Highways & Byways

This is an extract about the Borgue area from “Highways and Byways in Galloway and Carrick” by the Rev. C. H. Dick with illustrations by Hugh Thomson, 2nd edition 1919

The way to Borgue appeals to the connoisseur in roads. If one were to make a list of the pleasantest roads in Galloway, this would be one. Running along the tree-clad bank of the estuary of the Dee and following closely the gentle windings of the shore, it keeps you ever between the dark wood and the shining water. The pity is that there is not more of it, for one could travel happily on it for a whole day.

Just at the point where it veers away from the estuary towards the village of Borgue there is the beginning of Senwick Wood. The wood holds close by the shore of Kirkcudbright Bay for a mile or two farther south, and in the midst of it is the churchyard of the old parish of Senwick (Norse, sand vik, sandy bay) with some slight remains of the church and manse, all on a steep slope falling away to the edge of the bay and surrounded by tall trees. Here lie the dead of bygone centuries with few sounds heard about their resting-place save the whispering of the wind in the leaves and the washing of the water on the pebbly beach.

There is a rock in the bay called The Frenchman’s Rock, and the name is connected with an incident in the history of Senwick Church. The tradition is that a gang of French pirates had landed here and carried off the silver plate. Guilty of both sacrilege and robbery, they met what was regarded as a just doom before they had sailed far from the scene of their crime. A storm arose, the ship struck on the rock, and all were drowned.

The parish of Senwick was merged in that of Borgue in 1618.

The road running southwards past Senwick Wood ends on the shore of Ross Bay under the slope of the Meikle Ross or “Great Headland”. The cliffs fronting the sea on the south side of the promontory are very steep and are surmounted by some remains of ancient forts. The name of the Little Ross Island immediately to the east points to a time when it formed part of the mainland. In the early years of the nineteenth century it was possible to walk over to the island at low tide. The lighthouse was built by Thomas Stevenson, the father of Robert Louis.

It may be said of Borgue that no other parish in Galloway has so quiet a village for its centre. There is no hotel, nor is there a public house in the parish. In the middle of the village—if, indeed, one may speak of the middle of a place that ends before it has really begun—there is a “Coffee House”. A cheap and clean lodging may be had here, and the range of beverages supplied is not confined strictly to coffee. Borgue is proud of its Academy, an institution founded by a native of the parish, Thomas Rainy, who left this country about the middle of the eighteenth century and made a fortune in the Island of Dominica; of its handsome church standing on a little hill—one of its ministers, the Rev. Samuel Smith, was the author of a well-known book, A General View of the Agriculture of Galloway, published in 1810 ; of its great wealth of flowers and famous honey ; and although it is not mentioned by name, it is plainly the principal scene of Stevenson’s The Master of Ballantrae. The village on the Carrick coast supplied the author of that romance with no more than a musical name. The story belongs to “Solwayside” , and it was on the Muckle Ross that the excellent Mackellar once saw the smoke of a beacon fire.

Close to the Academy there is a monument erected in honour of William Nicholson, the author of The Brownie of Blednoch and other poems, who was born in this parish in 1783 and died in 1849. The poem on which his reputation chiefly rests will be quoted in a later chapter.l Nicholson was buried in the churchyard of Kirkandrews, about two miles west of Borgue village. There was formerly a separate parish of Kirkandrews ; but in 1657 it became, like Senwick, a part of Borgue. In the same churchyard there is the grave of a martyr, “Robert M’ Whae who was barbarously shot to death by Grier of Lagg in the Paroch of Tongland for his adherence to Scotlands Reformation Covenants National and Solemn League 1685”. The stone bearing this inscription is not the original one, but a facsimile.

As one goes north towards Gatehouse-of-Fleet, one sees on the right hand the remains of Plunton Castle, which is said to be the scene of that dull work, The Doom of Devorgoil, and just before reaching the farm of Lennox Plunton on the left, a gate opening upon a byway to the old church of Girthon Parish. The digression should be made if only for the pleasure of going along a road that is scarcely used at all.

Girthon Church is very old and is classed as belonging to either the Norman or the First Pointed Period. It ceased to be used as a place of worship in 1817, when the present church was built in Gatehouse. Near the entrance is the grave of Robert Lennox, a Covenanter. The inscription, which runs as follows :


is attributed to “Old Mortality”. The lettering is smaller than in the case of the stone in Glentrool, but is in the same style. At the end of the Introduction to Old Mortality, Scott gives a curious anecdote about the old man, who was working “in the churchyard of Girthon”. The farmhouse of Girthon Kirk, just outside the churchyard, was formerly the manse, and was occupied at one time by the Rev. John MacNaught, in whose case Scott was concerned as an advocate in 1793.