Dalmellington lies on the A713 Ayr to Newton Stewart road where it starts to climb into the heart of the Southern Uplands. A glance at a map shows you a remote rural location. Head south from here and you find Loch Doon, home to Scotland's only relocated castle; and beyond it only the hills and forests of the Galloway Forest Park.
Given Dalmellington's location you arrive expecting to find some sort of small market town, a centre for the hill farms in the wide surrounding area. What you find is actually rather different, a large village that owed its growth to the discovery of coal and iron in the surrounding hills.
Coal pits were being sunk to the north of Dalmellington as early as the mid 1700s, though the first major bout of growth occurred in the middle of the following century. Not all the attempts to find coal were successful, which perhaps explains the name on the Ordnance Survey map of "Sillyhole" just to the north of Dalmellington.
From 1848 the Dalmellington Iron Company was increasingly active in extracting coal and ironstone in the area. In 1856 a railway line opened linking Dalmellington with Ayr, primarily to service the Dalmellington Iron Works a few miles north along the Doon Valley. This connected at Dalmellington with mineral lines to some of the remote coal mines in the area.
More collieries opened to the north of Dalmellington in the early 1900s. The last pit to start work did so in 1954 and the last pit still working in the area was Pennyvenie, which closed with the loss of the last 250 jobs in 1978 after 97 years' operation.
The departure of the pits had a significant effect on the area: by the start of the 1990s the large estate of miners' houses just to the south at Bellsbank had the highest male unemployment rate in Scotland, at 37%. Deep mined coal is now a thing of the distant past in Dalmellington, and its passenger rail services disappeared as early as 1964. The railway remains open to service the replacement for the old deep coal mines: the huge opencast mine still operating in the hills to the north of the village.
Dalmellington's has one further link with its industrial past. Nearby Dunaskin is home to the Scottish Industrial Railway Centre, operated by the Ayrshire Railway Preservation Group.
If your initial expectations of Dalmellington based on its rural location are confounded by the story of its industrial past, any expectations based on that past are confounded by the reality of a surprisingly attractive and interesting settlement. The village is scattered over a hillside, dominated by the tall tower of the Kirk of the Covenant at the top of the village and by a strikingly varied and good looking collection of inns and pubs in its lower reaches.
Also in the lower part of the village is a row of converted weavers' cottages converted into the Doon Valley Museum. This is home to a permanent weaving display and a programme of temporary art, craft and historical exhibitions.
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