Taken from Malcolm McLachlan Harper's "Rambles in Galloway", published in 1876, this is an good introduction to the Parishes of Urr and Buittle, and to Dalbeattie. 


Beyond Castle-Douglas railway station, Ernespie House is a prominent object on the left, after which there is nothing calling for special remark till the valley of the Urr is reached, where the traveller will observe, on the left, one of the largest and most perfect moats in Scotland. It stands on the west side of the Urr, about half-a-mile below the church. It is evidently artificial, and is platformed on the summit. These are common in Galloway, and are generally believed to have been formed as places of meeting for dispensing justice.

Some of them are supposed by antiquaries to be six, seven, or eight hundred years old, and "there was," says the author of Caledonia, "a moat hill in every district of North Britain, during an age when justice was administered in the open air."

A singular family tradition respecting the gift of this moat to a woman named Sprotte, for her loyalty and hospitality to Robert the Bruce after an encounter with Sir Walter Selby on the banks of the Urr, was inserted in the Dumfries and Galloway Courier of 1st October 1822. The combat between them is said to have been brought to rather an ignominious conclusion by Dame Sprotte seizing the English knight by a lock of hair which escaped from his helmet, and pulling him backwards to the ground, when he had no other alternative but to give himself up a prisoner. The two knights after washing their bloody hands in the river Urr were conducted to the cottage of this good woman, and entertained to a bowl of brose as breakfast. As a recompense to their entertainer for her loyalty, Bruce offered as much land as she could run round while he and Selby finished the bowl of steaming brose, the terms of holding the land to be, that should ever any of the kings of Scotland pass the Urr they were to partake of brose from Robert the Bruce's bowl. The story is called "Robert Bruce's Bowl," and was related by Simon Sprotte, a descendant of the heroine.

On the estate of Redcastle, about a mile east from the Moat of Urr, there is a remarkable memorial stone standing in a field; it is a block of granite in its natural state, about ten feet high, and is mentioned in Caledonia among the antiquities of Kirkcudbrightshire, but nothing is known, by history or tradition, as to the event which it has been reared to commemorate.

The Rev. Dr. James Muirhead, minister of the parish of Urr, who died in 1808, was the author of the well-known humorous song "Bess, the Gawkie." Dr. Alexander Murray was ordained assistant minister and successor to Dr. Muirhead in 1806, and continued to perform his clerical duties there till 1812, when he was appointed Professor of Oriental Languages in Edinburgh University.

The late Robert Kerr, author of "Maggie of the Moss," a long poem which is inserted in Nicholson's Traditions of Galloway, showing considerable talent,, was born at Midtown of Urr on 2d September 1811, and died at Redcastle on 30th September 1848. Several short pieces of his in our possession are remarkable for tenderness and truth. The following is worthy of a place in any collection: -


“My mither was wae, for my faither was dead,
And they threatened to tak' the auld house ower her head;
Her earnings were scanty — the meal it grew dear,
And the auldest of five, I could whiles see the tear,
When she cam’ hame at nicht, glisten bricht in her e'en,
Half-hid as it didna just want to be seen.
I said nae a word, but my heart it wad ache,
And I wished I was big for my puir mither's sake.

"There were farmers aroun’ wanted herds to their kye,
And my mither had said she had ane that wad try.
I min' how I trembled wi' half fear, half joy,
When a maister ca'd in jist to look at the boy.
He bade me stan' up, and he thocht I was wee,
But my frank honest face, he said, pleased his e’e.
He wad tak' me, an' try me ae half-year an’ see,
For a pair o’ new shoon, an’ a five shilling fee.

" We were proud to hear tell o’t, a bargain was struck.
An’ he ga'ed me a saxpence o' arles for luck.
My trousers an’ jacket were patched for the day,
An' my mither convoyed me a lang mile away,
Wi' charges an’ warnings 'gainst a' kinds o’ crime,
An' rules she laid down I thocht hard at the time.
If the kye should rin wrang I was never to lee,
Though they sent me away but my shoon an’ my fee.

"Sae I fell to my wark, an' I pleased richt weel.
But a word or a wave an' I plied han' or heel;
But my troubles cam' on, for the fences were had,
An' the midsummer flees made the cattle rin mad;
An' in cauld blashy weather, sair drenched wi' the rain,
Whiles wee thochts o' leaving wad steal o'er my brain, —
But in courage I dashed aye the tear frae my e'e.
When I thocht on my shoon an' my five shilling fee.

“An' Martinmas brocht me my lang thocht o' store,
An' proudly I counted it twenty times o'er,
Ah, years have since fled in a fortunate train,
But I never ance met wi' sich rapture again —
The sailor just safe through the wild breakers steered,
Proud Waterloo's victor, when Blucher appeared.
Ne'er felt what I felt when I placed on the knee,
Of a fond-hearted mither my five shilling fee. "

Speeding onwards, we cross the Urr by a wooden bridge, and Old Buittle farmhouse is seen to the right, in a very pleasing situation in the valley. This house is built on the site of the Castle of Botel or Buittle, at one time a place of large dimensions and great magnificence. It is said to have been originally possessed by the ancient lords of Galloway, and to have been the favourite habitation of Baliol. The vaults and traces of fortification are all that now remain of the original structure.

Beyond this Craignair granite quarries are to be seen, and the prosperous little town of Dalbeattie is soon reached.


The town of Dalbeattie is entirely of modem origin. It is said to have been established as a village about 1780.

A traveller, about eighty years ago writes, "At Dalbeattie are mills, and a small village, which seems thriving." The town is now one of the most considerable in Galloway, and is every year increasing in population and wealth. It is very pleasantly situated near the Urr; and the houses being rather irregularly scattered, give to it, when viewed from a distance, the appearance of a large town, and add more to the effectiveness of the landscape than if they were built more regularly. It consists of one main street, with others diverging. In the principal street, which is spacious, there are some good well-furnished shops, a town-hall, and a branch of the Union Bank. There are also in the town churches of various denominations, and inns sufficient for the wants of the neighbourhood. The bowling-green is in a sheltered situation near the Dalbeattie Burn.

To the natural advantages of its situation are to be attributed the great progress which the town has made in material prosperity. In addition to the benefits of railway communication there is a harbour on the river Urr, called Dub o' Hass, distant about five miles from the Solway; and the river is navigable thus far for large vessels, while vessels of smaller burden can come quite close to the town.

On the Dalbeattie Burn, which falls into the Urr, there are waterfalls capable of turning any kind of machinery; and, from the spirit of enterprise which the inhabitants generally appear to possess, numerous important branches of trade are carried on along its banks. But the granite quarries contribute most to the wealth of the place, and afford employment to a great number of skilled workmen and labourers.

The development of this industry in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright is of comparatively recent date. Though it had been long known that granite existed in great abundance in certain districts of the Stewartry, it was seldom made available for building or other purposes. When Tongland bridge was erected in 1805, the stones employed in its erection were freestone blocks transported from Annan and the Isle of Arran, and freestone from Dumfriesshire quarries was generally used in the decorative portions of buildings. The late Mr. Andrew Newall was the first to introduce the trade of granite hewing into Galloway. About seventy years ago he opened a quarry at Craignair, and conducted a small and remunerative business; but it was not till 1825 that anything like an impetus was given to the trade. In that year a portion of Craignair Hill was leased by the Liverpool Dock Trustees, for the purpose of obtaining blocks of granite to be used in the erection of the docks. Quarries were opened, and extensive operations were energetically and very satisfactorily prosecuted till 1832, when the works were abandoned for others at Kirkmabreck, already mentioned. Recently the quarries of the Liverpool Dock Trustees have been again made use of, and now afford occupation for several hundreds of labourers.

Two of the Craignair quarries are worked by Messrs. D. H. and J. Newall, who turn out great quantities of dressed granite. A third is leased by Mr. Charles Newall, who is one of the contractors for the Thames embankment. Other three are leased by Messrs. Shearer, Smith, and Co., who are also sub-contractors for the works on the Thames. Messrs. Shearer and Co. have also a quarry in operation at Old Lands, on the opposite bank of the Urr, which gives employment to a large number of workmen; and at present they are contractors for the erection of a lighthouse, which is to be constructed of granite, in the island of Ceylon.

The granite polishing works of Messrs. Newall, and Messrs. Shearer, Smith, and Co., are situated in Dalbeattie. The machinery is propelled by powerful steam engines, and the operations carried on are so very interesting as to be well worthy of a careful inspection.

The environs of Dalbeattie are not lacking in rural beauty and historical association. A very enjoyable and interesting road leads along the banks of the Urr past Redcastle, the Moat of Urr, Haugh Village, and Spottes, joining the mail road from Castle-Douglas to Dumfries a short distance from Chapelton. With a stroll up the Glen of Spottes, near Haugh Village, and distant about four miles and a half from Dalbeattie, the visitor is sure to be gratified. It is a sweet secluded spot, with finely-wooded banks, sylvan nooks, a murmuring stream, and a foaming waterfall.

The site of the ancient castle of Buittle, before spoken of, and the remains of Corra Castle, to which Queen Mary was conducted by Lord Herries on her way to Terregles after the battle of Langside, are easily reached in a walk from Dalbeattie, and the scenery along the road, leading past the entrances to Munches and Kirkennan, to the village of Palnackie, is delightful.

Munches House, about two miles from Dalbeattie, is a handsome modern building of the native granite, in a very pleasant and sheltered situation near the river Urr. In the adjacent grounds are many noble specimens of the Scotch fir. The farm-steadings and workmen's houses on the estate have a neat and comfortable aspect, and the attention and taste of the proprietors of Munches, and the adjoining estate of Kirkennan, which now appertains to a member of the Munches family, have contributed much to adorn and beautify the landscape.

The Maxwells of Munches have always been distinguished by their zealous endeavours to promote the prosperity of the country. As enlightened and improving agriculturalists their example and encouragement have tended much to advance the progress of agriculture in this locality, and as superiors of the greater part of the burgh of Dalbeattie they have at different times contributed in no inconsiderable degree to the improvement and prosperity of the place. The present proprietor, Mr. Wellwood H. Maxwell, is a worthy representative of the family, and very highly esteemed by all classes. For many years he has acted as Convener of the Stewartry, and had the honour of representing it in Parliament from 1868 to 1874, when he retired. He was the principal originator and promoter of the Castle-Douglas and Dumfries Railway, and for about eleven years was Chairman of the Company.