Turn right off the A93 at Cargill onto the side road at Keepers Cottage and up the hill. Gladsfield Wood is at the top of the hill on your right. Park up at the top side of the Wood and walk along the narrow track to where it crosses another track, look 45º to your right and you’ll see the stone.
Archaeology & History
One of those chance finds that turns up when you’re looking for something else. Recent forestry work had dislodged the stone from its original earthfast position of millenia, only a few feet away. It may have been rotated from its original position. The grey whinstone rock measures around 5′ 8″ (1·75 m) long, 3′ 9″ wide (1·15 m ), 2′ 9″ (0·85m) high, and the moss shows its original depth in the ground. Fortunately the cup marks weren’t damaged in what appears to have been a quite brutal move. On what is now the north east facing side there are three definite and one possible very shallow fourth cup mark. The top cup is the most prominent, while the possible fourth cup is just to the left of the bottom one.
One for the enthusiasts really, in an area of Strathmore quite rich in megaliths and rock art; whatever the future holds for this dislodged stone in the savage world of agri-business, it is now recorded for posterity!
From Fortingall take the road into the legendary Glen Lyon. About 8 miles along, a short distance past the Adamnan’s Cross standing stone, you reach the tiny hamlet of Camusvrachan. On your left is a singular dirt-track, past some cottages. Go along here and over the river bridge until you reach the junction on the other side. From here, turn right and a half-mile on when you reach the farm and manor-house on your right, park up. From here you’ll see a track going uphill. Walk straight up and after a half-mile or so, keep your eyes peeled to your right. You cannot fail to see this impressive giant on the slopes above you!
Archaeology & History
This is a truly mighty monolith! — a beauty no less! Standing upon a rocky ridge nearly halfway along the glen, the landscape it looks across is, without doubt, some of the finest in the British Isles. To our ancestors who, until just two hundred years ago peopled this and nearby glens in great numbers, this great stone would have been well known and had old myths told of it. Today we have only bare fragments.
To give an ‘archaeological survey’ of any kind to this site would seem somewhat of an anathema, as it is generally deemed to be little other than one of Nature’s incredible creations. We’ll come to that in a minute. But what is quite certain is that a line of very old and very low-lying walling runs from up the slope and almost straight down to Clach na Sgoltadh. You can see it pretty clearly in the photograph below. The walling stops at the giant stone and continues no further downhill from the other side of the giant upright.
Walk diagonally down the slope about 30 yards south-east from the stone and you’ll find a small but distinctly man-made ring of stones, low to the ground, with an entrance on its northeastern side. It’s somewhat of a puzzle as it’s too small for a hut circle (I laid down in it in various ways and found you’d have to lie foetal all night if you were to use it as your own little abode), and it equally too small as an animal pen – unless it was for just one animal, which is most unlikely. The small circular construction wouldn’t seem to be prehistoric, but it would be good to know what it is.
So, we do have some very slight archaeological association with the site, albeit minimal, with the very ancient walling that leads to the stone being the most intriguing.
The stone is generally attributed to be a geological creation. I certainly cannot say, as I have no expertise in the subject. However, in the opinion of just about everyone with whom I’ve visited this stone, I seem to be the only one who doesn’t think it’s man-made. A number of people have each insisted to me that it’s been stood upright by humans due to the quite distinct ‘squaring’ of the upright stone, particularly at the north-facing base. —and been seemingly bemused at my own lack of conviction. It does look as if it could have been cut and squared just as they all say but, let me repeat, I’m no expert at geology, and so all I can say is that I simply don’t know one way or the other. (useless prick that I am!)
“Perhaps a stone mason might know?” someone suggested—which seemed to be a good idea. Certainly a stone mason would surely be able to tell if it had been cut and dressed at the base, where it fits into the large earthfast rock….
Cue Chris Swales: a reputable stone mason from near Skipton, North Yorkshire. Chris and his friends took a week long whistle-stop tour in and around the Loch Tay region and thought they’d visit Glen Lyon. I heard about this and so asked him if he’d have the time to visit this stone giant and, if possible, let us know his opinion: is is a natural obelisk, or does it look to have been erected by humans? I told him my opinion and that of the geologists who give it an entirely natural provenance.
It was a few weeks later when he got back in touch and I asked him if he’d been up to Clach na Sgoltadh.
“I did,” he said. “it’s bloody impressive Paul. And what a gorgeous landscape too. I’d love to go there again.”
“Aye, it is Chris. And what did you think of the giant stone then? In your opinion is it man-made or natural?”
“Well I don’t know for certain Paul,” he said, “but in my opinion I’m 95% sure that it’s man-made.” He said it plain as day, just like a typical daan-to-Earth Yorkshireman. Chris isn’t into any the energy ley-line stuff, so his words carry more weight than those who wanna spice-up a site by projecting their own beliefs onto a place. As a result, I was somewhat taken aback by his words.
“What—are you sure Chris?!” I asked.
“Like I said – I’m not 100% sure Paul. I can’t really say it 100% – but I’m 95% certain that people cut and dressed the base of that stone and put it there. If it’s natural, then I’d like to know how they think that’s the case. I’m willing to be shown otherwise, but in my opinion, on the whole, it’s man-made. People stuck that stone there!”
It would be great to get another stone mason’s opinion about this site; and it would definitely be good to read a geological viewpoint, but I’m not aware of any papers regarding this stone. (does anyone know of any?) For my part: I can only reiterate that I’m ‘unsure’ whether or not this is man-made. I’m simply not qualified to give an objective opinion.
The curious thing is: if this isNature’s handiwork, then it would have been held in greater reverence to our ancestors than if it had been erected by people. Impressive creations of Nature were always deemed to be inhabited by genius loci of truly archaic potency. And in these deep impressive mountains, where the names of nature spirits still abound, this—without doubt!—would have been a place of considerable awe and sanctity. May it remain as such…
Looking to the west immediately uphill and behind Clach na Sgoltadh is the rising rounded hill of Creag nan Eildeag. Legend has it that the great Celtic hero Fionn stood atop of this crag and fired one of his arrows at the stone, splitting it in half and leaving the stone as we see it today.
In a small cleft in the stone, quartz deposits can be seen along with an effigy of the Virgin Mary. However, the title of the Praying Hands of Mary is a modern attribution and has no historical or mythic veracity.
Stewart, Alexander, A Highland Parish; or, The History of Fortingall, Alex MacLaren: Glasgow 1928.
Very little has been written of this site due to the fact that little seems to known about it. A few of the usual ‘official’ on-line catalogues mention it but information on the site is truly scant. It is shown on the earliest Ordnance Survey map of the region and the same cartographers describe it in the Ordnance Name Book (1873), saying briefly how St John’s Well,
“Applied to a very deep pump well situated in the court of the ancient portion of “Dunrobin Castle”. No information respecting the dedication or origin of this name can be obtained in the District.”
But an earlier reference than this is cited in Fraser’s (1892) work, telling us that,
“In the midst of the court within the castle there is one of the deepest draw-wells in Scotland, all lined with ashlar-work, which was built and finished before the house was begun. The well was known as that of St. John. In the year 1512 sasine (i.e. delivery of feudal property) of the earldom and castle was taken at the well. At other times sasine was taken at the castle, at its gates, or near the well.”
Subsequent to this, we read in Cumming’s (1897) definitive folklore work of the region how,
“(it) looks as if there had been a chapel of St. John on Drumrabyn. In that case it may have been one dependent upon Kileain (=Kirk of John) on Loch Brora, which was only ½ a mile further than Kilmalin.”
Having not visited the castle, I’m unsure whether or not the well can still be seen. Does anyone know…?
Take the Glenfarg road out of Bridge of Earn, cross the motorway and park at the layby past the bend. Go through the gate opposite and follow the track up to the telecoms mast, you can’t miss it..
Archaeology & History
Visible from the lowlands below, it is described in the official listing as a cairn of prehistoric date, a funerary monument dating to the late neolithic to early Bronze Age. It is a broadly round stony mound, partially overgrown with turf on the north eastern (mid-summer sunrise) slope of Balmanno Hill, where it has extensive views over the surrounding country. It is 1.8m (6′) high, 17m (56′) across on the N-S axis and 16m (52′ ) on the E-W axis.
The top of the cairn has a depression in it: possibly the result of treasure-seeking long ago, but there is no evidence of any burial cist.
So who was ‘Edmund’? Was this a place of heathen ritual Christianised with the designation of St Edmund during the Anglo-Saxon incursions of the early middle ages, or the name of a local landowner? It is lost to history. The name ‘Balmanno’ can be interpreted as ‘Place of the Big Man’ – so have we an echo of a lost giant legend here in an area of Scotland where such legends abound, and long pre-date the construction of the cairn? Did later people name their local mythic giant ‘Edmund’?
An alternative meaning of ‘Balmanno’ is given by David Dow in the Old Statistical Account – the ‘Town of the Monk’.
The Ordnance Survey inspectors of the early 1860s were told that the cairn is where one of the Roman Generals of Agricola’s time was buried.
Dow, Rev. David, The Statistical Account of Scotland 1791-99, Vol. XI, EP Publishing, Wakefield, 1976
Jamieson,John, An Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language, Vols.I & III, Alexander Gardner, Paisley, 1880
Ordnance Survey Name Books Perthshire, Volume 21 OS1/25/21/11, 1859-62
The easiest way is to turn south off the A91 at Gateside onto Station Road, and the site of the cairn is in the third field to the left over the railway bridge. I accessed the site walking along the old railway line and climbing up the embankment.
Archaeology & History
In the shadow of the Lomond Hills of Fife, what was once a very large pre-historic cairn, officially described as of ‘unassigned’ period, was quarried to destruction around two hundred and twenty years ago, presumably to provide stones for dykes (stone walls), at that time of enclosures of common land and what the landowners liked to call ‘agricultural improvements’.
In the early nineteenth century, this part of the Eden Valley between Gateside and the Lomond Hills was what would now be called a ritual landscape. There were, according to Miller:
‘nearly in a line between the two Laws ( Lomond Hills) noless than eight “druidical temples” (Stone circles) close together‘
and a number of impressive burial cairns, of which Easter Nether Urquhart seems to have been the largest. There were in addition large numbers of graves containing masses of cremated of human bones. Nearly all this archaeology has been subsequently destroyed by the farmers.
Two local antiquarian writers proposed that all these human remains had been buried there following the battle of Mons Graupius between the Roman Invaders under Agricola, and the Caledonians, and went on to argue that the Eden Valley was the site of this historic defeat for the ancient Caledonians defending their homeland. Whatever and whenever the origins of the cairns and human remains, subsequent researchers disagree with these nineteenth century arguments in favour of the Eden Valley, and tend to favour a more northerly location for Mons Graupius. Nevertheless we have these two historians to thank for leaving us descriptions of the cairn.
One of the antiquarians, Rev. Andrew Small wrote in 1823:
‘The Slaughter here seems to have been so dreadful, that even after the lapse of 17 Centuries the Common tradition of the Country bears, and seems to be as fresh in the Mouths of both old and young as though the battle had been fought only a hundred years ago, – that after this battle the River Eden ran red with blood for two days…’
It seems more likely that the event remembered was part of the campaign by Roman Emperor Septimus Severus and his son Caracalla to subdue the Caledonians around 209-210 CE. Modern writer, Simon Elliott:
‘Archaeological data is now emerging to show ….. a major depopulation event, indicating something close to a genocide was committed by the Romans in the central and upper Midland Valley.’
Andrew Small describing the cairn and some of the cremation remains in 1823:
‘There was also a very large cairn laid upon these ; and the proprietor lately told me that when removing the stones, besides the ashes already mentioned, there was also a pit of pure fine sand by itself, about as fine as is usually put into sand-glasses, which he thinks had been used for regulating the fire in burning of the dead. This cairn stood a little north of an ancient Druids temple, only one stone now remaining, out of ten of which it formerly consisted ‘.
Lieutenant – Colonel, Miller writing in 1829:
‘Farther west ….a very large cairn stood, containing upwards of two thousand cart-loads of stones. Upon removing it about thirty years ago, a pit six feet long, two broad, and of the same depth, was found, quite full of burnt bones; and near it another, two feet square and two deep, full of the finest sand. An urn was also found, near the surface of the cairn, full of bones. A very fine Druid’s temple stood on the south side of it, consisting of seven very large stones…’
As the builders of the cairn didn’t have access to carts, and that the stones all had to be moved by hand, it gives an indication of the manpower needed to build the cairn, and the status of the individuals whose remains were buried there. And we have to question why a special chamber been built into the base of the cairn to hold fine sand, and what was the purpose of this sand?
While not writing specifically of the cairn, Revd. Small recounts these tales of the surrounding land, relating it to his belief that it was the site of Mons Graupius:
‘I cannot forbear to mention here, also, a singular circumstance I had from the landlord and landlady, both yet alive, — viz. that before parking or inclosing took place, they were accustomed to have folds built of feal or turf for the cattle lying in at night ; but that, when the folds happened to be in this place where the dead had been burnt, the cattle would never lie in them, but always broke through or leaped over the dyke ; that they were obliged to give a man a boll of barley extra to watch them, when they lay in this spot, which was obliged to be repeated every four or five years in rotation ; but that sometimes the man was not able to keep them in by all his endeavours, the cattle looking wild and terrified in appearance ; and sometimes it required the united efforts of all the hands that could be had to keep them in, oftentimes springing over the fold dykes close beside them, and frequently crouching and trembling as if they would have fallen down with terror, although nothing appeared visible to the visual organs either of the man or those that occasionally assisted him. However, after the discovery of so many ashes and fragments of human bones, the man declared that, had he known of these being so near, he would not have been so fond of watching.’
‘The late farmer of Upper Orquart, a most respectable man, with whom I was well acquainted, and upon whose farm the principal part of the battle was fought, told me also that always when the folds happened to be both at where the Caledonians were burnt as well as the Romans — but particularly he specified the spot where the Romans had been burnt, or the Witch Know or Knoll — the cattle would never lie in the fold, but were always breaking ” the fauld,” as he called it, except when they were particularly watched ; and even that was not always effectual for keeping them from doing it either. This would insinuate as if the spirits of these departed heroes of antiquity sometimes visited and hovered about the places where their ashes had been deposited ; though invisible to the more refined visual organs of the human eye, yet obviously visible in some shape or other to the more gross visual organs of the irrational or bestial tribe, else how can these forementioned occurrences be accounted for? This hypothesis seems to be borne out by Balaam’s Ass perceiving the Angel twice, when he himself could not do so till his eyes were supernaturally opened.’
Although the cairn no longer exists, its stones were probably reused for local walling, and it’s likely, but not provable, that the wall on the south side of the A91 past the Station Road turning is built from stones removed from the cairn.
Elliott, Simon, Septimus Severus in Scotland, Greenhill Books, 2018.
Miller, Lt. Col., “An Inquiry Respecting the Site of theBattle of Mons Grampius“, 1829, published in Archaeologica Scotica vol. IV, 1857.
Small, Andrew, Interesting Roman Antiquities Recently Discovered in Fife, John Anderson, Edinburgh, 1823
From Crieff central, take the A85 road east out of town where the golf club is on your left. Park up and ask the helpful lads who work in the shop, who’ll direct you to the standing stones on the golf course. The cupmark is on the second stone along the row of stones from the direction you’ve approached from.
Archaeology & History
Here’s another one of those petroglyphs only of interest to those with the madness in their bloodstream! Found within the ruins of the Ferntower megalithic ring is a distinct single cupmark on what John Coles (1911) called ‘Stone D’ in his survey:
“Stone D, a boulder of whinstone also containing seams of quartz, 5 feet 6 inches in length and breadth, and 2 feet 3 inches above ground. At some period the intention of blasting this block must have been considered, for there is the beginning of a jumper-hole near the centre of its upper surface. Close to this unmistakably modern hole there is one single genuine cup-mark about 1¼ inch in diameter.”
A note of this was also made when Aubrey Burl (1988) surveyed the site, who pointed out that in accordance with a characteristic found at other ‘four poster’ stone circles, the carving is “another example of a decorated stone on the eastern side” (my italics) of such a ring.
Although we have nothing specifically relating to the carving, it’s worth noting that when we visited the stone circle, the groundsman told us that it had been a place where local people gathered at summer solstice.
This large boulder found off the Cromarty coast, was highlighted on the 1880 OS-map of the region. It is one of the ancient boundary stones of the township.
We know from the vast array on the folklore of stones that many were imbued with magickal abilities, some of which were witnesses to vows and others to make curses from. This large boulder off the coast of Cromarty was, according to Donald MacKenzie (1935), a place where the latter used to be done. He told us:
“At Cromarty there is a big boulder known as the Clach na Mallachd (‘Stone of Cursing’). Curses were delivered when an individual stood or knelt bare-kneed upon it.”
In an earlier account by the Ordnance Survey lads in one of their Name Books, they gave the following tale that had been narrated to them:
“A large stone Situate at the Low Water, and forming one of the boundary Stones of the burgh, the reason of its having this name is, that a young lad while Sitting on it was overwhelmed by the advancing tide and drowned, his mother when told of it, cursed the stone, hence the name Clach Mallach (Accursed Stone)”
MacKenzie, Donald A., Scottish Folk-lore and Folk Life, Blackie: Glasgow 1935.
Difficult to reach, this large protruding rock on the west side of Thorrisdail Hill, was known as the Thorrisdail Stone in the old boundary records. It’s a bittova giveaway when you find it, as its name is inscribed on the lower face of the stone – etched a century or two ago by the look of it.
It’s a difficult rock to climb upon if you aren’t used to such things – and you need to do this if you want to see the cupmarks; although they’re hardly worth seeing unless you’re a petroglyph freak! If you go to the trouble so see them, make sure to squat down carefully, being even more careful not to fall off (you’re screwed if y’ do). Once in position, you’ll see between three and five very faint shallow cups etched onto its flat surface. You can just make one of them out in the photo here. The more impressive thing to see here is the small standing stone that seems to artificially crown the top of the rounded hill to which the Thorrisdail Stone is attached.
Acknowledgements: Huge thanks to Sarah MacLean for her company and landscape knowledge in visiting this and other nearby antiquarian remains.
An old church dedicated to St Bennet once existed on the hill above where this spring of water emerges, but little is now left of the building. Thankfully the holy well hasn’t quite followed in the footsteps of the church. Miss Riley (1935) told us that it can be found “near the high-water mark…situated at the foot of a beautiful little glen which runs inland from the coast” – and from all accounts it is still there.
Shown on the 1880 OS-map of the region, the dedication to St Bennet is obscure. Mr Pullan (1927) suggested it derived from the 6th century St Benedict of Nursia, but this is improbable. The Royal Commission lads thought it more likely derived from “a Celtic foundation.”
The earliest description I’ve found regarding the traditions surrounding this well are by Hugh Miller (1835). He wrote:
“It is not yet twenty years since a thorn-bush, which formed a little canopy over the spring of St. Bennet, used to be covered anew every season with little pieces of rag, left on it as offerings to the saint, by sick people who came to drink of the water.”
But the tradition didn’t die out, as evidenced by a short article by Miss M.D. Riley (1935) in Antiquity journal where she gave us further valuable information about its folk history, saying:
“In order to insure the fulfilment of the wish it is essential that the wisher should drink the water and leave something of his personal attire. When the writer visited the spot there was a heterogeneous collection of ‘rags’ hanging on the branches.
“Mr Francis Scott tells me that the site is locally supposed to be the place of judgement. It is close to the ruins of St Bennet’s Chapel and the ground is said to be cursed as it was stoeln by the Church. Even at the present day the owner has to provide each year at Christmas-tide 8 cwt of oatmeal free for the poor of the parish. This has been operative since 1630 and though the owner has tested the matter in the highest court of law in Scotland, his appeal was not allowed.”
The tradition of giving offerings to the spirit of this well was still recorded in 1966.
Hiley, M.D., “Rag-Wells,” in Antiquity, volume 9:4, December 1935.
As with traditions found all over the world, rivers and lakes had spirits, gods and rituals attached to them. Despite us believing that no such things ever occurred in Britain and the rest of the so-called ‘civilized’ world, such things were once common. One of the annual rites performed at the Hebridean river at Barbhas (Barvas)—and described by Alexander Fraser (1878)—is just one such example:
“The natives of Barvas had a peculiar custom on the first day of May, of sending a man across the river at (the) dawn of day to prevent any females from crossing it first, as that would hinder the salmon from ascending the river all the year through.” (Fraser 1878)
The importance of the salmon, both as an important food source and equally as a ‘sacred animal’, is known in myths and legends throughout the British Isles. To the legendary hero-figure Finn, it played a part of him gaining supernatural wisdom, and this quality is integral to the fish itself who ate the hazelnuts of knowledge and gained such power. In this same short piece of folklore, the time of year when the ritual should be enacted on the River Barvas is Beltane, which is renowned as the prime period in the annual cycle/calendar relating to fertility. This element relates to maintaining the fecundity of the river and the salmon where, in this case, men crossing the waters symbolically fertilizes them to ensure the annual return of the fish. It would be interesting to known when this custom finally died out.