Wednesday, 31 July 2013


Dr. Henry Duncan, who spent much of his life as a minister in the village of Ruthwell, would be turning in his grave if he could witness the goings-on in today's world of personal finance.  He would be horrified at the rapacious treatment of the poorest in society by the purveyors of so-called "pay-day loans", and he would despair of the derisory interest rates offered to hard-working savers.  Dr. Duncan believed passionately in the dignity of the poor, of whom there were plenty at that time - the early 1800s - and he campaigned for the financial independence of the ordinary man, setting up "an economical bank for the savings of the industrious", effectively the first proper trustee savings bank.  The bank offered the chance to open an account with as little as sixpence and an interest rate on deposits of 5% - a distant dream for today's savers.  There is a Savings Bank Museum in Ruthwell which tells Dr. Duncan's story. 

Dr. Duncan also had a hand in the other main attraction in the village, namely the Ruthwell Cross.  The cross dates from the 7th century and is carved with Biblical scenes and verses from The Dream of the Rood, the oldest-known English poem, whose authorship is unknown but is likely to be an Anglo-Saxon poet.  The cross was smashed by Presbyterian iconoclasts in the 1600s, but Dr. Duncan restored it and it now has pride of place in the cute little whitewashed Ruthwell Church.  To the west of the village is a well called Brow Well, with water containing supposedly health-giving salts of iron.  The well was visited in 1796 by Robert Burns, in a quest to cure his ailments by drinking the water.  Near Ruthwell is the village of Powfoot, which has a golf course and a beach which is suitable for paddling but not swimming.  There is a coastal path and plenty of birdlife to watch out for.

Map of the area. 

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Ruthwell Parish Church. Photo by Walter Baxter, via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, 29 July 2013


There are two reasons for those following the north shore of the Solway Firth to stop off at Caerlaverock.  The first is the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust site, where among the species on view is a pair of ospreys who migrate to here from Africa each spring.  There are also barn owls, which can be viewed via a webcamIf you visit the site in autumn or winter, meanwhile, you will be treated to the sight of large numbers of barnacle geese who have made their way here from Spitsbergen, and pink-footed geese from Iceland.  There is also a large colony of rare natterjack toads.  The site offers accommodation with the chance to see badgers as well as the wealth of birdlife.  Recent sightings at Caerlaverock WWT include Marsh Harriers, Lapwings and Little Grebes. 

The other attraction in the area is Caerlaverock Castle, a moated medieval fortification with an unusual triangular shape and a twin towered gatehouse.  With its proximity to England, it goes without saying that the castle has had an eventful past.  The Romans got here first, building a fort on Ward Law Hill, which overlooks the present-day castle.  Around 1220 a later fort was built by Alexander II's chamberlain, Sir John de Maccuswell (Maxwell), but 50 years later his nephew built the "new" castle nearby, and this became the stronghold of the Maxwells for the next 400 years.  The castle endured siege after siege during its history.  In one such event in 1300 the men stationed at the castle lasted just two days of battering from Edward I's army before giving in to the onslaught.  The castle's last siege in 1640 took place during the ongoing battle between Charles I and the Covenanters.  This time the garrison managed to last 13 weeks before surrendering.   Following this event the castle was looted and partially demolished.  The castle, which is run by Historic Scotland, includes a siege warfare exhibition, a children's adventure park and a nature trail.

Map of the area. 

File:Caerlaverock Castle - - 1211185.jpg
Photo by Iain Russell, via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, 27 July 2013


The name New Abbey is something of a misnomer, since the abbey in question, now a ruin, dates from 1273.  There are many examples in the world of a building being erected by a grieving spouse in memory of their other half, but in the majority of cases it is the husband who erects the memorial - the Taj Mahal is probably the most famous example.  However, in the case of this abbey it was the wife of a dead husband who founded the abbey in his memory.  The husband was John de Balliol, a leading Scottish figure who died in 1268, and it was his wife Lady Devorguilla who started the abbey.  The story goes that after John's death Lady Devorguilla carried his embalmed heart around everywhere with her, and that she was buried with it in the abbey, hence the rather endearing name: Sweetheart Abbey. The abbey is run by Historic Scotland.

The village of New Abbey is on the New Abbey Pow burn, which runs into the Nith estuary, and the whole scene is dominated by the Criffel, a nearby prominent hill.  Energetic walkers who climb to the top of the hill are rewarded with views of the Nith estuary and even as far as the Isle Of Man.  Another popular walk with estuary views starts from the abbey and leads up to the Waterloo Monument on Waterloo Hill just outside the village.  One of the more prominent buildings in the village is Shambellie House, surrounded by beautiful grounds.  The house used to contain the National Museum of Costume, but sadly this has become a victim of the recession, with a reduction in funding coupled with low visitor numbers necessitating its closure.  It was a former owner of Shambellie House who built the Corn Mill, a water-powered mill which is still in full working order.  The mill is in a picturesque setting with a duck pond nearby.  Nearby Mabie Forest has a number of picnic areas and walking trails, one of which takes in the Mabie Nature Reserve.

Map of the area. 

File:Sweetheart Abbey - - 1716748.jpg
Photo by Andrew Curtis, via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, 26 July 2013


The most prominent feature at Southerness is its lighthouse, one of the oldest in Scotland, having been built in 1749.  This spot is home to a large holiday village; sadly, earlier this month it was reported that the leisure centre at the village was destroyed by fire.  There is also a golf club.  Heading round the coast from Southerness we come to the ArbiglandEstate.  The gardens here are open to visitors, and feature glades with a range of semi-tropical shrubs and trees leading down to a sandy beach.  A former head gardener here was the father of John Paul Jones, a founder of the US Navy (see Kirkcudbright).  The cottage where the mariner was born is now a museum, and the parish church in nearby Kirkbean has a memorial font illustrating the USS Bonhomme Richard, which was named after John Paul Jones' frigate, which was placed at his disposal by King Louis XVI of France.  Incidentally, Kirkbean was the birthplace of another prominent naval officer, John Campbell, who became governor of Newfoundland.  Other interesting features of the Arbigland Estate include McCulloch's Castle, which is an Iron Age fort.  The small fishing port of Carsethorn was once used by visiting Vikings.  Later, in the lte 18th/early 19th centuries, Carsethorn was a point of departure for the numerous Scots who left for a new life in Australia and America.  The area adjacent to the shore known as the "merse" (low level ground by a river or shore) is home to millions of seabirds.

Map of the area. 

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Flock of Oystercatchers at Carsethorn. Photo by Debbie Turner, via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, 23 July 2013


The former shipbuilding centre of Kippford, previously known as Scaur, lies on the east bank of the River Urr where near where it joins the Solway Firth.  The village gained in importance as a port due to its being the highest point on the Urr reachable by large ships.  Nestling under a high crag with houses strung out along the river's edge it makes for a picturesque spot, so that with the shipbuilding now gone it has become popular as a resort, particularly since it is the base of the Solway Yacht Club.  Other leisure pursuits include golfing on the nearby Craigieknowes golfcourse, birdwatching and walking.  At low tide a shingle spit leads to Rough Island, run by the National Trust of Scotland, where there is a bird sanctuary which hosts nesting terns and oystercatchers in May and June.  In the summer months tours to the island are available from Kippford and Rockcliffe.  Between Kippford and Rockcliffe on Scaur Hill is the Motte of Mark, a 6th century Celtic fort which was so badly burnt by raiders that the stones were vitrified.

The mile-long Jubilee Path leads from Kippford to Rockcliffe, and makes for a wonderful walk thanks to the views of the Galloway Hills, St Bees Head and the peaks of the Lake District - a reminder of the proximity of the border with England.  Rockcliffe developed as a resort during Victorian times, and is ideal for families with its sandy shore and rock pools.  Sea angling from the rocks around the bay is a popular activity here, while art fans should head for the Rockcliffe Gallery inside the Baron's Craig Hotel where works by local artists are on display.  A short walk along the footpath at the edge of Rough Firth leads to Castlehill Point from where there are panoramic views across the Solway Firth to Cumbria.  At nearby Portling smugglers' caves are visible at low tide.   

Map of the area. 

File:Moorings at Kippford from the Jetty. - - 155729.jpg
Photo by Colin Smith, via Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, 21 July 2013


The north shore of the Solway Firth is full of bays and peninsulas.  Auchencairn Bay is named after the steep village of Auchencairn with its whitewashed cottages and its pebble beaches.  The village was once the haunt of smugglers, who used caves in the nearby Hestan Island to hide their contraband.  In the 18th century the economy of the village was dominated by iron mining.  Further back around the coast to the west is Dundrennan Abbey, built in the latter half of the 12th century and now a ruin run by Historic Scotland.  Hestan Island was owned by the monks from the abbey, who maintained a fishpond there, traces of which can still be seen.  At the north end of the island is the ruined manor house built by Edward Balliol, a 14th century claimant to the throne.  At the south-west end of the bay is Balcary Point, where birdwatchers can observe oystercatchers, curlews, and in summer sandpipers.  Balcary House was built by smugglers and used as their headquarters and storage place, while Balcary Tower lies in the shelter of the point.  The tower was built in around 1860 by the Laird of Auchencairn House for his French governess and mistress.  The tower was up for sale two years ago for a cool £850,000.  The Torr Peninsula separates Auchencairn Bay from the neighbouring Orchardton Bay, and Auchencairn Bay and Orchardton Bay are separated from Rough Firth by Almorness Point.  Near Orchardton Bay is Orchardton Tower, maintained by Historic Scotland.  This 15th century tower house is the only surviving example of such a  house in the cylindrical style common in Ireland.

Map of the area. 

File:Hestan Island and Auchencairn Bay - - 1567051.jpg
Photo by Anthony O'Neil, via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, 16 July 2013


The first thing any visitor to Kirkcudbright will have to learn about the town is how to pronounce its name!  The name does not rhyme with "night" but with "brie", and the proper pronunciation is "kercoobree".  The town was granted Royal Burgh status by James II in 1485, and there is a reminder of this each July with the Riding Of The Marches reenactment performed by the Kirkudbright Cornets Club.  Kirkcudbright has a thriving arts scene; many artists have settled here, and the town has styled itself the "Artists' Town".  One such was Edward Atkinson Hornel, born in Australia but whose family moved to Kirkcudbright.  He became associated with an art movement called the Glasgow Boys (there is also a Glasgow Girls) and his paintings include Blossom Time - Brighouse Bay, depicting a bay in the Kirkcudbright area.  The house where Hornel lived is owned by the National Trust for Scotland and is open to visitors who can view paintings by him and other artists.  The house also has a Japanese style garden.  Each summer the town hosts an Arts and Crafts Trail, with studios and galleries throwing open their doors.  

Other attractions in the town include the 16th century McLellan's Castle, a working harbour and a marina from where boat trips on the tidal River Dee depart.  There is a golf course overlooking the town and estuary.  The Tollbooth was built in the 1620s and among other uses it was once a prison.  One of the most famous inmates of the prison was John Paul Jones, the Master Mariner who founded the US Navy, and who was born in nearby Arbigland.  Jones was incarcerated for the death of a sailor from flogging but was later released on bail. There is plenty going on in Kirkcudbright - as well as the Riding Of The Marches and the Arts and Crafts Trail, the town holds a medieval fayre, a jazz festival and the Kircudbright Tattoo.  For a list of events see here.

Map of the area. 

File:Kirkcudbright Bridge and Harbour - - 1297795.jpg
Photo by Ed Iglehart, via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, 13 July 2013


Creetown, named after the River Cree, on whose east bank this small town stands, was originally called Ferrytown Of Cree because many years ago there were ferries operating here with the purpose of taking pilgrims to Whithorn to visit the shrine of St Ninian.  There being no wharf, boats used to be pulled up onto the beach.  This feature, along with the nearby secluded coves, made Creetown an attractive port of call for the Isle Of Man gin and tobacco smugglers.  In the 18th century a number of industrial activities started up in the area, including a grain mill, a lead shot mill, a tannery and a cotton mill.  One of the area's more colourful characters was one James Connell, nicknamed "Beardie", who had he lived in the present would have been a contender for Worthing Birdman (see Worthing post).  Connell made a set of wings from sheepskin and hooping in a bid to fly across the River Cree.  Sadly, he failed in his attempt, suffering a broken ankle for his pains, but a reminder of  him lives on in the form of a bridge called "Beardie's Bridge". 

Creetown's "Hollywood moment" came with the filming of The Wicker Man, starring Britt Ekland and Edward Woodward.  The town was one of several in the area to make an appearance in the film, which centred around a fictional west coast island called Summerisle.  The Green Man bar scenes were filmed in the Ellangowan Hotel (although the exterior shots of the bar were filmed in Gatehouse Of Fleet).  The hotel has photographs of scenes featuring the Green Man bar on its walls.  Creetown's big event of the year is the Country Music Festival, which takes over three days in September.

Map of the area. 

File:Sunset over the Point Nets at Creetown on the River Cree - - 137529.jpg
Photo by John Lindsay, via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, 12 July 2013


Wigtown, which lies just off Wigtown Bay near the mouth of the River Bladnoch, is known for its bookstores, in fact it has been officially designated Scotland's National Book Town.  Among the booksellers in the town is Scotland's biggest second-hand bookshop.  In keeping with this bookish tradition there is an annual Book Festival in late September/early October.  Wigtown was made a Royal Burgh in the 13th century, in the reigh of David II, but the original documents went missing, and a new charter was granted by James II in 1457.  There used to be a castle on a former course of the River Bladnoch, but this has been reduced to a grassy mound.  One of Wigtown's darkest moments came with the tragic fate of two females, one middle-aged, the other a teenager, who came to be known as the Wigtown Martyrs.  The women were Covenanters who refused to change their religious allegiance - this was during the "Killing Times" of the 17th century - and they were punished by being tied to a stake in a tidal channel of the River Bladnoch while the tide was out, so that as the tide came in they drowned.  There is a monument to them on Windy Hill on the west side of the town.  The present-day town is an attractive mix of buildings, including a large "triangular square" with a bowling green in the middle.  Wigtown Bay, which consists of mudflats and saltmarsh, is a Local Nature Reserve which attracts thousands of overwintering geese.  In summer the bay is a breeding ground for lapwings, curlews and common terns.

Map of the area.  

File:Wigtown from Nature reserve - - 363203.jpg
Photo by Eddie Mackinnon, via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, 11 July 2013


Garlieston was started as a planned village in 1764 by the 7th Earl Of Galloway, Lord Garlies - hence the name - on the site of an earlier settlement called Cashwhill.  The new development included two elegant crescent-shaped streets along the seafront on either side of the Mill Bridge.  The village is on the Machars Peninsula, and the north side of the bay is dominated by Eggerness, a headland where there is an ancient camp with rock carvings.  The harbour used to be used by cargo vessels until the arrival of the railway, although the latter fell foul of Beecham's cuts.  Garlieston was once a thriving fishing port, but this activity is now greatly reduced, making way for yachts and leisure craft.  There used to be regular excursions from here to the Isle Of Man, this being the closest port in Scotland to the island. Today there are occasional trips to the island in the summer courtesty of Waverley Excursions. A short coastal walk over Cruggleton Cliffs leads to Cruggleton Castle, dating from the 12th century and now ruined.  The castle was an English garrison during the time of Robert The Bruce.  Later in its history it was captured by Edward I during the Wars Of Independence, then it was retaken by William Wallace.  The castle was abandoned in 1680.  Near Garlieston is the privately owned Galloway House, with gardens open to visitors.  The main features are a woodland garden with ornamental trees and shrubs and a walled garden. 

During World War II Garlieston was chosen as the location for sea-trials of the floating Mulberry harbours which were installed off the Normandy coast to supply the armies just after D-Day.  The reason for the choice was that the behaviour of the tides at Garlieston was very similar to that of Normandy.  Prototypes of the harbours were brought from Conwy in North Wales to be tested in Wigtown Bay.  There is a large stone next to the Village Hall in Garlieston commemorating the trials.

Map of the area. 

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Photo by Leslie Barrie, via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, 9 July 2013


The area to the south of Monreith is full of reminders of St Ninian, a Christian saint who lived in the area around the 4th/5th centuries, and the first Christian missionary to come to Scotland, arriving by sea from Cumbria.  A short distance along the coast to the south-east of Monreith is St Ninian's Cave, where reminders of the saint's presence remain in the form of Christian crosses carved into the cave walls.  In the town of Whithorn, 4 miles from the coast, the Priory Museum displays archaeological finds which include crosses, stones etc. associated with the saint.  Meanwhile, at Isle Of Whithorn, a village with a causeway leading to a rocky peninsula which used to be an island, there is a ruined 13th century chapel named after St Ninian.  The village was granted the status of Royal Burgh in 1663, and its harbour was once one of the most important in the area.  Monks from nearby Whithorn Priory used to keep their fish in a fish yard there.  Fish and seafood are still landed at the harbour today by boats from the locality and from the Isle Of Man, and for more pleasurable pursuits afloat the Wigtown BaySailing Club is based here.  One of the most prominent features in the area is The Cairn, whre a square white tower has long been used as a navigational aid, a fact which was not lost on the military during the Second World War when a tracking station was established here for anti-aircraft gunnery practice.  Those with the energy to climb up to The Cairn are rewarded with fabulous views of the Kirkcudbright coast, the mountains of the Lake District over in England and the Isle Of Man.

Map of the area. 

File:Isle of Whithorn Harbour - - 214189.jpg
Photo by David Medcalf, via Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, 7 July 2013


Monreith was originally called Milltown Of Monreith due to the grain mills that were established on the Monreith Estate, powered by the Monreith Burn.  The estate and Monreith House are owned by the Maxwell family, whose former home called "The Dowies" also known as "Old Place" has been taken over by the Landmark Trust and is available to rent as holiday accommodation.  There is further accommodation available at the present-day Monreith House.  The name Maxwell is very common in this part of Scotland, and one of the extended Maxwell family members was the famous author and naturalist Gavin Maxwell, whose book Ring Of Bright Water about an otter Maxwell brought from Iraq and raised in Scotland sold over a million copies and was made into a film.  There is a memorial to Maxwell in the form of a statue of an otter looking out over the shore near Monreith.  Many of the Maxwells are buried in the churchyard of the ruined Kirkmaiden (Virgin's church) Church on the shores of Monreith Bay.  This church, one of the oldest in Scotland, also harbours the remains of a French naval officer called Francois Thurot who fell victim to a sea battle off the Isle Of Man in 1760, and whose body was washed ashore here.  

Map of the area. 

File:Monreith beach - - 1725478.jpg

  Photo by  Andrew Gritt, via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, 5 July 2013


There is evidence of habitation in the area around Port William going back 6,000 years. To start with there are signs of a Mesolithic site near the village, added to which there are standing stones at nearby Drumtroddan, and there are several examples of Iron Age roundhouses to the north of the village.  However, Port William itself was established as a planned village by the local Laird Sir William Maxwell in 1770.  Sir William was keen to advance the local economy, particularly agriculture, and to this end he built a corn mill with a water wheel and salmon ladder, and he also built the area's first harbour, where fertiliser for the local farms was imported.  However, fertiliser was not the only incoming product.  The proximity of the Isle Of Man led to a thriving smuggling trade in the 17th and 18th centuries.  Many of the farms had hiding places known as "brandy holes" for secreting the smuggled goods, including brandy and tea, which were destined mostly for Glasgow and Edinburgh.  Today, the main attraction for visitors is the lovely sandy beach at Second Sands, while for the kids there are rock pools on the shore ideal for mini sea creature safaris.  Wildlife enthusiasts will not be disappointed: among the species which have frequented the area are otters, badgers and deer.  Sightings of marine creatures in Luce Bay have included minke whales, basking sharks, porpoise, seals, dolphins and even leatherback turtles.  Port William's Carnival Week takes place in the first week of August, and each year the village hosts the final day of World Oceans Week.

Map of the area. 

File:Port William Harbour - - 30887.jpg

  2000 Bob Jones, via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, 3 July 2013


To the east of the Rhinns of Galloway is Luce Bay, which is bordered by the Machars on the other side.  Near the head of the bay is Glenluce, on a waterway known as the Water of Luce.  The sloping main street of the village is lined by a variety of houses, some with stone facades, some whitewashed or in pastel shades.  The village was once much better connected than it is now.  The military road from Dumfries to Portpatrick passed through here.  Later, in the latter half ot the 19th century, the railway arrived, and with it the impressive Glenluce Viaduct spanning the Water Of Luce, which once carried trains from Carlisle to Stranraer.  However, Beeching's line closures put an end to all that, added to which a bypass has been built around the village, returning it to its former tranquil state.  There is a harbour at Stairhaven on Luce Bay two miles to the south.  The beach at Stairhaven is very popular for its idyllic location, and walkers can enjoy fine coastal scenery on the Stairhaven Coastal Circuit walk. Also fronting the shore is the Wigtownshire County Golf Club.

In a peaceful valley setting 2 miles outside the village lies the ruined Glenluce Abbey, a Cistercian abbey built in 1192 by Roland, Lord of Galloway.  The Chapter House was built around 1500 and is in a much more intact state. The abbey grew rich from agriculture, at one point owning 3,000 sheep, but it went into a decline with the Reformation of 1560.  Stones from the abbey were used to build the nearby Castle of Park which overlooks Luce Bay.  The abbey is run by Historic Scotland, and visitors can view an exhibition of objects excavated at the site.  

Map of the area.

File:Glenluce Abbey (12c Cistercian) - - 490895.jpg
  2004 Keith Salvesen, via Wikimedia Commons