DESPITE its beauty, tranquillity, history and accessibility Galloway is still something of a well-kept secret.

For those in the know, however, the charming towns, wonderful coastline and vibrant culture – not to mention the quiet roads – pull you back again and again.

Wigtownshire, the ancient county that takes in Wigtown itself, neighbouring Newton Stewart, Stranraer, Cairnryan, and, to the other side, the stunning seaside town of Portpatrick, is a particular revelation.

So, whether it’s books, beaches, cliff tops or woodland you’re after, this area has it all.

Scotland's Insider Guide: Kirkwall

Geographical highlights

Occupying the western half of the ancient kingdom of Galloway, Wigtownshire borders the Irish sea to the west, the Solway Firth to the south, Ayrshire to the north and Kirkcudbright to the east. The area encompasses two peninsulas, the Rhins of Galloway and the Machars of Galloway, and is scattered with bays, beaches, villages and castles.

To the north, Galloway Forest Park is a 300 square mile paradise for walkers, cyclists and nature enthusiasts.

The main rivers in Wigtownshire are the Cree, Luce and Bladnoch and the highest point is Craigairie Fell, at 321m (1056 feet).

People are thought to have lived in the area for at least 10,000 years, as evidenced by the many settlements and artefacts excavated by archaeologists over the years.

What to do

Wigtown is internationally recognised for its renowned annual book festival (, which takes place this year from 27 September to 6 October.

Officially designated Scotland’s Booktown in 1998, the town is a year-round draw for readers and book lovers of all ages, offering a plethora of book-related activities and businesses. The main festival hosts more than 200 events but there are related happenings throughout the year. This March, Big Bang Weekend celebrates where science and literature collide.

The streets around the handsome County Buildings are brimful with cafes, bookshops and great views over Wigtown Bay. History buffs will also want to visit the Martyrs’ Stake, just outside the town, which marks the spot where two women covenanters were drowned in 1685.

A 15-minute drive north is the pretty market town of Newton Stewart, which sits on the River Cree and offers excellent fishing. A favourite with hillwalkers and cyclists, it has a fine selection of shops, cafes and pubs.

The town is the perfect base from which to explore the Galloway Forest Park (, which offers endless woodland trails, wildlife-spotting, loch and mountain views, clear starry skies. The three family-friendly visitor centres in the park provide information and inspiration.

Forty minutes from Newton Stewart, on the western shore of the Rhins peninsula, with views across the Irish Sea, is the pretty town of Portpatrick. The pastel-painted houses, charming harbour and laid-back feel make it popular with holidaymakers and daytrippers during summer, and in early September the town comes alive for the annual folk festival ( A walk along the scenic cliffs above the town to dramatic Dunskey Castle is a must.

Speaking of old buildings, Stranraer's medieval Castle of St John is worth the 15-minute drive from Portpatrick.

A short hop south, meanwhile, lies Scotland’s least known tropical paradise. Overflowing with exotic plants from around the world, Logan Botanic Garden ( is a true hidden gem. Complete with walled garden, discovery centre, bistro and shop selling plants and gifts, it’s great day out for all the family.

Scotland's Insider Guide: Kirkwall

Maureen Chand recommends a visit to Scotland’s most southerly point at Mull of Galloway, which is home to the spectacular lighthouse (open to visitors from Easter onwards) where Scots actors Gerard Butler and Peter Mullan recently filmed historical thriller The Vanishing.

“There’s a great exhibition and tour, and when you climb the 115 steps to the top you’ll get views to the Isle of Man, Ireland and the Lake District,” she says.

“The lighthouse also has the only working foghorn on mainland Scotland and the three self-catering cottages – which originally housed the lighthouse keepers – are for rent all year round.

“The nearby RSPB nature reserve is a great place to spot black guillemots, kittiwakes and puffins. You can also enjoy coffee and cake at Gallie Craig, Scotland’s most southerly coffee house.”

Where to eat

The Pheasant, at Sorbie, 10 minutes’ drive from Wigtown (the, serves wonderful seasonal dishes with an imaginative Italian twist, in cosy, informal surroundings. The pan-fried fillet steak with peppercorn sauce is a treat - and great value at £18.50. The excellent takeaway pizzas, meanwhile, make for a perfect TV dinner.

In Wigtown, award-winning bookshop-cum-café ReadingLasses is the perfect place to munch while you read. The menu is vegetarian friendly, but the sheer deliciousness of the food suits all tastes. The cauliflower and roasted garlic soup, followed by a generous piece of tiffin, makes for a delightful lunch.

Over in Newton Stewart, Bew Ha Ha on Victoria Street serves excellent burgers, muffins and milkshakes, while the all-day breakfast at the nearby Riverbank Restaurant is popular with locals and visitors alike.

Freshly distilled gin isn’t the only thing on offer at the Crafty Distillery’s café bar ( in the town. On arrival you’re encouraged to grab a basket and a board, and take full advantage of the delicious range of cheeses, fresh breads and smoked meats on offer. The views are stunning, too.

Over in Portpatrick, the Port Pantry is a top-notch coffee shop, restaurant and deli all in one place. The weekend special of game terrine followed by canon of lamb hits the spot after a bracing walk on the cliffs.

Scotland's Insider Guide: Kirkwall

Where to shop

With around 100,000 books in stock, The Bookshop (, in North Main Street, Wigtown, is reputed to be Scotland’s largest second book emporium. If you can’t find it here, chances are you won’t find it anywhere, though you may also want to try one of the other 12 bookshops in the town.

In Newton Stewart, Little Dot Creations ( is a working studio making some of the funniest, cutest, most charming cards, mugs and cushions you’ll find anywhere.

In Portpatrick, Smuggler’s Cove on North Crescent has a wonderfully quirky selection of gifts, toys and homeware. The nearby Lighthouse Pottery, meanwhile, has been a treasure trove of pots, ceramics textiles and crafts since 1981.

Where to stay

Rural home from home: Set in stunning countryside 15 minutes’ outside of Wigtown, Galloway House Estate ( offers lovely self-catering cottages in an 18th century courtyard. The estate’s beautiful beach is just 10 minutes’ walk.

Comfy: On the edge of Wigtown, with lovely views across farmland towards the sea, is pet-friendly Hillcrest House ( Rooms from £85.

Budget: The Blackhorse Hotel ( is right in the centre of Newton Stewart and offers a friendly service and tasty meals in the cheerful bar. From £45 a night.

Cute: The Dairy, also in Newton Stewart, is a pet-friendly two-bedroom cottage with a private garden. Sleeps 4. From £41 a night. See for details.

Room with a view: Looking down from the clifftop above the harbour, the Portpatrick Hotel ( has its own tennis court and golf course. Rooms from £65.

In the coming weeks I'll be visiting Troon, Royal Deeside and Brodick. Email me at your recommendations on what to do, and where to eat, stay and shop.