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Dumfries & Galloway

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Learn about this gentle, undiscovered part of south-west Scotland.

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Dumfries & Galloway

  1. 1. SCOTTISH NEWS lDirect flights to Orlando operate from Glasgow via both Thomas Cook and Virgin Atlantic this summer, and there’s a new theme park, Volcano Bay, as seen page 4 of Travel this week. The water park, Universal Orlando’s third venue, spans 28 acres and offers experiences ranging from daring to serene. Visitors can enjoy a multi- directional wave pool with sandy beaches, a peaceful winding river, twisting multi-rider raft rides, and speeding body slides. universalorlando.co.uk lWith daily flights from Edinburgh to Doha, Qatar Airways has launched a stopover package with Qatar Tourism Authority. It offers transit passengers the opportunity to discover Doha with free luxury hotel stays and complimentary transit visas. The unique offer is part of a broader campaign called +Qatar which looks to encourage transit passengers to add Qatar to their itinerary. Passengers book a flight on the qatarairways.com home page, select “multi-city” and choose their hotel once they receive their flight confirmation. lDepart July 15 on a river cruise along the Rhône from Lyons in Provence to Port St Louis on the south coast of France and back on board A-Rosa Stella. Children can visit the bridge, meet the captain, play in the pool, enjoy outdoor games and take part in a jeep safari into the Rhône delta with its black bulls, white horses and flamingos. Ports of call include Lyons, Viviers, Avignon, Arles, Port St Louis, Tournon and back to Lyon. From £3,399 for a family of four including seven nights, breakfast, lunch, dinner and all drinks onboard, return flight from Edinburgh to Lyons for all, transfers and taxes plus a VIP home pick-up service from home to airport (within 50 miles). 0800 440 2797, cosmos.co.uk a photographer’s darkroom 24. The best places to connect with the heavens are Clatteringshaws visitor centre, which overlooks the darkest part of the park, and the panoramic viewing points at either end of the Carrick Forest Drive. lGorgeous gardens. Gardeners in Dumfries and Galloway have it easy. Warmed by the Gulf Stream, they have a climate unrivalled in Scotland for its balmy temperatures and plenty of soft rain. Gardeners make the most of this in exotic Logan Botanic Garden near Stranraer and Threave Garden, Castle Douglas, while the magnificent trees around Drumlanrig Castle, used as a filming location for Outlander, enhance the historic “pink palace”. lArts and crafts. More than 400 artists and craftsmen make Dumfries and DARKSKIESAND D&GHIGHLIGHTS Its unspoilt forests, hills and coastline make Dumfries and Galloway a haven for bikers, walkers and golfers, not to mention star-gazers, writes Scottish travel editor Katie Wood L et’s talk about D&G. No, not Dolce & Gabbana, a far less well-known brand, but good old Dumfries and Galloway, the often overlooked part of southwest Scotland. It’s gentle, nostalgic and ideal for a relaxing break. In a previous life, I had a boyfriend who hailed from these parts and so became acquainted with the region. His family were a farming lot, so I had less to do with Dumfries, more with the beautiful and unspoilt countryside. Up until that point, I scarcely knew Dum and Gal existed, but that introduction was to spark off a love affair that carries on to this day. Eh, that’s only with the region, just to clarify. Essentially rural, with lively towns and villages set in a spectacular combination of coast and countryside, Dumfries and Galloway offers sunny, mild summers, attractive gardens and impressive hotels and restaurants, plus a surprising amount to do if you want to be active outdoors. From stone circles and chambered cairns more than four millennia old, to medieval castles and battlefields, or viewing the Milky Way at the “dark skies” experience, there’s plenty to discover. So, my top reasons to visit? lGreat walking. This region has no less than 1,300 miles of way-marked walking routes. The Galloway Forest Park offers miles of well-marked and graded paths. You can also watch out for red kites and follow in the footsteps of John Buchan’s great fictional hero Richard Hannay in The Thirty-Nine Steps. Buchan used to holiday in Gatehouse of Fleet, so he knew the area well. lExcellent cycling. It’s one of the biggest areas in Europe for national cycling routes, with a National Byway traversing the region. There are also five of the country’s 7Stanes mountain biking centres, at Ae, Mabie, Dalbeattie, Kirroughtree and Glentrool forests. lGood value golf. With 30 courses for all abilities, it’s worth knowing about the Gateway to Golf Pass. This allows you to play three of the region’s golf courses over five consecutive days for just £80, or six rounds for £120. lStar-gazing. More than 7,000 stars and planets are visible with the naked eye from the Galloway Forest Park — the first designated UK dark sky park. It has a sky quality reading of 21-23.6. The scale runs from 0 to 25; Edinburgh would get 8, and Drumlanrig Castle, film set for Outlander Galloway their home, and the region has a strong artistic tradition— nowhere more so than picturesque harbour town of Kirkcudbright on the Solway coast. The light and landscape of this coastal town was the reason for the establishment of an artists’ colony in the early 1900s which became known as the Kirkcudbright school. The town’s most renowned artistic residents included EA Hornel, whose house is now a museum and who introduced several of the Glasgow Boys to the region. There was also the illustrator Jessie M King and her husband EA Taylor and colourist Charles Oppenheimer, with the Faed family hailing from nearby Gatehouse of Fleet. The Wigtown Book festival is another highlight. visitdumfriesandgalloway.co.uk 6 May 28, 2017 The Sunday Times Travel 6 May 28, 2017 The Sunday Times Travel Sango Sands bar. To the west of John O’Groats, a short detour to Dunnet Head is well worth your while — there’s a thrill to be had knowing that as you gaze across the Pentland Firth, you are, at that moment, the most northerly person on mainland Britain. In Fortrose, on the Black Isle, get along to Chanonry Point at low tide for a chance to see the Moray Firth dolphins. Camp sites are plentiful and the cost of a motorhome pitch varies from £17 to £26, including electric hook-up. And there’s also wild camping, which costs nothing. The route is undoubtedly helping fragile rural economies. Last year, the NC500 is credited with boosting tourism by £9m, although, strange as it may seem, some smaller businesses have complained about the influx of visitors. Signage along the route could be improved. A wrong turn in search of a campsite in Achmelvich took us down a narrow country lane unsuited to larger vehicles and required a — rather stressful — nine-point turn to get back on track. But this is a minor niggle. If official surveys are anything to go by, 70% of those who complete the route intend to return. For those who haven’t considered the NC500, put it on your bucket list. Bunk Campers is Scotland’s largest motorhome company, with 60 vehicles available to rent from its base in West Lothian; www.bunkcampers.com. Ever fancied fly-fishing? Contact Roger Dowsett at TroutQuest for a masterclass. Prices from £60 per person, for a half day of instruction on a private loch near Dingwall (based on two people). Guided trout and salmon fishing excursions from £200 per day for two anglers. For more information on the North Coast 500, see the official website, northcoast500.com T here’s a bit of a commotion about the North Coast 500, and not just from the extra traffic rumbling around the Highlands. Since its launch two years ago, a 500-mile coastal tour of Scotland’s remoter parts has been described as one of the world’s best road trips — right up there with the US Route 66 — and it’s now a top “reason to travel”. But does reality match the hype? To find out, we hit the road in a luxury four- berth campervan courtesy of those nice folk at Bunk Campers. There are cheaper ways to enjoy a road trip (we travelled in a Vista Plus model, weekly rental from £507) but compared with camping — well, there’s no comparison. What’s not to like about a heated camper with on-board shower, toilet and cooking facilities? Not to mention zero chance of being washed or blown away in the dead of night. It’s great for the kids, too. Our eight-year-old son Luka had a blast hunting out nifty design features such as the passenger and driver’s seats that swivel 180 degrees to face the dining table. The official start, and end, is at Inverness Castle. Travelling clockwise, as we did, the route heads west to the coastal village of Applecross and from there hugs the coastline north via Ullapool (try the Seafood Shack for superb, unfussy, food), Durness and John O’Groats before winding south to Wick and the Black Isle. The Highlands are famed for their natural beauty, but seeing is believing. The landscape, most notably along Scotland’s west coast, is awe-inspiring and, at times, humbling. The 69-mile stretch between Ullapool and Durness is sheer delight; as the largely single-track road winds its way around rugged mountains, lochs and vast swathes of heathland, it’s hard not to smile at the unfolding natural beauty. Venturing east beyond Tongue and the imposing presence of Ben Loyal, the change in landscape is striking: the denuded, mountainous west coast contrasts sharply with the flatter and fertile plains of the east. The scenery is arguably less dramatic but there are plenty of opportunities to lap up the views across the Pentland Firth as the NC500 heads toward Thurso and John O’Groats. The NC500 is packed with so many cultural, heritage and tourist attractions that you’ll need to be selective, so plan ahead. A trip into Smoo Cave, at Durness, is highly recommended. It’s inexpensive (£5 for adults, £2 for children) and entertaining. Our guide was a local “Indiana Jones” who by day operates tours and excavates the Neolithic site, and at night can be seen pulling pints in the nearby The North Coast 500 is the Route 66 of the Highlands, says Mark Macaskill COASTING ALONG The Kylesku Bridge on the NC500 has great views from a campervan, below WHERETOSTAY If you’re planning to travel the NC500, you can’t beat the flexibility of a campervan — but B&Bs and hotels are bountiful and, if you can afford to step up a gear, check-in to the five-star Torridon Hotel in Wester Ross for a luxurious stopover. This 130-year-old, turreted former hunting lodge is a real gem, nestled against Loch Torridon and surrounded by Munros. With the Highlands as its playground, there’s no shortage of activities at the Torridon, from guided forest walks and archery to mountain biking and kayaking. All equipment is provided. Fine dining can be had in the a la carte restaurant but the Torridon Inn, a stone’s throw from the hotel, offers excellent “pub-style” food. In the evening, relax in the lounge and watch the sunset to the crackle of a roaring fire, and perhaps a wee dram (or two) of the Torridon’s impressive selection of 365 whiskies — one for every day of the year. The Torridon is simply too good to pass by. Rooms can be bagged from £255 to £485 a night, including breakfast. thetorridon.com The Sunday Times May 28, 2017 7 ADVERTISEMENTFEATURE It might surprise you to learn that there are some impressive spas on Scotland’s west coast and islands. Then again it may come as no surprise, given that in the UK more than 35 million Brits spend £5.2billion a year on spa services and treatments. So even though you might be in a remote area, you can still enjoy a sybaritic break, be that on Lewis or Arran. Perhaps the most famous west coast island spa resort is Auchrannie, Arran. Located just one mile from the CalMac ferry terminal in Brodick, this large resort has earned a great reputation for its quality accommodation, restaurants and spa. It actually comprises two 4-star hotels and thirty 5-star self-catering luxury lodges. There are no less than three restaurants, a shop, two leisure clubs with pools, the spa, and for the youngsters there’s an outdoor adventure centre and play barn. Spa products are from Espa and Ishga, both made using organic or wild plants and known for their purity. A day escape package is available from £90, which includes two 25 minute treatments. Auchrannie offers ferry-inclusive breaks so you can treat yourself to a short stay at the resort and enjoy all that the Isle of Arran offers. Over on Lewis is the luxurious 5-star, self-catering establishment of Whitefalls. Its lodges offer the perfect romantic break. With your very own private in-lodge spa, this is a sybaritic break at any time of the year, complete with an infrared sauna and a hot tub with chromatherapy — a sequence of colours to both soothe and stimulate as the mood takes you. Just above the village of Breasclete, by the shores of Loch Roag, these two self-catering lodges are an easy 25 minute drive from Stornoway. Another spa destination is The Isle of Mull Hotel & Spa. Situated close to the CalMac ferry terminal on the south east of the island, the hotel lies on the crescent of Craignure Bay. In addition to a 17-metre swimming pool, there’s a children’s pool, an outdoor hot tub and sauna, and a Rasul mud room. On the mainland, Portavadie, overlooking Loch Fyne In Argyll, is always a popular choice. Among the accommodation are apartments with private saunas, and traditional cottages. There’s also a lovely infinity pool (heated, so go, even in the snow!) and hydro pools to enjoy during your stay. Lastly, Oban Bay Hotel & Spa, set on the edge of the town’s Esplanade, is an ideal base from which to explore Scotland’s west coast. Convenient for the train and ferry terminals, it offers a panoramic view of the bay, the island of Kerrera and the mountains of Mull. The hotel has a steam room, sauna and outdoor hot tub — with views of the bay — and spa treatments are available. While in Oban, also known as the Gateway to the Isles, take a trip to the isles of Lismore, Colonsay, Islay, Coll, Tiree or Mull, all reached by CalMac Ferries — where everyone gets mates rates. THE LAST RESORT IN SPA LUXURY If you like to be pampered, relax...there are plenty of places on Scotland’s west coast EVERYONE GETSMATES RATES WWW.CALMAC.CO.UK

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