Thistle Brig, Stanley, Perthshire

Legendary Rock: OS Grid Reference – NO 10842 32040

Getting Here

The easiest way to see the site is to stop at the car park at Craighall on the B9099 south of Stanley, and follow the path to the river.  The remains of the Brig will be seen on the other side of the Tay from the riverside walk.

Archaeology & History

The Thistle Brig was described in the nineteenth century Ordnance Survey Name Book as:-

‘A remarkable spot in the River Tay, when the breadth of the river becomes suddenly narrow by the protrusion of a bed of trap rock which crosses it at this place.’

Thistle Brig & the quarries for its hard stone on the 1901 25 in OS-map

According to local historian Alexander Scott, the Thistle Brig formed a convenient place to ford the Tay until  much of it was blasted away by explosives some time in the mid-nineteenth century in order to improve the flow of the river.  Old maps imply that an actual bridge may have spanned the Tay hereabouts at some time in the past.  The seemingly little known folklore of this site relates to an invasion by the Danes in the early mediaeval period. Elsewhere there are similar stories, so the truth or otherwise depends on where you are in Scotland, but this one may have more validity as the tale seems to give its name to the place!

The name ‘Thistle Bridge’ has been applied on old postcards to a stone footbridge over a side channel or lade between the road and the River Tay to the south of the Brig, and is not the subject of this profile.

The remains of the Thistle Brig – a hard basalt dyke on the east bank of the River Tay

Folklore

Alexander Scott, writing of the Brig:-

“…tradition holds that here the thistle received the distinction  of becoming the national emblem of Scotland.  In one of the many invasions the country suffered from foreign armies, the Danes, on one occasion, having landed on the east coast sacked the town of Montrose and continued on their march across the country, burning and pillaging as they went.  While crossing the Tay at this ford at night, the incident occurred of one of the leading soldiers arriving on the opposite side suddenly coming in contact with a thistle with his bare leg, which caused him to emit a shreik of pain.

“The noise was heard by the Scots, who had been encamped nearby, and the alarm thus given was the means of securing a victory over their enemies. The thistle was thereafter honoured as the national badge.”

Reference:

  1. Scott, Alexander, St Martins and Cambusmichael, A Parochial Retrospect, Munro & Scott 1911.

Link:

  1. Ordnance Survey Name Book

© Paul T Hornby 2021

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