Southern Scotland Trip Recap

by Keith Savage · 5 comments

Trig Point at the top of Traprain Law

Whew! That was a whirlwind of a trip. Now I’m back home in the States with roughly a year’s worth of stories and information to share with you. I had positive impressions of southern Scotland based on the single time I traveled through the region many years ago, but I admit to being surprised at just how much I enjoyed this oft-overlooked region. In far too many peoples’ minds southern Scotland is simply “not the Highlands,” but that is a massive disservice to the area and to yourself – you could be having a great time here.

So yes, the trip was great and I’ve got loads of material from my 3+ weeks on the road, but the best part of the trip was making connections with business owners, interested parties, and kind souls across the breadth of southern Scotland. I received such a warm welcome from many of the people running the accommodations I stayed at, places like Alton Albany Farm B&B, the Three Glens, Traprain Cottage B&B, Roulotte Retreat, Whitehouse Country House, and Powis House. More information about these places and others will be coming down the road.

Hopefully you’ve had a chance to read my impressions from the road about Dumfries & Galloway, the Scottish Borders, and the Kingdom of Fife. Those posts collected whatever ideas percolated in my mind while I was on the road. Today’s post serves as a brief recap of my trip to let you know what went right, what could have been better, and to inform your own trip planning in the south of Scotland. Putting together the perfect trip is a process, and even after all my trips to Scotland I’m still refining how I plan.

I needed more time in Dumfries & Galloway. I planned five nights in Dumfries & Galloway and, while I was able to explore much of the area, I left feeling there was a lot more to discover. Granted, I was sick for a couple days with some bug I picked up in the bacteria frenzy that is the inside of a passenger plane, but even had I been completely healthy I’m not sure five nights would have been enough. That could be the explorer/researcher in me talking and not the traveler, but take a look at the map – Dumfries & Galloway is a massive swath of land. As a traveler, you pick your spots, but you can only rely so much on specific sites and activities to determine how much time you allot. There will be countless places you find through serendipitous exploration that demand your time. Make sure you build in buffer or down-time days and don’t be surprised when you aren’t buffering or down. I quite liked the areas around Moniaive, Glentrool and the Galloway Forest Park, and even Kirkcudbright.

The Scottish Borders deserve more than a daytrip. This type of visit to the Borders happens frequently, but I can’t imagine how a daytrip would be in any way satisfying for such a beautiful, historically-rich region. A solid three nights for the average traveler seems like a good idea. I’ve written about certain places in Scotland that have an imperceptible “magic” about them, and the Eildon Hills by Melrose are in that company. Go up to Scott’s View at sunset and tell me you don’t feel it. Between Melrose, Kelso, St. Boswells, and Jedburgh, there are many great little towns to explore (when it comes to Galashiels and Selkirk I recommend spending your time elsewhere).

Fife’s East Neuk is larger than it appears. It’s true that you can drive from one end of Fife’s East Neuk to the other in just over 20 minutes, but you’ll pass through five villages along the way, each with its own harbor and sites and micro-culture. You can’t see the East Neuk in a day. I only scratched the surface with three nights. I recommend at least five nights and a solid week wouldn’t be out of the question.

You can drive farther than you think in a day. In the midst of planning my trip I had slotted Fife in after some time in East Lothian. As my plans adjusted and I locked in accommodations, I wound up going back to the Borders for one night before heading on to Fife. It seemed like a big drive from the Borders to Fife, and so I built in one night in Stirling as a stopping point. It was a logistical snafu. I could have easily driven the rest of the way to Crail. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy my night in Stirling – in fact it kindled a new interest in me – but a single night doesn’t offer much depth for the traveler who likes to get beneath the surface of a place.

Edinburgh is still my favorite city in the world. I spent the last four (sorry, five) nights of my trip in Edinburgh, and it wasn’t until just before I left on the trip that I asked myself what I planned on doing there. I’ve spent a lot of time in Edinburgh over the last ten years and the city feels like a second home at this point. I didn’t have a long list of new things to do, I just wanted to go back to Auld Reekie. Everything turned out fine as I revisited my favorite haunts, ate at some great new places, went to the Beltane Fire Festival, and happily realized that Edinburgh is still my favorite city in this weird world.

Another trip in the books, another swath of Scotland researched and explored. Get ready for a cascade of articles about wonderful southern Scotland!

PreetiNo Gravatar May 29, 2014 at 4:34 AM

I was recently in Dumfries, and I must say that I had to laugh at your comment about it being ‘simply “not the highlands”‘. Of course, a brief overnight in a charming hotel in Dumfries was not enough to change that thought process yet – though my mind remains open to the possibilities – mostly because I had just spent a week in the highlands and islands.

Edinburgh is beautiful and the East Neuk villages, particularly Elie, hold a soft spot in my heart. Glad to find others that appreciate them 🙂

Keith SavageNo Gravatar May 29, 2014 at 10:43 AM

To be fair, I mentioned “not the highlands” as the predominant thought when it came to southern Scotland and then showed that being there really changed my mind about the south. The north and south are different, but less so than I remembered.

KenNo Gravatar May 8, 2014 at 12:15 PM


Pam WoodsNo Gravatar May 7, 2014 at 1:21 PM

Hi Keith, will await reading the cascade of articles with interest and glad you had such a great trip (bar that bug). You may also be interested that there will be a new Brandt travel guide to Dumfries and Galloway in 2015, currently being researched – see @slowbritainDG or same on FB. Haste ye back, Pam Woods (@Gallwwwanders)

Keith SavageNo Gravatar May 8, 2014 at 9:05 AM

Hi Pam, thanks for the note about that travel guide. Sounds interesting! I imagine it won’t be long before I’m back in Dumfries & Galloway 🙂

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