Ted Cowan FRSE, Emeritus Professor of Scottish History and Literature, formerly Director of the University of Glasgow’s Dumfries Campus
The Galloway Viking Hoard is much more than simply a trove of precious jewellery – it is a window into another time. And this is partly why it is so important that its home should be in the region where it was found. The future of the hoard, which currently hangs in the balance, also highlights why it is unfortunate that National Museums Scotland appears so intent on relieving Galloway of its curatorship.
Among my favourite pieces are the party brooches, decorated with little face – caricatures that it is suggested represent horn blowers and hung-over boozers. Each of the more than 100 items in the hoard tell stories and raises questions. There is an enamelled Christian cross, a bird-shaped gold pin, plus pendants and arm rings. The leathers and cloth in which they appear to have been so carefully wrapped are just as unique and significant. It dates from an era, lasting some 400 years, when we were at the crossroads of the Viking world that extended northwards to Svalbard, the “cold coast”.
The Vikings were remarkable. They had developed sophisticated ships, clinker-built, highly flexible at sea and capable of drawing only three feet of water. Thanks to these they sailed vast distances. They carved a rune stone in Upernavik, Greenland, 800 kilometres above of the Arctic Circle. They travelled south to the Mediterranean and North Africa and eastward to Constantinople bringing them into contact with the Silk road to China. They sailed west beyond Iceland to Greenland and North America.
One of their outposts survives at L’Anse Aux Meadows in Newfoundland. Viking artefacts have been found on the west side of Hudson’s Bay, on Ellesmere Island and on Baffin Island where the possible discovery of a Viking settlement has recently been announced. Perhaps their greatest achievement was to extend the horizons of the world as it was then understood.
Among the most concerning aspects of the NMS claim for the hoard is that they will “save it for the nation”. Scotland’s regions are not backwaters. Being placed in one of hundreds of glass cases in Chambers Street is not superior to having pride of place in a specially designed exhibition area at a brand new and secure gallery in Kirkcudbright.
The Vikings arrived in Scotland at the end of the eighth century as predators seeking booty, bling, slaves and later, land, settling in Shetland, Orkney, the Hebrides, Caithness and Sutherland. We know more about the Vikings than any of the other peoples of early medieval Scotland but have lacked detailed information about their activities in Galloway. This is another reason why the discovery of the Galloway hoard is so important,
As we understand, by now, it contains not only Viking objects such as a huge collection of arm rings but material from Ireland and Anglo-Saxon England, as well as more exotic and distant places. It is fascinating to speculate on who might have buried it and when. Was this someone travelling from west to east, or on the north/south route? Was she or he a local who deposited these precious items in expectation of a raid? The hoard has reasonably been dubbed “Viking” because of some of its contents, but was there necessarily anything else about it that was Viking?
It has never been more important than it is now, with current political uncertainties and declining revenues, that the authorities exercise their influence to make sure that the hoard is destined for Kirkcudbright’s new gallery. Edinburgh’s museums already hold riches galore, while the city is oversubscribed with festivals, art shows and exhibitions almost every week of the year.
And also the record of NMS in Galloway is not good. Its closure of the Shambellie Museum of Costume was hard to bear locally.
Galloway is an important part of Scotland but the inhabitants believe they are too often ignored and the issue of the hoard shows why. However, the people of the area near where the hoard was found are a determined lot – fighters and with a proud identity. The novelist S. R. Crockett, was the literary creator of Galloway. Writing of his native ground he encouraged Galwegians to take great pride in their history and heritage. The region’s Covenanters fought and died for their faith in opposition to the tyranny of the Stewart kings. John Macmillan a local Cameronian minister was deposed by the Kirk in 1703 but with the support of his congregation he survived in his post for a further 40 years. When antiquarian Joseph Train attempted to present a relic known as St John’s Chair to Sir Walter Scott, the folk of Dalry, in the Glenkens, revolted. They loudly and fiercely defended their heritage. Train had to withdraw and the Chair remains in the village to this day, a worthy inspiration and example.
In light of all this I sincerely hope that due respect is given to the fact that the regions are not outposts, but are as much the nation of Scotland as Edinburgh. The hoard should have its home in Kirkcudbright.
"To gild refined gold, to paint the lily, to throw a perfume on the violet, to smooth the ice, or add another hue unto the rainbow, or with taper-light to seek the beauteous eye of heaven to garnish, is wasteful and ridiculous excess." W. Shakespeare
In August last year, Dr Fraser Hunter, Principal Curator of Iron Age and Roman collections at the National Museums of Scotland, took a small team of archaeologists to Torrs farm near Castle Douglas in Dumfries and Galloway. The objective of the dig was to find out more about where the Torrs Pony Cap came from and why it was placed on the edge of a loch over 2000 years ago.
Torrs Pony Cap- National Museum of Scotland
Dr Hunter explained the background to the dig in a blog post-
Our blockbuster Celts exhibition is full of amazing objects. As you walk from case to case, your eyes are caught by one magnificent object after another, from Ireland, France, Germany, Bulgaria. One that keeps catching my own eye is the curious bronze pony cap from Torrs, near Castle Douglas in Galloway, in south west Scotland. It’s one of the star pieces in our own collections…The Castle Douglas area is rich in such finds – visitors to the exhibition, or to our Early People galleries, can marvel at the massive bronze cauldron from Carlingwark with its hoard of iron and bronze objects, or the hoard from Balmaclellan or the wonderful enamelled horse harness fitting from Auchendolly.
The Pony Cap was discovered in 1812 Local antiquarian Joseph Train then acquired it and passed it on to Sir Walter Scott who put it on display in his house at Abbotsford before the Pony Cap found a final resting place in the National Museum in Edinburgh. The Carlingwark Cauldron was found in Carlingwark Loch in 1868 and the Balmaclellan Mirror in 1861. The Auchendolly harness fitting was found in 1885.
Carlingwark Cauldron- National Museum of Scotland
Auchendolly harness fitting -National Museum of Scotland
Balmacllellan Mirror- National Musuem of Scotland
Described as an Iron Age centre of ‘paramount power and wealth’,
when the Romans invaded southern Scotland 2000 years ago, they built a total of three forts and six marching camps near Castle Douglas to control the Galloway Glens district. However, the Roman remains have only been investigated once, for two weeks in the 1950s. Only Threave Castle a mile down river from the Roman forts and built by Archibald the Grim to overawe the ‘wild men’ of Galloway in 1370 has been the subject of thorough archaeolical investigation.
Dr Hunter’s expedition to Galloway is therefore first time that an archaeological assessment of the Iron Age in the area has been carried out in an attempt to place the ‘Celtic’ treasures in their context of people and place.
While many hundreds of thousands of visitors have marvelled at the objects on display in Edinburgh, their experience has been primarily aesthetic. These are beautiful objects. They are powerful displays of skilful artistry. They are also objects which have floated free from their physical relationship with a particular time and place. They have become abstractions, no longer rooted in the historical reality of Galloway 2000 years ago.
Two hundred and two years after the Torrs Pony Cap was discovered, an even more impressive set of objects were discovered in Galloway, a hoard of artefacts from the Viking period 1100 years ago. Will these too be assimilated into the National Museums’ collection? In a process - as the soil of a muddy field in Galloway is carefully removed- which will divorce them from their earthy/ concrete context?
We have submitted an application to Treasure Trove to acquire the hoard for the benefit of the nation. The hoard is of considerable national and international significance and acquisition by National Museums Scotland would save it for the nation in the long term and ensure that the hoard is seen by people from Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland, the rest of the UK and internationally.
The alternative is for the hoard to find a home in a £3.1 million art Gallery currently under construction in Kirkcudbright, a few miles from where the hoard was found. In Kirkcudbright it will also be a benefit for the nation and be saved for the nation. Galloway and Kirkcudbright are no less part of the nation than Edinburgh and the Lothians.
Visitors to a national museum in a capital city expect to see a range of significant and important objects on display- like the Torrs Pony Cap and the Carlingwark Cauldron. But the massing together of so many important objects has the effect of diminishing their individual and particular impact on visitors. Nor does the National Museum need the help of the Hoard to boost its visitor numbers…
The National Museum of Scotland overtook Edinburgh Castle to become the most popular visitor attraction in Scotland last year.
Figures from the Association of Scottish Visitor Attractions (ASVA) have shown that, in total, 1.81 million people visited the Edinburgh museum - a 15.5% rise on the previous year. Six of the top ten Scottish visitor attractions are in Edinburgh. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-39106383
In contrast, the impact of encountering the Galloway Viking Hoard in Kirkcudbright will be much greater. There will be no distractions to diminish their powerful presence. The unexpected presence of such a nationally and internationally important display of wealth and power in such a seemingly insignificant location will provoke the question ‘Why here?’
The need to answer this question will provide a unique opportunity to explore the impact of the Vikings on the people they encountered and the places they raided and settled.
There is a real challenge here. Much work has been done to conserve and analyse the contents of the hoard, but very little on its context.
In 902, the Irish managed to drive the Vikings out of Dublin, but fifteen years later the Vikings returned. It is possible that the Galloway Hoard belonged to one of the more powerful of the Dublin Vikings who fled across the Irish Sea to Galloway, buried his prize possessions but then died or was killed elsewhere and so never returned to retrieve them.
The exact location of where the hoard was found remains an official secret. Only the immediate vicinity of the hoard was excavated in 2014. A geophysics survey of the surrounding area was carried out. The results showed that there was a larger settlement, but without a larger scale and expensive archaeological excavation, the relationship between the buildings and other features the geophysics survey showed and the hoard is unclear.
Was there an existing, possibly Christian religious, site there which was then occupied by Vikings? Another key questions how long did the Viking occupation last?
The Galloway Hoard itself cannot answer such questions. It will take several seasons of expensive archaeological excavation of the find site to provide the answers. The results will then have to be connected with the history of the Irish Sea Vikings as well as the history of Galloway.
For now, I will return to the treasures of Iron Age. Dr Hunter’s dig on the Torrs hill fort threw up a puzzle. The walls of the hill fort had been built and rebuilt, but there were no signs of occupation, of people actually living in it. But, which Dr Fraser does not mention, two miles west across the marshes and Carlingwark Loch from the Torrs fort, aerial photography and a geo-physics survey have shown that there was a large Iron Age roundhouse on Meikle Wood Hill.
Google maps- Castle Douglas area
I was there recently with Gavin, an archaeologist and Jacquie, a landscape architect, from Northlight Heritage. A small group of us were exploring the landscape and its heritage around the still imposing remains of Threave castle on its island in the Galloway Dee. Jacquie pointed out a cluster of very tall trees in the distance across the river and said they were indications of a big house and its planned gardens. From the direction I realised Jacquie was pointing towards Balmaghie House. I was impressed!
As we walked upstream to the Osprey viewing platform I could see Greenlaw House, built in the 1760s and which looks across the fields to Threave Castle. Even closer, on the other side of the river the early nineteenth century Threave Mains farmhouse stood out as a more imposing building than the early eighteenth century Kelton Mains farmhouse.
All of these imposing and not so imposing buildings are low-lying but although it is only 68 metres high, Meikle Wood Hill rises above the marshes and floodplain on a drumlin. A large roundhouse on its summit would have been a prominent, even dominant, feature of the surrounding landscape, a veritable Iron Age panopiticon.
Reflecting on the Torrs Pony Cap, the Carlingwark Cauldron, the Auchendolly harness fitting and the Balmacellan mirror, one historian has described the Castle Douglas area 2000 years ago as ‘a centre of paramount wealth and power’. Could the roundhouse on Meikle Wood Hill have been the centre of this centre?
If so then it would have matched the still visible presence of Threave Castle and the now invisible Roman forts and marching camps at Glenlochar to the north- and which themselves have been built in response to the power and wealth of the Castle Douglas area. The ultimate source of all these signs of wealth and power being the produce of the land and rivers combined with human labour. The original, but hardly primitive, accumulation of capital.
If you can imagine all these Iron Age Galloway treasures gathered together and buried in a field they would become a Hoard of ‘paramount wealth and power‘, awaiting re-discovery. In a sense they are a hoard awaiting re-discovery. They are waiting to be reconceptualised, for the complex concentration of meanings and understandings they conserve to be reconnected to their source and origin in a particular and specific cultural landscape.
Alienated and disconnected from their place of origin, the Torrs pony cap, the Carlingwark cauldron and their comrades have become fetishised commodities, glittering star attractions within the vaults of the Chambers street museum, adding a ‘Celtic’ lustre to the attractions of Edinburgh, to the city’s capital.
The National Museum of Scotland already has a Galloway Hoard. Looking at what they have done with it, how it has been ’curated’, the efforts they have made to use the resources of the Museum to develop an understanding of the dynamics of the Iron Age in south-west Scotland, to work with the Museums Service and Education Department of Dumfries and Galloway will give an insight into the future of the Viking hoard if it ends up in Edinburgh.
If raw gold and silver and copper had been found in a field in Galloway, a mine would have been sunk and the wealth extracted. But once the vein was exhausted, the flow of wealth would cease. In contrast, once cooked, once transformed by the skill of labour into attractive artefacts, the gold and silver and copper become an ever renewable resource. Their aesthetic appeal acting as a magnetic attraction, drawing observers and their gaze to the objects again and again without in anyway diminishing the power of their appearance.
New Kirkcudbright art gallery and potential hoard home- now under construction.
The presence of the Viking Hoard in the new Kirkcudbright art gallery will attract an ever recurring inward flow of visitors. The Hoard will also itself become the source of an outward flow of information, knowledge and power. The undivided concentration of paramount wealth and power in such an unassuming locality will act as a disruptive anomaly, silently questioning and confounding taken for granted assumptions about the past, the present and the future. About the history of the Irish Sea Vikings and Galloway, about the current political relationship between core and periphery in Scotland and the longer term social and economic processes which, unless reversed hold out a bleak future for the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright.
The Stewartry of Kirkcudbright had a population of 29 211 in 1801. In 1851 the population had risen to 43 121, its highest ever level. The population then began to fall until today there are only 24,000 people in Stewartry. Currently 1 in 4 people are over 65 years old. There are more people over 65 years and fewer under 25 than anywhere else in Dumfries and Galloway.
It is a demographic time bomb. Along with 1 in 10 people in the Stewartry district where I live I am a carer. I also rely on Sandy Rogerson and his fellow workers to help me care for my adult son Callum . Most carers and care workers are looking after older people. Many of the older people have come here to retire because it is such beautiful 'unspoilt' rural area. At the same time many younger people are leaving -as I did when I was 19- for the same reasons. Over the next 20 years our working age population will drop by 22% while the number of older people will increase- by 161% among the oldest group. It is an impossible future. There will not be enough carers to go round unless everyone becomes a care worker.
Our main industries are farming, forestry and tourism. Our dairy farms are the most intensively worked in the UK. [The average UK dairy herd is about 350 cattle. Around Castle Douglas we have several 1000 strong dairy herds.] About a third of the area is blanketed in sitka spruce. We are maxed out on farming and forestry. The only industry apart from caring which has the potential to grow is tourism. Which is why we need a dead Viking's hoard to bring some life back to the region.
Once upon a time the United Kingdom was the richest and most powerful country in the world. It was rich and powerful because it was the first country to have an industrial revolution. The UK could manufacture cotton, iron and other goods more cheaply and in greater quantities than any other country.
So long as the UK was the only industrial country a policy of free trade worked to its advantage. Since other countries were not able to produce manufactured goods as cheaply as the UK, there was no need to worry about imports of manufactured goods. What the UK needed was imports of cheap raw materials and food in exchange for exports of manufactured goods.
Before Germany was unified in 1870, the UK imported wheat from Prussia in exchange for manufactured commodities. For most of the nineteenth century, cotton was imported from the USA in exchange for British iron. Then, around 1880, the situation began to change. United Germany and the United States had pushed forward with the development of their steel industries. The UK had its own steel industry, but as German and USA production increased, they no longer needed to import from the UK. In 1880, the USA had a 100% tariff on imported steel. Under Bismark, from 1870 Germany had a similar high tariff policy, designed to protect newly developing industries from cheap foreign -UK- competition.
Most of the post-1880 steel production in the USA was absorbed by its internal economic development but this was not the case in Germany. In Germany, to keep up production, surplus steel was exported very cheaply. The ‘dumping’ of German steel along with the realisation that the UK was no longer the only industrial superpower led to a questioning of free trade. The Conservative party started to argue for ’fair trade’. This involved restricting free trade to the British Empire and imposing tariffs on imports from the rest of the world.
However the Liberal party remained convinced that global free trade was the best way to avoid economic warfare which in turn would ensure peace. Then came World War One…
The war disrupted the global economy. Countries which had imported, for example British cotton, had their supplies cut off. This forced them to either developed their own cotton industries or find alternative suppliers. Japan was a country which benefited from this, building up its cotton industry as an alternative to the UK. Coal was another victim of the war. The UK had built up a coal export industry, but then needed all its coal to keep up its war effort. Countries which could no longer import British coal had to develop their own coal industries, if they had them, or find other sources.
Despite competition from newly industrialised countries, across a whole range of statistics, UK industrial production peaked in 1913. After the war, it never recovered. Cotton, coal, shipbuilding, iron and steel- all went into a decline. Traditional support for free trade survived through the 1920s, but the Great Depression which began with the Wall Street Crash of 1929 provide the final blow. In a desperate bid to stave of total collapse of the UK economy, from 1931 onwards the UK gave up free trade and imposed import tariffs to protect ‘key industries’ like cotton, steel and shipbuilding.
The deal at the time was that in exchange for protection from foreign competition and against calls for nationalisation, the UK’s traditional industries would rationalise themselves. This would be done by shutting down older, smaller and less efficient factories, mines, shipyards and steel works and concentrating production in newer, larger and more efficient work places.
Some progress towards rationalisation was made, but the economic, political and social costs of the ‘creative destruction’ of the UK’s Victorian industrial legacy were too great and so most of the UK’s 100+ year old industrial infrastructure was left in place.
After the Second World War there was no return to free trade. British industry was protected by import restrictions. Through the 1950s the economy seemed to be prospering, but by the 1960s it was becoming harder to sustain this prosperity. Membership of the European ’Common Market’ began to seem an attractive proposition. The UK tried but failed to join in 1961 and 1967. In 1973 it was successful.
Now the UK is set to leave and ‘prosperity through free trade with the rest of the world’ is one of the Brexiteers‘ slogans. But if free trade is the route to prosperity, why was it not readopted after World War Two?
Perhaps because after WW2 it was realised that the UK was no longer the world’s only industrial nation. The UK had been able to prosper under free trade in the nineteenth century when other countries, including the colonies of the British Empire, had no choice but to buy manufactured goods from the UK.
Today the UK does not have a monopoly in manufacturing. A policy of free trade, with no restrictions on imports and no tariff barriers would be more likely to undermine than encourage a revival of UK manufacturing. It should also be noted that modern manufacturing industries employ only a fraction of the number of workers Victorian manufacturing industries needed.
Where processes cannot be automated, the processes involved are located in areas with the cheapest possible labour costs. UK standards of living would have to fall dramatically to compete at global sweatshop levels.
To conclude, the belief that a post-Brexit UK can thrive and prosper by embracing ‘free trade’ with the non-EU world is a dangerous fantasy. In 1851, the UK could indulge in free trade because, as the only industrialised nation in the world, it had no competitors.
Through the rest of the nineteenth century, even as protectionist nations like Germany and the USA overtook the UK, the belief in the benefits of free trade persisted. It took the harsh reality of the 1930s to force the UK into giving up free trade and imposing import restrictions and tariff barriers. The UK has not been a free trade nation since 1931.
Today’s Brexit free traders fondly imagine a return to the ‘Greater’ Britain of the 1850s not the ‘Lesser’ Britain of the 1930s.
Train approaching Castle Douglas. My parent's house marked X.
Golf course on left, sewage works on right
Part One- the 1960s and 1970s.
I was brought up with the sound of steam trains and railway whistles. My parents’ house is next to what was the 10 mile Castle Douglas to Kirkcudbright railway. The house is beside a cutting just before the railway curved round to join the main (single track, long and straggling) line from Stranraer. The two lines then passed Castle Douglas Signal Box 2 before entering Castle Douglas station together.
The Distant signal was in the cutting and trains from Kirkcudbright would pause and whistle to let the signalman know they were ready to enter the station. Prompted by the whistle, the signalman would raise the signal and the two carriage train would proceed into the station. Sometimes my father would lift me up on the wall so I could wave at the driver and fireman.
Castle Douglas Signal Box 2.
Kirkcudbright branch on right, Stranraer line on left.
In June 1965 the Kirkcudbright branch and the Dumfries to Stranraer line were closed. Even before it shut, with my school friend Stephen Briggs I had trespassed on the line, bravely walking on the track under the Abercromby Road bridge. The tracks were lifted just over a year later, but before they had been lifted my father took me and my brother Ian for a walk along the line.
We walked out beside the Castle Douglas Golf Course, the sewage works and the ever smouldering and smoking town cowp (Scots for ‘tip’ as in rubbish tip) as far as the Carlingwark Lane canal. We then walked alongside the canal to the Blackpark Marsh pumping station (built 1938) and then back into town via Blackpark farm road and the railway.
Train approaching Blackpark bridge.
Town rubbish dump on right.
I did not know then that the slow flowing stream we walked beside was a canal. My father called it the Tarry Burn, although properly the Tarry Burn was the stream which flowed from the town gas works and sewage works into the canal. Lane is a local dialect work for a slow flowing stream, originally a Scots Gaelic work ‘leanna’ which means marshy meadow rather than stream.
Even after the railway track and sleepers were lifted, for a few years more the small iron bridge over the Carlingwark Lane survived. With school friends and Ian we would walk out across the bridge towards Barley Hill, or explore the Blackpark Marshes. It was a very quiet place apart from occasional flocks of lapwings rising up from a shallow lagoon in the marshes. The lagoon has strange stumpy ‘fingers’ leading out from it. I have seen illustrations of similar shallow lagoons which were created by wildfowlers. The ‘fingers’ would be netted and wildfowl driven into the nets.
The marshes between Carlingwak Loch and the river Dee in 1755
In the winter of 1974/5 there was a big flood. Part of the earth bank/ bund beside the pumping station got washed away. The railway embankment became a narrow peninsula jutting out into a the swirling waters.
Letter confirming that Castle Douglas Burgh bought former railway land
from British Railways in 1971. If only a footpath had been made back then...
Part Two - The By-Pass is built and I return to Castle Douglas
Then, in 1987, the whole area was transformed. A by-pass was built to carry the A 75 around Castle Douglas. It was carried on a 30 foot high embankment across the marshes with a bridge over the Carlingwark Lane canal. I was living in London then, but when I moved back to Castle Douglas in 1997 and began re-exploring the surrounding countryside, the by-pass was the biggest change to the landscape.
I was now living just across the road from my parents and found it was possible- with difficulty- to walk from my backdoor down to Blackpark road, cut across what had been the cowp but was now in the process of being converted into an extension of the golf course, along the old railway embankment, cross the canal by using the by-pass bridge, carefully clamber over a barbed wire fence, walk across a field and then pick up the old railway again, now converted into a footpath by the National Trust for Scotland.
Beneath Abercomby Road bridge, no access along old railway.
I could then walk another mile along the railway footpath to an island with a bird hide on the river Dee or walk up to Archibald the Grim’s great castle of Threave on its island in the river. Practically, however, it was easier to walk out of town along the Old Military Road and follow the NTS footpath network from the rear of Threave Gardens or -more often- take a risky short cut along the old A 75 out to Kelton Mains for Threave castle and estate.
Threave Castle on a wet day.
The Old Military Road passes Furbar cottage, originally Forbes’ Croft, where the Galloway Levellers had been persuaded not to knock down a recently erected dyke in 1724. A stone in the wall of the dyke here is supposed to commemorate the event, having the date ‘1724’ carved on it. In January 2003 I recorded and interview with Peter Aitchison and Andrew Cassell for their radio series (and book) on the Lowland Clearances there. There is a stone with a date on it, but it is 1757 not 1724.
Part Three- The Railway Path is Proposed
In 2003 I was Secretary to Castle Douglas Food Town and the Food Town were invited to attend meetings of the Castle Douglas Community Initiative. I started going to the meetings and discovered that the Initiative were looking for projects to raise funds for. The Initiative had to do this because Castle Douglas Community Council were not allowed to do this kind of work.
I had a chat with my brothers Ian and Kenneth and we agreed that it was daft that it was easier for people from the town to drive out to Kelton Mains and then walk to Threave Castle and the Nature Reserve rather than being able to walk there. Why not make a path along the old railway so residents and visitors to the town could do what we used to do as kids and walk out to Threave? This would benefit the Food Town by linking it with the countryside where the locally produced food we were promoting came from.
Map of Proposed Path between Abercromby Road and Barley Hill.
Existing paths also shown.
I put this idea to the Initiative and it was enthusiastically accepted. We then contacted Stephen Wiseman who was the Head Ranger at NTS Threave and Keith Kirk who was the local Dumfries and Galloway Countryside Ranger. Both agreed it was an idea worth pursuing. I think it would have been Keith who put us in touch with Gilbert Clerk who was Dumfries and Galloway’s Access Officer.
Galloway News 1 May 2003
Since my son Callum is a wheelchair user I was keen to make sure that footpath would be wheelchair accessible. I remember walking parts of the route with Gilbert, checking where there were slopes to work out how to make them wheelchair friendly. As Gilbert explained at the time, it would be much more expensive to create a fully accessible footpath. I still have a copy of his estimate for the work. The total was just over £100 000, split over two years. However, by the end of 2004 only £34 860 had been raised.
Unfortunately there was also opposition from two important ‘stakeholders’- Castle Douglas Golf Course and tenant-farmers on NTS Threave Estate.
The first part of the footpath would have been from Abercromby Road to Blackpark Road along the railway embankment beside the Golf Course. From Blackpark Road to the boundary of NTS Threave Estate it would then have run along the edge of the golf course extension. Without permission from the Golf Club, this could not be done.
The next section was to run along the old railway embankment, cross the Carlingwark Lane canal, run under the A 75 by-pass where it crossed the Lane and then alongside an existing fence line across a field to link up with the existing NTS Threave footpath network. The tenant farmers objected to the loss of a strip of the field and were worried that the new path would permit youths to wander out of town vandalising farmed land.
By 2004, the combination of lack of funds and opposition to the footpath seemed to have scuppered the project. In an attempt to keep it going, I included the proposed path in a booklet of walk around Castle Douglas I wrote and published in 2005.
Part Four- The Path Saved by Sewage
I have found some documents from 2004/5 which I will paste into the section.
What saved the footpath turned out to be the sewage works, or more formally Castle Douglas Waste Water Treatment Works. And the Blackpark Marsh Pumping Station. Please bear with me, the next part is complicated…
900 years ago a small stream ran down the western edge of what was to become Castle Douglas. The stream was used to define the boundary between the medieval parish of Crossmichael and the parish of Kelton. Although it has since been culverted and diverted in places, the parish boundary still follows roughly the course of the stream.
When the Victorians built the first sewage works in the town, it was built beside the stream. Treated water from the works flowed into the stream, as did effluent from the town’s gas works and the cowp. Which is why it became called the Tarry Burn. The stream then flowed into the Carlingwark Burn, which was straightened and turned into a canal in 1765. The Kelton/ Crossmichael parish boundary still follows the course of the Carlingwark Burn/ Lane/ canal to the river Dee.
When the Galloway Water Power (hydro-electric) Scheme was built in the 1930s, the average level of water in the river Dee became slightly higher. This affected the flow of water along the Carlingwark Lane so that Blackpark and Carlingwark Marsh were becoming waterlogged, affecting adjacent fields.
The solution found in 1938 was to build a pumping station on the Carlingwark Lane which would act as a barrier to water flowing up from the Dee and keep the water level in the Lane low enough to keep the marshes and farmland reasonably dry.
As Castle Douglas grew through the later twentieth century, the amount of nutrient rich treated waste water from the sewage works increased. This encouraged the growth of weeds and vegetation along the Carlingwark Lane. By 2002 Scottish Power (successor to the Galloway Water Power Company) were complaining that it was costing them a fortune to clear weeds from the pumps of the pumping station and threatened to remove the pumps to save money.
Pre-2006 outflow from sewage works.
Carlingwark Lane choked with weeds.
Pumping station near large tree in distance.
Threave path and the pumping station 18 May 2004
This caused concern- if the pumps were removed, would this lead to an increased risk of flooding in Castle Douglas? Questions were asked - perhaps the landowner of the marshes had a duty to control vegetation in the Lane? The landowner being the National Trust for Scotland, in 2004 I was asked to do some research for the NTS to see if there was a historic responsibility for the landowner to keep the Lane clear of weeds. After a few hours reading through the 1930s/40s records of Castle Douglas Burgh Council in the Stewartry Museum I found that the Ministry of Agriculture had been responsible for keeping the Lane clear of weeds not Threave Estate.
NTS letter about my research and pipeline proposal
Article from DG Nat Hist and Antiquarian Soc Transactions about pumping station, marshes and sewage.
The implication (backed up by later research) was that the pumping station was not built to control floods but to keep surrounding farmland dry in order to maximise agricultural output- very important in the 1940s.
In meantime, an alternative solution had been proposed. If Scottish Water built a pipeline from their Waste Water Treatment Works to the river Dee, the nutrient rich outflow from the Works could be diverted from the Carlingwark Lane, thus reducing the weed growth problem and so solving Scottish Power’s problem.
This would also solve a critical problem for Dumfries and Galloway Council/ NHS Dumfries and Galloway. In 2005 a new health centre for the town was planned / under construction alongside a new housing development. But this development would increase treated water flow through the sewage works adding to the Carlingwark Lane vegetation problem.
I had a personal interest in this complex situation. Loreburn Housing Association were building a small development in the town, including a specially designed disabled flat for my son’s long term needs. I was therefore also pestering Scottish Water to sort out the problem.
Unfortunately Scottish Water’s original proposal was to run the waste water pipeline directly out to the river Dee along the Carlingwark Lane- straight through the Carlingwark/Threave SSSI marshlands. Scottish Natural Heritage refused to allow this so an alternative route which would run from the Carlingwark Lane along the A 75 to just past Threave Bridge on the A 75 was proposed.
SNH letter regarding pipeline May 2005
Thanks to my pestering of Scottish Water I was sent a copy of the new plans and I remember meeting an SNH person on the by-pass bridge over the Carlingwark Lane to discuss them and the footpath project. Amusingly I got my copy before Dumfries and Galloway Planning Department so was able to make a copy for them as well…
Scottish Water letter about pipeline
Scottish Water pipeline map
Spring 2006 - new gate on Blackpark Road.
Pipeline work in field. Path now runs along here.
A 75 Carlingwark Lane bridge, pipelaying and path making.
Close up of pipe and new path heading towards Barley Hill on left.
New path looking back to by-pass.
Old photo -footpath now follows fence line up to Barley Hill.
The upshot of this lengthy diversion is that in 2005/6 the pipeline was constructed along most of the route of the 2003 footpath proposal. As the photographs below show, the end result was that a basic footpath was constructed alongside the pipeline from Blackpark Road to Barley Hill and opened by Sir Malcolm Ross, Lord-Lieutenant of the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright in August 2006.
My article in Galloway News 24 August 2006
Part Five- The Core Path Network and the Missing Link
Going back to 2003, the Land Reform (Scotland) Act was passed in that year. This Act included a requirement for local authorities to establish a network of ‘core paths’. It took some time -seven years of consultation between 2006 and 2013- but Dumfries and Galloway’s Core Path Plan was activated in January 2013.
The path from Castle Douglas to Threave Estate was included as Core Path 155. During the consultation phase I and many others had identified the Abercromby Road to Blackpark Road section of the 2003 footpath plan as a ‘missing link’ in the local footpath network. The missing link was included as part of Core Path 155.
Path under construction in cutting below my parents house, early 2013.
Abercromby Road bridge open to traffic again.
In March 2013 work began on the missing link. There is a film clip of it on You Tube. 2013 was the 50th anniversary of Dr Beeching’s plan for the ‘Reshaping of Britain’s Railways’. It was Dr Beeching’s plan which led to the closure of the Dumfries -Stranraer and Castle-Douglas Kirkcudbright railways in 1965. Willie Johnston of BBC Dumfries contacted me about the anniversary and spent a day filming with me on the railway-including the footpath construction work- for a BBC Reporting Scotland feature.
Callum and sister Beth on newly opened path.
Abercromby Road bridge.
The new section of path was high quality and as soon as it was opened (without any ceremony this time) I took great delight in pushing Callum in his wheelchair along it. Unfortunately we still could not get very far along the 2006 section. Then came The Flood.
Part Six- The Great New Year’s Eve Flood
My son attends Castle Douglas Activity and Resource Centre, a facility for people with physical and learning disabilities. Luckily my son was at home that day, but on 31 December 2105 we had a phone call from the ARC saying they had been flooded and would be closed until further notice. The ARC is on the edge of the Carlingwark Marsh. Local team Threave Rovers’ football pitch is on the other side of the marsh. It was also flooded that day.
Michael Lowden's photo of flood. X is location of ARC
After New Year and when the waters had receded, Keith Kirk posed a photo on Facebook. The wooden footbridge over the Carlingwark Lane constructed in 2006 had been washed away and was now lying in a field several hundred yards away.
A few days later I went out to inspect the damage. The bridge really had gone and parts of the footpath had also been washed away. Fortunately, the Scottish Government responded by offering Dumfries and Galloway Council funding to repair flood damage.
In May a notice went up saying ‘Footpath Closed for Restoration Work’. Altogether £60 000 was spent to replace the old bridge with a new, stronger one at a higher level than the old one and to restore and effectively improve the footpath from the Carlingwark Lane to Barley Hill.
By the end of June the path was ready to be reopened. In early July the Galloway News ran a feature on the re-opening and asked myself, Michelle Robertson of Castle Douglas Development Forum and Bryan Scott, Dumfries and Galloway Countryside Development Officer to pose for a photograph on the impressive new bridge.
I took the opportunity to discuss the possibility of upgrading the Blackpark Road to Carlingwark Lane section of the path to the same standard as the newly restored section with Michelle and Bryan. Both agreed it was a do-able project.
Part Seven- Galloway Glens Landscape Partnership
On 1 July the Galloway Glens Heritage Landscape Partnership’s website went live. The Galloway Glens is a major- £2.5 million- Heritage Lottery funded project. Castle Douglas is within the project area. On the website there was a notice that the partnership were looking for project ideas and an ‘Expression of Interest’ form with a 2 September deadline.
I suggested that the Castle Douglas Development Forum might be able to get part funding (40%) from Galloway Glens. Bryan Scott provided a cost of £18 000 to upgrade the Blackpark Road to Carlingwark Lane section It would cost another £3600 to make a ramp from railway level up to the Kelton Mains farm road- this would give access to the path down to Threave Castle and the river Dee. This has been part of the original 2003 footpath plan.
Original path No. 1 plus three new paths.
CDDF put in an Expression of Interest for the path upgrade plus three new footpaths. The proposals were accepted and taken forward to the second stage. This required more details- a 9 page form- with deadline of 2 December.
If successful again, we will find out in January with another deadline of May 2017 to submit fully worked out plans. Which will be a lot to do. For example one of the questions asked in the 2 December form is ‘Does the proposal require planning permission?’
I have checked with Dumfries and Galloway Planning Department and got an answer today. Upgrading Core Path 155 will not require planning permission since it is an existing path, but the three new paths will. I have no idea how difficult it will be do take three paths through the planning process, but it is going to add an extra level of complication to the process.
Part Eight- The Great Expedition
On the other hand, for the first time today myself and Sandy, Callum’s main care worker, managed to get Callum in his wheel chair all the way from home out to the Kelton Mains bridge along Core Path 155.
We sailed along the 2013 Abercromby Road to Blackpark Road section, got up and over the filled in railway bridge on Blackpark Road but then had a struggle to get through the metal swing gate at the start of the 2006 section of path.
The next part was not too difficult since all the grass and nettles which had grown up in the summer while the path was closed had died back. The next part of the path is not surfaced, it is on the grassed over trackbed of the old railway on the embankment that leads towards the Carlingwark Lane canal.
At the canal, the replacement bridge is higher than the old bridge so there is only a short slope down to bridge level. From the bridge, under the A 75 and all the way to the edge of Barley Hill we were on the 2016 upgraded section. The surface is slightly rougher than the 2013 section surface, but was still an easy push.
The last part of the Great Expedition was along the NTS section of railway path. Apart from a couple of soft places it was quite ‘pushable’. At the Kelton Mains bridge over the old railway we stopped, 1 and half miles from home. It had taken us an hour to get there.
The NTS railway path carries on for another mile or so to Lamb Island on the Dee where there is a bird hide. However this section has not been surfaced so is a grass path which is also muddy in places. We could not get up to the Kelton Mains road because of steps. We took some photographs and headed back into town, which took another hour.
It was a great Great Expedition, but also deeply frustrating. 13 years on from having the idea of a path, I was able to get Callum nearly all the way to Threave Castle- or at least the edge of the river Dee.
But it was very awkward to get Callum through the metal swing gate and he did not enjoy the heaving and pushing and bumping. All the other gates on the path are wooden, pull-handle dual-directional and so are no problem. On the 2013 section there are no gates at all, but it has not become a mecca for motorcyclists.
In the late summer we tried to get along the next section, but the grass and nettles had grown up making it impossible. Re-surfacing would be helpful. The long grass and nettles do get strimmed at least couple of times in the summer- I have seen the ‘Community Payback’ team doing this in past years.
This section has been improved, but may get overgrown again in the summer.
The unsurfaced section is a problem. It is very bumpy which shoogles Callum and there are soft sections which if it had been wetter would have bogged us down.
And it is frustrating to be able to get along the 2016 improved section, the NTS section and then have to stop under a bridge and go back again. It would also have been much more difficult without Sandy to help in the awkward places.
Part Nine - Is the end of the Railway Footpath Saga in sight?
Perhaps. Unfortunately, by bundling the upgrade with three new paths, it is going to be more difficult, costly and complicated (eg planning permissions) to get the upgrade done as part of the Galloway Glens project. But if it can done, work could start in 2018. The 2013 section only took a couple of months to construct. The 2016 upgrade and new bridge took about two months as well.
Freight train between Lodge of Kelton and Kelton Mains.
However, actual construction work is the least complicated part of the process. It took three years from 2003 to 2006 to get the main section of basic path open, 13 years to get half of it to wheelchair pushable standard. It took ten years from 2003 to 2013 to get the Abercromby Road to Blackpark Road section open.
So I will pencil in 2020 as an optimistic date when I will be able to conclude this Railway Footpath Saga and write ‘The End’ …
Below- Stewartry Area Committee Report on Path from December 2005.
But no mention of the pipeline...