Dumfries, Scotland Hotels, Resort Accommodations

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DUMFRIES
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Situated on the wide banks of the River Nith a short distance inland from the Solway Firth, DUMFRIES is by far the largest town in southwest Scotland, with a population of more than thirty thousand. Long known as the "Queen of the South" (as is its football club), the town flourished as a medieval seaport and trading centre, its success attracting the attention of many English armies. The invaders managed to polish off most of the early settlement in 1448, 1536 and again in 1570, but Dumfries survived to prosper with its light industries and port supplying the agricultural hinterland. The town planners of the 1960s badly damaged the town, but enough remains of the warm red sandstone buildings that distinguish Dumfries from other towns in the southwest, to make it worth at least a brief stop. It also acts as a convenient base for exploring the Solway coast, to the east and west, and is second only to Ayr for its associations with Robbie Burns, who spent the last five years of his life here employed as an exciseman.

Dumfries is characterized by its red sandstone buildings, which survive in sufficient quantity to distinguish it from other towns in the southwest. Orientation is easy, with the railway to the east, and the river to the north and west. The pedestrianized High Street runs roughly parallel to the Nith; at its northern end, presiding over a floral roundabout, is the Burns Statue , a sentimental piece of Victorian frippery in white Carrara marble, featuring the great man holding a posy in one hand while the other clutches at his heart. His faithful hound, Luath, lies curled around his feet - though it doesn't look much like a Scots collie (as Luath was). Further down the High Street, Burns' body lay in state at the town's most singular building, the Midsteeple , an appealingly wonky hotchpotch of a building, built in 1707 to fulfil the multiple functions of town prison, clocktower, courthouse and arsenal.

If you're on Burns' trail, make sure you duck down the alleyway to the whitewashed Globe Inn , a little further down the High Street, which was Burns' most famous "howff" (pub). Southeast of the High Street, in Burns Street, stands Burns' House (April-Sept Mon-Sat 10am-5pm, Sun 2-5pm; Oct-March Tues-Sat 10am-1pm & 2-5pm; free), a simple sandstone building where the poet died of rheumatic heart disease in 1796, a few days before the birth of his last son, Maxwell. Inside, along with the usual collection of Burns memorabilia, one of the bedroom windows bears his signature, scratched with his diamond ring. As a member of the Dumfries Volunteers, Burns was given a military funeral, before being buried nearby in a simple grave by St Michael's Church (Mon-Fri 10am-4pm; free), a large red sandstone church, built in 1745. In 1815, Burns was dug up and moved across the graveyard to a purpose-built Mausoleum , a bright white Neoclassical eyesore, which houses a slightly ludicrous statue of Burns being accosted by the Poetic Muse.

From the church, head down to the shallow and fast-running Nith, and cross the pedestrian-only Devorgilla Bridge , a little further upstream, built in 1431 and one of the oldest bridges in Scotland. Attached to its southwestern end is the town's oldest house, built in 1660, now housing the tiny Old Bridge House Museum (April-Sept Mon-Sat 10am-5pm, Sun 2-5pm; free), stuffed full of Victorian domestic bric-a-brac, including a teeth-chattering range of Victorian dental gear. Downstream from the Old Bridge House, an old water mill has been converted into the Robert Burns Centre , or RBC (April-Sept Mon-Sat 10am-8pm, Sun 2-5pm; Oct-March Tues-Sat 10am-1pm & 2-5pm; free), with an optional twenty-minute slide show (£1.50) and a simple exhibition on the poet's years in Dumfries upstairs.

On the hill above the RBC stands the Dumfries Museum (April-Sept Mon-Sat 10am-5pm, Sun 2-5pm; Oct-March Tues-Sat 10am-1pm & 2-5pm; free), from which there are great views over the town. The museum is housed partly in an eighteenth-century windmill, which was converted into the town's observatory in the 1830s, and features a camera obscura on its top floor (April-Sept; £1.50), well worth a visit on a clear day.

  

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