Yes, I’m a Scot and yes, you may think I’m entirely biased… but I admit: I love Burns Night. In the sometimes sombre — and usually grey — month of January, there’s no better excuse to get in the party spirit, eat truckloads of haggis, don your glad rags (or kilts, guys!) and celebrate in true Scottish style.
So for the final few days of the Big Burns Supper festival, we headed south to the underrated region of Dumfries and Galloway to join in the fun.
The town of Dumfries was the final resting place of Robert Burns, our wee country’s greatest poet, and so is an apt location for the celebrations. This year, the venue had moved from the town centre to Easterbrook Hall, a sprawling sandstone building with even more space for events than the previous Spiegeltent.
But our overnight jaunt to Dumfries wasn’t all about Rabbie and the great Scottish haggis! In our 24 hours in the lowlands, we not only bagged some delicious burgers but we also spent a morning at one of Scotland’s most breathtaking castles. Here’s a peek behind the scenes of our very Scottish weekend.
A late lunch at Neuro’s
We kicked off our speedy stay in Dumfries with a late lunch at Neuro’s. Located right next to Easterbrook Hall — where the Big Burns Supper events were held — it encompasses a restaurant, spa and bar in one of the Crichton Estate’s old villas. In an open and airy setting we chowed down on some hearty, meaty food: black pudding and apple tempura bites (oh so Scottish!) pulled pork rolls and the ‘ultimate’ burger stuffed with bacon, cheese and relish.
The real winner for me was the sweet potato fries, which were crisp and moreish (just give me a truckload to take back to Edinburgh, all right?) We didn’t quite have enough room for dessert, but the plates we saw passing by the table looked pretty and pleasant.
Throughout the Big Burns Supper (and probably most other weekends, I’d imagine!) Neuro’s is buzzing with festivalgoers and performers so make sure you book in advance. Visit the website and find out more about spa treatments here.
The big event: Le Haggis!
Stomachs full, we rolled next door to Easterbrook Hall and took in some afternoon entertainment: the Hackney Colliery Band and comedian Sean Hughes’ Poetry Slam session (the locals got involved in this too — it was hilarious!) But the real star of the evening — and the entire Big Burns Supper festival — was Le Haggis.
Its fourth year down in Dumfries, this riotous cabaret is a fitting and sexily Scottish celebration of Rabbie’s greatest hits. With a fantastic live band — especially lead female singer Marianne Fraser, a graduate from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland — Le Haggis explodes into action with a roaring rock adaptation of Burns’ A Man’s a Man for a’ That. As soon as the kilt-clad cast take to the stage, the 90-minute show speeds by in a flash of tartan, patriotic tunes and mesmerising circus performances. We absolutely loved it.
Le Haggis really needs to be seen to be believed (and there’s no way I can possibly evoke the electric atmosphere with mere words!) Some of the most breathtaking stunts you’ll see are couple of silk artists spinning high above the crowd, a mesmerising fire-breathing female and a mind-boggling juggler. The final flourish is a floor-shaking version of Auld Lang Syne… Don’t say we can’t party in Scotland! P.S. You don’t need to wait until January to see Le Haggis! ‘Scotland’s sexiest cabaret’ also visits the Edinburgh Fringe throughout the month of August.
A morning at Caerlaverock Castle
Ever since I saw this castle for the first time back in 2016, I’ve been dying to return — it really is like something from a fairytale! Caerlaverock Castle is just a twenty minute drive from Dumfries, so it was an obvious way to start our slow Sunday morning in the south of Scotland. Entry is £5.50/3.30 for an adult or child. Find out more about this incredible castle and nearby attractions on VisitScotland’s Community.
The best way to explore Caerlaverock is to put the castle silhouette to your right and follow the left-hand path through the trees. This takes you down through a boggy gravel road and quickly reaches a footbridge, which reaches across to more ruins. These are actually the thirteenth-century ruins of the very first Caerlaverock Castle. Now, it’s just the stone ribs of the outer walls which remain, but this structure — which popped up in 1220 on the orders of Sir John Maxwell — was one of the first stone castles in Britain.
Continue walking a little longer and the trees open up — you’ll find yourself with the long, collapsed side of Caerlaverock’s triangle in front of you. Without the walls, you can peep right in to the skeleton of the Great Hall and spot the facade of the Nithsdale Lodging, the beautiful seventieth-century Renaissance family home hidden within the fortifications.
Once you’ve crossed the moat, you’ll discover that inside is even more impressive. We wandered into the towers and across the collapsed hall, spotting dry wells, cold fireplaces and walls thick with moss. There’s a bakehouse, a prison, defensive gatehouses and stone slats from where the portcullis once fell.
Aside from its distinctive structure, the stand-out feature of Caerlaverock is the Nithsdale Lodging. The grandeur of this family home — tucked into a corner of the thick, triangular outer walls — is still evident, even after centuries of rot and disrepair following its construction in 1630s. Look out for the worn surrounds of the fireplaces with decorative swirls still visible on the sandstone.
And before you leave Burns’ Country behind, jump into the adjacent castle tearoom for a scone loaded with clotted cream and jam… A pretty fitting conclusion to our whirlwind trip to this lovely part of Scotland.