Explore the Village of Whithorn

The village of Withorn, located on the southern end of the Machars peninsula on the Irish Sea in Galloway, is accepted as one of the oldest continuously occupied settlements in Scotland. With the first Christian church being built in Whithorn by St Ninian in around 390 AD, the village is also considered to be the cradle of Christianity in Scotland. The original church has undergone a number of changes and additions over the years, with distinct eras of Christianity leaving their mark on the historic buildings. Visitors to the Parish Church and Priory of Whithorn will find a very picturesque setting with the ancient stone buildings and the crypt standing as a testimony to quality craftsmanship. The fascinating history of Withorn, and the role played by religion in shaping the area are displayed in the nearby visitor centre.

The broad main street cutting through the village from north to south is lined on either side with stately old buildings, most of which are two-storey and slate-roofed. Standing out from its neighbours, the townhouse, complete with steeple, overlooks the village mercat cross, which also serves as a war memorial. The original purpose of a mercat cross, which can be found in many villages, towns and cities of Scotland, was to mark the place where merchants would gather to ply their trade, with the permission of the monarch or local laird. As this was the gathering place of the village, public proclamations would be read at the mercat. This is still the case at Edinburgh‘s Mercat Cross, where proclamations, such as the calling of general elections are read ceremoniously.

Archaeological excavations, referred to as the Whithorn Dig, are found near the churchyard. It was found that a settlement existed on the site of Whithorn as far back as 140 AD, confirming the accuracy of the map drawn by geographer Claudius Ptolemy (90-168AD) indicating the location of the settlement. Ptolemy also mentions the Novantae people living in the area, who traded with the Romans, although they are not mentioned in any other historical works.

Other attractions in Withorn and surroundings include St Ninian’s Cave, which is said to have been a retreat for the cleric. Evidence of visits from pilgrims attracted to the village as the cradle of Christianity, can be found etched on the cave’s walls. The pathway to the beach is very scenic and the cave is worth a visit. The nearby Rispain Camp, with its ditches and banks now covered in grass, is believed to have been the site of a Roman fortification and offers a spectacular view of the surrounding countryside.