Giant’s Grave, Cloghfin, County Donegal

Chambered Cairn (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – H 277 998

Archaeology & History

Included in Eamon Cody’s (2002) magnum opus, this site has long since gone.  It was highlighted on the 1845-47 OS-map of the area and the only subsequent information about it was written in the 1903 Ordnance Survey Name Book, where it was described as a “supposed Giant’s Grave” that was marked by a large spread of boulders.

Perhaps the only thing we can ascertain here is from the name Giant’s Grave.  Invariably, giants are part and parcel of creation myths in early traditional societies.  Such giants, as well as being huge mythical creatures, can also be the progenitor of tribes and communities, i.e., the person who laid the initial foundation of where the tribe came to live, usually an early queen, king or shaman figure.  So, in the case of this Giant’s Grave, it was likely to have been known as the burial place of such a figure: mythical in importance as well as size.

References:

  1. Cody, Eamon, Survey of the Megalithic Tombs of Ireland: Volume VI – County Donegal, Duchas: Dublin 2002.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Cotterton, Moulin, Perthshire

Standing Stone:  OS Grid-Reference – NO 03818 63692

Also Known as:

  1. Straloch

Getting Here

Cotterton standing stone

Along the A924 road, just over 4 miles (6.6km) NW from Kirkmichael, or about 8 miles (13km) NE from Pitlochry, you’ll hit the large farmhouse of Straloch.  You’ve really gotta keep your eyes peeled!  A few hundred yards west of Straloch itself, a small parking spot is on the south-side of the road, above the river.  From this parking spot, walk a few yards to the fence that overlooks the river and look into the field below you, where you’ll see the stone.  If y’ walk down the slope, you’ll see a gate on the right that leads you into the field.

Archaeology & History

First shown on the 1900 OS-map of the area, this petrified hunchbacked witch-of-a-stone stands on the flat grassland plain (previously scattered woodland when first raised) forty yards from the River Brerachan: a proximity characteristic found at many of the stones along Strathardle.

Cotterton stone 1900 map
Fred Coles’ sketch

Descriptions of the site prior to 1900 seem non-existent (does anyone know otherwise?).  It was the brilliant antiquarian Fred Coles (1908) who, it seems, was the first to mention the old stone — whose very crooked appearance had an unusual effect on him, saying how “such a decided leaning over towards the north…almost make one uneasy when standing beside it”!  It didn’t have that effect on me, but I was mightily impressed by both its appearance and curious hunched gait.  Twas one of those monoliths that had a distinct ‘feel’ about it, which many people report at such places up and down the country.  Whether it was its position by the river, or the color of the landscape, or the silence, or the shape of the stone, or combinations of them all—which ever it was, there was almost a sense of genius loci residing here…

But in that other world of pragmatic measurements, as Mr Coles told us:

“The Stone is at the base an oblong in shape, measuring 14 inches on its east end, 2 feet 7 inches along its south side, 17 inches at the west, and 3 feet 6 inches on its north side—a girth, therefore, of 8 feet 8 inches.  At the middle its dimensions are the same, but the top is rather less.   At its N.E. apex the Stone is 7 feet 8 inches clear of the ground, and at the west edge 7 feet.  In the illustration…I have shown the monolith from the south, with the craggy profile of Menachban in the background.”

The stone was mentioned in passing in Hugh Mitchell’s (1923) local survey.  A few years later in John Dixon’s (1925) account he repeated the dimensions of the stone that Coles had cited; and although he found there to be no known traditions of the place, he conjectured how it may have been connected with the numerous battles “that in former days occurred along this entrance to the Highlands.”

It’s a damn good site is this.  All you megalith hunters will love it!

References:

  1. Anonymous, Notes on Strathardle, Strathardle 1880.
  2. Coles, Fred, “Report on Stone Circles Surveyed in Perthshire – Northeastern Section,” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, volume 42, 1908.
  3. Dixon, John H., Pitlochry, Past and Present, L. Mackay: Pitlochry 1925.
  4. Mitchell, Hugh, Pitlochry District: Its Topography, Archaeology and History, L. Mackay: Pitlochry 1923.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Castleton (10), Cowie, Stirlingshire

Cup-and-Ring Stone:  OS Grid-Reference – NS 85887 88394

Also Known as:

  1. Castleton 1 (Morris 1891)
  2. Castleton 1a (van Hoek)
  3. Gosham Park

Getting Here

Castleton-10, looking S

To reach here from Stirling or Bannockburn, take the B9124 east to Cowie (and past it) for 3¾ miles (6km), turning left at the small crossroads; or if you’re coming from Airth, the same B9124 road west for just about 3 miles, turning right at the same minor crossroads up the long straight road.  Drive to the dead-end of the road and park up.  You’ll notice that this is a crossroads of dirt-tracks.  Walk along the one that heads to the houses you can see on a rise above the fields, eastwards.  About 300 yards on, instead of going up towards the houses, walk thru the gate and along the wall-edge for 85 yards and go thru the gate to your right.  You’ll see a small rise covered in gorse trees 100 yards in front you and roughly in the middle of it all, you’ll find this carving.

Archaeology & History

The naked stone

When John Bruce (1896) wrote his article on the mighty Cochno Stone a few miles north of mighty Glasgow, he left some end-notes about a petroglyph near Carnock (near Castleton) that was “found to bear a few much weathered cups with concentric circles.”  He wasn’t at all clear where the carving was located, merely telling it to be “in the Gosham Park” on Carnock estate.  This may have been the reason why, when the lads from the Royal Commission came looking for it in August 1955, they left without success.  Nevertheless, when Ron Morris (1981) explored this area he located the place-name of Gosham Field and, therein, this multi-ringed carving.  It seems more than likely that this was the carving described by Mr Bruce – and it’s an impressive one!

Despite being eroded by the passage of time, the carved design is still pretty easy to see, comprising of a cluster of archetypal cup-and-multiple rings in close proximity to each other, etched onto a sloping stone.  Ron Morris’s (1981) description told that, 125 yards east of Gosham Field’s western wall,

“is a prominent greywacke outcrop, part of a rocky ridge running NW-SE, exposed in 1969-75 for 3m by 2m (10ft x 6ft), 4m (12) high on its S, but at ground level elsewhere, sloping 15° NE.  On its fairly smooth surface are:

“5 cups-and-complete rings, with no grooves, 3 with three rings, 1 with four, and 1 with five rings, up to 36m (14in) diameters and 1cm (½in) depth.”

Ron Morris’ 1981 sketch

Yet contrary to Morris’ description, there are some “grooves”, or carved lines emerging from some of the rings; faint but definitely there.  You can make them out in the accompanying photos above. (are there any sketch artists out there could accompany us to these carvings, so we get some good portraits of the stones?)  When Maarten van Hoek (1996) visited this carving he also missed these ‘ere carved grooves.

An additional feature that needs to be mentioned is the cluster of small geological deep natural cups, inches away from the carved rings on the southern edge of this stone (completely covered in vegetation in the attached photos).  The same feature also exists on the southern edges of the Castleton 5, Castleton 6 and  Castleton 12 carvings and it probably had some mythic relationship with the petroglyph.

Apparently there’s another cup-marked stone, now hidden beneath the dense undergrowth of gorse, 20-30 yards east along this same geological ridge.  The rock surfaces here need to be laid bare to enable a greater visual experience of the wider Castleton complex.

References:

  1. Bruce, John, “Notice of Remarkable Groups of Archaic Sculpturings in Dumbartonshire and Stirlingshire,” in Proceedings Society Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 30, 1896.
  2. Morris, Ronald W.B., “The cup-and-ring marks and similar sculptures of Scotland: a survey of the southern Counties – part 2,” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 100, 1968.
  3. Morris, Ronald W.B., The Prehistoric Rock Art of Southern Scotland, BAR: Oxford 1981.
  4. Ritchie, Graham & Anna, Edinburgh and South-East Scotland, Heinemann: London 1972.
  5. Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, Stirlingshire: An Inventory of the Ancient Monuments – volume 1, HMSO: Edinburgh 1963.
  6. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Archaeological Sites and Monuments of Stirling District, Central Region, Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 1979.
  7. van Hoek, M.A.M.,”Prehistoric Rock Art around Castleton Farm, Airth,” in Forth Naturalist & Historian, volume 19, 1996.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Market Cross, Baildon, Shipley, West Yorkshire

Cross:  OS Grid reference – SE 15475 39743

Archaeology & History

Located next to the old stocks by the main roundabout right in the middle of the town is this tall market cross, nearly ten feet high and well known to the local people.  It has been described by several local historians, although its recognition as a “market cross” is slightly contentious as it seems there are no written records to indicate that a market ever existed here.  The great Baildon historian, W. Paley Baildon (1912) was unable to find any info about such a market, commenting simply that “most villages…had crosses in medieval times, many of which still exist; so that the presence of a cross at Baildon is (not necessarily) evidence of a market.”

His description of its form is as valid then as it is to this day:

Old sketch, c.1900
Old photo of the cross c.1900

“The cross, as we see it to-day, is not an interesting object. The square platform of two stages, with its well worn stones, looks as though it might be medieval, and part of the original work.  In the centre of this is a large square block of stone, from which rises a tall cylindrical shaft.

The base is square, with chamfered corners, and a plain roll moulding at the upper edge; the cap is a plain square block, without any attempt at ornament.”

One of Bradford’s industrial historians, William Cudworth (1876) thought that the present cross replaced an earlier one, and that this one was erected by a member of the wealthy Butler family a few centuries ago.  Mr Baildon wasn’t quite as sure as Mr Cudworth.  Nevertheless they both agreed that this edifice replaced an earlier one.  Baildon said:

“My own view is that there was probably a cross here in medieval times; that it was destroyed, either after the Reformation (as so many were), or by the Puritan soldiery during the Civil War; that the steps and perhaps the base remained; and that in the eighteenth century, when the Butlers were one of the leading families in the place, one of them may have erected a new shaft on the old site.”

In much earlier days it was said to have been surrounded by a grove of trees and a brook ran by its side.  Villagers would gather here as it was “a favourite gossiping resort.”  At the beginning of the 20th century, an old gas light surmounted this old relic.

References:

  1. Baildon, W. Paley, Baildon and the Baildons – volume 1, St. Catherine’s Press: Adelphi 1912.
  2. Cudworth, William, Round about Bradford, Thomas Brear: Bradford 1876.
  3. la Page, John, The Story of Baildon, William Byles: Bradford 1951.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Castleton (3), Cowie, Stirlingshire

Cup-and-Ring Stone:  OS Grid-Reference – NS 85700 87971

Archaeology & History

Ron Morris’ 1980 photo

40-50 yards southwest of the Castleton (11) cup-and-ring stone, beneath the marauding mass of spindly-killer-bushes (or ‘gorse’ as it’s known in the common tongue) could once be seen another  impressive cup-and-ring, etched along the edge of the small rocky rise.  But Nature has done Her bit and hidden the old stone for the time being.  A pity – for as the old photos and sketches show, it’s quite a good one.

Listed in several archaeo-surveys, the best descriptions of this carving are from the reliable pens of Messrs Morris (1981) and van Hoek. (1996)  Morris first told us that,

“Leading S from near the farm to Bruce’s Castle (a ruin) is a greywacke ridge, up to 7m (24ft) high on its SW, but at ground level elsewhere, partly turf-covered.  Faint cup-marks, some possibly ringed, can still be traced at various points on its top.  On a shelf about 7m by 2½m (23ft x 8ft), sloping mostly 20° W, near the steep SW edge, are:

“7 cups-and-complete-rings — in one case broken off at rock edge — one with five rings, 2 with three, and 4 with two rings, up to 51cm (20in) diameter and 2cm (1in) deep.  The cup-and-five-rings has a cup-and-two arcs budding from it.”

Fifteen years later, when van Hoek visited the place, it was already “becoming overgrown with gorse,” but fortunately he was able to give us a slightly more detailed description.  “There are two engraved surfaces” here, he wrote,

van Hoek’s 1996 sketch
Sketch from Morris’s text

“The north part slopes 9° to the north and has two cups with two rings each.  The smaller is clearly unfinished and possibly the pocking of the east part of the outer ring caused a part of the ring to flake off.  Undescribed (by Morris, PB) are a very small cup and one complete ring, and a faint cup with incomplete ring in between the two larger devices although Morris…gives a clear photograph of all these features. (above)  The south group is dominated by a large but worn cup-and-five-complete-rings on a sloping surface 16° SSW.  It is encircled by four rather distinct cup-and-rings and one very faint cup with one incomplete ring, which has never been reported.  All single cups drawn on the plan are very doubtful and probably all are natural, especially the small ones.”

This doesn’t necessarily mean to say that these “probably natural” cups had no bearing on the man-made designs; such elements have been given mythic importance in traditional cultures elsewhere in the world, and some ‘bowls in the UK possess curative folklore of their own.

Due to the importance of this carving, effort needs to be made to clear it of the gorse and so allow fellow students the ability to contextualize it and probably uncover yet more cups-and-rings further along the surface of the rock.

References:

  1. Morris, Ronald W.B., “The cup-and-ring marks and similar sculptures of Scotland: a survey of the southern Counties – part 2,” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 100, 1968.
  2. Morris, Ronald W.B., The Prehistoric Rock Art of Southern Scotland, BAR: Oxford 1981.
  3. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Archaeological Sites and Monuments of Stirling District, Central Region, Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 1979.
  4. van Hoek, M.A.M.,”Prehistoric Rock Art around Castleton Farm, Airth,” in Forth Naturalist & Historian, volume 19, 1996.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Dome Rock, St Fillans, Comrie, Perthshire

Cup-and-Ring Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NN 67511 25028

Getting Here

Dome Rock

On the A85 road from St Fillans to Lochearnhead, about 1½ miles on is the Loch Earn Sailing Club, with a large parking spot thereby.  From here, cross the road and go through the gate up the dirt-track, past the cottages where the track bends right until a few hundred yards further up where the track splits, bear right, along and down across the river, up the other side and past the cottage.  From here, the track becomes a grassy footpath.  Walk along here, east towards the trees 5-600 yards away.  Once you go through the large wooden slip-gate, about 150 yards on the path into the scattered trees, you’ll see a large dome-shaped rise on your right (south).  Y’ can’t really miss it!

Archaeology & History

This carving was rediscovered by the great Scottish petroglyph writer Ron Morris in 1968.  He told that, just below the overgrown track, “is a big dome-shaped outcrop with a smooth top.  On a scattered area on this, in 3 main groups, are over 24 cup-marks, up to 3″ diameter, ½” deep.”  But these aren’t mere cup-marks…

Faint, albeit clear cup-and-rings
Cup-marks, top & bottom of photo

It literally is just like a large dome of rock, with carvings on certain sections of it.  Half of the cup-marks are easy to see, especially the ones near to the top of the dome and which exist in three main clusters.  Much more faint is another, larger cluster of cups, on its south-side.

Dealing with those on top of the rock: on the easternmost side a long natural crack separates a faint single cup-mark from a notable triangle of three, clearly visible in the photo (left).  Below this are what may be a couple more cups, but they were difficult to make out and may simply be Nature’s handiwork.  Certainly Nature has a part to play in the next small cluster of cups about six-feet further along the stone.  A shallow natural ‘arc’ has clearly been used to create a ring around one of the cups, clearly visible in the photo (right), with another faint cup-and-ring visible below it.  In between these, both Paul Hornby and I could make out what may be another incredibly faint smaller cup-and-ring (and which seemed evident on a couple of photos), but we need to wait for the computer-tech boys to get their teeth into that one!  Several other single cup-marks exist either side of another moss-covered crack in the rock.  And as we roll over the top western-edge of the stone, another small cluster of three, maybe four single cup-marks greets our attention.

Close-up of southern C&Rs
Southern carved section

It’s on the sloping south-side of the stone where the best cluster is found.  At least ten faint cup-marks—one or two with very faint incomplete rings round them—are arranged in gentle arcs into the rock.  On both sides of this section is a covering of vegetation, beneath which the carved designs probably continue.  In fact if this entire stone dome was completely free of vegetation, it’s likely we’d have a much larger piece of prehistoric rock art.  A job for future antiquarians perhaps…

References:

  1. Morris, Ronald W.B., “Glentarken Wood, Strathyre – Cup-marked Rocks,” in Discovery & Excavation Scotland, 1969.

Acknowledgments:  Big thanks to Paul Hornby for use of his photographs.  Cheers dood. 😉

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Castleton (12), Cowie, Stirlingshire

Cup-and-Ring Stone:  OS Grid-Reference – NS 86032 87706

Also Known as:

  1. Castleton 8 (van Hoek)

Archaeology & History

Castleton-12 carving

Located near the top of one of Castleton’s rocky island outcrops and overlooking extensive flatlands many miles to the south, this impressive multi-ringed carving was  rediscovered in May 1985 by the Ordnance Survey lads and, I believe, was first described in an article by Maarten van Hoek (1996), whose description we’ll get to shortly.  It’s a design that incorporates some of Nature’s own cup-marks alongside the marks of men.

The overall design here is captured within three sections of the rock: between three large natural cracks running roughly north-south, as clearly shown in the accompanying photos.  It’s a multi-period carving, executed over what seems to be a considerable period of time—probably several centuries.  I base this on the differing degrees of erosion between the respective multiple rings — a factor found several of the Castleton carvings.

Eastern & central cup ring symbols
Closeup of central rings

One of the most eroded sections can be seen on the eastern side of the rock, where a very faded cup-and-three-rings was carved.  Initially it looked as if there was no central cup to this, but as I looked across this towards the falling sun, what seemed to be a possible ‘dot’ was noticed in the centre, very faint indeed.  There are several single cup-marks just a few inches east of this triple-ring, which look more recent than its eroded companion.

On the other side of the long natural crack we see two quite distinct multiple cup-and-rings: one with three rings and another with four, both of which have short carved lines running from their centres westwards.  Between these, a smaller single cup-and-ring nestles quietly, almost innocuously, minding its own business!  But below these two large multiple-ringers there’s a very faint cup-and-double ring, only visible when the light conditions are just right.  In numerous attempts I made to catch this element in my photos, none were successful. (I’m a crap photographer, which doesn’t help!)  Due to the erosion on this element, this is possibly the earliest section of the carving.  Above these rings, close to the edge of the small cliff, one or two carved lines can be seen that run into natural ‘bowls’ which, in all probability, were of some significance to those who made this design.  In cultures outside the UK, such elements have sometimes been afforded mythic importance.

Several other natural small ‘bowls’ exist above the most blatant of the cup-and-rings here, on the west side of the rock, which consists of a cup-and-triple-ring no less.  Erosion levels on this would seem to suggest that it was the most recent element of this petroglyph.

When Maarten van Hoek (1996) wrote his report, there was much less vegetation covering the stone and another cup-and-ring could be seen on the northernmost section of the rock – as his sketch here shows.  He wrote:

Westernmost element
van Hoek’s 1996 sketch

“Near the edge are five cup-and-rings and possibly up to four single cups, all on rock sloping about 6″ to 12″ NW.  The easternmost set consists of the worn remains of three rings (the innermost hardly visible) without a distinct central cup.  Across a crack is a cup with four rings, the outer incomplete and curving away; another cup with four rings, mostly incomplete.  A small cup-and-one-ring sits in between.  South of this group may be some grooves and a single cup, all doubtful being very near the cliff-edge which is heavily pitted by erosion.  The westernmost cup with three ovalish rings is the best preserved set of the group.  Further away from the scarp is one single cup on a horizontal part and even further N is a cup-and-two-rings on a part sloping 6″ SW.”

It would be good to completely clear this rock and make it all visible again, as it was long long ago…

References:

  1. Morris, Ronald W.B., The Prehistoric Rock Art of Southern Scotland, BAR: Oxford 1981.
  2. van Hoek, M.A.M.,”Prehistoric Rock Art around Castleton Farm, Airth,” in Forth Naturalist & Historian, volume 19, 1996.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Castleton (11), Cowie, Stirlingshire

Cup-and-Ring Stone:  OS Grid-Reference – NS 85725 88008

Archaeology & History

Amidst the cluster of at least twenty petroglyphs found at Castleton, this example close to the fence 60 yards southeast of the farmhouse, wasn’t included in the earlier surveys by Morris (1981) and van Hoek. (1996)  At this spot there a large smooth sloping rock broken into separate parts with natural cracks running over it at different angles, partially covered in soil.  The stone faces north.  On the easternmost side there exists a number of carved symbols, most notable of which is a large double cup-and-ring.  You can’t really miss it!  The other elements however, can be a little more troublesome to see…

Cup, rings & cross
Castleton 11 carving

A curious motif is the quite notable ‘cross’ that’s been pecked onto the stone, above the primary cup-and-ring.  This cross is probably a later addition to the petroglyph, perhaps added to christianize the original mythic function.  From the cross, it looks as if a curved line has been carved down towards the double-ring, nearly linking them together, which could also be viewed as a movement from the pre-christian to the new christian meaning conferred upon the stone.  …Just an idea…

It should be noted that a faint cross was also cut into natural cracks in the Castleton 2 carving, 380 yards northwest of here.

There are two more cup-and-rings on the stone, both on the right-hand side of the cross.  These were carved quite separately over large periods of time, as evidenced by their degrees of erosion.  One cup-and-ring (if you can call it that) is a somewhat erratically executed series of peck-marks that strives to join up with each other, almost failing miserably, creating a somewhat disjointed cup-and-ring.  Next to this, but much much fainter, is a cup-and-half-ring that was obviously carved decades, if not centuries earlier.  You can just make them out in the two photos here, to the right of the cross.

Carving in negative

Another very faint cup-and-half-ring also exists to the left of the primary motif that was only visible from one or two angles when we visited the place the other day, but barely shows up on any of the photos we took.  There are a number of single cup-marks, mainly between the double-ring and the smaller cup-and-rings, some of which are probably natural, but several seem to have been  worked upon by human hands.

A now-hidden petroglyph—known as “Castleton-3” in the Morris and van Hoek surveys—consisting of multiple cup-and-rings, exists beneath the mass or gorse bushes about forty years to the southwest.  We could do with cutting this back so we can see the carving again.

References:

  1. Morris, Ronald W.B., The Prehistoric Rock Art of Southern Scotland, BAR: Oxford 1981.
  2. van Hoek, M.A.M.,”Prehistoric Rock Art around Castleton Farm, Airth,” in Forth Naturalist & Historian, volume 19, 1996.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Market Cross, Harewood, West Yorkshire

Cross (destroyed):  OS Grid-Reference – SE 3224 4498

Archaeology & History

A Charter in the time of King John allowed for markets to be held in Harewood from 1209 CE onwards, “on the first day of July and the two following days, and also to hold one market there every week on the Monday.”  But whether or not a market cross was erected that far back, we don’t quite know.  Certainly, the edifice illustrated by John Jones (1859) in his standard work on Harewood didn’t date from such an early period!  It stood close to the old road junction to Wetherby in old Harewood village, “a little below the intersection of the roads, and about fifty yards higher up than the market house.” Jones told us:

Harewood Cross (Jones 1859)

“It stood upon a large stone pedestal, and was approached by a quadrangular flight of seven steps, very broad, where the neighbouring farmers used to stand, and dispose of their butter, fowls, eggs, &c.  It was re-erected, AD 1703, by John Boulter, Esq., and in the year 1804, when the road was lowered, it was taken down and destroyed.  This is to be regretted, it might have been re-erected in another situation, if that was inconvenient, and would have been in the present day, not only an ornament to the village but a relic of the past, of which the villagers might have been justly proud.  On the top of this cross there was a knur and spell, a game for which the village was celebrated in old times, while close to the toll booth there was a strong iron ring fastened to a large stone, where the villagers used to enjoy the barbarous amusement of bull baiting.”

References:

  1. Bogg, Edmund, Lower Wharfeland, J. Sampson: York 1904.
  2. Jones, John, The History and Antiquities of Harewood, Simpkin Marshall: London 1859.
  3. Speight, Harry, Lower Wharfedale, Elliott Stock: London 1902.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Fairy Oak, Killin, Perthshire

Legendary Tree:  OS Grid Reference – NN 57 33

  1. Coin Tree

Folklore

The Fairy Oak of Killin

Nothing has previously been written of this site.  Its existence came to light during one of umpteen enquiries I’d made with a well-known and very respected local lady, born and bred in Killin (sadly, a dying breed), who is known as a fount of knowledge regarding the history of the area.  We were talking about the ancient sites and folklore of the neighbourhood and, amidst being her usual helpful self she asked, “have you been to the Coin Tree?  The place where we leave offerings to the spirit of the place?”

I hadn’t.

“No, I’ve never heard of the place.”

“We keep it quiet, ” she said, “for obvious reasons.”

I knew what she meant.  The Fairy Tree at Aberfoyle is a case in point: littered with plastic pentagrams, children’s toys and so-called “offerings” of all kinds that have made it little more than a dumping ground for pseudo-pagans and new-age nuts that needs to be cleaned regularly by local folk.

Anyhow, our informant proceeded to give us directions to find the place, going out of the village, but asked that if we were to write about it, to keep its location quiet, “as the place is still used by us”—i.e., old locals.  After a slow trek along one of the roads out of the village we saw nothing that stood out.  Eventually we came across a fella relaxing in his garden and asked him if he knew anything about an old tree where offerings were made.  He gave us that look that olde locals do, to work out whether you’re a tourist or not and, after telling him what we’d been told and who had told us —that seemed to do the trick!

“You’d mean the Fairy Oak I s’ppose?  Aye,” he said, “gerrin the car and I’ll drive y’ down to it.”

So we did.  A short distance back along the road that we’d come down he stopped and walked along a to large oak tree beside the road.  We’d walked straight past it—but in truth it’s not a conspicuous tree and unless you were shown where it was, you’d miss it as easily as we did (and I’m usually damn good at finding such things!).  We thanked the fella for taking us to see it and he drove back home to leave us with out thoughts.

More coins as offerings
Coins for the little people

Embedded into the tree—some of them barely visible where the bark had grown over them—were clusters of old coins all around its trunk; some of them very old.  These had been inserted into the tree as offerings in the hope that the little people, or the genius loci would bring aid to that which was asked of it.

In a field across the road there’s a large “fairy-mound” hillock: one of Nature’s creations, but just the sort of place where many little people are said to live in many an old folk-tale.  Some such mounds are old tumuli, but this aint one of them.  It’s possible that it had some relationship with the tree where the fairy folk are said to reside but, if it did, our informants didn’t seem to know.

The important thing to recognise here is that in some of the small villages and hamlet in our mountains, practices and beliefs of a world long lost in suburbia are still alive here and there… But even these are dying out fast, as most incomers have no real attachment to the landscape that surrounds them.  Simply put: they see themselves as apart from the landscape as opposed to being a part of it.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian