THERE are many purple patches in Galloway. One cannot in
autumn get out of sight of the heather–save, perhaps, in some parts of the
green parish of Borgue. But, towards the north, there is one great purple
province which stretches from within sight of Ailsa and Loch Ryan till it is
barred by the azure waters of Loch Ken.
“In Wigtonshire this country of heather is called the
Moors. In Kirkcudbrightshire it is the country of the Lochs, or perhaps'
more generally now–the Raiders' Country. It is a place of flocks and herds,
with here and there a lonely farmhouse set white on the waste. But these are
growing ever rarer, as more and more of the holdings become "led”
farms–that is, farms stocked and held by some absentee, so
that the land is administered for miles and miles only by a stray shepherd
or two. Though there are few made roads, there are many travelled ways into
these wilds. Some with time, provend, and a stout heart may assay the track
of the original Raiders themselves, part of which may be seen from the
train. For here the Portpatrick Railway plunges into a moss-covered granite
wilderness of bog and moor, where there is hardly even a shepherd's hut to
the half-dozen miles, and where the fare passage of a train is an occasion
for commotion among scattered groups of black-faced sheep. Here the
surfaceman's section of railway metals gives him little work, but a good
deal of healthy exercise. The ewes breaking down the fences and straying on
the line-side, or the hill-torrents coming down the granite gullies, foaming
white after a water-spout, and tearing into his embankments, undermining his
metals and sleepers, are the most pressing troubles of his life." 1
To the sturdy walker nothing more fruitful in pleasure can
be recommended than the tramp across country out of the Glenkens into the
fortress and fastness of Galloway. Good quarters can usually be obtained at
the shepherd's cottage at the southern end of Loch Dee, where they are well
accustomed to putting up fishers. Those who like the shortest way may
diverge from the New Galloway and Newton-Stewart road at Clatteringshaws.
There they will see the basin of Loch Dee straight before them, and (in a
dryish season) the going is not difficult. The Links of the Cooran and the
Dungeon of Buchan, to the northward, are, of course, no place (or any who
are not prepared to rough it in the roughest way, and the state of the upper
waters of the Dee should be ascertained at Clatteringshaws before starting
out on the long cross-country tramp.
As was the case with Sammie Tamson and the hero of “The
Raiders" (p. 204) “ you will have the Black Craig of Dee close above you,
and as you ascend towards the crown of the
1 “The Stickit Minister," p. 39. (T. Fisher Unwin.)
moorland, you will be able to review the whole of the land
backwards, with its lochs and lochans, dints and mosses”–if not quite to the
little white house of Mossdale itself, at least to Cairn Edward and the
Berman which look down upon it.
From the "Great Corry which lies to the west of the Black
Craig of Dee, between the Hill o' the Hope and the Rig o' Craig Gilbert,”
you may also be able to see "the reeking chimneys of the Laggan of Dee, and
the Links of the Black Water itself, shining amid the dull yellows and greys
of the grim mosses through which, very slowly, it makes its way.” But I
question much if even the sharpest eyes will be able to trace the ancient
“drove road " which used to wimple across heather and morass, southward in
the direction of the Water of Cree.
In the wild and lawless times of good two hundred yean ago,
smuggling and cattle-raiding went hand in hand. Smugglers were, of course,
not all outlaws like the hill-raiders and “cairds." They were generally
either seafaring men who looked upon smuggling as a profession, or the sons
of respectable shore folk prepared to do a little “cross-work, " half for
the guineas and hall for the adventure. But at any rate raiders and
smugglers worked into each others' hands, and made a combination very
difficult to break up in that wild time and country.
“In the palmy days of the traffic with the Ise of Man, that
tight little island supplied the best French brandy for the drouthy lairds
of half Scotland–also lace for ‘keps” and stomachers of their dames, not to
speak of the Sabbath silks of the farmers good-wife. wherewith she showed
that she had as proper a respect for herself in the house of God as my lad,
herself in her braws.
“Take it how you like. Solway shore was a lively place in
those days, and it was worth something to be in the swim of the traffic.
Aye, or even to have a mug farmhouse perhaps a hidden cellar or two on the
main trade-routes to Glasgow and Edinburgh. Much of the better stuff was run
by the ‘Renick Night-hawks,' gallant lads who looked upon the danger of the
business as a token of high spirit, and considered that the revenue laws of
the land were simply made to be broken–an opinion in which they were upheld
generally by the people of the whole countryside, not even excepting those
of the austere and Covenanting sort" 1
These smugglers and gypsies had regular routes by which
they conveyed their smuggled stuff to Edinburgh on the east, and to Glasgow
or Paisley on the west. So complete was their system, and so great their
daring, that it is safe to say that there was not a farmer's greybeard
between the Lothians and the Solway filled with spirit that had done
obeisance to king or queen, and not a burgher's wife who wore duty-paid lace
on her Sabbath mutch. The royal gaugers were few and harmless, contenting
themselves for the most part with lingering round public-houses in towns, or
bearing a measure-cup and gauging-stick about the markets–occupations for
which they were entirely suited.
Above all there was a district of thirty miles square in
Carrick, in Galloway, and the Moors of the Shire, over whose border never
exciseman put his nose, except with a force of red soldiers at his
tail–which did not happen once in twenty years. Moreover, the farmers and
small proprietors of the day were better content to pay a kind of scaith-mail
to the hill-raiders than to dwell in constant fear of them.
So long, therefore, as their own cattle were let alone, the
bonnet lairds and farmers of Balmaghie and the Glenkens were little likely
to come to blows with the gipsies or the smugglers in defence of other
people's flocks and herds. The following was their mode of procedure on the
safe arrival of a cargo in one of the numerous “ports" round the rocky
shore. From the coves by the shore a great number of men came running with
the cargo–kegs of spirit, Hollands boxes wrapped about with
wheat-straw–strange cases from the Indies where the Hollanders have many
plantations–iron-lined boxes of lace, these most precious of all. As many
1 “Bog-Myrtle and Peat." p. 288 (Sands & Co.)
as the horses were able to carry were loaded for the
northward journey. The rest were taken to pits dug out under the scarps of
precipices, or in the sides of the glens, and covered again with green turf.
So the long train set off, a bevy of wild loons keeping the
pack-horses moving with slender, pointed goads, cut from the nearest
coppice. The horsemen of the smuggling party clattered ahead with great
barrels slung at each side of their horses, secured under the belly with
broad leather straps, and clinched by strength of arm and the leverage of
foot against the side of the poor beast–the worst of whose sufferings were
past, however, as soon as they were upon the way, for the jolting of the
load soon eased both straps and fastenings.
The smugglers were the more jovial of the two parties, for
the gipsies had their hands deeper in crime than the Free-traders, having
been art and part in house-burning and cattle-stealing, and so rode with
their necks in danger. But the land smugglers, many of whom had no interest
in the affair save to get the goods comfortably stowed, were usually more
than merry, for it was their custom that a cask should be kept free and open
for use by the way. And as they went they sang–
“Where'er we see a bonny lass, we'll caa' as we gae by;
Where'er we meet wi' liquor guid, we'll drink an we be dry.
There's brandy at the Abbeybum, there's rum at Heston Bay,
And we will go a-smuggling afore the break o' day.” 1
It is not, however, till after leaving behind these “two
very desolate hills," Craignell and Darnaw, that from the last undulation of
the long rolling Kells Range the wayfarer can see the final home and
headquarters of the Raiders on the shores of Loch Dee.
“Here the cattle (says the original record) were straying
wide, watched only by boys on the green meadows of the two Laggans by the
loch-side. A very great number of the poor
1 "The Raiders," p. 171. (T. Fisher Unwin.)
beasts were standing in the water of the loch cooling their
travel-weary feet and drinking deep draughts.
“ We were now on the smooth side of the farthest spur of
Mlllyea, the last of the Kells Range, which pushed its wide shoulders on
into the north, heave behind heave, like a school of pellocks in the Firth.
I was astonished at their height and greenness, never having in my life seen
a green hill before, and supposing that all mountains were as rugged and
purple with heather, or else as grey with boulder as our own Screel and Ben
Gairn by the Balcary shore. But these I found were specially granted by a
kind Providence to afford yirds and secret caves for our Solway smugglers.
“It has indeed always been counted a Divine judgment on the
people of the Glenkens that their hills are so smooth, that the comings and
goings of men and horses upon them can be seen afar, and the smoke of a
whisky-still tracked for a summer day's journey. But then, again, if the
Glenkens folk had been able to supply themselves with whisky, the Solway
farmers, like my friends the Maxwells, would have had to go farther afield
in order to seek a market for their wares.
"But all things are wisely ordered, and amongst others it
was ordained that I should now be on the side of Millyea looking towards the
great breastwork of the Dungeon of Buchan, behind which lay the outlaw
country shrouded in dark and threatening mist.”
No one who has attempted to scale the Dungeon of Buchan
from the Long Loch to the levels of Enoch, will consider the following
description overdrawn. It is a strange, weird place at all times, but in a
thunderstorm it becomes quite unearthly.
“The huge clouds were topping the black and terrible
ramparts opposite to me. Along the vast cliff line, scarred and broken with
the thunderbolt, the clouds lay piled, making the Merrick, the Star, the
Dungeon, and the other hills of that centre boss of the hill country look
twice their proper height. The darkness drew swiftly down like a curtain.
The valley was filled with a steely blue smother. From the white clouds
along the top of the Dungeon of Buchan fleecy streamers were blown upwards,
and swift gusts spirted down. Behind, the thunder growled like a continuous
roll of drums, and little lambent flames played like devils' smiles about
the grim features of Breesha and the Snibe. Yonder were the frowning rocks
of the Dungeon itself farthest to the north, and that great hollow-throated
pass through which still a peep of sunshine shot mistily down, bore the grim
name of the Wolfs Slock. Thither I must climb. Yet though there was no light
in it. it was through it that I could best see the hell-brew of elements
which was going on up there. Here on the side of the opposite brae did I lie
face down on the grass and heather and look upward. The wind came in curious
extremes–now in low warm puffs and gusts, and then again in sharp, cold
bensles that froze the blood in one's veins.
“But to resolve is ever easier than to do. Between me and
the frowning ridges–now the colour of darkest indigo, with the mists
clammily creeping up and down and making the rocks unwholesomely white, as
if great slimy slugs had crawled over them–were the links of the Cooran
winding slow, leaden, and dangerous. And there beyond them was the Silver
Flowe of Buchan.
of the Cooran.
“As I went on, the ground became wetter and boggier. My
foot sank often to the ankle, and I had to shift my weight suddenly with an
effort, drawing my imprisoned foot out of the oozy, clinging sand with a
great ‘cloop,’ as if I had begun to decant some mighty bottle. Green,
unwholesome scum on the edges of the black pools frothed about my brogues,
which were soon wet through. Then came a link of silver, where the sand was
flat and firm to the eye. My heart beat at the pleasant sight, but when I
set foot upon its surface a shiverlng flash like lightning flamed suddenly
over it, and it gripped my feet like a vice. Had I not been shore bred, and
that on Solway side, I would have passed out of life even then. But I knew
the trick of it, and threw myself flat towards the nearest bank of grass,
kicking my fed free horizontally, and so crawled an inch at a time back to
the honest peat again. Then I found a great shepherd's stick lying on a lint
of the Cooran–a wide, black, unkindly-like water, seen under that gloomy
sky, whatever it may appear in other circumstances. It had been placed there
by some shepherd who had business on the other side, or mayhap had been cast
up by that dangerous water after it had drowned the man who used it,”
I have passed the worst of this way myself in my younger
days, and so (I have been informed) have others since. But truth to tell,
the Silver Flowe and the Links of the Cooran are no safe places even for
shepherds. And certainly no one should go there in a wet season, and above
all unaccompanied by some one who knows the country well.
There is, however, a plain road past the south end of Loch
Dee over into Glen Trool, and, after what has been said, any one who takes
the Dungeon of Buchan route, takes it at his peril and not unwarned.
How Patrick Heron climbed the precipice of Craignairny, and
what he found there, can be sought for in its proper place. I have often
looked for Eggface's hut and the red scar from which the landslip came down.
But though there are a good many of the latter, I have never been able to
find any trace of the House of the Black Chest. As for the Murder Hole, that
is quite another matter. It is there to speak for itself–or, at least, what
stands very well for it.
There is yet another road for adventurers into the secret
things of the hills. Near to the Bridge of Dee Water, there branches off to
the right, the road to Craigencailzie. Starting very early, and leaving
one's cycle at the farm, it is an engaging road to follow on foot.
“It was a keen autumn morning, about six of the clock, the
sun just rising over the top of Millfore to the east. I went out to observe,
as is my custom, the dawn. It was a true autumnal sunrise of the moors, rich
and smoky, with the pinks-and-reds of summer all deepened to russet and
misty gold, infinitely more lovely withal, like a plain schoolgirl miss who,
1 “ The Raiders," p. 223. (T. Fisher Unwin.)
her own surprise, grows beautiful at twenty. With a keen
sense of enjoyment I stood watching the moorbirds busy about their
avocations, the snipe circling and quavering far overhead, the knot and
dotterel going twittering down to the shallow pools to wet their legs, the
heron standing like statues in the lochs to spear eels and young pike, and,
what was as much part of the scheme of nature and life up in these
solitudes, the blue smoke-drifts from Hector Faa's Shieling which rose along
the rock-scarp of the Dungeon and disengaged themselves impalpably from the
verge, like mist drawn upward by the sun's heat, ere they melted into the
bluer blue too fine for human sight to follow them further."
Even in the times of the Levellers there seems to have been
a farm hereabouts. For we find the hero describing his journeyings over the
world of heather in these words :–
“Presently we came to a little farm-steading, or something
as much smaller than that, as my lady's spaniel is less than my lord's
hound. The group of buildings, called Craigencailzie, seemed to be castaway,
deserted, left forlorn and derelict amid that world of heather. And yet it
was evident that folk lived there, and folk, moreover, not ill-provided with
the necessities of life. Within some stables close at hand we could hear the
sound of horses shifting their iron-shod hoofs in the but-end of the
dwelling-house and cattle munching placidly in their stalls. It all sounded
to me good and friendly, and of the Lowlands–though we had descended upon
the place out of the very heart of the wilds, and, indeed, as I afterwards
found, the heather grew up to the doors on all sides.
“The name of the place was, as I say, Craigencailzie, and
there was a well-marked track from it across the waste to the great Irish
drove road which runs by the new town of Galloway to Dumfries." And so there
Note.–I must not forget Lochenbreck away yonder to the
right (reached most directly by Laurieston and Castle-Douglas). The purple
brows of its heathery hills overlook the house where I was born. It has seen
many regimes as a hotel and “Spa," and' I "have known it under all. At
present (1904) it is renewing its youth, and in the hands of Mr. and Mrs.
Priest is the only well-conducted moorland hotel in Galloway. Set as it is
the broad face of the heather, there is not much to do there. To be at
Lochenbreck is sufficient, but, especially in a dry year, when the bogs are
passable, no more charming place of residence can be desired. Lochenbreck is
about seven and a half miles from New Galloway Station and nine from
Castle-Douglas. If peace and quiet are attainable anywhere in the kingdoms
three, it is there.