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…
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…
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 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
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
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.
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
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.
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.