Putting the ‘Bonnie’ into Scotland!
I’m always saying I’d love to see more of Scotland, another country that’s can be reached in under 2 hours from where I live, but like many others, I let my travels take me abroad to guarantee some warm weather to accompany my cultural experience.
So after spotting a 2 night hotel deal, we booked a stay in the Dumfries and Galloway (D&G) region and after visiting areas mainly to the east, I was looking forward to be heading west.
The route we took was a bit unconventional due to hubby’s work and saw us travel from Wearside to Belford in Northumberland then through Northumberland Park before joining the A69 to Carlisle and onwards. This meant a lovely little stop over for me at Sunnyhills Farm Shop and Café to enjoy coffee, cake and a bit glossy magazine reading to pass the time. The café had a welcoming atmosphere with views across the countryside and served good quality coffee (and free refills which was unexpected but great as I was there a while) and the cake portion was so generous I actually kept half for Ron.
I’d love to say something positive about the next part of our journey as we were driving through the beautiful Northumberland National Park however, car trouble put paid to that! So concentration was the order of the day and our car, which has never let us down, tried its very best and managed to get us to within 100 yards of our hotel before coming to a halt. I won’t bore you with the details but I’m happy to say our recovery service were amazing, providing us with a nifty hire car and taking our beloved car back home. So on with the weekend.
We were staying at the Hetland Hall Hotel and while it needed some updating it more than made up for it with fantastic service, wonderful food and some of the friendliest staff I’ve come across.
We decided to meander our way to the Solway Firth, a designated coastal Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and our first stop was Sweetheart Abbey in the Village of New Abbey. This pretty village was voted Best Small village in Scotland 2012 and a stroll around revealed sights which will have helped it take the title, including cottages with quaint kerb appeal and a tranquil Mill Pond with its sun dappled water and seating for a moments quiet reflection.
The 13th century Abbey, though partially ruined, has a quiet beauty to it and is bound with a story of enduring love. Following the death of her husband Lord John Balliol, Lady Dervorgilla of Galloway had her husband’s heart embalmed and placed in an ornate ivory casket which she carried wherever she went. The abbey was founded by Dervorgilla in his memory, and named Dulce Cor (Latin for ‘Sweet Heart’). When she too died, Dervorgilla was laid to rest in front of the abbey church’s high altar, clutching her husband’s heart to her bosom.
The Abbey was a recommendation from Abbey Cottage Tearoom after I mentioned my upcoming visit on Instagram, so where better to enjoy a coffee before continuing our journey. We relaxed in their sunny courtyard garden and although we didn’t eat here, the food being served at other tables looked lovely and the staff we’re welcoming and friendly. I would certainly return.
I must add at this point that I had downloaded a nifty little app from ‘Welcome to Scotland’ (as mentioned in the hotel literature). This was an invaluable source of information and a quick look during coffee had shown us that Rockcliffe would be a nice place to visit and do some walking. On the way we spotted a large advertising board in a field for The Steamboat Inn and with its promise of fresh seafood we found ourselves heading for Carsethorne.
Carsethorne is a small ‘one way in and out’ fishing village on the banks of the Solway. The Inn was full of character and packed full of coastal and countryside ‘nick nacks’ and the outdoor space on the edge of the water was a relaxing area with floral displays, plenty of seating and shady umbrellas. It was sunny but breezy so we opted to eat inside and sat in deep armchairs beside the unlit fire (it still felt cosy though) and because of our seating arrangement we decided on the sharing platter of various seafood items, chicken, wedges and dips. It was all very nice but I’ve no photo to show you so you’ll have to take my word for it.
We headed outside to finish our drinks and sat marveling at the vastness of the Solway Firth and beauty of the countryside surrounding it. Then, feeling pleased with ourselves that our chance culinary find had turned out to be a good decision, we headed to Rockcliffe.
Rockcliffe is a very small coastal village situated on the eastern side of the river Urr estuary and on arrival we could see immediately that we’d made a good choice. The small car park had a very useful information point and a short stroll led us to a shore that was stunningly beautiful.
At low tide the water is so shallow there’s not even a ripple and it seems frozen in time plus the firm mud and a natural causeway means it’s possible to walk over to Rough Island however, it’s important to check the tide tables in advance.
We opted to walk one of the circular routes to Kippford and back. This was an easy to moderate walk of approx. 3.25 miles on well signed and maintained footpaths throwing up beautiful scenery along the way along with gorgeous houses and gardens.
We definitely had a touch of ‘location envy’ and we weren’t alone in enjoying this area with people passing us at intervals and all with a friendly greeting.
What I wasn’t expecting was a ghoulish hidden Grotto full of items not out of place in a ‘Ghost Train’ ride. So was the sense of humour of one local who had opened up this little part of his land to the passing public.
Walking into Kippford was one of those ‘who’d have thought this place was here’ moments as we were met with whitewashed cottages, a harbour of sailing boats, cafes and a pub! Yes a Pub! I mean, don’t we all dream of a lovely country pub at the end of a lovely walk? Well, halfway through in this case but we like a pit stop! and so we had one at the Anchor Hotel. It was lovely to sit outside the in the sun and take in the ever changing green of the landscape as the sun and clouds tussled with each other in the sky. We even had a bit of company!
The return part of the walk would take us along the Jubilee Path on more elevated ground away from the water but just as pleasant. At the end of this walk we mused about how lovely it must be to live somewhere like this, and at that point I realised I was in danger of checking out Rightmove and hauling my belongings across the border!
The joys of the day had taken its toll so relaxation was the order of the evening with room service food (again so tasty and well presented) a few drinkies.
The following morning after waving bye bye to our car, which was being transported back home, we decided the head back in the direction we came and pay a visit to Gretna Green. Even though I’d heard it had become very commercial since its humble beginnings I still had to visit the site of many an elopement, a beacon of hope for many and the end point of many a carriage chase…The Blacksmiths Cottage!
Yes, it is very busy with tourists in abundance but I must admit the whole ‘complex’ as I’ll call it is very well designed, looks nice and welcoming and has lots of shops and facilities. However, I was only really interested in the history of The Blacksmiths Cottage so headed straight for the Gretna Green Story Exhibition. Here the story was brought to life and with interactive elements, story boards, memorabilia and more. For me though, just to stand there in the spots where so many hearts had been united in love was worth the visit for me. I could feel something special about the place and even shared a couple of quick kisses with Ron while holding hands and striking the famous anvils (there’s more than one and the original is housed in a glass case).
We’d didn’t hang around to find each other again in the Courtship Maze or shop for souvenirs instead choosing to drive to Carlisle as I’d not been there before.
To be honest I don’t even have a photograph from Carlisle. It wasn’t easy to find your way to the car parking and even the castle didn’t inspire me to walk up to its walls (I LOVE castles, but strangely this one held no draw for me, was it not picturesque enough after the beauty of the D&G? Was I just weary, I can’t put my finger on it)? A quick walk around the town centre had me impressed with Carlisle as a great place for a day of shopping and lunch with friends, with its many eateries, al fresco seating and a good mixture of shops.
We had such a great time that heading home we were already talking of a return to D&G. We’d like to visit areas including Kirkcudbright, known as the Artists’ Town and the Galloway Forest Park which is a haven for walkers, cyclists, adventurers and Dark Skies enthusiasts.
If you’ve visited any of the areas I’ve enjoyed/plan to visit or have any recommendations let me know. Did you or someone you know get married at Gretna Green? I’d love to hear your experiences.
Thanks again for reading, bye for now. June xx