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I have to admit that I wasn’t overly familiar with the Dumfries and Galloway area until a few weeks ago. I’ve passed it on the motorway a dozen or so times as I’ve headed further north to the Highlands and the draw of the ‘big’ mountains, but I’ve never stopped to see what’s there. However, when I was invited to stay for a few nights at the Cairndale Hotel and use Dumfries as a base to explore the region, I quickly found out that Dumfries and Galloway is a perfect place for a weekend adventure.
From peaceful lochside walks to world-class mountain biking trails, there’s something here to suit everyone who loves to get outdoors. So here’s everything you need to know to plan your own weekend adventure to Dumfries and Galloway.
Walking in Dumfries and Galloway
There’s no doubt that I dropped really lucky when I picked a perfect spring day for my walk around Loch Trool. I’m sure it would be a stunning walk in any condition, but with blue skies overhead, a bit of warmth in the air for the first time this year, and a loch so still it was like glass, I couldn’t have asked for a better day for it.
Loch Trool, in Galloway Forest Park, takes around three hours to walk around. The circular route is almost exactly 10km, but you’ll want to allow plenty of time for stopping to soak up the views and take photos. The trail is well-surfaced and relatively flat – apart from a few short, steep sections – meaning that this route is suitable for a good range of people, from families to more experienced hikers.
For those with an interest in Scotland’s history, you can take a short diversion off the main trail to visit Bruce’s Stone, which commemorates Robert the Bruce and the Battle of Trool in 1308.
Parking for this circular walk can be found at DG8 6SS
The Southern Upland Way
For those looking for a challenging walk, the Southern Upland Way might be one for you to take on. The Southern Upland Way is Scotland’s only official coast-to-coast walking route, and much of the western section of this long-distance path runs through Galloway Forest Park and the surrounding area.
At 341km, the Southern Upland Way is usually tackled over the course of a couple of weeks, but you can break this down into a series of shorter day walks if you don’t have the time or energy for all of that.
The peak baggers will be keen to know about the highest point in Dumfries and Galloway. Standing at an impressive height of 843 meters (2,766 feet), the Merrick offers breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding landscape, including rolling hills, dense forests, and sparkling lochs.
The walk to the summit can be challenging, with steep ascents and rocky terrain, but the reward is well worth it. As you gain elevation, you’ll be treated to stunning views and on a clear day, you might even catch a glimpse of the Isle of Man and the distant Irish coastline.
I didn’t have enough time to head up to the summit on this trip, but my eyes were constantly drawn up to the summit as I walked around Loch Trool, and now I have a great excuse to plan another visit.
Mountain Biking in Dumfries and Galloway
The 7stanes mountain biking area is a world-class destination for mountain biking enthusiasts, located in Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland. The name “7stanes” refers to the seven mountain biking trail centres scattered across the region, each offering fantastic mountain biking experiences. These trail centres are located in Ae, Dalbeattie, Glentrool, Kirroughtree, Mabie, Newcastleton, and Innerleithen, and collectively offer over 400 km of purpose-built trails.
The 7stanes trails cater to riders of all abilities, from beginners to seasoned pros, with a variety of trails ranging from easy, flowing routes to challenging, technical trails with jumps, berms, and drop-offs. The trails are well-maintained and clearly signposted, making it easy to navigate and explore the forests. Riders can expect to encounter stunning scenery, including lush forests and sweeping moorlands, and you can expect breathtaking views of lochs and hills along the way.
Aside from the thrilling trails, the 7stanes mountain biking area also offers top-notch facilities, including bike hire, bike shops, visitor centres, and cafes, providing all the amenities needed for a great day of mountain biking.
Galloway Dark Sky Park
Although I had some great weather and clear blue skies for my hike around Loch Trool, I was quite disappointed when the clouds rolled across in the late afternoon. Galloway is well-known for the designated Dark Sky Park and it’s one of the best places in the UK to observe the night sky without the interference of light pollution.
On a clear night, stargazers and astrophotographers can expect to see a stunning display of stars, planets and constellations that can’t be seen in areas with light pollution.
For those that get really lucky, the Galloway Dark Sky Park is also one of the best places in the UK to see the Northern Lights – an adventure that features highly on many people’s bucket lists.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to see it for myself this time – but that’s just another excuse for me to plan another visit.
Kayaking in Dumfries and Galloway
With stunning coastlines and picturesque lochs, Dumfries and Galloway is a great place to go kayaking.
Along the Solway Coast, kayakers can paddle through tranquil waters and discover hidden coves, sandy beaches, and rugged cliffs teeming with wildlife. With the opportunity to spot seals, seabirds, and even dolphins, kayaking along the coast offers a unique perspective of the region’s diverse marine ecosystem.
Loch Ken, located in the heart of Galloway Forest Park, is another popular kayaking destination. This freshwater loch provides a serene setting for paddling, with its calm waters surrounded by beautiful woodlands and rolling hills. Kayakers can paddle leisurely along the loch’s shoreline, taking in the peaceful scenery and observing the abundant birdlife, including ospreys, red kites and herons.
The Cairndale Hotel
The Cairndale Hotel, in the heart of Dumfries, is a great place to base yourself for a weekend of exploring. With easy access to the main roads and motorways, Dumfries is the gateway to the region and from the Cairndale Hotel you are well-situated to travel onwards to the coastlines and forest park.
I stayed at the Cairndale Hotel for two nights and really enjoyed my stay. My room – a four-poster room – was full of character and charm, with huge windows and high ceilings and period features. It was spacious and welcoming and was a great place to relax after a long day of hiking.
I was particularly impressed with the food on offer at the Cairndale Hotel. On our first night, we had a delicious four-course meal which included the nicest soup I’ve ever had and slow-roasted beef that melted in my mouth. The staff were fantastic too, making sure that my wife had gluten-free alternatives for every course and making her feel well looked after and in capable hands with her allergens.
There is regular entertainment in the hotel at the weekends, so after dinner, you can sit back with a single malt and enjoy the live music.
If you’ve had a really challenging adventure and you’re looking for some rest and relaxation afterwards, the Cairndale Hotel has a range of great facilities from a swimming pool, sauna, steam room and a choice of spa treatments.
In terms of a place to base yourself to explore Dumfries and Galloway, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the Cairndale Hotel.