Exploring Maxwell Country

The Scottish writer and naturalist Gavin Maxwell (1914-1969) was raised in the village of Elrig and his family still reside in this part of Scotland. Maxwell is best known for his book “Ring of Bright Water” which was later made into a film. The film featured the stars from the movie “Born Free” (Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna) and is the story of an otter that is cared for by a man living in the city who sets out to return it to the wild.

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Just along the coast at Monreith is a memorial to Maxwell, a bronze otter that stands high up on the rocks overlooking the bay. It was created by the sculptor Penny Wheatley for The Galloway Wildlife Trust and could not have been better placed. The views are quite spectacular and on a clear day you can see Ireland, The Isle of Man and England. Tucked away in the hillside below is one of Scotland’s oldest churches, Kirkmaiden, which is the final resting place to several of the author’s ancestors and many of the McCulloch family. It is reached via a path to the right of St Medans Golf Course and is well worth a visit.

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There is a small graveyard adjacent to the church with many of the gravestones dating back to the 1800’s. Several of them are quite ornate including the spectacular doorway to the church. The building is sadly unsafe so it closed off at the iron gates but it is an amazing piece of history tucked away in this secluded corner of Scotland. When you are down in the churchyard you can still make out Maxwell’s otter perched high above on the hillside.

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There is a fascinating legend associated with the church. It is said that the pulpit and bell were removed from the church to be taken by sea across Luce Bay to a church of the same name near the Mull of Galloway. The boat foundered in a storm and the pulpit and bell were lost. It is said that on the approaching death of any descendant of the McCullochs of Myrton, the bell rang from the depths of the ocean.

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There is also a French Naval Officer buried in Kirkmaiden Churchyard. Francois Thurot’s body was washed ashore after a battle at sea in 1760 between Britain and France. Thurot introduced the secret society, the Order of Coldin, into Sweden, the only country where this order still exists. The Society paid for a plaque to be placed on the wall of the Church in 1960. Another legend is that of St. Medana and the “chincough” well. Unfortunately I did not discover this legend until after my visit but there is a well on the beach below which is said to have magical healing powers.

The local history associated with the Maxwell’s is certainly worthy of far greater study than I can possibly devote to it but it is surprising what you can learn in a relatively short time. I am continuing to post photographs from my blog on the Bigvyor website in my photo gallery. It is completely free to join the site and set up your own gallery and submit your own photographs to share or sell. The site is frequently updating with new features and is well worth a visit! If you wish to contact me about my blog, please email me at harvey.mayson@bigvyor.com.

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