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Nithsdale description 1654
“Nithsdale together with Annandale nurtures a warlike race of men, but they have a bad reputation on account of their raiding. For they occupy the sandy Solway Firth, through which they often went out to England to raid, and in which the inhabitants on both sides in a jolly spectacle and joyous labour hunt on horseback with spears, or fish if you prefer, the salmon with which it abounds.”
To Annandale on the west is joined Nithsdale, not poor in fields and pasture, its name taken from the River Nith, which is given wrongly by Ptolemy as Nobius, instead of Nodius or Nidius; there are other sandy and thick rivers in Britain with this name, as here too is the Nith. It rises from Loch Cure[?], at which Corda of the Selgovae flourished, flows first through Sanquhar a castle of the Crichtons, who were long famous under the style of Barons of Sanquhar and the authority of perpetual Sheriffs of Nithsdale, then through Morton which gave the title of Earl to some of the Douglas family, others of which had their mansion at Drumlanrig on the same river;
[ADDITION. All these lands of Sanquhar and Morton now by right of purchase belong to the Lord of Drumlanrig, who are now called Earl of Queensberry,] (1) near its mouth Dumfries sits between two hills, the most flourishing town of this area, displaying its own old castle. It is known for the manufacture of woollen rugs, and stamped by the murder of John Comyn, the most powerful of all Scots in dependents: in the church, so that he should not block his own path to the kingship, Robert Bruce ran him through with his sword, and easily obtained from the Roman Pontiff pardon for murder committed in a sacred place.
Nearer the mouth the village of Solway retains something of the ancient name of the Selgovae. At the mouth is set Caerlaverock, in Ptolemy Carbantorigum, a fortification considered impregnable, although King Edward I, accompanied by the flower of the nobility of England, besieged and captured it; now however it is the undefended dwelling of the Barons Maxwell, who, being of the ancient nobility, were for long Wardens of this Western March, and were recently elevated by marriage to the daughter and one of the heirs of the Earl of Morton, whence John Lord Maxwell was declared Earl of Morton, and likewise to the daughter and heir of Herries Lord Terregles, who was taken as wife by J. the second son, who thence received the title of Baron Herries.
Now, this castle was destroyed in the most recent civil wars and Maxwell was declared by Parliament an enemy to his country.
Glencairn also lies on a loch in this valley, whence the Cunninghams (concerning whom in their own place) long bore the title of Earl.
This Nithsdale together with Annandale nurtures a warlike race of men, but they have a bad reputation on account of their raiding. For they occupy the sandy Solway Firth, through which they often went out to England to raid, and in which the inhabitants on both sides in a jolly spectacle and joyous labour hunt on horseback with spears, or fish if you prefer, the salmon with which it abounds.
Of the nature of the rustlers who live in these border valleys of the kingdoms, let John Leslie, himself a Scot and Bishop of Ross, speak:
‘At night they go out from their territory in bands, through pathless places and with many twists. During the day they refresh their horses and their own strength in pre-determined hiding places, until at last in darkness they reach the spot they wish. Having seized the booty, they similarly return by night to their own land by circuitous by-ways. The more skilled a man can be at guiding them through these solitary, tortuous and precipitous places in the midst of gloom and darkness, in the greater honour is he held as outstanding in ability: and they possess such skill that very rarely do they allow their booty to be snatched from them, except that sometimes they are taken by their adversaries if they are led by scent-following dogs [in the vernacular Sleuth-hounds or Bloodhounds, which are often valued at 100 crowns and more] who follow always straight in their footsteps. But if they are captured, they have such power of eloquence and enticements of sweetly flowing words, that they strongly move both judges and adversaries, however severe, if not to pity, at least to admiration and commiseration also.’
The most limpid River Nith is enlarged with the waters of, from the north the Crawick, Mennock, Gutterbin[?], Carron and Cample; and from the south the Ulzie, Carpell[?], Scar, Shinnel and Cairn. Not far from the source is situated the city of Sanquhar, and not far from the mouth is Dumfries, a beautiful city, flourishing, the first of the whole sheriffdom, famous for its bridge, which is supported on nine arches of squared stone and is of such width that it readily at one and the same time admits two carriages. The Nith has woods, on the north Holywood, from which the famous astrologer John of Holywood takes his name, Caerlaverock, Mouswold, Tinwald, Amisfield, Dalswinton, Closeburn, Enteckmea[?] and Montisrubra[?]; and on the south Mainenkin[?], Elioch and Drumlanrig (of oaks, six miles long). The Scar Water is shaded by the woods of Craigina[?], Comlongon and Storka[?]; the Shinnel by those of Croglin, Killywarren and Auchengibbert. Castles overhanging the Nith, or not far from the river, are: S. Sanquhar or Sanchare, Drumlanrig, Castlehill, Coshogle, Enochum[?], Closeburn, Dalswinton, the ancient dwelling of the Comyn who, a rival of Robert Bruce for the kingdom, fell by Bruce’s sword in the Church of the Franciscans in Dumfries, Amisfield, Lagg, Tinwald, Torthorwald, Montisbubulum[?], Carse and others.
The Cairn, the second river of Nithsdale after the Nith, rises in the Dibbinian mountains, is very much increased by the streams of Craigdarroch and Castlefairn Water, flows past the castle of Jarbruck, Glencairn castle, the wood of Craigdarroch, and the woods of Cuthloch[?], Maxwellton, Crawfordton, Dardarroch, Snade and Gribton, and finally is received by the Nith above Dumfries.
At the second milestone from Dumfries is the famous peatmoss Lochar, 10 miles long, 3 wide: peats dug from here and hardened in the sun are burned by the whole neighbouring region. Lochar is divided in two by the Lochar Water, which floods in heavy rains and irrigates the surrounding fields with fertilising water; hence there is very great profit in hay. Finally its last course is blocked by an impregnable fortification, which is called Isle Tower.