Place-name:Castle Hill
Suggested Meaning:hill near site of Waterhead Castle
( a possible Court Know / Moat Knowe)
First elementcastle – reference to Waterhead Castle
Second elementhill – drumlin
Blaeu Coila (1654):No Entry
OS Name Books (1855-57):Castle Hill
Location:Ordnance Survey (1892-1960)
Castle Hill at Waterhead and River Nith 1980 (Photo Robert Guthrie)

Castle Hill

The Ordnance Survey Name Book (1855-57) entry for Castle Hill reads –

A small Knowe situated on the River Nith west of the site of a Castle, which belonged to the Cathcart family. Mr Roxburgh of Waterhead is of opinion that it must be artificial and was probably a Court Knowe. There have been such in connection similar Baronial residences in other parts of the County: But this is merely conjecture, nothing respecting the castle or knowe, is known further than it had belonged to the Cathcart family, as at present, being an entailed Estate.

Map 1 | Castle Hill and Castle (site of) | Reproduced with the Permission of the National Library of Scotland

The Castle Hill stands some 250 yards to the south-west of the site of Waterhead Castle on the banks of the River Nith. The castle was home to the family known as the Cathcarts of Waterhead, who in the early 16th century were baillies of John, Lord Cathcart administering his lands the parish of New Cumnock that made up part of his barony of Dalmellington [1]. So rather than a baronial residence Waterhead Castle was the residence of the then baillie of the barony of Dalmellington.

Map 2 |Blaeu Coila Provincia Waterhead Castle |Reproduced with the permission of the National Libary of Scotland

The proprietor of Waterhead farm during the tenancy of Mr. James Roxburgh was Sir John Andrew Cathcart, 5th Baronet of Carleton. The ruins of his baronial Carleton Castle stands above Lendalfoot, in the parish of Colmonell, Ayrshire. His estate of Waterhead in the parish of New Cumnock in 1855 comprised of Waterhead farm along with Meiklehill, Knockburnie, Rigghill, Blackfurthy (Blackfarthing), Sunnyside, Maneight, Marshalmark, Back Rigg, Burnside of Rigg, Forerig, High Rigend, Little Rigend, Lanehead, House of Water, Rigghill & Burnside [ Valuation Rolls, 1855]

“Ruins” are shown at the site of Waterhead Castle in Armstrong’s Map of Ayrshire (1775) [Map 3] and these are named as Waterhead in a slightly later map reduced from Armstrong’s Map (1783) [Map 4], with no mention of Castle Hill in either map.

Waterhead farm is named in John Thomson’s Atlas of Scotland below and adjacent to it is a property named as Castlehill.

Map 5 Thomson Map (1832) Castlehill | Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

Perhaps there was a cottage at the Castle Hill associated with Waterhead farm, although as yet no reference to such a cottage has been found in local records (e.g. baptisms etc.). It should be noted that there are a few questionable entries in Thomson’s map in terms of names and/or their locations and so this may simply be a reference to the hill.

Mr Roxburgh’s opinion that the Castle Hill was probably a Court Knowe is worthy of consideration. The aforementioned Cathcarts of Waterhead in their role of the baillies of the Cathcart barons of Dalmellington may have conducted their administrative duties on the castle hill as tenants assembled there. Comparisons can be drawn with Court Knowe at Hall of Auchincross [2] and the Moat Knowes [3] at Lanemark and Meikle Creoch. Although there are no records of a Gallows Knowe, as is the case at Hall of Auchincross, the Castle Hill, like both Moat Knowes stands next to a water course.

However, Mr. Roxburgh’s opinion that the Castle Hill was artificial was not one shared by archaeologist John Smith who identified it as ‘a boulder-clay drum’, or drumlin – a common natural feature.

The ‘Castle Hill’ on the Nith at Waterhead is a boulder clay drum with rock nucleus, its rounded summit measuring 65 paces by 17 paces at its widest. It is placed just above the site of the old castle, and where the Nith leaves the haugh-lands and becomes steep as it flows from the hill. Above it there is a much longer boulder clay drum running parallel with the river, the line of the old railway, now disused, from Beoch to the old New Cumnock Furnaces passing between the two drums.

John Smith , Prehistoric Man in Ayrshire [4]

The Canmore (National Record of the Historic Environment) entry for Waterhead Castle (recorded under Little Rigend) makes no reference to Castle Hill [5]. However, a number of desk-bound surveys were commissioned by the landowners of a proposed opencast site in the vicinity. Supporting field surveys including two near the Castle Hill which identified a quarry, an earthen field bank & other small quarries [6] and spoil heaps [7]. There was also another field survey carried out near the site of the castle which identified ‘a substantial embankment, and bridge abutments‘ associated with the ‘Inclined Plane‘ shown on the Ordnance Survey below. This was the old railway line noted by John Smith above which connected the ironstone quarry near Beoch with the New Cumnock Ironworks at Bank. All these activities would appear to be related to a period long after the castle was in ruins .

Map 6: Castle Hill | Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

With the planned open cast workings going ahead, Waterhead farm was eventually abandoned and demolished. Castle Hill has survived with the few remaining ruins of Waterhead Castle, from which it took its name, still to be found a few hundred yards to north-east. The Beoch Lane also survives, albeit its route to meet with the River Nith has been realigned.

Photograps from ca. 1980 (Robert Guthrie)
Photographs from August 2021 (Robert Guthrie)


[1] New Cumnock Place-Name | Waterhead Castle
[2] New Cumnock Place-Name | Court Knowe
[3] New Cumnock Place-Name | Moat Knowe
[4] John Smith ‘Prehistoric Man in Ayrshire’ (1895)
[5] Canmore: National Record of the Historic Environment | Little Rigend
[6] Canmore: National Record of the Historic Environment | Castle Hill
[7] Canmore: National Record of the Historic Environment | Castle Hill
By Permission of National Library of Scotland
Map 1: Ordnance Survey (1894) | Castle Hill
Map 2: Blaeu Coila Provincia (1654) | Waterhead Castle
Map 3: Armstrong’s Map of Ayrshire (1775)|unnamed ruins
Map 4: Armstrong’s Map of Ayrshire reduced map (1783) | Waterhead ruins
Map 5: John Thomson’s Atlas of Scotland (1832)| Castlehill
Map 6: Ordnance Survey (1857) | Castle Hill
Ordnance Survey Name Books
By Permission of Scotland’s Places
Ayrshire OS Name Books (1855-57) Vol. 49| Castle Hill
Scotland’s People
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Old Parish Records | Baptisms