Holy Cairn! It’s Kirkcudbright – The Artist’s Town

On Tuesday, the 20th of September, I packed up my bags once again, left Newton Stewart and started to make my way eastward toward Castle Douglas.  I followed the coastline on A75 on a cloudy morning.

I had my sights on reaching Kirkcudbright (pronounced Ka-Coo-bree) because I heard there could have been some “Frews” there once upon a time and in addition, the likelihood of finding something related to the “Stewarts” in my family tree was extremely high.  newton-stewart-to-kirkcudbright

About half-way there along the coastal road I spotted a road sign that read “<– Holy Cairns 1/2 mile.”  Don’t have to ask me twice to be spontaneous – I made a quick left and started up a one track road up a quiet wooded canyon.  At the top, the woods gave way to a clearing and pasture land and Voila! There they were!  Nice!

img_7733This burial chamber with a facade of Standing Stones dates back to the neolithic period between 6,000 to 4,000 years ago!  Holy Moly!  This is fascinating!img_7714img_7716img_7718img_7719img_7720img_7725img_7729

Walking back down the road to Cairn Holy I from Cairn Holy II, the beauty of the view struck me with amazement. Across the bay lies the tip of land that the Galloway Estate sits upon and that I visited yesterday. Beyond that looms the Isle of Man.  No wonder these ancient people chose this spot.

After visiting that sight and feeling a bit under a magic spell, I drove back down through Kirkdale glen and then continued to drive along the coastline until I made it to my destination – Kirkcudbright.

I cruised around the village becoming acquainted with its layout and sights.  I spotted a church, St. Mary’s, and went inside for a peak.

A little further I discovered something unusual, The Stewartry Museum! Ca-Ching!

img_7805It opened in 1893 and has a remarkable collection of a wide range and quality of items which reflect the human and natural history of the Stewartry- the eastern half of Galloway.

I regret I am unable to remember this very nice ladies’ name.  She was so helpful and informative and not only about the items in the museum, but she gave me a good direction of what to visit while I was exploring her town.

Archaeological finds in the kirkyard nearby clearly are evidence of a very early history of people in this area.  Some of the displays in the museum included a lead seal or ‘bulla’ issued by Pope Clement II in the 1040s.  Another significant find was the discovery of a Viking warrior’s grave – complete with sword and other grave goods (below).  The sword has been dated to the 900s!  Finally, a small fragment of a tall Anglo-Saxon style stone cross may show human activity on the kirkyard site in the 700s or 800s.  It may have been the first Christian marker on the site by monks spreading Christianity.


At any rate, there were all kinds of very interesting items to look at and ponder over from times past and I enjoyed the heck out of it.


Later, when we visit the kirkyard, you will see this “King of the Galloway Tinkler Gypsies’ grave marker!  He was quite the character!

Below are some examples of the artwork that a very talented lady from this town created. Her name was Jessie M. King.

Below is a portrait of Jessie.  She looks like someone I would enjoy getting to know.


Below is the house she lived in.


The Stewartry museum even contained an original Oppenheimer painting!  Beautiful!

After the museum, I headed to the Tolbooth Art centre which is housed in one of the town’s most historic buildings.





Next, I headed down the street outside enjoying the sights along the way…


img_7858Eventually, I came upon the Broughton House & Garden, an 18th-century townhouse standing on the High Street. It was the home of Scots impressionist artist (one of the ‘Glasgow Boys’),  E. A. Hornel between 1901 and his death in 1933.

During that time Hornel remodelled the house and created the Japanese-influenced gardens. Since 1950 it has been in the care of the National Trust for Scotland, and is maintained as “a living museum of Hornel’s life and work.” The gardens are included on the Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes in Scotland.  Rather than share it with you now, I will dedicate an entire blog just for this fantastic place.

Kirkcudbright sits at the mouth of the River Dee, some 4 miles from the Irish Sea. Its harbour and water is exceedingly beautiful. img_7960

A little further on I stumbled upon this lovely little church, Greyfriar’s Episcopal Church.  I had to go to the corner store to get the skeleton key to enter.  Inside was delightful.  It stand on the Mote Brae, a man-made grassy mound probably constructed in the 12th century as a fortified timber castle motte.  Inside is the MacLellan Aisle, which forms the chancel.

The Latin inscription on the tomb reads:  “The Lord Thomas M’Lelland and his wife, Dame Grissel Maxwell, are laid here and marble covers them both.  Born of these, RD Kirkcudious has erected this tomb in honour of his dear father.  He died in the year of our Lord 1597.”  The MacLelland arms with a ship, seal of the burgh and motto “Think On” are on the top panel.  Sir Thomas and Grissel are portrayed in stone over the arch recess.

Just across the street from Greyfriars church, there was even a castle!  This town has everything all rolled into one!

Back along the harbour, the light was just divine on the water’s smooth surface.img_8064img_8080





Toward the end of the afternoon, I grabbed an “egg mayonnaise” (otherwise known as a ‘deviled egg sandwich’) at the local bakery and headed up the hill above town to the old churchyard known as “The Kirkyard.”img_8116-edited

It was such a beautiful view from up there. St. Cuthbert’s Kirk was on this site.  The first historical reference to the Kirk comes from The Life of St. Cuthbert written by Reginald of Durham in 1170.  It recounts the visit of Ailred, a Cistercian monk from Rievaulx Abbey, to the ‘ancient church’ dedicated to Saint Cuthbert, the patron saint of the Anglian kingdom of Northumbria.  He was attending the Feast Day celebrations at the kirk on the 20th of March 1162.img_8114img_8113-edited

The older part of the churchyard has many interesting head and table stones, bearing invaluable information for family history research.  img_8111-editedimg_8112-edited

“Rough Translation”:

William Hounture and Robert Smith 1684

This monument shall show posterity two headless martyrs under it doth lye by bloody Graham was taken and surprised brought to this town and afterwards were slain by unjust law were sentenced to die. Then first they hanged them, then beheaded cruelly by Captains Douglas and Bruce and Graham of Claverhouse were these that caused them be handled thus and when they were unto the gibbet (hanging tree) come to stop their speech they did beat up the drum and all because that they would not comply with indulgence and bloody prelacy in face of cruel Bruce Douglas and Graham they did maintain that Christ was Lord Supreme and boldly owned both to Covenants at Kirkcudbright thus ended these two sons.

and finally, remember the Tinker who made spoons and mugs from horn in the museum? Well here’s his gravestone.  He sure lived to be a ripe old age.  It’s no wonder he had 17 wives!

It was a simply wonderful day spent in the town of Kirkcudbright and it was so full of surprises around every turn.  I barely scratched the surface in this delightful town.  I plan to visit again on my next trip to my beloved Scotland!




Author: Claudia Frew

Adventuresome, independent, and fun-loving 68-year young American great-grandmother who loves to travel; often going solo!

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