Ninewells, Caputh, Perthshire

Ring Cairn:  OS Grid Reference – NO 0757 4360

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 27115
  2. Nine Wells

Getting Here

Outer edge of the overgrown Ninewells circle
Outer edge of the overgrown Ninewells circle

From Dunkeld, head out for a mile or so on the long and winding A923 road, taking your first road right along the Craigie and Caputh road, south of the Loch of Lowes.  Go along here for about 2 miles, watching out for the little road to Black Hill on your left, where you can park up (if you hit a road junction, you’ve gone too far). Across the road, note the copse of trees.  Go in there along the walling for about 50-70 yards, past the curious gathering of rounded stones, then walk into the trees where the giant fir trees stand. You’re damn close!

Archaeology & History

This is an excellent site, hiding away in a scattered copse of woodland, with young trees inside and very old ones in close proximity to its outer edge.  We visited the place for the first time in the middle of summer, not knowing anything about it, and found Nature had covered much of the place in Her usual clothes of fern, bramble, gorse and other vegetation.  Yet despite this, the site was superb!  In a very good state of preservation this ring of small stones is more than 30 feet across, though the stones making up the ring are only small.  Within the ring itself you’ll find many young birch trees growing over a mass of small rounded rocks, typical of cairn material such as found at other prehistoric sites of this nature up and down our northern counties, from the overgrown Roms Law, to Temple Wood and many others.  No evidence of internal burial or cist of any form was noted on our visit, nor mentioned in the Canmore survey.

Section of the Ninewells ring
Section of the Ninewells ring
Plan of the Ninewells ring (after RCAHMS)
Plan of the Ninewells ring (after RCAHMS)

Although rightly classed as a cairn circle or ring-cairn, I’ve seen sites like this labelled as ‘stone circles’ in the past — and it’s easy to see why once you’re inside this!  If the internal scatter of cairn-material had been cleared in earlier centuries—as with many others—this site would be classed as a typical stone circle.  Curiously it hasn’t fared too well in archaeological surveys, but thankfully the Scottish Royal Commission (1994) lads included the site in theirs, telling us,

“This cairn measures 10m in diameter and 0.75m in height and has a near-complete kerb of large contiguous boulders and slabs set on edge.  The kerb is graded so that the largest, though not the tallest stones are situated in the southwestern quadrant, and one of the stones on the west bears four cupmarks.  Today the cairn material is roughly level with the top of the kerbstones, but there is no evidence to suggest that it has been heavily robbed and it was probably never much higher.  Concentric with the kerb there is an external platform about 0.2m high.  This type of feature is more usually associated with Clava ring-cairns and passage graves around Inverness, which are believed to be of late Neolithic date; but, despite the disturbance of the centre of the Ninewells cairn, there is no evidence of stones defining an internal court.”

Two of the largest stones
Two of the largest stones

Some broken quartz stones were also found inside this ring.  The cup-marked stone on the west side of the circle deserves an entry of its own, which I’ll give it when we get a good photo the next time we’re in the region (unless someone can email us one!).  Whether or not the ‘opening’ or lack of stones in the north of the ring was intentional can only be known with certainty if an excavation happens here; suffice to say that North is the airt or direction most commonly representative of the Land of the Dead in many early northern cultures, which may explain this. A truly fascinating site…

The name ‘Ninewells’ derives from a cluster of healing springs of water that once flowed nearby.  Several legendary waters with this name can be found in this part of southern Perthshire.


  1. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, South-East Perth: An Archaeological Landscape, HMSO: Edinburgh 1994.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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