craig, giving a grand panorama in all directions.
Passing on towards Dumfries, Mabie Forest provides an opportunity to visit an excellent example of mixed broadleaved woodland, the likes of which originally covered much of Southwest Scotland. Red squirrels, vanished from much of their former range are sometimes visible here. Golden eagles, buzzards, and other birds of prey are not unknown.