Industrial Mills on
of the Urr Valley
The Port of
|Dalbeattie Businesses||Palnackie History|
The little village of Kippford is sited almost at the mouth of the River Urr, on the eastern shore of the estuary. It is now most active during the sailing season, when the Solway Yacht Club hold regattas. During most months of the year, yachts of various types lie at moorings out in the channel, only being beached in the worst winter months.
During its heyday, the village was once an important coastal packet port and had its own measure of industry. A mill and two quarries were sited nearby, there was a small shipyard, even a spa hotel across in nearby Rockcliffe. The village is now mostly for the retired and owners of second homes, but it still has an interesting character.
Mary Queen of Scots came this way, when travelling from the Battle of Langside to Dundrennan Abbey. It is said that she slept at Corra Castle, a small tower in Kirkgunzeon, then rode down to the Kipp Estate about half a mile north of present Kippford, drawing rein at the Steed Stone (Steadstone). From there, it was an easy ride down to the wide crossing of the Urr at low tide; the writer guesses that the Queen arrived too early to cross safely. There was no bridge across the Urr south of the Haugh of Urr at that date, so the ford was the best place to cross.
Timothy Pont's 1654 Map of Galloway does not show Kippford, but that map does show its inland neighbour Barnbarroch, where a village existed in the shelter of the hills. A mill at Barnbarroch in the 1780s had a double row of fine cottages, the front rank of which were destroyed during road-widening.
Kippford's earliest dateable feature was the old village pump, which carries a date of 1762. The 'Whim Cottage', sticking out at right angles from the line of houses on the front, may be an old croft. It and the neighbouring inn, 'The Anchor', may be the oldest buildings there. The area was known as 'The Scaur' from the local granite crags, one of which, - the 'Kipp Brae', - stood out over the muddy beach near the present site of the 'Mariner' public house. The track to Dalbeattie four and a half miles away, had to pass around the crag onto a tidal beach and was covered by the sea at high tide; the crag was otherwise impassable and the inland slopes too steep for carts.
A small paper mill was started in 1780 near the present Barnbarroch House, cottages being built in the village for the workforce. Rags for the papermaking were brought in by a quay near Craigieknowe. Little survives of the mill except its mill dam (pond) which is still visible from the A711 to Dalbeattie. The mill building is thought to have been converted to a private house. Information is still being collected about this.
A Mr.Parker was operating the small Barnbarroch quarry in 1886, but it folded in the quarrying recession between 1885 and 1900. The stone was taken down a track and across the Dalbeattie road to a now-vanished track leading to a pier near Craigie Knowes farm.
The Caledonian company operated the quarry of that name at intervals between the 1860s and the 1970s. In 1904, they employed 41 workers. The loading pier was constructed in the 1880s and remains a landmark in Kippford. Stone was brought down an inclined plane on waggons, the emptied one being brought back up to the quarry by a rope pulled by the descending full waggons. The waggons ran on a narrow-gauge railway that crossed the road and was removed in the late 1980s. Thereafter, the pier was converted into a yachting marina. Stone was taken out by lorry in the final ten years of the quarry's existence.
The Urr valley has always produced many good seamen, mainly because of the lack of employment elsewhere and the everyday use of the Solway as a transport-route. Sailing and steam packets used to call at Kippford, as this was the highest up the Urr that they could go without being towed, the local boatmen bringing cargo and passengers out from the shore.
The name 'Kippford' came into being during 1870 when a Post Office was opened in a house five doors south of 'The Anchor', which by 1900 dignified itself with the name of an hotel.
In 1881, the local people made the first of several decisions to improve Kippford, as the tidal road was proving to be a considerable embarrassment. On one occasion, the breadvan from Dalbeattie became stuck on the foreshore and was overturned by the tide. James Donaldson and William Clachrie managed to obtain Kipp Brae from Mr. Chalmers, laird of Kipp, the Brae then being blasted away to make the present road along the front up as far as the 'Anchor'. This cost £ 300 Pounds Sterling, a large sum for so small a village. However, by 1914, enough extra money had been raised to construct the present sea-wall and to extend the road to the shop and new Post Office. The old Post Office was closed some time between 1907 and 1914.
About halfway along the length of the current seawall is a gap that opens onto the Kippford Jetty, an inclined masonry ramp barely five feet across, reaching out towards the deep water channel. This was built by Captain Cassady with money raised by public subscription in 1893, allowing fishing vessels and the boats ferrying passengers to coastal packets, to unload without walking over the muddy beach. It was overshadowed by the earlier development of the Caledonian Quarry pier and its loading jetty, which still dominates the north end of the beach. In 1998, a group of local people raised the money to repair the Jetty, which is still in use; Samuel Scott Murdoch, nephew of the famous Lieutenant William McMaster Murdoch, was a prime mover in this local achievement.
Not content with all this, the 'Scauronians' proceeded to lay out a nine-hole golfcourse which subsequently became 'The Pines' hotel's golf course. They also constructed a road between Kippford proper and Rough Firth, a small community of houses quarter of a mile to the south, raising the money with a concert and various subscriptions (collections) in 1907. Since then, this road has turned into one of the most exclusive parts of Kippford, with houses that look out onto the course of the Kippford Regatta.
The 1907 map shows that there was a Public Hall in a building just inland of Whim Cottage, but this piece of public spirit has been twice superseded. The British Legion opened its Kippford Hall in the 1920s, since being overtaken by the Village Hall, which has been regularly refurbished and stands on the bend of the road opposite the quarry pier. The Hall sees frequent activity, - car boot sales, jumble sales and social events take place there regularly, with meetings of Kippford's Community Council.
The leisure industry began in the 1900s and has developed steadily since then. Since the 1960s, camping, caravanning and golfing have increased in popularity. Kippford Caravan Park and Doonpark Caravan Park are sited beside the road to Kippford from the A711 Dalbeattie to Dumfries coast road, and offer modern facilities. Part of each site has rentable static caravans, but there is also space for touring caravans and tents. In 1996, the nine-hole Craigieknowes Golf Course was opened, flanking the Kippford road on the other side from the Caravan Parks. Barnbarroch Pottery was started a few years ago in a house on the corner of the road junction, and the 'Mariner Hotel' in Kippford has been in business for some ten years.
There had been boat repair at Kippford for a long time, but in the early 1800s there was construction of small sloops on the shore. By 1860, this was successful enough for Mr. James Cumming to take over some gardens and a section of the beach and to construct a ship, - the Try Again - over some seven years. She was followed by the construction of the Balcary Lass in 1881; the Balcary Lass was lost in 1883 on a voyage from Goole to St. John's, Newfoundland, whilst carrying coals; it is possible that the coal caught fire, as the ship was in good order.
Because of the steep and narrow beach, ships to be repaired were floated sideways onto the beach and then winched onto blocks. This launching system meant that re-launching was also sideways, a difficult procedure that once nearly damaged a newly-repaired schooner. The Cummings then laid down a proper slipway, with a cradle onto which ships could be drawn. Once in place, a capstan winch ashore could draw cradle and ship up the well-greased slipway for repairs, then assist in the careful re-launching.
The slipway was finally disposed of about 1914, as the level of shipping declined. James and his brother John Cumming died, the lease was taken over by Mr. Collins of Birkenhead, but the business dwindled to small boat repair and ended in the 1920s.
There are still many prints of the old ships of the Urr in the 'Anchor Hotel', which was actually the shipbuilders' pub. They received a dram of whiskey twice a day as well as three shillings (36 old pence or 15p.), per day in wages. This was at a time when ordinary labourers received barely half that sum. The publican used to cover the benches in newspaper, as the shipbuilders' clothes were well-tarred from their work.
There is still a small recessed slip, but this is not on the line of the slipway, which was slightly farther to the north. However, the Kippford Slipway Ltd., though largely a boat-chandlers, does keep up some of the old tradition.
This was started in about 1900 by some yachtmen from Castle Douglas and Dumfries, sailing seven fourteen-foot dinghies. By 1928, the Club had revived the Kippford Regatta and yachts were using the moorings in increasing numbers. Yacht ownership saw a change in house ownership throughout the village; many London, Edinburgh and Glasgow residents now own second homes in Kippford, Rockcliffe and Colvend. Visiting yachts can tie up at the quarry pier or to moorings.
The Club has its own small clubhouse on the road to Rough Firth, where the Regatta officials can stand and signal the yachts. The Club has rescued the old quarry pier, which in 1996 was converted into a yacht marina with several berths at a floating pier. Each berth has a power point similar to those at caravan sites, so that mains current can be used whilst moored. Infill of adjacent saltings with quarry waste has allowed construction of a land storage area for yachts, access being either by a slip from the river or a gated entry from the road. In addition, there are a number of buoyed moorings either side of the river channel.
Kippford's most recent example of self-help comes with the Kippford Association's efforts to get funds for their Millenium 2000 Cross. This is planned to be set up on the Green by the Village Hall. The cross will consist of a cairn of granite stones contributed by local residents with an insert of Kippford granite above it. The cross is in the style of a Whithorn Cross and will be made in Dalbeattie granite worked by Douglas Swan. The shaft will be decorated with an anchor and a seagull, as these typify Kippford. A steel armature and a concrete base will support the shaft and head.
Unfortunately, the Lotteries Commission 'Awards for All' have turned down the proposal as being a 'capital project', - despite its being a capital idea, - so the local people have by hard efforts raised over half of the cost. More funds are needed. Expatriate sons and daughters of Kippford and area are asked to help contribute. Please contact Rona Cropper of the Kippford Association at :-
Rockcliffe is linked to Kippford only by its Jubilee Path, which runs through land held by the National Trust. The road was originally intended to run between both villages, but this was frustrated by the donation of the land to the Trust by the owner. The 'Jubilee' referred to is the 1901 Queen Victoria's Jubilee, when the path was first cleared and surfaced by local subscription. The intended road now runs no further than the Baron's Craig Hotel, but its line runs on for several hundred yards to where the path begins.
Rockcliffe has in fact had very little recorded history before its late 1800s development as a resort. At Castle Point there are the remains of a prehistoric dun of possibly the second century A.D., and on the Motte of Mark there were fragments of a settlement occupied from possibly 800 A.D. to the early mediaeval period. Two cottages at the 'Red Sands' were in existence before the main development, but most of Rockcliffe is barely a hundred years old.
During the late 1800s Captain Candlish constructed a jetty in Moat Bay, just north of the village, for use by boats when the tide was up. It is unfortunately now largely unused as there is difficulty reaching it from the landwards side. The structure was refurbished in the late 1990s and is now in excellent condition.
Rockcliffe beach is a sandy crescent with sandy mud exposed at low tide. Although there is vehicle access for boats, a line of boulders were tipped across the best access to the sand-flats and make launching almost impossible. This keeps the beach private, but hinders its development for tourism and has lead to insufficient scouring of the beach.
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Site commenced 29th December 1997,
last updated 10th November 1999.