Extracted from the Topographical, Statistical, and Historical Gazetteer of Scotland, Volume 2. Published in Glasgow in 1842.

The Parish of Kells.

KELLS, a parish - the south-western one in the district of Glenkens- in the northern division of Kirkcudbrightshire. Its form is not dissimilar to that of a flying kite, the triangular part elongated and pointing its terminating angle to the south-east. Its greatest length, from the boundary a little above Craig-Nilder on the north-west, to the confluence of the Dee and the Ken on the south-east, is 16½ miles; and its greatest breadth, from the confluence of the Ken and the Carsphairn on the north-east, to the confluence of the Dee and Cooran Lane on the southwest, is 9¼ miles. Five miles before its confluence with the Dee the Ken begins to expand to a width of from ½ to ¾ of a mile, which it maintains till it leaves the parish, and is continued southward under the name of the Dee. The expanded part of the river is called Loch Ken. In the northern division of the parish are three lakes – Loch Harrow, Loch Minnick, and Loch Dungeon, the last and largest ¾ of a mile in length - which greatly abound in trout. In the south are Stroan Loch, formed by the expansion of the Dee on the boundary and Blackloch, midway between this and Loch Ken, which, besides being stored with trout, perch, eel, and salmon, produce pike of very large size. The head of a pike caught with the rod, and weighing 57 pounds, was long preserved at Kenmuir Castle; and frequently some are taken of from 20 to 30 pounds weight.

"There is a fishing in this parish," says the Old Statistical Account, "claimed as no man's property, that cannot be easily estimated. I mean a pearl fishery. In dry summers great numbers of pearls are fished here; some of great size and fine water, and are sold from Is. to £1 Is. according to their size and beauty." The flat expanse of land at the head of Loch-Ken, enriched by the overflowings of the river - which here diffuses its alluvial wealth in the manner of a mimic Nile - is probably unsurpassed in its fertility by any  perpetual soil in Scotland. So late as 50 years ago, when it owed comparatively little to the dressings of modern improvements in agriculture, some of it had been cropped 25 years successively without other manure than the Ken's deposits. The whole vale of the Ken, in its screen or back-ground of flanking hills, in the undulations and ravines of its slopes, in the verdant carpeting and sylvan adorning of its plain, and in the sumptuousness of its mansions and demesnes and the beauteous meanderings of its river, affords a series of scenic views abundantly rich enough to vindicate the fame which the district of Glenkens has acquired for its landscapes.

Over 5 miles from the southern extremity is the fine scenery which overhangs Loch Ken; and over another mile northward are the attractive groupings around Kenmore castle, and the burgh of New Galloway: Two miles to the north a richly cultivated tract opens to the view, enclosed in the form of an amphitheatre by the circumjacent hills. On the east side of the river, in the conterminous parish, the widely expanded village of Dalry, with its verdant crofts, and its tracery of hedges and rows of trees, looking in the perspective like a town of villas sprinkled among gardens, looks down from the brow of a rising ground; and on the west side, or within Kells, are the house of Waterside, the wooded vale of Combe burn coming down to the Ken, the neat farm-stead of Glenlee seated amidst a fantastic sprinkling of trees, the picturesquely situated mill of Glenlee, and, at a small distance below, the house and ornamented grounds of Glenlee Park. Even before Sir Thomas Miller of Glenlee, lord-president of the court-of-session in the latter part of last century, improved and decorated his grounds, they possessed many delightful dashes of natural wild beauty; and, after passing beneath the tasteful touches of his hand, and acquiring additional feature from the enlargement of his mansion, they became one of the finest spots in the south of Scotland. These grounds rise with a very gentle slope from the Ken, waving in varied inequalities of surface, and bearing aloft crowns and wreathings of plantation on the summits or round the brows of their knolly heights. Their northern boundary is a burn of two headwaters, each 3 or 4 miles in length of course, which, in two places within the grounds, falls in fine cascades over ledges of rock. When the stream is swollen by rains the appearance of the cascades so amazes the eye and the noise of their fall so stuns the ear, as to raise emotions of sublimity and terror.

A pool which receives one of them is fancifully called by the neighbouring peasants Hell's Hole, and, on account of its great depth, is fabled by them to be bottomless. The banks of the stream abruptly rise, in some places, to a considerable height, and hang out umbrageous coverings of trees and underwood over the current. Three miles north of Glenlee another range of interesting scenery opens before the tourist up the Ken. The houses of Barskeoch, Stranfasket, Knocknalling, and Earlston, with their green parks and beltings of wood, lie under the eye, all very nearly from one point; Pollharrow Burn, the largest of the minor streams of the parish, comes down with wooded banks between two of these seats; the Ken, rippling along its narrow plain, has put on the attractions which draw favour upon it as it advances ; and the back-ground of upland scenery recedes in the north-west into the cloud-cleaving Rhinns of Kells, the highest mountains in Galloway.

North-west of this spot, but south of the Rhinns, and in the interior of the parish, are stinted remains of an ancient and very large forest, supposed to have been originally a hunting-ground of the Lords of Galloway, and adopted as a royal forest by the dynasty of Bruce. Two large farms on the locality have the names of the Upper and the Nether Forest; and remaining patches of wood, and a large expanse of meadow, are still called respectively the King's Forest and the King's Holm. Deer anciently abounded in the forest, and were remembered to have been seen scouring the moors in flocks by persons alive toward the close of last century, but were exterminated about the year 1786.

All the surface of this extensive parish, except in the parts we have noticed, is wildly upland, and at intervals repulsively dreary in aspect, presenting none but tameless prospects to the eye, morasses, wide tracts of heath, pervading congeries of craggy hills, here and there a rivulet, and, few and far between, chilled and desolate looking farm-houses. On the south-west side, from the old bridge of Dee, 5 miles south-eastward to a point opposite the head of Loch Ken, stretches a range of high hills, which press close upon the Dee, and have a breadth or base of 3 miles inland. These hills are one solid mass of granite, almost naked, but occasionally patched with heath; and on their slopes, as well as on the flat grounds at their base, for about a mile on the south-west, are detached blocks of granite, many of them 10 tons in weight, and all lying so thickly that a pedestrian might almost make his way along the surface by stepping from stone to stone.

On the north-west and north sides of the parish extend for about 9 miles the Rhinns of Kells, visible at 40 miles distance, capped with snow during eight and sometimes nine months in the year, carpeted on their lower acclivities with coarse grass, and stretching at mid-distance between the western and eastern seas of Scotland. On the side of one of these hills is a rocking-stone 8 or 10 tons in weight, so poised that the pressure of a finger may move it, and so positioned that the united force of a considerable number of men could not hurl it from its place. The stone resembles the famous one at Stonehenge, and others of less celebrity in Perthshire. Whether it is a natural curiosity formed by the scooping away of a soft stratum beneath through the attritions of the elements, or an instrument of priest-craft laboriously chiselled and elevated on its position in an age of darkness for overawing devotees, is a question which men have keenly debated.

To effect the agricultural improvement of various districts, but chiefly of Kells, in the latter part of last century, Mr. Gordon of Greenlaw, the sheriff of the county, not only encouraged the draining of Castle Douglas Loch, which lies 7¼ miles distant from the confluence of the Ken and the Dee, and was surpassingly rich in its store of shell marl, but at his own expense cut a canal of 3 miles in length to the Dee, and constructed a number of flat-bottomed boats for the portation of the valuable manure. Nearly the whole improveable part of the pariah began suddenly to wear a totally renovated , aspect; and when marl could no longer be obtained, so aroused were the population from the slothful practices of a former age to the enterprising habits of keen improvers, that they found means, in the form of lime and other aids, to maintain a luxuriance in the arable stripes among their wild hills, which may almost compare with the fertility of the most favoured and best cultivated districts of Scotland.

The great body of the parish, however, necessarily either lies waste, or affords pasture to large flocks of sheep, and to numerous herds of the celebrated Galloway breed of black cattle In a rocky hill near the southern extremity is abundance of iron ore; but, owing to the dearth of fuel, it is not worked. Near the northern extremity, in the hill-screen of the Ken, was formerly a quarry of excellent slate. On the Glenlee and Kenmore estates is lead ore; and near a mine which was commenced on the former, but never extensively wrought, are appearances of copper.

The turnpike from Kirkcudbright to Ayrshire traverses the whole length of the parish up the vale of the Ken, and that from Dumfries to Newton Stewart traverses 6¼ miles from east to west, - the roads intersecting each other at the burgh of New Galloway.

Population of the parish, in 1801, 778; in 1831, 1,728. Houses 190. Assessed property, in 1815, £4,496. Kells is in the presbytery of Kirkcudbright, and synod of Galloway. Patron, the Crown. Stipend £299 9s. 8d.; glebe £12. Schoolmaster's salary £34, with £30 fees.

The ancient church or rectory of Kells, situated in the archdeaconry of Galloway, was given in free alms by Robert Bruce to Gilbert of Galloway, the archdeacon, and appended to the archdeaconry; but, early in the 16th century, it was transferred by James IV. to the chapel-royal of Stirling; and it continued to be one of its prebends till the Reformation.

In 1640 a large section of the ancient parish on the north was detached, and, along with a section from Dalry, erected into the parish of Carsphairn. New Galloway in Kells was the birth-place of Robert Heron, the editor of Sir John Sinclair's Statistical Account of Scotland, and the author of numerous works, carelessly written but indicative of high genius, who makes an unenviable figure in D'Israeli's Calamities of Authors. Heron was for some time a parochial schoolmaster of the neighbouring parish of Kelton.