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Issue 90 - A tranquil corner

Scotland Magazine Issue 90
December 2016

 

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A tranquil corner

Charles Douglas sets off into the far South West

While the old county names of Wigtown and Kircudbright remain firmly entrenched, this region rightly glories in being Galloway. And rightly so. With its history enshrined in the legends of the Norse-Gaelic lordship of Fergus, Galloway's long ago strategic allegiances regularly fluctuated between the Lordship of the Isles, England and the Kingdom of Scots. Galloway has always remained true to its past. Galwegians once spoke their own distinct variation of the Gaelic language and until 1234 they considered themselves peripheral to Scottish politics.

Bounded by the sea to the west and to the south; the Galloway Hills to the north; and the River Nith to the east, it is easy to understand how Galloway's independence was sustained. The north-south valleys of the Urr Water; the Water of Ken; and the Rivers Dee and Cree make the landscape lush and fertile, while the passing Gulf Stream of the Atlantic Ocean keeps the climate mild and wet.

From the town of Dumfries, which lies but 25 miles northwest of the border at Gretna Green, the A75 opens up into this lovely territory via Castle Douglas, with the road signposted to Stranraer. That is important to note if you want to travel directly cross-country to the west coast. Otherwise, turn off north onto the A712 at Crocketford to explore the 250 square miles of the breathtakingly beautiful Galloway Forest Park, which incorporates the 2,765-foot tall Merrick, the highest hill in southern Scotland.

Half way between Dumfries and Castle Douglas, Crocketford is also known as Nine Mile Bar and was once a meeting of drove roads. In 1787 it became home to an obscure religious sect known as the Buchanites, followers of Elspeth Buchan, who claimed to be the reincarnation of a biblical immortal. Kirkpatrick Durham is the next village heading west, and was once a prosperous hand-loom weaving centre.

The planned town of Castle Douglas is beside Carlingwark Loch, a Site of Special Scientific Interest, and was created in the late 18th Century by the entrepreneurial Sir William Douglas. Having amassed a fortune in the ‘American Trade,’ he used his wealth to create various local industries such as a hand-woven cotton factory. During the Second World War, the town served as a training base for the Royal Artillery. The Castle Douglas Art Gallery is an outpost of the Stewartry Museum that is to be found at Kircudbright.

To the north, at Glenlochar, are the remains of two Roman forts, the first dating
from Agricola's invasion and the second from the Antonine period. To the west, situated on an island in the River Dee, are the ruins of Threave Castle, which was the seat of the formidable Black Douglas earls of Douglas. The castle was first begun in the 1370s by Archibald ‘The Grim,’ who later became 3rd Earl of Douglas and Lord of Galloway. In the next generation, his son, the 4th Earl, married Princess Margaret, daughter of Robert II of Scotland. Today, the surrounding 64 acres make up Threave Gardens, home to the Practical School of Horticulture, and is maintained by Historic Environment Scotland.

After the Jacobite Rising of 1745, General Wade instigated a military road through Galloway, passing through Carlingwark, the name of which is derived from the Scots Gaelic ‘Caer’ and the old Scots ‘Wark.’ Architectural treasures retrieved from the loch during the past century included a bronze cauldron, a sword and two dugout canoes. On the approach to Kircubright is the village of Ringford; the settlement is situated on the Tarff Water, which enters the River Dee near Tongland on the tidal stretch of the river. Tongland Abbey was built here by Premonstratensian monks in the Middle Ages. Its most celebrated abbot was John Damian, who fell to his death from the battlements of Stirling Castle while attempting to prove to King James IV that it was possible to fly. A stone arch bridge was constructed over the Dee in 1806 by the engineer Thomas Telford and the Tongland Power Station, dating from the 1930s and open to visitors, is part of the Galloway Hydro Electric Scheme.

At the mouth of the River Dee is Kirkcudbright, capital of the old Stewartry (a term applied to Crown property administered by a Steward instead of a Sheriff). Encouraged by the scenery and mild climate, a group of artists and craftsmen, mostly from Glasgow, set up a small eclectic colony here in the late 19th Century. Broughton House, in the High Street, was the home of the painter E. A. Hornel (1864 – 1933) and is now in the portfolio of the National Trust for Scotland, while a house down a nearby lane was occupied by Jessie M. King (1875 – 1949), who was famous for her glittering murals.

Overlooking Kirkcudbright Harbour is the ruin of MacLellan's Castle. The fortification was built in the 16th Century by a former provost of the town, Sir Thomas MacLellan of Bombie. The Stewartry Museum in St Mary's Street was founded in 1879 and features a large number of prehistoric rock carvings and artefacts of local interest.

John Paul Jones, founder of the American navy, was born in the village of Kirkbean
and there is a memorial to him in the church by sculptor George Henry Paulin. During
the 18th and early 19th Centuries, Kirkbean was the departure point for thousands of Scots sailing to America and Australia. Six and a half miles to the southeast on the A711 is Dundrennan, where Mary, Queen of Scots spent her last night on Scottish soil. It was to the south, at Port Mary, that
she boarded the ship that took her on the fateful journey to England that saw her throw herself on the mercy of her cousin,

Queen Elizabeth I. Unfortunately, only ruins of Dundrennan Abbey remain. Founded in the late 12th Century at the time of transition from Romanesque to Gothic architecture, it
was eventually annexed to the Chapel Royal at Stirling. On the Water of Fleet, close to where it enters Fleet Bay, an inlet of Wigtown Bay, is the appropriately named Gatehouse of Fleet. Created in the late 18th Century as a centre for cotton manufacturing, the town was laid out by the entrepreneur James Murray, for whom the gracious Cally House, now a hotel, was built in 1763 to designs by the famous architect Robert Mylne.

Gatehouse of Fleet once boasted six cotton mills, a tannery, and a brewery, but, following the decline of its industries, by the mid-19th Century it had succumbed into being a sleepy, unspoiled place with residential and tourist appeal. The Mill on the Fleet, in the High Street, houses the Gatehouse Tourist Information Centre along with exhibitions and other events. At the Murray Arms, a typical 18th Century Scottish coaching inn, Robert Burns is said to have composed the words of Scots Wha Hae. On the western side of the town stand the 15th Century ruins of Cardoness Castle – once a stronghold of the McCulloch family. Nearby is a monument to the Reverend Professor Samuel Rutherford, a 17th Century religious scholar who preached in the locality. On the same hilltop there are traces of an Iron Age fort and a rock carved with Pictish symbols; there are also two small-chambered cairns dating from the Neolithic period, which are survivors of a larger group.

At Carsluith, there is a tower house beside Wigtown Bay that was once held by the Cairns, Lindsay and Brown families. The Browns of Carsluith emigrated to India in 1748 and the castle has not been occupied since, latterly becoming a Category A listed building under the protection of Historic Environment Scotland.

Creetown, a small seaport near the head of Wigtown Bay, was originally known as Ferrytown of Cree as it was from here that a ferry link operated to the shrine of St Ninian at Whithorn, on the far side of the water. Sir Walter Scott called it Porton Ferry in his novel Guy Mannering. To this day, the local football team is known as ‘The Ferrytoun.’ The Creetown Heritage Museum in St John Street is a community based initiative featuring photographs, tools and artefacts that tell the story of the Creetown granite quarries. In the 16th Century, the Protestant reformer John Knox sought refuge at Barholm Castle, which was once a stronghold of the McCulloch family and has recently been restored. On the lower reaches of the Galloway Forest Park, northeast of Newton Stewart, is the Kirroughtree Forest Visitor Centre. For those who want to enjoy mountain biking, a walk to Bruntis Loch, or wish to simply linger on a summer night to stargaze, this is a haven of tranquillity where one may find peace.

Newton Stewart sits on the River Cree and most of the town is situated to the west of the river. Sometimes called the ‘Gateway to the Galloway Hills,’ it was created in the mid-17th Century by William Stewart, the youngest son of the 2nd Earl of Galloway. In the 18th Century, the aforementioned Sir William Douglas created cotton mills here, having already set them up in Castle Douglas. A local museum is housed in St John's Church and, incidentally, the cult film The Wicker Man (1972) was largely filmed in the district.

On the outskirts of the town is the 10,000-acre Cumloden Estate, a seat of the earls of Galloway. In 1623, Sir Alexander Stewart, a favourite of his kinsman James VI, was created Earl of Galloway and at Minnigaff, to the north of Newton Stewart, are the ruins of Garlies Castle where the fortunes of this now senior branch of Clan Stewart began.

Six miles to the south on the A714 is Wigtown, which has become Scotland's National Book Town. Launched as a regeneration project in 1997, there are now over 20 bookshops, including Scotland's largest second hand bookstore, and every September Wigtown hosts a 10-day literary celebration that attracts authors and readers from all over the world. This is also the undisputed gateway to the Machars Peninsula and less than a mile away is the small village of Bladnoch, where a historic single malt whisky distillery has recently reopened to much acclaim.

Apart from a bulge into Whithorn Bay, at Innerwell Point, the Machars peninsula forms a triangle as its breadth narrows towards a rounded conclusion at Burrow Head. During the Ice Age, glaciers crushed their way south into this headland, creating fertile farmland that is inconveniently littered with stones. Evidence of this can be found at Drumtroddan where two huge standing stones point to the sky while a third lies horizontal.

From Garlieston, a planned village built by the 7th Earl of Galloway, in the 19th Century there was a regular passenger service to Liverpool. Within the inner section of Wigtown Bay are the Wigtown and Baldoon Sands, mudflats that are home to many birds. Little remains of Baldoon Castle, owned by the Dunbars of Westfield from the 16th Century, but it is said that the unhappy ghost of Janet Dalrymple, forced to marry Sir David Dunbar while in love with another man, still haunts the ruin. If there was any consolation to be had, her story inspired not only Sir Walter Scott's The Bride of Lammermoor, but Gaetano Donizetti's opera Lucia di Lammermoor.

The magnificent Galloway House, now returned to private-owner occupation, was commenced by the 6th Earl of Galloway in 1745. The impressive wall that surrounds the estate was built by French prisoners from the Napoleonic Wars. Always known to be great benefactors and philanthropists, the 10th Earl was responsible for bringing the railway to Whithorn and Garlieston Harbour. Alas, financial circumstances eventually overtook the family and forced them to sell all of their lands south of Bladnoch.

Two and a half miles along the coast is Rigg Bay and the clifftop ruins of Cruggelton Castle, also known as ‘The Black Rock of the Cree,’ which can also be approached from Galloway House Gardens. Held during
the 12th Century by the Lords of Galloway, it was the headquarters of the Red Comyn, who was killed by Robert the Bruce in the struggle for the Scottish Crown. After that, Cruggelton passed to the earls of Buchan and subsequently to the Kennedys, the priors of Whithorn, then on to the Stewarts and Agnews. Such a formidable reputation did it command during the second millennium that, in 1563, Queen Elizabeth I sent spies to Scotland to establish its strength. The coloured drawing she was subsequently shown can still be seen in the British Museum in London.

Inland from Garlieston, just off the B7052, is Sorbie Tower – the ancient seat of Clan Hannay. Saint Ninian was a Christian missionary who came to the southern Machars long before Saint Columba reached Iona in AD503, and at Whithorn he raised a cathedral church of stone called Candida Casa (White House). When he died, his relics were preserved in a shrine and pilgrims, including several Scottish monarchs, made the journey from far and wide to pay their respects. Such was the traffic that in time Chapel Finian, on Luce Bay, and St Ninian's Chapel, at Isle of Whithorn, were built to accommodate them.

This was undoubtedly where Christianity began on the Scottish mainland. In the last century, stone crosses from the 8th Century were discovered in a cave near Burrow Head. From Isle of Whithorn, the A747 leads to Monreith and looks out onto the great expanse of Luce Bay. In Kirkmaiden Church are the last resting places of the McCulloch and Maxwell family members who over the centuries owned the Monreith estate. Legend has it that, when the death of a McCulloch is approaching, a wraith-bell rings from the depths of the bay. There is also a plaque in the church wall erected by the Swedish branch of the Christian Order of Coldin to commemorate the French naval officer Francois Thurot, who first introduced the society to Sweden. On the roadside above the church is a bronze otter sculpted by Penny Wheatley in memory of the naturalist Gavin Maxwell, author of the best-selling Ring of Bright Water, who was born at the nearby House of Elrig. Although Monreith House remains with the Maxwell family, their original home behind the Fell of Barhullion was known as the Dowies. Otherwise known as the Old Place of Monreith, it has recently been renovated by the Landmark Trust and accommodates up to eight guests.

As the A747 travels north toward Glenluce, it passes through the small fishing village of Port William which, during the 18th Century, was considered to be a notorious smuggling port. Reflecting its heritage, there is a life-size bronze statue by Andrew Brown of a fisherman overlooking the harbour. At the beginning of August, Port William annually hosts one of the largest carnivals in South West Scotland.

At Auchenmalg is the Luce Bay Holiday Park and the Cock Inn, allegedly the second oldest pub in Scotland. At Glenluce, the Castle of Park, an L-plan tower built in 1596 by Thomas Hay has been restored by Historic Environment Scotland and is also leased out through the Landmark Trust. Glenluce Abbey, a former Cistercian monastery built in 1192, was abandoned following the Reformation.

From Glenluce, the A75 travels west towards the hammerhead peninsula of the Rhins of Galloway, which is sometimes known as the Rhins of Wigtownshire. Fronting onto the North Channel and stretching approximately 25 miles north to south, the southern tip of the Rhins is known as the Mull of Galloway and is Scotland's southernmost point. Due to the effects of the North Atlantic Drift, the land is cooled in the summer and warmed in the winter, which is the ideal climate for a range of tropical palms and other flora to flourish – examples can be found at Logan Botanical Gardens. Since the gardens are situated directly on the Atlantic Ocean, the rainfall peaks at around
1000mm annually.

Port Logan dates from 1682 when the local McDouall family built a village that was originally called Port Nessock. In 1788, Colonel Andrew McDouall commissioned a harbour and ‘fish preserve,’ which is today known as the Logan Fish Pond and Marine Life Centre. A mile and a half to the north are the aforementioned Logan Botanic Gardens, which has now become an outreach part of the Royal Botanic Gardens of Edinburgh.

The Irish coast is only 21 miles away and the views can be spectacular. To the north of the village of Portpatrick begins the Southern Upland Way, a long-distance walking route leading to Cockburnspath on Scotland's east coast. Portpatrick is cut into a cleft of steep cliffs and was traditionally protected by the barons of Dunskey Castle. During the late 13th Century, the lands of Dunskey were in the gift of the King of England, but by the 15th Century had been acquired by first the Adairs, who built the Castle of St John in Stranraer, then later the Kennedys.

Bypassing Stranraer, the B737 and the A718, the B798 and B7043 arrive at Lochnaw Castle, ancestral home of the Agnew family. The site mostly dates from the 16th Century, but was thereafter expanded. It was sacked by Archibald 'the Grim,' 3rd Earl of Douglas, in 1390, but survives as a private dwelling.

The conurbation of Stranraer sits on the lower shores of Loch Ryan, on the northern side of the isthmus joining the Rhins of Galloway, and in addition to being the administrative centre of Western
Galloway it is also the region's second largest town. In recent memory, it was probably best known as a ferry port connecting Scotland with Belfast and Larne in Northern Ireland. However, ferries now run from Cairnryan, on the eastern side of the loch. At the centre of Stranraer, The Castle of St John was used as a military garrison during the Covenanter ‘Killing Times’ of the 1680s. It has now been transformed into a lively museum. On the outskirts of the town is Lochinch Castle, which was built in the mid-19th Century for the 10th Earl and Countess of Stair, and where their descendants continue to live. Castle Kennedy, the Dalrymple family's previous home, was destroyed by a fire in 1716, but the adjacent 75 acres of beautifully landscaped gardens are accessible to the general public and provide a popular attraction for both locals and visitors alike.

On the A77, there are now two ferry ports at Cairnryan. During the Second World War, Cairnryan operated as a major military port and was where sections were built for the two Mulberry ‘floating harbours’ used by the allies on D-Day. It was also at Cairnryan that, at the end of the war, the U-boat Atlantic Fleet surrendered, before being towed into the North Channel to be scuttled.

Crocketford to Glentrool

A journey through the Galloway Forest Park Distance: 44 miles
Approximate time by car: 1 hour

Crocketford (A75) Also known as Nine Mile Bar, being that distance from Dumfries, and one of only two small settlements (the other being Springholm) not bypassed by the A75. At Crocketford, turn right and follow the A712 up Maiden Road and past Crocketford Park, towards Balmaclellan.

Corsock (A712) A hot bed of the Covenanting movement during the 17th Century, there are various memorials to this time to be found in the Corsock and Kirkpatrick Durham Church. The father of the scientist James Clerk Maxwell inherited the nearby Middlebie estate through the Maxwell family. There is therefore a memorial plaque to him in the church window, it having been relocated here from the old parish church. Similarly, there is a plaque to his son John on the north wall.

Balmaclellan (A712) A small hillside village in a fold of the Galloway hills and situated at the northern end of Loch Ken. Just over a mile to the east, Barscobe Castle was built by William Maclellan in 1646 using stone removed from Threave Castle. In the 17th Century, Covenanters gathered in secret at the Holy Linn waterfall in Barscobe Wood. Sir Walter Scott modelled his character Old Mortality on villager Robert Paterson, a stonemason who journeyed through Scotland restoring the tombstones of fallen Covenanters. Paterson's wife was schoolmistress in the village until her death in 1785.

New Galloway (A712) Standing on the west side of the River Ken, New Galloway was founded by John
Gordon, Viscount of Kenmure (son of Sir Robert Gordon of Lochinvar) and was granted its charter in 1630. Just north of the town, within St Kells Churchyard there are interesting Adam and Eve stones and the gravestone of a Covenanter shot in 1685 is worth a passing nod. To the south are the ruins of Kenmure Castle, a Gordon stronghold previously held by the Lords of Galloway. The town is on the Galloway
Kite Trail (where majestic red kites can be spotted throughout the year) and each August hosts the Scottish Alternative Games, which features snail racing and tractor pulling.

The Queen's Way (A712) From New Galloway, the Queen's Way commemorates HM the Queen's Silver jubilee in 1977 and runs through Galloway Forest Park. The road is well equipped, with picnic areas and forest trails, and passes Clatteringshaw's Loch and visitor centre. The more adventurous have the option of following the old drovers' track known as the Raider's Road, a 10-mile forest drive which leads along the Black Water of Dee to Loch Ken. However, there is a small fee involved.

Galloway Forest Park (A721) Scotland has some of the darkest skies in Europe, and Galloway Forest Park has been designated the darkest place in Scotland – becoming the UK's first Dark Sky Park. On a clear night, over 7,000 stars and planets are visible with the naked eye. Dark Sky information is available at the Clatteringshaws Visitor Centre.

Galloway Red Deer Range (A712) A car park of the Queen's Way welcomes visitors to the Galloway Red Deer Range, which offers guided walks and a chance to see the animals up close. Nearby is the Wild Goat Enclosure.

Talnotry (A712) On a hill close to the road is Murray's Monument, erected to commemorate a shepherd's son who became a professor of Oriental language at Edinburgh University. In 1915, Bronze Age treasures dating from 1000BC were discovered and can now be seen at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.

Creebridge (B7079) Before the A712 meets the A75, take the right fork onto the New Galloway Road B7079 to Creebridge and on to Newton Stewart, Gateway to the Galloway Hills, turning right onto the A714.

Minigaff (A714) The village prospered from the lead mining that took place here until 1939. This was the birthplace of Sir James Mirrlees, winner of the 1996 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences.

Glentrool (A714) Nine miles from Newton Stewart, turn off the road at Bargrennan, follow signposts and turn right. There are numerous diversions to be found adjoining the village. Robert the Bruce, a fugitive at the time, won a decisive victory here at the Battle of Glentrool in 1307 when a small band of his followers surprised a much larger English force by rolling boulders down on top of them. A granite boulder erected in 1929 recalls this event. The Glentrool Visitor Centre sits below Merrick and houses one of the 7stanes mountain bike trail centres.