estling in a wooded valley a few miles south of the Devils Beef Tub, Moffat sits quietly on the banks of the Annan; the rolling hills behind silently look down on a green and peaceful scene.
If those hills could speak we would learn so much of our ancient past, for Moffat hills have borne witness to much of Scotland’s early history. Kings and warriors, peasants and pilgrims, all have dwelt in or visited these hills and in so doing left behind proof of their presence.
People have been coming to Annandale from the earliest of times – Stone Age hunters, Celtic tribes, Roman invaders, Norsemen, Normans and Saxon, all left their mark on the land and in the hills. A short journey unveils a little of what the past could tell us.
The earliest evidence of a local presence on the world stage of humanity goes far far back in history… A weapon left lying on a hillside some six thousand years ago – a good place to begin the journey.
The Rotten Bottom Neolithic Hunting Bow
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In 1990 a hill-walker passing through the peat bog area of Rotten Bottom near Hartfell discovered an interesting length of fossilised wood. It was in fact a neolithic hunting bow. Carbon dating established it as being over 6000 years old and the earliest example found anywhere in Britain or Ireland. Although the original is displayed in the Edinburgh Museum of Scotland, an exact replica and more information is available in the Moffat Museum.
Iron Age Hill Fort
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Click to play video.
Time progressed, and people changed from hunter-gatherers into settled farmers and the hills now became home to a tribe of Celts, whom the Roman invaders called “The Selgovae” – The Hunters. You can see the evidence scattered in many places. The easiest place to find such evidence is at the Iron Age Hillfort on Beattock summit.
It is just a short drive up to Camp Hill, the Southern Upland Route from Beattock Bridge. As you reach the top of the hill, park and walk up the hill to the right. Approaching the top, you will see the shaped mounds of what were twin-fortified walls. Continue to the plateau above. The fort was constructed by the Selgovae tribe, who may well have defended it after the Roman siege of Burnswark south of Lockerbie.
Stand on it today and enjoy magnificent views down Annandale; it will transport you back to a time when people would have watched the Roman soldiers marching up to build their camp at Milton just below. You can also see the line of the Roman Road that runs across Moffat golf course. Before driving away, walk further around the area and you will come across the stone circular remains of two-thousand-year-old Celtic dwellings. An ordnance survey map will help you to find them.
The Stannin Stanes
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Situated on the A701 approach into Moffat from the M74, you will pass a group of three large stones on the left hand side a little further along the road from the entrance to the nature reserve. These stones are evidence of Celtic culture.
The orientation aligns with the summit of Hartfell and they are listed in the Monuments of Scotland as “Druidic and probably formed a part of a larger circle.”
Traditionally they are said to mark a possible burial site of local leaders or druids killed by the Romans. For the Selgovae this was a sacred site so treat these stones with respect.
Knights Templar in Medieval Times
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Continuing to Moffat you pass a road on your left hand side sign-posted “To the golf club”. Beyond the Golf Club sits Chapel Farm and within the farm yard lie the remains of a Knights Templar Chapel. It is private land so do not enter the farmyard, but walk a little higher to look down and you will see the West Gable arch of the chapel wall.
St Cuthberts chapel was built in the late 12th Century by the Knights Templar who protected travellers on holy pilgrimages, including those travelling to the Holy Land and Jerusalem. They were a wealthy order of warrior monks who farmed the land in the area.
Life in the early middle ages was harsh, and the Scottish borders very dangerous indeed. The Chapel at Moffat prominently situated just off the old Roman Road, served as a hospital and an overnight resting-place for pilgrims.
The Devil’s Beef Tub
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This deep natural corrie in the hills to the north of Moffat is both the source of the river Annan and the birthplace of much history. The name originated in the wild times of the Border Reivers when the Johnstone clan used the corrie for storing their stolen cattle. The feared Johnstones were known as devils and so the name De’ils Beef Tub was adopted and still remains in common use.
Drive up the modern A701 from Moffat to follow the contours around the rim, stop in a lay-by to enjoy the magnificent views. You will see the memorial to John Hunter, a local covenanter shot by Douglas’s Dragoons in 1685. Those times were called “The Killing Times” because those who refused to accept the appointment of Bishops by the Crown were hunted down and killed by government troops. The Black Bull Hotel in Moffat was the military HQ for South West Scotland under the command of John Graham of Claverhouse known then as “Bluidy Clavers”. Later, as Viscount Dundee, he became a Jacobite hero known as “Bonnie Dundee”..
In the base of the Beeftub stood Corehead tower, which in 1297 was owned by Thomas Halliday. Thomas was married to the sister of William Wallace who became a frequent visitor. It is said that from Corehead, Wallace began his early forays against the occupying English troops which developed into an all out war for independence. Walk or drive the road into the tub at dusk and you may just hear the distant clatter of hooves.
The Moffat Mailcoach Memorial
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Six miles north of Moffat on the east side of the A701 beyond the Beef Tub, sits a memorial to commemorate the driver and guard of the Dumfries to Edinburgh horse-drawn mail-coach.
The coach left Moffat on the 1st February 1831 during a snowstorm but as the route became steeper and the blizzard intensified the coach and its passengers were forced to return.
The driver and guard continued on foot carrying the heavy mailbags in an attempt to reach the next staging post. Their bodies were found three days later in deep snow close to where the memorial now stands.
They were buried in the old Kirk Yard in the town centre; the coach-horn and bugle are displayed in Moffat Museum.
Hartfell Spa and Merlins Cave
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Hartfell Spa can be reached by following the footpath up Hartfell from the green corrugated building of Moffat Water Hall. It is a robust climb and suitable footwear and clothing are required. It sits in the open corrie that scars the approach to the hill. The spa water is known as a chalybeate (iron impregnated) and was re-discovered by copper prospector John Williamson in 1748. The healing claims of the water enabled it to be sold all over Britain, and even exported to the West Indies. The Spa sits in a stone shelter with a trough. Merlin (Myrddin) is said to have lived there as a hermit following the battle of Arthuret in Cumbria in 573 AD.
The Spa Mineral Well
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Rachel Whyteford, a local minister’s daughter, discovered this sulphurous mineral well in 1683. Its health values became widely acclaimed and the main reason Moffat became known as a Spa town. Along with the iron tasting Chalybeate this sulphurous water was used to cure all manner of stomach complaints.
It could be drunk at the well and carriages were available in the town from 7am to transport the thousands of health seeking visitors. Water was also transported to the Baths Hall (now the Town Hall) where skin lesions and rashes were treated with the famed Moffat water. Bathing in warm tubs then cost two shillings. In 1827 the 300 bedroom Moffat Hydropathic Hotel was opened.
Spa waters were piped in and enjoyed by thousands of guests for nearly a hundred years. The hotel was used as a hospital during the First World War but in 1921 the building was totally destroyed by fire.
Alton Motte and Bailey Castle
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Take the Well Road north from Moffat up to Alton Road which lies on your right hand side. A short distance down this road sits the remains of a Norman elevated fortified site of the 12th – 13th Century. This would originally have been a timber built small fort or Bailey surrounded by a deep bank and ditch, still clearly seen on the north side.
To the south of it was a small village, in effect the “Old Town” of Moffat. In 1124 King David 1st granted Sir Robert De Bruce, a Norman knight, land in Annan. His descendants extended control of Annandale and acquired Moffat land later in the 13th Century. Robert the Bruce became Lord of Annandale from his family Castle at Lochmaben.
Eventually their descendant “The Bruce” became King of Scotland, and the war with England concluded after the Battle of Bannockburn near Stirling in 1314. The Gallow Hill, which can be clearly seen from Aulton, possibly owes its name to those early times when hanging was just one of the many punishments the Earl could impose.
The Dowding Memorial in Station Park
In the darkest days of the Second World War the fate of the United Kingdom and the future of Europe was in the balance. Invasion by a fascist dictator was imminent and the likelihood of defeat was much more than a possibility. Air power was the key. The Luftwaffe had swept all before them, if the Royal Air Force could control the skies, then invasion would be unlikely.
The man responsible for organising the tactics of the fighter squadrons and developing the defensive system, including radar, was Moffat born Air Chief Marshall, Lord Hugh Dowding, whose father was Headmaster of St Ninians School. His tactics succeeded in defeating the enemy, so preventing the invasion and ultimately leading on to total victory.
The sculptor Scott Sutherland (also responsible for the commando memorial at Spean Bridge) designed the sandstone and Bronze plaque memorial in Station Park. It was commissioned to celebrate the life of Lord Dowding, born in Moffat in 1882. A Dowding Day ceremony takes place annually, the service in the park concludes with the flypast of a Spitfire or Hurricane. There is a full-scale replica of a Spitfire in Dr Macleods nearby garden.