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Issue 82 - Gretna Green into Dumfriesshire

Scotland Magazine Issue 82
August 2015


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Gretna Green into Dumfriesshire

Charles Douglas recommends, where to go, what to do...

Perhaps it has something to do with my being a Scot, but when motoring into Scotland from England on the A74(M), I find myself overwhelmed by the landscape as it opens up in front of me. I never feel as elated when driving south.

And only two miles north of the border with England is Gretna Green where, just before the Gretna Gateway Outlet Village, I make a point of stopping off at the First House in Scotland, the Old Toll Bar.

In 1886, the Gretna Estate was purchased by Hugh Mackie and three generations later, his great grandson Alasdair Houston presides over the various enterprises that make a stop-over here such an enjoyable experience.

Situated in an enclosure just below the First House in Scotland, for example, is the Hands Across the Border – Auld Acquaintance Cairn comprising over 130,000 stones imported from across the United Kingdom. Created in 2014 prior to the Scottish Referendum, it was the inspiration of Cumbria's Scottish Member of Parliament Rory Stewart and celebrates over three centuries of union between Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

In centuries past, agricultural settlements in what was then considered to be the western stretch of the Debatable Land between England and Scotland, remained unchanged. Then in 1915, the UK Ministry of Munitions arrived to establish a munitions factory which, at its peak, employed 30,000 workers. Today, their story is told at the town of Gretna's innovative Devil's Porridge Museum.

However, adjacent Gretna Green is perhaps best known for the 5,000 marriages it hosts in a year.

It all began in 1754, when Lord Hardwicke's Marriage Act was passed in England to stop those under the age of 21 from marrying without parental consent. Under Scots law it was permitted for girls of 12 and for boys of 14 to marry regardless of their youth. Moreover, what seems surprising in a predominantly Protestant country, they did not require a religious ceremony. Couples could be legally betrothed under a ‘declaration.’

All that came to an end in 1940 when marriage by declaration was made illegal in Scotland and, by 1977, English law had also changed to allow couples over 18 to marry without parental consent. Nevertheless, marriage at 16 remained in Scotland and by then the romance of ‘running away to Gretna Green’ was a part of British folklore.

Furthermore, you most certainly did not have to be under-age to elope to Gretna Green. In 1818, for example, the 66 year-old Lord Thomas Erskine, a former Lord Chancellor and Britain's senior law officer, arrived with his 38 year old mistress, an apprentice bonnet maker, with whom he already had two illegitimate children. He was hotly pursued by his eldest son from his first marriage intent on preventing the match. So as not to be recognised, Erskine dressed up as a woman wearing a flowing cloak, bonnet and veil, much to the concern of the Anvil priest.

From Gretna Green, the A75 travels west into the market town of Dumfries, close to where the River Nith meets the Solway Firth. East of Gretna, the A7 heads in a northerly direction through Canonbie with the Clan Armstrong Centre at Gilnockie Tower, to the former textile town of Langholm, known as the ‘Muckle Toun,’ in centuries past the stronghold of the formidable Borders family of Armstrong and birthplace in 1757 of the civil engineer Thomas Telford. Overlooking the town is a giant metal open book by the sculptor Jake Harvey and dedicated to the poet Hugh MacDiarmid, born here as Christopher Murray Grieve in 1892.

Off the A709 at Eskdalemuir is the Kagyu Samye Ling Monastery beside the River Esk. It was founded in 1967 by two spiritual masters Dr Akong Tulku Rinpoche and Chogyam Trungpa Rincpoche and was the first Tibetan Budhist Centre to be established in the West.

Meanwhile, directly north of Gretna Green, the A74(M) races past the pretty village of Ecclefechan, renowned as the birthplace of the Victorian essayist and philosopher Thomas Carlisle, then surges onwards past Lockerbie towards Beattock, Elvanfoot and Abingdon and into south east Ayrshire and Lanarkshire. Tragically, Lockerbie, a picturesque settlement once occupied by Vikings and Romans, became internationally famous in 1988 when a terrorist bomb on a Boeing 747 exploded on the Pan Am Flight 103 traveling overhead from London's Heathrow Airport to New York's JFK International Airport. Stoically, the town has since regenerated itself and a permanent exhibition on Lockerbie's past is housed in Dryfesdale Lodge Visitors' Centre. Nearby is the Lockerbie Memorial Garden of Remembrance.

North of Beattock and on the A702 to the east of the A74(M) is the early spa town of Moffat on the River Annan, once a major centre for the Scottish wool trade and still the home of the mouthwatering Moffat toffee. The statue of a ram by the Victorian sculptor William Brodie stands defiantly in the market place.

Between Dumfries and Moffat on the A709 are the ruins of Loch Maben Castle built by Edward I of England in the 13th Century, after which it was destroyed and rebuilt in the reign of James IV then abandoned in the 17th Century.

Across to the west, and off the A76 close to small town of Thornhill where the Scramble for Africa exploits of Victorian explorer Joseph Thomson are celebrated in the Local Heritage Centre. Nearby is Drumlanrig Castle, built in the 17th Century on the site of an earlier Douglas castle for the 1st Duke of Queensberry whose ducal title and lands would eventually pass through cousin marriages into the Scotts of Buccleuch family. Not that his ‘Pink Palace,’ as it became known from the colour of its sandstone walls, afforded the 1st Duke much pleasure. It took 22 years to build and he died in 1695 before it was completed.

Nonetheless, with 120 rooms, 17 turrets and four towers, Drumlanrig (
see Front Cover) remains one of Scotland's most spectacular country residences. In addition to its sumptuous furnishings, it accommodates part of the fabulous Buccleuch art collection and visitor features include an adventure playground for children, mountain biking and land rover tours of the estate.

After Thornhill, the A76 travels on north to Carronbridge and Enterkinfoot, bypassing Durisdeer at the foot of the Lowther Hills, where the oversize Parish Church incorporates a mausoleum housing the remains of the Queensberry family. In the small market town of Sanquhar, the Tolbooth Museum, which occupies a fine Georgian townhouse, unravels the history of the mining and weaving communities of centuries past. More than 300 years old, the Sanquhar Post Office, is the oldest post office in the world which earlier this year recruited its sixteenth postmaster.

Beyond and above Sanquhar, the ubiquitous landscape architect Charles Jencks has created the extraordinary 55 acre Crawick Multiverse, which opened to the public in June. Inspired by themes of space, astronomy and cosmology, with £1 million in funding from the 10th Duke of Buccleuch, this has to be the ultimate theme park of all time.

I have to admit to being a trifle circumspect when I heard that it was being launched in time for the summer solstice, but nothing could have prepared me for the impact of this astonishing, ambitious and dramatic re-working of open cast mining; a Mayan-style intergalactic citadel of the sky with Ampitheatre, Galaxy Mounds – Andromeda and the Milky Way – a North South Path, Multiverse, Supercluster, Omphalos, Belvedere and Void and Comet Walk cradled in a bowl of the Nithsdale Hills. In other words, it has to be seen to be believed, but be sure to wear sturdy boots and be sure to check the weather forecast beforehand.

Coal and lead mining were integral to the local economy, notably at Leadhills which sits on the edge of South Lanarkshire. Less than a mile away at the head of the Mennock Pass, and nestling into the Lowther Hills, is Wanlockhead, Scotland's highest village where the Museum of Lead Mining features a genuine lead mine which is open to the public.

Travel back along the A76 to the south and you come to the handsome town of Dumfries, confirmed as a Royal Burgh by David I in the 13th Century. Although nowadays a bustling modern centre of commerce and industry, its past history is inescapable. It was here at the Kirk of the Greyfriars, demolished during the Reformation and subsequently rebuilt, that Robert the Bruce in 1306 allegedly stabbed his cousin the Red Comyn in a dispute over the Scottish crown. Tradition has it that it was one of Bruce's followers who finished off the unfortunate Comyn, but it was this incident that led directly to Bruce's coronation and subsequent excommunication from the Church of Rome.

In 1791, the 33 year old poet Robert Burns, having failed to earn a decent living as a farmer at Ellisland on the Hollywood Road at Auldgirth, brought his family to Dumfries, where he worked as an exciseman in control of the Solway coast. To start off with the family occupied an apartment in Bank Street, moving to a larger house in what is today known as Burns Street.

Although the name of Scotland's National Bard is largely associated with his childhood in Ayrshire, Dumfries today boasts a Burns Museum which contains a wealth of memorabilia, his imposing statue which stands outside the modern Greyfriars Church, and a gleaming mausoleum in St Michael's Kirkyard, where he is buried.

Another fleeting Dumfries resident was playwright and author James Barrie who as a schoolboy played in the gardens of Moat Brae House and conjoured up the immortal Peter Pan (see pages 12 – 15).

Dumfries has been fortunate with its wealthy benefactors, a prime example being the glorious buildings and gardens of the 100 acre Crichton Estate bequeathed to the town in 1834 by Dr James Crichton, a beneficiary of the East India Company. It was his wife Elizabeth who built Crichton Hall with the intention of founding a university but instead created a psychiatric hospital.

Crichton Royal Hospital with its landscaped gardens flourished over the following 100 years. The fine, gothic-style Crichton Memorial Church was added in 1897, and the art deco Eastbrooke Hall completed in 1938. However, as the input of patients dwindled, the hospital finally closed and, in 1985, the estate was acquired for the local community by Dumfries & Galloway Council. Today, with its network of leafy walks and fine rhododendron planting, it serves as a business park, events and conference facilities, and a university campus.

Aviators will enjoy the Dumfries & Galloway Aviation Museum on the Heathall Industrial Estate. This is based in the original control tower of the former RAF Dumfries and houses a fascinating collection of aircraft and flight memorabilia. Built into the sandstone of the town's Old Bridge is Dumfries' oldest house which has been transformed into a museum of everyday life.

From the town centre, the A75 to the east crosses to Annan where the townsfolk in July traditionally Ride the Marches. The Historic Resources Centre and Museum in Bank Street deserves a visit. Be sure to book a tour of the recently revived Annandale Distillery.

To the south of Dumfries, on either side of the mouth of the Nith, is the northern shore of the Solway Firth. Eleven miles south and off the A725 as it follows the eastern banks of the Nith, is Caerlaverock Castle (
see page 19 ).

At Ruthwell village on the B724, off the A75 between Gretna and Dumfries, is the welcoming Savings Bank Museum founded in 1810 by the Reverend Henry Duncan, an interesting combination of Kirk minister, newspaper editor and businessman. The Museum is housed in a roadside cottage and is open to visitors throughout the year. In the nearby Ruthwell Church is the beautiful 18ft high Ruthwell Cross, dating from AD 680 and inscribed with one of the largest figurative inscriptions to be found on any surviving Anglo Saxon cross.

Traveling west from the town centre, the A75 leads to Crocketford, founded by the Buchanite religious sect in the 18th Century, and past Kirkpatrick Durham. Castle Douglas in the Stewartry, into Kirkcudbrightshire, across to Gatehouse of Fleet and into Wigtownshire. On an island in the River Dee, 2½ miles west of Castle Douglas are the remains of Threave Castle, stronghold of the ‘Black Douglas’ earls of Douglas.

Seven miles to the south of Dumfries, at New Abbey on the A710, are the melancholy ruins of Sweetheart Abbey built in the 13th Century by the widowed Lady Devorguilla, a great heiress and wife of John Balliol who founded the splendid college at Oxford University. It was their son who became Scotland's ‘Puppet King’ under Edward I of England, but eventually buckled under pressure and fled into exile in France.

At Arbigland on the Solway Firth, twelve miles to the south on the A710, is the John Paul Jones Cottage Museum & Visitor Centre indicating that this is where the founder of the American navy was born in 1747. It can be visited between April and September.

Visitor Information

National Rail Enquiries
Tel: +44 (0) 8457 484 950

Bus and Coach Services and Travel Information
Tel: +44 (0) 8712 002 233

General Visitor Information
Tel: +44 (0) 8452 255 121

Recommended Itinerary

While this region is bountiful with fascinating locations of historic interest, we have chosen a diversion to visit its latest visitor attraction, the extraordinary Crawick Multiverse which opened to the public on this year's Summer Solstice.

Entering Scotland on the M6 into A74(M) Motorways from Carlisle, the actual crossing point from England is beside Gretna which, prior to the Act of Union in 1707, operated a customs post for collecting taxes on cattle crossing the border. More famous perhaps through its wedding associations is the adjoining village of Gretna Green, historically the first village in Scotland following the old coaching route. However, both Gretna and Gretna Green are now bypassed by the A74(M).

Instead of following the A74(M) north to Lockerbie and Moffat, turn on to the A75 towards Annan and Dumfries.

Distance: 50.8 miles
Approximate time by car (without delays) 1 hour 13 minutes

A75 Annan: On the mouth of the River Annan which rises in the Moffat Hills and flows into the Solway Firth, Annan remains a busy market town. A Georgian moat house is located beside an original motte and bailey castle which once belonged to the de Brus family before they moved to Lochmaben. In the town hall is the Brus Stone, associated with Robert I. The inscription reads: ‘Robert de Brus Count of Carrick and Lord of Annandale.’ Robert Burns is alleged to have written The deil's awa wi' the exciseman while lodging there in 1792.

A75 Dumfries: This handsome town on the river Nith is a centre for commerce and industry but there are also wonderful, charming and unusual shops to be discovered in the back streets, albeit some open only by appointment. Notorious because of its associations with the alleged murder of the Red Comyn by Robert the Bruce, and celebrated because of its association with Robert Burns in his last years, Dumfries has other famous sons to boast about, notably the author Sir James Barrie (see page 12) and Sir Robin Philipson, painter and former President of the Royal Scottish Academy (1916 – 1992). Both were educated at Dumfries Academy.

The Guid Nychburris Festival is held annual in early summer. Across the River Nith, which is spanned by five bridges, is Maxwelltown, which amalgamated with Dumfries in 1919, and from which originated the haunting ballad of Annie Laurie, based on a poem by William Douglas (d.1748). Just north of the town are the remains on Lincluden College, a collegiate church built by the Duke of Tourain, son of the Douglas Earl, Archibald the Grim, and his wife Margaret Stewart, daughter of Robert III.

A76 Thornhill: Close to Drumlanrig Castle, ancestral home of the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry is the Queensberry Mountain which at 2,285ft dominates the town on the eastern side and is within walking distance of the Forest of Ae. To the north are the remains of Morton Castle, standing beside a small loch. Randolph, 1st Earl of Morton, lived here when he was Regent during the minority of David II.

Southwest lies Keir which has a curious claim to celebrity. On the smithy is an inscription announcing that Kirkpatrick Macmillan, who invented the bicycle was born here in 1839. When he rode his invention on a day trip to Glasgow, he was fined for knocking down a pedestrian.

A76 Sanquhar: Two famous covenanting declarations were signed at this village on the banks of the River Nith, the most celebrated being in 1680 by the Reverend Richard Cameron whose supporters later formed the Cameronians Regiment (although Cameron was himself killed soon after). James Renwick made the second declaration in 1685; a granite cross now replaces the Mercat Cross on which they were displayed.

Sanquhar became a Royal Burgh in 1484 under the protection of the then powerful Crichton family. Their castle was subsequently acquired by the 1st Duke of Queensberry who built himself the palatial Drumlanrig Castle. The Tolbooth, which serves as the Sanquhar Museum, dates from 1735 and was designed by the architect William Adam.

B740 Crawick Multiverse: In the hills to the north of Sanquhar is Crawick Multiverse, a magnificent theatre of the cosmos, landscaped from the remains of open cast coalmines. It opened this year in time
for the Summer Solstice.


1. Auld Alliance Cairn
Gretna Green, DG16 5EA
Hands across the Border Cairn featuring stones from all over UK.
Tel: +44 (0) 1461 338 441

2. The Devil's Porridge Museum
Annan Street, Eastriggs DG12 6TF
State of the art World War I museum with a jolly café.
Tel: +44 (0) 1461 700 021

3. Crawick Multiverse
Sanquhar DG4 6ET
Amazing land restoration and arts project by landscape architect Charles Jencks.

4. Drumlanrig Castle
Thornhill DG3 4AQ
Magnificent stately home of dukes of Buccleuch & Queensberry.
Tel: +44 (0) 1848 331 555

5. Sweetheart Abbey
New Abbey Bridge, DG2 8BU
Remains of late 13th Century Cistercian abbey.
Tel: +44 (0) 1387 850 397

6. Ellisland Farm
Auldgirth, DG2 0RP
Farm tenanted by poet Robert Burns. Heritage Trail and exhibits.
Tel: +44 (0) 1387 740 426

7. Annandale Distillery
Annan DG12 5LL
Asleep for almost 100 years, the spirit has been reborn.
Tel: + 44 (0) 1461 207 817

8. Dumfries Museum & Auld Camera Obscura
Rotchell Road, Dumfries DG2 7SW
Collection of history from pre-historic era.
Tel: + 44 (0) 1387 253 374

9. The Yellow Door Gallery
16 – 22, Queen Street, Dumfries DG1 2JF
Vibrant, eclectic centre for the local arts scene.
Tel: +44 (0) 1387 259 338

10. Kagyu Samye Li­ng Monastery and Tibetan Centre
Eskdalemuir, Lanholm DG13 0QL
Tibetan Buddh­ist with Karma Kagyu school.
Tel: + 44 (0) 1387 373 232

11. Savings Bank Museum
Ruthwell ­DG1 4NN
The world's first savings bank opened by Dr Henry Cuncan on 1810.
Tel: + 44 (0) 1387 870 640

12. John Paul Jones
Cottage Museum & Visitor Centre
Arbigland, Kirkbean DG2 8BQ
Birthplace of the father of the American Navy.
Tel: + 44 (0) 1387 880 613


13. Smiths at Gretna Green
Gretna Green DG16 5EA
Excellent boutique hotel for that romantic break.
Tel: +44 (0) 1461 337 007

14. Greens at Gretna
Sarkfoot Road, Gretna DG16 5EP
Superb £1 million makeover of former Garden House Hotel.
Tel: + 44 (0) 1461 337 621

15. Hunter's Lodge
Annan Road, Gretna DG16 5DL
Grade II listed building with welcoming staff.
Tel: +44 (0) 1461 338 214

16. Nithsdale Hotel
Sanquhar, DG4 6DJ
Family run with 12 en suite rooms and restaurant open all year round.
Tel: +44 (0) 1659 432 023

17. Best Western Moffat House Hotel
High Street, Moffat DG10 9HL
Country mansion built for the earl of Hopetoun in 1750s.
Tel: +44 (0) 1683 220 039

18. Trigony Country House Hotel
Closeburn, Thornhill, DG3 5EZ
SHA Restaurant of the Year (SW) & Breakfast Hotel of the Year (SW) 2015.
Tel: +44 (0) 1848 331 211

19. Best Western Dryfesdale Country House Hotel
Lockerbie DG11 2SF
17th Century mansion with bedrooms, restaurant and bar.
Tel: +44 (0) 1576 202 427

20. The Nith Hotel
Glencaple DG1 4RE
Comfortable accommodation, bar and restaurant.
Tel: +44 (0) 1387 770 213

21. Holiday Inn Dumfries
Crichton Estate, DG1 4ZZ
SHA 2015 Style Hotel of the Year (SW), Bar of the Year (SW). Brand Hotel of the Year (SW), Business Hotel of the Year (SW), and Conference Hotel of the Year (SW) 2015.
Tel: +44 (0) 1387 272 410

22. Comlongon Castle
Clarencefield DG1 4NA
Restored 15th Century castle with themed luxury rooms.
Tel: +44 (0) 1387 870 283

23. Cavens Country House Hotel
Kirkbean DG2 8AA
Family run mansion house with accommodation and food.
Tel: +44 (0) 1387 880 234

24. Crown Hotel
25 – 26 King Street, Castle Douglas DG7 1AA
Welcoming family run hotel.
Tel: +44 (0) 1556 502 031


25. Blacksmiths Restaurant
Headless Cross, Gretna DG16 5EA
Recently refurbished, light and airy restaurant.
Tel: +44 (0) 1461 338 441

26. Smith's Chainmail Restaurant
Gretna DG16 5EA
Contemporary style with excellent local produce.
Tel:+44 (0) 1461 337 007

27. The Green Frog
Hammerlands, Moffat DG10 9QL
Friendly family run café.
Tel: +44 (0) 1683 221 220

28. Oasis Restaurant
Nithsdale Hotel, Sanquhar DG4 6DJ
Splendid locally sourced cuisine.
Tel: +44 (0) 1659 501 33

29. A' the Airts
8-12 High Street.
Sanquhar DG4 6BL
Café in community arts centre.
Tel: +44 (0) 1659 505 14

30. The Old Bank Restaurant
Irish Street, Dumfries DG1 2PA
Traditional food at its best.
Tel: +44 (0) 1387 266 441

31. Pumpernickel
Friars Vennel, Dumfries DG1 2RL
Family café with imaginative menus.
Tel: +44 (0) 1387 254 475

32. Casa Mia
53, Nunholm Road, Dumfries DG1 1JW
Mediterranean/European cuisine.
Tel: +44 (0) 1387 269 619

33. The Steamboat Inn
Carsethorn, Dumfries DG2 8DS
Good British catering.
Tel: +44 (0) 1387 880 631

34. NonaLou's Tearoom
Dumfries DG1 2JL
Tasty menu in vintage inspired tearoom.
Tel: +44 (0) 7989 031 491

35. Kilnford Farm Shop & Farmhouse Kitchen Restaurant
The Glen, Dumfries DG2 8PT
Fine­ home reared beef, pork and lamb.
Tel: +44 (0) 1387 253 087

36. The Maltings at Annandale Distillery
Annan DG12 5LL
First class coffee shop with excellent food.
Tel: +44 (0) 1461 207 817