1902 Encyclopedia > Dumfries (county), Scotland

Dumfries (county)
Scotland




DUMFRIES, one of the three Scottish border counties, lies in an elliptical form on the north side of the Solway Firth, its other boundaries being Lanark, Peebles, and Selkirk on the N., Roxburgh on the E., Ayr and Kirkcud-bright on the W., and Cumberland on the S. Its greatest length is fully 50 miles, its breadth 32, its circumference 190, and the area is 1103 square miles or 702,953 acres. The coast-line on the Solway measures 21 miles. Towards this arm of the sea the county slopes down from a high mountain range, by which it is cinctured on the north, the intermediate pace being extremely irregular, lofty hills alternating with wide stretches of table land or rich fertile holms, and in other instances the surface looking like a vast undulating mass that by some natural process had suddenly become fixed and rigid. Among the leading features of the county are the three dales by which it is cleft from north to south, and through which run the rivers that give name to them, the Nith, Annan, and Esk. Over-looking these rise numerous elevations, the highest being Whitecoomb in the east, 2695 feet; Hartfell in the north, 2651 feet; Queensberry, also in the north, 2285 feet, which gives to the duke of Buccleuch his secondary title, and the title of marquis to a branch of the house of Douglas ; and Ettrick Pen, 2269 feet, the latter standing sentinel over an extensive district.

The Nith is the chief river of the county Start-ing from its mountain cradle near Dalmellington, in Ayrshire, it takes a south-westerly sweep, watering the old burgh of Sanquhar, at the head of Nithsdale, and further down the modern village of Thornhill, near which stands the ducal castle of Drumlanrig. As the river proceeds it passes on the one hand Dalswinton, where Patrick Miller made his first fruitful experiments in steam navigation, and on the other the acres of Ellisland, which Robert Burns turned over with his plough. At Auldgirth Bridge, near Blackwood, the dale narrows considerably; then it expands till around and below the burgh of Dumfries it appears as a spacious plain, with gentle acclivities or bolder eleva-tions rising on every side. The Nith is swelled by numer-ous streams at various stages, its latest and largest acquisi-tion being the Cluden, the confluence taking place about a mile above Dumfries, and the absorbing river reaching the Solway about eight miles below that burgh, its whole course measuring about 50 miles
An upland spot, where the counties of Lanark, Peebles, and Dumfries converge, gives birth to three streams, according to the popular saying,

"Annan, Tweed, and Clyde All arise from one hillside."

The first-named river, after a rapid canter from its hign-land source, five miles above Moffat, receives several tributaries a little south of that town, then proceeds at a leisurely pace down the dale, which, narrowed at first by rocks or ridges, expands into a fertile basin termed " the Howe of Annandale," studded with hamlets and spangled by the nine lochs of Lochmaben,—that venerable royal burgh, which claims to have been the birth-place of King Bobert Bruce, and the prosperous town of Lockerbie occupying conspicuous places on the western and eastern banks ; other rivulets, including the Dryfe (flowing past the scene of a fierce clan battle fought between the Maxwells and Johnstones in 1675), giving increased volume to the stream below Bruce's burgh, the valley narrowing again as the water grows wider and deeper. When little more than a mile from the sea it passes Annan, the second town in the county, its entire length being nearly 40 miles.





During about a mile of its course the Esk divides Dumfriesshire from Cumberland ; starting from the Selkirk' shire frontier it flows southward past the baronial town of Langholm, and, after being a Scottish stream to the extent of 30 miles, it enters English ground, waters Longtown, describes a westward curve, and then falls like its two sister streams into the Solway, its entire course extending to about 40 miles.

Besides the lakes in Annandale already referred to, Loch Skene, lying under the shadow of Whitecoomb hill, 1300 feet above sea-level, is the only one of consequence; its water finds an outlet by leaping over a rocky height of 300 feet, forming a cascade termed the Gray Mare's Tail. Another small but exceedingly picturesque waterfall in Morton parish is called Crichope Linn.

The chief mineral waters of the county are those of the well at Moffat, and another about five miles distant, called Hartfell Spa, situated in a cleft of the hill from which it takes its name. The former are reckored beneficial for chronic gout, rheumatism, and liver complaints ; and the latter acts as a mild astringent and powerful tonic. Owing to the great repute of these waters, and the romantic scenery of the surrounding district, Moffat during summer and early autumn becomes a favourite and fashionable place of resort. A small chalybeate at Brow, on the Solway, possesses considerable virtue, and is rendered interesting from the circumstance that it was partaken of by Burns during his last illness, though without avail.

Generally speaking the climate is mild and salubrious, with a mean temperature of 45° Fahr., the average rainfall supplying sometimes more than enough of moisture. The soils are chiefly gravel or sandy loam and clay, except where river and estuary have formed rich alluvial tracts. At no very distant date it was roughly computed that there were 86 square miles of arable land lying along the sea coast, 322 miles chiefly upland, and 598 miles mountainous yielding nothing but heather and game ; but by the applica-tion of bone manure, draining, planting, and green crop husbandry, all this is changed, no fewer than 213,784 acres being under the plough—even the huge expanse of Lochar moss, lying in the parishes of Tinwald, Dumfries, and Torthorwald, becoming by degrees less of a reproach to the agricultural enterprise of its proprietors, though much of the surface of the county still wears a pastoral aspect drawn from one of its chief rural industries, sheep-breeding. In 1876 there were 49,975 acres under corn crops, of which 48,292 were oats and 546 wheat; 25,669 were under green crops, of which 20,747 were turnips; and 63,762 were in grass under rotation. These figures differ little from those for 1873, except that 1231 acres were then in wheat. With abundance of coal at the two extremities—Sanquhar and Canonbie; with limestone at Kilhead, Closeburn, and Barjarg ; with lead mines at Wanlockhead, the produce of which when undergoing refinement yields a large per-centage of silver; with gold dust and even nuggets of that metal in the same district, but now no longer searched for systematically, as they were with considerable success in the 16th and 17th centuries; with sandstone quarries in various quarters ; with woollen mills at Langholm; with numerous manufactures centring in the county town; with some little sea-borne traffic ; and with good salmon fisheries in the Nith, along the Carlaverock shore, and at Annan Water-Foot on the Solway,'—the county itself is still essen-tially an agricultural one, and as such it takes high rank.

Early in the 18th century the district breeders of Galloway cattle began to send stock to the south; and, before the current century was far advanced, some 15,000 head of heavy cattle were annually driven from Dumfriesshire and Galloway to the English markets. Forty years ago the number had increased to 20,000, their value on an average being at least £200,000. For some years past Ayrshire dairy cattle and shorthorns have superseded the Galloways on most farms of the county, and its trade in live stock generally has considerably decreased. Few store cattle are exported, they being mostly grazed a year or two and fed off; and similar treatment is given to numerous short-horn yearlings and two-year-olds that are imported from Ireland. In 1876 the entire cattle in the county numbered 53,778 head, the sheep 493,020, the horses 7390, the pigs 14,413, —these returns varying little from those of 1873, except as regards sheep, which amounted that year to 513,849. The sheep trade of Dumfriesshire, which is of com-paratively recent origin, is now of great extent. Cheviots predominate, the frugal, black-faced breed still occupy-ing the higher sheep walks, while half-bred lambs, the produce of Cheviot ewes crossed by Leicester or other long-wooled rams, are fattened on the richer pasture yielded by low-lying farms, supplemented by turnips in winter, and are thus made ready for the butcher when fifteen months old. For nearly a hundred years pig-feeding has occupied- a place in the rural economy of the county. A sum of £50,000 represented its annual trade in pork about sixty years ago. Influenced by large imports of bacon from America, the curing of carcases has of late decreased. In 1876 the number sold in the public markets of the county was under 8000, the value of which, allowing for those disposed off privately, would not exceed £45,000; a few years back the annual value ran from £70,000 to £75,000. As regards quality and flavour, the Dumfriesshire hams still maintain the high character they have long held in the English markets.





Three leading highways, one in each valley, with numerous branch roads, intersect the county. It possesses also ample railway communication,—the Glasgow and South-Western line, completed in 1850, extending through Nithsdale and Lower Annandale, and, soon after passing Gretna Green (famous in days of yore for its matrimonial celebrations), crossing the little border river Sark; and the Caledonian line, completed in 1849, traversing Moffatdale and Upper Annandale, and also a portion of England as far as Carlisle.

In a Parliamentary Blue Book (1874) the acreage of the county is given at 676,971, and its yearly value (1872) at £595,511, 17s., the owners numbering 4177, of whom 886 possessed more than one acre each, the value per acre being 17s. 7d. as compared with 20s. for all Scotland. From the valuation roll for 1876 we learn that the chief proprietor, the duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry, owns 253,514 acres, yielding an annual revenue of £97,840. The names of other leading proprietors, with their extent of land and incomes from it, are—Mr J. J. Hope Johnstone of Annandale, 64,079 acres, with a rental of £28,684; earl of Mansfield, 14,342 acres, £15,938; marquis of Queens-berry, 13,243, £13,982; Mrs Villiers and Viscountess Cole of Closeburn, 13,560, £11,658 ; Sir John Heron Maxwell of Springkell, 13,391, £9023; Mr B. Jardine of Castlemilk, 17,064, £9339; Sir F. J. W. Johnstone of Westerhall, 7714, £7932; and Lord Herries, 5814, £6537. Population of county in 1861, 75,878; in 1871, 74,784.

Dumfriesshire during the Eoman occupation formed part of the province of Valentia, which lay between the walls of Hadrian and Antonine, the British tribes occupying it being termed the Selgovse. In course of time they were dispossessed by other Celts, the Scoto-Irish ; but the aboriginal Britons shared with the latter, and with the numerous Saxons and the few Normans of a later day, in being the progenitors of the existing inhabitants ; and oi them lasting memorials remain in the names of rivers, mountains, and headlands, most of which are British, '' the nomenclature of the earliest colonists of the county thus remaining unchanged by the conflicts of race or the flight of ages." Down to the death ot David I., Nithsdale and some other portions of the district were still to a large extent Celtic in their people and institutions ; after that king's reign we begin to read of its historical families, some of whom are still its leading landowners—of its Maxwells, Douglases, Kirkpatricks, Johnston es, Braces, Baliols, Comyns, Scotts, Carlyles, Jardines, Murrays, and Crichtons.

Of all the primitive inhabitants numerous memorials still exist in the form of druidical remains, British motes and camps, Boman roads and camps, Anglo-Saxon relics, the chief of the latter being the Eunic monument at Euthwell, which tells the story of the Cross in characters as old as the days of the Heptarchy. As the county is also replete with " chiefless castles breathing stem fare-wells," and other time-worn tokens of bye-gone ages, it presents a rich field for archaeological research.

(W. M'D.)


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Dumfries (town), Scotland



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