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Topographic map of Galloway and region
The main rivers and several towns

Galloway is a region comprising the two counties of Kirkcudbright and Wigtown, which together form the southwestern corner of Scotland. Kirkcudbrightshire and Wigtownshire have the alternative names "East Galloway" and "West Galloway" respectively.

It is generally agreed that the name 'Galloway' derives from the name Gall-Gaidel, and indeed the modern and mediæval words for Galloway in Gaelic are Gall-Ghàidhealaibh and Gallgaidelaib respectively, meaning "land of the foreign Gaels". The term is not recorded until the 11th century.

Galloway is contained by sea to the west and south, the Galloway Hills to the north, and the River Nith to the east, beyond which is Dumfriesshire. The border between Kirkcudbrightshire and Wigtownshire is marked by the River Cree.

A hardy breed of black, hornless beef is named Galloway cattle native to the region (and also to the more distinctive 'Belted Galloway' or 'Beltie').

Geography and Landform

Galloway comprises that part of the land southwards from the Southern Upland watershed and westward from the River Nith. Traditionally it has been described as stretching from "the bras of Glenapp to the Nith". The valleys of three rivers, the Urr Water, the Water of Ken and River Dee, and the Cree, all running north-south, provide much of the good arable land, although there is also some arable land on the coast. Generally however the landscape is rugged and much of the soil is shallow. The generally south slope and southern coast make for mild and wet climate, and there is a great deal of good pasture.

The northern part of Galloway is exceedingly rugged and forms the largest remaining wilderness in Great Britain south of the Highlands. This area is known as the Galloway Hills.

Land use

Historically Galloway has been famous both for horses and for cattle rearing, and milk and beef production are both still major industries. There is also substantial timber production and some fisheries. The combination of hills and high rainfall make Galloway ideal for hydroelectric power production, and the Galloway Hydro Power scheme was begun in 1929. Since then, electricity generation has been a significant industry. More recently wind turbines have been installed at a number of locations on the watershed, and a large offshore wind-power plant is planned, increasing Galloway's 'green energy' production.

Galloway landmarks on Ptolemy's map

Landmarks according to Ptolemy

The 2nd century geographer Ptolemy produced a map of Britain in his Geographia, in which he describes the landmarks and peoples of the island. The landmarks were identified long ago, and a number of them relate to Galloway:[1]

In the west, the city of Rerigonium (literally 'very royal place'), shown on Ptolemy's map of the world, is a strong contender for the site of Pen Rhionydd, referred to in the Welsh Triads as one of the 'three thrones of Britain' associated with the legendary King Arthur, and may also have been the caput of the sub-Roman Brythonic kingdom of Rheged. Rerigonium's exact position is uncertain except that it was 'on Loch Ryan', close to modern day Stranraer; it is possible that it is the modern village of Dunragit (Dun Rheged).

Early Galloway

Torehousekie Stone Circle
Cairn Holy chambered cairn

The Romans named the inhabitants of Galloway the Novantae.

According to tradition, before the end of Roman rule in Britain, St Ninian established a church or monastery at Whithorn in Wigtownshire, which remained an important place of pilgrimage until the Reformation.

The county is rich in prehistoric monuments and relics, amongst the most notable of which are the Drumtroddan Standing Stones (and cup-and-ring carvings), the Torhousekie Stone Circle, both in Wigtownshire and Cairn Holy (a Neolithic Chambered Cairn).

There is also evidence of one of the earliest pit-fall traps in Europe which was discovered near Glenluce, Wigtownshire.

Middle Ages

Galloway probably remained a Welsh-dominated region until the late 7th century when it was taken over by the English kingdom of Bernicia. Most of the place-names of Galloway are of the English language.

English dominance was supplanted by Norse-Gaelic Gall-Gaidel peoples between the 9th and the 11th century. This can be seen in the context of widespread Norse domination of the Irish Sea, including extensive settlement in the Isle of Man and in Cumberland immediately south of Galloway.

If it had not been for Fergus of Galloway who established himself in Galloway, the region would rapidly have been absorbed by Scotland. This did not happen because Fergus, his sons, grandsons and great-grandson Alan, Lord of Galloway shifted their allegiance between Scottish and English kings. During a period of Scottish allegiance a Galloway contingent followed David King of Scots in his invasion of England and led the attack in his defeat at the Battle of the Standard (1138); the Galloway men insisted on their right to be in the vanguard against the King's wish to send his Norman knights in first, and were cut down by the Normans on the English side, losing the battle.

Alan died in 1234. He had three daughters and an illegitimate son Thomas. The 'Community of Galloway' wanted Thomas as their king while Alexander III of Scotland supported the daughters (or rather their husbands) and invaded Galloway. The Community of Galloway was defeated, and Galloway divided up between Alan's daughters, thus bringing Galloway's independent existence to an end. Alexander's own death, heirless, nearly ended Scotland's.

Alan's eldest daughter, Devorguilla, married John de Balliol, and their son (also John) became the foremost candidate for the Scottish crown, and consequently King. The bloody wars that followed, earl against earl and also against the English king, were disproportionately fought in Galloway.

A large number of new Gaelic placenames were coined after 1320 because Galloway retained a substantial Irish-Gaelic speaking population for several centuries more. After relative peace came, Galloway became the fief of Archibald the Grim, Earl of Douglas and his heirs. Whithorn remained an important cultural centre, and all the mediæval Kings of Scots made pilgrimages there.

Modern history

In the years subsequent to the Union of the Crowns 1603, Galloway underwent radical change, during the War of the Three Kingdoms and Covenanter rebellion, for the Covenanters wee strong here, and punished for it.

In modern times, a major ferry port was set up at Stranraer in Wigtownshire, but the company has now moved to Cairnryan up the coast.

Outside links


  1. Ptolemy c. 140 Ptolemy, Bk. II, Ch. 2. Trans. Albion island of Britannia - First Map of Europe