THOUGH Dumfries lies quietly in sleepy south west Scotland it has played host to some crucial characters in our country’s past.

That history is felt in the town centre as you walk past sandstone buildings on cobbled streets, though modern shops offer a splash of the contemporary as well. Dumfries has a bit of everything as it serves as the hub of Dumfries and Galloway, fulfilling its nickname of “Queen of the South.” Ryan Dinsdale picks out his high points.

Historical highlights

Dumfries is an ancient town dating back over 800 years after King William the Lion named it a Royal Burgh in 1186. It flourished as a market town in its early years and served as an inland port. Due to its position on the border though, Dumfries was often a point of contention between the Scottish and English. Several raids took place in the 14th and 15th century that saw Dumfries set alight, taken over, or both.

Scotland’s two most famous Rabs also have history in the town. In 1306, Robert the Bruce held a meeting with his rival for the crown, John “The Red” Comyn. Things got heated and, inside Greyfriars Church, Robert The Bruce murdered Comyn. Just six weeks later he was crowned the King of Scotland.

On a lighter note, Scotland’s National Bard, Robert Burns, lived in Dumfries for the final five years of his life, from 1791 to 1796. He wrote and sang and cemented himself in the town’s history forever.

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What to do

Arriving by train into Dumfries puts you in the perfect position to start a tour of the town. Head west from the station along Lovers’ Walk. Tall sandstone houses line each side of the street, dotted with trees and bushes whose fiery autumn hues are a wonderful sight.

Continuing along the road will reveal some more picturesque buildings. St John’s Church on your left is a small yet impressive structure that dates back to 1862.

Turning left when you reach Edinburgh Road will take you to the town centre. The grand Minerva Building of Dumfries Academy stands on the right-hand side. It was built in 1897 and features a slew of carvings and sculptures to admire, including a statue of the Roman goddess Minerva, after whom the building is named, to represent learning and knowledge. JM Barrie, who later became famous for writing Peter Pan, attended the academy in the late 19th century.

Directly ahead of you now is Dumfries’ most impressive building: The Burgh Church of Dumfries. This is today’s incarnation of the original Greyfriars Church in which Robert the Bruce slayed Comyn back in 1306. It was built in 1868 in a neo-gothic style and stands tall above the rest of town.

The exact location of Comyn’s murder is just across the road, marked by a plaque somewhat unflatteringly inside a Greggs baker.

Also across the road, however, is Burns Statue. The National Bard solidified his poetry prestige with the various works he produced in Dumfries, and the town paid homage to him with this statue in 1877.

Burns’ favourite drinking spot, The Globe Inn, is still in operation as a restaurant and bar just a five-minute walk up the high street.

Various shops can be visited along the way, and Dumfries offers something for everyone. Clothes, books, make-up, or games. Dumfries has a bit of everything.

Marking the centre of the high street is Midsteeple. This was built more than 300 years ago in 1707, originally as Dumfries’ courtroom and prison. Its use is slightly more friendly today though, acting as a tourist information centre.

The Burns trail continues at the other end of the high street, as just a few minutes away, along the aptly named Burns Street, is St Michaels Churchyard and Burns’ final resting place. He died tragically young in 1796 at just 37 years old.

Burns was originally buried in a quiet corner of the graveyard, though many felt this spot didn’t do the Bard justice. A monument was therefore erected and Burns’ remains were moved, and even today the site is worth a visit.

Walking two minutes west along St Michael’s Bridge Road will take you to Dock Park, where a quiet walk can be enjoyed alongside the soothing River Nith. Dock Park also has an enclosed playpark, plus mini golf, bowling, and trampolines for the little ones to enjoy.

Directly across the river you can find Burns’ House: the perfect way to tie up your adventure through time. Burns lived here during his five years in Dumfries while he worked as an exciseman, and today the house acts as a dedicated museum of the national bard. Some of his most famous work was created here, and original manuscripts and personal possessions are all on display.

If you’re able to travel a little outside of the town centre, a beautiful walk can be enjoyed at the Crichton gardens just a five-minute drive away. The gardens feature a wonderful wooded area and rock formations to keep things interesting, and the grand Crichton Church is well worth seeing.

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Where to eat

You’re spoiled for choice with food and drink in Dumfries town centre. If you fancy a quiet coffee, try Kings Coffee and Books on Queensberry Street. First of all, it’s a non-profit charity. It’s also a book shop and a coffee house that serves delicious lunches and sweet treats.

Some recent additions to the town also come recommended. Bena Murray says: “There’s a new restaurant opened in Dumfries called The Bank. It does tapas and cocktails and is really nice. There’s also another new opening called The Back Street. The food is amazing.”

Murran Bell says: “Crumb on both Bank Street and St Michael’s Street is absolutely fantastic and reasonably priced. Service is fast and the staff are extremely welcoming. The drinks menu is extensive and also reasonably priced.”

The Caven Arms on Buccleuch Street is another popular choice. Liam Brook says: “It has a great range of meals including weekly specials which never fail to satisfy the taste buds. The staff are always helpful and make it a very pleasant experience every time.”

Henry Perrie recommends Mrs Howat’s Vintage Pantry. “It’s a quirky wee place with great food and service. It looks a bit like a shed outside but is lovely and cosy inside.” It also recently won Café of the Year from the Dumfries and Galloway Life Awards 2019.

Where to stay

Central: Right next to the train station, and so in walking distance of everything you need in Dumfries, Huntingdon House Hotel looks to be straight from a fairytale. Built in 1863, it's as traditional as some of the sights, yet inside it has been completely redone to suit the 21st century. From £78 a night.

Lively: The White Hart has clean and modern rooms situated right next to the River Nith. It sits above a pub of the same name, presenting the perfect opportunity to enjoy a drink with the locals without having to travel far. From £45 a night.

Serene: Though it’s a little outside of Dumfries, roughly ten minutes by car, the Woodland House Hotel is well worth the extra travel. This magnificent Georgian mansion has high ceilings, fine furnishings, and beautiful views of the surrounding forest. From £65 a night.

What to do nearby

Roughly 20 minutes away, Mabie Forest lets you escape from the modern world with its wonderful walks and hikes. It has something for everyone with routes of different intensities, and for those seeking an additional thrill you can even rent mountain bikes.