Ayrshire Towns and Parishes

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Prehistoric Man in Ayrshire

John Smith



ONE of the most interesting places of antiquarian remains in the Dalry (the King's Park) district is the Cleaves Cove. This place, with the permission of the late Captain Blair, R.N., of Blair, I have thoroughly explored, removing there from some 300 tons of material.

The cove, which is situated in the lower bed of carboniferous limestone, measures, if all the passages were put end to end, some 500 feet in length, some of the passages being pretty wide arid roomy. A full description of the exploration will be found in the second part of the seventh volume of the Glasgow Geological Society's Transactions, and some of the antiquities got in it have been figured in the Archreological Collections of Ayr and Galloway, and the incrustations in the monograph of the ' Cleaves Cove Stalactites and Stalagmites,' published by Mr. Elliot Stock.

The following section represents the general arrangement of the deposits in this cavern, the beds varying in thickness in the different passages:

I. Reddish earth, and white bones, mixed with yellowish clay 1 foot

2. Dark mud, with large brown bones, and branches . 1 Foot 3 ins.

3 Stones and gravel  3ins.

Total Depth 2  feet  6 inches

The lowest bed (3) had been formed by the Dusk Water, which now flows in the glen far below the bottom level of the cave, and in it no antiquities were got. in Cleaves Cove,

FIG . 141. Flint Knife got in Cleaves Cove.


FIG . 142. Part of Spindle-whorl from Cleaves Cove.

FIG. 143. Bronze Spiral Finger-ring. 

FIG. 144. Bone Spoon.

FIG. 145. Bone Ring, Cleaves Cove.

The second, or middle bed, contained the oldest antiquities; and in the upper bed a few were got, some of which may be of considerable age.

The only 'flint' (Fig: 141) which was got in it was a finely-made pointed knife, nearly 2 inches in length, concave on the one edge and convex on the other ; a portion of a shale spindle-whorl, the hole in which had been bored with a metal drill (FIG 142) and a chert axe, of very rud  workmanship, measuring 4 1/2 inches in length by 2 3/4 inches in breadth at the face. These were all the stone articles that were found . They were got in the material after it had been taken out of the cave, and probably belonged to the second deposit.      

The following are also of uncertain position: two bronze spiral finger-rings of. three twists each (Fig. 143) ; finely-made bone spoon, with circular bowl (Fig. 144), shaft broken; peculiar bone implement, 3 1/2 inches long, with oblong hole in centre, and a circular hole running through it lengthwise (the latter natural) ; rude bone ring (Fig. 145), possibly from the second deposit.

FIG. 146.- Implement of Red Deer's Horn, Cleaves Cove.

FIG. 147. Stag's-horn Handle.

FIG. 148.- Bone Chisel, Cleaves Cove.

FIG 149. Silver Ring-brooch, Cleaves Cove.

FIG. 150. Emerald, Cut Glass, Cleaves Cove.

FIG. 15I. Bronze Finger. ring, Cleaves Cove.

FIG. 152 . - lron Spearhead, Cleaves Cove.

FIG. 153. lron Spearhead, Cleaves Cove.

In the second deposit were got tine of red deer's horn (Fig. 146), 10 1/2 inches long (it had been sawn on opposite sides to a small depth, and then broken off), roughly polished all over the surface ; part of a red deer's horn formed into an implement-possibly the handle of a dagger-and polished all over the surface (Fig. 147); small bone implement, chisel-pointed (Fig. 148).

In the upper deposit were got a silver ring-brooch, with part of the ornamented pin belonging to it (Fig. 149) ; a finely-cut glass ' stone,' of an emerald colour (Fig. 150) ; a bronze (?) finger-ring (Fig. 151); and two iron tanged spear-heads (Figs. 152 and 153). From the material taken out of the cove there was also got an iron battle-axe, 7 1/4 inches long, and 4 1/4 inches broad at the face, one of the sides of the eye being broken off (Fig. 154) ; and what looked like part of an iron bridle-bit (Fig. 155).

FIG . 154.  Iron Battle-axe , Cleaves Cove.

FIG . 155.  Part of Iron Bridlebit (?) from Cleaves Cove.

The following is a list of the animal remains obtained :

From the Upper Deposit

Sheep ....Both slender-legged and modern varieties.

Hare ..... Left pelvis, left tibia , and right femur only.

Rabbit ...Frequent

Rat ......Numerous bones.

Cat......A few bones.

Dog......A few bones of a small-sized variety.

Weasel ...A few bones .

Pheasant....A few bones .

Partridge....A few bones .

Duck . . .A few bones .

Common fowl....A few bones .

Goose .....A few bones .

The most of these had probably been taken in by foxes, although Mr. Fox had been careful not to leave any of his own in the cave.

The bones from the upper deposit were all white.

From the Middle Deposit

Ox (Bos Longifrons)............Very plentiful. A number of the bones had belonged to very small individuals.


Red deer.................Tine of horn, and case of horn only: Both specimens as implements.

Sheep ..............Very plentiful. The majority of the bones had belonged to the slender - legged variety.

Goat ..............A few bones.

Pig.............Numerous bones.

Beaver ............Left humerus only.

Goose ................Left ulna only.

Cetacean (?) ...........Right rib.

The bones from the middle deposit were all of a brown colour, and many had been broken and split to get at the marrow.

A large number of bones of small animals, probably bats, mice, shrews, etc., were not determined. A number of bones showed the marks of cutting instruments-knives and rude saws-and a few were gnawed.

The seeds of fourteen species of plant s were obtained from the second deposit, but. amongst them there were not any of the edible cereals.

That this cavern had been inhabited by a primitive race of men there could be no doubt, and that, too, at a period when the Dusk Water flowed through it, for, owing to the sloping position of the limestone bed in which it is hollowed, there would be plenty of permanently dry places for them to remain in; and, from the nature of their food, it is evident that they had command of the district and charcoal found ' amongst the deposits showed that they had enjoyed the blessing of a fire.

A few bits of yellowish-glazed pottery were got in one of the passages.

Next in interest to the cove is the Caerwinning Fort, situated on a hill of that name (sometimes Carswinning), to the east of the centre of the Garnock Valley, and commanding an extensive view of the same., Some sixty or seventy years ago it was much dilapidated by a thoughtless farmer removing the stones from it wherewith to make fences.

The foot of this round little hill (Caerwinning) below the fort is said by Mr. Hogg, in the New Statistical Account, to have been defended by a ditch, but this I have failed to find, and it may have been obliterated about fifty years ago by the mining operations that were at one time carried on with the object of trying to get copper ore.

There are the remains of three ramparts. The outer one can still be traced for a distance of 500 paces by large boulders which have been left here and there; but on the north-east side of the hill, where the latter is steep, it does not seem to have been continued.

A bit of it on the south-west side is still in a pretty fair state of preservation.

The gateways, which are placed in the outer and inner ramparts, can still be distinctly made out, the entrances having been towards the west. On this side, where the hill slopes most gently of all, the distance from the outer rampart to the middle one is 31 paces, and from the middle one to the inner one 53 paces.

There are no ditches in connection with any of these ramparts, and perhaps the nature of the hill, a hard felstone, forbade their excavation.

The little Aitnock Fort, situated on the summit of a precipitous rock. which rises sheer up from the bed of the Rye Water, is placed about a mile and a quarter south-west from Caerwinning Fort, and, like it, has suffered considerably from the hands of the farmers. The inner ring is 16 paces in diameter, and 8 feet above the level of the field to the west of it. The outer ring is 12 paces out from the inner ring, 2 feet above the field, and several of) the large boulders of which it was built are still in position. The ditches, if there were any, have been filled up. No excavations, so far as I know, have been made in connection with either of these forts.

Hourat Castle Rock, from its name and appearance, has also very likely been a fort. It is an isolated boss of rock, standing well up from the moor on which it is situated, and, being precipitous all round, would only require a ring of palisading round its summit to make it a very secure and perfect fort.

The Danes' Camp, which is on Dunduff, as we shall see by and-by, is such another rock, only in its case the south end was not precipitous, and had to be defended by earth-walls and ditches (Fig. 210).

Another thing in favour of Hourat Castle Rock having been a fort is the richness of the vegetation, caused by human occupation and the habits of savage life. Savages throw everything at their feet, and in the Ardrossan shell mound they had gradually shut themselves out from the best bit of the shelter by continually throwing shells, bones, etc., on the floor of their habitation.

The summit of Hourat Castle Rock measures 38 by 25 paces -quite roomy enough for moderate-sized fort.

From Hourat Castle Rock a magnificent view is obtained of the Garnock and Rye valleys, and away in the' distance are the lands in the neighbourhood of Paisley the 'veezable kirk 0' Beith' standing before it on the opposite side of the Garnock Valley.

The Dalry Court Hill was at one time quite a feature in the district, standing as it did on an eminence overlooking the level _land of ,the Garnock Valley. Unfortunately, it was 'first -almost smothered in pit refuse, and then practically annihilated; but its .dismemberment-was in skilful hands, so that we have an interesting account of its structure and contents preserved in the first volume of the Ayr :and Wigton Archreological Collections, by R. W. Cochran Patrick, Esq., LL.D., of Woodside.

This tumulus was nearly circular in form, and about 290 feet in circumference, and 20 feet high, the diameter of the flat top being 38 feet.

Under it, on the south side, there was an excavation, covered with a small cairn of stones, containing a highly-ornamented urn or drinking-cup, 9 inches high by 6 3/4 inches wide (Fig. 156).

Under the mound there was an ancient wooden castle, or stockade, 46 feet in length, by 20 to 21 feet broad, formed of dressed oak stakes. This structure had evidently been burned at one time, as it showed considerable traces of fire--perhaps taken from the ancient inhabitants by the mound-builders.

Several worked flints were got under it, one of them being a pointed article--perhaps a spear-head-s- 2 1/2 inches in length, which is a good size for an Ayrshire' flint.' Another one, also pointed, was almost 2 inches long, and 1 inch in breadth at the base .

Within the wooden enclosure there was the remains of a fireplace. Some of the oak stakes of this enclosure were furnish ed with a groove j and a wooden object was interesting, being of oak, 1 foot 2 inches in length , and having a hole cut obliquely through it. Some of the bones obtained from the mound were coated with vivianite.

FIG. 156.-Drinking cup got in Dalry Court Hill .

The finding of the remains of a wooden structure under this tumulus is certainly very interesting, as it is so rarely that ancient wooden buildings are preserved, especially on land, and the building up of the tumulus itself-a justice aire-introduces us to a period when a savage form of living was giving way to another, savage enough, perhaps, in some respects, but still a step in the right direction.

The Gallows Stone is said to have stood a short distance to the east of the Court Hill.

About a furlong west from the Court Hill, stood the Grey Stane, a massive whinstone boulder set up on end. It had no tale to tell. Tradition had preserved nothing concerning it, and lately it was used as a foundation-stone. It may have originally been set up as a treaty stone, or perhaps to mark the place where some chief or king fell in battle.

In its neighbourhood was Craftanrigh, the King's Field .

On old Baidland there was another mound, called the Law Hill. It has been very much levelled, but when the field is ploughed the difference of the soil indicates its whereabouts, which is in the highest part of the same, and commands an extensive view to the east and south. Near it was Baidland Tower with Orchards.

To the south-west of Law Hill, on the west side of Auldmuir Burn, there is a girdle mound in perfect preservation (Fig. 157). Its surface is large and flat, and 31 paces in diameter. It stands on sloping ground, being 3 feet high on the shallow side, and 16 feet 6 inches high on the deep side. There is an extensive view to the east and south, Coalhill and Knock-Georgan Forts being visible from it. It was in all probability a fort , or, in the first instance, possibly a burial-mound, although this has not yet been ascertained.

FIG. 157.-Girdle Mound, Auldmuir.

A short distance to the north-east of Linn Spout there was a mound, now removed, called the Green Knowe Tumulus, and near to Blair House - one of the oldest houses in Scotland, and still inhabited-there is, situated on top of a small whinstone knoll cove red with large beech-trees , a court hill.

Not far from the Tower of Tower, now removed, there probably - at Girthill-was a girdle mound, as the name would seem to indicate.

The top of Pencote Hill - probably meaning the hill with the house on it-seems to have been fortified, and the remains of two ditches can still be traced; and a short distance to the south of it is Castle Hill, in all likelihood fortified at one time. These two places overlook part of the valley of the Dusk Water, and must have formed capital spots for the old style of fortification.

Half a mile to the north-east of Pencote Hill, and occurring as a gently-rising knoll, just above the Dusk Water, is Law Hill, in all probability an ancient court hill or grave-mound, now levelled down; and when the plough is driven over it, the surface indications would seem to favour the idea.

Near this, when Auchenmade road was being formed, a "stone coffin containing human bones was unearthed; and when the Largs road was being constructed, in 1807, a large cairn of stones was removed, and under it was got a stone coffin with human remains, The site is now covered by the Camphill reservoir, but was on the lands of Routenburn, where tradition says there once was a battle fought with the Danes.

On the lands of Blackstone  there is a cat stane (battle stone), in this case a jutting bit of rock. The cat stanes were set up to mark the site where a battle was fought, and this is the only named or remembered one in Ayrshire that I can find.

The following antiquities have also been found in this district:

On the lands of Lynn, four urns, containing burnt bones, were got near to the ruins of a chapel now rooted out.

Two urns were dug up at Auchengree, and one was found near Blair House, as we are informed by Mr. Hogg in the New Statistical Account.

In 1782 a stone ring was got in a moss. It measured 4 1/2 inches in diameter. Near Dalry Station a celt, made of fine-grained felstone (Fig. 158), was found by my brother. It occurred 26 inches below the surface, in undisturbed yellow clay, mixed with vegetable matter. I saw its mould in the clay where it lay. It is a beautiful specimen, measures 7 1/4 inches in length by 2 1/2 inches broad, .and has been well figured in the Ayr and Wigton Archreological Collections.

Celts made of similar material to this one have been found all over the country, but the place where this particularly tough, finegrained, grayish felstone had been got is not known. Perhaps it may be foreign, and these celts may have been the conquering weapons of invaders. The stone is exceedingly well suited for celt-making, and ,the celts have been fashioned by people well skilled in the work, and having eyes and hands well adapted for producing sweet mathematical curves.

There is a celt in the Blair Museum which was got at Blair Park, between Dalry and Largs. It is somewhat broken.

In a water-hole in the Cleaves Cove there was got the nave of a small wooden wheel with copper mending. This was a very interesting relic, and may have belonged to the wheel of an ancient Caledonian war chariot. It has, unfortunately, been lost. It measured , so far as I can recollect, when first found, about 7 inches in diameter , was nearly globular, but shrank considerably in drying, being of course perfectly rotten. The finder, Mr. A. Robertson, named it 'the wee god.'

 FIG. 158. - Celt found near Dalry Station.

A sword was at one time found near Dalry ; the blade was rust; the handle, two hollow pieces of brass soldered together, and ornamented with the figure of a dragon.

A few coins were got on Routenburn Farm, now changed to Camphill (there may have been a camp on the original Camphill, but I failed to find it, or obtain any information regarding such a thing), and are in the possession of the farmer.

Near to Hourat farmhouse there was a castle, now rooted out.

Kersland House was a stronghold in the days of old, and likely the seat of the baron of that ilk. The sword of Kerr of Kersland is still preserved in Dr. Grierson's museum at Thornhill, and is one of the longest and heaviest in the collection.

Near Dalry there was a gold article got, which Mr. Cochran Patrick informed me would be of about the intrinsic value of 6. It was of pure soft gold, and found its way into the melting-pot.

The Dalry fair day (July 1) is called Marget's (Margaret's) Day.

The cairn of stones on Hailey, at Largs, was called Marget's Mound, [ The old name of this cairn was ' Magga Law,' or the Burial-place of the Pechts.]  so that Marget, whoever she was, must have been of some consequence at one time in the West. A writer in the New Statistical Account says that a St. Margaret was killed at the siege of Antioch.

In November, 1894, in a shallow pit sinking at East Muirhouse, near the Den, from which coal was being worked, a number of articles was recovered from an old waste. They consisted of two cradle-footed , wheelless basket creels (which were found standing full of coals ), a wooden pump, two picks (iron), a mell, i.e., a long hammer, a shovel, a wedge, two riddles, six miners' wooden tallypins, a hat, two leather belts, each 3 feet 9 inches long by 1 1/2 inches broad, six wooden shafts, some candles, and a smoking-pipe of small size, with the representation of a lion and a unicorn, two sprigs of flowers, probably meant to represent the Scotch thistle and the English rose, and the letters D S, the S being turned in the reverse way from what is usual nowadays.

The creel was neatly made, the framing consisting of the two cradle-feet held together by six light slots. Across the ends of the feet, on top, were two light bars, from which sprung eight hazel starts, the four corner ones binding the bars to the feet, the bars keeping the feet from spreading out. Other eight starts, four on each side, completed the framing, the bottom sides and ends having been woven with willow wands. The total size of the creel was 2 feet 11 inches long, by 19 1/2 inches wide. A similar find was made in an old coal waste at Hurlford a number of years ago.

At Todhills there is a monument, fitted up by Mr. Andrew Smith in 1817, to commemorate the planting of two trees - an oak and an ash - which planting took place in 1761. These trees were to have so much space allotted to them, and were to enjoy growing on a sort of no man's land for 500 years, as saith the inscription. The trees have long since ceased to exist, the ash by natural decay, and the oak by the hand of man.

On the east face of Swinlees Hill (below the fort) mines were driven , some fifty to sixty years ago, in expectation of finding copper.








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