CHAPTER V

WEMYSS BAY, LARGS, AND FAIRLIE.

    ALTHOUGH our available space is now so limited, we shall do our best to turn what we have to good account. Wemyss Bay is in the west of the county of Renfrew, a name which signifies the rath or fortified town of the chiefs. Vanduara, or town of the giant- heroes, was in much earlier times a place of strength, and may have been either at the county town or in the wood of Durchat, near Paisley. It is a piece of mere hardihood to say that this town of the mighty heroes was a Roman camp. We should rather adhere to the view which makes it a stronghold of the Downans, a Firbolg race, who may have had something to do with Downies-hill, near Castlesemple. Agricola, or some of the generals who came after him, may have visited these parts, and built bridges and roads, but we must bear in mind that Dunrod, or the hill of the fort, and many other strong places within the country, were held by the Celtic lords of the district for generations prior to the coming of the Roman cohorts. One of these strong places is the Torr of Meagle, or the hill of the stranger chiefs, and this is the very "place of strength" which has proved to be the source of the name Skelmorlie, the meaning of which is given at p.  106. A stronghold of note it had been, and was probably held for a time by some of those Fomorian pirates and sea-rovers, who infested the coasts of Britain during the period of the Roman occupancy, and who were, for the most part, men of Teutonic race. To connect such a famous site with those fancies and fables which represent it as the scene of serpent-worship and the theatre of demonical orgies, is simply to discredit the plain testimony of obvious facts, and to produce a downright caricature. Some years ago the writer of these pages carefully examined the site of the above ruined burg, and also two more of Mr. Phene's so-called "serpent mounds." The result was a complete demolition of the philosopher's craze, in the despatch of which effective aid was given by a company of the best Scottish antiquities. It is, therefore, much to be regretted that a theory so vain and flimsy—not worth powder and shot—should be reproduced in the pages of any local Guide-Book.
    Wemyss Bay has its name from the "weems" or caves which sea- waves, in the course of a long past geological epoch, have worn in the face of the shore line of cliffs. Pretty caves they are, and quite a home for the tufted fronds of the shiny-green harts- tongue and other ferns. Had they been only a little larger and deeper we should, perhaps, have had amongst them a Monks' cave as in Cumbrae, or a Jerrygaha (giant's cave) as in Kintyre. But indeed, the "halyman" or hermit could not be far off, for a little way in the rear stood the "chapel of penitence" (see p.  106). Here some local critic may say that the writer has not got the proper form of Annat-yards, and may mentally proceed to correct him. If any such does so challenge anything in regard to this matter, let it be said that Timothy Pont is the writer's guide, followed up by a searching study of the old local names? And yet in such a matter as the interpreting of old names of places we find sciolists rashly venturing in where wise men fear to tread. It is an entire reversal and discrediting of the inductive method—that candid and patient questioning of the witnesses to which, in many of the sciences, we owe so much. Does the name Skelmorlie really have that meaning which the present writer, says it has? Undoubtedly so. Well then, are we to believe the author of any "brochure" Guide to this locality when he says that "auchen" signifies a field, that "clachan" means a stone circle, and next, a church, that Irvine is the greywater, and that Cumbrae has its name from a Gaelic word signifying "fragrant?" Certainly not. We must bow out of court these and all such erroneous conclusions. Irvine, as a name, simply means the water-side, clachan is a stone-house, and hence a chapel. Kempock, as a name, has nothing to do with "a maiden," but is simply a appellation for the grave of some gallant sea-roving captain from the northern strand,—the name being a pure Norse compound signifying the champion's cairn. The greater part of this cairn has disappeared, but the spot is marked by a great rude pillar-stone (see Landmarks, p. 32).    As a corrective of many errors in this matter of the interpreting of local names, let it be briefly stated here that the attempts which G. Chalmers, in his Caledonia, made to explain many names of places, do not merely bear the stamp of half- knowledge, but of so much less as to make them more of a hindrance than a help to the young student of philology. Portrye is explained at page 20, and must have had its name long before King Hakon bade his men row him ashore in order to have a mass said. Caves and dens are called "weems," even, when earth-houses are not meant. Dunoon is the heroes' fort, Rothesay is the castle- islet, and is a Norse name, as the present writer has been the first show. Daff-glen has its name from the Celtic word daimh, a church, and the fact favours the alleged antiquity of "Auld Kirk. " Spango means the steep hill-side water, and the Kip is the hill- head brook, as coming from an upland ridge.
    Wemyss Bay is a bracing sea-side resort, and numerous handsome villas testify to its popularity. From any station on the Caledonian Railway it is easily reached, and a well- organised service of steamboats enables passengers to find ready access to many of the other watering-places on the shores of the Firth. It has several churches, and a first-class Hydropathic Establishment. Numerous fine villas and residences skirt the shore in front of the picturesque cliffs of Skelmorlie, and a still larger number occupy favourable sites on the higher grounds. Turning to the left, on leaving the Railway Terminus, one has Kelly Glen on the right, the lands of which were long held by the Bannatynes. A walk of half-a-mile brings one to the fine pebbly strand of the "White Wick" of Wemyss (wick, a little bay), near to which is the Post Office. Passing along the Bay, the visitor has several handsome villa residences on the right, and presently comes upon a fine succession of highly picturesque cliffs. Ferncliff sits snugly under the red crags, which find fit adornment in fern and flower and tree. To the north of this villa is the English Episcopal Church, a beautiful Gothic erection, built, A.D. 1879 in memory of the late Mrs. George Burns, and containing a memorial window in honour of the late Earl of Shaftesbury.
    In the near vicinity is WEMYSS HOUSE, the residence of Mr. George Burns, proprietor of the estate of Wemyss Bay.
    A little farther to the north a noble pile of buildings arrests the eye and engages the high admiration of the beholder. This is CASTLE WEMYSS, the residence of Mr. John Burns, Chairman of the Cunard Company. It is a handsome castellated edifice of imposing dimensions and commanding position, and has been justly described as "a rare and striking specimen of the old Scottish baronial style." The fien red sandstone used in its construction receives the full effect of the harmony produced by its lovely environment of green lawns and shrubs and terraces. Within the Castle grounds there are numerous and extensive conservatories, vineries, and peach-houses; a Lawn-tennis ground available for four courts ; a private pier of solid stone masonry, from which to board Mr. Burns's magnificent steam yacht "Capercailzie," R.Y. S., of five hundred tons—at anchor in the offing,—these and other accessories of a large establishment combine to make Castle Wemyss a remarkable illustrations of the happy results of well- directed taste and enterprise.
    LARGS.—The prescribed limits of this little book deman a severe curtailing of this section ; but, as such an attractive watering-place as Largs has long proved deserves better treatment, we hope to see soon a Hand-book to this locality which shall be worthy of its many interesting sites. Largs has its name from the Gaelic learg, a green slope, a hill slope, a sloping country-side. There is such a "Largs" or Larg-hill at Straiton, and there is another in country near Oban. The meaning is certain, and it must be noted that the idea or notion of "a pass" is not associated with the term. A green slope may, indeed, be mounted, but beyond that there is no definite conception of a pass connected with the term learg. According to the above Largs was originally the name of the sloping countryside in its vicinity, and was subsequently transferred or applied to the hamlet which sprung up around the ancient church of St. Columba. Magga or Meaga Law was a cairn of vast size which stood for ages in a field about one hundred yards north of Haylie. This cairn has been removed, and only the gigantic kistvaen or chest of stones remains. Its name has an evident connection with the Meatae or Picts, and it shows that, in olden times, this cairn was held to belong to people of that race. One of its names, when interpreted, points it out as the tomb of a Celtic lord. Margets- law is another (a corrupt) form of its proper name. Hadil [haddil] is a name for it (O.S.A.), and this signifies the site or place of the grave-mound. Haylie is a name which denotes the mansion-house slope, and has nothing in the world to do with "helle, a pit or burial-place." Gilburn is near at hand, in the vicinity of which Pont places Killinocraig, or the wood of the crag. The same old choreographer, writing nearly three centuries ago, places hereabouts the name of Paddoc Kirddin, or the camp of the Picts. Kephanburn, meaning chapel-burn, is at the near end of Fairlie. Trigonie, judging by the camp at another place of the same name, should denote the heroes' fort or fenced town. Greeto or Gritow has its name from the numerous stones of its channel, —griot-a', river of stones, or small boulders. Greta, at Keswick, is the same. Gogo also is of Norse origin, and signifies the moss- land water. Fichen is a green plot or stripe of pasture, Firret of Keith is the moor-land of sheep-folds. Ringanros is tho robbers' cairn, and Camyir is the high kame or ridge between the counties. The "Deid Man" is at Coukilreeva, or the mossy-hilt fold. The old folks in Lochwinnoch used to say (when the wind was in the north),—"It'll be fine weather to-day, for t'wind's aff the Coukils," that is, the quaghills of Misty-law and Hill o' Staik, —Norse stac, a towering mass of rock, a peak. Kempis-riggs are the champions' allotments of land, and Aghanvranchan (castle- hill) denotes the stronghold of the Fomorians or sea-rovers. Noddisdale has certainly got its name from the camp or fort called Castle-law in Aitken's map. Netslie contains the same Kymric word for a fort, viz., naid, and this is confirmed by the Laverock-castle near Kilburn. Laverock is laurach, meaning the site of a ruined fort or building. Raillies keeps in mind the ancient reilig or cemetery near Chapelton and the Dokeers of Pont's time. These places (a rich and lovely region) are on Kelsoland, or the land of the house of prayer— an extremely early church. For Aplenira (Aplas) see Landmarks p. 130 ; but if Applehirst be the true name of the place, then hirst, bush, copsewood. Eddelyburn is in this quarter, and the first part of the compound signifies the site of the peel or stone tower,—aite ailigh. These details (though dry enough) may be useful to some inquirers.
    FAIRLIE.—The charms of this delightful sea-side resort are well known. It is certain that great numbers of Northmen settled on the islands and shores of the Clyde firth. They were men of a noble race, and were often called firdar in their own tongue, meaning strong men, "warriors". Hence the name of Fairlie, or its older form Fairnelie, signifying the heroes' camp or settlement. Such original settlements, were, of course, protected by a bulwark of earth called "birren," or by a stockade of heavy timber. Redding is in the neighbourhood of the village, and signifies camp, a fort. This may have been the strong place of the early fair-haired settlers. Fairlie Castle may have, in a later age, taken the place of the primitive stronghold. Chapel- house, an old local name, explains itself. But the name of another chapel at Southannan is not so obvious. It is, however, known by old records to be St. Anan's Chapel, that is, the chapel of St Adamnan, the biographer of Columba. The whole of this charming sea-board is a pleasant place to dwell in, and in taking leave of it so early we can only do so, in the hope of returning soon to its sunny shores.

 


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