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Annan lies on the east side of the River Annan a mile or so north of where it flows into the Solway Firth. With a name probably derived from the Gaelic goddess of prosperity, Anu, it initially grew around a river port and a royal castle built by Robert the Bruce by the early 1300s. Despite its early development, most of Annan has been built within the past 200 years. Its proximity to the English border and strategic position on the main route to Dumfries meant that Annan was visited time and again by English armies from the 1300s to the 1500s. This ensured that little survived from the town's early history.
Since 1989 Annan has been bypassed by the main A75, and many travellers bound for destinations further west now barely glimpse it. Those who turn off the bypass find a bustling town built around the roughly east-west axis of High Street and Church Street.
The overwhelming first impression of Annan is of its redness. A high proportion of the buildings are built from a dark red sandstone and only a relatively small number are whitewashed. This gives a very uniform feel to the town. On a dull day this stone can make Annan appear very dark, almost gloomy: but catch it on a blue sky day and the sandstone really comes to life.
Toward the west end of Annan's High Street is its most imposing building, the Town Hall. Beautifully sited to fill in views along the High Street this was built in 1878 and boasts the tall clock tower so characteristic of Scottish town halls built at this time.
In marked contrast to the Town Hall are the council offices immediately to its north. Much more modern, they actually complement their earlier neighbour quite nicely. Beyond the Town Hall, Annan comes to an abrupt halt on the eastern bank of the River Annan. The three span Annan Bridge, overlooked by the Blue Bell Inn, was built in 1826 by Robert Stevenson, better known for his lighthouses.
Travel south along the River Annan from the Annan Bridge and you come to the original reason for the town's development, the wharves along the river's eastern shore. Their trade declined in the early 1900s and they have contributed little to the local economy since.
Crossing the river nearby is the railway bridge carrying the main railway line to Dumfries and Kilmarnock. Less obvious are the remains of a much more ambitious undertaking, the mile long Solway Viaduct which carried the railway directly across the Solway Firth south of Annan. This was built in 1869 and allowed ironstone from Cumbria to reach ironworks in Lanarkshire. The viaduct was damaged by ice flows in 1881 but repaired by 1884. It closed in 1921 and was demolished in 1934.
Until recently a more recent relic of Annan's industrial past dominated the skyline to the north east. Chapelcross nuclear power station, one of the oldest in the UK, opened for business in 1959 on a disused airfield three miles from the town. Its Magnox reactors were designed to produce plutonium for military use as well as electricity for export to England. As part of its decommissioning, its four large cooling towers were demolished in May 2007.