Myth: Goldenberry Hill and the Battle of Largs

One of the most persistent 20th Century myths was that the Battle of Largs in 1263 stretched as far as Portencross to Goldenberry Hill.

The Friends of Portencross Castle website says:

Around 1360, Portencross Castle replaced it on the site where we see it in the village today. It was on part of the estate not leased to anyone else and used personally by the laird of Arnele. We call this part of an estate the ‘caput of the barony’. It was the grandson of Sir Robert Boyd who fought at Bannockburn, also called Robert Boyd, who possessed the Arnele estate when the current harbour-side castle was built.”

In April 2008, Glasgow University Archaeological Research Division (GUARD) said ”

The medieval hall-house at Portencross (NMRS NS14NE 2) is both a Scheduled Ancient Monument and a grade A Listed Building. It is believed to have been built in the mid to late fourteenth century by the Boyd family …”

In fact, when you pass the entrance to the Largs Marina on the A78 and start climbing the hill upwards entering Largs, you are climbing a hill which was known as Gold Berry (two words) Hill in medieval times. This is exactly above the Pencil monument, and stretches down from Haylie.

So the skirmishes of the Battle of Largs did not stretch as far as Portencross, but only to the outskirts of Largs itself.

Kilmarnock Coat of Arms

Further compounding our local myth is the fact that one Robert Boyd of Kilmarnock took part in the battle, his services being rewarded with land in Cunninghame. The lands awarded were in fact in Kilmaurs. However, some local historians extended the Portencross Goldenberry myth, to assume that the lands awarded were therefore in Ardneil and consequently Robert Boyd’s descendant must have built Portencross Castle (another myth). The Boyd’s did not seize control of Portencross Castle until Thomas Boyd was treacherously elevated to Earl of Arran in 1467 by his father…. yes, you guessed…Robert Boyd.

To commemorate the service he gave at the battle of Largs, the Kilmarnock Robert Boyd added the words “Gold Berry” to the Boyd Coat of Arms, and these were originally incorporated in the Kilmarnock Burgh Coat of Arms. In the 1920’s these words were removed and a new slogan appeared saying “Virtue et Industria”. It is assumed that this was done by the order of the town council.

Nonetheless, the Kilmarnock coat of Arms as shown here do have the familiar two squirrels, the chequery pattern, the hand and the motto “Confido” of the Boyd family.

So, the Battle of Largs did not stretch to Portencross, the Kilmarnock Robert Boyd was not Laird of Ardneil, and the Boyd’s did not build Portencross Castle (this was Robert Stewart, Earl of Arran and later to become King Robert II).


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