Flying the flag for eco-tourism in "overlooked" part of Britain
July 29th, 2015. \\ Culture.

It is a part of Britain that is often overlooked but if you´ve never been to Dumfries and Galloway you don´t know what you are missing.

Travellers usually bypass the region as they head north to cities like Edinburgh , or the Scottish isles and highlands.

That´s a great shame because this relatively small part of the UK, easily accessible via North Sea ferry for people in Belgium and the Netherlands, has an awful lot to offer.

Castles, wildlife, great scenery and bags of outdoor activities… it is everything you think Scotland should be in one small area.

A wonderful base for any visit is ThreeGlens, located just outside the tiny village of Moniaive and a real eco-house in the truest sense of the word.

Owned by the UK´s Green Energy Farmer of the Year (2011), it is packed with environmental-friendly features, including its own wind turbine, ground source and solar thermal heating, this delightful luxury retreat will particularly appeal to anyone who hankers after a bit of peace and quiet.

With two double and two twin bedrooms overlooking the three peaks it is named after, you are more than well looked after by the live-in staff who also provide breakfast and a very hearty dinner.

But, in truth, it is the chance to be up close and personal, albeit briefly, to the amazing range of energy-saving features that really sets the place apart. The statistics alone are impressive - 286 railway sleepers were used for timber frames, 500 tons of stone were collected from local fields to build the walls and 2,000 fleeces were taken from local Blackface sheep for wall insulation.

This splendid hideaway most certainly lives up to the owners´ rather apt motto,“Reduce, Re-use, Recycle and Recover.”

The lovely Buccleuch and Queensberry Arms country hotel,owned by a couple of St Andrew’s university graduates, is in Thornhill, Scotland´s smallest market town. A bracing brunch, including traditional Scottish porridge and fresh made pancakes and served daily ´til noon, at this historic 14-room hotel which reopened three years ago after a tasteful refurbishment, is just the job before you set off exploring the region.

Your first stop should be the nearby Drumlanrig Castle, one of the most iconic attractions locally, which offers entertaining guided tours, a great kids´ playground and walks on its 90,000 acre estate.

The more adventurous might like to try a thrilling water skiing or wake boarding session with the Roddy Clarke, a highly skilled professional skiier, at the marina on the 12-mile long Loch Ken.Available April to October, it is one of less than a handful of places offering such activity in the whole of Scotland. For the kids there are inflatable rides and, relatively new, stand up paddles. All equipment and instruction is provided by the very helpful Roddy and no experience is needed.

After all that activity in the beautiful Galloway hills you will probably have worked up quite a hunger and a great spot to sate an appetite is the Selkirk Arms, a very pleasant 16-room hotel in the scenic fishing village of Kirkcudbright (pronounced kir-coo-bree). Whether it´s pub grub, formal dinner or just a light snack, the aim here is to showcase local products and producers, be they butchers, bakers or chocolatiers. The homely restaurant and bistro are open all year.

One of the many beauties of Dumfries and Galloway is the easy access, quite often via the busy A75, to some terrific attractions, including the excellent Laggan Outdoor Activity Centre which offers a whole range of first class activities, including the UK´s longest Zip wire, Segway riding, dirt skooters and grass sledging – terrific fun for all the family.

Another top place to visit just up the road is the very popular Cream O´Galloway at Gatehouse of Fleet where you can do everything from exploring nature trails and ice cream tasting to taking a farm tour and karting. It attracts visitors from a wide area and, with plenty to keep you entertained, it is easy to see why.

A good place nearby for fine dining is the wonderfully-situated Cally Palace Hotel, part of the four-strong McMillan group of hotels which is located halfway between Dumfries and Stranraer and serves good quality traditional Scottish or British cuisine in its elegant 120-seat restaurant overlooking a top class golf course. Gourmet dinner includes canapés and petits fours.

If you are looking for something particularly unusual to do during any visit to this lovely part of the UK, then look no further than one of the wildlife tours run by Belgian-born Cowan Scott and former countryside ranger Keith Kirk.

Cowan was raised and brought up in Flanders before moving to Scotland, where his parents are from, in 2000.

Cowan and Keith run nocturnal wildlife tours and one top tip before embarking on any such trip is to sample the fantastically fresh fish and chips (or something else from the very varied menu) at Moore´s a few doors away in Castle Douglas, Scotland´s “food town.” Run by Glasgow-born Andrew Moore and his mother Maureen, this 35-year-old family business was a winner in the 2014 National Fish and Chip Awards and rightly prides itself on using only fresh produce from sustainable sources.

A delicious traditional “chippy” supper here, including frites cooked the “Belgian way, is ideal before experiencing a three-hour, night tour, a truly unique experience where, using special high-tech observation equipment, you´ll see all manner of wildlife, including animals as small as rabbits up to 600 metres away, in a totally different light.

Cowan, who lived in Belgium from the age of six until 26 and attended the British School of Brussels, believes these are the only tours of their kind in Scotland and, possibly, Europe. Cowan, who admits to still getting occasionally homesick for Belgium, has featured heavily on TV and local media and his sophisticated thermal imaging devices have even been used to help tackle piracy in Somalia.

This is a superb and innovative way to get out and see for yourself the night time activities of the animal world, accompanied by a couple of real experts.

Dumfries and Galloway is just off the M6 motorway and a comfortable three hour drive from the port of Hull from where you can take a very pleasant overnight P&O Ferries crossing to Zeebrugge.

The P&O Ferries North Sea service Zeebrugge-Hull (and Rotterdam-Hull) is the best (and the most popular) way to travel to the North of England from Benelux. No baggage restrictions, no hassle, the holiday starts on board! Check-in is 90 minutes before departure and on board are a whole range of activities to keep you entertained, plus some very good dining.

Still on a Scottish theme, P&O Ferries services will soon be launching their whisky mini-cruises which are starting again in September (on specific dates): 11 September,2 October, 6 November and 11 December.

A recommended way to round off a visit to the region is at the wonderful Kilnford Barns Farm Shop, just outside Dumfries where the kids can explore nature trails while parents get the chance to stock up on some genuine Scottish produce to transport home. The land has been farmed by the same family for some 300 years but the excellent farm shop is a bit more recent, having opened four years ago and now selling its terrific home reared meat. Don´t leave without trying the marvellous Galloway beef, reputedly the best in the world. You´d be in good company as UK Premier David Cameron even paid a short visit during a recent pre-election trip to Scotland!

It´s always good, especially for those travelling some distance with young children, to break the journey home and a couple of very good visitor attractions en route are Walby Farm Park, at Crosby-on-Eden, a great venue for indoor and outdoor family fun and voted Best UK Farm Park 2015, and also Dino Park where you can discover the giants who roamed the earth 150m years back.

Nestled in the south western corner of Scotland and just an hour´s drive from Glasgow, Carlisle or Prestwick, Dumfries and Galloway has a fascinating history worth exploring, with close connections to Robert Burns and Robert the Bruce.

Boasting unspoilt countryside, stunning coastline, extensive forests, including the magnificent Galloway Forest Park and rugged hill,plus world class mountain biking, this is arguably the least discovered area of Scotland but one that really is worth trying.

P&O´s whisky tours and upcoming game shooting season (August to January), particularly popular with Americans and Arab sheiks, are other good reasons to visit this glorious part of the world while it is also worth bearing in mind that 2015 has been declared the “Year of Food and Drink” in Scotland - just the thing for Belgium, the self-styled foodie capital of the world.

With so many examples of genuine eco-friendliness across the region, it also makes for a great destination for those in search of a spot of “green tourism.”

  • Three Glens House is offering readers a 20% discount on dinner, bed & breakfast packages for stays of two or more nights. Contact Greg Hall directly on gregh3glens@gmail.com. Please quote the code (Reader Discount 20%) in your email enquiry.

Further information via www.visitscotland.com

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Martin Banks is a highly experienced accredited journalist with many years experience of working with the EU institutions. He is an occasional contributor to EU today, writing on a wide variety of issues.

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