Wigtown Book Festival to set sail on Solway Firth

IT is best known these days as a historic market town whose fortunes have been transformed since being celebrated as a magnet for literature lovers.
Wigtown has had official book town status since 1998. Picture: Robert PerryWigtown has had official book town status since 1998. Picture: Robert Perry
Wigtown has had official book town status since 1998. Picture: Robert Perry

Now the heyday of Wigtown, which once sat at the heart of a network of trading routes across land and sea, is to be commemorated at its annual book festival.

A flotilla of boats will set sail across the Solway Firth as part of the celebration of Wigtown’s 18th and 19th-century heritage.

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The Trading Journeys event, which will also include a procession of horses and carts, a travelling foundry and bell-ringing, is a special commission by the Wigtown Book Festival as part of wider expansion plans.

A pop-up cinema is to be created in the historic County Buildings to echo Wigtown’s former Rex picturehouse, and Galloway Forest Park will host a 24-hour site-specific event featuring music, sound effects and art.

This year’s book festival, which runs from 26 September to 5 October, will host a major celebration of Lowland culture, including several events dedicated to ­Dumfries-shire author 
S R Crockett, who shot to fame in late 19th-century Scotland but has since been largely forgotten.

The festival will also pay tribute to the Scottish roots of Russian writer Mikhail Lermontov, who was descended from Berwickshire adventurer George Learmonth, and explore the aftermath of the independence referendum.

Festival director Adrian Turpin said: “The Trading Journeys event is part of our focus on Scotland’s distinct Lowland culture, which has not had the same kind of international ­attention as Highland culture.

“We want to show Scotland is not all about whisky distilleries, tartan, clans and all that kind of Braveheart stuff. We want to show there is another story in the landscape, literature and history of this part of Scotland. There will be a lot of events which relate to who we are here.”

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Details of this year’s festival have been revealed as it was ­announced that the event is now worth some £2 million to the local economy, almost three times as much as when the last detailed economic study was carried out in 2008.

The festival was first held in Wigtown – which has a population of less than 1,000 – in 1999, the year after it was officially ­recognised as a book town, and following a campaign to secure the designation, which was largely based on the model of Hay-on-Wye, in Wales.

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The festival, now Scotland’s second-biggest literary event, has grown to become a ten-day celebration featuring more than 200 separate events.

Other big names heading to the town are broadcasters Kate Adie, Clare Balding and Kirsty Wark, cyclist Graeme Obree, actor John Sessions, novelist Bernard MacLaverty and rugby commentator Ian Robertson.

BBC Scotland presenter Sarah Smith will host a discussion on how Scotland moves on from the referendum, and the BBC’s ex-Moscow correspondent Angus Roxburgh will look at the future of Russia under Vladimir Putin.