Welcome to Dumfries
Dumfries is the biggest town in south west Scotland and the capital of the region of Dumfries and Galloway. Situated on the River Nith, this attractive town is the focal point of a rich rural district and an important market and manufacturing centre. Dumfries is of ancient origins, lying close to the English border, a region where the two major competitors for domination on the British Isles met, the history of Dumfriesshire was often bloody and turbulent.
River Nith, Dumfries
Archaeology tells us Dumfries and Galloway was a significant part of prehistoric Scotland and was effected by Roman incursion into the south of Scotland. Within two centuries of Roman withdrawal the area fell under the domain of the Kingdom of Rheged and Christianity became established by monks arriving from Ireland. In the 8th century the region became part of the domain of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria which became destabilised due to Viking raids from the 9th century onwards. Nonetheless, the Kingdom of Galloway, which emerged to the west of the Nith at this time, survived up until its rulers accepted Scots overlordship in 1018, although many historians believe the area was not securely incorporated into Scotland until as late as the 13th century.
The town of Dumfries owes its origins to this period in which Dumfries and Galloway were assimilated by the Scottish Kingdom. A town, with a church and castle, is first mentioned in a charter from around 1180 and the town was made a Royal Burgh by King William the Lion in 1186. King Alexander II's inheritance of extensive lands in the area in 1233 mark for many the final stage in the full incorporation of the area into Scotland.
The success of Scottish expansionism was mirrored by the growth of the English kingdom to the south. As a result, by the end of the 13th century England and Scotland constituted the only two major kingdoms on the island. It was inevitable that that there would be a face off. Considering where Dumfries was situated, it was also inevitable that the town would be amongst the first in the firing line. From the English invasion in 1296 until the Union of Crowns in 1603 Dumfries was attacked (and often occupied) at least 6 times by English armies. The fact that the Kingdom survived intact and independent after repeated invasions is testament not only to the early success of the Scottish kingdom in consolidating its territories but the effect Scotland's Wars of Independence had in uniting the kingdom.
In some respects an infamous event in Dumfries would also be an important aide to Scottish unity. After the death of Queen Margaret in 1290 Scotland was without an heir, a fact which threatened a civil war amongst the nobility who raised armies to support their claim to kingship. By 1306 the contenders had been narrowed down to Robert the Bruce and John 'The Red' Comyn. On the 10th of February they met in the Church of the Greyfriars in Dumfries where a heated argument ended when Robert stabbed John to death before the alter. Within five weeks of his competitor's death Robert was enthroned at Scone, although it would take longer before all of Scotland would unite behind the one king and longer still for the excommunication placed on Scotland for the sacrilegious slaying in a church to be lifted. Today's Greyfriars church is on the opposite side of castle street, while the site of the murder is marked by a plaque.
Apart from Bruce and Comyn, Dumfries is connected to a couple of other famous persons, most notably the poet Robert Burns (1759-1796). Scotland's national bard spent the final years of his tragically short life in Dumfries, living on what is now 24 Burns Street and socialising in the Globe Inn. His mausoleum is in St Micheal's Churchyard. (For more details on the life of Robert Burns see article on Ayr.) Another famous inhabitant of Dumfries was the author James Matthew Barrie (1860-1937), who studied in Dumfries Academy, lived and worked in the town and inspired by the surrounding countryside wrote the novel that made him famous: Peter Pan.
By the time Barrie was born Dumfries had been an important market town and a not insignificant port for centuries. Yet during his lifetime the town would be transformed by the dawn of the industrial age. Today much local industry survives; hosiery, knitwear, rubber goods, and canned milk are all manufactured in Dumfries. Of course, the Victorian era's growth in tourism was sure to affect such an attractive town as Dumfries. Today it offers a wide range of accommodation to suit all needs and a great many attractions, such as fine museums, cultural societies and events, cafes and bars as well as the beauty of the surrounding countryside and the historic interest of such an ancient and significant settlement.