Loch Doon near Dalmellington, Ayrshire
"Ye banks and braes o' bonny Doon,
How can ye bloom sae fresh and fair?
How can ye chant, ye little birds,
And I sae weary fu' o' care?
Thou'lt break my heart, thou warbling bird,
That wantons thro' the flowering thorn:
Thou minds me o' departed joys,
Departed, never to return.
Aft hae I rov'd by bonnie Doon,
To see the rose and woodbine twine;
And ilka bird sang o' its love,
And fondly sae did I o' mine.
Wi' lightsome heart I pu'd a rose,
Fu' sweet upon its thorny tree;
And my fause lover stole my rose,
But, ah! he left the thorn wi' me."
Robert Burns (1759 - 1796)
Robert Hettrick, a Dalmellington blacksmith, whose admiration for Burns inspired him to write poetry, published in 1823 a descriptive poem entitled "The Craigs of Ness". The lines below on Ness Glen, lying below Loch Doon, describe one of the wildest and most picturesque spots in the south of Scotland.
"Doon, issuing from her slumbering bed of rest,
Is downwards through the rocky tunnel prest,
Then dash'd against yon shelvy, pointed rock,
Which, unmolested, stands the furious shock,
And turns the torrent to the other side,
Which, in its turn, resists the furious tide;
Here dashing on the precipices steep:
There boiling in the dreadful caverns deep;
Now madly raging o'er the ragged linn,
Mocking the voice of thunder with its din,
Bathing the margins with the foamy spray;
And thus the tortured waters pass away,
Leaving the caverns, linns and rocks behind,
For banks and channels of a gentler kind,
Where woods and lawns alternate please the eye
Where music swells in ilka leafy grove,
In all the charms of harmony and love
And fair Barbeth stands clad in summer green,
Adds lustre to the wild romantic scene."
Loch Doon Castle was built in the late 13th or early 14th century as an eleven sided curtain-walled castle designed to enfold its island site to the south end of Loch Doon. The stonework was lavish, large well-cut blocks of ashlar attesting to the quality of the building. Near Castle Island in 1826, ancient canoes, battle axes and clubs were found indicating an even earlier settlement on the island. There is local legend that Loch Doon Castle gave shelter to Robert the Bruce as he was often in the surrounding district.
History later records that the castle was owned by the Kennedy family and was taken from them by William Crauford of Lefnoris in 1511. The Castle was destroyed during the reign of King James V (1513 - 1542).
The first engineering feat to affect the level of the Loch was about 1760, when the Earl of Cassillis and McAdam of Craigengillan drove tunnels under the Loch to reduce the level of the water by about 14 feet. The land recovered from this project proved to be of little agricultural value.
The School Of Aerial Gunnery
During the First World War, Dalmellington and Loch Doon were the centre of a School of Aerial Gunnery for the Royal Flying Corps, the precursor of the Royal Air Force. Some remains of the range are still to be seen.
The War Office in seeking sites for the training of new air crew, thought this lonely loch would be the ideal site for a school for aerial gunners. The expenditure of £150,000 was authorised in August 1916 for the project. The scheme required a large expanse of smooth water and a neighbouring hillside, all set in sparsely populated country. The third requirement was an airfield.
At Loch Doon the only large area of flat land was on the west shore and most certainly entirely peat bog but, the WarOffice thought it could easily be drained. Moving targets were to be installed on the east shore and at the north-east corner of the loch a long row of huge concrete blocks were installed to carry the targets along a kind of mono-rail. South on the steep faces of Craigencolon and the Black Craig, standard gauge railways were erected to carry more targets in a zig-zag fashion and by 1917 the project was well under way.
The Royal Flying Corps supplied the largest military contingent but there were also detachments of Royal Engineers and the Royal Defence Corps. In March 1917 the first batch of German prisoners-of-war arrived . By the summer there were well over 3,000 men quartered on the west shore. The height of the loch was raised by six feet and aircrafy hangers, seaplane shed and motorboat dock were built. Draining the peat bog began for the airfield. Various buildings were erected on the west shore of the loch in order to support a population of 1,500 including a hospital, sewerage plant and a cinema for 400. In March 1917, construction of an airfield at Bogton at Dalmellington began.
By the end of 1917 the cost had risen to £350,000. The draining of the airfield at Loch Doon had scarcely begun, the apparatus to carry the targets had never been completed and the targets themselves never arrived. In January 1918, two government officials visited Loch Doon and produced a report that recommended the abandonment of the scheme. The construction sites were promptly emptied of soldiers and labour and the garrison was simply left empty. Much equipment was plundered. Then it was discovered that the original leasing agreement required the land be returned to it's original state. All the buildings had to be demoished with no attempt to salvage anything. Everything was destroyed and a very large quantity of expensive fittings simply thrown into the loch.
The report of the Select Committee which later investigated the Loch Doon project indicated that hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money had been wasted.
Loch Doon Today
In the 1930s the level of the Loch was raised in connection with the Galloway Hydro-electric scheme. Castle Island became submerged, but the outer shell of the castle was dismantled and re-erected in about 1935 on the shore near Craigmulloch Farm. Here it can still be seen today. When the level of the Loch is very low it is still possible to se the top of Castle island with some of the remaining stones of Loch Doon Castle.
Loch Doon itself has a length of some 5.5 miles and is about 1.5 miles broad at its widest part. It is bounded on the east by a massive wall of hills, the northern end of the Kells Range. To the south lies one of the wildest tracts of country in Britain. There are few residents found today around Loch Doon, but there is evidence to suggest that this was not always the case.