Here’s an article I wrote for the Stranraer and Wigtownshire Free Press. It appeared as Scots place names give us a glimpse into region’s past on July 15, 2021. I managed to squeeze 26 names into 500 words. I’ve added a notes section below with links to each name’s entry in the OS Name Books.
The place-names of Wigtownshire chart the ebb and flow of languages that have been spoken here over the last two millennia. The name of every hill, burn, farm and stone records how people have viewed and interacted with the landscape. Often overlooked is the rich contribution the Scots language has made to this tapestry of names. Scots replaced Gaelic here as the majority language in the 15th century and has left a unique mark on the map.
The distinctive vocabulary of Scots is perhaps best seen in its words for animals that appear in our place-names. Whaup, the curlew, occurs in place-names across Scotland, but only at Whauphill has it made its way into the name of a village. The Scots name for the cormorant appears in Scart Craig, Scart Cave and Scart Islands. The cuckoo visited Gowk Hill, the oyster catcher was seen at Pyot Hole, and the recently reintroduced red kite had its legacy preserved at Glede’s Nest and Gled Knowes. Flounder were found at Fleuk Hole near Port William and lythe ‘pollack’ were caught off Lythe Mead on the Mull of Galloway.
Elsewhere, Scots words are hidden as ‘false friends’ – words with different meanings in Scots and English. The hog in Hog Hill, Stoneykirk isn’t a pig but a young sheep. The gate in Red Gate and Gate Craig is a road, a meaning with its root in Old Norse. The Scots word for a gate (and a passage between hills) is yett, as in Yett Hill near Torhouse and a self-closing gate is a liggat, which appears in Liggat Cheek Cottage, Baltersan. ‘Several’, which occurs as a place-name across Wigtownshire, means land that is privately owned. Its opposite is a ‘strife-rigg’, a patch of common ground; this meaning of strife might lie behind Strife Hill and Strife Knowes.
Much of the Scots in Wigtownshire is hidden by how it is spelled. Many Scots words were silently changed to their English equivalents when the Ordnance Survey was compiling the first edition of its map. The Owse Rocks in Kirkcolm became Ox Rocks and Selch Co on the Mull became Seals Cave. Co, the local word for a cave, became ‘cove’ or ‘cave’ throughout the county. The same fate befell stane which is now printed as stone; it survives in a few places, including The Craigs of the Stane Fauld, New Luce and the Craw Stane, Inch. Similarly, the High and Low farm names dotted across the map almost all began their life as Scots heigh and laigh. Laigh hung on at Laigh Sinniness and Laigh Clugston but heigh has been completely erased.
Much has been lost this way, sometimes surviving in local pronunciation but hidden from visitors reading the map. However, there’s plenty left to celebrate, including the following names that are unique to Wigtownshire. ‘Orloge’, Scots for the face of a clock or sundial, makes its only appearance in a place-name at Orloge Knowe, Kirkcolm. And the only place in the world called Sonsy Neb (‘lucky nose’) is a point of rocks south of Port Logan.
- Whaup Hill [village] “A few houses at the intersection of two Roads; consisting of a Public House, Smithy and Wheelwrights shop.” OS1/35/66/14
- Whaup Hill [hill] “A moderate sized hill the ba[se] of which is of an oval shape the soil of which is arable. On the summit is a plantation. It is [the] property of R. V. Agnew Esqr.” OS1/35/66/14
- Scart Craig [Leswalt] “A rocky point south of Captain’s Cave noted for the resort of a species of bird known to the country people by the name Scart (the cormorant)” OS1/35/33/7
- Scart Craig [Kirkmaiden] “A rock used as a seat by fishermen when angling.” OS1/35/87/9
- Scart Cave “A cave of small extent the entrance of which is below high water mark & is constantly inundated. It affords refuge to birds called Scarts, hence the name.” OS1/35/87/69
- Scart Islands “Two small rocks in Mochrum Loch where cormotants resor[t] in order to brood hence the nam[e.] Cormorants are commonly calle[d] Scarts in this country.” OS1/35/61/26
- Gowk Hill “A small arable hill upon the farm of Bailiewhir it takes its name from a bird called the cuckoo which is known to build its nest here every seasons without exception” OS1/35/84/19 & OS1/35/84/95
- Pyot Hole “A small indent in the Bay of Whithorn & situated between Ringan & Dummie [Dumbie] Point.” OS1/35/78/23 W. A. D Riach’s A Galloway Glossary (1988) lists piet, sea-piet & sand-piet as names for the oyster-catcher.
- Glede’s Nest “A steep part of a precipice on the Fell of Carleton wher[e] birds called Gleads build their nest hence the name” OS1/35/83/32
- Gled Knowes “Two smalls hills with a few rocks on their summit Supposed to have derived its name from the circumstance of the “Gled” building its nest here.” OS1/35/8/19
- Fleuk Hole “A considerable salt water Pool on the sea beach situated between high & low water mark, in it are a small fish called Flounder caught by the fishermen. (Flounder is called Fluke in this locality)” OS1/35/75/7
- Lythe Mead “A small projection which is the most South Western point of the Mull of Galloway. It takes [its] name from the quantities of Lythe (fish) that are caught here.” OS1/35/87/71 Mead is a form of Scots MEITH, sense 3 in the DSL ” A landmark or prominent feature of the landscape by which a traveller sets his course (Sc. 1808 Jam.); specif. a landmark used by fishermen to steer by (Sh. 1866 Edm. Gl.; Mry. 1914 Trans. Bnff. Field Club 26; Arg. 1930; Abd. 1931 Press and Jnl. (25 March)), in gen. fishing usage; a fishing ground marked out with reference to the landmarks visible from it.” The same word, though close to sense 1 “A distinguishing feature by which the boundary of a piece of land is determined, a boundary mark or line” is the first element of Miefield, whose field-names I’ve written about HERE.
- Hog Hill “A small hill on the lands of Kildonnan the surface of which is arable land” OS1/35/56/27 I mapped HOG/G place-names in Dufmries and Galloway for Day 18 of the 30 Day Map Challenge 2020.
- Red Gate “A precipitous point on the shore of Knock and convenient to Callies Port is surface near the bottom is rocky and on its top is clay which has a red appearance.” OS1/35/83/20 This name, like Gate Craig, below could contain GATE in the sense ‘gate, passage’. Passages between hills are often called DOORS in Wigtownshire and the fact the YETT appears in local place-names swayed me me towards interpreting GATE as ‘road’. However, I’ve not visited either site an I was wanting to include Scots GATE in the article, so these aren’t exactly objective judgements.
- Gate Craig “A small Rocky Hill on the Farm of Balterson.” OS1/35/32/13 & OS1/35/32/72
- Yett Hill “A small cultivated hill in […] farm of Torhouse mains adjoin[ing] the River Bladnoch” OS1/35/50/10
- Liggat Cheek “A small thatched farm house with suitable off[ice] houses attached, and about 25 Acres of Arabl[e] land. The property of J. C, Moorse Esqr. Corsewall” OS1/35/15/26
- Several There are several of these names, and I’m going to leave collecting them for another day. However, the one I was thinking of when writing this was Several, Kirkmaiden: “A thatched house one story high it was formerly the farm house of the farm called Several the house and a portion of the farm of Several is held by the farmer oh High Drumore now & the remainder of the land is divided into several small holdings or farms. The property of the Earl of Stair – this house is now occupied by a Labourer” OS1/35/86/20 & “A thatched house one story high, it has been the original but is now a cottage house. and added to the form of High Drumore, and a portion of the land, the remaining part given to several other tenants, and is the property of Earl of Stair.” OS1/35/86/86 In the entry for Cairn Top, Old Luce it is written that “Mr Guthries the Factor in his address calls it Dergoals Several” OS1/35/43/81
- Strife Hill [Leswalt] “A small hill on the farm of Low Glenstockad[a]le. Tehre is a tradition in the country that this hill was at some former period the scene of fighting or skirmishing hence the name” OS1/35/33/37
- Strife Hill [Wigtown] “A small hill on the farm of “Cair[n] House”” OS1/35/50/16
- Strife Knowes “A small hill on the far[m of] Craigenlee the surface of which [is] studded with small hillocks [or] knows” OS1/35/34/40
- The Ox Rocks “Two rocks or small rock […] in the sea a short distance from […] shore near Barrock Point on […] of which is a Trig. station call[ed] by Trig. Party Orrest Rock.” OS1/35/2/8 This entry has Owse Rocks scored out and replaced by The Ox Rocks. Owse and Ouse are listed in Other modes of Spelling the same Name column. There is a similar entry which also includes these forms here OS1/35/2/66
- Seals Cave “A small cave in the precipice immediately above Lythe Mead It is inaccessible at all times” OS1/35/87/71 William Todd’s statistical account of Kirkmaiden (1854 , p. 31) records that the cave is “much frequented by seals and hence called Selk-Co.” I called this Seal Cave in the article. One typo’s not so bad.
- The Craigs of the Stane Fauld “A few ledges of Rock about 10 chains east of Park Hill and about the same distance S.W. of Mid Hill” OS1/35/5/8 & OS1/35/5/28
- Craw Stane “A large rock about 10 chains North of the Fairy Knowes. The property of Sir Alexr. Wallace” OS1/35/4/14 & OS1/35/4/49
- Heigh: The entry for The High Bank, New Luce has The Heich Bank scored out. The Other modes of Spelling the same Name column has The Heigh Bank, Ditto, The High Bank, The Heich Bank, Ditto. OS1/35/21/16
- Laigh Sinniness Only Sinniness appears in the Name Book OS1/35/60/16. Laigh Sinniness is on the current OS map.
- Laigh Clugston “A small farm house with Offices and about 100 acres of land attached the property of Col. Stopford Blain of Penninghame House” OS1/35/49/9
- Orloge Knowe “A small arable Hill or eminence on the farm of Barnhill, on which is erected a weather cock uses as Trig Station called by Trig. Party “Barrow hill weather cock” A “Sun Dial” at one time stood on this hill hence the name” OS1/35/2/11
- Sonsy Neb “A point of rocks covered at high water and is used at low water as a fishing seat by fishermen which angling. – takes its name from being considered a lucky place in taking fish.”