Kirkcudbright, known as the Artists’ Town, is a pretty place and a delightful community with some famous connections. It has a relaxed and quiet ambiance with plenty to marvel at. Here is our top ten of the best things to do…
1. Take a creative tour
Kirkcudbright (pronounced kir-coo-bree) is known as the Artists’ Town because of its connection with Scottish artists since the late 19th century. It was a favourite haunt of the Glasgow Boys, the famous group of radical young painters.
One of the ‘boys’, Edward Hornel, lived in Kirkcudbright. You can visit his home Broughton House, a smart Georgian townhouse on the high street, where he lived during 1901-1933. Now owned by the National Trust, it houses a precious and vast collection of Hornel’s pictures, artefacts and furniture. Its picturesque gardens are a Japanese paradise inspired by his travels.
Illustrator, artist and member of the Glasgow Girls, Jessie M King also lived in Kirkcudbright and was responsible for setting up an artists’ community. She was a celebrated and influential artist and not just ‘the wife of artist EA Taylor’ as one newspaper described her when she died. Her picturesque house is worth a visit and a picture. Learn more about her at the Tolbooth Arts Centre and Stewartry Museum (see below).
2. See ‘unmissable’ Viking treasure
The Galloway Hoard, a touring exhibition by the National Museums Scotland currently at Kirkcudbright Galleries (once the town hall), runs until July 2022. It’s been described as ‘unmissable’ and we have to agree. The ‘hoard’ is a collection of Viking treasure: gold and silver items that were found buried in the Galloway region unearthed after 1,000 years. This is being hailed as the ‘richest collection of rare and unique Viking-age objects ever found in Britain or Ireland’. Excitingly, the research is only at the starting phase so there’s more to come. And it’s free entry.
The gallery also houses the Kirkcudbright Artists’ Collection, ‘one of Scotland’s Nationally Significant Collections’.
3. Get up close to famous film locations
Cult movie The Wicker Man (the original) was filmed in Dumfries and Galloway mainly in Kirkcudbright. It starred Edward Woodward, Britt Ekland and many Kirkcudbright locals. Diehard fans still flock to this area. If you want to follow in their footsteps, Wicker Man locations include the Greyfriars Scottish Episcopal Church (the film’s opening scene), the High Street Gallery, Kirkcudbright Tolbooth and Harbour Cottage Gallery.
4. Gaze on a historic harbour
Kirkcudbright has a working harbour, the only town on the Solway coast with one, and the beach has miles of unspoilt coastline. Watch out for the catch of the day heading to local restaurants. Your eye – and your camera – will be drawn to the colourful beach huts (sometimes with art displays inside), a tardis (yes really) and a superb bridge.
5. Wander around this gentle place…
The town has a wealth of colourful medieval, Georgian and Victorian buildings with a stunning vista and quirky landmark virtually at every corner. This is a vibrant community with events throughout the year including a food festival, kite event and festival of light.
As you wander about see how many impressive door knockers you can spot. There are many independent shops too. Our favourite is Rhubarb selling gifts and trinkets you didn’t know you wanted.
6. Watch out for some special wildlife
This is the place to see pine martens, red squirrels and red kites. Not far away in Castle Douglas you can join the Galloway Kite Trail, a circular route that takes in some spectacular scenery, a rich habitat of birds, mammals and wildflowers. Red kites were once a rare sight but now after a successful reintroduction scheme can be seen in this part of the world. And it’s here on this specially designed trail that you have a good chance of spotting these stunning creatures.
7. Be wowed by a riches-to-rags castle
Visit MacLellan’s Castle, the remains of a once impressive 16th-century tower house, that was home to a powerful family in Kirkcudbright. Go ‘below stairs’ to see the servants’ quarters and there’s a ‘laird’s lug’, a spy hole in the great hall where it is said Thomas MacLellan could eavesdrop on visitors.
This is a riches-to-rags story which led to the tower’s descent into eventual ruin.
8. Explore a museum or two
Opened in 1893, the Stewartry Museum exhibits an impressive collection of objects about the area with a local history library and photographic archive. It has a lovely old-world charm and presents a fascinating insight into the people and environment here.
The Tolbooth Art Centre was originally built in 1629 as the town jail and magistrate’s court and is one of the oldest occupied buildings here with many of its original features in tact.
9. Taste gin from the dark side…
Visit the Dark Art Distillery, a gin distillery that is situated next to the Galloway Forest Park, the first dark sky park in the UK and Europe. The tour takes in the history of gin and includes a tasting (naturally) of this special craft gin. Learn about the many luxurious spirits produced here and see the custom-built still called Peggy.
10. Head into (virtual) space
Make it your mission to visit the Dark Space Planetarium offering a state-of-the-art dome screen with HD digital projection where you can explore space, a trip to the stars and rocket launches.
When to visit?
There are plenty of events throughout the year. Go for the jazz festival (June), kite festival (September) or the festivals of light and food (both in October). Join the Art and Crafts Trail (July/August), winner of the Epic Award for Scotland and Best Visitor Attraction in Southwest Scotland.
Where to eat?
When you’re suffering art fatigue or achy feet, the Kirkcudbright Galleries café offers respite in a bright space flooded with natural light. There’s a wonderful selection of cakes and snacks on offer. Also try The Belfry for a cheap and cheerful lunch.
What about parking?
There’s free parking and plenty of space all over Kirkcudbright.
How far is it from Moffat?
It’s about an hour’s – very scenic – drive from Queensberry House.
For more inspiration for a grand day out – and also just a short drive from Queensberry House – read our blog here.