Scotland's Larder: Alex Dalgetty & Sons Galashiels

In this Scotland's Larder, we chat to Craig Murray about his family business, baking and surviving lockdown.

Published 21st Jul 2021
Updated 8 th Aug 2023

Alex Dalgetty and Sons are a old fashioned Borders bakery famous for making Selkirk bannocks, the traditional way.

It is currently in the fifth generation of family ownership, run by Craig Murray who is the great, great, grandson of Alex Dalgetty, who founded the business.

He had previously worked for another local baker, Robert Douglas, who popularised the Selkirk bannock back in 1890's.

When Mr Douglas retired, Alex Dalgetty set up his own business, and took the recipe with him and Craig said, "we have been making them to that original recipe ever since."

Selkirk bannocks, made the traditional way. Picture: Chris Watt

Selkirk Bannock

He is keen to point out that nothing fancy goes into this traditional recipe, and that there are no special ingredients, he said, "it is more the long fermentation process, that really gives it its unique flavour."

Selkirk bannock Alex Dalgetty & Sons Picture: Chris Watt
Selkirk bannock Alex Dalgetty & Sons Picture: Chris Watt

The Selkirk bannock is an enriched fruit bread made with added butter, but it takes over 24 hours to make.

You cannot rush the process: after each step the dough is allowed to lie for a few hours before more ingredients are added, including flour, sugar, butter and sultanas.

In different areas of Scotland, a bannock is an oatcake biscuit, Craig said, "so anyone is perfectly entitled to make a Selkirk bannock but if it is not made correctly then it shouldn't be called one and that is something I would pull people up on."

Selkirk bannock Alex Dalgetty & Sons
Selkirk bannock Alex Dalgetty & Sons Picture: Chris Watt

In with the bricks

He is fiercely proud to be the guardian of the recipe, and the whole bakery is steeped in family tradition.

One oven in daily use, the Scotch oven, predates 1870, Craig said, "you think of the millions and millions of products that will have gone through it over the years."

Traditional ovens at Alex Dalgetty & Sons
Craig Murray loading the traditional ovens at Alex Dalgetty & Sons. Picture: Chris Watt

The other ovens date back to the turn of the century and Craig's great great grandfather installed them.

They never actually go cold even when the bakehouse shuts for a few days over Christmas, they remain warm.

All the ovens were originally coal fired but now run on kerosene.

17 things you (probably) didn't know about Irn-Bru

Craig said, "they are actually built into the fabric of the building, so they are not going anywhere."

Traditional ovens at Alex Dalgetty & Sons Picture: Chris Watt

Over the years there have times when an upgrade or a move has been suggested but he explains, "I couldn't take the ovens with me and that, to me, is what makes the bakery unique and a bit special."

Border Reivers

Each baker in the region has their own recipe for a Border tart, Craig explains, "ours is an almond and coconut sponge with sultans and cherries. We sell loads of them round here and they are very popular."

Melrose Tart Alex Dalgetty & Sons. Picture: Chris Watt
Melrose Tart from Alex Dalgetty & Sons. Picture: Chris Watt

The family live in Galashiels and Craig's wife, Marnie, now works in the business.

The couple have two boys who are Max (13) and Finn (16), he adds, "this summer my oldest boy is working through the summer holidays in the bakery."

They have two shops but they also sell online, Craig explains, "that it is something my dad was actually quite forward thinking in getting an online shop in the mid 1990's."

Here are 14 of the best farm shops in Scotland - including Gloagburn, Bowhouse and Ardross

Family firm

The Dalgetty's family have been at the heart of bakery in the Scottish Borders, and beyond, since 1890.

Craig initially had no intention of coming into the business, he said, "actually I got a degree in civil engineering from Napier University."

For a few years he worked as an engineer but hated it, so instead he decided to return to the Borders and bake for a living,

Both his parents did everything possible to persuade Craig not to come in to the business but he said, "I was daft enough to do it and 20 years later I'm still here."

He works seven days up to 60-70 hours a week, and explains that the first couple of hours in the bakery are hectic, racing to get everything ready for the delivery vans which leave at half past six sharp.

Alex Dalgetty & Sons.
Craig Murray of Alex Dalgetty & Sons leads the bakery team by example. Picture: Chris Watt

One baker starts at three o'clock to make all the bread and rolls then the rest of the bakers including Craig start work at 4.30am, "it is from zero to 100 miles and hour as soon as you get out of bed," he said.

There is also a dedicated confectioner who makes all the fresh cream cakes, so it is not a gentle start to the day for anyone.

Flavour Profile Q&A: Rory Stone, director of Highland Fine Cheeses

Rush hour

After the morning rush they can begin to make Selkirk bannocks from the dough that has been left proving overnight, and they then prepare rolls for the next day or make more cakes and tarts.

He said, "it would be easy for me to step back from baking and sit in the office, but doing paperwork is not my idea of fun."

The business is all about the quality of the handmade artisan products, everything relies on making sure every one is as good as it can be.

Craig explains: "you lead by example, that is the way I have always run the business, and it keeps the other bakers on their toes."

Alex Dalgetty & Sons
Craig Murray in action in the bakery. Picture: Chris Watt

Running a small bakery is tough, they buy the raw ingredients, design and manufacture their own products, then package and distribute and retail them direct to the customer.

Craig explains, "there is no other business in the world that has the model that you do absolutely everything."

Family footsteps

Family heritage is really important to him, and Craig remembers his grandfather working in the business, he said, "he was really jovial and quite the joker."

Craig said growing up "if i saw him he would give me a random key, and said that was his key from his Spitfire he never flew in the war, but I always believed him."

Alex Dalgetty and Sons Galashiels
Bobby Dalgetty in 1950's

His parents met at school and continuing that same tradition, Craig and Marnie were in the same year at Gala Academy.

His mother maiden name is Dalgetty but it was his father who worked in the bake house whilst his mother ran the shops.

Craig said, "my dad worked seven days a week, that was how it was, but that is what I do now."

Another family coincidence Craig tells us about, his father was also a civil engineer before becoming a baker.

Alex Dalgetty & Sons.   Picture: Chris Watt
Craig Murray of Alex Dalgetty & Sons. Picture: Chris Watt

Good advice

His parents are retired now and live nearby, Craig is grateful for their advice, "they never tried to dictate to me or my two brothers what we should or shouldn't do."

His boys are not currently showing any interest in taking over the reins in the bakery, "Finn is into football and my youngest boy Max is rugby daft, so his ambition is to be a professional rugby player."

Happy Shoppers

As well as the bake house, the Galashiels store is the second longest established shop in the town, opening in the 1930-40's and the Melrose shop followed in 1950's.

Craig adds, "so people from those towns have grown up with Dalgetty's shops 'aye being there.' The bakery is part of the history of the town, and we have been established for so long they are kind of entwined."

Melrose store of Alex Dalgetty & Sons
Melrose store of Alex Dalgetty & Sons Picture: Chris Watt

The common riding are also a big part of Border traditions, and Craig explains that his grandparents were both a Braw Lad and Lass, along with his aunt, although he said, "I wasn't a Braw Lad myself."

He makes a point of visiting the shops daily, he explains "it is important to speak to the managers and ask what has been selling and what has not, to make sure all the staff are happy and everything is going well."

Alex Dalgetty & Sons.   Picture: Chris Watt
Alex Dalgetty & Sons. Picture: Chris Watt

The shops are the public face of the business and he is extremely proud of them, saying, "it is important that they are immaculate presented, what I like to see is a nice big queue of people waiting outside to go in."

In the shop you will see the full range of products that they make, with around 300 different ones ranging from sourdough bread, rolls, savoury pies and sausage rolls and bridies to fresh cream cakes.

As well as longer shelf life packaged products like Selkirk Bannock, Borders tart, Ecclefechan tart, oatcakes, biscuits and shortbread, Melrose and Gala biscuits to name just a few.

He personally enjoys making sour dough bread, he said, "all that is in it is flour and water and a wee bit of salt but people think it is really fancy but it is just a really old fashioned way to make bread."

Alex Dalgetty & Sons.   Picture: Chris Watt
Alex Dalgetty & Sons. Picture: Chris Watt

Lockdown life

Being a food producer, during lockdown the bakery and shops never closed, as Craig explains, "we just had to try and do our best, but it is very difficult to work in a bakehouse in 35 degrees heat wearing a face mask."

There were different challenges in the shops because members of the public are coming in and out all the time, Craig said, "but we are very fortunate that we were able to keep operating."

Alex Dalgetty & Sons
Alex Dalgetty & Sons, Galashiels. Picture Chris Watt

In the bakery they set up zones with only a few people allowed to work in particular areas at any one time, Craig said, "and we limited some areas to just one person, overall it has worked well for us."

They installed perspex screens in the shops and limited the number of customers, Craig said he had to try "and find a way for staff to work and keep social distanced.

"It was a real challenge, but it was no different for us than it was for other businesses."

He said over the years, "you learn by your own mistakes, but I think I have got more things right than I have got wrong," and continuing the family tradition of baking was certainly one of his best.

Alex Dalgetty & Sons

Alex Dalgetty and Sons

21 Island Street
Scottish Borders

01896 752508

Catriona is a freelance writer based in the Scottish Borders, and a nominee for Food and Drink writer at this year's Scottish Press Awards.
Copyright ©2024 National World Publishing Ltd
Cookie SettingsTerms and ConditionsPrivacy Policy
crosschevron-down linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram