Galloway is one of Scotland’s most beautiful regions and largely overlooked by tourists as they thunder up the M74 towards Edinburgh, Glasgow and the Highlands. Those travellers brave enough to wander west at Gretna Green might fear that they’re heading into a cultural wasteland, but the truth is very different. Underpopulated though Dumfries and Galloway might be it has cast some interesting figures into the world over the centuries – from Thomas Carlyle to Calvin Harris.

If you chance to come to Galloway by train, you’ll almost certainly have to hire a car once you arrive in Dumfries. The Paddy Line – the famously beautiful rail route between Dumfries and Stranraer – was untimely ripped from the soil in 1965. There’s no longer the opportunity to travel across the stunning Gatehouse viaduct from which Richard Hannay leapt in Hitchcock’s film of John Buchan’s The Thirty-Nine Steps.

Taking a few steps back though, Dumfries, as well as being the place in which Robert Burns – one of the world’s most celebrated poets – lived and died, was home to JM Barrie’s friends Stuart and Hal Gordon, who lived at Moat Brae House in the town. As a young boy Barrie played piratical childhood games in the gardens with them. This time of his life inspired him to write Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens with its stunning illustrations by Arthur Rackham.

The Herald: Programmer Lee RandallProgrammer Lee Randall (Image: free)

Not many miles westwards is the market town of Castle Douglas, the childhood home of the long forgotten but once enormously popular contemporary of Barrie, SR Crockett. A complete set of his distinctive olive cloth-bound books – mostly set in Galloway – has bent one of the shelves in the Scottish Room of my shop for nearly two decades, gathering nothing but dust and confused looks from customers, very few of whom have any idea what a huge figure in late 19th-century literature he was. He is, as most of us will be, forgotten.

If you dare to venture a little further west you might find yourself in the pretty harbour town of Kirkcudbright, in which Dorothy L Sayers placed her famous detective Lord Peter Wimsey on a fishing holiday in Five Red Herrings. Like many books of its time (take Agatha Christie’s 4.50 from Paddington), the crime is solved due to the idiosyncrasies of the train timetable. In the shop we are still asked for old train timetables by aspiring crime writers. Sadly they would be ghost trains in Galloway today.

Not much further towards the Irish Sea, Newton Stewart has a rather fine literary claim which is barely known. A few years ago I was clearing books from a beautiful house by the river Cree. The owners told me that Edgar Allan Poe had stayed there as a child.

I wasn’t convinced, but after asking a few locals I discovered that Poe – orphaned at two years old – was adopted by John Allan, a tobacco merchant from Irvine in the south-west of Scotland who would regularly return to his home soil from his plantation in Virginia. There’s little doubt that Poe’s foster parents took him to Flowerbank House in Newton Stewart for a summer. It’s a place of ravens.

Chasing the setting sun to the west, it’s only a few miles further before you encounter Wigtown, the town in which the author John McNeillie (born in 1916) loosely based his first novel, The Wigtown Ploughman – a book which exposed the diabolical living conditions of the rural poor to such an extent that legislative reform shortly followed its publication. It is a fine book.

Wigtown is also home to Jessica Fox, whose book Three Things You Need to Know About Rockets put the town back on the literary landscape 73 years after McNeillie, and Kathleen Hart, whose autobiographical account of her cancer treatment Devorgilla Days chimes with readers like a carcinogenic Big Ben.

A mile south of Wigtown are the crumbling remains of Baldoon Castle. Based on the history of this place, Walter Scott wrote The Bride of Lammermoor, later immortalised by Donizetti in opera and by Millais on canvas. The families involved (Dunbar and Dalrymple) were Scott’s friends. He changed names and locations to protect them.

The Herald: Wigtown book festivalWigtown book festival (Image: free)

From Wigtown, a short breeze across the peninsula is Luce Bay. Here is the House of Elrig, the childhood home of Gavin Maxwell – author of Ring of Bright Water. The naturalist wrote many other books, but his early life in Wigtownshire clearly inspired his passion for nature. If you drive (or walk or cycle) towards the golf course at Monreith there is a memorial to him – a bronze otter which looks longingly towards the dark sea below from the top of a cliff. While Maxwell was living in Sandaig, the poet Kathleen Raine cursed the rowan tree outside the front door of his house following an argument. The house burnt down shortly afterwards, and not long after that, Maxwell died.

Venture vaguely northwards and you’ll find yourself in the Atlantic-battered village of Ballantrae. Although Stevenson’s novel The Master of Ballantrae might well have been called The Master of Durisdeer for the lack of references to Ballantrae. Both Stevenson and Scott mined Galloway for stories but set them elsewhere.

Slightly further north, if you look hard enough, you’ll find the cave of the legendary Sawney Bean. The jury is still out over whether he really existed or was a fictional character created to fulfil a means to subdue the Scots at a time of political tension in the 16th century.

Whatever the truth, he’s magnificent. It’s pretty hard to shoehorn him into a piece about Scottish literature although a great deal has been written about him. He is famously known as the Galloway Cannibal, and was the inspiration for Wes Craven’s film The Hills Have Eyes. Accounts vary, but it appears that he lived in a cave with his wife and around 50 children/grandchildren.

For a while there was a waxwork of the Bean family gnawing on someone’s arm in the Chamber of Horrors at Madame Tussauds. When my sisters and I visited Tussauds as children I remember feeling flushed with pride that a son of Galloway had made it into the museum.

Local lore has it that he and his family killed and ate 1000 people passing by on the sandy beach from the comfort of their cave, although it’s hard to imagine that the troglodytic lifestyle was the height of luxury in the 16th century. The only literary connection that I can come up with – and it’s remarkably tenuous – is Gillian McKeith’s cookbook, You Are What You Eat.

This is just a taste of the long and rich heritage of Galloway as a place of literature and storytelling – some current, some celebrated, some neglected and half forgotten, but all woven into the cultural fabric of Galloway.

Shaun Bythell is author of The Diary of a Bookseller, Confessions of a Bookseller, Seven Kinds of People You Find in Bookshops and Remainders of the Day. He is the owner of The Bookshop, Scotland’s largest second-hand bookshop, which is in Wigtown.

Shaun is among the many guest who will be taking part in the Wigtown Book Festival, which runs September 22 to October 1.