Rediscovered for #History: The Covenanter of Carlin’s Cove in Galloway #Scotland


Carlin's Cove in Kirkcudbright Bay

Yet again, the excellent historical research of Nic Coombey and the Solway Firth Partnership has uncovered a lost Covenanter’s cave. Located on the west side of Kirkcudbright Bay in Galloway, the story of Carlin’s Cove had slipped from memory.

It is remarkable discovery. At first sight, it seemed to be an unreliable traditional story of a Covenanter in the cave, but then, as we dug a little deeper, it connects to real historical events in the Killing Times of 1685 in Borgue parish…

The Tradition of Carlin’s Cove
Let us begin with the tradition that the Solway Firth Partnership revealed found in a work published in 1824:

‘Carlines Co’ — A very small cove on the west side of the river Dee, and one of the most lonely and romantic any where to be seen. When the bloody Grier o’ Lagg and the Douglass’s [i.e., Colonel James and Captain Thomas] hunted the Covenanters over hill and dale, a poor man of the name of Dixon took up his abode in Carlines Co’, and lived the whole of the time that foul persecution lasted, on the shell-fish he gathered on the seashore beside him, the which he found means to broil on a fire by night: thus he eluded the foes of his clan, the foes of God and man.

The mouth of the cave is quite covered with brush-wood; at the farther end or benmost bore of it, remains yet his seat — a square sea-stone: on it I expected to find an inscription of some kind or other, but was deceived. The Assmidden [i.e., ash pit], and other remains of fire, to be met with, together with the general appearance of the cave, left no doubt on my mind but that it had been once inhabited, and for a considerable time.’ (Scottish Gallovidian Encyclopedia, 115.)

Map of Carlin’s Cave

Carlin's Cove Senwick Bay

The Cove is found on the first OS map and shown a little more clearly on the later 25-inch map, but it does not appear on the modern OS map.

The nineteenth-century OS name book for Borgue parish lists the Cove under Senwick Bay, but it makes no reference to the tradition of “Dixon” at all: “On one side of the bay is a natural cavity called “Carlin’s Cove” beyond [it?] there is no interest attached to [the] bay.”

Back in late 1684, there were several fugitives in hiding in Borgue parish. One of them is of particular interest in relation to the tradition of “Dixon” and the Cove.


The Fugitive John Richardson in 1684
It appears that the tradition of “Dixon” is based on a local fugitive called John Richardson. Dixon should probably be rendered as the Scottish surname Dickson, and Dick is, of course, the short form of Richard. It seems that tradition remembered Richardson as Dixon.

There is strong evidence that tradition changed the name. ‘John Richardson, there’ is listed on the published Fugitive Roll of 5 May, 1684. We know that he was still a fugitive in late 1684, as according to a summons to a circuit court held in Kirkcudbright, ‘Mareon McKie in Over Sennick’ was brought before the court ‘for conversing with and resetting John Richardsone, rebell;’ (RPCS, IX, 375.)

Reset means hiding and suppling a fugitive.

Carlin's Cove Upper Senwick

Over Sennick, now Upper Senwick, lies right next to Carlin’s Cove and Senwick Bay.

Map of Upper Senwick

Richardson may well have had good reasons to hide in Carlin’s Cove during the Killing Times. As a fugitive in hiding, he almost certainly evaded taking the Abjuration oath in January, 1685, that renounced the United Societies war of assassinations against known state “persecutors”.


A close neighbour and fellow fugitive, Grizel Fullarton, the good wife of Balmangan, was threatened with execution by drowning at Kirkcudbright by the Abjuration court there for evading exactly the same oath. Execution by drowning only applied to obdurate militant women who refused the oath. Richardson, as a man. would have faced hanging, banishment or summary field execution, if discovered and he failed to take the oath. He apparently took to the Carlin’s Cove.

There is also a Scots poem on “Dixon” in the Gallovidian Encyclopedia:

“There sat the lanely trimmling wight,
Fear hardly let him draw his breath,
For every hour by day and night,
He dreaded that he’d meet his death.

A day o’ storm — a night fu’ black,
War seasons whan his soul had ease;
Light e’er flung him on the rack,
Grim terror did poor Dixon tease.

He lang’d na for the brade bright moon,
But wish’d her ay ahint a clud;
When morning came he griend for noon.
The darker — less his heart did thud.

Gif that the heron ga’e a scraigh,
While staging on the saunie shore;
Or shelldrake ‘mang the craigs, a squaigh,
His cauld sweat gush’d frae every pore.

He’d shade the binwud door aside,
And through the wunnock sleely peep;
And whan he saw nought but the tide,
He hurkled ben, and hauflins fell asleep.”

For more on the Covenanters of Borgue parish, see here.

For more on the Solway Firth Partnership, see here.

Photograph of Carlin’s Cove © Copyright the Solway Firth Partnership and reproduced by kind permission.

~ by drmarkjardine on October 13, 2019.

3 Responses to “Rediscovered for #History: The Covenanter of Carlin’s Cove in Galloway #Scotland”

  1. Hello Mark
    I also work on a PLACE project encouraging people to take a closer look at their surroundings. The community in Barr have expressed an interest in having a speaker come and talk about convenanters in the area – would you be interested in giving a talk? Any help much appreciated.
    Nic Coombey

    • Yes I would. My email is playing up today, so I will try and catch you on twitter.

      • Hello Mark
        it has taken a while but now have some suggested dates for a talk at Barrhill. Does a Sunday afternoon on the 29th March or 5th April fit your diary? We will need to agree details like costs.

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