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:
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