gall moss

Place-name:1. Gall Moss (Beoch Lane)
2. Gall Moss (Merkland)
Suggested Meaning:bog myrtle bog
First element:Scots gall ‘bog myrtle’
Second element:Scots moss ‘marsh, bog, tract of wet land’
Blaeu Coila (1654):
OS Names Book (1855-57):Gall Moss
Location:1. Ordnance Survey (1892-1960)
2. Ordnance Survey (1892-1960)

There are two occurrences of Gall Moss in the parish of New Cumnock and both are found on the banks of the River Nith. There is a Gall Moss in the west of the parish where the Beoch Lane meets the River Nith and one in the east of the parish near Merkland farm close to the boundary with Dumfriesshire.

River Nith and Gall Mosses | Reproduced with the permission of The National Library of Scotland

First element: Scots gall ‘bog-myrtle’

The Ordnance Survey Name Books entries for Gall Moss in New Cumnock read –

At Beoch Lane: A small moss on the south side of Laneside

At Merkland: A piece of uncultivated land, so named in consequence of the growth in it of a small shrub called “gall”

A further search of Scotland’s Places reveals other occurences of Gall Moss in Forfarshire, Renfrewshire, two in Dumfriesshire and ‘Gall Moss of Dirneark’ in the parish of Kirkcowan, Wigtownshire (see footnote). The Ordnance Survey Name Book entry of the latter includes the following footnotes from the ‘Authorities for Spelling’-

“Gall” is the provincial name given to a shrub which grows among the heath. Int. R.B. Corpl. RS&M [Corporal Royal Sappers & Miners]
It has an agreeable smell. Known also by the name of “Bog Myrtle” Int. G.McH.

It is also interesting to note that the entry for ‘gall’ in Dictionary of the Scottish Language [1] includes the adjective “gally, covered with bog-myrtle.”

Second element: Scots moss ‘marsh, bog, tract of wet land’

One of the definitions given in the Dictionary of the Scots Language [2] reads ‘a marsh, bog, a tract of soft wet ground‘. There are almost 20 named mosses in the parish of New Cumnock and probably just as many unnamed. Those in the uplands tend to be marsh-like or peat-moss while these two river-side gall mosses are better described as bogs.

Gall Moss (Beoch Lane)

It is interesting to note Burnston Bog just to the north of Gall Moss. Sadly neither of these have survived the extensive opencast coal operations in this vicinity.

Gall Moss, Beoch Lane | Reproduced with the permission of The National Library of Scotland

Gall Moss (Merkland)

Gall Moss is situated within what are known locally as the Horseshoe Loops of the River Nith. On the other side of the Glasgow-Carlisle Railway line is Merkland Wood, taking its name apparently from the neighbouring farm of Merkland. However, it appears it was formerly known as Gall Wood (after the moss) unbeknown to the ‘Authorities for Spelling’ – James Steel, Hillend; Robert Steel, Merkland and James Spence, Corsencon.

A natural wood 12 chains SSouth East of Merkland farm house. On the estate map “Gall” is the name given to this wood, but the name applied is entirely unknown in the neighbourhood.

Mossback Ruins on Polquheys Burn | Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

Gall Moss is no longer home to bog-myrtle as the land has long since been reclaimed as part of agricultural improvements. The grass is cut every year for silage and parts of it is still quite boggy. Sheep also graze on the land which however is also subject to flooding!


Sir Herbert Maxwell in ‘The Place-Names of Galloway’ [3] made reference to ‘Gall Moss of Dirneak, Kirkcowan’ without any derivation. He did note other gall names with their origins in Gaelic gall ‘stranger,’ or ‘standing stone’. Similarly, Thomas Clancy in a study of Galloway moss names considers Minnigall as Gaelic mòine gall, ‘the bog of the boulders’ or perhaps, ‘of the foreigners’ [4]. Minnigall the Gaelic equivalent of Gall Moss but with an entirely different meaning.


[1] Dictionary of the Scots Language |gall
[2] Dictionary of the Scots Language | moss
[3] Sir Herbert Maxwell ‘The Place-names of Galloway’ (1930)
[4] Thomas Clancy ‘Gatherings about Moss’ (2020) in ‘Place-names of the Galloway Glens’
Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland
Map 1 |OS Map (1899_1905) | River Nith & Gall Mosses
Map 2 |OS Map (1892-1960) | Gall Moss (Beoch Lane)
Map 2 |OS Map (1892-1960) |Gall Moss (Merkland)
Ordnance Survey Name Books
By Permission of Scotland’s Places
Ayrshire OS Name Books (1855-57) Vol. 49 | Gall Moss ( Beoch Lane)
Ayrshire OS Name Books (1855-57) Vol. 49 | Gall Moss ( Merkland)
Ayrshire OS Name Books (1855-57) Vol. 49 |Merkland Wood
Wigtownshire OS Name Books (1845-49) Vol. 25 | Gall Moss of Dirneak