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The Wigtownshire Pages



Geography of Wigtownshire

by Jim McLay
Sea bounds the shire of Galloway, namely Wigtown, on two sides, but it also penetrates it deeply in Loch Ryan and Luce Bay. To the west of these, the peninsula of the Rhinns of Galloway is connected to the rest of Scotland by a lowlying isthmus. To the east, the land rises in the Southern Uplands of Scotland, the western slopes of which, along with the Rhinns, form the hinterland of Stranraer. The town is a small urban centre with many shops including supermarkets, a small hospital and entertainment centres. All secondary school children, aged 12 to 18, also go to school in Stranraer. Also it has been a transport hub for the South-West, and has the only remaining rail services. [The major ferries to Ireland however, now run from Cairnryan. jcbmck 12/2012]

Topographically, the Rhinns is a ridge rising to 182m with cliff coasts, as at the Mull of Galloway in the south and Corsewall Point in the north, and with several attractive bays. The presence of the sea makes the area mild, as seen in the successful growing of subtropical plants in Logan Gardens. Kirkcolm, Leswalt, Portpatrick, Stoneykirk and Kirkmaiden from north to south are the parishes on this peninsula. Inch, New Luce and Old Luce are on the western slope of the uplands and the Luce valley. These 8 parishes formed half of Wigtownshire. Population movements among them and with the main town of Stranraer were always easy, and researchers into family history should be aware of this.

Eight parishes made up the other half of Wigtownshire. Between Luce Bay and Wigtown Bay, six of these (Mochrum, Glasserton, Whithorn, Sorbie, Kirkinner, Wigtown) occupy a peninsula called the Machers. The highest point is 197m and the whole area is farmed. The southern headland, Burrow Head, is cliffed and the other coasts alternate cliffs and attractive bays, some with fine sands. Some books refer to a third division of Wigtownshire, the Moors, which cover much of New Luce and of the remaining two parishes of Kirkcowan and Penninghame. These two are drained by the rivers Cree and Bladnoch. The upper Cree and Bladnoch wander over the moors, but the tributaries from Minnigaff drain uplands, of which the highest summit is Merrick, 843m. The Cree has formed a large floodplain over which it meanders, the lowest bridging point being at Newton Stewart, the service centre for the Machers and the Cree valley. The Cree Basin forms a discrete unit and includes the parishes of Minnigaff and Kirkmabreck in the Stewartry of Galloway, that is Kirkcudbrightshire. Just as workers moved and move around the Machers for employment, so there are many links over the Cree basin.

In 1976, Scotland's counties were replaced by new political entities. Wigtownshire became Wigtown District with the addition of Minnigaff and Kirkmabreck, with Stranraer as the centre for local administration. In 1996 further reorganisation resulted in larger units and the southwest is now known as Dumfries and Galloway, and is administered from Dumfries.
Jim McLay
Wigtownshire, 2002