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 keep both you and your four-legged friend amused. 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.
WHAT ARE 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, art galleries and cafes and 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.
If castles are your thing, you’ll be spoilt for choice in Dumfries and Galloway, which is home to several grand examples. One of these is Drumlanrig Castle, which featured in the popular TV show, Outlander. Here, you can immerse yourself in more than 600 years of history and discover world-famous paintings by the likes of Rembrandt and Gainsborough.
Dogs are not allowed inside the castle, which is 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 throughout the summer months 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.
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 but if you can’t choose just one, book the ice cream tasting experience and try ten. The farm, which offers regular tours, also produces award-winning cheese.
Dogs on leads are welcome to explore the nature trails around the farm but they can run free in the seven-acre woodland, which is enclosed. There’s a lovely three-quarter mile circular walk you can do, too – just follow the trail.
It’s free to visit the farm grounds but during weekends and school holidays, several play areas open up and fees apply if you wish to use them. Dogs are not allowed inside the visitor centre or cafe but there is outdoor seating so you can still enjoy the local produce.
WHERE’S GOOD FOR WALKIES? 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, mainly in Dumfries and Galloway. From Portpatrick, the trail hugs the coast where 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 and is a great place to while away a few hours. The site, which is maintained by the Forestry Commission, is a great place for walkers and cyclists alike with several well signposted trails to follow.
We completed the 3.25-mile riverside route in just under two hours. It was a lovely walk, even though we visited during a torrential downpour, as the trees helped to shelter us from the rain. There is a popular cafe where you can stop and refuel but you’ll have to sit outside if you’re visiting with dogs. Three hours’ parking will set you back £2.
If your dog loves to feel the sand beneath his paws, head to one of the beautiful Dumfries and Galloway beaches. 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.
BEST PLACE TO GRAB A BITE? 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, especially during the winter months when there’s a roaring log fire. Dogs are welcome in the snug at mealtimes and there are lots of great walks in the surrounding area so you can really work up an appetite. Pets are also welcome to 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.
If whisky is your thing, don’t miss a trip to the Annandale Distillery, which reopened in 2007 after being closed for almost 80 years. Its first single cask and single malt 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 that champion local produce. You must try the Haggis tartlet!
If you’re keen to sample more Scottish food, head to Loch Arthur – a wholesome working community near Dumfries with a farm, creamery, bakery, butchers and craft workshops. The onsite cafe serves a delicious range of food that has been 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, independent shops, many of which are book-themed. I can particularly recommend ReadingLasses, where you can browse the selection of books over a coffee, and Shoots & Leaves – an oasis for vegans and vegetarians.
WHERE SHOULD I STAY? From a dog-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 for budget accommodation. Pets are guaranteed a warm welcome at both of these properties.
GET ME THERE: Dumfries and Galloway is an easy drive from most cities in the north of England and central Scotland with the journey taking around 90 minutes. The M6 is the main route into Scotland and connects directly with 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, while regular trains 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.