Corsencon Hill & River Nith

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River Nith with Corsencon Hill in the background

Corsencon Hill

Corsencon Hill marks the most easterly point of the parish of New Cumnock. Although it is only 1559 feet high, it is a truly spectacular and much-loved hill, rising steeply from the valley of the River Nith like a green clad volcano. It stands on the parish boundary between New Cumnock and Kirkconnel, the county boundary between Ayrshire and Dumfriesshire .

River Nith

The source of the River Nith is found in the lower slopes of Enoch Hill in the south west corner of the parish of New Cumnock. From here it flows due north before heading east, effectively dividing the parish in two. It is joined by the Afton Water close to heart of the village ofNew Cumnock. Indeed the name Cumnock may well derive from the Gaelic comunn achadh ‘place of the confluence’ – the meeting of the Afton Water and the River Nith. A few miles downstream and the River Nith meanders slowly past Corsencon Hill.

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Corsencon Hill and the Horseshoue loops of the  River Nith

Robert Burns has captured this eternal relationship between the River Nith and Corsencon in his marvellous ‘O Were I on Parnassus Hill’ and again in ‘Does Haughty Gaul Invasion Threat’.

The Nith then runs from Corsencon and crosses the county boundary and beautiful Nithsdale beckons, a vale that Burns loved and knew well . The river flows past Ellisland, where Burns and his family moved to from Mauchline in 1788, and then three years later to the county town of Dumfries. Robert Burns died in Dumfries in 1796 and lies in a mausoleum in the town’s St. Michael’s Kirkyard, overlooking the River Nith as it continues its journey to the Solway Firth.

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O WERE I on Parnassus hill,
Or had o’ Helicon my fill,
That I might catch poetic skill,
To sing how dear I love thee !

But Nith maun be my Muse’s well,
My Muse maun be thy bonie sel,
On Corsincon I’ll glow’r and spell,
And write how dear I love thee.

Then come, sweet Muse, inspire my lay!
For a’ the lee-lang simmer’s day
I couldna sing, I couldna say,
How much, how dear, I love thee.

I see thee dancing o’er the green,
Thy waist sae jimp, thy limbs sae clean,
Thy tempting lips, thy roguish een__
By Heav’n and Earth I love thee !

By night, by day, a-field, at hame,
The thoughts o’ thee my breast inflame;
And ay I muse and sing thy name__
I only live to love thee.

Tho’ I were doom’d to wander on,
Beyond the sea, beyond the sun,
Till my last weary sand was run;
Till then __ and then I love thee !

Corsencon hill would have been a familiar sight to Robert Burns as he journeyed back and forth between his home at Mauchline and the new family home he was setting up at Ellisland in Dumfriesshire, some 25 miles or so through Nithsdale from New Cumnock. A familiar sight indeed but one he would greet with mixed emotions of melancholy or joy, depending on what direction he was travelling ! Burns and Jean Armour had only recently been married and time away from his new bride and her ‘tempting lips and roguish een’ inspired him to write one of his finest works, ‘O Were I on Parnassus Hill’ .

There is no local tradtion of Rabbie having penned this masterpiece whilst in New Cumnock, but perhaps the seeds were sown one day as he sat under the Trysting Thorn at Gowthornwell (his Muse’s well) on the grassy slopes of his own Parnassus in the kingdom of Kyle !

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Verse 1
Does haughty Gaul invasion threat ?
Then let the louns beware Sir;
There’s WOODEN WALLS upon our seas,
And VOLUNTEERS on shore, Sir:
The Nith shall run to Corsincon,
And Criffel sink in Solway,
Ere we permit a Foreign Foe
On British ground to rally !
We’ll ne’er permit a Foreign Foe
On British ground to rally !

Verse 4
The wretch that would a tyrant own,
And the wretch, his true-born brother,
Who would set the Mod aboon the Throne.
May they be damn’d together!
Who will not sing ‘God save the King’
Shall hang as high’s the steeple;
But while we sing ‘God save the King,’
We’ll ne’er forget THE PEOPLE !
But while we sing ‘God save the King,’
We’ll ne’er forget THE PEOPLE!

‘Does Haughty Gaul Invasion Threat’ where Burns exclaims that the ‘Nith shall run to Corsencon‘, i.e. run backwards before any Foreign Foe should dare invade these shores!!