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Pont Maps of Scotland, ca. 1583-1614 - Pont texts

Source documents | Authorship | Dating | Content and value

Background information on the main textual materials relating to Timothy Pont by Christopher Fleet


Timothy Pont's survey of Scotland involved the compilation of both maps and textual descriptions, and whilst his maps are the major surviving body of source evidence, his textual descriptions are arguably an essential accompaniment. These textual descriptions provide clues as to Pont's working methods as survey notes, but more importantly, they provide qualitative descriptions of the regions of Scotland. These topographic descriptions (or chorography) were closely allied to map-making with their own long and distinguished genealogy, and they provide a descriptive complement to the spatial presentation of mapped regions. Below we examine the source documents containing Pont's texts, the potential authorship and approximate dating of them, as well as the content and value of these texts for all those interested in late 16th century Scotland.

Principal Source Documents by, or deriving from Timothy Pont.

Apart from textual endorsements of varying length which can be found on most of Pont's maps, there are three main sources of surviving textual material by Pont, although none of these are in Pont's own handwriting.

1. Robert Sibbald's Topographical Notices of Scotland (Adv.MS.34.2.8) contain a large quantity of information written by Robert Gordon of Straloch. This includes some of his draft contributions to the Scottish volume of Joan Blaeu's Atlas novus Vol. V (1654), which were published accompanying the Blaeu maps in an amended form. It also includes some general chorographic descriptions of many parts of northern and western Scotland, interspersed with detailed notes taking the form of an itinerary or survey. The pages containing these two categories form the content of this Pont text's website, as the chorographic descriptions in part, and the survey notes with greater certainty, can be shown to derive from Timothy Pont.

These texts were transcribed in 1748-9 for the antiquary Walter Macfarlane, whose manuscript texts are also in the Advocates' Manuscripts in NLS - (Adv.MS.35.2.12). They were transcribed again for the printed Macfarlane's Geographical Collections, or Geographical Collections relating to Scotland made by Walter Macfarlane II, Vol. 2, edited by Sir Arthur Mitchell, published in 1907. This double-process of transcription introduced a number of variations, inaccuracies, and errors within the printed volumes, and therefore this website presents a fresh transcription from the most original source text, that in the Topographical Notices of Scotland, by Dr Jean Munro.

2. Cunninghame Topographized, a chorographical description of the district of Cunningham, Ayrshire, usually dated to around 1604-8, can be found in Sir James Balfour of Denmilne's Collections on the Shires, Adv.MS.33.2.27, f.205-15. It was transcribed and printed twice in the 19th century, first as Topographical Account of the District of Cunningham, Ayrshire. Compiled about the year 1600 by Mr Timothy Pont, edited by J. Fullarton (Glasgow: Maitland Club, 1858), and also as Cunninghame, Topographized by Timothy Pont, A.M. 1604-1608 edited by J.S. Dobie (Glasgow: John Tweed, 1876).

3. The main contents of Sir James Balfour of Denmilne's Collections on the Shires, Adv.MS.33.2.27 are a set of topographic descriptions of other parts of Scotland. These lack the detail of Cunninghame Topographized, and are not credited to Timothy Pont, but they follow a similar pattern of contents, describing the extent of regions, principal towns, gentlemens' houses, castles, rivers, mountains, antiquities, and other notable features of chorographic interest. If this material did derive from Pont, it was written and updated in the 1630s at the earliest, as several dates of events can be found up to this time.

This website presents transcribed text from 50 openings of item 1 above, the Topographical Notices of Scotland, and the remaining sections below describe the possible authorship and content of this text.


There are a number of supporting arguments that can be made which point to Timothy Pont as the original writer of the majority of these texts, but no definitive proof. According to Sir Arthur Mitchell, the historian and geographer who also studied these texts,

"it would not, I think, be far from the truth roughly to attribute the great bulk of these 'noates' to Timothy Pont as the author. Indeed it seems to me beyond question that he wrote a large part of them and, if this is correct, it gives them exceptional value" (Mitchell, 1907, Vol. II, xlv).
The main arguments that supports Pont as author of these materials are:

1. Robert Gordon of Straloch, the writer of the texts in this volume, specifically credits Pont as the author of the texts several times. Titles of sections such as "Ross and the parts therof out of Mr Tim. Pont his paperis" (f.119), or "Noates and memoirs drawn furth of Mr Timothee Pont his papers" (f.141) can also be found on folios 83, 137, and 144.

2. Written notes by Timothy Pont on a number of his manuscript maps are either transcribed (or recorded in a very similar form) in the Topographical Notices of Scotland. Specific examples would be:

3. Sir Robert Sibbald, in his Repertory of Manuscripts (Adv.MS.33.3.16, f. 17-19) specifically mentions Pont as being the author of the texts and maps he received from James Gordon. His subsequent list of Pont's texts is incomplete, but it does list several titles of sections that agree with those in these Topographical Notices of Scotland pages.

4. The majority of the textual descriptions take the form of a practical itinerary, usually along river valleys, traversing across bridges and ferry points, and recording a similar range of topographic features as can be seen on Pont's maps. The itinerary covers Highland and mountainous country; by the time of writing these texts, Robert Gordon must have been aged in his 50s or older, so it is unlikely that Gordon himself could have traversed such terrain. In addition, Gordon lacked the detailed knowledge of these areas that these texts display, away from his homeland of North-East Scotland, (a fact borne out by some of his manuscript maps of these areas).

Nevertheless, it is very likely that Gordon edited and embellished Pont's notes, rather than transcribing them exactly, and this process went much further with the more chorographic descriptions (eg. f.83-91, 130r-131v), that may only loosely derive from Pont. Whilst these chorographic sections lack the polish and elegance of Gordon's prose as extant elsewhere in the Blaeu Atlas novus texts, it is quite conceivable that Gordon was rewriting material from a number of sources. There are also certain sections specifically credited by Gordon to authors other than Pont, such as:

The texts therefore reflect Robert Gordon's need to assemble information about Scotland in the 1640s, perhaps for Blaeu, from the best available sources; Pont's descriptive notes were a crucial source of evidence, supplanted and embellished by Gordon's own knowledge, and the input of a few other reliable informants. The texts should be seen as relating to Pont, but not necessarily by Pont.

Dating the texts

Through conjectures about authorship and by references to certain places and people, some of the texts can be approximately dated. Some of these references allow a section of text to be dated, such as for Knoydart, where mention of both the superior of the country at Inverie as well as Glengarry, dates the text to before 1611 (Rixson, 1999) after which Glengarry became complete owner. However, as other names of clan chiefs or lairds survived over generations, many personal names cannot precisely date the text. It is important to stress that due to the nature of chorography, collating facts from a number of sources at different points in time, the dating of the texts is necessarily diffuse.

Unfortunately, most of the more obviously dateable references are in the initial chrographical section (f.83-91) that is arguably penned by a later writer than Pont. For example, there a specific date of 1620 given describing a past event (f.87), as well as a brief description of the Fife Adventurers. The texts attributed to others (see above) are dateable to the 1640s.

In two places the texts mention the MacGregor lands of Stronmilchan in Glen Strae, held from the 15th century until the 1620s, but passing into the ownership of Sir Duncan Campbell of Glenorchy from 1624. An Act of Parliament of 1617, confirming the Acts of 1603 and 1613, abolished the name of MacGregor, forcing members of the clan to renounce their names or be put to death, and a further contract of 1624 resigned their lands to the Campbells (OPS. ii, 140). On this basis it can be suggested that the reference on f.116 to "Stron-Meulachan Mack Gregoir his hous", should precede the 1620s, whilst the reference to the "toune wherein Mack-Gregoirs sumtyme dwelt called Stroin-Miallachan in Glenstrae" (f.83v) arguably follows this time.

The reference to the Gentlemen Adventurers of Fife (f.91) allows the text to be dated after not merely the failed colonisation attempt itself ca. 1597-1609, but after 1633. "Mackloyd of Lewis wer supplanted by sum barons of Fyf, who not able to mak uss of thois lands, made ovir thir rights to the Earle of Seafort, whoss sone now hath the same". In that Colin, Lord Mackenzie of Kintail who gained official possession of Lewis from 1610, was created first Earl of Seaforth in 1623, and died in 1633, our narration is arguably in the time of his son George, 2nd Earl of Seaforth, who died in 1651.

In general, although many of the texts cannot be dated, where they can, a smattering of references support earlier description before 1610, which coexist alongside dates in the 1620s-1640s. This would be consistent with the idea of earlier texts being embellished and supplemented by Robert Gordon of Straloch in the 1640s, along with Pont’s manuscript maps, but, of course, other conclusions are possible.

Content of the texts

Pont's texts provide a number of clues as to his working method and survey itinerary, as well as conveying a wealth of information about late-16th century Scotland.


As so many of the descriptions proceed along river valleys, crossing only at bridges or known ferry points, the general routes Pont took across certain parts of Scotland can be suggested. For example, at Conon Bridge he notes "the cobil whair we cum ovir" (a coble was a small flat-bottomed boat - f.125v), accompanying a descriptiong of the entire River Conon catchment. Further north at Carbisdale he notes "the bending of the ferry maketh the jorney a great deall longer" (f.132), before proceeding eastwards to Tain.

Recorded distances between known places, river valleys, and across regions appear in such profusion, that it is tempting to see Pont's primary mapmaking technique as the fitting together of this network of distances, rather than using compass bearings or trigonometry. These distances fall into two categories. On the one hand are short distances from place to place, frequently along named places on a route or river valley, often less than 2-3 miles apart. Secondly there are longer distances recorded across the length and breadth of regions, or to distant towns, perhaps 20-30 miles away or more, that situate and define regions in their context. Distances are usually recorded in miles, the long Scottish country mile of about 2,400 yards, but for shorter distances as bowshots (the full range of an arrow, or about 200 yards), or bowbutts (the shorter distance between mounds for archery, about 30 yards).

Chorography and regional description

By the late 16th century the practice of regional description or chorography, often linked to mapmaking, was popular in many European countries as well as the British Isles. It is hard to feel that Pont would not have been influenced by William Camden's Britannia, a major chorographic work first published in 1586 and in its seventh Latin edition by 1607, or John Norden's Speculum Britanniae project in the 1590s. Chorographic works such as these created an impression of regions and territories, presenting local and specific detail within a context of geographic and social order. They included a well-established set of subjects, such as the extent and position of regions, major natural features of interest, the etymology of names, major commodities and resources, names of landed gentry, and historical anecdotes and antiquities. These subjects can be found throughout Pont's texts.

For example, Strath Navern (f.130) begins with the sentence “This cowntrey conteyneth in lenth 50 myles encluding in Etir-a- Chewles as a part of it, the breadth of it is 22 myles”. Internal divisions of regions are also given, such as for the four divisions of Assynt (f.145v) or Kintail "devyded in twa parts viz Letyr-Aren neerest Loch Duich and Letyr- Choylle neerest Glen-Elcheg" (f.120v).

The meanings of names are given less frequently, but can found, for example, for some of the islands in Loch Lomond (f.150r), such as "Darrach (or yle of oak)" and "Ylen na Bock or goat yland". Elsewhere there is evidence of Robert Gordon recording Pont's knowledge of the Moray Firth, tracing its etymology through classical sources such as Ptolemy to the River Farrar (f.126)

The Pont texts include many flattering descriptions of the resources of Scotland, including woods for timber and firewood, good fishing and hunting grounds, fertile soils, and mineral resources. At this time, Jacobean policy specifically sought out supposed new sources of economic wealth in the provinces of Scotland, and this could have influenced Pont. For example, at Loch Maree in Wester Ross we read of the "many fair and talle woods as any in al the west of Scotland, in sum parts with Hollyne, in sum places with fair and beautifull fyrrs of 60, 70, 80 feet of good and serviceable timmer for masts and raes, in other places ar great plentie of excellent great oaks, whair may be sawin out planks of 4 sumtyms 5 feet (f.120). At Loch Bharabhais in Lewis "wer 3000 great salmond taken" in one year (1585) (f.91), at Loch Moy in Moray "are founde trowts called Reedwyms" (f.155), whilst cruives for fishing are noted on the River Teith (156v) and River Conon (f.125v). Stormont is described with "pleasant fields for halking and hunting" (f.135r), whilst Strath Spey is credited as being “a most rich and fertil valey in cornis and riche medow pasturis… wherby they never lack plentie and furnish all the neighbour cowntreys" (f.138r). Although Pont paid attention to mountain names and shapes, he perhaps shared the conventional distate for uncultivated wild environments; for example, he notes that Loch Hourn "is environned with black mountayns and uglie ragged steep rocks" (f.124)

Of chief importance for the success of any chorography was an accurate and flattering record of the landed gentry, and these texts contain several passing references to landowners, clan chiefs and numbers of gentlemen’s seats. For example, he notes large areas such as "Glenelg pertyning to Mack-loyd" (f.121v), as well as specific residences such as Eilean Moy where "Mackintoish his house scituate" (155) Inch Devannan in Loch Lomond "pertyning to the Earle of Glen-cairn" (f.150), the nearby Inch Lonaig “pertyneth to the laird of Luz, surnamed Colhun” (f.150v) and Ruthven Castle in Badenoch the onlie and principall dwelling of the lord of the cowntrey, weell seated up-on a green bank" (f.137v).

Finally, the texts contain several references to interesting or noteworthy historical anecdotes, such as "Mony-nedy, or moss of armour", by the Head of Loch Trieg in Lochaber where "sumtyme the Earle of Mar his men flying from Maconeil did throw away thair armour in this moss” (f.144). Further south he notes the “way from the yet of Blair in Athoil to Ruffen in Badenoch maid be David Cuming earle of Athoill for carts to pass with wyne, and the way is called Rad-na-pheny or way of wane wheills" (f.144v). Pont was a keen observer of older antiquities, including the Antonine Wall forts, that are listed elsewhere in the (f.41). He also records in Strathcarron " Dun-Alliskaeg with great ruynes of a Pichtish fort or sum uther auncient building " (f.123), and at the Iron Age fort of Knock Farril near Dingwall "a great work and ruyns of Fin-Mack-Coul" (f.125v)