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Scotland's beautiful south-west corner


Galloway Forest Park
Castle Douglas
Those looking for Scotland's beautiful wildernesses usually head straight up to the Highlands. In doing so they miss out on the region of Galloway, tucked in the country's south-west corner. Its hills, forests and rivers remain largely uninterrupted by roads or buildings. In fact, after half a day's exploring, you might find you're the only person for miles around.
Much of the area is within the 300 square miles of Galloway Forest Park, where hikers and mountain bikers find themselves with a lifetime's supply of trails and paths to investigate. Along the way are around 250 lochs and over 210 million trees. Animals like deer and wild goats are much, much more common sights than human beings. Mountain bike centres at Glentrool and Kirroughtree offer route guides and bicycle hire, for both experts and beginners. If you're here when night falls, turn your gaze up at the sky for a rare view of the stars. This is one of only two Dark Sky Parks in Europe, where light pollution is kept at an absolute minimum.
Visitors often stay in one of the quiet rural towns that stand on the edges of the forest. A good example is New Galloway, a settlement of little more than single street of pretty, stone houses. Less than a mile to the south is Loch Ken, Galloway's watersports Mecca, where you can get stuck in to a day of waterskiing, windsurfing or wakeboarding. Beginners are welcome; various sports centres provide instructors, and a sheltered bay offers calm waters that help you find your balance. There are also some more relaxing ways to spend time, like angling and birdwatching.
Nine miles south, at the end of Loch Ken, is Castle Douglas. This is Galloway's official "Food Town", where around 50 local businesses dedicate themselves to pleasing your taste buds. You can buy their produce from the shops, or have it cooked for you at one of the many restaurants. Some vendors provide essentials like vegetables and dairy, while others dish out cruel temptation in the form of home-made shortbread or ice cream.
All along Galloway's southern side is a 150-mile stretch of coastline, lined with beaches and hills. One of the biggest coastal towns is Kirkcudbright - a place artists seem unable to stay away from. For centuries they've been coming here, to recreate its views on paper or canvas. A single glance at the harbour's fishing boats, against a background of white buildings and open lawns, is enough to understand why. The busy community of resident artists organises exhibitions, workshops and events, throughout the year. Thanks to them, Kirkcudbright is nicknamed the "Artists' Town".
If you're more into words than images, then a visit to Wigtown is recommended. This is Scotland's National Book Town, and despite its small size there are over a quarter of a million volumes within its borders. Most of these are on sale in the many second-hand bookshops, but the demand is such that some enterprising people have even set up mini-stores in their own homes. Every year, the Wigtown Book Festival gives its attendees an intimate encounter with the UK's best writers.
Right in the very corner of the region is the Mull of Galloway, Scotland's southern-most point. It's marked by a gleaming white lighthouse. On clear days, you can see down to the Isle of Man, and all the way across the sea to Ireland.

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