Castle Douglas is a traditional market town that maintains strong links to agriculture and a rich heritage in food production. We visited the town and surrounding area as a family to discover the tempting flavours of Dumfries and Galloway.

A source of local pride is Castle Douglas’ High Street, which boasts three local butchers, a chocolatier, a greengrocer, several bakeries, cafés and restaurants. The town is refreshingly independent, with few big chains breaking through. After a walk at Carlingwark Loch, an informal lunch stop is Earth’s Crust Bakery. Open since March 2016, it sells artisan breads, light lunches and coffees, and prides itself on provenance – organic flour from Shipton Mill, free range eggs from Senwick Farm, and cheese from Loch Arthur Creamery, to name a few suppliers. For more formal dining head to Mr Pook’s Kitchen, where the team offer to bring you 'Dumfries and Galloway on a plate'.

Another High Street gem is In House Chocolates. Creators of handmade chocolates in 65 different flavours, it’s possible to sample their goods in the café or, alternatively, takeaway a signature hot chocolate (so gloriously rich) and continue exploring.

On the outskirts of the town is the National Trust for Scotland’s Threave Garden, a calming and picturesque foodie location. Whilst children make a beeline for the playground and the sculptures of Belted Galloway cattle, adults will be drawn to the Walled Garden. A beautiful setting in its own right, it also supplies fresh produce to the Visitor Centre Café: from cabbages, onions, chives and rhubarb, to more exotic ginger and goji berries.

A new chef, Alistair Cooper, is clearly delighted to have such ingredients at his fingertips, enabling him to supplement dishes with seasonal specialities and experiment with local produce. The café is a modern, fresh venue, with sweeping views over the gardens. Tuck into quiches, soups and sandwiches in a relaxed setting, then walk off lunch in the new Garden of Contemplation, a space designed for tranquillity and quiet reflection.

With two noisy tots in tow, we didn’t think contemplation or reflection were on the table, but there was no shortage of things to engage them. They galloped past waterfalls, rockeries, a stately home, and even discovered a bat reserve where they learned about Bandit Pipistrelles, Soprano Pipistrelles and Long-Eared Bats. The visit ended at the plant centre where it’s possible to pick up a few additions for your own kitchen garden, such as thyme and tarragon.

For visitors who fancy a spot of foodie shopping, then Castle Douglas’ monthly Producers’ Market falls on the third Sunday of every month. And don’t worry if this doesn’t tie in with the timing of your visit, the Dumfries Farmers’ Market is held the first Sunday of the month at the town’s railway station. The range of pies for sale is quite staggering, providing a very affordable family lunch at roughly £1.50 per head. Langholm, Lockerbie and Kirkcudbright also host their own markets, so chances are you can find a market in Dumfries and Galloway to coincide with your weekend break.

Admittedly the big date in the foodie diary is Castle Douglas’ Harvest Food Festival. Visit the town on the September 7-8, 2019, for a celebration of local food and drink, independent retail and local music, and an array of food producers and chefs.

On one hand adults are taking their food, its provenance, food miles and organic status more seriously, but food can be a lot of fun too. In order to teach children about food and farming, and get them involved in cooking and foodie creativity, making ‘fun’ a big ingredient is half the battle.

The Cocoa Bean Company in nearby Twynholm, grabbed our children’s attention when we mentioned the word ‘chocolate’. Daily ‘Children’s Chocolate Workshops’ are available, where tots deck themselves out in purple aprons and blue headgear in preparation for the serious business of chocolate innovation. We watched as they swirled and whirled melted chocolate, created rockets, towers and castles out of giant marshmallows, and took an icing tube of chocolate to draw on the table and even draw chocolate moustaches on their little faces. It was lively and imaginative messy fun.

The children dipped and licked their fingers as they went, and walked away with a haul of chocolate creations and a small bag of sweets. They also were allowed to keep their outfits. Whilst sugar and chocolate are sweet treats, the session made me realise that, like most parents, I’m possibly too strict in the kitchen and I witnessed a new way to engage my children with food and cooking.

The company also runs Beanie Tots workshops for Under 4s, family workshops, adult truffle making and additional support workshops, so there’s generally something for everyone.

After the sugar rush kicks in, kids can dash about in a vast soft play area and an extensive outdoor playground. Meanwhile adults can choose between row upon row of treats in the chocolate shop, which features a colourful array of cupcakes, from a Pimms or Strawberry Daquiri flavour, to Honeycomb or Chilli Chocolate. It’s the kind of place where the treats don’t seem to end, but if the Cocoa Bean Company sounds indulgent enough, then there’s more to come!

Cream o’ Galloway, in nearby Rainton, is another quality example. On one hand there’s a wonderful indoor and outdoor play area, featuring ride-on tractors and huge trampoline nets, but there’s a lot of scope for learning too.

An ice-cream tasting session won our children over in nanoseconds. As a room of enthusiastic tasters (both adults and children) worked their way through 11 flavours of ice-cream and sorbet, the process of ice-cream making was explained in detail. Cream o’ Galloway produce 200,000 litres of ice-cream a year, and it’s organic. We sampled flavours ranging from Real Raspberry and Gingerbread, to Gooseberry and Elderflower.

Depending on when you visit, Cream o’ Galloway also runs farms tours and food tours (that include the story of the farm’s renowned cheeses). But whichever event you attend, the host will tap into Rainton Farm’s rare approach to dairy farming, one that lets the calves stay with their mothers. In traditional dairy farms calves are removed within a few hours of birth, and at Rainton it was felt that the stresses this placed on the animals was often upsetting and certainly unnecessary. At Rainton the calves are allowed to remain at the teat for five months, and the farm essentially shares the milk output with the calves. The ‘Ethical Dairy’, as it’s called, is a new approach in times when customers are often willing to pay a little bit more to ensure animals’ wellbeing and contentedness.

Cream o’ Galloway stood out because, on one hand, it offered oodles of family friendly foodie fun, and the next moment it provided ample food for thought on the wider topic of farming and husbandry.

The variety and quality of the food producers in Castle Douglas and the surrounding area put it on the map for all the all the right reasons. One top tip is to bring a cooler box to transport your purchases home!