Though politically and administratively part of Dumfries and Galloway, Dumfriesshire is more like a cousin than a sibling to Kirkcudbrightshire and Wigtownshire, the conjoined twins of the historically separate, ancient province of Galloway.
As a child growing up in Kirkcudbrightshire, I sensed Dumfriesshire's difference.
My contact with the county was almost exclusively through day-trips to Dumfries.
To a young Gallovidian rustic, crossing the county boundary by way of the Buccleuch Bridge felt like entering into a big city.
The town had department stores like those I had seen in Glasgow and Edinburgh, cinemas a world away from our St Cuthbert Street flea-pit and a
football team that sometimes glamorously played Rangers or Celtic. It was in the big smoke by the Nith that I first discovered that there was such a
thing as a Chinese restaurant. What sophistication, I thought.
Dumfriesshire was bound to be different. If Galloway lay along the byways of the national story, its easterly neighbour was bang in
the middle of a bloody great highway. When the Romans took a look at Kirkcudbrightshire they got as far as Gatehouse of Fleet and gave up.
But, to the Latin occupiers, Nithsdale, Annandale and Eskdale were strategic arteries. In the wars of independence
only skirmishes had ever taken place where I lived but Dumfriesshire had real McCoy battlefields we could read about in books.
In our school history lessons we heard thrilling stories about Bruce and the Red Comyn - and it all happened a stone's throw from
where we caught the bus back to Kirkcudbright after shopping at Binn's! And, dammit, those Doonhamers also had Robert Burns!
How much more lucky could a county be?
But there was so much else about Dumfriesshire that I knew nothing of - places I had never been to, personalities I had never heard of,
local writers I had never read - and I have to confess that this ignorance lasted until relatively recently. The journey of discovery
I have been on for this book will always count as one of the great experiences of my life. In terms of famous people, I was familiar enough,
like everyone else, with the top-of-the-bill names such as Telford, Burns, Carlyle and MacDiarmid. What astounded me was the size,
quality and variety of the rest of the cast-list: explorers, scientists, inventors, entrepreneurs, social reformers, theologians, entertainers
and artists, not to mention a seeming multitude of military and naval commanders. I hope you enjoy meeting them as much as I did.
One more thing: the stranger in these parts probably ought to have the term Doonhamer explained, as this synonym for a
Dumfries person occurs frequently in the book. It is an early-twentieth-century coinage from urban central Scotland where Dumfriesian workers,
asked what they would be doing for the weekend, reputedly had a habit of answering 'Och, I'm jist gaun doon hame'!
The arrangement of the text
Places describes in detail all the towns and main villages along with the notable features of their immediate vicinities. These are arranged alphabetically.
Themes & Personalities fills in the background in a series of chapters on the county's history, culture and personalities.
There is a great deal of cross-referencing between the various sections.
The cross references take the form of hyperlinks and sometimes these are flagged by a note in brackets e.g. (see Fame and Fortune).