Ice cream, the Colvend Coast, and John Paul Jones
A journey through Dumfries & Galloway
I’d like to take a moment to thank you, dear reader. This week marks a whole year (!) of writing these weekly articles — many thanks for reading at least some of them! I hope you’re enjoying it. Please feel free to reply (if receiving this by email ) or click “Leave a Comment” below if you’re online — I’d love to hear from you. Once a year isn’t too much too ask!
Special thanks to those who are paid subscribers — you provide both a morale boost and a financial carrot for me to continue writing. We are in the middle of our second Scotland tour out of four, so we may go at least another year or so. Enjoy!
Please note that I have also been writing two other weekly articles on Substack; if you’re not familiar with them, feel free to give them a try. One focuses on music, both general topics and specific ideas about learning and teaching fiddle and other aspects of music. The other features fiction, esssays, and poems.
As we traveled deeper into Dumfries and Galloway, we came to the part of southwest Scotland which, unlike the Borders, is separated from England by a body of water — the Solway Firth. (“Firth” is a Scots word that’s related to the Norwegian word “fjord,” and refers to an inlet of the sea.)
We spotted some of Galloway’s native “belted Galloway,” a native breed of beef cattle that thrives on upland pastures and moors. We also stopped at the visitor center of a famous organic farm which allows calves to stay with their mothers and makes amazing ice cream. This was not far from the Solway Firth, in an area called Kirkcudbright, which I mentioned last week because of Mike Vass’s well-known jig, “Cavers of Kirkcudbright.”
The Colvend Coast, on the Solway Firth, offers beautiful views of the waters and inland walks through the woods. Our walks include one spot with amazing displays of flowers and stone sculptures.
Two famous 18th-century residents of the area could not have been more different from each other. John Paul Jones, the “father of the U.S. Navy,” was born near Kirkcudbright, and Robert Burns, Scotland’s greatest poet and songwriter, spent his final years in the major city of the area, Dumfries. On one trip, we visited the John Paul Jones birthplace cottage museum in Kirkbean.
John Paul (he took on the name Jones after moving to the American colonies), was born barely a mile from the Solway Firth, and escaped home by signing up at age 13 for a seaman’s apprenticeship. Four years later, he took a job on a slave trader but quit in disgust, calling it “an abominable trade.” He was given free passage home on a merchant ship, John of Kirkcudbright. By the time he got back, John Paul was the captain of the ship because he was the best qualified aftr the captain and mate died of fever on the voyage.
Jones went on to command a number of ships, but moved to America after getting into legal trouble because of his harsh treatment of mutineers. The worst of his troubles was a murder charge, trumped up by an influential resident of Kirkcudbright, whose son had been a mutineer on one of Jones’s ships. The main factual problem with the case was that the son actually died quite a while later from yellow fever, though mere facts didn’t prevent the case from hounding John Paul’s reputation.
In 1775, Jones was commissioned by the new Continental Navy as first lieutenant, serving on one of navy’s grand total of five ships (there were plans to build 13 more). During the Revolutionary War, John Paul Jones became a fearful household name in Britain after he sailed there, raided ports, tricked aristocrats, captured forts, and defeated navy ships much larger than his own. It was in the middle of one such horrific battle that he was asked to surrender and famously declared, “I have not yet begun to fight.” He ended up defeating the larger navy ship even though his own ship took on water (hit by friendly fire!) and began to sink. But Jones proceeded to take over the British ship with his own crew, and sailed away with hundreds of prisoners.
The U.S. Congress and King Louis XVI honored him after the war, and Thomas Jefferson, as American ambassador to France, recommended him to Empress Catherine II of Russia. She made him an admiral in the Russian navy; he then helped Russia defeat the Turks in the Black Sea.
Jones died in France in 1792 of kidney disease at age 45. Because of the French Revolution, the cemetery where he was buried was soon sold and forgotten. In 1905, Americans under President Teddy Roosevelt tracked down Jones’s body and brought him to the Annapolis Naval Academy to re-inter him there and honor him as “father of the U.S. Navy.”
Jones’s wild and often tragic life story has been portrayed in a series of songs by Scottish singer Alan Reid, a founder of the Battlefield Band. Here’s one song from his 2012 album The Adventures of John Paul Jones, with Rob van Sante:
Not long ago, a Scottish television station asked people to vote for the Greatest Scot of All Time. The winner was Robert Burns, followed closely by William Wallace. Next week, we’ll visit nearby Dumfries and begin our discussion of one of Scotland’s most fascinating and talented characters, Robert Burns.