10 October 2014
Mr Iain Macintyre — Medicine and surgery in the Scottish
Enlightenment — and two local heroes
Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society held its AGM and inaugural meeting of the new season on 10 October 2014. The speaker was Iain Macintyre MD, FRCSEd, President-elect of the British Society of the History of Medicine. The subject of his well-illustrated talk was Medicine and Surgery in the Scottish Enlightenment — and two local heroes.
Prominent historians, such as Trevor-Roper and Robertson, have suggested that medicine and surgery did not feature in the Scottish Enlightenment. It is certainly true that many Scots-born doctors, like William Smellie, the man-midwife, William Hunter, man-midwife and anatomist, and his brother John Hunter, anatomist and surgeon, all made their contributions to the Enlightenment in England, as did the Hunters' nephew Mathew Baillie, a physician who advanced our understanding that illness should be regarded as organ-based rather than caused by imbalance of humours. Others such as James Lind, who conducted the first controlled clinical trial on the treatment of scurvy and Sir John Pringle, the 'father of military medicine' made theirs as doctors in the army or Royal Navy. Two medically qualified Scots were major Enlightenment figures, but their contributions were not in medicine; Joseph Black was the first to isolate and identify a gas, and defined the phenomenon of latent heat, while James Hutton made his great contributions in geology but not in medicine.
It could be argued that each of the following made a significant contribution to Scottish Enlightenment thinking. Alexander Monro primus as an influential teacher and medical writer and founder of the journal Medical Essays and Observations; William Cullen too was an influential teacher, although his Nosology (or classification) of disease and his tonic/atonic theory of the cause of disease both died with him; Robert Whytt by observation and experiment advanced our understanding of the working of the nervous system; John Gregory produced the first secular, philosophical, clinical code of medical ethics in English; Alexander Monro secundus contributed to our understanding of intracranial physiology with the Monro–Kellie doctrine, which is still relevant today and Andrew Duncan was an innovator who was the first to teach public health formally in Britain.
Two Dumfriesshire surgeons made important contributions in their field. James Hill in his Cases in Surgery gave an account of his 40 years as a Dumfries surgeon. He described the features of the infectious disease sibbens, advocated wide excision for cancer, a treatment that would later become widely accepted. His results for the management of head injury were the best in the eighteenth century. Hill appreciated that the priority was to treat the brain injury rather than merely the skull fracture and he was able to do this by directed trephine. His apprentice, Benjamin Bell of Blackethouse, Middlebie, was forced to sell the family property in 1777, due to debts. He moved to Edinburgh to work as a surgeon and became one of the most sought after surgical opinions in Scotland. He made valuable contributions in three areas. He recommended routine and regular pain relief after surgery; he advocated skin-conserving surgery, a technique which improved wound healing in operations like amputation and mastectomy. By a series of observations and experiments and a rational thought process he concluded that syphilis and gonorrhoea were different diseases, a view contrary to the mainstream view of the day. His textbook A System of Surgery was one of the most influential of its day, as popular in Europe and America as it was in Britain. His great-grandson, Dr Joseph Bell, was the forensic scientist who was the inspiration for Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
These physicians and surgeons, all working in Scotland, can reasonably be regarded as having made significant contributions to the Scottish Enlightenment.
This excellent and very interesting talk, given by a commanding figure with a clear, pleasant voice, was greatly acclaimed by his audience.
24 October 2014
Keith Kirk (Dumfries and Galloway Council Ranger Service) —
Life through the lens — with both eyes open
Keith Kirk, a native of Castle Douglas, who is employed by the Dumfries and Galloway Council Ranger Service, was the guest speaker at the meeting of Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society held on 24 October 2014. His topic was Life through the Lens — with both eyes open. Readers of a popular local magazine are well-acquainted with his abiding interest in wild life and his photographic skills.
It is advisable, he suggests, for the beginner to start with something easy, like a family pet, or large, like a swan. A golden eagle is too ambitious. Ability to identify wildlife is a pre-requisite. A licence is required for schedule-one nest-site filming of the kingfisher, for example.
The serious wildlife photographer requires a hide, samples of which were demonstrated on screen. None is perfect. The aim is to be as unobtrusive as possible and, keeping low, to advance by degrees to the site or subject of interest. If a bird begins to look edgy it is necessary to back off.
Consider the equipment available now to enhance 'life through the lens' … Any reasonably good camera will suffice. Most people engaged in fieldwork admit that digital SLR photography, initially rejected by the purist, has brought about unimagined benefits. The telephoto lens can move round a scene and sections can be stitched together imperceptibly. Trail cameras are squirrel and badger proof (but not lion proof — nothing to worry about in Dumfries and Galloway!) Night vision cameras capture shy creatures like the otter. A tripod must come up to eye level to avoid backache. The practised wildlife photographer finds it important to be well-supplied, even laden with essential equipment.
It is now possible to mix high quality video with stills: the results demonstrated were impressive, badgers emerging from a sett, for instance. Keith suggested that though parts of a scene can be out of focus the technology is coming on stream to rectify such situations. His advice: be careful what you throw away. Spypoint Live enables the camera to trip in the wild and notify the man sitting at home of the scene that has been shot.
Interspersing the types of equipment being shown were superb wildlife studies, all of which had been taken in Dumfries and Galloway — everything from the bog bush cricket at Dalbeattie to the dunnock (hedge sparrow) to the nuthatch (now widespread in Scotland) to the barnacle goose. The goosander is a regular sight on the Nith. The black guillemot with its striking red feet was filmed at Portpatrick, where it was nesting in the harbour wall. Castramont Wood is a good place for pied flycatchers. In taking a shot of teal at Caerlaverock, Keith was surprised to find an American green-winged teal present. Even the gannet was photographed on mainland Galloway, not on the Bass Rock. It emerged that a locally-viewed male osprey, bearing the number 80, had been ringed in Wales. Red squirrels like to frequent trees but food will attract them down. His sparrowhawk and kingfisher pictures were of the highest order and must have taken hours of patient watching and waiting to achieve.
The range of wildlife that can be filmed in Dumfries and Galloway makes the area an excellent destination for the enthusiastic wildlife watcher and photographer. The winter roost of starlings massing at dusk at Gretna was voted in sixth place in a wildlife competition. The short-winged conehead (a small green bush cricket) showed up at Gretna, its first sighting in the region.
Keith was applauded for his knowledge and for the spectacular results achieved by his passion for recording the natural world on his native heath.
07 November 2014
Paul Goodwin (War Memorial Trust) —
Current initiatives to record and research our Great War ancestors
At the meeting of the Dumfries and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society held in Dumfries on 7th November, Paul Goodwin brought the audience up to date on the current initiatives to research and record our Greet War forbears. Nobody could fail to be impressed by the extent of new information coming to light, even a century after the outbreak of the First World War. The seemingly straightforward listing of the area's war memorials still has surprises, as exampled by the 1914–18 church clock at Borgue, which has just been formally recognised and recorded.
Mr Goodwin, who himself served in the army, lives at Dalry and is foremost in the very active Scottish Military Reseanch Group, the largest record of military memorials in Scotland. The War Memorials Trust covers the wider UK, and funding is available for maintaining monuments suffering decay.
The central theme of the talk was not just the monuments of stone or metal, but the evocation of the real people they record, their lives, their families, and their places in our communities and in our own lives. John McCrae, who wrote the inspirational verses "In Flanders fields the poppies blow between the crosses row on row …", was a medical officer in the Canadian army, with his origins firmly in Galloway. His grandfather was born at Dukieston near Dalry and his father at Laurieston. The family farmed at Carsphairn before emigrating.
The slides accompanying the talk showed the width of interest in the memorials and the human stories they reveal. Monuments at Dumfries, Crossmichael and Gatehouse of Fleet each bear the sad story of four brothers killed in the Great War, and that at at Kingholm Quay lists a father and three sons. The Balmaclellan memorial includes a 1925 death — of injuries sustained long before in the Great War.
The emphasis currently is on the Great War, but other conflicts are often included on memorials. The memorial at St John's in Dumfries records victims of six wars, including two from Afghanistan and a unique example from Vietnam. Tomas Calvin of Castle Douglas has the distinction of featuring on four war memorials — the civic one and the memorials of three other organisations with which he was associated.
A memorial in Annan to Henry James Scott, killed at Loos in 1915, records what is probably the last example in the Great War of a body brought home (at the family's expense) for burial, around the time that option was withdrawn.
It was heartening to hear of the work being done to identify and maintain the monuments which have so much interest for all of us, and the society was privileged to have Mr Goodwin to talk about them and to encourage communities to keep up the efforts currently being made.
21 November 2014
Jayne Baldwin (author and journalist) — Mary Timney, The Road to the Gallows,
the story of Scotland's last public execution of a woman
The Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society recently met to hear a talk by Jayne Baldwin, entitled 'Mary Timney, the Road to the Gallows', Mary Timney being the last woman to be publicly hanged in Scotland.
Members of the Society, who attended, agreed that they were treated to a tale told by a master storyteller. The speaker, using only the power of her voice to create eerie atmosphere, told one of the best ghost stories they had ever heard. Yes, the speaker was that good.
Members, most of them knowing the road in question, were asked to imagine themselves walking along that lonely road, the road going north from Castle Douglas towards Carsphairn. About three miles north of Dalry one reaches a tiny settlement at Polharrow Bridge where the events took place on Monday, 13 January 1862.
Agnes Maclellan, known as Nan, kept house for her father who was an agricultural worker. She was surprised by nine-year-old Susan Timney calling and asking her to go and bake for her mother, Mary, who was ill. Mary Timney had three other children — Margaret, Mary and John, a baby.
Nan, in her late thirties, was friendly with Mary Timney's landlady, Ann Hannah, who lived at Carsphad Farm. Neither Nan nor Ann thought very much of Mary, and it was unusual for Susan to knock on Nan's door, although the Timneys were poverty-stricken and often asked neighbours for food.
Nan reluctantly agreed to go to the Timneys and at about one o'clock walked up the lonely road to their house. In doing so, she passed her friend Ann’s front door. Nan, having noticed the door ajar, went in to see her. She said she could hear that the beasts were unsettled and felt something was amiss. Ann’s brothers were out at work. Nan went through to the kitchen where she found Ann lying on the ground in a pool of blood. Nan chose not to go to Mary's house for help and instead she returned to the Hannah's house with her neighbours. Unusually they took note of everything they could see. There appeared to be no sign of a struggle, but near to Ann was a blood stained poker and a butcher's knife. A folded piece of cloth had been placed under Ann's head.
The couple at Knocknalling had asked their son, Lockhart, to go and fetch John Robson, the local policeman at New Galloway. John Robson went to Mary Timney's cottage because of neighbours' gossip, and ordered Mary to light the last stub of her candle. He discovered a bundle of blood-stained clothes in the rafters and a mallet on the floor.
John Robson returned to Ann Hannah's house. When Ann died he arrested Mary, who was taken to the police house at New Galloway. John left Mary there having tea with his wife whilst he went to fetch the chief constable from Kirkcudbright. As there had not been a murder for a generation before, this was a very unusual situation for him to handle.
Mary's cottage was searched again. They discovered that the mallet had been moved. Mary denied knowledge of the mallet. She was taken to Kirkcudbright.
Everything was reported in great detail in the newspapers, which universally blamed Mary for the tragedy.
Mary was taken to Dumfries jail in March and the trial took place in April. Mary was given little opportunity to defend herself. Most of the evidence was circumstantial. The mallet was presented by the Prosecution as the murder weapon. Lord Deas, the judge, gave the jury clear directions in his summing up. As a consequence, the jury took only ten minutes to find Mary guilty of murder. She was sentenced to death.
At this time the death sentence was unusual and rarely carried out. Public opinion changed towards Mary and a petition for clemency was sent to the queen. For some unknown reason the petition failed, and the execution took place, leaving Mary's four children without a mother.
William Ewart, MP for Dumfries, had been campaigning against the death sentence. He tried to utilise this case to change the law. Unfortunately all he succeeded in achieving was the cessation of public hangings, but executions continued within prisons. Hence Mary Timney was the last woman to be publicly hanged in Scotland.
This case raises many issues, some of which were discussed at question time. Everyone was left with a feeling of disquiet over the whole sorry affair.
Jayne Baldwin's meticulous research has been published in her book, 'Mary Timney, The Road To The Gallows', which is recommended reading to anyone wishing to learn more of the details of this case, which has become embedded into local folklore.
5 December 2012
Miller Caldwell — A humanitarian life
The president, Liam Murray, announced at the December meeting of Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society that the speaker, named to deliver the James Williams Memorial Lecture, had withdrawn for health reasons. Miller Caldwell agreed to stand in at short notice to speak on A Humanitarian Life.
In introducing him, Liam referred to the remarkably varied life Miller had led. He had served in West Africa, a fact which struck a chord with Liam, who had also served in Africa. His output as an author is considerable and for a wide readership, including children. Liam added that he could testify to his skill as a children's entertainer.
Miller, the son of a manse, lived in Kirriemuir, Angus, from the age of two in 1952 and from the age of seven he had had to adjust to city life in Glasgow. In addition to his father's parish commitments he grew up witnessing his mother, the practical Christian, giving food to beggars in the back garden and knowing of her involvement with Lodging House Mission.
His schooling was blighted by two factors, the first being when a teacher in Glasgow belted him twice for not knowing how to do long division and the second, much more serious, being subjected to grooming and abuse by the school captain, whose continuing presence in the community made him anxious to escape from Glasgow and Scotland at the earliest opportunity.
After training in Social Work in Edinburgh, the Church of Scotland Overseas Mission seemed to be an obvious choice. He was accepted. He had read in the late 1960s about the early work in Africa of Dr Ernesto Serolli, who went on to found the Serolli Institute. It is an international non-profit-making organisation that teaches community leaders how to establish and maintain projects in their community.
Instead of going to Malawi, as he had hoped, because of the strong connection between Malawi and Scotland, he was sent to Ghana where firstly he was required to become proficient in the local language and then, based in the industrial port of Tema, amongst other duties, he taught English to the unemployed and became involved in 'Operation Feed Yourself', in which he was in charge of agricultural workers, who were expected to grow crops like cassava, onions, yams, tomatoes, plantain, without tools. Eventually brutal treatment by the army led Miller to seek an alternative enterprise for sixteen of these men. A German deep into the forests of the far west of Ghana ran a latex-gathering enterprise. Retaining staff in such a remote situation was a problem. Miller offered him this team of reliable men and the venture proved to be such a success that Miller was given a parrot. (One of his books is entitled The parrot's tale.)
It was in Ghana that he met his wife, a teacher. He also met President J.J. Rawlings, a mulatto dictator, who was reduced to tears on meeting him because his father was from Scotland.
Miller, on being advised to study for a post-graduate degree in London, took up a post thereafter as an educational social worker in Stirling, in the course of which he dealt with problems like truancy and the effects of drunken fathers on families. Such cases brought him into contact with reporters to the Children's Panel, which was proving to be an effective innovation in Scotland in dealing with problem youngsters.
Subsequently he was employed for 27 years by the Children's Panel: his first position was as assistant area reporter for Kilmarnock; then he served as a reporter for Ayrshire in Kyle, Carrick and Doon Valley; and finally he was appointed the first area reporter for Dumfries and Galloway, where he dealt with the panoply of social work cases, including sexual abuse in the late 1980s.
Memory problems caused him to retire. On consulting a psychologist he found that, although he had pursued a very successful career in many fields and in various parts of the world, the trauma of his early life surfaced. He discovered that 40 years later his former abuser was teaching in a residential school in Boston in the USA. Miller caused him to be reported and he is currently serving a prison sentence there.
Farouq Ahmed, a prominent Pakistani living in Dumfries and special police constable, who had lost a niece in the devastating 2005 earthquake, asked Miller if he would go and teach children in Pakistan. In January 2006, armed with a wide range of suitable items for children's schooling, including puppets, he arrived in remote north-west Kashmir, 400 miles north of Islamabad.
When such disasters occur, aid floods in to try to relieve the situation. A Brigadier chaired a meeting to discuss how the aid was to be distributed to avoid corrupt practices. He appointed Miller camp manager because he was not a Muslim and therefore independent. Distribution of sugar and flour required a signature: it was significant that the young men signed with a thumb print, while the older men, educated in the days of the Raj, signed in ink.
Hidden under a blanket and given special protection, Miller travelled to UNICEF meetings in Mundahar. He became exhausted and dehydrated and was recovering in a compound when he found himself face to face with the very tall figure of Osama Bin Laden, who, on discovering he came from Scotland, left the scene abruptly. Pakistanis were prepared to give him cover because to them George W. Bush represented the devil. The authorities ignored Miller's evidence when he returned home later in 2006 and insisted that Bin Laden was in Afghanistan. Miller was ultimately proven to be correct.
Miller in retirement has worked voluntarily for the Shannon Trust by teaching prisoners to read and write and for the Cinnamon Trust doing pet-walking and other useful services for the elderly, so that they can remain in their own homes as long as possible. His writing is in some instances a fund-raising exercise.The unfolding biographical details of Miller Caldwell's life, delivered in a strong, clear voice, prove that a human being can recover from a serious setback and that someone so affected can succeed in life.
16 January 2015
Mac Creedon (Solway Offset) — Letterpress printing
The thirty-one members of the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society who braved the cold and the snow were treated to an enthralling journey through the history of printing by Mac Creedon, founder of Solway Offset. He began his career as a printer in 1955 when he became an apprentice compositor at Dinwiddie's. At that time, there were five printing houses in Dumfries town centre, employing around 150 people. Although they were rivals in business, there was very much a cooperative attitude between the five companies, being true 'guid nychburris' to each other, always willing to help out should one of their number be experiencing a temporary shortage of some vital material.
Although the Chinese had a form of printing, it was Johannes Gutenberg who made the critical step of inventing the first printing press around 1439. Printing presses spread rapidly thereafter, being brought to Britain by William Caxton in 1476. He set up his printing press in a disused chapel and to this day print shops are called Chapels, with the shop steward or head compositor called the Father of the Chapel.
The speaker then took his audience on a virtual walk through Dinwiddie's as he knew it when he began his apprenticeship. Behind the shop front on the High Street was the printing house, reached by adhering to the instructions: 'Follow the white line to Typewriter House.' This would bring the visitor to the Composing Room, lined with the Valuation Rolls of the County Council and ready to hand for annual amendments as people of the Rolls were added or removed through death or moving away. The most important item of equipment in this room was the Stone, a kind of very smooth and level table where individual letters taken from Cases (the terms Upper Case and Lower Case come from this piece of equipment) were assembled. A Case was a kind of boxed tray divided up internally by individual compartments for each letter in order, the size of each compartment varying according to the frequency of usage of each letter in English. The letters J and U were not in order, however, being placed last in a Case because they were late entrants to the present-day alphabets, after printing began. A team of ten people — three or four Journeymen, one Composer and the rest Apprentices — assembled and locked the letters into blocks ready for inking and printing. This was done on the Stone, where all meetings of the workers were also held, making it akin to an altar for the print trade.
From the Composing Room, the visitor (and the work) moved on to the Machine Room, with its two Wharfedale Printing Presses, able to print 500–750 sheets per hour (nowadays, such machines can print 15,000 per hour) and a single Heidelberg, the only automatic machine in Dinwiddie's, a machine made in Germany as the name suggests and still to be found in every printing house today.
From the Machine Room, the visitor would have moved on to the Litho or Lithography Room, its most critical piece of equipment being another Stone, a real stone this time, made of high quality limestone quarried in Germany. On this stone, an artist would draw whatever illustration was required, this then being transferred for printing by roller. After the print-run of that particular illustration was finished, it was the job of an apprentice to scrub the stone clean of all trace of what had had been painted onto it — a task that often took two hours!
Other sections of Dinwiddie's included Warehousing, Picture Framing, Typewriting and the Ruling Room, where lined paper was produced. To this day, the speaker remembers the strange smell always present in it because of the materials used. Another section in Dinwiddie's was the Bindery Department, employing three full-time craftsmen, and also had a constant strange odour, the result of the animal glue pots being heated up. Sheets might be glued directly to the spine of a book or sewn together in 32-page subsections before binding. Binderies were much more common in those days, the neighbouring Dumfries and Galloway Standard print shop also employing bookbinders. Today, as the speaker sadly told his audience, although Solway Offset in Dumfries has a Bindery, there are no others between Dumfries and Glasgow.
During his six-year Apprenticeship, the speaker worked on, among many other things, printing updates of the Valuation Rolls, business cards, Council meetings, work for companies such as Cochrane's and the diaries of the Royal Yacht Britannia (whose Captain was a personal friend of the young Mac Creedon's boss, Noel Dinwiddie). In 1956–7, it was decided centrally that all apprentices in every Trade should attend evening classes and, accordingly, for the next two years, the speaker would finish work an hour early one day each week to take the bus through to Carlisle for a two-hour class that taught him nothing useful about his trade!
When his Apprenticeship finished in 1961, he found a job in Edinburgh, working at the Daily Mail, an experience he found interesting but also shocking, coming up against for the first time against what was called 'quaint old Spanish customs' as well as the printing industry's penchant for hard drinking. One amusing memory he took away for his time at the Daily Mail was having to correct Sir Winston Churchill's obituary. After a time, he moved to a job at a Glasgow bookshop and then down to High Wycombe and the Bucks Free Press. At the time, a provincial printer would be earning £16 per week, the speaker because of his promoted post earning £55 per week. Fleet Street printers — very much a closed shop to outsiders — by contrast earned £55 per shift, with up to 10 shifts per week, earning as much as a High court Judge and putting them in the top 2% of wage-earners in the country. Each Father of the Chapel exerted great power and, when a visiting senior Scottish union secretary on a business trip to London was asked by his secretary to arrange a tour of the Daily Express, it was from the Father of the Chapel that permission was required. Fleet Street was able to keep the computer out long after its adoption by provincial newspapers but could not do so indefinitely. Although Eddy Shah and Rupert Murdoch are best known for breaking the power of the Fleet Street Unions, it was ultimately the computer.
The speaker returned to Dinwiddie's in 1967. A local worthy he knew was James Gunyeon ('Tim') Jeffs, a friend of Noel Dinwiddie and a Dumfries (and later Kirkcudbright) artist best known for the Civic Freedom ceremonial miniature caskets he carved and illuminated manuscripts executed for such figures as the astronaut Neil Armstrong on his award of the Freedom of Langholm. Another local worthy mentioned was Ivie Callan, founder of The Gallovidian, a printer greatly admired by the speaker. Callan was a skilled calligrapher, putting three copies of The Lord’s Prayer onto a silver threepenny bit!
The speaker also read out a very articulate, not to mention vituperative, 1840 letter written by a print worker, Amos Wardrop. His Chapel was in dispute with the print shop owner and Amos Wardrop, along with a colleague, had agreed to withdraw his labour at the instruction of the Union, but then reneged on the agreement and was called up before the Union, whom he accused of pursuing an unreasonable vendetta against the owner. Wardrop was dismissed from the Union, accordingly losing his job (it was a Closed Shop).
Eventually, the speaker left Dinwiddie's and, with the help of his local helpful bank manager, set up Solway Offset, using the newer offset printing technology, unlike the older five printing houses, all now gone. Solway Offset continues to this day as a successful business, one of its customers being the Transactions of the Society.
30 January 2015
Peter Robinson, CVCWT Ecologist/Project Manager —
Cree Valley Community Woodlands Trust
Cree Valley Community Woodlands Trust (CVCWT) was the subject of Peter Robinson, ecologist and project manager of the site in Galloway, when he addressed Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society at the end of January.
The Trust was formed in 1999. It does not own the woods which it manages; instead it has a 25-year lease on various woodland sites, mainly from the Forestry Commission. CVCWT's influence extends northwards up the eastern side of the Cree from Newton Stewart. It has a vision of establishing a Forest Habitat Network from "source to sea", which incorporates a mosaic of native broad-leaved woodland and other habitats for all to enjoy. Regeneration and re-planting are partly the means of achieving these ends. Oak is the main species; however, ash and alder are present; and birch, rowan, hazel and hawthorn also feature in the landscape, especially from regeneration. CVCWT has its own tree nursery. Peter Norman was involved with improving woodland pasture. Holly trees, very palatable higher up, have been planted as fodder for animals.
Various woods were visited on screen and the fauna and flora covered. Starting in the south, the growing number of woods managed by the Trust are Blairmount Park and Doonhill, Duncree, Knockman, Garlies in partnership with the RSPB which purchased Barclye Farm recently, Wood of Cree also with the RSPB, Carner, Minnoch, Water of Trool, Caldons and Buchan linked Glenhead. The early leases are well advanced, whereas the newer ones are in the early stages of adaptation.
The wonderful scenery, the range of trees and wide variety of plants and wildlife at these sites enabled Peter to deliver an awe-inspiring presentation, which cannot be replicated by the written word alone and the complete list of which is too numerous to mention.
As oakland is high on the list of the managed woods, its promotion formed the greater part of the talk. In the south Garlies Wood was part of the Earl of Galloway's estate, where there is a problem with fallow deer browsing. He established a deer park in the 1820s. The carpets of bluebells indicate ancient oak woodland.
There are vast stretches of coniferous woodland in Galloway. Camer Wood was underplanted with conifers in the 1970s: birch is early to regenerate when the conifers are taken out. Ferns, which had adapted to the shady conditions, prosper in the extra light; blaeberries, too. A second rotation of conifers would kill regeneration almost completely.
Buchan and Glenhead in the uppermost reaches feature sessile oak, which is the native species of Scotland. It is wooded right back to the fourteenth century. There is evidence of one-time coppicing and former industrial processes like tanning and charcoal production, which ceased in the early twentieth century. Common cow-weed, wood anenomes and waxy-leaved yellow pimpernel are to be seen. This woodland, along with Caldons Wood, is a site of special scientific interest (SSSI) because of the biophytes and lichens, which thrive in the wet western Atlantic conditions.
There is a wealth of some seven thousand species of fungi in the valley, such as oak mazegill, which looks like a maze; chicken of the woods, which is edible and growing up to two feet across on oak stumps; the unspectacular oakwood milkcap, which is one of the most important, as it is essential for the breakdown of minerals for the trees; pulmonaria, half fungi, half algae, a rare but important group; hoof fungus grows on old birch in the wetter areas.
Providing food for birds, invertebrates in the form, for instance, of black and grey slugs, woodlice, dor beetles (a variety of dung beetle), two-bar longhorn beetles, help to break down vegetation. Spiked shielbug, sabre wasp and artichoke gall wasp are present. Specialist invertebrates are a sign of ancient woodland. There are 21 species of butterfly, such as small pearl-bordered fritillary, purple hairstreak, large skipper and scotch argus.
There is a breeding list of over 40 species of bird, affording sightings of redstarts, which in the absence of holes in new trees require nest boxes; pied flycatchers, which strip bark from honeysuckle; ground-nesting wood warblers. Nuthatches, which never used to be seen in Scotland and which were few in number only three years ago, have now become very numerous. They will use nest boxes, but they paste mud round the hole to have it the size they want, a practice which seals the box.
Animal life is represented by bats, which will occupy nest boxes. Present are six species of bat, including Leisler's bat. The Galloway Forest has the potential to be a haven for red squirrels. There is ample evidence of badgers: they always bury their dung, in the process of which they throw up tell-tale large stones. They can occupy a sett for hundreds of years, as evidenced by the huge mound depicted on screen at one site. Monitoring of badger setts is crucial to attempts to curb badger-baiting. Fallow deer, in preventing regeneration of their territory, have caused, especially in the early stages of new planting, attempts to fence them out. Young tree protectors are also necessary. Roe deer are also present. The Forestry Commission manages the deer.
Another vital part of the work of the Trust involves the community from schoolchildren to the elderly. Every Wednesday a group of six to ten volunteers, a good number for events in the west of the region, go out to plant trees from the nursery, a valuable ecological and socialising activity. University students from Ayr are also involved. Walking Festival experts put up barn owl boxes.
Professional archaeologist, Rebecca Shaw, is involved in investigating the remains of former farm steadings, revealed by the felling of conifers. Currently a longhouse and barn are being exposed and recorded. One aim is to know what a Lowland corn kiln looked like; it is already known what a Highland one looked like. Eventually the hope is that a booklet will be produced.
Claire Macfarlane is pursuing pond-dipping and the rescue of worms with schools in the Newton Stewart area. Pupils were also engaged, along with senior citizens of Newton Stewart Day Centre, in writing poems, as a result of which a book was published. Penninghame Primary School pupils have also been planting trees.
Training events take place: for instance, Archie McConnell, wood-working specialist, has been giving guidance on identifying trees on countryside walks.
The public generally is welcomed. Increasing provision, the heavy work for which is carried out by contractors, is being made for exploring the valley by driving, car parking and/or walking so that visitors, arriving at the northern end from the A714 or at the southern end from the A75, may view the growing variety of interests of the natural world in Galloway, fostered by the work of CVCWT staff, like Peter Robinson.
13 February 2015
Dr Janet Brennan — Castles of Dumfries and Galloway in danger
The Castles of Dumfries and Galloway in Danger was the subject on which Dr Janet Brennan, chairwoman of the Scottish Castles Association, addressed a huge audience at the first February meeting of Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society. Her qualifications for undertaking the subject are of consequence, as she and her husband undertook a daunting restoration project of their own in the region.
The company was captivated from the very outset by her engaging personality. She injected humour into her delivery, despite the gravity of her message.
In Dumfries and Galloway there are 30 castles at risk and mostly in private hands. There was no intention of declaring a witch hunt on the owners, many of whom have these buildings on their land by chance, but they lack the resources to undertake very costly restoration.
Janet set herself the task of following up 58 castles/towers in the region inspected by McGibbon and Ross in the 1890s. More than a quarter have deteriorated in the last century. In the case of Cally Castle, as a mere lump in the ground, it is unrecognisable as a castle.
Her wide-ranging talk covered castles from east to west and from A to W, as it happened. The audience was invited to participate in a recognition game of the scenes in her PowerPoint presentation, which was accompanied by a brief history of each one visited. Auchenskeoch near Dalbeattie, the only Z-plan castle in Dumfries and Galloway, was first on the list, which ended with Wreaths Tower near Southerness, featured on Pont's map and associated with the Regent Morton, who might have taken the young James VI to stay there.
The list of buildings covered is too long to mention each individually. The varied fates, that have befallen these former strongholds provided sustained interest. Vandalism and plundering caused deterioration of the pink and grey granite of Barclosh, Kirkgunzeon. Castle Stewart in Wigtownshire with its now missing marriage stone and lovely doorway met a similar fate.
In contrast, Cassencarie near Creetown was lived in until the 1960s and is now at the heart of a caravan park supplied by a children's playground and a restaurant and pub in the soundest part of the building. Hoddom, with several additions over the centuries, including one by William Burn, and open to the elements, is also associated with a caravan park and served by a Take Away outlet. Such incongruous trading provides a form of protection.
Baldoon Castle, a Dunbar property in Wigtownshire, dates to the sixteenth century or earlier. It has several claims to fame: it sports a very fine pair of seventeenth-century Renaissance gates; the enforced marriage of Janet Dalrymple and her death on her wedding night were the inspiration for Scott's The Bride of Lammermoor and Donizetti's opera, Lucia di Lammermuir.
Dunskey at Portpatrick was bought in 1998 by a Romanian prince, but competing business interests in Europe, he claimed, thwarted his plans. It sits on a cliff top on a public right-of-way. Any restorer, despite spending the millions it requires, would not have privacy. Listed on the Castle Conservation Register, it requires urgent consolidation.
Janet's most stinging criticism was levelled at Historic Scotland for the disgraceful state of Lochmaben Castle, which ought to be better presented by this public body because of the significance of its connection with Robert the Bruce.
All is not doom and gloom, however. Janet listed a number of buildings which might have a promising future. For example, Machermore near Newton Stewart, fairly recently a care home, abandoned and with ceilings collapsing, has possibly been rescued at the eleventh hour by a couple of young pilots. These old buildings unfortunately can harbour hidden problems, as in this case where dry rot that will add to their costs, has been found. Myrton has been purchased by a German banker and Hills Tower is approaching completion of the restoration process by the Gibbs family. At Castle Haven, 'the Coo Palace', on the Borgue coast, was built as a milking parlour for cows and has been bought by the Holiday Bond Company for conversion into holiday lets.
Although the theme of the talk was 'buildings in danger' it was uplifting to end with a photograph of the Brennan's magnificent transformation at Barholm in the vicinity of Gatehouse of Fleet. It was a stronghold of the McCullochs and fell into disuse in the mid-eightenth century. The work, begun in 2003, was completed in 2006. Vision, courage, perseverance and deep pockets are required for what Janet described as "the very expensive business of restoration".
27 February 2015 — Members' Night
Neale Lawson — Caerlaverock Manse and Dr John Hutton
Neale Lawson presented an illustrated, erudite and well-researched paper on Dr John Hutton and the Manse of Caerlaverock to Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society on Members' Night.
Neale lived for a number of years at Caerlaverock manse where he discovered a stone in the garden wall, commemorating Hutton's construction of the manse of 1708, though he was not a minister. The current building is to a design by Walter Newall of 1837. His gift to the Parish of £1,000 prompted the research.
The earliest record of the land on which the manse stands is in the Book of Caerlaverock where on 4 May 1483 Robert, Lord Maxwell, and John, his son, granted land for the support of a chaplainry in the Kirk of Caerlaverock. Kirkblane was even older. There were others, such as the Castle chapel, St Columba’s chapel, the chapel at Glencaple and at Conheath.
Neale then gave a brief biography of several of the ministers of Caerlaverock, including William (Major) George (minister 1615–1669), John Menzies (6 months in 1670) and John Birnie of Broomhill.
Hutton is reputed to have been a herd boy to John Birnie, the Episcopalian minister of Caerlaverock in Dumfriesshire, but Neale raised some doubt about that as the dates do not correlate. Birnie provided the means to educate Hutton, who studied 'physic' in Edinburgh, going on to acquire his MD in Padua. Hutton was a Founder Member of the Royal College of Physicians in Edinburgh in 1681. He was not invited along with other Members of the Royal College, who were being knighted at Holyrood by James VII because of his Presbyterian sympathies. For a time Hutton lived in Paris where he bought wood block prints and books for the Scottish gentry. Clearly he was fluent in several European languages.
When Princess Mary of Orange suffered a riding accident in 1686 Hutton was the nearest physician and the incident resulted in his appointment as Princess Mary’s physician. Hutton was also appointed physician to William's confidante the Hon. Henry Sidney. He then became the first royal physician.
Hutton accompanied William III on his campaigns in Ireland and Flanders and was present at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. Hutton was perhaps present at the king's death because he was one of the four signatories of the autopsy on the king in 1702. Subsequently he found little favour with the court due to the influence of the Duchess of Marlborough on Queen Anne.
He was in London and Hanover for the next few years. He then became involved with the Hanoverian court and was a confidential agent for the Earl of Rochester, who was seeking information about the intentions of the Electress Sophia and her son, Prince George. He was elected as a member of a Committee of the Royal Society, whose chairman was Sir Isaac Newton; another member was Sir Christopher Wren.
Hutton approved of the Union with Scotland, which presented him with new political opportunities and, though defeated in 1708, he eventually served as a Member of Parliament for Dumfries Burgh 1710 to 1712. He set up trusts and founded the Hutton School in Bankend. He tried to establish a Public Postal Service between Dumfries and Carlisle. He established a library for the Presbytery of Dumfries.
A bachelor, Hutton died in December 1712 and was buried in Somerset House chapel. Remaining faithful to his origins, he bequeathed £1,000 for a charitable trust for the poor of Caerlaverock. The bulk of his fortune was granted to relations and friends, comprising four annuities of £10 per annum and individual bequests totalling over £1,800. The unspecified remainder went to his cousin and sole executor, Thomas Hutton, keeper of Somerset House, who had continued to provide grace and favour lodgings there for him.
Hutton had a coat of arms, probably due to his Scottish antecedents. There are Hutton graves in Caerlaverock Churchyard.
This fascinating talk was concluded with mention of some local legends, including the ghost of Caerlaverock Manse, Burns' visit to the manse, and Sir Walter Scott's Mount Sharon in Redgauntlet is reputed to have been based on the manse.
13 March 2015
Vyv Wood-Gee, Access Consultant— In the footsteps of the Drovers: from Skye to Smithfield
Sixty-eighty members and guests of the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society were taken on an enthralling virtual horseback ride from Stornoway to Smithfield by Vyv Wood-Gee. Sometimes with a family member, sometimes with a friend, but mostly accompanied only by her redoubtable two Fell ponies, the speaker sought to retrace the steps taken by drovers driving their cattle from the Highlands down to London's Smithfield Market. She began at Dunvegan, where cattle from the Outer Hebrides were swum ashore from little boats and then it was a ride between the Red and Black Cuillins to the Glenelg ferry. In the time of the drovers, there was no ferry and it was a perilous swim across Kyle Rhea for both drovers and cattle. At the peak of droving, 4000 cattle made the crossing each year.
Once safely across, the drovers by a variety of routes would make for the tryst at Crieff, and then later for Falkirk when it supplanted Crieff in importance as a tryst. The speaker sought as far as possible to follow one such route through Kinloch Hourn, Tomdoun and on south to Spean Bridge. Drovers were limited to 10–15 miles per day: otherwise, their cattle would lose weight. Pressure of time, however, meant the speaker aiming for 25–30 miles daily, but she still faced the same problems confronting the drovers — where to cross rivers, how to get across bogs, where to find shelter for the night, and finding farriers to re-shoe her ponies. Interestingly, the drovers' cattle were also shod to protect their hooves on the long walk south. On some nights, she was able to stay in inns or B&Bs, but other nights were spent in barns, bothies or a tent. And at each place, there must be grazing for her ponies and somewhere safe to keep them, especially as one of the ponies had a tendency to wander off in the night!
Obstacles the drovers did not face were reservoirs, padlocked gates and drover tracks that stopped abruptly in the middle of nowhere, only to resume a few miles (and bogs!) further on. But our intrepid later-day drover made it safely and on schedule (just!) to the West Highland Way, where were encountered masses of walkers who all wanted to know what she was doing. One memorable meeting was with an all-girl group of singers who were astonished to finally understand the words of a song they often sang, 'The Lads o' the Fair', with its lines such as 'three lang weeks frae the Isle o' Skye' to the 'trystin fair at Falkirk.'
From Falkirk via the Carse of Stirling, the drover route went on through Livingston to the Pentlands and then southwards along the 'Thieves' Road' to West Linton, Peebles, Hawick and Newcastleton, crossing into England and the Kielder Forest at 'Bloody Bush'. Our speaker's problems changed as she moved steadily south through Bishop Auckland, York, Selby and Lincoln, with more and more man-made obstacles such as roads, canals and padlocked gates across what had once been a drover's road. Twice she travelled on drovers roads that had been prehistoric routes and then became Roman Roads — Ermine Street and Icknield Way. And all along her path south could be found evidence of the drovers — streets named 'drovers way' or 'calf lane', and buildings called 'Drovers Inn' or suchlike. But sadly, few of the locals seemed to be aware of their local history. Along the way, too, despite meticulous advance planning, she sometimes found herself unexpectedly the recipient of the kindness of strangers giving overnight shelter to herself and her ponies. Ironically, the only sour note came when her ponies were grazing on a verge outside York Racecourse and an official came out to brusquely inform her that horses were not allowed! There was a minor problem, too, in London when an anonymous voice from the Metropolitan Police informed her that horses were forbidden in London (tell that to the Household Cavalry), but a phone call a little higher up the Sensible Chain sorted out that problem and, as shown in an astonishing series of slides taken by re-uniting family members, she took her ponies gently through the London traffic to reach Smithfield Market, the final destination of her epic journey and of the cattle whose route south she had faithfully followed.
28 March 2015
Barbara and Richard Mearns — Scottish Birds in Mongolia
The annual meeting of Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society held in Galloway 2014–2015 took place in Castle Douglas. Illness of the intended speaker at the eleventh hour meant that the membership was greatly indebted to Barbara and Richard Mearns, respected ornithologists, who agreed to step in as replacements to present a talk, Scottish Birds in Mongolia.
Richard's mother visited the country in the 1930s. The Mearns like to "go camping in the middle of nowhere in fine weather". On a map, to locate Mongolia, a Communist country till the 1990s, find Lake Baikal and move southwards. Arriving in gridlocked Ulaan Bator, 4,500feet above sea level, and having teamed up with a trio arranged for them by the Mongolian Ornithological Society, comprising driver of their sturdy Russian vehicle (with spare petrol tank), guide and female cook, they sought the wide open spaces of northern parts of this country of three million people, almost half of whom live in the capital, in a land twenty times the size of Scotland and for which there is no published ornithological guide book.
Richard stressed that the birds they largely planned to show by means of their excellent photography were not birds that had migrated between Scotland and Mongolia, but rather species whose range extended from Scotland as far as Mongolia.
They aimed to track down Pallas's Sandgrouse, a bird that has occurred in Scotland only ten times in the last few years at, for instance, Southerness and Torrs Warren.
The great tit, nuthatch and common buzzard were widespread, as they are in Scotland now, although the nuthatch is a recent arrival north of the border. Immediately the audience was impressed by the quality of the photography and the couple's success in viewing an immense number of species in three weeks.
Richard undertook to cover wetland and scrubland habitats. Shallow lakes were more productive of sightings than large deep ones. Whooper swans, tufted and pochard duck were very much in evidence, just as they are at Mersehead and Caerlaverock, but it was a thrill for them to see for the very first time whooper cygnets. Flocks of greylag geese were to be seen, but they were a different, greyer form. Rarer Scottish species such as the Eurasian spoonbill, which bred in Kirkcudbright a few years ago, white-tailed sea eagle, black-winged stilt and the black-throated diver were viewed. Snipe, plover, dunlin, curlew and cormorant were among the many species added to their list. As it was June they came across nests of eggs and chicks.
On the Mongolian grassland of the Eurasian Steppes camels were encountered: they were not wild but owned by someone. There were huge numbers of livestock, such as compact horses for riding and eating, red deer and even recognisable, but far from prize-winning, belted Galloways.
Predating species, like foxes, fed vast numbers of Brandt’s diurnal vole to their cubs; black vulture and griffin vultures were aplenty, but not many crows or ravens roamed the plains. Sadly the first (but not the last fortunately) Pallas's sandgrouse they spotted was dead and being consumed by a saker. Intriguingly, sandgrouse wet their breast feathers in order to give water to their chicks. Some other open country species they chanced upon were grey shrike, characteristically perched on top of a bush just as can be seen in Scotland occasionally; wheatear; and one not found in Scotland — Henderson's ground jay, feeding voraciously on crickets.
Barbara described mountain habitats up to ten thousand. It was a relief their trusty vehicle could access many of them. They were eager to locate the snowcock, "a must-see for the only time in their lives", which is only to be found in the highest mountains of central and southern Asia and which caused them to rise in eager anticipation at 5 o'clock, one morning. The size of a partridge, this lovely bird of limited flying ability and which can survive the winter cold to minus 40°C, was spotted and photographed clinging to a rock face. Lammergeier and golden eagle feed on chunky marmots, a mammal that huddles together underground in winter for warmth. Other sources of food are Daurian pika, whose up to three litters a year offer sustenance, as do Pallas's pika. Snowfinches and rock thrushes were added to their expanding list.
Moving to forested situations, Barbara showed collared doves, which caused a sensation on first appearing in Scotland in the 1950s and is now common here. Tree sparrows and swallows (a different sub-species from ours), crossbills and pine bunting (like our yellowhammers) flew around. To see huge flocks of choughs, about 500, was a marked contrast to Scotland, which has only about 80 breeding pairs on the west coast.
They were advised to sit quietly by a stream in the heat of the day and the birds would come: sure enough white wagtail were breeding there and twite and hawfinches emerged, as did flocks of sheep, goats, yak with their nomadic herders, who were frequently seen, even though there are thirteen times as many horses as people in Mongolia.
Interested in lifestyle, the couple spent a few nights in a tourist ger camp. Barbara was keen to witness the construction of a ger, the standard accommodation of nomadic families, who move about four times in a year, but tend to return to the same places. Gers, made of well-patched skins, fitted to a circular wooden framework can last 100 to 150 years and can be erected in half an hour. Once the central wood-burning stove is lit the interior becomes warm and comfortable. The beautiful painted doors add variety and colour to a settlement. In summer the wind blows through for coolness. The women work hard. They milk the animals, make cheese and accomplish many other chores. Seven times as many girls as boys attend university and hence they are better-educated.
Rain towards the end of their trip freshened the foliage and enhanced the scene for photographing plants, butterflies and the natural world in general.
A question arose: who was Pallas? The Mearns have made a special study of such people and in 1988 their highly-rated publication, Biographies for Birdwatchers appeared. The immediate response: "Peter Simon Pallas was an 18th/19th Century German zoologist". A comment from the audience was that, although the speaker had come to hear about S.R. Crockett, she found Barbara and Richard’s talk very enjoyable. Enthusiastic applause followed.