Place-name:Witch Knowe, Witch Pool
Suggested Meaning:1. court hill and drowning pool
2. witch folklore
Blaeu Coila (1654):No Entry
OS Names Book (1855-57):Witch Knowe, Witch Pool
Location:Ordnance Survey (1892-1945)
Earlier Forms

Witch Knowe and Witch Pool

Witch Knowe ‘court-knowe’ and Witch Pool ‘drowning pool’

The small green knowe among the rushes (Robert Guthrie)

The Witch Knowe and Witch Pool lie in a field between the Afton Water and the Afton Road just beyond Blackcraig farm. The Ordnance Survey Names Books (1855-57) entries for them both reads –

Witch Knowe: A small green Knowe about 4 chains north East of the foot of Black Craig.

Witch Pool: A large spring, now nearly filled up with stones, at the base of Witch Knowe.

Map 1: Witch Knowe and Witch Pool | Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

Together these may have formed part of a possible network of courts of justice or places of assembly within the barony of Cumnock [1]. The court would assemble at the Witch Knowe or hillock [2] to hear the sentence and the condemned witch, or perhaps a woman, would be drowned in the pool. It is interesting to note that the Dictionaries of Scots Languages entry for Court-Hill includes the quote [3] –

There is an ancient court hillock, with a Witch Pool adjoining, in “The Den” at Kirriemuir.

The Witch Knowe is instantly recognisable as a green knowe, hillock rising above the rushes while the Witch Pool, i.e. a spring is hidden within rushes, as is the small stream that flows from it.

Witch Knowe (Robert Guthrie)

Hopefully on the day these two photgraphs (above and below) were taken the purple circle at the Witch Knowe below is simply a sun flare on the lens!

Witch Knowe with camera flare or not? (Robert Guthrie)
Witch Knowe, Glen Afton (Robert Guthrie)

Witch Knowe

Witches meeting place

Helen J. Steven in “The Cumnocks, Old and New” [4] recounts the legend of the giant that lived in the cave at Blackcraig. Of particular interest, in regard to Witch Knowe, was the story about the disappearance of the bouncing fiddler, held in high esteem throughout the parish. Several scenarios were considered, including that the fiddler had been bewitched, before it emerged he had been kidnapped by the giant. Nevertheless it is worth sharing the witch’s tale.

Up Glen Afton in a lonely, dreary spot lived an old, old woman with a cat for company. She grew no bour-tree at her house-end. Her chin was long and pointed and her eyes were bleared with age. She sat by the fireside all day long with her cat beside her, and it winked with wicked sleepy eyes and behind the door stood a heather broom. In the morning the old woman’s limbs were very stiff, and the cat was dull and sleepy. What wonder she was stiff and tired, for even a witch might may well be weary of a midnight ride on a broom with her familiar by her side. The farmer knew well who bewitched his cow so that she died. The shepherd’s only child was dwining fast away, and the old woman made a clay image and stuck it full of pins and drew away the sickness from the little one. And the shepherd gave her a sheep which was by his right, and the shepherd’s wife paid with her kirkin’ shawl. For it was the witch who sent the illness and only the witch could take it away. Had she played her cantrips on the fiddler, and what bribe would suffice to bring him back? But the witch sat in her house and her mouth was sealed, though her bleared eyes saw many things.

Helen J. Steven

 A search through the Ordnance Survey Name Books of Ayrshire reveals a Witch Knowe in each of the parishes of Auchinleck, Coylton ( both described as a meeting place for witches) and Craigie.


[1] New Cumnock Place-Names | Court Knowe
[2] Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. | knowe
[3] Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. | court-hill
[4] Helen J. Steven “The Cumnocks, Old and New” (1899)
By Permission of National Library of Scotland
Map 1 |Ordance Survey Map (1892-1949) |Witch Knowe,Witch Pool
Ordnance Survey Name Books
By Permission of Scotland’s Places
Ayrshire OS Name Books (1855-57) Vol. 49|Witch Knowe, Witch Pool