Historic Castles, Cairns and Abbeys in Dumfries and Galloway
Explore the region's rich historical connections; from castles telling a tale of conflict and royalty to medieval abbeys and ancient cairns. As you explore Galloway you'll find clues to some of the most colourful events in Scotland's turbulent history, including bloody battles, blackmail, religious strife and witchcraft. Discover the area's connections with Robert Burns, Robert the Bruce, Mary Queen of Scots and the origins of Christianity in Scotland.
Solway Tours offer a unique five star Visit Scotland service; local historians Mark and Lesley have set up their own successful business personally chauffeuring customers in comfort around our regions Historic sites. Contact them directly in advance of your stay to book your tour.
Historic Scotland offer a Dumfries and Galloway explorer pass which may be of interest if you'd like to visit a few of the Historic Scotland sites in the region, there is a saving and you can book tickets online.
Starting off to the west: Dundrennan Abbey in Dundrennan village, 3 miles west of Orroland.
You can walk to Dundrennan Abbey from the holiday cottages on Orroland estate. It's 3 miles down hill on a quiet country lane to get there ... getting back involves a bit more effort but it's a lovely walk! The abbey is managed by Historic Scotland and open for visitors from 1 April - 30 September, 7 days a week. This is one of three Cistercian abbeys in the region and it was founded by Fergus Lord of Galloway in 1142. There is a small shop with memorabilia, historic guide books and toilet facilities. The Abbey does not have a café on site but the Crown and Anchor tearoom in Dundrennan does offer a tasty selection of treats, drinks and a breakfast/lunch menu. The peace and quiet around the ruins are enchanting; its church and cloister lie in secluded woods below the little village of Dundrennan and together they offer much to appreciate about Gothic architecture in Scotland.
Saint Ninian is considered Scotland's first saint and introduced Christianity to Scotland (Whithorn in Dumfries and Galloway) in 397AD. Whithorn was the earliest Christian settlement in Scotland and has a visitor centre worth a visit to find out more about the saint. Dundrennan was the heart of medieval pre-reformation life but was disbanded along with the great abbeys of England after being active for 400 years.
Queen Mary's last night in Scotland. The abbey's most famous visitor was Mary, Queen of Scots. On 16 May 1568 she stayed the night in the abbey which was her last night on Scottish soil. She then boarded a boat at Port Mary, bound for the Cumberland coast, and never returned.
MacLellan's Castle in Kirkcudbright, 9 miles west of Orroland.
This is an interesting castle to explore, now managed by Historic Scotland and open daily from 1 April - 30 September. In 1582 it was the home of Sir Thomas of Kirkcudbright, a well-respected politician who entertained James VI in this very spacious house.
Internally, the castle is surprisingly complete, save for its roof, fixtures and fittings. The stone-vaulted ground floor has a kitchen and storage cellars complete with model workers that bring the castle to life as it would have been. The great hall on the first floor has a huge fireplace and stone lintel almost 4m long. Look into the left corner of the fireplace for the laird's lug, used to ingeniously eavesdrop and spy on guests in the great hall from a hidden closet behind. If you have children you will find MacLellan's Castle particularly good for hide and seek. The castle provides a stunning backdrop for the Kirkcudbright festivities. There are several good places to eat or grab a coffee nearby, Mulberry's café, The Belfry and The Selkirk Arms to name a few. Many of our guests have mentioned Mulberry's has a super afternoon tea offer with a wonderful array of tempting cakes and hot drinks to choose from. The Stewartry Museum is worth a visit for those interested in more history, it is located in Kirkcudbright opposite the tennis courts and is open all year round.
Cardoness Castle near Gatehouse of Fleet, 17 miles west of Orroland
Cardoness Castle is situated on the top of a large steep hill overlooking Fleet Bay, just outside Gatehouse of Fleet. The castle is managed by Historic Scotland and open daily from 1 April - 30 September. The castle has a reception, shop and toilet facilities. This is a fine example of a Scottish tower house and a very well preserved ruin built in the late 15th century. Within the castle are fine architectural features and detail, including a splendid fireplace and wall-cupboard where the family's silverware would have been displayed. The castle has a steep concrete path approximately 150m long and a series of six flights of steps (they do not all have handrails). Cardoness Castle has five upper levels reached by a narrow stone turnpike staircase, worth the climb for the views from the battlements. At the reception there is a scale model and exhibition to find out more about the castle. Combines well with a visit to Gatehouse of Fleet - perhaps a walk in Cally woods - and the delightful Galloway Lodge for lunch or afternoon tea, a friendly café popular with locals and visitors alike, it also has a gift shop and post office.
Cairn Holy Chambered Cairns along the A75 past Cardoness, 23 miles west of Orroland
Cairn Holy Chambered Cairns are well-preserved Neolithic burial cairns. Situated on a sloping hill overlooking Wigtown bay, a short drive off the A75 near Gatehouse of Fleet (just past Auchenlarie Holiday Park). There is a brown sign post for Cairnholy off the A75. If you fancy a half-mile walk, leave the car beside the A75 at the park just off the turn off. There is a small free car park at the top of the track and a big field with the stones in - no admission fee, gift shop or commercialism and open at any time. You can go right up to the stones and touch them, take in the amazing views looking over to Wigtown Bay and also behind towards the hill top of Cairnsmore of Fleet. We have seen some stunning pictures of the Milky Way taken here. Cairn Holy is within the Galloway Dark Sky Park so the stars on a clear night are very impressive.
The cairns offer atmospheric photo opportunities; they were built around 2000 BC. Both tombs were partially excavated in 1949 and finds from the excavations are now in the National Museum of Scotland. Little in the way of human remains were discovered in the excavations but finds did include some surprising items; a flake of pitchstone that can only have come from the island of Arran, shards of pottery fragments from a decorated bowl of a kind normally found in England and part of a ceremonial axe made of jadeite imported into Britain from the Alps.
To make a day trip here you could have lunch at Marburry Smokehouse at Carsluith Castle, a couple of miles further along the A75. You'll also pass Mossyard Beach to get here.
Carsluith Castle near Newton Stewart is 25 miles west of Orroland
Carsluith Castle is a 16th-century residential tower house. The castle is an eye-catching ruin just off the A75 about 10 minutes drive from Gatehouse of Fleet and open all year round. The main block is a keep of three levels with a fine first floor hall. Carsluith Castle has not been occupied since 1748 but you can still get a feel for how it would have been used. Visitors can enjoy a drink or lunch outside in the grounds of the castle since Marrbury Smokehouse is right next door. Marrbury Smokehouse has a selection of fantastic smoked produce and is also an award-winning bistro worth a visit in its own right. The café and shop close in January, but are normally open 7-days a week mid February - December.
Castle Kennedy in Castle Kennedy near Stranraer is 50 miles west of Orroland
Castle Kennedy was built in 1607 by the 2nd Earl of Stair and accidently burned down in 1716. The ruin sits within one of the most popular gardens to visit in our region - Castle Kennedy and Gardens. Castle Kennedy was never rebuilt following the fire but a new castle, Lochinch Castle, was built nearby. The estate is still owned and managed by the Stair family, the current Earl of Stair lives in Lochinch Castle with his family (it is not open to the public). You can walk around the ruins of Castle Kennedy and enjoy the stunning garden features and estate; perfect for exploring. The gardens are famous for their rhododendrons, introduced by botanist and explorer of the 19th century Sir Joseph Hooker from his Himalayan expedition. A charming tea room serves delicious home baking and light lunches. There is also a gift shop, plant centre, seasonal outdoor children's activities and toilet facilities. Castle Kennedy Gardens are open daily from 1st April - 31st October, 10am - 5pm.
North of Orroland is Threave Castle near Castle Douglas, 15 miles north of Orroland.
Threave Castle on its own island
Views from within Threave Castle
Threave Castle is an impressive tower that sits on its own island in the River Dee, just over 1 mile west of Castle Douglas. It is now a Historic Scotland managed property and open from 1 April - 31 October. It is a peaceful place now but has had a turbulent past and key role in medieval Scotland. Built over 600 years ago, it was the home of the Earls of Douglas.
When you reach the Castle grounds, there is a well maintained path from the car park to the jetty (easy wheeling for child's buggy or wheelchair) from where you take a ride in a little motor boat to get across to the castle. Children love to ring the bell to summon the boat, gallop about the castle grounds and explore. There is a large grassy area with benches ideal for picnics. On the main path there is a viewing platform with a telescope looking out towards an ospreys' nest to round off the experience. Threave Castle is well worth a visit, allow around 2 hours for a look around the Castle and enjoy the paths to and from the car park (you can walk a loop). Combine with a visit to Threave Gardens in Castle Douglas, one of Scotland's top Garden attractions and a popular visitor attraction for all ages.
Drumlanrig Castle near Thornhill is 42 miles north of Orroland
Drumlanrig Castle was built in the 1680s from distinctive pink sandstone and situated on the Queensberry Estate, Thornhill (approx 1 hour from Orroland). It is the Dumfriesshire home of the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch and Queensberry, an example of late 17th century Renaissance architecture. The castle has 120 rooms, 17 turrets and 4 towers! It also houses many rare art collections and family portraits. It is now a popular attraction for visitors to Dumfries and Galloway and has a tearoom and various events and activities through the spring and summer months. Visitors can take a tour inside the castle from April to September. There is still plenty to see and do on the estate from October - March with their walks, cycle routes and mountain biking trails that lead through features that make Drumlanrig so unique. They have two annual events; a Christmas Fair taking place during the first weekend in December and the Galloway Country Fair on the 15th and 16th August 2015.
Drumlanrig Castle and estate has many offerings for children too, including an outdoor adventure playground (Open April - September) and many mountain biking trails open all year round. It also features in our family fun days out page for more information and pictures.
East of Orroland you'll find Orchardton Tower between Auchencairn and Palnackie, 8 miles east of Orroland.
Fireplace feature in Orchardton Tower
You can climb up to the top of the tower
Orchardton Tower is an interesting (almost secret) tower to visit at any time of year. Orchardton Tower is a 15-minute drive from Orroland; there is a brown signpost off the A711 opposite the Castle Douglas turn-off. It was built in 1456 by John Cairns and is Scotland's only circular free-standing tower house. It is a remarkably complete structure with fire place, original staircase and alcoves to explore; a hidden gem in stunning surroundings. The top can be reached via a doorway into the main body of the tower, from where a climb up steep and very narrow steps rewards you with a lovely view from the top. Keep dogs on a lead since there is livestock nearby. It is a lovely and idyllic picnic spot (you can pretend it's your own castle for the afternoon as you are likely to have it all to yourself)!
Sweetheart Abbey in New Abbey, 23 miles east of Orroland
The dramatic Sweetheart Abbey
Abbey Cottage tearoom in New Abbey
New Abbey Cornmill museum
A tale of true love (if a little weird), Sweetheart Abbey has a romantic history set in the small village of New Abbey, 45 minutes drive from Orroland and open all year round. Sweetheart Abbey was founded in 1273 by Lady Dervorguilla in memory of her late husband John Balliol. Following his death, Dervorguilla had his heart embalmed and placed in a silver and ivory casket which she carried with her at all times. When she died in 1289, she was laid to rest in front of the abbey church's high altar, clutching her husband's heart. The monks chose to name the abbey Dulce Cor or ‘Sweetheart’ in honour of her memory. John Balliol was a generous benefactor; during his lifetime he founded Balliol College in Oxford, which Dervorguilla continued to endow after his death.
The splendid remains of Sweetheart Abbey are managed by Historic Scotland, you could combine a visit to New Abbey Cornmill to make a day trip of your visit to New Abbey village. There is a coach and car park with reasonable disabled access and an excellent tea room; Abbey Cottage Tearoom overlooking the graceful ruins.
New Abbey Corn Mill in New Abbey
The corn mill was central to the lives of families in the region and until a century ago, almost every mouthful of food eaten in Scotland passed between millstones. New Abbey Corn Mill offers visitors a wonderful insight into Scottish rural life in years gone by. The Mill is managed by Historic Scotland and open all year round; 7 days a week April - September and 5 days a week (Mon, Tues, Wed, Sat, Sun) October - March. Please check opening times before planning your visit.
The mill is water-powered and has been carefully restored to operate regularly in summer months to demonstrate how oatmeal is produced. The visit includes a short film of how life was when the mill was in use as well as an interactive display for children to enjoy. There are also ducks on the mill pond and a well maintained garden ideal for relaxing in the summer. The mill, still known locally as Monks Mill is complete and just as it was left by the last miller over 50 years ago. It's an interesting and unique place to visit.
Caerlaverock Castle near Dumfries , 25 miles north east of Orroland
The imposing Caerlaverock Castle
Fun to explore inside Caerlaverock Castle
Caerlaverock Castle play area
It is Britain's only triangular castle and one of the most impressive in Scotland; Caerlaverock Castle is the largest and most imposing of the castle ruins to visit and explore in Dumfries and Galloway. Open all year round (please check opening hours before visiting) it features as one of our favourite places to visit, especially for families since there is a good adventure play area as well as an interactive exhibition. There is much to see and discover in and around the castle from hidden coves to beautiful views. Be sure not to miss WWT Caerlaverock Wetland Centre on the castle estate, offering open space and tranquil wildlife watching. There is a tea room at the castle and another in the village of Glencaple on the Caerlaverock Estate where you can also buy home-reared meats and locally smoked salmon.
Historic Scotland properties in Dumfries and Galloway
If you are planning to visit a number of Historic Scotland sites in Dumfries and Galloway you may wish to look into getting an explorer pass, saving up to £8 if you visit all nine sites in the region. Historic Scotland also offers membership to get 'free' entry to all Historic Scotland properties and also 1/2 price entry to English Heritage sites.