The Village of Port William, along with the harbour, dates from around 1770. Previous to that date, there had been a few houses, most likely inhabited by fishermen, around the mouth of the Killantrae Burn which runs into the sea at this point. It is an example of a planned village, and was built by Sir William Maxwell of Monreith, after whom it takes its name. As the village took shape, so also did the harbour. Originally, it ended in a slipway at its seaward end, but later in 1898, it was extended to its present size. In the late 1700’s there were great changes taking place in agriculture and the harbour was developed in order to allow larger schooners to bring in lime and other materials to market for use in improving the farms, and also to ship out the products of these improvements to market, especially in the north-west of England and Ireland. The harbour preceded those at Port Patrick and Port Logan by about thirty years. It was also in use , y what in racing terminology is called a “short neck”, before the harbours were improved at Wigtown and Isle of Whithorn, where there had been ports for centuries.
In the late 1770’s smuggling was rife in this area, with the Clone Farm, less than half a mile north of the village, being the main centre of the trade. The contraband was mainly shipped in from the Isle of Man and many of the local farms were involved and had secret caches, “brandy holes” where they could conceal the smuggled goods. At the present, these are still, from time to time, being uncovered. Unfortunately, they have all been empty. In 1788, a barracks to house a detachment of the militia to be used for suppressing smuggling was erected on the harbour.
There is a great deal of history associated with the area around Port William going back about six thousand years. A Mesolithic site from this time has been uncovered about half a mile south of the village on the heugh adjacent to “The Gables”. At a similar distance to the north, and in a similar position, another site was also found . Evidence of crannogs has been found near Airylick farm in Elrig loch, and in the White Loch of Myrton . Cup and ring markings and standing stones are to be found at Drumtrodden Farm, which is approximately a mile inland from the village. Another stone, the Carlin stone, can be found on The Derry, near to the head of Elrig Loch. At Barsalloch Point, a mile south of the village, there are the remains of an Iron Age fort and of mesolithic settlement. Evidence of early Christian churches is found at St. Finian’s Chapel, six miles or thereabouts, along the shore to the north of the village and a mediaeval church is to be seen at Barhobble, which is near to the House of Elrig. The present parish Church at Mochrum is two hundred years old, but is built on the site of a previous church dating back to the twelfth century. A Mote Hill can also be seen just outside Mochrum village.
There are several other buildings of interest. The Old Place of Mochrum, parts of which date back to the fifteenth century, lies near the Culshabbin to Kirkcowan road at the eastern end of Drumwalt Loch. It was restored by the Bute family in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The House of Elrig was the childhood home of author , Gavin Maxwell, and made famous by him in his writings. Myrton castle, now a ruin, lies next to the Monreith Estate Offices overlooking the White Loch on the approach to Monreith House. Monreith House was built in the late 18th century by Sir William Maxwell, and was the Maxwell family home. This is where Sir Herbert Maxwell , grandfather of Gavin Maxwell, resided. He was a great naturalist and gifted artist. His talents did not end here, as he was also a noted historian, author, local MP and Government Whip, Lord Lieutenant for Wigtownshire and Knight of the Thistle.
There is still much more for the visitor to see and do in Port William and the surrounding area. Leaving your transport at The Square or on the Harbour, you will notice a man leaning on a railing on the Harbour Green and gazing out to sea. This is a statue by locally born and bred sculptor, Andrew Brown, on the theme of those well known lines by WH Davies :
“What is life if, full of care
We have no time to stand and stare ?”
Here also you will find a direction and distance indicator to places near and far. With the harbour nearby and small brightly coloured fishing boats and pleasure craft, this is a popular picnic site. Although the harbour is tidal, many anglers will cast their lines from the point and children are to be found dangling in lines to catch crabs. Fishing in Luce Bay is good and there is a slipway at the harbour for launching small boats. The harbour also houses the local inshore rescue boat “Pirsac”. There is a second slipway at the Second Sands at the northern end of the village, where small boats can be taken down to the sands and launched. Next to the Car Park is a grassy picnic area and the sands are a good place for children to play and swim. A pathway runs north from here beside the road for approximately a quarter mile. There are two further grassy picnic areas further north along the shore at Changue and Chippermore, and a sandy beach over the Rocks of Garheugh at Craignarget. The roads to the north and south of the village are flat for walking and cycling. Garnets Way, a partially off-road walk, starts from The Square next to the Old Corn Mill and proceeds inland. The village has a Bowling Green and Tennis Courts. Play parks for children are to be found in the Maxwell Park where the Millennium Cross is sited overlooking the Square and on King’s Green at South Street, next to the Caravan Site.
There is much wildlife to be seen. Otters, seals, badgers are all relatively common and the foreshore and adjacent area is not to be missed by those interested in wild flowers or bird-watching. The mainly rocky shores on either side of the village hold a pleasing variety of birds- many resident and passage waders (ringed and golden plover, dunlin, curlew, redshank, turnstones, oystercatcher) ducks, gulls and terns. The grass and scrub above the shore is home to finches, pipits , buntings and wagtails, and is an excellent place to see the handsome stonechat.
The village has a hotel, inn and a licensed restaurant. There are caravan sitess on King’s Green and at West Barr, about two miles north along the shore from the village. Houses and caravans are available to let in the area, and there are also B&B facilities. There is a petrol station, Vauxhall car agency, motor repair workshops, Post Office, grocers, dairy, hairdresser’s, newsagents, ironmongers, Charity Shop, lending library, a branch of the Bank of Scotland (open three half-days per week) and a working harbour. There is also a dispensing doctor’s surgery in the village, which is open six days a week (not Saturday pm, Thursday pm, or Sunday) . Church services in the Church of Scoltand are held in the Parish Church at Mochrum each week. (Other services such as carpet supply, joinery, plumbing and upholstery are also available).
Dr. Guy Brown