Keats and Buchan, Scott

and Sayers all knew the

rugged charms of Bonnie

Galloway. Andy Murray

and photographer

Edward Jones follow in their footsteps

Nobody ever mentions that

Dumfries and Galloway

is the first Scottish

region not to pump raw

sewage into the sea

FAR too few tourists have sufficient gumption these days to visit

''the land of the stranger-Gaels'' instead of dodging skin cancer in the

shadow of concrete costa condominiums; yet, before the mass predilection

for getting basted on Continental beaches, generations of travellers

were content enough to bask in the penetrating Solway Firth breezes.

Dandering along leafy lanes and clifftops enthralled them more than

any taverna would. Bonnie Galloway, now an underrated swathe of southern

Scotland, magnetised them all.

Galloway is all things to all men. The region's raw charms reminded

the nineteenth-century travel writer Richard Ayton of ''the wild

beauties of Caernarvonshire''; and when he stayed at Auchencairn, John

Keats recorded: ''Kirkcudbright county is very beautiful, very wild,

with craggy hills somewhat in the Westmorland fashion. The country is

very rich - very fine - and with a little of Devon.''

The poet was captivated by the rocky headlands of the Colvend coast,

the sandbanks, the mudflats, the cliffs and the shady coves where

smugglers hid their contraband from the Excisemen, thereby providing

source material for Sir Walter Scott.

I once met a Cornishman who had settled in Galloway, but who felt at

home. ''It's Cornwall minus the Wimpys,'' he confided. The

late-Victorian Glasgow Boys, who established an artists' colony around

Kirkcudbright, called the coastal part of Galloway the Scottish Riviera.

Old guidebooks, the ones which admittedly got the use of superlatives

down to a super-fine art, referred to Galloway as the Southern

Trossachs: so mild was its climate; so brilliant its midsummer light; so

wild and grand its long and stabbing littoral; so formidable those

cairn-strewn Corbetts which inspired Buchan's The Thirty-nine Steps.

When Dorothy Leigh Sayers based one of her detective stories, The Five

Red Herrings, around the towns of Gatehouse of Fleet and Kirkcudbright,

most of Galloway fished or painted, or combined the two. In the

intervening 70 years, fishing has almost disappeared as an industry,

although artists still abound. Sayers' lonely by-ways, moreover, have

been modernised by the likes of the A75 ''Euroroute'' to Ireland.

Not everything has changed, though. Joe Dignam, ''kindliest of

landlords'', to whom the author dedicated her book, is long gone, but

you still get a hearty welcome in most of the pubs in Gatehouse (Sir

Walter Scott's Kippletringan), a picturesquely situated former

mill-town, which is celebrating its 200th anniversary this year.

Some pockets of Galloway are Little Englands; therefore, you could

transport Campbell, the fictional landscape painter, straight into

Scottish Watch; and Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey would not look out of

place in Gatehouse, since it is a tweedy sort of a place, which would

fit into the Lake District, although it is no less inviting for that.

If I drive west on the A75, the wooded ruins of Cardoness Castle

perched on a twisted knoll, never fail to beckon me to indicate right.

Cliche or no cliche: the visitor from the north who turns off the A75

a bit further west, at Newton Stewart, and heads for the sea, motors

into a bygone age. Look at your map and the Machars are shaped much like

India. Yet there is no Calcuttan melee: the Machars are as sparsely

populated as areas of the Highlands, and as green as Ireland.

''In green places there are angels,'' the commendably idealistic Rev

Andrew Patterson informed me as we strolled along one of the many

narrow, twisting tracks which pass for roads in this pristine


Many species of wild flower beautified the verges, where you would

expect cow parsley and rosebay willowherb. We stood at the top of the

brae and held our breath as the prominent humps of the Galloway hills

struggled out of the haar in the distance.

These hills, none of them big enough to rub shoulders with a Munro,

made ideal beacon-points during the warring times: Criffel, Bengairn,

Cairnsmore of Fleet and Knock of Luce, all had fires lit on their tops

to warn of dangers ahead. Together with Merrick, the Rhinns of Kells,

Corserine, The Dungeon and the Range of the Awful Hand, they constitute

good limbering-up country for Munro-baggers before they head north


But the mini-Alpine grandeur of the Galloway Corbetts would have to

wait. The peninsula we were exploring is as flat as a girdle-scone, but

for the drumlin bumps deposited by the Ice Age: the low-lying land of St

Ninian, the first Scottish saint, who converted the southern Picts from

Whithorn - long before St Columba reached the shores of Iona. Ninian's

Candida Casa, at Whithorn, was Scotland's first Christian church.

''You can see five kingdoms from here: Scotland, where we're standing,

England over there, the Isle of Man, Ireland -- and the Kingdom of

Heaven up there,'' Patterson said with a smile.

As we watched the distant shape of the Isle of Man emerging from the

fog during our walk in the vicinity of Cruggleton Castle, he also took a

delight in revealing that Edward Woodward had been burned on the

headland here in the film The Wicker Man.

Many monarchs, including Robert the Bruce, Mary Queen of Scots and

James IV, visited the shrine of St Ninian. Now thousands of day-trippers

visit the Whithorn Trust. Dumfries and Galloway Tourist Board's top

tourist attraction last year, Whithorn is one of the largest excavation

sites in Europe. Be prepared for real skeletons, though.

Andrew Patterson has spent seven years, first as parish minister of

Mochrum and latterly as a pulpit supply man and author of guidebooks,

trying to open Whithorn up to those of us who prefer shanks's pony to

sitting in tin boxes.

''Walking and cycling on quiet roads, farm tracks and coastal paths

can be a deeply healing and enjoyable experience,'' he beams over a pint

of 80 shilling in the Steam Packet Hotel on the Isle of Whithorn.

The Whithorn Pilgrim Way will eventually run down the western side of

the triangular peninsula - from Glenluce Abbey to Whithorn, the

so-called ''cradle of Scottish Christianity''. It will thread its way

north again to Wigtown and the Southern Upland Way.

Patterson first dreamt of a long-distance walk for latter-day pilgrims

in 1987, when the Church of Scotland urged presbyteries to think up

job-creation projects. Part of the route was eventually waymarked in

1993, the same year in which Patterson received an encouraging letter

from the Pope.

In 1997, the minister hopes to pull off a publicity coup for the Way

to Whithorn. That year marks the 1400th anniversary of the death of St

Columba of Iona, and the 1600th anniversary of the landing of St Ninian

at Whithorn.

A mass pilgrimage to Whithorn is a possibility, but Patterson is

looking for plenty spondulicks under the European Objective scheme for

hard-up rural areas, along with cash from the Millennium Fund.

''The Whithorn Trust, and whatever form of local government evolves

out of the reorganisation process, could liaise with Canterbury, Rome,

Iona and the Isle of Man to facilitate the celebrations of 1997,''

Patterson told me.

He knows what he is talking about. Last year he puttered along the

Celtic fringe on a motorbike whose engine was cannibalised from a

lawnmower. He took in Ireland, Cornwall, Britanny and Compostela.

Now that he is back, he points out that European money has helped to

construct thousands of miles of footpaths in Germany, France and Spain.

Why not Whithorn, he asks? It has the largest rural unemployment rate in


For those wary of walking through Scottish smir on a dankish day,

Patterson offers: ''The sabre-toothed midge of the Highland glens is

unknown in the Machars of Galloway.''

Billy Marshall occupies as prominent a place on the Gallovidian

pantheon as Ninian. At Marshall's funeral, the November wind mottled the

weatherbeaten mourners and whistled through dykes sabotaged 60 years

beforehand by the man in the coffin.

The Earl of Selkirk is said to have been chief mourner of ''the king

of the Galloway gypsies''. They say he had his senses about him to his

final hour, and had been walking the hills the day before his death,

despite his love of whisky.

''Billy, ye should watch how you treat that stuff. It's been the ruin

of many a fine man,'' a well-wisher had told Marshall on his last


''It maun be damned slow, then. For I ha'e drunk it for a hunner

years, an' I'm livin' yet,'' was the rejoinder.

A year later, Billy Marshall's headstone in St Cuthbert's churchyard

near Kirkcudbright would read:

The Remains of WILLIAM MARSHALL Tinker, who died

28th November 1792 at the advanced aged of 120 years

Some say Marshall was the last of the Pictish kings. Records show that

he fought at the Battle of the Boyne, and that he was married 17 times,

famously to Flora Maxwell, the prototype of Sir Walter Scott's Meg


Legend has it that Marshall ruled the whole of Galloway, ''from the

braes of Glenapp to the brig-en' of Dumfries''. He was as happy

waylaying travellers as he was sitting smoking, drinking and cracking

with the infamous Dutch smuggler, Captain Yawkins.

They would sit for hours in Dirk Hatteraick's cave (Scott used Yawkins

as the prototype of Matteraick, another character of Guy Mannering).

When Marshall was not breaking the law, he would be crafting spoons

and other trinkets, some of which are on display at Kirkcudbright

museum. (While you are in Kirkcudbright, you should visit Broughton

House - once the home of the artist Edward Hornel, now the location of

the largest private collection of Burnsiana).

The coast east of Kirkcudbright is notched with caves. Unfortunately,

a good slice of the coastline here is off-limits, thanks to the presence

of the MoD base at Dundrennan. Ironically, Port Mary stands on the

fringe of the danger zone; for the romantics, it was here that Mary

Queen of Scots spent her last night on Scottish soil before sailing into


One man who knows the treacherous tides of the Solway is 79-year-old

Eddie Parker, who has leased a little island off this coast for 35

years. Heston, which Samuel Rutherford Crockett enlarged into Rathan in

his book The Raiders, is accessible by foot during low tide.

Eddie, the lighthouse-keeper, keeps salmon nets on the islet, so he is

often to be seen making his way over the sands on foot, on tractor or on

a boat. One of the chaps who kept the lighthouse when Eddie was a boy

earned #25 for his troubles. He paid #24 rent for the island and

supplemented the #1 disposable income by keeping sheep.

There are still sheep. Every spring there is a sight to behold: the

procession of the island's resident lambs as they head to the market

over the Solway. Sue Gilroy of Auchencairn keeps the lambs. She also

keeps wild boar on the mainland.

Yes, Galloway does have its eccentricities. Take the Scottish

alternative games at Parton, on the road to Dalry, whose events include

snail-racing and the world gird 'n' cleek championships.

Then there are the world flounder-tramping championships at Palnackie,

on the Urr estuary. Scaremongering about radioactive mud fails to deter

hundreds of participants homing in on the coastal village on the

appointed day every year.

Sandyhills Bay on the true Riviera stretch of the Colvend coast,

sports one of Scotland's top beaches, and is highly recommended. With

the para-Wagnerian backdrop of Galloway peaks and forests, the sweeping

bay and its rocky headlands form one of the most magnificently

picturesque scenes west of Sorrento.

Enter Frank Gourlay, regional councillor, chairman of the steering

group for the new area tourist board, and proprietor of award-winning

chalet complexes at Sandyhills and Kippford.

''Galloway gives people a sense of getting away from it all: I know it

sounds corny and brochure-speak, but it really is Scotland in miniature.

Years and years ago I took my architect all over Galloway and he told

me: 'It's got a little bit of everything.'

''It is good and green and, although more middle-aged people come here

than young people, it is versatile. Nobody ever mentions that Dumfries

and Galloway is the first Scottish region not to pump raw sewage into

the sea.''

And finally to the Rhinns of Galloway, that elongated chunk of land

west of Stranraer, which would have been an island but for the isthmus

between Loch Ryan and Luce Bay.

When I visited the Rhinns I resolved to move there as soon as I had

the right six numbers on Saturday night. But for the odd telephone line,

it is a peninsula, unspoilt in the pre-brochure sense of the word; a

peninsula where two cars constitute a traffic jam.

Portpatrick, that characterful little yachting village, is worth

pottering around, and most folk drive south to Drummore and thence to

the Mull of Galloway, Scotland's Land's End. For me, though, the

northern route to Corsewall Point, where Robert Louis Stevenson's

grandfather built a lighthouse, gladdens the heart that wee bit more.

IT must be said that I caught Scotland's surprising south-west on a

good day, full of sunshine and colour. That morning, however, the sun

had been slow in waking. Haar had clung to the fields and the gnarled

headland, and the fog-horn of one of the ferries to Northern Ireland had

dispelled any hopes of our picking out the Irish coast way out west.

The secluded Knocknassie Hotel was shut, too - which was a pity, since

I had gone there to see some of the fittings. The hotel managed to

procure the shower-room, admiral's cloakrooms and other pieces of the

Ark Royal, scrapped at Cairnryan after a distinguished career.

As the drone of another horn drowned out the tranquillising tunes of

the seagulls, I spared a thought for the 133 ill-fated passengers of the

Princess Victoria, which had sunk in the loch during a ferocious storm

en route to Larne in 1953.

If the fog is not on your side, maybe it is time to drive down to the

Mull, which shares a latitude with Hartlepool, but lacks the kudos of

Scotland's other pole, John o' Groats. The Mull has seen its tragedies -

and not just shipwrecks.

According to an ancient ballad, a noted brewer by the name of Trost of

the Long Knife threw himself and his son off the cliffs there rather

than surrender his recipe to aggressive rivals.


* Some of Scotland's top Scandinavian-style chalets and log cabins are

offered by Barend Properties (01387 780 663/648) (STB four crowns,

highly commended) along the Scottish Riviera at Sandyhills.

Galloway has more than its share of Taste of Scotland hotels and pubs.

The Corsemalzie Hotel, Port William (098886 254), has wonderful

cruisine. So has the Creebridge House Hotel, Newton Stewart (01671

402121), STB four crowns commended, Taste of Scotland award-winning

chef-proprietor Chris Walker, golf and speciality breaks for the

discerning tourist.

Good pubs for bar lunches:

King's Arms, Castle Douglas (01556 502097). Imperial Hotel, Castle

Douglas, four crowns commended (01556 502086). Bank o' Fleet, Gatehouse

of Fleet (01557 814302), regular ceilidhs. Fernhill Hotel, Portpatrick,

four crowns highly commended (01776 810220).

Whithorn Pilgrimage Trust: 01988 402312. Dig Visitor

Centre/Priory/Museum: 09885 508.