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Langholm Scotland

The Muckle Town

Called muckle (big) because of its sprawling fairs in earlier times, Langholm in the Borders
still offers visitors outsized enjoyment.


Night was falling with a light rain as we stepped off the Dumfries train. After a time-consuming search for the rental office, we picked up the car we had reserved and finally set off for Langholm in the dark. Bumbling along on narrow, winding roads while studying the two sets of conflicting instructions by flashlight, we had almost decided we had missed a turn when our headlights suddenly illuminated what must be the most delightful and welcoming town-limit sign. In large, unmistakable letters: "HERE COMES LANGHOLM."

Although the town appeared asleep, we happily found our hosts who welcomed us in from the rain. While enjoying a wee nightcap, Billy Young dropped by for an introductory chat. Billy's book, A Spot Supremely Blest, and his pleasant correspondence, had spurred me to visit Langholm. My initial interest belonged to Billy's and my mutual friend, Jim Beverly, a "Langholmite" now living in Texas. For years, he had urged us to visit to the place he loved. I was curious about The Common Riding, a beloved annual homecoming rooted in the distant past. Now, at last, "here came Langholm!"

By morning, with skies cleared, my host took me for an early drive up Whita Hill to photograph the town from above. The sunshine on Langholm's landmark with its great obelisk looked promising, but by the time we reached the top, clouds rolled in and Langholm lay far below in a dreamlike mist, common in this region of the Scottish Borders. Yet I could make out how the "Muckle Town" lay at the meeting of the River Esk and the Ewes Water.

"Muckle," meaning "big," harks back to early eras of market days and fairs. It also describes the prosperous times when Langholm boomed with textile mills, breweries and other long-departed industries. Though now a "wee bit toon," as one poet described it, the fond nickname has remained. The "lang holm," or "long meadow," on the east side of the River Esk probably accounts for the official name as early as the 13th century. Surrounded by hills, forests and rolling lands, it is the perfect center for walkers and cyclists. From in-town strolls to miles of way-marked trails, wandering these vast rolling uplands rewards with solitude and grand vistas. Primed with a bit of Borders history, one can conjure up the 16th-century outlaw Reivers and vicious land-battling families who spilled so much blood roaring over the now peaceful, but still lonely, English/Scottish divide.

The full text of this article is available in the Spring 2013 issue of Scottish Life.

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Photos © Allan Devlin/Scottish Viewpoint