Robert the Bruce, JM Barrie and Robert Burns targeted to boost tourism

By Giancarlo Rinaldi
South Scotland reporter, BBC Scotland news website

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Robert the Bruce, JM Barrie and Robert Burns all have links to south west Scotland

It is more than 80 years since any one of them was alive.

And yet tourist chiefs believe they could form a crucial cornerstone in boosting tourism numbers for the south west of Scotland.

They hope to tap into a "moment in the limelight" being enjoyed by Robert the Bruce, Robert Burns and JM Barrie.

All three have links to Dumfries and Galloway which it is hoped can be exploited to attract more people to the area.

The Netflix film the Outlaw King, the 260th anniversary of Burns' birth this year and the opening of a children's literature centre at Moat Brae - the house that helped inspire the Peter Pan story - could all play their part.

Image source, LDN Architects
Image caption,
The restored Moat Brae will open to the public later this year

Paula Ward, VisitScotland regional leadership director, said there were few similar places with strong connections to such famous figures.

"The creative calibre of Burns and Barrie, coupled with the historical significance of Robert the Bruce have left a lasting legacy on the region and one that continues to attract visitors from far and wide," she said.

"This year - thanks to the recent release of the Outlaw King, the 260th anniversary of Burns' birth and the upcoming opening of Moat Brae in late spring - represents an unmissable opportunity for Dumfries and Galloway."

She said it was a chance to share the stories of the famous trio and also "encourage people to follow in their footprints and embark on their own adventures around the region".

"Tourism is more than a holiday experience, it creates jobs and sustains communities," she said.

"I look forward to seeing Bruce, Barrie and Burns help Dumfries and Galloway enjoy a tourism boost this year."

Attractions linked to the trio already attract thousands of visitors but it is hoped those can be increased in 2019.

Image caption,
Robert Burns was born in Ayrshire but spent his final years in and around Dumfries

Dumfries and Galloway Council said the "rich history and heritage" of the region was the basis for many attractions, festivals and events in the region.

It said its cultural strategy and major festivals strategy would aim to help to strengthen that.

"Dumfries town centre possesses a rich heritage of buildings associated with internationally renowned characters such as Bruce, Burns and Barrie all of which can play a key role in the revitalisation of Dumfries as a distinctive tourist destination," it said in a statement.

Bruce bonus

Image source, Billy McCrorie
Image caption,
A number of sites across Dumfries and Galloway - like Lochmaben - have links with Robert the Bruce

Dumfries and Galloway boasts a number of places with links to Robert the Bruce.

They include Bruce's Stone which sits at the site of an early victory at the Battle of Glentrool and a plaque in Dumfries marking the spot where he killed John "Red" Comyn to begin his bid for the throne of Scotland.

Mark Turner, of Solway Tours who run a Robert The Bruce tour, said visits to Scotland were increasing with historical tourism "definitely leading that charge".

"Tracing a family tree is the biggest factor in our mind followed by some clever marketing and targeting by VisitScotland such as their Scotlandisnow and seesouthscotland campaigns," he said.

Image source, Billy McCrorie
Image caption,
Bruce's Stone sits at the site of an early victory

"The success of Outlander, Outlaw King and Mary Queen of Scots also play a big part.

"We take many groups to the sites used in filming these places."

"In Dumfries and Galloway, Annan Castle, Lochmaben Castle, Castledykes, Dalswinton, Glentrool, Whithorn and, of course, Greyfriars are all important Bruce sites."

However, he said work still needed to be done to make sure people extended their visits to the area.

"Lots of people want to visit these sites but we need to persuade them to stay longer in the region, he added.

"Scotland is on crest of a wave of tourism and history and our heritage is pivotal in that success."

The Burns legacy

Robert Burns, of course, was a son of Ayrshire but he spent his final years in and around Dumfries.

You can scarcely turn a corner in the town without stumbling across some connection to Scotland's national bard.

Among them is his mausoleum, the house where he lived and, near Auldgirth, the home he built for his family at Ellisland Farm.

Image source, Tim Glover
Image caption,
Ellisland Farm receives visits from around the world due to its Burns connections

Stuart Cochrane, curator of the Ellisland Trust, said that they had Burns suppers, concerts and family-themed events planned this year.

"Ellisland receives visits from all around the world and our events also help to fill local hotels and guest houses," he said.

"Robert Burns and Bruce are the most significant Scots and Burns in particular is loved worldwide as his writings and philosophy are just as prevalent as they were two hundred years ago."

And, of course, ongoing right now is the Big Burns Supper in his honour which was estimated to contribute about £500,000 to the local economy last year.

Children's literature

Image source, Getty Images

JM Barrie was another man born elsewhere - Kirriemuir - but who spent time in Dumfries in his youth, attending Dumfries Academy.

He would later credit his time spent playing at Moat Brae house in the town as inspiration for his most famous work, Peter Pan.

That building has been rescued from demolition and will open later this year as a national centre for children's literature.

The site will celebrate "the life of JM Barrie, his links to Dumfries and Galloway and the story of Peter Pan".

Image source, PPMBT
Image caption,
Moat Brae has been brought back to life from the brink of demolition

It is hoped it will attract 45,000 visitors a year and generate an additional £1.3m for the economy.

More than that it will provide a "major new visitor attraction to fire the imaginations of children and young people and promote a love of storytelling".

Centre director Simon Davidson said Barrie's heritage in the town would be in the spotlight when the site opened.

"Barrie loved Dumfries and it was the place where Peter Pan began, so we have a wonderful story to tell the world," he said.

"Once Moat Brae is open we expect it will make a valuable contribution to the region's efforts to attract more tourists from across Scotland, the rest of the UK and overseas.

"What's also important is that Moat Brae plans to collaborate closely with Spring Fling, the Dumfries and Galloway Arts Festival, the Wigtown Book Festival and others to support each other's work in making Dumfries and Galloway a major centre for cultural tourism."

And, if it achieves that goal, the region will owe a debt of gratitude to these three famous historical figures.

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