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Mediaeval Roads: Evidence from Monastic Charters

The maps below are based on the 1936 OS quarter-inch map for Scotland, SW and the 1942 1" map for Dumfries. With thanks to Ordnance Survey

A number of charters for Holm Cultram Abbey in Cumberland relate to what is now the parish of Kirkgunzeon and to Kirkconnell and Mabie on the west side of the Nith, south of Dumfries.

Holm Cultram Abbey was founded in 1150 by Cistercian monks from Melrose under a grant of Alan Waldeve and confirmed by Henry, son of David I. At the time the area was under Scottish control although the links with Scotland and Melrose were gradually lost during the Wars of Independence until eventually it effectively became an English abbey.

Reflecting this early history, it had some possessions in south-west Scotland and these are detailed in its cartulary, namely in Kirkgunzeon, Kirkconnell, Mabie and Dumfries.

Near Kirkbean looking over towards Holm Cultram

Although quite distant from these possessions by land (e.g. some 50 miles in the case of Kirkgunzeon) it was only some 6 or 8 miles across the Solway from where these places could easily be reached. Indeed, the charters grant rights of landing on the shore.

The charters have been fully dealt with by Francis Grainger and W G Collingwood in The Charters and Other Records of the Important Cistercian House of Holm Cultram (Cumberland and Westmoreland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society Record Series, 7) and can be viewed on the British History Online website, to which links are provided below.Kirkgunzeon (with rights of way in Kirkconnell and Mabie)

Several charters relate to this area. From our point of view there are interesting references to a road as well as landing rights on the shore and rights of way to the grange


Various charters (nos. 121-124) refer to a road from the bridge at Polatkertin that ran to Litegilultan (also called Crosgile Ultan/Lechtigilulty) and then as far as a crossed oak near Cloenchonechro (also Cloen kone cro).


R C Reid, who did extensive work on charters relating to Dumfries and Galloway, has identified many of the placenames in the Kirkgunzeon charters and, more generally, considered that they define the boundaries of the parish (see The Early Ecclesiastical History of Kirkgunzeon, Transactions of the Dumfries and Galloway Natural History and Archaeological Society, Series 3, Volume 14, page 201).

He identifies Polatkertin as Culloch Burn at Carton Bridge and Cloenchonechro as Barbey. The parish boundary runs directly between these two places and early maps show a road along this line (see NLS maps). There is an interesting Upper and Nether Casway (i.e. causeway) on older maps near Barbey but it is not clear if these refer to this road or to that running north from Kirkgunzeon to Milton.

Looking east towards the fort near Barbey - the road passed along the foot of the hill

Reid notes that the road continued north of Barbey beneath a dyke though it was not particularly obvious - certainly the parish boundary continues the alignment for a further mile before veering to the east towards Beeswing. Reid traced it as far as Lawston Farm. The fort that it passes (Camp Hill) is marked on the old 6" map as a Roman camp, though it is more likely to be Bronze Age and just possibly had been used in mediaeval times (see NMRS record NX16NE 1.01).Any extension south of Carton Bridge is unconvincing on early maps although the presence of a bridge over even a small stream has to be fairly significant.

Rights of Way
In charter 121 (Kirkgunzeon), the abbey is allowed a saltworks in Lochendelo and other rights in the wood of Preston and in Lochildela as far as Pollesteresheved. There was also a right of way between landing places on the coast and the grange for men, cattle, carts and pack horses.

Charter 128 (Kirkgunzeon-link as for 121) refers to a grant of a saltwork in Salterness and a fishery between Polben and Suithayc and some pasture, with rights of way to the grange at Kirkgunzeon.Charter.

140 (Kirkgunzeon-link as for 121) is a Royal charter giving the monks leave to carry wool and merchandise throughout the kingdom.

Looking towards the Colvend coast, from near Southwick

Charter 140a (Kirkgunzeon-link as for 121) confirmed the grant of a saltworks in Culwene and easements between the port of Hur to Polsturshevid, and associated rights of way.

Charter 119 (Kirkconnell) granted a ploughed field in Kirkconnell called Mustardgarth and whatever the monks could reclaim from the sea, with rights of way for carts etc.

Charter 149 (Kirkconnell) is the grant of a fishery on the Nith between the burn descending from Kirkconnell and Pollesterheved (probably east of New Abbey at confluence of New Abbey Pow and Nith), with rights of way.

Charter 150 (Kirkconnell-link as for 149) mentions a quarry and a right of way from landing places on the Nith to Mabie.

Most of the placenames are identified in Grainger and Collingwood and in George Neilson's paper Annals of the Solway (see map at top and sections 19 & 22) that was published by the Glasgow Archaeological Society in 1896.

Lochendelo is thought to have been Loch Kinder just south of New Abbey though the saltworks would have been on the coast. Pollesteresheved is the promontory formed by the Nith and the New Abbey Pow just east of New Abbey. Preston is a now abandoned village neat Southerness (Salterness). Polben is unidentified but Suithayc is Southwick, 3 miles WNW of Southerness and Culwene is Colvend, 5 miles south of Dalbeattie (NX8654). Finally the port of Hur was a landing place somewhere in Rough Firth.

Interesting as these references are they are not detailed enough to identify the specific routes developed as rights of way, except in the most general sense.

Charter 128 with its saltworks in Southerness and the fishery near Southwick suggests a direct route (followed by modern roads) to the north-west for some 6 miles then turning directly north for 3 miles to Kirkgunzeon itself. Alternatively, a slightly more direct route could have been taken up the Drumcow Burn over to Glaisters Burn. One other possibility is that as Derek Hall in Scottish Monastic Landscapes, pps.172-173 (Tempus 2006) has suggested, the farm of Fairgirth (NX 878 565) may have been used as a base for the saltworks which would place the route from the coast, possibly at Saltpan Rocks (it is not certain that these were Holm Cultram's though they may be those referred to in charter 140a for Colvend) past Fairgirth to the first route or even Dalbeattie.

The right of way in charter 121 from landing places on the coast and Kirkgunzeon could fit any of the above routes. That from the port of Hur however would fit a route through Dalbeattie rather better.

The charters relating to Kirkconnell and Mabie are more suggestive of local rights of way although the right of way from landing places on the Nith to Mabie would allow Kirkgunzeon to be easily reached.

Finally there is a mention in charter 154 for Mabie of a path near the house of Gilliker but this has not been identified.