A Dawdle Around Duncow

The weather is still a bit changeable, one minute it looks as if the sun might break through and turn it into a stunning day and then suddenly it looks like we might get a soaking.  There is a useful information folder at our current site, Landis Farm CL.  In it are some interesting leaflets published by Discover Kirkmahoe, a small local group, describing walks in the area. We opt to explore walks around nearby Duncow and Newlands (just the other side of Dumfries).

The guide gives two options for parking, either in the village playing field at Duncow or if, like now, it is the school holidays, just across the road in the small school car park.  We opt for the school car park.

There are two walks in the guide starting from this point, we intend doing both.  We leave the school car park and walk into what remains of the village, crossing the bridge and carrying straight on, ignoring the turning on the left and gradually climbing a hill.  There is a walled, triangular area of woodland on the right; apparently cattle and sheep were rested here before being taken down the drove to Amisfield station and then to Lockerbie Market.

To our left in a field are the ruins of a windmill.  We turn left at the junction and stop to look at the windmill.

Also in the field to the right of the windmill is a Neolithic standing stone, there are a number of these dotted around this walk.

We continue along the road coming to the site of an Iron Age hill fort on our left at Castlehill.

A little further on we turn left at Knowefoot taking a path signed to North Riddingwood.

The track leads around to the ruins at North Riddingwood.

Here we turn left onto a tarmac track and head steadily downhill and after another lane joins from the right we reach a distinctive white house, this is Sunnybrae, it was the home and studio of the artist Cyril Wilson (1911-2003).  I had not previously heard of Wilson but later research shows that he was a distinguished artist and his works have been exhibited in the Royal Scottish Academy, the Galeria il Bisonte in Florence, the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, and many other places.

On the wall of the house is one of Wilson’s pieces “Child of Day in the Womb of Night”; it is not really a style of art I appreciate.  Wilson was also a water diviner and he became President of the Scottish Society of Dowsers in 1991 helping locate over three hundred wells in Scotland and Ibiza.  His obituary in the Scottish Herald tells how he was also interested in map dowsing, apparently he could swing a silver ball over a map and this would tell him all sorts.  He is said to have helped Scotland Yard find stolen gold bullion and assisted other police forces identify the location of a murder and find stolen jewellery.

Continuing on down the road we pass Duncow Mill, we will pass this again on our second loop so will leave it until later to visit this interesting site.  We go through an area with an abundance of wild raspberries.  Dexter and Crosby love blackberries so I offer them a chance to taste a raspberry.  Immediately our progress is slowed as they seek out more of these ripe fruit.

We have reached the point where we cross the bridge on our right and return back to the school car park.  On seeing the car Dexter thinks it must be of the end of the walk and time for a chew (a treat they always get when we end a long walk), so he is a bit disgruntled when we pass the car and turn right alongside the road for just short of half a mile.  After passing a house called Ryecroft, (Dexter still plodding), we turn right and follow the lane.

In amongst the hills to our right there used to be an area where Covenanters held their meetings out of sight.

Then we see the fine looking Quarrelwood House.  This was built as a manse for the Cameronian sect, a religious fundamentalist element of the Presbyterians founded by Richard Cameron. This extreme group of Covenanters went on to establish the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland.  (One of the many things I have discovered on this tour is that the religious structure in Scotland is extremely complex.) The octagonal building besides the house is on the footprint of the old chapel.

On our right the old stone wall has been built so as to create access for horses to get a drink from the stream.

The track continues on past Longbank, we both seem to have acquired a cloud of flies that are persistently buzzing around our heads, not a couple of flies but hundreds, soon this become very tiresome.  We have now reached Newlands.  Walter Duncan a Glasgow tea merchant purchased this house in 1891 and besides extending the property he added some castellation.  The Scottish do love a bit of castellation!

During World War II Newlands House became a hospital for the Norwegian soldiers who were located in Dumfries after the German occupation of Norway.   Duncan’s tea business still exists, these days it is part of the Duncan Goenka Group and has more than 40,000 employees worldwide.

On reaching a junction we turn right, still accompanied by our increasing clouds of flies, we soon pass Leap House, apparently in the woods to our right is the site of an old distillery and a folly. However, with no obvious path and surrounded by our individual, irritating, clouds of flies buzzing around us we decide to press on rather than explore.

We soon reach Sunnybrae again and once again head down the hill towards Duncow Mill.  Mercifully we have shaken off the flies so stop to explore the mill.

This was once a large complex, having five main mill buildings.  These included a grain mill a carding mill and a wool mill.

The carding mill was where the woollen fleeces were cleaned, separated and straightened before being woven into blankets.  Apparently, teasels were grown here for use in carding the wool.

Returning to the road we head back down the hill, with Dexter and Crosby alert for the possibility of a raspberry or two.  We cross the bridge and return to the car.  Our little wander has covered close to seven miles in total, with the first loop being three miles.  It has been interesting to learn about the history of this area, but the walk was spoilt by the bothersome flies.

To view this route on OS Maps Click Here

To follow this walk you will need Ordnance Survey Explorer Map 321 – Nithsdale & Dumfries

14th July 2017

© Two Dogs and an Awning (2017)


  1. Alice Howdle

    I am part of Discover Kirkmahoe, a small local group which has published the leaflet you used and three other walks in our area. We are very glad that you enjoyed your walk, and obviously found the leaflet interesting. Please could you acknowledge Discover Kirkmahoe in future blogs. As you may be aware, these leaflets are distributed free of charge and we rely on positive feedback to obtain the funding we need to print them.

    1. Fred

      Thank you for your comment on this blog, I have revised the text to highlight Discover Kirkmahoe. We would not have thought of walking near Duncow if we had not come across your leaflet, well done in promoting the local area and encouraging people to get out in this interesting bit of countryside.

  2. Irene Paterson

    If you would like the other leaflets let me know and I’ll post them out. Also available at Lochthorn Library and Visit Scotland. Enjoy the walks – they are fab.

  3. Duncow Hike and Historic Sites of Kirkmahoe.

    Excellent walk, photos and description of my home parish of Kirkmahoe. My home was Kirktonfield Farm. I attended Duncow Primary School. Walter Duncan of Newlands was my Scout Master for a few years. I enjoyed outdoor walks, games and activities with Mr. Duncan and my fellow Scouts including the Windmill Stump, Duncow Mill, Newlands, Duncow Burn, and Quarrelwood. Hugh Wilson and Robin Armstrong of Locharbriggs followed Walter Duncan as my Scout Masters. Later in the mid 1960’s, as Scout Master of Kirkmahoe Scout Group of 37th West Dumfries-shire, I enjoyed taking our Boy Scouts on similar hikes. Our Scout Troop Patrols were the Lions, Bulldogs, Peewits and Eagles. Walter Duncan wrote our Kirkmahoe Scout Troop song.

    Upon going to the University of St. Andrews in 1967 another Scout Leader continued with our Kirkmahoe Scout Troop. I continue enjoying hiking through hiking the Scottish mountains, mountains of European Alps, North and South America and Kenya. I completed climbing the Munro Mountains of Scotland – Compleatist Number 130 – upon reaching the summit of Ben Alligan in Toridon on April 29, 1974. On Febdruary 9, 1975, I moved Vancouver, Canada, and then moved to and lived in Utah from 1976-1979, then moved to the Peace Region of Alberta arriving on August 27, 1979, with yesterday, August 27, 2019, being the 40th Anniversary of my arrival at Grande Prairie Regional College to teach university courses in organic chemistry.

    My brother and sister-in-law, David Reid Sloan and Sandra Waugh, of Kirktonfield Farm continue enjoying hikes in Kirkmahoe and beyond. I continue hiking, teaching, farming in the Central Peace Region of Alberta growing barley and canola, and overseeing our Sloan Family Farm and Education Projects in Kenya – http://Www.peacefarms. Green.

    Thank you for the illustrated photos and description of your Duncow, Windmill Stump, Duncow Mill, Quarrelwood and Newlands hike, leading me to reminiscing on my young days in Kirkmahoe and beyond.

    John Purdie Sloan, Grande Prairie, Alberta, Canada, August 28, Lammas Day, 2019

    1. Fred

      Hi John, Thank you for your comments and interesting background to your time in and around Duncow. We really enjoyed our stay in the area and I am glad you enjoyed reading the blog. Fred

    2. Ian Steele

      I loved John Sloan’s reminiscences . I was born in Duncow School on 11 plus examination day !
      My dad was headmaster but only till 1953 , though the friends he made there remained our closest family friends . I remember Annie Sloan better than John but my father always thought very highly of John’s pursuit of academic achievement . I seem to remember Dad making a point of visiting Kirktonfield when John was home. That area between Heathhall and Auldgirth must be one of the most appealing spots there is — our caravan was always parked for the summers at the French’s farm , Gullieburn and the views from the top fields and up by the Watchman Wood were wonderful . I still keep in touch with Peter Mainwaring Burton , whose mother Edwina ( Crabbe) felt she had no option but to sell Duncow House , which lead to its very sad demolition . As John notes , it is very easy to start reminiscing about Kirkmahoe !!

    3. Ian Steele

      Dear John ,
      Maybe just a little before Walter , my father James Steele (headmaster of Duncow till 1958) helped with the Scouts along with the artist Cyril Wilson (who was related by marriage to Walter Duncan . Duncow is definitely one of those places that gets into the soul–or maybe it is because I was born in the schoolhouse , rather than the maternity hospital, on control exam day 1950!!

  4. David Craig

    I enjoyed reading this item very much. My ancestors (William and Joseph Craig) were farmers and millers at Duncow Mill and, later, at West Duncow. Other family stayed at Sunnybrae. Would it be possible to have a copy of the leaflet? Many thanks, David Craig

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