Visit Dumfries and the surrounding villages and stay in bed & breakfast accommodation:
Dumfries, Dumfries and Galloway, which derives its name from Dum Fres, the fort of the Frisians, is the county town of Dumfries and Galloway and the largest burgh in South West Scotland. With its warm red sandstone buildings, particularly pleasing in the glow of sunset, it justifiably wears the proud title “Queen of the South”. Situated near the Scottish border on a route that runs through the pastoral landscape of Nithsdale, linking Carlisle (32 miles) with Kilmarnock (59 miles) and Glasgow (72 miles), it also serves as the gateway to beautiful Galloway and to many unspoilt villages on the shores of the Solway Firth, once the haunt of smugglers and now the delight of those who “mess about in boats”. Dumfries in 1964 earned the distinction of being the first burgh in Scotland to clear all its slums; yet it still retains something of the atmosphere of its colourful past rooted in antiquity. In 1931 an important urn-field found at Palmerston Park, Dumfries, bore witness to a Bronze Age civilization in the area, and evidence of Iron Age crannogs a few miles outside the burgh is found at Friars Carse (6½ miles North West) and Lochmaben (8½ miles North East).
It is in the 12th century that the town emerges into the certain, though dim, light of history. Created a royal burgh by William the Lion in 1186, and granted its oldest known charter by Robert III in 1395, Dumfries figures largely throughout the pages of Scottish history, and its people endured much strife and bloodshed as they rallied to their battle cry “A Loreburne!” (now perpetuated in the burgh motto), as well as in many bloody feuds between local families — the Maxwells, the Johnstones, and the Douglases.
In 1300 Edward I besieged and captured Caerlaverock Castle, an ancient stronghold. It was in Dumfries that Robert Bruce struck the first blow for Scottish independence when, in 1306, on the high altar of the Monastery of Greyfriars, he slew Sir John Comyn (known as the “Red Comyn”), representative of the English king. A plaque in Castle Street marks the site of the famous incident when Bruce ran from the monastery crying, “I doubt I have slain the Comyn” — to which his friend Roger de Kirkpatrick replied, “You doubt! Then I'll mak siccar (sure)”. The capture of Dumfries Castle, of which only traces remain at Castledykes (¾ mile South South West), preserved now as a natural woodland with formal sunken garden below, soon followed. The War of Independence that preceded Bannockburn had begun.
The central point of Dumfries is the Mid-steeple, built by Tobias Bachup of Alloa in 1707 to act as municipal offices, courthouse, and prison, until in 1867 these began to be replaced by shops. This sturdy Scottish structure, without architectural pretensions, has become a landmark to successive generations. Among embellishments on its outer walls are a plan in relief of the town in Robert Burns's day, erected to celebrate the Burns bi-centenary in 1959, and the old Scots ell measurement of 38 inches used by the tradesmen who once plied their trade around the Steeple. This ancient spire has looked down on many historic occasions. It was here that Effie Walker, sister of Helen Walker, immortalized as Jeanie Deans in Sir Walter Scott's The Heart of Midlothian, was condemned for child murder. On its South slope stands the County Hotel, headquarters of Prince Charles Edward Stuart, who held the town to ransom for three days in December 1745. Finding little support for his Jacobite cause, he left the burghers of Dumfries the poorer by £2,000 and 1,000 pairs of shoes for his impoverished Highland troops as well as claiming the Provost as a hostage. “Prince Charlie's Room” is still preserved in Highland decor. A few yards to the South, up a typical Dumfries “close” on the opposite side of High Street, is the Globe Inn, Burns's favourite howff, in which his chair and other relics are on view.
Undoubtedly, however, the most moving scene enacted beneath the Midsteeple's characteristic spire was the funeral of Robert Burns in July 1796. While he was still farming in Ayrshire, Dumfries acknowledged his fame by electing him a burgess in 1781, and in the following year he took up tenancy of the farm Ellisland (6 miles North North East) on the Kilmarnock road. After striving unsuccessfully to wrest a living from its stubborn soil, while at the same time acting as exciseman, he moved to Dumfries in 1791, residing first in Bank Street and later in Mill Street (now Burns Street), where his home, with its many relics and manuscripts, is a place of pilgrimage. Close by Burns Street is St Michael's, the old parish church of Dumfries around which the town first grew, and in the adjoining churchyard is the tomb erected in 1815 to mark his resting-place.
Here one may see a somewhat idealistic sculpture of the poet standing at his plough with Coila, the muse of Scottish poesy, casting her mantle over him. For those who wish to savour the essence of Dumfries's past, a stroll through this old churchyard will be found worthwhile, with its martyrs' monument in memory of the Covenanters who died for their faith, and, most touching of all, the burial-place of the 420 citizens who lost their lives in the dread cholera plague that attacked Dumfries in 1832 and was the means of the town's obtaining a water supply, later commemorated by the erection of the ornamental fountain in High Street. The southerly route past St Michael's leads to Dumfries Infirmary, where, in November 1846, the first ether anaesthetic in Scotland was given by Dr William Fraser, son of a Dumfries surgeon, and to Crichton Royal (1½ miles South South East), a famous mental hospital whose church and gardens give delight to visitors and patients alike.
Returning to the Midsteeple, it is against its background that the burgh re-enacts at a public ceremony held each year on “Guid Nychburns Day” the granting of its charter, the crowning of its queen, and the return of the comet and his horsemen, who have ridden, stobbed, and flogged the burgh marches — an ancient custom initiated before maps existed to pass on from old to young knowledge of the town's boundaries.
At the North end of High Street, where the statue of Robert Burns stands in front of Grey-friars Church, first erected in 1721, the street branches on the left into Castle Street, with its graceful Georgian residences now serving as offices for medical and professional men, and leading to Buccleuch Street, the site of the Municipal Chambers opened in 1932. Here can be seen the “siller gun” presented to the town by James VI in 1617, and also the model of a Viking ship commemorating the presence of many escaping Norwegian soldiers and whalers, who made Dumfries their headquarters during the German occupation of their country in 1940—45. Again branching from Burns's statue, the road to the right, Academy Street, leads to what may be termed the cultural centre of Dumfnes. Here is situated Dumfries Academy, a secondary school of some repute, where Sir J. M. Barrie, the author of Peter Pan, as well as many other distinguished men, received his pre-university education, and behind it, in Irving Street, the garden of Moat Brae Nursing Home, where the characters of Peter and Wendy were first conceived in boyhood days. In Catherine Street, opposite the Academy, is the Ewart Library, headquarters of the Dumfries County Library service, proudly wearing the name of William Ewart, M.P. for Dumfries in 1850, who pioneered the public-library movement in Great Britain. This route leads on the left to Burns's Walk (2 miles), the wooded section of the river bank favoured by the poet, and on the right to Locharbriggs quarries (3 miles North North East).
Returning to Burns's statue, and descending to the riverside by the picturesque Friars Vennel, you reach the most ancient of the five bridges that span the Nith, the 15th century Old Bridge with its six arches (originally nine) erected by Lady Dervorguilla, the wife of John Balliol. Friars Vennel is now enjoying improvement after the manner of Haddington. Below the bridge a characteristic feature is the “Caul”, a weir built to provide power for early 18th century, grain mills that once flanked the West bank and now provide a pleasant spectacle on summer evenings, when fish glide like quicksilver through the shallow waters. The broad expanse leading to the bridge is Whitesands, once an ancient common, the site of horse and hiring fairs in bygone days. From this vantage-point one looks across at Maxwell-town, a small burgh on the West side of the Nith amalgamated with Dumfries in 1929. At one time the haunt of Dumfries criminals, who escaped to the notorious “Brig En'”, as it was called, Maxwelltown is now almost entirely residential, and the major housing schemes of Dumfries Town Council were carried out on its boundaries near the historic ruins of Lincluden College (2 miles North North West), founded in the 12th century and later converted into a Collegiate Church by Archibald, Earl of Douglas. Enshrined within its walls is the tomb of Princess Margaret, daughter of King Robert III, and the building contains some fine examples of stone-carving, particularly the sedilia or seats for the clergy. Maxwelltown also houses Dumfries Burgh Museum (4 miles West), a picturesque windmill, built in 1798 and occupying a commanding site in delightful grounds; it has been developed into a regional museum for Dumfries and Galloway, and contains fine archaeological and natural history material, including Roman altars and early Christian monuments, as well as' a collection of local costume. Its camera obscura, dated 1834, affords visitors some excellent panoramas of the town and its surroundings and is a popular amenity.
Nearby towns: Annan, Castle Douglas, Dalbeattie, Lochmaben, Moffat, Thornhill
Nearby villages: Amisfield Town, Annandale, Auchencairn, Auldgirth, Beeswing, Blackwood, Cargenbridge, Clarencefield, Collin, Dalswinton, Drumpark, Duncow, Dunscore, Glencaple, Hightae, Holywood, Kelton, Kingholm Quay, Kirkconnell, Kirkgunzeon, Kirkton, Locharbriggs, Lochend, Lochfoot, Maxwelltown, Mouswald, New Abbey, Nithsdale, Powfoot, Racks, Shawhead, Templand, Tinwald, Torthorwald
Have you decided to visit Dumfries or the surrounding villages? Please look above for somewhere to stay in:
- a Dumfries bed and breakfast (a Dumfries B&B or Dumfries b and b)
- a Dumfries guesthouse
- a Dumfries hotel (or motel)
- a Dumfries self-catering establishment, or
- other Dumfries accommodation