Place-name:Black Bog Castle
Suggested Meaning:name incorrectly assigned to ruins of Cumnock Castle
First elementBlack Bog ‘scribal error of Blak Rok
Second element
Blaeu Coila (1654):No Entry
OS Name Books (1855-57):Black Bog Castle
Location:Ordnance Survey (1895)
Earlier References
The Black Castle Ruins (1776), Castle black bog (1813), Castle of Black Craig (1838), Black Bog Castle (1855/57)

Black Bog Castle and Moat

The site of Black Bog Castle and its Moat is shown on the Ordnance Survey map of 1859 on the top of the castlehill overlooking the confluence of the Afton Water and the River Nith at the heart of what is now the village of New Cumnock, where once stood Cumnock Castle the ancient seat of the barons of Cumnock.

Map 1: Site of Black Bog Castle and Moat | Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

To understand this transformation form Cumnock Castle to the Black Bog Castle it is necessary to begin with the history of Cumnock Castle.

Cumnock Castle

Earls of Dunbar

It is not known when the Barony of Cumnock was created, however, references to the ownership of lands in Cumnock are identified in 13th/14th century records pertaining to the Earl of Dunbar. ‘Patrik de Comenagh, del counte de Are‘ was one of signatories of the Ragman Roll in August 1296 when the Scottish nobility and gentry swore allegiance to Edward I of England [1]. This was either Patrick IV, 8th Earl of Dunbar & 1st Earl of March (or his heir Patick V, 9th Earl of Dunbar) who later came to Edward I’s aid in his campaign to defeat Robert the Bruce, King of Scots and his men after his victory over the English occupying army, at Loudon Hill, on 10th May 1307. Five days later, orders were given to pay English garrisons at Ayr, Lanark and the castle of Cumnock and then on 18th May orders given to supply a tonel of wine and 10 quarters of wheat and flour to store the castle of Cumnock [2]. Edward’s treasurer, Walter, bishop of Coventry and Lichfield met with the king at Carlisle to give an account of the provisions of the garrisons and the king expressed his satisfaction [3] –

‘That the King had been so greatly pleased with his account that he had kissed him especially for his borrowing the Castle of Comenogh, lying between Lanark and Ayr, from its owner, Earl Patrick for a term, and garrisoning it with 30 men-at-arms under Sir Ingram de Umfraville and Sir William Felton, besides 100 foot.

Calendar of Documents Relating to Scotland Vol. 4, No.1829

EdIward I continued to lead his large army north in the pursuit of Bruce but died of ill health on the outskirts of Carlisle. The following month his son Edward II of England, marched an army up Nithsdale and camped at the Castle of Cumnock on the 19th August and remained there for nine days before returning to England, having failed to entrap Bruce and his men [4].

Patrick IV, 8th Earl of Dunbar was succeeded by Patrick Dunbar V, 9th Earl of Dunbar & 2nd Earl of March and he in turn was succeeded by George Dunbar, 10th Earl of Dunbar & 3rd Earl of March, who on 25 July 1368 received a charter for the baronies of Cumnock, Blantyre, Glenken and Mochrum from David II, King of Scots [5].

Dunbars of Cumnock

In 1375 George Dunbar, now referred to as 10th Earl of March, ‘resigned the very extensive territories of Cumnock, Blantyre, and other lands in favour of David Dunbar‘ [6]. Sir David Dunbar of Cumnock was the first of the family known as the Dunbars of Cumnock. He also held the title of Blantyre, while a number of his descendants held the titles of Cumnock and Mochrum, always with Cumnock as the chief title. In the late 15th century the Dunbars of Cumnock acquired the title of Westfield, heritable Sheriff of Murray (Moray).

Gavin Ros, notary provided a number of instruments that refer to the Castle of Cumnock and two two examples are shown below [7] –

7 January 1512
22. Instrument narrating that Andrew MeCadam … granted that if James Dunbar of (Cumnok ?) paid the sum of £20 Scots before Martinmas he would quit-claim his rights over the lands of Overgreif and the half merkland of Gelt. Done in the Castle of Cumnok 7 January 1512
Witnesses, . . . Talzefer, chaplain, Thomas Dunbar and John Herowing and…
10th November 1530
1083. Instrument narrating that James Wallace, attorney, and in name of Patrick Dunbar, son and heir of the late Patrick Dunbar of Corsincon,passed to the castle of Cumnoky, as the principal mansion of James Dunbar, baron of Cumnok, overlord of the lands of Auchincorse and
Corsincon, and there required said James, in terms of a brieve from chancery in the third form, to give sasine of these lands to Patrick Dunbar, and because no one was present to give said (sasine), Patrick asked an instrument, protesting . , . Done at the castle of Cumnok
10 November 1530.
Witnesses, James Dunbar, David . . . and John Wilson,

Miscellaneous Barons of Cumnock

In the late 16th and early 17th century the barony of Cumnock change hands for several reasons. The Reverend John Warrick in his History of Old Cumnock identified a number of barons of that period, including William Cunynghame of Caprinton [8,9]-

We read that at Edinburgh, 26th August, 1580, the king granted to William Cunynghame of Caprintoun and his heirs the castle and fortalice of Cumnock, “then in ruins.” The reference is mainly of interest because it tells us that the ancestral stronghold of the Dunbars was destroyed some time before 1580.

John Warrick , History of Old Cumnock

It was around this time that Abraham Orelius produced Soctia Tablua (ca. 1580) which shows Cannok caftel in Coyl (Kyle) at the head of Nithsdale, with Cannok kirk to the north. It also appears as Cannok ca. in perhaps the more well known John Speed ‘The Kingdome of Scotland’

Map 2: Ortelius, Scotia Tabula (1573-80) |Map 3: John Speed, The Kingdome of Scotland (1610)
Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

Closer to home, Timothy Pont embarked on his monumental task of mapping Scotland (1583-1601). His notes on his visit to the parish of Cumnock, while mapping Kyle, Ayrshire, refer to three major residences namely – Loch Norries (Leffnories), Toringen Cast. (Tarrinzean Castle) and the Castle of Cumnock [10] –

Followeth Loch Norries 1/2 m. up on the south syd then is Torringen Cast. on the south syd a m. up. Above it is the toun of Cumnock 1/2 m. on the southsyd , the Castle of Cumnock is 4 m. fra the toun, and standeth upon river of Nith, but it is in Kyle as al the paroch of Cumnok is also.

National Library of Scotland, Pont Texts

Unfortunately, Pont’s manuscript of Kyle did not survive but fortunately his manuscript of ‘Nithsdale and part of Teviotdale‘ extended to include a small portion of Kyle, including Cumnock Castle, which he depicts as a single tower. It is unclear whether the tower is in a ruinous state or if this represents what remained of the castle buildings. The castle is also shown on Johan Blaeu’s Coila Provincia (1654), which was based on Pont’s manuscript of Kyle, as Kumnock Caft., illustrating the Dutch cartographer’s preference of a “K”. Here the castle symbol is simply one from the cartographer’s tool box rather than an attempt to give Pont’s impression of the Castle of Cumnock.

Map 4: Pont 35 Nithsdale part of Teviotdale (1583-1601) | Map 5: Blaeu Coila Provincia (1654)
Reproduced with permission of the National Library of Scotland

Earls of Dumfries

As discussed above the barony of Cumnock changed hands several times and indeed by 1612 the Dunbars of Cumnock & Westfield ‘sold off their barony of Cumnock and patronage of the parish; and from that period Cumnock ceased to be one of the titles of that family‘ [11]. The Reverend Warrick identified a number of other barons of Cumnock including the following [8], to which the author’s notes have been added.

  • William, Lord Crichton of Sanquhar & Viscount of Ayr. In 1633 he was elevated to 1st Earl of Dumfries & Baron of Cumnock. He acquired the castle or ward of Leffnories and associated lands and served as baron until 1637.
  • James Douglas, 2nd Earl of Queensberry & Viscount of Drumlanrig. He served as Baron of Cumnock for 5 years.
  • James Crichton of Abercrombie. In his capacity as Baron of Cumnock he presented two ministers to the parish of Cumnock – John Halkheid (1644) and John Cunynghame (1647), under the advice of his nephew the 2nd Earl of Dumfries, who had succeeded his father the 1st Earl, in 1643.

In 1650 the parish of Cumnock was divided into the two new parishes of Old Cumnock and New Cumnock. The existing parish church now served the parish of Old Cumnock with Cunynghame as minister. Three years later Hew Craufurd was ordained as the minister of the parish of New Cumnock and in bonds and papers dating from 1658-1665, he is oftened referred to as the ‘minister at the new kirk of Cumnock‘. Furthermore in one of these papers James Crichton of Castlemains is referred to as the Baron of Cumnock. He was the son of James Crichton of Abercrombie and in 1654 was retoured as heir to his father, in the four merk land of Leffnories [11] and it seems he also fell heir to the title of Baron of Cumnock.

Castle Mains ( which was also referred to as Cumnock Maynes, Mains of Cumnock ) was the main farm associated with Cumnock Castle, located on the other side of the Afton Water. Although Crichton of Castlemains held these lands it is likely that Leffnories was his baronial seat. In any case, his cousin the 2nd Earl of Dumfries would later take on the role of baron, as Warrick explains [8] –

Eventually in the reign of Charles II., the Earl of Dumfries was invested with the baronial office, and he and his heirs kept it until it was abolished by Act of Parliament in 1747‘.

The castle or ward of Leffnories (Lochnorris) served as the baronial seat through to 1757 when the grand Dumfries House was built nearby.

Map 6: Blaeu Coila Provincia (1654) | Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

William, 2nd Earl of Dumfries was against the decision to have the parish of Cumnock divided into two parishes (e.g. it required the upkeep of two churches and two ministers) and on 24 July 1667 he made a successful case for the decision to be annulled, which was then ratified on 6 September 1681at Edinburgh [12]. The ratification document makes interesting reading in the context of Cumnock Castle, in that the commissioners in 1650 ‘did erect a New Kirk to be built at the New Castle of Cumnock‘ .

– whereby the said commissioners for plantation of kirks and valuation of teinds did reduce, retreat, rescind, cass and annul the pretended decreet of erection pronounced by the commissioners for plantation of kirks (for the time) upon 11 July 1650, against certain of the heritors of the said parish of Cumnock, at the instance of Mr Robert Wallace, moderator of the presbytery, Mr Andrew Kerr, advocate, and Mr Robert Dalgleish, agents for the church, by which pretended decreet the said commissioners did erect a New Kirk to be built at the New Castle of Cumnock, annexing the particular lands therein specified to the said New Kirk

The Records of the Parliaments of Scotland to 1707

The New Kirk was finally erected in 1659 on the castle-hill where once stood Cumnock Castle, said to be ‘in ruins‘ in 1580. It is supposed that the New Castle was built some time between these two dates. Recent archaeological surveys suggest there were construction works in the 17th century, albeit not the building of a new castle [13]

Evidence of the presence of the moat purported to locate in this area was established, in the form of grey/blue clay. These deposits appeared to be the upper fill of the moat, in the sense that the moat had been sealed prior to further construction works in the area in the 17th century.

CANMORE National Record of Historic Environment

Nevertheless references to New Castle of Cumnock are hard to find, other than the ratification document of 1681 and by association the following references the Old Castle of Cumnock (which suggest the presence of a later New Castle) during the height of the Covenanting rebellion in the 1680s. In the summer of 1680, Government troops under the command of the Earl of Airlie marched from Ayr to the Old Castle of Cumnock to hunt down the notable Covenanter field preacher Richard Cameron and his followers. While there, Airlie sent letters to inform of his progress with the following addresses. These survive in the National Records of Scotland and of particular interest are the following [14] –

DateNRS Ref. Address
5th July 1680GD16/51/14Gemmells Medow neir the old Castle of Cumnock
4th July 1680GD16/51/21Old Castle and New Kirk of Cumnock.
5th July 1680GD16/51/23Gemmels Medow near the Castle* of Cumnock.
National Records of Scotland

*N.B. my photocopy of the letter provided by NRS appears to say Old Castle.

Four years later, on 5th May 1684, Charles II, issued a proclamation ‘for the apprehension of persons, who were supposed to have been under arms, or to have harboured those who were’  [15]. The names of those appearing in the proclamation from the parish of Cumnock (i.e. Old and New Cumnock) included –

  • Patrick Gemmil at the old Castle of Cumnock
  • John Tennant at the old castle of Cumnock
  • James Wilson at the old Castle of Cumnock

Was there a New Castle of Cumnock?

Not only is there no mention of the New Castle of Cumnock during this period, one of the addresses on Airlie’s letter has the New Kirk of Cumnock at the Old Castle, rather than at the New Castle as stated in the ratification document of 1681.

Could it be the case that there was no New Castle built ? With the Dunbars selling of their lands and the castle no longer serving as a baronial seat what would the motivation be for building a new castle? Patrik Gemmil’s residence ‘at the Old Castle of Cumnock‘ suggests that some of the buildings of the original Castle of Cumnock remained habitable but no longer functioning as a castle. Perhaps the term ‘old Castle‘ was used in the sense of ‘former Castle‘ rather than to differentiate if from a ‘new Castle’? The aforementioned construction works of the 17th century may be associated with new residence being built in the vicinity now known as the ‘Old Castle of Cumnock’. What we do know is that the New Kirk was built in 1659 on the castle hill adjacent to the site of the original Castle of Cumnock, where its ruins still stand to this day.

Many maps of Scotland produced after Blaeu Coila Provinicia (1654) continue to show Cumnock Castle, i.e. the location of the ruins of the castle. The National Library of Scotland provide a splendid range of ‘County maps of Ayrshire’ and ‘Maps of Scotland’ on-line, including the selection below.

NLS MapName applied to Cumnock Castle
Adair, John, ca. 1650-1722   1685: Cumnock C
Moll, Herman, d. 1732  1745: Kumuck Caftle
Dorret, James, fl. 1744-1761 1761: Cumnock C.
Conder, Thomas 1786 1786: Cunnock C.
National Library of Scotland

Black Bog Castle

Through time the name of Cumnock Castle disappeared not only from maps but also from local history accounts. Below an attempt is made to map that journey from Cumnock Castle to Black Bog Castle.

1775: Armstrong, ‘Map of Ayrshire’ | unnamed ruins

Andrew Armstrong depicts an un-named ruin between the church and the River Nith which is undoubtedly the ruins of Cumnock Castle. The map also may be the first example of one including the place-name New Cumnock, albeit Alexander Baillie had imprinted a reduced version of Armstrong’s map the year before.

Map 6: Armstrong’s Map of Ayrshire (1775) | Map 7 Taylor & Skinner (1776)
Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

1776: Taylor & Skinner, ‘Survey and maps of the roads of ….Scotland’ | The Black Castle Ruins

George Taylor and Andrew Skinner’s map name the ruins as The Black Castle Ruins.

1790/93: Rev. James Young, ‘Old Statisitcal Account’ | No Name

The Reverend James Young’s statistical account of the parish of New Cumnock, compiled in 1790, only makes a fleeting remark about the castle without attributing any name to it [16].

– near the church stood an old castle, now entirely demolished, which for some centuries, was the property of the Dunbars of Mochcrum.

Rev. James Young, Old Statistical Account Vol. VI (1793)

The minister also suggests that it was the property of the Dunbars of Mochrum, a misunderstanding replicated in a number of later accounts below. The castle was held by the Earls of Dunbar and then later passed to a branch of the family, the Dunbars of Cumnock. There were a number of occasions when the castle was owned by a Dunbar that held both titles of Cumnock and Mochrum (lands in Wigtownshire), however with Cumnock always being the chief title.

1806: Stockdale, ‘Map of Scotland from the latest surveys’| Ruins of the Black Cast.

John Stockdale’s map was based on the latest surveys, including presumably Taylor & Skinner’s map above, hence the inclusion of the Ruins of the Black Cast.

Map 8: Ruins of the Black Cast. | Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

1813: Caledonian Mercury | Castle black bog

A newspaper article identified the Castle black bog at New Cumnock [17]

THE HARVEST IN SCOTLAND: AYR – Harvest is becoming general throughout this county. Wheat and barley have already been gathered in many places. On Wednesday se’ennight, a fine field of oats was cut down on the Castle black bog, New Cumnock, a scene of cultvation which a few years ago was a morass.

Caledonian Mercury, Monday 30 August 1813

[N.B. This is the earliest reference, thus far, of Castle black bog is probably a name applied to what were later known as the Castle Meadows – see Map 9 below.]

1838/1845: Rev. Matthew Kirkland, ‘New Statistical Account’ | Castle of Black Craig

The Reverend Matthew Kirkland’s statistical account of the parish of New Cumnock, written in 1838, introduces the name Castle of Black Craig [18].

The few antiquities of the parish are the site of the Castle of Black Craig – on the summit of the Knoll on which the Castle village stands. The fosse of the Castle is still very distinct; but all the stones were removed about fifty years ago, and employed in the building of houses. This castle was the property of the Dunbars of Mochrum and said to have been frequented by the renowned Sir William Wallace.

Rev, Matthew Kirkland, New Statistical Account Vol. V, 1845

Like the Rev. Young above, he also misunderstood the owners as Dunbars of Mochrum. The minister also introduces a connection between the castle and Sir William Wallace. In 1845, at the Disruption in the Church of Scotland, the Rev. Matthew Kirkland left the established church and joined the newly formed Free Church. A new church was built not adajacent to, but on the site of Cumnock Castle.

The white building on the left is the New Cumnock Free Church on the castle hill

1855/57: Ordnance Survey Namebooks | Black Bog Castle

The Ordnance Survey Name Book entry for Black Bog Castle reads –

There are no remains of this castle – It was used to furnish building materials and to make room for more modern structures. The Free Church stands near its site, which was pointed out by a person who assisted in the removal of the foundation stones.

“The few antiquities of the parish are the site of the Castle of Black Craig – on the summit of the Knoll on which the Castle village stands. The [–*] of the Castle is still very distinct; but all the stones were removed about fifty years ago, and employed in the building of houses. This castle was the property of the Dunbars of Mochnam [?**] and said to have been frequented by the renowned Sir William Wallace” New Statistical Account p. [page] 517

* fosse ** Mochrum

Ordnance Survey Name Books | Black Bog

The three authorities for the spelling, Black Bog Castle, were the parish minister the Reverend Robert Murray, Dr. Thomas Hunter, East Polquhirter and Mr. Miller, Laight.

The fourth ‘authority‘ was the extract quote from the Reverend Matthew Kirkland’s New Statistical Account 1845, who considered the name to be the Castle of Black Craig. Black Bog Castle was given the nod over the Castle of Blackcraig and earned its place on the Ordnance Survey Map.

1857: Ordnance Survey Map | Black Bog Castle

Map 9: Black Bog Castle | Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

1858,1877: James Paterson, ‘Wallace and his Times’| castle at the Black Crag, Black Rock

Ayrshire journalist and author James Paterson systematically revisits Blind Hary’s ‘The Wallace’ to tell the story of ‘Wallace and his Times’. He stays true to Hary’s description of Wallace’s residence in Cumno as the interchangeable names of Black Crag and Black Rock and draws his own conclusion that this was a castle held by the Dunbars [19].

Wallace spoiled the place, and next day proceeded to Cumnock. From thence he reached Lanark, where he held a court of justice for the punishment of evil-doers. Having placed his brother’s son in his heritage, he returned to the Black Crag, where there was a castle anciently held by the Dunbars. This house he garrisoned strongly with his adherents, and remained there in “gud rest” for three months.

He handed over the indenture to his uncle Sir Ranald, and retired to his castle at Cumnock, having no great confidence in the good faith of the enemy.

Wallace then proceeded to Cumnock, to the Black Rock, his usual residence.

James Paterson, Wallace and his Times (3rd Edition 1877)

1861: James Paterson, ‘History of the Counties of Ayr and Wigton’ | Castle of Blackcraig

In between editions of ‘Wallace and his Time’, James Paterson, published his invaluable ‘History of the Counties of Ayr and Wigton’ . Here he unifies Black Crag and Black Rock to the Castle of Blackcraig and his comments reflect those from New Statistical Account above [18].

The site of the Castle of Blackcraig, the seat of the Dunbars of Mochrum, was visible, especially the moate by which it was surrounded, until very recently. It occupied the summit of the knoll on which the castle village stands.

The stones of the ancient fabric were long removed for building purposes; and those walls, which are said to have frequently sheltered the saviour of Scotland, have now been replaced by a Free Church, the ground have been given by the present proprietor. The castle, however, must have been pretty entire in 1784, on the 2d of September of which year the proprietors of the parish met at it to ascertain the march betwixt the glebe and the grounds of Little Mains, or Castle. In the minutes of the meeting the old byre hole of the castle byre is mentioned.

James Paterson, History of the Counties of Ayr and Wigton, Volume 1, Kyle, Part Two.

Surprisingly, Paterson refers to the castle as the Seat of Dunbars of Mochrum since later in his account of the ‘Parishes of Cumnock’ he provides a detailed record of the Dunbars of Cumnock, albeit under a section called Dunbar of Cumnock and Mochrum. His suggestion that the castle ‘must have been pretty entire in 1784‘, is based on his reading of the Minutes of the New Cumnock Heritors at that time, and the existence of the old castle byre.

1895: John Smith, ‘Prehistoric Man in Ayrshire’ | Black or Bog Craig Castle

Ayrshire’s famous archaeologist John Smith, sits on the fence and manages to combine all three of the previous elements used to describe the castle – Black, Bog and Craig [20].

‘The remaining castle of the district was Black or Bog Craig Castle, situated on the summit of the rising ground, on which part of the village is now built. It belonged to the Dunbars of Mochrum, but has been completely rooted out.’

John Smith, ‘Prehistoric Man in Ayrshire’ (1895)

1898: Thomas Kirkland, ‘New Cumnock School-Fellows Annual Magazine’ | The Castle of Black Bog

New Cumnock born Thomas Kirkland, draper (no relation to the Rev. Matthew Kirkland) was a leading member of the New Cumnock School-Fellows’ Association and had a particular interest in local history. At the 33rd annual meeting of the association on 31st December 1892 in the Town Hall, he made an impassioned speech [21]-

Is this not the land of Bruce and Wallace, the home of reformers and martyrs; and has not this upland parish (of the county claiming Bruce as his son and Wallace’s mother as a daughter of her county town) her share of historic associations? Have we not the Craig of Bohun, with its tradition of Bruce and the bloodhounds? Does not the Free Church stand on the site of the Milton or Black Bog, where Wallace found a safe retreat from Southern foes? Does not the historian tell that he had “three months gude rest with the family of Dunbar”? Have we not the Afton Glen where Queen Mary had her last ride for freedom; and the Chapel Knowe at the foot of Dalhanna Holm, with endless traditions of earlier covenanting times.

The Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald Friday, January 6, 1893

Although Kirkland quotes from Paterson about Wallace having ‘three months gude rest with the family of Dunbar‘ he opts for Black Bog as the name of the castle and not Black Crag / Rock.

It was no surprise that Thomas Kirkland was given the task of writing the section on ‘History and Tradition’ in ‘The New Cumnock School-Fellows’ Annual Magazine, 1st January 1898. Here he not only, reaffirms the name ‘The Castle of the Black Bog’ but strongly dismisses the name Black Crag, presumably in reference to Paterson’s claim [22].

Our earlier history gathers round two places – The Castle and The Mill. The Castle – It is clear that the English foes of the West of Scotland came up the valley of the Nith, and the place of interest from them here was the home of the Dunbars – The Castle of the Black Bog” – not Black Crag – which stood near where the present Free Church Manse is erected. The last of the wall was about 12 yards from the north corner of the Free Church. It appears that the castle was in its prosperity when Sir William Wallace, in the winter of 1296, enjoyed three monthes “gud rest” with the family of Dunbar*

* from “Wallace and His Times” by James Paterson

Thomas Kirkland, New Cumnock School-Fellows Annual Magazine (1898)

1899: Helen J. Steven, ‘The Cumnocks Old and New’ | castle of Blackcraig

Ayrshire authoress Helen J. Steven goes along with the Reverend Kirkland’s New Statistical Account [23].

The population must have been very scanty, and doubtless was strictly of an agrarian character or formed of the servants and dependants of the Dunbars of Mochrum, whose castle of Blackcraig stood high on a knoll, surrounded by a moat, in the middle of the parish.

Helen J. Steven, ‘The Cumnocks Old and New’ (1899)

1899: Rev. John Warrick, ‘The History of Old Cumnock’ | Castle of Cumnock, Black Rock

The Reverend Warrick makes no mention of the Dunbars of Mochrum and identifies the Dunbars residence as the Castle of Cumnock. The minister also quoted the same minute from the New Cumnock Heritors’ Minute Book as did Paterson (see above) but reached a different conclusion suggesting that in 1784 there must have been a ‘considerable ruin‘ rather than Paterson’s view that ‘the castle must have been pretty entire‘. Armstrong’s Map of Ayrshire certainly comes down on the side of Warrick [8].

The residence of the Dunbars was the Castle of Cumnock. All trace of it has gone. The stones of the old stronghold were long ago removed by thoughtless hands for building purposes. Part of the moat round it, however can still be seen. The site is now occupied by the Free Church of New Cumnock, which is known locally as the “Castle” church. According to the minute book of the heritors of New Cumnock, it appears that the proprietors of the parish met at the old castle, in September 1784, in order to define the march between the glebe and the farm land of Little Mains or Castle. Mention is made, in the statement of the proceedings of the “castle byre”. Towards the end of the 18th century, therefore, there must have been a considerable ruin.

Rev. John Warrick, ‘The History of Old Cumnock’ (1899)

Warrick in his writings about Sir William Wallace’s association with the parish of Cumnock (Old and New) naturally turns to the words of Blind Hary’s ‘The Wallace’, including the following lines –

  • And Wallace past in Cumnock with blyth
  • At the Black Rock, where he was wont to be.
  • Upon that stead a royal house held he

Black Rock, where he was in the habit of staying, is clearly the castle of Black Craig in New Cumnock, the local name of the fortress, which in all the old records is called the castle of Cumnock.

Rev. John Warrick, ‘The History of Old Cumnock’ (1899)

Here the minister of Old Cumnock takes the view that Black Rock is an alternative form of Black Craig placing him at loggerheads with New Cumnock’s ‘local historian’ Thomas Kirkland, who adamantly dismissed that name, the year before! Nevertheless, Warrick was equally adamant that the records know it only as the castle of Cumnock.

Yet the names Black Bog, Black Craig and Black Rock can all be found in Blind Hary’s ‘The Wallace’ and its derivatives and all associated with Cumnock . Time to take a more detailed look at ‘The Wallce’.

Blind Hary ‘The Wallace’

In 1968, Matthew P. McDiarmid edited ‘Hary’s Wallace’ [24] comparing all the extant early texts of ‘The Wallace’ and it is considered to be the ‘definitive and authoritative edition‘ of the epic poem. Wallace’ 25]. McDiarmid introduces his work –

The pertinent materials for a critical extent of the poem that Hary wrote about the year 1478 are the single extant manuscript by John Ramsay in 1488, the fragments discovered by David Laing of an edition printed with the types of Chepman and Myllar about 1509, and the unique copy of an edition printed by Robert Lekpreuik in 1570.

Matthew P. McDiarmid edited Blind Hary’s ‘The Wallace’ (1968)

William Hamilton of Gilbertfield ‘translated and adapted the poem’ in 1772 a copy of which was published by Luath Press in 1997, edited by Elspeth King [25]. In the introduction she explains that Hamilton’s ‘Blind Harry’s Wallace’ went through 23 editions up until the last edition in 1859, becoming ‘the most commonly owned book in Scotland, next to the bible‘. Comparisons of the relevant passages in ‘Hary’s Wallace’, edited by McDiarmid and Hamilton’s work are given below.

McDiarmid ‘Hary’s Wallace’ Hamilton ‘Blind Harry’s Wallace’
Book VI (850-857)
Apon the morn in Cumno sone thai socht,
To Laynrik syne and set a tyme of ayr;
Mysdoaris feill he gert be punyst thar.
To gud men trew he gaiff full mekill wage,
His brother sone put to his heretage.
To the Blackcrag in Cumno past agayne,
His houshauld set with men of mekill mayne,
Thre monethis thar he dwellyt in gud rest.
Book VI (Argument)
After this Wallace took a castle on a rock, ……….

McDiarmid ‘Hary’s Wallace’ Hamilton ‘Blind Harry’s Wallace’
Book VI (938 -940)
This endentour to Schir Ranald he gaiff,
His der uncle, quhar it mycht kepit be
In Cumno syne till hys dwellyng went he.
< No equivalent text >

McDiarmid ‘Hary’s Wallace’ Hamilton ‘Blind Harry’s Wallace’
Book XII (936-938)
And Wallace past in Cumno with blith will,
At the Black Rok, quhar he was wont to be,
Apon that sted a ryall hous held he.
Book XII (Chapter V)
And Wallace went to Cumnock with good will,
Then with his friends he met at the Black Bog,
And with them drank a blythe and merry cog.
McDiarmid ‘Hary’s Wallace’
(Robert Lepreuik later manuscripty 1570)
And Wallace to Cumnok with gude will,
At the Black bog, quhar he was wont to be,
Apon that sted a ryall hous held he

Blind Hary mentions the place-name Cumno four times and identifies his household as Blackcrag and later as Black Rok. These two names are interchangeable, Scots crag, craig ‘rock’, and as such are clearly references to the same place in Cumnock. However, McDiarmid notes that the Lekpreuik edition of 1570 gives Black bog in place of Black Rok, quite a contrast of topographical features. Perhaps this was one of the ‘many trivial errors introduced‘ that McDiarmid attributed to the ‘later and much more corrupt manuscript‘.

Hamilton’s writes that ‘Wallace took a castle on a rock‘. Although he does not mention Cumnock, it is evident that going by the chronological place in the poem, it is reference to Blackcrag in the corresponding position in McDiarmid’s ‘Hary’s Wallace’. Hamilton only mentions Cumnock once and follows the Lepreuik later manuscript of 1570 to some extent, in that he has Wallace meeting with his friends ‘at the Black Bog‘. However he excludes the line ‘Apon that sted a ryall hous held he‘, which may be a reference to Wallace’s crown-tenant lands [26] and instead chooses to conclude the rhyme with ‘merry cog‘.

Eslpeth King explains the influence Hamilton’s work on the ‘naming of places after Wallace’s deeds‘ –

No other single work of literature in Scotland has had such an influence on the map makers and no work of fiction could achieve this. The naming of places after Wallace’s deeds was reinforced by Hamilton’s popular edition, when armed with a copy, the blacksmiths, ploughmen, weavers and washerwomen actively sought in their particular localities the oak where Wallace sheltered, the stone around which he gathered his troops, the road long which he marched, and the places where he gave battle.

Elspeth King (ed.) ‘William Hamilton Gilbertfield The Wallace’ (Luath Press 1998)

It is testament to the popularity of William Hamilton’s ‘Blind Harry’s Wallace‘ from 1772 through to 1859 that the name Black Bog, more than likely a ‘scribal error’ of Black Rok, triumphed over the interchangeable names of Blackcrag / Blak Rok.

However, Hamilton is not responsible for applying this name to Cumnock Castle in the same way Blind Harry is not responsible for applying the name Blackcrag or Blak Rok to Cumnock Castle – both accounts only refer to the place-name Cumnock, a parish of 48,000 acres, and not specifically to the castle.

In the history accounts above the Rev. Matthew Kirkland (1845) and James Paterson (1858) , all make a connection between the Dunbars’ Castle of Cumnock and the exploits of William Wallace which is later perpetuated by John Smith (1895) and Thomas Kirkland (1898).

Harry’s ‘Blakcrag / Blak Rok’ in Cumno is a not a reference to Cumnock Castle but to the lands of Blackcraig in the upper reaches of Glen Afton, in the parish of New Cumnock about 4 miles from Cumnock Castle.

Indeed, Hugh Lorimer in his reading of Hary’s ‘The Wallace’ not only makes a clear distinction between the Castle of Cumnock and the lands of Blackcraig, he bestowed his own tribute to the mountain from which they take their name [27].

Wallace may not have been the “King of Kyall” but his followers accorded him royal honours at Black Craig, four or five miles distant from the English occupied Castle of Cumnock. Kyle’s highest mountain is Black Craig. It is in fact Kyle’s proudest mountain in that it sheltered Wallace, the Saviour of Scotland.

Hugh Lorimer, A Corner of Old Strathclyde (1951)
Bolt Burn Brig and Blackcraig (Robert Guthrie)

Ironically, in later times the lands of Blackcraig were held by Sir James Dunbar of Blackcrag [28] a kinsman of James Dunbar, baron of Cumnock . There is no suggestion of a castle as such on the Blackcraig lands and with Cumnock Castle and the lands of Blackcraig co-existing in the then parish of Cumnock we can rule out that Cumnock Castle was ever known as Blackcraig Castle.

5. Instrument narrating that James Dunbar of Cu(mnock) requested Sir James Dunbar of Blakcrag to denude himself of the two-merk land of Over- kerne and others (defaced), in the barony of Cumnock and sheriffdom of Ayr, belonging heritably to James D., in terms of an Act of the Lords of Council, that Sir James should evacuate the lands under pain of 500 merks. Sir James asserted he ought not to evacuate the lands until a decreet-arbitral by Mr. Gavin Dunbar, archdeacon of St. Andrews, had been fulfilled. Done at Knokschynoch 5 June 1512. Witnesses, John Dunbar of Knokschynoch, George Dunbar, John Dunbar of Mochrum, John Brothy, Andrew . . . , John Ligat, 3a.

Protocol Book of Gavin Ros 1512-1534 | No. 5

Following James Dunbar of Cumnock’s death in 1535 the four merk land of the Blakcrag passed to another branch of the family along with ane merk land of Munthray, twa merk land of Cragydarrocht, thre merk land of Lagurgeroch, twa merk land [of] Polloch, three merk land of Puntlo and twa merk land of Lagbrowen [29].

Map 10: Blackcraig | Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

In conclusion it is certainly the case that the Castle of Cumnock was never called Black Bog Castle or Black Craig Castle while it functioned as the seat of the Barons of Cumnock .These names were only much later applied to the ruins of the castle with Black Bog winning the rights to be recorded in the Ordnance Survey Name Book and subsequent maps. A name influenced by Blind Hary’s ‘The Wallace’ and in particular William Hamilton of Gilbertfield’s ‘popular’ edition and the misinterpretation that the references to Cumno / Cumnock specific to the castle.

There is no suggestion that the locals were ashamed of the New Cumnock’s connection with the Earls of Dunbar, owners of Cumnock Castle and strong supporters of Edward I and II of England and renamed the castle to reinforce New Cumnock connections with the patriot Sir William Wallace – thereby killing two birds with one stone!

The area that developed in the vicinity of the site of the Castle of Cumnock, known as the Old Castle of Cumnock in the late 17th century is known simply as Castle [30]. There is no remnants of the name Black Craig or Black Bog in this vicinity and it is pleasing to note that ‘Site of Cumnock Castle’ is shown on the up-to-date map used on CANMORE [31] .

Moat (Black Bog Castle)

The Ordnance Survey Name Book (1855-57) entry for Moat (Black Bog Castle) reads –

This moat has been partly filled up, but its course is plainly visible by a deep depression of the ground at the place shown on the map. Both sides the bank been shewn [shown] [Initialled] ICG

Map 11: OS Map (1859) Moat | Map 12: OS Map (1944-1971) showing moat

The moat also gets a mention in the OS Name Book (1855-57) entry for Cairnscadden Loch which reads –

A marsh on Cairnscadden Hill formerly used as a curling pond. The tradition of New Cumnock would have it that this loch supplied water thro [through] pipes to the Castle of Bog*, which formerly stood in the village.

* the name Blackcraig has been scored out and replaced with Bog, reflecting the uncertainty of the name castle!

OS Name Book(1855-57)

Local historian Thomas Kirkland expands on this tradition some years later and throws cold water on the idea, as well providing some of the dimensions of the moat, referring it to as trench and later a dry fosse, from Scots fosse ‘a ditch, especially one made for defence’ [32].

The trench which surrounded the castle has been about square – 70 yards by 70 yards and 6 yards wide. It was said to have been filled with water from Garnscadden Loch – (i.e., up at Lowesmuir*) – in wooden troughs. The elevation makes this scarcely possible; and it had better be assumed that it was a dry fosse, as these were quite common on early Scotland. The well of the castle was discovered when they were digging the foundation of the Free Church. The mouth of the well, which extends from the north-west corner to the first north window, had to be arched over to secure the foundation. The stones which cradled the well were used in 1785 for building the property of John Reid shoemaker (great great grandfather of our hall keeper), which property now belongs to Thomas Gibson, shoemaker, Castle.

*This is an explanation , this Loch being small, and known only to a few

Thomas Kirkland, New Cumnock School-Fellows’ Annual Magazine [22]

Looking at the topography, this small loch is over 2 miles away from where Cumnock Castle stood while water from the Afton Water and the River Nith were only a few hundred yards away!

Map 13: Bartholomew (1899-1905) | Map 14: OS Map (1856) Cairnscadden Loch

In the same magazine the School Fellows ask a series of questions relating to New Cumnock’s past including [22] –

Was it true a small band of Wallace’s men watched from Lowesmuir while he, in disguise, passed the English garrison, who were outside the fosse, enjoying a game. With the strength of four men he drew the drawbridge, then blew his horn, when his men came down and enacted the last chapter of this small struggle?

New Cumnock School-Fellows’ Annual Magazine (1898)

N.B. Sadly the original source(s) of the story of these two traditions have yet to be traced.

Records of the archaeological survey can be found at CANMORE | New Cumnock, Cumnock Castle and a brief summary of the references to the moat are given below [33]

Visited by OS (JLD) 14 July 1954
No trace of the castle remains. The moat is broad and about
2.0m deep on the N. The church and other modern buildings destroy all trace of it on the E, S, and W.
Visited by OS (JRL) 24 November 1981
The only remnants of the moat survive in the garden of the old manse, and then only as an amorphous, landscaped hollow of no measurable depth; some semblance of its form is, however, retained against an old hedge line around the NW angle. The former remains of the N and E arms have only recently been destroyed by building development.
Rathmell Archaelogy |Archaeological Evaluation (12 June 2014 – 12 March 2015).
The moat ditch, which lay approximately 5m from the foundation, would have had an overall width of approximately 22m.
Rathmell Archaelogy | Watching Brief (21 December 2015 – 23 March 2016)
Evidence of the presence of the moat purported to locate in this area was established, in the form of grey/blue clay. These deposits appeared to be the upper fill of the moat, in the sense that the moat had been sealed prior to further construction works in the area in the 17th century.
Stankbrae | Scots stank ‘moat’ and brae ‘brow of hill’

Another reference to the moat is found in one of the most controversial names in the parish, that has caused many a heated, yet friendly, debate in local history meetings! The small street leading from the main thoroughfare Castle to the Auld Kirkyard and beyond is called Castlehill. However, previously, the address Castlehill applied only to those buildings at the top of the hill while the brae up to Castlehill was called Stankbrae, as witnessed in the 1891 Census Records –


  • Agnes Dempster, housewife (widow of David Dempster, tailor)
  • Hugh Turnbull, blacksmith
  • John McCartney, Railway porter (Not his address in 1901 Census is Castle Brae)
  • Agnes Timpany, housewife (widow of Thomas Timpany, miner)


  • William Scott, Free Church Manse, Minister N.C. Free Church Minister
  • James Wilson, Baker
  • Andrew Stirling, P. School Teacher, retired
  • Peter Thomson, blacksmith
Map 15: OS (1892-1914) Stankbrae and Castlehill

The word stank is in common use in the parish and typically refers to a ditch or drain. However in this context it is clearly Scots stank, n. ‘moat’, while it is interesting to note that as a verb it is Scots stank v. ‘to provide with a moat or defensive ditch’ [34]. The brae [35] run parallel to south stretch of the moat or maybe on top of the filled-in moat. It is perhaps understandable that the name Stankbrae was dropped as an address and then absorbed in to the street name Castlehill.

However locally, for many, there is only ONE name for the brae and that’s the Stamp Brae. There is a local tradition that when horse drawn hearses were making their way up the brae toward the kirkyard, they would stop and stamp their hooves, and the name Stamp Brae was born, ironically from carrying the dead [36].

It may be the case that the name stamp is simply a corruption of stank (possibly as the written word) and that through time it became the established name for the brae. Of course, it is just as important to preserve these local names irrespective of their origins .

[1] Rampant Scotland Ragman Roll 1296|Comenagh, Patrik de (del counte de Are)
[2] [Calendar of Documents Relating to Scotland Vol. 2, No. 1931
[3] Calendar of Documents Relating to Scotland Vol. 4, No.1829
[4] Calendar of Documents Relating to Scotland Vol. 4, No. 521
[5] Douglas R Scots Peerage Vol. 3, 1906| George 10th Earl of Dunbar and 3rd Earl of March
[6] The Register of the Great Seal of Scotland, A.D. 1306-1424 (1912) | NO. 291 [Carta Georgii de Dumbarre]
[7] Scottish Record Society (1908), Protocol Book of Gavin Ros 1512-1534 | Nos. 22, 1083
[8] Reverend John Warrick, The History of Old Cumnock (1899, reprint 1992)
[9] Registrum Magni Sigilli Regum Scotorum | 6. Apud Edinburgh, 26 Aug. REX concessit WILLELMO CUNYNGHAME de Caprintoun
[10] National Library of Scotland, Pont Maps of Scotland, ca. 1583-1614 – Pont texts, Kyle, in Cuningham, Cuningham | Cumnock , Transcription
[11] James Paterson ‘History of the Counties of Ayr and Wigton, Volume 1 Kyle Part Two’ | Dunars of Cumnock and Mochrum, p.322
[12] The Records of the Parliaments of Scotland to 1707, K.M. Brown et al eds (St Andrews, 2007-2022) |Ratification in favour of [William Crichton], earl of Dumfries and [Charles Crichton], lord Crichton
[13] CANMORE National Record of Historic Environment | Rathmell Archaeology, Cumnock Castle
[14] National Records of Scotland, GD16 Papers of the Earls of Airlie | GD16/51Covenanters & the Airlie Troop in Ayrshire GD16/51/14, GD16/51/21, GD16/51/23
[15] Reverend Robert Wodrow, The History of the Sufferings of the Church of Scotland, from the Restoration to the Revolution, Volume 4 | Cumnock
[16] Reverend James Young (1790) | New Cumnock, County of Ayrshire, OSA, Vol. VI, 1793
[17] British Newspaper Archives |Caledonian Mercury, Monday 30 August 1813
[18] Reverend Matthew Kirkland (1838)|New Cumnock, County of Ayrshire, NSA, Vol. V, 1845
[19] James Paterson ‘Wallace and his Times’ (1877 3rd Edition)
[20] John Smith ‘Prehistoric Man in Ayrshire’ (1895)
[21] British Newspaper Archives |The Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald Friday, January 6, 1893
[22] New Cumnock School-Fellow’s Annual Magazine (1898)
[23] Helen J. Steven ‘History of the Cumnocks, Old and New’ (1899)
[25] Elspeth King (ed.) ‘William Hamilton Gilbertfield The Wallace’ (Luath Press 1998)
[26] New Cumnock Place-Names | Castle William
[27] Hugh Lorimer ‘A Corner of Old Strathclyde’ (1951)
[28] Scottish Record Society (1908), Protocol Book of Gavin Ros 1512-1534 | No. 5
[29] Register of the Privy Seal of Scotland, vol 2, no. 1737
[30] New Cumnock Place-Names | Castle (in progress)
[31] CANMORE National Record of Historic Environment | Site of Cumnock Castle map
[32] Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. | fosse
[33] CANMORE National Record of Historic Environment | Cumnock Castle Archaeological Notes
[34] Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. stank n., stank v.
[35] Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. brae
[36]Local tradition discussed at New Cumnock Local History Club
By Permission of National Library of Scotland
Images used under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) licence.
Map 1: Ordnance Survey Maps – 25 inch 1st edition, Scotland, 1855-1882Ordnance Survey Map (1856) |Site of Black Bog Castle
Map 2: Abraham Ortelius, Scotiae Tabula (1606) |Cannok Caftle
Map 3: John Speed, The Kingdome of Scotland (1610)|Cannok ca.
Map 4: Timothy Pont, [Nithsdale; part of Teviotdale] – Pont 35 (1583-96)| Cumnock Castle
Map 5: Johan Blaeu , Coila Provincia (1654) | Kumnock Caft.
Map 6: Andrew Armstrong , Map of Ayrshire | New Cumnock
Map 7 : George Taylor & Andrew Skinner. Survey and maps of the roads of North Britain or Scotland, 1776: The Road from Glasgow to Ayr, & from Glasgow & Kilmarnock to Sanquhar & Dumfries. | The Black Castle Ruins
Map 8: John Stockdale Map of Scotland from the latest surveys |  The Ruins of the Black Cast.
Map 9: Ordnance Survey Maps – Six-inch 1st edition, Scotland, 1843-1882 |Black Bog Castle
Map 10: Bartholomew’s “Half Inch to the Mile Maps” of Scotland, 1899-1905 |Blackcraig
Map 11: Ordnance Survey Maps – 25 inch 1st edition, Scotland, 1855-1882Ordnance Survey Map (1856) |Moat (Black Bog Castle)
Map 12: Ordnance Survey National Grid maps, 1944-1971 |Moat (Black Bog Castle)
Map 13: Bartholomew’s “Half Inch to the Mile Maps” of Scotland, 1899-1905 | Lowesmuir
Map 14: Ordnance Survey Maps – 25 inch 1st edition, Scotland, 1856 | Cairnscadden Loch
Map 15: Ordnance Survey Maps – 25 inch 2nd and later editions, Scotland, 1892-1949 | Stankbrae
Ordnance Survey Name Books
By Permission of Scotland’s Places
Ayrshire OS Name Books (1855-57) Vol. 49|Site of Black Bog
Ayrshire OS Name Books (1855-57) Vol. 49|Moat (Black Bog Castle)
Ayrshire OS Name Books (1855-57) Vol. 49|Cairnscadden Loch
Scotland’s People
Old Parish Records, Births, Marriages, Deaths, Census Records, Valuations Rolls, Wills & Testaments
Census Records | 1891