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Published: October 9th 2012
Greyfriars Church in the background
Queen of the South was one of those mythical places - a memory from childhood that only ever came up on the football results on a Saturday afternoon. It was joined by Raith and Albion Rovers. Where was Raith? I could not find them on a map? Of course I learned as I got older - they were in Dumfries, Kirkaldy and Coatbridge respectively, but I never got any closer until 1992. I can remember it vividly. It was the last day of free petrol in my company car. Where should I go? It clearly needed a final test drive. Queen of the South, Dumfries. Dumfries meant no more than a fanzine creatively named A Nightmare on Terregles Street, but would it be one? It turned out to be nothing of the sort.
And so to 2012, it was time to go again. I'd raced past on the A75 many times in the intervening years on business en route to Stranraer and the Seacat to Belfast, but a glorious week in March was the perfect time to see a bit more of Dumfries & Galloway. We stayed overnight in Gretna. It was cheap, but a very nice alternative to a
Travelodge. Sundays nights it seems are quiet and the Monday wedding clearly had few takers. A bride and her mother bucked the trend and proceeded to get slaughtered in the bar. Dutch courage or boredom? The bus tour inhabitants, fresh from their afternoon stop off excursion at the Gretna Outlet shopping venue looked on bewildered. The Hotter shop had taken it's toll on their energy. We pressed on to Dumfries - the Queen of the South. It was apparently a phrase coined after a prospective Member of Parliament used the phrase to describe his constituency. The football club adopted it as a name on formation 1919 and it has been uttered for the last few generations as part of our Saturday afternoon final score heritage.
Dumfries has history. Robbie Burns lived, wrote and died here. He is buried in St Michaels Churchyard. The Rabbie Burns statue dominates the town centre. The other primary landmark is the Dergovlia Bridge, which spans the River Nith. The oldest multi arch bridge in Scotland, linking the Dumfries town centre on the other bank. The banks of the river are now viewed as one, Maxwelltown having succombed to it's eastern neighbour in the late
1920's. The actual Queen of the South nestle in Maxwelltown, having their own nightmare on Terregeles Street. The promised land of rental income from Tesco on the car park is no more. The Dumfries Museum makes an interesting diversion on this bank, although mainly for the Camera Obscura. A what? An angled mirror on a long pole poking up at the top of the tower (like a periscope) projecting images of the outside world onto large flat table below. It doesn't sound very exciting considering that you could look out of the window and see more or less the same thing, but there is a definte magic when you are there. Scotland has three, in Dumfries (the oldest working instrument of its type in the world), Edinburgh and Kirriemuir. Edinburgh claims the best views, Kirriemuir calims the literary connection (being gifted to the town by Peter Pan author J.M. Barrie), but where else can you see Palmerston Park through one! They only started letting the working class in from 1849 and even then it was only on Saturdays, but if you ask them nicely these days all you need is a bit of good weather and £2.30. Camera obscuras now
The oldest surviving multiple arch bridge in Scotland
have no real practical purpose, but then some would say that about playing vinyl is a waste of time if you have an Ipod.
We left town heading West and ended up in a gem of a village called Kippford. Kippford is a sort of yachties haven, best avoided in the likes of Cornwall. It lies on the Urr Estuary. The sun continued to shine, so we settled down on a table outside the Anchor Hotel - purveyors of real ale and a very fine crab sandwich. It was tempting to stay all afternoon and get slaughtered. We left the car and set off on a walk down the estuary towards Rockcliffe, another picture perfect village around which most of the land is National Trust property. The walk went past a hill fort occupied until AD700, the Mote of Mark and the rather splendid Victorian country pile, which now operates as the Barons Craig Hotel
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