A guide to the South West Coastal 300 Route
Like so many others, we had been aching to hit the road. We dreamed of Scotland, with its beaches, remote castles and stunning views, but without the crowds. The southwest might not have the big-hitting sights, but what it does have is a wide-open rural landscape with incredible history and wildlife. The South West Coastal 300 is a soothing, slow, meandering drive and needs as much time as you can give it – we had just five days, which turned out to be not nearly enough.
My husband and I hired our Campervan in Edinburgh and joined the route in Ayr on our June road trip.
- Day 1: Ayr, Alloway and Culzean Castle
- Day 2: Portpatrick, Logan Botanic Garden and Mull of Galloway
- Day 3: Isle of Whithorn, Whithorn and Wigtown
- Day 4: Galloway Forest National Park and Kirkcudbright
- Day 5: Kippford, Rockcliffe and Dumfries
Day 1: Ayr, Alloway and Culzean Castle
After picking up our van and swinging by the shops to load up our fridge, we headed south via Glasgow to join the route. Our first destination was Ayr Beach, where we parked on the esplanade and contemplated the beach as the wind whipped up the sand. We’d heard rumours that this is “Scotland’s Margate” so perhaps the town merited further exploration, but first impressions pushed us on to the leafy suburbs of Alloway. Here, at the Birthplace of Robert Burns, there’s a cluster of National Trust Burns sights. We especially loved Brig o’Doon (the cobblestone bridge made famous in the Tam o’Shanter poem of 1790) and the atmospheric Alloway Auld Kirk where an inscription by Burns on his father’s tombstone reads “The dauntless heart that fear’d no human pride”. Touristy, yes, but a charming introduction to Scotland’s National Bard (with an in-depth museum for aficionados). Our final stop of the day was Culzean Castle & Country Park. We skipped the castle and explored the clifftop country park and its sandy beach: be prepared for walking and you’ll love it.
Where we stayed overnight: The Walled Garden Touring Park.
What we’ll do differently next time: I’d have liked to have visited Dunure Beach. We were sad to hear that the Scottish Dark Sky Observatory (in the north of Galloway Forest Park) was destroyed by fire and hope that in time they can rebuild and reopen.
Day 2: Portpatrick, Logan Botanic Garden and Mull of Galloway
Today was a long drive, but an absolute stunner. We set off from the inland campsite and re-joined the coastal route at the seaside town of Girvan, where Robin braved a dip in the churning grey sea, with the perfect granite mound of Ailsa Craig beyond. We continued through south Ayrshire on a road that hugged the coast and as the day brightened we drove through Lendalfoot, which looked almost Nordic with its community of painted wooden houses, to a scenic picnic spot at Varyag Monument. Further on reached the hammerhead shaped peninsula of the Rhins of Galloway: our aim was the Mull of Galloway, Scotland’s most Southerly point. It didn’t disappoint. Craggy, windswept and with a stunning view of birds sweeping over a tidal whirlpool, there’s also a clifftop café (though the exhibition and tower tours of the lighthouse are closed for the time being). We retraced the only road north and stopped at Logan Botanic Garden, a wonderful surprise, where the floral-scented air thrummed with bees and insects, before visiting Portpatrick, a handsome town that’s developed around its quayside (great pubs!).
Where we stayed overnight: North Rhinns Camping.
What we’ll do differently next time: A boat trip from Girvan to see the seabirds on Ailsa Craig. Consider an extra night at the New England Bay Caravan Club Site close to the Mull of Galloway.
Day 3: Isle of Whithorn, Whithorn and Wigtown
On today’s drive we threaded through a patchwork of fields before reaching the Solway Firth. First, a bracing dip on a pebble beach beyond Auchenmalg at Luce Bay – just a peaceful unmarked spot dotted with a few well-spaced motorhomes, then St Ninian’s Cave on Port Castle Bay, reached via shady a woodland path. We then visited the historic village of Isle of Whithorn for a cuppa, and the Whithorn Trust with its visitor centre, priory ruins, reconstructed roundhouse and museum. Twenty more minutes on the road and we reached Wigtown, Scotland’s book town and well worth a half day or longer to explore. We bought books at one of the many independent book shops and stocked up on a few supplies.
Where we stayed overnight: Solway View Camping and Caravan Site.
What we’ll do differently next time: Far longer at Luce Bay, a true remote paradise.
Day 4: Galloway Forest National Park and Kirkcudbright
Today was all about the largest forest in Scotland, Galloway Forest Park. We doubled back on ourselves slightly and rolled up to Kirroughtree Visitor Centre where our first encounter was with a red squirrel. Robin hired a hardtail mountain bike at the 7Stanes trailhead and tackled an undulating 10km route, while I ambled into the cool, silent forest on foot. We also visited Clatteringshaws Loch and drove the Raiders’ Road Forest Drive: Not as scenic as we hoped because of logging along the roadside, but well worth it for the Fairy Pools and the still waters of Loch Stroan with Red Kites gliding overhead.
Where we stayed overnight: Solway View Camping and Caravan Site.
What we would do differently next time: We drove through the brightly painted town of Kircudbright (pronounced Kir-coo-bree), which has a beautiful location on the River Dee. Known as the “Artist’s Town”, it would have been fab to spend a full day there (great fish and chips at Polarbites, so we were told, and a farmers’ market on the last Sunday of each month).
Day 5: Kippford, Rockcliffe and Dumfries
Our final day and we were gutted to leave our campsite, which had been blissful. No more blazing sunsets at ten at night and dark skies lit by thousands of stars. There’s a vast choice of “Solway Riviera” villages and beaches to visit and we chose Kippford, a well-to-do village on a sleepy inlet – we parked by the small yacht club and strolled past beaches and woods to Rockcliffe. Driving on towards Dumfries, we stopped to admire Sweetheart Abbey, though the ruins are closed to visitors right now.
Where we stayed overnight: Home! We returned our campervan (empty of rubbish, grey water and chemical toilet waste) and leapt on our pre-booked train south… all the way to Kent.
What we would do differently next time: I would have loved time to explore Sandyhills Beach and Powillimount Beach, as well as Caerlaverock Castle close to Dumfries. Halfway back to Edinburgh there’s also Grey Mares Tail Nature Reserve with its 60m waterfall. Next time.
Written By Rachel Mills
Rachel is an expert in sustainable tourism in Britain, Canada, India and New Zealand and an ex senior editor at Rough Guides.
She likes to write and edit articles and books celebrating travel, nature and people and recent articles include features in the Telegraph, the Independent and Rough Guides.
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