John Buchan’s The Thirty-Nine Steps, Dorothy L Sayers’ The Five Red Herrings and the inventor of the pedal bike could all play a role in Dumfries & Galloway’s post-pandemic recovery.

The Wigtown Festival Company, based in Scotland’s National Book Town, is spearheading a drive to make the region a centre for literary tourism.

The Spot-lit project, which will run for a year, is supporting a series of businesses and organisations to realise innovative ideas that make the most of its abundant links to famous writers and poets as well as the vibrant contemporary literary scene.

The programme, delivered in conjunction with Business Tourism Solutions, provides financial investment as well as business mentoring.

In Gatehouse of Fleet, The Mill on the Fleet visitor centre (a restored 18th-century water mill with exhibition space, bookshop and café) intends to create a wide range of activities from trails to specialist tours.

Ken Smyth, Chair of The Mill on the Fleet, believes the area’s links to Buchan, Sayers, Robert Burns, SR Crockett and others will combine perfectly with the charm of the town and beauty of the surrounding countryside to attract more visitors.

He said: “Burns wrote Scots Wha Hae while staying at the Murray Arms, there are links to Buchan’s The Thirty-Nine Steps, and Gatehouse is also in the middle of the country where Crockett set his Galloway adventure stories like The Raiders.

“Dorothy L Sayers wrote The Five Red Herrings while she was staying at the Anwoth Hotel – now The Ship Inn – and was quite exact in her descriptions, so you can easily identify many places she mentions. It would make a superb literary trail and the opportunity for guided tours – perhaps led by her detective, Lord Peter himself.”

The Mill on the Fleet will use its past experience of setting up heritage trails and exhibitions to develop pilots after travel restrictions are lifted and people begin to look for interesting short breaks and holidays.

Meanwhile Galloway Cycling Holidays is collaborating with local author Ian Barr to create a family-friendly route linked to his recently published children’s book Jamesie Burns and the Bicycle Thieves. The story also highlights the life of Kirkpatrick Macmillan, the Dumfries-shire blacksmith credited by many with the invention of the pedal-powered bicycle.

Warren Sanders and Esther Tacke, who bought the holiday company in 2017 after falling in love with south-west Scotland during their four-year cycle tour of the world, hope it will raise Macmillan’s profile and get more people enjoying country bike rides.

Warren said: “The story is lovely, the book is beautifully illustrated and the area really lends itself to a cycle tour. 

“It’s a gentle route that takes in Kirkpatrick Macmillan’s grave and Drumlanrig Castle, and that passes fields full of cows and sheep and landscapes with Highland-style views. But the roads are very quiet so you don’t have tour buses constantly on your shoulder.

“Anything which will enthuse children about bikes, cycling and the outdoors has to be a good thing. We also want to raise awareness of Macmillan – visitors from abroad are astounded that there is no museum or other commemoration here and that he’s not on our bank notes.”  

Spot-lit is an international project funded by the European Union backed Northern Periphery and Arctic Programme with Wigtown Festival Company as its driving force in Scotland. 

Planning began in 2018 when Wigtown teamed up with organisations in the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and Finland with the aim of delivering literary tourism projects in western and northern areas of the EU from 2020.

Adrian Turpin, the company’s Creative Director, said: “Covid-19 has had a devastating effect on tourism and culture. Dumfries & Galloway is especially vulnerable because these sectors became particularly important when it rebuilt in the wake of foot and mouth.

“But Spot-lit is allowing us to support innovative ideas from locally-based businesses and cultural organisations at the very moment when we need to rebuild again.

“Holidays and short breaks with a focus on famous authors and stories are hugely popular, and people are increasingly interested in discovering contemporary writing and storytelling. Dumfries & Galloway has an abundance of both – as well as being home to Scotland’s National Book Town, so we hope Spot-lit will help establish the region as the country’s literary heartland.”

Other seven Spot-lit initiatives include:

  • The Bookshop Band: The Wigtown duo, whose songs are all inspired by books, have toured extensively round bookshops in the UK, Europe and North America and released 13 studio albums. Their project is to write and record an album inspired by classic and contemporary children’s literature in Scotland, including Peter Pan, which has direct links to Dumfries. The album will be produced in a way that can be adapted for performance and also as a self-run educational and fun activity for children’s groups. 
  • Craigmount B&B: Owners Malcolm and Nicole Court will create literary-themed accommodation at Craigmount. All rooms and public areas will be based on local literary figures. They also plan themed evenings and literary tours of the area. They hope it will help attract literary tourists to Scotland’s Book Town all year round.
  • Mostly Ghostly Tours: Mostly Ghostly Tours are the award-winning creators of a range of ghost and local history tours across Dumfries and Galloway. Through Spot-lit, they will be offering Croc in the Frock tours – a fabulous feast of ghosts, history, adventure and folklore named after the famous crocodile in Peter Pan. This interactive, family-friendly experience aims to promote literary tourism by weaving together elements of Dumfries’s rich tapestry of literary connections. 
  • Dark Sky Pages: Dark Sky Pages is a home-based small business in Wigtown run by Gillian Hamnett. Through Spot-lit Gillian is setting up Stellar Words, an annual publishers’ fair to be held in Wigtown. Petite presses, large independent publishers, pamphlets, periodicals, journals, zines and book ephemera will be showcased. 
  • Webber’s Wildlife Services: Martin Webber is a countryman who has spent most of his working life in gamekeeping, wildlife management and conservation. He was strongly influenced by Ian Niall – a prolific writer on shooting, gamekeeping and fishing who captured a form of rural life which has mostly disappeared. Martin’s project will take people into the countryside to learn about the old ways of the gamekeeper/poacher, always accompanied by at least one canine helper and inspired by Niall’s works.
  • The Stove Network: The Stove Network is a social enterprise based in Dumfries. Through Spot-lit it will pilot the Wild Goose Festival, a multimedia event connecting nature and environment tourism to literary tourism. It will also use the migratory route of the Barnacle geese between Svalbard and the Solway Estuary to join people, nature and ideas across Scotland and the Arctic. The festival will include Riverrun, a weekend of nature writing for all. Riverrun will feature Mother Goose literary events for children. The festival will also showcase local authors writing for children in Scots.

Ian Brannigan, Spot-Lit partner and Head of Regional Development for the Western Development Commission Ireland, said: “We are excited to see the development of the literary tourism capacity and partnering in Dumfries and Galloway. We believe it will enable real international co-operation amongst our creative businesses.”

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About Spot-lit

For further information and interview requests contact Matthew Shelley on 07786 704299 or Matthew@ScottishFestivalsPR.Org  

Wigtown Festival Company Ltd, 11 North Main Street, Wigtown, Dumfries & Galloway, Scotland, UK, DG8 9HN © 1999 – 2018. Wigtown Festival Company Ltd is a company limited by guarantee with charitable status. Scottish Charity No. SCO37984.