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Prehistoric Man in Ayrshire


John Smith




THE most northern antiquity in Ayrshire is what tradition calls the Roman Bridge. It spans the rapidly flowing little Kelly Burn, which runs through the rather romantic Kelly Glen. This bridge is in the real Roman high-arch, plain-centre style, and is substantially built of a very durable trap taken from a dyke which here crosses the glen in a very oblique direction, and can be inspected on the shore not far from the mouth of the burn. The parapet of the bridge is unique, in so far that it consists of small pillars of the trap placed at short distances apart.

As the Romans held Dumbarton Rock, and probably also Warley Hill, it is most likely that they would have a coast road and ferry connection between these two points . A short distance south from Kelly Glen we have Skilmorlie Glen, and near it a castle of the Montgomeries.

In the mouth of the glen there is what has been called a ' serpent mound. ' I merely mention it to say that its describer has been sadly in error, and this error has been often reproduced. When I visited it, several trees, which had grown on its summit and sides, had been blown down, and it did not take much geological skill to see that this ' serpent mound ' was a naturally stratified deposit (its describer says, ' all this material had been carried up from the beach ') left in this peculiar serpentine form by part of the old raised beach on each side of it having been carved away by the two little streams which flow on either side. The level field inland from it is formed of the same raised-beach deposits.

In connection with this natural mound there was a pavement, which may have been a bit of genuine antiquity. Not far from Knock Hill is Knock Castle, once a stronghold of the Frazers. The hill has also been a stronghold, but of a more primitive and enduring type. It is composed of felstone (with an agglomerate plug) set in a framework of sandstone and agglomerate.

Those who have never climbed Knock Hill should do so at once. This is not a formidable job, as there is a well engineered spiral footpath all the way up, partly cut out of the solid rock, which makes a turn and a half before reaching the summit. I cannot say what age this path may be, but it is not so old as the fort on the summit, as it cuts through the ramparts of the latter.

The view from the top of Knock Hill is grand: the Clyde, with its islands large and small, and Goldenberry Hill in . the distance; the Noddle Valley or Nodsdale, with the much moutonneed face of the range of hills beyond, the finest of its kind in Ayrshire.

This fort has been constructed in a style similar to that on the Herefordshire Beacon, although on a very much smaller scale. There have probably been three ramparts, and traces of an outer one are to be seen here and there. The next one is 219 paces in circumference, and 83 in its longest diameter. The circumference of the inner rampart is 150 paces, and at the north end it is very well preserved, where its top is at present 8 feet 6 inches above the bottom of the ditch of the middle wall. When it was first constructed it may have been 12 feet. Of course, it is now impossible to say by what people forts or camps of this description were at first constructed.

The first inhabitants of the country who found themselves compelled to raise defences against their enemies-which in the first instance would probably be wild beasts-would not fail to seek out natural strengths, such as eminences like Knock Hill present: When the Romans came to the country they would find the people in possession of such places, and no doubt would have considerable labour in dislodging" them there from, and having done this, would be obliged themselves to occupy some of them at least, for a time.

We know that the Romans made their camps both circular and rectangular, and when the position was a rocky height the surrounding rampart would require to accommodate itself to the nature of the ground. We also know that the Romans-at least, in some cases-surrounded their camps with a wall and a ditch, for Caesar tells us, 'Munivi castra vallo fossaque ' (I have fortified the camp with a wall and a ditch).

Opposite Knock Hill Fort, on the east side of the Noddle Burn, and well up on the hillside, is what I have called Nodsdale Fort, a jutting rock having a surface area of 24 paces in length by 10 in breadth. It is naturally defended on three sides by the steepness of the rock, and on the fourth, next the hill, by a broad ditch ' 9 feet 6 inches deep at one end, shallowing to 5 feet 6 inches at the other. 

Right over this hill, and situated on the left bank of the Greta Water, is what I have called Greta Fort, a jutting promontory cut off from the hillside by a broad ditch of 14 paces in width, and 10 feet 6 inches in depth; the other three sides being naturally steep, especially the one which slopes down to the Greta Water. The surface area is 90 paces by 58, and on its highest point there is a small cairn of stones.

About halfway up Nodsdale there is a very symmetrical little grass-grown rock known as Castle Hill, Tourgill, and Twirrel Hill.

Approaching it by the Nodsdale road, which passes its base, it has a very conical, steep-sided appearance, and as it is approached from the south the rock towards its summit has the appearance of a lion at rest. Its sloping summit measures 24 paces in length by 4 at the widest, and though 'scrimpit,' would, if palisaded, make a very secure fort. Laverock Castle (an old fort) is' given by Dr. Christison from the Ordnance map as 1 1/2 miles east-north-east from the mouth of the Noddle. When I visited the locality, the people of the district could tell me nothing about it, and I failed to find any vestiges.

In the Greta Glen there are the remains of two huts, which have been ' built of dry stones. They are separated from each other by a space of 8 paces, one of them being circular and 6 paces in diameter ; the other one is a long oval, '12 paces long by 6 at the widest end . In a line with one of the walls, and running in the direction of the circular hut, are a few boulders (Fig. I) .

In the Gogo Glen, on the right bank of the stream, some distance below where it is joined by the Greta, there is placed the Gogo Mound, a small hillock of stones and earth 9 paces in diameter and 3 feet high. It looks as if it had been opened at one time.

A short distance from the Gogo Mound there is a stone circle occupying a commanding position on the left side, near the mouth of the Gogo Glen, and on an eminence called Castle Hill, is the Gogo Fort. No ground could have been better chosen, as it has a commanding view of the Firth of Clyde, the Gogo Glen, and the hills to the north and north-east, Knock Hill Fort being well seen from it. From north to south it is 62 paces in length, 12 paces of this being on a slope 3I paces from the inner rampart.


FIG, 1.-Remains of Greta Stone Huts.

Its width is 43 paces. There are two ramparts, or walls of earth and stones, placed on the south side. The inner one is 27 paces long, and carried round the south end in a curving manner, being continued on both sides for about 20 paces by lines of boulders. The top of it at the centre is 9 feet 4 inches above the bottom of the ditch, the top of the wall being 2 feet 6 inches above the inside of the fort The outer wall is 59 paces long, and parallel to the inner one. The top of it is 12 feet 8 inches above the bottom of the ditch. At its west end there is a shallow ditch on its outside.

About the middle of the ditch there are the remains of a turf hut, 8 paces in diameter ; but one would think it could scarcely be there when the fort was occupied.

Placed at a much lower level, and at the mouth of the Gogo Glen, on its right side, is the Hawkhill Mound, separated from the rising ground on its north side by a ditch. This ditch gives it the appearance of a fort; but it has now all the characteristics of a mound, although it may have been altered at one time, and is now surmounted by some recent masonry, said to have been fitted up by Astronomer Brisbane for mathematical purposes,

At the base it (the mound) is 29 paces in diameter. Near the Skirmorlie Isle in which there is perhaps the most elaborate sepulchral monument in Scotland-stands a mound; which at one time must have formed a conspicuous object on the plain of Largs ; but it has been chocked off from view-at least, temporarily-by modern buildings. On its sea side it is 16 feet high, and on the land side 12. It is 31 paces in diameter at the base, and 18 paces wide on top, and has all the characters of a moot or court hill . It was recently about to be removed, but Sir John Lubbock's Bill saved it. Jock's Castle is a named rock on the south side of Gogo Burn, 2 miles from its mouth . .

FIG . 2,- Cromlech at Haylie.

Below Gogo Fort, on Haylie, there was a large cairn, called Margaret's Mound, which, on being removed in 1772, unveiled a cromlech. It is composed of two side-stones, an end-stone, and a table-stone (Fig. 2). From certain foundation-stones still to be seen, it has been considerably longer.

When the large cairn of stones was removed from the top of this cromlech, several human skeletons in a sitting position were found. The word ' cromlech' means a bent grave-that is to say, where the bodies were placed in a bent or sitting position, as found at this place. This position probably originated under the belief that when the warrior awoke in the other world he would be in a fitting posture to at once spring to his feet, at the same time seizing his weapons, which were placed alongside of him, and, thus armed, be ready to pursue the hunting and warlike exploits he had followed after in this world.

Near the cromlech, but a little higher up the hillside, there is a monolith of conglomerate (fallen). Perhaps this is the one referred to in Sir John Sinclair's account as 'a monolith of unhewn granite 10 feet long, fallen down.' What is called Haco's Pillar has been built into the garden wall of Curlinghall.

On Kame Hill was Standing Jock.

West of Faichen, near Padzokrodin, there was (perhaps there is still) a Thartermeer or Thorstone, probably at one time connected with Scandinavian worship.

On South Knock Hill there are two very conspicuous cairns . The westernmost one is 14 paces in diameter and 6 feet high, but it has been considerably levelled. The east one is 19 paces in diameter, with a small cairn on its top.

Under the centre of the west one there is a structure built of dry stones 8 feet long by 4 wide at the one end, and 3 at the other. It is about 3 feet high, and has probably been plastered inside at one time, as there are the remains of lime lying in the bottom of it. At the narrow end there is an entrance 14 inches wide, and at the wide end, in the corners, there are small holes. This structure looks as if it had been a spy-house, the holes in the corners being the apertures for looking through, the cairn forming a very effectual blind.

A structure of this sort would be very useful during times of invasion. The spy-house could be entered and left during the dark. If it has been a built grave, it is difficult to account for the entrance at the narrow end and the holes at the wide end ; and it looks far too small for a permanent residence,

Cunninghame anciently consisted of the districts of Cunninghame and Largs.

On the north side of Fairlie Glen stands the tower of Fairlie Castle, in pretty good preservation. It is said to have been the Castle of Hardyknute, but latterly possessed by the Fairlies of that ilk, chiefs of the barony of Fairlie.

Kelburn Castle , which belonged, and still does so, to the Boyles, stands at the mouth of Kelburn Glen, which is said to get its name from the red keel found in it. This rock is a variety of bole or laterite, a volcanic product.

Tancrook Castle is said to have stood near the Greta Water, but no vestige of it now remains.

In the district there have been got a bronze axe, 5 inches long, by 1 7/8ths inches wide ; and in May Street an iron bridle-bit, with , cheek rings of brass.

Largs Fair is called Combsday, after St. Columba, his day being June 9.








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