What entices you to visit an area? Local produce, nature and wildlife, history or fun visitor attractions? If any of these are on your tick list, consider a trip to Dumfries and Galloway. Nature and wildlife abounds.
The red kite feeding station at Bellymack Hill Farm is worth visiting, and if you are a twitcher you will be in bird heaven at the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust centre near Caerlaverock. Wigtown can supply book lovers with hours of page-turning joy and mountain bikers are spoilt for choice with routes to be found as part of the 7Stanes trails at Dalbeattie, Mabie, Kirroughtree and Ae Forest.
We have been keen to explore the region and in particular, Caerlaverock Castle, for some time. A unique triangular fortress, home to the Maxwell family for more than 400 years, the setting, moat and sandstone carvings are breathtaking. It’s a region with something for all tastes, so we are basing ourselves just outside Castle Douglas for a relaxing family break.
We are staying in Larch House, located near the village of Clarebrand, a self-catering gem. It’s a delightful open-plan conversion, with a multi-fuel stove taking centre stage in the spacious living area. Light and airy, it has everything you could desire. There are bathrooms and shower rooms galore and even under floor heating. It’s an ideal base for a family get together, as it sleeps eight. It’s so luxurious I’m finding it hard to believe that it’s eco at all.
Looking out at the front of the house you can see Bengairn. Stewart, the owner, describes the most marvellous panoramic view you can enjoy from the hill’s summit. I’ve fallen for its beauty already as it looks entrancing in glorious sunshine when we arrive, maintaining its allure later when partially shrouded by cloud. Sadly, on this visit I’ve had to make do with admiring it from the comfort of one of Larch House’s large sofas, coffee cup in hand, curled up in front of a warm fire. It’s a tough job. The owners are keen mountain bikers so they’re happy to show you all the best routes and there is a secure area for storing bikes on site. At night our girls have great fun playing with all the board games in the house.
After a hard day’s sightseeing, we make for the kitchen to sample some of the region’s fine produce, bought on our travels. Next morning after a wonderful sleep, we head off to visit our family’s number one must-see attraction, the Cream o’ Galloway ice cream visitor centre. Unpredictable spring weather means we wake up to a smattering of snow covering the surrounding hillside. Our daughter Eve, the eternal optimist, announces, “it’s kind of them to have organised a sprinkling of ice cream to welcome us”.
Although we have been unlucky with the weather, there is plenty to keep the youngsters happy. Smugglers’ Warren is an extensive indoor play area with underground hideaways, though it’s not suited to anyone who is afraid of the dark or has claustrophobic parents.
We even manage to brave the outdoors, exploring a short walking route around Megan’s Lochan. We shelter from the rain in a bird hide, but sadly, not much is moving. The pedal trikes are next on the itinerary and prove to be a great hit with my partner Graham. Our youngest daughter, Hope, could be mistaken for Penelope Pitstop, complete with pink cycle helmet, as she whizzes around the track. We reluctantly return the trikes to their garage and head off for more adventures at the Cra’s Nest viewing tower and playground.
We have a quick race across a wobbly bridge to get back in time for our ice cream tasting tour, a guaranteed family hit. Who doesn’t love tasting ten flavours of ice-cream? There was a surprising range of grown-ups’ flavours, including gingerbread with treacle. Licking our lips, it’s time to head back to Larch House for another quiet night in. However this short break in Dumfries and Galloway has whetted our appetite for a return visit.
Larch House sleeps eight; mountain bikers and dogs are welcome. A week’s stay costs between £510-£720, but shorter breaks are available with a minimum of three nights, www.holidaylettings.co.uk/rentals/castle-douglas/246457
Family tickets for entry to Cream o’ Galloway, plus additional activities including slide, karts and flying fox, costs £35 with the ice cream experience an additional £4.50 per person, www.creamogalloway.co.uk