Focus On: #Galloway, The Land of the Foreign Gael

To see a selection of this month’s ‘Focus On’ images please click here

The Galloway Coastline from Criffel
The Galloway Coastline from Criffel

The Galloway Coastline is very much part of Scotland’s windswept western seaboard and has a great deal to offer, particularly to anyone with a fervour for coastal walking.

Mountains, hills, lochs, woodland, beaches, rivers and cliffs line the spectacular coastline, which begins its journey near Gretna in the east and travels west through some of Britain’s finest scenery, crossing Dumfries-shire, Kirkcudbrightshire and Wigtownshire, before turning south through the remote landscape of The Machars and into the Rhins of Galloway, culminating at the Mull of Galloway, Scotland’s southernmost point, a journey of over 200 miles.

En route the wildlife is astounding, from the smallest lichen to the mighty Basking Shark (and everything in-between), while the outstanding scenery extends to Ayrshire, Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man, the Kintyre Peninsula and the mighty Lake District mountains.

Galloway is the 3rd largest region in Scotland and one of the most sparsely populated areas in Europe; as of 2011 Galloway has approximately 148,000 inhabitants with a population density of 60 people per square mile. Compare that to the Scottish average of 168 people per square mile and you will understand why a real sense of space and freedom pervades when walking in Galloway. There is definitely room to breathe.

With its history, complexities of language, cultural heritage and remoteness to much of Scotland, Galloway has a distinct feel to it, one that is hard to put your finger on – spend time walking the hills or coastline and it may become clearer.

Historically the western half of the region was known as the Kingdom of Galloway and during the Dark Ages was an independent, Gaelic speaking kingdom.

The Mull of Galloway
The Mull of Galloway

Over the centuries Galloway was subsequently divided into three distinct counties; Wigtownshire and Kirkcudbrightshire to the west and Dumfries-shire to the east. The region’s history extends back many thousands of years with much evidence of iron-age forts, crannogs and early Christian sites, whilst a magnificent array of abbeys and castles were built from the 12th century onwards and with such a lengthy coastline strong trade links were established with England and Europe.

The name Galloway didn’t appear until the 11th century and was named after a people, known as the Gall Gaidheil, a race that developed in Scandinavia and in the Hebrides during the 9th century. It was a simple migration of people that led the Gall Gaidheil into southwest Scotland around this time giving rise to the name Galloway, which means amongst the Gall Gaidheil or Land of the Foreign Gael.

Prior to this, the main languages within the region were British and Anglian and certainly this mixture, which also includes Norse, can be seen in the names of the towns, villages, rivers and hills along the coast.

The two largest towns in Galloway have their roots in Gaelic – Dumfries translates as Fortress of the Woodland and Stranraer as Place of the Fat Peninsula. The wonderful hill of Criffel, rising above the Solway Firth a few miles from Dumfries, means Raven Hill from the Norse Kraka-fjell – the raven is the sacred bird of Scandinavia.

The Solway Firth also has Norse origins and translates as Firth of the Muddy Ford whilst the River Dee in Kirkcudbright (Gaelic, Divine River) and Kirkcudbright itself (Scots/Old English, Church of St Cuthbert) further illustrates the fascinating historical and linguistic relationship language has with the Galloway Coastline.

With such a vast coastline you would expect a superb array of birdlife and Galloway really excels; curlew, cormorants, dunlin, greenshank, redshank, knot, barnacle and pink-footed geese, oystercatcher, shags and sandpiper are just a selection to be found on the beaches, estuaries and mudflats whilst the cliffs are home to the likes of fulmars, gulls, puffins and razorbills.

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4 thoughts on “Focus On: #Galloway, The Land of the Foreign Gael”

  1. “…spend time walking the hills or coastline and it may become clearer.” Yes, seeing for oneself is always the best way! The wildlife references make the destination all the more inviting. I also greatly enjoyed your contributions in Edition 78 of Scotland Magazine – Ben A’an and John Muir’s trail.

      1. Thanks, though to be fair, I should point out to any readers that you helped me a great deal get some of those images 🙂 If you’re looking to do a photography workshop in Scotland, Keith is your man.

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