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Roads and Tracks of Ayrshire

Back (The Roman Period)


Introduction The Anglo-Saxons Anglian Placenames
The Post-Roman Period The Scots Celtic Placenames
Aeron Placename Evidence Conclusion

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The Dark Ages, so called, is a convenient term for the period between the departure of the Romans in 423 AD and the arrival of the Normans in 1066 AD. In the case of Scotland, it was when David 1 came north in 1124 to claim his throne and introduce a system of government strongly influenced by that already in place in England.


It is now recognised that the term is something of a misnomer. Although it contrasts a decline in civilisation with the orderliness and culture of the Roman period and the lack of knowledge of the times compared with the well documented and researched Roman and Mediaeval periods, there was order and culture in the Dark Ages albeit not of the Classical type, and careful work is establishing a clearer picture of what was happening.


Having said that, it has to be admitted that research, both archaeological and historical, into what was happening in south-west Scotland at the time has been limited and as a result there is a lack of information which could help in identifying routes. Among the clues that are useful are placenames which tell us where people lived and what routes might have been used, and references to Ayrshire in early Welsh poetry. In what follows we will look at what clues there are and what they can tell us about the system of communications in the period.

Possible Dark Age Routes

Move cursor over feature. Roads link to brief descriptions but detailed discussion of evidence is in main text.

Nith Valley towards Ayr areaNith Valley towards AeronBallochmyle, MauchlineDundonald to TroonAyr towards LoudounAyr area towards Maich and Lochwinnoch gapMaich toll pointKarnebuth -alternatives CrosenetonToll PointLoudoun Toll PointLaicht Alpin Toll Point (alternative)Laicht Alpin Toll Point (alternative)Bardrochat, ColmonnelCundry MainsAuchencrossDarnconnerGlenconner, OchiltreeConnor HillKnockonnerCorsencon HillBallochBallochmorrieBallochillie and BallochneilBallochbrocStairNick O'the BallochRoutes to southNick O'the Balloch routesTarfessockNith Valley towards DundonaldIrvine ValleyDoon ValleyAyr towards KarnebuthLochwinnoch GapStarr

Reproduced from the 1935 Ordnance Survey map. Crown copyright
Routes     Placenames     Toll points for Ayr c.1200 AD     Anglian Settlement     British Settlement  

Before doing this, however, it is worth remembering that the Dark Ages started when the Romans left so that the Britons would have inherited the system of roads they left. These roads would have been in good condition and remained usable for hundreds of years.


That of course leads us back to the last section where it was by no means clear what roads the Romans had built in Ayrshire. We can make informed guesses based on invasion routes and so on but it is easier to do this in the south east of Scotland with Dere Street and other possible roads which were followed by the Anglo Saxons in their incursions into Goddodin, a Dark Age kingdom centred in the Lothians. No doubt things will become clearer with future research as to what roads were left in Ayrshire but until then the reader will have to make up their own mind.


Another point is that it is highly unlikely that roads were built in this period. For one thing they were too concerned with protecting themselves against the Picts and Irish and Anglo Saxons and indeed with their own wars. Nor in a real sense did they need good roads, they were not administering a conquered territory with all that requires. Existing roads would have proved perfectly adequate for their needs.


Even when in disrepair it is unlikely they would have bothered to repair them. Some roads were repaired by the Romano-British administration, for example near Carlisle, but this was a major centre and even there ceased under the pressures of war.



The Post-Roman Period

It is perhaps fitting that in dealing with the Dark Ages, one of the first figures that comes to our notice is Arthur. Nowadays, of course, we associate Arthur with the south-west of England and Glastonbury, holding back the invading Anglo-Saxons with his fast moving and hard fighting cavalrymen using Roman cavalry techniques. Yet there is a persistent tradition that Arthur fought his battles not in England but in the south of Scotland. The most recent exponent of this theory is Alistair Moffat and possibly the earliest being Skene.(1,2) His account is of particular interest for Ayrshire as he places one of Arthur's battles on the Glen Water near Darvel.


Whether Arthur fought in north or south Britain the main facts are clear. Up until 450 AD or so, 40 years after the Romans had left, life was reasonably settled and the Romano-British administration was still in place. In the background however was the growing threat of invasion from Scots, Picts and Anglo-Saxons. To combat this, Vortigern, who seems to have represented centralised authority at the time, employed Anglo-Saxons as mercenaries and settled them in southeast England. When power struggles broke out between Vortigern and others, the Anglo-Saxons were employed as mercenaries by the various parties and a little later revolted when agreed money and supplies were not paid to them. This left the Britons facing a strong and numerous enemy who were already firmly based in the country and not just seasonal raiders.


It is in this context that Ambrosius Aurelianus and Arthur appear, leaders of organised resistance which was ultimately successful in the major battle of Mons Badonicus in the 490's. Some writers see them as separate persons, others as one and the same. The theory that may make most sense is to accept the validity of the conflict and resistance in the south of England; but that in addition, there was resistance in the north to incursions by Picts, Scots and Anglo-Saxons and that the leader may well have been Arthur.


The reasoning here is that the Votadini and the Damnonii may have been supported by the Romans in defending the Antonine wall. The most likely time for this would have been after the Barbarian Conspiracy of 367 AD. The Romans would have supplied them with equipment and training as well as payment to ensure they could carry out this task effectively. There may even have been Roman soldiers or leaders of Roman descent in the area well into the 400's. Arthur itself as a name is Artorius and the king lists of the two tribes have indications of Roman names and titles.


On this theory, Arthur would have led a small but highly effective army of horsemen who could move quickly, and through careful ambushes at fords and elsewhere, totally rout bands many times their number.


Once it became clear the Romans were leaving Britain, the Picts and Scots stepped up their attacks which peaked in the 450's. After initial setbacks the Britons seem to have rallied and repelled them. Nennius in the Historia Brittonum lists Arthur's battles and it is these which give rise to the idea that Arthur may have been in the Ayrshire area. Skene certainly thinks so, placing the first battle at the mouth of the River Glen at Darvel. It is a nice thought, on or near a Roman road, at a ford where the Britons often fought their battles though ambush is more likely than a battle between champions. It is an obvious east-west invasion route and quite convenient for the second, third, fourth and fifth battles which were "on another river called Dubglas in the district of Linnuis" whether we take this to be Douglas in Lanarkshire or the Lennox area north of Glasgow. If a battle was fought at the Glen and others north of Glasgow the easiest route would have been down the Irvine valley then north to a fording point over the Clyde but this is hardly certain.


Few, if any, Arthurian writers would accept the Glen attribution today and could argue convincingly for placing the battles more to the north and east, or indeed, in the south of England. Yet this is not to say that Arthur was never in the area, particularly if the Picts or Scots invaded on the coast. At best then, it remains an intriguing possibility and certainly consistent with the historical context. Even if Arthur was nowhere near Ayrshire, and even if, as one theory has it, the battle list is of unrelated British conflicts 50 or 100 years later, (3) it does make us realise that people in Ayrshire could hardly have been unaffected by the raids of the Picts and the Scots.


It has to be said, however, that even if raiding parties of Picts and Scots were in the area we do not have any accounts of this, nor any archaeological evidence that could help. At most, we would assume the raids from the north would come through the Lochwinnoch gap and then spread out into Kyle as they sought the main defensive sites where the population would have gone for protection. They may have gone some way to the east towards the Irvine valley but it is more likely that they would head south keeping to higher ground using fording points or even following the coast and striking inland at various points. Alternative raiding routes could have been via the Irvine Valley or by coastal landings. From what is known of Celtic warfare these incursions were probably opportunistic raiding where cattle, slaves and booty could be carried off; once satisfied they would have made their way back to their homeland.



Aeron first comes to notice in the poems of Taliesin and Aneirin, two of the earliest British poets, writing about 550 and 600 AD respectively. Taliesin was the court poet of Urien of Rheged, a kingdom stretching from Yorkshire through Cumbria into south west Scotland; and Aneirin that of Mynyddog, ruler of the Goddodin, the former Votadini, whose territory stretched south from Edinburgh to Northumberland. (4,5,6)


Intriguing as the references to Aeron are they are not precise enough for us to say exactly where it was and what its relations were to Strathclyde and to Rheged. It is also not clear whether the people were Damnonian or Novantian in origin and indeed where the boundary was between these peoples. Nor is it clear what the link was to Cunninghame, Kyle and Carrick which were based on the Irvine and Doon and may date from this time or earlier. It is fairly clear however that there were political links at onetime or another between Aeron and both Strathclyde and Rheged and this fact allows us to make a reasonable estimate of what routes there might have been.


It is likely enough that Aeron was close to the River Ayr, and it is possible that Dundonald was its centre. From the poems, Aeron existed around 600 AD but there is a interesting entry in the Ravenna Cosmography (c.700 AD) for Adron. (7) This is usually ascribed to the River Wear in Durham but in the list it is as near to the Annan and Nith as it is to the Tyne and dr became ir early in British. In this case Adron would be earlier than Aeron and could have been taken from the early sources used by Ptolemy whose Geography dates from about 150 AD. If this is correct it implies a sub-grouping of the Damnonii or Novantae from an early date.


That Aeron might have been part of the Novantian territory is supported by a reference in the Gododdin to the hero Cynddylig of Aeron who desired the praise of the Novantian men. If by this is meant his own people it is a clear sign that Aeron was linked to the territory of the former Novantae or the Nouant or Enoant as they were now known. Certainly Taliesin in The Conciliation of Urien talks of the north and the half-kings, a reference to Urien's sons Owain and Elffin who ruled Galloway and Aeron as sub-kingdoms of Rheged. (4) Interestingly, Strang in his recreation of a possible Flavian map of Roman Britain shows the Novantian territory as including the whole of Galloway and the Solway Coast and much of Ayrshire. (8) His boundary with the Selgovae runs up the Nith Valley and with the Damnonii on a line from near Cumnock over to Irvine.


Given that Aeron and Galloway were sub-kingdoms of Rheged, there may well have been contact between them. There was a stronghold at Dunragit near Glenluce and this could entail a coastal route from Aeron as far as Glenapp and then perhaps onward by the coast or by the hills to the south of Genapp - there were certainly later routes in this area. There must have been other settlements in Galloway which again would entail links perhaps by the Nick O' the Balloch route or via Dalmellington. Links to the centre of Rheged would probably have been by Nithsdale with its Roman road linking to others in the south, although there is no certainty to any route they might have taken from Dundonald over to the Nith valley. Fairly direct routes would have been over to Mauchline and then south, or down towards Stair and Ochiltree. It is interesting to speculate on whether Strang is correct in having the boundary between the Selgovae and Novantae at the Nith and if this interfered with the free passage of Aeron forces on this route. If so an alternative route would have been the Dalmellington route, certainly of great age, if not Roman, which would allow a journey wholly in Rhegedian territory.


There is a reference to Cynddylig putting the sea journeying enemy to flight, which probably refers to Picts or Scots coming across the Firth of Clyde.


There is another reference to battles in a poem by Taliesin about Gwallawg, king of Elfed near Leeds, which could date to about 580. The surprising thing is that some of the engagements took place in Ayrshire. Troon is mentioned and Coed Baidd, the Wood of Beith.


Mention should be made here of an old path, currently known as the Glen Path, that runs from Dundonald Castle to Troon. It passes near Hallyards Farm, and the mediaeval St Mary's Chapel, then Aughtwood and Collenan. Kirkwood writing about Troon notes that it has signs of being made, with stones along its length. (9) He surmises that it was the old route from the castle to the sea, in fact a Rotten Row, or King's Highway (Route du Roi) but it could date from these times. The reference to Beith is suggestive of a defensive action against an incursion from the north though if this is by Strathclyde or by the Picts is not clear.


Alt Cluith (Dumbarton)
Dumbarton (Alt Cluith)

Taliesin, in Rheged Arise, talks of Urien coming in his day to Aeron. Later he refers to a battle at the ford of Alcluid (near Dumbarton) but it is not clear who the enemy was. What is clear enough is that there must have been a route to Dumbarton from Aeron, probably on the west side of the Lochwinnoch gap.


Besides their battles with Picts and Scots, there were also conflicts amongst the Britons themselves. The best known was the battle of Arthuret (near Longtown) in 573 between Gwenddoleu and his cousins. It is quite possible that Aeron was involved - the Nith valley would be the most likely route.



The Anglo-Saxons

A great deal of Dark Age history is determined by the attempts of the British tribes to come to terms with the Anglo- Saxons. In 547 AD, Ida founded the Kingdom of Bernicia with his base at Lindisfarne on Holy Island and very quickly started expanding on the Northumberland coast and plains. This was bound to lead to conflict with the Gododdin to the north who were settled in the area, and with Rheged to the west. Rheged seems to have stretched to Catterick.


In fact, things came to a head in the 570's and 580's when the Britons attacked the Angles. The first occasion was when Urien of Rheged and his son fought with Theodric, son of Ida in the mid 570's. This implies Aeron involvement if the son was the sub-king of Aeron. The second was when a coalition attacked Hussa, son of Ida at Lindisfarne. This included Rhydderch of Strathclyde and it is entirely possible that men from Aeron were there as well. Although partly successful, Urien, leader of the coalition was killed and it was not long before the Northumbrians continued with their expansion. Eventually the Goddodin became alarmed and organised a major force to settle things once and for all. This is the subject of the famous poem the Goddodin, written by Aneirin.


It tells of Mynyddog, ruler of the Goddodin, gathering an army from widely distant territories. There were men from beyond Bannog, the sea of Ieddew, Aeron, Elfed and Gwynedd. Bannog is the area north of the Kilsyth and Campsie Hills, Ieddew was the Forth and Aeron was Ayrshire. Elfed was in the west of Yorkshire and Gwynedd in north Wales. The poem speaks of 300 men feasting in the great hall of Eidyn - 300 spears of the offspring of Cynfach, Cynwyd and Coel, though this number was probably that of the chief warriors, each of whom would have had a retinue. Lowe estimates there may have been 24,000 men in the northern army.(10)


As said, the enemy were the Anglo-Saxons; the Angles based in Bernicia, the present day Durham and Northumberland and the Saxons in Deira, in Yorkshire. Collectively they were known as the men of Lloegr. The two armies met at Catraeth, probably Catterick, but the battle was a disaster, with most of the British slain. It had terrible consequences leaving Rheged and Goddodin wide open to attack and settlement. The British were hunted down or fled into the hills where they starved or eventually had to surrender themselves into slavery.


There are several short references to Aeron in the Goddodin, and to its hero, Cynon, who was killed in the battle.


The route taken to Din Eidynn as mentioned in the Gododdin is not known. It could have been via Dumbarton or through the Glasgow area or up the Irvine Valley and across central Scotland using the Roman roads. Likewise the route home after the defeat at Catraeth is unknown; although it is likely to have been directly north to Gododdin presumably by Dere Street or over the Stainmore Pass into the heart of Rheged and then north and west up the Nith valley.


After Catraeth, the Angles expanded into the Tweed valley. This rapid expansion alarmed Aedan, King of Dalriada in Argyll so much that he sent a force over to confront Aethelfrith but his army was defeated at Degsastane (possibly Dawston in Liddlesdale) in 603. In 605 they even took over Deira to the south to form Northumbria and over the next few years expanded from the Tweed into the Lothians. Rheged may have survived up to about 670 before the Anglians took over but this seems to have been peaceful and effected through a marriage between Oswy and a grand-daughter of Urien.


When the Angles gained influence over Rheged about 670, whether by conquest or intermarriage, the implication is of a takeover of Galloway and Aeron. Certainly they had extensive settlements in Galloway and clusters in Carrick but nothing north of the Maybole area. This could indicate that the area north of this was lost to Rheged and had come under Strathclyde overlordship and this is certainly supported by the invasion of 750 AD when Eadberht, King of Northumbria, moved against Strathclyde in concert with the Picts. The Continuatio Bedae notes that he annexed the Plain of Kyle (Campum Cyil) along with other regions. The invasion route is thought to have been by the Nith but the Dalmellington route is also a possibility because of the Anglian settlements in Carrick. However, the occupation of Kyle only lasted to 756 when it was retaken by Strathclyde.


There is a strong implication here of a route up to Dunbarton, the capital of the Strathclyde British. The later toll point at Mach, mentioned in the foundation charter of Ayr, would fit such a route through the Lochwinnoch gap. When the capital was moved from Dunbarton to Govan, it is likely that a route developed either as a branch from the old Dunbarton route or as a new one to the east of the Lochwinnoch gap, i.e. close to the Beith Hills.


This was a time of resurgence for Strathclyde when it extended far into Cumbria. A century or so later, however, Malcolm II annexed Strathclyde into the newly emerging kingdom of Scotland. It is thought that Galloway remained independent.


The Scots

While all this was going on, there was pressure from another direction, the Scots of Dalriada, which lay to the west in Argyll, and indeed Ireland itself. Settlement may have taken place from the 400's in coastal districts of Galloway and further north in Carrick and to a lesser extent in Cunninghame. Apart from a small number of historical references our best clues are to be found in placenames of settlements and those which imply a track. We will deal with these in a separate section.


Among the historical references to the Scots is a battle which Coilus is said to have lost against the invading Irish under Fergus in 702 AD and to have used the King's Steps over the Coil Water after this battle. (11,12) There is a Bloody Burn running into Fail Water and opposite its mouth is Dead Man's Holm. This Coilus may be the person after whom the district of Kyle is named (others derive it from gaelic coille, a wood and others again say it is named after a Cole (of Old King Cole fame) who may have ruled over Ayrshire and perhaps Galloway in the mid 400's. There is another reference to an invasion of Irish in 681 AD where they are said to have advanced to Mauchline where they were beaten but this is now thought to have happened in northern Ireland. (13)


In 836 AD, Alpin, king of the Kintyre Scots landed at Ayr but he was slain near Laicht Alpin on the route to Dalmellington after devastating the land between the Doon and Ayr.


Placename Evidence

There is some useful evidence for tracks at this time to be had from placenames. Two in particular refer to settlements and so presumed associated tracks; others refer directly to tracks. The settlement placenames are the British 'tref' and the Gaelic 'bal' which both mean village or settlement. Another set of placenames are those of Anglian origin occuring in Carrick.


Anglian Placenames

There are three clusters of Anglian names of the 7th/8th century near Maybole and Girvan. These are Maybole itself, Turnberry and Kirkoswald, Authene and Blanefield in Kirkoswald parish, Straiton, Merrick (with the meaning of boundary), Snayde, Dailly and Kirkudbrigh de Entertig (Ballantrae parish). Two other places, Le Red Hohe and Alesbruc are as yet unidentified. (14,15) The Angles may have had overlordship over neighbouring British enclaves.


There is a clear implication here both of routes from Galloway and between the settlements themselves. Brooke mentions the route up the Glenkens to Dalmellington. This is an atttractive idea as it joins the extensive cluster of settlements in the Kirkcudbright - Castle Douglas area with Carrick, and there was a settlement at Earlston north of St John's Town of Dalry where travellers could have stopped. From Dalmellington itself, it is only six miles to Straiton, although they may have skirted the north end of Loch Doon and made their way more directly to Straiton. Certainly there were tracks south of the present Dalmellington - Straiton road in use two or three hundred years ago.


The other main route that suggests itself is up the Cree and Water of Minnoch to the Nick O' the Balloch from where they could reach their settlements at Dailly or Straiton. Interestingly Merrick is only four miles from this route and means "boundary ridge".


With the Carrick settlements it is hard not to imagine a track between Straiton and Maybole, the "mother village", though whether this was by Kirkmichael or Crosshill is uncertain. Straiton is a suggestive placename as it is often found where there is a Roman road or at least a main road. However, it sometimes just means "straggling village". (16) It is hard to know which applies here, although it was certainly on an early route. The link between Maybole and Turnberry linking Suthblane (near Auchenblane) Authene and Kirkoswald is less of a problem as it follows the present A77 route. There were apparently isolated settlements at Dailly and Kirkudbrigh de Innertig and it is difficult to say how these were linked to the other places.


Celtic Placenames


A good idea of where the Britons lived can be gained from the distribution of tref place names. (17) Tref means village or settlement and there are several examples from Ayrshire with definite groupings east of Maybole, near Girvan, and between Ochiltree and Drongan. There are one or two instances from elsewhere in Ayrshire, with some lost names (Watson (18) lists a couple ) and a number of apparently English names like Three Thorns, Trees, Tree Hills and so on which might bear a closer look.


Tref Names

Reproduced from the 1935 Ordnance Survey map. Crown copyright

The names may well date from at least the time of the Anglian occupation but another possibility is that all or some could date from the time of Strathclyde's southward expansion which is into the 800's or even that some of those displaced by the Angles in the Edinburgh area resettled in Ayrshire.


While routes are conjectural, there could easily have been quite direct routes between tref near Ochiltree. Similarly to the east of Maybole. Three of the instances south-east of Girvan are in a well-defined valley, and Threave and Tranaw just east of Crosshill are mile distant from each other. As there is an old lake bed running between them to the north and firm ground on a ridge to the south we can assume any path would lie on the latter.


One interesting possibility is that these clusters were former cantref. This is a British land division, which in mediaeval Wales at least was 100 sq.km or 36 sq. miles in area (the tref was made up of four gauels, of 64 acres each, and thus about 1 sq.km in area; four tref made a maynaul, and 100 tref a cantref).(17,18,19) As cantrefs had overlords, the implication is that in each cluster there was a central settlement where laws were enacted and applied and to which there would be routes from outlying tref. In this respect, Ochiltree is interesting as although it is taken to mean "high" homestead it is also consistent with "high" social status, i.e. it could be the chief settlement of the locality. Barbrethan, "hill of the Britons" is also interesting as it implies a major settlement and there are several tref nearby. It lies about one mile north east of Crosshill on the Kirkmichael road.




The word Baile (Bal) denotes a permanent settlement and shows a distribution in Carrick and to an extent, Cunninghame (Nicolaissen, 17). Kil place names occur in much the same places, and this may indicate that Irish hermits were the first to settle in the area, perhaps in a search for solitude or perhaps as missionaries. We know, for example, that St. Finbar (Finnian or Winning) settled in the area of Kilwinning about 540 AD after spending 20 years at Whithorn and he is reputed to have made frequent visits to the chief at the fort on Dunlop Hill. (20)


The earliest occurences of Bal may date from around 650 AD and may extend up to 900-1000 AD with an influx of Clan-Goidel peoples after the main period of settlement from Ireland and possibly Argyll. Some of the place names may date from the time Strathclyde was annexed by Malcolm, as the ruling class was Gaelic-speaking.


Bal and Kil placenames are very numerous and provide strong indications of likely routes, albeit local. Using just

Bal placenames

Reproduced from the1935 Ordnance Survey map. Crown copyright

the occurences of Bal (and Dal) on the 1:25,000 OS maps it is reasonable to assume routes from the vicinity of Ballantrae up towards Lendalfoot; up the valley of the Stinchar where there are several occurences and south of Girvan. Also reasonable are routes to the south west and south east of Maybole and over towards the Dalrymple area and down towards Dalmellington. A number are close to instances of "Balloch" which helps to confirm some of the routes.


A number of other placenames imply the existence of a track. These are noted below. Most of the derivations are from McDowell's Carrick Gallovidian.


Drochaid, a bridge

Bardrochat,Colmonell. This is just to the south of Colmonell where there may have been a bridge for pilgrims going to Whithorn. The Stinchar is certainly fordable here and indeed McDowell says both that Pyet Bridge (now Colmonell Bridge) is derived from Ath, "ford" and that there were stepping stones before the bridge was built. (21) As this was in the 1740's, this is not the bridge implied by the name. Pont shows Bardrochat but no indication of a crossing.


Conaire, a path

Darnconner - path-side copse. Darnconnor (NS576240) lies at the south west edge of Airds Moss about three miles north of Cumnock. It is not clear where any path might have gone though there is a possibility that it was linked to an "auchen" placename, i.e. was a path to a cultivated field.

Darnaconnar, three miles east of Barrhill (NX277834). Uncertain significance

Craigenconnor (NS488327), 1 km east of the A76 near Bargower. Uncertain significance.

Glenconner (south of Ochiltree). The nearby Rottenrow and Pont's crossing of the Burnock Water are suggestive but further evidence would be needed to link them with this placename.

Connor Hill, south-west of Cairntable. Newall and Lonie thought that a Roman road passed nearby. It would be on a reasonable route from the Muirkirk area to the Nith valley.

Knockonner, on an old hill path from Straiton to Barr. It is most easily seen on the 1" 1925 OS map but appeared on Armstrong.

Cundry Mains, near Girvan. McDowell says this is from Conaire. It is a farm one mile east of Lendalfoot on a road leading to Pinmore on the Girvan to Newton Stewart road (A714). Rather than referring to a Water of Lendal route however it might indicate that the north - south route as shown on several of the later maps passing nearby was in existence at this time.


Croisgh, a crossing

Corsencon Hill. This was formerly Croseneton and Watson gives the derivation as Crossing of the Hound. The name merely confirms that there was a route here in the 7th and 8th centuries although being near the Nith it clearly goes back well into prehistoric times.

Auchencross. There is an Auchencross 2 miles south-east of Ballantrae on the Stranraer Road. McDowell thinks it related to the crossroads half a mile to the south where the Colmonell turnpike joins the Stranraer road. Equally Auchencrosh is very near a watershed as the road heads over to Glenapp and may refer more to this route.


Balloch, a pass

Nick O' the Balloch. This is in Barr parish on the old route south to Newton Stewart and the Solway. Pinvalley is associated with this as it comes from Peighinn a Bhealaigh - Pennyland of the Pass. It is to be found at the north end of the pass.

Ballochbeatties. Fairly close to the above and one mile south of Loch Braden is Ballochbeatties and Balloch Lane (Burn of the Pass). From the geography, it leads in a couple of miles to Loch Riecawr to the south. From there, another three miles would take one to the southern shores of Loch Doon. Just north of Ballochbeatties, a path heads for the Stinchar Bridge which could have given a route along the Stinchar to Barr. Indeed McDowell gives the meaning of Ballochbeatties as "a pass with a smaller pass branching off it" which this refers to. It is not at all obvious what this route was for, that is, who used it and between which points. Certainly Loch Doon although it is sparsely populated and isolated today may have been quite well populated in the past. The castle itself suggests this and communication would always have been relatively easy along the line of the loch with a ready food supply from fish and wild fowl. So it may just be that the Ballochbeatties route represents a link between Loch Doon and the rest of Carrick.

Ballochbroc. This is between Barlewan and Barclay on the Maybole to Crosshill Road, 1 miles south-east of Maybole. It means passage between the low hills. It is difficult to say whether it was named before or after the Anglian settlement in the area in the 7th century

Ballochillie and Ballochneil. Ballochillie is just south of Turnberry near the A77. Travellers presumably turned inland from the coast round about here, following the line of Ballochillie Glen up towards Ballochneil and Kirkoswald.

Ballochtoul. There is a Ballochtoul, mile east of Knockcushion, Girvan where the road passed below the fortification at Low Troweir. McDowall gives the meaning as "road by the moat" so the dating of the fortification would help to date the road. In any case, Troweir is a "tref" name so there must have been a track here at the time

Ballochdoan. High and Low Ballochdoan are about 3 miles south of Ballantrae and about one mile west of the Stranraer Road, apparently on a continuation of the Colmonell road. As Doan comes from "domhain" deep, it probably refers to the Currarie Glen leading to the coast which is very narrow and deep and therefore a local track rather than a main route to Stranraer.

Ballochlant. This is on the old track to New Luce and Stranraer passing Beneraird Hill. It is just south of Benawhirter.

Ballochmorrie. This is a farm near the Water of Duisk between Pinwherry and Barrhill. McDowell says it was on a old road between Colmonell and Ballochmorrie where it crosses the Duisk by a ford and ran to the east of the A714 to Barrhill. The stretch of track between Colmonell and the Duisk is still there, running past Drumskeoch. It is shown on Thomson (1828) but not Armstrong (1775). The same applies to the stretch east of the A714. This appears to be the track that starts near Muick Bridge close to Liglartrie. The implication is of a route to the south.

Ballochmyle, near Mauchline. The name means the bare pass but it is not clear whether it refers to an east - west or a north - south route.



Ath or A, a ford

Old Dailly. McDowell suggests this came from Dail Ath, meadow at the ford. Certainly there is a ford and stepping stones at Killochan just north of Old Dailly which might tie in with a north - south route. He makes the interesting suggestion that the "Blue Stanes" in the old kirk came from the ford.


Astar, a path

Easter Brockloch, north of Maybole. McDowell suggests that this was Aster Bro Cladh and was a path from Maybole to Old Trees fort. In similar manner he derives East Enoch from Astar Enoch - path to the fortress. These derivations may be suspect as there is a Mid and Wester Brockloch as well as a West Enoch.


Stair, stepping stones

Stair. The derivation indicates an early crossing here. Stairaird nearby is "upper Stair" and Starr at the head of Loch Doon has the same derivation.(18) Further evidence would be needed before there could be any certainty about a long distance route through Stair at this time. Starr at the foot of Loch Doon could tie in with the Ballochbeatties route above but it is not clear if it would have crossed over to the old track that ran down to the Carsphairn area or carried on south into the Galloway Hills.



Fas, a resting point

Shennas (Seanfhas) in the south of Ballantrae parish. The implication is of a stopover point for the night. It is about eight miles from Ballantrae, New Luce and Stranraer which is suggestive of a day's travel. Moll in 1724 has a route running through here from Glenapp to Stranraer. It is also on the Beneraird track shown on Armstrong (1775). Despite these late dates, both routes were very likely pilgrim routes to Whithorn from very early times and the placename helps to confirm the routes.

Tarfessock on the Newton Stewart hill road just north of the county boundary appears on Moll's map of 1724 as Torfas. Again, it helps to confirm the early route over the Nick O' the Balloch.


Other Placenames

Although not referring to a road there are other words which imply a track but are probably of local significance only. These include:

Tional or Tinnel, a gathering place. There is a Knockytinnal in Colmonell parish.

Longphort, an encampment or a shieling. Sorn parish has an Auchinlongford and Barrhill has a Drumlamford.
Tiobhar, a well. Examples from Ayrshire include Auchentibber, Knockentibber near Kilmarnock and Auchengibbert (field of the well) near Cumnock.


The map shows the location of most of the above places and it is reasonably clear that they are useful indicators of routes.



On the map a number of possible routes from this time are shown, although there is no certainty when they became established.

1. Lochwinnoch Gap

This may have been an early route established by the Damnonians between Vindogara (probably near Irvine) and Damnonian areas to the north, particularly Dumbarton. It may well have been used by early invaders in the time of "Arthur". There is a bit more certainty that it was in existence in the time of Aeron as witness the references in Taliesin and a little later when the Angles invaded in 750 AD. After that time, it may have been used to reach Govan which was the new centre for Strathclyde, although an alternative route on the east side of the Lochwinnoch gap could have developed then. It was probably also used by pilgrims on their way to Whithorn. It is worth noting that one of the toll points where the new town of Ayr could collect tolls from merchants was at Mach, north of Dalry. There is a very strong implication that these locations were on already existing trade routes which would help to establish the case for an early route in this area.


2. Irvine Valley

Although there is no particular evidence for a route here at this time there was a proved Roman road in Lanarkshire that ran as far as Loudoun Hill, and a possible road beyond this. In addition, Loudoun is named as one of the toll points for Ayr.


3. Nith Valley

There was certainly a route here from early on in the Dark Ages with a proved Roman road as far as Kirkconnel, and a possible road north of that. At the time of Aeron, it would have provided a direct route to the centre of Rheged and may have been used by the Angles in their invasion of 750 AD. North of the Cumnock area any route would be speculative but the two routes shown would take it to the presumed location of Aeron. Although Gaelic in origin, the name Corsencon probably dates from the Dark Ages and another of the toll points for Ayr was located here. If this indicates a previously existing route, this must have gone fairly directly over to the vicinity of Ayr.


4. Doon Valley

Although this is a definite road or at least a made track we cannot be sure that it is Roman. It would have provided a route between Aeron and central Galloway, both of which were part of Rheged. At a later date it could have provided a route from the Anglian settlements in the New Galloway area up to their settlements in the vicinity of Maybole, and some researchers would place the toll point of Laicht Alpin near to Dunaskin, north of Dalmellington.


5. Nick O' the Balloch

Evidence for this as a Dark Age route is limited but the fit with Gaelic placenames referring to a route is quite good and it would afford a link between the Anglian settlements near Maybole and those further south. It may also have been used by pilgrims to Whithorn.


6. The Coastal Route

Although there is nothing definite about a Roman road south of Ayr, it would be reasonable to assume an early route within the territory of the Novantae down to their major centre near Stranraer; as well as Dunragit when Galloway, like Aeron, was part of Rheged. Pilgrims travelled to Whithorn by this route and although the inland branch south of Girvan is speculative it links quite well with placenames. Some place the toll point of Laight Alpin north of Cairnryan.


7. Local tracks

These can be assumed in the three British enclaves and in the Anglian settlement near Maybole. Given the extensive distribution of "bal" placenames in south Carrick, it is reasonable to assume the same for that area.


8 Fenwick Moors

Although this is very late in the period, a possible route over the Fenwick Moors is included here because Karnebuth, one of the Ayr toll points was sited near Kingswells close to the present turn-off from the A77 to Eaglesham or alternatively at Carnbooth just south-west of Castlemilk, Glasgow. In addition a possible route from Ayr towards the Loudoun toll point is shown.





1. Alistair Moffat, Arthur and the Lost Kingdoms, Phoenix, 1999

2. W F Skene, Arthur and the Britons in Wales and Scotland, edited by Derek Bryce, Llanerch Books, Lampeter, 1988

3. Michael Wood, In Search of the Dark Ages, BCA, 1981

4. Taliesin Poems, trans. Meiron Pennar, Llanerch Books, Lampeter, 1988

5. Aneirin - The Gododdin, trans. Steve Short, Llanerch Books, Lampeter, 1994

6. The Gododdin of Aneirin, John T Koch, University of Wales Press, Cardiff, 1997

7. The Placenames of Roman Britain, A.L.F.Rivet and Colin Smith, BCA 1981, pps.213, 489

8. Strang, A possible Flavian map of Roman Britain, PSAS, 2000, p 433

9. Rev. J Kirkwood, Troon and Dundonald, Kilmarnock, 1876

10. Lowe, Angels Fools and Tyrants, Historic Scotland, 1999

11. John Smith, Prehistoric Man in Ayrshire, London, 1895

12. H Stein, Tarbolton, Its History and Associations, 1896

13. J Strawhorn, Historical article in Among Thy Green Braes, ed. J Moore, Cumnock & Doon Valley District Council, 1977

14. Daphne Brooke,The Northumbrian Settlements in Galloway and Carrick, PSAS, Vol.121, 1991, 295 -327

15. Daphne Brooke, Wild Men and Holy Places, Canongate, Edinburgh, 1994

16. Margaret Gelling, Place Names in the Landscape, Phoenix Press, London, 2000

17. W F H Nicolaisen, Scottish Placenames, John Donald, Edinburgh, 2001

18. W J Watson, The History of the Celtic Placenames of Scotland, Birlinn, Edinburgh, 1993

19. John Morris, Age of Arthur, Phoenix, London, 1995

20. Bayne, Dunlop Parish

21. J Kevan McDowall, Carrick Gallovidian, Ayr, 1947


Online version of the Goddodin
The Four Ancient Books of Wales W F Skene


Next (The Mediaeval Period)