Rambles in Galloway (1)

RAMBLES IN GALLOWAY, by M. McL., Harper. 1876.


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The groaning thunder-clouds which rested on the sea, and the lightning’s lurid flash, which, against a sky of inky darkness, brought into full relief the livid skeleton ruins of the old Abbey, had passed away, and the morning dawned serenely beautiful, as we, rising with the “wakerife laverocks,” passed through the village of Dundrennan on the way to Kirkcudbright.

There are several roads from this to Kirkcudbright, but we choose the one leading past Girdstingwood House, a handsome and substantial building, situated in a position that commands a beautiful view of the vale and the ruins, and embraces within its range an extensive prospect of the sea, with the Cumberland hills in the distance. Passing Overlaw, near to the road, and Balig, where the “Galloways,” in the breeding of which the Messrs. Shennan have gained such reputation, ruminate in the rich pastures, we arrive at the Churchyard of Dunrod. It occupies an exposed situation near the road, but contains nothing worthy of note, excepting the remains of the old Pre-Reformation Church, and a portion of the baptismal font. [More refined specimens of baptismal fonts occur – one in Birnie Church, Morayshire, and one in the burying-ground of Dunrod, Galloway, both very characteristic specimens of pure Norman date. – Characteristics of Old Church Architecture of Scotland, p. 95.]

Dunrod at one time formed a separate parish, but was, along with Galtway, in the 17th century, annexed to the ancient parish of Kirkcudbright. The churchyard surrounds the site of the old parish church, and it is evident that there was at one time a village here. Old people living about thirty years ago remembered having seen “100 smoking lums” there, where not a vestige now remains. In 1160 we find Fergus retiring into the Abbey of Holyrood, and bestowing upon it the town or village and church of Dunrodden.

[Galloway seems always to have been the focus of intestine trouble. The Celtic population never amalgamated with the rest of Scotland. In 1160 the great insurrection broke out. Malcolm the Maiden twice invaded Galloway, and was twice repulsed; on the third occasion he conquered, and Fergus, the lord of the country, became a Canon regular at Holyrood, bestowing Dunrod upon the Abbey. – Life of St. Ninian, by Bishop Forbes.]

Passing Townhead School we leave the Queen’s highway in order to visit the remains of an ancient British Fort, situated on the farm of Drummore, and supposed to be the Caerbantorigum of Ptolemy, a name said to signify in the ancient British language “the fort on the conspicuous height.” Whatever other purposes this encampment may have been designed to serve, it must have been well adapted for a look-out station. From its elevated position it commands an extensive prospect of the surrounding country, and overlooks the Solway Firth and the Irish Sea.

The two primitive tribes which held the province of Galloway are known in history as the Novantes and the Selgovae. The Novantes possessed the portion lying between the Dee and the Irish Sea, ex tending on the north as far as the chain of hills which now separates Galloway from Ayrshire. The Selgovae inhabited the eastern part of Galloway, as far as the Dee, which was their western boundary. To both of these tribes belonged many forts, particularly along the Dee, numerous vestiges of which are still observable in this district. The most important in size and strength, however, is Caerbantorigum, which may be considered to have been their frontier garrison. Chalmers, in his learned work Caledonia, the first volume of which was published in 1807, says – “This was in situation, size, and strength, one of the most important British fortresses in this country. It is of an oval form, and a rampart composed of stone and earth with a deep fosse surround it, which remain pretty entire.” At the
present time the site of the fort is quite discernible, the rampart and fosse being easily traced. At the bottom of the hill was a well, now covered with stones, which is thought to have supplied the garrison with water.

A plate of gold is said to have been found in the neighbourhood of the fortress, on the lands of Balmae, by some men engaged in making ditches; it is supposed, however, that it had probably been deposited here long after the erection of the fort.

There was a circle of large stones at the foot of the hill, of the kind popularly known as Druidical, but a few years ago they were split up and removed for building purposes.

About a mile and a half from Drummore Hill, on the farm of Milton, there are the remains of a British fort, which, like other native encampments, is of a circular form; and on Bombie Mains, and near Whinnyligget, not far from Kirkcudbright, there are two Roman camps in the vicinity of many small British forts.

On again reaching the highway we pass Drummore farm-house, and Howwell, a substantial house, in a fine situation among green fields and rich pastures, on our way to the site of the ancient Castle of Raeberry. This castle belonged to the Maclellans. It stood upon a rock overhanging a terrific precipice, and must have been a stronghold of great security. Tradition tells us that it was disjoined from the mainland by a deep fosse with a strong wall, across which was a huge drawbridge. On the shore beneath the castle is a spouting rock, being a small cave, with an aperture at the far end, through which the waves dash at half tide, and are forced up in a column 50 or 60 feet in height, and descend in spray on the rocks around. At present nothing remains but the site and fosse.

The following incident recorded in connection with this Castle shows the outrageous proceedings of the Douglases when they reigned as almost absolute monarchs in Scotland. Sir Patrick Maclellan, Tutor of Bombie, Sheriff of Kirkcudbright, and chief of a powerful clan, having taken part with Herries of Terregles, who was his kinsman, against some of the partisans of Douglas, thereby so excited the indignation of the imperious oppressor that he commenced open hostility against him. He attacked Raeberry Castle, Maclellan’s chief residence, but finding it impregnable, he succeeded in gaining an entrance by seducing one of the warders to leave a wicket of the sally port unbolted on a certain night. By this wicket Douglas entered at the head of a chosen band, and taking Sir Patrick prisoner, carried him off to the dungeon of Threave, there to suffer under the power of hereditary jurisdiction. A ladleful of gold was the stipulated reward of the warder’s treachery, but when the miscreant appeared at Threave to receive the proffered boon, the metal was molten by the command of Douglas, and poured down his throat. [Chalmers’ Caledonia, vol. iii. p. 269.]

Sir Patrick Gray of Foulis, uncle of Sir Patrick Maclellan, who commanded the body-guard of James the Second, obtained from the King a warrant requiring from Douglas the release of his nephew. When Gray appeared at Threave Castle, the Earl, instantly suspecting his errand, addressed him with apparent friendliness “You have not dined,” he said, without suffering him to open his commission, “it is ill talking between a fou man and a fasting.” This mark of seeming hospitality was, however, merely a deception to allow Douglas time to carry out his cruel designs; for while Gray was seated at the dinner table the unfortunate prisoner was beheaded in the courtyard of the Castle. His repast ended, the King’s letter was presented and opened. ” Sir Patrick,” quoth Douglas, leading Gray to the courtyard, “right glad had I been to honour the King’s messenger, but you have come too late. Yonder lies your sister’s son without the head, you are welcome to his dead body.” Gray, suppressing his wrath, quitted the court, and mounting his horse, when safe over the drawbridge, turned the Earl, and swore with a deadly oath that he would requite the injury with Douglas’s heart’s blood. “To horse!” cried the enraged noble; and summoning his retainers, Sir Patrick was pursued till within a few miles of Edinburgh. Gray, however, had an opportunity of keeping his vow; for, being upon guard in the King’s ante-chamber in Stirling Castle, when James, incensed at the insolence of the Earl, struck him with his dagger, Sir Patrick rushed in and finished him with his pole~axe.[ Pitscottie’s History, pp. 62, 63, 64; Balfour’s Annals, vol. i. p. 180.]

An old song, to be found in Mactaggart’s Gallovidian Encyclopaedia, gives a very different version of the encounter at Raeberry Castle from the above. It is as follows

I met wi’ a man the ither night
And he was singing fu’ merry,
How Black Douglas, the bluidy Knight,
Was gouked at Raeberry.

For the MacLellan lap owre the scaur
Wi’ his naig, and swam the ferry,
He snored out, owre Barnhoury bar,
And left far ahin Raeberry.

O! he has sailed the Solway sea
Without either ship or wherry,
And saved his Craig frae being drawn, did he,
Owre the Castle.wa o’ Raeberry.

For curse confound the de’il o’ Threave
His neebors he dis herry;
But Gallowa will never be his slave,
Nor the braw Lord o’ Raeberry.”

About two miles further on we pass Balmae House, an imposing edifice, in an elevated situation, sheltered by wood, overlooking Ross Isle. Leaving the highway, and following a pleasant but somewhat tortuous route through the woods and fields, we come to the Torrs Point, with its bold and rocky cliffs, where the woodbine and wild flowers grow in profusion on their rugged sides, and the eerie cry of the sea-fowl mingles with the moan of the sea. Here there is a remarkable natural cavern, called Torr’s Cove, thus described in the Gazetteer of Scotland: – “The entrance to it is narrow, being little more than sufficient to admit a man on his hands and knees to pass into the cave, then gradually widening it rises to a height of more than 12 feet, after which it again contracts at the farthest end. The roof is pendant with icicles of stalactite, the constant dropping from which forms on the floor stalagmite crustations. The door is said to have been originally built with stone, and to have had a lintel at the top, which is now buried in ruins. The cave is thought to have been sometimes used as a hiding-place in former times.” Upon these rocks, towards the sea, is found abundance of samphire, and sea-kail flourishes at their base.

We now follow a delightful path among green glades and pleasant shady woods, close by the shore of what goes by the name of the Manxman’s Lake, being the chief anchorage for small vessels coming into Kirkcudbright Bay.

On arriving at the saw-mill we come once more on the public road to Kirkcudbright. From this point is obtained a beautiful glimpse of the river, apparently landlocked by the Ross Isle, on which is a lighthouse. A mysterious cavern or underground chamber in this islet is worthy of mention. King William’s fleet on its passage to Ireland continued for sometime windbound in this bay. He erected a battery on the Torrs heights, some traces of which may still be seen. In 1798 the celebrated Paul Jones paid a rather unwelcome visit to St. Mary’s Isle, for the purpose of carrying off its noble owner, the Earl of Selkirk; but being disappointed in this, on account of the Earl’s absence in England, he allowed some of his party to proceed to the mansion-house and demand the silver-plate. The various articles were delivered to them by the Countess of Selkirk, and conveyed to the ship by the sailors. Jones, however, sometime afterwards redeemed the plate at a considerable sum, and gallantly returned it, with profuse apologies to the lady, in perfect safety.

Near to the battery of the 2d Kirkcudbright Artillery Volunteers, which is seen to the left, on the beach, about a mile from Kirkcudbright, and in the Black Morrow Wood, at a short distance from the road, is a well, known as the “Black Morrow Well,” which is supposed to derive its name from tbe following incident, of which there is a tradition, told in the History of Galloway, respecting the capture of a gipsy chief named Murray : – “His giant strength and ferocity made him the terror of the Stewartry, but as his chief residence was in the wood near Kirkcudbright, called to this day the ‘Black Morrow’ (at that time forming part of the Barony of Bombie), the lower and more wealthy part of the district suffered most by his depredations. Young MacLellan, son of the former laird of Bombie, anxious to recover his father’s lands, but not daring to attack Black Murray personally, filled a well, beside his cave in the wood, with spirits, of which the outlaw drank so freely that he soon fell asleep, which MacLellan perceiving, sprang from his hiding-place, and at one blow severed the head of Black Murray from his body.”

[In Crawford’s Peerage, as quoted in the History of Galloway, this same incident is alluded to as follows -”In the reign of James II. it happened that a company of saracens or gipsies, from Ireland, infested the country of Galloway, whereupon the king emitted a proclamation, bearing that whoever should disperse them, and bring in their captain dead or alive should have the Barony of Bombie for his reward. So it chanced, that a brave young gentleman, the laird of Bombie’s son, fortun’d to kill the person for which the reward was promised, and he brought his head on the point of his sword to the king, and thereupon was immediately seized in the Barony of Bombie, and to perpetuate the memory of that brave and remarkable action, he took for his crest a moor’s head on the point of a sword, and ‘Think On’ for his motto”]

About half a mile beyond this the entrance-gate to St. Mary’s Isle, the residence of the Earl of Selkirk, is passed. The gate is of the plainest design, and the lodge continues to wear a “straw bonnet” of the old-fashioned pattern. The mansion-house is a rambling, old-fashioned, but substantial-looking building, embowered in the woods of the beautiful peninsula, which was at one time completely surrounded by water at every influx of the tide. There are some fine old trees in the grounds, among them a sycamore associated with the memory of Dugald Stewart, who lived at St. Mary’s Isle for a season during the absence of his friend the Earl abroad. His favourite seat for meditation was under the shade of this venerable tree. One of the members of his family at the time was Lord Palmerston. The ancient name of the island was Trahil, but after the foundation of the Priory by Fergus in the 12th century, dedicated to St. Mary, it received the name of St. Mary’s Isle. There are now few vestiges of the Priory to be seen. All the buildings were long ago removed, and the whole site of the priory is occupied by Lord Selkirk’s mansion and pleasure grounds. The edifice was surrounded by high walls, and the outer gate, called the Great Cross, stood at the distance of half a mile from the Priory; the inner gate led immediately to the cells inhabited by the monks, and was distinguished by the name of the Little Cross.

The gates have also long ago been demolished. The Prior of St. Mary’s Isle, like other priors, had a seat in Parliament. Robert Strivelin was the last prior, and after his death Robert Richardson, who also held the offices of Lord Treasurer and Master of the Moat, was presented to the Priory on 30th March 1538. He sat as Commendator in the Parliament of 1560. In 1572, Mr. Robert Richardson, Usufructuary, and William Rutherford, Commendator, granted to James Lidderdale, and Thomas, his son, the lands which belonged to the Priory.

This grant was confirmed by a charter from the king, dated the 4th November 1573.

The Priory was connected with the ancient parish of Galta, or Galtway, now united with the parish of Kirkcudbright.

Galtway churchyard is situated about two miles from Kirkcudbright, in a quiet sequestered sunny spot, surrounded by trees. In it there is a monument to the memory of Thomas Lidderdale of St. Mary’s Isle, on which is the following inscription:

Hic. Jacet. THOMAS LIDDERDALE Sancte Insulae. Mariae. Dominus. qu. obt.
11. Decimo. Die. Feby. anno 1687. etais 57.


Here lies DAVID LIDDERDALE of Torrs, son to the above THOMAS, who died
21 April 1732, aged 57.

Several of the members of the Selkirk family are buried here; amongst others the late Lady Selkirk, mother of the present Earl, whose memory will be held long in estimation, as one who, by example and encouragement, did a vast deal of lasting good in the neighbourhood.

From the lodge of St. Mary’s Isle a fine avenue of lime trees extends to within a few yards of the boundaries of the burgh of Kirkcudbrigbt. About half-way up is Oakley House, occupied by Dr. Shand, in an agreeable situation, shaded with trees.

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