The annual Wigtown Book Festival opens this week. So, we thought it was a good time to take a look at this quirky Scottish town for our latest Curiosity of the Week.
Wigtown is a coastal town in Dumfries and Galloway, situated on the Machars Peninsula. It may be small but there’s plenty of reasons to visit. And you may just find it’s not your usual place.
Wigtown’s bookish character
The first thing you should know about this little town is it’s Scotland’s National Book Town. Home to a wealth of bookshops, a publisher and various literary-themed shops, cafes and guest houses. These include the inventively named The Bookshop on North Main Street. It claims to be Scotland’s largest second-hand bookshop with more than a mile of shelving that’s home to around 100,000 pre-loved books. So, we’d be very surprised if you left there empty-handed.
That’s just one of the reasons why the festival is such a highlight in the town’s calendar. Of course, the festival is full of events including talks, shows and music. And this year there’s a healthy mix of in person and digital events, so everyone can get involved.
If you’re a Harry Potter fan, then you probably already know Wigtown’s an Honorary Quidditch Town too. But there’s more to this place than its literary connections. It has a fair amount of history and wildlife too. So, what are the more unusual highlights to see?
Quirky landmarks to check out
Well, perhaps the Martyr’s Stake is the most well-known of its unusual landmarks. So, what is the Martyr’s Stake? This rather poignant monument reminds us of the darker side of our history. In the late 1600s, Presbyterians were somewhat unhappy. They felt King Charles II was steering Scotland towards Catholicism and began to meet up in secret. They were known as the Covenanters. The government began to hunt out the Covenanters, forcing them to renounce their faith. But many would not. These were known as the Covenant Martyrs. And Wigtown’s martyrs faced hanging and drowning. Those drowned had been tied to stakes on the shore. Left to be swallowed slowly by the sea. So, it’s no wonder that this rather gruesome story hasn’t been forgotten.
You’ll need to head just out of town to see the Martyr’s Stake. It doesn’t take long to walk there, but if you drive, a little car park is available. Just head past the parish church and follow the signposts. You can also stop by the church to discover the Martyr’s graves on the way. A larger memorial in the shape of a stone obelisk stands on Windy Hill, just behind the Main Street.
A visit to Wigtown wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the County Buildings. This pretty sandstone building has been recently restored and stands out because of its attractive tower and continental-looking roof. Inside there’s the remains of an 18th prison cell and an eclectic collection of objects that give you an insight into the town’s history.
Going back much further in time is Torhouse Stone Circle. This prehistoric arrangement of 19 stones is a five minute drive from the town centre. It’s well-preserved but its original purpose is unknown. They could be aligned to the sun and moon or be part of some ritual. They’re not the only such monuments in the local area, with more stones and burial cairns scattered nearby. Anyway, you’re most welcome to visit this stone circle at any time. Simply head along the B733 until you see a little sign and layby.
Wigtown’s other attractions
Of course, if you’re looking for other places to visit and things to do around Wigtown, then there’s plenty of choice. You could walk down to the harbour for a bit of quiet and relaxation. Rather than the hustle and bustle of fishing boats and snazzy yachts, you’ll find a peaceful nature reserve and some scenic views. And there’s the Bladnoch Distillery if you fancy a tour and wee dram.
We are always on the lookout for interesting customs, hidden places, and unique buildings and landmarks, to share with our readers. If you have an idea for Curiosity of the Week then please do get in touch, we welcome suggestions from everyone. You can contact us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or send us a message via Facebook.