Galloway Tourist Route
|Galloway Tourist Route|
|From:||Gretna Green (NY323677)|
|Distance:||96 miles (154.5 km)|
|Meets:||A74(M), A75, A780, A756, A781, A780, A710, A780, A710, A711, A745, A75, A712, A702, A762, A77|
|Old route now:||B721, B724, A75, A780, A756, B725, A781, A780, A711, A745, A713|
The Galloway Tourist Route is a tourist route from the A74(M) at Gretna to Ayr, running across the southern part of Dumfriesshire and eastern Kirkcudbrightshire before heading north into Ayrshire. As such, it only skims the edge of the 'real' Galloway, and certainly does not reach the tourist delights of the area around the Mull of Galloway. However, it is nevertheless a very enjoyable route with much to see along the way.
Gretna - Dumfries
The route begins at Gretna Green, the world famous tourist destination which sits immediately to the north of the western end of the English Border. Gretna's fame grew on a history of marriages for eloping couples which dates back to the 18th century, and continues in a slightly less secretive manner to this day. Aside from the tartan and tweed gift shops, there is a large outlet shopping centre there are some other points of interest to explore in the surrounding area, and the old route of the A74 (now the B7076 passes through some pretty villages as it heads north to Lockerbie.
The tourist route (signed as the GTR to Ayr in this direction) leaves Gretna on the old A75, now the B721 and heads west towards Annan. The villages of Rigg, Eastriggs and Dornock are quickly dispatched before we reach Annan. Along the way, side roads head south to the Solway coast, and the vast mudflats that at low tide seem to stretch all the way to the Cumbrian Coast. A large swathe of land along the coast at Eastriggs is the former military ammunition storage depot, the history of which is told in a museum in the village. Annan itself is a fine old market town, sitting near the mouth of the River Annan. A walkway follows the river inland, and is good way to explore the area, there are also plenty of signed cycle routes to explore.
The route leaves Annan across the Bridge, still on the B721, but soon turns left onto the B724, which takes a meandering route, often alongside the railway, through the gently rolling fields to Dumfries. In truth, this is not the most exciting route, and for those in a hurry, the A75 is probably the more sensible route. However, if you have the time, turn off the B724 at Ruthwell and take the B725 out to Caerlaverock. Here there are extensive nature reserves along the coast, and the fascinating triangular Caerlaverock Castle to explore. The road along the Nith Estuary through Glencaple is also worth taking some time to enjoy.
Whichever route you take, Dumfries is the destination. The largest town by far in the whole of South West Scotland, it is packed with history and also has a fine variety of shops and services to cater for visitors. The riverside is particularly pleasant on a sunny spring day, with parks to relax in, and the old bridge to admire. There are also the scant remains of the former Catholic Cathedral, which burnt down in 1961, with the seat moved to Ayr, and many other fine buildings which have not suffered such a fate to see around the town centre.
Dumfries - New Galloway
A few miles south of Dumfries on the A710 at New Abbey lie the romantic ruins of Sweetheart Abbey, with it's intriguing history. As the A710 continues south, it is never far from the coast with wide beaches and the holiday park at Southerness. This, however, is not the tourist route. Instead, this leaves on the A711 and heads southwest to Dalbeattie, a small town which forms a hub in the local road network. Beyond the town, the route crosses the Urr Water on Buittle Bridge, and immediately turns right onto the A745. This road winds steeply up hill, snaking round cliffs and rocky outcrops before opening up and providing a fast route into Castle Douglas.
The long street of Castle Douglas used to be busy with through traffic, but the bypass has left the town centre for the shoppers and visitors to explore in more relaxing environs. High Street chains jostle with local shops and services, beneath some impressive facades, showing the towns former wealth. To the south, a park stretches down to Carlingwark Loch, whilst the picturesque Threave Castle stands on an island in the River Dee a few miles to the east.
The tourist route leaves Castle Douglas on the A713 and heads northwest into the southern uplands and Galloway Forest. The road picks up the River Dee at Crossmichael, and follows a scenic route often within sight of the river. At times the river seems wide enough to be a loch, and indeed does open up into Loch Ken beyond Parton. The road seems to mirror this, with long wide straights punctuated by more intimate twisty stretches and pretty villages. Holiday parks and watersports centres dot the shoreline, with moorland and forest walks on the other side of the road.
At length, the A713 reaches the junction at Ken Bridge, and it is worth crossing the bridge for a brief pause in the pretty little Royal Burgh (Scotland's smallest) of New Galloway. Consisting of a couple of streets and a scattering of side roads this tiny town is set around what was once an important crossroads on the alternative route between Dumfries and Newton Stewart - now the A712. The development of the A75 to the south has rendered New Galloway as a quiet backwater, but it is none the worse for that.
New Galloway - Ayr
Back over the Ken Bridge, it is just a couple of miles north to St Johns Town of Dalry, another pretty 'wannabe' town, this time set astride the A713 itself. On a sunny spring evening, it is worth seeking out the church which shines like a beacon out over the Dee valley to the west, indeed the whole village glows. Continuing north, the route sticks to the A713 as it winds past Earlstoun and Carsfad Lochs, climbing up onto the moors around Carsphairn. This is a beautiful, desolate area, more akin in scenic splendour to the Highlands than the rest of Galloway]].
Loch Doon can be glimpsed off to the west, and a forest drive runs west from its further shore near Loch Doon Castle. The loch disappears once more, hidden by a low hill, and then suddenly the A713 plunges down into Glen Muck, a narrow and deep chasm carved out of the moorland by the Muck Water. We have now left Galloway behind, and are in Ayrshire, the majesty of the glen short lived, as the landscape opens out to the former mining community of Dalmellington. Sadly, whilst set in some stunning landscapes, this is not a place particularly geared up for tourists, and so it is perhaps best to stick on the bypass and continue north.
The A713 now follows the River Doon as it winds northwest towards Ayr. Villages and towns are strung along the valley, often on the roadside, but it is the destination that is the prize now. Cross the bypass, and follow signs for the seafront, where there is ample parking which is largely free. Ayr is a fine town, with the main shopping centre set on the south side of the River Ayr. To the west, genteel suburbs sit behind the grassy parks that lead to the beach, which is a two mile sweep of golden sand, looking out to the jagged skyline of the Isle of Arran on the horizon. This is journeys end, and there are few better places to end a journey in this part of the world.