The parish of New Cumnock’s association with William Wallace, like many other places throughout Scotland, has its origins in Blind Harry’s 15th century epic work “The Wallace”. Harry places Wallace in the parish of New Cumnock on no fewer than four occasions that span the period from 1296 through to his betrayal in July, 1305 and his martyrdom in London on 23 August 1305.
In 1296, William Wallace and his men were forced to turn back from New Cumnock because the road at Corsencon had been destroyed. “At Corssencon the gait was spilt that tide” The main route from Nithsdale to Ayrshire passed by Corsencon hill in the east of the parish where since 1205 a toll and customs point had stood. Wallace’s detour took him to Avondale (Strathhaven) where he and his men defeated an English force at Loudon Hill.
In May of the following year Wallace slew the English sheriff of Lanark and soon after Blind Harry places Wallace and his men at New Cumnock again. “To the Blak Crag in Cumno past agayne, His houshauld set with men of mekill mayne, Thre monethis thar he dwellyt in gud rest”
Wallace’s household at Blak Crag, is in the lands of Blackcraig in the upper reaches of the Afton Water. In September 1297 Wallace had joined forces with Sir Andrew Murray and defeated the English army at Stirling Bridge. In the spring and early summer of 1298, Wallace, now Sir William and Guardian of Scotland, spent time consolidating his position, and this may be the period of Harry’s ‘three months rest’, i.e. rest from warfare. It was also during this period that Wallace paid a visit to his Uncle Sir Ranald Craufurd in Ayr, before - “In Cumno syne till his duellyng went he”.
Defeat at the hands of Edward I at Falkirk in July, 1298 resulted in Wallace relinquishing his Guardianship of Scotland and as Edward I tightened his grip and control over the nobles of Scotland, Wallace had become no more than an unwanted rebel to many that once had considered him Scotland’s saviour.
The last place Blind Harry has Wallace at before his capture and betrayal at Glasgow in July, 1305 is at home in Blackraig, New Cumnock.
“And Wallace past in Cumno with blith will, At the Blak Rok, quhar he was wont to be, Apon that sted a ryall house held he”
In 1999, these words took on a new significance. The Wallace Seal was discovered and thereupon emblazoned was “William Wallace, son of Alan Wallace”, while within the Ragman Roll of 1296, we find “Alan Wallace, crown tenant in Ayrshire”. Clearly then the Wallace family were no vassals of the Stewarts and the tenuous links with William Wallace and the Stewart lands of Elderslie in Renfrewshire and those of Kyle Stewart in Ayrshire can be discounted. The crown lands in Ayrshire are found in King’s Kyle and it is here that Blackraig hill in the parish of New Cumnock dominates the landscape. Across the Afton Water stands the ruined cottage of Over Blackcraig in the shadow of a glorious rocky outcrop known as Castle William, for upon this sted Sir William Wallace held a ryall house, a crown property.
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