4. Carman Quarry

Carman Hill

( Page 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 )
Creative Commons Licence [Some Rights Reserved]   Text © Copyright January 2019, Lairich Rig; licensed for re-use under a Creative Commons Licence.
Images also under a similar Creative Commons Licence.

Carman Quarry

The first-edition OS mapExternal link (surveyed in 1860), shows a knoll called the Fairy Knowe at this location. The significance of that name will be discussed below. The 1897 map revisionExternal link shows a "Fairy Knowe Quarry" eating away at the knoll; not far to the west is a target, part of a rifle range.

A larger-scale 1963 map revisionExternal link shows the quarry, by then labelled "Carman Quarry", the name that is presently used for the disused quarry on OS mapping. As shown in the selection of pictures below, the course of the northern and eastern edges of the original Fairy Knowe can still be discerned.
NS3679 : Carman Quarry by Lairich RigNS3679 : Carman Quarry by Lairich RigNS3679 : Carman Quarry by Lairich Rig(left) A mound at the centre of the quarry clearly shows the vivid red colour of the sandstone.
(middle) A view from the same knoll.
(right) A wide-angle view of the quarry.
NS3679 : Traces of ancient mud cracks by Lairich RigNS3678 : Traces of ancient mud cracks by Lairich RigNS3679 : The former Fairy Knowe Quarry by Lairich Rig(left) "Fossilised" mud cracks.
(middle) This larger flat slab has a more extensive example.
(right) The quarry, seen in the mist.
NS3679 : Northern edge of the Fairy Knowe by Lairich RigNS3679 : Path through Carman Quarry by Lairich RigNS3779 : Eastern edge of the Fairy Knowe by Lairich Rig(left) The northern edge (receding on the right) of the former Fairy Knowe, with the interior on the left.
(middle) The northern edge, viewed in the opposite direction.
(right) The eastern edge (receding from view) of the former Fairy Knowe, with the interior on the left.
NS3778 : Carman Quarry by Lairich RigNS3679 : Leaving Carman Quarry by Lairich RigNS3779 : Entering Carman Quarry by Lairich Rig(left) A general view of the quarry.
(middle) Leaving the quarry to climb Carman Hill, which is in the background.
(right) Returning to that part of the quarry, on the same path.
NS3678 : Northern Marsh-orchid by Lairich RigNS3678 : Sun Spurge by Lairich RigNS3678 : Lichens on a boulder in a disused quarry by Lairich Rig(left) Northern Marsh-orchid.
(middle) Sun Spurge.
(right) Several lichen species.


One of the better-known local histories of the Dumbarton area, written in the 1960s, mentions a cave near the shore at Havock: "A cave at Havock on Clydeshore just below Notre Dame High School, Dumbarton, is called after Wallace. According to Blind Harry, he escaped from the English soldiers by traversing a subterranean passage which led him and his companions up to Carman Hill, a mile away — 'In at the flow of the Havock / And out at the yetts of Carman.'"

Blind Harry's epic poem "The Wallace" (see note 1) describes the exploits of William Wallace. The author of the local history remarks, quite correctly, that the cave is now associated with the name of William Wallace. The assertion about the subterranean passage, though, is wrong.

In a later (1970s) local history by the same author, it is stated that Blind Harry "gives an account of Wallace and his men burning the houses in Dumbarton occupied by English soldiers and afterwards seeking shelter in the Dumbarton Cave before passing on to the Gareloch. Dumbarton Cave was presumably the place now called Wallace's Cave at Havock, formerly known as Havock Hole, and referred to in the old couplet: 'In at the flow of the Havock / And out at the yetts of Carman'."

That much is correct. However, the author immediately goes on to add that the cutting of the railway tunnel at Dalreoch "revealed in the sandstone rock a subterranean passage running almost due north from the Havock Hole in the direction of Carman Hill". It is true that no explicit connection is made between this remark and what was just said about Wallace, but this only makes the comment about the underground passage seem more out of place.

The author of those books was generally reliable and well-informed. It is therefore not surprising that, locally, the ideas expressed there have become well-established; however, some of them are incorrect. I myself took all of those statements at face value until I decided to read Blind Harry's "The Wallace" in the original Middle Scots. I was reading it for interest and pleasure, but I was also looking forward to coming across the words about the flow of the Havock and the Yetts of Carman in their original context. As it turns out, those words occurs nowhere in Blind Harry's poem. This point is worth stressing, because a correct understanding of the couplet's meaning depends upon it:

The old couplet about "the flow of the Havock" and "the yetts of Carman" is not from Blind Harry's poem "The Wallace". That poem nowhere mentions the place-names Havock or Carman, far less any tunnel between the two places.

The actual source of the words will be discussed below. It is always a good idea to refer to the original sources where possible; with that in mind, it is worth reproducing here just what Blind Harry's poem does say about Wallace after he had burned the houses of the English garrison in Dumbarton:

"Wallace or day maid him out off the toun,
On to the coyff of Dunbertane thai ȝeid
And all that day soiornd out off dreid.
Baith meit and drynk the hostillar gert be brocht.
Quhen nycht was cummyn in all the haist thai mocht
Towart Rosneth full ernystfully thai gang

Wallace and his contingent then travel on to the "Garlouch" (Gareloch). In the edition that I read (see note 2), the original-language version of this passage appears as lines 772—777 of Book Ten (note that the numbering of books and lines varies greatly between different editions of the poem). For those reading the passage in the original language: the "ȝ" in "ȝeid" is pronounced like "y" in "yes". My own far from poetic translation of the above lines is as follows:

"Before dawn, Wallace departed from the town.
On to the cave of Dumbarton they went,
and spent all that day out of danger.
The innkeeper had food and drink brought to them.
When night had fallen, they went resolutely to Rosneath
With all the haste they could muster.

The word "coyff" corresponds to the modern word "cove" (in the sense of a cave), and it may well refer to Dumbarton Cave (see also note 3). As an aside, in connection with Wallace's destination beside the Gareloch, it is worth adding that Faslane was, in his day, the seat of the Earl of Lennox, whose support for Wallace is made clear in the poem. There used to be a Faslane Castle (c.NS24949016), but its last vestiges were destroyed by railway construction.


(1) Blind Harry's epic poem "The Wallace" was written over a century and a half after the death of William Wallace; the film "Braveheart" is based to a large extent on the poem.

(2) The original-language version of Blind Harry's "The Wallace" that I read was published in 2003 in the Canongate Classics series, edited and with an introduction by Ann McKim.

(3) Dr Matthew P McDiarmid has suggested that "coyff" here refers to the place-name Cove c.NS2282. Though I am personally more inclined to believe that it refers to a cave, McDiarmid's suggestion is not unreasonable, given that Wallace's next destinations (according to Blind Harry's poem) were Rosneath c.NS2583 and Faslane c.NS2490. In the Canongate Classics edition just mentioned, his suggestion appears in the end-notes: see the note for line 773 of Book Ten.


The meaning of the phrases "Flow of the Havock" and the "Yetts of Carman" will be discussed below; first, though, it would be useful to identify the correct source of the words. The couplet is generally given in the following form:

     "In at the flow of the Havock
     And out at the yetts of Carman."

These lines are in fact part of the oral tradition of Dunbartonshire. The words survived down to the nineteenth century, when they were recorded by Joseph Irving; in the second volume of his "Book of Dumbartonshire" (1879), Irving writes that "on the lands of Ardoch is situated the cave of Havock, reputed at one time to have been a favourite resort of the Lennox witches, and which is supposed to have had an outlet at its northern extremity — a tradition, no doubt, founded on the elfish chant, 'In at the flow of the Havock, / and out at the yetts o' Carman.' This is the only memory of a once popular superstition which still lingers in the locality."

The same passage had appeared a little earlier in the Second Edition of Irving's "History of Dumbartonshire", published in 1860. Likewise, David Murray, in his book "Old Cardross: A Lecture" (1880), includes the following entry in his appendix of place-names (note the slightly different wording of the couplet): "Havock, Cave or Cove of the: 'In at the cove of the Havock, / And out at the yetts o' Carman.' Probably Dumbarton Cave mentioned by Blind Harry". The word "probably" shows that the quotation is not from Blind Harry's poem. Irving's comments, in turn, make it clear that the couplet refers to supernatural traditions ("elfish chant"). The two end-points, and the traditions that were associated with them, will be considered next.

Flow of the Havock

Alongside Havoc Road is a raised beach. At the top of that raised beach is a line of cliffs, set back about 450 metres from the present-day Clyde shoreline. In those cliffs is a narrow cave called Havock Hole. It is also known as Wallace's Cave, Dumbarton Cave, or Havoc Hole. The area takes its name from Havock, a farmstead that was located at c.NS37937541, closer to the shore. The spelling "Havoc" has become more common in recent times, probably from the influence of the English word "havoc". The earlier forms of this place-name and of others nearby are discussed elsewhere.
NS3875 : Havoc Hole by Lairich RigNS3875 : Havoc Hole by Lairich RigNS3875 : Havoc Hole by Lairich Rig(left) Havock Hole is on the right; a shallow former sea-cave is to its left.
(middle) A wider view.
(right) A closer look at Havock Hole.
NS3875 : Remnants of a sea cave by Lairich RigNS3875 : Remnants of a sea cave by Lairich RigNS3775 : The former site of Havock Farm by Lairich Rig(left, middle) The shallow former sea-cave.
(right) The former site of Havock Farm.

Of Havock Hole, the OS Object Name Books compiled in the 1890s have the following to say: "a cave in the face of a rocky precipice near Clarkhill. Mr McArthur says that it extends in for about 20 yards as he at one time reached to end of it with a pole". This makes it clear that the name "Havock Hole" properly applies to the deep narrow cave, and not to the very shallow depression just to its left. The Mr (James) McArthur who is quoted here was the tenant of nearby Havock Farm; he was presumably related to the Peter McArthur who was the tenant of Hawthornhill, and who was, at least when attending to his farm duties, a byword for scruffiness (see note 1).

As noted in the previous section of this article, Joseph Irving wrote that Havock Hole was "reputed at one time to have been a favourite resort of the Lennox witches". However, those supernatural traditions have now entirely been displaced by those that associate William Wallace with the cave. What probably hastened this process was the clearing, in the mid-nineteenth century, of the previously boggy and very overgrown area immediately in front of the cave, so that it became clearly exposed to view. Naturally, there is no way to confirm (or to refute) the tradition that associates Wallace with this cave. In more modern times, some instead mention Robert the Bruce in connection with the cave, but this is just the result of confusion.

Although supernatural traditions are no longer associated with the cave at Havock, similar ideas (see note 2) came to be associated with a less exposed cave just a few miles from here; it is not clear whether the traditions were simply transferred from one site to another, perhaps inspired by a vague memory of the stories about Havock, or whether they arose independently:
NS3178 : Cave at Ardmore by Lairich RigNS3178 : View from cave by Lairich RigNS3178 : Trig point at Ardmore by Lairich Rig(left) Looking into the cave at Ardmore.
(middle) Looking out from inside.
(right) A trig point on the nearest part of the shore; it has been repainted since that picture was taken.

I have watched the moon rise behind the Hill of Ardmore in the dark, and can well appreciate the atmosphere of the place.
 The moon rising behind the Hill of Ardmore; own picture, 2003
The moon rising behind the Hill of Ardmore.
(My own photo, 2003.)
  The moon over the Clyde, from the shore of Ardmore Point; own picture, 2003
The moon over the Clyde, viewed from Ardmore Point.
(My own photo, 2003.)

Spooky stories aside, Ardmore Point has some interesting antiquities; please note, though, the caution against entering the observatory ruin in particular:
NS3178 : Ruins of Ardmore Observatory by Lairich RigNS3178 : Ardmore defensive tower by Lairich RigNS3178 : Circular building by Lairich Rig(left) The observatory tower (a crumbling ruin — do not enter).
(middle) A D-shaped defensive tower at the base of a cliff.
(right) A circular building, possibly associated with the defensive tower, which is below it.

The observatory was for making weather reports, rather than for astronomy; a nineteenth-century author does describe it as the "telescope tower", but that was a reference to its shape, and not its use. There was originally more to the building than is seen here; some parts were built of red sandstone, while others were of white plaster. All of the white plaster parts are long since gone, and, as is apparent from the first of the above pictures, the remaining red sandstone structure is riven by deep cracks; the upper masonry is also fragile and is crumbling.


(1) Peter McArthur of Hawthornhill "took a pride in going about his farm duties ... as shabbily dressed as you would think it possible for any man to be, short of a human scarecrow". See the former site of Hawthornhill for an anecdote on this subject; like the quote just given, it appears in Donald Macleod's "Past Worthies of the Lennox" (1894).

(2) The stories that have been associated with Ardmore Point, especially from the 1970s, are well exemplified by the tale recounted in the article "Spooky Ardmore!" in the 26th April 1978 issue of the "County Reporter", a local newspaper. The story itself is clearly fictional (whether there really are similar goings-on in the wider area is another matter, but is outwith the scope of the present article); it was originally written, presumably with the Halloween season in mind, for the "Strathclyde Guardian", a journal that is subtitled "The Magazine of Strathclyde Police". In short, the tale has two youths from Glasgow visit Ardmore Point to engage in a full night's sea fishing. Around midnight, on seeing, by the light of the full moon, a circle of robed and hooded figures near the shore, the two immediately flee the scene in terror. Subsequent attempts by the police to investigate the scene are hampered, several days in succession, by a dense fog that inexplicably arises whenever they try to approach the area, but which lifts as soon as they leave. I recall having seen, many years ago, an obvious reworking of this tale in a posting in an Internet forum; the setting had been changed to, implausibly, the interior of one of the old towers on the hill. Lazy re-use of this kind is nothing new (however, the stories related at that last link may once have had a practical purpose, one that may explain how they came to be associated with a particular kind of geographical setting; see the end of the description associated with that picture).

Yetts of Carman

The final step towards understanding the significance of the old couplet involves realising that it refers to an imagined connection between two places, both of which had supernatural traditions associated with them. As already mentioned, the Flow of Havock, that is, the cave called Havock Hole, was at one time associated in local tradition with "the Lennox witches". The questions then arise of where, precisely, the other end was thought to be, and of what traditions were associated with it. Surprisingly, the answer is to be found in Tobias Smollett's epistolary novel "The Expedition of Humphrey Clinker", published in 1771.

Smollett has one of his characters, Winifred Jenkins, write a letter from "a gentleman's house at Loff-Loming" (Loch Lomond). In a mangled form of English (I have added some explanations in parentheses, but the italics are the author's own), the character describes Loch Lomond as …

"a wonderful sea of fresh water, with a power of hylands (islands) in the midst on't — They say as how it has got n'er a bottom, and was made by a musician (magician); and, truly, I believe it; for it is not in the coarse of nature. — It has got waves without wind, fish without fins, and a floating hyland; and one of them is a crutchyard (churchyard), where the dead are buried; and always before the person dies, a bell rings of itself to give warning."

"O Mary! this is the land of congyration (conjuration) — The bell knolled when we were there — I saw lights, and heard lamentations — The gentleman, our landlord, has got another house, which he was fain to quit, on account of a mischievous ghost, that would not suffer people to lie in their beds — The fairies dwell in a hole of Kairmann, a mounting (mountain) hard by; and they steal away the good women that are in the straw, if so be as how there a'n't' a horshoe nailed to the door."

It is likely that Smollett was, by means of his character, relating some authentic local traditions; certainly, those about Loch Lomond (waves without wind, fish without fins, and a floating island) are well known, and are not Smollett's invention (see note 1). Most probably, then, there was a genuine tradition of "fairies" dwelling in a hole of Carman; in contrast with some modern depictions, these fairies are portrayed as malevolent entities. The form "Kairmann" used here need not be seen as one of Winifred Jenkins's many misspellings, since it finds a counterpart in the "Cairman" mentioned forty years later in Whyte and MacFarlan's "General View of the Agriculture of the County of Dumbarton" (1811).

For those not familiar with Scots: a "yett" is a gate. In the expression "Yetts of Carman", it refers to an entrance of some kind. Since the couplet states "In at the flow of the Havock, and out at the yetts of Carman", and there was a cave at the Havock end, it is reasonable to infer that the other end was also marked by an opening.

There is now no obvious hole in Carman Hill itself, but recall that Carman Quarry, at the foot of the hill, was formerly called the Fairy Knowe Quarry, and that it was so called because it ate away at a knoll called the Fairy Knowe. It is reasonable to suppose that the hole associated with traditions of fairies at Carman was in that knoll, and that the cave at Havock was thought to lead to (or at least to communicate in some way with) the hole in the Fairy Knowe. As far as I know, I am the first to link the name of the Fairy Knowe with the traditions from three disparate sources, namely: the superstitions mentioned in Smollett's book, the old couplet about Havock and Carman, and Irving's comments about the Lennox witches and Havock Hole.

Both ends were associated with supernatural traditions (whether witches or fairies) and, in the popular imagination, there was some kind of communication between the two; as Irving noted, Havock Hole was "supposed to have had an outlet at its northern extremity", and he cites the old couplet as support. Even such differences as do exist between the traditions at Havock and those at Carman may simply be the result of the different times when those traditions were recorded: "fairies" in the eighteenth century, and "witches" in the nineteenth. The couplet itself, an "elfish chant", was perhaps an incantation that, in these traditions, was used to open up the way from one end to the other.
NS3679 : Carman Quarry by Lairich RigNS3679 : The former Fairy Knowe Quarry by Lairich RigNS3679 : Leaving Carman Quarry by Lairich Rig(left) The quarry, former site of the Fairy Knowe.
(middle) The quarry in the mist.
(right) The path from the quarry to the hilltop.


(1) For an in-depth discussion of the traditions of Loch Lomond's three "marvels" (waves without wind, fish without fins, and a floating island), see John Mitchell's paper "Loch Lomondside Depicted and Described — 1. Myths, Marvels and Monsters" on pp5—8 of "Glasgow Naturalist", Vol 23, Part 3 (1998).



( Page 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 )
You are not logged in login | register