Since discovering Scotland over a decade ago, the year doesn’t feel complete without a ‘Wilderness’ experience. Having travelled to the extremities, from Shetland to the Outer Hebrides, this year we tried a region that we would normally drive past. We went to Portpatrick in Dumfries. So what kind of experience did we have? We have a mental checklist of essentials.
Firstly accommodation, which is always a bit of a gamble. We rented a terraced house on the main street in Portpatrick, close to the sea – you could see the sea from the 3rd floor bedroom. It was recently renovated and so had a modern feel to it, leather sofas and a flickering flame effect electric fire. The kitchen had everything you need and the beds were comfortable. It, along with four other holiday lets was run by the adjacent hotel, so cleanliness was up to hotel standards. It was very handy to have the hotel so near, to call in for meals, which could be delivered to the house if needed. The village shop was opposite, so collecting the morning paper was easy! A weather experience is part of a Scottish holiday. We have, in the past, experienced rain, hail, snow, spectacular skies and rainbows, and sea fog which closed the airport on Shetland (a story in itself!) This was the year of wind. We were right in the path of hurricane Katia as it swept in from the Atlantic. Huge waves crashing on the rocks, wind so strong you could hardly stand upright and foam flying across the harbour like giant snowflakes. The boats in the harbour were bobbing like corks, even though sheltered, and the lifeboat, moored in the harbour was probably relieved that everyone had heeded the storm warning. Exciting, but not to my 2 year old granddaughter, who wanted to stay in the house watching CBBs as there was no prospect of building sandcastles or paddling. The landscape was not as dramatic as other, more remote areas of Scotland, but the green, rolling countryside was pleasant. The cliffs were rugged, but it was too windy to try the cliff top walk from the harbour. A walk along the cliffs in the opposite direction brings you to a derelict castle, from which it is possible to walk back to the village down a long unused railway cutting.
The next essential was archaeology, a stone circle on the way to Wigtown , not very remote but well kept and right by the road. A nearby chambered cairn was off the beaten track and the road with grass growing in the middle another experience tick. All sights and places to visit were well signposted, Dumfries and Galloway have taken tourism seriously. A visit to Scotland would not be complete without a drive on a single track road. The road up to the Mull of Galloway provided that. Well worth a visit, with the lighthouse and visitors centre, the RSPB building and an excellent shop and restaurant, with an outdoor terrace overlooking the cliffs- try not to look down! An unusual shopping experience was had visiting Wigtown, the book town. There were lots of second hand book shops to browse round. Some,unfortunately were feeling the effects of the recession and were closing down, but others were fighting back by diversifying into air fix models, crafts, gifts and coffee and cakes. I was pleased to find a book I had possessed and admired as a child, but completely forgotten about until I saw it again – I had to buy it! Art was the experience in Kirkcudbright, from the pretty pastel colours of the buildings to the many art galleries and shops. Broughton House and gardens, a National Trust for Scotland property was a jewel of a find, with paintings by Edward Hornel and a charming, rambling garden. Flora was well represented, not by wilderness, but by gardens. Castle Kennedy with it’s walled garden and sculptured lawns, Dunsky garden with its woods, lake and maze, and Logan Botanical garden. This was our favourite with immaculate lawns, unusual plants, palms, fishes and butterflies. My granddaughter forgot all about CBBs and ran excitedly from one area to another, each one more marvellous than the last! Her favourite express was no longer ‘I want to go home’ but ‘Daddy, look at this!!’ By now the wind had dropped and the sun was out, which did make it seem special. I like to look out for birds, which is a particular interest of mine. The newspaper said that lots of unusual and exhausted bird had been seen at Slimbridge. I saw nothing rare or lost in Portpatrick, but with the strength of the wind, anything approaching land would have found it impossible to stop without making a crash landing! So the only birds of note were whitethroat, swallows and martins on the Mull of Galloway, waiting for a more favourable wind for migration, and a small number of brent geese flying over Port Logan. The ‘birds of the holiday’ were the jackdaws, large numbers rode the wind with apparent enjoyment, rather than skulking in sheltered undergrowth. Coffee and scone stops are essential holiday experiences. There was an abundance of good value places, all making excellent coffee and serving homemade cakes. I was surprised to only put on 2 lbs in weight! Children were catered for at the Cream of Galloway centre. Adventure playground, ice cream, burgers (using local beef), shop, nature trail, picnic areas and garden – an excellent day out! All too soon, our week was over and we were heading back home. The busy M6 with its lorries and traffic jams must be as effective as Hadrian’s wall in keeping people out of Scotland! But we will be back again, a whole winter to decide where to explore next.