Earshaig Lochans and Lochwood
At Earshaig Lochans (grid NT047027) above Beattock, you’ll find an easy and pleasant walk up in the hills around two lochans known for their wildlife, pond-dipping activities and birdlife. You can walk up here from Moffat if you’re fit. Alternatively it’s a good spot to bring children to if you’re driving (mind the potholes); take what is known as ‘The Crooked Road’ up to the top of the hill, enter the forest passing the small monument on the right to one Ben Wilson of Holmshaw (a nearby farm) who was killed by lightning here in August 1897, and keep going through the forest for a short distance until you reach a clearly marked parking area on the left where you can leave the car. Around the lochans are some larger-than-life chainsaw woodcarvings of a giant-sized dragonfly and a common lizard the size of a crocodile. On a summer’s day bring a picnic, too, and make use of the tables at the water’s edge. And once you’re done, you have the joy of the return journey back down the hill, with its magnificent views over Moffat to the hills beyond. Whatever the season, it’s a vista worth seeing (if, indeed, it can be seen through the mists in the more inclement months).
Also on this western side of the A74(M) is Lochwood (NT085972), a dendrochronologist’s dream, worth visiting for the veteran sessile oaks in a patch of woods a short distance south of Beattock. (Dendrochronology is defined as the study of annual rings to date wooden artefacts and past events, and the Lochwood oaks played an important role in its development in the 1970s.) Some of the trees on this Site of Special Scientific Interest are thought to be over 400 years old, so they would have been saplings at the time of James VI and I. The woodland is on land owned by the Earl of Annandale so public access is restricted, but there are good views of the trees from the minor road that runs between the A701 and B7020. The bluebells in springtime are resplendent and fill the air with scent, while purple hairstreak butterflies flit about the canopy during warm august days.
Chariots of Fire – Boreland Style
A few miles over the hill from Wamphray lies Boreland, home to Chariots of Fire Equestrian Centre (Nether Boreland, Boreland DG11 2LL; 01576 610248, chariotscic.org.uk), a registered riding charity that was established by award-winning carriage driver Amanda Saville, who sadly passed away in 2016. Such is the passion and energy of those who continue her work, it’s difficult not to get swept along by their enthusiasm. There are several strands to what’s on offer, at the heart of which is carriage driving: the sort where you attach a carriage to a horse, or several horses, and set off on the road, or in the indoor arena if it’s wet. Or, in the case of the experts, for a spot of competitive stunt driving through rings of fire with a bit of carriage jumping (yes, really, the carriages are actually jumped) thrown in for good measure.
This is a great place to go for a real Slow experience. Chickens, ducks, guinea fowl, peacocks, pigs, cows and Dutch Zwartbles sheep provide diversion for younger (and overgrown) kids, and anyone of any riding ability can come for a lesson or just for a pleasure drive with the team (four ponies), from novices who would like to try something completely different to experienced drivers. For newcomers a day-drive experience is suggested, in which you try your hand at driving for an hour, then stop for coffee, then go on a pleasure drive with one of the staff. What better or slower way to see some of the countryside than from the comfort of a horse-drawn carriage, clip-clopping along at a measured pace between the beech hedgerows, absorbing the sights and sounds of this attractive corner of the region?
A tour of the stables is a treat, even for those who are nervous around horses (notably one of this particular writing team, whose resistance was broken down and who by the end was cuddling up to them with the rest of us). All of the horses are fully broken in and good natured, and there’s a real mix, from darling Dartmoor ponies to mighty black Arabo Friesians and irresistible donkeys. And that’s not to mention the cows and the Dutch Zwartbles sheep, all of which are, believe it or not, used for carriage driving too.
Riding for the disabled features significantly and this is one of the only facilities in the area for people with impaired mobility. During our visit we watched a young lad of 10 take the reins of a pair of horses in a specially adapted carriage that could accommodate his wheelchair. With one of the staff,at his side, and a huge grin plastered across his face, he guided the horses around the arena. People of all ages and all degrees of ability come here for this and the crew is justifiably proud to have won several awards for their work.
Incidentally, the name Boreland has its roots in the 9th–11th centuries, when Vikings ruled the region. Once a year the governor would tour the land to assess the amount payable by tenants to the Norse overlord. En route, certain farms were expected to provide free board and lodging and these became known as ‘Bordlands’, which over the years has become Boreland. In return for their troubles, the farms were exempt from paying tax.
Notable for its contribution to the built environment, this is one of several quarries in southwest Scotland which is still used for extracting the red sandstone that is such a distinctive characteristic of local architecture. It has also been exported and used in England, the USA and even as far away as Australia. The sandstone dates from the Permo-Triassic period, 251 million years ago, and has been used in buildings such as the Caledonian Hotel in Edinburgh, the Kelvingrove Art Museum in Glasgow, and various Louis Vuitton shops throughout the world. Thousands of tons were extracted throughout the 19th century, during which nearby Templand was developed to house the quarry workers.
For many years Ecclefechan was little more than a quiet street of cottages with a burn flowing before the doorsteps. That quietness was interrupted, though, first when the village became a busy marketplace and in more recent times by the construction of the A74(M) nearby.
Tarts and Philosophy
Thomas Carlyle was born in what is known as the ‘Arched House’ (for obvious reasons when you see it) in Ecclefechan on 4 December 1795 and was educated initially at the Academy in nearby Annan. After attending Edinburgh University he became a maths teacher before writing in 1836 the work which brought him to public attention, Sartor Resartus (The Tailor Re-tailored), a novel based on a mix of fact and fiction, both serious and satirical, that may have influenced much later James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake. This marked the start of a career of writings and philosophy which saw him become an intellectual giant of his time who, like others of his ilk, left to us many memorable quotes, a few of those which may resonate in modern times being:
A man lives by believing something: not by debating and arguing about many things.
Conviction is worthless unless it is converted into conduct.
Silence is more eloquent than words.
It is a vain hope to make people happy by politics.
I’ve got a great ambition to die of exhaustion rather than boredom.
Carlyle moved to London where he became known as the ‘Sage of Chelsea’, a soubriquet that one imagines this unassuming man would have detested. It is said that prior to his death he was offered a place at Westminster Abbey but he chose instead to be buried in Ecclefechan. His grave can be found in a fenced enclosure in the graveyard next to Ecclefechan Church, which can be reached by following the cobbled street past his cottage.
Ecclefechan’s other claim to fame – by contrast – is the delicious Ecclefechan Tart, something along the lines of a fruit cake but with pastry. We have tried in vain to discover what its origins are but to no avail. One former resident of Ecclefechan told us that acclaim for the rediscovery of the recipe for the tart sits with the Kirkconnel Hotel in the village, where her mother worked (we would be delighted to hear from anyone who can shed any further light on this). If you happen to be in Moffat in Upper Annandale, you might be able to sample a homemade Ecclefechan tart (one of the best we have tried) at the Café Ariete. Alternatively, the Scottish firm of Walkers offers its own variety (see here).
Arnott was born at Kirkconnel Hall northeast of Ecclefechan and led an adventurous life starting as surgeon’s mate in the 11th Dragoons and rising to become surgeon to the 20th Regiment of Foot with whom he served in Holland, the Mediterranean and India before departing for St Helena in 1819.
GRETNA AND GRETNA GREEN
The name Gretna was originally Graitney and there is still an area called Old Graitney. There is also Old Graitney Farm, on whose land can be found the Lochmaben Stone, a standing stone on the shores of the Solway which is thought to have been part of a stone circle and which in days of old was the meeting place for the wardens of the different surrounding areas. The name of the stone is thought originally to have been Clochmaben, thus not to be confused with the town of Lochmaben a little further north.
The enthusiasm with which Gretna weddings are viewed by many today is thanks in no small part to the work of the local Houston family, whose great grandfather, Hugh Mackie, in 1886 bought the Gretna Estate, including the Old Blacksmith’s Cottage, and set the ball rolling on a course which has seen successive generations curate the Gretna reputation, nurturing both its romantic tradition and commercial appeal. The Houstons are canny operators and today have a wide range of business interests, from breeding Charolais cattle to building and running the smart Smiths Hotel next to the Blacksmith’s Shop. The full story of Gretna is told in a booklet which they commissioned from Alan Air, From the Hammer to the Anvil: Love, Marriage and Scandal at Gretna Green, and which can be bought in their shop.
Originally a market town, Annan suffered repeated incursions due to its location close to the border with England, in which both the town and surrounding area were often left in a state of ruin. It is recorded that in 1317 ‘the vale of Annan lay so wasted and burned that neither man nor beast was left’.
Annan developed local industry using water power for grain milling and cotton spinning. Then in the 19th century the port of Annan forged links with Canada and the USA which led to the local shipbuilders graduating from building coastal brigs and schooners to constructing 1,000-ton tea clippers. Today the harbour at Annan is silted up and only a few fishing boats are to be seen, though there are moves afoot to redevelop it. A new slipway has been built, some interpretation boards installed, and a campaign has been organised to raise funds for dredging so that larger boats can once again reach this historic spot.
Annan Observer Building
The Annan Observer Building is home to DNG (Dumfriesshire Newspaper Group), with its varous tiles and, in a niche above the door, a small bust. William Cuthbertson, founder of the Observer as a monthly newspaper in 1857, gazes down benignly on the town that for almost 160 years has continued to turn to his publication for its dose of local news. Today DNG publishes the Annandale Observer, Moffat News, Annandale Herald and Dumfries Courier, and is just one of several newspaper groups that cover the region.
The citizens of Annan were granted the right to fish the River Annan and the Solway originally by the Bruce family in the 13th century and then later, again, by James V in a Royal Charter of 1538.
Crossing the Solway
Crossing the Solway means an often long road trip east via Gretna, but it hasn’t always been such a challenge. It was once possible to cross the estuary on foot at low tide, and in the 19th century there was a railway viaduct from Bowness in Cumbria to Annan on the north shore. Opened in 1869, it was part of the Solway Junction Railway which ran freight trains to begin with to carry coal and then subsequently carried passenger trains, too. Alas, as coal imports from overseas increased the demand for the route fell away and the line was eventually closed in 1921. The viaduct remained standing for another 14 years before being demolished in 1934–35, to the chagrin of the Scots who had for some years enjoyed the easy pedestrian crossing on a Sunday to the country across the water where licensing laws were more relaxed!
Such was the popularity of this illegal foot crossing that a guard had to be posted to stop people from making use of it. Instead, the train to Carlisle would leave early in order to get everyone there on time.
The village of Dornock was the site of the Battle of Dornock during the Scottish Wars of Independence in 1333 at which a small Scottish force was routed by a much larger English one. In later years it is said that that the waterside at Dornock, next to Dornock Brow House (see Waterside Rooms in Accommodation) was a popular post for smugglers coming ashore. An oil lamp would be placed on the side of the house and another on the white cottage across the Solway to signal if the excise men were about. It’s worth venturing down to the shore here for the views to Cumbria across the sands of the Solway. Looking out from here you might spot the haaf nets used by local fishermen, a distinctive arrangement of nets zigzagging their way out from the shore.
We contacted Mike Youdale of WWT to find out more, and he told us: ‘The whole wheeling around flight behaviour is typical to knot. During the autumn and winter months knot and dunlin are on the Solway in good numbers. Both species sometimes reaching flock sizes of 20,000, but obviously this all depends on where the concentration of birds are feeding. Powfoot is also a great location to see large flocks of golden plover, and with these flocks it also opens up the opportunity to find some of the more scarce or rare American waders which annually get lost on migration, species such as semi-palmated sandpiper and American golden plover (of which I found the latter there two years ago). Just across the bay at Powfoot as well is Newbie Mains, and this holds huge numbers of oystercatchers on the high tide roosts and they can often be seen in the thousand (when I was there in December I counted around 7,000) on the shingle beach between Powfoot and Newbie.’
Whita Hill and Langholm Moor Demonstration Project
The Langholm Moor Demonstration Project is a collaboration between Buccleuch Estates, Scottish Natural Heritage, Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, the RSPB and Natural England, which aims to restore grouse moor management to the area as part of a project to resolve the raptor-grouse moor controversy. A leaflet is available at the Langholm tourist information centre.
He was born on 9 August 1757 but within a few months his father, John, died and his mother, Janet, moved with her son to a two-room shared cottage a little closer to Langholm. At the age of 15 he was apprenticed to a local stonemason, first in Lochmaben and then in Langholm, where he learned his trade before moving on to work in Edinburgh on the development of the famous Georgian New Town. A few years later, aged 25, he ended up in London with letters of introduction to some of the most renowned architects of the day, including Sir William Chambers and Robert Adam.
Telford also established something of a literary reputation for himself, having been encouraged in early years to take an interest in literature and poetry. Tellingly, one of his most quoted works is simply called ‘Eskdale’.
Telford died at his home in London on 2 September 1834 and was buried at Westminster Abbey.
Samye Ling - Behind the Scenes at the Monastery
We have visited Samye Ling often but thought it would be interesting to get more of an inside track while researching this guide, and so we contacted the monastery and a meeting was arranged. On the appointed day at the relevant time we turned up. ‘We’re looking for Ani’ we said to a group of people sitting chatting in one of the rooms. ‘Which one?’ they asked. We were stumped. We had no idea that ‘Ani’ means ‘aunty’ and is the name by which all of the nuns (for that is how they are described) are known. In the event, it turned out our appointment was with Ani Lhamao. Originally from Fort William, she has been with monastery for 25 years and now works as the Abbot’s secretary, the Abbot having over-riding responsibility for not just Samye Ling but all organisations associated with it.
From her we learned that the monastery is in no way political and has three main areas of activity: spiritual, charitable, and medical/therapy, with the latter being based on Tibetan medicine. There are five basic vows if you want to become a Buddhist:
•Not to kill or harm anything
•Not to tell untruths (and not to use the ‘wrong’ language’)
•Not to steal – ie: not to take what’s not been given
•Not to engage in sexual misconduct (for lay people), or total celibacy for those who are ordained
•Not to take intoxicants
The notion of Bodhisattva underlies much of Buddhist practice – the wish to benefit others.
The monastery runs a range of courses and retreats, catering for all levels of interest, from a weekend course on compassion through to an MSc in Mindfulness in conjunction with Aberdeen University. Interestingly (and perhaps logically) in recent years there has been an increased number of people subscribing to courses through the period of economic recession.
Going on retreat is about being more isolated, focusing mainly on spiritual practice, prayer and ritual. Some are one week long, guided retreats with an element of teaching but there are also winter retreats on Holy Isle for 1-3 months. Then there are 1-year retreats, which are often used as preparation for the even more extensive 4-year retreat, both of which are undertaken by those wishing to join the monastery as a monk or a nun.
Samye Ling is run totally by volunteers, of whom there are around 50, the number required to keep the place ticking over, resident at the monastery. The story behind it is that the Lama came to Oxford in 1963-64, during which time he was invited to Samye Ling, where there was already a Buddhist community led by a Canadian. In time this group returned to Canada, at which point the Lama took over.
Overnight guest accommodation is available at the monastery and includes individual rooms, dormitories and camping, although the latter is best reserved for the summer months. Bookings can be made online.