Scotland is made for road tripping and the South West Coastal 300 route is one of the best.
Not least because it runs along some of the most spectacular coastline in the country. But also because half of the route turns inwards, traversing across the scenic Southern Uplands.
South West Coastal 300 Route
Shortened to SWC300, the South West Coastal 300 is a circular loop around the tranquil most southern westernly corner of Scotland. There’s quiet country roads, miles of stunning coastline and castles galore.
The coastal road through Dumfries and Galloway takes in gorgeous beaches, dramatic peninsulas and pretty seaside villages. While the inland section of the route cuts through the rolling countryside and gorgeous forest landscapes of Southern Ayrshire.
In this blog post we’re going to be covering how to plan an awesome South West Coastal 300 itinerary, giving you all the highlights and suggesting some of the lesser known places to visit.
Whether you’re travelling by car and staying in hotels or by campervan and looking for wild camping spots, we’ve got you covered with lots of great recommendations on where to stay.
Plus we’ll be answering some SWC300 FAQ’s and suggesting some delicious places to eat along the way that you really aren’t going to want to miss.
South West Coastal 300 Map
As the name suggests, it’s a 300 (ish) mile route, with the total driving time being around 10 hours. Compared with other popular Scottish road trip routes, such as the North Coast 500 and North East 250, it’s comparatively more peaceful. And yet, in our opinion, just as scenic.
Because it’s a circular route you can start it anywhere and go in either direction, clockwise or anticlockwise. But most people choose to start and finish this Scotland West Coast road trip in the city of Dumfries. Or at least approach it from the M74 or M77 main roads.
How many days you take to drive the South West Coastal 300 really depends on how many places you are wanting to stop off at and how much time you have.
It’s a great Scotland road trip for a long weekend. But equally you could easily spend a week or as long as 10 days, as we did, travelling slower and exploring as much as possible.
Just know, there’s no right, wrong or perfect way of exploring the SWC300. But with this helpful guide you’ll be well prepared and able to experience as much or little of this delightful part of Scotland as you choose.
SWC300 Where To Stay
We’ll be covering SWC300 accommodation options that include hotels, B&B’s, campsites and wild park ups. So whatever your style of travel is, we’ve already done the research for you.
If you are planning on visiting during summer or over bank holidays, you’ll need to book in advance to avoid disappointment. Because whilst it is one of the lesser visited parts of Scotland, it also means there are less options available in busy periods.
Top 10 SWC300 Highlights
- Kirkcudbright | Situated at the mouth of the River Dee in Dumfries and Galloway, this vibrant town is an artists haven full of independent art galleries and craft shops.
- Mull of Galloway | This spot on the Rhins of Galloway peninsula is the most southerly point of Scotland, a completely unspoilt paradise due to its remoteness.
- Portpatrick | Nestled on the west coast of the Rhins of Galloway, this pretty village has a small bay of pastel coloured houses against a cliff top backdrop.
- Ailsa Craig | This uninhabited island set in the Firth of Clyde is halfway between Glasgow and Belfast and home to seal colonies and thousands of birds.
- Dunure Castle | Although ruined for 300 years, it’s impossible not to feel the depth of history surrounding this imposing landmark along the coast of South Ayrshire.
- Electric Brae | At this mysterious attraction on a hill in South Ayrshire you can experience an optical illusion where a freewheeling vehicle will appear to travel uphill.
- Galloway Forest & Dark Sky Park | One of the darkest places in Scotland, expect breathtaking and rare stargazing conditions overnight here.
- Crawick Multiverse | This land art project near Sanquhar in Dumfries and Galloway was transformed from a former coal mine into an incredible outdoor space.
- Wanlockhead & Mennock Pass | The highest village in Scotland at an 467m altitude, but the road through Lowther Hills to get there is perhaps even more impressive.
- Caerlaverock Castle | An intricate medieval moated castle in an unique triangle shape set inside the grounds of a National Nature Reserve just south of Dumfries.
South West Coastal 300 Itinerary
For the purposes of this South West Coastal itinerary, we’re going to split the route into 4 sections. But as already mentioned you can choose to shorten or lengthen your trip adding in different SWC300 attractions according to your personal interests and time available.
Something key to be aware of is that the SWC300 route isn’t signposted. So don’t just put the end destination for the day into your sat nav because it will just take you the quickest route. You’ll need to take the small roads and plug in each stop as you go.
Dumfries to Kirkcudbright | 48 miles | 1.5 hours
Main Points of Interest
- Sweetheart Abbey
- Southerness Lighthouse
This first part of this South West Coastal 300 route is the shortest, so depending what time you arrive in Dumfries you could start it the same day.
You’re going to be heading south from the city down the A710 towards the pretty whitewashed cottages of New Abbey village. Here you’ll find the intriguing ruined Sweetheart Abbey, a Cistercian monastery that was founded in 1275.
If you’re taking this trip slow and into your hiking, there’s a great circular walk up Criffel hill from here. It’s the highest for miles around and has incredible views out over Solway Firth.
You can park in the Abbey car park. But do be aware it is 12km/7.5mile which will take you around 5-6 hours so won’t be for everyone. Alternatively there’s the lovely Abbey Cottage Tearoom if you’re after a good lunch stop.
From New Abbey you’ll want to carry on down through the equally pretty village of Kirkbean and onto Southerness lighthouse, the second oldest in Scotland. On a clear day from here you can see right across Solway Firth to the Lake District in England.
If you’re itching to get your feet in the sand, Powillimount Beach with its shells, rock pools and interesting rock formations is a great stop off. As is the vast expanse of Sandyhills beach.
Continuing to hug the coast there’s also Rockcliffe Beach. From here you can walk across a tidal causeway to Rough Island. As a nature sanctuary it is however off limits from May-June due to breeding birds.
There’s also a nice walk called the Jubilee path between the coastal villages of Rockcliff and Kippford that will take just under 30 minutes.
The road will then take you up to Dalbeattie and down the other side on the A711. Alongside Auchencairn Bay there’s more whitewashed stone cottages and Hestan island in the distance. There’s also Dundrennan Abbey to check out if you have the time and inclination.
Or if you fancy a detour, Threave Castle, perched on an island in the middle of the River Dee and only accessible by boat, isn’t far from Dalbeattie.
You’ll then arrive in the colourful town of Kirkcudbright (pronounced kir–coo–bree) at the mouth of the River Dee. It has a lively fishing port, lots of independent artisan shops and a welcoming community. If you’re a foodie, Brambles Delicatessen is an absolute must.
Where To Stay In Kirkcudbright
If you’re in a motorhome or campervan and looking for free overnight parkups, there are a few quiet layby parking spots along the coast and up into Kirkcudbright Bay.
Alternatively there’s an excellent Forestry and Land Scotland Stay The Night Carpark just outside of Dalbeattie for £6 per night with 24/7 toilets and an outside tap.
Kirkcudbright to Portpatrick | 122 miles | 3.5 hours
Main Points of Interest
- Isle of Whithorn
- Mull of Galloway
Leaving Kirkcudbright, this next part of the SWC300 route takes you onto the Machar Peninsula. Follow the quieter, narrow roads of either the B727 or the A755 to the busier A75 which will lead you up to Newton Stewart.
Before you reach the A75, there’s an excellent place called Cream O’ Galloway. It’s a working farm, which amongst other things does ice cream and cheese making classes. It’s a really good SWC300 activity for if it happens to be raining.
From here you’re heading down to Wigtown, Scotland’s book town. It’s a literature lover’s paradise and with over a quarter of a million books to choose from it’s impossible to leave empty handed.
There’s also lots of cute cafes, Reading Lasses is a favourite. Or if you need some fresh air after all that shopping, a walk to the Wigtown Martyr’s Stake is a good option.
Continuing down the peninsula will lead you through Whithorn village to the Isle of Whithorn. Stop by in Whithorn if you want to check out the Iron Age Roundhouse Museum.
From here the landscape continues to get more green until you reach the crystal clear turquoise sea. St Ninian’s Tearoom or The Steam Packet Inn on the Isle of Whithorn are excellent places to grab lunch.
If you enjoy walking and have the time, you can park up in Kidsdale to visit St Ninian’s Cave. It’s a well signposted path that will lead you a couple of miles through wooded Physgill Glen to a secluded pebble beach and the historic retreat of Scotland’s first saint.
Alternatively there’s the gorgeous Rigg Bay to Cruggleton Coastal Walk. Expect to see plenty of wildlife around here including seals, cormorants and lots of other seabirds.
Continuing up around the peninsula you’ll pass through the small pretty village of Monreith. Then Port Williams with views out over Luce Bay to the next peninsula, the Rhins of Galloway, which is where you’re heading next.
Rhins of Galloway Peninsula
Heading up to Glenluce and briefly joining the A75 you’ll then swing down onto the B7084 and A716 towards Sandhead. The beach here is super nice and there’s plenty of free parking along Shore Road to stop off and enjoy the view from.
Taking the road further down, you’re heading for the Mull of Galloway, Scotland’s most southerly point. The scenery of rugged headlands and sandy bays is simply epic. Right at the tip you’ll find the Mull of Galloway Lighthouse which you can climb up 100 steps to the top of.
Walking around the cliff top you’ll be able to see the Lake District, the Isle of Man and on a clear day Northern Ireland. There’s free parking and the popular Gallie Craig Coffee House here too. Sitting outside you can usually expect to spot seals and dolphins in the water.
After taking in the views, you’ll head back up the peninsula either the route you came in or forking left at Damnaglaur onto the B7065 through Port Logan. If you have time to stop, Logan Botanic Garden is popular and has lots of exotic plants rarely seen in the UK.
Rejoining the A716 to Sandhead you’ll then turn off towards the west coast to the pastel coloured cottages and wide bay of picture postcard Portpatrick.
Where To Stay Near Portpatrick
Alternatively if you don’t mind a detour, you can spend the night in an actual functioning lighthouse. Situated right at the the top of the Rhins of Galloway peninsula, Corsewall Lighthouse Hotel, is a very special SWC300 hotel with out of this world views.
In terms of free overnight park ups for motorhomes and campervans there’s a few remote locations down small roads further up the peninsula. Try around Knock Bay and Loch Ryan.
Portpatrick to Sanquhar | 95 miles | 3 hours
Main Points of Interest
- Ailsa Craig
- Electric Brae
- Dunure Castle
If you have time before leaving Portpatrick, taking a cliff top walk is highly recommended. You can either venture North to Killantringan Lighthouse and Bay or South past Dunskey Castle to Knockinaam. Both paths are equally as stunning and can be done in under 3 hours return.
The first part of this SWC300 leg will take you through Stranraer. Other than being the gateway port to Northern Ireland, there’s nothing really to do here. But being the largest town in the area it’s a good place to stock up on supplies if you need a supermarket etc.
SWC300 DETOUR | Castle Kennedy | 4 miles | 10 minutes
If you are travelling with kids or have a penchant for the famous Highland Coo you might want to take a short tour inland from Stranraer as just past Castle Kennedy you’ll find Kitchen Coos and Ewes Farm Tours.
Self described as a farmer-led Highland cow safari, either a trailer or a walking tour will take you around to meet the animals. Finished off with a cuppa and some delicious home baking.
Another option if animals aren’t your thing but you still fancy exploring around here are the elegant Castle Kennedy Gardens.
South Ayrshire Coast
Driving north then along the A77 coastal road you’ll be leaving the county of Dumfries and Galloway and entering South Ayrshire. There’s a 100 miles of Ayrshire coastal path split into 12 sections, so basically anywhere along here that you fancy stopping to explore is a goer.
If you fancy breaking up this section of your South West Coastal 300 with a treat, you can stay the night at the luxury 5 star Glenapp Castle. The restaurant offers gourmet 6-course dining, and indulgent afternoon tea is also served. Great for a special occasion surprise!
The road between Ballintrae and Girvan, running alongside the water’s edge with rolling green hills is nothing short of mesmerising. This was one of our favourite drives of the whole South West Coastal 300 route.
There’s a pull in around the Varyag memorial at Lendalfoot that we’d recommend stopping off at. There aren’t any parking restrictions so it’s possible to stay the night here in a camper too.
Along this stretch of the SWC300 you’ll also see the Ailsa Craig in the Firth of Clyde come into view. The uninhabited 99 hectare volcanic rock rising out of the Irish sea is home to seal colonies and thousands of seabirds.
If you want to take a boat trip out to see them, head into Girvan. There’s short trips just around the island or longer trips where you can get off and wander around the island.
Heading further north along the coast you’ll reach Turnberry. From here you want to take the A719 towards Maidens. Here you’ll pass through Trump Turnberry, that orange toads golf course, and continue along the coast to check out Culzean Castle if you so wish.
Perched on top of the Ayrshire cliffs, it’s one of the more well preserved SWC300 castles. You can even stay the night on the top floor of the castle in the Eisenhower apartment. Exclusive use of the six bedrooms, drawing and dining room will set you back a cool £2,500 per night.
Further on up the A719, is one of the SWC300 highlights, Electric Brae. It’s quite hard to describe it, but basically it’s an optical illusion where vehicles look like they are travelling in the opposite direction to which they are driving. It’s a truly weird experience.
A little further up the Ayrshire coast you’ll hit Dunure Castle. Definitely not as flamboyant as the last and very much ruined, but worth stopping by nonetheless. Dating back to the 13th century it’s fair share of battles and suffered greatly in the Wars of Independence.
There’s no entrance fee, you just have to pay to park, although you can as long as you want exploring the beach. It’s a great spot for a picnic if you’re here around lunch time.
Next up is the village of Alloway which is better known as the birthplace of Robert Burns, Scotland’s national poet. There’s the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum here if you’re interested in learning about his life and work.
SWC300 DETOUR | Ayr | 3 miles | 5 minutes
At this point of your Scotland road trip you have to make a decision whether to head inland along the actual SWC300 route, or take a detour up to the nearby town of Ayr. We did this and recommend it, but it depends where you’re at timewise.
It’s a popular but charming seaside town with a huge stretch and a really lovely promenade. There’s also some great pubs and restaurants. Tempura Ayr or The Growler Taphouse & Kitchen rank high amongst the favourites.
Otherwise if you’re not venturing into Ayr, you’ll be taking the A77 back towards Maybole and then the A7045 through the attractive countryside villages of Kirkmichael and Straiton. There’s five short walks that start and finish in Straiton if you fancy stretching your legs here.
From Straiton take the B741 through Dalmellington, onto New Cummock to join the A76 to Sanquhar which is a good place to spend the night hotel wise.
SWC300 DETOUR | Galloway Forest | 25 miles | 40 minutes
Although having said that there’s a night time detour from Dalmellington that in our opinion is a must for your South West Coastal 300 itinerary – the Galloway Forest & Dark Sky Park.
You’ll need to take the A173, otherwise known as The Galloway Forest Drive, from Dalmellington to New Galloway. Then head into the depths of the lush green forest along the A712 to the Dark Sky Observatory at Clatteringshaws.
The best dates and times to visit in relation to the weather and moonlight are published on the Clatteringshaws Visitor Centre website. You can stay the night here if you are in a motorhome or campervan as we were which makes stargazing much more convenient.
If you do stay the night, consider driving the strikingly beautiful Raiders’ Road Forest Drive on your way out the next day to rejoin the South West Coastal 300 route at Sanquhar.
Where To Stay Near Sanquhar
With regard to free parking for motorhomes, caravans and even wild camping for tents, there’s an incredible spot on the SWC300 route map just past Sanquhar. Taking the B797 of the A76 you can camp anywhere along the Mennock Pass here.
If you are going to do this, it’s quite a stretch to drive all the way round from Portpatrick way to here so we’d recommend staying a night somewhere along the way. There’s plenty of locations plotted on the Park4Night app.
Moreover, Ayrshire Council are running a trial scheme at car parks in Girvan and Ayr where you can park overnight for a single night between 6pm-10am at a cost of £5. The cost covers waste disposal and fresh water facilities. It’s a really great scheme that we hope continues.
Sanquhar to Dumfries | 60 miles | 2 hours
Main Points of Interest
- Wanlockhead & Mennock Pass
- Caerlaverock Castle
Before leaving Sanquhar be sure to stop by the world’s oldest post office and maybe send a postcard – it’s been here since 1712 don’t you know! Then just nearby you have Crawick Multiverse which is a great addition to your SWC300 itinerary for adults and kids alike.
Once an open cast coal mine, the land has been transformed into an incredible outdoor art space. It was designed by architect Charles Jencks, the exhibitions all revolve around science and cosmology. It’s a really fascinating experience, particularly if the sun is shining.
Continuing deep into the Southern Uplands now, you’re heading up Mennock Pass (B797) and into the Lowther Hills. It’s an incredible drive through a deep winding valley, the stuff road trip dreams are made of. You’ll just be in awe at the scenery but watch out for the sheep.
Soon enough, nestled in the Lowther Hills at 467m above sea level you’ll reach Wanlockhead, Scotland’s highest village. This whole area was once a huge lead mining community.
There’s a museum but more interestingly the Leadhills and Wanlockhead Light Railway is here. It closed in 1938, but has since reopened for tourists to take a ride on Britain’s highest railway through the epic landscape between Wanlockhead and Leadhills.
Continuing along this super scenic part of the South West Coastal 300 route will then bring you to a village called Elvanfoot. From here instead of joining the larger A74 road, follow the amazingly quiet roads of B7076, B719 and A701 to reach Moffat.
Moffat is a pretty little town, tucked in Annandale Valley, alongside the River Annan. But the real reason to stop by here is to visit the renowned Moffat Toffee Shop which has been trading for over 125 years. There’s also lots of independent shops and great places to eat.
SWC300 DETOUR | Grey Mare’s Tail | 10 miles | 20 minutes
From Moffat there’s a small detour up the A708 to a nature reserve that you might want to include in your SCW300 itinerary if you like walking and waterfalls. The 60m Grey Mare’s Tail is one of the highest waterfalls in the UK and it’s easy to see how it got its name.
From the carpark you can either hike up to Loch Skeen, the glassy pool of water that feeds the waterfall, or climb up to the summit of White Coomb for the views from there. There’s lots of wildlife around too including huge birds or prey and wild goats.
Returning back to Moffat and continuing down the A701, you then want to fork off onto the B7076 heading south for Lockerbie. If you fancy a stop off here, this Scottish town is famous for the 1988 Pan Am flight disaster or Lockerbie bombing as it is otherwise known.
Heading back west then from Lockerbie, along the A709 towards Dumfries, you’ll pass by the ruins of Lochmaben and Torthorwald Castles.
SWC300 DETOUR | Ae Forest | 12 miles | 25 minutes
If you want to extend your trip a little further before landing back in Dumfries, there’s a lovely little detour up from Lochmaben to a place called Ae Forest. Despite having the shortest place name in the United Kingdom, it’s one of the largest forests.
Ae Forest has lots of walking trails and if you’re looking for more of an adrenaline adventure, it’s also home to a 7Stanes Mountain Biking trail. And if you’re in a campervan or motorhome it’s also one of the designated Forestry and Land Scotland’s Stay the Night spots.
So Dumfries is fine, but it is just a big town. So unless you need a supermarket or are staying there for the night we probably wouldn’t recommend spending too much of your time there. Instead carry on down to Caerlaverock Castle.
As you approach it from the front it looks like any other medieval castle. But as you start to walk around it you’ll notice that both this SWC300 castle and the moat in which it sits is triangular in shape.
And although ruined, due to its proximity to England and the turbulent history of border conflicts that goes with that, it is one of the finest, most intricate castles in Scotland. It’s a perfect way to end your South West Coastal 300 trip.
Where To Stay in Dumfries
If you’re in a campervan, there’s an awesome park up right near Caerlaverock Castle, just off the B725. There’s no toilet so you have to be self contained. But there’s waste disposal, a freshwater point and an honesty box for the upkeep. You’ll find directions on park4night.
More SWC300 Guides
Whether you’re in browsing or full on planning mode, we recommend that you read our other South West Coastal 300 guides.
And remember that, especially if visiting in summer or bank holidays you book hotels well in advance. We’ve put a lot of work into curating our South West Coastal 300 accommodation guide and it will save you lots of time researching from scratch.
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Yorkshire born & bred, Sarah is a professional blogger who loves to travel. Pushing her boundaries with new adventures is her jam, so you likely won’t find her in one place for too long. Also a serious Marmite addict.