Area focus: Wigtown

The Wigtown Book Festival returned yesterday, and is set to run until Monday,4 October, promising a packed programme of 140 events.

Curly Tale Books and The Book Shop in Wigtown. Picture: VisitScotland / Kenny Lam
Curly Tale Books and The Book Shop in Wigtown. Picture: VisitScotland / Kenny Lam

On Saturday, bookworms can hear from the Queen of Crime Val McDermid in person at the County Buildings or online, while on Sunday Francis Spufford, long-listed for this year’s Booker Prize, will be at Wigtown Parish Church, as will Alexander McCall Smith.

With the theme of ‘Hello, Stranger’, the festival will announce both the new Anne Brown Essay Prize for Scotland and the Wigtown Poetry Prize.

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Now regarded as Scotland’s National Book Town, Wigtown’s literary heritage stems from the mid-1990s when an international panel chose the Dumfries and Galloway location for the festival in an effort to regenerate the community. Since then it has flourished in to a charming destination with more than 20 book shops and related businesses.

Once described as the “quaintest county town in Scotland”, Wigtown is sleepy and remote with a modest population of just 987. A settlement has been there for 1,000 years and it was a ferry point to Cree from the 1400s until the 19th Century.

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Some claim the town’s name is derived from the water, from the Norse ‘Vik’, meaning bay, thus the ‘Town on the Bay’.

In 1469, Wigtown – after which the county was formerly named – was made a royal burgh and – positioned on a hill overlooking the sea – it once boasted a 13th-Century castle and blackfriars.

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Religion has been at the core of the town’s history, which is evident in its motto of “Let Wigtown Flourish by the preaching of thy word, through Christ Jesus, who is our only head.”

It pays homage to the Wigtown Martyrs, who were Scottish Convenanters killed by Episcopalians for their refusal to accept the king as the head of the church, and monuments to them can be found in the town.

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Throughout the centuries, the “Gateway to the Machars” thrived on agricultural and coastal markets.However, the introduction of railway and road infrastructure in the 19th Century caused Wigtown to decline and, by the 1980s, the town had lost its main employers –a distillery and creamery .

Establishing Scotland’s Book Town there helped to reinvent the location, which is popular with book lovers, outdoors enthusiasts and anyone seeking a place in which to unwind and escape from the hustle and bustle of city living.

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A home in Wigtown will cost on average £154,789, according to online estate agency Zoopla, which is an increase of 4.26 per cent over the last 12 months.

The town’s Main Street is packed with colourful stone-built shops with apartments and houses, and a property there is valued at an average £143,046.

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However, the most desirable address in the town is Lightlands Avenue, to the south-west, which overlooks Wigtown and Bladnoch Golf Course.

The street is home to a handful of two and three-bedroom semi-detached white-washed stone houses with red tile roofs.

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Each one benefits from exceptional panoramas across the hills towards Bladnoch, and spacious gardens.

To the north-east of town is Bank Street, on which sits the B-listed Wigtown County Buildings, which were once the headquarters of Wigtownshire County Council.

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This row has an eclectic mix of unique traditional cottages and houses, leading down to Wigtown Parish Church where there are views across the bay. A property at this address is currently valued at an average £127,167.

There are no trains or easy access to larger towns and cities from Wigtown without a car, but the isolated, semi-rural nature of life there is the appeal for many.

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Newton Stewart is just a 15-minute drive away, Stranraer – the region’s second-largest town – is about 40 minutes by road, while Dumfries is about one hour and 15 minutes distant.

However, there is a primary school in Wigtown and secondary education is provided at Douglas-Ewart High in Newton Stewart.

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There is a Co-op in the town centre, although the Main Street is packed with independent retailers.

For literature lovers and hilltop ramblers, Wigtown is a paradise with a bargain price tag.

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Average market value of a property in the area (Source: Zoopla)

Detached £266,415

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Semi-detached £63,311

Terrace £121,777

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Flat £75,163