IT’S a dull adventurer who only requires lashings of sun, sea and sand while on holiday. Other experiences should be available, such as getting tangled up with a satanic cult. Or falling foul of a murderous criminal mastermind. If you agree, Kirkcudbright’s the place for you.

Not because Old Nick and a nutsoid killer are camped out in the pretty Dumfries and Galloway town. However, it was once used as a film location for The Wicker Man, that terrifying flick about friendly villagers who turn out to be not-so-friendly devil worshipers. (Are devil worshippers ever friendly? Probably not. Though they’ll always invite you to the local barbeque, if you’re willing to be one of the tasty treats tossed on the hot coals.)

Mystery writer Dorothy L. Sayers also took a liking to Kirkcudbright, setting one of her murder investigations here.

The reason the town features in both a sinister movie and popular crime novel isn’t because of any dark or illicit qualities inherent in the setting. It’s Kirkcudbright’s airy innocence and tranquil beauty that inspired. Against such a pleasantly pastoral backdrop, diabolism and dastardly deeds become more obscene than usual.

In reality, Kirkcudbright is an artistic colony. A basking, bohemian paradise. Saying that, if you do spot a bloke strolling round town with flaming red skin and two impressive horns on his head…

You should probably run.

Historical highlights

The town’s name derives from the Gaelic Cille Chuithbeirt, meaning chapel of Cuthbert, after the saint whose remains were once kept here. The Franciscans, or Grey Friars, established themselves in the 12th century, though no trace of their dwelling remains. Edward the First of England squatted in Kirkcudbright during his war with Scotland. In 1455 it became a Royal Burgh.

The town withstood a siege in 1547 from an English commander. After the surrounding countryside was overrun, it surrendered. Kirkcudbright Tolbooth was built between 1625 and 1629 and served not only as the tolbooth, but also a courthouse and prison.

One of its most famous prisoners was John Paul Jones, founder of the United States Navy, born in the nearby village of Kirkbean.

For a long time Kirkcudbright’s been a creatives’ colony, and is known as the Artists’ Town. The roadside signs and logo feature a painter’s pallet. Today, painters, textile artists, embroiderers, ceramicists, photographers, etchers, sculptors and more work in or around the town.

Things to do

Dorothy L. Sayers once said: “In Galloway one either fishes or paints.” It’s true you can do both in Kirkcudbright, with the fishable and paintable River Dee running alongside the town. (Don’t get the two pursuits confused, however. Rods for painting and brushes for fishing will mean you end the day with a blank canvas and some very contemptuous fish poking their tongues at you from the river bank.)

Sayers was wrong in her belief that the locality offers no other pleasures. There are many. A stroll along Dee Walk on the banks of the Dee will allow you to overdose on scenery.

You can also join Kirkcudbright Art Tours ( who meet in the Harbour Square Car Park for an informative jaunt round town. You’ll hear tales of the eccentric characters and famous artists who became an integral part of the local scene.

Hopefully you’ll also meet present day artists, busy being boho in their studios and galleries.

If you’d rather look at the pretty things artists produce, rather than the artists themselves, Harbour Cottage Gallery (3 Castle Bank) provides an exhibition space for locals, both amateur and professional, as well as work from further afield.

The Ochre Gallery & Studio, the Whitehouse Gallery and the High Street Gallery also provide plenty that’s groovy to gaze upon.

A place of particular note, because it doesn’t seem to fit with the general narrative of the place, is the house of Craigville on St Mary Street. T.E. Lawrence lived his early years here. Yes, that Lawrence.

The one who bore a striking resemblance to Peter O’Toole and galumphed round Arabia during World War I. Imagine if T.E. had spent his entire life frolicking in a small Scottish town. David Lean would have been forced to direct an epic called Lawrence of Kirkcudbright, which surely would have won twice as many Oscars as the movie he eventually did make.

Where to eat

A visit to Solway Tide Tearooms (St Cuthbert Street) is like toppling into an expressionist painting. Sit in the rear garden, if the weather’s fair, and gaze at the walls, which are decorated like an artist’s canvas.

If you’ve had enough art by now, ignore the walls and dig into one of the tasty scones. On the same street is the Auld Alliance Restaurant, offering a blend of Scottish and French cuisine.

That doesn’t mean a baguette plonked on top of a deep fried pizza. It’s swanky grub, though approachable not pretentious. Next to the harbour is Polarbites, where the fish is so fresh it almost sits up and discusses art with you. (Almost everyone discusses art in Kirkcudbright.)

The chips are also fresh, though they don’t discuss art. (Chopped potatoes yakking about Picasso? Not that’s just silly.) If bistro fare’s your thing, check out the Selkirk Arms Hotel on the High Street. Each plate’s a pretty picture. Flavours are equally artful.

Where to shop

A & E Kennedy on St Mary Street sells candles, cards and cosmetics. Also things that don’t begin with a ‘C’.

Tolbooth Crafts on the same street offers rings, scarves, mugs and a basket filled with pictures of foxes and dogs, the last time I popped in. Quirky and quaint.

Banks and Braes on St Cuthbert Street is a cosy nook with countryside themed ornaments and collectables, including cuddly Highland coos.

Where to stay

Bags of bonhomie: The Borgue Hotel in the village of Borgue, five miles west of Kirkcudbright, provides a hearty welcome and food so wholesome it could have starred in a Doris Day movie. Rooms from £75.

Big-up the Bucolic: Nestled in the rolling hills a mile from Kirkcudbright, the Arden House Hotel on Tongland Road provides a smooth level of service and staff who happily share their knowledge of the surrounding area. Rooms from £60.

Brimming with bustle: The Garret Café Bar & Restaurant on Kirkcudbright High Street has a range of bedrooms.

The eatery’s usually a hub of hectic activity, making you feel at the epicentre of everything. However, the rooms are well-insulated from the hurly-burly, ensuring you get a good night’s sleep. Rooms from £85.

What to do nearby

Laggan Outdoor Activity Centre in Castle Douglas offers the kind of adventures you usually only get with CGI special effects. There’s the longest zip wire in Europe plus archery and clay pigeon shooting. Mabie Farm Park, on the outskirts of Dumfries, has various attractions including a dirt buggy track, Go Karts and animals to ooh and aah at.


In the current climate it can’t be guaranteed that the above activities and venues will operate under normal conditions. Government health warnings and instructions should be followed before making plans.