Ruff Guide to… Dumfries & Galloway

This beautiful part of lowland Scotland is often overlooked, but it really shouldn’t be. With bustling towns, sandy beaches and acres of forest to explore, there is plenty to see and do. Dumfries and Galloway is also a hotbed for culture, home to some of Scotland’s coolest art, literature and music festivals. Make your trip extra-memorable by visiting in January to celebrate the life of poet Robert Burns, who was posthumously given the freedom of Dumfries.

William Wallace statue in the grounds of the Bemersyde estate, near Melrose
The William Wallace Statue in the grounds of the Bemersyde estate, near Melrose  © VisitScotland / Ian Rutherford, all rights reserved

Dog-friendly Dumfries & Galloway: the must-sees

Robert Burns is one of Scotland’s most famous sons and you can pay tribute to him at Ellisland Farm, just a few miles from the heart of Dumfries. Burns built this homestead for his bride, Jean Armour, and lived here for several years in the 1780s. These days, it serves as a museum and is a great place to pay tribute to the man himself.

Dogs on leads are welcome at tranquil Ellisland, which looks almost the same as it would have done in Burns’ day. Soak up the atmosphere in his private sitting room, explore the farm buildings and wander the banks of the River Nith. Dogs can even grab a drink in the kitchen, where a water bowl is provided. The museum is open from January until late November. Adult tickets cost £5.

Make sure you also visit the harbour town of Kirkcudbright (pronounced kir-coo-bree) at the mouth of the River Dee. This lively fishing port has lots of independent shops, galleries and cafes. A gentle stroll around the marina is a lovely way to spend a morning or afternoon.

It’s also well worth checking out the Torhouse stone circle near Wigtown, which dates back to the Bronze Age. The mysterious circle consists of 19 huge granite boulders with three upright rocks in the middle, commonly known as the tomb of the mythical King Gauldus. Visit at sunrise or sunset for the best views over the surrounding fields.

Drumlanrig Castle & Country Estate
Drumlanrig Castle & Country Estate

If castles are your thing, you’ll be spoilt for choice in Dumfries and Galloway. One grand example is Drumlanrig Castle, which featured in the popular TV show, Outlander. Here, you can immerse yourself in more than 600 years of history and view paintings by the likes of Rembrandt and Gainsborough.

Dogs are not allowed inside the castle – the Dumfriesshire seat of the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch and Queensberry. They can, however, explore the 90,000-acre estate, which boasts miles of beautiful walks. Water bowls are provided in the Stableyard and outside the tearoom.

The castle opens sporadically over the summer while the gardens are open from the end of March to late September. Tickets to explore the parkland cost £6 per adult or it’s £10 to see the castle as well.

For somewhere a little less grand, try the ruins of Morton Castle, just a few miles away. Once a stronghold of the Douglas family, it was part of a chain of castles along the Nith Valley. There’s not much of it left today – and it’s rather tricky to find – but it’s well worth seeking out. The remote location and peaceful surroundings will blow you away.

Man enjoys an ice cream at Cream of Galloway
A man enjoys an ice cream at Cream o’Galloway

Those with a sweet tooth should head to Cream o’Galloway on Finlay’s Farm. Here, you can sample a great range of homemade ice cream, created from all-natural ingredients. The delicious flavours include gingerbread and sticky toffee. If you can’t choose just one, book the tasting experience and try ten. The farm, which offers regular tours, also produces award-winning cheese.

Dogs are welcome to explore the nature trails on lead but they can also run free in the seven-acre woodland. There’s a lovely three-quarter mile circular walk you can do, too – just follow the trail.

It’s free to visit the grounds but during weekends and school holidays, fees apply for the play areas. Dogs are not allowed inside the visitor centre or cafe but there is outdoor seating.

Man looks out to sea as he walks along the Southern Upland Way
The Southern Upland Way at Killintringan near Portpatrick

Dog-friendly Dumfries & Galloway: the best walks

Check out the Southern Upland Way – a 210-mile coast-to-coast trail that starts in the pretty seaside town of Portpatrick. Some parts of the trail will challenge even the most experienced hikers but there are sections suitable for all abilities. From Portpatrick, the trail hugs the coast and you can enjoy stunning views of Knock Bay and the cliffs to the north.

When it comes to woodland walks, you can’t beat the Forest of Ae. It may have one of the shortest names around but it’s actually one of the largest forests in Scotland. The site, which is maintained by the Forestry Commission, is great for both walkers and cyclists with several well-signposted trails.

We completed the 3.25-mile riverside route in just under two hours. It was lovely, even though we visited during a torrential downpour, as the trees sheltered us from the rain. There is a cafe onsite but you’ll have to sit outside if you’re visiting with dogs. Three hours’ parking will set you back £2.

Dumfries and Galloway has some beautiful beaches to explore, too. Our favourite is Sandyhills Bay, near Dalbeattie. It has a vast expanse of sand that’s great for zoomies and plenty of rock pools to paddle in. For more beach recommendations in the area, check out The Beach Guide’s top ten.

Sandyhills Bay
Sandyhills Bay

Dog-friendly Dumfries & Galloway: the best pubs and cafes

For traditional pub grub with a swanky twist, head to The Buccleuch & Queensberry Arms Hotel in Thornhill. This stylish venue serves up beer-battered cod and burgers alongside dishes like free-range chicken with asparagus. There is also a separate vegetarian and vegan menu which has a mean sticky whisky toffee pudding. Guests are welcome to dine with their dogs in the bar area.

The Anchor Hotel in Kippford is another great place to grab a bite. Dogs are welcome in the snug and there are lots of great walks nearby so you can work up an appetite. Pets can also stay in the bedrooms for a small additional fee. The Masonic Arms in Gatehouse of Fleet is also very dog-friendly and serves hearty home-cooked meals.

Abbey Cottage Tea Room, next to the ruins of Sweetheart Abbey, is a great place for dogs and their owners to refuel. Homemade soup is the tea room’s speciality and it also has an extensive collection of teas and coffees to enjoy. Dogs will also love the patio garden, complete with water bowls.

Sliders at The Buccleuch & Queensberry Arms Hotel
Sliders at The Buccleuch & Queensberry Arms Hotel

If whisky is your thing, don’t miss a trip to the Annandale Distillery. It reopened in 2007 after being closed for almost 80 years. The first batch of whiskies went on sale in June 2018 and you can enjoy a wee dram at the distillery.

There are regular tours around the former Johnnie Walker distillery but dogs are not allowed. They are, however, welcome in the Maltings Coffee Shop which serves a selection of drinks, cakes and light lunches. You must try the Haggis tartlet!

If you’re keen to sample more Scottish food, head to Loch Arthur. This wholesome working community near Dumfries has a farm, creamery, bakery, butchers and craft workshops. The onsite cafe serves a delicious range of food that is produced onsite, often by people with learning difficulties. The cafe has outdoor seating for visitors with dogs.

Wigtown – Scotland’s National Book Town – has a whole host of dog-friendly places to eat, as well as quirky book-themed shops. Check out ReadingLasses, where you can browse the books over a coffee, and Shoots & Leaves – an oasis for vegans and vegetarians.

Bedroom at Trigony House
One of the bedrooms at Trigony House Hotel

Dog-friendly Dumfries & Galloway: where to stay

From a pet-owner’s perspective, country houses don’t come much cooler than Trigony House Hotel. This beautiful pet-friendly property, near Thornhill, has a really relaxed vibe and is perfectly-placed to explore Dumfries and Galloway. Not only does it offer dog reiki, but the hotel has a lovely garden spa and serves delicious food. Check out my review of the hotel here.

Alternatively, check out Creebridge House Hotel near Galloway Forest Park or head to the Bank of Fleet in Castle Douglas. Pets are guaranteed a warm welcome at both of these properties.

How do I get to Dumfries & Galloway?

Dumfries and Galloway is an easy drive from most cities in the north of England and central Scotland. Journeys take around 90 minutes. The M6 is the main route into Scotland and connects directly to the M1, which links up with the M25 ringroad around London. Driving from the capital takes around six hours.

The area is also accessible by rail. The London to Edinburgh service operated by Virgin Trains stops at Lockerbie. Regular trains also run to Dumfries from Carlisle and Glasgow. Carlisle Airport – the gateway to the Lake District – is a 20-minute drive from Gretna Green, in the very east of the region.

Where can I find out more?

Check out Visit Scotland’s official tourism page or take a look at the South West Scotland Visitor Guide.

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