Place-name:Hungry Hill
Suggested Meaning:1. hill of poor ground
2. enchanted ground
First element1. Scots hungry ‘poor ground’
2. Scots hungry ‘enchanted grass, ground or mound’
Second elementScots hill ‘hill’
Blaeu Coila (1654):No Entry
OS Name Books (1855-57):Hungry Hill
Location:Ordnance Survey (1895)
Hungry Hill (Robert Guthrie 2020)

Hungry Hill is a rather unremarkable hill with an entry to match in the Ordnance Survey Name Book which reads –

A slight eminence south of Stell Knowe.

Map 1: Hungry Hill| Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

Of the thirteen entries of hungry place-names in the Ordnance Survey Name Books of the mid-19th century, ten of them were associated with hills or hill-like names ( knees, knowes, law) while the remaining three were hoy, snout and stone.

The Dictionaries of the Scots Language entry for hungry includes several combinations of the name and extracts of those potentially applicable to place-names are given below [1] –

HUNGRY, adj. Sc.

(1) hungry-bitten, of soil: poor, unproductive, “sometimes applied as a name to such a field”

(3) hungry grass, enchanted grass with the power of inducing hunger in those who tread on it.

(4) hungry ground, a piece of enchanted ground.

(5) hungry-hillock, an enchanted mound.

Dictionaries of the Scots Language

These can be divided into two categories one related to the quality of the land and the other intriguingly related to folklore about enchantment.

1. Scots hungry ‘poor, unproductive land’ + hill

James B. Johnston in ‘Place-Names of Scotland’ listed Hungry Hill (Carron, Stirling) and Hungry Kerse ( Bride of Allan) and commented that many quotes associated with the name hungry refer to ‘poor starved land, earliest 1577′. Johnson also draws attention to ‘1361 Hungyrflat, Liddesdale’. [2].

Of the above OS Name Book entries Hungry Hill, Selkirkshire is ‘a slight rise, yielding rough pasture‘; Hungry Knees, Lanarkshire ‘applies to a barren spot‘ while the surface of Hungry Snout, East Lothian ‘consists of heathy pasture‘. However Hungryhills, Banffshire is ‘a good farm steading‘.

Hungry Hill (Robert Guthrie 2022)

The rushes in the foreground sit on the opposite bank of the Lane Bank from that of Hungry Hill which rises slightly from the river bank. There are certainly areas of the hill where the ground is rougher than that on which the sheep graze.

2. Scots hungry ‘enchanted grass, ground, mound’

In the Dictionaries of the Scots Language entry, given above, each of the hungry combinations which were related to some form of enchantment were supported with quotations, illustrating the nature of such enhancement .

Of particular interest is the quotation for hungry-hillock [3], since it is the best fit to Hungry Hill, albeit it is associated with Banffshire, in the north of Scotland.

A bewitched hillock, over which if one walks, he is seized with great hunger; as, “A’m sae yaap, a’ve surely gehn our a hungry-hillock.”

Dictionaries of the Scots Language | Walter Gregor, The Dialect of Banffshire (1866)

However perhaps of greater relevance is the quotation associated with the west of Scotland, i.e. that of hungry ground [4]

Some tracts of country are believed to be so much under the power of enchantment, that he, who passes over any one of them, would infallibly faint, if he did not use something for the support of nature. It is therefore customary to carry a piece of bread in one’s pocket, to be eaten when one comes to what is called the hungry ground.

The Dictionaries of the Scots Language | John Jamieson, Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language (1808)

The hungry grass quotation comes from futher afield, across the water in Ulster [6]

When a person treads on it in the fields he is seized with an intolerable hunger and weakness. A crop of hungry grass is said to spring up if persons who have dined in the fields do not throw some of the fragments away for the fairies.

Returning to the OS Name Book Entries of hungry place-names the only one which includes a reference to enchantment is that of Hungry Stone in Kircudubrightshire which reads -,

A large Stone on the farm of Glen and situated a little North of the Old Military road. It is said by the superstitious persons that if any individual would touch this Stone they would immediately become hungry, hence the name Hungry Stone

The Dictionaries of the Scots Language | W.H. Patterson, A Glossary of Words in use in the Counties of Antrim and Down (1880)

Although tales of local folklore in the parish include the devil, witches and giants there are no tales of the fairy folk enchanting the landscape.

Hungry Hill from Braehead railhead (Robert Guthrie 2022)

Hungry Hill and Lanemark Collieries

However there is a local tradition that the name Hungry Hill was coined in the depression of the late 1870’s when miners’ wages had reached rock bottom and the City of Glasgow Bank failed, including the branch at Pathhead and it is said ‘The rising ground before reaching Boigside Colliery was then given a name: Hungry hill’ [6]. Although this cannot be the case, since the name appears in the Ayrshire OS Name Book (1855-1857), nevertheless Hungry Hill would have been a convenient place for any miners laid-off to hear of any news from the Lanemark Collieries at nearby Boigide and Rigfoot.

Hungry Hill and Moat Knowe

Hungry Hill sits next to Moat Knowe on the banks of the Lane Burn and during the research into the New Cumnock place-names of Moat Knowe [7] and Court Knowe [8] it was also observed that in Dunbartonshire a Hungry Hill stood next to a Court Hill. Could there be some association between Hungry Hills and these places where people were called to assemble?

Map 2: Hungry Hill & Court Hill Dunbartonshire Map 3: Hungry Hill & Moat Knowe New Cumnock
| Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

A request to the Scottish Place-names / Ainmean-àite na h-Alba Facebook Group [9] quickly revealed that it seems that it is no more than a coincidence.

Alan G James: There are 11 Court Hills in the OS NX square: 4599; 8192; 8697; 6080; 6876; 8154; 8258; 1042; 3742; 4539; 5985; also Courthill, probably a settlement named after such a hill, but apparently not close to any listed, at NX8571. There are 4x Court Knowe(s): NX6581; 0777; 4975; 5353; 5103 (Knowes); also NT 2306. And Court Cairn NX 3051.But I don’t find any Hunger or Hungry Hills in NX at all! There’s one at NY0575, and Hungryhills Covert and Rig at NY1377, 1193. Hunger Edge at NY6684. Hungry Law NT7406. Just a Hungry Stone at NX5357.Moat Knowe NT2602, NX4261; MX8663. Moat Hill NT2702; NX7673; 8974; 0260; 7969. Plus a few Moats, Moat Braes etc.

John Wilkinson: There are four Hungry Hills in West Lothian, all in the north of the county (Bo’ness & Carriden, Dalmeny, Kirkliston and Queensferry) and one Court Hill in the south-west (Whitburn), so no evident relationship here

[1] Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd.|hungry
[2] James B. Johnston, Place-Names of Scotland (3rd Edition,1934)
[3] Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd | Walter Gregor The Dialect of Banffshire (1866)
[4] Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd | John Jamieson Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language (1808)
[5] Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd | John Jamieson Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language (1808)
[6] George Sanderson , New Cumnock Far and Away (1992)
[7] New Cumnock Place-Names | Moat Knowes
[8] New Cumnock Place-Names | Court Knowe
[9] Scottish Place-names / Ainmean-àite na h-Alba Facebook Group
By Permission of National Library of Scotland
Map 1: Ordnance Survey (1895) | Hungry Hill
Map 2: Ordnance Survey (1857) | Hungry Hill
Ordnance Survey Name Books
By Permission of Scotland’s Places
Ayrshire OS Name Books (1855-57) Vol. 49|Hungry Hill
Selkirkshire OS Name Books (1858) Vol. 07 |Hungry Hill
Lanarkshire OS Name Books (1858-1861) Vol. 19 |Hungry Knees
East Lothian OS Name Books (1853-1854) Vol. 13 |Hungry Snout
Banffshire OS Name Books (1867-1869) Vol. 14 | Hungryhills