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Where and what to eat in Dumfries and Galloway

Where and what to eat in Dumfries and Galloway

by Chloë King 04 June 2018

Chloë King travels north to find an area of Scotland brimming with bountiful produce, dedicated artisans and an emerging local food scene.

The mere prospect of a foodie trip to Dumfries and Galloway is, for want of a better word, relaxing. I couldn’t wait to exchange my home of East Sussex and its congested food scene for the wild nature and unpretentious fare of Scotland’s south-western shore.

This region is unspoilt, perhaps because it’s so often bypassed by travellers hurrying to Ireland from Stranraer, or up towards Edinburgh and Scotland’s more famous national parks. To the south, the Lake District absorbs much by way of tourism, evidenced by the tempting farm shop and restaurant at Tebay Services – undoubtedly the UK’s most delicious motorway service station.

The result is, there are few restaurants trying to lure you on a promise and zero over-marketed ‘hot attractions’ or ‘must-visits’. You arrive, and you are free to explore. The crisp, rugged scenery of the Solway Firth coastline and the chocolate-box hues and fairy tale pines of Galloway Forest Park are just unspeakably beautiful. This is picnic country. Time to pack your rucksack with meat pies, bread, cheese and waterproofs, and return home to a warming plate of simply prepared haggis, neeps and tatties.

Food town to be

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Castle Douglas, at the mid-point between Gretna Green and Stranraer, is a perfect base from which to explore. The market town with its own loch, castle and visiting osprey, is within easy reach of breath-taking beach and forest walks. The sign saying ‘Food Town’ as you arrive is somewhat misleading, however. You need to head to Kirkcudbright, Dumfries or Gatehouse of Fleet for the nearest farmers’ markets.

That said, Castle Douglas locals are quick to tell me they are under no illusion. There is much that can be done to improve access to the region’s wonderful produce, but King Street shows signs this is already changing – not least with the arrival of Mr Pook’s Kitchen.

Mr Pook’s is the baby of Chris Bain and head chef Ed Pook, who, I have on word, is ‘a magician in the kitchen’. The restaurant occupies the former Clydesdale Bank and sets out to provide a taste of the region, using foraged ingredients and local suppliers including Ferry Fish, Galloway Wild Foods and Salad Brew greens. I visit just before the launch and it’s clear Mr Pook’s already has lots of support following Ed’s successful pop-ups.

A mainstay of the town is Grierson Bros butcher, a member of the esteemed Q Guild of Butchers. I speak to fourth-generation butcher Tom Grierson, and the smell of freshly-cooked pies wafts out as he introduces his huge range of homemade haggis, savouries and locally-sourced meats. By Tom’s admission, ‘you have to keep pushing forward to meet the demands of the modern customer,’ and so you can find almost any meat product you desire here. The region has lots to offer in terms of its quality meat, including the esteemed Barlochan Highland Beef and Annanwater grass-fed hogget.

Breaking bread

Another pearl of King Street is the microbrewery Sulwath Brewers, from which you can expect a good range of natural beers. Around the corner, The Earth’s Crust artisan bakery is a fab find. Husband and wife team Tom and Pavlina van Rooyen started as a mobile bakery in nearby Laurieston in 2012 and were finalists in the 2017 BBC Food & Farming Awards. Today, the bakery is modern and homely, rough and ready. You can choose from an ambitious range of sourdough breads, cakes and pastries including a deliciously rich and sturdy Borodinsky rye with coriander.

The unassuming unit comprising a small grocery store, open kitchen and café is clearly a magnet for the area’s foodies. At the counter, I bump into award-winning cheesemaker Barry Graham of nearby Loch Arthur Creamery in Beeswing. Loch Arthur is a Camphill Community and social enterprise that has been providing meaningful work and accommodation for its residents and volunteers for decades. The people there produce great cheeses, breads and crafts and the space they occupy – comprising an organic and biodynamic farm, creamery, bakery, butchery, garden, farm shop and café – is a superb place to visit.

Another destination farm is Cream O’Galloway, a longstanding organic dairy known for its exceptional raw cheese and ice cream. It is a brilliant place for families to visit, with an adventure playground to surpass most expectations as well as nature walks, farm tours and, of course, a café and ice cream parlour. The Cranachan flavour, based on the traditional Scottish dessert, with raspberry, oat, honey and whisky, is really special.

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Raising a glass

There’s perhaps no bigger hint that the area’s food scene is livening than the recent arrival of two of the region’s three distilleries. Firstly, there’s the reopening of Annandale Distillery in Annan, one of the oldest in Scotland that has been out of production for ninety-nine years. The first release Annandale peated and unpeated single malts, Man O’Swords and Man O’Words, will be available for the first time in June 2018.

Then there’s the Crafty Distillery in Newton Stewart, which launched last year to recognition in the Scottish Gin Awards. The Crafty Distillery has a classy base offering guided tours and a special day-long ‘Gin Escape’. Eleven botanicals including local noble fir needles and Bladderwrack seaweed help to create the bright Hills & Harbour Gin, named after the area’s unforgettable landscape.

Fish and chips

The shifting sands and white shell beaches at Kippford, also known as the Solway Riviera, are spectacular in every weather. Take heed of tides if you fancy walking to Rough Island in the distance. I’m told lives have been lost here, along with a whole tractor devoured by the sand during a foolish attempt at passage.

You may prefer to take the circular walking route to Rockcliffe before returning to The Anchor for a bowl of chowder and an unbeatable view. To my mind, a trip to Scotland is nothing without a bowl of chowder (or Cullen Skink, depending on geography) and any warming combination of fresh fish, potato, alliums and cream is hard to dislike.

Ask anyone around here where’s good to eat and they’ll likely point you in the direction of Polar Bites fish and chip shop in Kirkcudbright. Polar Bites comprises a comfy café, takeaway and adjoining wet fish shop, and come dinnertime a queue often trails out of the door. A generous bowl of local queenie scallops fried in breadcrumbs and served with chips will set you back little more than £8.

The big flavour of this area unarguably comes from the smokeries that work with fresh fish from the Solway, meat and game. The more established of these is Galloway Smokehouse which you can visit along the A75 artery road. Barony Country Foods is near Lockerbie, and the third, Marrbury Smokehouse, has a shop and bistro at Carsluith Castle. Run by husband and wife team Vincent and Ruby Marr, Marrbury Smokehouse is highly regarded for its smoked Kirkcudbright scallops and wild Cree smoked salmon, caught in their own nets to traditional methods.

If you’re tempted to bring some pure Scots flavour home, it must be a packet of smoked fish and a jar of thick, dark, heather honey from Galloway Honey Farm. Perfect to stir into your morning porridge at home, reminding you instantly of warm red cheeks and windswept adventures.

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