The Devil and the postman

Sarah home after meeting the devilHome again, and celebrating another voyage of discovery, complete with devil and postman. Don’t you just love it when you are driving along and suddenly discover something new?

That is what happened to me when I recently travelled back from my writers’ retreat with the Liberta Hivies (and a few others).

It was a dreich day…

raincloudsDespite the weather, we were taking the scenic route home…

mailcoach print

What I didn’t know at the time was that this was the old coaching road. Mailcoaches used this road in the 19th century to carry the mail between Dumfries and Edinburgh.

We have all seen pictures of the mailcoach dashing through the countryside, horn blaring, but did you know there is a monument? Well, you’ll have to read on to find out more about that.

First, the devil and his beef tub…

The road map shows the romantically named Devil’s Beef Tub and I was intrigued to know what it was. Despite the weather, we managed to find it and take a photo looking down from the side of the road. Devil's Beef Tub

Did I say the weather was bad?

The Devil’s Beef Tub lies just north of Moffat, in Southern Scotland. The weather was closing in. My picture doesn’t do justice to the deep hollow at the side of the road, so here’s a better view from a much better photographer and from a different angle.

The Devil's Beef Tub. source: David Neale, geography.org.uk

The Devil’s Beef Tub. source: David Neale, geography.org.uk

The hollow is around 150 metres deep and formed by four hills. It acquired its name because it was used to hide cattle stolen by the Johnstone clan, who were Border Reivers.  The hollow is also called The Marquis of Annandale’s Beef-Stand after the chief of the raiding “loons”. (Apparently the word means “lads” in this context.)

The name might  also mean the Devil’s Bath Tub, since nearby Moffat was once famed for its sulphur baths. Sulphurous water used to come out of the ground at the Moffat Well, close to the Devil’s Beef Tub.

And there is a literary link

Sir Walter Scott

In Walter Scot’s novel, Redgauntlet, he mentions the place:

“A d—d deep, black, blackguard-looking abyss of a hole it is, and goes straight down from the roadside, as perpendicular as it can do, to be a heathery brae. At the bottom, there is a small bit of a brook, that you would think could hardly find its way out from the hills that are so closely jammed round it.” (www.gutenberg.org)

And then there  was the Postie Stone

Henry_VIII_(1)_by_Hans_Holbein_the_Younger

Henry_VIII_(1)_by_Hans_Holbein_the_Younger

You could say the Royal Mail started with Henry VIII. He established a Master of the Posts, which was later renamed Postmaster General.

Since then, delivering the mail throughout the country has been a priority. Today, for some, it is more than just a delivery service. In rural areas the postie delivers mail, local news, and is a friendly face for many who live alone and who can go for days without seeing a soul.

OK, but a Postie Stone?

Stay with me…

I had spotted the Postie Stone, or the Mailcoach Monument, on the map. It’s only a little way on from the Devil’s Beef Tub, so of course I wanted to see that too.

However, where the Devil’s Beef Tub brought to mind historical adventures, the story I learned at the Postie Stone was of ordinary people going about their daily work.

I found it very moving.Mailcoach Monument aka the Postie Stone

Mailcoaches feature quite often in my historical books, but I didn’t know about this monument until I went looking for the Postie Stone.

The Mailcoach Monument

Cross BurnBuilt in 1931 in the shape of a cairn, it commemorates two good friends, James McGeorge and John Goodfellow. They were the guard and driver of the Dumfries to Edinburgh mailcoach.

On 1st February 1831 the snow forced them to abandon the coach. They took two of the horses and fought on through the snow with the mail bags before succumbing to exposure. Sadly, they collapsed near the head of the Cross Burn. My photo shows where the burn passes beneath the road, although it is rather overgrown here.

Mailcoach Monument aka the Postie StoneThe horses survived and managed to reach a local farm. The farmer raised the alarm, but the men were not found until some days later.

Buried in the old Churchyard in Moffat, the men are fondly remembered by the townsfolk for their dedication to their duty. If you want to read more about the coaching disaster, you can find an account here, on the Tweedsmuir Community Hub.

Thank you for staying with me through my rambles. Two very different stories from one small area. Will they inspire another story for me? Who knows? It certainly added interest to a very long homeward journey.

Sarah

12 thoughts on “The Devil and the postman

  1. Sophie

    Oh, this is fascinating, Sarah. Those two poor postmen, though. I’m glad the town remembers them with respect and kindliness.

    My own regular Postie is a conscientious and cheerful soul. It always feels like a good day when I have a few words with him. He nearly always makes me laugh.

    Reply
    1. Sarah Post author

      Thanks, Sophie. It shows how history is all around us, although we don’t always know it. I have driven that road several times and never noticed until I looked at a “proper” map. Posties are a great asset to their local community: ours is a real sweetie.

      Reply
  2. Jan Jones

    Fascinating! I love the story of the hidden cattle. That’s got to be a useful hiding place for a couple of fleeing lovers, surely? And how very sad about the mailcoach driver and his guard. Entirely fitting that they should be commemorated

    Reply
    1. Sarah Post author

      You see, Jan, it has already inspired you with a story idea 🙂 It is fascinating. I had often seen cars stopped in the layby but didn’t realise it was to look at and photograph the Devil’s Beef Tub for some time. From the road it’s just another bend and dangerous drop! I found the memorial very touching, too.

      Reply
  3. lesley2cats

    I love stories like these, Sarah, but as Sophie says, those poor postmen. Here in the sarf-east we have the Devil’s Punch Bowl, near Hindhead in Surrey. We travelled along its rim on the old A3 many times when I was a child, but now they’ve built the Hindhead tunnel the traveller misses it. It has several legends attached, obviously, with a name like that, but none that link back to real events like the Beef Tub.

    Reply
    1. Sarah Post author

      I’ve driven along the old A3 a few times myself, Lesley, and heard the legends. The Scottish ones are new to me (do we ever stop learning?). Thanks for dropping by and glad you enjoyed the post.

      Reply
  4. Joanna

    I’d “done” the Devil’s Beef Tub but I’d missed the Postie Stone. Thanks for telling us about it. Those poor poor men, carrying 100 pounds of mail through deep snow. It’s no wonder they died of cold and exhaustion. The memorial is moving, as you say, Sarah.

    I also recall Moffat fondly. There is a wonderful shop there called The Moffat Toffee Shop. It looks like an old-fashioned sweet shop but it goes back for miles and, at the back, there’s a huge range of whisky miniatures, including ones I’d never heard of. Great way to try whiskies. And the soor plooms from the front of the shop were a must-buy for one of my kids.

    Have just checked and the Toffee Shop still exists. And they still have soor plooms!!

    Reply
    1. Sarah Post author

      I haven’t tried the Toffee Shop, Joanna, yet, but I shall make an effort next time we are in the area, and I will try some soor plooms. The Postie Stone is easily missed, but it is a great memorial to the Royal Mail, and a reminder that the great days of the mail coach carried their own risks.

      Reply
  5. Sarah Post author

    Not so much as hardy, Liz, as nosey! Beside, it was only a little drizzle. Next time it could be really bad 🙂 The inspiration I have derived from both places of interest may well pay off in future books, too., so that’s a bonus. Thanks for stopping by.

    Reply
  6. Elizabeth Bailey

    Fascinating items, Linda. Moving account of the posties struggling through the snow. It’s hard to remember these days (when the postal strike makes little difference in general to communication) that post in those days was often vital, especially for those living in rural communities.

    Reply
    1. Sarah Post author

      Life has changed a great deal since then, Liz, hasn’t it? It’s easy to forget how isolated life could be away from the main towns and cities. Glad you enjoyed my post.

      Reply

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