I set out on Saturday to come up on the ‘back’ of the Ettrick hills from north of Eskdalemuir, but when I got there I found my route blocked by forestry works.
Fortunately that wasn’t the only thing I meant to come to the area for, so I set off on the trail of Thomas Telford instead. Of course, if I had planned to do this, I would have checked more carefully on what I meant to see, but I knew that I had to start at Bentpath where there was a memorial to Telford, and could then go on to Langholm.
(The place names have confused me before when reading about Telford. Westerkirk is the area and the parish, taking in the valley where Telford was born and other places round about, and once including what is now the parish of Eskdalemuir. Bentpath is the tiny village which holds the parish church and the library and the former school, and where Telford went to school, and Glendinning is the farm up at the head of the valley where he was born.)
The memorial is now outside the little Westerkirk library.
The inscription on the left hand panel reads:
This seat was erected in 1928 to perpetuate the memory of Thomas Telford son of the ‘unblameable shepherd’ and to record his fame as an engineer and his untiring benevolence. Apprenticed to a stonemason in Langholm. His creative genius gave to the nation many works of inestimable benefit. He was the first President of the Institution of Civil Engineers.
‘Unblameable shepherd’ is a quotation from Telford’s own carving on his father’s gravestone, but I was unsure about where he was buried, and when I could only find the new graveyard in Bentpath I thought that the older graves must be in Langholm or Eskdalemuir – it turns out that the old graveyard is hidden up beyond the church.
The right hand side has a quotation from a poem written by Telford himself as a young man, on the death of a childhood friend.
There ‘mongst those rocks I’ll form a rural seat,
And plant some ivy with its moss compleat;
I’ll benches form of fragments from the stone,
Which, nicely pois’d, was by our hands o’erthrown
The centre has a carved portrait of Telford, and a brief inscription about his life:
Thomas Telford FRS. Born at Glendinning 9 August 1757 President Institution of Civil Engineers from 21 March 1820 to the time of his death 2 September 1834
The monument was put up in 1928 on the centenary of the founding of the Institution of Civil Engineers, and was originally a bit further up the road, near where the Esk and the Meggat Water join.
The Westerkirk library is the oldest library in Scotland still lending out books, and was originally founded by the miners of the Jamestown mine, right by Glendinning. The mine opened in 1793, about 35 years after Telford’s birth, and closed in 1799, and the library moved to the Westerkirk school in Bentpath in 1800, and to its own building when the school was rebuilt around 1840.
Telford left money in his will to be used for buying books for the library, which eventually added up to quite a proportion of it.
I had vaguely planned to walk down to Langholm and get the bus back, but the notice at the library reminded me about Glendinning itself – I could go directly to Langholm easily enough another day, but I wasn’t likely to head back up that long valley, and I figured out that I should be able to go on over the hill to Eskdalemuir, which was more appealing than walking all the way back out again.
The junction of the little road has a sign saying ‘Telford cairn’, although it doesn’t say anything about it still being 3 and a half miles away.
The walk in just follows the road, but it was a lovely valley, little rounded hills and clear burn, until eventually the hills at the head of the valley came into view – Glendinning and Jamestown are just at the end of the main valley, before it splits into two branches.
There’s a little carpark at Glendinning, mostly for the Greensykes bothy, and a board giving information about Telford’s life and a rather dramatic picture of his birthplace.
The cairn itself is a little bit up the hillside, with a wall behind it.
The inscription is very simple:
To commemorate the 250th anniversary of the birth of THOMAS TELFORD at Glendinning on 9th August 1757
I kept on up the hill to head back towards Eskdalemuir, which gave me a good view of the valley below – Telford’s father’s cottage would have been somewhere this side of the farmhouse, I think, and the mine was up the side valley opposite.