We thought we’d kick off the blog with our most recent bit of travel (we have quite a backlog to get through!). Funnily enough, this was probably the smallest distance we’ve ever travelled together – a relatively quick trip up the motorway and across the border to Scotland!
With both of us starting work and study projects in the weeks to come, we’d fancied setting up base somewhere quiet and remote for a week, and settled on the oft-forgotten Dumfries and Galloway region. As we were told quite a few times during our 7 days there, this is a part of Scotland that people tend to bypass on their way to the more famous Highlands. What we discovered is that Dumfries and Galloway has scenery to rival anything on offer in England and Wales, with half the number of visitors! It may not have the wild mountainous backdrop of the far North, but we found more than enough hills, forests, lakes and castles to keep us happy for the week.
We set off from our Northern base bright and early, hoping to squeeze a couple of exciting stops in before arriving at our cottage at some point in the middle of the afternoon. Dumfries and Galloway is in the South-West of Scotland, which meant our route would take us directly past Carlisle. Normally, Carlisle would not necessarily warrant a stop-over – but this Saturday was different. Quite by accident, Matt had stumbled across an advert for one of the highlights of the year – Stobart-Fest.
Yes, that’s right. Eddie Stobart trucks have their own festival, and it is free to enter! With it only being a ten minute detour, it seemed rude not to drop in for what proved to be one of the more bizarre experiences of our Summer. We discovered four things at Stobart fest:
- People love Eddie Stobart. Seriously – the event was held at Carlisle Airport, and the entire length of the main runway was used for car parking. And it was full.
- Don’t go to Stobart-Fest unless you are wearing Eddie Stobart merchandise. We felt very, very out of place – which is easier said than done when you’re both wearing jeans and tops from H&M. Most people had at least an Eddie Stobart cap on. A significant number had Eddie Stobart hoodies. Some even had onesies. That’s right – Eddie Stobart onesies.
- The Eddie Stobart drivers are minor celebrities. When we arrived, we saw a giant (at least 15 minutes) queue – the people in this queue were having their photo taken with a man who we didn’t recognise. Matt, in his naivety, got very excited that this might be Eddie Stobart himself. This excitement quickly disappeared as we carried on walking around the festival site and saw multiple queues for different people. It turns out that these drivers are from a reality TV show which follows the Eddie Stobart drivers.
- Whoever is in charge of marketing at Eddie Stobart is a genius. An absolute genius. They’ve turned a haulage company into a cult.
We left Stobart-Fest both amused and confused, and continued on to find a bit of Hadrian’s Wall. It turns out that this is quite easy. We found some wall, but also found heavy rain – so the decision was taken to hope for better weather at the end of our trip and get our dose of Hadrian then.
Shortly after setting off, the border was crossed – a momentous occasion for Lucy, as this was her first time in Scotland! The first town we reached was, of course, Gretna Green – the home of eloping couples and still a popular wedding destination today (we were there for 30 minutes and saw three wedding parties). Disclaimer: we didn’t get married. Lucy got her first taste of bagpipes (quote: “make it stop”), and Matt had great fun setting off all the musical toys in the shop to play ‘Scotland the Brave’ – which he had to look up whilst writing this blog post, and ended up playing on repeat…much to Lucy’s disgust (quote: “my ears are bleeding”). Matt doesn’t know what the fuss is about, and actually quite enjoys it. Ah well.
We departed Gretna Green – next stop, our cottage! Aptly named ‘Dunploddin’, it was an incredibly cute barn conversion nestled at the end of a valley and only accessible via a thirty minute drive down a farm track (which Lucy expertly navigated, despite hundreds of suicidal quails throwing themselves in front of the car). The remoteness of the place might be some people’s idea of hell on earth, but it was exactly what we were looking for after quite a busy summer of travelling. The owners, Kirstie and Andy, were incredibly friendly and welcoming – they told us they’d recently moved up there to escape the ‘rat race’, and we can understand why. We unpacked our stuff, had a short wander down the road, and started planning the rest of the week….
Dunploddin finds itself right on the ‘Southern Upland Way’, which stretches coast to coast along the South of Scotland. Astonishingly, it was actually sunny when we woke up – so we decided to make the most of the good weather and use today to follow the route over the hills and out of the valley to the next village.
It should have been three hours maximum each way – but unfortunately, things don’t always turn out the way you planned! It turns out the ‘Southern Upland Way’ is quite badly signposted to anyone who hasn’t done their research and doesn’t know what they’re looking for. This meant that, when leaving Dunploddin, we knew which direction we wanted to go – but didn’t have a clue which path to take.
We set off, innocently following what we thought looked like a decent track – but it quickly became apparent that we’d gone wrong. Our waterproof boots were tested to their limits as we waded through hidden streams and (for Lucy at least – short person problems) knee high grass. We’d been wandering for well over an hour, and hadn’t really got that far, when we suddenly spotted another sign post far below us near the bottom of the valley. We carefully made our way off the hill, and finally ended up on the actual path! We could still see the cottage, and had we actually found the proper route the first time, it would probably have taken fifteen minutes rather than an hour and a half. Oops.
This navigational error scuppered any plans to walk to the village – we trekked on and over the hill until we could see houses in the distance, but they never got any closer. We sensibly decided to turn round and head back before we lost the light. Food and binge-watching ‘Come Dine with Me’ awaited us – as well as Matt wondering how on earth he’d managed to get quite significant sunburn in Scotland. Pale person problems.
Today was castle day! A forty-minute drive took us to Drumlanrig Castle – a grand 17th century building on a huge estate with very well-maintained gardens. Incredibly, it was sunny again! We instantly took a liking to it – it’s the sort of place that would be absolutely crawling with people if it was in an accessible part of England, but we felt like we had the entire grounds to ourselves.
A suitably decadent picnic was packed – cold pizza leftover from the night before – and we enjoyed wandering around and just experiencing the peacefulness. Our desire for peace and quiet disappeared, however, when we saw the adventure playground – zip wires, giant (and I mean vertigo inducing) slides and oversized swings. And it was deserted, so we could use it all without being judged for being ‘too old’…no such thing!
We enjoyed Drumlanrig Castle so much that we decided we are going to buy it at some point. Give us a few years to save up enough money for the deposit, and then watch this space. Perhaps more realistically, we decided that we would come back at some point in the week with our walking gear and explore some more of the estate – they had some great walking routes that looked like they’d be well worth spending a full day exploring.
Content that we’d be returning to Drumlanrig again, we headed back to Dunploddin via the local town – Thornhill – to replenish our food stocks. Sadly (or luckily), we couldn’t find any Haggis. Hmph. The journey back to Dunploddin’ was once again filled with quails trying their best to get run over, and curious cows and sheep which obviously aren’t as used to humans and cars as their England counterparts.
We continued our growing obsession with ‘Come Dine with Me’ in the evening, before heading to sleep ready for a longer day’s drive to the coast in the morning…