Auchinellan, Ford, Kilmartin, Argyll

Standing Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NM 86681 03320

Also Known as:

  1. Achadh nan Carradh
  2. Achnacarra
  3. Canmore ID 22802

Getting Here

Two stones on 1875 map

Unless you’re venturing down the tiny Loch Awe roads, the easiest way here is to turn right off the A816 Lochgilphead-Oban road, 1½ miles north of Kilmartin.  Go along this winding minor road for literally 2½ miles where, after coming out the tree-lined road, just past the small Loch Ederline, the fields re-appear on both sides of the road.  Just here, where the trees end, just a few hundred yards before the hamlet of Ford, in one of the field on the left, you’ll see a tall upright stone.  That’s it!

Archaeology & History

I was very fortunate, many years ago, to live in the old farmhouse of Auchinellan in the trees by this ancient stone.  It became a companion many a time, as I sat with it in rain and mist and darkness sometimes, beneath the bright Moon.  It always had a good feeling about it.  And so when a small bunch of us visited here again recently, it was almost as if I’d never been away.  Tis a magickal part of our landscape.

The old stone looking N
The old stone looking NW

Standing ten-foot-tall on a grassy plain with craggy hills all round, this old fella once had another companion close by its side—this time, a stone one!  Accounts of it are curious to say the least, with one telling us it was only “a few inches high” – which is plain daft, to say the least.  The now-lost stone was in fact about six-feet tall; and the story of its disappearance was that it was moved into the grounds of Auchinellan House, somewhere in the garden.  Clive Ruggles (1984) told that it could be found at grid-reference NM 8653 0268, so it shouldn’t be too hard to find.

As far as I can tell, the first written testimony of this stone was by the Ordnance Survey lads after they’d visited here in 1871 and, several years later, highlighted it on their maps. (above)  On this is clearly shown, just yards apart, the two standing stones.  Much later, when the Royal Commission (1988) doods did their survey, they described the stone in their usual brief way:

“Situated on the top of a slight rise in a pasture field 270m SW of the Ford Hotel, there is a standing stone which measures 0.7m by 0.55m at the base and rises with straight sides to a flat top at a height of 3m…”

The site was included in Thom’s (1990) major survey on prehistoric stone rows where, again, only a brief description is given, saying:

“On a terrace near Loch Ederline is a standing stone which leans to the E.  It is 9ft 6 (2.9m) high.”

It’s a beautiful place in a beautiful setting and is one of countless prehistoric monuments in this part of Scotland.

Folklore

The Gaelic names for this site—Achnacarra and Achadh nan Carradh—means “the field of the burial stone”, which relates to the folklore of the stones reputedly marking the place of an ancient grave.

References:

  1. Campbell, Marion, Mid Argyll – An Archaeological Guide, Dolphin: Glenrothes 1984.
  2. Campbell, Marion & Sandeman, M., “Mid Argyll: An Archaeological Survey,” in Proceedings Society of Antiquaries Scotland, volume 95, 1964.
  3. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Argyll – Volume 6: Mid-Argyll and Cowal, HMSO: Edinburgh 1988.
  4. Ruggles, Clive L.N., Megalithic Astronomy, BAR: Oxford 1984.
  5. Thom, Alexander, Thom, A.S. & Burl, Aubrey, Stone Rows and Standing Stones – volume 1, BAR: Oxford 1990.

Acknowledgements:  Big thanks to Neens Harris, Paul Hornby & Frank Mercer.  And the stunning resource of Scotland’s 1st edition OS-maps is Reproduced with the kind permission of the National Library of Scotland

Links:

  1. Auchinellan (Ford) Stone on The Megalithic Portal

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.174625, -5.438116 Auchinellan stone

Salachary Stones, Kilmartin, Argyll

Standing Stones:  OS Grid Reference – NM 8405 0403

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 22831

Getting Here

Two of the Salachary stones

Roughly halfway between the staggering standing stone at Kintraw and the farmhouse of Salachary a coupla miles east along the A816 road to Kilmartin, a small overgrown car park nearly hides on the south-side of the road, just below the forestry.  50 yards west of this, a small track winds uphill.  650 yards (0.6km) up here, once it levels out, a hairpin in the track veers NW; ignore it, instead walking into the marshy grass in front of you (south) for 50-60 yards up and round the small rocky crag.  Once you get round the edge of this, immediately east, you’ll see one of the tall monoliths 50 yards ahead of you.

Archaeology & History

Rediscovered in recent times by Marion Campbell (1962), this damaged row of three tall standing stones is cited in Swarbrick’s (2012) poorly-arranged survey as being “difficult to find in broken ground”; although patience brings the stones clearly into sight for any explorer.   They’re big too!  Sadly only one of them still remains fully upright—but that one’s nearly 9 feet tall!

In Miss Campbell’s initial description of the site, following their rediscovery, she told how,

“A chance sighting led to the discovery of a group of three monoliths, one erect, one sloping and one prostrate, on the West side of a wide glen leading S from the upper part of the Bealach Mor; the site commands a fine view into the northern hills. The spot is about 550ft above sea level and this is therefore the highest group of standing stones so far recorded in the area.

“The erect stone is 8ft 4in x 2ft x 1 ft, lozenge-shaped in section, with a pointed top. The leaning stone, also lozenge-shaped, is 10ft x 1ft 8in x 1ft, and pointed. The fallen stone is over 11ft x 2ft wide, too deeply buried in turf for the thickness to he measured. The stones appear to have stood in line, the nearest points of the first and third stones 9ft apart and the line joining them running north and south.  Along a ridge running S behind the stones are a number of small ruins, oval and rectangular, in old cultivations. No surviving placename has been recovered for the site so far.”

Section of the fallen stone
Looking west

Indeed, no subsequent investigation has led to either an early name nor any traditions about the site, and the stones cannot be found on any early maps of the area.  A pity, as they’re quite impressive stones and would have had some old stories known of them in ages gone by.

Twenty years after Miss Campbell’s discovery, in May 1982, the stones were visited and surveyed by the Royal Commission lads.  Their description very much tallied with Miss Campbell’s, but it’s worth citing anyway.  They told us that:

“On a terrace on the W side of an unnamed valley to the S of Bealach Mor and about 850m SW of Salachary, there is a setting of three large standing stones which is aligned from N to S.  Only the N stone is still upright; it measures 0.7m by 0.72m at the base and rises with straight sides to a pointed top at a height of 2.75m.  The central stone is of similar proportions, but it now leans to the NE at an angle of about 15° to the horizontal.  The S stone, which measures 3.4m by 0.65m has fallen with its top to the SE.”

Royal Commission plan
Alexander Thom’s plan

Around the same time, Clive Ruggles (1984) assessed the Salachary stones for any potential astronomical alignments and found—as Alexander Thom & Aubrey Burl did in their own survey (1990)—that as they pointed virtually north-south they stood beyond any solar or lunar functions.  Thom found the stones align almost perfectly north-south, with a notch in the southern horizon at 178°, and on the northern horizon the hilltop of Meall Reamhar at 2° west of north.  This northern line may relate to the airt of death, although no other immediate archaeological remains have been found to fortify this idea (however, other unrecorded standing stones are close by and their relationship with Salachary has yet to be adequately assessed).

Aubrey Burl’s first description of this stone row told us:

“There are three stones in a N-S row situated on a terrace on the W side of a glen.  The N stone, with a pointed top, stands 8ft 4 (2.5m) high.  The central stone leans dramatically at 20°.  It is 10ft (3m) in length.  The S stone is prostrate and half-buried.  It is 11ft (3.4m) long.  The row is about 13ft (4m) long.  From the site there is a fine view of the northern hills.”

Looking north

In truth, the main north-south axis relates to the more open geological avenue of the landscape.  Both the east and west are all but blocked by crags and hills, and the stones seem to have been positioned to echo the hollowed section of the landscape.  The land runs in curious geological folds and has a distinct genius loci which I enjoyed in differing (usually wet) conditions when I used to live nearby.  The site is well worth a walkabout if you’re in the area – and there are more unrecorded stones still hiding in Nature’s rocky folds nearby.

References:

  1. Burl, Aubrey, From Carnac to Callanish, Yale University Press 1993.
  2. Campbell, M. & Sandeman, M., “Mid Argyll: An Archaeological Survey,” in Proceedings Society Antiquaries Scotland, volume 95, 1964.
  3. Campbell, Marian, Salachary, Kintraw’, in Discovery & Excavation Scotland, 1962.
  4. Ferguson, Lesley, “A Catalogue of the Alexander Thom Archive Held in the National Monuments Record of Scotland,” in Records in Stone (ed. C. Ruggles), Cambridge University Press 1988.
  5. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Argyll – volume 6: Mid-Argyll and Cowal, HMSO: Edinburgh 1988.
  6. Ruggles, Clive L.N., Megalithic Astronomy, BAR: Oxford 1984.
  7. Ruggles, Clive L.N., “The Stone Alignments of Argyll,” in Records in Stone (ed. C. Ruggles), Cambridge University Press 1988.
  8. Swarbrick, Olaf, A Gazetteer of Prehistoric Standing Stones in Great Britain, BAR: Oxford 2012.
  9. Thom, A., Thom, A.S. & Burl, Aubrey, Stone Rows and Standing Stones – volume 1, BAR: Oxford 1990.
  10. Weston, Garth, Monuments and Mountains, Ashridge: Bakewell 2007.

Acknowledgements:  This site profile could not have been written without the help and of Nina Harris, Paul Hornby, Frank Mercer and Belinda Sales.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.179807, -5.480990 Salachary stone row

Clach na h-ealea, Clachan, Lismore, Argyll

Legendary Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NM 861 435

Also Known as:

  1. Clach na h-eala
  2. Stone of the Swan
  3. Swan Stone

Archaeology & History

Although the lads at the Scottish Royal Commission (1974) initially described this site as a ‘Standing Stone’, it is in fact,

“an erratic boulder of granite roughly shaped in the form of a cross… It measures 0.8m in height, 0.6m in width at base, and 0.4m in width at the top…(and) the stone is supposed to have marked a boundary.”

The site was evidently of some mythic importance, as the great Cathedral of St. Moluag was built next to the stone — unless the giant cairn of Cnoc Aingil, 500 yards away, was to blame. A holy well of this saint’s name (an obvious heathen site beforehand) is also nearby.

Folklore

Although this stone was dedicated to swans, I’ve not found the story behind the name.  There were no buried swans here, but local tradition told that this old boulder could give sanctuary to anyone who touched it, or ran round it sunwise.  The Hebridean folklorist Otta Swire (1964) told that,

“anyone who claimed such sanctuary had his case considered by ‘the Elders.’ If they considered his plea justified, they ‘came out and walked sun-wise round the Swan Stone.’ If they did not approve of his right to sanctuary, they walked round it anti-clockwise and the man was then given over, not to his enemies, but ‘to Authority’ to be tried.”

This old tradition derives from well known pre-christian rites. Swire also reported that even in the 1960s here, “at funerals the coffin is always carried round the grave sun-wise before being laid in it.” An old cross placed in the Field of the Cross next to the stone was an attempt to tease folk away from heathen rites of the stone, but failed.

References:

  1. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Argyll – volume 2: Lorn, RCAHMS: Edinburgh 1974.
  2. Swire, O.F., The Inner Hebrides and their Legends, Collins: London 1964.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.534882, -5.479486 Clach na h-ealea

Footprint Stone, Dunadd, Kilmichael Glassary, Argyll

Petroglyph:  OS Grid Reference – NR 83668 93579

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 212008

Getting Here

Footprint Stone in context

From Lochgilphead, take the A816 road north for several miles (towards the megalithic paradise of Kilmartin), keeping your eyes peeled for the road-signs saying “Dunadd.”  Turn left and park-up a few hundred yards down. Go through the gate and walk up Dunadd.  Just before the flattened plateau at the top, a length of smooth stone is accompanied to its side by the deep cup-and-ring of the Dunadd Basin.  Three or four yards away, you’ll see the long ‘footprint’.

Archaeology & History

Near the top of Dunadd’s Iron Age ‘fortress’ and overlooking the megalithic paradise of the Kilmartin valley, several man-made carvings are in evidence very close to each other, all with seemingly differing mythic content.  This one—the footprint—stands out; but it’s not alone!  Faint etchings of at least one other ‘foot’ is clearly visible.  The first literary account of it was by Ardrishaig historian R.J. Mapleton (1860), who told,

“There is on the top of Dunadd a mark that strikes me as interesting; it is like a large axe-head, or a rough outline of a foot.  My impression is that it may have been the spot on which the chief would place his foot when succeeding to the headship of his tribe. The footmark was always considered among the people here as a mould for an axe-head, and I was rather laughed at for suggesting an inaugurating stone.”

Dunadd Footprint (after Royal Commission 1988)
F.W.K. Thomas’ 1879 sketch

Be that as it may, a few years later the carving had caught the attention of the Scottish Society of Antiquaries.  In his article exploring the potential for ritual inaugurations at Dunadd, Captain F.W.L. Thomas (1879) explored, not only the footprint, but the mythic functions of this symbol, looking at parallels with petroglyphs elsewhere in the world where the ‘foot’ was known to be a ritual inauguration symbol (amongst other things).  He gave us the first real detailed account of the carving:

“About 10 or 12 feet below, and to the northward of the highest point, the living rock is smooth, flat and bear of sward, and in it is engraved an impression of a footmark, not of a naked foot, but such as would be made when the foot is clothed by a thick stocking or cuaran… The engravure is for the right foot; and it exactly fitted my right boot.  The footmark is sunk half-an-inch deep, with perpendicular sides, the surface is smoothed or polished, and the outline is regular… It has probably been sheltered by the turf until recently.  The footmark is 11 inches long, nearly 4½ inches broad where broadest, and 3½ inches across at the heel.  When a person stands with his foot in the depression, he looks a little easterly of north.”

A century or so later when the Royal Commission (1988) boys got here, they found not one, but two ‘feet’ carved into the rock!  A few feet away, near to the carved boar,

“At the south end of the main rock surface there is the lightly-pecked outline of a shod right foot. 0.24m long and 0.1m in maximum width, with a pronounced taper to the heel.  There are further peck marks within the outline, and a sunken footmark was intended but not completed.  This print is on almost the same alignment as the more prominent footprint some 2m to the north, which measures 0.27m from NNE to SSW, by 0.1m in maximum width and 25mm in depth.  It is somewhat broader at the heel than the incomplete mark, and its sides are straighter.”

Close-up of the carving

They then emphasize how we’re unable to date the footprints, although point out how such carvings are “found in Britain from the Iron Age onwards.”  But footprints have be found on other petroglyphs in Scotland (much less in England) and date between the neolithic and Bronze Age periods—but whether Dunadd’s example goes that far back, we cannot say.  Extensive excavations occurred at Dunadd between 1980-81 and most of the finds were Iron Age and early medieval in nature (this carving and the cup-and-ring barely got a mention in Lane & Campbell’s [2000] extensive summation).  But we may be looking at an evolutionary developmental relationship in symbolism and form, if the traditions of the place have any substance.  This is something I’ll return to when writing of the Boar Carving, just a few feet away…

Folklore

The legends behind this seemingly insignificant mark near the top of Dunadd ostensibly echo and relate to the huge cup-and-ring of Dunadd Basin four yards away.  I can only repeat what I said in that site profile.

R.J. Mapleton (1860) said that Dunadd was known by local people to be a meeting place of witches and the hill of the fairies, whose amblings in this wondrous landscape are legion. Legends and history intermingle upon and around Dunadd.  Separating one from the other can be troublesome as Irish and Scottish Kings, their families and the druids were here.  One such character was the ever-present Ossian.  Mapleton told:

“From these ancient tales we turn to a much later period of romance, when Finn and his companions had developed into extraordinary and magical proportions; a story is current that when Ossian abode at Dunadd, he was on a day hunting by Lochfyneside; a stag, which his dogs had brought to bay, charged him; Ossian turned and fled. On coming to the hill above Kilmichael village, he leapt clean across the valley to the top of Rudal hill, and a second spring brought him to the top of Dunadd.  But on landing on Dunadd he fell on his knee, and stretched out his hands to prevent himself from falling backwards.  ‘The mark of a right foot is still pointed out on Rudal hill, and that of the left is quite visible on Dunadd, with impressions of the knee and fingers.’”

As Mr Thomas (1879) clarified:

“The footmark is that of the right foot, and the adjacent rock-basin is the fabulous impression of a knee.”

References:

  1. Bord, Janet, Footprints in Stone, Heart of Albion Press 2004.
  2. Campbell, Marion, Mid-Argyll: An Archaeological Guide, Dolphin Press: Glenrothes 1984.
  3. Campbell, M. & Sanderman, M., “Mid-Argyll: An Archaeological Survey,”  in Proceedings of the Society Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 95, 1962.
  4. Craw, J.H. “Excavations at Dunadd and other Sites,” in Proceedings of the Society Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 64, 1930.
  5. Lane, Alan & Campbell, Ewan, Dunadd: An Early Dalriadic Capital, Oxbow: Oxford 2000.
  6. Mapleton, R.J., Handbook for Ardrishaig Crinan Loch Awe and Pass of Brandir, n.p. 1860.
  7. Morris, Ronald W.B., The Prehistoric Rock Art of Argyll, Dolphin Press: Poole 1977.
  8. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Argyll – Volume 6: Mid-Argyll and Cowal, HMSO: Edinburgh 1988.
  9. Thomas, F.W.K., “Dunadd, Glassary, Argyleshire: The Place of Inauguaration of the Dalriadic Kings,” in Proceedings of the Society Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 13, 1879.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian 

 

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  56.085889, -5.478621 Footprint Stone

Dunadd Basin, Kilmichael Glassary, Argyll

Cup-and-Ring Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NR 83667 93576

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 212008
  2. Dunadd 2a (Morris)

Getting Here

First sight of Dunadd's basin
First sight of Dunadd’s basin

From Lochgilphead, take the A816 road north for several miles (towards the megalithic paradise of Kilmartin), keeping your eyes peeled for the road-signs saying “Dunadd.”  Turn left and park-up a few hundred yards down. Go through the gate and walk up Dunadd.  Just before the flattened plateau at the top you’ll come across a length of smooth stone, adjacent to the Dunnad Footprint Stone, with a deep large circular ‘bowl’ cut deep into the rock.   That’s the spot!

Archaeology & History

Basin with surrounding faint ring
Basin with encircling faint ring

This large ‘bowl’ or basin just below the top of Dunadd—next to the other carvings of footprint, Ogham and boar—is speculated by many to have been a part of the kingship rituals that were alleged to have occurred up here, going way back.  But please remember that ‘kingship’ as it was in ages past has nothing to do with the touristy nonsense that prevails in the UK today.  Kingship in its early forms relates to rituals for the benefit of the tribe/society, in many cases resulting in sacrifices. (see Frazer 1972; Hocart 1927; Quigley 2005, etc)  This is quite probably what occurred at Dunadd.  But whether this curious deep bowl with its semi-circular carved ring had anything to do with the kingship rites, we simply don’t know.

An early description of the Dunadd Basin is in Mr Thomas’ (1879) essay on the hill itself.  It was a brief note:

“About four yards southwards from the (Dunadd) footmark is a smooth-polished and circular rock basin cut in the living rock; it is 11 inches in diameter and 8 inches deep.”

There is no mention of the incomplete ring which, though faded, can be seen to surround two-thirds of the hollow.  And as Dunadd was used by people until medieval times (Lane & Campbell 2000) it not only begs the question: when was it carved; but also: was the myth behind this petroglyph still alive?  We’ll probably never know.

The Royal Commission lads (1988) said the following:

“The rock-cut basin measures 0.25m in diameter by 0.14m in depth, and is bisected by a crack.  It is surrounded by a shallow pecked ring about 40mm in width, but parts of this have been worn away, especially to the S where the path from (the) enclosure passes the basin.”

Folklore

...and from another angle
…and from another angle

The basin here was said by the incoming priest R.J. Mapleton (1860) to be entirely natural in origin; though he also noted how Dunadd was known by local people to be the meeting place of witches and the hill of the fairies, whose amblings in this wondrous landscape are legion. Legends and history intermingle upon and around Dunadd.  Separating one from the others can be troublesome as Irish and Scottish Kings, their families and the druids were here.  One such character was the ever-present Ossian.  Mapleton told:

“From these ancient tales we turn to a much later period of romance, when Finn and his companions had developed into extraordinary and magical proportions; a story is current that when Ossian abode at Dunadd, he was on a day hunting by Lochfyneside; a stag, which his dogs had brought to bay, charged him; Ossian turned and fled. On coming to the hill above Kilmichael village, he leapt clean across the valley to the top of Rudal hill, and a second spring brought him to the top of Dunadd.  But on landing on Dunadd he fell on his knee, and stretched out his hands to prevent himself from falling backwards.  ‘The mark of a right foot is still pointed out on Rudal hill, and that of the left is quite visible on Dunadd, with impressions of the knee and fingers.'”

As Mr Thomas clarifies: “The footmark is that of the right foot, and the adjacent rock-basin is the fabulous impression of a knee.”

References:

  1. Bord, Janet, Footprints in Stone, Heart of Albion Press 2004.
  2. Campbell, Marion, Mid-Argyll: An Archaeological Guide, Dolphin Press: Glenrothes 1984.
  3. Campbell, M. & Sanderman, M., “Mid-Argyll: An Archaeological Survey,”  in Proceedings of the Society Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 95, 1962.
  4. Craw, J.H. “Excavations at Dunadd and other Sites,” in Proceedings of the Society Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 64, 1930.
  5. Lane, Alan & Campbell, Ewan, Dunadd: An Early Dalriadic Capital, Oxbow: Oxford 2000.
  6. Mapleton, R.J., Handbook for Ardrishaig Crinan Loch Awe and Pass of Brandir, n.p. 1860.
  7. Morris, Ronald W.B., The Prehistoric Rock Art of Argyll, Dolphin Press: Poole 1977.
  8. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Argyll – Volume 6: Mid-Argyll and Cowal, HMSO: Edinburgh 1988.
  9. Thomas, F.W.K., “Dunadd, Glassary, Argyleshire: The Place of Inauguaration of the Dalriadic Kings,” in Proceedings of the Society Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 13, 1879.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 

 

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  56.085869, -5.478641 Dunadd Basin

Dunadd House, Kilmichael Glassary, Argyll

Standing Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NR 83865 93619

Also Known as:

  1. AR27 (Ruggles 1984)
  2. Canmore ID 39592

Getting Here

Standing stone below Dunadd
Standing stone below Dunadd

From Lochgilphead, take the A816 road north for several miles (towards the megalithic paradise of Kilmartin), keeping your eyes peeled for the road-signs saying “Dunadd.”  Turn left and park-up.  Instead of walking up the craggy fortress, follow the road-track to the house and, alongside the River Add, you’ll see the standing stone in the well-mown garden on your right.

Archaeology & History

As a monolith within the Kilmartin Valley complex, this is a slight, almost gentle standing stone, missed by most when they visit the other larger sites in Argyll’s Valley of the Kings.  Set upright close to the gentle winding River Add and only a few yards from the ancient ford that bridged the waters beneath the shadow of Dunadd’s regal fortress, the late great Alexander Thom (1971) wrote about it in his exploration of lunar alignments found at other nearby standing stones. This one however, was 3° out to have any astronomical validity.

Described only in passing by a number of writers, the greatest literary attention it has previously been afforded was by the Royal Commission lads (1988), whose notes on it were short:

“An irregularly-shaped block of stone, 1.35m high and 1.35m in girth at the base, is situated 25m S of Dunadd farmhouse, it is aligned NNW and SSE, and the top the SSE edge appear to have been broken off.”

…My first visit here was when I lived north of Kilmartin and each time I found the same ‘gentle’ feeling, in all different weathers: a most unusual phenomenon, as there tends to be changes in psychological states between rain, sunshine, frosts, dark night and mists.  But there was a consistency of subtlety; a regularity in genius loci—probably due to its proximity to the River Add, the lowland tranquility below the crags.  It’s a wonderful little place.  Well worth visiting if you go to Dunadd.

References:

  1. Campbell, Marion, Mid-Argyll: An Archaeological Guide, Dolphin Press: Glenrothes 1984.
  2. Lane, Alan & Campbell, Ewan, Dunadd: An Early Dalriadic Capital, Oxbow: Oxford 2000.
  3. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Argyll – Volume 6: Mid-Argyll and Cowal, HMSO: Edinburgh 1988.
  4. Ruggles, Clive L.N., “A critical examination of the megalithic lunar observatories,” in Ruggles & Whittle, Astronomy and Society in Britain, BAR: Oxford 1981.
  5. Ruggles, Clive L.N., Megalithic Astronomy, BAR: Oxford 1984.
  6. Thom, Alexander, Megalithic Lunar Observatories, Clarendon: Oxford 1971.
  7. Thom, A., Thom, A.S. & Burl, Aubrey, Stone Rows and Standing Stones – volume 1, BAR: Oxford 1990.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 

 

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  56.086341, -5.475504 Dunadd House standing stone

Glen Shurig, Kilbride, Arran

Stone Circle (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NR 99 36

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 39685

Archaeology & History

Along the B880 glen road that cuts Arran roughly in half, known as The String, could once be seen a stone circle that one early writer told was quite impressive.  Today It seems that all trace of the circle has gone.  The earliest mention of it seems to be in James Headrick’s (1807) work, where, in discussing what he thought were “Druidical” remains of obelisks and cairns in the area,

“A more entire circle of this sort is seen on the rising ground at the mouth of Glen Shirreg, towards the west.”

But he tells us no more.  Shortly afterwards—according to reverend Allan McNaughton in the New Statistical Account of the 1830s—it was destroyed. He said that,

“about twenty-four years ago, a very complete circle at the mouth of Glensheraig was removed, in clearing the field in which it stood for the operations of the plough.”

Despite this short remark, eighty years later we had J.A. Balfour (1910) inform us that,

“On the right of the String Road going west in Glen Sherraig is a small ruined monument of which three small standing stones alone remain, so disposed as to suggest that the original structure was a double circle.”

However, Balfour’s site may be an altogether different one to that mentioned by Headrick and McNaughton.

Aubrey Burl (2000) lists it in his major work; but its ancient life was, once again, brought to end in these recent years by those of less sound minds than our ancestors.

References:

  1. Balfour, J.A., The Book of Arran – volume 1, Arran Society of Glasgow 1910.
  2. Bryce, James, “Account of excavations within the stone circle of Arran“, in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 4, 1863.
  3. Burl, Aubrey, The Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany, Yale University Press 2000.
  4. Headrick, James, View of the Mineralogy, Agriculture, Manufactures and Fisheries of the Islland of Arran, with Notices of Antiquities, D. Willison: Edinburgh 1807.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  55.580785, -5.190289 Glen Shurig stone circle

Fingal’s Cauldron Seat, Machrie Moor, Kilmory, Arran

Stone Circle:  OS Grid Reference – NR 90878 32353

Fingal's Cauldron, on 1864 OS map
Fingal’s Cauldron, on 1864 OS map

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 39705
  2. Machrie Moor 5
  3. Moss Farm Stone Circle
  4. Suidhe Coire Fhionn
  5. Tormore Stones

Getting Here

The stone circle of Fingal's Cauldron Seat, Machrie Moor, Arran <c>(photo by Aisha Domleo)</c>
The stone circle of Fingal’s Cauldron Seat, Machrie Moor, Arran (photo by Aisha Domleo)

By whichever way you come (be it from Brodick on the east, Lochranza to the north) ask any local the way to Machrie and they’ll point you the road onto the west side of the island, roughly halfway.  You’re after the hamlets of Blackwaterfoot or Auchagallon. From either of these spots, take the road to Tormore.  From here, the dirt-track east close to the Machrie Water is where you need to walk.  About a mile along this well-defined track you’ll see the large barn ahead of you.  Hereabouts you’ll begin to notice some very tall standing stones. Keep walking on the track, and the first double-ring of smaller stones to your right is the place yer after!

Archaeology & History

Approaching the ring (photo by Aisha Domleo)
Approaching the ring (photo by Aisha Domleo)

This is one well-preserved stone circle in a superb setting with other large megalithic rings all close by—at least 12 of them!—set upon the flat open moorlands on the west side of Arran, with views in all directions sending the enquiring nose tasting for more wherever the eyes gaze….  It has been written about by many many writers over the last few centuries—which aint surprising!  But it was in recent times that the place was said by Aubrey Burl (1981) to be “holy ground,” because although there are many prehistoric settlement sites and other remains scattered across this landscape,

“it is noticeable that the dozens of huts whose ruins litter the moor were built well away to the west, none of them near these powerful and lonely stones.”

1832 sketch of Fingal's Cauldron by James Skene
1832 sketch of Fingal’s Cauldron by James Skene

It’s a fair point.

Fingal’s Cauldron was first defined in an archaeological context by James Bryce in 1863, who named it the ‘Machrie Moor 5’ stone circle (MM5)—and it was he and several others who dug into the ring, to see what it might be hiding!

“Excavating at the centre we found a small cist at less than a foot in depth, and lying about north-east.  It was covered by a small lid, and the dimensions were 2 feet 2 inches in length, 10½ inches in depth, and 11 inches in width.  Inside there were several bone fragments and black earth.  A flint implement was found in the stony soil above, and three other flint fragments, but nothing of this kind in the cist itself.  This was of much ruder structure than any we had seen before (Ed. – i.e., in the other Machrie circles); it was cut out of the sold sandstone rock, but with little care or exactness; the sides however, were nearly perpendicular.  The difficulty of excavating without iron tools may account for the smaller size and ruder form of this cist.  No other cist was found, nor remains of any kind, though a trial was made at several points around the centre.  A deep opening was also made on both sides of the upright stone, but nothing was met with worthy of being recorded.”

A.E. Roy's 1967 site-plan
A.E. Roy’s 1967 site-plan

Described thereafter a number of times by different historians and antiquarians, Fingal’s Cauldron (and its associates) was then recounted in the Machrie Moor survey of Mr Balfour (1910) in his magnum opus on the Isle of Arran.  Although he gave more attention to the other stone circles in this multiple megalithic complex, he did thankfully make note that,

“upon higher ground free of peat, and immediately to the south of the farmhouse, is the celebrated double circle of granite blocks known popularly as Fingal’s Cauldron Seat. The inner ring consists of eight and the outer of fourteen blocks. The diameter of the inner circle is 36 feet and of the outer 57 feet. The largest stones are in the inner series; they are more or less round-topped blocks, about 4 feet high. One of the stones of the outer ring has a ledge which is perforated by a round hole, with the edges worn smooth.

“In the centre of the inner ring, only a foot from the surface, a ruined cist was laid bare. It had been previously disturbed, and was represented by two stones only, lying parallel to one another. There was no capstone, and no relics were discovered.”

More recently in the 1960s, another survey of Fingal’s Cauldron was undertaken by A.E. Roy and other archaeologists.  They found nothing new of any value, but gave us the ground-plan we see here (sadly it seems that Alexander Thom didn’t bless this site with his theodolite and survey).  Aubrey Burl re-examined the site again during his own survey in the 1980s.

An elemental called Lara sat seated on one of the uprights! (photo by Aisha Domleo)
An elemental called Lara sat seated on one of the uprights! (photo by Aisha Domleo)
Small section of inner & outer rings (photo by Aisha Domleo)
Small section of inner & outer rings (photo by Aisha Domleo)

There are other curious features to this ring that aint generally talked about amongst the archaeo-fraternity, out of fear of sounding inspiring perhaps…  In the 1980s, a chap called Paul Devereux and a number of physicists organized volunteers from across the country to monitor electromagnetic anomalies at many megalithic rings, in order to explore the validity, or otherwise, of the idea that there were ‘energies’ at stone circles.  The study was called The Dragon Project and went on for many years.  The Machrie Moor complex was one of the places where examinations of electromagnetic fields were undertaken—Fingal’s Cauldron being one of them.  Devereux (1990) tells us a small part of the story:

“In May 1983 Dave and Lynn Patrick monitored several of the Machrie Moor circles, including MM5, with a geiger counter for the Gaia Programme.  They also took background control readings and monitored a non-megalithic ‘dummy site’ for comparisons.

“Five of the circles…gave average site readings 2 to 13 per cent higher than background, but MM5 gave a site average of 33 per cent above background.  A non-megalithic ‘dummy site’ was 5 per cent above background.  The Patricks had taken 20 readings within MM5—one hour of monitoring time—plotted onto the ground-plan.  There was no mystery about why the site gave a higher average than anywhere else, and a third higher than background—the stones are radioactive granite, and there are 23 of them.  But one stone, the tallest, and the most westerly of the upright stones in the inner ring, is particularly energetic, giving readings 16 per cent above the next most radioactive stone in the double ring, and more than that for the other 58 stones monitored in the Patrick’s study on Machrie Moor.

“I took measurements at the site myself in April 1988, using new equipment, and confirmed that the MM5 stone did indeed give a moderately high naturally radiation count (about 33 per cent above normal).”

This rather hot “Cauldron of Finn” certainly does throw off more heat than its compatriots nearby, as scientific analysis has shown!  It turned out to be the type of stone which our ancestors used in constructing the site.  Fascinating…

Folklore

1861 drawing of the site
1861 drawing of the site

Although this is one of the smallest of the megalithic rings on the moor, it’s the one that has the main legend.  In line with its folk-title, twas said to have been the place where the Irish giant and hero-figure, Finn, “assigning to the encircling stones the purpose of supporting the cauldron of the giant,” with the inner ring being where it was placed and he cooked. Finn also used another part of the circle, as James Bryce (1863) said:

“A block on the southeast side of the outer circle has a ledge perforated by a round hole, which is well worn on the edges, and said to have been formed for the purpose of fastening the favourite dog Bran.”

Shortly after this, John McArthur (1873) wrote his work on the ancient remains of the island, giving additional elements to the myths of this ring; firstly telling that the perforated hole which Bran was tied to,

“was probably associated with some old superstition or religious ceremony, now forgotten. The hole is sufficiently large to admit the two fingers, and runs perpendicularly through the side of the column…

“The perforated column of “Fiongal’s Cauldron Seat,” on the Mauchrie Moor, was believed to contain a fairy or brownie, who could only be propitiated by the pouring of milk through the hole bored in the side of the stone.”

The animistic tradition of pouring milk into stones is more usually found at bullauns and some cup-and-ring carvings, so we need to look closely in good weather conditions at the uprights in the circle just to make sure we aint missed anything here… Carvings are found on some of the other Machrie stones.

Regarding the small hole through the stone which Bran was tied to, Gareth Weston (2007), in his otherwise terrible book, tells that,

“The middle of the perforated stone and the geometric centre (of the ring) are in line with the sharp summit of Goat Fell, Arran’s loftiest peak and the highest point in southeast Scotland.”

Geomancy anyone…?

Forteana

Over the years I have slept at many prehistoric sites in Britain—stone circles, chambered tombs and cup-and-ring stones all—hundreds of times, in all weathers.  Sadly in recent years I’ve been neglecting this duty.  However, during the winter of 1986 I spent a few nights in the snow on the Machrie plain, between this circle and the taller uprights a short distance away.  On one dark freezing February night, shortly before we hit the sack,

“a bright orange glow was seen on the summit of the mountain (Ard Bheinn), three miles away.  A second or two later a ball of light rose up from the snow-clad hills and into the clouds, a hundred feet above.  A few minutes later we saw the same ball of light again; on both occasions the ball of light was visible for two seconds at the most.”

Several times when sleeping rough at Machrie I got talking with an old farmer who had grown up round here.  He told that he’d “seen strange lights around the moors a few times” down the years.  With the moorland scent and feel of the place round here, that surprises me not one bit!

…to be continued…

References:

  1. Armit, Ian, Scotland’s Hidden History, Tempus: Stroud 1998.
  2. Balfour, J.A., The Book of Arran – volume 1, Arran Society of Glasgow 1910.
  3. Bennett, Paul, “Events in the Annals of Arran,” in UFO Brigantia, March 1986.
  4. Bryce, James, “Account of excavations within the stone circle of Arran“, in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 4, 1863.
  5. Burl, Aubrey, A Guide to the Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany, New Haven & London 1995.
  6. Burl, Aubrey, The Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany, Yale University Press 2000.
  7. Devereux, Paul, Places of Power, Blandford: London 1990.
  8. Ewart, G. & Sharman, P., “Moss Farm stone circle, Arran (Kilmory parish),” in Discovery & Excavation Scotland, 1997.
  9. Fairhurst, Horace, Exploring Arran’s Past, Kilbrannan: Brodick 1988.
  10. McArthur, John, The Antiquities of Arran, Adam & Charles Black: Edinburgh 1873 (2nd edition).
  11. MacLellan, Robert, The Ancient Monuments of Arran, HMSO: Edinburgh 1989.
  12. Roy, A.E., “A New Survey of the Tormore Circles,” in Transactions of the Glasgow Archaeological Society, 51, 1963.
  13. Weston, Garth, Monuments and Mountains, Ashridge Press: Bakewell 2007.

AcknowledgementsHUGE thanks to Aisha Domleo—and Her brilliant clan!—not only for kicking my arse to write this up, but for the photos of the site too!  More to come. 

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  55.539927, -5.315861 Fingals Cauldron SeatTwelve Apostles

Caisteal Nan Coin Dubh, Craobh Haven, Argyll

Dun:  OS Grid Reference – NM 8000 0763

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 22744

Archaeology & History

Caisteal Nan Coin Dubh (after RCAHMS 1988)

Up above the roadside leading down the gorgeous Craobh Haven road, we not only find remains of a previously unrecorded standing stone, but we see this little-known overgrown fort that has been described as a “galleried dun” by the Royal Commission (1988) lads.  Known in folk tradition as the “castle of the black dogs” and an important place in the great legends of the Finns, in archaeological terms the Royal Commission described the site as:

“Oval in plan, the dun measures about 13m by 10m within a wall which varies from 3m to 4m in thickness.  Considerable stretches of the outer face survive and on the N it rises to a height of 1.7m in ten rough courses; the inner face is less well preserved, but a long stretch is visible on the NW.  There are traces of a gallery within the thickness of the wall on the NW; it was entered through a narrow passage, the S-side wall of which it stands to a height of 0.4m in three courses.  A second break in the line of the inner face, 2.5m to the NE, is either another entrance to the gallery or the entrance to a second chamber.  Depressions in the thickness of the wall on the S may indicate the presence of yet another intramural feature.  The entrance to the dun lies on the WSW; it measures about 1m in width at the outer end, 1.8m at the inner end, and is checked for a door 1m from the exterior.  On the NE there is a short stretch of facing at right-angles to the line of the wall, and this may be a straight-joint similar to that at Castle Dounie…or one side of a postern gate. In the interior there are the remains of at least two animal-pens and a modern rectilinear cairn. There is no trace of the midden-deposit noted by Campbell & Sandemann to the W of the dun, and the cairns and stretches of field-walling on the N flank of the ridge are of relatively recent date.”

Folklore

Close to a little-known cailleach site, this ruined fortress was one of the many places which the illustrious historian and folklorist Archibald Campbell told about in his awesome series of Waifs and Strays of Celtic Tradition (1889).  The tale of the fort was known to local people as “The Fight between Bran and Foir and is as follows:

“The black dog, Foir, was the brother of Bran, the far-famed hound of Fionn. Foir was taken early from his dam, and was afterwards nurtured by a band of fair women, who acted as his nurses. He grew up into a handsome hound, which had no equal, in the chase or in fight, in the distant North. His owner, Eubhan Oisein, the black-haired, red-cheeked, fair-skinned young Prince of Innis Torc (Orkney ?) was proud, as well he might be, of his unrivalled hound. Having no further victories to win in the North, his master determined to try him against the strongest dogs in the packs of the Feinne.

“He left home, descended by Lochawe, and entered Craignish through Glen Doan. Before his arrival, the Fienne, after spending the day in the chase, encamped for the night in the upper end of Craignish. Next day Fionn arose before sunrise, and saw a young man, wrapped in a red mantle and leading a black dog, approaching towards him at a rapid pace. The stranger soon drew near, and at once declared his object in coming. He wanted a dog-fight, and so impatient was he to have it, and so restless by reason of his impatience, that he suffered not his shadow to dwell a moment on one spot.

“Fifty of the best hounds of the Feinne were slipped at last, but the black dog killed them all one by one. A second and then a third fifty were uncoupled, but the strange dog disposed of them as easily as he did of the first.

“Fionn now saw that all the dogs of the Feinne were in serious danger of being annihilated, and therefore he turned round and cast an angry look on his own great dog Bran. In a moment Bran’s hair stood on end, his eyes darted fire, and he leaped the full length of his golden chain in his eagerness for the fight. But something else besides the casting of an angry look was still to be done to rouse the fierce hound’s temper to its highest pitch.

“He was placed nose to nose with his rival, and then his golden chain was unclasped. The two hounds, brothers by blood, but now champions on opposite sides, at once closed in deadly fight; but for an adequate description of the struggle between them the reader must consult the bards. See the “Lay of the Black Dog”, in Islay’s Leabhar na Feinne, the McCallum’s Ancient Poetry, etc.

“The contest lasted from morning to evening, and victory remained, almost to the close, uncertain; but in the end Bran vanquished Foir, and, by killing the latter, amply revenged the death of the three fifties. The Feinne buried their own dogs, and the stranger, with a sore heart, laid his black hound in the narrow clay bed.

“This great dog-fight, so celebrated in Gaelic lore, is said to have been fought at Lergychony, in Craignish. It is further said that the place was called Learg-a-choinnimh, or the “Plateau of Meeting”, because it was there the two hounds met in fight. There are, of course, many other places in the Highlands which claim the honour of being the scene of this legendary contest.”

References:

  1. Campbell, Archibald, Waifs and Strays of Celtic Tradition – volume 1, David Nutt: London 1889.
  2. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Argyll – Volume 6: Mid-Argyll and Cowal, HMSO: Edinburgh 1988.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.210248, -5.549032 Caisteal Nan Coin Dubh

Arnabost, Coll, Argyll

Souterrain (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NM 2096 6003

Archaeology & History

In Betty MacDougall’s (1966) short work on this history of the island she describes the finding and subsequent destruction of these fascinating underground prehistoric ‘houses’ (as some have called them), telling:

“The vestigial remains of an ‘earth house’, a subterranean dwelling, were uncovered here about 1856 when the road was being made.  The entrance was to the north of the road, under a now empty schoolhouse, and the passage stretched south-eastwards under the road, emerging into a roughly circular chamber, now laid bare in a gravel pit.”

References:

  1. MacDougall, Betty, Isle of Coll, John Miller: Glasgow 1966.
  2. Ritchie, Graham, “Early Settlement in Argyll,” in The Archaeology of Argyll, Edinburgh University Press 1997.
  3. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, Argyll – volume 3: Mull, Tiree, Coll and Northern Argyll, HMSO: Edinburgh 1980.
  4. Wainwright, F.T., The Souterrains of Southern Pictland, RKP: London 1963.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.648637, -6.553898 Arnabost souterrain