[If the text below uses any of the terms ‘hill-letter’, ‘river-letter’, ‘old-style name’, ‘transitional name’ and ‘inversion-type name’ a reader who is not familiar with those terms may wish to refer briefly to ‘The Celtic names of hillforts’, where an explanation of those terms is given].



The Celtic names of hillforts


Burnswark Hill


Location:  southeast of Lockerbie, Dumfries and Galloway

OS map reference:  NY 185 787                                            

Celtic name: probably  Bladobulgio

Source:  Antonine Itinerary (Iter II) – Blatobulgio


This is a large hillfort standing on the summit of a prominent, high, steep-sided hill.

The Antonine Itinerary name is associated with the Roman fort now called Birrens, just south of Middlebie in Dumfries and Galloway. The Blat element will have been Blad in the Celtic name, this being an old-style element meaning ‘high hill summit’. The bulg element is of transitional type and means ‘high hill steep’. The Birrens fort does stand at the top of a high, steep river embankment, so the name Bladobulgio is not inappropriate for the actual site of the Roman fort. But the name is a Celtic compound and so refers to a place existing prior to the Roman invasion. Thus if there is no evidence of a Celtic settlement on the same site as the Roman fort then the name must have been transferred  to the Roman fort from a Celtic settlement somewhere in the vicinity. The hillfort on Burnswark Hill appears to be the nearest which is built on a site which suits the name Bladobulgio, so presumably that hillfort was Bladobulgio. A possible argument against this is the distance between hillfort and Roman fort, some five kilometres as the crow flies. This seems a long way to transfer a name, but perhaps the Romans moved the surviving population of the Burnswark Hill hillfort to Birrens and thought it sensible to transfer the name of the hillfort as well.