Dumfries and Galloway-a whistle-stop tour

Actually no whistles were involved. In fact not many trains were. But from the train through dirty semi opaque double plastic we look at the Lake District-sheep look frozenly resigned or dead, the Lake District Mountains are so soaring and glorious that they seem fake.

Then a car ride from Dumfries. Dumfries with its turrets and troughs, its pinnacles and desolation. Home to Robbie Burns, wife cheater and poet.  Crumbling yet beautiful, well some of it is. It is recession beaten yet grandiose-closed shops line the ancient high street from which Robbie’s statue looms over. Gothic architecture melds with red brick and utilisation and I feel sorry for the tourists but I hope they go outwards to where all is beautiful. The backdrop looks photo shopped, a set from Narnia, snowy mountains reach forever and the sea glistens faintly and oh so coldly.

And onto Castle Douglas-Islington in the back of beyond.

It is labelled The Food Town. Guardian award stickers are on the doors of delis, which are next to ships selling antiquated nighties ‘with 10% off-short time only.’ I would rather die than wear the nighties in the window. Thermal quilting, nylon and lace are not a good combination. Even in Scotland. They do not appear safe next to a naked flame. I suspect that they would be safe next to any man. Unless the sparks rubbed off. I wonder how much long the short time only is. It all looks rather dusty. That could just be the asbestos from the faded quilted ruby red dressing gown though.

Next door is a portal into organic halloumi, an enormous selection of olives, fennel flavoured crackers and chilli and lemon flavoured everything. I suspect people do not shop at both shops.  A sign outside says ‘New-Slush! As we skid in the grey snow and ice. A newsagent is surprised and confused when asked if he sold Orange mobile vouchers but nearby a shop happily thrives selling occult lite. Wind chimes and nice smelling fake spells and silver necklaces. A charity shop is open selling nighties from the nightie shop but more faded and with the faint suspicion that someone has died in them.

So many pubs have To Let signs; the paper is full of fights yet so many olives are plumply poshly for sale. At under a hundred grand, is a huge beautiful old building in the centre of the high street  -The pub I wanted to buy last time I was here –it has been sold, closed and is for sale again. Possibly cheaper than the sundried tomato stuffed olives.

The high street thrums with accents-posh women with capes and radio four voices walk next to women shouting at their kids in impenetrable (to these southern ears) Scottish accents. Castle Douglas is simplicity and beauty. There is a high street, which sells things. There are streets which run alongside it which are just houses, often of the one story croft variety. There is a huge park leading to a loch. There is an enormous Tesco’s for those who can’t afford the olives and then there is the seemingly untouched land surrounding it reaching into all directions until the enclosing mountains.

Kirkcudbright. This is not an unbiased review. I want to live here. It is the artist’s town as apposed to the food town of Castle Douglas. It is a higgledy-piggledy old town and harbour with a castle, a good castle looming up in the centre, a higgledy piggeldy museum, and little art galleries by the score and huge pasties for 60p. It is all I have ever wanted (cheap heavy cheese and onion pasties that turn a paper bag translucent and glistening within seconds)

It is vaguely famous for being a centre of the arts, (little galleries line the streets) and also for being where The Wicker Man was filmed. I gaze with suspicion at the little side streets in case an animal mask suddenly appears and try to keep my English accent to myself.

The Swimming Pool Charity Shop has displays in its window according to current events. The excellent Wickerman Festival is held nearby and around the time, the display is all tie-dye, hippie and rock, faded denims and headscarves on its ancient mannequins. On Scottish days of importance, the varying shades and lines of unloved tartan can make your eyes steam.  I have come here several times and seen bag pipers in the Town Square, cheerleaders and crowds of hundreds, possibly thousands. The sea lies nearby, the mountains still soar, house prices are affordable but there are few jobs since the dairy closed and there are no trains. One day, though, one day I will live here. If they’ll have me. It quite frankly pisses on every overpriced overcrowded Devonian village where tourists flock to eat yellow congealing scones and cream for four quid and try to ignore the industrial estates. I’m from Devon. I should know. A pasty for under four quid is Nirvana in my book. One for under a quid means I would live anywhere and the magical setting comes as a bonus.

Stranraer-It’s scary. We have travelled down an icy road for miles and miles from Kirkcudbright. It is Christmas day. The view is clichédly beautiful, frosted silver glittering trees, the white calm sea, and the mountains topped white like a Christmas pudding. The few cars skid and slide on the shiny iced deadly road. I think it will be a lovely place to die. Then Stranraer-an isolated yet international port by the sea. It’s hey day is over, grand houses lie desolate yet glorious overlooking the huge ferries to Belfast. The highs and the lows, little hippy fisherman cottage painted in bright pastel colours, bedecked in wind chimes, a one house Toblemory next to a shop which has in its window a grand display of cheap tinned goods so reverently displayed its as if they are gold, frankincense and myrrh.

It’s like stepping back in time.  The cold is so cold it hurts, proper physically hurts. The harbour is slightly frozen over. The sea is frozen and no one bats an eyelid here on the edge of the world. A few pubs are open and the occasional man (its always a man) walks or sways past. No one says hello or merry Christmas.

The Mace shop is open and I get my christmas lunch, some beefy Monster Munch and try to eat them with my frosty gloves delving into the packet and making it all mush. It could be beautiful here. So many shops are boarded up, even Internatiale, the cheapest chain store known to humanity. There are cracked and boarded up windows, cracked windscreens on old cars with flat tires and it’s cold, so cold. But there are tea shops (closed but to be fair it is Christmas day) and lovely cared for houses next to broken houses where people might be hiding within or could just have been simply abandoned and forgotten-its hard to tell and all my concentration is in trying to stay upright in the ice and snow.

I think there is a real community here, a hardened no nonsense community who would not spend four quid on a punnet of olives. I wish them well and respect them. I cannot see Stranrear ever being gentrified. It maybe once was as I look at the crumbling Miss Havershams houses on the hill but I think I shall leave and not beautify it. I think that Stranrear would prefer it that way somehow.

2 Responses to “Dumfries and Galloway-a whistle-stop tour”

Leave a Reply