Dumfries Museum and Camera Obscura
Part of the interest of Dumfries Museum and Camera Obscura lies in the building itself, a windmill from the late 1700s which was rescued through a public subscription scheme to set up an observatory with the creation of the Dumfries and Maxwelltown Astronomical Society. Such was the increasing interest in science and resistance to demolishing the windmill that by the time a public meeting was held in 1835 over 100 people had already bought shares at £5 each in the new venture. Committees were formed, discussions mulled over and expert opinions sought, including that of Sir John Ross, the Arctic Explorer, who at that time was living at North West Castle on Loch Ryan in Stranraer where he had installed his own Camera Obscura. The intention was to have a telescope in place in time to see Halley’s Comet that same year, but unfortunately the supplier missed the deadline! Instead, the first visitors attended on 1 August 1836, by when both a telescope and a Camera Obscura had been installed at a cost of £73 and £23.50 respectively. That £23.50 was possibly the best money ever invested, for it is now the oldest in the world still operating its original seven and half inch lens and mirror. No part has ever been replaced and even the table on which the image is viewed is still the original one.
Dumfries Aviation Museum
Started in 1974 and developed as funds have allowed ever since, it occupies a comparatively small site but packs in the planes, helicopters, engines, wartime displays and aviation history, including the three-storey control tower which is also open to the public and a display relating to the American B29A Superfortress which crashed into a Scottish hillside in 1949 while returning to its home base in Salina, Kansas.
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The original castle at Caerlaverock dated from the early 13th century but when it began to sink it was decided to build a new one further inland around 1270, and it’s the remains of this that are seen today. History abounds here: Edward I famously lay siege to the castle with an army of 3,000 soldiers in 1300. The defenders put up a brave fight but eventually had to admit defeat. To Edward’s astonishment, when they emerged from the castle they numbered only 60. The episode was hardly the most significant, but the circumstances of it were so unusual that it was recorded in detail by one of the English soldiers in a long poem called The Song of Caerlaverock.
Edward was intent on taking Scotland and repeatedly led his armies northwards, but in the end success eluded him and he died on the southern side of the Solway in 1307 preparing to invade yet again. His son Edward II carried on the fight and Caerlaverock was the site of continued incursions in the decades that followed. It was only in 1360 that the Maxwells, who owned the castle, were able to rebuild, and they continued to evolve the castle over the next two centuries
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The Immortal Mrs Elspeth Buchan
Some time around 1780, Mrs Elspeth Buchan, originally from Aberdeenshire, met while living in Glasgow the Reverend Hugh White, who in a short space of time convinced her that she was ‘the woman clothed with the sun’ referred to in the Book of Revelation 12.1. They founded a sect in Irvine in Ayrshire, which Robert Burns described in a letter of 3 August 1784 to James Burness in Montrose. He wrote:
‘We have been surprized with one of the most extraordinary Phenomena in the moral world.... We have had a party of the Presbytry Relief, as they call themselves, for some time in this country. A pretty thriving society of them has been in the Burgh of Irvine for some years past, till about two years ago, a Mrs Buchan from Glasgow came among them, and began to spread some fanatical notions of religion among them in Spring last the Populace rose and mobbed the old leader Buchan, and put her out of the town on which, all her followers voluntarily quitted the place likewise, and with such precipitation, that many of them never shut their doors behind them; one left a washing on the green, another a cow bellowing at the crib without meat or anybody to mind her, and after several stages they are fixed at present in the neighbourhood of Dumfries. Their tenets are a strange jumble of enthusiastic jargon, among others, she pretends to give them the Holy Ghost by breathing on them, which she does with postures and practices that are scandalously indecent; they have likewise disposed of all their effects and hold a community of goods, and live nearly an idle life carrying on a great farce of pretended devotion in barns, and woods, where they lodge and lye all together, and hold likewise a community of women, as it is another of their tenets that they can commit no moral sin.
Mrs Buchan and her followers settled in the Thornhill area where, despite her claims of immortality, she died in 1791. Said to be buried in Crocketford, to where those she left behind relocated after her death, she then disappointed her adherents 50 years later when on the anniversary of her death she failed to fulfil her prophesy and rise from the dead. The last Buchanite died in Crocketford in 1846.
John Paul Jones Museum and Arbigland Estate
In the years since then, there has been continued involvement in celebrating the life of John Paul Jones and in developing the Cottage Museum from a range of interested parties involved with the US navy. Today the museum shows Jones’s birthplace as it would have been: a small white cottage overlooking the Solway with a single room partitioned in two, with a fireplace, flagstone floor and simple furnishings. There is also a visitor centre which has a display relating to Solway wildlife and Arbigland estate, plus a video on John Paul Jones. The story of the search for his body is told in information panels and makes particularly intriguing reading.
Arbigland estate is no longer open to the public but it does offer holiday cottages. The estate originally belonged to William Craik, one of the great pioneers of agricultural reform, who was born here in 1703 and also died here, aged 95, in 1798. Full details are available on the estate’s website at www.arbiglandestate.co.uk