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Ramble Round Kilmarnock
Chapter III


From Craigie to Barnweill--Barnweill Kirk and Graveyard--The Wallace Monument--Fail Castle--The Warlock Laird--Tarbolton--Willie’s Mill--Peden’s Pulpit and Cave--Through the Fields to Ayr Road--The Halfway House--The Estate of Coodham--Peace-and-Plenty--Back to Kilmarnock.

From Craigie Mains a short walk along an avenue landed me in the highway that runs between Bogend Toll, Craigie, and other places. Turning to the left, I took the first road to the right and directed my steps to the Wallace monument, which is a prominent object on the heights of Farnweill and discernible from a great distance. The road was somewhat steep and rugged, but I liked its rustic appearance, and fairly revelled in the rays of the mid-day sun, as I paused now and again to listen to the rich notes of the lark, or view the way-side flowers as they nodded on their slender stems in the balmy breeze. When nearing Underhill--a small hamlet consisting of a wright’s shop and a few detached houses--I observed a well in a shady spot on the dusty highway and sat down by its brink to rest. Producing a drinking cup I dipped it, and quaffed a bumper of cool spring water. How it refreshed--how it invigorated, and made me grateful to the Creator for one of His best and most bountiful blessings! After lingering by the liquid treasure, I ascended Barnweill Hill, pausing now and again to view the monument and surrounding scenery. While thus engaged my attention was attracted by the ruin of Barnweill church, which stands within a belt of trees that enclose a small burying-ground on the north-west side of the hill. Over a field gate, which on trial I found locked, I saw that of the graveyard opposite. By the worn appearance of the rails it was evident that the curious had found admittance by climbing over the barrier; therefore, following their example, I vaulted across, traversed the field, and entered the churchyard, the situation of which is truly picturesque. Reverently treading over the grassy graves I advanced to the ruin, and seems when entire to have been a moderately-sized one-storied building, and entered the roofless sanctuary by a broken-down doorway, but alas! there was nothing of interest to be seen. All was wreck, the floor being covered with rubbish, out of which grew nettles and rank grass. The outside is more cheerful. The two gables, which are pretty entire, are most covered with ivy. Up to a recent date a bell hung in one of them, but it is now removed, and in the keeping of a gentleman in the neighbourhood. Little is known regarding the old church of Barweill. It was, previous to the Reformation, a Roman Catholic place of worship, and at one time within the ruin there was to be seen an inverted holy-water font. At the suppression of the parish--which Paterson states took place in 1714--the church doubt-less would be deprived of its minister, and very likely, being unoccupied, it gradually became ruinous. Be that as it may, the worshippers have long departed, and

"Where of old there stood
The alter and God’s shrine, so loved and treasured,
Comes now the blackbird’s ceaseless, gladsome hymn,
Poured forth with gratitude and joy unmeasured."

The stones in the churchyard are few and scattered, and merely contain the simple announcement that the individuals whom they are meant to commemorate lived and died. One tablet bears the date 1661, but there are other stones on which the records are unreadable that have every appearance of being anterior.

Taking leave of the secluded spot, I gained the road by the same means that I left it, and after walking up the steep ascent for a short distance turned to the left. Here I entered what had the appearance of being a piece of waste ground, for portions of rock and loose stones lay confusedly about, and made the surface most uneven. Advancing to the brow of a hill that rises abruptly from the north, and from which a gorgeous view of a great portion of the district of Cunninghame is obtainable, I rapturously gazed upon the scene as it lay spread out like an unrolled map. Tradition states that this height was used by the lords of Craigie Castle as an outlook station, and that it was the site of an old fortress, which doubtless has been the case, for the appearance of the ground indicates that the foundation of a building lie buried beneath the soil, and even the moat that surrounded in can be traced with facility.

After lingering while to view the expanse of country I returned to the road and continued the ascent of Barnweill Hill, and ultimately, after considerable exertion, reached the summit whereon stands the Wallace monument, and on which, tradition states, the Scottish hero paused in his flight to view the lurid flames that consumed the Barns of Ayr, which he had fired in revenge for the murder of his uncle and other noblemen. He must have watched the scene with intense interest, for, as the flames shot heavenward, he exclaimed, "The Barns o’ Ayr burn weel!" -a pithy saying from which it is said the place takes its name.

The monument--which was built to commemorate the above act-is surrounded by trees, and stands in an enclosed ornamented piece of ground. It consists of a square tower about twelve feet at the base, and fully sixty feet high. It has a castellated appearance, and is surmounted with turrets topped with sculptured thistles. It contains a spiral stair, and above the entrance the Wallace arms are blazoned on bas-relief. On three sides there are indented tables bearing the following inscriptions:--

I.

"Erected MCCCCLV., in honour of Scotland’s greatest national hero, the renowned Sir William Wallace, born MCCLXX., who after performing numerous exploits of the most consummate bravery in defence of the independence of his country was basely betrayed into the hand of his enemies, by whom, to their everlasting disgrace, he was unjustifiably put to death on the XXIII. of August, MCCC. Centuries have not dimmed the luster of his heroic achievements; and the memory of this most disinterested of patriots shall through all ages be honoured and revered by his countrymen.

"A soul supreme, in each hard conflict tried,
Above all pain, all passion, and all pride,
The frown of power, the blast of public breath,
The love of lucre, and the dread of death."

II.

"Sir William Wallace, Regent of Scotland, MCCXCVII. In resistance of treacherous invasion, and in defense of the laws and liberties of his country, he fought against fearful odds the desperate battles of Biggar, Stirling, Blackearnside, and Falkirk, and between these actions, in little more than a year, he stormed and took from the invaders every fortress, castle, and town which they had seized in the kingdom. Though worsted at Fulkirk by overwhelming numbers, aided by fatal dissensions in his own army, he continued warring with the oppressors of his native land until his foul betrayal, seven years after that disastrous battle, by the execrable Monteith."

III.

"’At Wallace name, what Scottish blood
But boils up in a spring-tide flood!’

Ever honoured be the memory of the matchless Sir William Wallace, the first of his countrymen who in an age of despair arose and

"Dared to nobly stem tyrannic pride,’

throw off the yoke of foreign oppression, and maintain the independence and nationality of Scotlan; and who, by deeds of surpassing valour and stainless patriotism, has glorified this his native land, and imperishably associated his name with the defence of national rights and liberties and immunities of freeborn men. From Greece arose Leonidas, from Scotland Wallace, and from America Washington--names which shall remain through all time the watchwords and beacons of liberty." Such is the eulogium bestowed on "the matchless Sir William Wallace."

"Had he fought for Greece of old,
His urn had been of beaten gold,
The children of his native land
Had hewn for him with cunning hand
A mountain for a monument,"

and not allowed centuries to elapse before they raised a stone to is memory; however, in my opinion, stone, lime, and "tall talk" make but a poor monument to a national benefactor. The memory of the great and good of any nation is best preserved when enshrined in the hearts of their countrymen, and when their names and deeds are handed down from generation to generation by an appreciative people.

At the gate of the plot wherein the monument stands there is a neat lodge, at the door of which I tapped after viewing the exterior of the pile. It was opened by a middle-aged woman, who upon being made aware of my wish to examine the interior kindly sent a boy along with me, who proved a capital cicerone and withal very polite and obliging. Opening the door of the monument, we entered, and my young friend began to ascend the spiral stair with alacrity. I followed, but "such a getting up stairs I never did see," and it was not until after considerable exertion that the battlemented roof was reached. The scene that met my vision was gorgeous. Far above the tree-tops I looked down upon a splendid natural panorama, and ecstatically viewed the variegated scene. Cut on the stonework I observed the words, "The Barns o’ Ayr Burn weel." This caused me to look in the direction that "the saviour of Scotland" is supposed to have done, and was delighted to find auld Ayr the most prominent object of the landscape. Backed by Carrick hills, and with the woods of Rosemount interyening, its spires glistened in the sunshine, and the smoke that curled from a thousand chimneys hung like a pall over the ancient burgh. To the left of the scene is Tar-Bolton, and near to it are the woods that surround Montgomery Castle, a spot rendered classical by the genius of Burns, for it was there he took the last farewell of his sweet Highland Mary, as he so pathetically states in immortal verse. To the right is the Frith of Clyde, decked with many a sail; in the distance Arran hills; and along the coast lie scattered Troon, Irvine, and other towns; inland, Dundonald hills and the old grey ruins of the castle, while peering from a dell are the spires of Kilmarnock, and on the rising ground beyond them the quaint village of Fenwick is distinctly seen. But the scene is too expansive to be described, and the reader to form an idea of its grandeur must view it for himself, and I can assure him that the prospect will amply repay the journey from the town, irrespective of any traditional or historical association the place may possess.

After some conversation with my youthful guide, who seemed shocked when he found me somewhat skeptical regarding the supposed origin of the name Barnweill, ["It is evident that the name Burnwell, derived from an alleged speech of the celebrated Wallace, is an unsupported vulgar tradition. In the old charters, and in the records of the kingdom from the earliest period extant, it is spelt Barnweill or Barneweill: in so single instance that I have ever seen is it spelt Burnwell."--History of the Country of Ayr," page 460.] I descended to terra firma, entered my name to "the visitors’ book," and departed highly delighted with my visit to the  monument.

Pausing in the roadway, it struck me that a portion of a monastic building called "Fail Caste stood in the vicinity. Calling to my aid my topographical knowledge of the district, I crossed a stile, traversed several fields in the direction of Tarbolton road, and upon arriving in that thoroughfare observed the ruins--which consist of a gable and part of a side wall--in a stackyard near Fail toll. These remains are all that are now left of an extensive monastery. When entire the shattered remnant is said to have been the residence of the prior or chief minister of the institution. Fail monastery was founded in 1252, and was dedicated to Saint Mathurine. The Red Friars to whom it belonged were styled "Fathers of Redemption," because they devoted their lives to redeem captives from slavery, yet notwithstanding the sacredness of their mission they seem to have been a jolly lot of fellows, if the following stave of an old ditty is to be relied on:--

"The Friars of Fail
Gat never owre hard eggs or owre thin kail;
For they made their eggs thin wi’ butter,
An’ their kail thick wi’ bread;
An’ the Friars o’ Fail they made gude kail
On Fridays when they fasted,
An’ they never wanted gear enough
As lang as their neighbors’ lasted."

Fail Castle, as the remnant of the manor-house of the monastery is generally termed, has many weird associations, its last occupant being a notorious warlock, who, to use the words of an aged friend, "wrocht mony cantrips in his day," and at whose death, tradition states, the castle was blown down in a storm that Satan had raised to celebrate the event, it being the consummation of their compact. A fine old ballad entitled "The Warlock Laird o’ Fail" tells how that worthy revenged himself upon a farmer’s wife who had refused him a drink. Slipping "the merry pin" (a magic instrument that he was possessed of) into the thatch above the door, the goodwife, who was churning and late with the dinner, instantly left off her work and began to skip and dance about the floor in a very happy manner. The reapers in the field being curious to know why dinner was so late, came one by one to ascertain the cause, but they had not sooner passed under "the merry pin" than they became frolicsomely inclined, and danced and sang with great glee. When they had danced for some time the warlock withdrew the pin and the whole company fell down with exhaustion. Many other tales of the Warlock Laird are extant, and form subjects to while away the long winter evenings at many an ingle in the country. Often have I listened to them and watched the young people:-

‘A’ cour wi’ dread as they’d list to the crack,
An’ start gin a retinue’s squeaked in the thack."

But such legends are the past. They are of a time when superstitious ignorance ascribed to tottering age supernatural power, and peopled glades and old buildings with ghosts and hobgoblins.

Adjacent to Fail Castle there is a cluster of rustic cottages and about a mile distant from them on the top of a hill stands Tarbolton, a small town with a diminishing population which at present numbers 829. Its trade consists of weaving and box-making. Tarbolton is associated with the name of Robert Burns, the ploughman poet. When residing at Lochlee-a farm in its vicinity--he wrote many of his best poems, and was initiated into the mysteries of masonry in the local lodge. The scene of "Death and Doctor Hornbook" is laid at "Willie’s Mill," a place near the town. The mill referred to by the poet has been pulled down, and a new one erected. On the face of the brae near to the mill two stones are yet pointed out as those upon which "Robin" and Death "eased their shanks" when they held their memorable conversation about "Jock Hornbook o’ the clachan."

The Rev. Alex. Peden was schoolmaster in Tarbolton before he entered the ministry. In Coilhome wood there is a ledge of rock called "Peden’s Pulpit," and further up the river Ayr there is a cavity in the face of the cliff called "Peden’s Cave," in which it is said the good man often concealed himself during the troublous times of the Persecution. The "Pulpit" overlooks a level piece of ground which is enclosed by lofty banks and precipitous cliffs, and when he preaches on it his auditory sat on the green sward with their firelocks and broadswords over their knees, a necessary precaution at the period, as many of the churchyards in Ayrshire abundantly testify.

After lingering some time in the vicinity of Fail Castle, and being desirous of reaching home before

"The sun was out o’ sicht,
And darker goamin’ brocht the nicht."

I retraced my steps along Tarbolton road, entered a "slap" by the wayside, followed the course of cart-track, and after a stiff walk arrived at the farmhouse of Rotten Rock, and once more on the summit of Barnweill Hill. Going round to the back of the monument I cross a fence at a place well worn by the feet of near-cut-seekers, and followed a beaten path through a field skirting the Kirk yard of Barnweill.

Arriving in an old road I followed its intricate windings through a farm-steading and down the face of a brae until I came to Underhill, the cluster of houses already mentioned. Striking into a stile road that runs along the edge of several fields, I arrived at the Pow Burn and strayed along its bank until I came to a rustic bridge by the side of a ruined mill. This I crossed, and in a short time reached Ayr road at a point where a road branches off to the village of Symington.

From the Wallace Monument to Ayr road through the fields is one of the most picturesque and secluded byeways in the district. While descending the heights a wide track of country lies before the pedestrian, and the scene is enhanced by the thousand natural beauties that fringe the path as it winds along the wimpling burn that purls through the glen.

Turning my face homeward I passed what is termed "the half-way house to Ayr," a favourite halting place where pleasure parties to and from "the auld toun" generally stop to water their horse and partake of refreshments. At its door were two machines laden with a happy rollicking lot of lads and lasses who seemed to enjoy themselves immensely, for they laughed and joked right merrily, and looked as if they had had a pleasant day of it somewhere.

At Bogend Toll I paused to decipher a milestone and discovered that it was 4 ¾ miles from Kilmarnock, a circumstance that gave me very little concern, for Ayr road is one of the best and most picturesque highways I ever traversed. At this bar there are a few neat cottages and an entrance to Coodham, a handsome estate, well wooded, and for the most part walled in. Passing through the gateway a pleasant walk along the carriage drive brought me in front in front of the mansion house-a massive square building, at the back of which there is a lake with an island in it centre. The island is covered with shrubbery and contrasts beautifully with the sylvan scene that surrounds the margin of the water.

Coodham is at present the residence of W. H. Houldsworth, Esq., who purchased it some three years ago. Since it came into his possession he has expended large sums in improving its appearance and in rendering the mansion more commodious and comfortable. On the occasion of my visit the foundation of an extensive wing was laid, and a large conservatory, and a small but neat chapel (both connected with the mansion) were all but complete.

Formerly this estate belonged to a family name Fairlie. In 1826 Mrs. William Fairlie, the widow of a wealthy Calcutta banker, purchased it, and it is said expended £20,000 in improvements. The mansion house was built by this lady, the cost of which is included in the above sum. Following the course of the carriage drive--which passes through the estate--I found its terminus adorned with a handsome pillared gateway and neat lodge, and situated in Ayr road a mile nearer home than the Bogen entrance.

Trudgin onward I soon reached Spittal Hill, and, with Riccarton steeple and the spires of Kilmarnock in full view, I rejoiced that my ramble was drawing to a close, for the day was far spent, and the western sky wore a crimson tinge that betokened rest to man and beast, and hush of toil.

Passing the finely wooded entrance to Treesbank estate I came to Peace-and-Plenty--a place that derives its name from a roadside public house that once flourished under that title, it being the custom of the landlord to supply his customers with bread and cheese when they purchased a dram. Here are situated a row of neat cottages, with gardens behind and flower-plots in front, tastefully laid out and decked with choice flowers. The dwellings are scrupulously clean, and to judge by their appearance and that of their occupants a commendable rivalry seems to exist as to who can have the neatest plot and most comfortable home. These cottages were built some years ago by the proprietor of Caprington for the accommodation of his workpeople, and the experiment has been so successful that the gentleman has been induced to build another row of similar dwellings nearly opposite the entrance gate of his estate.

Leaving Peace-and-Plenty behind I soon passed Caprington gates, and after a brisk walk arrived at the village of Riccarton. Passing the long row of one-storied houses that line Campbell Street, I crossed the new bridge and entered Kilmarnock, delighted with my ramble, and feeling better  from having held communion with Nature.


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