Rambles in Galloway (1876)

Taken from Malcolm McLachlan Harper’s “Rambles in Galloway”, published in 1876, this is an excellent introduction to the Parish of Borgue.

KIRKCUDBRIGHT TO BORGUE VILLAGE AND KIRKANDREWS.

We depart from Kirkcudbright by the elegant iron bridge across the Dee, which was erected in 1866. Up to that time the only means of intercourse between Kirkcudbright and the important agricultural district that lies to the west of it was by a creaky old ferry-boat. It was a very unsafe and inconvenient mode of conveyance, and, with the extension of the line of railway to Kirkcudbright, and the general march of improvement, it was found to be totally inadequate to the requirements of the district. The ferry-boat was one of those things which it was not desirable to preserve on account of its antiquity, and the idea of a bridge in its place was supported by the community generally; the carrying out of the measure being mainly owing to the energetic exertions of Provost Cavan. It cost £10,000, and is a very graceful structure.

William Ireland of Barbey, steward-substitute of Kirkcudbright, was drowned when crossing in the ferry-boat in his carriage, in 1845. Towards the end of last century the Provost of the burgh of Kirkcudbright went in an afternoon into the parish of Twynholm, where he had a property. He returned after nightfall to the ferry on the Twynholm side of the river, and hailed “the boat.” The boatman answered by asking if he had a horse? carriages in those days were few and far between. He made the inquiry to guide him as to taking the “big boat” or the “wee boat.” Not liking the prospect of pulling the small boat, it might be, across an ebbing tide, plus a spate, for the small fare of a “bawbee,” the boatman told the Provost (not recognised) to wait “till he got a neebour.” The Provost did wait, “nursing his wrath to keep it warm.” Another passenger having cast up, the Provost and he were taken over. On the Provost landing, he went direct to the burgh officer and ordered him to apprehend the boatman and put him into the Tolbooth, to which place the Provost went to see the boatman shut up. On this being done, he, on bended knee, implored the Provost to pardon and liberate him, whereupon his honour told the boatman to “wait till he got a neebour.” Verbal warrants in burghs were common in those days. Not long after the above occurrence, a verbal warrant case got into the Court of Session. The result put an end to them.

We come, after a brief and pleasant walk along the river side, to the “auld kirkyard ” of Kirkchrist. The site of this churchyard is very pleasing, and, surrounded with some very fine old trees, overgrown with ivy and moss, it has that quiet secluded aspect so becoming the abode of the dead. A portion of the walls of the old church still stands in the enclosure. Kirkchrist formed at one time a separate parish, but is now united to Twynholm. The union is supposed to have taken place in the course of the 17th century. It was a separate parish in 1605. In Blaeu’s Atlas, published in 1654, Kirkchrist has the symbol of a church put to it, as if it had still been the church of a separate parish. But in 1684, when Symson wrote his account of Galloway, the church of Kirkchrist had been long in ruins. The union of the parishes took place probably after 1586. History says that previous to the Reformation the bishops of Galloway resided occasionally at Kirkchrist, and had a jurisdiction over the lands in the Stewartry, this jurisdiction being termed the regality of Kirkchrist. The MacLellans of Bombie were justiciaries and bailies of the regality; and John Letham, rector of Kirkchrist, was nominated an ordinary Lord of the College of Justice, the first session of which was opened by the King in person, on 27th May 1532.

There are no very ancient tombstones in this churchyard that we could discover. A whinstone slab bears this inscription. “To the memory of William and Thomas Brown, who perished in the water of Tarff, 13th June 1734.”

Proceeding on our ramble we pass Bishopton, Kirkeoch, and one or two neat little cottages by the wayside, where the honeysuckle hangs in rich profusion, and on this summer afternoon the scenery of this shore looks extremely beautiful. The river is smooth as glass; on its bosom an old storm-beaten lugger moves sluggishly up to the quay with the flowing tide, and is reflected in the waters. The fine woods, fanned by the sea breezes around St. Mary’s Isle, are also mirrored in the stream; and altogether the scene, enveloped in a silvery haze, presents a look of wondrous beauty, serenity, and peace, and would form a fitting subject for the pencil of a Claude. Close to the Fish-house, which is passed on the roadside to the left, is a fine specimen of the spindle tree (Eronymus Europaeus) very rarely met with in this district. In autumn, when it is covered with bright scarlet berries, it has a beautiful effect in the landscape.

Presently we arrive at the Nunmill, where an old archway, covered with ivy, still points out the site of the nunnery. On a wooded height behind it are the well-preserved traces of an ancient British encampmentis with triple mounds and doable fosse.

Two farms adjoining bear the names of Low and High Nunton. On this coast there are several little cottages situated in shady sequestered nooks, let in summer as sea-bathing quarters, for which they are well adapted.

Immediately after passing the Nunmill cottage we would advise the rambler, who has time at his disposal, to leave the high road and enter the gateway on the left, which leads to the shore. From thence, for several miles, to nearly the mouth of the river, he will find a pathway winding through the wood, along which he can wander amidst scenes of unrivalled beauty and tranquillity, resting by the way on the rustic seats which the kindly consideration of the Earl of Selkirk has provided. This walk from Nunmill, close along the shore to the old churchyard of Senwick and the Ross Bay, should not be omitted. It is diversified by every pleasing scene which water, sheltered shingly bays, umbrageous woods, grassy glades, and hills can produce; it is one of the most delightful in the neighbourhood. In the sweet retirement of the auld kirkyard of Senwick the nature-loving student might linger well pleased for hours. In this picturesque and solitary spot John Mactaggart, author of the Gallovidian Encyclopedia and Three Years in Canada, is buried; and in it we note many sad memorials of the fate of those “who go down to the sea in ships,” and incur the dangers of the mighty deep.

The ruins of the old church of Senwick are still visible at a short distance from the churchyard. Tradition relates that it was sacrilegiously plundered of its plate by French rovers, previous to the Reformation, but that a storm wrecked the vessel on a rock opposite the church, where the pirates perished. It is still called the Frenchman’s rock.

Senwick (originally Sandwick), signifying a sandy bay, was at one time a separate parish, but was united with Borgue and Kirkandrews on the 20th January 1618.

The high road from the Nunmill, for a short distance passes uphill through a pleasant shady wood, where a streamlet murmurs, and, after a slight descent from the top of the brae, we get sight of Brighouse and Rockville, which are pleasantly situated on the east side of Brighouse Bay. Senwick House is buried among trees, in a solitary and sheltered situation to the left of the road. Proceeding westward, we pass Culraven to the right, and Borgue House, with the ruins of the ancient mansion-house, where in past times lived the old family of the Blairs of Borgue, commanding a fine peep of the sea and Brighouse Bay. A little farther on is Borgue village.

“Borgue” writes MacTaggart, one of its most original natives, about fifty years ago, “is one of the most singular and celebrated parishes in the south of Scotland, and one too of the very best that is to be found in any country. About that time there dwelt in it, in the obscurity of a lowly hut beside the glebe of Senwick, Deacon McMinn, the Borgue philosopher, who, had he possessed the benefits to be derived from education, might have risen to eminence in the paths of science. Though only a day-labourer in a quarry, he was so famous as a botanist that he was known to all the gardeners of Galloway, and many of them frequently came a distance of twenty miles to have a ‘crack’ with him, and exchange plants. He also knew something of astronomy, and was so learned among his brother rustics that they honoured him with the title of ‘the deacon.’

” It was then
“The famous parish for the Browns and Sproats,
The like o’t’s na on this side John-o-Groats.” “

Heron, in his journey through Galloway in 1793, also notices the peculiarities of the inhabitants of Borgue at that time; and remarks of them that, “inhabiting a sort of promontory, and divided from neighbours by the sea, upon two sides, they were long regarded by the other people of this district as a sort of peculiar, insulated tribe. The families of the farmers had been settled there for many generations; they were all mutually related by intermarriages. They looked upon their neighbours with aversion and contempt A person of singular appearance or manners was commonly said by the people of the adjacent country to be a Borgue body. If a stranger went by accident to settle among them, he and his family were for a generation or two regarded with dislike and suspicion, and harassed with that joy over his losses and misadventures, and that ridicule of everything in which his manners and economy differed from theirs, – which barbarous tribes, secluded from the intercourse of civilised life, have been often observed to exhibit towards strangers.”

This is no longer characteristic of the inhabitants. There is now not a more desirable spot in Galloway in which to settle down, and no more social, intelligent, and enterprising people in any locality of Scotland.

The parish, as stated in the Introduction, is celebrated for its rich pasture-grounds and its cattle. The quality of its honey is also so famous that at one time there was a sign in London with “Borgue honey for ever,” painted on it.

The village has a clean appearance, and has a very respectable hotel. The Established Church, a plain commodious building, is placed on a site so conspicuous that on all sides, from great distances, it is the most prominent object in the parish, and is known by the name of the “visible kirk.” It is surrounded by many fine old trees, among the branches of which the birds sing sweetly as we linger in the churchyard.

In the vicinity of the village is Earlston House – the seat of one of the oldest and best families in the Stewartry – embosomed among the woods to the right of the road leading to Gatehouse. The present Baronet of Earlston, Sir Wm. Gordon, served with distinction in the Army, and was one of the heroes of the Balaklava charge, in which he received several wounds. In Borgue Churchyard is a stone erected to the memory of John Wilson, of the 17th Lancers, who fell at the charge of Balaklava, and who, possibly “followed his chief to the field,” and gallantly fell fighting under his command. In the beginning of this century the Rev. Samuel Smith, one of Borgue’s eminent ministers, who took a deep interest in agricultural improvements, and had considerable experience as a practical farmer, drew up a survey of Galloway, under the designation of A General Survey of the Agriculture of Galloway, with observations on the means of its improvement. Dr. Murray, in his Literary History of Galloway, speaks of this work as not being a voluntary effort, but undertaken on the suggestion of others, particularly of the late enlightened Earl of Selkirk. Of the merits of the work Dr. Murray thus speaks:- “It is written in a simple chaste style, unambiguous of ornament. It displays a minute knowledge of the actual state of the agriculture of the province of which it treats, and an intimate acquaintance, not only of the general principles on which the science depends, but with the exact nature of the improvements suitable to Galloway. The work contains also much important miscellaneous information, for which it will probably be more consulted in after times than for its merely agricultural disquisitions.”

From Borgue village we proceed towards the coast, so as to enjoy the delightful and extensive sea views to be obtained from the grandly picturesque cliffs. By the way through the fields Cairney Hill is passed, and a Cairn is visited, from which it doubtless derives its name.

From an artificial Cairn on the farm of Borness we have extensive views of the country in all directions – Brighouse Bay, Rockville, and Ross Point are seen; Mulloch, and the bluff headlands near Burnfoot, and the country lying on the Rerwick shore are distinguishable; the Isle of Man is also distinctly visible, and the shore of Wigtown appears near at hand. Borness Farm-house is in a delightful situation, overlooking the open sea. The pasturages and flowery leas around Borness are extremely rich and nutritious.

Borness Point, with its sublime and wave-worn cliffs, is well worthy of a visit. They rise upwards of 200 feet from the sea, in forms irregular, fantastic, and dangerous, while the deep green sea moans among their cavities, or dashes its spray high up their rugged sides. Numerous flowers and seaweeds have taken root on their rocky crevices, among which may be discerned the samphire (Crithmum maritimum), technically described as a low perennial plant, growing about the sea coast in several parts of our island, having a spicy aromatic flavour, and when pickled with vinegar and spice making an excellent condiment. This plant is in great request in the district. It grows generally in the most inaccessible precipices, and the dangerous expedient of gathering it is thus alluded to by Shakespeare in his description of Dover Cliff: –

“Half way down
Hangs one that gathers samphire: dreadful trade,
Methinks he seems no bigger than his head.”

There are here the remains of an ancient encampment, which must have been a place of great strength and security. The landward side has been protected by a deep double fosse, and nature’s own barrier, the steep cliff, has rendered it secure from the sea. Close by is an almost inaccessible cave, from the floor of which have been recently dug out great quantities of bones, and traces of human occupation have been discovered. The following, among other remains, were noted by Mr. Corrie of Senwick, and Mr. Bruce-Clarke, who investigated the cave: – bones of ox, red-deer, goat, horse, pig, pine-marten, rabbit, water mole, and other small rodents, together with numerous remains of birds, and a few frog and fish bones. Intermingled with these occur fragments of bronze, bone needles, and other bone implements.

Pursuing our stroll among the fields near the shore we visit Muncraig Cliffs. They rise to a great height from the water’s edge, and present a bold and rugged appearance. Here there is another supposed Danish or Saxon fort, in a peculiar situation, near the verge of the cliffs.

It is noticeable that the names of many of the places on this coast seem to be chiefly Norse or Saxon, such as Rerwick, Senwick, Borland, Ingleston, Carleton, etc. The Danes, in their frequent invasions of the west coast of England, probably landing on the Isle of Man, found their way here.

On the summit of Barnhue hill are the remains of an ancient fortress, from which a rustic path brings us to Kirkandrews, a small hamlet, picturesquely situated at the mouth of the Borgue burn, at a little creek on the shore. As we turn into the village, the murmur of the little stream, as it glides over the stones and brushwood lying in its course, is wafted on the ear, and nought of din, or sign of life, is heard or seen, save one of the aged life-renters drawing water from a pool of the running stream, and the grating sound of the mill-wheel revolving on its rusty axle. The buildings composing this village are of a quaint and picturesque character, seldom to be met with even in Galloway now-a-days. Some of them, however, are almost uninhabitable, and only fit models for the painter. In history this village is mentioned as a place of some note. When, in 1334, Edward Balliol surrendered to the king of England the county of Dumfries, including the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright, in so precipitate and incautious a manner that the deed conveyed a right to Balliol’s private property in Galloway, Edward III. issued a declaration excluding from the instrument of resignation, among other lands in Galloway those of Kirkandrews; and, according to Symson, a fair was held yearly within the churchyard precincts. It lasted only a few hours, but people flocked to it from all quarters in great numbers, and horse and foot races were periodically held.

When the origin of these gatherings is known, this account becomes more probable. Fairs originated from religious festivals. On such occasions persons attended for the sale of refreshments; afterwards articles of various kinds, and of general use, were exposed for sale. Hence feria, originally festival, came, in course of time, to signify a fair.

Kirkandrews was at one time a separate parish, but it is now united to Borgue. In 1504, Gordon of Lochinvar was its bailie. In the burying-ground, near the village, the remains of the old Church may still be seen. “This Church,” quoting from Chalmers’ Caledonia, “originally belonged to the monks of Iona. When the devastation of the Danish pirates left them without an establishment, William the Lion transferred it, along with their churches and estates in Galloway, to the monks of Holyrood. It afterwards fell into the hands of the prior and canons of Whithorn.” On a stone, evidently from the Church, built into the walls enclosing a burying-ground, we observed
the letters and date “Ch. C. 1686.” The enclosure is used as the burying-ground of the Thomsons of Ingleston; the Lockharts of Barmagachan also bury here.

In our explorations among the tombs we dug out of the rubbish in these enclosures a stone broken and mutilated, which, on examination, was found to commemorate the death of a martyr, and bearing the careful workmanship of “Old Mortality.” For this there has been substituted a very handsome stone, with the following inscription:- “Here lyes Egbert McWhae, who was barbarously shot to death by Captn. Douglas, in this parish, for his adherence to Scotland’s Reformation Covenants, National and Solemn League, 1685. This stone was erected by the inhabitants of Borgue in 1855, and is a facsimile in lettering and orthography of the mutilated one.” There is pointed out a window in one of the old cottages from which McWhae was trying to escape when shot.

The inhabitants of Borgue, in Reformation times, were subjected to much persecution and annoyance. John Carson of Balmangan and his lady were both imprisoned for refusing the oath of abjuration. At the unfortunate encounter with the forces under General Dalziel on the Pentland hills, we find some of Borgue’s sons there fighting gallantly in the cause of religious liberty. The two sons of Gordon of Knockbrex, among other Galloway lairds, were there taken prisoners, tried at Edinburgh, found guilty, and sentenced to be executed. History records that on the scaffold these youthful brothers acquitted themselves with a resignation and firmness becoming the noble cause they had espoused. The remains of the ancient Cross, which stood in this churchyard, has also lately been discovered among some rubbish in Barmagachan Tomb, and it is very desirable that this great curiosity of art and interesting memorial of antiquity should be preserved.

The glebe lands surround the churchyard, and afford rich pasture. It is said that the soil of this burying-ground is peculiarly fine, and that in digging it not a stone, scarce a pebble, is to be found, arising, as tradition says, from its having been thoroughly riddled and cleaned by two old women, as a penance for some great sin.

In August 1783 there was born, in an “auld clay biggin” by the wayside, at Tannymaws, in the parish of Borgue, one on whom Nature had bestowed so liberally the genius of poetry, as to give him, humble and untutored though he was, the passport to something more than mere local fame. There is no doubt as to the genuineness of the inspiration of William Nicholson. He was the poet born; and in after years, with the tender and homely strains of his rustic pipe in “the Country Lass,” the “Wild Woodside,” the “Banks o’ Tarff,” and the “Braes of Galloway,” he charmed and pleased the peasantry of his native province with his truthful delineations of their manners and the heartfelt utterances of their feelings. In his poem “The Peacock,” there are some keen touches of satire; and the “Brownie of Blednoch” was sufficient, had he written nothing more, to give its author a claim to the rank of creative genius. Dr. John Brown, in his Horoe Subsecivoa writes of it: – “We would rather have written these lines than any amount of ‘Aurora Leighs,’ ‘Festuses,’ or such like. For they, are they not? the ‘native woodnotes wild’ of one of nature’s darlings. Here is the indescribable, inestimable, unmistakable, impress of genius. Chaucer, had he been a Galloway man, might have written it, only he would have been more garrulous, and less compact and stem. It is like ‘Tam o’ Shanter,’ in its living union of the comic, the pathetic, and the terrible. Shrewdness, tenderness, imagination, fancy, humour, word-music, dramatic power, even wit, are all here.” Nicholson’s contemporary, the observant MacTaggart, wrote of his works, in 1824, – “They have all the simplicity and genius which constitute good Scottish songs. My friend William’s poems are substantial rustic buildings. His ‘Country Lass’ is a dear creature, and will last at least 500 years.” This was going rather far; but it is now over half a century since it was predicted, and in our day Nicholson appears in the company of Fergusson, Burns, Tannahill, Hogg, Motherwell, and Cunningham, in the latest and best collection of Scotland’s song writers. But even in his own day he had the greatest gratification which poet can have, of hearing the creations of his genius lilted and sung by the peasantry around him.

For many years William Nicholson, par excellence the Galloway bard, indulged his fancy, wandering and musing among the sequestered glens, broomy knowes, and purling streams of his beloved Galloway, much of its natural scenery being truthfully described in his poems and identified with his name. It is twenty-five years since he died, but there are still many in whose memory there live recollections of the tall, solitary, and somewhat ungainly-looking figure of the pedlar poet, and, in his way, priest, who was wont to wander over Galloway carrying a pack on his back, but was sadly deficient in the worldly wisdom generally characteristic of the class to which he belonged.

In his prime Nicholson was rather handsome in person, though his imperfect powers of vision gave him an awkward appearance. Heavy brown eye-lashes shaded “the windows of his soul,” but when lit up by conversation they beamed with thought and intelligence. He then travelled the country “braid and wide,” following his avocation among the “farm toons” in Galloway and Dumfriesshire, disposing of his wares to the dames and maidens at the farmers’ ingles while fascinating them with his diverting stories, the melodies of his voice in his latest song, or the music of the bagpipes which he carried, and of which he was passionately fond. For a considerable number of years he prospered in his business, and was a welcome guest for a night, and even days, at all the farmer’s ha’s and cots in his rounds. But like many more of the “tuneful tribe,”

He ne’er got auld eneuch i’ horn
Tae ken the muses saw nae corn,
An’ that few poets hae been born
Tae bank account;
That Burns sighed wi’ coat a’ torn,
“’Twas a’ the amount.”

So when the time came that the pack failed him he had in great measure to depend on the charity of friends for his support. To one possessed of the sensitive feelings and proud independent spirit which always marked his character, this position must have been acutely felt. In these circumstances he unfortunately sought consolation in the bottle, and poor Nicholson shared the fate of many a bright genius gone before him. But of the habits and eccentricities of his later years, when with body emaciated and bent, and supported by two sticks, but with still

“the untamed eye, that under brows
Shaggy and grey, had meanings, which it brought
From years of youth.”

he wandered dejected among the old and tried friends who, all honour to them, in his adversity did not forsake him, we will cast the mantle of charity, which “hopeth all things and thinketh no evil,” and,

“Gently scan our brother man.”

Many will remember the poet in that condition, and many of the “summer friends” who smiled when fortune favoured, but who would not, when she frowned, deign to acknowledge or even brush clothes with the wayward minstrel, have ere this gone to the grave ” unwept, unhonoured, and unsung,” while William Nicholson in his “Country Lass,” “The Brownie of Blednoch,” and other poems and songs will live among the poets,

“Serene creators of immortal things.”

We might freely quote from his poems passages in support of Nicholson’s claims to rank as Galloway’s best bard; but we prefer to give two pieces entire, which are not contained in his volume published in 1828.

EXTEMPORE. ADVICE TO A YOUNG SEAMAN.

Note. – While the poet was on a visit at Mr. Henry’s, Upper Senwick, his son Thomas, happening to be writing a letter to his brother John, then at sea, requested the poet also to send him a few (poetical) lines. He complied,
and sent the following : –

Yer brither Tam would hae me try
To send twa words in rhyming;
I kent na weel hoo tae comply,
Sae look nae for subliming,

Weel, Johnny, ye sud learn to think
When few there’s tae inform ye;
Note what ye see wi’ pen and ink,
Sic practice might reform ye.

Read aye a chapter ance a day
And think on what yer reading,
The Bible’s the best buke they say
For learning young men breeding.

Remember aye that life is brief.
And aft to you uncertain;
Try to forsake a’ childish grief
When wi’ yer frien’s yer partin’.

Keep clear o’ women, – clear o’ drink,
And free frae lees and swearing;
They’re worthless benefits, I think,
And seldom worth the wearing.

Now learn yer trade while young and gay,
And speel to be a seaman;
Obey yer captain night and day,
Tho’ he was ance a wee man.

Like you he scour’d ance pots and pans,
And reef’d the sails and shrouding;
Sae ye may wave a captain’s han’,
Gif ye learn tae dae bidding.

Then fare ye weel! my Johnny lad,
For my advice – this ae thing, –
Ye’ll sen’ a lump o’ Negar head,
For wha can preach for naething ?

SONG.

O wake from thy dreams my bonnie, bonnie bird,
And carol thy matin melody;
For the broad eye of mom has awoke in the east,
And the sun lowes warm in the depth of the sky.

The landscape’s asleep, while the dew fades fast.
And the green leaves glitter in the new born day;
The shadows of the night have long swept past,
And the smoke curls high of the village gay.

Then wake from thy dreams my bonnie, bonnie bird,
And warble thy untaught melody;
The lark is heard from a far upper cloud,
And waked is the woodland minstrelsy.

For the sky may grow dim, and the song of the grove
Shall be hushed in night’s stillness; already the sun
Speeds onward to dip his wild orb in the wave,
And the knell of the dying day is begun.

Then wake from thy dreams my bonnie, bonnie bird,
And pillow thy breast on the downy sky;
For the night is sweet as the dreams of the bless’d.
Whose morn is hail’d with thy melody.”

The little churchyard of Kirkandrews, in which the remains of the poet rest, is a sunny spot, and near to the “trotting burn” to which he aptly compared life’s ups and downs, and the murmurs of the “sad sea waves,” it is the fitting resting-place of a poet. He died in 1843, and a handsome tombstone was erected to his memory, by his late brother John Nicholson, publisher, Kirkcudbright, of whom we have already spoken.

The edition of Nicholson’s works, edited by the late Mr. McDiarmid of the Dumfries Courier, having been for a number of years out of print, his poems are not so well known by Gallovidians as they ought to be, and we hope that ere long another edition will be brought out.