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The diverse beauty of Dumfries and Galloway is on the doorstep for many visitors from Cumbria and it is home to the UK’s only Dark Sky Park - Galloway Forest Park
Here we provide a brief tour of the region.
Galloway Forest Park in the South West of Scotland was named as the first Dark Sky Park in the United Kingdom. The prestigious award, announced by the International Dark Sky Association (IDA) in November 2009, confirms Galloway as being one of the best places for stargazing in the world. It has long been a favourite destination for astronomers and amateur stargazers thanks to the limited number of buildings within the forest park’s boundary ensuring light pollution is kept to a minimum.
Hidden away in the South West of Scotland, Galloway Forest Park was established in 1947 and is the largest of its kind in the United Kingdom covering 300 square miles. The Forest Park is managed by Forestry Commission Scotland and welcomes around 850,000 visitors each year. It sits in the heart of Galloway and has some of the most beautiful and dramatic scenery in the South of Scotland.
Part of the selection process involved giving a rating via a sky quality meter, which measures the darkness of the sky overhead. The higher the sky quality meter reading the better, with the darkest reading, such as would be recorded in a photographer's dark room, of 24. Galloway Forest Park was rated 23 on the scale, giving it a gold tier Dark Sky Park award status - the highest achievable and the best condition for viewing distant galaxies.
Explore one of Scotland’s most creative regions
Home to a Book Town, Artists’ Town, a fabulous array of events and festivals throughout the year and some extraordinary public art, Dumfries and Galloway is one of Scotland’s most creative places.
Experience opera, orchestras and street events at Dumfries and Galloway Arts Festival in May, join open studio trails and meet craft makers through guided walks and tours during Spring Fling in June, join revellers during one of Scotland’s most distinctive independent music festivals at the Wickerman in July, or uncover literary masterpieces at the intimate Wigtown Book Festival in September.
Public art installations are dotted throughout the region, from Andy Goldsworthy in the form of the Striding Arches at Cairnhead to Hideo Furuta’s Adamson Square in Creetown. Plans are currently in place for a Gretna landmark at the border crossing, designed by the celebrated architectural theorist and landscape architect Charles Jencks, who lives in the region.
Experience one of the UK’s best mountain biking
The 7stanes are seven mountain biking centres spanning the south of Scotland, from the heart of the Scottish Borders to Dumfries and Galloway. 'Stane' is the Scots word for stone, and at each of the 7stanes locations, you'll find a stone sculpture reflecting a local myth or legend.
The stanes are found out on the trails in the forests, in prominent locations near cycling and walking paths. They’re accessible on foot or by horse as well as by bike, and range in size from one to three metres high and from two to six tons in weight.
With a range of trails suitable for beginners and families to more hard core mountain bikers, a visit to the South of Scotland makes for a perfect active escape.
Discover fascinating wildlife
The Galloway Kite Trail is an exciting bird watching experience situated around the beautiful Loch Ken. Visitors have the chance to witness these spectacular birds in their natural environment, after a reintroduction programme which began in 2001.
The RSPB Reserves of Mersehead and Mull of Galloway provide access to a range of fascinating wildlife, with picturesque trails leading to environments such as wetlands and saltmarsh. Birds local to the reserves include waterfowl, puffin and gannet, with visitor centres at each site providing viewing centres and expert advice with events running throughout the year.
The Scottish Wildlife Trust’s Knowetop Lochs is a small but diverse upland reserve. Two small lochs are separated by a ridge of birch woodland, fringed by reed-swamp, bog and willow scrub with areas of wet and dry heath. This diverse range of habitat supports an equally diverse range of species, including otter, adder, barn owl and water vole.
Forestry Commission Scotland’s Galloway Forest Park is home to wild goats, otters and a stronghold of red squirrels, which are currently in decline. Dalbeattie Forest, just a short journey away from Galloway Forest Park, has a Red Squirrel Trail and is also one of the 7Stanes.
Delve into Dumfries and Galloway’s gardens, castles and abbeys
Threave Garden and Estate is delightful in all seasons. It is best known for its spectacular springtime daffodils, but herbaceous beds are colourful in summer and trees and heather gardens are striking in Autumn. The Victorian house is the home to the National Trust's School of practical Gardening. Threave Estate is a wildfowl refuge and is designated a Special Protection Area for its breeding waders and wintering waterfowl. www.nts.org.uk/Property/61
Logan Botanic Gardens is an exotic paradise tucked away on the south-western tip of Scotland and set amidst some of the most majestic scenery the country has to offer. Warmed by the Gulf Stream, the climate provides the ideal growing conditions for an amazing collection of southern hemisphere plants. www.rbge.org.uk/the-gardens/logan
Drumlanrig Castle is set on the 120,000 acre Queensberry Estate, complete with Country Park and Victorian Gardens. The castle is perhaps one of the most rewarding and romantic of Scotland’s great houses with magnificent rooms and spectacular collections of silver, porcelain, French furniture and art. www.historic-scotland.gov.uk
Other properties of note include the 14th century Threave Castle which stands on an island in the River Dee and Sweetheart Abbey, the splendid ruin of a late 13th-century and early 14th-century Cistercian abbey to name but a few. www.historic-scotland.gov.uk
Uncover links to literary greats
Situated in the town's eighteenth century watermill on the west bank of the River Nith, the Robert Burns Centre tells the story of Robert Burns' last years spent in the bustling streets and lively atmosphere of Dumfries in the late eighteenth century.
The exhibition is illuminated by many original manuscripts and belongings of the poet. There is a fascinating scale model of Dumfries in the 1790s and a haunting audio-visual presentation.
There are museum trails and fun activities, and visitor information to help you explore Dumfries and Galloway's Burns connections. www.dumgal.gov.uk
Thomas Carlyle was a great writer and historian and one of the most powerful influences on 19th - century British thought. Carlyle’s house was built by his father and uncle in 1791 and is now open to visitors. The interior of the house is furnished to reflect domestic life at Carlyle's time and contains a fascinating collection of potraits and Carlyle's belongings. http://www.nts.org.uk/Property/60/
Home to Peter Pan, Moat Brae in Dumfries is the place where J.M. Barrie played as a child and where the beginnings of the Pan story unfolded in the ‘enchanted land’ of Moat brae’s garden. Work is currently underway to make the site Scotland’s first centre for Children’s Literature with hope that the centre will be up and running by 2015. http://www.peterpanmoatbrae.org/
Gretna - Marriage capital of the UK
Built in World War One to provide homes for the 30,000 people working in a munitions factory, this was the biggest in the world - an incredible nine miles long! You can explore the story of the factory at The Devil's Porridge - an exhibition named after the nickname for the explosives made at the factory.
However, Gretna is most famous, of course, for the marriages of Gretna Green. Four thousand couples tie the knot here every year, still including fugitives from England (those that are under 18 and wish to marry without the consent of their parents).