CARSPHAIRN AND WOODHEAD LEAD MINING VILLAGE
To reach Woodhead, cross the bridge heading north out of Carsphairn and follow the track off to the left past the remains of a stone circle and burial mound. The mine was established in 1838 by local landowner Colonel McAdam Cathcart and at its height employed over 300 people producing 900 tons of lead per year. Cathcart built something of a model village and the remains of the miners’ terraced housing and the schoolhouse can still be seen, along with the manager’s house, explosive magazine and the smelt mill with its flues and hillside chimneys. After Woodhead closed in 1873, some families moved on to Wanlockhead but many others emigrated, as a result of which Carsphairn has become something of a centre for family history research.
Polmaddy and Dundeugh
The eastern route southwards from Carsphairn down the B729 and then the B7000 is perfect for a slow drive along a quiet backroad, while the western down the A713 makes for quicker progress and offers a couple of stopping off options. The first is at Polmaddy (look for the Forestry Commision signs to Polmaddy and then follow the track to the car park), where surrounded by woodland and tucked into a loop of the Polmaddy Burn lie the remains of a ‘ferm toun’ (a traditional Galloway farming village) with a mill and an inn where Robert the Bruce took refuge shortly before the Battle of Glentrool in 1307. It’s an easy walk to the village, crossing the Polmaddy Burn via a small bridge.
The other option is the Dundeugh Trail, a circular forest walk of 4 miles, which is accessed on the other side of the road from Polmaddy with its own parking area. Dundeugh Forest is encircled by water and marks the point where the Water of Deugh meets the Water of Ken.
ST JOHNS TOWN OF DALRY
The Glenkens Community and Arts Trust has plans to develop part of Donald Watson’s house into the Watson Bird Centre. At the time of writing the building has been purchased but funds are still being raised to develop it further. However, visits can be arranged by appointment by dropping an email to the project director, Roger Crofts, at www.watsonbirds.org and should you go you’ll see Donald Watson’s studio set up as he left it. There is also a collection of around 50 of his paintings, only a very small number of which is on display, although it may be possible to view others depending on what stage work is at.
Parish church - Stones in the graveyard include one to Anna Kennedy with a rather touching piece of 18th-century verse, a couple with skull and crossbones, and a couple with carvings of Adam and Eve. More verse is displayed on the headstone of one John Murray, who died in 1771 and who for 46 years was, it is assumed from the details on his stone, ghillie for the Gordon family at their nearby castle of Kenmore. The clarity of the carving is striking and shows his fishing rods, flintlock rifle and powder casks, as well as his dog. After his death a competition was held to compose a fitting epitaph. It was won by the minister, John Gillespie, whose words are carved on the back of the stone:
‘Ah John, what changes since I saw thee last;
Thy fishing and thy shooting days are past.
Bagpipes and hautboys thou canst sound no more
Thy nods, grimaces, winks and pranks are o’er.
Thy harmless, queerish incoherent talk,
Thy wild vivacity and trudging walk
Will soon be quite forgot. Thy joys on earth,
A snuff, a glass, riddles and noisy mirth,
Are vanished all. Yet blest, I hope thou art,
For in thy station weel thou playdst thy part.’
Robert Paterson is generally regarded as something of an obsessed eccentric but in a letter to one Mr Train, the Galloway correspondent of Sir Walter Scott, his son Robert hints that his father’s main preoccupation was simply to provide for his wife and family.
Extract from a letter from Robert Paterson’s son to Mr Train.
‘At last he found that Galloway was a place destitute of free-stone, and of consequence of gravestones, or any to work them. After repeated trials of carrying gravestones into Galloway and selling them, answered his expectations of a profitable concern As his business lay now entirely in the churchyards, it could not last long in any one place, and it therefore behooved him to travel In the year 1800 or 1801 he went to Dumfries, in order to get some gravestones at Locharbrigg quarry. After stopping there five or six days, and all that time complaining of a pain in his bowels, he set out for Bankend, in the parish of Caerlaverock, where there is a free-stone quarry, and where the stones would be much more convenient for water-carriage, as I suppose they were intended for Wigtownshire. He was got within a very short distance of the house of Bankend, when some persons at the door observed him approaching apparently in an uneasy posture, or some rather strange appearance about him; while they were looking at him, he fell from the horse. They came to him immediately, the white pony standing beside him. They carried him into the house: he was able to speak, and told who he was and where his sons lived.’
Glenlair and James Clerk Maxwell
Einstein said ‘the special theory of relativity owes its origins to Maxwell's equations of the electromagnetic field’ and ‘since Maxwell's time, physical reality has been thought of as represented by continuous fields, and not capable of any mechanical interpretation. This change in the conception of reality is the most profound and the most fruitful that physics has experienced since the time of Newton.’ Praise indeed for a wee lad from Galloway who in his early years at school was so slow to develop he was known as ‘daftie’!
It opens its gardens on just one day a year in May, but they are also open by prior arrangement between April and June. Rhododendrons, woodland walks with temples, a loch and water gardens make up the grounds, and there is a walled garden under development.
GLENTROOL AND MERRICK
Glentrool has long been celebrated for is beauty and the description given by one guidebook writer of 70 years ago is as relevant today as it was then: ‘Sublimely beautiful and Galloway at its most magnificent: mountains, ragged of crest and their flanks slashed with waterfalls, high solitary lochs shadowed by cliffs, swift powerful rivers roaring down over boulders.’ Of the trail to Merrick, he continues: ‘One of the finest walks in the region begins on the path which runs northward from the Bruce Memorial beside the Buchan Burn... The path beside the burn climbs skywards to 2360-foot Benyellary. Ahead of us then lies the saddle, and our route takes us along the rugged spine to the 2764-feet peak of the Merrick. Now the whole of the range lies at our feet All around us its rocky fingers are splayed across the landscape... On the map this looks but a tiny circuit in the hills but of all walks in Galloway it is the most rewarding. It gives us in one day such a view of the romantic grandeur of Galloway that we shall remember it all our life.’
Sulwath produces 9 beers, all with suitably local names, including the John Paul Jones, The Grace (for Robert Burns 250th anniversary) and a fortifying Porter called the Black Galloway. (Sulwath is, of course, an early name for the Solway.) Jim even produces beer for the Duke of Buccleuch, as well as bottling beers for other small breweries from Manchester to the Orkney Islands, and he’s been a regular winner of silver and gold medals from the Society of Independent Brewers. Galloway Gold is the only lager-type beer, while Knockendock is what is known in Scotland as a ‘heavy’, almost ruby in colour, and Solway Mist is a specialist beer, brewed Belgian style with coriander, Seville oranges and vanilla pods. Come at Christmas and you’ll be offered the Sulwath Reinbeer (‘liquid Christmas cake’ says Jim) along with roasted chestnuts.
Dalbeattie to the Coast
John, King of Scotland 1292-96, son of John Balliol and Lady Devorgilla, lived at Buittle but lost his lands to the English. However, the castle was taken again in 1313 by Edward Bruce, during his campaign to recapture all the castles in southwest Scotland. The castle was then destroyed but the lands were granted to Robert the Bruce’s loyal supporter, Sir James Douglas, who used the stones to build a tower in the 14th century. That tower still stands today, just west of Dalbeattie, now in private hands.
GATEHOUSE OF FLEET
She is also the Literature Convenor for the BIG LIT element of the annual Dumfries and Galloway Arts Festival and each year arranges the visit of the Shakespeare’s Globe touring company to perform at the Crichton campus in Dumfries. Chrys was awarded in MBE in 2014 for Services to the Arts in Dumfries and Galloway.
Queen’s University Belfast is also working here as part of a project to control and, if possible; eradicate invasive species from river catchment areas in Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland. Species in the firing line are commonly known: giant hogweed, Japanese knotweed, Himalayan Balsam and Rhododendron ponticum.
Urien of Rheged, the dominant king of the region, may well have gathered forces from Tynron Doon here, but his kingdom was eventually overcome and absorbed into Anglian Northumbria in the 7th century.
Coast road to Creetown
For more intrepid types, Dirk Hatteraick’s Cave, an old smuggler’s haunt, may prove tempting, though access is tricky and at your own risk. To reach the cave take a track off to the left about half a mile beyond the turning for Cairn Holy and then take the left fork where it splits. Carry on down to the shore and head along the beach, cross a burn and about a quarter of a mile further on take a track that climbs up the hill. Dirk Hatteraick was based on Captain Yawkins, a redoubtable figure who was immortalised in Sir Walter Scott’s Guy Mannering. There are also two castles along this stretch of coast, Carsluith and Barholm (now private), both of which in their time have claimed to be Scott’s Ellangowan from the same tale.
CAIRNSMORE ESTATE - FW CHAMPION
The privately owned Cairnsmore estate is the hereditary home of the Stewart family, into which married in 1923 the photographer Frederick Walter Champion (1893-1970) when he wed Julia Stewart. Champion was a passionate conservationist before conservation became fashionable and pioneered the use of tripwires and camera traps to record wildlife in India where he was stationed during World War I and continued to live for many years after. His photography produced remarkable results, especially night-time shots of tigers. In his role with the Imperialist Forestry Service he would occasionally come into contact with tourists, to whom he was obliged to issue permits for hunting, a practice he abhorred. It is said that at times he would hand out permits to areas where he knew tigers were never found.
In 1955 Champion and his wife retired to Cairnsmore, where he lived until his death. After he died his photographs were donated by the family to the Natural History Museum in London.
The old railway station for Gatehouse is still standing near the road turning to Big Water of Fleet viaduct but is now a private house on the right hand side of the road as you head towards Creetown. A couple of miles beyond here on the left, on the northwest slopes of Pibble Hill, are the remains of the Pibble Mine, which was worked for lead and copper ores from as early as 1760. Pibble was the location of the only Cornish engine pumping house in Scotland, the remains of which are still standing.
Robert Burns and The Selkirk Grace
One of Robert Burns’ most famous poems is the Selkirk Grace, a short verse of thanks to be recited before a meal, most often heard at a Burns Supper held on or near the poet’s birthday, 25 January. Burns had many connections with Dumfries and Galloway and is said to have written the Selkirk Grace while on a visit to Kirkcudbright (it is also known as Burns’s Grace at Kirkcudbright). A form of the verse was known in the 17th century as the Galloway Grace or Covenanters’ Grace, and there are various versions of the tale as to how Burns came to write his own. One story, espoused in good spirit by the current owners and backed up by well-known local historian Jack Hunter, is that it was penned while staying at the Selkirk Arms before heading out to St Mary’s Isle for a post-dinner visit to Lord Daer, second son of the Earl of Selkirk. Another is that it was written at the Earl of Selkirk’s house on St Mary’s Isle.
The words of the Selkirk Grace are:
Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it,
But we hae meat and we can eat,
And sae the Lord be thankit.
BORGUE AND SIR HUGH BLAIR
This was also the birthplace of Hugh Blair, an 18th-century aristocrat who, in hindsight, it is believed may be the first recorded case of autism. Blair’s behaviour was perplexing: collecting twigs and feathers and pieces of cloth, an insistence on wearing the same clothes and mending them with patches taken from others that were perfectly wearable, and attending every burial in town, even of people he didn’t know. It is thanks to his brother - and guardian - John, that details of Hugh’s case are recorded, as John tried to obtain an annulment of Hugh’s marriage on the basis of his inability to lead a normal life. The reality was that John wanted to avoid a competing heir. Hugh Blair’s story is told in a fascinating book Autism in History: The Case of Hugh Blair of Borgue written by Rab Houston and Uta Frith.
The house at Knockbrex is available for holiday lets, sleeping 22 –