Standing Stone: OS Grid Reference – NN 7256 0182
Also Known as:
- Canmore ID 24761
- Deil’s Head
- Devil’s Head
- Fairy Stone
- Gold Stone
From the old cross in the middle of the village, walk along the A820 Balkerach Street main road (NOT down George Street) until you reach Station Wynd on your right. Walk up here for 100 yards towards the new housing estate (don’t buy these places – they’re dreadful quality beneath the veneers) and there, on a small grassy rise on the left just before the car park, stands our stone!
Archaeology & History
This little-known monolith on the northern edge of little Doune village, was recently moved a short distance from its original position thanks to another one of those sad Barratt housing estates being built here; but at least it has received protection with the surrounding fence and notice board telling its brief history and folklore (better than being destroyed I s’ppose).
Standing less than five feet tall, local lore tells that it has been moved around close to this spot several times in the last couple of centuries. Although not mentioned in Hutchinson’s (1893) essay on local megaliths, the stone was highlighted on the 1866 Ordnance Survey of Doune, where the non-antiquated lettering showed how it was thought to be Roman in origin, not prehistoric.
The name of the stone comes from it being used as a place where deeds were sworn, with the stone as witness to the words proclaimed by both parties (implying a living presence, or animistic formula of great age). This activity was continued in the local ‘trysts’ or cattle fairs held a mile away, where buyers swore the sale of cattle at this stone—again with the stone being ‘witness’ to the spoken deals. It was also used as a counter where gold was exchanged for cattle bought and sold during the Michaelmas and Martinmas Fairs. Sue Harvey (2006) told that this standing stone,
“was called the Devil’s Head and was used during past Doune fairs to count gold on when cattle were being bought and sold.”
In local newspaper accounts from the 1950s, local historian Moray S. Mackay (1984) told how the children of the village used to gather round the stone, holding hands, and sing,
Olie Olie, peep, peep, peep,
Here’s the man with the cloven feet,
Here’s his head, but where’s his feet?
Olie Olie, peep, peep, peep.
This implies the stone once possessed a myth relating to a petrified ancestral deity of animistic (pre-christian) origin, but as yet we have found no additional information allowing us a confirmation of this probability. A correlate of this theme—i.e., of the stone being the head of a deity—is found in West Yorkshire (amongst many other places), where one of the little known Cuckoo Stones was once known to be a local giant until a hero-figure appeared and cut off his head, leaving only his body which was then turned to stone. Mircea Eliade (1958; 1963) cites examples of animistic religious rites and events explaining this early petrification formula via creation myths, etc. (we find very clear evidences of animistic worldviews and practices still prevailing in the mountains just a few miles north and west, still enacted by local people)
Folklore also alleged that the stone was Roman in nature, but neither archaeology nor the architectural form of the stone implies this. Roman stones were cut and dressed—unlike the traditional looking Bronze Age, rough, uncut fella standing here.
- Eliade, Mircea, Patterns in Comparative Religion, Sheed & Ward: London 1958.
- Eliade, Mircea, Myth and Reality, Harper & Row: San Francisco 1963.
- Harvey, Sue, Doune and Deanston, Kilmadock Development Centre 2006.
- Hutchinson, A.F., “The Standing Stones of Stirling District,” in The Stirling Antiquary, volume 1, 1893.
- Mackay, Moray S., Doune – Historical Notes, Forth Naturalist: Stirling 1984.
© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian