Corra, Kirkgunzeon

My thanks to Alistair Clark for sharing these field-names. Alistair farmed the Corra from the ages of 16 to 77. He is featured in this edition of the ‘Galloway People’ series in the Galloway News, which is full of fascinating pieces of local history.

Fields 3-11 are in grid square NX8665, which doesn’t have a single name recorded on the OS. Thanks to Alistair, we now know it contains at least 10.

  • 1 Behind Cottage
  • 2 Blacklands
  • 3 Bottom Holm
  • 4 Front Drum
  • 5 Back Drum
  • 6 Hill Gate
  • 7 Big Meadow
  • 8 Hill Facing Porterbelly
  • 9 Rough Ground
  • 10 Back Hill
  • 11 Red Braes
  • 12 Front Holm
  • 13 Behind Steading


Behind Cottage (1) & Behind Steading (13): There is one small building marked on the 1st edition six-inch OS, where there are now a collection of houses in front of Behind Cottage. This building might have been the original referent of the name. The current OS marks one of these buildings as Greenfield. I’m not sure when the house acquired this name, but it isn’t on NX86NE-A, published in 1957. It may be that Greenfield is an earlier name for Behind Cottage, perhaps named in reference to Blacklands (2), below (though if this were the case we would expect a name like *Greenlands or more likely *Whitelands).

The DSL entry for STEADING gives the following definitions: “a building site, a piece of ground on which a house or row of houses is built; the site of the buildings on a farm” & “the buildings on a farm, sometimes including and sometimes excluding the farm-house”. Appropriately enough, Behind Steading is the field that backs onto the main buildings of Corra farm, which include Corra Castle.

Blacklands (2): Lands in field-names often refers to plough-strips or rigs, rather than the more general sense of ‘area of land’. While this is the most likely interpretation of lands here, the word could refer to the field’s soil or vegetation. Soil and vegetation can be blackened by fire, surface water, or various minerals. Black can also be used to denote the richness and fertility of soil.

Bottom Holm (3) & Front Holm (12): The DSL entry for HOWM, of which holm is a common spelling variant, defines it as: “a stretch of low-lying, level ground, usually grassland, on the banks of a river or stream, liable to be inundated in time of flood, a water meadow.” This is a prefect description of Bottom Holm, which sits on bank of Kirkgunzeon Lane. Front Holm is separated from Kirkgunzeon Lane by Behind Steading (13) which looks like a better candidate form a holm-name. However, Front Holm is part of the same low-lying land, bisected by a former mill race. I wonder if 12 and 13 were once one field called Front Holm, and the name retained by 12 when the land was split. It is worth noting that in these names front contrasts with bottom; in 4 and 5, below, front contrasts with back.

Front Drum (4) & Back Drum (5): Drum is borrowed into Scots from Gaelic druim, which literally refers to ‘a back’, but is used topographically to refer to a ridge. Mactaggart defines drums as ‘curved wet land’ in his Scottish Gallovidian Encyclopedia (1824). W. A. D. Riach’s A Galloway Glossary (1988) gives drum as either ‘a small rectangular hillock’ or ‘a field sloping on all sides’. Both drum and druim occur frequently in Galloway names, often referring to humped glacial landforms. Examples from Kirkgunzeon include Drumcoltran and Drumjohn (both from Gaelic druim) and Drumpark. Seven of the Corra’s fields cover the hill at the west side of NX8665. Front and Back Drum are on the same side of the hill from the perspective of Corra steading, unlike Back Hill which is on the far side. On the 1st edition six-inch OS what is now Front- and Back Drum is one field. We can assume that this was called Drum and that front and back were used to distinguish the new fields formed when it was split.

Hill Gate (6), Big Meadow (7) & Hill Facing Porterbelly (8): Gate in Scots can mean ‘way, road, path’ and the A711 runs past Hill Gate. However, were the name referring to the road we would expect something like *Gate Hill. There is an access gate from the A711 at the entrance to the field, so I think it is safe to say that gate here means ‘gate’.

I have marked the boundary between Big Meadow and Hill Facing Porterbelly as the track shown on the current OS. Satellite imagery shows rougher ground (probably whin) on Hill Facing Porterbelly, whereas Big Meadow appears as a clean, green area of land dotted with contented looking coos. In terms of the grammar of names, Hill Facing Porterbelly is the most distinctive in this list. The other Corra field-names fall into common phrasal units like preposition+noun or adjective+noun. The noun+preposition+noun structure of Hill Facing Porterbelly is less typical. It would be interesting to find out how many names in Galloway are formed this way.

Rough Ground (9): The area marked Rough Ground corresponds to three fields on the current OS, including a long section at the east of the map which flanks the old railway line. Satellite imagery gives a good idea of just how rough the land is. The area that runs parallel with the old railway is now heavily wooded, which can be seen on satellite imagery but not on the OS.

Back Hill (10): Back Hill covers two fields on the current OS. These correspond to two fields on the 1st edition six-inch OS, though the position of the boundary has changed slightly since then. As mentioned above, this area is behind the hill from the perspective of Corra steading.

Red Braes (11): Braes are ‘slopes’ or ‘sloping uplands’. As can be seen on the Geological Survey of Scotland, One-Inch to the Mile map (Sheet 5 – [Kirkcudbright]. Solid and drift edition), the bedrock beneath Red Braes is the same grey granite that Dalbeattie houses are built from. Red here may then refer to the soil itself. Red Brae(s) is a fairly common name. There are places called Redbrae in Twynholm, Wigtown, and Kirkpatrick Juxta. Redbank in Troqueer was Ridbra on Pont’s 16th century map. Red Braes is also a field on the farm of Plunton Mains, Borgue. I recall somewhere seeing a suggestion that in names like Red Braes, red might refer to ploughed land, but I have not been able to find the source. It is often hard to know if red-names in Scotland were coined as Scottish Standard English red or Scots reid. (As the DSL notes, the form RID is rare until late in the 16th century.)