Hellooooo, Lesley and Mark!
Lesley and Mark are the owners of Solway Tours, and they took us on their Cradle of Christianity day tour today.
First stop was at Garliestom. This is where, in 1941-1944, the allied forces designed, built, and tested three different devices to facilitate the speedy off-loading of military equipment and vehicles on D-Day. Of the three designs, only the Mulberry Harbour was successful and actually used.
Next came St. Ninian’s Cave. We walked in from a car park less than a mile to the coast which brought us to less than a quarter mile to the cave itself. The start of the trail was edged by naturally occurring bamboo, which was kind of startling but speaks to the warm and wet climate. The beach was made of loose stones. Given that it was raining, and I didn’t want to tempt fate with a twisted ankle when we are only half way through our trip, we decided against walking across the beach to the cave itself. I regret that decision because the cave was one of my personal highlights for this tour, but safety first…
Ninian is Scotland’s first saint. He was a freshly ordained Catholic bishop from Ireland who decided to try persuading the constantly warring Celtic clans to unify under one belief system. He established his ministry in Whithorn around about 400 AD and is credited with converting the area to Christianity, or at least laying the foundations for Christianity to take hold.
The cave is where Ninian was believed to have retreated to contemplate and meditate on occasion. There are markings on the cave walls which support this belief. Ninian died in 431, and is supposedly buried at the site of his church.
There is scholarly debate on where Ninian’s church was originally built, but locals maintain it was in Whithorn beneath or near the current priory and nave. This despite never having found archeological evidence of that nearly 1,400 year old church at any of the theoretical sites.
The nave is about all that’s left of a cathedral built in the 1100s.
There used to be a shrine in additional buildings where Ninian’s bones were kept. Again, the bones have not actually been located.
The Stones Museum is the access point to the shrine, and it actually houses a remarkable collection of stone crosses found at Whithorn. The Whithorn Story Visitor’s Centre has a fantastic little museum on the area.
Nearby archaeological excavations uncovered very well-preserved 2500-year-old remains of Iron Age roundhouses. With the information they’ve learned, they recruited an archaeologist, an engineer, an architect, and local volunteers (including many young people) to recreate a roundhouse from scratch – literally. Nothing was manufactured; logs were cut and trimmed by hand, reeds and willows were collected from nearby, etcetera. We were privileged with a private viewing of the roundhouse, and it was so very interesting!
I am really not doing the Whithorn museums and sites justice here. Their advertising is far too understated, and they deserve far more interest than they seem to get. I highly recommend including the area in your visit to Scotland.
Our next stop was one I requested if possible. Mark was, dare I say, ecstatic to bring us to Druchtag Motte, us being the first of his clients to ask to be brought there. Mark grew up in the area and has been there often.
Druchtag Motte was likely built in the 12th century by a feudal lord. The motte is a massive flat-topped hill built using soil from around the motte site, on top of which would have been built a wooden tower. A ramp would have been built winding around the outside of the motte. There should have been wooden fortifications around the perimeter, and a Bailey next to the motte where the household staff would have resided and worked, but no evidence has been found of these. To be fair, though, the site has not actually been excavated to look for these things.
The motte is much bigger than it looks on approach, and the sides are quite steep (hence the rope rail). It was worth the effort of climbing the motte.
Next came Martyrs Stake in Wigtown, which memorializes the execution by drowning of two women who were caught practicing Presbyterianism in 1685. The women were 63 and 18 years old. The period called “The Killing Times” had Catholics and Presbyterians (Covenanters) killing each other over how they chose to exercise their beliefs, despite both of them being Christians. During this period it is estimated 11,000 people died.
Our last stop on the itinerary to Bruce’s Stone in Glentrool did not end up happening because of a tree that fell across the only access road. Mark was very disappointed with that, understandably, because it has a great story to it. Lesley related the story to us anyway. In short so as not to spoil the story for you, the site commemorates Robert the Bruce’s first victory over King Edward’s English army in 1307, after declaring himself King of Scotland.
We really had a wonderful day with Mark and Lesley, and cannot emphasize what great tour guides they are. They are very knowledgeable about the history of Scotland, and Dumfries and Galloway region specifically. And Lesley makes fantastic tablet (Scottish fudge), too!
We ended the day with a late supper at Clachan Inn Restaurant. Upon reading the fine print on the menu…
…Dan thought to himself, “Challenge accepted,” and proceeded to order the venison meatballs with pasta. I went another direction and ordered the pan fried sea bream (whitefish) with chorizo and peas risotto. I can happily report that no teeth were broken on this night. The food in fact was fantastic.
In celebration 🙄 we ordered desserts: sticky toffee pudding — which is not that sticky and is not a pudding — and vanilla pancetta — no! Not pancetta! Panacotta! Oiy — vanilla panacotta with shortbread, Scottish strawberries, and micro basil — read ‘baby basil’.
Adelle and Dan