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Guid Nychburris- Dumfries- South West Scotland

I am just back from a 5 day trip to Dumfries for Guid Nychburris.
This is an equestrian event. It is all about riding and marking the boundaries of a town, checking that the boundaries are still there in their right place- called a Common Riding. Common Ridings are pretty unique to the Scottish Borders and parts of Dumfries and Galloway.
In a time before maps it also was a reminder to the populace of where the boundaries were.
It dates back to more troubled times when the Border Reivers and all manner of other invaders were around.
In Dumfries it is called Guid Nychburris. That is dialect and dates from a time when criminals would be instructed to be a Guid Nychburr (good neighbour) or face dire consequences.
This is a slightly unusual form of event in that it had died out sometime in the 19th century, and was re-invented by the Borough Librarian in 1932. Thus there are some elements which are clear add ons but the substantive part is as authentic as anywhere else, in particular the reading of the town's Royal Charter from Robert the Bruce, dated in the year 1395.
The lead rider (the Cornet) always has to be single in case (anciently) he was killed by invaders while defending the boundary.
Usually ridings start at first light, around 5am with the bugle, drums and pipers call. Dumfries starts at a more civilised time of 7.40 am. Various events happen during the previous week in the style of Up Helly Aa (where the parade and burning of the galley is only a small part of the proceedings). In Dumfries that involves the Cornet and other officers visiting schools and care homes, there are also balls during the preceding week. The whole town gets involved.
In fact in the month or so before the main event there have been 9 ride-outs covering various parts of the town.
I'm working my way slowly through a lot of things done during the week so it'll take a little time to write up.

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I stayed at the Dumfries Villa Guesthouse on Lover's Walk. This is literally round the corner from the Railway Station (and only 10 minutes slow walk from the town centre), so a great location.
It is my usual guest house in Dumfries. Having booked a year ahead I had paid £40 per night for bed and breakfast, single room- since then prices have increased and it is now £48 per night.
All rooms except the single are en suite, the single has a private bathroom next to the bedroom.
Unusually these days you get quality biscuits included on your hospitality tray, and even a chocolate. You will rarely see such a large hospitality tray- I counted 20 sachets of coffee as well as tea, and hot chocolate sachets are available in the breakfast room.
You pre-order breakfast the previous night and it is freshly cooked with quality ingredients.
For the price I consider it to be great value.
There is also private parking.
Also guests staying there can arrange a 25% discount at a local restaurant- whose prices are already very keen.
The railway station also has parking- and at 50 pence per day (for rail users) or £2 for non rail users possibly the cheapest charged for station parking in the Country. The station also has a little museum (always open) and a cafe, and a taxi office on the southbound platform.

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From home to Dumfries is 74 miles- a 2 to 3 hour trip.

However I made it into a 320 mile odyssey, going via Glasgow and then the rail line to Stranraer then bus to Dumfries. There were three reasons for this- all to do with Cairnryan- the port for Belfast. Cairnryan is a small village, and most people just drive into/out of the port.
However there was an outstanding question on this forum about long term parking at the port, also I wanted to visit the lighthouse (on the old Admiralty Pier) and I had check visits to do on the local War Memorials. They are in the village cemetery which is so small that it is on neither OS or Google maps. As it was there was good reason to check on one of the memorials as it has been found in want of conservation attention.
Cairnryan was a Military Port in WW2 and one of the harbours used for the construction of Mulberry Harbours. The now Stena port was the concrete production yard. Both sea terminals use the piers which were constructed at that time.
But as early as 1701 Loch Ryan had some of the best Oyster Beds in Scotland and were worked under a Royal Charter from King William III. In the pre WW1 years a state of the art Oyster farm was built at Old House Point (now a picnic area) which supplied some of the best restaurants in Britain.
Until about 20 years ago the ferry terminal was in Stranraer itself and the railway station was built to serve the ferries not the town. So now the station is rather inconveniently located at the end of the former ferry pier, and now has a very basic service. But in times past it was very busy with boat trains from as far as London. Also in WW2 the railway had to be partly rebuilt to cope with the heavy military traffic.
Sadly there wasn't time on this visit to visit Stranraer much. I had checked and the museum (in the Castle of St John) was meant to be closed for restoration work, but turned out to be open- but not enough time in my schedule.
In this part of the country 'Castles' are often fortified towers- mainly defensive structures. The Castle of St John is a good example of that- and has had many uses over the years.
I was running to a timetable tonight as I was due to arrive at Dumfries from Stranraer at 7.25pm, then check in to the guest house, and then I had an 8pm guided walking tour of the town booked. This was free, but run by the Town Museum, and so was a very good tour, exploring many of the historical corners and some of the stories of the often complex history of the town. Three costumed guides.

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For the week I used a Dumfries and Galloway Weekly Megarider Bus Ticket- at £22.30 for all Stagecoach buses in the County it is outstanding value.
Compared to the daily ticket it pays for itself in the first 3 days.
Today I was meant to be going back to Stranraer for the Museum, and then on down the Mull of Galloway (otherwise known as the Rhins) to Port Logan. For me this was another lighthouse visit. But for most people it is the where the Logan Botanical gardens are - run by the Royal Botanic Garden at Edinburgh this is a wonderful sub tropical garden, made possible by the warming influence of the Gulf Stream.
The unique Logan fish pond is also worth a visit.
With a car you could then continue down to the impressive lighthouse at the Mull of Galloway and also visit Portpatrick on the way back. This is a lovely little seaside village, and was built as an earlier 19th century ferry port to Ireland.

However the bus broke down on the way, and (after a relief bus was sent) were way too late to get to Stranraer (given that I was on a schedule for Guid Nychburris).
So I was just able to pivot.
Thus I got off in the next village- Gatehouse of Fleet. This is a very attractive village, now bypassed by the A75. The town was built as a planned town on a grid iron pattern by the local landowner in the 1760's on the then new General Wade's Military road from Gretna to Portpatrick (strictly a Caulfield road- Wade's successor) to move troops to Ireland. His house is now the up market Cally Palace Hotel.
Two water mills were built in the town. One has been restored and is now a visitor centre and museum, bookshop, artists centre and cafe. The water wheel still works. A very good place to visit. There is lots of really good walking in the area and it is now a UNESCO Biosphere town, The nearby Galloway Forest Park is a dark sky location. And a Conservation report was submitted on the local war memorial.
Just outside the village there is Cardoness Castle.
I then continued to Castle Douglas. This is another attractive if busy town with lots of local independent shops. It is centred around the lovely Carlingwark Loch. Now serene there is a history of settlement here going back to the Bronze Age, and the Loch was once a hive of industrial activity. There was formerly a 5 mile canal to the sea from the Loch for trading boats- little remains of this.
Just outside the town is the lovely Threave Garden and across the road Threave Castle (on an island).
I had hoped to visit the Episcopal Church here, which should have been open, but wasn't. Quite an interesting little Church.

Then back to Dumfries where I had planned to visit St Michael's and South Parish Church [Burn's Church] which was open according to their website, but not in practice. A rather frustrating day.
So a chance to visit the Burns House (which I have never managed before, where he died, free entrance), and then the Titanic Memorial in Dock Park [Dock Park is so named as that is where the original town port was.

Tonight was the last of the pre Saturday ride outs where about 80 or so horses are ridden around part of the town boundaries- all manner of horses and riders- quite a sight and you get up very close to them. It was slightly shortened due to the severe heat and humidity but still quite exciting, and some horses did have to drop out due to the conditions.

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Friday- Today was another failed attempt to get to Stranraer. This time due to roadworks which had suddenly appeared on the A75. The timing in Stranraer was tight (due to the paucity of buses to Port Logan), and it reached a stage where the roadworks delays had pushed tight to beyond breaking point.
So at Newton Stewart (a town once famous for cotton mills and carpet manufacturing, but now noted for it's fishing) I effortlessly switched plans again to go down to the Machars. This is a long peninsula which includes the villages of Wigtown (Scotland's book town, also has a certain minor claim to fame from the time of the Covenanters), Bladnoch (has a distillery which does tours), Garlieston (another port where Mulberry Harbours were assembled in WW2), Whithorn and the Isle of Whithorn. The Isle of Whithorn (my destination) is not in fact an island at all. It is a fishing harbour which was also once a ferry port. The village Church has a permanent full time history exhibition inside (free, open every day all day), the Community Hall has a lovely tea room, restrooms and a little village shop [the cafe and shop are directly supporting the village), and you can also eat and sleep at the Steam Packet Inn on the harbourside. There is also a craft brewery in the Village.
But it is best known for St Ninian's Chapel (in the dunes behind the harbour). This little Chapel was built in the 12th century for the use of pilgrims landing here and also those proceeding on land to St Ninian's Shrine at Whithorn- 4 miles away.
St Ninian brought Christianity to Scotland in the year 397 and died in Whithorn in 431. In it's day his shrine was an important pilgrimage place and thousands of people still come to Whithorn every year, attracted by the history, some on a formal pilgrimage.
Sadly bus schedules wouldn't allow me time to go to Whithorn today, but it was great to have finally got to the Isle.
I didn't mind the diversion at all.
I had Dumfries to get back to, so had to go onwards through Port William and on to Glenluce (change there back to Dumfries) on the last bus of the day on that route at 1pm (!!). The Coast becomes quite rugged, and eventually static caravan and holiday chalet land, ultimately becoming long and empty sandy beaches in Luce Bay.
On the way I passed the ruins of Chapel Finian (another pilgrim's Chapel), and 5 miles inland of Glenluce are the Laggangairn Standing Stones- on another pilgrim's route to Whithorn. There were many routes to Whithorn.
Also at Glenluce (no time to visit today) is Glenluce Abbey and about 8 miles closer to Stranraer are Castle Kennedy Gardens (the Castle itself burnt down in 1716).

This evening, as well as a Children's talent contest on the plainstanes below the Mid Steeple (the defined centre of Dumfries) there was also piping from a local pipe band, hence the curtailment of my day and rush back to Dumfries.
Down a little alley near the Mid Steeple there is the Globe Inn (said to be Burns' favourite pub). Possibly the only pub which does guided tours three times a day. Although not my style they have a very cheffy restaurant- which is held in high regard locally.

Another claim to fame of Dumfries is that it is regarded as the birthplace of Peter Pan.

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Saturday- the main event.

Dumfries formally had several gates (entrances to the town) called ports in Scottish Language. By the time the riding was re-established in 1932 all had been destroyed by road improvements. They were at Tounheid [Townhead], Lochmaben Road, Kirkgate and at the Old Bridge [Brig Port].

So a temporary gate (from plywood) is built for the morning at Tounheid (opposite Dumfries Academy). There at 0740 the Town Clerk, swordsmen and drummers on foot meet the King's Courier [the King being Robert the Bruce, not our current King) on a single horse. After challenging him to prove his identity the small procession then continues to the Midsteeple where the proclamation of the right to ride and prove the boundaries is read.
The other 200 or so horses then join the procession, which continues back past the Academy to the first "stobbing and nogging" point [a stake is driven into the ground topped by a flag to physically demonstrate the point. Most of the time the procession is moving at a fast walking pace, but from time to time breaks into a trot.
45 minutes after leaving the midsteeple the entire procession arrives at the Civic War Memorial [opposite my hotel] where a solemn ceremony is held to lay a wreath at the memorial.
While the procession heads down to the south of the town I head in for breakfast. Meanwhile at Kingholm Quay [the later port for Dumfries] there is a gallops competition held.
I met the procession again at Castledykes Park. As it's name suggests there was formerly a Castle in the Park (believed to have been destroyed in the year 1313) on a site which had been the site of human occupation since the Bronze Age. This was a motte and bailey castle surrounded by a still surviving moat, so the site is very recognisable. On the Castle Mound another ceremony was held at the Cornets Club war memorial, attended by a few spectators (like me) and the principal riders as there is not enough space for everyone. The procession then continued round the West side of the town to Horse Races at a nearby farm before the last war memorial ceremony at Maxwelltown, then the presentation of the keys to the town to the Provost at the Old Bridge (known as Devorgilla Bridge) [on one of the old pilgrimage routes to Whithorn].
Finally after 4 hours 25 minutes the whole procession arrives back at the Midsteeple for the Charter ceremony, where the Royal Charter is read, the town regalia presented and various oaths made- including the Cornet swearing to defend the flag of the burgh "to the death". All is very solemn, a huge sense of centuries of history. The whole ceremony is then concluded with the crowning of the Queen of the South- this is a 1932 addition, and is a kind of beauty contest (although that is an injustice to the solemnity of the office). The title of Queen of the South was first used by the town's MP in the 1850's and was rapidly adopted. Later the football team adopted the name, and then in 1932 a Queen of the South was instituted.
This is the end of the formal ceremonial of the day.
For me personally this was my first time in a big and dense crowd since Covid, which I found quite difficult to cope with. During the afternoon there were several formal lunches, and a carnival atmosphere in the town centre.
At 5pm a parade of various floats, pipe and silver/brass bands left from opposite my hotel, meandering around the town to end at the Civic Chambers 90 minutes later.
There beating the retreat was held, with massed pipe, silver and brass bands, This culminated in a very emotional rendition of 'Highland Cathedral'. While it was only composed in 1982 the back story is that it is based on a meeting of the clans in the reign of King James I to proclaim a lasting peace- which sadly did not outlive the King. But in the context of the day and the history of the Burgh has very powerful meaning, hence many moist eyes.

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Sunday-
I didn't have room above to mention that at all times the last vehicle in the procession was a street sweeper to clear up all the mess left by the horses.
I felt hugely privileged to be in Dumfries for the latter part of the week, a fitting way to mark Father's Day (now 11 years since my father died) and my Scottish ancestry.

Today was a quiet day. However it was not without it's interest. In the morning I went out to Torthorwald (actually on war memorials business) but also found the Cruck Cottage- the only surviving example of it's type, a gloriously informal set up. I had no idea it was there. The village also has the ruins of a Castle, but it is inaccessible and on private land.

I then visited the Friars Carse Country House Hotel at Auldgirth, north of Dumfries. Until recently this had been a convalescent home for Post Office Workers (since 1936), which had gradually opened up as a public hotel. Those former links have now gone. It is now noted for it's fishing in the River Nith. However the site has been occupied since the stone age. The name derives from the fact that in 1465 a charter was signed to construct a monastery here, served by Cistercian monks from Melrose Abbey.

In the grounds is the Burns Hermitage used by Rabbie Burns when he lived at the nearby Ellisland Farm from 1788 to 1791 before moving into his final home in Dumfries (qv).

I then had a couple of other personal visits to do during the afternoon, which need not detain us here.

My intention in writing this trip report has been to open people's eyes into what is available in this often neglected part of Scotland. In no way is it meant to be a guidebook, just a taster.

I also ran out of space above, under Whithorn, to mention the Swallow Theatre- Scotland's smallest theatre with just 46 seats. Somewhere else I didn't know about. It is a converted byer in the owner's back garden!!

Castle Douglas also has a little theatre- the Fullarton Theatre, which is in a converted Church.

Posted by
7024 posts

Oh, that sounds like a fascinating event! Does it happen every year? I'm really enjoying reading this - can't wait to read more as the week goes along!

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Mardee,

Yes Guid Nychburris day is always the third Saturday in June, with the week actually starting with The Kirkin o' the Cornet service at St Michael's Church the previous Sunday morning.

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Monday- the journey back.

Today I had been going to route back home on a very roundabout route via the Isle of Arran to travel on the chartered ship from Orkney (the MV Alfred) which is currently on that route.
However having had a message from CalMac overnight that Ardrossan harbour is struggling due to one berth being out of use- leading to delays and retimings by many hours- it just was going to struggle to work and be too much stress to get to a later advance train booked from Glasgow.
Cost wise it didn't matter as the advance fare from Glasgow to home is less than that just on my local line, so the first 100 miles of the journey are effectively free.
So before breakfast I paid a survey visit to Lochmaben to check on the newly refurbished war memorial. This is a small village about half way between Dumfries and Lockerbie. Another attractive village centred around a Loch and with a ruined Castle.
It may be only a small village but has a bakery which opens at 5am every weekday, and a real Italian Gelato parlour, established there in 1915.
Lochmaben's other claim to fame is that it was the birthplace of William Paterson (1658-1719) who was one of the co-founders of the Bank of England and originator of the ill-fated Darien Scheme of 1698- which sought to establish an independent Scottish Empire in what is now Panama.

On my way home I paid another visit (in the wrong direction) to the Machars- this time to Port William- a small village out 10 miles beyond Whithorn- beyond where most visitors get to. There is a fishing harbour here where you can buy crabs, lobsters and whelks direct from the fishermen, and where otters are sometimes seen on the shoreline in the evening. It's remoteness then and now meant that it was a major smuggling location, mainly from the Isle of Man. As such there were once two barracks here for the militia as they attempted to stop the smuggling.
A worthwhile diversion on the way along the coast to Stranraer.
There is also an independent inshore lifeboat based here.
In the lifeboat house there is a cafe and gift shop [The View]- all profits from which go directly to support the lifeboat.

Thence back to Dumfries and home.

One helpful hint- if travelling by train from Carlisle to Dumfries after 8am it is far cheaper to buy a cheap day return than a single fare- only half the cost. This is a longstanding fare anomaly which I have used a number of times over the years.

Note that there are lots of cycling routes in Dumfries and Galloway, (450 miles in total) from several of the numbered routes in the National Network to several local routes, cycle trails in the Galloway Forest Park, no less than 5 routes in the Machars, and Dumfries and Galloway is also the end of the 3,200 mile route from Wiltshire in the South of England and through Wales, which is called The National Byway- a little known route which follows the quietest of lanes through the sleepiest of villages.
So lots of opportunity there.

One last detail- my outward train to Glasgow was delayed by 20 minutes. It almost seemed cheeky to submit a delay repay claim on a ticket which had only cost £7 for a 141 mile journey.
However I reactivated an ancient Virgin Trains account (Avanti's predecessor) and by 10 minutes out from Glasgow on my next train had submitted a manual claim. That claim for a £1.77 (25%) refund was agreed and paid by bank transfer within 24 hours- an effortless process, even without an app- doing it the old fashioned way.
Symbolism I know.

Posted by
1458 posts

Thanks for all that detail. It sounds like a lot of fun. We're hoping to go back to Scotland in 2024. Looks like maybe a mid-June trip is order. :-)

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6737 posts

By the way I have just found out today that the Whithorn Trust, who run the museum there, give discounts to Heritage Environment Scotland, English Heritage and CADW members, even though they are independent. Such people get free entry to the Priory Museum and 20% off the visitor centre and Iron Age roundhouse- which are normally £6 full price this year.

Also the post in 2021 on this forum about Wigtown is now out of date for bus timetables, which were then on Covid era times. Full pre Covid timetables have now been restored.