Loudoun Hill and the Spirit Of Scot­land sculp­ture by Richard Price, near Darvel, East Ayr­shire

Jes­sica Way ex­plores the mag­nif­i­cent beauty of the south west coast of Scot­land, dis­cov­er­ing some of the finest ho­tels to stay in and places to visit along the way

British Travel Journal - - EDITOR BUYS -

YOU'VE PROB­A­BLY AL­READY heard of Scot­land's North Coast 500, a cir­cu­lar route around the north­ern top of Scot­land from and to In­ver­ness, and now, more re­cently, the South West Coastal 300 route has launched, a stun­ning drive of just over 300 miles, firmly placed on the travel itin­er­ary wish-list for tourists look­ing to ex­pe­ri­ence their own slice of Scot­land.

There is no one way to travel and ex­plore ei­ther the NC500 or SWC300, the choice of where you start, and fin­ish, is yours too. Both scenic driv­ing routes cover sev­eral hun­dred miles, and you could eas­ily spend weeks at a time ex­plor­ing a sin­gle stretch of the coast, and still feel you have only just scratched the sur­face.

The choice of spec­tac­u­lar white sandy beaches, pretty coastal towns and vil­lages, and landscapes filled with soar­ing moun­tain views, makes dis­cov­er­ing your own coastal ad­ven­ture as easy as the coastal breeze it­self.

Much of the west coast, although some­times ex­posed to the whims of the North At­lantic weather, is shielded by the in­ner isles, with easy ac­cess to is­land-hop across to the likes of Ar­ran, Is­lay, Jura, Mull, Iona and Skye - mak­ing our only tour­ing chal­lenge avoid­ing is­land temp­ta­tion and stick­ing to our pre-planned route!

ED­IN­BURGH TO DUM­FRIES

Fly­ing from Southamp­ton to Ed­in­burgh our SWC300 jour­ney be­gan with a pleas­ant two-hour drive south to Dum­fries, known as the `Queen of the South'.

Pick­ing up our hire car from the air­port (we used en­ter­prise.co.uk) was straight­for­ward, and tour­ing by car is made easy in Scot­land. In ad­di­tion to the mo­tor­ways and good main roads, there is an ex­cel­lent net­work of lightly traf­ficked ru­ral roads, as well as strong sign­post­ing for the main tourist routes.

While driv­ing look out too for the many brown `This­tle Signs' by the road that point the way to all kinds of walks, trails, at­trac­tions and ad­ven­tures.

About half way on this jour­ney we stopped to see Scot­land's High­est Vil­lage – Wan­lock­head. Sit­ting at an al­ti­tude of 467 me­tres, and home to The Mu­seum of Lead Min­ing, which tells the story of the lo­cal in­dus­try and al­lows you to go down a for­mer work­ing mine.

There's also a lovely tea room serv­ing pasties, homemade soup, scones, cakes and other light bites.

Once in Dum­fries it­self we re­ally en­joyed vis­it­ing the Robert Burns House (robert­burns.org). Now a free mu­seum, with friendly vol­un­teers and a do­na­tions box, it was pre­vi­ously the house in which Robert Burns lived

and where he wrote some of his best po­ems. There are many of his most fa­mous quotes to read and in­spire, and a lovely touch is see­ing the in­scrip­tion of his initials scratched into the win­dow pane of his bed­room.

En­joy­ing a day of cul­ture, our next visit was to the fab­u­lous new visi­tor cen­tre, Moat Brae (pe­ter­pan­moat­brae.org), de­scribed by au­thor J.M. Bar­rie as his 'en­chanted land' – and the place where Peter Pan, and the imag­i­na­tion within his sto­ries, was born.

Moat Brae it­self was orig­i­nally the home of J.M. Bar­rie's school friends Henry and Ste­wart Bab­bing­ton – with his own house just a few hun­dred me­tres away – Bar­rie is quoted to say “I was more in that house (Moat Brae) more than any other in Dum­fries” and him­self ac­knowl­edged Moat Brae as be­ing his in­spi­ra­tion be­hind Nev­er­land.

Ten years of fundrais­ing and restora­tion work has gone into turn­ing this im­pres­sive, his­tor­i­cally sig­nif­i­cant Ge­or­gian house, and gar­dens, into a mod­ern, light, freeflow­ing, in­ter­ac­tive mu­seum space. You should def­i­nitely make a visit if you are pass­ing by Dum­fries – we were re­ally im­pressed. It has been achieved beau­ti­fully – while re­main­ing sym­pa­thetic to the orig­i­nal fea­tures.

In­spir­ing imag­i­na­tion and creativ­ity is at the heart of the mu­seum – which aims to in­spire and of­fer new op­por­tu­ni­ties to chil­dren (and young peo­ple) in­ter­ested in cre­ative writ­ing and lit­er­acy. With the lo­cal com­mu­nity and many pas­sion­ate peo­ple be­hind the pro­ject, I am sure the mu­seum will be a huge suc­cess for Scot­land.

We rested our heads for the night at the Cairn­dale Ho­tel and Leisure Club (cairn­dale­ho­tel.co.uk) where we en­joyed a de­li­cious four course Table d'Hote din­ner in the Reivers Res­tau­rant. Fol­low­ing a morn­ing visit to the ho­tel's own pri­vate leisure club, The Bar­racuda Club, where they of­fer a range of beauty treat­ments in­clud­ing holis­tic and aro­mather­apy ther­a­pies, and a hearty full Scot­tish break­fast, we were back on the road.

ROCK­LIFFE TO PORT­PATRICK

In search of some sea-side tran­quil­lity and fresh sea air we headed south to­wards the Solway Firth. Our first stop of the morn­ing was at the pretty, quiet coastal vil­lage of Rock­liffe – a beau­ti­ful sandy bay, sur­rounded in parts by large rocks and rock pools, lined with rows of pretty white-stone and pas­tel cot­tages.

There is a large car park just be­fore you reach the bay or lim­ited 20-minute park­ing at the beach it­self. For us that was enough time to soak up the views and en­joy an ice-cream. On less sunny days when the ice-cream van stays at home (we were lucky with the weather – and mine was a 99!) there is also a cu­rios/an­tiques shop which serves take­away cof­fees that can be en­joyed sit­ting out on the green.

If you en­joy walk­ing, there is a su­perb lin­ear coastal walk link­ing Rock­cliffe to the east - with Sandy­hills, a pic­turesque sandy beach - said to be one of the finest

“Our first stop of the morn­ing was at the pretty, quiet coastal vil­lage of Rock­liffe – a beau­ti­ful sandy bay, sur­rounded in parts by large rocks and rock pools, lined with rows of pretty white-stone and pas­tel cot­tages.”

cliff walks in Bri­tain with stun­ning clifftop scenery and views across the Solway Firth to Cum­bria and the Isle of Man. There is also an in­fre­quent bus ser­vice lead­ing back to the start – so if you wanted to give your legs a rest there's no need to walk.

Head­ing in the op­po­site di­rec­tion (west) there is a more man­age­able mile-long Ju­bilee Foot­path link­ing Rock­liffe to Kipp­ford – a charm­ing water­side lo­ca­tion with sev­eral places to choose from for lunch.

Known as the Solway Riviera, pop­u­lar with yachts­men, Kipp­ford is lined with gran­ite and white-washed houses, colour­ful cot­tages, a gift shop and café. We choose The An­chor pub (which also has rooms) for a lo­cally sourced fresh seafood plat­ter, and crab sand­wich - washed down with a re­fresh­ing juice. Back in the car we con­tin­ued our jour­ney west to­wards Kirkcud­bright, pass­ing Dun­dren­nan Abbey - dat­ing back to 1142, and pre­vi­ously a Cis­ter­cian monastery - and where Mary Queen of Scots spent her fi­nal night in Scot­land back in 1568.

It was also close to here where we drove past a 35 foot Wick­er­man, which I am fairly cer­tain must have been on the grounds of East Kirk­car­swell Farm, in mem­ory of the Wick­er­man Fes­ti­val, and founder, Jamie Gil­roy who was tragically killed by gun­shot to his head in De­cem­ber 2014. The mu­sic fes­ti­val, which had been held at his farm since 2001, had be­come world-fa­mous – likened to a smaller ver­sion of Glas­ton­bury – it at­tracted the likes of Scis­sor Sis­ters, James, The Pro­claimers and many more. Tra­di­tion­ally the fes­ti­val would end at around mid­night with the burn­ing of a gi­ant wick­er­man built by lo­cal crafts­men Trevor Leat and Alex Rigg. The de­signs for these be­came ever more elab­o­rate and in­ven­tive over the years.

Kirkcud­bright, known as 'Scot­land's Artists' Town', made a quirky stop­ping point. It was easy to park, and we en­joyed look­ing in the new Kirkcud­bright Gallery and some of the in­de­pen­dent craft shops and gal­leries. There's an in­ter­est­ing har­bour where you can get ice-cream and fish and chips, and an old-fash­ioned look­ing petrol sta­tion where we filled up the car.

Next we crossed the bridge over the River Dee and drove along­side the shore past the beau­ti­ful Dhoon beach with its views of Lit­tle Ross Is­land and its light­house. Con­tin­u­ing along the B727 via Borgue we joined the A75 and took a di­vert to ex­plore Gate­house of Fleet – and I am so pleased we did.

Here we dis­cov­ered the less-well known Car­rick Bay and Knock­brex view­ing point – a stretch which has been voted `Favourite Beach in Dum­fries and Gal­loway', but is still quiet from tourism. A hid­den gem – not com­pletely hid­den of course, af­ter-all `we' found it - but there was hardly a car, or soul, in sight.

The sea level was so low we could have walked across to Mossyard, had there been time, but we did en­joy walk­ing bare­foot on the sand and dip­ping our toes in the sea.

Con­tin­u­ing along the A75 pass­ing Cree­town, the route took us to New­ton Ste­wart (an­other great stop­ping point for shops and cafés) and with stun­ning views of the Gal­loway Hills and Wig­town Bay.

From here it is just over an hour's drive to Scot­land`s most southerly point - the re­mote Mull of Gal­loway – where you can de­light in views of the Gal­loway Hills, Lake­land Fells, the Isle of Man and even the Moun­tains of Mourne. This is one of the high­lights of the route and some­where you could spend sev­eral hours sim­ply soak­ing up the at­mos­phere and views!

Climb the 115 steps to the top of the fab­u­lous Mull of Gal­loway Light­house, where a spec­tac­u­lar view from the bal­cony and light­room will re­ward you for your ef­forts!

Pop in to the Gal­lie Craig award-win­ning cliff top cof­fee house or make time for a visit to the RSPB Na­ture Re­serve. From here re-trace your route and, just be­fore Drum­more, fol­low the signs for Port Lo­gan. Here we turned

right, and, af­ter a cou­ple of miles, re­joined the A716 north­wards. Port Lo­gan has an­other beau­ti­ful beach and nearby is `Scot­land's most Ex­otic Gar­den' – Lo­gan Botanic Gar­den.

From here you are not very far from Port­patrick, where you will find sev­eral bars and restau­rants on the har­bour­side, pas­tel-coloured houses, set around a small bay with cliffs form­ing the back­drop.

GLE­NAPP AND GAL­LOWAY FOR­EST PARK

From Port­patrick we headed north past Stran­raer onto the A77 along the coast of Loch Ryan to Cairn­ryan - where we could see the fer­ries sail from ter­mi­nals at each end of the vil­lage across to nearby North­ern Ire­land.

Shortly af­ter­wards we ar­rived in 5-star par­adise for our next overnight stay - eas­ily one of the most beau­ti­ful ho­tels in Bri­tain. Gle­napp Cas­tle Ho­tel is ide­ally sit­u­ated on the South West Coast 300 route – and an ab­so­lute must (if your bud­get al­lows).

Let the team take care of your itin­er­ary for a cou­ple of days – they've just launched an ex­cit­ing and unique va­ri­ety of ex­pe­ri­ences from moun­tain bik­ing, archery, pri­vate fal­conry dis­plays, stargaz­ing, golf, whisky tast­ings – there's even `for­est bathing'.

The cas­tle it­self, built in 1870, is a strik­ingly beau­ti­ful ex­am­ple of the Scot­tish ba­ro­nial style of ar­chi­tec­ture. De­signed by the cel­e­brated Scot­tish ar­chi­tect David Bryce for Mr. James Hunter, the Deputy Lord Lieu­tenant of Ayr­shire, the cas­tle's mel­low sand­stone bat­tle­ments are topped by soar­ing tur­rets and tow­ers, earn­ing Gle­napp a right­ful place as one of the most ro­man­tic cas­tles in Scot­land.

In Jan­uary, the cas­tle took de­liv­ery of their new boat, the `Gle­napp Cas­tle' which can take up to eight guests on pri­vate sea sa­faris ex­plor­ing the stun­ning clear wa­ters, re­mote beaches and the amaz­ing sealife and birds they are blessed with on their doorstep.

In ad­di­tion to this, the cas­tle has stun­ning gar­dens and grounds for you to ex­plore and en­joy at your leisure, in­clud­ing the wooded Glen walk. You are warmly en­cour­aged to take a map, jump into a pair of Hunter boots, and grab a Gle­napp jacket, be­fore head­ing out to en­joy the sights, sounds and scents of thirty-six acres of cas­tle grounds.

You could eas­ily spend an af­ter­noon strolling the care­fully tended lawns and path­ways, sur­rounded by the vast ar­ray of ex­otic plants that have been col­lected since Vic­to­rian days.

We en­joyed tak­ing a stroll through their beau­ti­ful walled gar­dens, where we came across their won­der­ful Ital­ian gar­den, de­signed by Gertrude Jekyll, and a his­toric Vic­to­rian glasshouse – cur­rently be­ing re­stored by tal­ented crafts­men to its for­mer glory. In time this will be a won­der­ful space where they will grow more of their own fruit and veg­eta­bles.

And that's not the only im­prove­ments be­ing made at this in­cred­i­ble ho­tel – there's also the ex­cite­ment of the im­mi­nent launch of their 4-bed­room pent­house

apart­ment, sure to ri­val some of the finest pri­vate suites in the world.

I was given a sneak-peek, hard-hat tour, of the con­ver­sion, start­ing with a trip up the beau­ti­ful spi­ral stair­case (in the cas­tle's tur­rets) which links the bed­room suites and re­cep­tion rooms, as well as lead­ing guests to the pri­vate roof ter­race with 360 de­gree views over the sur­round­ing coun­try­side and coast­line. And what a view – I was told you can see as far as Ire­land on a clear day!

This space will be per­fect for small groups... there's also a draw­ing room which can be used for pri­vate din­ing, a sit­ting room, games room, kitchen, sauna and beauty treat­ment room, along with an as­ton­ish­ing mas­ter bed­room suite boast­ing more mag­nif­i­cent views.

Gle­napp Cas­tle Ho­tel is also the per­fect base for ex­plor­ing the Gal­loway Tourist

Route (from Na­tional Trust Scot­land). This route, stretch­ing through the lush coun­try­side of Dum­fries & Gal­loway and into Ayr­shire, in the very heart of Burns' coun­try, takes in Gretna Green be­fore con­tin­u­ing on to Dum­fries (where we started our tour). From Dal­beat­tie you then ven­ture through the beau­ti­ful Gal­loway For­est Park, just a 40 minute drive in­land from Gle­napp Cas­tle Ho­tel, and an ab­so­lute must for spot­ting wildlife – 774 km² of unspoilt coun­try­side with many rare and en­dan­gered species, in­clud­ing red deer and wild goats, and can you be­lieve it, a fifth of all of Scot­land's red squir­rels!

There are three visi­tor cen­tres, and the op­tion to choose from two scenic For­est Drives; ei­ther fol­low in the foot­steps of Robert the Bruce or take a pic­nic be­side a peace­ful loch. The area is also Scot­land's first Dark

Sky Park – and one of the best places to stargaze in Europe.

Some of the guests stay­ing at Gle­napp look on the cas­tle as their home away from home, with many re­peat vis­i­tors, who have been guests for sev­eral years. Be­tween re­ceiv­ing the finest qual­ity of hospi­tal­ity, in an at­mos­phere of peace, tran­quil­lity and re­lax­ation – noth­ing is too much trou­ble for their staff who are ready and ea­ger to be at your ser­vice. The staff were ex­em­plary - al­ways of­fer­ing to go the ex­tra mile to make your stay as en­joy­able, and mem­o­rable, as pos­si­ble.

For such a grand cas­tle – sur­rounded by 12,000 acres of Lord Inch­cape's Gle­napp Es­tate – it is re­fresh­ingly un­pre­ten­tious too.

Cur­rently there are 17 lux­u­ri­ous and spa­cious suites and bed­rooms, each in­di­vid­u­ally fur­nished with a unique com­bi­na­tion of fab­rics, art and an­tiques. We stayed in a Ju­nior Suite, sit­u­ated in the East Wing of the cas­tle, fur­nished in grand stately Vic­to­rian dé­cor, com­plete with fire­place, large win­dows, and a lux­u­ri­ous mar­ble bath­room.

For our evening meal we chose the six course gourmet menu – cour­ses in­cluded Spinach and Quail's Egg, Duck Foie Gras Bon­bon and Fil­let of Loch Duart Sal­mon – fin­ished off at the end of the evening with a warm­ing dram of whisky in the lounge!

The food and ser­vice was flaw­less, and un­ob­tru­sive – a lovely evening.

AYR­SHIRE AND SAN­QUHAR

Fol­low­ing our won­der­ful stay at Gle­napp Cas­tle we were back on the road, a down­hill coastal route head­ing to­wards Bal­lantrae, with beau­ti­ful views, and where we had our first proper glimpse of Ailsa Craig - a vol­canic (ex­tinct) is­land famed for the gran­ite used for curl­ing stones, and home to over 40,000 sea birds with a sum­mit of 1,100 feet.

As we en­tered Bal­lantrae we took a left turn, paus­ing for a mo­ment, to take in the stun­ning views of Ailsa Craig, and Ar­ran, ly­ing just off­shore from the har­bour.

We then fol­lowed the A77 along the coast for an­other half an hour where we reached Turn­berry, then on to the A719 – and our next des­ti­na­tion, an­other tri­umphant 5-star ho­tel within this glo­ri­ous stretch of coast­line – the iconic Trump Turn­berry Re­sort.

Known through­out the world for its in­cred­i­ble cham­pi­onship links golf cour­ses – there's an en­tirely dif­fer­ent vibe here from Gle­napp, less per­sonal, more en­er­getic, how­ever it's an­other fab­u­lous choice – es­pe­cially if you love golf and sport­ing ac­tiv­i­ties.

Trump Turn­berry is home to three ex­cep­tional golf cour­ses, the Open Cham­pi­onship Ailsa course, King Robert the Bruce and the Ar­ran – giv­ing it the ac­co­lade as one of the finest golf re­sorts any­where in the world.

There's also a fan­tas­tic on­site ac­tiv­ity cen­tre, Turn­berry Ad­ven­tures, of­fer­ing guests a va­ri­ety of ac­tiv­i­ties in­clud­ing, archery, horse rid­ing, quad bike sa­faris, mini high­land games and wa­ter zorb­ing. Nat­u­rally there's a lux­u­ri­ous spa, of­fer­ing a range of ESPA treat­ments, and a lovely swim­ming pool where we en­joyed a re­fresh­ing dip.

Trump Turn­berry has over 100 years of her­itage and his­tory – and, with the gleam­ing white-washed build­ings and im­mac­u­late lawns, golf cour­ses, light­house and amaz­ing sea views, the re­sort is an im­pres­sive sight. Res­i­dent Piper, Bryce Mc­Cul­loch's Scot­tish Bag­pipe mu­sic added to the spir­ited am­bi­ence.

The `big news' for the re­sort this year is the launch of their stylish new col­lec­tion of nine two-bed­room cot­tage suites lov­ingly re­stored, fol­low­ing a £1.6 mil­lion in­vest­ment, back to their full glory.

The Cot­tage Suites, dat­ing back to 1902, have been el­e­gantly de­signed and fur­nished – the in­te­ri­ors, in­spired from the sur­round­ings and rich her­itage, have many of the sig­na­ture Turn­berry touches you would ex­pect, com­bin­ing a time­less, cosy in­te­rior with mod­ern func­tion­al­ity.

The suites of­fer a self-con­tained pri­vate haven for guests – with all of the perks of a tra­di­tional ho­tel suite, yet with even more space. A great op­tion for fam­i­lies, with cots, high chairs and stair gates avail­able, and/or

dog own­ers, de­signed to be dog friendly, with gourmet treats, plush dog beds, wa­ter bowls and toys avail­able on re­quest.

There's a wide choice of unique din­ing ex­pe­ri­ences, in­clud­ing the sig­na­ture res­tau­rant 1906, which takes its name from the year Turn­berry opened; an el­e­gant Grand Tea Lounge and Bar, home to the op­u­lent af­ter­noon tea; and Duel in the Sun res­tau­rant over­look­ing the leg­endary Ailsa golf course.

We opted for 1906, which of­fers clas­sic dishes with a mod­ern twist. Here we en­joyed a lovely meal, and as the sun set, out came our unique Chef's Table ex­pe­ri­ence – our Orkney beef steak diane, one of their sig­na­ture dishes, be­ing cooked to our pref­er­ence at our table.

Dessert was an­other time­less clas­sic, 1906 Crepe Suzette, flam­béed at our table side be­fore be­ing served with Grand Marnier, or­ange and vanilla ice cream. Our wait­ress was lovely – very warm and chatty, and en­joyed telling us how lucky she felt to have her job at Trump Turn­berry – a step up from her pre­vi­ous job, she told us, where she'd been serv­ing fish and chips.

The sur­round­ing area of­fers even more to ex­plore – from cas­tles to dis­til­leries, from beaches to the birth­place of Robert Burns – you could spend sev­eral days or more ex­plor­ing Ayr­shire.

Back on the road we passed the en­trance to Culzean Cas­tle and drove down the `Elec­tric Brae' where your car ap­pears to be rolling up­hill! On­wards the road ap­proaches Dunure with more jaw­drop­ping views of Ar­ran. A de­tour of a mile or so from here brings you to Dunure Vil­lage - a pretty har­bour and the ex­ten­sive ru­ins of its 13th Cen­tury Cas­tle and Dove­cote.

Re­turn to the A719 from where it's a short dis­tance to Al­loway, a sub­urb of Ayr and famed for be­ing the birth­place of Robert Burns and the set­ting for his epic poem, Tam o' Shanter. Our fi­nal stop – here we vis­ited Burns Cot­tage and Burns Birth­place Mu­seum, hous­ing his life's work, be­fore head­ing back on the road for the air­port.

An end­lessly fas­ci­nat­ing re­gion of Scot­land. We loved the va­ri­ety of quaint coastal vil­lages, di­verse landscapes, and cul­tur­ally in­spir­ing at­trac­tions in this sin­gle stretch of coast­line. It was an ex­tra­or­di­nary jour­ney that has given us an ap­petite for more. Miss­ing the hag­gis al­ready, the more rugged NC500 route is now firmly in our sights.

Mull of Gal­loway Light­house

The Har­bour Cot­tage Gallery in Kirkcud­bright

Kirkcud­bright Har­bour and Ma­rina

“We ar­rived in 5-star par­adise for our next overnight stay - eas­ily one of the most beau­ti­ful ho­tels in Bri­tain.” Pic­tured left; Port­patrick Har­bour Kirkcud­bright. Pic­tured be­low and op­po­site page; 5 Star Lux­ury Ho­tel, Gle­napp Cas­tle.

A view to­wards Turn­berry Light­house and Ailsa Craig from the 8th green of the new King Robert the Bruce golf course at Trump Turn­berry, Ayr­shire

Culzean Cas­tle from Croy Shore, South Ayr­shire. Pic­ture Credit: Paul Tomkins

The Cot­tage Suites at Machrie Lodge Lounge

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