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Friday September 8 2017

Looking Back: Cameronians on Duty

A 1967 report of the handover of historically significant land to the Lochgoin and Fenwick Covenanters Trust

SEVEN o’clock on the morning of Sunday 24th July, with the summer haze just lifting to give promise of a glorious day. The little kirk is full of people from the parish, from Paisley, Ayr, Hamilton and Lanark. All there to hear the farewell sermon of the minister, who preaches that day from Hosea 12-9, In me is thine help.

The service over, he leaves his pulpit with its sandglass, passes the jougs at the door, and walks sadly through the gate of the Church he has served for 21 years. William Guthrie of Fenwick has preached for the last time; in an hour or two the Curate of Calder with twelve dragoons will have expelled him from his charge.

Thus the man described as the greatest preacher in the west was silenced that July morning in 1664.

During the following years the Kirk of Fenwick is anything but full. At times the curate in charge preaches only to the beadle. But the parishioners don’t lack for services. In conventicle and in the Communion room of Rowallan Castle they meet, and out on the hills and moors. And especially at Lochgoin farm, home of the Howies since the 12th century. In the low ceilinged farmhouse the Covenanters meet, with one of their number standing guard on the hillock they call the Tope. This watchman is needed, for twelve times at least dragoons raid the farm without securing a single captive.

So the fight for religious freedom goes on, a long dour struggle which makes in this one little parish no fewer than fifteen martyrs.

Soldiers were seen again at Fenwick on July 23 this year, but this time they came to ‘guard’, not expel. The crowds came too, including overseas visitors and many descendants of the Covenanters. They packed the little church and thronged Lochgoin 700 strong, singing psalms in the sunshine under the watchful eye of the Cameronian pickets at the Tope, alongside the Covenanter monument, while Mr. Tom Howie proudly carried the 300-year-old Fenwick flag.

The Conventicle marked the handing over by Lord Rowallan of his farm of Lochgoin to the Lochgoin and Fenwick Covenanters Trust, and the return of the local relics to their ancient home, so that “this historic spot will remain for ever a monument to men’s courage and faith”.

Before the service, the Captain of Cameronians reported, “Reverend Sir, the pickets are posted, there is no enemy in sight, the Service may proceed”.

Taking part in the Conventicle and the service were Dr. Stewart Mechie, Rev. Edward Hewitt, the Clerk of Presbytery, Colonel Craig of the Cameronians, the secretary of the Trust, Mr. McKellar, Dr. Falconer of B.B.C., Lord Rowallan, Mr. Paton (a descendant of Captain Paton the Covenanting stalwart) and the local minister, Rev. Cameron Gibson.

So at Fenwick and lonely Lochgoin the people gathered and dispersed. Once again, the strains of the 23rd psalm faded, leaving the moor to the curlew and the sheep, and the whispers of the past.

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