Gatehouse of Fleet is a small, picturesque town in the south of the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere. The town is set at the heart of the Fleet Valley National Scenic Area –a nationally outstanding landscape – which encompasses the Fleet Valley from the wild moorland at the top of the valley to the estuary with its fine beaches and rocky shores. Gatehouse is an 18th century planned town and is remarkably well preserved with most of its historical features easily viewed. The Mill on the Fleet, a restored cotton mill, now an exhibition centre, is a good place to start. The town has a good range of accommodation from self-catering and B&Bs to the 5-star Cally Hotel, the former mansion house of the Murray family who built the town. The town is well situated to give easy access to both the hills and the sea – a glorious natural playground for lovers of the great outdoors.
Wildlife and natural beauty
From the heather clad hills of summer at the top of the valley, through the tranquil woodlands of the mid-valley, the River Fleet flows past the planned town of Gatehouse of Fleet to the sea. Here, sandy beaches, colourful rocks and islands witness ever changing colours throughout the year as the tides ebb and flow across the estuary.
From seabirds at the shore to peregrines in the hills, the area is rich in bird life. In spring, the native woodlands, easily accessed from the town, are carpeted in snowdrops followed by bluebells. And if you are lucky, red squirrels, foxes, deer, badgers and otters, may all be seen.
The Mill on the Fleet makes an excellent starting point for your discovery of the many delights of the Fleet valley with exhibitions and displays, and with leaflets and guided walks to pick up. Key locations to enjoy the valley include the National Nature Reserve and Cairnsmore Visitor Centre at the top of the valley, Carstramon Wood in the mid valley, The Designed Landscape of Cally incorporating the beautiful Cally Woods, and the National Scenic Area viewpoints at Knocktinkle and Knockbrex Hill, Carrick which provide fine views from top and bottom of the valley respectively.
Heritage and Culture
Gatehouse and its surrounds are visibly steeped in history, both ancient and modern: the Bronze Age burial site at Cairnholy, the dark ages hill fort at Trusty’s Hill, the 15th century Cardoness Castle, Rusko Tower and Anwoth Old Kirk (a location in the cult film The Wickerman). On the hilltop overlooking the town the monument commemorates Samuel Rutherford, past minister and influential Reformation church thinker whose work even influenced the American constitution.
From the 18th century, the Murray family developed the Designed Landscape of Cally with the mansion (now Cally Palace Hotel), lake, folly temple, and 2-acre walled garden which is now a renowned plant nursery. Their wealth was founded on the large scale fattening of black cattle. Gatehouse was their planned settlement. They brought cotton spinning here in 1785 and several mills were built. The river was canalised and Port MacAdam was created to allow larger ships to reach the town. The Mill on the Fleet visitor centre, with its two mill wheels, and the mill pond at the top of the town, are surviving testimony to this heritage.
Walter Scott, Robert Burns, John Buchan, Dorothy L Sayers and many artists are all associated with Gatehouse.
Contemporary Gatehouse is also a vibrant cultural hub. The Bakehouse runs a lively literary arts programme while The Mill on the Fleet, an exhibition centre, hosts a regional crafts outlet, talks and musical events throughout the year being a venue for the Big Lit Festival in April and the Midsummer Music weekend in June.
Gatehouse and its environs is a place of abundant good quality food, drink and crafts which reflect the diversity of the clean and fertile local countryside and sea. The best-known products in the area include the famous Cream o’ Galloway ice cream and their delicious farmhouse cheeses. Local smokehouses offer the finest in smoked fish and meats while Galloway Lodge Preserves are based in the town and send their produce far and wide, but you can also purchase and enjoy it in their café-restaurant in the town. The resident high-quality heritage beef cattle, the hardy ‘Beltie’ Galloway and the black and white Friesian dairy cows can be seen in the nearby fields.
The surrounding countryside offers an amazing opportunity for foraging for natural wild food, including fungi, herbs, fruits and seeds. The local cafés and pubs also promote good local produce allowing Gatehouse to offer an authentic food and drink experience.
Recreation & Enjoyment
Enjoyment on all levels: high and low, young and old: you want it, Gatehouse has got it!
Starting at the top: the hills provide an environment to put on your walking shoes, mount your mountain bike or drive to discover scenic views and wild landscapes. For the hikers and bikers, the ‘off the beaten tracks’ throughout the valley are well signposted and Cycle Route 7 provides an unforgettable tour. For the adventurous and an experience never to forget, zoom down 820 meters on one of the longest zip-wires in Europe at Laggan Outdoor who specialise in a wide variety of challenging activities for all ages. Cream o’ Galloway has a fabulous activity centre for children from toddlers to teenagers.
Down at sea-level beaches along the Fleet Bay offer rocky shorelines and sandy beaches ideal for beach combing, sailing and more. Low tides and spectacular skies make for a relaxing walk. Beautiful for lovers of flora and fauna are the Cally Woods and Cally Gardens nursery as well as Carstramon Wood, famous for its bluebells. Gatehouse prides itself on being part of the Dark Sky Park, where you can gaze at the magic of the night sky from some of the darkest skies around.
Gatehouse, for the best recreation and relaxation in a Biosphere environment!
Inspiration and Tranquillity
You can lose yourself in the peace and tranquillity of the Fleet Valley from the Clints of Dromore, with moorland birds and wild goats for company, to the wide open strands and hidden bays of the estuary. The area has inspired many over the years, though sometimes less tranquilly: Robert Burns is reputed to have written the fiery Scots Wha Hae in the town; author Dorothy L Sayers set her murder mystery Five Red Herrings here amongst the artist community of Gatehouse and Kirkcudbright. But a succession of real life artists have painted the landscape over the years and still do and the town remains a magnet for creativity across the arts.