Sunday, April 28, 2013

Murder Loch

The two main roads that run through Wamphray meet at this point and head south towards Lockerbie. There used to be a cottage here, where 'Jean O' the Bield' stayed. She lived from 1729 to 1823 and was the proprietor of one of the four inns that served the needs of the travellers on the road through the parish in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

The bushes on the left conceal a secret!

Driving past in a car, it is easy to miss this little loch. It's known locally as the Bield Loch, but on the maps it's marked as 'Murder Loch'!

This is a screenshot of the 1881 OS 6in map (from the magnificent maps site of the National Library of Scotland, see here) showing the fork in the road and 'Murder Loch'. I wonder why it's called that? (Part of me wants to make up a story, but again, things written in jest have a way of becoming fact on the Web this days, so, for the moment, I'll refrain from giving my imagination free rein! And anyway, how many of you immediately thought of Taggart? Click here.)

Jim Storrar, author of the Moffat Miscellany books, kindly sent me this old postcard of the loch, one of the 'Annandale Series' by J. Weir, a Moffat photographer. That's the Bield at the top of the photo much later than in Jean O' the Bield's time. The caption reads, "Wamphray. The Bield. Near here Jean O' the Bield kept a roadside Ale House. In the old Coaching days the house was a great resort of travellers on their journey through Annandale."

The caption includes two lines of poetry (an 'Auld Rhyme'): 

"The auld wife O' the Bield may repent till she dee,
For mony a braw penny has been spent there by me."

I wrote about Wamphray's 'Murder Loch' here in 2010, and proposed that it was the venue for the inter-parish curling match reported in the Glasgow Herald in 1881. The reference is from the Glasgow Herald in 1881, when curlers from Kirkpatrick-Juxta played against those from Hutton, in the neutral venue, Wamphray, which sits between these two parishes.

Even earlier, the Bield loch is likely to have been where Wamphray's curlers played in the eighteenth century. In the first Statistical Account of Scotland, compiled in the last decade of the eighteenth century, the Reverend William Singers, says, "We have but one general amusement, that of curling on the ice: and the parishioners of Wamphray take much credit to themselves for their superior skill in this engaging exercise. After the play is over, it is usual to make a common hearty meal upon beef and greens, in the nearest public house."

These days the loch is much overgrown. Depending on the light, time of day, and time of year, it can be quite an atmospheric place. Some might say 'spooky'!

At other times it is much more welcoming and one can see that it is big enough easily to accommodate a number of rinks of curlers! It is deep though - local legend says that there is actually a carriage somewhere in the depths.

Is there any evidence, apart from conjecture, that the loch was indeed a 'curling place'? Apparently yes. I've recently been told that some years ago a couple of curling stones were recovered from the loch!

It would be (more than) likely that those who curled on the loch made use of the adjacent 'ale house'. But where exactly was that? If you look closely at the map (above), there are two buildings marked in pink. The cottage at the junction (the Bield) is the main focus of another old postcard in the "Annandale" series. This is shown here. Note that the caption is exactly the same, and says that the 'ale house' was 'near here'. Mike, the Liverpudlian who shared this second old photo of the Bield, suggests in his post that it is the more southerly of the two buildings seen on the map. Jean O' the Bield was his great, great, great, great grandmother. She was Jean Wilson and died age 93. She's buried in Wamphray graveyard.

Coming up from Lockerbie towards the road junction, you have to look closely (on the right of this photo) for evidence of the two buildings.

A few boulders indicate where the second building was, and you can see foundations of at least one wall. The humps in the background no doubt conceal demolition rubble from the Bield cottage. And at different times of the year, clumps of snowdrops and daffodils provide evident of habitation sometime in the past.

Pix © Skip Cottage

1 comment:

  1. Bob - the names of these things generally have roots and if I remember rightly, many years ago I read that it was thought to be derived from a murder hole, where travellers were robbed and their bodies dumped . .but I could be wrong .. it was a long time ago.
    There's bound to be something in the local museums.
    Thanks again for another fascinating post.