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Travel: Spa days and Spitfires in Dumfries – Flying break has it all

© Shutterstock / jazmanDevorgilla Bridge in Dumfries
Devorgilla Bridge in Dumfries

Sitting in the cockpit of a fighter jet is pretty cool. But realising I have inadvertently chosen an aviator-style jacket for the occasion is even better. I look like a pro!

I’m spending the afternoon at Dumfries & Galloway Aviation Museum and whilst I ordinarily have no interest in old aircraft, it’s surprising how quickly I get caught up in the atmosphere.

Getting to sit in one of the planes is the icing on the cake.

Based in the former control tower of RAF Dumfries, this independently-owned museum showcases a fantastic collection of aircraft, from a Battle of Britain Spitfire to the twinjet Lightning, designed to shoot down Soviet bombers.

The planes are mesmerising and the memorabilia, from soldiers’ uniforms to parachute packs, are fascinating.

We must have picked the rainiest weekend of the year to visit and, after a dry spell, the heavens open again, signalling the perfect time to check into our hotel.

Our base for a few days is the Cairndale Hotel just a few miles down the road. The red sandstone mansion sits in the heart of the town, and, family owned, seems the best place to park up for a few nights.

Our family room is spacious, with a big bed for us and a single and pull-out sofa bed for the kids.

Their excitement builds as they spot a tray laden with milk and cookies, then it’s our turn to light up when we spot a chilled bottle of fizz and a whirlpool bath with built-in TV.

Cairndale Hotel pool

After a quick change, we pop downstairs for dinner. The hotel reception, next to an art deco staircase, is undergoing renovation during our stay, and from the colours going on to the wall, it’ll look lovely when finished.

Dinner is a delight. The steak and slowly braised beef cheek go down a treat and the little ones demolish their pastas before we all squeeze in some superb sticky toffee pudding and ice cream.

By the time we arrive back at the room, the sofa bed has been turned down all set for its first road test from little Ollie who sleeps soundly.

After a hearty breakfast – and unfortunately another morning of rain on the horizon – we decide to venture downstairs to the hotel pool for a splash around.

We opt for the spa package, with robes and toiletries, and a Champagne flute which the staff fill with fizz to be enjoyed in the hot tub. Little Emily Rose loves feeling like a pampered princess, even if it’s only flavoured water in her glass, and it’s lovely to see the kids having so much fun. With busy lives back home, it’s not often we all get to the pool together.

© Burns House
Burns House

Afterwards, with the rain fading to drizzle, we venture into Dumfries and stumble upon Robert Burns House, where the great man spent his last few years.

Scotland’s National Bard moved to Dumfries in 1789 to take up a post as an excise officer and died of rheumatic fever seven years later, days before his wife Jean Armour gave birth to their ninth child.

The poet’s desk and chair still sit in the corner of the room, and we examine some of his manuscripts.

The children love the dress-up room at the back, full of hats and costumes from the Bard’s era, and listening to us read out one of his most famous poems, To A Mouse.

Just along the road is a statue of Jean Armour, and Burns Mausoleum in the churchyard of St Michael’s. The poet was buried there before his remains were reinterred along with those of his sons under the floor of the mausoleum and they were later joined by Armour, following her death in 1834.

It’s a fascinating pocket of Scottish history, and lovely that Burns is celebrated in the town where he passed away, as well as in his birthplace of Alloway, in Ayrshire.

After a few hours we circle back to the hotel just in time for a stunning afternoon tea in one of the garden pods. Sipping tea and eating home-baked treats outside, but protected from the driving rain, is an absolute pleasure.

And with full tummies, it’s time to pack up the car and head for home.

Overall, with all the nostalgia and excitement of a fighter jet and everything in such close proximity that you can get round it at speed, Dumfries is a lovely little place to stop off for a flying visit, even if you have to travel by car!


If you’re holidaying with little ones in tow, check out Dalscone Farm, a park with lots of animals to meet and plenty of opportunities for play, whatever the weather.


Prices at Cairndale Hotel, start from £89.50pp including dinner, bed and breakfast and use of leisure facilities. See

Dumfries Aviation Museum closed just after our visit for winter but re-opens in March.