Haunted Place-Names in Wigtownshire

Here’s the article I wrote for the Stranraer and Wigtownshire Free Press. It appeared on October 28, 2021. I’ve added a notes section below with links to each name’s entry in the OS Name Books and links to the photos used.

Wigtownshire’s place-names are a portal into a landscape haunted by witches, warlocks, ghaists and deils. As the Ordnance Survey was compiling the first edition of its map, its surveyors took notes on the places they visited in volumes known as Original Object Name Books. These notes have left us a valuable record of what the people who lived here before us thought was lurking around the corner.

For example, we learn that Conjured Knowe in Kirkmaiden was said to be the meeting place of witches and warlocks, as well as where the Laird of Drummore Castle punished his prisoners. We are left to imagine the tales behind Witch Rock, Portpatrick and Witches’ Howe and Witches’ House, both in Inch.

Ghosts were said to frequent Ghost Plantation, Mochrum and Ghost Knowe, Penninghame. The surveyors surmised that the locals made a link between the apparitions at Ghost Knowe and the spirts of those executed at nearby Gallows Hill. Just east of Gallows Hill is Ghost Howe Well but, like the Ghost Stone in New Luce, we are not told anything about the story behind its name.

However, at Ghaist Ha’ or Ghost Hall in Old Luce, we are treated to a much more detailed account. Here, in around 1655, the family of Gilbert Campbell were tormented by the Deil o’ Glenluce. This deil was the ghost of Alexander Agnew, a man out for revenge after the Campbells refused him help. At the nearby Deil’s Well, the story gets a bit muddled. The surveyors recorded that the well was said to take its name either from the ghost threatening to throw Gilbert’s wife into it, or that Deil o’ Glenluce himself was drowned there. As it happens, Andrew Alexander Agnew met his end in Dumfries, where he was hanged for blasphemy. [Actually, it was me that got muddled here. I misread the entry – there’s no implication that Agnew drowned here.]

Deils crop up in several other place-names around Scotland. Rather than referring to a direct connection with ghosts or Auld Sandie himself, ‘deil’ and ‘devil’ are often used to signal something’s great size or the danger surrounding a place. For example, the Devil’s Flesh Barrel is a whirlpool in Glensellie Burn where cattle frequently drowned; the Devil’s Meal Chest is a large sandy hill at Low Torrs; and the Devil’s Elbow was the name given to a sharp bend in the road between Bladnoch and Kirwaugh. The bend has been straightened out now, but the surveyors note that it was meant to be haunted too, so it’s worth being careful there nonetheless.

Another haunted part of the road is the junction at Barwhirran Croft. Somewhere in the triangle of land where the road forks is the Foul Hole. According to the surveyors this was “notorious among the ignorant and superstitious as a place much frequented by spectres, witches, warlocks etc.” The horrifying goings-on here apparently caused passersby to tremble with fear, which is given as an explanation for one of Wigtownshire’s oddest names: Shakeabodie Rock, a craggy outcrop just east of the junction. It’s worth a visit – if you dare.

Notes

  • Conjured Knowe “A large knoll the surface of which is rocks heather & furze. Tradition says that it formerly was the resort of witches & warlocks etc. – also that the Laird of Drumore Castle punished his prisoners on it.” OS1/35/86/47 & OS1/35/86/124 There is a Conjure Cairn in Rothiemay, Banffshire OS1/4/27/11.
  • Witch Rock “A larger rock entirely surrounded by water part of which stands perpendicular & is about 40 ft high Situate to the south of Tulig” OS1/35/53/36 & OS1/35/53/51 [where it says that the rock is south of Isle-nagarroch]
  • Witches’ Howe “A hollow in a wood in Culhorn Demesne N.W. side of Culhorn House” OS1/35/35/77
  • Witches’ House “The hollow part of the wood about 12 chains N. of Culhorn house. The wood is compose of Ash Oaks Beech and a few firs.” OS1/35/35/220 This is evidently the same place as Witches’ Howe, which is the name which is printed on the map.
  • Ghost Plantation “A small portion of Plantation close to the North end of Cubi’s Hill [Cupid Hill on the map]. It is said that a Ghost frequented [it] hence its name” OS1/35/75/34 Ghaist Plantation has been scored out in the ‘Orthography, as recommend to be used in the new Plans’ column.
  • Ghost Knowe “A very small hill on the farm of Knockbrex so called from weak minded people supposing it to be frequented by Ghosts etc from its contiguity to Gallows Hill.” OS1/35/32/34 “A very small hill on Knockbrex farm has taken the name by some foolish persons agreeing that ghosts appeared there being in the same field with Gallows Hill” OS1/35/32/40
  • Gallows Hill “A small hill on the D[emesne] of Merton Hall, also the name of a part of ornamental plantation of the same Demesne.” OS1/35/32/30 “A small hill on Merton Land running N to S with an old mixed wood of ash oak beech sycamore spruce and larch on it of the same name Supposed to have taken the name about the year 1688” OS1/35/32/42
  • Ghost Howe Well “A large well or pool of stagnant water. It has no visible outlet except after heavy rains and is seldom known to change its level.” OS1/35/32/28 & (with slightly different wording) OS1/35/32/46
  • The Ghost Stone “A rock of Grauwacke on the edge of a precipitous bank & upon the farm of Barlure.” OS1/35/21/6 & OS1/35/21/78
  • Ghaist Ha’ “A small farm consisting of 4 or 5 fields. In one of these fields stood the house wherin Gilbert Gambell & his wife Jennet Campbell used to be visited by the Deil of Glenluce or the ghost of Agnew the Begger Man.” OS1/35/40/31 A small farm consisting of 5 fields. In the field marked letter ‘a’ on the trace. The ho[use] formerly stood. When Gilbert Campbell & his family lived some time in the year 1654 or 5. At that time. He Gilbert Campbell was very much troubled by the Devil of Glenluce or the host of Alexander Agnew a bold and sturdy beggar, who was afterwards hanged at Dumfries for blasphemy, had threatened mort to the family, because he had not gotten such an alms as he required. This small farm is ever since called Gaistha’ or Ghosthall” OS1/35/42/40
  • Deil’s Well ” An Old Well of little utility, being chiefly dried up. It is situated in an adjoining field to where formerly stood an old [house] in which lived Gilbert Campbell, a weaver, the wife of whom it is […] was threatened by the Devil of Glenluce or [the] Ghost of a beggar Man to be thrown into this Well-” OS1/35/42/8 “An old well now nearly drained dry. In the next field to where the old House of Gaistha’ formerly stood marked Letter ‘a’a on the trace And some time about the year 1655 occupied by one Gilbert Campbell by profession a waver. The Devil of Glenluce or the Ghost of a begger man threaten’d to throw Janet Campbell the wife of Gilbert Campbell into this well.” OS1/35/42/39
  • Devil’s Flesh Barrel “A whirlpool on Glensellie burn. Caused by a water fall of about 6 or 7 feet in height and 6 feet in breadth. It is so called from the frequent occurrence of cattle being drowned in it.” OS1/35/39/3
  • Devil’s Meal Chest “A large sand hill in the farm of Low Torrs on which is a trig. station. It is so called from the great mass of sand comprising the hill.” OS1/35/58/7
  • Devil’s Elbow “The name applies to a very abrupt turn of the road leading from Wigtown to Glenluce by way of the Cock Inn. Tradition says it has been haunted hence the name.” OS1/35/64/14 Deil’s Elbuck, Closeburn DMF is likewise a dangerous bend in the road. OS1/10/6/176
  • Foul Hole “A portion of waste land or common at the intersection of two roads viz. Whithorn or Glasgow and Glenluce to Carty Port.” OS1/35/32/13 “A portion of waste land or common on the intersection of the roads Whithorn to Glasgow Glenluce to Carty Port. It was a marsh is now R[ough] pasture on Barwhirran Farm” OS1/35/32/76
  • Shakeabodie Rock “The name of this Rock is supposed to have derived its name from a legend connected with a place called the ‘Foul Hole’. It appears that the Foul Hole has been notorious among the ignorant and superstitious as a place much frequent by spectres, witches, warlocks etc which caused passers by to shake or tremble and from the proximity of the road to the above place it is supposed to have derived its name.” OS1/35/32/13 “A large on the left of road from Glenluce to Carty Port it gives name to the 2 adjoining fields on the Barr Farm” OS1/35/32/76

North Witch Rock: cc-by-sa/2.0 – © Derek Menzies – geograph.org.uk/photo/925150

Ghaist Plantation: cc-by-sa/2.0 – © Jon Alexander – geograph.org.uk/photo/5628442

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