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by Caroline M. Jackson
For Travel Writers' Tales
If you like to send postcards of monasteries, mountains, haunting castles and lochs, don your kilt and visit the untrammeled regions of Dumfries and Galloway in the southwesterly arm of the Scottish mainland.

After renting a car in my hometown of Glasgow, my husband and I drove 140km southwest along the Ayrshire coast past a plethora of golf courses, the most famous being Turnberry. En route, we spotted a strange silhouette which looked rather like an upturned plum pudding. Near Girvan, I recognized the 1,000ft high volcanic island of Ailsa Craig situated just ten miles offshore. A nesting ground for thousands of seabirds, it is also the source of high quality granite used for fashioning curling stones.

Intrigued by the wild coastline, we decided to base ourselves in the charming holiday resort of Portpatrick. Situated on a quiet low-lying piece of land which is shaped like a hammerhead, the area is referred to as the Rhinns of Galloway.

Our first venture was to the southernmost point of Scotland, the Mull of Galloway. This wild, rocky headland rises 85 meters above the crashing ocean. The keening wind was so strong that I kept a little further back from the cliff-top paths lest I should be blown across the Irish Sea to the Isle of Man! A 26 meter lighthouse stands at the tip and the climb down the many steps to the foghorn was worth the effort. Through my binoculars I viewed the nesting gannets and puffins struggling to land along the precipitous cliff ledges plastered with guano.

The Scots are fond of ice cream cones and sure enough, an ice cream vendor was doing a roaring trade. The biggest challenge for me was finding a sheltered spot behind a wall where I could lick my cone without it toppling into my lap.

Feeling refreshed, we retraced our steps up the peninsula to the Logan Botanic Garden. Because of the warming influence of the Gulf Stream, this unusual garden is able to grow exotic subtropical trees and ferns, groves of eucalyptus and other-wordly Gunnera plants which look a bit like giant rhubarb. The overhead leaves were so large that we were able to shelter under them during a brief shower.

The adjacent triangular-shaped peninsula is known as the Machars. One of the best known towns is Whithorn (white house) which is dubbed the Cradle of Christianity. St. Ninian established a monastery and church here and his shrine became a place of pilgrimage visited by Mary Queen of Scots before such pilgrimages were made illegal in 1581. Archaeologists have unearthed traces of an early Christian settlement and visitors can follow the interesting series of interpretive panels.

By taking an extra loop, we visited the svelte bronze sea otter monument in memory of author and naturalist, Gavin Maxwell who penned 'Ring of Bright Water'. Before driving back to Portpatrick, it was worthwhile spending a couple of hours in the medieval town of Wigtown which has become known as Scotland's National Book town with thousands of books on display. Down by the water, the Martyrs' Stake commemorates the spot where to female Covenanters were tied to a stake in front of an incoming tide in 1685.

Now traveling east, next on our itinerary was the picturesque sandy Colvend Coast. Our route took us through the 300-square-mile Galloway Forest Park which is studded with lochs overshadowed by pine-studded and heather-clad mountains. This part of the country was known as the Land of the Border Reivers where in the 15th and 16th centuries, life was marked by cattle rustling, murder and thievery.

Dumfries and Galloway are also dotted with many magnificent castles, churches and abbeys. Drumlanrig Castle boasts a horseshoe staircase reminiscent of the entrance to a French chateau. Medieval Caerlaverock Castle sits on the edge of the Solway salt marshes is stunningly beautiful and is the site of a national nature reserve.

Many admirers of poet and bard, Robert Burns, make a special trip to follow in his footsteps. The Burns Heritage Trail loops through Ayr, Dumfries and Kilmarnock. In the main town of Dumfries aficionados can visit the Robert Burns Center and the Selkirk Arms where he wrote the famous Selkirk Grace. A highlight for me was a visit to Burns' favorite pub, the Globe Inn. Established in 1610, it is located along a narrow close off the High Street. The Burns Room remains much as it did in his day. It was the perfect place to write my last postcard.

For more information:

Photo by Hamish M. Jackson:
1) Portpatrick
2) Mull of Galloway
3) Logan Garden
4) The Old Bank Bookshop
5) Colvend Coast

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