Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland’s fertile southwest corner, has historically attracted only a tiny proportion of the visitors who push north to Edinburgh and the Highlands — but those who do stick around are rewarded by an area rich in history, culture and, crucially, food and drink. In 2002, Castle Douglas, a thriving market town at the heart of the county, branded itself ‘Scotland’s Food Town’. It’s a well-deserved title, given it’s home to more than 50 independent food businesses — pretty impressive for a place of just 4,000 people.
King Street is the heart of the town, with three butchers, four bakeries, and plenty more shops, cafes and restaurants. Find the best scones at Designs Gallery & Cafe. Enter through the gift shop, perusing the books, ceramics and homeware along the way — and if the weather’s playing ball, settle in at one of the outdoor tables in the leafy courtyard.
Just down the road, The Toffee Shop is another top spot in fair weather. Join the queue for fresh dairy ice cream from local outfit Glen Urr Ice Cream; the lemon curd flavour, made to a secret family recipe, is delicious, as are the berry sorbets. On the way out, stop and marvel at the array of old-fashioned sweets: over 300 varieties at last count.
For picnic supplies, head to The Earth’s Crust Bakery, where everything is baked from scratch using organic flour and local eggs, dairy produce and vegetables. The selection varies daily, but you can usually expect generously topped focaccias and delicious quiches. “People had to get used to us,” says co-owner Tom van Rooyen. “We can’t make everything on the menu all the time, it’s always changing. It’s more creative that way and cuts down on waste, too.” The bakery’s pizzas, served on Friday nights, are hugely popular and well worth reserving.
Mr Pook’s Kitchen is the town’s top fine-dining establishment, run by chef Ed Pook. The Dumfries and Galloway coastline is painted above the open kitchen, reminding diners of the culinary diversity of the local landscape. “We want to put Dumfries and Galloway on a plate,” says Ed. The menu fuses classic French gastronomy with modern fermentation techniques and foraged ingredients. Venison, pheasant and Kirkcudbright scallops often appear on the menu, and local lamb is a speciality.
For something a little more casual, Nikos Greek Restaurant is the place to feast on mezze. Try butter beans with peppers, rich beef stifado and creamy dips with crisp pitta for scooping and dunking. Most of the produce is proudly local, with meat, dairy and vegetables all from King Street businesses, and olives and olive oil sourced from owner Nikos’s brother’s vines in Crete.
If all the eating has made you thirsty, pay a visit to Sulwath Brewers. This family-run real ale brewery launched in 1995, when there were only 16 microbreweries in Scotland — today there are around 100. The brewery, named after the Solway Firth (‘Sulwath’ is the ancient name for the estuary), has since added a taproom, and many of the beers — including Criffel, a crisp IPA — are named after local hills. Enjoy a pint in the sunny courtyard or at one of the brewery’s three summer beer festivals, where you can raise a toast to this thriving food town.
Castle Douglas is a 30- to 60-minute bus journey (depending on the route) from Dumfries, which is connected to Glasgow and Carlisle by rail. Ernespie House Hotel, on the edge of town, offers doubles from £95, including a hearty Scottish breakfast.
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