The introduction to Malcolm McLachlan Harper's book "Rambles in Galloway" published in 1876 serves as an ideal opening chapter to our section on the general history of the Stewartry.


In searching among the old records which have furnished much of the subject-matter of these pages, an opportunity was afforded for contrasting the past and present state of Galloway — Kirkcudbrightshire, or "The Stewartry," as it is still usually called, in particular; and a brief sketch of some of the chief improvements which have taken place in modern times may be a fitting introduction to the Rambles which follow. It is scarcely possible, in this advanced period of society, to realise the primitive habits and ways of life of our forefathers. In the march of improvement, however, Galloway has not been behind; and perhaps, more than in anything else, this is observable in the character of its rural architecture and system of agriculture.

The farm-houses of old times, some of which still exist in outlandish districts, were very unpretending and uncomfortable erections. The dwelling-house, byre, and stable, usually formed one building, of low elevation, popularly known as the "long range." Sanitary arrangements, which are now so much attended to, were never considered worthy of a thought.

Only about eighty years ago, Heron, in his Journey through Scotland, writes, "that in the parish of Kirkpatrick-Durham the farm-houses are in general very mean and incommodious: the walls low and ill-built, and the covering of the roof broom, straw, or ferns; and that, near to the town of Kirkcudbright, are some wretched farm-houses, with thatched roofs without chimneys." These have pretty generally, in the Stewartry, given place to the commodious buildings of modern times, some of which, approached by gravelled walks, shrubberies, and flower-gardens, and nestling amongst trees, have quite an elegant appearance; in fact, the intelligent and enterprising farmer of our day enjoys the comforts and luxuries of life quite as much as the laird.

There is also great improvement in cottage accommodation for the cottar and labourer on many properties in the Stewartry. The primitive and rude "auld clay biggings," consisting of a but and a ben, earthen floors, with the fireplace in the middle, corresponding with a hole in the roof to serve as a chimney or lum, the roof being thatched with broom, heather, or straw, and often failing to keep out the weather, have in most places made way for neat, substantial, and roomy cottages, with slated roof, comfortable internal arrangements, and generally trim garden and flower-plot attached. There are still, however, some of the old hovels remaining, which we trust the hand of taste and progress will ere long reach and remove. The old Quaker-like meeting-houses or churches, which were the pride of our fore-fathers, have also given place to the imposing and decorative style of ecclesiastical architecture of modem times; and in almost every town, village, and parish of Galloway, the Boards under the recent Education Act are rearing, renovating, and improving school-buildings.

In agriculture, the progress is even more marked. Towards the close of the seventeenth century the art of war was so much practiced among the Galloway lairds and their retainers that the cultivation of the soil was entirely neglected, and what are now regarded as the elementary principles of agriculture were unknown. About that time the tenure on which property was held was so uncertain, that farms were sold for two years' purchase. Then there were no large farms, no money-rents, no enclosures, and no proper rotation of crops. The greater part of the fertile districts of lower Galloway was apportioned to small squatters or crofters, who had neither the means, the inclination, nor the skill to improve the land. They held a right of pasturage in common, on the whole property of the landlord, and the small crofts around their wretched dwellings being the perpetual scene of their agricultural labours, how to improve their material or social condition was never dreamt of by them. From time immemorial this had been the usage, but shortly after the beginning of the last century various agricultural improvements were commenced.

From the rapid advance of rents about that time in other quarters, the proprietors of Galloway became aware that something was amiss in their system of husbandry, and that one of the first steps towards improvement was to enclose their properties by erecting march and sub-division fences. This innovation was first carried out by Sir Thomas Gordon of Earlston. Other proprietors soon began to follow his example; but the peasantry, foreseeing in this movement the total destruction of the tenure on which they held their property, it was resolutely resisted by them.

A number of evictions having taken place on various properties — Kilquhanity in particular, where sixteen families were turned out — the tenantry were so exasperated that they rose in a body, and, armed with "pitchforks, gavellocks, and spades," they proceeded to level down the obnoxious fences. Troops of dragoons were brought from a distance and quartered in the district, and after various skirmishes with the rioters, with whom the redoubtable Billy Marshall sided, the latter were dispersed and awed, and the dykes were rebuilt unmolested. After this spirit of insubordination, which gave rise to the popular name of "the levellers," had been put down, agricultural improvement advanced with rapid strides. The great work of enclosing was carried on with vigour, and the advantages of the system were generally felt and acknowledged. Better roads for internal communication were formed. Shell marl, which was plentiful in many places in Galloway, particularly in Carlingwark Loch, was employed, so early as 1730, as a manure. Its reputation as such at that time was great; and such were its beneficial effects upon the soil that Heron, in his Journey before mentioned, records, "That mainly from the use of this manure the environs of Castle-Douglas were in a fine state of cultivation; thick set with farm-houses; and that the whole tract of country lying between the Dee and the Urr presented every mark of rapid advancement in agriculture." About the middle of the last century the attention of gentlemen of property and education was turned to agriculture, and an entirely new system was introduced in many parts of the Stewartry.

Prominent amongst these improvers were Mr. Robert Maxwell of Arkland, "one of the most skilful practical farmers and eminent writers on agriculture;" Mr. Maxwell of Munches, an enlightened and improving landlord; Mr. Craik of Arbigland, "a gentleman possessed of great originality and strength of intellect; " Mr. Dalziel, farmer, Terregles, a superior agriculturist in his day ; the Earl of Galloway ; and Mr. Murray of Broughton of that time, who bestowed great care and attention in improving the breed of cattle. Lord Daer, who possessed an enlarged and liberal mind, and who, "in his too short career, was esteemed as a philanthropist, and admired for his talents," also made great improvements in agriculture.

These and other improvements resulted in the enclosing of pasture-grounds for the rearing of black cattle for the great southern markets, to which large droves were periodically forwarded, some of the finest cattle sent to England being from the parishes of Borgue and Twynholm.

Over eighty years ago the country around Kirkcudbright was so industriously cultivated that meadow and com fields adjoining the town were let at from £2 to £4 an acre, which, considering that the pasture-grounds in Kirkpatrick-Durham were let at that time at 2s. an acre, was a very high rent. Even then, as now, the parish of Borgue was considered the Goshen of Galloway; and there had been introduced there a breed of large white-faced sheep, which sold at 30s. each. They were named mugg sheep, and in the making of stockings their wool was in great request. In Mactaggart’s Gallovidian Encyclopedia mugg sheep are stated to be sheep all white coloured lowland sheep.

The rearing and fattening of black cattle were in these times the chief cares of the Galloway farmer, and the trade of "droving" was the most important commerce of the district, and sometimes proved lucrative to those engaged in it, though as often the reverse. The Countess of Galloway steamer, which commenced to ply between Kirkcudbright and Liverpool in 1835, was eagerly taken advantage of by the farmer in obtaining a ready market for his stock; but it was not till 1859 when railways, and shortly after when auction marts were introduced into Galloway, that he reaped the full benefit of speedy transit and a convenient market.

Though in the rearing and feeding of cattle the farmers of Galloway still hold a high place, it is evident to the most careless observer that the system of farming in Galloway has in these times undergone an entire change. Dairy farming is now in favour, and the native breed of cattle is very fast being driven out by the Ayrshire, as better suited to the requirements of the system. This is perhaps to be regretted; but, judging from the numerous instances in which those engaged in working the dairy system have "risen from the ranks," and become tenants of large and expensive farms, it must be attended with benefits unknown in stock rearing.

The farmer has also become acquainted, more or less, with the principles of agricultural chemistry, and reaped the advantages of recent improvements in every class of implements of husbandry, and these the Galloway lairds and farmers have turned to good purpose. Within the last few years such extensive improvements, by building, draining, manuring, and fencing, have been affected on various estates throughout Galloway that the appearance of the country has been in some places quite transformed. On many estates, which might be named, large tracts of moss have been reclaimed, where the snipe and the plover found a haunt; and land where the whin, the broom, and the bracken flourished, now bear excellent grain and green crops.

The days of the wooden plough, wooden harrow, querns, sieves, cars, and creels, and other implements of primitive and rude construction, have passed away. The days, too, when the Galloway farmer rode to market on horseback, with his wife seated behind him, have gone by, and it is now rare to see a farmer of any standing without his gig, dog-cart, basket-phaeton, or waggonette.

The badly constructed and dangerous old military roads, leading over dreary hills of Alpine steepness, and frequently nearly impassable, were, by the engineering abilities of Macadam, the great road reformer of the nineteenth century, exchanged for roads so constructed as to render vehicular locomotion safe and comfortable. Our forefathers, in the merry old times of the slow but popular stage-coach, must have possessed the virtues of patience and long-suffering to an extent unknown to modems in travel. Little more than a century ago the traveller by conveyance in Galloway had very frequently to dismount, and, putting "shoulder to the wheel," assist the carriage out of a rut, or over a hill. A story is told of a Marquis of Downshire, that, travelling to Ireland from England, when on the way between Gatehouse and Creetown, he was obliged, chiefly owing to the bad state of the road, to spend a stormy night in his carriage amongst the wild hills on the Corse of Slakes.

In the turbulent times of the Baliols, the Comyns, and the Douglases, our forefathers were obliged to engage in sterner work than the cultivation of literature. They had often to guard their homes against rapine and tyranny, and, instead of the pen, they had to wield the sword. Predatory warfare being so much engaged in by the feudal chiefs, it was their interest to stifle in the breasts of those under them the spirit of independence, and all the finer sentiments of the heart.

Under the iron rule of the Douglases of Threave, it was little wonder that literature and the muses were exiled from the province, or that, when a "ray divine" did illumine the soul of the serf, and, finding expression in words, was borne down to our time in the form of a fragmentary ballad, it was deeply shaded with the raven wing of sorrow.

Though in early times the barrenness of Galloway in literature was proverbial, the late Dr. Thomas Murray's Literary History abundantly shows that the "auld province" has been productive of literary talent; and since that book was published there are very many whose names are familiar "as household words," who in literature and art have risen to such eminence as to be a credit to their country, and an honour to themselves.

To estimate the scarcity of literature in the days of our forefathers, we have only to go back to the time when the pedlar in upland districts was the chief vehicle of information as to what was passing in the world, or to the beginning of the present century, when the Dumfries Courier, a weekly paper, was almost the only newspaper generally circulated in the district, a single copy often going the round of a dozen families; or to recall the struggles which the late Dr. Alexander Murray, the celebrated linguist, experienced in obtaining books in his early days, and contrast the huge packages of books, periodicals, and newspapers, which the trains now convey daily into Galloway, to be distributed in hall and cot over its most isolated parts.

Perhaps one of the most beneficial results of the increased diffusion of knowledge is the almost total disbelief in popular superstitions, at one time so prevalent within the remembrance of many still living, stories of ghosts, warlocks, worricows, witches, kelpies, spunkies, carlins, fairies, and brownies, were believed by the bulk of the rural population of Galloway, and to listen to the narration of these tales was a general and favourite pastime of a winter's evening around the farmer's and cottar's ingle.

In 1701 a woman was tried at Kirkcudbright for witchcraft, the evidence against her being that a spinning-wheel was seen to go round in her house without the help of any person; that the devil appeared in her house in the shape of a gentleman, and disappeared, seeming not to go out at the door; that through malice she rendered cow's milk unfit for use; caused a dog to go mad; and that a candle lighted was seen going through her house with nothing holding it. For these crimes she was banished from the Stewartry, and went to Ireland. In 1703 a woman was tried by the session of Twynholm for the same crime, her "evil eye" being generally directed against horses and cows, causing their death. She was also banished, never to return under the pain of death. And so late as 1805 a woman named Jane Maxwell was tried at Kirkcudbright for pretending to exercise "witchcraft, sorcery, inchantment, conjuration, and fortune-telling," and was sentenced to a year's imprisonment in the Tolbooth at Kirkcudbright, with the additional degradation of having to appear once every quarter of the year upon a market day at the Cross, and stand openly in the jouggs or pillory. About a century ago "it was scarcely possible to meet with a person who had not seen a fairy, a witch, or a ghost, in the course of his experience." Even within our own short recollection, there lived in the town of Castle-Douglas an old wrinkled dame who was considered so "uncanny" that few would risk a refusal of the favours she sought, in the form of a bowl of milk or a handful of meal.

These superstitious fancies have all fled before the light of knowledge, and at the present day, if the stories are read or remembered at all, it is only to be ridiculed, and cited as affording matter of astonishment at the credulity and simple-mindedness of our predecessors. The minister is no longer called upon to exorcise by prayer and the magic circle the evil spirit; the mischievous little fairies, clad in green, no longer play their pranks on Hallowmas eve, carrying away children from a mother's embrace to their illuminated and enchanted palaces in the bosom' of the hill; the witch and the warlock no longer wreak their malignity on unoffending cattle.

Amulets have lost their influence, and cows are no longer decorated with pieces of the mountain ash wood as charms against witchcraft and the evil eye. The mermaidens have all turned out so very like whales, that their personal attractions and syren songs have lost their spell; and even the obliging brownie, immortalised by the genius of William Nicholson, no longer finds employment with the "wylie auld wifes," though his fee be only "a cogfu' o' brose 'tween the light and the dark."

Hogg, Scott, Cunningham, and others, have so exhausted the subject, and exposed the various superstitious beliefs and prejudices which so deeply impressed the minds of the rural population in old times, that no glen or linn or cairn now harbours so much as one solitary warlock, ghaist, or brownie. Minds of a poetic temperament may regret this disenchantment; but the increase of every kind of comfort leaves us little to envy of the enjoyments of our forefathers in the "good old times," which have been truly said "to be the burden of many an idle song, and the constant theme of repining patriots."

Let us now briefly notice the geographical position of Galloway, and the character of its scenery, and afterwards proceed on our Rambles.

What is now known as the district of Galloway comprises the counties of Kirkcudbright and Wigtown. In early times its bounds were much more extensive. According to some old writers it included, before the eleventh or twelfth century, not only the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright, and the Shire of Wigtown, but also Nithsdale, Annandale, Teviotdale, Carrick, Kyle, Cunningham, and Renfrewshire. Its limits, however, have for many centuries been restricted to the counties above named.

Galloway is described by Buchanan, the historian, "as possessing an undulating surface,and as containing in the valleys between the hills almost innumerable lakes and fens, which, being now drained, form beautiful fields of rich and well-cultivated land." According to Tytler's History of Scotland, "the greater part of its whole extent was originally covered with natural wood, principally oak; and even huge tracts, now presenting nothing but barren and desolate moors and mosses, were then clothed with noble forests of oak, ash, beech, and other hard timber." But it is more its aspect at the present time that we wish to bring under the notice of the reader, and in the words of Mr. Henry Inglis, author of the Briar of Threave and Lily of Barholm, "there is no district of Scotland less generally known or better worth knowing. Whether by sea or shore, from Maxwelltown to Southerness, from Southerness to Carsluith, from Carsluith to Loch Moan, from Loch Moan to Maxwelltown again, south or west, or north or east, there is no district of Scotland more rich in romantic scenery and association, few of which possess the same combination of sterile grandeur and Arcadian beauty, and fewer still which are blessed with a climate equal in mildness of temperature to that of Galloway. The tulip-tree flourishes and flowers at St. Mary's Isle, and the arbutus bears fruit at Kirkdale.” The late Lord Barcaple, when presiding at the Edinburgh Galloway Association dinner in 1868, spoke of Galloway and its inhabitants in these terms: — "Whoever would go to Galloway would find a country of very great beauty, having much interest of a historical and antiquarian character; they would find in the present day a highly improved country; and they would find that every class of its inhabitants, down to the very humblest, were remarkable for intelligence; and they would find the whole country in a well-ordered state."

It would be difficult to find within the same space so many scenes of rich and varied beauty and deeply-interesting historical associations, but in the various guide-books published, these have not been treated so exhaustively as they might have been. Being also, till within a comparatively recent period, almost a terra incognita, its charms were known only to a very few.

Having neither coal, lime, nor freestone in any quantity within its bounds (which to some may be considered disadvantages), it is free from the noise and bustle of engines and the smoke of furnaces; and now that the scenery is laid open to tourists and others by railway communication, we hope to see it visited and taken advantage of by many in search of health, the picturesque, or agreeable summer retirement.

To the geologist the traces of glacial action visible over the whole countryside, but most markedly on the mountains to the N.W. of the Stewartry, are full of interest. To the botanist Galloway offers a fertile field for exploration and to the artist the savage grandeur of the "thunder-battered" mountains of Minnigaff and Kells; the windings and far-stretching meadows of the Dee; the sylvan slopes and sequestered nooks of the Ken, the Garple, the Tarff, the Urr, the Fleet, and the Cree, will all afford varied and fitting subjects for pictures. It would be a refreshing variety to see, in the annual exhibitions of the Royal Academy, subjects from this hitherto almost unknown region taking the place of some of those that are year after year reproduced from the Highlands and lake districts.