Bothkennar: The smallest parish in Scotland was at one time the richest

Bothkennar is one of the most interesting and intriguing places in Falkirk district. You will find no sign saying ‘Welcome to Bothkennar’ and no settlement at all other than the handsome church which sits in glorious isolation on the farmlands of the carse.

By Ian Scott
Thursday, 12th May 2022, 12:30 pm
The old harbour at Carronshore.
The old harbour at Carronshore.

However it was this location on some of the country’s most fertile agricultural land that made the ancient parish of Bothkennar such a valuable property.

Nowhere, according to one observer, was any point in the parish more than six feet higher than any other and, while it was little more than 1,000 acres in extent and the smallest parish in Scotland, it was at one time the richest and most productive.

So valuable in fact that successive sovereigns kept it for themselves giving rise to the name, the Crown Lands of Bothkennar.

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Bothkennar church.

There was never a village as such, only a series of scattered ‘fermtouns’ linked by their feudal duty to the crown and the noble families who acted in the King’s name like the Bruces of Newton.

The old parish area has many Gaelic names which underline the fact that the land was cultivated in the Dark Ages before reliable records came to be written.

The name Bothkennar itself seems to derive from ‘both’ meaning a church and ‘kennera’ or ‘cainner’ who was one of those mysterious saints of the Celtic church about whom we know very little.

He was on the go around the 7th century so we might speculate that a first church building dates to that period.

The present church with its unusual tower was built in 1789 with major additions a century later in what the experts call a ‘neo-Georgian’ style.

The kirkyard which is looking a bit forlorn these days has some very old stones including a couple with carved sailing ships which remind us of the merchant seamen who made their fortunes shipping the produce of the land from above and below the ground.

The other main activity in the parish in later centuries was coal mining and this gave rise to the two significant settlements which we know today.

The first, Carronshore, had started as a small harbour on the river known as Quarrelshore which became known locally as ‘Coal Shore’.

From there the valuable black gold was shipped out to the rest of the country and beyond.

After 1760 it was taken over by Carron Company and was extended with warehouses, granaries, docks and the fine Carron House mansion of the famous Charles Gascoigne.

The second village, Skinflats, arrived much later to provide accommodation for miners.

The name has caused all manner of speculation over the years with the favourite theory linking the name with the reclamation of land from the River Forth by Dutch engineers.

However there is no evidence to support the idea of any Dutch involvement and what land recovery there was came about as a result of the straightening of the great meanders of the River Carron to make the passage of Carron Company boats that bit easier.

I can’t let the story of Bothkennar pass without mentioning two of the local Ministers who made important contributions to our understanding of local history.

The first was William Nimmo whose great History of Stirlingshire published in 1777 is still consulted today and, from our own time, Rev William B McLaren who wrote many articles on Bothkennar and much else besides.

We are very much in their debt.