History of Bladnoch

DID you know that Bladnoch was once the hub of the Wigtown area?

It's hard to imagine it now, but in the late 19th Century, Bladnoch boasted a joiner's shop; an iron-foundry; three grocer's shops; a tailoring business; a post office; a bowling green; a coach-building business; a distillery; a creamery; two inns and a potato mill and farina just along the road.

The origin of the name 'Bladnoch' has defied all reasonable explanation but the village's existence is obvious – it lies at the only bridge to cross the river Bladnoch and was used historically by pilgrims heading for Whithorn and for access to the creamery, which used to be situated just over the bridge.

Bladnoch bridge as we see it today was erected in 1860 to replace one built in 1710 and even now, it's a squeeze to fit two cars past so imagine two horses and carts meeting on it!

In its heyday, the Newton Stewart – Whithorn railway also had a bridge a few hundred yards downstream which was one of the most costly constructions of the line.

Unfortunately, the steel girders have now been dismantled and all that remains are the stone pillars which held them in place.

The railway line was in a prime position for the Bladnoch creamery, which was established by the Scottish Co-operative Wholesale Society in 1899 and it took advantage of the line which ran adjacent to it. It was the largest employer in the Wigtown area and was in continuous operation for the longest time of any of the businesses in the village.

It soon became a site of many buildings and produced its own Bluebell margarine, as well as making cheese, butter and cooking fat. It is now home to an industrial site.

Its closure in the late 1980s was a major blow to the district.

Bladnoch still had its distillery, though and in 1980 produced 350,000 gallons of whisky per annum.

It was built in 1817 by the McLelland brothers and remained a family business for 100 years.

A little whisky was produced under the label 'Brae Dew' and then after World War II, more was marketed under the name 'Bladnoch Lowland Malt Whisky', which is still available.

As the River Bladnoch is tidal at the site of the distillery, fresh water had to be taken from half a mile upstream. This was done using a lade or 'cut' which consisted of a smaller stream being made and it was separated from the river by a narrow strip of land.

Generations of local children used to walk up the 'cut' and swim at Linghoor, the well-known best swimming pool on the river.

The distillery was closed down in 1993 by United Distillers, but was re-opened again recently by Raymond Armstrong and now plays host to various events such as weddings, parties and fundraisers.

Also owned by the McLelland family at the time of the distiller'y prosperity was Fordbank. The owner ran the nearby potato mill which has since been demolished.

At the end of the 19th century, port, sherry, burgundy and champagne were also produced in the mill, but it is thought that Mr McLellamd undertook this as a hobby only.

Its close proximity to Wigtown sees Bladnoch come to life in August for the Wigtown Show, which takes over Bladnoch Park for the day to display the region's finest livestock.

Across from here is Trammondford Park, home to Wigtown Football Club which is currently undergoing refurbishment in the form of new changing rooms.

This is obviously a busy time of year for the Bladnoch Inn, situated at the west end of the village, and summer sees the outside tables full as locals and visitors admire the atmosphere of the village.

Known locally as 'the end hoose', the Bladnoch Inn was once called the Galloway Inn and is now run by an Irish family. It is possibly the oldest building in the village and used to back onto the coach-building business, owned by Messrs Nivison and Rennie.

In the 1940s, Baldoon, to the west of Bladnoch, was the site of a large RAF airfield which trained aircrew other than pilots. Part of the airfield is still accessible and runways can be seen stretching across the fields.

Also in this area are the ruins of old Baldoon Castle, the setting for one of Sir Walter Scott's novels – 'The Bride of Lammermoor'.

Local legend has it that Janet Dalrymple, of Glenluce married Baldoon's David Dunbar in September 1669. On the night of their wedding, the couple retired to the bridal chamber of Baldoon castle where a horrific incident occurred involving the stabbing of David Dunbar and the ensuing insanity of Janet Dalrymple.

No one knows what happened that evening. Janet Dalrymple soon died from her mental illnesses but David Dunbar survived… yet he would never talk about it to anyone.

Locals still claim Janet haunts the ruins as the White Lady of Baldoon, especially on the anniversary of her death and on Halloween.

Now a busy village due to its location on the main road, Bladnoch used to be a bustling and economically rich village in its own right.

Today, the village's main attraction is still the distillery and, of course, the pub! Every summer the bridge is the starting point for the fun raft race, which concludes at Wigtown harbour.

Fordbank is now a pub and hotel and the airfield is used more by learner drivers than aircraft!

The fame of Wigtown as Scotland's Booktown has spread a little and a couple of second-hand shops can be found in this village.

And of course, the White Lady of Baldoon is still floating around nearby… so watch out on September 12th and on Halloween…

During the Second World War Galloway, and especially Wigtownshire, was a hive of military activity. Airfields sprang up all over the region along with the usual support units such as Air-Sea Rescue, Gunnery and Bombing Ranges. The main areas of activity were the sea plane units on Loch Ryan and the Air Observer School at Baldoon, known officially as RAF Wigtown.

Apart from the RAF involvement, there were many detachments of Army and Navy personnel. In fact, at one stage of the war, the local population was outnumbered by the military.

Today there is very little to indicate the importance of the military activities here during the war.

Baldoon (RAF Wigtown) retains its main runway and the odd building from its heyday, but to the visiting or lost public, it is barely recognisable.

Throughout the field, there are the remains of red brick buildings that originally formed barracks, store-rooms, bomb shelters and factories for the manufacturing of material for explosives.

Many of our local cemeteries contain military men, but many were exhumed and returned to their homes across the world for a proper burial.

Many pilots and crew were killed during training around Baldoon, and the local hillside landscape claimed plenty of lives.

Between 1942 and 1945, at least seventeen people were killed on Cairnsmore and at least four were seriously injured, but escaped with their lives.

One plane, having taken off from Baldoon in January 1942, was recovering from a dive at Carsegowan when it lost its tailplane and spun to the ground, killing five people. Four bodies were recovered from the scene and when the snow thawed, the fifth body was discovered caught in a tree.

One plane undershot its landing mark at the airfield and crash-landed at Braehead!

In what some would say was perhaps the worst of the Cairnsmore crashes, a Heinkel He III-H4 took off from Baldoon carrying five crew and numerous bombs.

The plane didn't make it far over the water and hit Cairnsmore, all the bombs exploding on impact. All crew members died and were buried at Newton Stewart, but were later exhumed and returned to their homeland of Germany.

The tail section of this craft was removed and taken to a museum in Newcastle in 1979.