death and healing waters

Penpont takes ist name from a wooden bridge over the River Nith where a penny had to be paid for building and upkeep.  Penpont also was the seat of the Presbytery. There are no more traces left of the medieval church that once stood within the graveyard.

Penpont church

There were headstones dating back as far as the late 11th or early 12th century. Those have been removed from the graveyard to the museum in Dumfries. But there are a few others left that are old and worth the visit.

An ancient castle called Tibbers once stood near Penpont. It burned down about 500 years ago. It is said the English troops of Edward I had taken it but William Wallace got it back. Who burned it down or why is not known, a few low and overgrown walls are all that’s left of it.

The Parish belonged to the Duke of Queensberry. Quite a distance away from the graveyard but still within the Parish of Penpont is a small Loch called the Dow Loch, a place of myth and superstition and famous for its magic. The water was supposed to have predicting as well as healing qualities and would work for humans as well as animals. Doomed or revovering, the Loch would tell you if you came prepared.

A bit of clothing from the afflicted man or woman would have to be brought, animal fates were preticted using their rope or tether and with ritual and magic practices these were cast into the loch. If the items floated, the patient would surely recover if he, she, or it drank a sample of the water brought to the afflicted without speaking or eating on the way. This could be a hard task, for people lived in remote areas and the Parish was so large, it could easily take a day on foot to reach home. But if the thrown item sank to the ground of the loch, there was no hope left for the afflicted. Nothing could be done. They would soon rest in a grave in Penpont churchyard.

fireweed on grave

With the years the practice of throwing things into the loch became forbidden. But then medicinal wells and fountains came to life in the area, distributing the prophetic and healing waters of the loch in a different way.

sources and further reading:

Walter MacFarlane: Geographical Collections relating to Scotland. Publications of the Scottish History Society, Edinburgh, University Press, 1908

Penpont Churchyard,


4 thoughts on “death and healing waters

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  1. “Penpont takes ist name from a wooden bridge over the River Nith where a penny had to be paid for building and upkeep”
    Unless you can come up with some evidence for this assertion, I think you should delete it. It’s more likley that the word means bridge-end, from the British language. Nothing to do with a penny toll.

    1. You might be right Mr or Mrs Mackenzie but the sources pointed in a different direction.

      Would you like to share your sources?

      The word “pont” is actually French/Latin,and yes, it does mean bridge, there is no such thing as a British language, though. You probably mean English.

      Nellie Merthe Erkenbach

  2. – Please look at this site.
    You may find that the French ‘pont’ aligns with the Bretonic Gaelic versions of which were spoken in Wales (UK), Galloway(Scotland,UK), Cornwall (UK) and Brittany (France) but the old English for bridge is closer to the Germanic origin ‘brig’.
    My understanding is that the Pen part of the village name is also Bretonic Gaelic and would mean ‘head’ when translated to modern English. Thus – head of bridge – no pennies involved and not sure when they became currency probably the end of the 18th century probably after the existence of Penpont!
    However, there are 3 bridges one over the Scaur River on the south of the village where it becomes Keir Parish, one over Shinnel Water on the west side and one over the River Nith on the east where it becomes Morton Parish. As much of Morton and Penpont Parishes have fallen within the Buccleuch and Queensberry Estates for many centuries, reference to their records would assist with accuracy
    Also you could try the Estate Maps on the National Library of Scotland web pages here:
    I would be really interested to know who were the people whose names were carved into the outside of the low wall around the churchyard beside the kissing gate Jane, George and Geoff on one side and IAG [?] and Jim on the other side. There’s a little mystery!

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