The pretty village of Kirkcowan stands just over a mile south of the line of the modern A75 trunk road some five miles west of Newton Stewart, and a little further from the line of the old military road it closely parallels at this point. As a result, Kirkcowan is not somewhere you visit unless you actually take a conscious decision to do so: but it is worth the slight effort if only to see it for yourself.
As the "kirk" in the name implies, Kirkcowan grew because of the existence of a church here. Some sources imply there was a medieval or earlier church on the rising ground to the north of the Tarf Water just over a mile east of its confluence with the River Bladnoch. If so, it seems to have been lost, as the earliest ecclesiastical remains you will find today comprise the east gable of the old parish church, built in 1732.
The surrounding kirkyard is home to a number of fascinating headstones dating back to the 1700s. Because it is raised above the level of Kirkcowan's Main Street, which also curves to avoid it, the kirkyard is also the best place from which to appreciate the layout of the village, and from which to photograph it. Set into the wall near the gate is an early Scots gravestone carrying a skull and crossed bones and the usual Latin inscription: Memento Mori, which translates as "remember you must die".
Kirkcowan's Main Street climbs in a straight line from the old kirk to its replacement at the upper end of the village, the attractive T-plan and white harled parish church built in 1843. With its pinnacles, perpendicular windows and white harling picked out with natural stone details, this is a very attractive church indeed. Anyone walking between the two churches sees most of what the village has to offer, including the large and fairly utilitarian village hall and the Craighlaw Arms Hotel which has served as a coaching inn for over 200 years.
The village also offers a post office and general store, and a commercial garage (and a bus garage). At its upper end the enclosed character of the lower reaches of Main Street changes, and the street plan here opens out into a triangle of roads lined by cottages and houses, many looking in towards the open space in the centre. Not far from the parish church is the village school.
William Roy's map of 1754 featured the village as Kirk of Kircoan on the road from Glenluce down to Wigtown. By the 1800s a water powered waulk mill was in use to help process woollen cloth produced by up to 40 local weavers. The railway arrived in 1861, before disappearing again just over a century later in 1965. The mill was greatly expanded and converted to steam power in the 1890s. It closed following the end of World War II.
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