Cup-Marked Stone: OS Grid Reference – SU 15211 69652
Follow the directions to reach the Devil’s Den, a half-mile north of Clatford up the footpath towards the Fyfield Down cup-marked rock. You can’t miss it! The cup-markings are on the top of the capstone.
Archaeology & History
First described and illustrated by local historian and photographer, Pete Glastonbury, as far as I’m aware these cup-markings have not previously been included in any of Wiltshire’s archaeological surveys (that can’t be, surely?). The only reference I’ve found — not untypically — is from one of the early editions of the english Folklore Journal.
At least two well-defined cups stand out on the top of the capstone. Each of them have ‘cracks’ running out of them, with the easternmost one of them (closer to the edge) turning into a channel which runs upwards on the stone, before then leading down off the edge of the rock. Each cup-mark is very clear, about two inches across and about a half-inch deep.
Archaeologists can check these cups out and work out for themselves whether they’re natural or not. They’re far more qualified than I on such matters and may be able ascertain other faint remarks on the stone. The proximity of the nearby Fyfield Down cup-marked rock, several hundred yards to the north, shows that such petroglyphs can be found in this region. Although we cannot expect many examples of rock art in this area (the rock’s damn tough and takes some burrowing into), it is likely that more carvings await discovery.
The capstone on which these cup-markings are seen was told to be immovable and had lore said of it akin to that found at the great Whispering Knights, near the Rollright Stones. But the main piece of lore describes the cups quite specifically. In an article by Alice Gomme (1909), she told that:
“if anyone pours water into any of the natural cup-shaped cavities on the top stone at midnight, it will always be found in the morning to be gone, drunk by a thirst-tormented fiend.”
The tale is later repeated in Kathleen Wiltshire’s (1975) survey, where she too mentions the cup-marking (though only one), saying that,
“if a person pours water into the natural cup-shaped cavity on the top stone at midnight it will always be found to be gone in the morning — drunk by the devil.”
This folklore motif — repeated in Grinsell’s (1976) text — is found at rock-art sites in a number of the northern counties, where milk has been poured into the cup-markings (some of which were known as ‘cat stones’) and left overnight for the spirits to drink. In the case we have recorded at Devil’s Den, the spirit of the place seems to have been demonized, as is common.
Miss Gomme (1909) also reported the curious ingredient that the spirit of a white rabbit with glowing eyes would appear on the capstone at midnight and help the devil demolish the site with the aid of eight oxen! On this latter matter, I am duly informed by one-in-the-know that, to “those of us that know the locals and their humour, we just know this tale was made up for a visiting townie!”
- Gomme, Alice B., ‘Folklore Scraps from Several Localities’, in Folklore Journal, 20:1, 1909.
- Grinsell, Leslie V., Folklore of Prehistoric Sites in Britain, David & Charles: London 1976.
- Wiltshire, Kathleen, Wiltshire Folklore, Compton Russell: Salisbury 1975.
© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian