St. Francis’ Well, Dundee, Angus

Holy Well (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NO 4007 3046

Also Known as:

  1. Grey Friar’s Well

Archaeology & History

Site shown on 1776 map

This is another one of Dundee’s lost holy wells (see also the Lady Well, the Nine Wells, St Clement’s Well, St Mary’s Well and Sinavey Well), around which the town was first built.  Its cold fresh waters were located less than a hundred yards north of the old Houff graveyard in the middle of town, or where Alex Maxwell (1884) described as upon “the sunny slopes of the Gray Friars’ meadows.”

Maxwell told us that this sacred site was the most favoured of the the holy wells in the area, having been dedicated to St Francis of Assisi by the monks who built the  medieval Grey Friars monastery, whose ruins lie beneath the Houff graveyard.  After the destruction of the priory in the 16th century, the holy well and surrounding meadows came under the ownership of the local council.  The well had become ruinous and so was repaired back to its old condition, but a few decades later had become very neglected again and was ordered to be closed.  It was mentioned in several early land rental documents, including this from 1630 which told,

“That haugh or meadow lying on the south side of the Tentour Hill, and on the east side of the meadow called Monorgan’s croft, togidder with the lands lying about St. Francis’ well, were set for the yearly penny mail of fifty-ane pounds.”

The most extensive description of it came from Alex Maxwell’s own pen, and I reproduce it here in full.  He began by speaking of the other holy wells of Our Lady and St. Clement’s in Dundee, but told us that,

“The most important of them was the Gray Friars’ well, which came out of the rising ground westward from where the High School is built, and had been dedicated to the honour of St. Francis, the founder of the order — a man of exalted character, whom Dean Milman calls “most blameless and gentle.”  The water, which ran perennially and was of singular purity, had no doubt been highly venerated in the days of the old Church, and it continued to be much esteemed, and even to maintain somewhat of its traditional sanctity, long after the memory of the good man whose name it bore had become forgotten.

“When the Friars’ house was in ruins, and the gardens laid waste, St. Francis’ well did not escape unharmed.  One austere iconoclast—James Patrie was his name—had probably been offended at its sculptural reminiscences of the old faith, and he cast it down.  When arraigned to answer for this,

“he confest and grantit that he took down the common well callit the Friar well, quhilk servit the haill town with guid and wholesome water, and referrit him in the Bailies’ and Council’s will thereanent; and they being advisit with his offence, declarit that he sail pay for the reparation of the said well and common warks the soum of ten pounds; always, gif he big and repair the well as Weill as it wes of before with lime mortar, or Pasch next, this pain to be remitted; otherwise, the day past and the well nocht biggit, to pay the said soum but favour.”

James, however, proved contumacious; the day did pass, and the well still lay in ruins.  But he got further time, for the Council not yet having possession of the monastic lands, had not chosen to act arbitrarily, and 

“James Patrie was ordained to repair the Friar well conform to the last act, under the pain contenit thereintil, betwix the date hereof and Whitsunday;”

and he probably then proceeded to restore it into good condition, as we do not find any other ordinance on the matter.  He had not, however, erected it very substantially; for, before thirty years had elapsed, the structure was again ruinous, and the Council resolved

“that St. Francis’ well be of new biggit and made close, so that na common access be had thereto.”

“The meadow land of the Gray Friars which lay around the well, formed a pleasant open space for the use of the old burgh, and it was always held in much regard. Early in last century, the water from the Lady well was impounded and conveyed in pipes for supplying other cisterns throughout the town ; but St. Francis’ spring, which was softer and purer, was left undisturbed to flow down the grassy slope in its natural course ; and when the place became appropriated for homely purposes, and upon

“Its verdant braes,
The lasses used to wash and spread their claes,”

“the gossiping naiads made the meadow very lively as they plashed in the brimming basins of the Friars’ old well, or filled their pitchers at the fresh fountain, or sprinkled the water in crystal showers over their snowy linen. About the time that the ground was sacrificed for the erection of buildings, a dyer in the neighbourhood sank a well which evidently reached the source of the spring and drained it off. Years afterwards, when the place had been overbuilt, he ceased to use his well, and the stream, returning to its old course, found access into the lower part of a church which now covers the site of the fountain, much to the dismay of the deacons. The water was then carried off elsewhere, and will be seen no more ; and the remembrance of those virtues which belonged to the once famous well will soon have passed away.”

In Christian lore, St Francis’ festival day was October 4.

References:

  1. Maxwell, Alexander, The History of Old Dundee, David Douglas: Edinburgh 1884.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

College Well, Brechin, Angus

Sacred Well:  OS Grid Reference – NO 5945 6006

Archaeology & History

College Well on 1865 map

Highlighted on the 1865 OS-map, this lost water source was located between the Brechin cathedral/round tower and the curiously-named St. Michael’s Mount, whose history seems to be lost.  It would seem to be the well which Ruth & Frank Morris (1981) name as the ‘Ancient Well’ in their survey.

Folklore

The reason behind this site being classified as a sacred (or holy) well is based on the tradition that the Culdees had a religious convent here in the 12th century and, according to David Black (1839),

“This convent is believed to have stood a little to the west of the present parish church, in the gardens now belonging to the kirk-session, still called “the College Yards.”  A small well of delightfully pure water in these gardens receives the name of the College Well, and is reported, by tradition, to have been the well of the Culdee convent.”

On the issue of St. Michael, students of folklore will know that, in the christian cult, he was an early dragon-slayer.  His annual commemoration day is September 29.  One of his shamanistic functions “relates to the very old tradition of Michael as the receiver of the souls of the dead.” (Attwater 1965)

References:

  1. Black, David D., The History of Brechin, Alexander Black: Brechin 1839.
  2. Gibson, Colin, Folklore of Tayside, Dundee Museum c.1968.
  3. Morris, Ruth & Frank, Scottish Healing Wells, Alethea: Sandy 1982.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Acknowledgements:  Huge thanks for use of the 1st edition OS-map in this site profile, Reproduced with the kind permission of the National Library of Scotland

Lady Well, Dundee, Angus

Holy Well (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NO 4026 3072

Also Known as:

  1. Our Lady’s Well

Archaeology & History

Lady Well on 1776 map

One of at least five sacred wells that could once be visited in Dundee: like its compatriots they have all fallen under the hammer of the Industrialists and flow no more.  Our Lady’s Well could once be seen, said Maxwell (1884), “flowing from under the Chapelshade Braes,” its waters “bright and sparkling,” but today it has been drained and laid to rest beneath the road.  Its memory however, has been preserved in the modern place-names of the Ladywell Roundabout and the nearby Ladywell Avenue.

The well was mentioned as far back as 1409 when, as Alex Lamb (1895) found, it was referred to in a contract between the Constable of Dundee and the burgesses.  It flowed freely until the beginning of the 18th century when, as Maxwell told us, “the water from the Lady well was impounded and conveyed in pipes for supplying other cisterns throughout the town.”  Previously, the water from here was one of many springs and burns that fed the larger Castle Burn down to the sea.

References:

  1. Lamb, Alexander C., Dundee: Its Quaint and Historic Buildings, G. Petrie: Dundee 1895.
  2. Maxwell, Alexander, The History of Old Dundee, David Douglas: Edinburgh 1884.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

St. Mary’s Well, Dundee, Angus

Holy Well (lost):  OS Grid Reference – NO 401 301 (approximation)

Archaeology & History

Cited just once in the “Register of the Great Seal” (Registrum Magni Sigilli) in the year 1512 CE, this Fontis Beate Marie, or Well of St. Mary has long since disappeared.  Its exact location in the city has been forgotten, but it seems likely to have been close to St. Mary’s Church.  Further research is needed.

Links:

  1. Saints in Scottish Place-Names

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

St. Clement’s Well, Dundee, Angus

Holy Well (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NO 4035 3024

Also Known as:

  1. Bishop’s Well
  2. Saint’s Well

Archaeology & History

One of at least five sacred wells that formerly existed in old Dundee, this one dedicated to St. Clement was associated with the ancient church, also of his name.  It could be found a short distance south of the church—itself long gone—”rising out of a knoll overhanging the river bank,” wrote Alexander Maxwell (1884) and possessing considerable renown to local people.  This great Dundee historian found several early references to it in old council registers: one of which, from 1589, described a conflict regarding the building of a school on land owned by Andro Renkyne.  And it was on this piece of land where St. Clement’s Well emerged.  The school was built and then Rankyne built a gable up to the edge of the school but, in doing so, cut off his own access to the holy well.  This somewhat short-sighted action of Renkyne’s was subsequently remedied in 1607 by Dundee Council.   Maxwell told us:

“The Council “grantit him licence to strike furth ane windok in the north side wall of his tenement in St. Clement’s kirkyard, near to the well in the schoolhouse closs, or within the bounds of the said well, to the effect he may draw water furth of the well to his awn service, with this provision that he hald the windok continually close, except at sic time as the water is drawn thereat, and that he close up the windok with stane wark quhenever he beis requirit.”

The waters—”reputed to have sovereign virtues”— were protected and covered by an old well-house.  When Alex Lamb (1895) came to write about it he told that it was of a circular form with “unmistakable traces of splendid workmanship.”  On its stone roof was what seemed to be a somewhat crude carving of a bishop and because of this it acquired the name “Bishop’s Well.”  Another title given it by some locals was the Saint’s Well.

In the middle of the 19th century the remains of the well-house could still be seen, albeit in a state of neglect between the school building and Renkeyne’s house.  But their end was nigh.  Maxwell continued:

“When the buildings were demolished a few years ago, the saint’s old well — its water yet pelucid and fresh — was discovered at the angle where the school joined to Andro’s house. Above it was the window which he struck furth for drawing water; but it had long before been built up and the purpose of it forgotten, and its curiously recessed position and uncouth masonry only served as a puzzle for ingenious antiquaries.”

Subsequently he lamented the demise of the well telling how it had “been covered over by the extension of the Townhouse.”

Folklore

Alexander Maxwell (1891) told how the church was used as a shrine by local people and fishermen, as St. Clement of Rome had been cast into the sea chained to an anchor and so became the patron saint of sailors.  He thought such properties, “would, no doubt, be in request for the supply of ships.”

St. Clement himself was a very early, first century saint, said to have died in 99 CE.  His festival date is 23 November.

References:

  1. Lamb, Alexander C., Dundee: Its Quaint and Historic Buildings, G. Petrie: Dundee 1895.
  2. Maxwell, Alexander, The History of Old Dundee, David Douglas: Edinburgh 1884.
  3. Maxwell, Alexander, Old Dundee, David Douglas: Edinburgh 1891.

Links:

  1. Canmore notes on St Clement’s Well

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Temple Tree, Templeton, Newtyle, Angus

Sacred Tree: OS Grid Reference – NO 31339 42894

Getting Here

The tree is at Templeton on the west hand side of the Newtyle to Balkeerie Road travelling north, just before the bend in the road at Templeton Farm.

Archaeology & History

The only written record of the tree is in Strathmore Past and Present by the Reverend J.G. M’Pherson (1885): 

Standing Proud

“After driving two miles eastward from the village of Newtyle along a most excellent level road, we enter the united parishes of Eassie and Nevay.  The time-honoured boundary-mark is a conspicuous old ash, which popularly goes by the name of the Temple-tree. Tradition cannot guess its age. It is of considerable diameter, but quite hollow from the ground upwards for twenty feet. The bark is stripped off in several parts, and the thin shell of wood exposed is quite worm eaten; here and there being quite worn through, forming a rude door and rugged windows for the weird like interior.

“Large branches spread out, half dead-and-alive, with some foliage, scantily furnished with the life-giving root-sap. Could it speak it would tell of many a strange incident in its vicinity or underneath its arms. Its appearance might almost take one back to the time when the Templars left the neighbourhood; thus fixing its curious appellation”.

Sadly the tree described in the above quotation from 1885 has perished, but, just as it was not growing at the time of the Knights Templars’ local involvement, it is not unreasonable to speculate that it was a daughter of an ash tree that had formed a parish boundary marker of the original estate at the time of the Templars or even before.  And now a daughter tree of that venerable 1885 tree grows in its place, the Temple-tree of the present day.

Various writers have attested to the Templar presence in Meigle, indeed M’Pherson writes:

“When the Knight Templars were in pomp…they had considerable interest in Meigle, several lands in the parish still being known as the Temple Lands. We prefer this derivation to the common one of templum, any religious house”.

In describing the now famous Meigle Pictish stones in the New Statistical Account, the Reverend William Ramsay (1845) writes;

“…A more satisfactory account of them has been suggested by Captain T.P. Mitchell, …He considers them as neither more nor less than the monuments of the Knights Templars, who unquestionably had a burying-ground at Meigle”.

While Mitchell was wrong in his attribution of the carved stones, he was clearly aware of the continuing memory of the Templars.

Modern research has shown that many of the Templar estates and lands in Scotland remained as separate fiscal entities within the Hospitaller lands up until at least the Reformation, which may explain the enduring Templar nomination of our tree.

Note: The tree formed the 19th century boundary of the parishes of Eassie and Nevay to the north, and Newtyle, both in Angus.  We must assume the Templar lands boundary has been incorporated into the later parish system.

Note: This is not a clooty tree – please treat her with respect.

References:

  1. Rev William Ramsay, Parish of Alyth, The New Statistical Account of Scotland, 1845. 
  2. Rev J.G. M’Pherson, Strathmore Past and Present, S. Cowan & Co: Perth, 1885. 
  3. Robert Ferguson, The Knights Templar And Scotland, The History Press: Stroud 2010

© Paul T Hornby 2020, The Northern Antiquarian

Torrnacloch, Dalbog, Edzell, Angus

Stone Circle (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NO 5871 7189

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 35190

Archaeology & History

‘Site of’ stone circle, 1865

When the Ordnance Survey lads visited this area in 1860, they stood upon this small knoll that was known as Torrnacloch – or the Knoll of the Stone.  They were informed that a ring of stones had stood here, but had been destroyed about 1840, apparently by a local farmer.  The stones were described as being about 3 feet high.  They subsequently added it on the earliest OS-map of the area, but also made note that a cist was found within the site.  The circle was included and classed as a stone circle in Aubrey Burl’s (2000) magnum opus, but had previously been classed as a cairn with “a kerb of large boulders” by the Royal Commission doods. (1983)  They based their assessment on the appearance of some of the stones found on a gravel mound behind the farm which had apparently been removed from the circle when it was destroyed.  Andrew Jervise (1853) gave us the following account:

“The Chapelry of Dalbog was on the east side of the parish, due west of Neudos.  The time of its suppression is unknown; and though no vestige of any house remains, the site of the place of worship is still called the “chapel kirk shed” by old people, and, in the memory of an aged informant, a fine well and hamlet of houses graced the spot.  This field adjoins the hillock of Turnacloch, or “the knoll of stones,” which was probably so named, from being topped in old times by a so-called Druidical circle, the last of the boulders of which were only removed in 1840.  Some of them decorate a gravel mound behind the farm house; and, on levelling the knoll on which they stood, a small sepulchral chamber was discovered, about four feet below the surface. The sides, ends, and bottom, were built of round ordinary sized whinstones, cemented with clay, and the top composed of large rude flags.  It was situate on the sunny side of the knoll, within the range of the circle; but was so filled with gravel, that although carefully searched, no relics were found.”

The emphasis on this place being where a stone circle stood, as opposed a cairn, is highlighted in the place-name Torrnacloch, or the hillock of stones/boulders.  Both Dorwood (2001) and Will (1963), each telling it to be where a stone circle stood; with Will adding that parts of the circle “may yet be seen in rear of the steading of Dalbog.”  If this had been where a cairn existed, some variant on the word carn would have been here.

References:

  1. Burl, Aubrey, The Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany, Yale University Press 2000.
  2. Dorwood, David, The Glens of Angus, Pinkfoot: Balgavies 2001.
  3. Jervise, Anrew, The History and Traditions of the Land of the Lindsays in Angus and Mearns, Sutherland & Knox: Edinburgh 1853.
  4. MacLaren, A. et al, The Archaeological Sites and Monuments of Central Angus, RCAHMS: Edinburgh 1983.
  5. Will, C.P., Place Names of Northeast Angus, Herald: Arbroath 1963.

Acknowledgements:  Big thanks for use of the 1st edition OS-map in this site profile, Reproduced with the kind permission of the National Library of Scotland

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian


Denoon Law, Glamis, Angus

Hill Fort: OS Grid Reference – NO 35464 44395

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 32139
  2. Law of Denoon

Denoon Law on 1865 map

Getting Here

Travelling north through Balkeerie on the Newtyle/Glamis road, turn right onto the Denoon road and follow it to the T-junction.  Turn right and, a few hundred yards on to your left, the large hillfort of Denoon Law rises up to your left.  You can’t really miss it!

Archaeology & History

Denoon Law from Murleywell

Denoon Law is an impressively lush and green hill fort hidden away in the Sidlaw Hills, in the Denoon Glen, parallel to the Vale of Strathmore. It can be entered froma gap in the ramparts on the north side. Be careful of the precipitous drop from the south east side!

In the County Angus survey by the Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland (1983), they describes it thus:

This fort crowns the summit of Denoon Law, a steep-sided volcanic plug on the NW side of Denoon Glen, a narrow valley at the N end of the Sidlaw Hills. The fort is roughly D-shaped on plan with the chord of the D formed by a long straight rampart that stands above the precipitous SE flank of the hill. It measures 105m from NE to SW by 55m transversely within a rampart that measures up to 17m in thickness and over 5m in external height but is clearly of more than one phase. Where the differentiation is clear, the latest phase of rampart measures about 6m in thickness and overlies the remains of a much thicker earlier rampart. Intermittently visible at the SW end of the fort is an outer face to the later rampart, comprising drystone walling that has, in places, been displaced downslope by the weight of core material behind. This outer face comprises no more than four or five courses of thin sandstone slabs and, although what is currently visible will only be the top of the surviving wall-face, a wall constructed of such material cannot have stoodto  any great height and what we see today is likely to be the remains of some form of comparatively low revetment. In both the earlier and later ramparts there is very little evidence of stone within the core and it appears that the material (boulder clay) for both has largely been derived from several large quarries within the interior of the fort. At the SW corner of the fort most of the rampart has been removed, leaving only the lower part of the outer talus. The fort, or at least its latest phase, had two entrances, one on the NE and another on the NW, both of which are crossed by the remains of a narrow, later, wall that runs around the entire circuit of the fort and may be associated with at least some of the buildings within the interior.

Outwith the main rampart there is a series of three outer ramparts, again with very little evidence for the use of stone in their construction, which run from the edge of the very steep slope at the NE end of the fort, around the N side to the entrance on the NW. All three lines of defence have been reduced to little more than terraces, though there is no evidence for them ever having been cultivated. At the entrance on the NW, the terminals of these ramparts (on both sides of the entrance) are obscured below outwash deposits from the slope above. To the SW of the entrance it is not at all clear what the relationship is between the defences of the fort and the enclosure that occupies the rocky and extremely uneven SW flank of the hill. This enclosure, which has an entrance on the W, could be some form of annexe or it could represent the SW end of an enclosure that once took in both this area and the rest of the summit.

Within the interior of the fort there are the remains of at least nine rectangular buildings, two of them large and open-ended and each overlain by a smaller, later structure. The freestanding buildings are represented by the footings of walls with inner and outer stone faces; close to the entrance on the NE, however, there are two buildings represented by simple rectangular platforms cut into the rear scarp of one of the prehistoric quarries in one case and the hollow of the entrance passage in another. On the N flank of the hill, overlying the outer defences, there are a number of structures, either taking the form of subrectangular structures with walls (and in one case an entrance) or simple scoops into the slope.’

Entrance from the NW

David Dorward’s definition of the name Denoon is from the Gaelic:

‘dun obhainn (+ Scots law) – [hill of the] fort of the streamlet.’

The streamlet is the Ewnie Burn flowing south-east of the Law.

The lush green centre

Folklore

James Cargill Guthrie, in his The Vale of Strathmore: Its Scenes And Legends, gives the following story from an,

early time, weird-like, a legend’s muffled chime ‘.

The Hill of Denoon was at that remote period accounted sacred or haunted ground. It was the mythical abode of the elfins and fairies, and formerly a fitting haunt for their midnight revelries.

When the silvery moonbeams lovingly slept in dreamy beauty on the green slopes of the enchanted Hill, and the blue bells and the purple heather were wet with the dew of angels’ tears, arrayed in gossamer robes of bespangled gold, with wands of dazzling sheen and lances of magical bright-ness, would the troops of elfins flauntingly dance to the music of the zephyrs, until the shrill cry of the chanticleer put an end for the time to their mystical enchantments.

Suddenly, as in blue clouds of vapour, they noiselessly vanished away, no sound remaining to break the oppressive stillness, save that of the mountain rivulet, as it fretfully leapt from crag to crag, as if piteously regretting the mysterious departure of its ethereal visitors.

South-east rampart

Having forsworn the presence and companionship of the terrestrial inhabitants of earth, it was a sacred dictum in the code of the fairies that no habitation for human beings should be permitted to be built within the hallowed precincts of the enchanted ground. Unable of themselves to guard against such sacrilegious encroachment, they had recourse to the aid of, and formed a secret compact with the demons, or evil spirits, whose sole avocation consisted in doing mischief, and bringing trouble and misfortune on those under the ban of their displeasure. By this compact these evil spirits became solemnly bound to prevent any human habitation whatever from being erected on the hill, and to blast in the bud any attempts whensoever and by whomsoever made to break this implacable, unalterable decree.

It was about this time the alarm-note was sounded, as the Queen of the Fairies, who, with an eye more observant than the rest of her compeers, observed one evening in the moon-light, certain indications of the commencement of a human habitation. Horror and dismay were instantly pictured on the fair countenances of the masquerading troops of merry dancers as the awful truth was ominously revealed to them by the recent workmanship of human hands.

The sheer slope to the south-east

A council of war was immediately held, when it was determined to summon at once the guardian spirits to their aid and protection.

“By our sacred compact,” cried the Queen, “I command the immediate attendance of all the demons and evil spirits of the air, to avenge the insult now offered to the legions of Fairyland, and to punish the sacrilegious usurpers who dare infringe the sanctity of their mystical domains.”

These demons instantly obeyed the haughty summons, and, in the presence of those they had sworn to protect, they in a twinkling demolished the structure, hurling the well-proportioned foundations over the steep rock into the vale beneath !

The builder, doubtless very much surprised and chagrined when he returned to his work in the early dawn of the following morning, was sorely puzzled to account for the entire disappearance of the solid foundations of the great castle he intended to be erected on the Hill. He did not, however, waste much time, or use much philosophic argument, on the matter, and gave orders to prepare new foundation of even a more durable character.

The demons, to show their invincible power, and for the sake of more effect, allowed the new foundations to rise a degree higher than the former, before they gave out their fiat of destruction. In an instant, however, they were again demolished, and the builder this time gravely assigning some fatal shock of Nature as the cause of the catastrophe quietly resolved to repair the damage by instantly preparing new and still more solid foundations.

Additional and more highly skilled workmen were engaged, and everything for a time went favourably on, the walls of the castle rising grandly to view in all the solidity and beauty of the favourite architecture of the period.

Biding their time, the demons again ruthlessly swept away as with a whirlwind every vestige of the spacious halls, razing the solid massy foundations so effectually that not one stone was left upon another !

Things were now assuming a rather serious aspect for the poor builder, who, thinking that he had at last hit upon the true cause of these successive disasters, attributed his misfortunes to the influence of evil spirits. A man of courage and a match, as he imagined, for all the evil spirits of Pandemonium, supposing they were let loose at once against him by the Prince of Darkness, he unhesitatingly resolved to keep watch and ward on the following night, and to defy all the hosts of hell to prevent him rebuilding the projected edifice. The night expected came ; but, alas, alas !

His courage failed when on the blast
A demon swift came howling past,
Loud screeching wild and fearfully,
This ominous, dark, prophetic cry
“Build not on this enchanted ground !
‘Tis sacred all these hills around ;
Go build the castle in a bog,
Where it will neither shake nor shog !”‘

So, if you are planning to visit Denoon Law – remember: RESPECT THE FAERIES!

References:

  1. Guthrie, James Cargill, The Vale of Strathmore: Its Scenes And Legends, Edinburgh, William Patterson, 1875.
  2. Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland. The archaeological sites and monuments of Central Angus, Angus District, Tayside Region, The archaeological sites and monuments of Scotland series no 18. Edinburgh, 1983.
  3. Dorward, David, The Sidlaw Hills, Forfar, The Pinkfoot Press, 2004.

©Paul T Hornby 2018


Culhawk Hill, Kirriemuir, Angus

Stone Circle:  OS Grid Reference – NO 3530 5620

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 32209

Getting Here

The largest stone in the ring

From Kirriemuir central, head up the Kinnordy road, going straight across the main road and continuing past the Kinnordy turn-off for just over a mile towards Mearns, stopping where a small copse of trees appears on your left.  From here, walk along the track to the west. It goes gradually uphill, cutting through a small cleft with a hillfort on the north and a cairn circle on the south until, ⅔-mile along, you reach the moorland.  Keep going on the same path for another ½-mile west where the grasslands level out.  Here, on the flat bit between the two hills, a small incomplete ring of stones lives, with one stone sticking out.  You’ll find it!

Archaeology & History

This is a curious site on several levels—not least, that its definition as a ‘stone circle’ is a fragile one; although to be honest, we do find here a large unfinished arc of stones in what looks like either an unfinished ring, or a deliberately constructed large arc.  But you won’t find it in the standard megalithic gazetteers of Burl, Barnatt or Thom as it was only relocated in the 1980s by local researchers Sherriff and MacKnight. (1985)  They didn’t have much to say about it either, simply telling that they’d found,

“A stone setting representing the remains of either a denuded cairn or a stone circle lies in the saddle between Culhawk Hill and Castle Hill. One erect and 4 prone boulders describe a portion of a roughly circular site some 10m in diameter.”

Arc of fallen stones, looking NE

Faint low ring, looking W

This is roughly the gist of it, with the largest and most prominent of the stones—barely three feet tall—standing on the western side (this is the stone which draws your attention – otherwise you’d never even notice it).  The rest of the stones seem to have been knocked down some time ago.  A barely discernible embankment constructed around the edge of the ring can be seen around the northern side.  It seems unlikely that it was a cairn, as no inner piles of stones were in evidence when we visited the site.  It may be a large hut circle.  But in truth it could do with an excavation so that we can suss out its exact nature.  Beneath the grasses we found an additional stone to those counted by Sherriff & MacKnight; but more intriguing is what Frank Mercer and I found before we even reached the small circle….

Trackway leading to the circle

More visibly distinct than the ring itself were two artificial raised embankments, running parallel with each other 3-4 yards apart.  The raised edges of these embankments were about a yard across, on both sides, with the inner area slightly lower than the outlying natural background.  These distinct linear earthworks are, quite simply, an early medieval or prehistoric trackway—and it leads directly into the circle!  It’s quite unmistakable and is clearly visible as it drops down the slope to the south and away into the fields below.  Sadly when we found it last week, darkness was falling and so we didn’t trace the trackway any further.  But the most notable thing was that it stopped at the circle and did not continue on its northern side, implying that it was constructed with the circle as its deliberate focal point.  The trackway and its embankments are roughly the same size as other recognized prehistoric routes, such as Elkington’s Track on Ilkley Moor and the other ancient causeway that runs past the prehistoric ring known as Roms Law.

Regarding the ring of stones: unless you’re a real megalith fanatic, you’ll probably be disappointed by what you see here.  It’s a bittova long wander to something that may once have been just a hut circle, but the avenue leading up to it is something else – and much more intriguing!

References:

  1. Sherriff, John R. & MacKnight, O., “Culhawk Hill (Kirriemuir p): Stone Setting,” in Discovery & Excavation Scotland, 1985.

Acknowledgements:  Thanks as always to Nina Harris and Frank Mercer; and to Paul Hornby for use of his photos.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian


St. Murdoch’s Well, Brechin, Angus

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference – NO 5840 5682

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 34760

Location of the Well

Location of the Well

Getting Here

The well is situated at the roadside on a grassed area at West Drum Cottages, to the east of the minor road from Hillhead of Burghill to Westerton of Aldbar, south of Brechin. The spring issues into a small circular pool, which drains as a burn southwards.

Archaeology & History

James Murray Mackinlay wrote in 1904:

“Murdoch – probably the St Mordouch invoked among the martyrs of the Dunkeld Litany……if we may believe Dempster [Thomas Dempster, 1579-1625 – Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Scotarum, “Ecclesiastical History of the Scottish Nation.” Bologna 1627], who says that he was a hermit, and had a humble cell near a certain lake in Argyll, his cell being called Kilmurdah. Dempster further says that there was a life of the saint in nine lections, and that the events narrated in it were depicted on the walls of his cell. He is described as the last of the bards, and is said to have lived about 800 a.d.”

Dom Michael Barrett described Murdoch as a bishop, and wrote further in 1919 :

“No very reliable particulars can be ascertained as to the life of this saint. Traces of the honour shown to him are to be found in Forfarshire, the district which seems to have been the scene of his missionary labours. At Ethie, in the parish of Inverkeilor, in that county, are the remains of an ancient church and burial-ground which bear his name.”

Near Ethiebeaton, in the parish of Monifieth, are traces of an old church which goes by the name of ‘Chapel Dockie’. This is believed to be another dedication in honour of St. Murdoch.”

Murdoch may be an anglicisation of either Muireadhach, now Murray, or Muircheartach, which is now Murtough.  Murdoch’s Saint’s day is 2nd September, but 5th October and 23rd December have also been given. And Barrett also writes of a Saint Moroc, who, if what Mackinlay writes is correct, may be the same person as St Murdoch.

Looking into the waters

Looking into the waters

The small run-off from the well

The clear waters of the well

The spring was flowing strongly on the sunny February day of my visit, but its neat appearance gives no idea of it being a Saint’s Well to the passing traveller, who would probably think it to be just a pleasant water feature of the garden of the adjacent house. Perhaps there should be some representations made to the local tourist office for a sign to be placed by the well.

A mile or so to the north, hiding at the edge of a small copse of trees, is the little known holy well of St. Ouret.

References:

  1. Barrett, Dom Michael, A Calendar of Scottish Saints, Abbey Press, Fort Augustus 1919.
  2. Forbes, Alexander Penrose, Kalendars of Scottish Saints, Edmonston and Douglas, Edinburgh 1872.
  3. Mackinlay, James Murray, Influence of the Pre-Reformation Church on Scottish Place-Names, William Blackwood and Sons, Edinburgh & London 1904.

© Paul T. Hornby, The Northern Antiquarian 2016