Last updated on August 26th, 2020
The Solway Firth in Dumfries & Galloway
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.
Category: Beach, Forest or woodland, Landscape, Walk or cycle route
Suitable for ages: 5 to 10 years, 11 to 18 years, 18+ years, 65+ years
Ideal for: Couples, Families, Groups, Solo travellers
I rate it: 10 out of 10
About 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.
Slightly inland along both coastlines, visitors can also 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.
There’s a huge amount of wildlife to see all along this part of the coastline and some of the hidden-away beaches easily rival those on the west coast islands in my opinion.
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.
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 areas 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 if you spend any time there you’ll quickly understand 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 while you’re in the area 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 sea birds.
- Drive the A710 and A711 as they hug the coastline closely in several sections where you can take quiet roads into lesser-visited areas of the Solway Firth.
Photos and video
Address and map
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
Tickets and opening times
Special offer: There are lots tourist attractions in the Solway Firth but I recommend visiting The Devils Porridge Museum near Gretna Green.
At this museum, you’ll discover the remarkable wartime story of the Greatest Munitions Factory on Earth and the extraordinary lives of the Munitions Girls who worked there. Built during WW1, HM Factory Gretna stretched nine miles along the Solway Coast and produced more cordite explosive than all the other factories combined.
The Solway Firth is open at all times throughout the year. There are no charges to visit any of the public beaches, although car parking charges may apply.
Getting there: Dependent on location
Getting around: Dependent on location
On-site conveniences: Dependent on location