Chapter on the Stewartry from Scotland Described: or, a Topographical Description of all the Counties of Scotland, by Robert Heron, published in Edinburgh in 1797.


From Linlithgowshire, we descend far south west, to the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright. This district, having been forfeited to the Crown, upon the. attainder of the ancient Earls of Douglas, in the fifteenth century, was, in consequence of that event, placed under the management and jurisdiction of a Steward; whose business was, not only to preside at the ordinary administration of justice in the courts, but to manage also the royal domains within the district. It received, from this circumstance, the appellation of a Stewartry. But, it is now, nevertheless, just as much a county or shire, as any other such district in the kingdom.

It is the middle division of that ancient Galloway, which once formed a separate principality, the last remains of the old Strathclydian kingdom. Nithsdale was the eastern division. What is now the shire of Wigton, with the addition of the district of Carrick in Ayrshire, formed the western part of that principality.

The Stewartry of Kirkcudbright, then, is on the east and north-east, bounded by the county of Dumfries; on the north, the north-west, the west, by the shire of Ayr; on the west and south-west, by the shire of Wigton; on the south-west, the south, and the south-east, by the bay of Wigton, the Irish sea, and the Solway-frith, where it receives the waters of the river Nith.

The general aspect of this district is mountainous. In the interior parts, on the upper confines of Dumfries-shire, and everywhere, towards the confines of Ayrshire, the mountains lie in continuous ranges : Even the lowest parts are there of a great elevation and the highest rise to between two and three thousand feet above the level of the sea. Towards the sea-coast, the general level of the county is naturally lower. Yet, even here, many insulated hills tower up to a great height:

And these hills are occasionally extended to a considerable length and breadth. The Nith bounds and waters its eastern border. The Cairn, the Orr, the Ken, the Dee, the Tarff, the Fleet, descending from its interior heights, convey the superfluous waters into the sea; and, intersecting the country through which they flow, thus produce so many beautiful vales, here and there displaying natural scenery the most romantic. Many lakes stagnate among the heights of the hills. The Ken, in its progress to join the Dee, forms the fine lake of Loch-Ken, one of the most interesting in the south of Scotland. The Orr, the Fleet, the Dee, - but especially the Fleet, where they fall into the sea, form scenes of astonishing grandeur and enchanting beauty. The interior hills afford extensive prospects: And the whole country presents a singular assemblage of bleakness, wildness, grandeur, and soft cultivated beauty. Its wild fowls, whether such as haunt the woods, such as frequent the moors and morasses, or such as are wont to scream along the sea-shore ; are exceedingly numerous and various.

Hares and rabbits are numerous, the former species over the whole county, the latter here and there in warrens on the seacoast. Foxes have not been as yet entirely exterminated from these parts. The rivers and lakes afford a great diversity of the usual fishes. On the sea-coast, were there a ready market, very considerable fisheries might be successfully carried on.

Agriculture, the management of sheep, and the care of black cattle, share among them, almost equally, the husbandry and the farm-stock of the inhabitants of this region. But on the higher hills in the interior country, sheep, with here and there a few goats, are the principal stock, Even there, however, black cattle are in considerable numbers reared; and some little tillage is carried on. As you descend towards the sea, the vales begin to expand; the hills subside; agriculture extends her reign; and black cattle become a more capital branch of the annual stock, than sheep. Yet even here the brown rocky hills advance in various places far towards the sea-shore; and sheep also predominate in the farm-stock, because oxen cannot fare so well as they, on those cliffs where the sheep find abundant nourishment. The sheep of this shire are a small race, with black faces and coarse fleeces, which are accounted to excel all others for the use of the table. The cows and oxen are a race yet more famous for beauty of form, for the readiness with which they fatten, for the uncommon proportion of the flesh upon the bones in their carcasses, when they come to be slaughtered for the shambles. Horses are reared in this county; but not in any large numbers for exportation.

Dumfries is, in some sort, a capital town, and a principal place of market, at least for all the eastern parts of the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright. The village of Bridgend of Dumfries is contiguous to that city, yet within Galloway, and contains a considerable number of inhabitants, who are employed as carriers, as day-labourers, and in various petty manufactures. Dalbeattie is a small village rising on the banks of the Orr. Castle Douglas is a considerable village, situated between the eastern banks of the Dee, and the lake of Carlinwark. Its rise has been owing chiefly to the patriotic exertions of Mr Gordon of Greenlaw, and to the agricultural improvement of the circumjacent country. Manufactures have been lately introduced in it; and it promises to rise to be very flourishing. Kirkcudbright is a royal burgh of considerable antiquity; inhabited by between one and two thousand persons; possessing some small manufactures, a thriving salmon-fishery, some foreign, and some coasting trade. Gatehouse is one of the finest villages in Scotland. It stands upon the banks of the Fleet. It has been absolutely created by the exertions of Mr Murray of Broughton, and of his tenants, Messrs Birtwhistle, cotton manufacturers from England. It contains a population of nearly fifteen hundred souls. It has some sea-faring trade, and cotton manufactures in a very flourishing condition. Ferry-town of Cree is a village on the eastern side of Wigton-bay. Its inhabitants are chiefly country artisans, and the families of sailors. New Galloway is a small burgh situate upon Loch-Ken, among the interior hills. It begins at last to be augmented and to flourish, under the cares of its beneficent and public-spirited landlord, the Honourable John Gordon of Kenmore.

St Marys Isle, the seat of the Earl of Selkirk ; Kenmore Castle, the seat of the Honourable John Gordon; Cally-House, the seat of James Murray, Esq; of Broughton; the yet unfinished house of Kirkdale ; Caeruchtred, the seat of Patrick Heron, Esq; of Heron; Greenlaw, the seat of Alexander Gordon, Esq; Orchardton-house, the seat of James Douglas, Esq; of Orchardton; and many other fine villas, and noble family-seats, adorn the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright.

On every one of its rivers stand, at one place or another, the remains of one or more ancient castles. The ruins of the castle of Buittle, famous in the history of King Robert Bruce, are to be seen near the foot of the river Orr. The stately royal castle of Thrieve stands in an islet of Dee; nor have its outward walls been yet dilapidated. Caerdonness-Castle,mentioned by Cambden, appears on the western bank of the Fleet. In the interior country, too, are many similar remains of ancient castles. At Newabbey, south-west from Dumfries, are still the ruins of the famous old Abbey of Sweetheart. The abbey Dundrennan, now ruinous, stands at the distance of a few miles south-east from Kirkcudbright; On the sea-coast, appear some vestiges of Roman, Danish, and Anglo-Saxon encampments. It is probable that a Roman way, not yet traced by antiquarians, crossed over from Nithsdale into Ayrshire, through the north-east corner of this county. Cairns, standing stones, and druidical circles, monuments of the ancient Celtic inhabitants of the district, are still to be seen in many places.