NS3779 : Ancient hill-fort on Carman Hill

taken 10 years ago, near to Alexandria, West Dunbartonshire, Great Britain

Ancient hill-fort on Carman Hill
Ancient hill-fort on Carman Hill
This is one of several groups of boulders lying within the remains of an ancient hill-fort at this site. This south-facing location near the summit of the hill commands an excellent view over much of the valley of the River Leven, as well as to the River Clyde and beyond; for an impression of what can be seen from the fort, see: NS3779 : View over ancient hill-fort (that item also comments on these boulders specifically, and on local beliefs about them that were current in the second half of the nineteenth century).

For most people who climb the hill, the groups of boulders are "the fort", but there is much more to see than that. The surviving remains are quite extensive. The following links are the beginning of a series of linked images illustrating the visible traces of the fort.

First topic the outer enclosure:
NS3779 : Carman Hill-fort: line of outer enclosure
NS3779 : Carman Hill-fort: line of outer enclosure
NS3779 : Carman Hill-fort: line of outer enclosure

Alternatively, the end-note has a link to an annotated satellite view which also provides an index to the pictures, and which shows where they were taken.

The book "Archaeology Around Glasgow" (Susan Hothersall, 2007) says: "The hillfort on Carman Muir is one of the largest in western Scotland. It was identified from aerial photographs as recently as 1954. Carman fort consists of a small enclosed area surrounded by a large outer enclosure. This type of 'citadel fort' is typical of the early medieval period". Canmore (an archaeology database) describes the site as a "Citadel Fort of Dark Age type C measuring 150 yards in diameter, with stone ramparts, ditches, and sunken approach roads".

See also an article by Billy Scobie about the fort; the article is made available from LinkExternal link (at the Vale of Leven website).

A people called the Damnonii (see below) were recorded as inhabiting this area at approximately the time of the Roman occupation of southern Scotland. The Britons who later occupied this district (and who were possibly the descendants of the Damnonii) had their kingdom centred on a rock which was given the British name "Al Clud", "the rock of the Clyde", later Gaelicised to "Dn Breatann", "fort of Britons", and which is now known as Dumbarton Rock; see LinkExternal link for more details.

Leslie and Elizabeth Alcock, who carried out an archaeological excavation at nearby Dumbarton Rock, point out that Carman is a large fort: the inner oval wall has a diameter of 60 metres on its long axis, and the outer wall has an overall diameter of 180 metres. Comparing it to royal strongholds of Dal Riata, they note that the entire fort of Dunollie (NM8531) would fit within the inner enclosure of Carman, and that the major fort of Dunadd (NR8393) covers only a quarter of the area of Carman's outer enclosure. This suggests a major concentration of military and political power at Carman. It is hard to see how this could have co-existed with a royal presence at Dumbarton Rock, and they go on to suggest that Carman may have been the immediate precursor of the royal seat at Dumbarton (see LinkExternal link for details).

The site is given statutory protection under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979.

For other sites of archaeological interest nearby, see NS3678 : The first of a group of three cairns, NS3678 : Hut circle on Carman Muir, and NS3678 : Walton Farm chambered cairn. In addition, near the foot of Carman Hill there is a field system associated with the vanished farmstead of Carman; see LinkExternal link for the field system, and LinkExternal link for the former site of Carman House itself.

Related topics:

(1) "Mount Mallow" (or "Mount Malou", depending on how the writer chooses to spell this spoken name; it is pronounced and stressed just like the English word "allow", but with an "m" sound added to the start): this name seems to have survived only in oral tradition, not appearing on any maps; see NS3680 : Moorland near Mullour on Overton Muir and NS3678 : Carman Quarry for further details. Properly, the name "Mount Mallow" was applied to the high ground of adjacent Overton Muir, just to the north of Carman Hill. Nowadays, the name is sometimes used, incorrectly, in referring to Carman Hill itself.

The second of the two links just given points out that some superstitions used to be associated with Carman Hill (those superstitions may have been associated with the Fairy Knowe, on Carman's lower slopes, as described in detail at the last-cited link, or they may instead have been about the boulders that are shown in the present view; for the nineteenth-century beliefs about those boulders, see NS3779 : View over ancient hill-fort).

(2) "The Damnonii": this name is known only from Ptolemy's "Geography", which was written in the second century A.D. They are thought to have been a British rather than a Gaelic people; in other words, they spoke a P-Celtic language, one much more akin to early Welsh than to Scottish Gaelic or Irish (which are Q-Celtic languages). The name Carman itself is thought to be a British name, incorporating the elements "cair" (fort) and "main" (stone); cf. Welsh "caer" and "maen" [Simon Taylor, in "Changing Identities/Ancient Roots" (2006)]. Another group called Damnonii/Dumnonii inhabited south-west England, giving rise to the modern name "Devon".

(3) Several local histories, some old, some recent, incorporate a number of historical misconceptions that have their origins in Charles Bertram's infamous forgery "De Situ Britanniae". The forgery was accepted for over a century; as a result, its ideas have infested many subsequent works down to this day, being incorporated into many otherwise useful historical references. I mention a few of those errors below in the hope that doing so will help others to weed them out of our local histories once and for all.

One such misconception is the placing of a people called the Attacotti in this area. They are mentioned only briefly in historical sources, and there is no consensus among scholars on their true location; the information in Bertram's work about them and about their location is sheer invention.

Betram also mentions a people called the "Gadeni", suggesting they lived in or near this area. This is incorrect. For one thing, it is doubtful whether any such people ever existed; the name is possibly a corruption of "Votadini". The Votadini themselves were a historically-attested people, and their descendants were the Gododdin (that name is in fact derived from "Votadini"), but neither the Votadini nor the Gododdin occupied this area.

Bertram's forgery is also the source of two other misconceptions about the area, namely, that Loch Lomond was formerly called Lynchalidor, and that there was once a Roman naval base called Theodosia at Dumbarton.
Carman Hill-fort
This large hill-fort was identified in 1954 from aerial photographs, and is thought to date from the Early Historic period (Dark Ages): see LinkExternal link for an annotated satellite view, and LinkExternal link for other antiquities nearby. The fort lies within what was once the territory of the Damnonii and (later) of the British kingdom of Alt Clut, whose fortress was at Dumbarton Rock: LinkExternal link
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NS3779, 84 images   (more nearby )
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Date Taken
Wednesday, 13 February, 2008   (more nearby)
Wednesday, 20 February, 2008
Geographical Context
Historic sites and artefacts 
Period (from Tags)
Early Historic 
Place (from Tags)
Carman Hill 
Hill fort   (more nearby)
Subject Location
OSGB36: geotagged! NS 372 795 [100m precision]
WGS84: 55:58.8470N 4:36.6519W
Camera Location
OSGB36: geotagged! NS 370 794
View Direction
East-northeast (about 67 degrees)
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Other Tags
Hill Fort  Toponymy  Archaeology 

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