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KIRKCUDBRIGHT – pronounced "kir-coo-bree" – hugging the muddy banks of the River Dee, is the only major town along the Solway coast to have retained a working harbour. In addition, it has a ruined castle and an attractive town centre, a charming medley of simple two-storey cottages with medieval pends, Georgian villas and Victorian townhouses, all built in a mixture of sandstone, granite and brick, and painted, with their windows and quoins picked out.
The most surprising sight in Kirkcudbright is MacLellan's Castle (April– Sept daily 9.30am–5.30pm; £3.50; Web: www.historic-scotland.gov.uk ), a pink-flecked sixteenth-century tower house that sits at one end of the High Street by the harbourside. Part fortified keep and part spacious mansion, the castle was built in the 1570s for the then Provost of Kirkcudbright, Sir Thomas MacLellan of Bombie. Its interior is well preserved, from the kitchen (complete with bread oven) to the spyhole known as the "laird's lug", behind the fireplace of the Great Hall.
Near the castle, on the L-shaped High Street, is Broughton House (April– June, Sept & Oct Mon & Thurs– Sun noon–5pm; July & Aug daily noon–5pm; also Feb & March garden only daily 11am–4pm; £8; Web: www.nts.org.uk ), a smart Georgian townhouse and former home of the artist Edward Hornel (1863–1933). Hornel was an important member of the late nineteenth-century Scottish art scene, who spent his childhood a few doors down the street, and returned in 1900 to establish an artists' colony in Kirkcudbright with some of the "Glasgow Boys". At the back of the house Hornel added a studio and a vast, glass-roofed, mahogany-panelled gallery, now filled with the mannered, vibrantly coloured paintings of girls at play, which he churned out in the latter part of his career. Hornel's trip to Japan in 1893 imbued him with a lifelong affection for the country, and his surprisingly large, densely packed, wonderful, rambling gardens have a strong Japanese influence.
For background information on Kirkcudbright, visit the imposing, church-like Tolbooth, with its stone-built clocktower and spire. Built in the 1620s, the building now houses the Tolbooth Art Centre (May, June & Sept Mon– Sat 11am–5pm, Sun 2–5pm; July & Aug Mon– Sat 10am–5pm, Sun 2–5pm; Oct Mon– Sat 11am–4pm, Sun 2–5pm; Nov– April Mon– Sat 11am–4pm; free), which has, on the upper floor, a small permanent display of works by some of Kirkcudbright's erstwhile resident artists. Don't miss the Stewartry Museum (times as above), an extraordinary collection of local exhibits packed into a purpose-built Victorian building on St Mary Street.