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The upper section of the Doon valley is an intriguing area with a fascinating industrial and social history stretching far back on the wings of time. The village of Dalmellington lies at a height of 600 feet above sea level some 15 miles south east of Ayr. It is situated about 1 mile east of the romantic River Doon, made famous by the world-renowned bard, Robert Burns, who certainly knew this welcoming corner of Ayrshire. The origins of the village name can be read in two ways, either as Dal Muilean Tuin, “the fort on the plain of the mills,” or Dal Meallan Tuin, “the fort on the plain of the hills.” There is evidence for both as there are mills, and there are hills, or mounds. The famous Motte located at the east end of the village is notably a large smooth eminence proudly rising above the town, where the ancient Pictish inhabitants perhaps met to settle matters of law and custom. At such places matters of concern to all were raised, or “mooted,” for discussion.

Dalmellington is especially precious to its many sons, none more so than those who have left the district. One of the most ardent supporters of the village was the Rev George S Hendrie, Minister of Dalmellington 1880 – 1924, who in 1889 penned The Parish of Dalmellington: History, Antiquities and Objects of Interest. This booklet was reprinted in 1902 and is still regarded by many as the outstanding historical account of the town and district. In his summing up of Dalmellington he writes: “Here in Dalmellington we have our own share of legend. There is scarcely an epoch in our history that is not represented by some story touched on in this history of the parish. It is an old historic land that lies round our door, a land that has seen brave, and oft-times fierce, contendings for liberty, a land in which industrial peace has had its victories, no less than war. Men have here literally ‘beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.’ Let us not forget its past, and the lessons we may learn therefrom.”

The old cemetery contains a Covenanting memorial and a plaque to the blacksmith poet of the village, Robert Hettrick (1769 – 1849). The plaque was placed over his grave in 1888, partly at the expense of a relative, and partly by public subscription, a mural tablet with the following inscription:-

Author of “Poems and Songs”
Born at Dalmellington, 1769 – Died, December, 1849.

Sadly, the old cemetery has been extensively vandalised and neglected and many interesting headstones have been lost. Similarly, St. Barbara’s RC Church, completed 1961, octagonal shaped and copper-roofed which sat aloft on the edge of the medieval motte, was the subject of ongoing and extensive vandalism from its earliest days. For many years the chapel stood abandoned and forlorn, a monument to the power of mindless vandals. It was finally demolished on 12 July 2003.

Dalmellington Parish Church (1846) sits on a commanding position overlooking the village. Designed by Patrick Wilson of Edinburgh and built by McCandlish of New Galloway, the building is of neo-Norman style with a distinctive tower. Nearby is the 1766 harled church hall, formerly the old church built by James Armour, and recent renovations have been effectively carried out by a dedicated and enthusiastic small band of older church members. Dalmellington Parish Church (formerly the Kirk o’ the Covenant) has a very valuable collection of Covenanting silver. The small cups dating from 1637 and 1650 are reputed to have been taken into the nearby hills around Benbeoch Craig by Rev Alexander Stevenstone (1648-1680) where they were used to give communion. In 1869 communion cards were introduced at the church in place of metal tokens. The present minister is Rev Kenneth Yorke. The former Lamloch Church (1851) built by David Millar, is also a notable building and the museum at Cathcartston, which boasts a date stone of 1744, will also reveal much of the extensive history of the village.

The jewel-in-the-crown of Dalmellington in terms of large mansions is undoubtedly Craigengillan House, c.1780 which is seen at its best looking across the valley from the road to Loch Doon. John McAdam, who made his fortune as a drover, enlarged or built the house in what has been described as ‘unadventurous Georgian manner.’ About 1820 a manorial entrance was added to the east wing. There is also a spectacular domed tower and a square tower with impressive Georgian stables. The current owner is Mark Gibson. The house and grounds now host major events such as televised international boxing matches, corporate dinners and weddings. There is no doubt that this elegant house with its beautiful views over the Doon will continue to attract many new events in the future. An earlier Laird of Craigengillan, Quintin McAdam, was remarkable in that his widow, Elizabeth Walker, raised a famous action for declarator of marriage, which was based on the following (very brief) circumstances that occurred at Craigengillan on 22 March 1805. He is said to have called three men-servants into the hall one day, and holding the hand of Elizabeth Walker, who in 1800 he “took into keeping” said, “I take you three to witness that this is my lawful married wife, and the children by her are my lawful children.” Tragically, the disturbed man then immediately left the hall and shot himself.

The old Laird’s son, also Quintin McAdam, with whom Elizabeth Walker was pregnant at the time of the demise of his father, was responsible for building the romantic walk up the Ness Glen which today is overgrown, dangerous and not recommended for the casual visitor. In boyhood days when life seemed so happy and simple, the writer has many precious memories of walks through Ness Glen to Loch Doon and picnics at Perkelly Burn, often thronged with local folk and joyous children paddling in the sunlit summer stream.

About 1½ miles south of the Straiton Road at the Doon Brig, there is the dramatic waterfall at Dalcairnie (OS77: 466 043) that can be seen at its best when the Dalcairnie burn is in spate. On the Cumnock Road two miles from the village, Ben Beoch Craig (OS77: 498 084) at a height of 1,522 feet above sea level, is seen in spectacular fashion from above Pennyvenie. It has been described as a miniature Giant’s Causeway and one can easily picture it as a place of sanctuary for the Covenanters with many caves on its lower slopes. However, due to open cast working in the area it is best not to approach this hill without permission.

According to William Douglas (In Ayrshire - 1872) the history of Dalmellington can be traced as far back as 1003 when there was some shape of existence at its present location. Mention is also made of the little church in Dalmellington in the records of the Diocese of Glasgow towards the end of the 13th century. It is known that this original church was situated in the old graveyard below the motte in the village, although all traces of it have long ago ceased to exist.

Dalmellington was strategically located on an ancient route from the south which linked up with the Old Edinburgh Road to Galloway and the pilgrim way to Whithorn. The years 1681 – 1685 are known as the Killing Times because of the atrocities committed. James Graham, Earl of Claverhouse, Viscount Dundee, was among those who committed them. He earned his nickname “Bloody Clavers” for his brutal suppression of the Covenanters. He was regularly in Galloway and indeed is said to have been billeted for a time with Grierson of Lag and his moss-troopers at Garryhorn Farm, Carsphairn. Woodrow asserts that 600 troops, armed with cannon, ammunition, iron shackles and fetters, were quartered in Dalmellington Parish in 1685, living off the land. They caused considerable upset to the local population which then numbered only a few hundred, on whom the soldiers would have been billeted. Fines were levied for worship in the open air, people were imprisoned, families dispersed and houses plundered.

Many other young men, especially those from the farming community, became involved with the Covenanters and the names of Sloss, McAdam, McWhirter and Paterson appear in the Covenanting records.

For many people Dalmellington is synonymous with the 6 mile long Loch Doon, the largest of all the Southern Upland lochs, located 3 miles south of the village. The loch is surrounded by some of the most dramatic and beautiful scenery in Scotland with the Kells Range on its eastern flank, the Dungeon Range on its southern edge and all of these dominated by the majestic Merrick (2,764 ft) and neighbouring hills to the south west. This relatively unknown area now abounds with tourists and the lochside is, unfortunately, often littered with caravans all-year round which detracts from the outstanding scenic beauty of the area.

At Loch Doon Dam the River Doon descends dramatically into Ness Glen, with its sheer rocky sides making it a somewhat inhospitable area, and thunders for about 1 mile before it settles into the bonny banks and braes through the lower Craigengillan policies. The first mile of the River Doon is arguably the finest and most picturesque of its course, but sadly the overgrown glen makes access almost impossible for the casual visitor. Robert Hettrick, the blacksmith poet of Dalmellington describes it thus in his poem Craigs of Ness:

Where from the Doon her silver torrents pour;
With wonder and surprise we here behold
The yawning glen its dizzy steeps unfold;
And art and nature here we see combined.

Loch Doon Castle is of ancient lineage and MacArthur states that the Galloway Picts used Castle Island to fight off invasion by the Cambrian Celts in the fourth century. In 1823 nine ancient Pictish canoes, of hollowed oak 23 feet long, 2 foot 6 inches deep and 3 ft. 9 in. broad were discovered. Three of the canoes were recovered, and one was sent to the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow, while the other two were placed in shallow water at the foot of the loch. In 1306 and 1319 the castle was besieged by the English who periodically invaded southern Scotland for some time after Bannockburn. However, it was said that the castle remained impregnable. During the reign of James V, who endeavoured to curb the powers of the Barons, the castle was burned down and the immense oaken roof was thrown into the loch. This area is now becoming quite well known and the narrow road to Loch Doon Castle can be busy with traffic, especially when the weather is good.

In support of the 1914-18 war effort an attempt was made to construct a School of Aeriel Gunnery using flying boats at Loch Doon in 1916. Despite the warnings and concerns of local people, the planners went ahead. Hangars, roads and jetties were built and the level of the loch was raised. However in the end the notoriously bad weather finally persuaded them that their plans were indeed fatally flawed and a subsequent parliamentary enquiry concluded that “Loch Doon will be remembered as the scene of one of the most striking instances of wasted expenditure (in excess of £3m) that our records can show.” An airfield covering some 88 acres was also constructed at Bogton on the western edge of Dalmellington and this remained an operational airfield until the end of the war. The remains of the hangars can still be seen on this site. Few people today will be aware of the frenzied military activity which took place in Dalmellington and at nearby Loch Doon.

Like many other Ayrshire towns of the 17th and 18th century, hand-loom weaving was one of the staple cottage industries, but as the 19th century progressed this trade went into a long and gradual decline, to be replaced by the growth of the mining industry with which the Doon Valley villages are proudly associated. From the late 1840’s The Dalmellington Iron Company and its successors operated dozens of pits and drift mines in the Doon Valley extracting coal and ironstone. Pits such as Bowhill, Polnessan, Dalharco, Houldsworth, Jellieston, Burnfoot, Drumgrange, Dunaskin, Corbie Craigs, Craigmark, Minnivey, Bogton, Sillyhole, Chalmerston, Pennyvenie, Clawfin, Benbain and Beoch had many underground workings until deep mining ceased in 1979 with the closure of Pennyvenie.

The Dalmellington Curling Club is believed to be the oldest surviving organisation in the village having been established in 1841 and several villagers are still office-bearers in the club. Dalmellington is proud to be able to boast one of the finest brass bands in the United Kingdom. Dalmellington Band was formed in 1864 and have won the Scottish Championships on three occasions, 1969, 1976 and 1978. In 2004 it is hoped that a new state-of-the-art band hall will be completed and allow the band the opportunity of continuing as the best known face of Dalmellington well into the 21st century. In 1864 Lodge St. Thomas (Kilwinning) Dalmellington No. 433 was formed following a meeting in David McBlane’s pub (this was a pub at the end of the close between Dalmellington Inn and Dales Butcher shop). This meeting was held on 1st April 1864 and the lodge now has its own premises in Low Main Street.

Three miles north of Dalmellington the visitor will find Waterside which sits on the edge of Green Hill and was once a thriving industrial village. There was a dramatic growth in the workforce of the Dalmellington Iron Company and by the end of the 1850s Waterside had grown out of all proportion, there being 237 houses and a local economy which was booming.

As the visitor approaches the view is dominated by two massive chimneys at 143 and 160 feet. These ‘lums’ as they are known locally, dominate the surroundings. They dwarf the massive ironstone bing and bear testimony to the extensive mining and iron producing activities of the Dalmellington Iron Company. The Ayr Advertiser of 15 May 1847 issued a word of caution that “the proprietors of Dalmellington Ironworks intend erecting houses for their workers adjacent to their mines. We hope that the causes of disease, especially smallpox and measles, reported in the newspapers, will cause the proprietors to see that the site chosen is properly drained and the houses, when built, of sufficient size and well ventilated.” In a report of 17 June 1847 it was highlighted that smallpox and measles were very prevalent in Dalmellington and district, although few deaths had occurred. However, it did go on to explain that “general complaints are on the increase and are considered by many to arise from the poor diet used by the poor, who are unable to purchase suitable food at such high prices that prevail.”

The Ironworks came into being in 1845, and totally changed the character of this section of the upper Doon Valley. The Ironworks quickly flourished and expanded. Sometimes as many as seven furnaces were in blast at one time, the blast engine requiring to be doubled in 1866. A hardworking and poorly paid workforce varied from 900 to almost 2,000. Besides miners, The Dalmellington Iron Company employed all sorts of craftsmen who cast hundreds of tons of metal in a day, and sent the name Dalmellington stamped upon its bars to all parts of the world where pig iron was used. Interestingly, the blast engine house still stands today and bears the date 1847. Smith records that when the great beam for the blast engine house was brought by road from Ayr, twenty-four pairs of horses were provided to haul it up the Asylum Brae.

The ironworks village had a singular confusion of names. It was called Waterside after the name of the nearby farm and this was the name adopted by the Glasgow and South Western Railway for their station. However, the postal authorities called it Dunaskin. Hence even today, Waterside and Dunaskin are very much interchangeable. The fascinating history of Waterside is recorded in considerable detail by David L Smith in The Dalmellington Iron Company – Its Engines and Men. This excellent and rare book is a factual and entertaining account of the industrial development of the area and is commended to the reader.

Like Dalmellington, Waterside also boasts a poet of note. Matthew Anderson, the policeman poet of the Ayrshire Constabulary, was born in Waterside on 7 June 1864 at 60 Truffhill Row. Like his world-renowned counterpart, Anderson began his working life as a farm hand. He abandoned this work at an early age, however, and put his energies to good use in the Royal Marines where he spent three years as a gunner. However, he was later to join the ranks of the Ayrshire Constabulary where he served in such far flung places as Dalmellington, Symington, Barrmill, Kilwinning, Coylton, Drongan and Irvine. Matthew Anderson, like many of his peers, was well educated and held strong views which did not always make him popular with higher ranking officers in the constabulary. Anderson had a great knowledge and understanding of people and a strong interest in nature which is reflected in his poems. His output was prolific and includes Poems and Songs (1891), Poems of a Policeman (1898), which were very popular in the county of Ayr. In retiral, he lived in Kilmarnock and died there on 14 November 1948 aged 84. He often wrote poems about the villages where he worked. Of Waterside, his birthplace, he wrote:

This happened a’ at Waterside,
As braw a place as ony, O,
Where dark, and deep, and smooth, and wide
The river Doon rins bonnie, O;
Where nicht is no like nicht ava,
For aye sae cheerie;, aye sae braw,
The furnaces they bleeze awa’
An’ licht up every crannie, O
Oh, ‘tis a lovely countryside

[edit] Notes

  1. , Dalmellington and Burnton Locality General Register Office for Scotland. Accessed 2007-10-11.
  2. , Reid lives in Beith, Ayrshire and is always keen to receive photographs of yesteryear relating to the Doon Valley. [1].

[edit] References

  • Moore, John. Gently Flows the Doon. A guide to the Dalmellington, Patna and Loch Doon Area (1972) Pub. Dalmellington District Council, ISBN 0-9502841-0-6
  • Reid, Donald L. Old Dalmellington, Patna & Waterside (2001) Pub. Stenlake of Catrine, ISBN 0 1 84033 149 6
  • Reid, Donald L. Doon Valley Memories - Dalmellington, Dunaskin, Patna & District (2002) Pub Donald L Reid - ISBN 0 9522720 8 3
  • Reid, Donald L. Doon Valley Bygones. A Pictorial Journey Down Memory Lane (2004)Pub. Donald L Reid, ISBN 0-9522720-3-2
  • Reid, Donald L, Robert Burns' Valley of Doon (2005) Pub. Donald L Reid, ISBN 0-0 9522720-2-4

Coordinates: 55°19'N, 4°23'W

(Source: Wikipedia)
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