Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Day 15 - Scotland South West Coast - Wigtown - The abode of the authors...

In Wigtown (click on name to see on my Google Map), I stayed with Andrew and Debbie Firth of Hillcrest House, a five minute walk from all the bookshops. They bought the regal 1875 Victorian building in 2003, after stumbling upon it while searching for potential properties further north. The couple never planned to live in Wigtown, but for them, and for the town, it ended up a good thing.

Hillcrest House is now well-known locally as one of the better guest houses, where large bedrooms, high sash windows and a capacious lounge and dining room mean that no matter how many guests are around, you always feel like you’re alone in your own home.

My room at Hillcrest House...the view looks over the Solway Firth and the Wigtown Bay Local Nature Reserve, the largest private reserve in Britain.

For the town, Hillcrest supplies a down-to-earth, slightly bohemian atmosphere – the kind that authors with the same qualities would enjoy. And indeed they do. When the Wigtown Book Festival takes place in autumn, Hillcrest is the preferred guest house for well-known English authors like Willie Russell (Educating Rita, Shirley Valentine) and Joanne Harris (Chocolat), who spent a lot of time on the stairwell at Hillcrest chatting to Debbie's cats! "She was just lovely," says Debbie.

Debbie cooks all the meals, using only local produce. Pork from nearby Sunnyside Farm, potatoes, beetroot and other veggies from her back garden, lamb from the saltmarshes and so forth. Meals are Scottish, tasty, wholesome – let Debbie cook you “chicken stuffed with Haggis in a whisky cream sauce”. This sort of dish is the type that won Hillcrest the title of Scotland’s Real Food Award in 2009, an independent competition which is judged partly on the locality of the ingredients.

The Firths like a good chat, and are happy to discuss anything and everything that’s going on in the area...

1) Visit the gardens in southern Scotland. Because of the warm Gulf Stream sea current which eddies in the Irish Sea, the area hosts many gardens which are able to grow exotic – and southern hemisphere – plants. Here are just two of 19 in the area:

Logan Botanic Garden, near the Mull of Galloway – , claimed to be Scotland’s most exotic garden, with groves of eucalypts and a brilliant flower garden that is in bloom all year round.

Dunskey Gardens & Maze, near Portpatrick, comprising a huge greenhouse, as well as a maze in which to get lost.

Go to the Dumfries and Galloway tourism website to see all the others.

2) On the way to Wigtown from England, stop off near Kirkcudbright at the Galloway Wildlife Conservation Park , where about 100 different species – some rare and endangered - are kept. The park is part of the European Endangered Species Programme, meaning breeding is co-ordinated according to strict guidelines.

3) Go to Monreith, to see the area which inspired naturalist Gavin Maxwell to write Ring of Bright Water (which describes how he brought an otter back to Scotland from Iraq in 1960)...and pop in to see the otters at Monreith Animal World nearby.

4) Check out the Mull of Galloway Lighthouse, at the southernmost point of Scotland. During summer you can climb to the top for great views, or spend a night in the lighthouse’s cottage .

5) Go on a dairy farm tour at Cream o’ Galloway, but more importantly, try out their ten different flavours of organic ice-cream.

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