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Wanlockhead is a village in Dumfries and Galloway
Dumfries and Galloway
Dumfries and Galloway is one of 32 unitary council areas of Scotland. It was one of the nine administrative 'regions' of mainland Scotland created in 1975 by the Local Government etc. Act 1973...

, Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

 nestling in the Lowther Hills one mile south of Leadhills
Leadhills is a village in South Lanarkshire, Scotland, 5¾ miles WSW of Elvanfoot. Population 835. Originally known as Waterhead, It is the second highest village in Scotland after Wanlockhead, lying 395m above sea-level, near the source of Glengonnar Water, an affluent of the River Clyde...

 at the head of the Mennock Pass, which forms part of the Southern Uplands. It is Britain's highest village at 432 m (1417 ft) and can be accessed via the B797, from both the A76 and the M74.


The village was called Winlocke until 1566, from the Gaelic Cuingealach, meaning narrowness, or narrow place.

Wanlockhead owes its existence to the lead
Lead is a main-group element in the carbon group with the symbol Pb and atomic number 82. Lead is a soft, malleable poor metal. It is also counted as one of the heavy metals. Metallic lead has a bluish-white color after being freshly cut, but it soon tarnishes to a dull grayish color when exposed...

 and other mineral
A mineral is a naturally occurring solid chemical substance formed through biogeochemical processes, having characteristic chemical composition, highly ordered atomic structure, and specific physical properties. By comparison, a rock is an aggregate of minerals and/or mineraloids and does not...

 deposits in the surrounding hills. These deposits were first exploited by the Romans
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

, and from the 13th century they began to be worked again in the summer. The village was founded permanently in 1680 when the Duke of Buccleuch
James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth
James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth, 1st Duke of Buccleuch, KG, PC , was an English nobleman. Originally called James Crofts or James Fitzroy, he was born in Rotterdam in the Netherlands, the eldest illegitimate son of Charles II and his mistress, Lucy Walter...

 built a lead smelting
Smelting is a form of extractive metallurgy; its main use is to produce a metal from its ore. This includes iron extraction from iron ore, and copper extraction and other base metals from their ores...

 plant and workers' cottages.

Lead is a main-group element in the carbon group with the symbol Pb and atomic number 82. Lead is a soft, malleable poor metal. It is also counted as one of the heavy metals. Metallic lead has a bluish-white color after being freshly cut, but it soon tarnishes to a dull grayish color when exposed...

, zinc
Zinc , or spelter , is a metallic chemical element; it has the symbol Zn and atomic number 30. It is the first element in group 12 of the periodic table. Zinc is, in some respects, chemically similar to magnesium, because its ion is of similar size and its only common oxidation state is +2...

, copper
Copper is a chemical element with the symbol Cu and atomic number 29. It is a ductile metal with very high thermal and electrical conductivity. Pure copper is soft and malleable; an exposed surface has a reddish-orange tarnish...

 and silver
Silver is a metallic chemical element with the chemical symbol Ag and atomic number 47. A soft, white, lustrous transition metal, it has the highest electrical conductivity of any element and the highest thermal conductivity of any metal...

 were mined nearby, as well as some of the world's purest gold
Gold is a chemical element with the symbol Au and an atomic number of 79. Gold is a dense, soft, shiny, malleable and ductile metal. Pure gold has a bright yellow color and luster traditionally considered attractive, which it maintains without oxidizing in air or water. Chemically, gold is a...

 at 22.8 carats
Carat (purity)
The karat or carat is a unit of purity for gold alloys.- Measure :Karat purity is measured as 24 times the purity by mass:where...

, which was used to make the Scottish Crown
Crown (headgear)
A crown is the traditional symbolic form of headgear worn by a monarch or by a deity, for whom the crown traditionally represents power, legitimacy, immortality, righteousness, victory, triumph, resurrection, honour and glory of life after death. In art, the crown may be shown being offered to...

. Wanlockhead became known as "God's treasure house" from the richness of its mineral resources.

Despite a branch railway (see Leadhills & Wanlockhead Railway), also the highest in Scotland, serving the village from 1901 to 1939, lead mining declined in the 20th century and finished in the 1950s.

The village had a curling club which was formed in 1777 and there were also quoits
Quoits is a traditional game which involves the throwing of metal, rope or rubber rings over a set distance, usually to land over or near a spike . The sport of quoits encompasses several distinct variations.-The history of quoits:The history of quoits is disputed...

, bowling clubs, a drama group and a silver band which had instruments purchased for them by the Duke of Buccleuch.

William Symington
William Symington
William Symington was a Scottish engineer and inventor, and the builder of the first practical steamboat, the Charlotte Dundas.-Early life:...

 was from Leadhills, however he lived and worked In Wanlockhead. William's fame lies in the fact that he designed the engine used to power the World's first steamboat. This boat was successfully tested on Dalswinton Loch near Ellisland
Ellisland Farm, Dumfries
Ellisland Farm and museum lies about 6.5 mi/10.4 km northwest of Dumfries in village of Auldgirth, located in the Parish of Dunscore, Dumfries and Galloway. Robert Burns built, lived and farmed at Ellisland from 1788 to 1791....

 on 14 October 1788. Dalswinton was the home of Robert Burns's landlord, Patrick Miller.

Robert Burns

Robert Burns and an associate, Thomas Sloan, visited Wanlockhead in the winter of 1789-90. The weather was very icy and they decided to have their horses shoes 'frosted', that is sharpened to increase the grip. They had to wait their turn and took shelter at Ramage's Inn, where Burns wrote a poem entitled Pegasus at Wanlockhead. Pegasus was the name of Burns' horse. Burns also visited Wanlockhead in January 1792 in order to explore the lead mines. He was accompanied by Maria Riddell, the sister of Robert Riddell
Robert Riddell
Captain Robert Riddell , was Laird of Friar's Carse, near Dumfries, Scotland, and a friend of Robert Burns, who made him a collection of his poems which later became famous, and wrote a poem 'Sonnet On The Death Of Robert Riddell' in memory of him when he died.The Glenriddell Manuscripts were...

 of Friar's Carse
Friar's Carse
Friars' Carse is a mansion house and estate situated southeast of Auldgirth on the main road to Dumfries, Parish of Dunscore, Scotland. The property is located on the west bank of the River Nith and is known for its strong associations with Robert Burns who lived for a while at the nearby...

. They breakfasted at Sanquhar and then took a poste-chaise
A chaise, sometimes called chay or shay, is a light two - or four-wheeled traveling or pleasure carriage, with a folding hood or calash top for one or two people....

 to the mines. They went a considerable distance into the mines, braving the dark, wet and cramped conditions at first, however they had to turn back as Burns found the poor air very distressing. Burns did not record this visit, however Maria included the details in a letter.


The village now features a lead mining museum and industrial equipment from the 18th century and is a popular tourist destination
Tourist destination
A tourist destination is a city, town, or other area that is dependent to a significant extent on the revenues accruing from tourism. It may contain one or more tourist attractions and possibly some "tourist traps."...


Wanlockhead is on the Southern Upland Way
Southern Upland Way
Opened in 1984, the Southern Upland Way is a coast to coast walk in Scotland between Portpatrick in the west and Cockburnspath in the east....

, a walking trail that traditionally starts at Portpatrick
Portpatrick is a village hanging on to the extreme south-westerly tip of mainland Scotland, cut into a cleft in steep cliffs.Dating back historically some 500 years, and built adjacent to the ruins of nearby Dunskey Castle, its position on the Rhins of Galloway affords visitors views of the...

 on the west coast, in Dumfries & Galloway, and finishes some 212 miles (341 km) away at Cockburnspath
Cockburnspath is a village in the Scottish Borders area of Scotland. It lies near the North Sea coast between Berwick-upon-Tweed and Edinburgh. It is at the eastern extremity of the Southern Upland Way, a long-distance footpath from the west to east coast of Scotland, and it is also the terminus...

 on the east coast, in the Scottish Borders.

The village is also the home of the highest pub in Scotland, the Wanlockhead Inn which opened in 2003; an earlier pub situated on a track rising from the other side of the main road through the village was considerably higher, but closed in the late 1990s.

The village is the setting for the BBC television drama
BBC television drama
BBC television dramas have been produced and broadcast since even before the public service company had an officially established television broadcasting network in the United Kingdom...

 series, Hope Springs
Hope Springs (TV Series)
Hope Springs is a British television comedy-drama series following the lives of four female ex-cons in hiding following a multimillion pound robbery. Produced by Shed Productions, the company behind Bad Girls, Footballers' Wives and Waterloo Road, the 8-part series began airing on BBC One on 7 June...


Wanlockhead library

Wanlockhead Miners' Library is the second oldest subscription library in Europe and was established on the 1 November 1756 with 32 male members who mainly funded the purchase of the books, etc.; a contribution was also made by mining companies who were keen to encourage such acts of 'self-improvement' amongst the miners. The Duke of Buccleuch, as the land owner, was a major patron of the library. The library was essential in facilitating a level of educational achievement that allowed some miners and their children to escape the toil of mine work.

The school housed the library at first, but as the number of books increased, it became necessary in 1787 to move the library to a cottage given for this express purpose by the mine overseers. However the cottage was a small one and it was found to be necessary to build a larger building. The number of books purchased through subscription eventually rose to over 2,000 and in 1851 a new library was built and survives to this day.

Meadowfoot cemetery

This lies approximately one mile from the village and dates from 1751. Before Wanlockhead had its own graveyard, coffins had to be transported along a typical corpse road
Corpse road
Corpse roads provided a practical means for transporting corpses, often from remote communities, to cemeteries that had burial rights, such as parish churches and chapels of ease...

 the 8 miles (13 km) to the nearest graveyard, which was at Sanquhar
Sanquhar is a town on the River Nith in Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland. It lies north of Thornhill and west of Moffat. It is a Royal Burgh.Sanquhar is notable for its tiny post office , claimed to be the oldest working post office in the world...

. William Philip Minder who died on 2 April 1751 aged just 10 months was the first burial at the newly opened burial site.

The beam engine

The beam engine
Beam engine
A beam engine is a type of steam engine where a pivoted overhead beam is used to apply the force from a vertical piston to a vertical connecting rod. This configuration, with the engine directly driving a pump, was first used by Thomas Newcomen around 1705 to remove water from mines in Cornwall...

 and waterbucket pumps were introduced into Wanlockhead in 1745. The history on the beam engine is not certain, but accounts of similar engines have being recorded on a coal mine at Canonbie
Canonbie is a small village in Dumfries and Galloway in south west Scotland, six miles south of Langholm and two miles north of the Anglo-Scottish border. It is on the A7 road from Carlisle to Edinburgh, and the River Esk flows through it...

, Dumfriesshire in the 1790s. The Wanlockhead Beam Engine was built, supposedly, in the middle of the 19th century and is the only lasting example of a waterbucket pumping engine to be seen on a mine in the UK today.

The beam engine allowed miners to continue working in the Straitsteps mine and assuming that there were two strokes of the beam per minute this engine would have been able to lift around 7280 litres per hour and requiring little attention it would have been left to do this twenty-four hours a day. The wooden bucket was fed from a cistern above and once the weight of water was greater than the water above the pump piston the beam was lifted, carrying water from up to 28 metres below ground into a wood lined culvert which carried it off to the nearby burn. Periodically the weight of the piston was adjusted so that it remained heavier than the empty bucket, ensuring that the beam fell to start the cycle again.

The Secretary of State for Scotland in 1972 took on the guardianship of the beam engine, making it Scotland's third Industrial Monument. Historic Scotland
Historic Scotland
Historic Scotland is an executive agency of the Scottish Government, responsible for historic monuments in Scotland.-Role:As its website states:...

owns and maintains the engine. A working model of the engine is located in the Museum of Scottish Lead Mining.


  • Dougall, Charles S. (1911). The Burns Country. London: A & C Black.
  • Keggans, Sandie (2004). Transporting the Lead. Wanlockhead Museum Trust. ISBN 0-9530645-3-0
  • Lochnell Mine & The Wanlockhead Beam Engine. Wanlockhead Museum Trust. 2004. ISBN 0-9530645-6-5
  • Mackay, James A. (1988). Burns-lore of Dumfries and Galloway. Ayr : Alloway Publishing. ISBN 0-907526-36-5
  • Muir, Richard (2008). Woods, Hedgerows and Leafy Lanes. Stroud : Tempus. ISBN 0-7524-4615-8.

External links