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.
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.’
If we ever win the Lottery, Kenmure Castle could make for an exciting renovation project. We wouldn’t be the first to try, for in the 1950s it was a hotel. What’s left of this imposing mansion house is a very curious mix of ancient and modern, consisting of a roofless shell of 17th-century stonework ornamented by the trappings of a more modern age such as TV aerial and external connection point for telephone wires.
Situated around one mile south of New Galloway, Kenmure can only be approached on foot. Head down the A762 and just after a row of white cottages, park by a five-bar gate on the left-hand side, from where the way in is through the gate and down the avenue of trees. Kenmure sits raised up on what looks like a motte or manmade mound, though it is in fact partly natural, and seen from below at first sight has the appearance of a fortress. It doesn’t help that the original stonework has been covered on the outside by grey harle, lending it a somewhat sinister mien. It is, perhaps, not unfitting as the site is said to have been occupied by a defensive structure of the Lords of Galloway.
John Balliol, husband of Galloway’s good Lady Devorgilla was born here in 1249, while in later years Kenmure became the seat of the Gordon family of Lochinvar. In the 19th century it was one of the Kenmure Gordons who moved to America where he acquired in the state of Virginia a plantation house which had been built by the sister of George Washington and her husband. In tribute to his home he renamed it Kenmore.
Today’s ruinous building is the sort of place you want to dive into and explore. Do be warned, though, that much of the building has collapsed and by all accounts more of it may follow. Entrance is at your own risk.
Surrounding the castle is what would have once been parkland with some fine trees and a walled garden, now completely overgrown. It is an atmospheric and moody place, both enchanting and austere.
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’!
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 but open by prior arrangement for 'Tours and Tea', and also bookable for B&B (buittlecastle.co.uk).
GATEHOUSE OF FLEET
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.
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.
Hideo Furuta died in 2007, not long after completing work on Adamson Square in Creetown. The following text is extracted and adapted from the obituary by Professor Duncan Macmillan that appeared in The Scotsman newspaper on 18 December 2007.
Born in 1949 in Hiroshima, Furuta studied art and philosophy and aesthetics there and in Tokyo. A crucial experience for him, however, was a year spent as a stonemason and quarryman in the Ishizaki quarry on Kurahashi Island, Japan. It was there that he learned to work granite, which became his chosen medium. He taught briefly in Japan before going to Chile in 1984, then coming to Britain in 1985. He came to Scotland in 1989 to a residency at Edinburgh University, where he made an immediate impact by setting up his studio in the open air in the back garden of what was then the fine art department in George Square. He would light a fire in the morning to temper his tools afresh each day and, incidentally it seemed, to cook his breakfast. After that he settled in Scotland, where the geology of the country, like that of Japan, is rich in granite.
He persuaded Tarmac to give him the use of Kirkmabreck quarry, near Creetown in Galloway. He made his home there for many years, living in a dilapidated house that went with the quarry and working a seam of beautiful white granite. When Tarmac eventually asked him to move, with the support of the people of Creetown he found another disused quarry near Carsluith, which in turn became his base.
He most frequently worked with simple Euclidian shapes, spheres especially, but also cylinders, cones, pyramids and cubes (latterly he added low relief or inlaid figuration to the hewn surface of the stone) but his geometry was always intuitive.
Furuta came to be regarded with great affection in Galloway and he repaid this regard with one of the last of more than 40 public works he had carried out, the remodelling of Adamson Square in Creetown. It is a major project that he initiated and largely completed himself. It will now be his monument.
Allan Watson from the Gallwoay Smokehouse has kindly supplied this text, lifting the lid on the complex and highly sensitive process of smoking salmon
To smoke salmon, we start by hand filleting the fish with two small discs of skin removed from the sides of the fish to allow better salt penetration. The fillets are then laid on a bed of salt, each fillet is basted with a golden syrup, dark rum and water mixture and then sprinkled with salt. The fillets the remain in the salt until sufficient water has been removed and replaced by salt. The salting process is temperature dependant so great care is needed to get the salt content to the required level.
We sample the fish at this stage to make sure the salt level is within specification: too little and the fish goes back into salt, too much and the fillets need to be washed to remove some of the salt. When the salting process is complete the fillets are laid out on stainless steel trays and chilled for 12 hours. The outer layer of the fillet is always more salty than the inside and 12 hours allows time for the salt to equalise. (If it is smoked straight after salting the salty outside dries and forms an unpalatable leathery salty layer.)
So twelve hours later the bins are filled with sawdust and ice is sprinkled on the top to form a damp layer which stops the sawdust bursting into flame. The bins smoulder for about 4 hours and are then refilled. Care is needed in the control of the fire and it is vital the kiln temperature does not exceed 32C for cold smoking. As the smoking process continues the skin develops a lovely golden hue, the fillets dry out to a firm texture and beads of oil exude from the fillet surface. These act as a trap to the volatile oils and hence increase the smoky flavour.
When sufficient moisture has been lost and colour been attained the fillets are taken to the packing area. Here the belly and pin bones are removed with tweezers and the outside edge of the fillet is trimmed. The side is now ready for vacuum packing. It can also be sliced on side, sliced down to the skin but not freed and then interleaved. The slices are then laid back and a presliced side is ready for vacuum packing. If skinless slices are required the side is sliced and the slices removed from the side. They are then laid out, interleaved and vacuum packed.
Hot smoked salmon is produced in a different way. The fillets are placed in a 100% brine solution for a required time dependant on their size. They are then removed from the brine , laid out on trays and washed. The syrup mixture is applied and the fish cold smoked for 24 hours. The temperature of the kiln is then raised by using the internal heating elements. The fillets are then cooked at 90C until the fillets reach 60C. Once cooked the fillets are cooled and vacuum packed.
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.
John Paul Jones, prisoner at the Tolbooth, Kirkcudbright
During a voyage in 1770 Jones flogged Mungo Maxwell, one of his sailors, for being negligent in his duty. Later that year Maxwell died on a different ship and rumours circulated that it was as a result of the wounds he had suffered while under Jones’s command. Jones was subsequently imprisoned in the Tolbooth but released shortly afterwards on bail when he produced papers intimating that Maxwell had in fact died of yellow fever. Despite this apparent exoneration, the story of Maxwell’s death stuck with Jones for the rest of his life.
Billy Marshall, the Tinker King (1672–1792)
On the hill to the east of the town lies St Cuthbert’s Graveyard, the site of the early church. Here lies Billy Marshall, of Romany stock, who was regarded as the king of the gypsies in southwest Scotland in the 18th century. His was a colourful life which included serving as a private soldier first in King William’s army at the Battle of the Boyne and, later, under the Duke of Marlborough in Germany. He is said to have been instrumental in organising the ‘Levellers’, a band of people who in 1723–24 destroyed the dykes which had been raised by farmers enclosing their land. Prior to this time there had been a common right of grazing, but with the price of cattle increasing landlords chose to close off sections of their land, which in turn led to revolt.
Billy Marshall lived to the age of 120, claimed to have been married 17 times and is said to have fathered many children, including four after the age of 100.
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 (knockbrex-castle.com)