July 2014

View of the Stirling valley from the National Wallace Monument

My first trip to Scotland happened in 2003, when I was 22, and it went down like this. My buddy Tim and I sat in the basement of the Great Dane bar in Madison as we neared graduation from college. I’d never been to Europe and I had basically no money to pay for a trip, but we decided to go for it during winter break. I borrowed money from my generous older siblings, packed my things, hopped an Aer Lingus flight to Dublin, and promptly got sick. I struggled through a week in Ireland before flying to Edinburgh. Tim and I hung out for a weekend there before he flew back to the States. He had one more semester. I had graduated and had planned a longer jaunt on my own after he left.

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Dundrennan Abbey

Perhaps it is only fitting that Dundrennan Abbey and its monks labored in the shadows of time far from the scribes of popular history. In fact, Dundrennan Abbey seems to have passed into the collective consciousness only once, when Mary, Queen of Scots spent her last night in Scotland there. The abbey, a handful of miles east of Kirkcudbright near the Solway Firth, was established in 1142 by monks of the Cistercian order, a branch of monasticism founded in Burgundy that eschewed luxury and even comfort in favor of hard physical labor and a life of austerity and god worship.

When I arrived to the abbey on an overcast day… Read more...

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Glenholme Country House in Kirkcudbright

As my journey through southern Scotland continued from Ayrshire through the Galloway Forest Park and down toward the Solway Coast, my Traveling Savage “headquarters” moved to Kirkcudbright and one of the most stylish and elegant accommodations I’ve had the pleasure of visiting: Glenholme Country House. This stately house stands just off the road leading into Kirkcudbright, a small, artistic seaside town that makes an attractive base for exploring the southern reaches of Dumfries & Galloway. When I visited Kirkcudbright eight years ago, I stayed at a farm B&B a ways outside of town. This time around I wanted to be closer to the action at a place more akin to my tastes these days. Read more...

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Cardoness Castle

The Galloway countryside is riddled with old stone fortresses and places of worship that have faded into antiquity. They stand on hills overlooking glens or hidden beneath the eaves of mixed woodland, once part of the natural order of life. These days, tourism has cast great spotlights on such places and wrapped them in parking lots, visitor centers, and exhibitions, and with this packaging the sites have lost a measure of their mystique. The quest becomes to find those sites that have escaped this fate, that languish in anonymity or mis-remembrance, for they do exist out in the wilds of Scotland. Sometimes they are little more than names at the bottom of a list, nominally governed by a charity.

Perhaps Cardoness Castle is the easiest, though not the most extreme, such example to find. Standing just off the A75 south of Gatehouse of Fleet, Cardoness Castle is a well-preserved medieval tower house overlooking Fleet Bay. It’s easy to miss from the main road, and I even drove past it after turning off the A75. When I turned around I wondered how I could have missed it. There it was – bang – looming atop a hill that used to be lapped by the waters of the bay. Read more...

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Glen Trool, Galloway Forest Park

An argument – a good and just one at that – could be made that the whole of Scotland should be a national park, but the reality is that Scotland has only two national parks: Loch Lomond and the Trossachs and the Cairngorms. Both are incredible places of wild and gorgeous beauty, and on my last trip to Scotland I found they do not stand alone in that category.

The region of Dumfries & Galloway in southwest Scotland is anchored by a huge swath of wilderland called the Galloway Forest Park. This innocuously-named span of hills, lochs, and forest broods beneath some of the darkest skies in the country with terrain as raw and beautiful as any in Scotland. Read more...

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