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20 free things to do in Southwest Scotland

Planning a trip to Scotland? Your next break shouldn’t cost a fortune. Save your cash and go all out with our insider guide. We have selected our top 20 free things to do in the southwest corner.

1. See stars in truly dark skies

Moffat is the first dark sky town in Europe.

Its community observatory has an enormous telescope with enthusiastic volunteers happy to show you around the darkness.

2. Conquer a Corbett

Hart Fell is a wonderful walk – all 808M of it – and is part of the Southern Uplands with the famous Merlin Trail en route.

We’ll help you find Merlin’s Cave.

3. Take on the Merlin Trail – without the effort

The Moffat Museum, a former bakehouse, has the lowdown on the real story on the real Merlin.

What’s fact and what’s fake?

Find out at the museum.

4. Lap up live music

The Moffat Rammy (pictured above) is a music festival that takes over the town every spring.

Many venues take part and many participants too.

It’s free for anyone from professional musicians to beginners and everyone in between.

Any instrument is welcome too.

Or just come and watch.

5. Go birdwatching at the eagle festival

Moffat is the first eagle town in Scotland with its successful eagle festival taking place in September.

See if you can spot a golden eagle – they’re here.

Did you know… there are more eagles in the South of Scotland than there are in the Highlands?

6. Cheer on a car rally

In June, watch the Moffat Car Rally gear up for its road run to St Mary’s Loch.

A piper usually kicks things off.

7. Marvel at museum in a bridge

The Old Bridge House Museum in Dumfries is right on the River Nith reached by crossing the 15th-century Devorgilla Bridge, one of the oldest in Scotland.

Dating back to 1660, the museum, Dumfries’s oldest house, showcases an everyday home from Victorian times – and includes an early dentist’s surgery.

8. Walk a ‘way’

If you don’t want to tackle the Annandale Way, all 56 miles of it, try an easy section.

Join the Moffat Walking Weekend in autumn for the free (of charge) and easy guided riverside walk.

It’s mainly flat and very pleasant alongside the River Annan.

Plenty of birdwatching opportunities here too.

9. Relax at a loch with a lot

St Mary’s Loch is the place for kayaking, wild swimming, paddle boarding – but also for a gentle walk or simply sitting on a bench to soak up the scenery.

10. Trek up a waterfall

Grab your walking boots for a proper hike up the Grey Mare’s Tail, one of the tallest waterfalls in the UK and a nature reserve with peregrine falcons, sparrow hawk and feral goats.

Loch Skein at the top is irresistible for wild swimming.

11. Discover an antique knitting pattern

The Sanquhar Tolbooth Museum has all you need to know on Scotland’s fascinating knitting traditions and how the 17th-century Sanquhar Pattern is having a renaissance.

Stop for a bite at A’ the Airts Community Arts Centre.

12. Tour the Artists’ Town

Kirkcudbright Galleries is worth the trip for the building alone.

The exhibitions are an added bonus.

Or try The Wicker Man trail of the iconic film’s locations.

13. Gaze at a unique castle

Dating back to the 13th century, Caerlaverock Castle in Dumfries is the only triangular fortress in the UK.

Recognise it?

It’s regularly called on for films.

This impressive monument can be explored on a short walk around the grounds. There’s now a small charge to go in but you can see plenty from the outside.

14. Get up close to the Bard

Scotland’s national poet had such a connection with this area.

The Robert Burns Centre on the banks of the River Nith in Dumfries showcases his life and works including original manuscripts and his belongings.

Why not walk the Burns Trail while you’re in Dumfries?

15. Take off to the Forest of Ae

Ae is the shortest place name in the UK and its forest is a haven for walkers, mountain bikers and wildlife watchers.

See if you can spot a red squirrel.

16. Chill out at a tranquil temple

The first of its kind in the West, the Samye Ling Buddhist Centre stands in a quiet corner of Southern Scotland near the River Esk.

Stroll about the temple and its grounds, and marvel at the splendour and the gold Buddha statues.

17. Dip into the dark side of history

Set in an 18th-century windmill, Dumfries Museum is packed with intriguing and dark historical artefacts, from Robert the Bruce’s cast skull to a ‘secret stones’ room and a collection of eerie dolls.

18. Make for an abbey that’s all heart

Looked after by Historic Environment Scotland and set in the tiny village of New Abbey, this 700-year-old church was founded by Lady Dervorguilla as a loving tribute to her husband.

Delightful tea room next door.

19. Lose yourself in artefacts

The Stewartry Museum in the Artists’ Town of Kirkcudbright is a charming Victorian venue dating back to the 19th century.

It is home to an eclectic mix including works by renowned artists such as Glasgow Girl Jessie M King, cases of stuffed birds and playful dinosaur heads for those of us who like to dress up.

20. Bring in the new year with a bang

Be wowed by Moffat’s seriously spectacular fireworks, the highlight of Hogmanay.

It’s always a blast.

Read more on Moffat, Dumfries and Kirkcudbright.

Ready to book your next break?

Check out our special offers.

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Stargazing in Scotland

Where to find the best spots for stargazing in Scotland

As the winter nights draw in and most of us prepare to snuggle up indoors, stargazers head outside to gaze at the dark skies.

Stargazing is a growing trend and we’re so lucky to have the special dark sky status in Moffat.

Europe’s first dark sky town

Moffat is an officially recognised place for stargazing.

It received its special status from the International Dark Sky Association in 2015 following an extensive plan to tackle the increase in light pollution at night.

The town has replaced its old sodium street lights with cut-off warm white LED street lighting which helps to keep light pollution to a minimum so the stars are visible, often with the naked eye.

Where can you see the Northern Lights?

Scotland is the best place in the UK to see the Northern Lights (aurora borealis).

The darkest spot in Moffat?

It’s in the grounds of the Moffat Distillery, home of Dark Sky Spirits, blenders of whisky.

Read more about the distillery here.

Ideal time to go stargazing

October-March. The stars will be at their most visible on a clear night.

Bring your binoculars and see a whole lot more.

Why is darkness so important?

Astronomers say stargazing is an essential activity.

It’s incredibly calming to watch the night skies.

Just look up and you will feel that you’re in the presence of something extraordinary – a world away from the everyday.

Light pollution affects biodiversity and the welfare of creatures. Humans like all other animals need the dark skies.

See shooting stars

Watch astonishing natural phenomena such as shooting stars, planets and their moons, and imagine how long light has been travelling to get to us.

If you weren’t in the dark, you’d be missing out on all this.

Learn all about the night skies

Visit the Moffat Community Observatory, also home of the Moffat Astronomy Club.

It’s free to everyone (donations welcome).

Join an open evening and let the volunteers guide you straight to the stars and planets – not to mention the dazzling Milky Way.

Even if it’s a cloudy night you’ll enjoy the volunteers’ enthusiasm and expertise – and be impressed by the telescope.

What’s so special about the telescope?

Housed in two log cabins, the observatory contains an incredible 16in Meade f/8 advanced comma free (ACF) on a wifi-compatible equatorial mount.

The 3m diameter observation dome has a focal length of 3251mm with an optical tube which has a superb light-gathering capability – ideal to see objects such as nebulae and supernovas.

The observatory also has cameras to gather data and take astrophotography.

And if you have no knowledge of the dark skies?

Don’t worry. The team offer an introduction to stargazing so no prior knowledge is required.

Join a dark sky walk

A highlight of the annual Moffat Walking Weekend is the dark sky walk.

One includes a visit to the Moffat Community Observatory while another heads up on to Gallow Hill (Moffat Community Woodland).

Dark sky ranger Elizabeth Tindal leads the way to the stars with wonderful tales and mind-blowing facts.

The next Moffat Walking Weekend takes place during the autumn.

Top tips for stargazing

  • Wrap up warm with lots of layers and take a hot drink.
  • Switch off your torch and let your eyes get used to the darkness.
  • Attune your ears to the after-dark noises too.
  • Go with a dark sky ranger or use an app so you can identify what you’re looking at.
  • Avoid a night when the moon is very bright.

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Read more on Moffat’s many attractions here.

Browse Moffat’s independent shops – we have the ultimate guide right here.

Six of the best day trips in Scotland

Our pick of the best day trips in Scotland, all within easy reach of Queensberry House and Moffat, the crossroads of the southwest corner.

Discover quaint and quirky spots across Dumfries and Galloway and the Scottish Borders.

1 Peebles

What to explore

Seek out nature’s finest at Dawyck Botanic Garden (above), part of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh group.

Britain’s oldest and tallest trees are here as well as some excellent specimens from around the world.

Gentle woodland walks guide you round.

Where to eat

Indulge at Cocoa Black, Scotland’s Chocolate Capital, where UK World Chocolate Master Ruth Hinks has created an irresistible café, shop and school with dainty and ornate cakes that are almost – almost – too good to eat.

The Hairy Bikers have been to visit. And so have we – many times.

Where to shop

We love independent shops.

And there are plenty here on Peebles’ delightful high street.

There’s the House of Gaia to satisfy all your senses, an interiors sanctuary of must-have pieces and statement creations at Time & Tide, and then there’s Tiger Lily Gifts with stylish and personalised items.

Where to get your culture fix

Eastgate Theatre has quality drama, film and music, while Breeze Art Gallery is full of covetable pieces.

2 Annan

Where to visit

Take a wee dram (or take one home if you’re the driver) at the historic Annandale Distillery.

Its ancient site has artworks dotted about and the tour is fascinating – even to non-whisky drinkers – where you see the distillery’s gleaming equipment for creating Lowland Single Malts.

Divine café too if you need to stop for lunch or a coffee.

What to discover

A short drive away is the Devil’s Porridge Museum, an award-winning attraction full of artefacts and intriguing finds.

It tells the story of HM Factory Gretna, ‘the greatest munitions factory on earth’ during WW1.

The ‘devil’s porridge’, a term coined by Arthur Conan Doyle, was cordite, an explosive.

Learn how this was instrumental in the young women’s lives who worked with it here during the war and after.

What to watch

The local Lonsdale Cinema hosts National Theatre Live broadcasts – see a London West End show for a fraction of the price.

3 Dumfries

Where to lose yourself: Neverland

Escape to Moat Brae, home of Peter Pan, a spectacular house and dramatic garden right in the centre of Dumfries looking out on to the banks of the River Nith.

JM Barrie found the inspiration to create his world-famous children’s character right here.

Settle down into a wingback armchair and listen to Barrie’s tales while looking out at the garden dotted with, amongst other things, stone crocodiles and even a pirate ship.

Where to visit

Gen up on Scotland’s bard at the compact Robert Burns Centre. Free entry.

Cross one of Scotland’s oldest bridges to get there.

This detailed exhibition is based in an 18th-century watermill on the Nith and tells the story of Burns’s time in the town.

Outside, you may see the resident otter posing for its public.

Where to eat

Dine at Pumpernickel cafe for its fresh and flavourful food, all home-made and vegetarian/vegan.

4 Biggar

Why visit

There are so many reasons to head to this historic town with a quaint medieval layout.

Go book shopping

Delve into Atkinson-Pryce Books, the brilliant and beautiful bookshop that’s packed to the rafters with books you never knew you wanted.

Also for sale are Moffat publisher’s Pocket Mountain guide books. Essential reading for walks in Southwest Scotland.

Join the heritage trail not least for the 450-year-old kirk (church).

Plus the town’s pretty high street is full of independent shops and welcoming cafes. 

Where to get your culture fix

Biggar Museum may be small but there’s much to explore including a Victorian street and shops, and an original telephone exchange.

The actual shop has many unusual gifts and knickknacks. 

Head to the arts festival – Biggar Little Festival – in October.

Where to eat

The Olive Tree Deli has home baking and tasty cakes and also sells fancy cheese and charcuterie.

5 Kirkcudbright – the Artists’ Town

Where to get your art fix

Just about everywhere in Kirkcudbright.

But make Kirkcudbright Galleries your first stop: a stunning building full of natural light and must-see exhibitions.

And Broughton House & Garden, once home of Glasgow Boy Edward Hornel, is a treasure trove of history and art.

Better still, explore the town with an expert guide – Fiona at Kirkcudbright Art Tours – and discover more about this artists’ colony and the creatives who were attracted to it.

Where to eat

The annual food festival is on in October.

Until then eat at Feast café – home cooking with a taste of the Mediterranean using local ingredients.

6 Sanquhar

What to see

The drive to this market town is a sightseeing tour all by itself taking you through Wanlockhead (Scotland’s highest village), Leadhills (famous for its Museum of Lead Mining) and Mennock Pass, a scenic road through the Southern Uplands.

The town is renowned for its antique knitting pattern, which dates back to the 17th century.

Discover all about it at Sanquhar Tolbooth Museum.

Where to eat

A’ the Airts Community Arts Centre offers great home baking plus art and crafts to buy, including items in the Sanquhar Pattern.

And now for something a little bit different…

Go on a peaceful walkabout at nearby Crawick Multiverse.

This is a spectacular and intriguing installation of land art depicting cosmology, science and art, designed by architectural historian Charles Jencks.

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If shopping is your bag, browse Moffat’s independent shops – we have the ultimate guide.

Discover more grand days out in Dumfries and Galloway.

Ready to book your stay at Queensberry House? Check out our special offers.

Read what previous guests have said in our reviews.

Photograph: courtesy of Alan Stones

The Moffat Walking Weekend

Want to avoid the queues at the airport this year?

Enjoy the breathtaking views that only Scotland can offer?

Join us at this unique event: the Moffat Walking Weekend, three days of walks, hikes, strolls and treks.

Gentle or strenuous – it’s up to you.

When?

27-29 September.

What are the walks?

There’s a mixture of hikes and trails to suit all abilities

Start with a walk about town

Stroll about on the historic trail exploring Moffat’s unique architecture and natural heritage.

The walk with the big reveal

Tackle the Silver Jubilee Walk in a hidden corner of Tweedsmuir.

The exhilarating hike

Tick off a Corbett and two Donalds on this walk in the beautiful Scottish Borders.

The views are worth the legwork.

And back by popular demand

The spooky walk

The Dark Tales of Old Moffat tour with the award-winning Mostly Ghostly team returns with their engaging storytelling.

The challenging walks

The strenuous treks across the Devil’s Beef Tub and the Grey Mare’s Tail will attract the hardy walkers.

Our expert guides will show you the way and keep your motivation going.

They love this landscape and can’t wait to show it off to you.

Or take it slow

And there’s the gentle meander by the River Annan for when you want to take things easy.

The birdwatching walk

Go birding with your guide Dave Dick and see if you can spot a golden eagle.

They are here in Moffat – 48 of them at the last count.

And there’s much more wildlife to spot.

Which walk will you choose?

How can you get tickets?

Book your tickets here.

And after the walks?

Return to St Andrew’s Church Hall for a well-earned cuppa and compare notes with your fellow walkers.

Any questions?

Just ask us.

We are on the organising committee so we have the inside track.

Learn more about Moffat here. Browse its independent shops. Or check out the Moffat Spitfire here.

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Photograph: courtesy of Jonathan Cosens Photography

The Moffat Distillery

One of the reasons visitors come to Scotland is for the whisky – it’s the national drink.

And everyone deserves a taste – if they’re over 18 of course!

So we are very excited to announce that Scotland’s food and drink map has an exciting new addition.

And it’s right here in Moffat.

The town’s first legal distillery has finally opened its doors to become a vibrant visitor attraction.

A dram without the drive

You don’t have to travel too far from Queensberry House to get to the latest distillery – you can walk.

Which means you can have a taste or two without having to drive back.

On the way, walk through Moffat’s high street and browse its independent shops and gaze in wonder at the town’s fine heritage all around.

Who is behind the new distillery?

Dark Sky Spirits – named to recognise Moffat’s dark sky status – is an independent producer and boutique blender of scotch whisky.

Its founders Erin and Nick Bullard have been selling blended malts across Dumfries & Galloway and beyond.

They are regulars at the local farmers’ markets, including Moffat.

Claim to fame: Scotland’s only direct wood-fired still

The signature whisky flavour will be created using traditional distilling techniques and modern technology.

Anything else?

And the Moffat Distillery is the smallest whisky producer in Scotland with a visitor centre.

Explore its grounds – and spot the otter!

The distillery is located on the outskirts of Moffat nestled in the hills on a site of 17 acres of land with three water courses – a wonderful green open space and perfect for a gentle wander.

There’s an otter too in its three-acre pond.

Our top tip – and tipple

Try the Auld Special Edition Blended Malt Scotch Whisky – matured in sherry casks for a delicate spicy flavour. Beautiful bottles too.

A great gift whatever the occasion.

Relax and take it all in…

You’ll be able to rest in the cosy café serving hot drinks and light bites.

Linger a while to savour the flavours and soak up the atmosphere.

Plus in time there will be a whisky library if you wanted to brush up on your knowledge.

The best bit… the tasting

There are tours – with tastings naturally – and a well-stocked bar offering whisky from all over Scotland.

Let Nick talk you through the subtleties and the stories of whisky.

The first single malt whisky

Distillation has now begun on that first single malt whisky that will take seven years to mature.

In the meantime, whisky blending will continue here as well as developing other products, including spirts and liqueurs.

Choose your blend then watch it being blended. Unique in the whisky world.

The building is worth the trip alone

We can definitely recommend a tour of the new Moffat Distillery.

The building is a striking space – it was a thrill for us to see it taking shape on an early hard hat tour.

Whether it’s a single malt that has taken seven years to mature or the blended malt scotch – The Moffat – that the producers made their name with, here’s your opportunity to soak up all things whisky.

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When you’ve had your fill of whisky, find out more about Moffat here.

Seek out other unique spots in the town such as the Moffat Spitfire. Read all about it here.