Carman Hill

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Creative Commons Licence [Some Rights Reserved]   Text © Copyright January 2019, Lairich Rig; licensed for re-use under a Creative Commons Licence.
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NS3779 : The top of Carman Hill by Lairich RigNS3779 : View over ancient hill-fort by Lairich RigThe prominent boulders near the summit.

Carman Hill is located near the village of Renton; there is also a Carman Muir to the south of the hill. The OS Name Books of 1860 describe Carman Hill as "a conspicuous hill ... the highest point of which is in Bonhill parish on the south side of Millburn Muir".
 Carman Hill from the northwest
Carman Hill from the adjacent muir to the northwest. (My own photo, 2012.)

OS maps give a spot height of 244 metres, almost exactly 800 feet, for the summit of the hill. Carman Hill is located at the southern end of a line of muirs (running SSE—NNW), most of which are higher than the hill itself. However, there is enough of a drop on the northern side of Carman Hill for it to appear as a distinct entity in its own right, rather than simply being the end of the line of muirs. The hill appears as a noticeable landmark in the background of many pictures on this site.

Carman Hill offers a good view of the town of Dumbarton (including Dumbarton Rock) and of the various settlements that make up the Vale of Leven. The River Leven flows from Balloch and through the Vale of Leven, to meet the River Clyde at Dumbarton. A considerable part of the course of the River Clyde is also visible from the hilltop, and the river can be seen opening out into the Firth of Clyde.

On the other side of the River Leven are the Kilpatrick Hills, with the more distant Campsie Hills and Fintry Hills visible to their left. Among the built-up areas visible across the Clyde are Port Glasgow, Greenock and Gourock. The view from the hill will be described in detail later in this article.

On the hilltop itself are the remains of a fort: among the visible traces are an inner and outer enclosure, an annexe, several groups of boulders, and some rather indistinct hut circles.
 Carman Hill viewed across the Dam
Carman Hill seen across the Dam. (My own photo, 2021.)

This article will describe Carman Hill, Carman Muir, and other sites that are either geographically or thematically related to them.
The article begins with a discussion of the name Carman and of the early occupants of the surrounding area. Next, some peculiarly persistent historical misconceptions are dealt with; that discussion is technical in places, and is mainly intended to help others weed those wrong ideas out of local histories. Other wrong ideas are mentioned in the section on Mount Malou and in the one discussing an old couplet about "the flow of the Havock" and "the yetts of Carman". Throughout the article, misconceptions are presented in bold text to help readers locate the relevant discussions more easily, even when skimming the text.

A more straightforward description of the physical landscape and its features begins on the second page of the article; readers who are not greatly concerned about place-names, early occupants and pseudo-history may wish to skip ahead to there. At first, the focus is on the ancient fort at the summit of the hill. Attention then moves gradually outwards from the fort to the hill as a whole, the disused quarry at its foot, the adjacent reservoir and muir, two vanished buildings (Carman Cottage and Carman House), and, finally, to some WWII relics in outlying areas. Along the way, some of the folklore associated with the hill will be considered.


The name

The name Carman is stressed on the second syllable.

In the Lennox Cartulary (see note 1), a charter made by Donald, Earl of Lennox (1333—c.1364), to a certain Patrick Lindsay (see note 2) mentions the northern part of "Carmane", and some adjacent topographical features, namely, the Pocheburne, the Blindsyke, and the Halyburne (see note 3). Of these, the Poachy Burn retains its old name.
In literature, an early occurrence of the name Carman is in Tobias Smollett's epistolary novel "The Expedition of Humphrey Clinker", published in 1771; there, in a description of the area around Loch Lomond, Smollett has one of his characters mention "Kairmann ... a [mountain] hard by".
In the book "General View of the Agriculture of the County of Dumbarton", published by the Rev. Andrew Whyte and Duncan MacFarlan, D.D. in 1811, mention is made of "Cairman in Cardross" as a source of what the authors call "moor limestone". As will become clear later in this article, the reference is to Carman Muir rather than the hill. "Cairman" provides a transitional form between Smollett's "Kairmann" and the present-day spelling "Carman", as employed on OS maps.
The equivalent earlier agricultural report by the Rev David Ure (1794) also discusses "moor limestone", and provides many interesting details about its use, but it does not mention Carman by name.
In a chapter written by him in the book "Changing Identities, Ancient Roots" (edited by Ian Brown, 2006), place-name specialist Simon Taylor explains that the name Carman is probably composed of the British elements "cair" (fort) and "main" (stone). In this context, the word "British" means that the place-name was coined in a Brittonic language once used throughout this area; in non-technical terms, its being "Brittonic" means that it was much more akin to early Welsh than to Gaelic (which belongs to the other branch, the so-called Goidelic languages; the terms "P-Celtic" and "Q-Celtic" are often used in a similar fashion to describe the two branches). It can be inferred that Carman is an old name, pre-dating the use of Gaelic here. At the time when the place-name was created, the remains of the fort would have been much more conspicuous than they are now.
Different explanations for the name Carman were given in a few older references: although I consider none of them to be correct, I mention them, for interest, in note 4. The occurrence of the name Carman in Tobias Smollett's work will be discussed later in this article, as will the one in Whyte and MacFarlan's agricultural report. The correct significance of the name Mount Malou, used locally in various senses, will also be discussed.

The following list of spellings is not intended to be complete:
SpellingTime periodSource
Carmane1333—c.1364Lennox Cartulary.
Kairmann1771Tobias Smollett's "The Expedition of Humphrey Clinker".
Cairman1811Whyte and MacFarlan's "General View of the Agriculture of the County of Dumbarton".
Carman1823 (map sheet pre-dates Atlas)Map of DumbartonshireExternal link in John Thomson's 1832 Atlas of Scotland.
Carman1860—presentOrdnance Survey maps.


(1) "The Lennox Cartulary": this is the short title that I and others use to refer to the "Cartularium Comitatus de Levenax ab Initio Seculi Decimi Tertii Usque ad Annum M.CCC.XCVIII"; specifically, the Maitland Club edition, which was printed in Edinburgh in 1833. The book is a collection of transcriptions of Latin charters made by the Earls of Lennox and others. As well as being of historical interest, the collection is a useful source for early forms of place-names. The spelling "chartulary" is sometimes employed.

(2) The lands of Bonhill used to be divided into Bonhill-Lindsay, Bonhill-Noble, and Bonhill-Napier, each division being named after the family who owned it. The second and third of these names survived after a fashion: the name Nobleston became attached to a farm, but it is now the name of a part of the New Bonhill housing estates; the name Napierston came to be associated with a farm, which survived until recent years.

(3) Pocheburne, Blindsyke, Halyburne: for the meaning of those Scots names, see the chapter by Simon Taylor in the work already cited; it is chapter 2, "The Early History and Languages of West Dunbartonshire", on pp12—41 of the book.

(4) "In some older references": one such work is "The Place Names of Dunbartonshire" (John Irving, 1928), which, as Simon Taylor observes in the work already cited, "meets none of the basic criteria of a scholarly place-name study", and incorporates many other errors. For what it is worth, Irving explains "Carman" as being from the Gaelic "cathair", which he translates as "fort" (it literally means "seat").

Elsewhere (see, for example, page 7 of the 1987 book "Lennox Lore"), Carman is given a possible derivation from the Gaelic "cathair Maine" ("seat of Maine"): see the old poemExternal link "Saor do leannán a Leamhain", thought to have been composed c.1200. In that poem, Maine is the son of a noblewoman called Leven; the mother is there said to have drowned in a river that was then named after her.

However, I would not expect any of the place-name explanations given in that poem to be valid. An old poem may be valuable as a record of early forms of place-names, but any explanations it offers for them should be viewed with much scepticism. In reality, the names of the Leven and the Lennox are, rather than being derived from a personal name, considered to be from a Celtic root meaning "elm tree" (see the next section of this article). In very old poetry, and in national origin stories of a similar character, places-names are frequently and often implausibly explained as being from personal names: for example, these traditions would have Britain named after Brutus of Troy; Scotland after the Egyptian princess Scota; the seven traditional Pictish provinces (Cé, Fidach, Fotla, etc.) after the seven children of Cruithne; and so on. The above-cited poem appears to belong to the same tradition.

One point I wish to stress in this note is that I think there has been, at least locally, an over-reliance on John Irving's 1928 book for the interpretation of place-names. I will address some other well-rooted misconceptions later in this article, in a discussion of Charles Bertram's "De Situ Britanniae".

Early times

Carman Hill is located in an area that has long been known as the Lennox. The names Lennox (< Levenax) and Leven are related, and are thought to be from a Celtic root meaning "elm tree" (modern Gaelic "leamhan" — see note 1). The names are probably related to the Lemannonian Gulf, located somewhere in this area, that is mentioned in Ptolemy's Geography (or "Geographia"), dating from the 2nd century AD; for the original text, see page 82External link of Karl Müller's 1883 edition, where the Firth of Clyde (Κλώτα εἴσχυσις) is mentioned on line 10, and the Lemannonian Gulf (Λεμαννόνιος κόλπος) on the following line (that is, the first line on page 83). See the abundant notes below the main text for suggestions about the identity of the Lemannonian Gulf.

Ptolemy mentions a people called the Damnonii (see note 2) in this general area: see the first line of page 92External link (Müller edition). The next few lines on that page list places associated with their territory (variant forms in parentheses): Colanica (Colania), Vandogara (Vindogara/Vanduara), Coria, Alauna (Alabna), Lindon, and Victōria. Although various theories have been offered about the identity of these places, they cannot now be located with certainty. It is worth adding, though, that Victoria is a clearly a Latin name; much of Ptolemy's information about this area would have come from Roman sources.

Again, the abundant notes in this edition give various alternative readings for these names, and some suggestions about their identity. It should be borne in mind, though, that those suggestions reflect nineteenth-century thinking; for example, "there is no evidence to support the belief, so beloved by Victorian historians, that Paisley was the Vindogara/Vanduara of Ptolemy's ancient map" (see note 3).

The Damnonii themselves appear to have been the forerunners of, and were presumably the ancestors of, the people who would form the kingdom of Alt Clut, with its fortress at Dumbarton Rock; later still, from about 870, the kingdom would come to be known as Strathclyde. Dumbarton Rock is the subject of an article of its own.

It would be useful at this point to refer to a mapExternal link of Scotland that is based on Ptolemy's "Geography" (see note 4, about coordinates). That particular version of the map appears in Joan Blaeu's 1654 "Atlas of Scotland". One of the most striking things about it is that much of Scotland has been twisted clockwise by 90 degrees; this is just as Ptolemy described Scotland (see note 5). The Damnonii are shown (as "Damnii") on that map, as are the place-names already mentioned. "Gadini" is marked nearby as the name of a people; more will be said on that topic in the next section.

Writing in the eighth century, Bede mentions Dumbarton (Rock), as Alcluith, more than once (see note 6) in his Ecclesiastical History of the English people. He describes it as "strongly fortified to this day". More will be said on the relation between Dumbarton Rock and Carman Hill-fort later in this article.


(1) "Elm tree": at the time of writing, some web pages instead explain "Leven" as meaning "smooth stream". That idea, found in some old books, is not very plausible on phonetic grounds, and it has long since been superseded; the later place-name scholars W J Watson and W F H Nicolaisen explain the name Leven as being from the Celtic root for "elm". See my description of the River Leven, and its footnotes, for further information and relevant references.

(2) "Damnonii" (Δαμνόνιοι; variant reading Δάμνιοι, Damnii): there was a people in England with the same or at least a very similar name (Damnonii or Dumnonii); they gave their name to Devon. This coincidence of names is not unusual; it can be seen from the map that Ptolemy places Brigantes in both Britain and Ireland; likewise, there were Parisi in Britain and (though not shown on that map) very similarly-named Parisii on the European mainland.

The Celtic element (meaning "world" or "deep") that begins the name Damnonii/Dumnonii can also be seen in the personal name Dumnorix ("world king"), belonging to a prominent ruler in 1st century BC Gaul. Compare the modern Gaelic "domhan" (world, universe) and "domhainn" (deep, profound), words that are related, though very distantly, to the English word "deep".

(3) On the lack of support for the Victorian idea (still often encountered) that Vanduara corresponds to Paisley, the quoted comment is from page 4 of "Pictorial History of Paisley", by David Rowand FRSA, FSA Scot. The same can be said about suggestions that equate Vanduara with Renfrew, Coria with Carstairs, and so on; as noted in the main text, none of the places that Ptolemy assigns to the Damnonii can be securely located today.

(4) Ptolemy's work contains coordinates throughout; these are the sequences of letters to the right of the main text. Greek works of this time period did not employ digits in the modern manner; instead, letters of the alphabet were used to indicate units (1 to 9), tens (10 to 90), and hundreds (100 to 900). For this, 27 symbols are required: these were the usual 24 letters of the Greek alphabet, along with three already obsolete letters, which were used to represent 6, 90 and 900. A prime-like mark (' for degrees, doubled to " for minutes) was used to show that these symbols were being employed as digits rather than letters.


There were ways of expressing fractionsExternal link of a degree. In addition, a special symbol — looking something like Ľ — was used to indicate half a degree. Whether it was coincidental or not, it seems appropriate that, like the Egyptians of a much earlier period, Ptolemy (Claudius Ptolemy of Alexandria) not only expressed fractions as sumsExternal link of unit fractions (1/n), but also employed a special symbol for 2/3. For example, 25 minutes of arc, or 5/12 of a degree, could be expressed either as 1/3 + 1/12 (γ" ιβ") or as 1/4 + 1/6 (δ" ϛ").

It has been the subject of debate whether Ptolemy's work originally contained any maps, and, if so, whether the ones we now have correspond to the ones he drew. It would be strange if Ptolemy had gone to the trouble of recording coordinates for places in great detail, but had not then taken the logical final step of providing maps for his readers. In Volume 1 of "The Early Maps of Scotland" (D G Moir; Royal Scottish Geographical Society, 1973), it is stated that "the view most generally held is that the maps were originally drawn by Ptolemy but that they became separated from the text and that both underwent modifications in the course of the centuries".

(5) "Just as Ptolemy described Scotland": if the coordinates given in Ptolemy's work (see previous note) are used to create a map of Scotland, then the map is found to be twisted in this unusual manner. The distortion is all the more puzzling since both Ptolemy and the earlier geographer Marinus of Tyre, on whose work Ptolemy built, would no doubt have been aware of the descriptionExternal link of Scotland that was given by the first-century Roman author Tacitus in his account of Agricola's invasion of Scotland (Tacitus was Agricola's son-in-law). The description given by Tacitus, though brief, is at odds with the distorted version of Scotland depicted by Ptolemy. Authors generally agree that Ptolemy deliberately distorted Scotland's shape in order to fit certain preconceived notions of his. On what those notions might have been, different authors have different opinions: some, that it was to fit Ptolemy's ideas about the shape of the world; others, that human habitation was thought to be impossible above a certain latitude. That debate is beyond the scope of this article.

(6) See page 8External link and page 20External link of an 1845 translation of his Ecclesiastical History.


A few local histories, whether written in the 19th, the 20th or the 21st century, incorporate some persistent historical errors. As a result, those who are researching the history of this area are likely to come across these wrong ideas in some otherwise useful reference works. It would serve no purpose to mention the affected works or their authors here, since my intention is neither to criticise the authors who have in all innocence propagated these mistakes, nor to denigrate their generally valuable work, but simply to help local historians avoid being caught out in the same way in future.

The wrong ideas owe their origins to a forged work called "De Situ Britanniae", written by Charles Bertram in the middle of the eighteenth century. Bertram falsely ascribed his text to a certain Richard of Westminster, whom others identified with Richard of Cirencester, a genuine historical figure. Sadly, the forgery was all too convincing, and it also seemed to answer many interesting historical questions. Worse, it was almost a century before it was accepted that the work had been comprehensively debunked. As a result, the information supplied in Bertram's book became interwoven with fact in histories that were written throughout that period. Some later authors who had recourse to those histories would incorporate the same ideas in their own work.

In scholarly writing, it seems now to be the custom to pass over these misconceptions in silence. There is nothing wrong with that, but, given that I am intending to help local historians in particular, it seems that it would be more useful if I were to highlight these errors and their origins here, and so help others avoid incorporating them in their own work.

One such error is the placing of a people called the Attacotti in this area (near the south of Loch Lomond). We know that there was a historical people of that name; they were one of the groups who harassed Roman Britain in the fourth century, as mentioned by the historian Ammianus Marcellinus (see book xxvi, chapter 4External link and book xxvii, chapter 8External link). The error is simply in their placement: the Attacotti have been described as "insular" (see note 1), meaning that they came from Britain or Ireland, but we can say little more than that. The information given by Bertram about the Attacotti and their location is sheer invention. Jerome (4th—5th century) also mentioned the Attacotti in passing, making some colourful observations about their dietary habits and lifestyle (see note 2); whatever the merit of those observations, there is no basis for relating them to this part of Scotland.

Two further misconceptions from Bertram's forgery are (1) that there was a Roman naval base called Theodosia at Dumbarton, and (2) that Loch Lomond was once known as "Lacus Lyncalidor".

It is also worth making some comments on a people of doubtful historicity called the Gadeni. As already mentioned, Blaeu's 1654 "Atlas of Scotland" contains a mapExternal link of Scotland based on Ptolemy's Geography; that map shows the name "Gadini" in the general area being discussed in this article. Bertram cannot be blamed for the appearance of the name on that earlier map, at least.

Some editions of Ptolemy's Geography mention a people called the Gadeni. See, for example, line 19 of page 70External link of an 1843 printing of Volume 1 of Ptolemy's Geography, where the name Gadeni occurs, though in square brackets, to mark it as a doubtful reading. The line is as follows; I have added a translation into English, since there is none in the book:

§. 10. [Γαδηνοὶ δὲ ἀρκτικώτεροι]
§. 10. ["and Gadēnoi further to the north"]

In that edition, the next line features the name ʼΩταδηνοὶ ("Ōtadēnoi"), which, interestingly, ends with the same sequence of letters, suggesting that a name was accidentally duplicated and later garbled. The better Karl Müller edition of 1883 does not mention the Gadeni at all in the main text, but mentions the "Ōtalinoi" (with variant forms Ōtadinoi, Tadinoi, Gadinoi, etc.; these look much more similar in Greek than in English — ΩΤΑΛΙΝΟΙ / ΩΤΑΔΙΝΟΙ / ΤΑΔΙΝΟΙ / ΓΑΔΙΝΟΙ). The relevant section is page 93External link; again, the abundant notes below the main text give full details of textual variants in different manuscript traditions.

The Otadeni/Otalini reference seems to be to a people known as the Votadini, who, unlike the Gadeni, are on a solid historical footing: their descendants were the Gododdin (a Welsh reshaping of the name Votadini), who are best known from the medieval Welsh poem "Y Gododdin", which celebrates their valour. As already mentioned, Carman Hill is in what was once Damnonian territory; the Votadini were based elsewhere, further to the east.

Until the publication of Bertram's forgery, there was little discussion of the Gadeni, though, as already pointed out, they did appear on some maps that were based on Ptolemy's work. The publication of Bertram's forgery, which mentioned the Gadeni, would give rise to scholarly debate about their location. The book contained a map of its own; it was supposedly a more accurate version of Ptolemy's map, but, as John E Shearer wrote in his 1895 book "Old Maps and Map Makers of Scotland", "the map would have been more correctly named Bertram's 18th-century map of Roman Britain, compiled from Ptolemy's map, the author's imagination, and other sources". It is unlikely that the Gadeni genuinely existed; without Bertram's forgery, the evidence for them is a single line, probably corrupt, in Ptolemy's Geography.

The main point to be taken from this discussion is that the information that Bertram gives about the "Gadeni", whether in his text or on his map, should be disregarded.


(1) Attacotti: "'a warlike nation' whose origins were Insular but obscure to us" [page 56 of "From Caledonia to Pictland: Scotland to 795" (James E Fraser, 2009)].

(2) Remarks about the Attacotti in the works of Jerome: these are particularly hard to locate, so, although they are not relevant to the geographical area being discussed in this article, I provide some references here, purely for interest. The one about their view of marriage and family life is in letter 69External link, addressed to Oceanus, and a translation can be found about two-thirds of the way down the second column of page 143External link at CCEL. The remarks about their eating habits appear in his work Against JovinianExternal link, and can be found in translation near the top of the first column of page 394External link at CCEL. Both of the translation links are to the Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

Edward Gibbon, in a speculative passage in "The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire", wondered whether "in the neighbourhood of the commercial and literary town of Glasgow, a race of cannibals has really existed". This idea was simply the result of combining Jerome's remarks on the Attacotti with Bertram's entirely made up comments about their location; it can safely be discounted.

Other accounts

In the interests of giving readers the opportunity for a more rounded-out view of Carman Hill and related matters, I will mention two other accounts of the hill here: the firstExternal link (PDF, ~15MB) is by Jeremy Watson of the Lennox Heritage Society; I should add that his lively and engaging paper deals with the wider area and its mysteries, and is not simply about the hill. The secondExternal link account, which includes a 1.2MB PDFExternal link (on the Vale of Leven websiteExternal link), is by William Scobie; while our opinions differ on many points, readers may enjoy the different perspective offered.


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