Monreith Village

Otter Statue at MonreithMonreith village is situated 2 miles south-east of the harbour village of Port William and lies on Monreith Bay, looking out over Luce bay and on to the Rhinns of Galloway. Originally called “Milltown of Monreith” , this was owing to grain mills driven by the water power of Monreith Burn, and built on the land owned by the then vast Monreith Estate; it therefore housed many of the estate and mill workers. The village would also provide accommodation for workers of the Monreith Tile Works producing bricks from a local clay pit; the tile works closed in the early 1920’s. A “smiddy” or blacksmith’s business was located at the southern end of the village, known as Clarksburn.

Lying on Monreith Bay are the ruins of Kirkmaiden church, one of the oldest churches in Scotland, and the resting place of many of the McCulloch and Maxwell family members, who owned the Monreith estate. Legend has it that when this parish was united with Glasserton, the pulpit and bell were removed from Kirkmaiden church and were to be transported by sea across Luce Bay to a church of the same name near the Mull of Galloway. A strange storm blew up and the boat foundered, sinking the pulpit and bell. The story goes that on the approaching death of any descendant of the McCullochs of Myrton, the wraith-bell rang from the depths of Luce Bay. Also buried in Kirkmaiden Churchyard is Francois Thurot, naval officer of the French Navy, who was one of many Frenchmen whose bodies were washed ashore after a battle fought at sea off the Isle of Man in 1760 between Britain and France. Francois Thurot introduced the secret society, the Order of Coldin, into Sweden, which is the only country still to have this order, and members of the Swedish society erected a plaque to Francois Thurot on the wall of Kirkmaiden Church in 1960. The church is found opposite the car park of St. Medans Golf Club, named after St. Medana, whose legend can still be told by the locals: the “chincough” well, located on the beach below, is supposed , thanks to her saintly powers, to have a magical healing influence on illnesses and especially whooping cough ( formerly called “chincough” ) .

Above the church and overlooking the bay is the bronze otter, sculpted by Penny Wheatley, standing as a memorial to Gavin Maxwell (see Famous Sons) , the author of the famous book “Ring of Bright Water”, which was also made into a successful film. Gavin Maxwell was often seen exercising his tame otter, about which he wrote his book, on the beach below Kirkmaiden church, when he returned to the area.

Monreith House, 1870'sMonreith Estate originally covered approximately 16000 acres, but now is greatly diminished in size. Monreith House, however, is still owned by the Maxwell family and has been converted into holiday flats. The house is surrounded by beautiful woodlands, and looks towards the White Loch of Myrton. The original home of the Maxwells was the tower house known as the “Dowies”, situated behind the Fell of Barhullion, which is the highest point overlooking Monreith Village. When the Fell was owned by the Maxwell family, a member of the family is said to have boasted to a friend that he owned a fell from which five kingdoms could be seen on a clear day; when the friend queried how this was possible, the reply was that the kingdoms were Scotland, England, Ireland, Mann, and finally, the Kingdom of Heaven. The “Dowies” is now owned by the Landmark Trust , has been beautifully renovated and is available for holiday accommodation.

In the vicinity of Monreith, Cup and Ring markings can be found at various locations, and the area is renowned for several groups of Standing Stones, thought to date back to 2000BC and to be connected with religious ritual and ceremony. It is interesting to note that if you stand on top of “The Wren’s Egg” ( a standing stone at Blairbuy Farm, Monreith ) on the shortest day of the year, if the weather is clear, the sun will set directly behind Big Scaur ( “Scaur” meaning “isolated rock in the sea” ) which is situated out in Luce Bay. On every other day, it sets further west.

Approximately one mile from Monreith is Barsalloch Point, with evidence of human encampments as early as 6000 BC , making it the oldest dated settlement in Galloway. Barsalloch Fort dates from about 1000BC, though historians of the past thought it might have been a Roman fort. In more recent history, two bombs fell, during the Second World War, one at South Barsalloch Farm and one at Barmeal. It is thought perhaps that the round stacks of oats were mistaken for troop encampments, but more likely the bombs were jettisoned after raids on Clydebank of Glasgow.

The present-day population of Monreith Village itself is approximately 60-70 people, which is regularly supplemented by visitors to holiday homes, Knock School Caravan site and Monreith Sands caravan site. The area attracts those looking for a tranquil holiday, with many wonderful walks; a recent addition to the village is the signposted walk from the south end of the village at Clarksburn through fields , giving a magnificent view of Monreith Bay to Gavin Maxwell’s otter. From the otter site itself, the view is of St. Medan’s Golf Course , a 9-hole undulating course which is very popular with visitors and locals alike. Refreshments are available throughout the summer months at the clubhouse.

Monreith boasts sandy beaches, quite rare on this section of the Galloway coastline, with safe swimming areas, rock pools and some interesting caves, one of which is streaked red and known as the “Butcher’s Cave”. The remains of a man-made flounder pool can be found at the extreme end of the Black Rocks sands and was built to catch flounders as the tide receded; at Ben Buoy, which is a sheer rock face, an interesting cave allows an agile person to cross through the cliff and emerge in a small bay between Knock Farm and Cairndoon farm. Further along the Cairndoon shore where the cliff ends to meet the raised beach, Johnny Logie, a local hermit, lived, the only troglodyte recorded as living in Scotland in 1960.

Loch and sea fishing are available and the area is a haven for birdwatchers and wildlife enthusiasts. Low Knock on the outskirts of the village is an open farm very popular with visitors, who may wish to see the otters, ornamental ducks, and belted Galloway cattle ( among other species ) at close quarters.

Monreith is known for excellent community spirit and during the year provides various community activities in the hope that as many visitors as possible will participate : for example, there have been Children’s Fun Days, talent contests, Coffee afternoons, beetle drives, mostly held in the newly renovated Monreith Village Hall.

Alison McMaster