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Ramble Round Kilmarnock
Chapter IX


The influence of sunshine--Glasgow Road and its scenery--An Adventure--Specimens of Kilmaurs cutlery--The reservoir--From it to Rowallan Castle--The situation and appearance of the Castle described-The interior of the building--The garden--A fox story--Traditions.

"I say, wife! bring my heavy boots and walking-stick, the morning is delightful, it is a pity to remain indoors upon such a day as this is likely to be. I will take a turn in the country, so you may expect me home in the afternoon." Twirling my staff and bidding the children "at-at." I sallied forth in quest of adventure and curiosities. Passing along the street I could not help noticing the effect that a sunshiny morning has upon men and things in general. The thatched cottages which are so primitive and dingy-looking during inclement weather appeared snug and somewhat picturesque in the sunshine. Mirthful sounds of youthful voices were borne upon the breeze, and fell upon my ear like sweet music, as the little men and women who will take our places in society jostled each other on the pavement, and looked as if the sunshine had caused them to forget their crochets and crosses for a space. In fact, the very dogs seemed to trot along more cheerfully and bark their congratulations to each other as if they really enjoyed themselves. Passing through the Cross --that centre for business, and loungers of all grades--I ascended Portland Street, passed under the railway bridge, and straight ahead. Arriving at Beansburn Toll, I looked down upon the Foundry Holm and upon the Forge and other buildings which stand black and unsightly in the valley below. To the right, on the top of a steep bank clothed with wood, is the handsome family residence of the late Bailie Craig. The place is called Dean Hill. It is finely situated and commands an extensive view of the town and country. Passing some neat villas on my left, I strayed onward admiring the scenery, which prevents an agreeably diversified landscape of gentle rising grounds, sloping fields, numerous enclosures, and clumps of planting, until I came to part of the road where the top of Dean Castle, roofless, time-shattered, and ruinous looms from the hollow, and reminded me of the following lines of Turnbull:--

"See where the Dean her ruin’d fabric rears!
A mournful scene her naked wall appears;
The clasping ivy shades her tottering towers,
Where night-owls form their melancholy bowers.
Prone from the top, huge ruined fragments fall;
The howling wind sounds dreary in the hall;
Nor more the voice of mirth is heard to sound,
But melancholy silence reigns around."

Passing Wardneuk, a small farm-steading on the left, a fine view of Assloss House and romantic surroundings is obtainable. It stands on the top of some thickly-wooded rising ground, at the foot of which, in a hollow a short distance from the road, glow the Borland Water, limpid and unpolluted, with trees laving their branches in its liquid, and trout sporting in its channel. A sharp walk soon brought me in sight of the Reservoir and South Craig, a neat farm-house that stands off the road to the left. Having heard that the occupants of North Craig--which lies at the back of South Craig--are in the possession of some cutlery of the Kilmaurs manufacture, I determined to visit the farm, and if possible get a sight of the relics. For this purpose I turned into a bye-road on the left, but not proceeded far when I found myself confronted by a powerful sheep-dog, which seemed inclined to dispute the passage, for it growled and showed its teeth, then barked furiously, as if it meant mischief. Fearing that the animal might mistake my leg for a morrow bone, I grasped my stick firmly and dealt it a whack across the nose that left a striking impression on its memory, for it dashed through the hedge and tore over a field at the top of its speed, howling forth an apology in a most unearthly manner, and leaving me master of the situation. The coast being clear I proceeded on my way, and without further adventure arrived at North Craig. This farm is at present occupied by the widow and son of the late Daniel Thomson. Here I met with a cordial reception. They expressed the pleasure that my visit afforded, and seemed glad to see strangers, and happy to submit to the curious the small specimens of Kilmaurs cutlery they are possessed of. Having seated myself in the spacious kitchen, which was scrupulously clean, Mrs. Thomson produced from a leather case the relics. They proved to be a small silver-mounted knife and fork of very plain make, but having the appearance of considerable antiquity. The knife is worn in the blade and stamped near the handle with the letters A and B, which is affirmed to stand for Alexander Bigger, the maker. The fork is two-pronged and has much the appearance of a miniature hay-fork, the make and finish being most primitive. These specimens of ancient cutlery belonged to the great-grandmother of the late Mr. Thomson, by whom they were greatly prized; but I am sure not more so than they are by the present owner, who values them highly, not for their intrinsic value, but as relics that link the present with past generations of the family. I have no doubt of the authenticity of the specimens. In proof of it I may mention that a Kilmarnock gentleman who is well known for his antiquarian knowledge was so anxious to possess them that he tempted the proprietor with a round sum; but it was respectfully declined. Bidding North Craig goodbye I entered the property of the Kilmarnock Water Company to view the reservoir and filtering basins. Mr. Reid, the superintendent, received me kindly, conducted me over the works, and explained the process through which the water passes before it is rendered fit for domestic purposes. After a little conversation, I ascended a wooden stair and reached the top of an embankment which surrounds what appears to be a lake of considerable extent. The position is commanding, and from it an extensive view of the surrounding country is obtainable. This sheet of water is the reservoir from which the inhabitants of Kilmarnock drew their supply after it passes through the filters. It stands about 250 feet above the level of the town, and covers over twenty imperial acres of land. When full it holds 900,000 square yards of water, which is equal to 65,000,000 gallons. Its tributaries are burns, which for the most part take their rise to Fenwick Moor, every precaution being taken to exclude moss water and other impurities. The Kilmarnock Water Company was formed in 1850. To it the inhabitants of the town are indebted, for at a small cost they are supplied with water of uniform purity, which not only serves for domestic purposes, but purges cesspools, sewers, etc., of disease-engendering ingredients, and in a  great measure assists to preserve the health of the towns-people. Thanking the worthy superintendent for his kindness, I bade him goodbye, and leisurely strolled along the bank of the Reservoir until I came to a stile road. Following its course I passed Tannahill, a neat farm-steading and soon arrived in the road which runs between Kilmaurs and Fenwick.

Turning to the right, a short walk along the dusty highway brought me to the gate of the avenue leading to Rowallan Castle, the shattered stronghold of the Mures, an ancient Scottish family, the last male representative of whom died in 1700. Passing through the gateway, a pleasant walk  brought me to the edge of a dark wood. Here, upon turning to the right, a delightfully picturesque scene burst upon my vision. Giant trees stretched their arms over the path, and flowers of various hues bloomed in wild luxuriance along the wayside. In the wood the feathered throng poured forth a "from nature up to nature’s God," and say--

Fair nature’s face before thee lies,
Her coverlet the rainbow dyes,
Whilst up to thy delighted eyes
Her varied beauties start.
There’s summer in each sight and sound,
There’s God and glory all around!
Then let no wintry feelings wound
The gladness of thy heart."

Walking leisurely along the rustic avenue, enjoying its beauties, I ultimately came to the end of the wood, and looked down upon Rowallan Castle. The scene was delightful, and amply compensated my walk from the town. Rowallan is not, strictly speaking a castle; it has more the appearance of an ancient manor-house, and doubtless is a good specimen of the fortified feudal residences in the olden time, The building, viewed from the roadway, looks hoary and venerable, and wears a moldering, deserted appearance. It is situated in a hollow, and is environed with trees, many of which have braved the blast for centuries, and still wave their branches as majestically as they did in days of yore, when knights and ladies gay walked beneath their shadows. Near to the venerable building flows the Carmel, a mossy stream. It is spanned by a bridge, and takes a fine curve as it flows past the old place, after dancing through dusky glens and over rugged rocks. Crossing the stream, I aimlessly strayed through the grounds, and noted each gnarled tree and object of interest. While thus engaged I was accosted by the gamekeeper--a burly Englishman --who, finding me a stranger, conversed freely, and told me all he knew regarding the venerable pile and its surroundings. He also proffered to introduce me to the people who have charge of the castle, so that I might view the interior as well as the exterior of the edifice. Accepting his invitation, I met with a kindly reception from Mrs Dale, who along with her husband occupies a room in the building, and whose untiring industry and cleanly habits gives to the place a charm, and robs it of that dreary, sad appearance so peculiar to deserted half-ruinous buildings. Rowallan Castle has the appearance of having been built at different periods. The oldest and most dilapidated portion seems to have been erected upon the top of a rock, or crag, and probably has been surrounded at some period by a lake. The marshy nature of the ground near its base goes a considerable way to support this supposition. The ground chambers of this portion only remain, and are in a very ruinous and crumbling condition, portions of their roofs having fallen in. Historians assign it as the birth-place of Elizabeth Muir, the beloved wife of Robert II., king of Scotland. The more modern building faces the south, and is divided from the older by a loopholed wall some forty feet long. In it there is an ornamented gateway, above which the date 1666 is still legible. The front of the building has a very imposing appearance, and bears many sculptured devices. To the principal door--which is of oak, and studded with iron--there is a flight of broad stone steps. Over this entrance the family arms, surmounted by the Royal Arms of Scotland, are cut in stone. In execution the sculpture is somewhat rude, but even at this day it looks well, although chipped and disfigured. Above these devices is the crest of the family-- a Moor’s head--which, doubtless, is allusive to a war-like exploit performed by some member during the crusades against the Saracens. Above all, and at the top of the building, there is a small tablet with the following inscription:--"Jon. MVR M. CVGM.SPVSIS. 1562." To the right and left of the tablet, the armorial bearings of John Mure, or Rowallan, and his lady, Marion Cunningham, are quartered. From this it may be inferred that this portion of the building was erected by them at the above date. There are many other sculptured adornments, dates, and devices, but the above are most note-worthy, and are sufficient to induce the antiquary, and the lover of the picturesque, to visit this really interesting castle. Passing up the stairs, and through, the doorway referred to, the visitor finds himself in a small courtyard and surrounded by architecture, the style of which ranges from the fifteenth to the end of the seventeenth century. Near the centre of the court grows a somber yew tree, which accords in a manner with the ruinous and deserted appearance of the building. The first indication that the place is partly inhabited is a neatly whitened step in front of a finely carved oaken door. This is the entrance to the apartment occupied by the keeper, and, in fact, to the interior of the castle. There are a few relics of past greatness preserved. In the old dining-room there is an elaborately-carved sideboard and an old arm chair which bears the date of 1617. These are of oak, and very interesting. In a small room, called "Lord Loudoun’s sleeping apartment," there is a beautifully carved wardrobe in oak. The room door and paneling are of the same material, and chastely ornamental. The next room of interest is at the top of the building, and is called "the auld kirk." Here are shown several fragments of kirk stools, which are for the most part moth-eaten and rotten. In this apartment the distinguished William Guthrie of Fenwick is said to have occasionally preached, and the pious Sir William Mure to have met with his tenantry to worship the God of their fathers. In almost every room throughout the building every available portion of space on the walls is covered by names and addresses. Though hundreds have been wiped off, yet visitors resort to all manner of schemes to make their mark. Some have burst into poetry, and recorded their visit upon the walls in verse. I attempted to transcribe a rhyme written in a neat hand, but the lines limped so badly that I left them to the alleviating dishclout of Mrs. Dale. Among the signature, initials, and addresses penciled upon the walls, I noticed the names of several Kilmarnock celebrities; but the most conspicuous was that of a popular clergyman, whose name and place of worship were recorded in large letters. At the back of the castle there is an old garden, but it does not contain anything of historical interest. There are some fine old trees about it, and altogether it is worthy of the visitor’s attention. I may mention in passing that at that time where was a zoological curiosity in it. Foxes abound in the district, and two of these animals had taken up their abode in the old place. One of them had made it lair under a bush, while the other--contrary to the habits of the animal --had taken up its quarters in the branches of a fine old tree, and looked down from its hiding upon all passing below. The fox is proverbial for its cunning, but there was something in the conduct of these two that almost amounted to reason. Mrs. Dale, like all thrifty housewives in the country, kept a goodly number of hens, but it was curious that she never missed one, although they frequented the garden, and fed within a few yards of where the foxes were secreted. These animals seemed to discriminate between her property and that of other people, and to understand that if they molested the poultry they would require to shift. If food were scarce, however, I am afraid that they would not observe this distinction. Upon one occasion the occupant of the tree while out on it rambles, crossed the path of a pack of hounds, and started for home with the whole at its heels, greatly to the delight of the huntsmen. Being hotly pursued, it with difficulty reached the castle, bounded over the garden wall, and, to the astonishment of the dogs, disappeared. The huntsmen came up, and were equally puzzled, and would have gone in search of another of Reynard’s kindred, had not a keeper climbed up the tree and dislodged the occupant. Leaping into the middle of the pack, the fox got off unscathed, and ran in the direction of Fenwick. Its adventures by the way are unrecorded; but to the surprise of every one, it was back to its old quarters the next day, peering down from the among the branches as if nothing particular had happened. In spite of props and screws, the walls of Rowallan Castle are fast going to ruin. Time, the inexorable tyrant, is playing sad havoc with the building, and it imperceptibly but surely crumbling it to pieces. As in the case of other buildings in the same condition, tradition has twined itself around that of Rowallan, and many tales, probable and improbable, are related in connection with it. The great enemy of mankind is said to have visited the place upon several occasions and done his utmost to destroy it and its occupants. It has long been noted as the haunt of ghosts, witches, and things uncanny; but these chimeras of the brain have fled before the fearless spirit of investigation now abroad, and the ploughboy can pass the venerable pile at night, without

"Whistling up Lord Lennox’ march
To keep his courage cheery."

I will now relate two or three of the popular traditions of Rowallan Castle, which I trust will be sufficient to gratify the reader’s curiosity and his love for folk-lore. The tradition of how Rowallan derived its name is very prettily told by the Rev. George Paxton, a Sucession Church minister of Kilmaurs. He was pastor in the ancient village from 1789 to 1807, and the author of a volume entitled "The Villager, and other poems." In some verses to the Carmel he refers to the tradition in the following beautiful language:--

"A Scottish chief in days of old,
As hoary-headed sires have told,
Was tossed upon the main;
Small was the skiff, the tempest blew,
The trembling chieftain urged the crew
The distant shore to gain.

‘Row! Allan, row!’ the baron cried,
‘High on the foaming surges ride,
And bear me safe to shore;
A rich domain on Carmel side,
O’er hill and dale extending wide,
Is thine for evermore.’

The quivering oar bold Allan stretched,
The solid land the baron reached,
And Allan won the prize;
Adorned with ropes of twisted stone,
Long on thy banks Rowallan shone,
And still the storm defies."

I have heard the tradition related differently, but I think the above is its most pleasing and poetic form. The next tradition to which I draw attention refers to no less a personage than his satanic majesty. A minor poet of Stewarton has thrown it into verse, and indeed the subject, though a little sumptuous, looks best in that for.

"’Tis said, one wintry night of yore,
Were met a happy throng
Within Rowallan’s festive hall,
Where all was mirth and song;
When , crashing through the nestling trees,
Auld Nick came in a blue-shot bleeze,
By witch-wife conjured, to affright
For grave abuse of cutting spite.
But little ken’d that sinner warm
That in the castle lay a charm
Which Auld Nick’s magic could dispel,
And send him baffled hame. Ah! well,
Will he go in? he takes the road.
‘Avaunt thou, in the name of God!’
The parson cried, and then brought down
His Bible whack on Auld Nick’s crown.
As when the hunter’s well-aimed dart
Strikes through the savage tiger’s heart,
Sudden he leaped, and gave a roar
That rent the stair and burst the door,
Then, like a rocket through the night,
In flame of fire passed out of sight."

If the reader has any doubt of the above he had better go to the castle and examine the stair leading to the principal door. He will find it rent. The crack is best seen in wet weather. Tradition says that the stair was split by the hoof of the devil under similar circumstances to those embodied in the above metrical relation. If the tradition be true, then "the old boy" has a powerful pair of legs. Near to the castle, on the top of a steep bank clothed with wood, overlooking a chasm through which the Carmel gurgles, is a stately tree with spreading branches and wealth of foliage. It is known by the name of "the marriage tree," and the bank on which it grows is called "Janet Kirn." Beneath this monarch of the wood (tradition says) Dame Jean Mure, of Rowallan, was married by a curate to William Fairlie of Bruntsfield, an estate near Edinburgh, somewhere about the year 1700. The lady being sole heiress to the castle and estate of Rowallan, had many suitors for her hand and fortune. Amongst them was her future husband, Fairlie. Some obstacle now unknown stood in the way of their union, and she eloped with him. Tradition adds further that the lady left the castle by a window in the courtyard, which is still pointed out, and met her lover, who had a clergyman in readiness to perform the marriage ceremony. The spot where the marriage is said to have taken place is not more than a stone’s throw from the road leading to the house of the gamekeeper. It is romantically picturesque, but is forbidden to visitors. I will notice one more tradition and pass on. The visitors to Rowallan will notice two bridges in front of the castle. One spans the Carmel and the other what is known as the Mill Lade. This lade or burn is a branch off the Fenwick Water. Long ago it used to turn the wheel of Rowallan Mill, but the mill is now in ruins, and the wheel no longer performs splashing music on the bank of the mossy stream. I have heard the following tradition related in connection with it:--Once on a time the cutler and tinkers of Kilmaurs, finding the Carmel insufficient to supply their wants, petitioned the King to grant a greater supply of water. The King (it does not matter which) replied that he would grant as much from the Fenwick river as would flow through the leg of a boot. This they gratefully accepted, and formed artificial stream between it and the Carmel. The lade is said to be that stream; it flows through a beautiful track of country, and in some parts retains traces of artificial construction.


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