FOOD and drink speaks a language of hospitality, welcome and warmth. That sense of welcome is one visitors to Dumfries and Galloway enthuse about and it’s why so many of them return to this special corner of Scotland year after year, making it their home from home.

Hospitality is in my blood, and so I recognise genuine hospitality when I see it. I returned to Scotland with my parents when I was eight years old and my family bought a small hotel in Stranraer. My childhood is coloured with memories of warmth, welcomes and wonderful Dumfries and Galloway food and drink where the quality spoke for itself.

For those unfamiliar with Dumfries and Galloway, the sheer size of our region is often a surprise.

From my home in Stranraer I need to drive east for more than two hours before I can turn south and head towards Carlisle to catch my train for Westminster.

I have come to enjoy this journey as it gives me an opportunity to reflect on the many strengths and needs unique to the area.

Dumfries and Galloway’s landscape is stunning. On my journey to work I follow the road past spectacular seaside vistas, bays and working harbours where fishing boats land delicious shellfish.

I drive alongside some of the finest livestock producing fields in Scotland, pass signposts for some of Scotland’s most popular food tourism attractions and see the promising signs of a resurgence in lowland whisky production.

The landscape has been sculpted by generations of farmers over hundreds of years to become the finest land for dairy production in Scotland. Indeed Dumfries and Galloway is Scotland’s largest dairy producer.

Food production here is as natural as breathing, it is in the very bones of our people and is the fabric that holds our communities together. It is more than just another industry, more than just an economic statistic – it is in our hearts and souls.

We are primary producers, supplying top-quality Scottish dairy, Scotch beef, Scotch lamb and Scottish seafood that is exported throughout these islands and beyond.

However, with so much of our region’s food being sold wholesale, it is often our smaller businesses and artisan producers that visitors to Dumfries and Galloway encounter directly.

Our small producers add a richness and diversity to our food and drinks industry and serve the dual role of being food ambassadors. Visitor attractions like Cream o’ Galloway and The Cocoa Bean Company welcome thousands of visitors each year, giving people a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes of food production and encouraging them to make their own delicious creations.

Farm shops like Kilnford and Loch Arthur showcase their exceptional home-reared produce with menus and retail areas that are peppered with local produce, while Dumfries and Galloway’s roadside eating stops include world-class smoked salmon producers like the famous Marrbury Smokehouse at Carsluith Castle and the new seafood restaurant The Fisherman at Galloway Smokehouse, an inspirational sea-to-plate eating experience a little further round the bay.

There will not be many weekends that pass without a farmers’ market, community event or a food festival taking place somewhere in Dumfries and Galloway.

These markets and events are a great way to get a flavour of the communities of this part of Scotland while sampling the quality food and drink produced within those communities.

This weekend sees the start of Wigtown Book Festival, a community-organised event of international importance. Despite the breadth of celebrity (and political) names on the programme, one of my favourite things about Wigtown’s Book Festival is the Kist, an old Scots word for treasure chest and throughout the Book Festival the Kist is indeed a treasure trove of local food, drink and crafts.

As well as being home to Wigtown, Scotland’s National Book Town, my constituency is also home to Castle Douglas Food Town, designated as such due to it being a focal point of food production and retail within Dumfries and Galloway. A traditional thriving market town which has retained its important independent butchers, bakers, greengrocers, chocolatiers and delis, Castle Douglas reminds us of what a high street can and should be. with bakers who embrace traditional methods of production, butchers who know the field their beef was raised in and artisans who imbue their food and drink creations with genuine passion. Later in the autumn, nearby Kirkcudbright Artists’ Town celebrates its heritage of fishing and hospitality when it holds its chef-led annual food festival towards the end of October.

There is much to tempt a food lover to Dumfries and Galloway. With so many annual events, with so much to see, do, taste and experience we are indeed Scotland’s best-kept food-lovers secret.

Richard Arkless is the MP for Dumfries and Galloway

SOURCE: The National

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