Montraw, Montraw Burn

Place-name:Montraw, Montraw Burn
Monwhra Hill
Suggested Meaning:1. red hill 2. brindled moor or hill 3. boundary hill
1st element 1.G. monadh ‘mount, hill’
1st element 2. G. monadh ‘moor’
2nd element1. G. ruadh ‘red’
2nd element2. G. riabhach ‘brindled’
2nd element3. G. h-airbhe ‘boundary’
element:S. burn ‘water’
Blaeu Coila (1654):Monwhra, Monwhra Hill
OS Name Books (1855-57):Montraw, Montraw Burn
Location:Ordnance Survey (1893)
Early forms
Munthray (1535), Monthraw (Pont,1583-1613), Monthraw (Blaeu Nithsdale,1654), Monwhra (Blaeu Coila), Monwhra Hill (Blaeu Coila 1654), Monquhra (1708 Land Tax) Monwhra hill (Moll, 1745), Mountquhra (1759 land tax), Monquhraw (Armstrong 1775), Montra (Armstrong 1783), Montquhra (Land Tax 1803), Monqura (Valuation Rolls 1930).


Today, although the farm cottage lies in ruins it is known locally as Monthraw. However, as we trace its story several forms of the name, including some seemingly unpronounceable, will come and go.

The earliest form found thus far is ‘ane merk land of Munthray‘, one of a number of lands in Glen Afton that passed on the death of James Dunbar, baron of Cumnock in 1535, to another member of the Dunbar family [1].

At Striueling , 27 Jul [1535]

‘Ane Letter maid to DAME JONET STEWART, LADY MOCHRUM (a footnote says “the second wife of Sir John Dunbar of Mochrum, and mother of Gavin Dunbar, Archbishop of Glasgow”), hir airis and assignais ane or ma, – of the gift of nonentres, malis, fermes,profittis and dewities of the four merk land of the Blakcrag, 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, with the pertinentis, pertenyng to hir in in (sic) conjunct fee, liand in the barony of Cumnok, within the shirefdome of Aire, being in oure soverane lordis handis be resoun of nonenteree of the last terme of Witsounday, throw the deceis of umquhill James Dunbar of Cumnok.

Register of the Privy Seal of Scotland, vol 2, no. 1737.

Map 1: Montraw (OS 1905) | Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

The name undergoes a relatively minor change from Munthrey (1535) to Monthraw (ca. 1583-1596) on Timothy Pont’s map of Nithsdale, which included a corner of what is now the parish of New Cumnock, then the parish of Cumnock.

Map 2: Monthraw (Pont 1583-96) | Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

The form Monthraw also appears on John Blaeu’s map of Nithsdale (1654), perhaps not surprsingly since it is based on the aforementioned Pont’s map.

Map 3: Monthraw (Blaeu Nithsdale 1654) | Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland.

Blaeu’s map of Coila Provincia, Ayrshire (1654), was based on Pont’s map of the province of Kyle, which sadly did not survive. Here the name appears in the form Monwbra, where it seems an ‘h‘ has been incorrectly transcribed as a ‘b‘; supported by the fact the Monwhra hill (and not Monbra hill) is also shown on the map.

Map 4: Monwhra & Monwhra hill (Blaeu Coila 1654) | Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

The name appears in the Land Tax Rolls of the Parishes of Old Cumnock and New Cumnock (paired with the neighbouring lands of Craigdarroch) in the form of Monquhra (1708) , Mountquhra (1759) and Montquhra (1803). [Scotland’s Places].

Here the forms Monwhra and Monquhra show an example the Scots spelling of -quh- replacing -wh- . (cf. the place-name Polquhirter and Polwhirter). It is also worth noting the change of the possible first element from Mon– to Mount.

The -quh– form of the name appears as Monquhraw in Armstrong’s Map of Ayrshire (1775).

Map 5: Monquhraw (Armstrong 1775) | Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

Meanwhile in a slightly later and reduced version of Armstrong’s map of Ayrshire (1783) the name appears as Montra, edging closer to the Ordnance Survey form of Montraw.

Map 6: Montra (Armstrong 1783) | Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

The Ayrshie Ordnance Survey Name Book (1855-57) entry for Montraw reads –

A house at the western base of Cannock Hill, occupied by a shepherd

The ‘Authorities for the Spelling’ of the name as Montraw were John Craig Esq., Polquheys who also owned the lands of Montraw and Craigdarroch and James Thorburn, the shepherd at Montraw. The alternative form of spelling ‘Meuquhraw’, from the Dumfries Estate Map was also recorded.

Map 7: Montraw (OS 1857) | Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

James Thorburn and his family lived at Montraw for over twenty years during which time their address in the Census Records were Monthraw (1841), Monquthraw (1851) and Munquhraw (1861).

John Walls replaced Thorburn as the herd at Montraw, where he passed away in 1864. His wife Ellen Rowan died the following year of British Cholera, the widow then living at Greehead, Afton Bridgend. Their son James Walls was the shepherd at Montraw for over 30 years during which time the addresses given in the Census Records were Mountthraw (1871), Monqura (1881), Monthraw Cott, (1891) and Mounthraw (scored out) and replaced with Monqura (1901). In the 1881 Census James Walls occupation was recorded as ‘shepherd in charge of 2000 acres‘.

W. and A .K. Johnston’s map of Ayrshire (1885) during that period recorded the place-name in the form Monthraw.

Map 8: Monthraw (W. & A.K.Johnston 1885) | Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

James Walls and his wife Agnes Hyslop had four children, all born at Monthraw – John (1862, Mounthraw), James (1864, Munquhra), Mary (1875, Munqhuraw) and William (1877, Monquhra), who sadly died there in infancy.

The OS Map (1894) illustrates the landscape during the Walls family time at Monthraw. The farm cottage nestled on the lower slopes of the steep Cannock Hill surrounded on 3 sides with trees set in an enclosure for wind-breaks. To the front of the cottage is a square enclosure, the far south-west corner of which stood close to where the Montraw Burn joined the Afton Water.

Map 9: Montraw (OS Map 1893) | Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

A short path to the south-east led to outbuildings while the path to north west crossed the ford at the Afton and round the back of Castle William before descending to the nearest neighbouring farm of Craigdarroch some 2 miles away. The village of New Cumnock, including the kirk and the school was a further 5 miles away – a 14 mile round trip from the ‘lone Montraw’. It was little wonder that in 1883 then that James Wall looked for some support from the New Cumnock School Board [2].

An application from James Walls and Peter Murdoch, shepherds upon the upper reaches of the Afton, for some aid in providing a lad to teach their children at their own houses was agreed to, and £1 each allowed

The Ayr Advertiser, or West Country and Galloway Journal, Thursday, February 8, 1883

The shepherds’ children were probably taught at Craigdarroch farm where a room had been set aside to serve as a class room. The previous year Peter Murdoch, herd at Over Blackcraig, had found at hoard of ancient coins in the hills and would soon receive a reward for his discovery.

The Walls family headstone stands a few yards from the west wall of New Cumnock Auld Kirk in the kirkyard where chiselled into the sandstone is the name Mount Thraw!

Walls family headstone Auld Kirkyard (Robert Guthrie 2016)

In 1929 Ayrshire County Council acquired the whole of the lands of Craigdarroch and secured the site for a reservoir and control of the watershed while the land not suitable for sheep would gradually be planted in co-operation with the Forestry Commission (Afton Plantations). The work began in 1931 and the Afton Water Works formally opened in September 1935 [3].

The 1930 Valuation Rolls record the grand-sounding Gideon Pringle as presumably the last shepherd at Monqura, five years later the Valuation Rolls record Monqura as empty. The cottage now deserted and the waters of the reservoir covering the enclosure at the front.

Map 10: Montraw ruins (OS Map 1894) | Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

The ruins of the cottage were visible for a number of years. The photographs below are from 2002 and a visit by my family. My wife Sheena is the great great grandaughter of John Walls, shepherd at Monthraw and our sons the great great great grandsons.

The ruins are now hidden by the saplings that have grown over the years. The remains of the outbuidlings at the end of the path (See 2 / Map)

Montraw / Monthraw

The first element in the name is possibly Gaelic monadh which has a variety of meanings in as reflected in the entry in Edward Dwelly dictionary which includes [ 4 ]-

monadh, -aidh, -aidhean s.m. ‘1. Mountain, moor, range . 2. Heath, heathy expanse, desert 3. Tolerably level hill-ground 4. Any hill pasture as distinguished from meadow and arable land’

Edward Dwelly, Illustrated Gaelic-English Dictionary

Two offerings

1.1 Gaelic monadh ruadh ‘red mount’

The early forms Munthray (1535) and Monthraw (Pont 1583-1613) can be compared with Monthroy, Fife which W.J. Watson considers as Gaelic monadh ruadh ‘red mount’ [5], albeit the modern day form of Monthraw is pronounced as mon- thraw.

1.2 Gaelic monadh riabhach ‘brindled moor

Michael Ansell in ‘New Cumnock News’ considers the Ordnance Survey form Montraw and suggests it is possibly derived from Gaelic Am Monadh Riabhach ‘the brindled moor’, maybe A’ Mhuine Riabhach ‘the brindled shrubbery’ or just possibly Scots Mount-raw, if buildings were perhaps arranged in a row [6].

Monwhra Hill

A closer look at the map shows Montraw Burn rising from the west facing slope of Meikledodd Hill with Littledodd Hill by its side, both sharing the same element Scots dodd ‘lump, round hill’, a common term for a hill. [See Meikledodd 7 ]’. Between the two is the point where the shires of Ayrshire, Dumfriesshire and Kirkcudbrightshire meet.

Map 11: Montraw and Montraw Burn (OS Map 1893) | Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

However, there is no mention of either Meikledodd Hill or Littledodd Hill in Blaeu Coila Provincia (see Map 4 ) while, as discussed above, Monwhra Hill is named. The hill is also shown later on Herman Moll’s map of south Ayrshire (1745) below, exactly at the meeting point of the three shires; of course this may have been influenced by Blaeu’s map.

It may be the case that, what are now known as Meikledodd Hill and Littledodd Hill were dodds or lumps on Monwhra Hill. Whatever the case, the presence of the additional ‘hill’ in Monwhra Hill strongly suggests that the first element of Monwhra (and its variants) is Gaelic monadh ‘hill’ as opposed to Gaelic monadh ‘moor’.

Map 12: Monwhra Hill (Moll 1745) | Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

As for the second element then both Gaelic ruadh ‘red’ (Watson) and Gaelic riabhach ‘brindled’ (Ansell) as discussed above may apply, neither of which were adopted into the ‘dodd‘ name, e.g. Meikle Red Dodd and Little Red Dodd! They did however, like their Gaelic predecessor Monwhra, adopt the superflous SSE hill ‘hill’.

To be fair in terms of looks, neither Meikledodd or Littledodd. specifically appear more red or brindled than other hills in the vicinity and clearly their shape was more distinct than their colour.

1.3 Gaelic monadh h-airbhe ‘boundary hill’

Is there a possible third option for the second element of Montraw and its variants?

As discussed above Monwhra sits at the meeting places of the three shires – Ayrshire, Dumfriesshire and Kirkcudbrightshire. N.B. some 12 miles to the north stands Threeshire Hill where the three shires of Ayrshire, Dumfriesshire and Lanarkshire). So perhaps the place-name Montraw (or variants) is also a boundary name.

The second element of the forms recorded above are munt- hray, mont- hraw, mon- whra, mon- quhra, mount- quhra, mon- quhraw, mont- ra, mont- quhra, mon- qura.

Although, it takes a leap could the –hraw be a variant of –harrow as in Pulharrow and Cornaharrow below [8]-

Airbhe, eirbhe ‘a dividing wall, boundary’: The two burns called Pulharrow, which enter Loch Trool and the River Ken, are probably also to be referred to as airbhe, and so may Cornharrow.

W .J. Watson , Celtic Place-Names of Scotland

Pulharrow Burn joins the Water of Ken some 2 miles north of St. John’s Town of Dalry, Kirkcudbrightshire. Cornharrow Hill sits on the boundary of Kirkcudbrightshire and Dumfriesshire some 6 miles south of Montraw. The farm of Cornharrow sits 2 miles to the south west of Cornharrow Hill on a tirbutary of the Ken and maybe ‘Arrow’ shown on H. Moll’s map above.

Montraw Burn

The Ayrshire Ordnance Survey Name-Book (1855-57) entry for Montraw Burn reads –

A Burn formed by the union of four Streams, flowing off Black Lorg Meikle & Little Dodd &c, and uniting with Afton Water near Montraw

The Scots burn ‘stream’ [8] takes its name from the place-name Montraw probably from the hill of that name or possibly later from the farm, which in turn had taken it’s name from the hill.

The Montraw Burn once joined the Afton Water near the bottom corner of the enclosed land in front of Montraw farm. However, following the creation of the Afton Water Works both burns join the Afton Reservoir a short distance from one another.

Map 13: Montraw Burn & tributaries (OS Map 1893) | Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland
The Lone Monthraw

The Reverend Robert Simpson, minister at Sanquhar is perhaps best known for his work ‘Traditions of the Covenanters‘ (1867) [10] which was based on anecdotes that had passed down from the Covenanting times of the late 17th century to descendants of those that had been persecuted during that period. The ‘traditions’ were collected from a radius of 20 or 30 miles from Sanquhar and included two accounts in Glen Afton in the parish of New Cumnock at Lochbrowan and Lochingerroch (see Map 1 above) where government soldiers or dragoons would, as was their want, visited the farms to interrogate the householders regarding any non-conforming activities such as attending conventicles (which were illegal); not attending church, not having their children baptised at church etc. The sight of dragoons would often put the fear of God into God-fearing people.

The Rev. Simpson later penned ‘Martyland: Historical Tale of the Covenanters’ [11], which included the following ‘Startling Adventure at Monthraw’

It was a dark night in December; the wind blew a hurricane; the rain covered the sides of the heathy hills with foam, and all the rills and burns were in high flood. The family of Monthraw had barred the door of their cottage against the storm, and piled on the hearth the brick-like peats – the flame of which set a cheerful glow through the apartment. They were more than ordinarily happy.’

Earlier that day the gudeman of Monthraw had received a considerable amount money owed to him which was now carefully locked in the family chest. Now in the evening with the storm outside, it gave a strange comfort that there would be unwelcome intruders to the home in such a night. But the peace was soon shattered with a loud knock at the door and on asking who was there, the reply was on ‘Open the door, I demand, or I’ll burst it in with a crash‘.

The door was opened and in burst, ‘a stalwart, burly dragoon, and stood in his military accroutements‘. The family feared that the time they had dreaded had arrived, their dwelling was to be invaded by dragoons – ‘of a class whose vocation was to shed the blood of God’s saints by special license in the moors and wilds of the country.’ However, the soldier put their mind at ease and explained he had lost his way in the moor and the storm had rendered his horse unmanageable. He was thankful to have spotted the light in the cottage and was determined to take shelter their for the night. The family assured they would accomodate him as best they could and after a meal at the fireside a bed was made ready, while his weary horse was sheltered in a corner of the cow-house.

The dragoon placed his loaded pistols on the pillow and his sword on a table before initially enjoying a sound sleep. However, later he woke and could not get back to sleeep. He recognised that the storm had abated and heard a slight noise at the little window. The aperture called a window had no glass in it – it was closed with a square board which turned on leathern hinges, either to admit the air in or let out the smoke. The noise increased and the board was gradually pushed inward. ‘Who is there?’, cried the dragoon. There was no reply but the trooper remained alert. Sure enough, some time later the board moved inward in a suspicious fashion. Again he demanded who was there, with no answer forthcoming. ‘I will fire if you do not desist’ and with no reply he seized one of his pistols and fired, rustling was heard and then a heavy fall under the window. The household was alarmed by the commotion and raised from their bed. Was this the day they had feared may come – ‘dragoons were always objects of suspicion, and, for the most part , of terrible dread. Did the man intend to murder the hapless family? Once again their visitor allayed their fears and explained what had transpired and all retired to their beds as though nothing had happened.

As the morning dawned the dragoon was eager to find out the consequence of firing a shot through the aperture and to his amazement he found a man who lay dead in a pool of his own blood. The gudeman of Monthraw recognised the man immediately but could not understand why he would venture to his house at the dead of night and why come to the window? The mystery unfolded following the discovery of the implements of murder on the dead-man’s body. This was the person from whom he had received the money that he had deposited in the chest the day before. It would appear he had travelled out in such a wild night with the vile intent to steal the money and kill the family.

‘How wonderfully was the shield of the Divine Protection thrown over the family of Monthraw! What visitor could be more unacceptable than the bluff dragoon? and yet in the person of this man did the Lord send them a guardian – an armed soldier of the enemy to save their lives.’


[1] Register of the Privy Seal of Scotland, vol 2, no. 1737. | Munthrey
[2] British Newspaper Archive | The Ayr Advertiser, or West Country and Galloway Journal, Thursday, February 8, 1883
[3] New Cumnock Place-Names | Afton Water
[4] Edward Dwelly, Illustrated Gaelic-English Dictionary | monadh
[5] W. J. Watson, Celtic Place-Names of Scotland (1923), p. 403 |Monthroy
[6] Michael Ansell, New Cumnock News, Autumn 2020, Issue 6 | New Cumnock Place-names: Part III
[7] New Cumnock Place-Names | Meikledodd Hill (in progress)
[8] W. J. Watson, Celtic Place-Names of Scotland (1923), p. 479, 480 | airbhe, eirbhe , Pulharrow, Cornharrow
[9] Dictionaries of the Scots Language, Dictionars o the Scots Leid |burn
[10] Reverend Robert Simpson ‘Traditions of the Covenanters or gleanings among the mountains
[11] Reverend Robert Simpson ‘Martyrland’
Reproduced with the Permission of the National Library of Scotland
Images are used under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) licence.
Map 1: |Bartholomew’s “Half Inch to the Mile Maps” of Scotland, 1899-1905|Montraw
Map 2: | Timothy Pont [Nithsdale; part of Teviotdale] – Pont 35 [ca. 1583-96] |Monthraw
Map 3: Joan Blaeu, Nithia Vicecomitatus, The Shirifdome of Nidis-dail / auct. Timoth. Pont (1654) | Monthraw
Map 4: Joan Blaeu, Coila Provincia, [or], The province of Kyle / auct. Timoth. Pont (1654) |Monbra, Monwhra Hill
Map 5: Andrew Armstrong, A new map of Ayrshire (1775) | Monquhraw
Map 6: Andrew Armstrong, Mostyn Armstrong, A map of Ayrshire, reduced from Captain Armstrong’s six sheet map (1783) | Montra
Map 7: Ordnance Survey Maps – Six-inch 1st edition, Scotland, 1843-1882 (1857) | Montraw, Montraw Burn
Map 8: W. & A.K. Johnston Limited, Map of Ayrshire (1885) |Monthraw
Map 9: Ordnance Survey Maps – Six-inch 2nd and later editions, Scotland, 1892-1960 (1893) | Montraw, Montraw Burn
Map 10: Ordnance Survey, 1:25,000 maps of Great Britain – 1945-1971 (1953) | Montraw (in ruins), Montraw
Map 11: Ordnance Survey Maps – Six-inch 2nd and later editions, Scotland, 1892-1960 (1893) | Montraw, Montraw Burn
Map 12: Herman Moll,The South Part of the Shire of Air [i.e. Ayr], containing Kyle and Carrick (1745) | Monwhra Hill
Ordnance Survey Name Books
By Permission of Scotland’s Places
Ayrshire OS Name Books (1855-57) Vol. 49| Montraw, Montraw Burn
Land Tax Rolls
Scotland’s People
Old Parish Records, Births, Marriages, Deaths, Census Records, Valuation Rolls, Wills & Testamentsls.