The Solway Firth is the third largest estuary in the UK and is a special conservation area comprised of coastal dunes, grassland and salt marshes.
Review of the Solway Firth
The Solway Firth is rightly regarded as one of the most beautiful areas of Scotland, yet it’s often overlooked by visitors to the country.
Stretching out across both England and Scotland the Solway Firth borders the stunning coastlines of Cumbria and Dumfries & Galloway and reaches out into the Irish Sea to almost touch the Isle of Man.
Most hikers on the English side that are walking the Hadrian’s Wall path tend to ignore the Solway Firth as it’s flat and virtually featureless, while swimmers are urged to stay out of the water due to the fierce tides that tear up and down the estuary.
In a way that’s a good thing because it means those of us in the know get to enjoy the picturesque landscape in peace and quiet, especially if you’re a wildlife watcher looking to explore the sand dunes, salt marshes, peat bogs and raised mires that are teeming with insects and birdlife.
Moving slightly inland, visitors can enjoy a remarkably diverse landscape that encompasses grassland, woodland and rolling fields, and it’s here where two of the most important wildlife areas in Britain can be found; Caerlaverock National Nature Reserve and the RSPB Mersehead reserve.
These reserves are absolutely stunning and they’re a great place to take a sunny afternoon stroll with the kids.
Some of the hidden-away beaches easily rival those on the west coast islands in my opinion and there’s a huge amount of wildlife to see all along the coastline.
I’ll give you a top tip – one of the best places for spotting harbour porpoises, basking sharks and bottlenose dolphins is the old Victorian resort town of Silloth on the southern side of the estuary.
It’s a bit of a drive to get to as you have to drive inland some distance to cross the River Esk bridge on the M6, but the drive back along the coast is more than worth the effort and you’ll get to explore the Solway Coast Nature Reserve, the South Solway Mosses Nature Reserve and the Drumburgh Moss Nature Reserve along the way.
I’m probably over-stressing this point, but it really is a beautiful part of the country.
But it’s not just picture-postcard coastal scenes that you’ll find in this part of Scotland because there are loads of pretty villages to explore as well including Kippford, Kirkcudbright, Gatehouse of Fleet, Wigtown and Whithorn, while the towns of Dumfries, Annan and Gretna are within easy driving distance if you need to stock up on supplies.
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Things to do at the Solway Firth
There are over 110 square miles of Sites of Special Scientific Interest in the Solway Firth which has to make it one of the best locations in Scotland for getting your hiking boots on and heading out on a trek, and walkers are well rewarded with the many routes available.
Perhaps the most popular trail is the 55-mile long Annandale Way which runs between the towns of Annan and Moffat and offers spectacular views of the broadleaf and coniferous woodlands at Hoddam Estate as well as the largest body of freshwater in Dumfriesshire, Castle Loch.
This is an area of Scotland that’s rightly proud of its countryside and across endless cattle farms, sand dunes, salt marshes, peat bogs and raised mires you’ll find a diverse range of wildlife, from buzzing dragonflies in the fields and pastures to bottle-nose dolphins looking for their next meal surprisingly close to the shoreline.
Tourists visiting the Solway Firth won’t be disappointed with the quality of beaches on offer either, with the ever-popular Rockcliffe, Southerness and Sandyhills beaches all within close distance of each other, and many other hidden bays are just waiting to be discovered around the next corner.
But it’s not just people who flock to this area of Scotland.
The marine environment with its plentiful food supplies has led to the Solway Firth becoming a haven for wildlife, and bird watchers will enjoy seeing thousands of barnacle and pink-footed geese making the area their home from autumn through to spring.
At other times you can see finches, yellow-hammer and reed buntings, lapwings and skylarks, so it’s understandable why so many areas in the region have been categorised as nature reserves.
Moving slightly inland you’ll find a variety of lochs and ruined castles (Caerlaverock Castle with its unique triangular shape is a highlight), while tourist attractions like Gretna Green Blacksmiths Shop and the market town of Dumfries are within half an hour’s drive.
If you want to investigate the land further south you’ll find the Hadrians Wall World Heritage Site which has several fascinating Roman ruins, with the Senhouse Roman Museum at Maryport being a firm favourite with tourists.
As a place where you can really immerse yourself in nature I think the Solway Firth is massively underrated, so if you’re looking for somewhere to spend a few weekends I’d suggest you put this area right at the top of your list.
Find other places to visit in the area with my Scottish Tourist Attractions Map.
- The Solway Firth is great for birdwatchers and photographers. When the sun is low the view across the water is stunning.
- The Firth has some spectacular walks, especially in the nature reserves. Caerlaverock nature reserve is highly recommended.
- There are loads of other attractions in this area. Gretna Green is well worth a look.
- Visit Caerlaverock Castle which is an unusual triangular-shaped fortress close to Caerlaverock nature reserve, or visit New Abbey Corn Mill which is one of the few water-powered grain mills that’s still operational in Scotland.
- Take binoculars. The Solway Firth is full of wildlife and it’s a haven for seabirds.
- Drive the A710 and A711 as they hug the coastline along several sections where you can take quiet roads into less-visited areas of the Solway Firth.
There are several options for enjoying the Solway Firth but perhaps the best way is to explore some of the beaches that lie along this part of the Dumfries and Galloway coast:
- Southerness beach: Dumfries, DG2 8AX
- Sandyhills beach: Dalbeattie, DG5 4PT
- Rockcliffe beach: Dalbeattie, DG5 4QQ
- Mossyard beach: Gatehouse of Fleet, Castle Douglas, DG7 2ET
- Nun Mill bay: Kirkcudbright, DG6 4TQ
- Brighouse Bay: Kirkcudbright DG6 4TS
- The Dhoon: Kirkcudbright DG6 4TL
- Port Logan: Stranraer DG9 9NG
Photo gallery and video
Things to do near the Solway Firth
- Caerlaverock Castle. Castle Road End, Dumfries DG1 4RU. A medieval castle with an unusual triangular shape. It is one of the few remaining castles in Scotland that still has a moat surrounding it. The castle has a small museum, a play park and a picnic area at the entrance and there is a path that leads behind it to the Solway Firth wetlands.
- Caerlaverock Wetland Centre. Eastpark Farm, Caerlaverock DG1 4RS. This nature reserve is within walking distance of Caerlaverock Castle. It is famed for its diverse wildlife habitats that are a haven for barnacle geese, ospreys, swans and other waterfowl.
- Southerness Point. Southerness, Dumfries DG2 8AZ. A very popular stretch of coastline on the Solway Firth. The section at Southerness is largely bedrock that is an ideal place to explore rock pools left behind by the retreating tide. The beach at Southerness has a historic lighthouse, although it is not open to the public. Paths lead in either direction for superb coastal walks.
- Broughton House and Garden. 12 High St, Kirkcudbright DG6 4JX. An Edwardian country manor set amongst manicured Japanese-inspired gardens. The house is open to the public for self-guided tours that allow visitors to see a number of exhibitions including a rare collection of books by Robert Burns.
- Bainloch Deer Park. Laggan Woodlands, Sandyhills, Dalbeattie DG5 4NZ. A deer park overlooking the Solway Firth that offers visitors guided tours by experienced guides to see the animals up close.
More places to visit in Dumfries & Galloway
- New Abbey Corn Mill – Dumfriesshire: Complete Visitor GuideThe New Abbey Corn Mill, situated in the lovely village of New Abbey in Dumfries and Galloway, offers a glimpse into the history of Scotland’s ancient grain milling craft with a complete working set of original milling machinery.
- The Solway Firth – Dumfries & Galloway: Complete Visitor GuideThe Solway Firth is rightly regarded as one of the most beautiful areas of Scotland, yet it’s often overlooked by visitors to the country. Stretching out across both England and Scotland the Solway Firth borders the stunning coastlines of Cumbria and Dumfries & Galloway and reaches out into the Irish Sea to almost touch the Isle of Man.
- Caerlaverock Castle – Dumfries & Galloway: Complete Visitor GuideFamous for its unusual triangular shape, the castle is surrounded by one of the few remaining moats in Scotland and the imposing fortified walls are a reminder of the siege years that troubled this part of the country during the Wars of Scottish Independence.
- Gretna Green Blacksmiths Shop – Dumfries & Galloway: Complete Visitor GuideIf you’re in any way romantically inclined you should probably take a visit to the famous Gretna Green Blacksmiths Shop on the Scottish border near the Solway Firth (which you can read about in my Complete Guide to the Solway Firth).