Eskdalemuir
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

Eskdalemuir

A place of good vibrations, you might say: electromagnetic and spiritual.


Eskdalemuir Observatory opened in purpose-built premises here in 1908. It is a world-renowned centre for the monitoring of climatic conditions, seismic movements, a tmospheric pollution and changes to the Earth's magnetic field.

This kind of work was originally conducted at Kew in London but the introduction of electric tramcars interfered with the scientists' measurements and an alternative site had to be found. Eskdalemuir was chosen because of a remoteness that is combined nonetheless with relative accessibility. The observatory is run jointly by both the Meteorological Office and the British Geological Survey.


In 1967, when the Chinese were overrunning Tibet, two Buddhist monks came from the 'roof of the world' to the 'roof of Dumfriesshire' and established the Samye Ling Monastery. It was the first of its kind to be set up in the West and is now at the heart of an international network of centres promoting spiritual health and preserving the Buddhist traditions of Tibet.


Samye Ling

Around the original Johnstone House, a plain mid-nineteenth-century farmhouse, a sprawling complex of exotic structures has developed, a giant DIY project undertaken by residents and volunteers over many years. The temple was officially opened in 1988 after a decade's labour. 'It looks kitsch to Western eyes' is the judgement of the Buildings of Scotland guide to Dumfries and Galloway.

The centre is now a major attraction for converts and for the simply curious. Visitors enter through the huge Samye Liberation Gate and can take refreshments in the Tibetan Tearoom. The Tibetan and Scottish traditions converge in the Cloutie Tree: both cultures have a custom of marking the making of a wish by attaching a ribbon to a branch. 'As the cloth fades the wish is carried off by the elements and hopefully one day comes true.'


Amidst all this colourful Eastern exoticism the dour box that is Eskdalemuir's parish kirk of 1826 seems more than usually austere, even for a temple of Presbyterianism.

Eskdalemuir Parish Kirk

What might Rev William Brown (1764-1835) have made of it?
In the graveyard across the road from the kirk Brown gets star treatment with a big sandstone monument. His greatest claim to fame was the sheer longevity of his ministerial career here. His working-life was devoted entirely to Eskdalemuir. A native of Peebleshire, he took up his post here in 1792, a year after being licensed, and stayed for his remaining forty-three years.

He had literary connections through his father's second wife being an aunt of the writer Thomas Carlyle.

Brown had literary and scholarly inclinations of his own. In 1820 he published The Antiquities of the Jews. He was in the parish for so long that he was able to contribute the Eskdalemuir report not only to the Old Statistical Account (1793) but also to the New Statistical Account (1834).


One other remarkable memorial stone stands out in the graveyard. It is an effusive tribute, almost an abject apology, to a murder victim. In 1820 at Eskdalemuir John Elliot from Hexham in Northumberland - said to have been 'a half-witted pedlar boy' - was robbed and beaten to death with a clog by a travelling companion James Gordon, who was hanged for the crime the following year.

The stone's inscription has a detailed account of the incident and expresses the wishes of the good folk of Eskdalemuir 'to convey to future ages, their abhorrance [sic] of a crime, which was attended with peculiar aggravations; and their veneration for those laws, which pursue with equal solicitude, the murderer of a poor friendless stranger, as of a Peer of the realm'. Rev Brown must surely have had a guiding role in the composition of this!


The Roman road network in southern Scotland had a branch passing through here and north of the village at Raeburnfoot there is the site of a fort of theirs, dated at around the middle of the 2nd century (see Some Historical Background).


South of the village are the remains of an even earlier fortification, the Iron Age hill-fort known as Castle O'er. Clearly visible are two ramparts with a ditch between. There are traces of nine circular houses, occupied during the 1st millennium BC. The Scotland volume in the Oxford Archaeological Guides series goes as far as it can: 'The whole complex represents a long history of occupation that is only partly understood.' One can only wonder about the day the Romans were first spotted from up here.

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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