We are relatively inexperienced travellers to Scotland. Aside from a couple of trips to Edinburgh, one day trip to Gretna Green to buy potatoes and my geology field trip to Arran in 1970 our knowledge of Scotland seems almost otherwise limited to a children’s jigsaw of British isles. I can still see those pieces with old and evocative place names: Wigtownshire, Kirkcudbrightshire, Kyles of Bute, Loch Lomond and the images of highland cattle, pipers and Robbie Burns, tartan, shortbread, whisky, sporrans and kilts.
As a remedy to our ignorance and to take a break from the monsoon of 2012, we decided to take a 4 day road trip to Bonnie Scotchland.. Using The Calmac ferry operator’s Hopscotch Island ticket, we planned our weekend trip around the Isle of Arran which is known as Scotland in miniature ( it’s all about the geology!, see page 98…..)
On Thursday we left in the early morning heading for unknown territory, Dumfries & Galloway in South West Scotland. This area has a character of its own with a true claim to Scotland’s hidden corner or best kept secret. The town of Dumfries itself is a curious mixture of old and new, the impressive river Nith with it’s 4 bridges, red sandstone houses and buildings only partly ravaged by Sixties town planners. Like everywhere else in this part of Scotland they claim Robbie Burns as their own. In the centre stands a handsome statue in his honour and every other bar seems to make some reference to The Bard of Ayrshire. As he is buried in the town, I expect they are entitled.
We enjoyed a break and a nice coffee at a friendly café in Dumfries before setting off to see Threave Castle and Gardens some 15 mile south west further west and near Scotland’s self-styled foodie town of Castle Douglas. No time to stop, unfortunately. Threave was a mixed bag, the weather was good but the house and gardens would be best described as pleasant. The planting showed a distinct lack of lack of continuity and, in my opinion, there is plenty of scope for improvement.
We had a late light lunch and were impressed by the quality,value and the friendly service. Then a quick peek at some local postcards in the shop gave me some ideas of where to go for the rest of the afternoon and we headed off to Dalbeattie, Solvend and the coast.
Sandyhills beach was a delight, unspoilt, south-facing (not something you associate with Scotland) and an unusual view of the Lake District hills in the distance across the Solway Firth. Even those wind turbines could not spoil this view. We continued on along empty roads through rolling country to discover Rockcliffe, another free car park (Cornwall could take lessons from Galloway on that score) and another beautiful bay with tidal pools, low cliffs and scattered cottages and bungalows. The only concession to Mammon was a welcome ice cream van. A small cottage tea room had a table set up with drinks and cakes outside it’s front door wand an honesty box with visible cash. Kids were carrying fishing nets over the rocks, people and dogs enjoyed the beach and all around was a sense of peace and echoes of more gentle times. It’s the 1950’s and the set of a famous five book.
After a brief look at Kippford , a yachting location with a couple of enticing but unvisited pubs, we drove along the scenic coast to arrive in Kirkcudbright and our first nights stop, the Selkirk Arms. http://www.selkirkarmshotel.co.uk/ One of the owners met us in the car park and quickly helped us inside with our bags, answering queries from other guests simultaneously. We were taken to our room which was pleasant, fresh and well equipped. After a brief rest, we called in the bar lounge to examine the menu and enjoy a pint of real ale from the local Sulwath Brewery in Castle Douglas. The beer on offer was Selkirk Grace, a reference to that man again, Robbie Burns, who reputedly composed one his most famous works: “The Selkirk Grace” in this very building:
Some hae meat and canna eat,
and some wad eat that want it,
but we hae meat and we can eat,
and sae the Lord be thank it.
All the staff were sincerely friendly and we booked the restaurant rather than the bistro. It offered a fixed price menu of 2 or 3 courses. We had a a two and half. I had three , OH had two . As it went, we shared the Anti Pasti Platter of smoked Duck, Salami, rollmop Herring, Smoked Salmon and Smoked Pork before the two excellent meat main courses arrived consisting of a Scottish 10oz Sirloin Steak served with fries, flat mushroom, onion rings and vine tomatoes for the OH and for me, the Duo of Galloway Beef, fillet and confit shoulder, caramelized red onion and dauphenoise potatoes, red wine reduction and a nice dish of fresh vegetables. To finish, the OH plumped for the Selkirk Contemporary Summer Trifle: fresh strawberries, custard, double cream and jelly whilst I tried the A selection of Scottish Farmhouse cheese and biscuits including Loch Arthur Cheddar, Loch Arthur Criffel and Lanark Blue served with marinated grapes and apricot relish. We drank red wine by the glass. A decaffeinated tea and a double espresso ( who needs sleep on a road trip?) were part of the fixed price and finished off the meal nicely. We ventured out replete to enjoy the sunset over the Dee and walk the quiet streets of quaint Georgian houses.
The next day, we had to catch a 12.30 ferry to Arran from Ardrossan some 80 miles away, so we were down early to enjoy our full Selkirk Scottish breakfast in my case and Ayshire bacon on Brioche French toast (an Auld Alliance !) for the more discerning palette of the OH. I appeased the health gods with a bowl of fruit salad, grapefruit and prunes washed down with a berry smoothie before my feast of bacon, sausage, scrambled eggs, tattie scone , haggis, black pudding and mushrooms. Oh well that’s lunch sorted too!