THE little Town of Granite has seen many vicissitudes in
its short life. Time was and may be again when all about Craignair, and far
along the road towards Barnbarroch, the sound of the blasting shot was
continually heard. The quarries roared with traffic. River craft could not
carry away the "setts" fast enough to pave the streets of Liverpool.
Houses–lodgings even–were not to be got, and quarrymen slept in rude
shelters and bothies beside their tools.
The Towne Granite.
Then again Dalbeattie was almost as a City of the Dead–very
like one indeed, with its tall granite columns, rising here and there in the
half-deserted polishing works–tombstones made on "spec," waiting for the day
when some notability would die, and a fulsome inscription be cut upon that
smooth tablet. Now in the granite town there is a pleasant
betwixt-and-between of prosperity, "neither poverty nor riches" so desired
of the Psalmist, however unwelcome to the stirring man of affairs.
There is not much to see in Dalbeattie itself, except one
of the cleanest and most pleasant little towns in Scotland, a navigable
river, very like a Dutch canal, a ridgy hill which from a distance seems to
have exploded volcanically, like Krakatoa or the Japanese Bandai-san. There
are, however, many pleasant walks, wooded and quiet. Above all there is an
admirable hazel-wood a little way along the line-side towards
Castle-Douglas. The nuts are ripe about the time of the Castle-Douglas
September Fair, and you will probably be chased out by the keepers. Only on
one occasion did.
I quite escape their vigilance. The best way is to run for
the railway line, get over the fence and make faces at them. If the
surfacemen inquire who you are, remember to say that you are the son (or
other immediate relative) of the Traffic Superintendent. These very
practical points are added in order to increase the usefulness of the book.
Mr. William Maxwell, of the Glasgow Scotsman office, will bear me witness
that they proved most valuable in our time. Thus from generation to
generation pearls of information are passed on. And if we seniors can add to
their happiness by a little thing like that, the rising generation will
surely call us blessed.
Be sure, however, that you can run faster than the keeper.
This is most important.
Northward again, you have the Urr, a pooly, trouty,
rippling, unexpected sort of a stream, half a bum grown up, half a river
grown small. If you care for fishing, as I do not (save in connection with
the frying-pan) you will find fish therein. They run small, or rather did
thirty years ago. But you can generally catch them with the fat stubbly ones
which you find under flat stones at the back of the cow-house. It is best to
go very early in the morning, and have a good many spare hooks along your
line, getting home before breakfast time, so as to avoid remark. Any further
information can be obtained from my friend Andrew Clark Penman of Dumfries.
If you start about 3 A.M. and get back for breakfast, it is not night
poaching, and you get off with a reprimand. It is unnecessary to carry a
fishing-basket. A pair of deep side pockets to your coat-inside-will be
found to be much more useful. If you use a net, always take out the little
thorn bushes which the keepers put in the bottoms of the pools. This shows
carefulness on your part, and gives the poor labouring man something to do
the next day.
There is also a sport called fly-fishing, but Penman and I
don't know anything about that. All our offences are long since covered by
the Statute of Limitations.
Then within a morning's walk of Dalbeattie there is the
Cloak Moss, a famous place for wild birds' eggs. With a
little care you need never be hungry there between the middle of March in a
good year and the end of June. The method of cookery is simple. First you
find your nest–plover, curlew, snipe, according to your luck. Then you
ascertain (by trial) whether the egg is fresh. Then–but what comes after
that the reader must find out for himself, and afterwards teach it to his
A Feathered Wager.
It was among the wild, bouldery fastnesses at the back of
the Cloak Moss that a certain bet was settled, on the way to Tarkirra, that
remarkable hostelry, of which all trace has long since passed away from off
the face of the moorlands.
It is worth while, however, ascending the wild benty
hillside of Barclosh, and so over the trembling green bogs of the Knock
Burn, to see "where the grey granite lies thickest," even though no more
does the reek of any unlicensed "kiln," or whiskey-still, steal up the face
of the precipice, mingling faintly blue with the heather and bent.
The wager about which kind of bird a pair of travellers
will see the most of, was really tried on the Colvend shore road one
pleasant May morning when all the feathered folk were busy about their
affairs, and with the exact result indicated below. It is a game which two
can always play, and has been found to lighten a long weary road
wonderfully–next best, indeed, to the telling of tales, or (so I am
informed) the making of love.
Here is the incident as related in "The Dark 0' the Moon"1:-–
" 'Settle it, Maxwell Heron,' he cried, making his pony
passage and champ the bit as it was his pride to do. (He was practising to
show off before the schoolmaster's Toinette, as tricksome a minx as ever
Birted a Spanish fan.) 'Maxwell Heron, you never had the instinct of a right
gentleman in ye, man. Here are five silver shillings–cover them wi' other
five. There ye are! Now, what bird that flies the air, think
Macmillan & Co.
ye, will we see the oftenest between here and Barnbarroch
Mill Wood? "The shilfy" (chaffinch), says you. Then, to counter you, and
bring the wager to the touch–I'm great wi' the black coats–I'll e'en risk my
siller on the craw.1 He's the Mess John amang a' the birds o' the
"So we rode along in keen emulation, and as we went I made
a list of the birds we encountered. When there was no doubt, and we both
agreed, I pricked a mark after the name of each we saw. At the Faulds of the
Nitwood the mavis led by a neck from my friend the 'shilfy.' But there, as
ill-luck would have it, we encountered a cloud of rooks making merry about a
craw-bogle which had been set up to scare them off some newly-sown land.
Jasper shouted loud and long. The siller, he maintained, was already his. I
had as lief hand it over. I told him to bide a wee–all was not over yet.
"Now, I began to remark, that while the chaffinch and the
sparrow, the robin, and his swarthy rookship occurred in packs and knots and
clusters, there was one bird which had to be pricked off regularly and
frequently. This was the swift (or black swallow). Whether it was that his
long elastic wings and smooth swoopings brought the same bird more than once
across our vision, or simply because every barn and outhouse sheltered a
couple, it was not long before it was evident that both Jasper and I had
small chance of heading the poll with our favourites. By the time we had
gotten to the Moss of the Little Cloak, and left the woodlands behind us for
that time, the prickings of my pencil had totalled as follows ;– The swift
(or black swallow), 74 ticks; the chaffinch or shilfy, 46 ticks; the cushy
doo or wood pigeon, 38 ticks; the craw or field rook, 37 ticks; the magpie,
23 ticks; the mavis, 19 ticks. And this, though mightily uninteresting to
most folk that read or hear tales, is yet of value. For it tells what birds
were most plentiful in our Galloway woodlands on a certain May morning in
the year of grace 17–."
And so, having settled this matter, the travellers went on
by the wild benty hillside of Barclosh, and over the trembling
Craw: used in the south of Scotland or the rook.
green bogs of the Knock Burn, straight as an arrow for
Tarkirra, that curiously-named place of public entertainment among the
muirlands, "where the grey granite boulders lie thickest, and the reek of
the unlicensed 'kiln' steals most frequently up the face of the precipice."