There have been many stories told of strange happenings which took place around Dunscore and neighbouring districts in by-gone days, perhaps none more bizarre than the events leading up to a certain John Turner’s burial on a lonely hill-top a few miles from Dunscore.
Turner lived around the late 1700’s and early 1800’s, a horn spoon and fork maker who plied his trade around Galloway and Dumfriesshire farms. In those days before the advent of cutlery as we know it, horns from animals which had died on the farms were fashioned into forks and spoons by these travelling men.
Turner stayed two or three weeks with his regular customers, generally arriving at each farm about the same time each year. After the farmers’ household requirements had been met, he sold the surplus at Dumfries Rood Fair and other local events. Payment was in kind, Turner receiving free board and lodgings.
Johnnie, as he was known locally, duly arrived on his annual visit to the Glen Farm in November 1839, tenanted by William Dunn. After completing his work he travelled into Dumfries, and ordered from Dodds, the Monumental Sculptors, his tombstone to be suitably inscribed with his own words. He gave orders for its erection on the slopes of the Lochenkit/Bennan hill and paid all expenses.
William Dunn was then informed that the following year, after completion of his annual work, he, Turner would die. Dunn was asked to ensure that Turner’s remains were carried up the hill to his grave which he would now go and dig.
The following year, Turner arrived at the Glen Farm for his customery work. He duly visited the grave site before his impending death, and discovered it to be so badly fouled by youths from nearby farms that the old man decided to abandon it. He informed Dunn that, as a result of this desecration, he was postponing his death for another year, and prophesied he would give the farm youths something to remember for their misdeeds.
Turner, on completion of his work set about digging a new grave on the summit of Bennan hill. In 1841 he returned to the Glen farm and after finishing his works, he died as he had prophisied.
On the day of the funeral it was snowing heavily, the horse-drawn sledge became bogged down on the steep hillside, resulting in the farm youths having to take turns, carrying the remains to the top of the hill (Turner’s punishment to the same youths who had desecrated his grave the year before).
The grave had to be cleared of snow before the interment could take place, where the rather imposing monument now stands.
A fanciful story? Maybe! Handed down over the years, legends grew around these old worthies, but there is no doubting that Johnnie Turner was laid to rest, as he had wished, on Bennan hill. His monument commanding a panoramic view of his beloved Galloway.
A recent visit showed the monument to be in good preservation despite the passage of time and its exposed situation. The inscriptions which were readable are as follows:-
In conclusion, Johnnie was a deeply religious man (evident by his self-composed epitaph) who had a fanatical veneration of the Covenanters. No doubt it was this fanaticism which inspired him to secure a monument to himself on a lonely hill-top, overlooking the burial site of the Lochankit Covenanters, men who suffered martyrdom 150 years before his own death.
Here then was a man of some stature, who prophesied his own destiny, truly a worthy born out of his time.
John Crocket 1998