Dumfries Short Break – Top Ten Places to Visit

Although Dumfries is only 25 miles from the England-Scotland border, it is very definitely a Scottish town in appearance and character. Important battles that relate to Scottish independence were fought here and Scotland’s most famous poet, Robert Burns, lived in and is buried in the town.

Sweetheart Abbey
Sweetheart Abbey

Dumfries is dominated by the picturesque River Nith, which flows through the centre of the town on its course to the Solway Firth just 10 miles to the south.

Flooding occurs almost every year. I found that out the hard way a few years ago when I had to quickly remove my car from a riverside car park as flood waters rose rapidly.

There are several interesting heritage sites just a few miles to the south of Dumfries near the Solway Firth. Of particular note to the east of the River Nith is Caerlaverock Castle and to the west Sweetheart Abbey, New Abbey Corn Mill and Arbigland House and Gardens.

I chose my Top Ten Places to Visit based on several trips I have made to Dumfries, with those at Hogmanay being the most enjoyable. I would suggest that at least two days be allowed if all ten places are being visited.

Robert Burns House

Robert Burns' Mausoleum
Robert Burns’ Mausoleum

Not far from the centre of Dumfries is a simple sandstone house where Robert Burns spent the last three years of his life till his death in 1796. It contains original manuscripts and some of Burns personal belongings including his chair and desk in the study.

The graveyard in the nearby St Michael’s church contains Robert Burns’ mausoleum with its white dome structure contrasting sharply with the surrounding large monuments of red sandstone.

Between his house and the church there is a statue to his wife Jean Armour and in the town centre there is a statue of Robbie himself.

Globe Inn and the Robert the Bruce

Dumfries: Robert Burns Mural at the Globe Inn
Robert Burns’ Mural at the Globe Inn

No visit to Dumfries would be complete without visiting the Globe Inn in a narrow lane in the town centre. It was the favourite inn of Robert Burns and contains many memorabilia of the poet.

Not the smartest of public houses in Dumfries, and indeed it appears to have changed little in the last 250 years, with much of the original woodwork, but I find it very atmospheric.

Rather different, to the to the north of the town centre is the Wetherspoons public house, the Robert the Bruce. It occupies a former Methodist church near the site of Greyfriars Monastery, where Sir John Comyn was killed by Robert the Bruce in 1306.

Whilst soaking up the history in the Robert the Bruce, I enjoy having a Caledonian haggis burger washed down with one of the fine local beers.

Dumfries Museum and Camera Obscura

In addition to housing the world’s oldest working camera obscura, Dumfries Museum has a range of exhibits covering archaeology, natural history and Scottish history.

Many of the exhibits are of local origin including those of wildlife in the marshes of the Solway Firth and footprints of prehistoric reptiles. There are also tools and weapons of the region’s earliest inhabitants.

It is worth checking the Dumfries Museum website before visiting as the camera obscura cannot operate in rainy or windy conditions and there are seasonal variations in the museum’s opening times.

Walks by the River Nith and Dock Park

Dumfries: The Weir at Dumfries
Weir on the River Nith in Dumfries Centre 

There are footpaths along both sides of the River Nith with three footbridges across the river.

Devorgilla’s Bridge is the most northerly footbridge. The bridge is named after Lady Devorguilla who had a wooden bridge constructed in 1270. The present stone bridge dates back to 1621, but with major modifications made in 1794 to give the imposing red sandstone bridge that we see today.

Heading south leads past the so-called Children’s Suspension Bridge, erected in 1875 to assist children attending school. The eastern footpath then passes by the Dock Park which has a bandstand, a Peter Pan themed play area and mini-golf. I find this a good place to stop for coffee and snacks.

The final footbridge, about one mile from the first, dates back to 2006 and is named the Kirkpatrick Macmillan Bridge after the local man who invented the bicycle. Nearby is the lower entrance to Castledykes Park.

A further mile down the eastern pathway leads to the historic harbour of Kingholm Quay.

Castledykes Park

Dumfries: Robert the Bruce in Castledykes Park
Robert the Bruce in Castledykes Park

Castledykes Park has 12 acres of landscaped parkland, which includes flower beds in a former quarry and traces of  Dumfries Castle.

The original castle, a hilltop motte and bailey, was built in the 12th Century but was enlarged and rebuilt in stone in 1214. Ownership swapped a few times between England and Scotland until the castle was finally destroyed in the 14th Century.

There are a number of plaques around the park and sandstone blocks and murals commemorating important events in the history of Dumfries. The quarry gardens are dominated by a large statue of Robert the Bruce.

Crichton Estate

Holiday Inn and Memorial Church
Holiday Inn and Memorial Church

The Crichton Estate lower entrance is not far from Castledykes Park. There are about 85 acres of parkland, which includes a large rock garden with flowing stream, an arboretum and rose gardens.

The estate dates back to the mid 19th Century when Elizabeth Crichton set up a mental institution there in an attempt to treat mental health in a more humane way. The imposing red sandstone Memorial Church was built in 1897 to commemorate 50th anniversary of the hospital.

The Holiday Inn within the estate is one of my top Scottish hotels. This is in part because of its position within the parkland estate, but also because of its friendly and efficient staff. If you visit Dumfries, this is definitely the place to stay.

The estate is maintained now by the Crichton Trust and is free to enter throughout the year.

Dumfries & Galloway Aviation Museum

The Dumfries & Galloway Museum is a small independently operated museum dedicated to the history of aviation in the local area. It occupies the former control tower of RAF Dumfries which contains aviation memorabilia and a display of aero engines.

Outside there is a range of interesting aircraft including a Battle of Britain Spitfire, a wartime assault glider and a supersonic Lightning fighter.

There is a small charge made for museum entry. and it should be noted that the museum closes over the winter period.

Caerlaverock Castle

Dumfries: Caerlaverock Castle
Caerlaverock Castle

Caerlaverock Castle is a moated castle with a triangular shape that is unique among British castles.

It was built in the 13th Century to replace a four-sided castle a few hundred metres away and was the stronghold of the Maxwell family until the 17th Century.

The castle underwent several restorations over the centuries including the construction during the 17th Century of a fine domestic dwelling within the walls.

The castle was besieged for the last time in 1640 by the Protestant Covenanter army before being abandoned.

The castle is under the protection of Historic Environment Scotland whose members get free entry, as do members of English Heritage.

Sweetheart Abbey and New Abbey Corn Mill

New Abbey Corn Mill
New Abbey Corn Mill

Sweetheart Abbey, also known as the Abbey of Dulce Cor, was a Cistercian Monastery founded in 1275 in what is now the village of New Abbey, situated four miles as the crow flies directly to the west of Caerlaverock Castle across the River Nith.

The abbey was founded by Lady Devorguilla, mentioned above, in memory of her husband John de Balliol, hence the name Sweetheart Abbey. They also founded Balliol College in Oxford.

The abbey was built in the local red sandstone and totally dominated the area for hundreds of years, but is now in ruins following the Scottish Reformation.

New Abbey Mill is at the other end of the village. The corn mill, which is also known as Monksmill, dates to the late 18th Century, but an earlier mill on the site served the monastery.

Both Sweetheart Abbey and New Abbey Corn Mill are under the protection of Historic Environment Scotland.

Arbigland House and Gardens

Arbigland on the coast of the Solway Firth is a classical-styled house built in 1755 in 24 acres of formal gardens and woodland running down to a beach with views across the firth to the hills of the Lake District. Robert Burns is known to have dined at the house with the poet Helen Craik.

There is a small charge made for entry to the house and gardens. This is reduced if tickets are also bought for entry to the nearby cottage museum commemorating the life of John Paul Jones, the United States’ naval commander. He was born in the cottage in 1747.

POSTED 4th JANUARY 2024 by STEVE HANSON. The photographs were taken by BARBARA HANSON.