Beattock
The Dumfriesshire Companion
Haig Gordon

THEMES & PERSONALITIES

Introduction

Some Historical Background

The Border

From Westerkirk to Westminster Abbey -
Thomas Telford


Robert Burns - Doonhamer

The Sage of Ecclefechan - Thomas Carlyle

Hugh MacDiarmid and the Muckle Toon

Other Literary Figures

The Artists

Fame and Fortune

Other Pairs of Eyes

Beattock

Beattock's history is as a stopping-place along major lines of communication. The Romans laid a road along here, part of their route between the Solway and the Clyde and there is evidence of one of their forts at Milton to the south-east. When Thomas Telford supervised the building of the new Carlisle-Glasgow road in the early 1800s an inn here was part of the scheme. Was it the 'abominable' inn at which the circuit judge Lord Cockburn stayed in 1839 when he noted in his journal that the landlord was 'a living dunghill'?

When the Caledonian Railway was opened in 1848 Beattock had a station (closed in 1972) and it was here that some steam locomotives had to take a pull up to the famous Beattock Summit, the most difficult railway gradient in Britain. It featured in the poet W H Auden's commentary for the classic 1930s documentary film Night Mail:

This is the Night Mail crossing the Border,
Bringing the cheque and the postal order,

Letters for the rich, letters for the poor,
The shop at the corner, the girl next door.

Pulling up Beattock, a steady climb:
The gradient's against her, but she's on time.

The Beattock area was Johnstone territory. From the twelfth until the early eighteenth century the headquarters of this powerful clan of the western marches was Lochwood Tower, to the south of the village.

All that remains of the once-proud Johnstone stronghold Lochwood Tower

The Johnstones were notorious for their long feud with the Maxwells (see The Border). In 1585 the Maxwells succeeded in setting Lochwood on fire but it must have been a sturdy old structure, for just seven years later the Johnstones were entertaining King James VI here on a stopover.

The King is reputed to have teased his hosts by remarking that whoever built such an immense fortification must have been 'a knave at heart'.


Lochwood Tower should not be confused with the similar-sounding Lochhouse Tower, another Johnstone-affiliated stronghold to the north of Beattock.
Built in the sixteenth century, it was re-roofed in the 1970s.

The prominent Auchen Castle Hotel is of course not a castle at all but a Victorian fantasy. The name has provenance hereabouts, though: to the hotel's south are the ruins of Auchen Castle, built for the Kirkpatricks around 1300 and sometimes referred to locally as Auchencass.

 
The ruins of the medieval Auchen Castle and its Victorian successor.

Visitors to the nineteenth-century kirk may be puzzled by the parish name: Kirkpatrick-Juxta. Why juxta [Latin, 'next to']? The south-west of Scotland has several other kirks dedicated to the Irish saint: Kirkpatrick-Durham, Kirkpatrick-Fleming, Kirkpatrick-Irongray and Kirkpatrick in Nithsdale. All were once under the bishopric of Glasgow and in the fifteenth century Beattock's Kirkpatrick was so named because it was the most 'juxta' to Glasgow.


To the south-west of the village, the mansion of Craigielands (its grounds now a far from exclusive camp-site) was built around 1817 for the brewing magnate William Younger. In the 1920s it was the childhood home of the media mogul Sir Denis Forman (born 1917). He wrote a memoir of this period, Son of Adam (1990), which was re-issued in 2000 as My Life So Far, the title of its cinematic adaptation starring Colin Firth and directed by Hugh Hudson of Chariots of Fire fame.

The book is a vivid depiction of a class-ridden rural way of life that did not survive the Second World War and of the young Denis's growing sense of affinity with the lower orders who laboured for his parents:

As time went on I found that I was happier in the company of the farm hands and estate workers than at the Craigielands dining table... I liked their laconic mode of speech and their sharp turn of phrase. Indeed it became my own favourite tongue and even at table I would often slip from drawing-room English into broad Lallans. I was checked for this and didn't mind: it was more painful the other way round. Once, when we were sawing up an old oak tree by the drive, a gentleman neighbour came past in a car and asked me where my father was. 'He's gone to Edinburgh to see the osteopath,' I replied and I could hear the echo of Jock Wilson imitating my English accent in a high falsetto. 'Ed-in-bro to see the osti-o-path'. I felt deeply ashamed for a long time after that, but could not work out why.

'As I grew older and saw more of them,' Forman confesses, 'I came to think that perhaps I preferred the likes of them to the likes of us.' There speaks the man who later in life, working for Granada Television, would help create that decidedly non-upper-crust entertainment Coronation Street.

Many decades later Forman re-visited Craigielands and his observations of how much the house and the estate had changed bring the book to a melancholy conclusion:

Craigielands today is a scene of devastation. Some of the great park trees have been cut down to make room for time-share holiday lodges. There is a caravan park where the trout used to run up the burn to spawn. The lake is silted up and weed-covered, and in the remaining open water there is a flotilla of yellow plastic canoes. The house is uninhabited, its sole function being to provide for the sanitary and washing requirements of the holiday makers. The flagged basement is a store for fence wire, water pipes and the bric-a-brac associated with the maintenance of a holiday village, and in the Palladian hall, now a laundrette, two rows of washing machines stare at each other with sad Cyclopean eyes.

FURTHER READING

MAPS

PLACES

Ae
Amisfield
Annan
Auldgirth
Bankend
Beattock
Bentpath
Brydekirk
Canonbie
Carronbridge
Carrurtherstown
Chapelknowe
Clarencefield
Closeburn
Collin
Cummertrees
Dalswinton
Dalton
Dornock
Dumfries
Duncow
Dunscore
Durisdeer
Eaglesfield
Eastriggs
Ecclefechan
Eskdalemuir
Glencaple
Gretna
Hightae
Holywood
Johnstonebridge
Kettleholm
Kirkconnel
Kirkpatrick Fleming
Kirkton
Kirtlebridge
Langholm
Lochmaben
Lockerbie
Middlebie
Moffat
Moniaive
Mouswald
Newton Wamphray
Parkgate
Penpont
Powfoot
Ruthwell
Sanquhar
Templand
Thornhill
Tinwald
Torthorwald
Tynron
Wanlockhead
Waterbeck

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