Arts and culture is alive and kicking here
For a corner of Scotland renowned for its gentler pace of life, the arts and culture scene here is alive and kicking, and it certainly loves its festivals to celebrate this. Let’s start with the Dumfries and Galloway Arts Festival – Scotland’s largest rural multi-artform festival, with at the last count, more than 170 artists performing at 82 events across the region. The festival takes culture to the communities, in large and small venues, urban and rural, and offers a wide range of music, theatre, films, literary and children’s events.
Knockengorroch World Ceilidh is almost in a world of its own, held each May in a remote spot among the Carsphairn hills and attracting a diverse musical line-up plus cabaret, spoken word, comedy and dance.
Eden Festival has been entertaining for a decade now in the beautiful Raehills Meadows, near Moffat, and attracts bigger names from the world of music each year. It hosts 12 stages in June and has earned a reputation as a great family festival.
Kirkcudbright Jazz Festival is a celebration of traditional New Orleans jazz, featuring musicians from across Europe, and has been taking place each June for more than 20 years. Electric Fields commands a strong line-up of dance-orientated acts, held over two days in August in the grounds of 17th-century Drumlanrig Castle. Portpatrick Folk Festival takes place every year during the first week of September, celebrating the genre in the seaside village’s hall and pubs.
If books are your passion, head for Wigtown, recognised as Scotland’s National Book Town as, apparently, at any one time there are a quarter of a million books on sale here. The Wigtown Book Festival celebrates this over 10 days each September, through theatre, music and film as well as books.
For a corner of Scotland renowned for its gentler pace of life, the arts and culture scene here is alive and kicking, and it certainly loves its festivals to celebrate this
Awash with art
Dumfries and Galloway is credited with having more art and craftspeople per square mile than anywhere else in the UK. You can see many of them working behind the scenes at a single festival – The Spring Fling is regarded as Britain’s premier open studios event. Every year between 90-100 professional artists open the doors to their studios on the late May Bank Holiday weekend.
The region is awash with galleries, with a healthy number in the town of Castle Douglas. Gracefield Arts Centre in Dumfries offers a changing programme of contemporary visual art and craft by international, national and local artists, as well as shows from its own extensive collection.
The stunning landscapes of the region have inspired many creative people. Kirkcudbright has established a reputation as the Artists’ Town through playing host to many famous painters and exhibitions over the years. Some of their work is on display at the Tolbooth Arts Centre.
A varied programme of exhibitions, music, theatre and more is offered at the CatStrand arts centre in New Galloway and The Mill on the Fleet, in Gatehouse of Fleet, two of the most popular arts venues in the area. A’ The Airts, in Sanquhar, is a community-based arts centre. It is where the Upper Nithsdale Arts and Crafts Initiative operates from and stages concerts, exhibitions, craft groups and workshops.
Kirkcudbright has established a reputation as the Artists’ Town through playing host to many famous painters and exhibitions over the years
Robert ‘Rabbie’ Burns
We can’t mention culture without paying homage to a man whose life and works has done much to put Dumfries and Galloway on the map. This is “Rabbie” Burns territory. Scotland’s national bard, Robert Burns, spent the last eight years of his life in the region, and was inspired by life in Dumfries and at Ellisland Farm, where he wrote the famous narrative poem Tam O’Shanter. His memory lives on with a passion. Burns Suppers are held across Scotland and much further afield around the poet’s birthday, January 25. Many people still visit his favourite Dumfries haunt, The Globe Inn, and tours are possible if you contact the pub in advance.
The Robert Burns Centre in the town has a permanent exhibition telling the story of Burns, with many original manuscripts and belongings on show. In the evenings, the centre becomes a cinema. Museums are plentiful in Dumfries and Galloway, and you’ll find references to Burns here, too.
But another of the region’s famous sons, John Paul Jones, is celebrated at his birthplace in Kirkbean. Jones is famous in the United States as the ‘Father of the American Navy’. In Britain he is largely remembered as a pirate.
Dumfries Museum traces the region’s history from prehistoric times to present day, and also gives access to its Camera Obscura on the top floor of the windmill tower, installed in 1836 and the oldest of its type in the world. The oldest house in the town is now a museum of everyday life there. The Old Bridge House Museum was built in 1660 into the sandstone Devorgilla Bridge. Nearby Annan Museum is family-friendly and houses a permanent exhibition on the local area, as well as hosting a 4,000-year-old burial urn, mummified crocodiles and a 110-year-old piece of chocolate. Stranraer Museum, inside the historic Old Town Hall, tells the story of Wigtownshire through the ages, including the Victorian era in 3D.
The Stewartry Museum in Kirkcudbright, has on display the Siller Gun, the earliest surviving sports trophy in Britain, while Creetown Heritage Museum covers 150 years of local history and also has a natural history section. At Sanquhar Tolbooth Museum you can learn more about Sanquhar knitting and the miners of Sanquhar and Kirkconnel.
The Robert Burns Centre in the town has a permanent exhibition telling the story of Burns, with many original manuscripts and belongings on show
The region has some excellent theatres, at which live entertainment is regularly featured. The Theatre Royal in Dumfries, built in 1792, is now the oldest working theatre in Scotland, and puts on an impressive arts programme each year, as does the Buccleuch Centre in Langholm, wonderfully situated in the Esk Valley. Castle Kennedy offers open air theatre surrounded by beautiful gardens in the summer, and The Swallow Theatre near Whithorn is Scotland’s smallest theatre, with a 48-seat auditorium. The intimate venue puts on professional theatre, live music, spoken word, comedy and more.
Crawick Multiverse is an arts and visitor attraction, and events venue, which has used landscape art to transform a former open-cast coal mine into an outdoor space for community use, linking the themes of space, astronomy and cosmology.
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