Galloway (Region)

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Galloway is an area in southwestern Scotland. It is generally agreed that the name 'Galloway' derives from the name Gall-Gaidel, and indeed the modern and medieval 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.


It usually refers to the counties of Wigtownshire (or historically West Galloway) and Kirkcudbrightshire (or historically East Galloway) in the Dumfries and Galloway administration council area of Scotland.

For a parish map of the counties of Wigtownshire and Kirkcudbrightshire, see Dumfries and Galloway F.H.S. map Here.

Galloway is contained by sea to the west and south, the Galloway Hills to the north, and the River Nith to the east; the border between Kirkcudbrightshire and Wigtownshire is marked by the River Cree. The definition has, however, fluctuated greatly in size over history.

A hardy breed of black, hornless beef cattle are named Galloway and are native to the region.

Geography and landforms


Galloway comprises that part of Scotland 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, 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 Scottish Highlands. This area is known as the Galloway Hills.

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Coastal scenery west of Glenstocken Sands - - 1716675.jpg

Coastal scenery west of Glenstocken Sands

Land use

Historically Galloway has been famous both for horse 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 Electric Scheme was began 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.


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:<ref> Ptolemy, Bk. II, Ch. 2. Trans. 'Albion, Island of Britannia - First Map of Europe'</ref>

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 settlement of Dunragit (Dun Rheged).

Early Galloway

According to tradition, before the end of Roman rule in Britain, St. Ninian established a church or monastery at Whithorn, Wigtownshire, which remained an important place of pilgrimage until the Scottish 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 Cairnholy (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 Brythonic dominated region until the late 7th century when it was taken over by the Kingdom of Bernicia.

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 the now English region of Cumbria 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 I King of Scots in his invasion of England and led the attack in his defeat at the Battle of the Standard (1138).

Alan died in 1234. He had three daughters and an illegitimate son Thomas. The 'Community of Galloway' wanted Thomas as their 'king'. 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.

Alan's eldest daughter, Derbhorgail, married John, 5th Baron de Balliol, and their son (also John Balliol) became one of the candidates for the Scottish Crown. Consequently, Scotland's Wars of Independence were disproportionately fought in Galloway.

There were a large number of new Gaelic placenames being coined post 1320 (e.g. Balmaclellan), because Galloway retained a substantial Gaelic speaking population for several centuries more. Following the Wars of Independence, Galloway became the fief of Archibald the Grim, Earl of Douglas and his heirs. Whithorn remained an important cultural centre, and the medieval Kings of Scots made pilgrimages there.

Modern history

Galwegian Gaelic seems to have lasted longer than Scottish Gaelic in other parts of Scottish Lowlands and Margaret McMurray (d. 1760) of Carrick (outside modern Galloway) appears to have been the last recorded speaker.

In the years after the Union of the Crowns 1603, Galloway underwent radical change, during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms and Covenanter rebellion.

In modern times, Stranraer was a major ferry port, but the company have now moved to Cairnryan.

Galloway in literature

Galloway has been the setting of a number of novels, including Walter Scott's 'Guy Mannering'.

Other novels include the historical fiction trilogy by Liz Curtis Higgs, 'Thorn in My Heart', 'Fair is the Rose', and 'Whence Came a Prince'.

Richard Hannay flees London to lie low in Galloway in John Buchan's novel 'The Thirty-nine Steps'.

'Five Red Herrings', a whodunit by Dorothy L. Sayers, initially published in the US as 'Suspicious Characters', sees Lord Peter Wimsey, on holiday in Kirkcudbright, investigating the death of an artist living at Gatehouse of Fleet; the book contains some remarkable descriptions of the countryside.