Development manager at the Whithorn Trust Julia Muir Watt was our My Wigtownshire subject in Issue 3.
OW: What was your path to Wigtownshire?
JMW: I am originally from London. I first moved to Scotland aged 16 and then back to England and away to the USA. I returned to Scotland, where my father’s family home in Ayrshire was available. We looked at various places which were more rural than Ayrshire and Wigtownshire came out as our preference. I loved the intact nature of the small towns and villages and the roads which were not motorways or bypasses. It had a feeling of authenticity and of being “out of this world” in a good sense.
OW: What is your favourite thing about living in Wigtownshire?
JMW: It has to be the history, which is so close to the surface and so little concealed by modern overlay. It’s rare where I come from to be able to go up close to an archaeological site and feel as if you are the only person who’s ever seen it. I also like the mixture of landscapes, close to the sea and yet with wild moors and upland areas.
OW: Where is your a favourite place in Wigtownshire?
JMW: Of course, I have to say Whithorn, because it’s amazing to live in a place which has been active for 1600 years : there’s something satisfying about feeling that depth of history around you. I could not feel satisfied with living in a modern “new town” and I have picked the most ancient in Scotland. I also like visiting the South Rhins of Galloway, as it has quite a different feel from the Machars – the settlements are further apart and you are much closer to the sea on all sides – and the gardens are amazing.
OW: How did you become involved with the Whithorn Trust?
JMW: I have been employed at the Whithorn Trust for just over one year, but my involvement dates back to the excavations directed by Peter Hill in the 1980s and into the 1990s. I had no idea about the archaeological significance of Whithorn and when we moved house, we were amazed to find signs to the dig at the Newton Stewart roundabout. I think I attended all the site tours every week and became fascinated by archaeology and was a complete convert to the importance of Whithorn to Scottish history, which I still think is completely underestimated.
OW: What is your role within the Trust?
JMW: My title is “Development Manager”, which means that I am charged with taking the Trust forward and making it more sustainable in the future. However, I am also in charge of day-to-day running, staffing, and our contacts with Historic Scotland, current archaeological projects like the Black Loch dig, financial management, health and safety, as well as all funding applications.
OW: What’s ahead for the Trust?
JMW: The Trust has made great strides this year, by bringing back live archaeology to the area and we are aiming for more live archaeology in the future and are in the process of re-forming the Research Committee, which can discuss future options. The research into the history of Whithorn is at a critical point, with some experts stating that Whithorn is much more Romanised than previously thought and also more likely to be a secular settlement, possibly royal, which converted to Christianity in the fifth century AD. We need to understand much more about this, what kinds of rituals were practised at Whithorn and what its links are with Kirkmadrine, which looks, according to experts, more like a monastery. We need to team up with experts and we’re starting by having a lecture this year at the Book Festival, for the first time ever, to bring attention to the new research into Whithorn’s very earliest days. We’re also investigating pilgrimage routes to Whithorn, which in the mediaeval period crossed Scotland to bring pilgrims to the shrine of St Ninian. We think this has great potential, as a long distance walking route, to bring new types of visitor and pilgrim to the town and that there are economic spin-offs for the town if we can highlight these routes and map and market them. We also need to look at more family-friendly ways of explaining our very important, but complex, history at Whithorn.
OW: What is your favourite aspect of being involved with the Trust?
JMW: It’s always a great privilege to be working with history and artefacts : I never take it for granted and most days, some aspect of the stones or exhibits will catch my eye even though I see them every day. Even when I am locking up the crypts or the exhibition, I am aware of how many people have preceded me in doing this. There’s a very peaceful atmosphere which pervades the museum where the earliest stones are kept and it’s a great way of taking time out of the hurly burly of daily life to stand and look at these witnesses of so many centuries of history.
OW: Where is your favourite place to go out in Wigtownshire?
JMW: Well, of course, I’d have to recommend our baking at the Trust, which I think is second to none in the area. As the owner of holiday accommodation, though, I am always suggesting other venues as well, all over the area – anywhere from Whithorn to Portpatrick. An old favourite of mine is the Steam Packet Inn at the Isle of Whithorn, because of the view and the friendly relaxed atmosphere. I think it’s hard to beat a harbourside location like that.
OW: What is your favourite season in Wigtownshire?
JMW: It has to be May, as the days lengthen – the long daylight hours are my favourite aspect of living further north than I was born. I love the way the hedgerows thicken up with hawthorn and gorse blossom and there is still a month to go till the longest day. There’s something magical about waking early in May and being out before the working day, perhaps when it is still almost frosty, and seeing the sun.
OW: Tell us something people might not know about yourself
JMW: Once a year, I go to Washington DC and help present a private satirical show for the President of the United States.
OW: And finally can you describe Wigtownshire in one word.
Published in summer 2015