The next in our series of Scottish road trips heads for the southeast of the country to discover some simply stunning landscapes and quintessential Scotland. The Galloway Tourist Route takes in glorious lochs, deep forests, whisky, serious cycling and two very famous Roberts.
Join us as we set off on one of the best Scottish road trips and make our way along the 92 miles (148 km) from Gretna Green to Ayr.
Why drive the Galloway Tourist Route
This road trip takes in one of the least populated part of Scotland and offers visitors an almost uninterrupted natural view along its 92 miles. The low lying landscape is home to vast green forests, lochs flanked by rolling hills and a coastline dotted with long, sandy beaches. Opportunities to get out and explore abound – this is serious cycling and hiking country – and you’ll catch glimpses of Scotland’s iconic wildlife including the two ‘reds’: kites and squirrels.
But the Galloway Tourist Route also includes plenty of Scottish culture. Robert Burns dominates the trip with the occasional appearance from the other famous Scottish Robert, Robert the Bruce. Racing enthusiasts also get a look in at the end plus there’s a great opportunity to try prime whisky along the way. And as usual, the children in your party get a chance to let off steam and often. Ready to ride?
Highlights along the way
Just over the English border lies the starting point for this Scottish road trip and one that needs no introduction: Gretna Green. Allow a half a morning for your visit (longer if you’re tying the knot!) before you sit back for the rest of the ride to Ayr.
(In)famous as an escape for young eloping couples unable to get married in England without their parents’ consent, the Blacksmith’s Shop has been officiating ‘I do’s’ since 1754. Don’t miss the memorabilia on elopements through the ages and then visit the pretty village of Gretna Green itself.
Whisky for the Roberts
The Galloway Tourist Route then sets off to the west where the first port of call is Annandale Distillery – one of the best in this part of Scotland. Restored to its former glory in 2014 after being closed for almost a century, Annandale now produces two single malt whiskies: Man o’Sword for Robert the Bruce and Man o’Words for Robert Burns. The first comes with an appropriately rugged, smoky taste while the second has an equally fitting smooth, fruity flavour.
Burns in the dark
Your next stop is the picturesque town of Dumfries, famous for its ancient red sandstone bridges across the River Nith, the camera obscura and Robert Burns.
Make your first stop the camera, built in 1836 and still offering a view of everyday life in Dumfries in all its minutiae. After taking your peek, head for the Robert Burns’ House and Centre with an impressive display of objects and work by the National Bard. Then enjoy a refreshing little something at one of the pubs the poet used to frequent.
The Galloway Tourist Route now heads off into the countryside proper along a southwesterly direction into low lying forests. Anyone who loves riding a bike must stop at Dalbeatie 7stanes, one of the best mountain biking centres in Scotland. You don’t have to be a pro to enjoy the forest trails (famous for their coastal views) because they range from easy to difficult. Don’t miss a look at The Slab, 15 metres of granite rock that rise so steeply they’re almost vertical.
Archibald the Grim
Your road trip now takes a more leisurely turn and since we are in Scotland, includes a castle. Threave Castle, just outside Castle Douglas, has all the fairytale ingredients – a mighty ruin that is only accessible by boat and once housed the Lord of Galloway, known to his enemies as Archibald the Grim. Pop over to the island on the River Dee to admire the 14th century fortress that although in ruins still towers 30 metres high.
Spot the red
As you follow the pretty River Dee, the landscape opens out onto long Loch Ken, home to some of the Scotland’s most unusual wildlife as well as great hiking and biking opportunities. This is red kite territory and to admire these birds of prey in all their magnificent glory, take the Galloway Kite Trail. The 24-mile circular trip (with an additional 16 miles in summer) includes walks, cycle trails, hides for kite spotting and the best viewing points. Time your visit to coincide with the kites’ late lunch, served 2pm daily at Bellymack Hill Farm near Laurieston. Look out for red squirrels too.
Night sky and loch views
As you reach the end of Loch Ken, it’s well worth taking a side trip west to Clatteringshaws Loch. Admire the stunning views across the water by day, walk the loch and forests to discover Bruce’s Stone and some of the clearest skies in the UK at night. The Visitors Centre organises skygazing activities in season. For some of the best forest walking in Scotland, include Galloway Forest Park on your road trip.
Alloway and Ayr
You now drive across pleasant rolling countryside on your way to the coast at Ayr. Before you enter the town proper, pop into Alloway to discover Robert Burns’ birthplace and a museum dedicated to his life and work. Back in Ayr, have a flutter on the horses at the 16th century racecourse, host to the annual Scottish Grand National and then get a breath of refreshing sea air along the pretty seafront or down on the sands.
Where to stay on the Galloway Tourist Route
Laird and lady it at your own Scottish castle tower, just outside Castle Douglas. The 17th century fortified tower is ideally located near Dumfries giving you access to Galloway Forest Park, Loch Ken and other attractions on this Scottish road trip. Inside your castle, a Great Hall, turnpike stairs and 4-feet thick walls await along with all mod cons to ensure a comfortable 21st century stay. Book your Scottish castle now.
Not convinced you should take a Scottish road trip? Read more in this series:
- Fife Coastal Route
- Angus Coastal Route
- Argyll Coastal Route
- Borders Historic Route
- Clyde Valley Historic Route
- Deeside Tourist Route
- Forth Valley Tourist Route
- North Coast 500
- North & West Highlands Route
- Perthshire Tourist Route
- Moray Firth Tourist Route
- Highlands Tourist Route
- 10 reasons to take a Scottish road trip
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