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Galloway Description from Blaeu Atlas 1654

Galloway description 1654

“The inhabitants engage in fishing both in the surrounding sea and in the rivers and lochs which flow everywhere below the hills; from these at the autumnal equinox they catch in boxes an incredible number of very tasty eels, whence they make no less profit than from the tiny horses with compact, strong limbs for enduring toil which are exported from here.”

The National Library of Scotland website contains Blaeu Atlas of Scotland 1654 with this text based on text from Timothy Pont and Robert Gordon and from Camden: Britannia 1607

NOVANTES: Next the Novantes lived in valleys in that land which runs to the west over great areas, yet so hollowed out in recesses that it narrows frequently, and again spreads out more freely in relaxation at the final point, whence some have called it the Peninsula of the Novantes. Today their region conprises Galloway, Carrick, Kyle and Cunningham.

GALLOVIDIA, in the vernacular GALLOWAY: Galloway to the Latin writers of the Middle Ages is Gallwallia and Gallovidia, the name having been made by the Irish who formerly occupied it and call themselves by contraction ‘Gael’ in their tongue. The region rises in hills everywhere, which are more productive for feeding herds than growing crops. The inhabitants engage in fishing both in the surrounding sea and in the rivers and lochs which flow everywhere below the hills; from these at the autumnal equinox they catch in boxes an incredible number of very tasty eels, whence they make no less profit than from the tiny horses with compact, strong limbs for enduring toil which are exported from here.

The first town among them, on the river mentioned as Dea by Ptolemy, which still retains the name being called the Dee, is Kirkcudbright, the most capacious harbour on this coast; second is Stewartry of Scotland, which still belongs to the Maxwells; then Cardoness, a fort on the River Fleet set on a rugged and high rock and defended by strong walls.

Nearby the River Ken, in Ptolemy corruptly Iena, flows to the sea, then Wigtown, a port with a rather narrow entrance between the out-flowing Bladnoch and Cree, which is also classed as a sheriffdom, over which Agnew of the Isle[?] presides. It once had as earl Archibald Douglas, famous in the French war, and today thanks to King James VI it has John Fleming, who traces his descent from the ancient Earls of Wigtown.

Near this place Ptolemy put the city of Leucopibia; I really do not know where to find it. Yet the location demands that it should be that episcopal seat of Ninian, which Bede calls Candida Casa, and the English and Scots with the same meaning With-herne. What then if what the Britons called Candida Casa Ptolemy in his usual fashion translated into Greek as Leuk’ oikidia? that is white houses, for which the copyists thrust Leucopibia on us. In this place Ninia or Ninian, a Briton and a saintly man, who was the first to instruct the southern Picts in the Christian faith, during the reign of the younger Theodosius, had his seat, and built a church dedicated to the name of St Martin, in an unusual fashion for the Britons, as Bede says, who narrates that in his day the English had gained this province, and, as the number of the faithful had grown at this Candida Casa, it had been made the episcopal seat.

A little further along a narrow road a peninsula is joined to the land with the sea close on each side, which is properly called the Peninsula of the Novantes and Promontory, in the vernacular the Mull of Galloway, i.e. Beak of Gallovidia.

Beyond this to the north a bay full of islands opens over a large area, into which very many rivers discharge from all sides. The first from the end of the Promontory is the Abravanus, which, a little moved from its position, is so called by Ptolemy, for Aber-Ruanus, that is Mouth of the Ruanus. For today that river is named the Ryan and the loch from which it pours out Loch Ryan, quite plentiful in herring and rock fish.

Galloway once had its own princes and lords, of whom the first to be celebrated in the monuments of annals was Fergus, during the reign of Henry I in England; his insignia was an upright silver lion, crowned on an azure shield. After causing much trouble he was forced by King Malcolm to hand over his son Uchtred as a hostage, and tired of human affairs he took the habit of a canon at Holyrood in Edinburgh. Now Uchtred was captured in battle by his younger brother Gilbert, and with his tongue cut out and his eyes dug out he was wretchedly deprived of his life and his patrimony.

But within a very few years Gilbert died and Uchtred’s son Roland recovered his paternal inheritance; by the sister of William de Morville, Constable of Scotland, he fathered Alan Lord of Galloway and Constable of Scotland. Alan by Margaret eldest daughter of David Earl of Huntingdon fathered Devorgilla, the wife of John Balliol and mother of John Balliol King of Scotland, who disputed the Kingdom of Scotland with Robert Bruce, and by his first (as it seems) wife Helen who was married to an Englishman, Roger de Quincy Earl of Winchester, who hence was Constable of Scotland, as also was William Ferrers de Groby grandson of that Roger by his daughter and co-heir.

But the English quickly lost their inheritance in Scotland, and the position of Constable, which the Comyns Earls of Buchan, also descended from a daughter of Roger de Quincy, held until it was transferred to the Earls of Erroll. The title of Lords of Galloway later came into the family of the Douglases.


[Note, the NLS section states that previous text is from Camden: Britannia 1607 but John Maclellan ws 3rd Lord Kirkcudbright b1600 to 1620 died 1665 to father John Maclellan of Borgue 1570 – see ]

Galloway takes its name from Gallovid, which in the language of the old Scots means Gaul; for initially the Scots called the Britons, the oldest inhabitants of Britain, Gauls, as being derived from the countries of Gaul. This old dominion of the Britons is bounded on the south by the Irish Sea, on the west by the Firth of Clyde, on the north by Carrick and Kyle, and on the north east by the River Nith; it extends in length from north east to south west for 70 miles, between the bridge of Dumfries and the Mull, the end of the promontory. In width it stretches from north to south in one place 24, in another 20, in another 16 miles.

Six rivers cut through it, Urr, Dee, Ken, Cree, Bladnoch and Luce, running into the Irish Sea.

The Ken, intersecting the valley of Ken, flows into the loch of the same name, and again coming out of it, flows into the Dee, losing its name, twelve miles from the sea.

There are also the rivers Fleet (half way between Dee and Cree) and Palinurus[?]; but these are not classed among the major rivers. All are known for salmon-fishing, especially the Dee.

The whole region has a very healthy climate and soil: it rarely rises into mountains, and only swells with frequent hills. Three mountains of uncommon height are to be seen there; one is at the estuary of the Cree, in the vernacular Cairnsmore, that is (if you translate it) ‘desert of the cairn’; the second, not far away, Maratz Hill; and the third, at the estuary of the Nith, Criffel.

The land lying beyond the Luce is named the Rhinns, that is beak, of Galloway: for it projects like the beak of a bird; and its final point is called the Promontory of the Novantes, to the inhabitants the Mull, that is smooth and shorn: for the old Scots call promontories Mulls, by metaphor from a shorn head.

The estuary of the Luce, to Ptolemy Rerigonius, on the east, and Loch Ryan, to Ptolemy Vidogara, on the west, force the land into narrows and make an isthmus and Chersonese or peninsula, not unlike the Peloponnese. The whole of Galloway has the shape of an elephant: the head is the Rhinns, the trunk the Mull, the feet the promontories stretching into the sea, the shoulders the mountains mentioned above, the spine of the back the rocks and moors, the rest of the body the rest of the region.

The better-known ports are Kirkcudbright in the estuary of the Dee, with space for many ships and a safe haven, as it is protected from the winds on all sides by the barrier of the mountains and island of Ross; Cariovilla[?], a safe anchorage for ships; and three in the peninsula or Rhinns, Nessoc, Loch Ryan and Portpatrick.

The whole province is divided into upper and lower Galloway: upper lies between the River Cree and the promontory of the Mull, and has as its judge of capital affairs the head of the family of Agnew, which honour transferred to him after the disaster of the family of Maclellan. Lower, commonly the prefecture of Kirkcudbright, has as judge the head of the family of Maxwell.

There are three divisions or Presbyteries, Kirkcudbright, Wigtown and Stranraer. In the division of Kirkcudbright are numbered 17 parish churches, in Wigtown 9, and in Stranraer 8. From these twice a year the Synod is summoned. The churches below the Urr belong to the division of Dumfries.

It has the towns of Shrine of Cuthbert (in the vernacular Kirkcudbright) on the estuary of the Dee, noted for the port of the same name; Wigtown, once a celebrated market, founded (it is thought) by the Britons on the estuary of the Cree; White House (in the vernacular Whithorn), famous for its monastery; Chapel or (as some prefer) Stranraer on Loch Ryan in the peninsula.

Fairly recently New Galloway, on the River Ken, has been added to the number of cities, but it has virtually nothing of a city except the name, few buildings having been erected there; for the Viscount of Kenmure, who had decided to found a town there, was prevented by death and left the work incomplete. Still a market is held there each week (1), to which the people of the neighbourhood gather in quite large numbers, some to buy, others to sell the produce which is brought there by merchants from the surrounding region.

Monasteries in Galloway are Whithorn, sacred to Ninian whom they think is the tutelary god, in the farthest recess of Galloway, to which formerly people from far-off regions undertook journeys for the sake of religion, to see the relics and church of Ninian, and to take away some sacred dust, a great proof of holiness in those times; the monastery of Glenluce, at the bay of the River Luce; Dundrennan, at the fourth milestone from Kirkcudbright to the east; Sweetheart, commonly New Abbey, at the estuary of the Nith; Tongland, on the banks of the Dee; St Mary’s, at the estuary of the Dee, about four-fifths of a mile below Kirkcudbright; Soulseat, in the peninsula. However the founders of each of these is uncertain because of the lack of sources.

The inhabitants are brave and warlike: certainly in the recent battle of Newburn on the Tyne in England, a few Galloway cavalry under the leadership of Patrick Mackay, whose son was killed in that engagement, most distinguished (2) cavalry gave an outstanding instance of their valour; for with their long spears they so broke the very tight line of the enemy, that they preferred an easy victory to the rest. Formerly this people were ready to nourish discord, but have gradually learned by a more humane culture and refined religion to dispense with ferocity. The Gentry, ready with hand and counsel, are easily the equal of any in elegance of body and custom. The common people are of strong body and not wretched ability.

Those who live on the Moors, that is in wildernesses, survive by feeding animals and have large flocks of sheep. The sheep there are of the best type, both for the flavour of their meat and for the quality of their fleeces. Wool from here is exported to outside regions in large quantities by merchants, who make no small profit from this.

Those who live in the Machars, that is the cultivated and low-lying places, make their living from cultivating the fields; nor do they lack fertile pastures and flocks. Oats grow there of small but firm body, from which they manufacture excellent flour.

Galloway breeds horses which are small in size, but swift and strong; they are sold everywhere for a very high price.

The better-known families here are those of Gordon, Maxwell, Maclellan, Macdowall, Mackay, Macculloch, Stewart, Agnew and Adair. But the rest are in antiquity and ancient dignity surpassed by those of Macdowall, Maclellan, Mackay and Macculloch. The others are more recent. Formerly the family of Maclellan flourished there, easily the first in race and wealth (as Buchanan testifies), but when Patrick, the chief of that family, had been rubbed out by Douglas, his friends, eager for revenge, gathered a band of their men and raged with sword and fire against the Clydesdale allies of the Douglases; then because of this disgraceful crime their goods were forfeited to the treasury and they themselves were proscribed and made to till the land, and reduced a very prosperous family to such a point of misery that it has still never fully emerged from it. But after a few years Patrick’s son, who had long lain hidden, killed an African pirate who was attacking the Galloway shores, and was restored to the King’s favour and to Bombie, part of his old patrimony.

Stitchill in Teviotdale is an old seat of the Gordons, from which two brothers set out, one to Galloway, the other to Bogie, and in each place founded a very flourishing family of Gordons. The one who came to Galloway killed a boar which was devastating the country, was given the estate of Gordon and Lochinvar by the king, and grew to a numerous family. The Adairs are believed to derive from a branch of the Kildare kingship in Ireland.

The nobles of Galloway are Stewart Earl of Galloway, Gordon Viscount of Kenmure, and Maclellan Baron of Kirkcudbright, each head of his family there. There are also many landed gentry.

There are many castles there, but the strongest of all in recent times is Threave, on an island of the River Dee, built eight miles from Kirkcudbright by Douglas, who in the reign of James II caused much trouble to his country. In our recent disturbances it was defended by allies of Maxwell Earl of Nithsdale; but in the end surrendered, it was made useless for war by having its arches breached and its roof and floor removed.

There is also Kenmure Castle, on Loch Ken, situated on quite a high little hill, built by John Gordon grandfather of the Viscount of Kenmure: it looks down from its height on the valley and lake below.

Two castles stronger than the rest may be seen in the Rhinns, Kennedy on Loch Isle of the Earl of Cassillis, and Scaeodunum (called in the vernacular Dunskey, that is winged castle), founded by the ancestors of Robert Adair on a sheer rock by the sea.

There are also others, for example Crugleton, once a highly fortified defence on the estuary of the Cree, Glasserton, Garlies, Clary, Cuthbert[?], Cardoness and Rusko[?], apart from many distinguished buildings.

Lochs in lower Galloway are Caloverca[?], Milton, Rutton and Ken, in upper Myrton, Mochrum, Castle, Isle and Neevon Loch[?]. Woods which make this region beautiful are those of Kenmure, Cree and Garlies.

Anyone who wants to know about battles fought here should consult the histories of Scottish affairs by Buchanan and Boece. Galloway, to compress into the fewest words, is (although it sometimes is criticised by those ignorant of the region)

A land content with its own goods, not in need of Foreign wares, Perchance there is here lack of much luxury, yet none of nature.

In no part of Scotland is the wool so outstanding, nowhere in Scotland are there more outstanding horses, though of small stature, which they call Galloway-nags. So that the English call all good horses Galloways.

[ADDITION. This poem was written by Arthur Johnston in praise of Dumfries:]

A shepherd from Amphrysus seeing the pastures of Dumfries

From a distance, preferred them to the ridges of Admetus.

As many fat calves browse here on the flowery meadows

As the earth in spring-time pours out grasses.

Its herds of cattle satisfy foreign races

And often, England, load your tables.

Richer than the herd is the crop, and the sail-bearing river,

And the sea, tempered by the light breath of Zephyrus.

In this town a church rises, to which the temples of Diana yield,

Or whatever more venerable is owned by Greece.

Here Cumyn, traitor to his country, by the virtue of Bruce

Fell, and stained the holy ground with blood.

Scotland, he prefers the altar of Dumfries to the others,

Here golden liberty was won for you.]

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