Motoring holidays have surged in popularity lately, in part due to the global success of the North Coast 500. Rather than driving to get somewhere, often arriving in a state of stress or frustration it has reintroduced a whole new generation to the delights of going for a drive just for the sake of it. With all the focus on the north of Scotland, the roads in the south have been quieter than ever. Dumfries and Galloway and The Borders have scenery and motoring to rival anywhere, but without the same media coverage the roads remain refreshingly traffic free. Hairpin bends, scenic mountain-passes, forest parks and undulating coastal drives await those who want to explore roads a bit off the beaten track. Here are a few of our favourites.
The Dalveen Pass is like the shy cousin of the much more well-known Beallach Na Ba but is equally as much fun. About half an hour north of Dumfries turn right, on an unassuming narrow road, that bisects the main motorway and take a deep breath. This old, remote road starts with a slow crawl that quickly leaves any sign of civilization behind, staccato left and right bends lead to farmland with long straights, excellent sight lines and a fantastic surface. As a wide valley opens up and the sound of the exhaust echoes off the hillsides, the road reaches its summit at 337 metres. It’s one of the few drives in Scotland that have a definite feel of the alps and the descent to Elvanfoot is fast and open, but still a challenge to be savoured. From here you can re-join the motorway or simply lose yourself on the hundreds of B roads that meander across the countryside. Berryburn would make a fantastic base for exploring. Easy to get to on the main motorway but still quiet and accessible to all the secret and out of the way gems that this part of the world seems to specialise in.
Once voted by the AA as one of the most scenic routes in Britain the drive between Selkirk and Moffat is fabulous in either direction, but can also be enjoyed as part of a longer loop taking in Tweedsmuir and the Talla reservoir. Sights to behold on the way include the Gray Mares Tail and the charmingly named ‘Devil’s Beeftub’. There are so many opportunities and good reasons to stop, this drive may take you a lot longer than you anticipate, but that’s the joy of driving in this part of Scotland. Whether it’s a meditation course or some great vegetarian food at the renowned Samye Ling Tibetan centre or a chance to stock up on Moffat Toffee, you are never far away from something to grab your attention. For the ultimate in attention grabbing places to stay, then turn the car north for a short drive to the Tower of Hallbar and survey the surrounds from the battlements outside your bedroom.
The Borders has a rich history when it comes to motor racing. One of its most famous motorsport events is the Jim Clark Rally, a 3 day event that typically takes place over the May bank holiday weekend. The actual route of the rally can be driven at any time of year, with the majestic road from Kelso to Duns, across the Merse, featuring rolling hills and farmland and making the stunning backdrop. You are literally following in the tyre marks of some of the legends of the sport, with every mile being a little bit of motorsport history. Gateshaw House is a 19th century country house only a short drive from Kelso and is a great place to relax after the intensity of the drive.
For a bit of a change of pace then the Raiders Road in Galloway Forest Park is a slow and steady amble. The gravel surface best lends itself to 4wd vehicles and there is a 20mph speed limit in place, but if you were to go any faster you would be risking not being able to take in the tremendous scenery and plentiful wildlife. The 10 mile drive, which originally was a drove road used by reivers to smuggle stolen cattle, is open to vehicles between April and October. There are various places to stop on the way such as Otter Pool car park, about half way along, which is the perfect riverside picnic spot with plenty of room on the grassy banks to play. Alternatively, stop at Stroan Loch for peaceful waterside views, an old viaduct and the start of the scenic but strenuous Buzzard Trail.
The best place to start your visit is at Clatteringshaws Visitor Centre. It's open year-round and has toilets, a café and souvenirs from here it is less than an hour’s drive to Craigie Knowes on the Solway coast. The coastline here is another undiscovered motoring gem, part of the Solway Coast Heritage Trail, which meanders through picturesque villages, sandy bays and rocky coves, with excellent views across towards Cumbria. Hairpin bends, switchbacks and stretches of single-track road make this a connoisseur’s delight. Add sheltered beaches for a picnic, cream of Galloway Ice Cream and the old fashioned historical charm of this almost forgotten corner of the country, and you have arguably the best day out on 4 wheels to be had in the country.