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Whitelee windfarm

Covenanters

The Covenanters have a rich and interesting history and a strong relationship with the Whitelee area but who were they?

Covenanters monument at Whitelee

The Covenanters have a rich history in this area of Scotland and a strong association with the land that now forms Whitelee windfarm. The following information is gleaned from a variety of sources and is intended only as a brief introduction to what was a complex and dark chapter in Scotland's history. It is not intended to be definitive and for a more detailed understanding of the times we recommend reading further from some of the 'External websites' provided.

Religion in the life of 15th century Scotland

During the middle ages the Church was deeply entwined in Scottish life, as it was in much of Europe, but during the 15th century discontent with the Church and how it was being ran began to spread throughout Europe. A German monk (Martin Luther), nailed a 'protest' to the doors of the church in Wittenburg, Germany in 1517 and this eventually led to a new movement - that of Protestantism. This new movement reached Scotland and became adopted by the Scottish Parliament.

Much took place in the following years and then around 1578 King James VI came to the throne marking the start of the troubles that would bedevil Scotland - James went against his Presbyterian teaching and opted to enact the Episcopal belief in the 'Divine Right of Kings'. This belief went that the King of the day was appointed by God and therefore only answerable to him, something that didn't fit with the Presbyterian view that only Jesus Christ could be the head of the Church. James followed by his son Charles II are said to have used the 'Divine Right of Kings' to suit their own goals, something that resulted in almost 100 years of unrest in Scotland.

Who Were the Covenanters

Put simply Covenanters were Presbyterian followers who signed the 'National Covenant' in 1638 at Greyfriars Kirkyard in Edinburgh, renouncing the Roman Catholic Church and opposing the interference of the Stuart Kings in the Presbyterian Church of Scotland.

The (National) Covenant

At Greyfriars Kirk in Edinburgh in 1638 thousands (some say as many as 60,000), of Church followers signed a Covenant to defend their view of religion in Scotland that was completely opposed to the 'Divine Right of Kings', bringing them into direct conflict with the power of the Stuart King(s). The signatories to the Conventicle, some of whom are said to have signed with their own blood, had effectively signed themselves up for harassment, persecution and in many cases - their own deaths. This was to become one of the bloodiest periods in Scottish history with some historians claiming as many as 18,000 people were killed which was a significant number at that time. King Charles II on learning of the Conventicle and determined to tighten his grip on power decreed that ministers had to apply for readmission to their parishes and in so doing, agree to the rule of the King.

In defiance of this around 300 ministers are said to have opted to leave their parishes rather than subject themselves and their parishioners to the rule of the King and instead went out onto the hills and moors, into the woods or to safe houses, to hold underground, illegal 'Conventicles' which were effectively illegal gatherings. These are said to have been supported by huge numbers of Scot's, with some meetings said to have been attended by up to 8,000 followers.

Lochgoin Farm within the windfarm was possibly one of these places. At the very least it is known that the house was used as a safe place to sleep by Covenanters on the run or forced from their homes.

In an attempt to stem the unrest the King used more and more vicious and brutal measures and it soon became a capital offence to 'field preach' or to be absent from church for more than 3 Sundays. These offences were punishable by death on the spot without trial.

Persecution of Covenanters

These were therefore terrible times for the Covenanters of Scotland as they were now effectively fair game for persecution and slaughter, often for reasons of personal gain by the accusers rather than anything else. They were hunted down by soldiers who were given the power to kill anyone believed to be a Covenanter. Much of this slaughter was done without evidence and more likely as a result of rumours, suspicions or for ulterior motives such as the gaining of wealth - at the very least it was a useful way of getting rid of troublesome neighbours! The viciousness of these times was said to have been unimaginable with men, women and children accused of being Covenanters being put to death without mercy.

The Killing Time

A peak period for the troubles was between 1638 to 1688 when Scotland was in a constant state of flux with its people in a prolonged state of civil unrest.

During this time King Charles II, son of King James VI, was in power and both father and son enacted the 'Divine Right of Kings' to rule over the Scottish population as they saw fit as it suited their view of the complete power of the monarchy over all of Scotland and its people. As a result of this many of the Scottish population including large numbers of ministers refused to accept this vision for Scotland or the Church and in so doing set in motion events that would lead to this time becoming known as the 'killing time'.

By the end of the killing time around 18,000 people are estimated to have been killed for being Covenanters at a time when the entire population of the country was said to only number around 800,000.

Covenanters at Whitelee

The Covenanters have a rich history on the land that now forms the windfarm and the surrounding countryside. Several locations of significance are to be found in the area from the town of Drumclog where the Covenanters won their only victory over the kings troops (when Dragoons attacked a Conventicle but were beaten back), to Strathaven Castle (said to have been used to imprison Covenanters), to Lochgoin Farm within the windfarm with its strong links with the Covenanters.

Lochgoin Farm/Lochgoin Monument

Location details
Grid reference:NS528469
Location details:The farm and monument can be reached by taking the small road next to the main windfarm operational entrance (Spine Road), off of the B764. This runs parallel with the Spine Road up to the farm and monument.

Lochgoin Farm is said to have been a refuge for Covenanters and was ransacked and searched by government soldiers on many occasions.

Next to the farm and visible from large areas of the windfarm is the Lochgoin monument that was erected in 1896 for John Howie. John Howie was one of the Howie's of Lochgoin who have a long history at the farm and who had originally moved from France to escape persecution, only for their ancestors to find it in Scotland. On the base of the monument is found the names of Covenanters who were killed during the 'Killing Time'.

A small museum to the Covenanters is found at the farm containing various relics and manuscripts including a bible and sword from Captain John Paton who was executed as a Covenanter. There is also a flag for the parish of Fenwick and a drum, with both said to have been at the ill fated battle of Bothwell Bridge where in 1679 the Duke of Monmouth led 5000 government troops against the Covenanter rebel army and effectively ended the rebellion of the Covenanters.

The museum is open once again after refurbishment and is free to visit. The door is generally open during the day but if not, visitors should inquire at the farm to gain access.

Covenanters Cave

Location details
Grid reference:NS509448
Location details:The cave is found off of the track leading from Airtnoch Farm up to Craigendunton reservoir. Located on a craggy outcrop of rocks on the Dunton Water burn it is situated approximately 3/4 of the distance from the farm to Craigendunton. It is not visible from the track and visitors must leave the track to locate it. To find the cave, leave the track before it reaches the conifer trees and follow the burn down the hill - the cave is on the north-west facing crag face.

Also of interest is the 'Covenanters Cave' near the town of Waterside just outside of the windfarm. This is a small cave on the vertical face of a crag and unlikely to have been a place of worship but more likely a place of refuge. The cave is said to have been created by Covenanters as a bolt-hole or hide out. The cave itself is very small and could probably only have hidden 1 or 2 people tightly jammed in. Caution is required if visiting the cave as it is on a steep sloped face and not easily reached without climbing.

Lochgoin Reservoir

Location details
Grid reference:NS537477
Location details:The above grid reference is to the centre of the reservoir. Reaching the site is possible from the windfarm tracks and from the Spine Road

A local story tells that some of the kings/government troops were killed by Covenanters at the location of what is now Lochgoin reservoir. At the time this would likely have taken place there was no reservoir yet built. The area shows up on early maps as being an area of marshland prior to the construction of the reservoir. 


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