The River Bladnoch forms the eastern boundary of the Parish of Kirkcowan, dividing it from the Parish of Penninghame. The waters have their source in Loch Maberry which is shared by these two parishes and part of the area of Carrick. Loch Maberry has several small islands, at least one of which has the ruins of ancient buildings. Two hundred years ago it was only the habitation of eagles.
The river is 21+ miles long, two—thirds of which is run in a southerly direction. One of the first recorded descriptions of the river is given by Sir Andrew Agnew of Lochnaw and Sir David Dunbar of Bäldoon in a seventeenth century account which was published as an appendix to the “Large Description of Galloway” by the Rev. Andrew Symson of Kirkinner.
They wrote, “Blaidzenoch which floweth from the montanous parts of Penningham, and runs from the north to the south. It runeth through Lochmabary, (wherin ther is ane lit Ie isle, with ane house upon it,) and by the way it receaveth into severall waters; the most considerable is the water of Tarfe, which hath its rise from Airtfeeld, in the Muirs of Luce, and falleth into Blaidzenoch, under the house of Craighlaw. The Blaidzenoch turns to the east, and after it heth fra its source run twenty miles, it falleth into the Bay of Wigtown, near above the place of Baldone”
From Loch Maberry, the river runs south to Polbae. On its journey it is joined by Reoch Burn as it passes through Carseriggan Moor.
Continuing, it passes Isle—na—Gower and becomes a border between the afforested land at Hopeless Howe and the Ring of Barfad. Shortly after this it is met and joined by Black Burn. At this point the river is bordered on its east side by Barnely Plantation. Crossing the river at the stepping stones is a single track road which goes from Mark of Shennanton towards Little Eldrig. Shortly after this point, the river widens briefly at “Broad Wheel.” Still on its southerly journey, the river is next forded by Shennanton Bridge where the A? 5 crosses it.
Next there is Linn Wood, and the waterfall at Linn of Barhoise. The river then moves on past Barhoise Farm to Barhoise Mill.
In 1684, according to Symson, this area had salmon fishing with nets on this and the Tarff River. At the Mill of Barhoise, the Laird of Craichlaw had fishing rights. Barhoise Mill is a T—shaped, two storey building in granite, driven by a wheel which was situated at the side of the building. Of this wheel, only the wooden axle remains.
The datestone above the door reads 1827, but this mill is most certainly a reconstruction of a much earlier one, perhaps connected with the Old Place of Glaisnick, a one—time nearby residence of the powerful Gordon family of Craichlaw.
The main road from Kirkcowan to Wigtown and from Kirkcowan to Minnigaff via Glaisnick crossed the river just south of this mill. There are still stepping stones at the fording place of the river east of Ring Farm.
Due east of Kirkcowan, the Bladnoch unites with the River Tarff. Two miles below this point, the Laird of Grainge had fishing rights “beneath which, at several places in the said river, the Laird of Dereagill, on Kirkinner side, and the Laird of Torhouse, on Wigtown side, have several places where they take salmon by nets, both which lairds have an equal interest therein; and some yeares again, they fish together, and divide their fish equal y.
In the reign of King David I (1121+—1153), the Order of Knights Templar, established in 1118, was introduced into Galloway. These knights dressed in a white habit with a red cross on their cloaks. They operated inns of hospitality as one of their activities, and one of the inns was situated at the Spittal of Bladnoch, the crossing place of the river on the main road from Wigtown to Portpatrick and Ireland.
About one mile beneath Dalreagle, in the parish of Kirkinner, the Water of Malzie empties itself into the river Bladnoch. Soon after this point, the river comes to Torhouse Mill, one of the early mills which, incorporating a farm steading, ground corn. The wheel pit and lade, part of the nineteenth century mill which was powered by the river, can still be traced. Very near this on the riverside is the ruined site of a waulkmill, which was a wool manufactory. By 1792, it employed 40 workers making “plaid ing and flannel” for export to England. A weir below this is just south of the site of a farina mill. Newmilns is two miles west of Wigtown. It was a small, T—shaped mill of three storeys, built into the river bank. The building has been completely gutted and is now made use of as a store and byre. The wheel pit is at the rear of the mill, and the remains of a breastshot wheel with wooden axle and cast iron rims can be seen. The wheel had a diameter of 16 feet and was 5 feet wide.
The only present industry on the mill section of the river is a modern trout farm on the site of the former Torhouse grain mill. It was opened in the 1970’s.
Past these mills, the river runs through Cot land and Kirwaugh plantations. The scenery at this point is described by Samuel Robinson as being the finest along the fifteen—mile extent of the river’s course.
After these plantations, the river descends to a large pool called Linghoor which has been known since (or before) the 18th century as one of Scotland’s finest salmon pools.
The river then reaches the site of Bladnoch Distillery, which was established in 1817. The distillery sits on the north side of the river, just west of Bladnoch village.
In 1798 this village consisted of ten or twelve thatched houses on both sides of the road from Wigtown to the ford of the river. The inhabitants of the houses at that period were all labourers. The old ford had been unnecessary since the building of the first bridge, near the distillery site, in 1728.
In the 1400’s a charter shows that a request was made by Margaret, Countess of Galloway, for Papal Indulgences to be granted to any who would help in the building of a stone bridge across the Bladnoch. This was to help pilgrims on their way to Whithorn, as the existing wooden bridge was continually being swept away in floods. The stone bridge was not finally constructed until almost three hundred years after permission had been given.
When the new bridge of 1867 was built, the old stone bridge lay derelict. The new bridge was first discussed, according to the Free Press, in 1850. In 1867 the paper issued the news of its completion, and in 1868 carried an article reporting the costs of the finished work.
The stones of the old bridge were eventually used, by 1875, to construct a viaduct for the railway over the river to the east of the village.
By 1877, Bladnoch was a large village consisting of one and two storey neat, slated houses, all of which had been built since the turn of the century. There were several industries in the village, including an iron foundry, a large tailor’s establishment, and a coach builder’s.
The friars from the monastery in Wigtown had been granted fishing rights on the south side of the Bladenoch at an early period and, in 1526, James V gave them those on the north side as well in a thirteen—year lease.
This lease later was turned into a gift. On the site of these fishing rights stood the town’s grain mill. In or before 1471, the mill was destroyed by a flood, and it was not repaired until 1500.
In later years, fishing rights became the property of the Earl of Galloway. He owned the rights of the whole river from its mouth to Torhouse for salmon fishing. In dry years, from ancient times, no salmon were able to swim higher than Torhouse. The 1791 Statistical Account states that rents for salmon fishing had successively risen from £9 to £16, from £16 to £24, and from £24+ to £33.
The salmon were not large, and were taken from the beginning of March to the beginning of October. The best were taken from the river in June and July.
As soon as they were caught, they were sold, prices falling from 1d per pound to 3d per pound later in the year.
There were several instances in ancient times of whales swimming up the river from the Bay. In 1674, a large whale came up the river and was killed on the sands.
It was a year of terrible famine and all the people in the area went to get pieces of whale meat. Oil from the whale was very good and was used to burn in oil lamps.
Bladnoch Creamery stands on the south side of the river near the old ford. From this place the river flows in several wide curves until it passes Wigtown Harbour. From there it flows into Wigtown Bay.