Published as a supplement to the Reports for the Commissioners in 1848, this report looks at the state of Kirkcudbright harbour at the end of the 18th century and considers how to improve it.

Report by JOHN RENNIE, Esq., F.R.S., on the Harbour of Kirkcudbright.

GENTLEMEN, London, August 9,1799. No. 25.

At the request of the Right Honourable Lord Daer, I examined, in August last, the harbour of Kirkcudbright, for the purpose of giving an opinion respecting the best situation for a wet-dock, and also for improving the entrance to the harbour.

The Bay of Kirkcudbright lies nearly in the direction of north and south; it is of considerable extent, and sheltered from the south-west and westerly winds by the island of Little Ross, and the high grounds adjoining, and from all the winds from south-east to east by Forspoint [Torrs Point], and adjoining lands, so that, except it be those which blow from the south-west to the south-east, it is not exposed to any other winds from the sea, and indeed vessels may generally find shelter from those within the Little Ross, or in Balmangan Bay.

The winds that blow down the channel, i.e., from the north-west to the north-east, are the only winds which can prevent vessels from entering the harbour, for, in all other respects it blows high: they can generally get into it; but the channel for navigation, which is that formed by the waters of the River Dee, is somewhat intricate, as they take a considerable bend at the south point of Saint Mary's Isle, by the Inch, in a direction to the village of Terso[?], and a, little below thence they bend again suddenly westward ; unless, therefore, large vessels are navigated with much care and judgment, they are liable to get out of the channel, and of course to get aground, except in the time of high springs, which, as the flow in the bay is great, they are enabled to take a greater latitude.

When I was at Kirkcudbright on the 18th of August last, the moon was then in her first quarter— of course it was nearly at the time of dead neaps—the tide flowed at the town 17 feet, but in the time of good springs, I am informed, it flows 26 feet, and it has even been known to flow 35 feet, i. e., 35 feet above the low water of a spring tide, which is much lower than that of a neap; but even then, as there are numerous rocks about the Isle, the Shoulder of the Crag, and by the Glebe of Old Kirkchrist, it is dangerous to navigate to the town in high winds, as vessels generally require to be towed up with boats, on account of the sunken rocks, and eddies, and narrowness of the channel; were it not for them, there is no doubt that the harbour of Kirkcudbright would be the resort for a great number of ships, as the Whitehaven and Cumberland vessels frequently take shelter in the Bay and Lake when they cannot make their own harbours; but they are obliged to lie either behind the Rosses in Balmangan Bay, or, if the weather is moderate, on the beach, for there is not sufficient depth to keep them afloat at low water.

It appears from Mackenzie's Chart of the Solway Firth, that there are only 3½ fathoms about the middle of the channel, between the Little Ross and Tors Point, at low water ; about 1½ fathoms within the island, and only about half a fathom in the channel of the Dee, up to the south point of Saint Mary's Isle: at the south point of the isle there is about a fathom, and then decreases again to about half a fathom, till nearly abreast of the town, where it deepens, and continues so to the harbour. This being the fact, it becomes unnecessary to think of making any further accommodation in the harbour than just what is necessary for the probable trade of the town.

I was informed by Provost Walker that the foreign trade of the town is much less than it was some years since; but that as a very great spirit of improvement in the agriculture of the country has arisen, the trade in lime is becoming considerable, and in all probability may in time make up for the other that has fallen off. The amount of both I am unable to ascertain, and therefore have no absolute data to fix the size of a dock or other necessary accommodation; I therefore apprehend it will be best to lay out a dock on a small scale at first, but capable of enlargement as the trade may increase. From the examination I made while at Kirkcudbright, no place seemed so eligible as the little creek to the north-east of the castle, where the water is deep quite to the shore, and where the entrance is better sheltered than any other plane adjoining the town. It is true there is considerable difficulty in getting to it, and could a situation be found further down the bay, it would be better; but it did not appear to me that such a one could be found possessing the desired advantages, for should any situation south of the town be considered, the great extent of mud shore that lies between where the entrance could be made and deep water would render it impossible to keep it open. If the creek just above the Glebe of Old Bickerhest [Kirkchrist?]is considered, a vessel must pass the west part of the navigation before she gets to it, and being on the opposite side of the river to the town, it would be very inconvenient for the inhabitants, indeed it would be almost useless, unless a bridge was made across the river. Its mouth being also exposed to the bay, it would be both difficult and dangerous to enter unless in almost a dead calm; on these accounts, therefore, this situation appears ineligible, and I do not think any other will be found so good as the one I have chosen.

In this situation the entrance is well sheltered. It goes directly into the deep water, and will be easily kept open; it admits of the water from Milburn Creek being taken into it, and there are some springs in the place, which together will keep its surface rather above the tide, and thereby prevent the necessity of taking in the tide water when it is muddy ; and should any large vessels happen to come into the dock, the depth of water may be kept so great during the neap tide as to prevent them from resting on the bottom. Its situation is convenient for the trade of the town, and there is plenty of ground around its margin for wharfs and warehouses to any extent that may be wanted. It is capable of extension even to the main street, should that be found necessary; and should ever a bridge be built across the Dee, it lies convenient to the best place for such a bridge. I have, therefore, no hesitation in giving a decided preference to this place.

The size I have chosen is 200 feet wide and 350 feet long, being somewhat above a acre and five-eights statute measure ; this will conveniently admit of two rows of vessels to lie on each side, with room for others to pass in the middle to and from their berths, and therefore accommodate six or eight vessels, according to their size, along the wharf at once. It will conveniently hold twelve vessels of 200 tons each, with room to shift, or a proportionally greater number of smaller vessels.

I propose to have 16 feet depth of water at an ordinary neap tide ; of course its depth will be proportionally greater at springs. The entrance I propose to be by a lock pointing down the river, in the direction that vessels must come up and down the river, they will therefore enter or go out of the dock, conveniently at all times, without being annoyed either by the floods of the river or the flux or reflux of the tide ; and as the water in the dock will be kept to the height of high water by the upper gates of the lock, vessels may enter before or after high water, providing they have a sufficient depth to carry them over the lower sill of the entrance; had there only been a single pair of gates this could not have been done.

At the end of the lock I propose a quay-wall to be continued down the river for about 300 feet, with a capstan at its end, and mooring-posts, for the purpose of assisting- vessels to enter or come out of the dock; and this quay-wall will be found useful for such vessels as may not have occasion to go into it. It will also prevent the mud and silt which would lodge on the shore from coming into the channel or entrance of the lock, which is of great consequence.

I have endeavoured to make the expense come as low as possible, by supposing the whole work, except the quoins and inverted arch of the lock and coping of the walls, to be done with rubble stone, which, if they are of large dimensions, and built with good mortar, will make a very sufficient piece of work. I have had several of the locks on the Crinan Canal done in this way, and I consider them very little inferior to those locks that are built wholly of freestone. Notwithstanding this, the estimate amounts to a much larger sum than I apprehend will be expected, it being no less than £16,440, as appears by the annexed particulars ; and I do not see any article in which a reduction can be made, or anything that is superfluous for such a work. From the information I have had respecting the funds that could be raised, I am doubtful it will be out of the town's power to accomplish it, at least it cannot be done at once. What occurs to me is this,—if a sum sufficient to form the walls of the lock, with one pair of gates, and the wall next the river, amounting to about £7000 could be raised, a dock could be formed, which might be enlarged by degrees, and the wall for the wharfs built round it as the trade could afford. This sum could certainly be raised, partly by voluntary subscription and partly by borrowing, laying a toll on the shipping to defray the interest of the money borrowed; even this small part, I apprehend, would be very great accommodation to the trade. Besides the £7000 before mentioned for the dock, a further sum would be necessary to improve the river by removing several sunken rocks about the Shoulder of the Crag, and at Saint Mary's Isle, and placing beacons on others. The Shelving Rock, at the bend of the river by the Glebe of Old Kirkcudbright, should be in part taken away, as they are very dangerous for ships in their passage to and from the harbour, and probably it might afford some convenience to the shipping if some poles were fixed on the shore by Castle Dykes for vessels to throw out a rope to keep them, in particular winds and strong tides, from being carried against the Glebe Rocks.

If these alterations are judiciously carried into execution, the harbour will be greatly improved ; but should ever the trade increase to any great degree, a further improvement may be made by straightening the course of the Dee downwards, from the Shoulder of the Crag, and keeping it in the altered direction by jetties, built of rubble stone, as has been done in the Clyde ; but to lay down a plan for such an improvement would require a more extended survey than that which has been made by me; it will, however, be sufficient time to think of those while the other works I have recommended are carrying into execution.

ESTIMATE of the EXPENSE of making a WET DOCK of 350 feet long:, and 200 feet wide, and 7777 square yards, being about one acre and five-eighths statute measure, and to have 16 feet of water at an ordinary neap tide, with an entrance lock 140 feet long in the chamber, and 34 feet wide:-

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