Championing Thistle Finalists

by Sara Barton, 16th October 2023
South of Scotland Thistle Awards
Championing Thistle Finalists

This year the South of Scotland is proud to have its own dedicated regional tourism awards, the South of Scotland Thistle Awards. As regional award winners, individuals and businesses will then go on to compete as finalists against businesses from across the country in the national Scottish Thistle Awards.

Congratulations are due to all the finalists of the South of Scotland Thistle Awards – they go above and beyond to make sure visitors have a fantastic, memorable experience.

Here we look at the finalists in three of the categories, which take note of the finalists’ commitment to the environment, their communities and innovating how they engage with the visitors.

Celebrating Thriving Communities

Finalists: Go Wild Scotland | Keir, Penpont and Tynron Development Trust | The Devil’s Porridge Museum

The Celebrating Thriving Communities category celebrates the partnerships within communities which come together to protect and enhance the environment while growing social, cultural and economic wealth. These fantastic examples of team working can be between local businesses, community groups or individuals.

Go Wild Scotland offers visitors distinctive local experiences and plays a crucial role in supporting community projects such as its very successful regeneration of Mauldsheugh Wood. This local woodland is now a vibrant community asset with accessible pathways, nature trails, ponds teeming with wildlife, and even a forest school! Go Wild Scotland collaborates with schools and offers nature-based experiences which promote sustainability and conservation to students. And all of this is funded by the tourism pounds brought in via the wildlife safari experiences.

Any cycling enthusiast who has made a pilgrimage to Keir Mill, birthplace of Kirkpatrick Macmillan, the father of the modern bicycle, has probably already discovered the delightful not-for-profit Three Villages Community Café. Located in the heart of Penpont, this is the most visible sign of the work of the Keir, Penpont and Tynron (KPT) Development Trust. But the trust has an extensive portfolio of projects engaging with its locality and the community. There is an e-bike rental scheme, a bike maintenance station and e-bike charging points behind the cafe. There is even an annual Celebration of Cycling event in July, the Trust has been active in committing to projects to upgrade cycling paths and a commendable Community Garden has been created out of a gardening group started just two years ago.

The KPT Development Trust has put a particular emphasis on sustainability: promoting energy efficiency; employing solar panels; implementing community-owned wind turbines; and encouraging environmentally friendly transportation options. All of their work clearly reflects the dedication to promoting active and healthy lifestyles, environmental consciousness, and the overall well-being of their communities.

The Celebration of Cycling is just one of the projects undertaken by the KPT Development Trust.

A visit to the five-star visitor attraction, the Devil’s Porridge Museum, gives visitors an insight into the munitions factory that once stood nearby. But the museum offers far more than a single narrative and the stories of the past are brought to life here, often by one of the many dedicated community volunteers, who have helped the museum gain a coveted place as a finalist. For any visitor, the volunteer’s insight will always add value to the captivating exhibits and interactive displays.

What guests might not see on their visit, is the active community engagement that the Devil’s Porridge Museum does with the young people of the local area. Not too many museums can boast of their pro-active approach engaging with local teens and young adults. The Devil’s Porridge Museum has been particularly successful in tailoring programmes for young people, celebrating inclusivity and creating a meaningful impact in addressing social issues.

The Devil’s Porridge Youth Council. Clockwise from left: Desray, Emily, Callum and Monica Ramirez (Youth and Community Engagement Officer).

Devil’s Porridge Museum was chosen as the winner of this category.

Climate Action Award

Finalist: Nithbank Country Estate

The Climate Action Award celebrates businesses, events, and destinations, who have made demonstrable progress on their climate action journey to NetZero. 

Nithbank Country Estate became the first accommodation provider in Dumfries and Galloway to receive the 5-Star-Gold-Award from VisitScotland, showcasing its ability to create a quality, memorable and authentic visitor experience with sustainabilty at its heart. And it is the only B&B in the South of Scotland to hold Green Tourism’s GOLD-Award

The estate is located within the Galloway & Southern Ayrshire UNESCO Biosphere, and holds the Biosphere Certification Mark, demonstrating its commitment to sustainability. Nithbank also features as a UNESCO National Trail case-study demonstrating its UNESCO values.

Offering two luxury guest suites in a historic house Nithbank is surrounded by an 11-acre estate for its guests to enjoy. There are formal gardens, an ancient woodland glen, cascading ponds, a walled kitchen garden, and river frontage all of which is managed using organic principles. The food on offer focuses on a zero food miles and home grown or locally produced is the order of the day for the delicious breakfasts on offer.

Nithbank actively focuses on its local supply chains, uses a biomass boiler which runs from pellets sourced locally in the Galloway Forest Park. And it has mapped out its aspirations for the next three years in its journey towards NetZero.

Nithbank Country Estate holds 5-star Visit Scotland award; Gold Green Tourism award and the Biosphere Certification Mark.

Nithbank Country Estate was chosen as winner of this category.

Innovation in Tourism

Finalists: Dalscone Farm | Trimontium Museum

This award sets out to honour those driving forward positive change in innovative ways, and those creatively adapting in line with the changing landscape and consumer behaviour. 

Dalscone Farm is a firm favourite with locals and visitors alike providing a soft play area indoors and an outdoor play ground as well as offering a variety of animal experiences. While most visitors come in person, the farm also provides a unique virtual experience. Following a viral video in October 2021, the farm started using Facebook Live to stream five times per week the daily farming life. Now visitors get in touch to plan trips to Scotland and the farm to see and experience the world famous animals they have been watching online! This summer a new small animal experience was launched so visitors and viewers could learn about animals they are less familiar with – get up close to a stick insect, millipedes or even a giant snail.

And the innovations don’t stop there. Dalscone has plans to offer “be a farmer for a day”, allowing visitors to come and help out on the farm, meeting the famous Facebook farmers and animals whilst helping feed and clean out the animals.

Live streaming from Dalscone Farm is being seen all over the world.Here two pigmy goats are being delivered. Picture: Jim McEwan

Dalscone Farm was chosen as the winner of this category.

Trimontium Museum & Fort might be Scotland’s only site dedicated to the Roman and Iron Age but it is using very modern day technology to engage visitors. At the museum in Melrose, there is in-house drone imaging of local and national Iron Age and Roman sites in the museum’s audio visuals. So many of those sites are hidden or inaccessible to visitors so this approach helps create a better understanding and encourages visits to other sites across the region.

Outside of town is the location of the once substantial Trimontium Fort. However modern technology has been used in the form of the Trimontium Fort site app  to allow visitors to  see what Trimontium would once have looked like. This incredible use of 3D technology, with stunning visuals, text & audio, allows a visit to Trimontium from anywhere in world.

Artefacts such as Roman treasures are often too fragile to handle, so the Trimontium used 3D printer technology to create replicas from its rare colection for hands-on engagement & accessibility. And the museum launched itself onto TikTok to increase awareness of Scottish Roman/Iron Age history around the world.

Buoyed by a force of more than 70 volunteers, Trimontium Museum offers a unique insight and experience into the times of the Romans with exhibits focusing on the often forgotten roles of women and slaves as well as insights into the native inhabitants at the time Trimontium Fort was in use.

Trimontium Museum offers insights into the Iron Age/Roman eras and has used modern technology to enhance the visitor experience.