The small village of Crawford stands at a point where upper Clydesdale narrows to form a strategically important pass through the Southern Uplands. With Carlisle some 50 miles to the south-east and Glasgow some 40 miles to the north-west, this pass has been used by the main transport routes through the area throughout recorded history, and probably much further back still.
The hills surrounding Crawford have plenty of evidence of early settlement, in the form of cairns, hillforts, and even the odd henge. The first visitors to make a truly systematic mark on the landscape were the Romans. The roads they built from Annandale and Nithsdale met nearby, and from the junction a road continued north along the east side of the River Clyde (the far side from today's village) through this part of Clydesdale. Traces of a number of temporary Roman camps have been found in the area, along with the remains of a Roman Fort just to the north of the village.
More evidence of the early importance of the area can be found, again, on the far side of the River Clyde from the village itself, in the form of Crawford Castle. This stands not far from the site of the Roman fort, on an artificial mound or motte near the river. Though inaccessible and seriously overgrown, it is still a substantial ruin. A castle was standing here in 1175, probably built by the Crawford family. It became a possession of the Lindsay family in 1215 and William Wallace captured the castle in 1297, at which time the motte would have been surrounded by a broad moat fed by the River Clyde.
A later visitor was James V of Scotland. James used the castle as a hunting lodge in the 1530s and took as his mistress, Elizabeth Carmichael, the daughter of the hereditary constable of the castle. Most of what still stands today dates back to the early 1600s. The castle remained in use as a farmhouse until the end of the 1700s, when it was abandoned in favour of nearby Crawford Castle Farm.
In the early 1820s, Thomas Telford upgraded the main road from Carlisle to Glasgow, and this passed along the left or south-west bank of the River Clyde. The coaching traffic along the road needed servicing, and two hotels opened alongside the road in what has since become Crawford. In 1848 the Caledonian Railway opened a line through Clydesdale, and by this time Crawford was important enough to warrant its own station.
Later transport developments were less favourable to the fortunes of the village. The railway station was closed in 1965, though what is now the West Coast Main Line continues to pass immediately to the east and round to the north of the village. Then, at the end of the 1960s, the loop of road though Crawford was bypassed as part of the improvement of the A74. Suddenly the main flow of traffic no longer passed through the village, instead curving round on a shorter and quicker route to the south-west. If this were not enough, in 1993 this length of the A74 was itself bypassed by the M74, a short distance further to the south-west, effectively taking any remaining traces of through traffic out of the village.
The bypassing and re-bypassing of Crawford has left the village as Scotland's answer to Radiator Springs, the fictional US town bypassed by Route 66 in the movie "Cars". It straggles along both sides of the now unclassified Carlisle Road for the better part of a mile. It has a focal point of sorts in the form of the attractive Crawford Hall on one side of the road, looking across at the primary school on the other. The road through the village must be one of the safest anywhere, as on our visits it's been necessary to wait awhile to see a car driving in either direction. The seriously overgrown and obviously disused public loos not far from the hall give one less reason for anyone to turn off the A702 (what was the A74) and into the village.
Meanwhile, the Crawford Arms Hotel in the middle of Crawford continues to provide breakfasts, lunches and dinners, while the Heatherghyll Hotel at the north end of the village has become the Hungry Trucker Cafe (and offers rather nice bacon rolls). The Post Horn Hotel still carries the name on one gable, but appears to have been converted for residential use, and the caravan and camping park which once stood opposite the Crawford Arms Hotel looks like it hasn't offered accommodation to passing travellers for quite some time. Rather more positive is the presence in the heart of the village of Ajay's Corner Shop and Snack Bar, clearly thriving and giving the community a much needed commercial focus.