Samuel Rutherford Crockett and Dumfries & Galloway
Samuel Rutherford Crockett (1859-1914) a writer with a prodigious output was inspired by the Galloway landscape and by stories of its people he had heard as a boy.
The Raiders his best known book, a romantic, loosely historical adventure story sold thousands of copies in 1894 and further editions were published to meet demand.
To explore the sources of his imagination, I cycled out from New Galloway on the A762 passing the golf course, ruined Kenmure Castle and the fish farm. Within minutes I was beyond the village and pedalling easily only yards from Loch Ken under a canopy of mature shedding beech trees. The slopes of Cairn Edward Hill and Bennan Hill on the other side of the road are covered densely with spruce, larch and birch. Bennan viewpoint, and the Raiders Road are well signposted.
Today though, I cycled on through Mossdale, stopping at the sad little wooden sign of Little Duchrae Farm where Samuel Crockett was born and further on at the impressive memorial at Laurieston Village, the Clachanpluck of The Raiders story. Paid for by public subscription and unveiled in 1932 by his wife Ruth Crockett, it is constructed with large granite blocks set on a slight rise just off the road. Seemingly he never met Robert Louis Stevenson but they corresponded and a plaque on the pillar carries part of the Stevenson poem, To SR Crockett ,
Blows the wind today,
and the sun and the rain are flying,
Blows the wind on the moors today and now,
Where about the graves of the martyrs the whaups are crying
My heart remembers Now!
In her book `The Life and Times of Samuel Rutherford Crockett, Islay Murray Donaldson stresses that, due to various circumstances Crockett could not afford the luxury of spending enough time on his literary efforts, so never reached Stevenson's sustained heights or enduring popularity but nevertheless does not deserve to be completely forgotten. Thinking of this I pedalled back along the same route taken by Patrick Heron the young hero of The Raiders to New Galloway. The distance covered approximately 30km.
My next trip was the obvious one - along the Raider's Road. Crockett would have been impressed with an idea of his now being featured on the present day Ordnance Survey map. The old drover's road running between the A762 and A712 has been upgraded and marketed by the Forestry Commission and has a vehicle toll ticket machine at either end - bicycles go free. In late autumn the gates are closed at the road ends and normal forestry work resumes, as I discovered. In a couple of places fierce looking grabs were being manoeuvred around stacks of recently felled logs which were then loaded onto vast trucks. With recent freezing weather and thaws the road had been churned by massive tyres into gooey ruts, fortunately over only a short distance. Come springtime, the road will be repaired for the expected visitors.
I enjoyed watching ducks take to the air on Stroan Loch and was lucky enough to spot a quizzical roe deer camouflaged in deep bracken just off the road edge. At the north end where the road passes close, a pair of herons stood transfixes in the boulders shallows of the Black Water of Dee. In Crockett's story, the stolen cattle are driven along this road then on into the remote Galloway hills. I turned right at the A712, the Queen's Way, pedalling past Clatteringshaws Loch and returned to New Galloway. This trip was approximately 20 miles.
My next trip was to Auchencairn, on the Solway coast. SR Crockett had holidayed here in his youth and eventually inherited his uncle's cottage. I cycled out to Balcary Bay, the single track road following the curves of Auchencairn Bay. Heston Island or the Rathan of the story where much of the action takes place was clearly visible. I could appreciate how this setting with small sandy bays, huge contorted rock formations and high cliffs would fire Crockett's imagination.
I had intended cycling along the narrow signposted path to Rascarrel following the headland and making for the small road which would complete the circle back to Auchencairn, but the overgrown path is definitely only for walkers.
Samuel Rutherford Crockett Information by Roger McCann
References: OS Landranger 77 Dalmellington to New
OS Landranger 84 Dumfries, Castle Douglas and surrounding area
The Life and Times of Samuel Rutherford Crockett Islay Murray Donaldson.
The Raiders Samuel Rutherford Crockett