Dumfries and Galloway is good at pre- and early history. I took you to Cairn Holy a few days ago. And apparently their long tradition of standing stones lives on. I had a walk along the beach at Mossyard Bay, and this is what I found – standing stones, no higher than a school ruler, erected – oh, as late as September 2020.
Two tombs, jagged and skeletal, lie at the top of a narrow country road in Dumfries and Galloway. Cairn Holy 1 and Cairn Holy 2. They’re two of a kind: the final resting places of notable people living some 5000 years ago. Might one of them have been the tomb of the legendary King Galdus? Probably not, but we shall never know.
What’s astonishing though is the wealth that these tombs once contained. Particularly amazing is a jadeite axe. This mineral is not found locally, but comes from the Alps, 1500 km away. Imagine having the wealth and power in Neolithic times to import such an exotic artefact!
These tombs didn’t originally have the standing-stone appearance they now have. The stones originally totally covering them have been plundered for building over the centuries. But standing stark against the landscape they announce themselves as being yet another sign of the ancient history which is still so visible in this part of Scotland.
A sortie to find some carved Pictish stones on what might once have been a royal fort, followed by a climb to visit a local landmark, the obelisk to the Reverend Samuel Rutherford seemed like a plan for a late afternoon last week. It was only a three and a half mile walk after all.
What I hadn’t taken into account was that this is rough, undulating landscape, and entirely beautiful. It demands we take the time to stand and stare. So I did.
Trusty’s Hill proved to be a chance for a first viewing of the Rutherford Monument, as well as an opportunity to peer at Pictish carvings. This site was the site of an ancient fire so fierce that the stone there vitrified. The hill might, round about 600 AD, have been a citadel. It was certainly a fine vantage point from which to view what could once have been the lost Scottish kingdom of Rheged.
Onwards to the Rutherford Monument, built by grateful parishioners to honour the memory of a priest who, though an academic, a thinker and a teacher, cared for his flock in practical as well as spiritual ways and who was constantly at odds with the establishment to the extent that he was awaiting being tried for treason at his death. These days, there’s a Millennium Cairn, detailing all the ministers of Anwoth and Girthon since 1560 , and a trig point on two adjacent hills. All three provide splendid views to the Fleet estuary far below and the hills beyond.
Then it was down, down through a wooded trail to reach Anwoth Church, now roofless and ruined, before coming back to Gatehouse of Fleet along a quiet county track.
Dumfries & Galloway is our new favourite place. We felt as though we’d discovered it and had it all to ourselves. We explored the wildly beautiful and seemingly remote Cairnsmore of Fleet National Natural Nature Reserve. We found ancient cairns. We slogged up hills for the sake of views over the Solway Firth. And we enjoyed the beaches. We’ll take a virtual seaside trip today: there’s not a fairground ride, amusement arcade or kiss-me-quick hat in sight. There’s not even a chippie. Just us, the rocky shore, and the sea, advancing or retreating with the tide.
Let’s begin at Mossyard Bay. I sent you a postcard from there just last Thursday.
Near Mutehill, Kirkudbright, early one morning.
Finally, Carsethorne, near Dumfries. It’s a small hamlet now, but it used to be a busy port, shipping people to Liverpool, to the Isle of Man and to Ireland on their way to a new life in the New World.
‘Having a wonderful time’. That’s what you say on postcards, isn’t it? But it’s true. Here we are in Dumfries and Galloway. This is Mossyard. Near Gatehouse of Fleet. Stories later, once we’re back home.