Posted by: Jim Bell | March 17, 2011

How the Devil Made Criffel

Criffel is a considerable hill in Kirkcudbrightshire, immediately on the shore of the Solway Frith. The origin of its name, which was told us some five or six years ago, by a gentleman now dead, is rather curious and amusing. The devil, it is said, for some reason or other, “once upon a time” conceived the Herculean project of forming an isthmus between Scotland and England, near the spot where Criffel now stands; and, with this diabolical intent, procured (himself knows how or where), an immense creel-full of earth. As his satanic majesty winged his way through the air with the mighty load upon his back, the creel became “leaky,” and let out, at intervals, part of its contents, which formed, along the west side of the Nith, that ridge or rabble of hills of which Criffel is the principal. At length, just when the aerial prince had almost reached his destination, the creel fell, and the soil which remained in it produced the hill in question. According to this legendary story (which we charge all our readers to disbelieve) its proper name is Creelfell. Time, however, which purifies or corrupts every thing, has naturally enough changed it to Criffel, or — as certain Vandals choose to spell it— Criffield, and even Scriffield.

Evan Bane; and other poems By D M. Ferguson, 1832.

Another Version is as follows

Scotland is rife with the labours of wizard and witch. The beautiful green mountain of Criffel, and its lesser and immediate companions, were created by a singular disaster which befell Dame Ailie Gunson. This noted and malignant witch had sustained an insult from the sea of Solway, as she crossed it in her wizzard shallop, formed from a cast-off slipper; she, therefore, gathered a huge creelful of earth and rock, and., stride after stride, was advancing to close up for ever the entrance of that beautiful bay! An old and devout mariner who witnessed her approach, thrice blessed himself, and at each time a small mountain fell out of the witch’s creel; the last was the largest, and formed the mountain Criffel, which certain rustic antiquarians say is softened from “creel fell,” for the witch dropt earth and creel in despair.

London Magazine, 1821

Posted by: Jim Bell | March 17, 2011

On the Granite Formations of Newabbey

“The parishes of Newabbey, Kirkbean, Colvend, and Kirkgunzeon, lie contiguous, and the chains or ridges pervading these, which are wholly composed of granite, stretch in a direction from S.E. to N.W. The granite, it is true, appears more distinct in the above-mentioned parishes; still it stretches in a sort of ridge across the south of the Stewartry, as far as the Dee, and even appears on the other side, giving existence to the lofty Cairnsmoor.

“At Criffel, which is a huge rounded mountain, towering above most of the hills in the south of Scotland, so as to be seen at a great distance, we have first, a ridge running from S.E. to N.W., terminating in another pretty lofty hill, called Lowters. Then commencing at Shambellie, a little to the north of Criffel, we have another ridge running nearly parallel with the above, consisting of Auchingray and Glensone hills; and further north still is another ridge, almost parallel in like manner, commencing at Whinnyhill, and including Trostive and Graizend; these terminate in a pretty large sort of loch, called Loch Arthur, where the granite formation terminates also; and we find the next hills, Dalscairth and Mabie, exhibiting a distinct stratification of graywacke or clayslate. At the foot of Craigurd, the most northerly of the above ridges affords little interesting. In a sort of morass, interspersed with several large blocks of granite, as if they had rolled down from the ridge above, is one large block, called the Rocking-stone.

“Glensone Hill runs nearly S.E., and on the west side, around the brow of the hill, is an extensive ridge of granite rocks, in a curved form, quite bare and rugged; many of the masses very large, disjoined from the body of the hill, and presenting some of them a distinct columnar formation. This is the more remarkable, as the dip of the rock in this hill, and indeed in all the ridges, is westward, at 60° to 70°. To the west of Glensone lies Lowters, the highest of all except Criffel. The east side, fronting Glensone, is steep and rugged; the rocks cropping out quite precipitously, apparently corresponding with the west side of Glensone, though the valley between may extend to the width of 600 or 800 yards, through which Loch Arthur discharges a small stream, which flows into the Nith. On the other hand, the west side of the hill, following the nature of the dip, slopes with a gentle declivity, and is cultivated a considerable way up. This same circumstance is observable at Auchingray Hill, the S.E. side of which is steep and precipitous, the rocks cropping out quite bare; whereas the west side slopes, according to the dip, and is cultivated almost to the top. All these hills and ridges, besides having innumerable blocks of granite scattered over their surface, in ample profusion, and in all directions, seem entirely composed of this rock to a great depth; at least as far as any person has penetrated.

“The highest ridge of the whole remains to be described; that is a hill called Knockandach, i. e. the ‘Hill of Drink,’ running in a direction nearly north and south, rising to the height of 1200 feet, and which is continued till it finally terminates in the gigantic Criffel. Criffel is certainly an immense mass of granite, changing into syenite in some parts. As on the east side, the rocks crop out in several places, still exhibiting the dip mentioned. Criffel has one principal summit, with three knees or shoulders, one east, one south, and another west; and Knockandach, formerly mentioned, completes the formation northward. On the principal summit has been erected, at different times, and by different contributors, a large cairn of granite rocks, from which the view is most extensive and splendid.”

On the Granite Formations of Newabbey, in Galloway. By the Rev. J. M. Fisher, A.M., of Rose Bank, Dumfries, 1840.

Posted by: Jim Bell | March 17, 2011

The Hanging Of Jock Johnstone, Dumfries, 1733.

There was one Jock Johnstone who had been condemned for robbery, and, being accessory to a murder, to be executed at Dumfries. This fellow was but twenty years of age, but strong and bold, and a great ringleader. It was strongly reported that the thieves were collecting in all quarters, in order to come to Dumfries on the day of the execution, and make a deforcement as they were conducting Jock to the gallows, which was usually erected on a muir (moor) out of town. The magistrates became anxious; and there being no military force nearer than Edinburgh, they resolved to erect the gallows before the door of the prison, with a scaffold or platform leading from the door to the fatal tree, and they armed about one hundred of their stoutest burgesses with Lochaber axes to form a guard round the scaffold. The day and hour of execution came, and I was placed in the window of the provost’s house directly opposite the prison: the crowd was great, and the preparations alarming to a young imagination: at last the prison-door opened, and Jock appeared, enclosed by six town-officers. When he first issued from the door, he looked a little astonished; but looking round a while, he proceeded with a bold step. Psalms and prayers being over, the rope was fastened about his neck, and he was prompted to ascend a short ladder fastened to the gallows, to be thrown off. Here his resistance and my terror began. Jock was curly-haired and fierce-looking, and very strong of his size — about five feet eight inches. The moment they asked him to go up the ladder, he took hold of the rope round his neck, which was fastened to the gallows, and, with repeated violent pulls, attempted to pull it down ; and his efforts were so strong that it was feared he would have succeeded. The crowd, in the mean time, felt much emotion, and the fear of the magistrates increased. I wished myself on the top of Criffel, or anywhere but there. But the attempt to go through the crowd appeared more dangerous than to stay where I was, out of sight of the gallows. I returned to my station again, resolving manfully to abide the worst extremity.

Jock struggled and roared, for he became like a furious wild beast, and all that six men could do, they could not bind him; and having with wrestling hard forced up the pinions on his arms, they were afraid, and he became more formidable; when one of the magistrates, recollecting that there was a master mason or carpenter, of the name of Baxter, who was by far the strongest man in Dumfries, they with difficulty prevailed with him, for the honour of the town, to come on the scaffold. He came, and, putting aside the six men who were keeping him down, he seized him, and made no more difficulty than a nurse does in handling her child: he bound him hand and foot in a few minutes, and laid him quietly down on his face near the edge of the scaffold, and retired. Jock, the moment he felt his grasp, found himself subdued, and became calm, and resigned himself to his fate. This dreadful scene cost me many nights’ sleep.

(From Autobiography, containing memorials of the men and events of his time, by Rev. Doctor Alexander Carlyle, published in 1860.)

Posted by: Jim Bell | March 13, 2011

1785 – Fishing or Smuggling?

In 1785 the House of Commons report of the Committee Appointed to Enquire into the State of the British Fisheries carried the following observation!


THE Cod Fishery in the Solway Firth is very inconsiderable, owing to the Rapidity of the Tides, and the Bottom being all loose and sandy. Upon the English Side it is better, the Bottom being harder and firmer, and of course more Food for the Fish. The Salmon Fishery is the most considerable on this Coast. – They have also a little Herring Fishery, mostly towards the Isle of Man, but of no great Consequence.


The Cod Fishing on this Part of the Coast is also very poor, and the Herring Fishing trifling.
The best is the Salmon Fisheries, one of which alone is set for £ 384, and is mostly carried to Liverpool and Whitehaven Markets, and a few to the West Indies.


The Cod Fishing near this is better than in the Two former Ports, but not very considerable. The Herring Fishery very indifferent, and the Salmon Fishery good.


The only Fishing near this Port is a little of the Herring, and that not considerable.

N. B. It appears plain to me, that the Smallness of the Fishing on the Coast of these Four Ports, are more owing to Smuggling than want of Fish, and that if proper Vessels were sent farther out to deeper Water, they would find no Scarcity of Fish;, but Smuggling is carried on here to an amazing Degree, and much more Money can be made by it than by fishing.

Posted by: Jim Bell | March 13, 2011

The “Old Bridge” of Dumfries.

Many a “Galloway man” and woman hath crossed the Nith on the “auld brig o’ Dumfries,” who perhaps don’t know that this (now) “Auld Brig” was built by a “Galloway woman!”

This old bridge, consisting of nine arches, measures 400 feet in length, 13 feet and a half in breadth, and is, in height, from the top of the parapet to the water, 26 feet.

Till the present spacious new bridge was built, this “old bridge” bore aboon the broo all the communication betwixt Dumfriesshire and Galloway.

This very “old bridge” was built by Devorgilla, third daughter to Allan, Lord of Galloway. She died A.D. 1269. She was wife to John Baliol of Castle Bernard. She was also mother to John Baliol, at one time king of Scotland. Besides building this bridge over the Nith, she built the beautiful abbey of “Sweetheart.”

She left a daughter of her own name, whose daughter was mother of John Cummin. John Cummin, for his treachery, was assassinated by Robert de Bruce, in the Greyfriars’ Church at Dumfries. The daughter of Cummin was married to Archibald, the fifth Earl of Douglas. Archibald, by his marriage, when the Baliols and Cummins were extinct, was lineal heir to Allan, Lord of Galloway. Thus did the Douglasses become lords of Galloway.

When the Lady Devorgilla built this bridge at Dumfries, she imposed certain tolls and customs to be levied on all cattle, fish, corn, and merchandise passing there. To Archibald, Earl of Douglas, and Lord of Galloway, the bridge, tolls, and customs, by descent devolved. They are supposed to have continued in his family till 1425, when they were granted by Margaret, a daughter of the Douglasses, to the Friar’s Minor of Dumfries. Indeed the street which passed, and yet passes, from the eastern end of this bridge, is still named Friars’ Vennel.

Margaret was very beautiful. According to the custom of the time, she was designated the “Fair Maid of Galloway.”

Thus the Nith and its beautiful neighbourhood presents many “lights and shadows” of the family of Galloway. Lincluden College – Sweetheart Abbey – the old Bridge of Dumfries – all bring reminiscences of the “days that are gone.”

Nor is it hurtful or hapless to recal such recollections. The “Old Bridge” yet stands. Lincluden yet bears marks of its former greatness. And the fine ruins of Sweetheart Abbey, (at no distant vicinity), may long remain a monument of domestic affection!

Lights and shadows of Scottish character and scenery


Posted by: Jim Bell | March 13, 2011

1642 – Establishing Posts from Carlisle to Portpatrick

1642 – Establishing Posts from Carlisle to Portpatrick

Owing to the sending of forces from Scotland to put down the Irish rebellion, a considerable intercourse had sprung up between the two countries. The Privy Council accordingly found it necessary to establish postages betwixt Port-Patrick and Edinburgh, and betwixt Port-Patrick and Carlisle, for the conveyance of packets of letters. In this movement, England was more concerned than Scotland, and she therefore cordially agreed to bear all the expense that should be required. It is interesting to trace the first steps in a system now so important as the Post-office.

On a resolution being formed by the parliament of England and the Scottish commissioners, to establish a line of posts between Edinburgh and Port-Patrick, and Port-Patrick and Carlisle, the business of making the arrangements was confided to Robert Glencorse, merchant in Dumfries, under a duty of consulting ‘Mr Burlmakie, master of the letter-office.’ Robert was himself ‘established postmaster betwix Annan and Dumfries, twelve mile; and Mark Loch, betwix Carlisle and Annan, twelve mile; Andrew M’Min betwix Dumfries and Steps of Orr, twelve mile; Ninian Mure betwix the Steps of Orr and Gatehouse of Fleet, twelve mile; and George Bell from thence to the Pethhouse, eleven mile; and John Baillie from thence to the Kirk of Glenluce, thirteen mile; and John M’Caig from that to the port, ten mile.’ These persons were considered ‘the only ones fit for that employment, as being innkeepers and of approved honesty in these parts.’ The lords of the Privy Council were (September 27) supplicated to ratify the arrangements, and to ‘allow John M’Caig, postmaster in Port-Patrick, to have a post bark.’ The supplication was at once complied with.

Domestic Annals of Scotland by Robert Chambers, 1858.

This was a long time before any roads were established in Galloway. The posts would be on horseback and follow old trails.

Steps of Orr seem to refer to a crossing of the River Urr. Later roads crossed at Haugh of Urr and Bridge of Urr, but even today there is a ford across the Urr at Netheryett between Haugh of Urr and Dalbeattie. The first OS survey of 1850’s showed it and called it Stepend Ford. Traditionally, the Old Bridge of Urr carried a date 1580 on a heraldic panel but its date of first erection is not known. The current bridge dates from the 18th century.

The place recorded as Pethhouse, eleven miles west of Gatehouse may refer to an area shown on modern OS maps as Heroncroft, at Blackcraig, just east of Calgow Farm, Minnigaff Parish. On the 1st OS map this area has a house called Path House, and behind it Path Hill.

Gatehouse of Fleet would, at that time, be very small. In describing events occurring during Covenanting times, 40 years later, John Nicholson states:-  “In February 1685 Sir Robert Grierson of Lagg, attended by Colonel Douglas in command of detachments of Claverhouse’s troop of horse and Strachan’s dragoons, after having levied heavy contributions in Wigtownshire, left the County-town early on the morning of the 20th of that month to proceed to Dumfries. The party having reached Gatehouse of Fleet, then a lone public-house, in the afternoon , halted to bait their horses and refresh themselves. “

Posted by: Jim Bell | March 12, 2011

Gatehouse of Fleet in 1803

GATEHOUSE of FLEET; a village in the parish of Girthon, in the stewartry of Kirkcudbright. It is quite of modern erection, the first house being built about 40 years ago, to serve as an inn for the accommodation of travellers from Dumfries to Portpatrick. The situation is one of those seemingly intended by nature as a seat of a town; in a beautiful and fertile vale; by the side of a fine river, so near the Solway Frith as to be easily rendered navigable to merchant vessels; in a neighbourhood where every article of provision could he had at a cheap rate. With these advantages, it is no wonder that Mr. Murray, the proprietor, should have promoted the erection of a village. Accordingly, he built his elegant mansion of Cally, and invited inhabitants to settle and form a village, about a mile distant, by offering very advantageous terms of feu. It is built on a regular plan, consisting of 3 streets, running parallel to the river Fleet; over which there is a handsome bridge, communicating with a suburb on the western side of the river. In a short time the village rose to considerable size, is now more uniformly handsome in its buildings, and more pleasant in its situation, than any other town in Galloway. Soon it became a place of considerable trade, having a tannery, several cotton works, and 8 or 10 vessels belonging to the port. In 1795, it was erected into a burgh of barony, under the superiority of Mr. Murray, with power to hold a weekly market, and several fairs. It has a public library, established on a liberal plan, to which most of the inhabitants are contributors. In 1795, it contained nearly 1200 inhabitants.

Gazetteer of Scotland 1803

Posted by: Jim Bell | March 12, 2011

Last Galloway Mail Coach

“Kirkcudbrightshire Advertiser” 8th March, 1861

Exit the Mail Coach.

The opening of the Portpatrick Railway for passenger and goods traffic on Tuesday first will cause a considerable alteration in the modes of conveyance hitherto used in the Stewartry. For nearly fifty-one years the mail coach has run from Dumfries to Stranraer, but tomorrow is the last trip from Castle Douglas of the mail coach. The arrangements made for the conveyance of mails in the meantime is that a small gig will run from Castle Douglas to Stranraer each day at nearly the same hour as at present, contingent on the arrival of the mail from Dumfries. It is also contemplated to despatch the mail in the afternoon by the five o’clock train instead of half-past three — an arrangement which will be a great boon to the inhabitants south, east, and west of Castle-Douglas. It will allow the boxes in the various places to be kept open upwards of an hour longer than at present, and thus give an opportunity to reply to any communication by the same day’s post. The withdrawal of the mail coach will also change the route of passengers from Creetown and Newton-Stewart to Kirkcudbright. Instead of driving round by the coast, travellers will now come by train to Castle-Douglas, and go on by coach to Kirkcudbright — Mr Payne’s omnibus waiting the arrival of the train from Stranraer.



Posted by: Jim Bell | March 12, 2011

Run Away Mail Coach – 1827

“Dumfries Courier” November 13th, 1827.

An accident bad enough in itself, and which might have been attended with more serious consequences, happened to the Galloway mail on the night of Wednesday last at 7 o’clock. When about 4 miles to the west of Castle Douglas, the horses took fright at something on the road, and rushed or rather leapt to the one side. By this sudden and unexpected movement the poor driver was pitched from his seat, and dashed with such violence on the stony ground that his arm was fractured and his body otherwise seriously bruised. When freed from all control the horses set off at full speed and continued careering at the same pace until they had passed the village of Twynholm. Here the guard, Hunter, much to his credit, and at the imminent hazard, we believe, of his life, passed over the vehicle to the back of the wheelers, and both by restraining and soothing these succeeded in checking the fury of the leaders. The Kirkcudbright postman, while waiting at Tarf Bridge, observed the coach pass without stopping, and not choosing to be cheated out of his usual burden, and suspecting moreover that all was not right, he immediately galloped after the truant mail. From the darkness of the night, no one could observe the absence of the driver, and it was fortunate the man possessed so much presence of mind; and from the state of the reins it required both the guard and the postman to pilot the horses to the burgh of Gatehouse. The high mettled steeds, before they were stopped, had galloped a distance of 4 miles, and passed in their course Red Lion Village [now known as Ringford], Meiklewood toll bar, and two bridges, one of which from its narrowness and the awkward way in which it angles with the road requires careful driving even in daylight. It so happened that there were no passengers either in or on the mail, and the only sufferer is the poor driver, who, on recovering from the stunning effects of his fall, got to a house, where he now lies in a critical, though not, it is hoped, in a dangerous way.

Posted by: Jim Bell | March 9, 2011

Woodhead Lead Mines, Carsphairn.

WOODHEAD, a mountain stock farm in the parish of Carsphairn, Stewartry of Kirkcudbright, on which a valuable lead-mine is now wrought. Several years ago it was discovered that the scattered greywacke on the surface of the ground here was more or less impregnated with lead ; but it was not till the year 1838 that, on the ground being excavated to the depth of some twenty feet, the interior more than confirmed the surface revealment, and that steps were taken for the commencement of mining operations. By degrees miners were collected, cottages reared, furnaces, smelting-houses, and other necessary accommodations followed ; and where not a solitary shieling appeared before, rows, or streets of cottages now adorn heights eclipsing in size the village of Lagwyne [Carsphairn] below, to say nothing of public works and their gradual extension, which, in the course of little more than three years, have drawn together a body of artisans who have raised the population of the parish from 500 in 1831, to 790 souls in 1841. Water is the power employed in the works. From the fountain-head to the extremity of the works, the troughs measure six miles. Of the different shafts sunk, the deepest, in 1843, was 52 fathoms; and, as the under springs are now getting a little troublesome, accumulation is drawn off by the beautiful balance-machine first invented by Brindley, and ore raised on the same principle as often as is necessary.

From top to bottom the miners are enclosed between masses of whinstone, compact as huge, in the centre of which a seam of metal, to all appearance inexhaustible, dips generally at an angle of nearly 30 degrees. The ore is conveyed,—whether to the breakmill or the washing-sieves shaken by overshot wheels,—by branches of railway. When smelted, it is conveyed in bars to Ayr, via Dalmellington, from which point the metal is shipped to Liverpool, and generally sold either in that port or in London. From its great purity, it is in brisk demand. The miners, who work by the piece, generally relieve one another night and day, and earn wages varying from 16s. to 18s., and in some extraordinary cases a pound sterling; the smelters and furnace men, who undergo very severe labour during five days in the six, for the same number of hours, are much better paid. The ores are said to contain a considerable mixture of silver; and at the present moment, works are in progress for extracting it.

The Topographical, Statistical, and Historical Gazetteer of Scotland, 1856.



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