Taken from Malcolm McLachlan Harper's "Rambles in Galloway", published in 1876, this is an excellent introduction to Girthon Parish and Gatehouse of Fleet.


Leaving Kirkandrews, and advancing by the road leading past Roberton, which is seen to the right, in a pleasant situation among trees, and commanding a good view of the sea, we pass the farm of Barlocco, and Knockbrex House is seen nestling among the woods near the shore. There is nothing about the mansion worthy of mention; it has a plain and comfortable appearance, is situated in a delightful spot, and its amenity and proximity to the shore render it inviting as a residence.

Near Margrie the road to the right is taken. About three miles round the shore, to the west, the road passing to which is here seen, is Carrick Cottage, a dear spot, associated with many pleasing seaside rambles and early endearments, shaded by the remembrance of friends departed.

From this point a short and very enjoyable walk brings us to the vicinity of the old castle of Plunton. It is situated a short distance from the road, and is a square building of no great extent, with projecting outlooks at each angle, and walls of considerable strength and thickness. Like all the erections of a feudal age, it has its dungeon; and although history is silent on the matter, a poem by D. MCLellan, in the Traditional Tales of Galloway, founded on legend, describes it as the scene of bloody deeds. The Tale of Plunton Castle, by the late Captain James Dennistoun, Creetown, author of Legends of Galloway, and editor of the ancient Gallovidian ballad of the Battle of Craignilder, sent to Sir Walter Scott by Joseph Train, was woven by the "great magician*' into verse, and formed the foundation of the dramatic story, The Doom of Devergoil, which appeared in 1830.

Some of the old gnarled trees and thorns around the Castle seem to be contemporary with the building. Vestiges of moats and earthworks may still be distinguished, and it seems to have been surrounded by water, and to have been a place of considerable security. It was at one time the residence of the Lennoxes, who possessed property to a large extent in Galloway. It now belongs to Mr. Murray Stewart of Broughton.

Lennox Plunton, situated to the left of the road, is next passed. Here John McTaggart, the quaint author of the Gallovidian Encyclopedia, was born, on 26th June 1791. Mr. Murray, in his Literary History of Galloway, speaks of this work in highly commendatory terms, and has a high eulogy on the disinterested and generous character of its author. Of the work he thus speaks:- "This is one of the most singular works ever issued from any press. It is unlike the production of a person of reading and education. The language in which it is written is of a most capricious description, being more Scotch than English, and richly bestudded with all the provincial words and phrases of which he could possibly avail himself. No character, no maxim, no custom peculiar to his native province, has he left unexplored or unexplained." Mr. McTaggart entered into a literary enterprise with a friend in London, but on its proving unsuccessful, he, in 1826, proceeded to Upper Canada as a clerk of works to the Rideau Canal, where he distinguished himself by his strong natural abilities and integrity of character. In 1828 he returned to England, with his constitution much impaired, and on his arrival published his Three Years in Canada, & work containing much scientific research. He died at his home, in Borgue, in January 1830, and his remains lie in the churchyard of Senwick.

At Barharrow the mail road is reached, and, turning to the left, we soon reach Enrig. Here there are evident marks of something interesting. It is said that "at Enrig there was a house dependent on the Abbacy of Tongland, and which, it is supposed, formed the occasional residence of its Abbots, and, after the Reformation, the residence of the Bishop of Galloway." Its site is still known as the "Palace Yard." Some old plane trees grow here, having a peculiar kind of foliage. The palace had evidently been surrounded by a ditch and wall, remains of which are still to be traced.

After a pleasant walk down the road, passing Girthon Manse to the right, we reach a cutting through a rising ground, known as the Gallowshill, which is bordered at this season by luxuriant foliage; the entrance gate to Cally is passed on the left. Near to this, on a slightly rising ground to the right, are the pleasantly situated villas of Ex-Provost McKean and Mr. John Faed, the artist.


We now arrive at Gatehouse-of-Fleet, and here spend a short time examining the places of interest in the town and neighbourhood. This town is apparently quite modem, although it is believed that at a very early period a small town or village, named Fleet, stood on the site now occupied by Gatehouse. The name is derived from an old toll-gate that stood near the foot of the brae above the village. History, says "that in 1300 Edward I. resided for several days at the town of Fleet, which would in all likelihood be on or near to the site of the present town. At this place the inhabitants did all in their power to stop the progress of the King, but were repulsed by a superior force, and compelled to flee to the mountains and moors." In 1795 it was erected into a burgh of barony by the then proprietor of Cally, and through his liberal encouragement rose to be a place of some importance. The manufacture of cotton goods, at one time extensively carried on here, and other public works in the neighbourhood, tended greatly to its prosperity. With the stoppage of these, however, the business and commercial importance of the town diminished. With the exception of Messrs. Helmets pirn and bark mills, and a brewery, there seems to be little now doing in Gatehouse. The greater portion of the town lies in the parish of Girthon, and the rest is in the parish of Anwoth. A good stone bridge connects the two, and the river is navigable thus far. It is charmingly situated in the fertile vale of the Fleet, and is completely surrounded by an amphitheatre of hills, - Trusty's Hill, and Rutherford's Monument appearing prominent objects. In the neighbourhood there are many walks amidst scenery of the loveliest description; and to those in search of health, or quiet rural retirement, there could be no more agreeable spot in which to settle down.

The Parish Church is situated in a retired spot at the north end of the town, the Free Church is situated at the lower end, and the United Presbyterian Church is on the other side of the river. Branches of the Bank of Scotland and Union Bank are established here ; and a Masons’ Lodge and Bowling Green have their supporters. The Clock Tower, built of grey granite, and situated in High Street, is a conspicuous object. Its erection cost about £300, which was raised by subscription; and the clock, costing £160, was presented to the town by Mr. Murray Stewart.

Near Gatehouse is Cally House, the residence of Mr. Murray Stewart of Broughton. It was built in 1763, from a design by Robert Milne, architect of Blackfriars Bridge, London. The building is of granite, and underwent extensive alterations about the year 1835. The columns of the portico deserve notice, as fine granite monoliths. They were quarried at Craigdhus, near Newton-Stewart, and conveyed here with great labour. In our visit to it, instead of following the carriage-road, we were conducted by Mr. Moule, factor on the estate, along a footpath, screened by fine trees and shrubbery, that winds round the edge of a large artificial lake, which has all the features of being natural. The finely wooded Bar-hill closes in the background, and the walks through spacious lawns and woods, where the deer are seen reclining under the milk-white thorns, afford many pretty snatches of scenery, and "shy sequestered nooks." The fallow deer, we were informed, have for some years been kept, not in the deer park proper, which is close to the house on the south, but in another park a mile off. There are, however, a few roe deer in the woods, including the Lake Wood, but these deer are not much seen.

After admiring the exterior of the building, and the many noble trees that meet the eye at almost every turn in the grounds, we were permitted to see the interior.

The entrance-hall, which is airy and light, is of marble. It is adorned with some very fine sculptures and tables of mosaic.

In the drawing-room, among a variety of other pictures, are specimens of Claude Lorraine and Poussin, etc., and in the other rooms, Velasquez, Ruysdael, Wouvermans, Murillo, Durer, Reynolds, and other famous masters are represented. Some of the old Italian carved wood frames are beautiful in design. In all the rooms busts and objects of vertu are in great variety; in the drawing-room is a magnificent cabinet of ormolu and Sevres porcelain. It is the wedding casket of Queen Marie Antoinette, whose portrait it bears, together with that of the king and other members of the Bourbon family. Probably it is one of the most splendid productions of the Sevres manufactory in Scotland. It is, however, rivalled in splendour by a magnificent Florentine mosaic table, a marvel of workmanship and sumptuous beauty.

Among the other features of this beautiful place we must not omit to notice a picturesque old ivy-clad ruin, part of the old house of Cally. It stands near the present house, and is well worthy of being preserved as an interesting memorial of old times.

On emerging from the wood near Cally Mains, we obtain a fine glimpse of the country on the opposite side of the Fleet. Cardoness Castle rears its grim head above the foliage, and the well-wooded grounds around Ardwall, Cardoness House, and Boreland of Anwoth, add much to the beauty of the scene. The greater part of the level tract of ground on this side of the river was at one time within the tide mark, but through the enterprise of the late Mr. Murray of Broughton, who constructed a large bank about a mile in length, and deepened, and otherwise improved the course of the canal for the free run of the tide, a large amount of good alluvial land was reclaimed, which now yields abundant crops.

Mr. Murray Stewart, with a liberality which is commendable in the highest degree, and worthy of imitation by others, permits strangers to have access to the grounds of Cally, on their applying to his factor, who gives cards of admission, which are available from 10 till 2 o'clock on Tuesdays and Thursdays; and he is most obliging in granting permission to respectable applicants to angle on lochs Whinyeon and Skerrow, situated on his estates.

The churchyard of Girthon is about two miles or thereby from Gatehouse, situated on a rising ground, with good views of the surrounding country.

The ruins of the old church of Girthon stand in its centre, and the family of Broughton bury in a vault underneath it. At its east end, and close to the entrance to this vault, is a small upright stone with the following inscription:- "Within this tomb lyes the corps of Robert Lennox, sometime in Irelandton, who was shot to death by Grier of Lagg, in the paroch of Tongland, for his adherence to Scotland's Covenants, National and Solemn League, 1685."

In the Statistical Account it is said that this Robert Lennox was a great grandson of John Lennox, the fourth of Cally, who died in 1647. On the gable end of the old church is part of an escutcheon, but, from the perishable nature of the stone of which it is formed, it is so much disfigured that we could not decipher it.

At a short distance from the churchyard is the supposed site of the old mill of Girthon, believed to be the same with the ancient mill of the Lake, where King Edward, in his journey through Galloway in 1300, exacted from one Henry, the miller, 13s. 4d., for some irregularities that had been discovered in his mill. The supposed site is quite near the road, but no traces of it are discernible, although the ancient appearance of the blighted trees standing nearby seems to point out a vestige of antiquity. The scenery around is soft and sylvan, and the contrast of the young saplings flourishing full of life and verdant leaf, beside and underneath the shade of their barren, withered, patriarchal neighbours, is suggestive of bright youth and desolate old age.

Captain James Murray Denniston, author of the Legends of Galloway, and the Battle of Craignilder, was a native of Girthon. He was born at Cruffock, on 21st February 1770, and died at Creetown 13th December 1857. Thomas Murray, a well-known and widely-respected Gallovidian, was also a native of this parish. He was born in 1792, of parents of humble means, and was educated, first at the parish school, and subsequently at Edinburgh University, which he entered in 1810. Dr. Murray died at Lasswade, near Edinburgh, on 15th April 1872, and a brief Memoir in the Edinburgh Scotsman at that time stated that "Thomas Carlyle and he were early friends, and walked together from Galloway to Edinburgh each session during their college career; and the friendship thus commenced was continued in after-life.

Dr. Murray was destined for the ministry of the Established Church; but after obtaining license, and preaching for a short time, he took to literary pursuits. He became connected with Sir David Brewster, and a staff of writers on Brewster's Cyclopedia; and, apparently about that time, formed an acquaintance with the late Mr. John Ramsay McCulloch, the afterwards eminent political economist, with whom he maintained a close intimacy until Mr. McCulloch's death. Dr. Murray himself had a taste for political economy, and both wrote and lectured upon it. He was the author of the Literary History of Galloway; and, much more recently, of the Rural Annals of Colinton; and he edited the letters of David Hume and of Bishop Leighton. He was one of the founders and original members of what became the Philosophical Institution of Edinburgh, and acted for about thirty years as secretary of the Edinburgh School of Arts. He was also, in 1841, one of the founders, and long acted as secretary of the Edinburgh Galloway Association, which supplied the first hint, and indeed the model, for the now numerous Associations of the same class. For six years he was a member of the Edinburgh Town Council, where he acted as one of the Whig or Moderate Liberal party. More than thirty years ago Dr. Murray established the printing business of Murray and Gibb, the success of which enabled him to ‘crown a youth of labour with an age of ease.' He was a sagacious, kindly, social man, who made many friends, and did good work in his time."

The forebears of General Walker, the American filibuster, were natives of Gatehouse. His father, James Walker, emigrated to Tennessee in 1814 or 1815. The General was educated for the medical profession, and, when completing his studies in Edinburgh, visited Gatehouse in 1844. He was then known as Dr. Walker, and is thus described by a correspondent, who remembers him well:- "He was under the middle size, with finely cut features, sallow complexion, dark hair, rough eye-brows, long eye-lashes, slight moustache, and no whisker. His movements were quick, easy, and graceful. Accustomed to the best society from his earliest years, he was entirely free of swagger and slang."

Barlay Mill, the birthplace of Messrs. James, John, and Thomas Faed, the celebrated artists, is about half a mile from Gatehouse, on the roadside leading to Lochinbreck; and around this humble dwelling their genius has thrown such a charm as to make it now an interesting object to all visitors to this locality. In a cottage near to this mill, where their father, a man of superior intelligence, with a genius for mechanics, carried on the business of an engineer and millwright, they were born; and in the mill, Rembrandt-like, they received their first lessons in that mystery of light and shade which they use so dexterously in their homely interiors. Like other great painters, they early displayed a taste for art, and gave decided proofs of a talent for drawing. The local paper for 1831 records that at the examination of Girthon School, "the company present were shown a beautiful and correct book of maps, executed by John Faed, a boy of eleven years of age, as a specimen of his many and varied drawings, which, often ere now, have elicited the admiration of all who have seen them. Considering the extreme youth of this boy, and the many disadvantages he labours under, these pieces are truly astonishing." The high promise thus early shown has been amply fulfilled in the distinguished career of the accomplished artist. All the members of the family have acquired a great and world-wide reputation; and it is very pleasing to see that in their case genius is fully appreciated during the lives of the possessors.

The rambler, continuing the road past Barlay Mill and the delicious little glen of Barlay, will, after a walk of about two miles, reach the farm-house of Laghead, situated on the left of the road. Loch Whinyeon, a small circular loch, is about a mile distant from this house. It lies to the east, and is easily reached by a path over the hill. The trout in it are small but fine, and its perfect seclusion gives it a great charm. About two years ago it was considerably lowered by the bursting of an embankment, and since then good baskets are not so frequent, though fair sport is occasionally got.

About halfway betwixt Gatehouse and Dromore Station of the Portpatrick Railway is Rusco Castle, beautifully situated on a rising knoll in the Vale of Fleet, near the margin of the river. This is one of the square towers so commonly met with in Galloway. From a date over the curious doorway, we learn that it was built in the 15th century. In the autumn of the year 1629 we find Lord and Lady Kenmure removing from Rusco to London; and towards the close of the 16th century, Sir Hugh Gordon, a younger branch of the Gordons of Lochinvar, with numerous retainers, possessed the Castle of Rusco.

The situation of the Castle answers well the description of it in the poem, "Rusco Castle, a Tale of the Olden Time," contained in the Traditions of Galloway: -

“But, lo! a little ruined tower,
Erected by forgotten hands,
Though once the abode of pride and power,
That by the river's margin stands -
Of old the Lords of Lochinvar
Here dwelt in peace, but armed for war;
And Rusco Castle could declare
That valiant chief and lady fair
Had often wooed and wedded there.
Upon the eastern bank of Fleet
Castramont smiles- a hamlet sweet
Just fronting Rusco Tower,
Of peace and war two emblems meet -
None fairer than the first we meet,
The other seems a dark retreat
Where savage passions lower."

The Castle has been put into good repair, and is still habitable.

Directly opposite to Rusco Tower, and charmingly situated on the bank of the river, is Castramont House, embosomed amongst the trees, near the base of the well wooded conical-shaped hill called the Doon.

On the summit of this hill are the remains of a British encampment, whence the name Doon, as that of Castramont has been derived from a Roman camp, the remains of which may be seen at the foot of the hill, and close to the resent house, showing in what close proximity the invaders and defenders of the land were in the olden times.

Rusco House, and the farm of Upper Rusco, are also passed on the way to Dromore. On the estate of Rusco extensive alterations and improvements were carried out by the late proprietor. The farm-buildings are handsome and commodious, and large tracts of land, at one time unprofitable, have been reclaimed, and are now under cultivation.

Distant about a mile and a half, and in a straight line nearly west from Rusco, is Ornockenoch House; on a height behind which is a rocking-stone, about a ton in weight, which moves by a touch of the hand. In the vicinity of Dromore are several lead and copper mines, which have not been wrought for some time.