A visit to Dumfries Museum and a review of Secret Dumfries by Mary Smith

I chose Scotland for our holiday destination this year with the proviso that we travel via York and visited the Bronte Museum, a placed I have longed to visit ever since I read about the tiny books produced by the Bronte siblings.

On Tuesday morning, after a brief visit to York and the Lake District, we drove to Dumfries in Scotland. Dumfries is a small town situated on the River Nith and is the place where famous Scottish poet, Robert Burns, lived for the last years of his life and died.

I was excited as we were meeting up with fellow blogger and author, Mary Smith, who had kindly offered to show us around her beautiful and historic town. Mary has written two non-fiction books about Dumfries and its history and a third is in the process of being finalised for publication. I bought and read a copy of Secret Dumfries prior to our trip as I always like to read up on the history of places before I visit them.

At 10.30am, after a 2 hour drive, we met Mary at the Dumfries Museum for a quick look around and to see the world’s oldest working Camera Obscura.


Mary Smith and I outside the Dumfries Museum.

The museum was fascinating and I saw a few of the interesting items that Mary describes and provides the history of in her book. These are three of the items that interested me the most:

Dumfries Museum and Camera Obsura

The first picture is a replica of the skull of Robert the Bruce containing real bone pieces of bone, the punch bowl was bought by Robert Grainger to celebrate the move by the Seven Trades into a new Trades Hall in 1806,  the Siller gun was awarded at an annual shooting competition of the freeman of the burgh and was presented to the Seven Trades by James VI of Scotland and I of England, the remains of the ladle was the one used by the town’s executioner to take a ladleful of grain from each sack in the meal market and the pick is a Roman artifact.

The Camera Obscura was an amazing experience. I was astonished at how clearly this device reproduced live scenes from the town on the white viewing table. I can just imagine how bowled over with this devise the Victorian’s would have been, unexposed as they were to other screens such as television and computers.

We saw many other amazing historical sites in the town, including the home of Robert Burns and his grave, but I shall keep those visits for another post. Thank you, Mary, for giving up a day to show us around and give us a private tour with all your interesting insights.

My review of Secret Dumfries by Mary Smith

Secret Dumfries is a non-fiction book depicting the fascinating history of Dumfries, a small town situated on the River Nith in Scotland. Dumfries is also known as the “Queen of the South”, a name bestowed on the town by local poet David Dunbar.

The book is divided into ten chapters each dealing with different aspects of the town, its inhabitants and its history.

Chapter 1: History provides a lot of background to the development and establishment of the town. One particularly interesting historical event was the stabbing of “The Red” Comyn by Robert the Bruce which changed the course of Scottish history.

Chapter 2 deals with Crime and Punishment and one of the titbits of information disclosed in this chapter is that in sixteenth-century Dumfries, anyone caught stealing his neighbour’s peat was branded on the cheek with the towns clock key, heated in a fire made of the stolen peats.

Chapter 3: Health, shares facts and information about the history of disease and illness in the town including outbreaks of the plague, famine and cholera.

Chapter 4 entitled Industrial Dumfries tells the stories about the development of industry in Dumfries. One of the industries discussed is the quarrying for sandstone at Locharbriggs Quarry. This sandstone is a lovely pink to red colour and is clearly detectable as the building material for most of the historical buildings in the town.

Chapter 5 deals with Wartime Dumfries and tells of the backgrounds of famous Doonhammers during times of warfare, including Joseph Brown who fought in the Crimea War and the Indian Mutiny.

Chapter 6: Outdoor Art Gallery describes the lovely outdoor artworks found throughout the town including a collection of unusual finials on the railings along the Whitesands beside the Nith. There are thirty-eight of these finials which were created by Natalie Vardey and designed to link to past and present trades in Dumfries.

Chapter 7: Remarable Doonhammers includes details on a number of interesting residents of the town, the most renown being Robert Burns and his wife, Jean Armour. Interestingly enough, the book discloses that Robert Burns body was dug up twice before it was finally laid to rest in its current mausoleum.

Chapter 8 advises visitors to remember to look up and provides information on all the artworks and historical artifacts above eye level including some facts about the fire marks on selected buildings.

Chapter 9: Recreation provides the history of, inter alia, the Dumfries football team, the name of which is Queen of the South. It also tells of the history of the Dumfries cinemas and even the circus.

Chapter 10: Curiosities, Mysteries and a Sad Story ends with a poignant tale about Tinker, or Derek Styles, a promising young man who was psychologically ruined by the horrors he witnessed during the battle for Goose green in May 1982.

Secret Dumfries is a well written and interesting non-fiction book and I would recommend it to anyone interested in Scottish history.

Purchase Secret Dumfries




94 thoughts on “A visit to Dumfries Museum and a review of Secret Dumfries by Mary Smith

      1. The Bash usually clashes with one of our workshops since they changed the date, so I haven’t been for a while. But yes, it would be lovely to meet up next time you are here 🙂

        Liked by 3 people

  1. I’m so envious of your wonderful trip, all the way from the Bronte Museum (would LOVE that, too) to Scotland, a country I’ve been longing to visit for a very long time. And to add the icing to the cake, meeting up with Mary, and having her show you around! Wow. Just lovely! I’ve seen some of your photos scroll by on my FB feed and it just looks like a marvelous trip, all the way around.

    Great review of Secret Dumfries, too. Last week, I ordered both of Mary’s Dumfries books and pre-ordered the 3rd. Amazon says Secret Dumfrieds is on the way. Can’t wait to read it.

    Great post, Robbie! 🙂 Thanks for sharing with us. ❤

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Wonderful, Marcia. Even if you read it just for its historical and entertainment factor, it is a great book. I have another book of Mary’s about Dumfries that she gifted to me. I didn’t actually know about that one. I am looking forward to reading it. I am really enjoying Scotland too.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. That’s wonderful you got to meet up and get a tour! Her book sounds fascinating about Scottish history in that area. Great review, Robbie and I’ve been enjoying your pictures on Instagram:)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Just fabulous to know your are in the UK Robbie, enjoying your touring and meeting blogging friends.. York a memorable place as is the Lake District..
    Lovely pictures, and hope you are enjoying our second heat wave this Bank Holiday weekend ❤
    Much love your way Robbie.. Enjoy the rest of your holiday ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Sue, lovely to hear from you. It is not that hot in Scotland, I am wearing a long sleeved T-Shirt and jeans. It is warmer in England I think. It is nice that it isn’t raining. It makes touring easier. I hope you are enjoying the last few days of summer.

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      1. Glad you are enjoying Scotland Robbie and yes its cooler the more North you go.. Here in the Midlands its been HOT.. And again today.. Not complaining though, it was unexpected, especially on a Holiday Weekend, as it has the tendency to rain .. ENJOY yourselves ❤

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      1. Hey great! Sorry for the insta delay, but they dont let me post anything, since some days. Mary is so kind too. She offered my to be my tour guide, when i will visit Scotland. Scotch seems to be the best. 🙂 Michael

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Robbie, I was born in the UK and never made it to Scotland! How remiss was that…Delighted you made it and met up with Mary. I have been dogging your footsteps…At least I made the Brontes’ home. Sounds like you have lots…to write about. Happy travelling and landing. Hugs xx

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m trying again to see if any comment will be accepted from me. Don’t know what I’ve done to upset WordPress! Thanks so much for the review of Secret Dumfries and it was fabulous to meet you and your lovely family.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Mary I can see this comment. I enjoyed your book and reread bits of it after our visit as it is always helpful when you have more historical context. I hope we will get an opportunity to meet up again in the future. 🤗

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Excellent! Dumfries is one of those places we always seem to zoom past on the M74, on our way to somewhere else. But I need to explore, if only because of the Bruce connection and his murder of John Comyn in Greyfriars. Dumfries and Galloway is beautiful in parts anyway. The museum sounds great – and how wonderful to meet up with a fellow-blogger!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Robbie, I really enjoyed reading this and discovering you had visited York in the summer and then went on to meet our mutual friend, Mary, in Scotland. Sorry I’m reading this so late. I catch up intermittently it seems, for the moment at least. What a fascinating museum. The last time I was in York was during one of my visits back ‘home’ with my children when we lived in California. We went to Jorvick and also the beautiful York Minster. Beautiful countryside. Great review of Mary’s book too, the perfect companion for your trip, along with Mary too, naturally 🙂 Lovely photo of you both.

    Liked by 1 person

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