Place-name:Castle William
Suggested Meaning:rock named in honour of Sir William Wallace
First elementcastle ‘rock resembling a fortification’
Second elementPersonal Name: William ‘Sir William Wallace’
Blaeu Coila (1654):No Entry
OS Name Books (1855-57):Castle William
Location:Ordnance Survey (1895)

Castle William

The earliest reference to Castle William appears in 1775 on Armstrong’s Map of Ayrshire south of Blackcraig and Craigdarroch at the head of Glen Afton. Here it appears to be shown as a substantial ruin, although it does not appear on the ‘reduced version’ of that map published a few years later in 1783 [Map 2]. Similarly, in 1821 only the name Castle William is given on Ainslie’s Map of Southern Scotland [Map 3].

Map 1: Castle William | Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

On the Ordnance Survey Map (1857) the name Castle William is assigned to the largest rock on a rocky landscape.

Map 4: Castle William | Reproduced with the permission of National Library of Scotland

The Ordnance Survey Name Book (1855-57) entry for Castle William is short and to the point and reads –

A large rock conspicuously on a brow near Afton Water.

Castle William , Glen Afton (Robert Guthrie 2019)

1st element: castle ‘fortification, resembles a castle’

The depiction of a ruin on Amstrong’s map (1775) remains a mystery and as discussed above quickly disappeared from view on later maps. Furthermore it did not appear on Blaeu Coila Porvincia (1654), either as a ruin or castle.

In more recent times local historian the late Donald McIver surveyed the area around Castle William and having found no trace of foundations near the rock considered ‘that the castle may have been a turf and timber structure adjoining the large rock, and, after being abandoned, would have rotted down into the grassland, leaving no trace [1] .

Less than 2 miles to the west of Castle William sit the Glenahastel Craigs at the head of and the source of Glenhastel Burn where Glenhastel is Gaelic Gleann a’ Chaisteil ‘valley of the castle’. There is no oral tradition, or historical records, of a castle in this vicinity, Michale Ansell explains that on occasion the term caisteal was used figuratively, so if there’s a hill or rocky top that looks somehow castellated that might explain the name [2].

Parallels can be drawn with the place-name mote ‘fortification’. D. Christison in his study of ‘The Prehistoric Forts of Ayrshire’ econuntered examples when the ‘name mote was bestowed on natural mounds from a resemblance to the motes.’ [3] Castle William, although not a mote certainly resembles one, and perhaps this false sense of a fortification resulted in the name castle being applied to the rock.

2nd element: Personal name: William ‘Sir William Wallace’

Local tradition claims that the William in Castle William is a reference to the patriot Sir William Wallace. There are a host of other place-names associated with the patriot throughout the land inspired by Blind Hary’s epic ‘The Actes and Deidis of the Illustre and Vallyeant Campioun Schir William Wallace’, better known as ‘The Wallace’, penned in the late 15th century . Elspeth King in the introduction to a new edition of William Hamilton of Gilbertfield’s ‘Blind Harry’s Wallace’ captures the impact of both versions of ‘The Wallace’ on our landscape [4].

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. This naming of places is crucial to the understanding of the true significance of Wallace. Not even the great saints of Scotland – Andrew, Columba, Ninian and Margaret – have managed to impress their names on the land in this way. The Wallace place-names constitute an unprecedented and populist canonisation of a secular hero, a process which was rescued and revived in the 18th century by Hamilton’s edition.

The naming of places is in itself a process of recognition, orientation and possession. Many of the natural features which are named on ordnance survey maps as being associated with Wallace are often hard to find and to recognise on the ground. The naming of stones and other geographical features after Wallace was an exercise which cost nothing but at the same time was priceless, and imbued the significance.

Elspeth King ‘Blind Harry’s The Wallace (William Hamilton of Gilbertfield)

The Ordnance Survey Name Books of Ayrshire include this selection from Ayrshire [Scotland’s Places]-

‘Sir William Wallace’ NameAyrshire Parish
Castle WilliamNew Cumnock
Wallace’s CairnGalston
Wallace’s CaveAuchinleck?, St. Quivox
Wallace’s KnoweLoudon
Wallace’s MoorStraiton
Wallace’s SeatCoylton
Wallace’s StoneMaybole

Immediately the New Cumnock name sticks out as being the solitary ‘William‘ name, casting some doubt on Castle William as a ‘Wallace‘ name. As such it is worthwhile to consider the New Cumnock place-names that do appear in ‘The Wallace’ and determine if there is a relationship with the setting of Castle William.

The shortcomings of Blind Hary’s ‘The Wallace’ are well publicised and indeed much of it ridiculed since 1995 following the release of the ‘Braveheart’. However, this can be at the expense of overlooking some of the analytical line-by-line assessments of ‘The Wallace’ carried out by academics, such as that by Matthew P. McDiarmid [5] , whereby systematically fiction is dismissed, facts are verified and the unknown is left open to question.

Blind Hary makes four references to locations in what is now the parish of New Cumnock. The first at Corsencon ‘At Corssencon the gait was spilt that tide‘ and the three others about his dwelling in Cumno; one of which he didn’t elaborate further and the other two referring to Black Crag and Black Rok respectively, in the following lines –

Book VI (855 -857)
To the Blackcrag in Cumno past agayne,
His houshauld set with men of mekill mayne,
Thre monethis thar he dwellyt in gud rest.
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.

These words appear to have influenced the Reverend Matthew Kirkland while compiling the New Statistical Account of the parish of New Cumnock [6] –

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 castle was the property of the Dunbars of Mochrum; and is said to have been frequented by the renowned Sir William Wallace.

Rev Matthew Kirkland, New Statistical Account (1845)

N.B. The renaming of Cumnock Castle as the Castle of Black Craig and then later to Black Bog Castle is covered under New Cumnock Place-Name: Black Bog [7]; suffice to say the transformation has its roots in Hary’s “The Wallace”.

Have faith though, George McMichael in ‘Notes on the Way through Ayrshire’ (1883) has a different take on Hary’s work leading him to refer to Wallace as ‘the patriot Sir William Wallace of Blackcraig‘ and he then proceeds to make the tentative connecton with Castle William [8].

Castle William is a protuberance of loose rocks, resembling the ruins of a castle, but not presenting anything in the shape of walls or mortar. How it got the name of William no one really knows, there being no record; but oral tradition says it was the residence of Sir William Wallace or some his guards, when during his Protectorate, the head quarters of his government was Blackcraig.

George McMichael in ‘Notes on the Way through Ayrshire’ (1883)

Unfortunately McMichael does not give the source of ‘oral tradition’. He also muddies the water and considers that Hary’s Black Crag and Black Rok are not references to the lands of Blackcraig but instead a reference to Stey-Amoury Hill or Craig – ‘the name of the hill, we think shows plainly that it was here where Wallace had his Armoury‘. This is fanciful, and there is little doubt Black Crag and Blak Rok are interchangeable references to the lands of Blackcraig.

Stayamrie is a sheer rock-face on the side of Craigbraneoch Hill (see Map 4 above) and there are no records of it being referred to as Black Crag or Black Rok; indeed Craigbraneoch Hill is often called Stayamrie [9].

Stayamrie rock on the face of Craigbranoech hill (Robert Guthrie)

Returning to Blackcraig and Matthew P. McDiarmid’s analysis of Hary’s words which leads him to remark ‘It would be interesting to know if this was the property of Wallace demanded by Sir David Graham‘ [4], i.e. demanded after Wallace had decided to leave the kingdom without the approval of the Guardians.

In 1990, Hary’s lines on Blackcraig took on a new significance with the re-discovery of the ‘Wallace Seal’ which identified Sir William Wallace as the son of Alan Wallace. This name also appears in the Ragman Roll of 1296, as ‘Waleys, Aleyn (tenant le Roi du counte de Are)‘, i.e. crown-tenant in Ayrshire. If this Alan is Wallace’s father, then there is a case to be made that he was a crown-tenant of the ryall hous at Black Rok, Cumno in King’s Kyle, Ayrshire, lands later inherited by Sir William Wallace [10]. If only McDiarmid had known of the Wallace’s Seal!

Of course this has implications for the name Castle William as the rock is not situated on the lands of Blackcraig but sitsi on the neighbouring lands of Craigdarroch. Returning to Donald McIver’s survey of Castle William he suggested that the rock may have been used as a meeting place for Wallace and his men, offering a good vantage point overlooking Glen Afton [1], which seems a reasonable alternative to a castle.

View down Glen Afton from the rock adjacent to Castle William (Robert Guthrie)

Castle William may never have served as the residence of the patriot but today it serves as a worthy memorial to Sir William Wallace and his connections with New Cumnock, as a crown-tenant at his ryall hous on the adjoining lands of Blackcraig .

‘Castle William’ cottage

The ruins of an unnamed cottage can still be found just south of Castle William rock close to the path from Craigdarroch to Monthraw. A shepherd’s cottage perhaps.

Photo| Robert Guthrie

Castle William Falls

The stretch of the Afton Water that tumbles down the valley between Castle William and Craigbraneoch Hill is not named on the map, however George McMichael refers to it as Castle William Falls [8].

Castle William Falls (Robert Guthrie 2019)
Map 4: ‘Castle William’ cottage & Castle William Falls | Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland
[1] Donald McIver ‘A Stroll through the Historic Past of New Cumnock’ (2000)
[2] New Cumnock Place-Name | Glenhastel
[3] Christison, D. (1893). The Prehistoric Forts of Ayrshire. Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 27, 381-405
[4] Elspeth King ‘Blind Harry’s The Wallace ,William Hamilton of Gilbertfield (Luath Edition 1998)
[5] Matthew P. McDiarmid ‘Hary’s Wallace’, Vol I. and II.,The Scottish Text Society (1968/69)
[6] Reverend Matthew Kirkland (1838)|New Cumnock, County of Ayrshire, NSA, Vol. V, 1845
[7] New Cumnock Place-Name | Black Bog Castle – in process
[8] George McMichael ‘Notes on the Way through Ayrshire’ (c.1883)
[9] New Cumnock Place-Name | Stayamrie
[10] New Cumnock History | Blind Hary and New Cumnock
By Permission of National Library of Scotland
Map 1: Armstrong’s Map of Ayrshire (1775) |Castle William
Map 2: Reduced Armstrong’s Map of Ayrshire (1783) |Castle William
Map 3: Ainslie’ Map of the Southern part ofScotland |Castle William
Map 4: Ordnance Survey (1895) | Castle William
Ordnance Survey Name Books
By Permission of Scotland’s Places
Ayrshire OS Name Books (1855-57) Vol. 49| Castle William