Castle Douglas is an important market town in Dumfries & Galloway and can be found just to the south of the A75 some 16 miles south-west of Dumfries. "Castle Douglas Through Time" by Mary Smith & Allan Devlin is a wonderful companion for anyone living in, hailing from or visiting the town because it opens up a fourth dimension - time - that would otherwise be largely invisible.
Amberley Publishing's excellent "Through Time" series allows the authors of individual books quite a lot of flexibility about they approach the brief, which in general terms is to show how a place looks today, and how that compares with how it used to look in the days when photography was a rather more novel way of representing the world. In particular there's quite a lot of variation between books in how closely old and new views coincide. In this case the authors appear to have started with a collection of old photographs of Castle Douglas and set out very explicitly to take photographs that recreate the old views as closely as possible.
The result is a real joy to browse, even for those of us who may only have visited Castle Douglas a few times. The selection of old photographs is appealing, varied and informative, but the real value of the book comes in being able to compare so closely the "then" view with the "now" view below it, something greatly aided by the informative captions that accompany each pair of photographs. What emerges is a clear understanding of what has changed and what has not. What inevitably also emerges is confirmation of just what a terrible blight the parked car is on Castle Douglas (and just about every other settlement in Scotland or anywhere else). We are so used to parked cars lining every street that it's only when we see the same scene without them that their presence really becomes obvious.
In many cases the pairs of photographs reveal that - parked cars aside - parts of Castle Douglas have physically changed little over the last century or more. In other cases change is very obvious: for example in the loss of the town's railway station or in the physical expansion of Castle Douglas into the surrounding countryside. It's often the detail in the photographs that is most fascinating. The beautiful fountain lost from Station Square during WW2 left the town a poorer place for its passing, as did the bow-fronted Barbeth Castle, which stood in King Street until demolished in 1960. For us, though, one of the most enchanting photographs is of elephants and horses from a visiting circus bathing in Carlingwark Loch in the early part of the last century. The modern equivalent is taken from the same spot and shows swans on the loch. A nicely subliminal reference to Salvador Dali's classic painting of "Swans Reflecting Elephants"?