A little less than half a mile west of the centre of Thornhill, a two span stone bridge built in 1777 carries the A702 over the River Nith. A short distance west of the bridge there is a layby on the south side of the road, and in the field on the same side stands the Nith Bridge Cross.
The cross shaft that stands here is believed to have been carved in the late 800s or early 900s by a mason familiar with both the Anglian and Celtic traditions. It seems likely that it was originally erected in its current location, overlooking as it does a place that has served as a crossing point over the River Nith for many centuries. It is easy to imagine early travellers pausing here while waiting for a ferry across the river, or after their crossing and before heading off into the wilds of Galloway.
The first bridge to cross the river was built of wood in the 1400s, but had been swept away in a flood by the 1600s. Travellers then had to use the ferry once more, though the crossing was not without risks. Six people were drowned in an accident in 1773, which prompted the building of the bridge you see today.
It is possible to make your way from a gateway in the hedge beside the road to the enclosure surrounding the Nith Bridge Cross in a way that minimises interference with any crop growing in the field. What you find is a cross shaft that stands some 9 feet in height, and which measures some 17 inches by 8 inches at its base. It is likely that the upper part of the cross would once have been similar to that of the Ruthwell Cross, though that is larger and more single-mindedly Anglian in style. The cross shaft is surrounded by a circle of iron railings, presumably added during the 1800s (they certainly stood here before 1912) to prevent increasingly mechanised farming processes causing damage to it.
The cross shaft is intricately decorated on all four sides. The carving on the west side is far more weathered than that on the east. This is perhaps a reflection of the direction from which the weather has tended to come over the past eleven centuries or so. It is also a hint that the cross is best visited in the morning, when the sun is illuminating its crisper eastern side. The carvings are deeply interlaced and carry figures that seem to represent plants and animals, set within rectangular panels. The sides of the shaft are covered in more abstract knot designs.