Whithorn, Newton Stewart & Galloway Forest
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Whithorn, Newton Stewart & Galloway Forest Holidays
Walking is always high on the agenda for visitors so it’s no surprise that Newton Stewart is home to one of RJ Cunninghame’s Outdoor stores. With knowledgeable staff and a great range of walking products, it’s a great place to start any walking holiday in the area. Once adequately kitted out, there are two mountain summits and an endless number of walks within the local area. For the highest peak in Dumfries and Galloway, walkers should head for the Merrick at Glentrool. At only 843m, it’s classed as a Corbett, but is still well worth the climb, offering stunning views over Loch Trool, Galloway Forest, on to the south Ayrshire coast and even Arran on a clear day. The other summit belongs to Cairnsmore of Fleet. Accessed from either Palnure or Creetown, the hill lies within a National Nature Reserve of the same name, a Site of Special Scientific Interest and the largest expense of open moorland in Galloway, with resident wildlife including peregrine falcon and hen harriers, Red deer and feral goats. Both ascents can be combined with longer, more challenging walks. The Merrick can, for example, be a diversion off the Southern Upland Way or incorporated with other hills within the Awful Hand, the range to which it belongs, whilst subsidiary summits like Meikle Mulltaggart can be reached from Cairnsmore. Further information on the highest peaks in Dumfries and Galloway is available here.
The main bulk of Galloway Forest Park itself is accessed along the A712 to New Galloway, with lots to see and do along the way. Just a 10 minute drive brings you to Murray’s Monument, a striking stone obelisk erected in 1835 in memory of local shepherd boy Alexander Murray, who eventually became a Professor of Languages. The walk up to the monument is steep but highly rewarding, for the panoramic views it offers. Further along the road are the Wild Goat Park and Red Deer Range, where visitors can feed the animals (bring plenty of carrots!) and perhaps spot more local wildlife like buzzards and peregrine falcons, and Clatteringshaws Loch and Visitors Centre. A picturesque setting in the heart of Galloway, Clatteringshaws is, in fact, a reservoir, created by damming the River Dee. The Visitors Centre is a great place for a coffee and light lunch, to soak up the breathtaking surroundings and find out more about the Dark Sky project ongoing in the area since 2009, and the first of its kind in the UK. With very few people living within the 300 square miles of forest, the Park has some of the darkest skies in the World. Even with the naked eye, over 7000 stars and planets are visible, as well as the Milky Way itself.
Just 7 miles down the road from Newton Stewart is Wigtown. Officially appointed as Scotland’s National Book Town in 1998, the town is now home to a wide range of book related businesses, including the Old Bank Book Shop, Beltie Books, Readinglasses Book Shop and cafe and the Wigtown Festival Company. An absolute haven for bibliophiles, the very best time to visit Wigtown is during one of two festivals, held annually in May and September. Now over 20 years old, the main 10 day festival is Scotland’s second largest and boasts over 200 events annually, including readings and lectures by famous authors, a children’s literature tent, competitions and stalls. Wigtown itself is a picturesque place, dominated by the French Gothic County Buildings, built in 1862 as the administrative center for the former county of Wigtownshire. They now house a museum which provides a fascinating insight into the history of the town. On the ground floor, for example, are the remains of an 18th century prison cell, open to visitors and known locally as ‘The Martyrs Cell’. The Wigtown Martyrs are well renowned in the area as, despite a last minute reprieve, they were sentenced as Covenanters and executed by drowning in 1685. Buried in the local churchyard, there is also a memorial obelisk on local Windy Hill and a stone stake marking the point where they died. Both sites can be accessed via a short walk. The walk to the Martyrs Stake is well worth it, culminating at Wigtown Bay Local Nature Reserve and wildlife hide.
Just a 5 minute drive from Wigtown is Bladnoch Whisky Distillery. The most southerly of six remaining Lowland distilleries, Bladnoch takes it’s name from the river which flows alongside the distillery and was founded by John and Thomas McClelland in 1817. Independently owned since 2015, the site has undergone substantial renovations and a new visitors center recently opened. Tours and tasting sessions are available however children under the age of 14 are not permitted.
Like many corners of Scotland, Wigtownshire is steeped in history, however the royal burgh of Whithorn holds a special place in the Scottish history books, as the site of the first recorded Christian church in Scotland, Candida Casa, established by St Ninian in 397. Just 17 miles from Wigtown, the importance of Whithorn as a historical site means that archaeological digs are still ongoing. Visitors can view finds, visit dig sites and learn more about Whithorn’s fascinating history at the The Whithorn Trust Visitor Centre before making their own pilgrimage to satellite sites like St Ninians Chapel, on the Isle of Whithorn, St Ninians Cave, at nearby Physgil, or to Kirkmadrine, Whithorn’s sister site, in the nearby Rhins of Galloway. The Isle of Whithorn itself is well worth a visit
The Isle of Whithorn itself is well worth a visit. A pretty harbour village, not really an island at all but a peninsula, has a fantastic award winning pub and microbrewery, The Steam Packet, that serves delicious harbourside fish and chips and exceptional real ales.
There is also now a cafe for lighter bites. Visitors can walk the clifftops in both directions, eastwards passed WW2 pill boxes and on towards Cruggleton Arch, the remains of a 13th castle, or west from Burrowhead as an alternative route to St Ninians cave. The Machars is perhaps the quietest corner of an already overlooked area of Scotland. Holidays here should not be booked with any reserve, but with the anticipation that you have discovered a hidden gem that few others are aware of.