THEMES & PERSONALITIES
Some Historical Background
From Westerkirk to Westminster Abbey -
Robert Burns - Doonhamer
The Sage of Ecclefechan - Thomas Carlyle
Hugh MacDiarmid and the Muckle Toon
Other Literary Figures
Fame and Fortune
Other Pairs of Eyes
The 'holy' comes from the fact that there was a twelfth-century abbey here.
Despite the destructive effects of the Reformation in the sixteenth century, parts of the building survived
until the second half of the eighteenth century, being used as the parish kirk. But in the 1770s it was finally
demolished and replaced by the present kirk.
To the south is the 3rd or 2nd millennium BC stone circle known as the Twelve Apostles.
One of the original dozen stones is now missing. It is the largest stone circle of its type
on the Scottish mainland and the fifth largest in Britain.
There is believed to have been another circle,
consisting of nine stones, to the east at Holm by the River Nith.
A nineteenth-century account states that these stones had been 'broken and applied to the purposes of building'.
Due west of Holywood, Fourmerkland Tower was a Maxwell stronghold, completed in 1590.
A 'merkland' was a measure of land.
Nineteenth-century Portrack House, to the north, now has within its grounds a striking
creation called the Garden of Cosmic Speculation.
The landscape architect and writer Charles Jencks started it in 1988 with his late wife Maggie Keswick:
The reason for this unusual title is that we - Maggie, I, scientists, and then friends that we consulted - have
used it as a spur to think about and celebrate some fundamental aspects of nature.
Many of these are quite normal to a garden...others are unusual: inventing new waveforms,
linear twists, and a new grammar of landscape design to bring out the basic elements of nature that
recent science has found to underlie the cosmos.
The garden has continued to evolve in response to changing perspectives in cosmology:
When I started the design the universe was thought to be made up of fundamental entities called superstrings
and to be about 15 billion years old (plus or minus 5 billion). By the time I completed the major layout
the prime candidate for the basic structure was a vibrating membrane, and the universe had become a multiverse
with a 13-billion-year history (plus or minus 2 billion).
The name Maggie Keswick (Mrs Charles Jencks), who died in 1995, lives on through the nationwide network of Maggie's Centres,
'havens' where cancer sufferers can develop an approach to the disease that suits them best.
Maggie first had breast cancer in 1988. When it returned in 1993 she started to work on her ideas and,
a year after her death, the first Maggie's Centre opened in Edinburgh. 'Above all,'
she said, 'what matters is not to lose the joy of living in the fear of dying.'
Maggie was part of the Dumfriesshire dynasty that founded the giant Far East trading company
Jardine, Matheson & Co. Her father was Sir John Keswick (1906-1982), the great-great-great-nephew of
William Jardine who began the company in 1832 with James Matheson.
Near Portrack House are two tower houses of markedly different types.
To the north, Isle Tower is the real thing, a three-storey-and-attic fortified house of
1587 to which a two-storey house was added in the middle of the eighteenth century.
The tower was so named because the River Nith, which now flows to its east, once encircled it entirely.
To the south-east, also by the river, Cowhill Tower evolved in the opposite way:
the eighteenth-century house came first, followed by a fake tower-house
extension put up just before the First World War.