Weeping Stone, Fladaigh Chuain, Skye

Legendary Rock: OS Grid Reference – NG 3638 8091

Getting Here

Unless you’ve got your own boat, forget it!  This one’s miles out on the isolated uninhabited island of Fladda-chuain about 5 miles off the northwest tip from Duntulm, Trotternish.  I wouldn’t mind a coupla weeks alone on the isle though – if anyone can get me there!

Archaeology & History

This little rocky island was allegedly another one of the many visiting places that St. Columba frequented in his copious ventures, trying to sell his new religion to local people wherever he went.  Here he came to the legendary clach known as the Weeping Stone: a place of reverence to the druids and indigenous people.  But St Columba came here to christianize the rituals that were had at the site; and, eventually, he was allowed to build a  small stone chapel close by.

Folklore

In Otta Swire’s (1961) excellent work on the folklore and history of the Isle of Skye, she wrote:

“In Duntulm Bay lies Tulm Island and beyond it, in clear weather, Fladdachuan, Fladda of the Ocean, can be seen. In olden times this was a sacred spot, held by many to be Tir-nan-Og, the Isle of Perpetual Youth, which lay in the west; here it is always summer and the sun never sets. The puffins recognized its sacred nature and never began any venture until they had circled the island three times sunwise; this they did also on arriving in Skye and before leaving it. It was held by some to be the reason why in Skye people used to turn three times sunwise before starting a new enterprise. The Druids held it in veneration and St. Columba caused a chapel to be built there. On its altar lay a black stone which some say was the original altar stone of the Druids and which was known as the Weeping Stone because it was always wet. Until fairly recently fishermen used to land on the island and pour three handfuls of seawater on the stone to procure favourable winds or to stop bad floods. The Weeping Stone no longer exists, or at least is no longer to be found where the altar once stood.”

I can’t find anything more about this place.  Does anyone know owt more about it?

References:

  1. Swire, Otta F., Skye: The Island and its Legends, Blackie & Son: Glasgow 1961.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  57.740219, -6.431216 Weeping Stone

Temple of Anaitis, Lusta, Waternish, Skye

‘Stone Circle’: OS Grid Reference – NG 2725 5273

Also Known as:

  1. Annait
  2. Temple of Annait

Getting Here

1880 map of Anaitis

1880 map of Anaitis

Otta Swire (1961) told how to find this place, thus: “The Waternish road turns off to the north at Fairy Bridge, whence it runs along the valley of the Bay river. On the left of the road, though at some little distance from it, where the river cleaves its way through a gorge to the sea, stands the mound which is now all that remains of the ‘Temple of Anaitis’ (so called).”

Archaeology & History

This is a curious place, full of archaeological potential if the folklore and history records are owt to go by, yet little of any substance remains to substantiate what may have been an important stone circle or other heathen site in earlier times. It seems to have been described first of all in the famous Hebridean journeys of Boswell and Johnson in the late 18th century.  Amidst his insulting description of both the landscape and local people, on Friday 17th September 1773, James Boswell visited the site and told:

“The weather this day was rather better than any that we had since we came to Dunvegan. Mr M’Queen had often mentioned a curious piece of antiquity near this which he called a temple of the goddess Anaitis.  Having often talked of going to see it, he and I set out after breakfast, attended by his servant, a fellow quite like a savage.  I must observe here, that in Skye there seems to be much idleness; for men and boys follow you, as colts follow passengers upon a road. The usual figure of a Sky boy, is a lown with bare legs and feet, a dirty kilt, ragged coat and waistcoat, a bare head, and a stick in his hand, which, I suppose, is partly to help the lazy rogue to walk, partly to serve as a kind of a defensive weapon. We walked what is called two miles, but is probably four, from the castle, till we came to the sacred place. The country around is a black dreary moor on all sides, except to the sea-coast, towards which there is a view through a valley, and the farm of Bay shews some good land. The place itself is green ground, being well drained, by means of a deep glen on each side, in both of which there runs a rivulet with a good quantity of water, forming several cascades, which make a considerable appearance and sound.  The first thing we came to was an earthen mound, or dyke, extending from the one precipice to the other.  A little farther on, was a strong stone-wall, not high, but very thick, extending in the same manner.  On the outside of it were the ruins of two houses, one on each side of the entry or gate to it. The wall is built all along of uncemented stones, but of so large a size as to make a very firm and durable rampart. It has been built all about the consecrated ground, except where the precipice is deep enough to form an enclosure of itself. The sacred spot contains more than two acres. There are within it the ruins of many houses, none of them large, a cairn, and many graves marked by clusters of stones. Mr M’Queen insisted that the ruin of a small building, standing east and west, was actually the temple of the goddess Anaitis, where her statue was kept, and from whence processions were made to wash it in one of the brooks. There is, it must be owned, a hollow road visible for a good way from the entrance; but Mr M’Queen, with the keen eye of an antiquary, traced it much farther than I could perceive it. There is not above a foot and a half in height of the walls now remaining; and the whole extent of the building was never, I imagine, greater than an ordinary Highland house. Mr M’Queen has collected a great deal of learning on the subject of the temple of Anaitis; and I had endeavoured, in my journal, to state such particulars as might give some idea of it, and of the surrounding scenery” —

But in all honesty it seems Mr Johnson was either too lazy to write about the place, or simply didn’t actually get there, in spite of what he alleged!  But later that evening, Boswell dined with the same Mr MacQueen, who told him more of this site.  In the typically pedantic tone of english supremacy (which still prevails in some idiots who visit these lands), he continued by saying:

“Mr Macqueen had laid stress on the name given to the place by the country people, Ainnit; and added, ” I knew not what to make of this piece of antiquity, till I met with the Anaitidis delubrum in Lydia, mentioned by Pausanias and the elder Pliny.”  Dr. Johnson, with his usual acuteness, examined Mr Macqueen as to the meaning of the word Ainnit, in Erse, and it proved to be a water-place, or a place near water, “which,” said Mr. Macqueen, “agrees with all the descriptions of the temples of that goddess, which were situated near rivers, that there might be water to wash the statue.”

There ensued a discussion between Mr MacQueen and Samuel Johnson about the etymology of ‘Anaitis’, with one thinking it was of a goddess, and another that it represented an early christian site.  To this day it is difficult to say what the word means with any certainty.  In W.J. Watson’s (1993) fine work he tells us,

Andoit, now annaid, has been already explained as a patron saint’s church, or a church that contains the relics of the founder.  This is the meaning in Ireland and it is all we have to go upon.  How far it is held with regard to Scotland is hard to say… They are often in places  that are now, and must always have been, rather remote and out of the way.  It is very rarely indeed that an Annat can be associated with any particular saint, nor have I met any traditions connected with them.  But wherever there is an Annat there are traces of an ancient chapel or cemetery, or both; very often, too, the Annat adjoins a fine well or stream…”

The great Skye historian and folklorist Otta Swire (1961) also wrote about this mysterious site, mainly echoing what’s said above, but also adding:

“This name of Annait or Annat is found all over Scotland. It has been interpreted as meaning the ‘Water-place’ from Celtic ‘An’ = water, because many are near water. Others suggest ‘Ann’ = a circle (Celtic) and claim that most Annats are near standing stones. The most-favoured derivation seems to be from Ann, the Irish mother of the Gods, and those who hold this view claim that the Annats are always near a revered spot, where either a mother-church or the cell of a patron saint once stood. Probably Annat does, in fact, come from an older, pre-Celtic tongue, and belongs to an older people whose ancient worship it may well commemorate. The curious shape of the Waternish Temple of Anaitis and its survival make it seem likely that it was something of importance in its day, built with more than usual care and skill. Perhaps the Temple tradition is correct – but whose, if so, and to what gods? One cannot help wondering if cats played any part in its ritual, and if so, if any faint memory remains, for the nickname of the people of this wing was ‘Na Caits’ = The Cats, and not far off, by one of the tributary burns on the right of the roadway, there stands a small cairn, crowned by a long, sharp stone somewhat resembling a huge claw. This is the ‘Cats’ Cairn’.”

The Cats’ Cairn (NG271526) is said to mark the grave of a young boy from the 18th century, who was buried where he died and its story is told elsewhere on TNA.  Another example of the Annait place-name can be found elsewhere on Skye at the megalithic site, Clach na h’annait.

References:

  1. Boswell, James, The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson, National Illustrated Library: London 1899.
  2. Swire, Otta F., Skye: The Island and its Legends, Blackie: Glasgow 1961.
  3. Watson, W.J., The History of the Celtic Place-Names of Scotland, Birlinn: Edinburgh 1993.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  57.482467, -6.552290 Temple of Anaitis

Raven’s Stone, Elgol, Strathaird, Skye

Standing Stone (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NG 520 144

Folklore

This once-famous standing stone appears to have gone.  It was described in Otta Swire’s (1961) superb book on the folklore of Skye, where she wrote:

“Overlooking Elgol is Bidein an Fhithich. Near here once stood the famous Raven’s Stone, about which the Brahn Seer prophesied. It is believed that this prophecy, however, can never be fulfilled, as seventy or eighty years ago the stone was broken up and the main portion of it is now incorporated in one wall of the Glendale church, according to the Rev. A. R. Forbes’ Place Names of Skye. The stone was believed to have had some connexion with old pagan religious ceremonies.”

The Brahn Seer (more commonly known as the Brahan Seer) was Coinneach Odhar, a 16th century prophet who is said to have foretold the Battle of Culloden and other events.

References:

  1. Swire, Otta F., Skye: The Island and its Legends, Blackie & Sons: Glasgow 1961.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  57.153729, -6.101386 Ravens Stone

Na Clachan Bhreige, Kirkibost, Strathaird, Skye

Stone Circle:  OS Grid Reference –  NG 5432 1768

Also known as:

  1. The False Stones
  2. Na Clachan Breitheach
  3. Strathaird Circle

Getting Here

Way off from seemingly anywhere this one – on the southern foothills of the great Cuillins, by the western edge of a seemingly unnamed loch. (most unusual) Take the Elgol road (A881) south from Broadford, nearly to its end, keeping an eye out for Kirkibost a few miles from the very end of the road. Just past here, stop and walk the track west to Camasunary a half-mile along, through the small forestry-bit, then follow the line of the trees north and keep going a bit more till y’ reach the nice stream that feeds that unnamed loch. Cross the stream!

Archaeology & History

Alexander Thom's 1967 drawing

Alexander Thom’s 1967 drawing

A fascinating little site this one! Perhaps consisting of as many as eight stones at one time, only three stand visible today.  Alexander Thom (1967) reported finding other stones in this circle “being buried in the peat, but prodding revealed their position roughly” — as shown on his drawing here.  There may at one time have been as many as eight stones here, but the site itself is quite small, making a ring of stones only 21-feet across (or 8 megalithic yards as Thom had it).  The ruinous state of the site was put down to the stupidity of the Church of Scotland issuing “instructions that all stones in Skye were to be thrown down” a few centuries back.

Aubrey Burl's later 'four-poster' summary

Aubrey Burl’s later ‘four-poster’ summary

Aubrey Burl reported that “there were once at least 4 stones here, the tallest being of 6ft 6ins (2m) high,” and wondered whether this was one of the many ‘four-poster’ stone circles that scatter Scotland and elsewhere.  An issue he seemed comfortable to proclaim a few years later in his survey of such sites. (Burl 1988) Of those stones still standing, the tallest is just 5 feet high; but there’s the impressive 11½-foot long monolith laying on the southeast edge of the ring!  Mr Burl also pointed out that some

“casual digging  inside the ring around 1860 uncovered a blackpolished stone about 1½ ins (4cm) long, ‘somewhat resembling a small pestle.’”

I found the proximity of the Cille Mhaire burial ground a mile west of here more than a bit intriguing (though didn’t have time to assess its geomantic relationship further).  And the reported presence of prehistoric cairns nearby imply that the Na Clachan Bhreige ‘circle’ had some relationship with death and burial.

Folklore

The folkname of ‘The False Stones’ comes from that well-known tale of the site “supposedly being the remains of three men turned into stone for deserting their wives.”  Something which Otta Swire (1964) thought was likely told by christian converts.  It would have probably replaced an earlier tale of the stones being the site where some ancestral spirits lived.  Swire also told that,

“these were once, if tradition is to be believed, Stones of Wisdom who could both foretell the future and show justice as between man and man.”

Burl (1988) also points out how,

“The name, Na Clachan Bhreige, has been variously pointed translated as ‘the judicial stones’, a place where medieval law courts were held, as in several other Scottish rings.  It has also been interpreted as ‘the stone of lies, or falsehood.’”

References:

  1. Burl, Aubrey, Four Posters: Bronze Age Stone Circles of Western Europe, BAR: Oxford 1988.
  2. Grinsell, L.V., Folklore of Prehistoric Sites in Britain, Hale: Newton Abbot 1976.
  3. Swire, Otta F., Skye: The Island and its Legends, Blackie & Sons: Glasgow 1961.
  4. Thom, Alexander, Megalithic Sites in Britain, Oxford University Press 1967.
  5. Thom, A., Thom, A.S. & Burl, Aubrey, Megalithic Rings, BAR: Oxford 1980.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  57.183969, -6.067265 Na Clachan Bhreige

Kilmarie, Kirkibost, Strathaird, Skye

Stone Circle (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NG 552 172

Also Known as:

  1. Cille Mhaire

Folklore

Omitted from Burl’s (2000) magnum opus, the great Scottish folklorist Otta Swire (1961) is the singular reference to the forgotten stone circle that once existed here.  She wrote:

“The site of the old church of Kilmarie and of the stone circle whose proximity no doubt originally called it into being are now no longer to be seen. The ruins of the old church, I am told, were swept away by the sea during that great storm in the 1920s which also blew down the Dunvegan woods.  The storm followed not long after the burial near the old church of an unknown sailor taken from the sea, and there were those who believed this to be the cause of the church’s disappearance, for, as the old Gaelic rhyme says: “The sea will search the four russet divisions of the universe to find her children,” and Kenneth MacLeod advises that a body taken from the sea should always be buried near the water’s edge, or the sea, desiring to recover her own, will flood much land in search of it.

“This church is said to have stood on the site of an older church of St. Maelrhuba (Servant of Peace) who was the patron saint of south-eastern Skye.”

References:

  1. Burl, Aubrey, The Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany, Yale University Press 2000.
  2. Swire, Otta F., Skye: The Island and its Legends, Blackie & Son: Glasgow 1961.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  57.180565, -6.051418 Kilmarie circle

Dun Osdale, Dunvegan, Skye

Broch:  OS Grid Reference – NG 24162 46424

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 10832

Getting Here

Dun Osdale, by the roadside

From the A863 Dunvegan road, a mile south of the village turn onto the B884 road at Lonmore, making sure you veer right after a few hundred yards and head towards Glendale.  About a mile along, on the left-hand side of the road, note the small rocky crag that begins to grow just above the roadside.  At the end of this crag you’ll see a huge pile of rocks, seemingly tumbling down, just by a small T-junction to Uiginish.  You can’t really miss it.

Archaeology & History

Listed as one of the duns, or fortified prehistoric structures in Skye by the old writer J.A. MacCulloch (1905), the rediscovery of this broch was, said A.A. MacGregor (1930), one that “became historical only within living memory.”  I find that hard to believe!  The Gaelic speakers hereby merely kept their tongues still when asked, as was common in days of olde—and it was a faerie abode….

Looking at the SW walling

Looking at the SE walls

Once you go through the gate below the broch, the large boggy area you have to circumnavigate is the overflow from an ancient well, known as Tobar na Maor, where Anne Ross said, “tradition that the stewards of three adjacent properties met there.”  This well was covered by an ancient Pictish stone (now in Dunvegan Castle), which may originally have been associated with the broch just above it.  When I visited the site with Aisha and Her clan, we passed the overgrown well and walked straight up to the broch.

Despite being ruinous it is still most impressive.  The massive walling on its southwestern side is still intact in places; but you don’t get a real impression of the work that went into building these structures until you’re on top.  The walls themselves are so thick and well-built that you puzzle over the energy required to build so massive a monument.  And Scotland has masses of them!

Aisha in the broch

Small internal chamber

The site was surveyed briefly when the Ordnance Survey lads came here in 1877, subsequently highlighting it on the first OS-map of the area.  But it didn’t receive any archaeocentric assessment until the Royal Commission (1928) lads explored the area some fifty years later.  In their outstanding Inventory of the region they described Dun Osdale in considerable detail, although kept their description purely architectural in nature, betraying any real sense of meaning and history which local folk must have told them.  They wrote:

“The outer face of the wall of the broch for a great part is reduced to the lower courses, but on the west-southwest a section still maintains a height of about 7 feet; on the south-side, although hidden by fallen stones, it is about 4 to 5 feet high, and on the northeast there is a very short section 3 feet in height.  The stones are of considerable size and laid in regular courses.  In the interior a mass of tumbled stone obscures the most of the inner face of the wall, but on the south and northwest it stands about 8 feet above the debris.  The broch is circular with an internal diameter of 35 feet to 35 feet 6 inches, and the wall thickens from 10 feet on the north to 13 feet 7 inches on the south. The entrance, which is one the east, is badly broken down, but near the inside has a width of 3 feet 2 inches, and appears to have been 2 feet 10 inches on the outside; it has run straight through the wall without checks.  In the thickness of the wall to the south of the entrance is an oval chamber measuring 10 feet long by 4 feet 9 inches broad above the debris with which it is half-filled.  The roof has fallen in, but the internal corbelling of the walls is well displayed.  The fallen stones no doubt still cover the entrance, which has probably been from the interior.  Within the western arc of the wall, nearly opposite the main doorway, is another oval cell 12 feet in length and 4 feet 6 inches in breadth over debris, with a doorway 2 feet 9 inches wide; its outer and inner walls are 5 feet 9 inches, and 2 feet 6 inches respectively.  The roof od this chamber has also collapsed, but from the masonry which remains in position it must have been over 6 feet in height.  Immediately to the west of the cell near the entrance are exposed the left jamb of a door and a short length of a gallery 3 feet 6 inches wide in the thickness of the southern wall, which probably contained the stairs, as traces of a gallery at a higher level than the oval chambers are seen here, the inner wall being about 3 feet and the outer 8 feet thick. Parts of a scarcement 9 inches wide can be detected on the northwestern and southeastern arcs.”

Dun Osdale plan (RCAHMS 1928)

Dun Osdale on 1881 map

Measurements and architectural tedium aside, the broch is worthwhile for anyone interested in our ancient mythic past, not least because of its position in the landscape and its visual relationship with other sites of the same period nearby.  As well as that, there are unrecorded ancient sites still hiding in these olde moors…

Folklore

Tradition tells that Dun Osdale was used as a watch-tower by the tribal folk—which seems quite credible.  But the original inhabitants of Duirinish, the sith or fairy folk, were also said to live here.  It’s one of several places in Duirinish where the legendary Fairy Cup of Dunvegan was said to have come from.  Otta Swire (1961) told its tale:

“One midsummer night a MacLeod, searching for strayed cattle, stayed late on the moor.  In the moonlight he saw the door of Dun Osdale open and the little people come out, a long train of them, and began to dance on the green grass knoll nearby.  Fascinated, he watched, forgetting everything but the wonderful dance. Suddenly he sneezed.  The spell was broke.  The dance stopped.  MacLeod sprang up to fly, but the fairies were upon him and he was dragged, willy-nilly, into the dun.  Inside, as soon as his eyes grew accustomed to that strange green light associated with fairyland, he beheld a pleasing sight.  A great banquet was spread on a large table carved from a single tree: on it were vessels of gold and silver, many of them set with jewels or chased in strange designs.  His fairy ‘hosts’ led him to the table, poured wine into one of the beautiful cups and, giving it to him, invited him to toast their chief.  Now this man’s mother was a witch, so he knew well that if he ate or drank in the dun he was in the Daoine Sithe’s power for ever.  He lifted the cup and appeared to drink the required toast, but in fact skilfully let the wine run down inside his coat.  As soon as his neighbours saw the cup was half empty, they ceased to bother about him but went off on their own affairs or to attend the banquet.  Thereafter MacLeod watched for a chance of escape and, when one offered, slipped quietly through the door of the dun and away, carrying the cup with him.

“The fairies soon realised what had happened and started in pursuit, but he was already across the Osdale river and in safety.  He hurried home, told his mother the story, and showed her the cup.  Being a wise woman she realised the peril in which he undoubtedly stood and at once put her most powerful spell upon him to protect him from the arts of the Daoine Sithe, warning him seriously never to leave the house for a moment without getting the spell renewed.  But she forgot to put a protecting spell upon the cup also.  The fairies soon discovered the exact state of affairs and immediately laid their own spell upon the cup, a spell so powerful that all who saw the cup or even heard of it, were seized with an overmastering desire to possess it, even if such possession involved the murder of the holder.

“For a year, all went well and thanks to his mother’s care the young man went unharmed.  Then he grew careless and one day ventured out without the protecting spell.  A one-time friend, bewitched by the cup, had been awaiting just such a chance and immediately murdered him and went off with the prize.  The fairies, their revenge achieved, took no further interest in the matter, but MacLeod of MacLeod did.  The boy’s mother hurried to him with her story, and he at once gave orders that the murderer be found and brought to justice.  He was duly hanged and the trouble-making cup, now free of enchantment, passed into the possession of the chief and can still be seen in (Dunvegan) castle.”

References:

  1. Donaldson-Blyth, Ian, In Search of Prehistoric Skye, Thistle: Insch 1995.
  2. MacCulloch, J.A.,  The Misty Isle of Skye, Oliphant, Anderson & Ferrier: Edinburgh 1905.
  3. MacGregor, Alasdair Alpin, Over the Sea to Skye, Chambers: Edinburgh 1930.
  4. Royal Commission on Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Inventory of Monuments and Constructions in the Outer Hebrides, Skye and the Small Isles, HMSO: Edinburgh 1928.
  5. Swire, Otta F., Skye: The Island its Legends, Blackie & Sons: Glasgow 1961.

Acknowledgements:  Eternally grateful to the awesome Aisha Domleo and Her little clan for getting us to this ancient haven on Skye’s endless domain of natural beauty.  Without Her, this would not have been written.  Also, accreditation of early OS-map usage, reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  57.424152, -6.596830 Dun Osdale

Beinn na Caillich cairn, Broadford, Skye

Chambered Cairn:  OS Grid Reference – NG 6291 2377

Getting Here

Henshall’s plan of Beinn na Caillich tomb

From Broadford town, head northwest outta town up the A87 for a mile, turning left and stopping by the electricity station just 100 yards along.  Follow the line of cables down, SE, through the trees, dead straight for about 600 yards (crossing the large stream about halfway) till you notice an open gap through the trees on your right where, 40 yards in, there’s a large circular arena which has been kept aside amidst which a scattered mound is clearly visible.  In this opening in the trees…this is where the tomb/s rest…

Archaeology & History

Sited a mile east on lowlands beneath the shadow of Beinn na Cailleach mountain, with its host of heathen legends and lore, is reputed to be the prehistoric remains of an important ancestral burial site, under dominion of the cailleach’s eye.  In Audrey Henshall’s (1972-2) magnum opus she describes the remains of what may be two separate tombs here as “difficult to interpret”; even “questioning whether they do in fact represent the ruins of a chambered cairn” as has been ascribed.  The site is still included in the Canmore survey, where they cite the same reference as I do here, but add no additional data to Henshall’s query.  There is obviously something to be seen here, but until excavation of the site has been done, the exact nature of what lies here cannot be clarified.  Miss Henshall wrote:

“There is a setting of stones forming about a third of the west side of a circle which would have a diameter of about 30ft if complete; its greatest N to S measurement is 23ft. The stones are thin slabs 4 to 5in thick, up to 3ft 6in long, set on their long sides and projecting up to 2ft above the turf.  The stones have probably been reduced in size due to natural fracturing as the stone readily flakes away. Within this setting, which might be interpreted as the kerb of a cairn, there is a rise of about 1ft above ground level and the grass grows greener, but except for this and a number of boulders lying about the site, there is no sign of cairn material. This is curious as there is no obvious reason for removing it.

“Inside the ‘kerb’ there is a horse-shoe setting of five similar slabs, just visible except for two on the S side which project 1ft 2in due to some peat on their N side having been removed. The enclosed area is 7ft wide by 7ft 6in long, open on the E end.  On this side, 14ft from the W end of the setting, is a larger stone, set on end, 2ft 8in high.  This might be regarded as a portal stone except that it is set opposite the centre of the open end of the horse-shoe setting, and there is a low thin slab projecting westwards from the middle of its W face.  E of this there lie a number of flat slabs and boulders, the larger (some measuring 3ft 8in by 3ft and 4 by 2ft) marked on the plan, but they do not suggest the form of the original structure.

“A stone is set radially to the kerb, 15ft 8in to the N.  It is on its long edge, 4ft 11in long and 2ft 2in high.  Twenty eight feet S of the kerb there is a circular setting of small boulders, 6ft 6in across inside, and part of another concentric setting can be traced 6ft outside these.”

References:

  1. Henshall, Audrey, The Chambered Tombs of Scotland – volume 2, Edinburgh University Press 1972.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  57.243040, -5.931341 Beinn na Caillich cairn

Beinn na Cailleach, Kylerhea, Skye

Sacred Mountain:  OS Grid Reference – NG 770 229

Also Known as:

  1. Beinn na Caillich

Getting Here

As you drive down the A87 road towards Broadford from the Kyle, just before Breakish there’s a small road on the left that runs down to Glen Arroch, where the forest lines the hill.  A couple of miles beyond the end of the forest, watch out for the TV mast on the slopes on the right-hand side of the road.  Stop here and go up the slopes on the left-side of the road (north), to the peak of Sgurr na Coinnich; and once here you’ll see the high rocky peak of Beinn na Cailleach a half-mile to your northeast.  

Folklore

The legend of this sacred mountain was described at some length in Otta Swire’s (1961) excellent work on the Isle of Syke.  She wrote:

“”As you drive down the road towards Broadford, three peaks can be seen to the north; the first two are Beinn na Greine (2,000 feet) and Scurr na Coinnich (2,401 feet); the third and most northerly is Beinn na Caillich (2, 396 feet). This last must not be confused with the Beinn na Caillich near Broadford, which is one of the Red Cuchullins although, just to make it more confusing, on the summit of our Beinn na Caillich, as on that of her larger sister, tradition has placed a woman’s grave. This time it is that of a giantess, one of the Fiennes: beneath her body is a large crock filled with gold and jewels, for she was a great lady, no less than Grainnhe herself, wife of Fionn, and at her burial every man of the Fiennes, for love of her and of their leader, cast their rarest jewels into the earthenware crock to do her honour. Her story, as is so usual in Celtic legend, is a sad one. Grainne is the daughter of the King of Morven and is reputed the fairest and truest princess in all Alban, so the Grey Magician, who hates all that is good, carries her off. One day, as Fionn and his men rest after hunting, an old, old woman, wrapped in the red mantle that denoted royal blood, comes to him, tells him of the theft of Grainnhe and begs him to rescue her. He agrees, whereupon she gives him a fir twig and three small pebbles, all highly magic; she then goes out of sight ‘on an eddy of the western wind, growing smaller as she went until she seemed no bigger than a butterfly, a honey bee, a red spider on a thin rope of its web, and a speck of dust in the sun’. Fionn sets out and after many adventures, during which he is assisted by several talking animals, he finds the Grey Magician’s palace and escapes with Grainnhe. Thanks to the old woman’s gifts, forests and mountains rise behind the fugitives, but before they can reach the Red river, to cross which is safety, the Magician overcomes the old woman’s charms. They reach the river bank only to find they cannot cross, and Fionn’s magic is exhausted. But Grainnhe has a jewel, a charm against death; as long as she wears it in her hair no evil can harm her; alternatively it will give her one wish and vanish. She takes it from her hair to wish for a boat and immediately sees, as in a vision, the fate to which she will condemn herself if she gives up her talisman. But Fionn is in peril through his efforts to save her, and already she loves him, so she lays the jewel on the water. A boat at once appears and takes them to safety.

Fionn and Grainnhe are married and live in great happiness until Grainnhe’s son is about to be born. Then come messengers to Fionn to tell him that sea-pirates are attacking his small dark-skinned allies, the Sons of Morna, who have sent to remind him of his pledge to assist them. Fionn longs to remain with Grainnhe but will not break his vow. He and his men spend three days defeating the sea-pirates and when he returns Grainnhe and her baby are gone, carried off by the Grey Magician. Fionn learns from his ‘tooth’ that she has been turned into a hind. He searches for her for many years, but she has been sent to run with the deer in lone Glen Affaric and he never finds her. Twelve years later, when the Fiennes are hunting, their hounds pick up a scent and follow it to a small copse; Bran, who is leading, is the first to enter it, whereupon, to the surprise of all, he turns at bay, teeth bared against the Fiennes and his fellow hounds of the pack and will allow no one but Fionn to pass him. Fionn finds him guarding a wild boy, with long hair and wild, beautiful, frightened eyes, who can make only such sounds as deer make. Fionn adopts him and teaches him human speech. Needless to say, he is Grainnhe’s son, but Grainnhe, the beautiful white hind of whom her son talks, is never found. After her death the Grey Magician permits her son to take her body, once more that of a woman, for burial, and the Fiennes make her grave on the summit of Beinn na Caillich, where she once ran as a hind.

It is recounted of this boy that he had in the centre of his forehead a tuft of deer’s fur where his mother’s tongue had licked him, and that it was from her that he got his gift of poetry. Once he was shipwrecked on Fladda and a party of hunters on the island offered him a share of their venison stew, to whom he made indignant reply: ‘When everyone picks his mother’s shank-bone, I will pick my mother’s slender shank-bone.’  The boy was Ossian.”

References:

  1. Bernbaum, Edwin, Sacred Mountains of the World, Sierra Club: San Francisco 1990.
  2. Swire, Otta F., Skye: The Island and its Legends, Blackie & Sons: Glasgow 1961.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian 

 

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  57.242744, -5.696383 Beinn na Cailleach

Beinn na Cailleach, Broadford, Skye

Sacred Mountain:  OS Grid Reference – NG 601 232

Getting Here

Seems rather daft giving directions for a mountain, but… For incomers, cross the bridge onto the island and keep on the A87 road to Broadford.  A couple of mile the other side of the village westwards, take the small left turn in the trees and go to the dead-end.  The hill reaching up above you (west) is the legendary mountain to walk up!

Folklore

Beinn na Cailleach

This giant old mountain has been associated with the primal female creation figure, the cailleach, for many a moon. And strangely – for me anyway – I’ve not ventured to sleep with this old place in my passings here as I usually do wherever the cailleach resides.

It doubtless has many more tales than the one A.A. MacGregor (1937) mentions in his superb Peat-Fire Flame.  Here he tells the story of,

“the cairn situated on the summit of Beinn na Cailleach, not far from Broadford… This cairn is believed to mark the site of burial of a Norse princess who died at Ord. On her deathbed this princess commanded her attendants to convey her, when dead to the top of Beinn na Cailleach, and to bury her there, in order that she might lie in the wake of the winds from Norway.”

MacGregor then follows the tale with a lovely note on some boring old dood he obviously had little respect for, saying:

“It is the traditions associated with this cairn that MacCulloch, the geologist, in his Description of the Western Isles of Scotland, asks to be excused from repeating, since he considers them, one and all, to be unworthy of regard. But, then, MacCulloch was a most tiresome fellow; and he seems to have imbued most of his writings with something of the same tiresomeness”!

On the lower northeastern slopes of this great mountain we find another of the old woman’s abodes, the ‘Lochain Beinn na Cailleach’, where this great hag would no doubt wash her linen, as many old myths tell she did at other pools of the same name.

A slightly different version of the folktale was told by Archibald Geikie in his Note-book of a Field Geologist from 1858:

“The top of Beinn na Cailleaich is flat and smooth, surmounted in the centre by a cairn. Tradition tells that beneath these stones there rest the bones of the nurse of a Norwegian princess. She had accompanied her mistress to “the misty hills of Skye,” and eventually died there. But the love of home continued strong with her to the end, for it was her last request that she might be buried on the top of Beinn na Cailleaich, that the clear northern breezes, coming fresh from the land of her childhood, might blow over her grave.”

An early essay in the Gentleman’s Magazine in 1841 tells the grave atop of the mountain to have been the resting place of the Norwegian King Haco’s wife or his nurse. Derek Cooper (1970) meanwhile told us that whilst the cairn was “erected as a memorial to a Skye chieftain,” the cailleach of the mountain, or “the old woman is reputedly Saucy Mary, who laid a chain between Kyle and Kyleakin to exact toll from passing ships.”

There are other mythic place-names scattered around the edges of this mountain with hints of ancient female deities, or pagan goddesses — whichever way one cares to see them.

References:

  1. Cooper, Roy, Skye, Routledge: London 1970.
  2. Geikie, Archibald, The Story of a Boulder, MacMillan: London 1858.
  3. MacGregor, Alisdair Alpin, The Peat-Fire Flame: Folk-Tales and Traditions of the Highlands and Islands, Ettrick Press: Edinburgh 1937.
  4. o’ Crualaoich, Gearoid, The Book of the Cailleach, Cork University Press 2003.
  5. Swire, Otta F., Skye: The Island and its Legends, Blackie & Sons: London 1961.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  57.237499, -5.976387 Beinn na Cailleach

Temple of Anaitis, Lusta, Waternish, Skye

‘Stone Circle’: OS Grid Reference – NG 2725 5273

Also Known as:

  1. Annait
  2. Temple of Annait

Getting Here

1880 map of Anaitis
1880 map of Anaitis

Otta Swire (1961) told how to find this place, thus: “The Waternish road turns off to the north at Fairy Bridge, whence it runs along the valley of the Bay river. On the left of the road, though at some little distance from it, where the river cleaves its way through a gorge to the sea, stands the mound which is now all that remains of the ‘Temple of Anaitis’ (so called).”

Archaeology & History

This is a curious place, full of archaeological potential if the folklore and history records are owt to go by, yet little of any substance remains to substantiate what may have been an important stone circle or other heathen site in earlier times. It seems to have been described first of all in the famous Hebridean journeys of Boswell and Johnson in the late 18th century.  Amidst his insulting description of both the landscape and local people, on Friday 17th September 1773, James Boswell visited the site and told:

“The weather this day was rather better than any that we had since we came to Dunvegan. Mr M’Queen had often mentioned a curious piece of antiquity near this which he called a temple of the goddess Anaitis.  Having often talked of going to see it, he and I set out after breakfast, attended by his servant, a fellow quite like a savage.  I must observe here, that in Skye there seems to be much idleness; for men and boys follow you, as colts follow passengers upon a road. The usual figure of a Sky boy, is a lown with bare legs and feet, a dirty kilt, ragged coat and waistcoat, a bare head, and a stick in his hand, which, I suppose, is partly to help the lazy rogue to walk, partly to serve as a kind of a defensive weapon. We walked what is called two miles, but is probably four, from the castle, till we came to the sacred place. The country around is a black dreary moor on all sides, except to the sea-coast, towards which there is a view through a valley, and the farm of Bay shews some good land. The place itself is green ground, being well drained, by means of a deep glen on each side, in both of which there runs a rivulet with a good quantity of water, forming several cascades, which make a considerable appearance and sound.  The first thing we came to was an earthen mound, or dyke, extending from the one precipice to the other.  A little farther on, was a strong stone-wall, not high, but very thick, extending in the same manner.  On the outside of it were the ruins of two houses, one on each side of the entry or gate to it. The wall is built all along of uncemented stones, but of so large a size as to make a very firm and durable rampart. It has been built all about the consecrated ground, except where the precipice is deep enough to form an enclosure of itself. The sacred spot contains more than two acres. There are within it the ruins of many houses, none of them large, a cairn, and many graves marked by clusters of stones. Mr M’Queen insisted that the ruin of a small building, standing east and west, was actually the temple of the goddess Anaitis, where her statue was kept, and from whence processions were made to wash it in one of the brooks. There is, it must be owned, a hollow road visible for a good way from the entrance; but Mr M’Queen, with the keen eye of an antiquary, traced it much farther than I could perceive it. There is not above a foot and a half in height of the walls now remaining; and the whole extent of the building was never, I imagine, greater than an ordinary Highland house. Mr M’Queen has collected a great deal of learning on the subject of the temple of Anaitis; and I had endeavoured, in my journal, to state such particulars as might give some idea of it, and of the surrounding scenery” —

But in all honesty it seems Mr Johnson was either too lazy to write about the place, or simply didn’t actually get there, in spite of what he alleged!  But later that evening, Boswell dined with the same Mr MacQueen, who told him more of this site.  In the typically pedantic tone of english supremacy (which still prevails in some idiots who visit these lands), he continued by saying:

“Mr Macqueen had laid stress on the name given to the place by the country people, Ainnit; and added, ” I knew not what to make of this piece of antiquity, till I met with the Anaitidis delubrum in Lydia, mentioned by Pausanias and the elder Pliny.”  Dr. Johnson, with his usual acuteness, examined Mr Macqueen as to the meaning of the word Ainnit, in Erse, and it proved to be a water-place, or a place near water, “which,” said Mr. Macqueen, “agrees with all the descriptions of the temples of that goddess, which were situated near rivers, that there might be water to wash the statue.”

There ensued a discussion between Mr MacQueen and Samuel Johnson about the etymology of Anaitis, with one thinking it was of a goddess, and another that it represented an early christian site.  To this day it is difficult to say what the word means with any certainty.  In W.J. Watson’s (1993) fine work he tells us,

Andoit, now annaid, has been already explained as a patron saint’s church, or a church that contains the relics of the founder.  This is the meaning in Ireland and it is all we have to go upon.  How far it is held with regard to Scotland is hard to say… They are often in places  that are now, and must always have been, rather remote and out of the way.  It is very rarely indeed that an Annat can be associated with any particular saint, nor have I met any traditions connected with them.  But wherever there is an Annat there are traces of an ancient chapel or cemetery, or both; very often, too, the Annat adjoins a fine well or stream…”

The great Skye historian and folklorist Otta Swire (1961) also wrote about this mysterious site, mainly echoing what’s said above, but also adding:

“This name of Annait or Annat is found all over Scotland. It has been interpreted as meaning the ‘Water-place’ from Celtic ‘An’ = water, because many are near water. Others suggest ‘Ann’ = a circle (Celtic) and claim that most Annats are near standing stones. The most-favoured derivation seems to be from Ann, the Irish mother of the Gods, and those who hold this view claim that the Annats are always near a revered spot, where either a mother-church or the cell of a patron saint once stood. Probably Annat does, in fact, come from an older, pre-Celtic tongue, and belongs to an older people whose ancient worship it may well commemorate. The curious shape of the Waternish Temple of Anaitis and its survival make it seem likely that it was something of importance in its day, built with more than usual care and skill. Perhaps the Temple tradition is correct – but whose, if so, and to what gods? One cannot help wondering if cats played any part in its ritual, and if so, if any faint memory remains, for the nickname of the people of this wing was ‘Na Caits’ = The Cats, and not far off, by one of the tributary burns on the right of the roadway, there stands a small cairn, crowned by a long, sharp stone somewhat resembling a huge claw. This is the ‘Cats’ Cairn’.”

The Cats’ Cairn (NG271526) is said to mark the grave of a young boy from the 18th century, who was buried where he died and its story is told elsewhere on TNA.  Another example of the Annait place-name can be found elsewhere on Skye at the megalithic site, Clach na h’annait.

References:

  1. Boswell, James, The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson, National Illustrated Library: London 1899.
  2. Swire, Otta F., Skye: The Island and its Legends, Blackie: Glasgow 1961.
  3. Watson, W.J., The History of the Celtic Place-Names of Scotland, Birlinn: Edinburgh 1993.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian