New Abbey & Kirkbean
New Abbey lies 5 miles from Dumfries, nestled between the slopes of Criffel, the highest peak in the area, to the south west, and the Nith estuary to the east. It is a small but fascinating location.
Most fascinating is the history behind the Cistercian abbey from which the village takes its name. Founded by Lady Devorgilla in 1271, the New Abbey, as it was then known, was built in memory of the Lady’s husband, Lord John Balliol (linked to Oxford’s Balliol College). After his death in 1268, Lady Devorgilla had her husband’s heart embalmed, carrying it around in an ivory cask until her own death in 1289, where upon she and the cask were buried at the Abbey alter. From then on, the monks referred to the site as ‘Dulce Corr’ or Sweetheart Abbey. These days visitors can walk amongst the cross shaped ruins, taking in what remains of a presbytery, choir, six bay nave and bell tower, before marveling at a replica stone effigy of Lady Dervorgilla cradling her husband’s embalmed heart, in the south transept.
The small size of the village allows visitors to walk from one attraction to the other and next on the list is the New Abbey Cornmill, a 19th century, three storey white washed mill, now fully restored to working order. During the summer months, visitors can expect to see the waterwheel turning, as well as other pieces of machinery being fired up to show how things were originally done all those years ago. The mill pond, located at the back of the mill, is a pretty place to relax and look for ducks after a tour. Alternatively, the Abbey Cottage Tearoom, where you’ll find many of the region’s finest ingredients, as well as fruit and salad from their own gardens, put to good use in homemade soups, light lunches and home baking. Even better, this little tea room is both family and dog friendly!
For those with a keener sense of adventure and a stout pair of walking boots, when approached from New Abbey, the path up Criffel (all 1871 ft of it) forms a circular route of roughly 12km. It is a moderately strenuous walk, through heather, bog cotton and blaeberry, now made a little easier by the introduction of a new path. Once at the top, on a good day, walkers are rewarded with views over four lands – Scotland to the North, England to the south, and the Isle of Man and Ireland (on a very clear day) to the west. Once the walk has been completed, thirsty walkers can rest a while at The Abbey Arms in the village centre.
Kirkbean is just a few miles further along the coast from New Abbey, Developed as part of the Arbigland Estate in the 18th century, the village is made up of pretty white washed cottages, a church and graveyard, with a small burn running through the centre. Although the church is now a private dwelling, the graveyard is a fantastic source of information for anyone with local familial ties and keen historians may recognise the name John Paul Senior amongst the headstones. A gardener at Arbigland Estate, John Paul was the father of John Paul Jones, the famous seafarer born in 1747. Just a 30 minute walk from the village, the John Paul Jones Birthplace Museum is the perfect place to find out more about the father of the American Navy. Now restored, the cottage features unique artifacts which give an extensive insight into Jones’ fascinating life and achievements. The tour includes a 20 minute video, a children’s Playmobil pirate ship and treasure hunt.
The Cottage is also just a 5 minute walk from Arbigland House and Gardens. Built in the Adam’s style by William Craik in the 1750s, Arbigland House boasts a fascinating history, populated by many famous 18th century names including John Craik, close friend and physician to George Washington, his sister Helen Craik, poet, proto-feminist novelist and friend to Robert Burns, who dined at Arbigland House. Although nearly lost, the 24 acre Gardens where John Paul Jones’ father worked are still in existence today and guests are welcome to visit. Comprising of a woodland area, a commemorative Sundial Garden, a Sunken Garden and Pavilion, a Japanese garden and lake, there is also a 1/3 mile broad walk which runs from the house down to the beach. From here, visitors can walk the sandy beach, occasionally muddy depending on tides, down to Powillimount, admiring the intriguing rock formations, boulders and rock pools, collecting shells and looking out across the Solway to the peaks of the lake district. Just beyond Powillimount is Southerness beach and lighthouse. Built in 1749, unusually it is square in shape and, although no longer in operation, it’s a great photo opportunity and is occasionally open to the public. Incorporating the John Paul Jones Museum and Arbigland Gardens, the walk to Southerness does take a couple of hours, so a picnic is advisable!
The location of New Abbey and Kirkbean, midway between Dumfries and Castle Douglas gives visitors the best of both worlds. For anyone preferring the urban life, the bright lights of Dumfries are very close. Attractions including the Camera Obscura, Burns House and Moat Brae offer a fascinating historical insight to the area, and the main shopping precinct boasts many independents cafes, delis and gift shops. Alternatively, by heading west towards the ‘wilds’ of the Stewartry and Wigtownshire, guests are rewarded with breath-taking scenery, beautiful beaches, wild areas and an altogether slower pace of life.