One will be amazed by the sheer amount of medieval historic sites in Dumfries and Galloway. The countryside is dotted with the ruins of tower houses belonging to different clans whose rivalries would play out in these magnificent stone structures. Caerlaverock Castle especially is a pre-industrial era Scottish wonder, that should be explored by anyone who is visiting the county.
Besides its rich medieval legacy, the county is also home to an ancient 4,000 year old stone circle and magnificent estates.
Here are 10 of the best historic sites in Dumfries and Galloway.
First built in the late-13th century on the site of previous fortifications, Caerlaverock Castle has a long and fascinating history and still bares the wounds of many of its battles. Standing strong on the Scottish border, the castle is in many ways a symbol of the divisions that for so many years tore England and Scotland apart. Due to its strategic location, Caerlaverock was often central to the on-going rivalry and warfare which took place between the two crowns.
Today Caerlaverock Castle stands in the centre of picturesque countryside classed as a ‘National Scenic Area’, meaning it is protected and celebrated for its natural beauty. A trip to Caerlaverock Castle itself offers a lesson in siege warfare and there are many interesting reconstructions of medieval siege engines; exciting educational tools that instantly transport visitors to the battlefield.
2. Sweetheart Abbey
The 13th century abbey was allegedly built as an act of grief and love by Lady Dervorguilla of Galloway towards her deceased husband Lord John Balliol. During the Scottish Wars of Independence, English King Edward I himself visited and stayed in the site. Like many other religious complexes on the British Isles, Sweetheart Abbey started its decline following the arrival of Protestantism in the mid-16th century.
These days the abbey stands as a stunning ruin in the village of New Abbey. The site can be easily explored for free.
3. Drumlanrig Castle
The massive Drumlanrig Castle, home of the Douglas Family, is affectionately known as the ‘Pink Palace’. The 17th century red sandstone building is one of the most magnificent examples of renaissance architecture in Scotland. The main house is the home of an impressive collection of paintings, with the centrepiece being Rembrandt’s ‘An Old Woman Reading’.
Drumlanrig Castle is open to the public who can explore the splendour of this truly amazing estate. The grounds are covered with 40 acres of different types of gardens, making it an ideal place for relaxation.
4. Logan Botanic Garden
Located on the windswept Rhins of Galloway peninsular, this might seem like an unusual place for a botanical garden, yet the mild climate provided by the North Atlantic drift allows a diversity of plants to grow here that would not survive elsewhere in Scotland. Established in 1869, and part of the Edinburgh Botanical Gardens since 1969, this is a truly hidden treasure for budding horticulturists and historians alike.
5. Threave Castle
Constructed in the late 14th century for the Black Douglases, one of the rival dynasties of Clan Douglas, this dramatic ruin was briefly home to Princess Margaret, daughter of King Robert III. Later given to the Lords Maxwell, the castle fell into ruin following a siege of the Royalist garrison by Covenantors during the 1640s. Now under the care of Historic Environment Scotland it makes for a picturesque backdrop for a hike or a picnic.
6. Dunskey Castle
Dating from the 12th century, this ruined watchtower makes for a romantic sight, looking out across the sea to Northern Ireland. Used in many films including the 1951 adaptation of Robert Louis Stephenson’s ‘Kidnapped’, its remote setting and restricted access make it an exclusive treat for the few of those determined enough to visit.
7. Cardoness Castle
The fortified former residence of Clan McCulloch was built in the late 15th century. The six story high structure towers above its surroundings. The lower two floors were used for storage, while the upper part comprised the living quarters. The historic tower house has stood empty since the late 17th century and is these days managed by Historic Environment Scotland. Explorers can find the structure south west of the town of Gatehouse of Fleet.
8. Glenluce Abbey
For 400 years Glenluce Abbey was the home of Cistercian monks. Founded in 1192, the complex was dismantled following the arrival of Protestantism in Scotland (in the mid-16th century). The visitor centre close to the ruins displays pottery, floor tiles and other artefacts found from the site. One can find the abbey close to the small village of Glenluce.
9. Torhouse Stone Circle
This ancient site, consisting of 19 granite boulders, was most probably created some 4,000 years ago. It is not known what the original purpose of this stone ring was, though in the 17th century it was recorded as ‘King Gauldus’s Tomb’. Visitors can find the Torhouse Stone Circle close to Wigtown.
10. MacLellan's Castle
Found in the town of Kirkcudbright, MacLellan’s Castle was created by Sir Thomas MacLellan of Bombie in the mid-16th century. Scottish King James VI (the future King of England James I) would visit the tower house in 1587. By the mid 18th century the stone building was abandoned and stood as a ruin until 1912, when it was acquired by the state. The interior architectural features of this lovely tower house are largely still intact.