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". This article will describe the hill, the 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 MalouExternal link and in the one about an old coupletExternal link, which mentions "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 pageExternal link of the article; readers who are not greatly concerned about place-names, early occupants and pseudo-history may wish to skip aheadExternal link to there. At first, the focus is on the ancient fortExternal link at the summit of the hill. Attention then moves gradually outwards from the fort to the hillExternal link as a whole, the disused quarryExternal link at its foot, the adjacent reservoirExternal link and muirExternal link, two vanished buildings (Carman CottageExternal link and Carman HouseExternal link), and, finally, to some WWII relicsExternal link in outlying areas. Along the way, some of the folkloreExternal link 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 BurnExternal link 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 laterExternal link 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 detailsExternal link 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, "British" means P-Celtic, that is, something more akin to early Welsh than to Gaelic (which is a Q-Celtic language). It can be inferred that Carman is an old name, pre-dating the use of Gaelic in this area. When the name was coined, the remains of the fort would have been much more conspicuous.
On some different explanations for the name Carman that are given in a few older references, see note 4. The occurrence of the name Carman in Tobias Smollett's work will be discussed laterExternal link in this article, as willExternal link the one in Whyte and MacFarlan's agricultural report. The correct significance of the name Mount MalouExternal link, 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 NoblestonExternal link became attached to a farm, but it is now the name of a part of the New Bonhill housing estates; the name NapierstonExternal link came to be associated with a farm, which survived until recent yearsExternal link.

(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, in an elaboration of the same idea, Carman is derived from "cathair Maine", "seat of Maine", the said Maine supposedly being an ancestor of the Earls of Lennox: see the old poem "Saor do leannán, a Leamhain". On the face of it, this seems reasonable, but the context should be considered: the same poem explains that the River Leven is named after a person who drowned in it, whereas, in reality, the names of the Leven and the Lennox are considered to be from a Celtic root meaning "elm tree" (see the next section of this article). It is no more likely that Carman is named after a person than that the River Leven is.

I mention the "cathair" and "cathair Maine" explanations, not because I consider either of them plausible, but for their curiosity value, and to encourage some healthy scepticism. In my experience, there is, 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 "leamhain" — see note 1). The names are probably related to the Lemannonian Gulf, located somewhere in this area, that is mentionedExternal link 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 gives various alternative readings for these names, and some suggestions about their identity.

The Damnonii themselves appear to have been the forerunners of, and were presumably the ancestors of, the people who formed the later kingdom of Alt Clut (with a fortress at Dumbarton Rock); the kingdom would come to be known as Strathclyde. Dumbarton Rock is the subject of an articleExternal link 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 3, 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 4). 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 mentionsExternal link Dumbarton (Rock), or Alcluith, more than once (see note 5) 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 laterExternal link in this article.


(1) "Elm tree": at the time of writing, some web pages explain "Leven" as "smooth stream". As far as I can tellExternal link, this idea has its origins in the preface to the Lennox Cartulary, and was presumably the opinion of its editor, James DennistounExternal link. The idea is not very plausible on phonetic grounds, and has long since been superseded; the later place-name scholars W J Watson and W F H Nicolaisen both disagree with Dennistoun, and explain the name Leven as being from the Celtic root for "elm".

(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 both in Britain and (though not shown on that map) 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 world "deep".

(2) 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 (') 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 ) was used to indicate half a degree.

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".

(4) "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. As for what those notions might have been, different authors give different thoughts: some say that it was to fit Ptolemy's ideas about the shape of the world, and others that human habitation was thought to be impossible above a certain latitude. That debate is beyond the scope of this article.

(5) 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 not to stigmatise either the authors who have in all innocence propagated the mistakes, or their 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 Richard of Cirencester (who was 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. Later, other authors who have had recourse to those earlier histories have incorporated 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; 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 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):

§. 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 at least the possibility that a name has been 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.; the last two look more similar in Greek — Γαδινοὶ/ Ταδινοὶ). 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 in battle.

Until the publication of Bertram's forgery, there was little discussion of the Gadeni, though, as already noted, 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". Without the backing of Bertram's forgery, the existence of the Gadeni hinges upon a single doubtful reading in Ptolemy's Geography. They are of doubtful historicity.

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)].



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