Blind Hary

Blind Hary and New Cumnock

The connections with our patriot and our parish are embedded in the epic work ‘The Actes and Deidis of the Illustre and Vallyeant Campioun Schir William Wallace’ better known simply as  ‘The Wallace‘ written in the 15th century by Blind Hary.

Hary’s ‘The Wallace’ is made up of 12 ‘books’ and passages from these relating to New Cumnock are presented below taken from Matthew P. McDiarmid ‘Hary’s Wallace’ [1].

Corsencon, New Cumnock

Corsencon hill stands in the east of the parish at the boundary between Ayrshire and Dumfriesshire with Corsencon farm lying on its lower slopes. The ancient route through Nithsdale to Ayrshire passed over the back of the hill and from there to Cumnock Castle, the site of which was at the heart of what is now the village of New Cumnock. ( See Gateway).

  • ‘The Wallace’, Book III, Blind Hary

81 At Corssencon the gait was spilt that tide,
82 Forthi that way behovid thaim for to ride.

99 The worthi Scottis maid thar no sojornyng,
100 To Lowdon hill past in the gray dawyng’

Corsencon hill

Wallace and his men were intent in entering the lands of New Cumnock by way of the ancient route through Nithsdale and past Corsencon hill.

The road was destroyed (‘the gait was spilt’) forcing Wallace and his followers to take a detour which eventually saw them go by the way of Loudon hill (another ancient route into the Sheriffdom of Ayr) where they encountered and defeated an English force.

Despite the victory, according to Hary, Wallace’s father Sir Malcolm Wallace of Elrisle (Elderlsie) and his eldest brother, also Malcolm, were killed at Loudon hill.

Following the rediscovery of the Lubeck Letter of 1297 it is now known that Wallace’s father was not Sir Malcolm of Elrisle but Alan Wallace [2]. The name Alan Wallace also appears in the Ragman Roll of 1296, as a crown tenant in Ayrshire [3], who may or may not be Wallace’s father. Wallace’ s elder brother Malcom Wallace was not killed at Loudon hill and was still alive in 1299, when he attended a meeting of the Guardians.

Several commentators challenge if Wallace did indeed enjoy success at Loudon hill. Matthew P. McDiarmid considers ‘that this departure from the natural route was convenient for Hary’s purpose; it allowed him to use the details of Barbour’s [4] description of Bruce’s battle at Loudon hill‘, in May 1307.

Blackcraig, New Cumnock

Blackcraig hill stands at the head of Glen Afton some five miles south of the village of New Cumnock. The lands of Blackcraig comprised a cluster of farms including Nether and Over Blackcraig and during the Wars of Independence may well have been outwith the barony of Cumnock.  Hary has Wallace at Blackcraig on a number of occasions.

Blackcraig hill
  • ‘The Wallace’, Book VI, Blind Hary

850 Apon the morn in Cumno sone thai socht,
851 To Laynrik syne and set a tyme of ayr;
852 Mysdoaris feill he gert be punyst thar.
853 To gud men trew he gaiff full mekill wage,
854 His brother sone put to his heretage.
855 To the Blackcrag in Cumno past agayne,
856 His houshauld set with men of mekill mayne,
857 Thre monethis thar he dwellyt in gud rest.
858 Suttell Sotheroune fand weill it was the best,
859 Trewis to tak for till enchew a chans.

850-853: Wallace is at Blackcraig from where he heads to Lanark for the justice-ayre (‘tyme of ayr‘) a circuit court for administering justice to criminals (misdoers – ‘mysdoaris‘).  Since Wallace is now in a position of some authority the extract refers to a time after he has been appointed Guardian of Scotland. Where and when this act was carried out remains unclear, although it must have taken place after the battle of Stirling Bridge (11 Sep 1297) and the issuing of charter by  Wallace to Alexander Scrymgeour (29 March 1298), in which Wallace referred to himself as knight and Guardian. (See 857 which suggests he was Guardian by December 1297)

853: To good men true Wallace gave large rewards.

854:  Hary has Wallace taking his nephew (‘brother-sone‘), presumably his eldest brother Malcolm’s son, to his heritable estate of property and lands (‘heretage’) at Blackcraig. However, Malcolm was not as Hary intimated killed at Loudon hill and was still alive at the time Wallace was Guardian.

855-856: To the Blackcraig in Cumnock they went again. His household he set with a great force of men.

Matthew McDiarmid considers Blackcraig to be ‘Blackcraig Castle, or Cumnock Castle as it was also called‘ and identifies that in 1307 ‘it belonged to the Earl of Dunbar‘. In fact, Cumnock Castle was in the hands of the Dunbars at the time of Wallace (and possibly long before that) as witnessed by the name of Patrik de Comenagh (Dunbar) appearing in the Ragman Roll of 1296 [3]. However, the castle was never known by the name Blackcraig during the Dunbars tenure which continued until the late 16th century and all charters during that period refer to the castle as ‘Cumnock Castle’, or a variant of that name. 

By 1580 the barony of Cumnock was held by William Cunninghame of Caprinton at which time Cumnock Castle was in ruins. The barony of Cumnock changed hands several times before being held by the the Crichton family as the Earls of Dumfries, with Lord Cumnock as one of their many other titles.

In 1650 the parish of Cumnock was divided into the two new parishes of Old Cumnock and New Cumnock and a New Kirk was to be built at the New Castle of Cumnock. This new castle evidently was built adjacent to the ruins of the previous castle, however, it did not become the established baronial seat of the Crichtons as they initially settled at Leffnorris in the parish of Old Cumnock prior to the building of Dumfries House the following century. In 1667 the Earl of Dumfries successfully challenged the division of the original parish of Cumnock and the two parishes of Old and New Cumnock were rejoined, until 1691 when that decision was reversed.  The use of the name Cumnock within the parish of New Cumnock, e.g. New Kirk of Cumnock became New Cumnock Kirk,  Cumnock Mill became the Old Mill and  Cumnock Maynes became Castlemains while the name of the new castle appears to have become muddled but included the name Black.

In 1776 “The Black Castle Ruins”appear in “G Taylor and A Skinner’s Survey and maps of the roads of North Britain or Scotland” [5]. In the New Statistical Account of the parish of New Cumnock [6] the Reverend Matthew Kirkland writing in 1833 refers to the “Castle of Black Craig”. Although the Ordnance Survey Names Book (1855-57) references the New Statitistical Account it records instead “The Site of Black Bog Castle” [7]. Clearly Black Craig and Black Bog conflicting topographical names. The name “Black Bog” may have become popular in 1722 following the publication of William Hamilton’s abridged translation of Blind Hary’s “The Wallace” where he has Wallace and hismen at Black Bog and not Black Craig [8].

However, Hary’s Black Crag in Cumno are those lands of Blackcraig in the upper reaches of Glen Afton, a name that appears in a number of charters and sasines from the 16th century onwards and that still exists to this day.

Blackcraig Farm

Both Matthew McDiarmid and Dr. Fiona Watson [9] make reference to ‘Life and Heroic Actions of Sir William Wallace’ edited by Alexander Brunton [10] and his interpretation of this passage.

‘then passit throw Carrik and come to Comnock, and then again into Clidsdaill to Lanerk, keiping guid justice and punishing all ofences.’
‘Bot efter he made his dwelling in Comnok in his owen contrie, wheir he was borne, altho the Englishmen as yitt was masteris thaire.’
‘Then William Wallace keiping a royall howse in Comnok withe a garisone of michtiemen.’

Alexander Brunton cuts to the chase and has Wallace returning to his dwelling where he was born and reinforces that it was a royall house. As a crown-tenant we know that William Wallace stayed loyal to the Scots crown and the claim of John Balliol.

857-859 : He rested here for three months. Cunning Englishmen (‘suttell Sotheroune’) thought it best to have a truce (‘trewis’).

After the victory at Stirling Bridge in September 1297, Wallace led the Scots army over the border to lay waste to the lands of Northumberland and returned in late November. Andrew Fisher in ‘William Wallace'[11] gives the timetable of Edward I’s response to the Scots victory at Stirling Bridge and Wallace’s attacks on England.  In February 1298, the  king of England sent a letter to Warrene ‘keeper of Scotland’ announcing his intention to return from Flanders and instructing him not to attempt a major campaign until he returned to take charge personally. Edward arrived back in mid-March and met with Warrene and others in York in in early April after which a summons was issued to muster an army on 25th June at Roxburgh.

[N.B In the opening lines of Book VII , Hary has the English slyly agreeing to a truce from February until the end March, to buy them some time until the expected return in April of Edward I from Flanders].

This three months of good rest at the Blackcraig appears to be a reference to a period of consolidation for Wallace, now Sir William,  lasting from some time after the Scots army harrying the lands of northern England in November 1297 and before the inevitable return of Edward I of England from Flanders .

Professor G.W.S Barrow [12]  assesses Wallace’s activities at this time. ‘As far as we can tell, Wallace spent this time consolidating his position and training his troops. It is likely that in the spring and early summer of 1298 Wallace kept to the South of Scotland, though no doubt he recruited men from all parts of the country to meet the full-scale invasion which he knew could not be long delayed’ .

  • ‘The Wallace, Book VI’, Blind Hary

935 Wallace fra thine passit in to the west,
936 Maid playne repayr quhar so him likit best
937 Yeit sar he dred or thai suld him dissaiff.
938 This endentour to Schir Ranald he gaiff,
939 His der uncle,quhar it mycht kepit be
940 In Cumno syne till hys dwellyng went he’

935-940: During the three month period at Blackcraig, Wallace travelled west where he was well liked but still wary that he may be deceived , to visit his dear uncle Sir Ranald and tell him of the agreement (‘endentour’) to keep a truce. Wallace then returned to his dwelling at Blackcraig.

Sir Ranald was Sir Reginald Craufurd, brother of Wallace’s mother and some time Sheriff of Ayr. A branch of the Craufurd family held the lands of Dalleagles in New Cumnock [13], the first of whom on record is Roger de Craufurd in 1384, considered by Alexander Nisbet [14] to be a descendant of Roger de Craufurd (del counte de Are) who appears in the Ragman Roll (1296).  Perhaps the Wallace lands in New Cumnock were attained through the Craufurd connection.

  • ‘The Wallace, Book XII’, Blind Hary

By Book XII, Wallace had been defeated by Edward I at the Battle of Falkirk (22nd July, 1298) and had relinquished the Guardianship of Scotland, a role taken up jointly by Robert the Bruce and John Comyn by the end of the year. Wallace embarked on a diplomatic role and visited the court of the king of France and from there to Rome, to gain support for Scotland’s cause. His departure triggered an extraordinary event during a council of the Scots leaders at Peebles, in August 1299, as reported by an English spy in the camp  –

‘At the council Sir David Graham demanded the lands and goods of Sir William Wallace because he was leaving the kingdom without the leave or approval of the Guardians. And Sir Malcolm Wallace, Sir William’s brother, answered that neither his lands nor his goods should be given away, for they were protected by the peace in which Wallace left the kingdom. At this the two knights gave the lie to each other and drew their daggers. And since Sir David was of Sir John Comyn’s following and Sir Malcolm Wallace of the Earl of Carrick’s following, it was reported to the Earl of Buchan and John Comyn that a fight had broken out without their knowing it; and John Comyn leaped at the Earl of Carrick and seized him by the throat, and the Earl of Buchan turned on the Bishop of St. Andrews, declaring that treason and lese-majeste were being plotted. Eventually the Stewart and others came between them and quietened them.’

Matthew P. McDiarmid in his notes on Blackcraig ‘It would be interesting to know if this was the property of Wallace demanded by Sir David Graham.’ – his interest doubtless would have intensified if he had known of Wallace’s Seal at that time.

The date of Wallace’s  return from the continent, brought back by Squire Guthrie, is not known but the prospect of the return of Balliol as King of Scots was gone. In 1304, many of the Scots nobles submitted to Edward I at Perth and many of them had their lands in Scotland restored but ‘ no words of peace are to be held out to William Wallace in any circumstances.’

William Wallace and his men returned to their guerilla tactics of attacking the occupying English forces or to be more exact the Anglo-Scots forces. Wallace was a wanted man and his days were numbered. The final place Hary has Wallace before he sets off for Glasgow (where he is betrayed and captured on 3rd August 1305  nearby Robroyston) is at his home at Blackcraig.

936 And Wallace past in Cumno with blith will,
937 At the Black Rok, quhar he was wont to be,
938 Apon that sted a ryall hous held he.

936-937 And Wallace back in Cumnock in good spirits at Blackcraig where he wanted to be for at that steading he stayed as a crown-tenant.

Castle William, Glen Afton
Castle William, Glen Afton

On the 23rd August 1305,

Sir William Wallace was executed at Smithfield, London.


Reverend John Warrick ‘History of Old Cumnock’
Helen J. Steven ‘History of Cumnocks, Old and New’
Thomas Kirkland ‘New Cumnock School-fellows Annual Magazine’, 1898
Anne McKim (Editor)  ‘ The Wallace, Blind Harry’, Canongate Classics, 2003
[1] Matthew P. McDiarmid ‘Hary’s Wallace’, Vol I. and II.,The Scottish Text Society(1968/69)
[2] Scottish Archives for Schools| Lubeck Letter 1297
[3] Rampant Scotland Ragman Roll 1296| Waleys, Aleyn ; Comenagh, Patrik
[4] A. A. M. Duncan ‘The Bruce , John Barbour’ (1997)
l5] National Library of Scotland | George Taylor and Andrew Skinner  ‘ The Road from Glasgow to Ayr, & from Glasgow & Kilmarnock to Sanquhar & Dumfries’.1776  
[6] Reverend Matthew Kirkland, New Statistical Account, Parish of New Cumnock, 1838
[7] Scotland’s Place, Ordnance Survey Name Books (1855-1857), Vol. 49 | Black Bog
[8] Elspeth King  ‘Blind Harry’s Wallace, William Hamilton of Gilbertfield’, Luath Press, 1998
[9] Dr. Fiona Watson ‘A Report into Sir William Wallace’s connections with Ayrshire’
[10] Alexander Brunton ‘The Life and Heroic Actions of Sir William Wallace, Knight of Elderslie’, (Edinburgh and Glasgow,1883)
[11] Andrew Fisher  ‘William Wallace’,Birlinn Limited. 2002
[12] G.W.S. Barrow ‘Robert Bruce and the Community of the Realm of Scotland’, Edinburgh University Press, 1988
[13] James Paterson ‘History of the County of Ayr’, 1871
[14] Alexander Nisbet ‘A System of Heraldry’, New Edition, VOL. II. (1984)