Dumfries to Kirkcudbright

The local A710 road takes a convenient loop from Dumfries along Sweetheart Abbey the coast, by the Sweetheart Abbey and near to the road into Southerness and its famous golf course. A visit to the birthplace of John Paul Jones at Arbigland, Kirkbean  and the small museum there gives an interesting insight to the founder of the American Navy. Born on 6 July 1747 John Paul as he was then named, went to sea at age 13 and had his first command aged 21. He was a merchant skipper for several years before went to the American Colonies and took a commission in the Continental Navy aboard the `Alfred` in December 1774. Jones is remembered for his industry and foresight in building the navy of the new United States and for the fighting words when called on to surrender to HMS Serapis on 23 September 1779  " I have not yet begun to fight."  In the dogged battle that took place Jones and his crew achieved a remarkable victoy  despite severe damage and eventual loss of his ship the "Bon Homme Richard"  After the American Revolution he served in the navy of the Empress Catherine of Russia before he returned to Paris where he died on 18 July 1792. More about John Paul Jones is at www.electricscotland.com/history/significant_scots.htm  and the US Navy site at www.navy.mil .

The main road then passes along the `Colvend Coast` into the estuary of the River Urr. This stretch of  sandy shore and thesandyhills aptly named Sandyhills is certainly a stop over for a paddle if it takes your fancy or the children need to stretch their legs and use up their energies. But beware the tides and do not venture too far out. The waters come in very quickly indeed -  tradition  says as fast as a galloping horse. The rocks at the far end are soon lapped by the waves and little gullies rapidly fill, so take care or you could be in serious trouble.

A little further along detours can be made to Rockcliffe and to Kippford, the home of the Solway Sailing Club. Dalbeattie provides a stopover to stretch the legs and take in  some of its history. The River Urr used to be navigable as far as Dalbeattie for vessels up to about 150 tons but most of the old port has been built over. The the old port of Dub o` Hass at the junction of the river and the burn  used to receive larger vessels up to 350 tons. The area itself until quite recently  was a busy centre for fishing and quarrying, and local fishermen have mussel beds near Castle Point and Hestain. The granite mined in the vicinity from about 1800 in its day employed nearly 400 men. The stone has been used throughout the United Kingdom for major works including the Thames Embankment in London , the docks of Liverpool, Greenock and Belfast; the Eddystone Lighthouse; and the Grand Harbour, Valetta, Malta. An unusual place to visit is the nearby  Edingham munitions factory where explosives were manufactured during the Second World War. The site grew to over three and a half square miles at its height. From Dalbeattie the B794 northwards takes you into the Land of Urr and the probable place of origin of the Orrs back in the12th century.

The road from Dalbeattie then divides into the road to Castle Douglas and another loop on the A471 down the western shore ofPalnackie the Urr Estuary. On the way the village and one time port of Polnackie nestling on a broad sweep of the River Urr which still has a modest shipping presence. Also called Barlochan Port and The Garden it was for many years the main port in the Estuary and was exporting Glenstocken millstones in the 17th century. As late as the 19th century it was the port for Castle Douglas and Gelston, exporting agricultural produce and importing fertilisers, slates, coal and timber from the Baltic. Soon the vista opens on Auchencairn Bay and in  the background is Hestan Island. This area was reputedly the home to several smuggling families one group balcary.jpg (17097 bytes) of whom built Balcary House with large underground cellars to store smuggled goods from the Isle of Man. From Dundrennan the road turns inland and north to Kirkcudbright but it is possible to get out to Netherlaw near Abbey Head. 

The inland route into Castle Douglas provides the opportunity to take a look at the crannogs of Carlingwark Loch. The crannog was a man made island built from wooden piles and backfilled with brushwood  earth, and stones. The pathway to the island was often underwater and zigzagged so that only those who knew the path could use it. When drained over two hundred years ago there were four crannogs discovered along with Iron Age tools, weapons and a dug out canoe. Castle Douglas has no connection with the Douglas family but was created by the work of  William Douglas, a wealthy Glasgow merchant, who laid out a planned  estate in 1789. This he developed into a thriving market and textile manufacturing centre.

mdstpl.jpg (124280 bytes)Dumfries and district was the home of the Douglas family (Gaelic- dubh glas  meaning black water). Sir James `Black` Douglas was one of Robert the Bruce`s most trusted supporters and was entrusted to take the king`s heart to the Holy Land. An illegitimate son of the second Earl of Douglas, Archibald the Grim (from his fierce expression) succeeded to the earldom and was the builder of Threave Castle on the north side of Castle Douglas. With 8ft thick walls that were originally 70 feet high, it could hold a garrison of a thousand men. There is much history of the Douglas family who eventually lost all under James II in 1457 and the lands passed to the fourth Earl of Angus, known as the Red Douglases because of the colour of their hair.

Kirkcudbright has an air of calmness about it that is a pleasure to experience. Just sit in the small gardens by the harbour side, enjoy the view and soak up the atmosphere and you begin to comprehend why visitors return to the area again and again. Indeed many famous visitors of past days spoke well of Kirkcudbright and its location.

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