When one enters Garlieston , one quickly meets the seafront and experiences the beauty of Garlieston Bay. Ahead is the wooded headland of Eggerness, the site of an ancient camp with rock carvings, enclosing the bay with a rocky shoreline to the East and a sandy beach to the North. Behind the beach, the Galloway Hills provide a backdrop beyond some farmland. Showing beyond the point of Eggerness, some ten miles across the water , is the Borgue peninsula of Kirkcudbright, with the Ross lighthouse on the point, and beyond that, on a clear day, the Lake District mountains, some fifty miles away, sit on the horizon beyond the Solway Firth.
But quickly one’s eyes are drawn to the harbour on the South side of the bay, with a few fishing boats, leisure craft and occasionally a cargo vessel moored alongside. It is a beautiful area of sheltered water, with a good slipway which, with the Isle of Whithorn and Port William, makes the Machars an ideal area for watersports with small craft.
Dominating the harbour area, but in no way obstructing its use, is the tall ugly block of a mill built in 1948, to produce animal feeds, part of a thriving business which supplied the farms over a wide area with feed, fertilisers, seed and services. At its height, the business employed over 40 men, and with work for women at Galloway House School, Sorbie and Galloway Creameries, it made Garlieston the “wealthiest village” in the Machars of Wigtownshire. Work at nearby Kilsture Forest and at two small transport companies gave a variety of employment, along with the normal jobs on farms and with local tradesmen. Just as the advent of the railway in 1876 eventually ensured the decline in cargo vessels using the harbour, so modern heavy road transport ensured the closure of the railway in the Beeching cuts of the 1960’s. Fishing, once a thriving occupation with small family-owned boats, was overtaken by masses of scallop fishing boats in the late 1970’s, and today, with the shell-fishing areas much reduced, there is only one lobster fisherman operating from the harbour. All these changes illustrated the remarkable decline in trade, including the loss of regular passenger sailings to Whitehaven and Liverpool.
While the harbour area is something of a magnet to the visitor, with its peaceful Caravan Club site tucked away on the site of the sawmill and railway station, one look at the sea front is enough to note its special qualities. The Bowling Green and the Putting Green between the roadway and the seawall create a peaceful tidy ambience, but the houses facing them are unique. The planned village, built from 1764 onwards by the 7th Earl of Galloway, is laid out in North and South Crescents, running from either side of the Mill Bridge, where the old oatmeal mill once stood. The crescents are largely intact, and contain many superior houses, and make for a striking effect along the sea front. Heading for the harbour, one passes one of the village shops, and Harbour Inn, to arrive at the square and hall. Turning right again, up South Street, one passes the entrance to the redeveloped Cowgate and into High Street, with the Post Office, a shop opposite to the tennis courts, with the children’s play area further along.
In the square is a boulder erected to commemorate the part played by Garlieston in 1943-1944, when full scale sea trials of the structures and ideas which resulted in the floating Mulberry Harbours, installed off Normandy immediately after D-Day to supply the armies in the Battle of France. Garlieston was chosen as a secret location for its trials because of the large rise and fall of tides on an exposed coast, similar to that of Normandy. The harbour, Rigg Bay, and Portyerrock Bay were areas of frantic activity at this time, used to test and discard unsuccessful ideas and develop the successful one with the best procedures and gadgets for assembly, securing, towing and planting. From the harbour one can see two wrecked “beetles”, pontoons stranded on Eggerness rocks , and at Rigg Bay, the metal structure with cormorants nesting on it is what remains of a “hippo”, one of the unsuccessful proposals. See www.combinesops.com for more on the Mulberry Harbour Project
Behind the harbour is an attractive gravel beach favoured by swimmers. A walk starts here, 2 ½ miles along the coast to Rigg Bay and Cruggleton Castle ruins on the cliffs, although a short cut can be taken via Galloway House Gardens car park, close to Rigg Bay. The Gardens consist of a wild woodland garden with ornamental trees and shrubs, and a walled garden, both of which are open to the public. The coastal path is much used by bird watchers for the variety of birds seen – seabirds, waders, cliff nesting birds and raptors. Cruggleton Castle was the base of the Red Comyn, slain by Bruce in the struggle to claim the Crown of Scotland. It was built over an ancient promontory fort.
Approaching Galloway House the beauty of the landscape is obvious. Though now a commercial organic dairy farm, it is a listed landscape, planned and established by successive Earls of Galloway , who surrounded their policies with the “Great Wall” built by French prisoners from the Napoleonic Wars. These lands were bare of trees when, in 1745, the building of Galloway House was commenced by Lord Garlies, who became 6th Earl of Galloway. The house was built for £2,000 and he planted 200,000 trees per annum on the estate. As a noted agricultural improver, he opted for larger farms,which he often took over at the end of a lease and re-let them at a much higher rent. When he bought Baldoon, an estate of 28 farms, from the Earl of Selkirk on terms that proved crippling, he owned half of Wigtownshire.
Subsequent Earls had distinguished careers in the services and in government, and continued to spend lavishly on the policies at Galloway House. They were also active philanthropists in the local area, and the tenth Earl was responsible for bringing the railway to Whithorn and Garlieston Harbour. He foresaw the financial collapse which was now inevitable, but it was left to his brother as 11th Earl, to sell everything south of the Bladnoch. The estate was bought by Sir Malcolm Donald McEacharn in 1909 who had returned from Australia where he had initiated the frozen meat trade. But he died within one year of its purchase. Eventually his son, Capt. Neil McEacharn , sold the estate to go to Lake Maggiore to found the garden “Villa Taranto” for which he was honoured. Lady Forteviot bought Galloway House and the Home Farm in 1930. All the other farms and property were sold to the tenants (who then became owner-occupiers). Lady Forteviot died in 1940 ; by that time, the House had been requisitioned for a hospital, but luckily soon was not required, having housed only 14 convalescent servicemen.
Mr. Edward Strutt, a step grandson, became owner, and then sold Galloway House to Glasgow Corporation for a residential school which had monthly intakes of primary six and seven children to provide education in the country. The school, which had a succession of excellent head teachers and staff, was run from 1947 to 1976 when educational spending cuts closed all Glasgow’s residential schools. Since that time, Galloway House has been a private house, first with an American owner, and now with an Australian owner.
Close to Garlieston is Millisle Church, the Parish Church where there are three important stained glass memorial windows (best seen in late morning sunshine), one in memory of Randolph, 9th Earl of Galloway, one in memory of his factor James Drew, and a third in memory of Sir Malcolm Donald McEacharn K.T. One is designed by Christopher Whall and is said to be one of his best works. The internal architecture of the church , designed by the 10th Earl of Galloway is also remarkable. The very early ruin of the parish church of Kirkmadrine on Penkiln Farm is surrounded by fields and not easily accessible. The mediaeval church of Cruggleton, heavily restored by the 3rd Marquess of Bute, is seen on the Isle of Whithorn Road : an ecumenical service is held here once a year. A key may be obtained by interested visitors from Cruggleton Farm.