Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Raiderland, All about Grey Galloway
Chapter 11



  IT was concerning the little, bright, rose-bowered, garden-circled, seaside village of Auchencairn that I began my writing about Grey Galloway. “The Raiders," indeed, was written at Laurieston, in the heart of my own land. But all through the book, the cliffs and beaches of Isle Rathan, the woods of Balcary, and the little white village of Auchencairn kept coming and going.

  If any traveller wants to see Auchencairn as I saw it in my day-dream, and as I had seen it a thousand times with the eye of flesh, he must of necessity visit Isle Rathan itself. But as this needs arrangement, he had better walk first to the Torr Point by the Red Haven. Then if he care at all for Galloway and the troubles of a certain Mr. Patrick Heron, he will remember that it was concerning this place that that hardy adventurer wrote: "It was upon Rathan Head that I first heard their bridle-reins jingling clear. It was ever my custom to walk in the full of the moon at all times of the year. Now the moons of the months are wondrously different: the moon of January, serene among the stars; that of February, wading among chill cloud-banks of snow; of March, dun with the mist of muirburn among the heather; of early April, clean washen by the rains. This was now May, and the moon of May is the loveliest in all the year, for with its brightness comes the scent of flower-buds, and of young green leaves breaking from the quick and breathing earth.

  "Rathan is but a little isle–indeed, only an isle when the tide is flowing. Except in the very slackest of the neaps there is always twice a day a long track of shell, and shingle out from the tail of its bank. This, track is, moreover, occasionally somewhat dangerous, for Solway tide flows swift, and the sands are shifting and treacherous. So we went and came for the most part by boat from the Scaur, save when l or some of the lads were venturesome, as afterwards when I got well acquaint with Mary Maxwell, whom I have already called May Mischief, in the day, of a lad's first mid-summer madness.

Isle Rathan

  ”Here on the Isle of Rathan my father taught me English and Latin, Euclid's science of lines, and how to reason with them for oneself. He ever loved the mathematic, because he said even God Almighty works by geometry. He taught me also surveying and land measuring. ‘It's a good trade, and will be in more request,' he used to say, ‘when the lairds begin to parcel out the commonties and hill pastures, as they surely will, It'll be a better trade to your hand than keepin' the black-faced yowes aff the heuchs (cliffs) o' Rathan.'

  "It was a black day for me, Patrick Heron, when my father lay a-dying. I remember it was a bask morning in early spring, The tide was coming up with a strong drive of east wind wrestling against it, and making a clattering jabble all about the rocks of Rathan.

  "’Lift me up, Paitrick,' said my father, 'till I see agaIn the bonny tide as it Iappers against the auld Toor. It will lapper there mony and mony a day an' me no here to listen. Ilka time ye hear it, laddie, ye'll mind on yer faither that loved to dream to the plashing o't, juist because it was Solway salt water and this his ain auld Tour o' the Isle Rathan.'

  "So I lifted him up according to his word, till through the narrow window set in the thickness of the ancient wall, he could look away to the Mull. which was clear and cold, but of a slaty blue that day–for, unless it brings the dirty white fog, the east wind clears all things.

  "As he looked a great fishing gull turned its head as it soared, making circles in the air, and fell–a straight white streak cutting the cold blue sky of that spring day.

  "’Even thus has my life been, Paitrick. I have been most or my time but a great gull diving for herring on an east–windy day, Whiles I hae gotten a bit flounder for my pains, and whiles a rive o' drooned whalp, but o' the rale henin'–desperate few man, desperate few.'''

  Here, then, it was that all my boyish romance of the sea was wrought out. I own it. I am the dryest of dry–land sailors, The Channel is wide enough for me, I do not bless the narrow seas. By no means do I wish them a whole Atlantic broad.

  But the sea as it washes into caves, and falls arching on sandy beaches or clatters against the worn foot of some far regarding cliff, touches all the romantic in me.

  So, the very first time I landed on Isle Rathan, coming as usual from the Scaur, I saw The book that should be written, and the tower, and Patrick Heron and his father living there alone, The herd's house with its silently playing children vanished, and I saw only the Rattan Tower on the sea edge much as years afterwards, even as it is described in "The Raiders."

  "Now I must tell of the kind of house we had on the Isle Rathan. It stood in a snug angle of the bay that curved inwards towards the land and looked across some mossy boggish ground to a range of rugged, heathery mountains, on which there were very many grey boulders, about which the heath and bracken grew deep.

  "The ancient house of the Herons of Rathan was not large, but it was very high, with only two little doors to back and front–the front one set into the wall, and bolted with great bars into the solid rock beneath and above, and into the thickness of the wall at either side. The back door opened not directly, but entered into a passage which led first to a covered well in a kind of cave, where a good spring of water for ever bubbled up with little sand grains dancing in it, and then by a branch passage to an opening among the heather of the isle, which you might search for all summer's day. But unless you knew it of others knowledge, you would never find it of your own, The windows were very far up the sides, and there were very few of them, as being made for defence in perilous times. Upon the roof there was a flagstaff, and so strong a covering of lead and stone flags that it seemed as though another tower might have been founded upon it. The Tower of Rathan stood alone, with all its offices, stables, byres, or other appurtenances far back under the cliff, the sea on one side of it, and on the other the heathery and rocky isle, with its sheep pastures on the height. Beneath the sea-holly and dry salt plants bloomed blue and pink down near the blatter of the sea.

  "Fresh air and sound appetites were more common with us lads on the isle than the wherewithal to appease our belly cravings.

  "Rathan Island itself lay in the roughest tumble of the seas. Its southern point took the full sweep of the Solway tides as they rushed and surged upwards to cover the great deadly sands of Barnhourie. From Sea Point, as we named it, the island stretched northward in many rocky steeps and cliffs riddled with caves, For just at this point the softer sandstone you meet with on the Cumberland shores set its nose out of the brine. So the island was more easily worn into sea-caves and strange arches, towers and hay-stacks, all of sea-carved stone, sitting by themselves out in the tideway, for all the world like bairns' playthings.

  " In these caves, which had many doors and entries, I had played about them ever since I was a boy1. I knew them all as well as I knew our own back-yard under the cliff.

  " In fine weather it was a pleasant thing to go up to the highest point of the island, which, though little indeed of a mountain, was called Ben Rathan, and view the country all about one. Thence was to be seen the reek of many farmtowns and villages, besides cot-houses without number, all blowing the same way when the wind was soft and equal. The morning was the best time to go there. Upon Rathan, close under the sky, the bees hummed about among the short, crisp heather, which was springy just like our little sheltie's mane after my father had done docking it. There was a great silence up there–only a soughing from the south, where the tides of the Solway, going either up or down, kept for ever chafing against the rocky end of our little Isle of Rathan.

"Then nearest to us, on the eastern shore of Barnhourie Bay, there was fair to be seen the farmhouse of Craigdarroch,2 with the Boreland and the Ingleston above it, which is always the way in Galloway. Wherever there is a Boreland you rnay be sure that there is an Ingleston not far from it. The way of that is, as my father used to say, because the English came to settle in their 'tons,' and brought their 'boors,' or serfs, with them. So that near the English towns are always to be found the boorlands. Which is as it may be, but the fact is at any rate sufficiently curious, And from Ben Rathan also, looking to the westward, just over the cliffs of our isle, you could see White Horse Bay, much frequented of late years for convenience of debarkation by the Freetraders of Captain

1 This refers more to Portowarren and the Douglashall shore than to the harder rocks of Isle Rathan (Hestan).

2 Craigdarroch is, of course, a name willfully transplanted.

Yawkins' band, with whom, as my father used to say quaintly, no honest smuggler hath company,"

  It was on these wide sands also that, at the tum of the tide, flounders were to be fished–and are, indeed, unto this day, Though oftener I myself have done it on the flats over about the Scaur and Rough Island! Here is how Patrick Heron did his work in the grey of the morning:–

  "This morning of which I speak there was not a great deal to complain of, save that I left the others snoring in their hammocks and box-beds round the chambers of dark oak where they were lodged. The thought of this annoyed me as I went.

Tramping Flounders

  "It was still dark when I went out with only my boots over my bare feet, and the chill wind whipping about my shanks. What of the sea one could observe was of the colour of the inside of an oyster shell, pearl grey and changeful. The land loomed mistily dark, and there were fitful lights coming and going about the farm-steadings.

  "It was cold and unkindly out on the flats, and there was nothing except lythe and saithe in the nets–save some small red trout, which I cast over on the other side, that they might grow large and run up the rivers in August. So with exceedingly cold feet, and not in the best of tempers, I must proceed to the flats and tramp flounders for our breakfast. Right sorely did I grieve now that I had not awaked two of the others. For Andrew Allison's feet were manifestly intended by nature for tramping flounders, being broad and flat as the palm of my hand, Moreover, John his brother was quick and biddable at the job – though I think chiefly because he desired much to get back to his play about the caves and on the sand with his ancient crony, Bob Nicoll.

  " But I was all my lone on the flats., and it was sufficiently dreary work. Nevertheless, I soon had my baskets full of the flapping, slippery fish–though it was not nice a job to

feel them slide between your toes and wriggle their tails under your instep. It was, however, somewhat pleasanter to hear them by·and·by making their tails go flip-flap in the frizzle of the pan. For flounders fresh out of the water is indeed food for the gods, and gives one an appetite: with only thinking about it."

There are, however, other wild ways about Auchencairn without going seaward. Screel and Ben Gairn tower high above, often menacing the little white village with the clouds which gather so easily about their craggy tops.


It is by no means time thrown away to take a stroll up the purple side of Screel with Sammle Tamson, even

if it be not the traveler’s luck to find the true and only "Cauldron of Ben Tudor."

"Finally, recalled to himself by a dash of rain in his face from a passing shower and the tide washing simultaneously about his feet, he strode away up the tangle of woodland which fringes the bay, and in ten minutes was breasting the brae towards the dark heathery fastnesses of Screel.

"As he made his way westward, with surprising craft Sammle took advantage of every cover. He followed the deep lip of a peat moss from which the fuel had been cut away for a hundred yards. He crouched behind a boulder till a wandering herd with a couple of scouring dogs passed off the sky-line. Nevertheless, it was swiftly, though with the utmost circumspection, that he approached the tangle of sixfoot long heather which conceals the descent into the Cauldron of Ben Tudor.

"The afternoon had early broken down into a thronging procession of white cirrus cloudlets, varied occasionally by one of haughtier build, as some towering cumulus overrode the lift with his bulk, crenellated like a feudal keep. Shining glints of thunder-shower shot down occasionally from these, and once SammIe felt on his face the sting of hail. Having once arrived at the shaggy verge, from which through the interstices of whin, broom, and rock-climbing ivy he could look into the untracked and untravelled wilderness, Sammle lay down on his breast and studied the landscape. Far out to sea, towards the open water of the firth, a schooner hung off and on, waiting for night or tide But Sammle was no smuggler, though possibly he might have been indicted for conspiracy."

Or, again, it is delightful to ride to call upon Silver Sand in the old Tower of Orchardton. There are excellent roads nowadays, so there is no need to founder your beast on the lairy Kirkmirren flats, as did young Mr. Maxwell Heron in the time of the Levellers.

"We clattered over the hard sand and shingle on the Orraland shore, went more slowly over the rugged foothills of Screel, and presently bore away to the east across the lairy Kirkmirren flats. After a long breathing gallop through lands covered with short sea-grass, and bloomed over even now by the stone-crop and blue maritime holly, my father dismounted in a little wood, and tied his beast to a tree in a place very retired and secret.

"’Let them have their nosebags for a little here while we go forward,' he said. 'Our good Silver Sand does not love overly many horse tracks about his abode,'

“Orchardton Auld Toor.”

"Then, having thus arranged matters with satisfaction to himself and the beasts, my father took along the first of Ihe broken dykes (for we were now off his lands), and, making a detour to the right, suddenly emerged upon an ancient grey tower, apparently ruinous and wholly desolate. On three sides it was surrounded by hills, for the most part thickly wooded with natural scrub, but on the other, towards the east, the ground was more open. The tower looked upon a green valley, through which a little lane ran, or, rather, loitered and lingered with a temperate gladness. Beyond that again a high hill rose up abruptly and sheltered the tower from the sea. There were the ruins of a considerable farm-town


near by, But all was now deserted–only in the midst an ancient tower stood up, called, as my father now told me, the Round Tower of Orchardton. I remembered now that I had seen it on a boyish ramble many years ago, but that, being alone, I had taken to my heels and run away at some fancied noise which I heard – a sound as of hollow knocking upon wood high up in the tower – the pixies making some one's coffin, as I decided. So I ran home at full speed, lest the coffin should prove to be mine, and the little Pechts should catch me and fit me into it forthwith."

Of the village of to-day, clean and delightful to view, clambering about its sunny brae·face in a fashion all its own, I have little to say, Though I love it too, and I am glad that it lacks the sea·front, the negro minstrels, even the "excellent bathing accommodation" necessary for popularity. Quiet it is, and quiet it is likely to remain. But mayhap that is the best fortune of all – to be loved by a few greatly and constantly, rather than to be loudly applauded and immediately forgotten by the many.

I close these random memories of the little shoreward village by a picture of a parliament which meets, or used to meet thirty years ago, nightly during the winter in every "smiddy" throughout Galloway. The sketch was written in, if not of, the village. And those who have known Auchencairn best and longest will understand best why it has been printed in this place.

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus