The secret life of Kirkcudbright

by Sara Barton, 26th April 2022
Dumfries & Galloway Insider | Fiona Williamson | Dark Art Distillery, Kirkcudbright
The secret life of Kirkcudbright
Fiona Williamson, distiller from the Dark Art Distillery shares her experiences since moving to Kirkcudbright in 2019.

Fiona Williamson is a distiller at Dark Art Distillery in Kirkcudbright. The company launched in 2019 but has already won recognition for its work, winning awards at: Scottish Gin Awards, Peoples’ Choice Spirit Awards, London Spirits Competition, International Spirits Competition and The World Spirit Awards.

Williamson and her partner moved to Kirkcudbright just before lockdown from the island of Raasay where there were only 160 inhabitants. Having also lived on the outskirts of Glasgow and Edinburgh, Williamson feels Kirkcudbright has a mix of the two – a bit of hustle and bustle, but also the ability to get out into the wild.

“I hadn’t really been in this part of the world to be honest. And then this job popped up and it just seemed like an amazing opportunity in a nice area. It has been a bit of an adventure moving here and now we’ve bought a house; so yes, we view it as a long term place to be,” muses Williamson.

Kirkcudbright, home to artists past and present and an ideal holiday town with galleries, gift shops, restaurants and cafes.

Harbour holiday town

Williamson describes Kirkcudbright’s harbour location as ideal for a holiday town in addition to the range of places to eat and drink, plenty of gift shops, art galleries and indoor options for visitors. The distillery offers tours and next door is the Dark Space Planetarium and the Wee Pottery, both recent additions to the town.

Sitting in the production room of the Dark Art Distillery, where all the work that goes into making Sky Garden Gin happens, Williamson reflects on the impact the place has had on the brand and the product that they create.

“Kirkcudbright and the surrounding area has been a massive inspiration. From the name of the company to the first product and, I can’t give too much away here, for the next couple of products as well,” she laughs.

Secret Life of Kirkcudbright: The recipe for Sky Garden Gin is a secret, but the botanicals are foraged and grown locally.
Botanicals for Sky Garden Gin are foraged and grown locally in Kirkcudbright.

Some of the botanicals in the gin are either locally foraged or locally grown. “We can head out to the headlands and get gorse, which is in the recipe, and we have Mutehill Nursery locally that grows certain botanicals that we can’t get commercially, so that’s quite special,” she says.

The very name is also inspired from the surrounding area – Dark is homage to the nearby Dark Skies Park designation at the Galloway Forest Park, the first area in the UK to receive the accreditation. And the Art comes from Kirkcudbright being known as Artists’ Town as it has long been associated with the art movement of Glasgow stretching back to the 1850s.

Broughton House, once home to artist EA Hornel and now a National Trust property open to the public.

Artists’ Town history

Famous names such as EA Hornell, EA Taylor and Jessie M King all had homes in the town. Today, the town has multiple galleries and the story of its association with the art movement is told at Tolbooth Art Centre, the Hornel Art Gallery, at Broughton House and at The Stewartry museum. Regular art tours leave daily to highlight the homes and the importance these artists had on the town’s history and how the local landscapes influenced their works.

Secret life of Kirkcudbright: Can you find all the links to the Town's Artists as you tour around the streets?
‘Glasgow Boy’ EA Hornel had a family home in Kirkcudbright and he encouraged other artists to come live in the area.

It is in these landscapes that Williamson herself is to be found during her down time, in the company of her dog, walking along the River Dee towards St Mary’s Isle or heading north and walking up towards Tongland. She also enjoys hiking up nearby Screel Hill or heading along the cliffs to take in the views along the Solway Firth.

“I also really like going to the Red Deer Park and to see the wild goats in the Galloway Forest Park. It is complete wilderness with just the road cutting through it. I like that  – you’re not too far from the towns but it does feel quite in the middle of nowhere,” she reflects.

Secret Life of Kirkcudbright - its a short drive to walk up Screel Hill for this fantastic view of the Solway coast.
View from Screel Hill across the solway Firth.

Secrets to shout about

And while Williamson knows there are plenty of good places to go eat and drink locally, she feels that overall the food and drink offerings in the South of Scotland are not as well-known as they should be.

“Food and drink in the South is amazing. There’s tons of different food producers, distilleries – Castle Douglas is known as the Food Town – so there’s lots going on, but it’s all secret!,” she explains.

As just a few examples of what is nearby, she points to a café offering gluten free, vegetarian and vegan offerings in Gatehouse of Fleet, excellent Indian and Greek restaurants in Castle Douglas, and a new café opening in Kirkcudbright to complement the existing offerings including the Selkirk Arms and Castle Bistro.  

And her favourite season to come? “I’d say autumn, for the colours in the landscapes – and fewer midges and no chance of sunburn!” she says knowingly.

Fiona’s Five Favourites

Secret life of Kirkcudbright - there's a great Red squirrel hide at Barrhill Woods near the town, Dumfries and Galloway, Go Wild Scotland
Don’t miss a great opportunity to see red squirrels at the Squirrel Hide in Barrhill Woods near Kirkcudbright.
  • Barrhill Woods near Kirkcudbright – head to the squirrel hide where you are sure to catch a glimpse of red squirrels and birds galore
  • Nikos Greek Restaurant, King St, Castle Douglas. Good for vegetarians.
  • Red Deer Park/Wild Goats, Galloway Forest Park – feed the animals, attend a ranger talk about the activities there.
  • Clan, Kirkcudbright – new café open 7 days a week.
  • Crafty Cow, Gatehouse of Fleet – Craft shop and café; gluten free pizzas and vegan options