The West of Scotland: Pt 2 – Sanquhar, Dumfries & Galloway

After a charming visit to the town of Thornhill, we arrived in Sanquhar, passing through on our way to Ayrshire. We parked up and set out to explore…

Sanquhar (sank-uhr) :

Status: Dumfries & Galloway Council Area (historically Dumfriesshire), Town, Scotland

Date: 08/11/2014

Travel: Car

Eating & Sleeping: N/A

Attractions: Sanquhar Castle, Queen Victoria Memorial, Sanquhar Tollbooth, Tollbooth Museum, Royal Bank of Scotland Building, New Cumnock Parish Church etc

Sanq 1

On the outskirts of town lies one of Sanquhars most notable landmarks, Sanquhar Castle, the ruins of which sit rather incongruously in a field next to the A76, an important regional road which diverges from the A75 at Dumfries further South and runs all the way up to Kilmarnock in Ayrshire where it merges with the A77 towards Glasgow.

The Castle dates back to before the 13th century, and was home to a number of families over the years including the Edgars and the Roses. By the 13th century a new family, the Crichtons of Sanquhar, had moved in. Although it does look rather small, the Castle has been part of many battles throughout history, most notably during the Scottish Wars of Independence against England. By the 17th century the Crichtons had sold the building to the 1st Duke of Queensberry, Sir William Douglas (1637 – 1695). He didn’t inhabit the Castle for long as he built his own, much larger building near Thornhill, a few miles South of here, the famous Drumlanrig Castle, which the family still inhabits. Sanquhar Castle decayed until 1895 when it was purchased by John Crichton-Stuart (1847 – 1900) who attempted to restore it. With his passing in 1900 all work on the Castle ceased, and whilst some areas of reconstruction are evident the bulk of what survives are ruins of the original foundations.

An information plaque located near the Castle states that the following all visited Sanquhar throughout its operational lifetime:

Robert the Bruce (1274 – 1329, Scottish King who fought the English).

Sir William Wallace (1270 – 1305, Scottish Leader who also fought the English, and a monument to him stands in the city of Stirling where he won his most famous victory, at the Battle of Stirling Bridge).

King Edward I of England (1239 – 1307, who is noted as establishing the English Parliament in 1265, one of the oldest in the world alongside the Isle of Man and Iceland).

King Edward II of England (1284 – 1327, Edward I’s successor and 4th son, who was eventually deposed in 1327 by Roger de Mortimer, a Nobleman who lead a campaign against Edward. Edward had already been humiliated in 1314 by Robert the Bruce after he was defeated at the Battle of Bannockburn, near Stirling).

Mary Queen of Scots (1532 – 1587, Queen of Scotland for just 25 years until she was forced to abdicate and she fled to England, where she was imprisoned by Queen Elizabeth I and eventually executed).

King James VI (1566 – 1625, the 1st joint King of England & Scotland from 1603, when they united under the same Crown, but not politically).

Sanquhar 2

We moved further into town, and parked up on Church Road, just off the A76. In front of us lay a stunning building crafted out of Red Ashlar, dating back to 1882, and very typical of Scotland in general for its architecture. I believe the building may currently be in use as a Picture House (Cinema).

Sat directly in front of the building is a small monument topped by a streetlight. It was erected in 1897 in celebration of the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria (1819 – 1901) by the town, and the name “Thos. Waugh. J.P Provost: Convener of Committee” is inscribed at the bottom of the commemorative plaque. Thos is the shortened version of Thomas, and the title Provost in Scotland was the equivalent of the Mayor, making it likely that the Memorial was sanctioned by the Provost of Sanquhar.

Sanquhar 3

Just a few metres South of the Memorial to Queen Victoria lies the Sanquhar Tollbooth & Museum, the central feature of the high street. This stunning building was designed by William Adam (1689 – 1748, Scottish Architect) and completed in 1735. Aside from being the local Town Hall, it also doubled as a Jail, and if you look at the open doorway underneath the outer stairs, you will see the old Jail exercise yard in the form of a small corridor, although I don’t think they will have been practising for the marathon in such a small space!

You can walk through this section of the building, and follow in the footsteps of the various prisoners held here in the 18th/19th centuries. The Steps above this entrance were rebuilt in 1857 using Red Ashlar, a very common building material in Dumfries & Galloway. Typically the building was covered in scaffolding, underneath which lies the octagonal Bell Tower and Belfry. Since it was built, apart from administrative use, the building has also been occupied by a School, Library and a Meal Store. It also currently houses the Tollbooth Museum, where you can find out all about the town and the local area.

Sanquhar 4

Looking South up the high street from the Tollbooth, you get a great view of the varied styles used in the buildings here. A number of them are listed buildings, including the central one shown above, with the Doric columns either side of the main entrance. This is 26 High Street, and dates back to the start of the 19th century, when it was built for the RBS (Royal Bank of Scotland), who still inhabit the building today.

1 building which no longer survives in Sanquhar, but could be found close to here, was once owned by Lord Sanquhar, who took in Mary Queen of Scots when she fled here in May 1568, after the Battle of Langside in Glasgow where Mary was forced to abdicate the Scottish Throne by the 1st Earl of Moray, James Stewart (1531 – 1570). She managed to escape towards Dumbarton, and then on to England via Sanquhar. Once she reached England she would never see Scotland again, and Lord Sanquhar was punished for helping her reach safety, leading to an attack on the town and the Castle was captured by Stewart.

Sanquhar 5

Just behind the Tollbooth is this rather interesting public sculpture. It consists of a base made out of multiple layers of stone, slate, bricks etc. On top is a glass box with a quote on it about new technology and allowing it to “use the light of the day to illuminate the night”. I assume this is something to do with Solar Panels, which may be what is sat inside the glass box, although I could be wrong, as it was quite hard to tell.

Sanquhar 6

Sanquhar lies in the Northern area of Dumfries & Galloway council area, historically located in the county of Dumfriesshire. Aside from the South of the area around Dumfries and Annan, it is very sparsely populated, and the small towns and villages throughout the area are located in stunning countryside, with rolling hills on all sides. Sanquhar is no exception, as you can see above.

Sanquhar is a beautiful little town, with some fine buildings and a great setting. The Glasgow & South Western train line from Glasgow down to Carlisle in Cumbria, England, passes through the town every few hours, via the major towns of Dumfries, Annan and Kilmarnock. Local buses also run around the surrounding villages, and between Ayr and Dumfries via Sanquhar and Thornhill. Its a great place to visit if you are exploring the region, and typifies Scotland’s proud heritage. Interestingly, it is also supposedly the site of the worlds oldest working post office. Opened in 1712, it hasn’t closed since, and despite its longevity it has only been through 16 postmasters so far, with the most recent handover occurring in late 2014.

New Cumnock

It was time to leave Sanquhar, as we had a long journey yet up to the Ayrshire Coast and the towns of Irvine/Troon. We continued up the A76, going through Kirkconnel and then New Cumnock, where I snapped this shot of the Martyrs Parish Church, designed by James Ingram (1799 – 1879, Architect from nearby Kilmarnock), and completed in 1833.

We pressed on, towards the town of Irvine…

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