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Dalmellington, Ayrshire

Historical Description

DALMELLINGTON, a parish, in the district of KYLE, county of AYR, 14 miles (S. E. by S.) from Ayr; containing 1199 inhabitants. This place derived its name, signifying in the Gaelic language "the town of the valley of the mill", from the particular local features which distinguished it at the time. The parish is about ten miles in length and three in average breadth, and is bounded on the south and south-west by the lake and river Doon, which separate it from the parish of Straiton, in Carrick. It comprises 20,000 acres, of which 1304 are arable, 17,800 pasture and waste (whereof 1200 might be brought into profitable cultivation), 750 in woods and plantations, and about 300 undivided common. The surface is extremely varied. The upper portion of it is intersected by three ridges of moderate elevation, two of which are nearly parallel, and the third crosses them obliquely. The lower part of the parish is one continued ridge of heights, the principal of them being Benwhat, Benbraniachan, and Benbeoch, which last terminates the ridge, to the cast, in a splendid range of basaltic columns nearly 300 feet in height, and about 600 feet in breadth. Between this ridge and the river Doon is a plain, about three miles in length and one mile broad, on which the village is situated. Several deep and precipitous defiles are formed by the approach of the ridges towards each other; and on the Dumfries road they approximate so closely as, in some parts, to leave only a sufficient passage for the road and a small burn that flows by it. On the side of the Loch Doon range of heights, where the river issues from the lake, the precipitous rocks approach within thirty feet of each other for nearly a mile, rising perpendicularly to the height of 300 feet above the bed of the river, and presenting a magnificent combination of features. This pass, called the Glen or Craigs of Ness, forms the entrance to the vale of Doon, which afterwards expands into rich and luxuriant meadows. The river issues from the lake through two tunnels excavated in the solid rock, and, pursuing a north-western course along the boundary of the parish, intersects a level plain, in part of which, near the village, its waters expand into a wide lake. This lake is called Bogton, and is frequented by aquatic fowl of various kinds; and near the south-cast of the parish is Loch Muck, in the form of a crescent, covering about thirty acres in the middle of a heathy moor; a lake of great depth, and abounding with black trout.

The SOIL on the banks of the river is a deep rich loam; along the bases of the hills in the lower part of the parish, a moist clayey loam, resting on sandstone; and behind the ridge, moss. In the higher part the soil is light and dry, interspersed with peat resting on greywacke rock, with some portions of heath. The principal crop of grain is oats, and the green crops are chiefly potatoes: the system of agriculture is advancing; tile-draining is on the increase, and spade husbandry has been adopted with success upon the mossy lands, on a limited scale. About 8000 sheep, mostly of the black-faced breed, are pastured in the course of the year, with a small number of the Cheviot and Leicestershire breeds; about 300 Ayrshire cows, and about 500 head of young cattle, partly of the Galloway breed, are also annually pastured. The annual value of real property in the parish is £3679. The plantations are principally larch and Scotch fir, which appear to be well adapted to the soil, and are in a thriving condition, with ash, and birch, some oak, and other hard-woods. The substrata are chiefly sandstone and greywacke, with coal, ironstone, and limestone. The coal has been worked in several places, in some of which, especially in the lower parts of the parish, it has been found at little more than two fathoms from the surface. Pits have been opened, and are now in operation, at Camlarg, about a mile from the village; and at the extremity of the parish, about five miles distant.

The village, which was a burgh of barony, is pleasantly situated in the vale, sheltered in the rear by hills of various elevation. There are, a library supported by subscription, which has a collection of 800 volumes; and a reading-room, which has also a library of more than 600 volumes, bequeathed to it some years since by a shopkeeper of the village. A penny-post has been established here; and there are some inns for the reception of the numerous visiters whom the interesting scenery of the neighbourhood attracts to the spot, and of the shooting and fishing parties who resort hither during the season. In 1847 an act of parliament was passed for the construction of a railway, about 6 miles in length, from Dalmellington to Smithstown; to be called the Ayrshire and Galloway railway. The woollen manufacture is carried on to a small extent: two mills are in operation, employing a moderate number of hands, in spinning woollen-yarn, which is here manufactured into plaiding, tartans, carpets, blankets, and packing-cloths. Several of the inhabitants, also, are employed in weaving cotton-cloth; and there was formerly an extensive bleachfield, which, since the substitution of cottons and the increased importation of Irish linens, has been discontinued, and, in lieu, a thread-mill substituted on the premises. Fairs are held on Easter Eve, the first Friday after Whitsunday, and on Hallow E'en (all O. S.), chiefly for wool and for hiring servants. Ecclesiastically the parish is in the presbytery of Ayr, synod of Glasgow and Ayr, and in the patronage of the Crown: the minister's stipend is £158, with a manse, and a glebe valued at £20 per annum. The parochial school is well conducted; the master has a salary of £34, with £10 fees, and a house and garden.

There was formerly a castle near the village, the site of which only is now remaining, the materials having been removed for the erection of a house in the village, from that circumstance called the Castle House. It appears to have been but of small dimensions; it was traditionally styled Dame Helen's Castle, and between it and the village is a mound, once the place for dispensing justice. There was another castle, apparently of larger dimensions, and of greater strength, situated on the projecting side of a deep glen, and called Laght Alpine; nothing, however, but the site remains. A Roman road passed through the whole length of the parish, but it has been destroyed to furnish materials for making dykes; it has been traced through the parish of Dalrymple to its termination at a ford on the river Ayr. Several cairns, also, have been removed for a similar purpose, one of which, on the summit of a hill above the village, was 115 yards in circumference.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of Scotland, 1851 by Samuel Lewis