Fairy Oak, Killin, Perthshire

Legendary Tree:  OS Grid Reference – NN 57 33

  1. Coin Tree

Folklore

The Fairy Oak of Killin

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

I hadn’t.

“No, I’ve never heard of the place.”

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

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

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

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

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

More coins as offerings
Coins for the little people

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

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

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

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian 

St. Patrick’s Well (2), Struthill, Muthill, Perthshire

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference – NN 8555 1537

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 25329
  2. Chapel Well
  3. Struthill Well

Getting Here

Site on the 1866 map

From Muthill, go up Thornhill Street out of the village for nearly 1½ miles. You’ll have just passed the double hairpin bend, crossed the rivulet, then reached the large old farmhouse of Lurgs.  From here, turn right and after just over half-a-mile you reach Struthill where, running by the side of the house, is a small trackway.  Ask the folks at the house, who are most helpful, and walk down the track for nearly 400 yards and go through the first gate on your right, crossing the field until it dips down to the burn.  The boggy marshy mass running from near the top of the slope is what you’re looking for!

Archaeology & History

Shown on the 1863 map as the Chapel Well, the dedication of the waters to St. Patrick coincided with a chapel that once stood here, also in his name.  Very low faint remains of the chapel, completely overgrown, can still be made out amidst the rushes.  It’s one of two holy wells in Muthill parish that are dedicated to St. Patrick.

Very little of any real spring of water can be seen nowadays.  Indeed, the site today is merely a much overgrown bog-of-a-well whose water oozes down the slope into the Juncus rushes, trickling into the adjacent burn.  I had a drink of the water from the slopes, which tasted OK and did me no harm whatsoever.

Folklore

The most important aspects of this site was its use by local people and the attributes it was given.  We know not how far back such folklore goes, but it would have been many many centuries, if not millenia.  Water worship (if that’s the right word) is the most archaic of all traditional forms of veneration.  This place was no exception.  In John Shearer’s (1883) excellent local history work, he gave the following account of the site:

“About a quarter of a mile west from the Mill of Steps, upon a height on the right bank of the Machany, are to be seen the ruins of a small chapel.  When other places of Popish worship were thrown down after the Reformation, the Presbytery of Auchterarder ordered it to be demolished about 1650 to repress the superstitions practised at this place of resort.  West from the chapel is an excellent spring which was held in great veneration in those dark ages of superstition, when the ignorant and credulous populace were deceived by the crafty priests who stood below the spreading branches of an ancient ash which grew near the fount, pronouncing a benediction on the weary pilgrims as they drank of the waters.  And as it was celebrated for its healing qualities in many different distempers, numbers yearly visited it from a great distance to benefit by its virtues with as much devotedness as the Mahometan pilgrims visit the tomb of their Prophet.  Insanity was also cured here.  Several persons testified before the Presbytery of Stirling, in 1668, that having carried a woman thither, they staid two nights at a house hard by the well.  The first night they bound her twice to a stone at the well, but she came into the house to them being loosed without any help.  The second night they bound her again to the same stone and she returned loosed.  And they also declared that “she was mad before they took her to the well, but since that time she is working and sober in wits.”

“This well was still celebrated in the year 1723 and votive offerings were left, but no one then surviving appeared to appreciate the virtues of the stone.  Small offerings were given in coin and thrown into the well and those who had no coin brought white stones which were laid in regular order along the declivity where the water runs to the river.  Coins have been of late found in the well and the white stones are still to be seen.  The officiating priest generally resided at Drummond Castle.  Within the last sixty years, several of the gentry have come in their carriages to inspect these relics which were held in so great reputation in ancient times.  The chapel and well are about one mile south west from Muthill.”

References:

  1. MacKinlay, James M., Folklore of Scottish Lochs and Springs, William Hodge: Glasgow 1893.
  2. Morris, Ruth & Frank, Scottish Healing Wells, Alethea: Sandy 1982.
  3. Shearer, John, Antiquities of Strathearn, D. Phillips: Crieff 1883.

Acknowledgements:  Big thanks for use of the 1st Edition OS-maps, reproduced with the kind permission of the National Library of Scotland

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Eas Uilleam, Callander, Perthshire

Cairn:  OS Grid Reference – NN 6539 0985

Getting Here

The cairn on the ridge

This is a helluva long way to walk to find such a small site, but the landscape makes it all the worthwhile.  So… From Callander, head up the Bracklinn Falls road, going past the car-park there and on for 1½ miles, watching for the track on your left where you park-up.  Walk down the track, over the river, then uphill until another track veers to your left.  Follow this for nearly a mile until meeting another track that veers right.  4-500 yards along, on the same side as the burn on your left, the hill slopes up where a small grassy mound sits on its ridge. That’s it.

Archaeology & History

From the cairn to the SE

This site is likely to be of interest only to the hardcore antiquarians amongst you.  It’s a small singular cairn sitting on a small hillock of once woodland-clad grasslands, a few hundred yards east of the small chambered cairn of West Bracklinn.  Much of it is covered in vegetation, but sections of its stone structure are visible mainly on its south sides.  Measuring 6 yards across and less than a yard high, it has been classed by Historic Scotland as Bronze Age in nature, although no excavation has been done here.

Reference:

  1. Royal Commission Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Braes of Doune: An Archaeological Survey, RCAHMS: Edinburgh 1994.

Links:

  1. Canmore notes on Eas Uilleam

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Falls of Monzie (7), Crieff, Perthshire

Cup-Marked Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NN 88737 26366

Getting Here

The site in the landscape

A couple of miles east of Crieff, take the A822 road from the Gilmerton junction towards the Sma’ Glen.  After literally 1¾ miles (2.8km)—just 100 yards before the track up to Connachan Farm—you’ll reach a dirt-track on your left that leads into the hills.  Go on here and after an easy walk of 400 yards or so, you’ll reach the conspicuous boulder known as the Falls of Monzie (6) stone.  Two or three yards to its side is a large flat stone.  That’s it!

Archaeology & History

This large flat smooth earthfast rock, is possessed of a number of very faint cup-marks.  Altogether there are at least nine cup-marks, most of which are closing in to the middle of the stone, with other single cups near the western and southern edges.

The faint cupmarks
Close-up of cups

Near the middle of the rock, one cup has an equally faint semi-circular arc, just visible on the photos here.  Close-up photos of this semi-circle seem to suggest it was more complete in ages gone by, but the erosion is such that it’s difficult to say with any certainty. (possibly the computer-tech kids could give us a bit more certainty).  The nearest other carving with more definite cup-and-rings can be found on the Falls of Monzie (8) stone, about 200 yards to the west.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

Wester Glentarken (2), St Fillans, Comrie, Perthshire

Cup-Marked Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NN 66431 24782

Getting Here

Singe cup-mark, near the middle of the stone

Follow the same directions as if you’re visiting the Wester Glentarken (1) carving, but some 10-15 yards before reaching it, you’ll notice this smaller rock with a series of curious naturally-eroded features on it.

Archaeology & History

This rounded stone has a series of natural deep cracks and undulating geological features on its surface, some of which look like elongated man-made cup-marks—but they’re not!  The only man-made ingredient on this stone is the deep single cup-mark close to the centre of the stone, as you can see in the photo.  That’s it—nowt else!

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Wester Glentarken (1), St Fillans, Comrie, Perthshire

Cup-Marked Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NN 66412 24783

Getting Here

Cupmarked stone in situ

1½ miles out of St Fillans on the A85 road to Lochearnhead you’ll reach the boating marina by the lochside.  A hundred yards or so past this, park up.  Cross the road and walk 50 yards to your right then follow the dirt-track up into the trees.  After ⅓-Mile (0.5km) turn left to the old house on your left and follow the green path around it, then around the right-side of the rocky knoll in front of you.  Once you’re on the level ground around the knoll, walk forward for less than 100 yards.  Y’ can’t really miss it!

Archaeology & History

4 of the 5 main cups

A simple design, but a clear one, of four deep cup-marks which can be seen on the eastern side of the stone, with a solitary one—much more faint—just over the rise on the more western section of the rock.

There are a number of other large sections of rock around the knoll with what appear to be cup-markings of various forms, but apart from perhaps one or two exceptions, the vast majority of them—as Currie (2005) also noted—seem to be natural.

References:

  1. Currie, George, “Wester Glentarken, Perth and Kinross (Comrie parish), cup-marked rocks,” in Discovery & Excavation Scotland, vol. 6, 2005.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Balnasuim (3), Kenmore, Perthshire

Cup-Marked Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NN 66075 39622

Getting Here

Take the directions to the Balnasuim (1) carving, then up and across to Balnasuim (2).  From here, walk diagonally uphill to your right (NE) for about 150 yards and head to the the very top-corner of this field.  You’ll see the large embedded rock emerging out of the ground, just ten yards away from a small stream.  You’re there!

Archaeology & History

As Officer Barbrady likes to put it, “move along people, there’s nothing to see here!“—and that’s really the case with this, another of Balnasuim’s petroglyphs.  This lichen-encrusted rock has just two simple cup-marks, barely visible when the daylight’s poor – and it’s almost as disappointing when the day is good!  In all honesty, in wilfully visiting this site and its geographical compatriots, I can sincerely understand how people can tell us petroglyph-nuts that we “really have nothing better to do” with our time!

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Balnasuim (1), Kenmore, Perthshire

Cup-Marked Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NN 65813 39268 

Getting Here

Balnasuim (1), beneath Ben Lawers

From Killin, take the A827 road to Kenmore. 6 miles along, on your right, is the track down to the Big Shed at Tombreck.  Keep on the A827 for exactly ⅓-mile (0.53km), and opposite the driveway to Craggantoul is a small parking spot.  A few yards on the road, over the burn, go thru the gate on your left.  From here, follow the straight line of walling uphill and 20 yards before reaching Cragganester (9) carving, follow the line of fencing right (ENE) until you hit the wall more than 350 yards away.  From here, follow the walling uphlil 350 yards where it turns a right-angle west.  About 50 yards east of the right-angled wall, look around…

Archaeology & History

3 faint cups in an arc

As with the other carvings up here at Balnasuim, there is little to look at unless you’re one of the ardent petroglyphic crazies!  On this small rounded stone, cushioned beneath the skylines of Ben Lawers and Meall Odhar, are at least three cupmarks in a rough arc running from the northern part of the stone, with the most pronounced of them being close to the northern edge of the rock.  The others are very shallow and can be difficult to make out in poor sunlight.  A possible fourth cupmark with a short protruding line may exist close to the SE part of the stone.  The Balnasuim (2) carving is 305 yards (279m) to the NE.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Balnasuim (2), Kenmore, Perthshire

Cup-and-Ring Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NN 65965 39521

Getting Here

Balnasuim (2), looking N

From Killin, take the A827 road to Kenmore. 6 miles along, on your right, is the track down to the Big Shed at Tombreck.  Keep on the A827 for exactly ⅓-mile (0.53km), and opposite the driveway to Craggantoul is a small parking spot.  A few yards on the road, over the burn, go thru the gate on your left.  From here, follow the straight line of walling up past Cragganester (9) carving, following the burn uphill parallel to the copse of trees until, after about 800 yards, you reach the wall.  From here, walk towards the rounded hill of Meall Odhar and, after about 450 yards, you’ll notice it meets a line of walling that runs downhill.  Keep walking along, past this, but after 150 yards, go into the field on your right and walk downhill for about 100 yards.  Look around!

Archaeology & History

Despite the climb, plus its description as a ‘cup-and-ring’ stone, this petroglyph is somewhat of a disappointment.  An elongated stone, half-covered in earth faces south towards Loch Tay and the mountains across, with a series of very eroded cup-marks.

Cup-marks on SW side
Cup-and-ring on NE side

They are separated into two small groups.  At the southwest side of the rock we can see three or four faded cup-marks.  The middle of the rock seems devoid of anything, but on its more northeastern side we find four more cups in close attendance to a standard cup-and-ring motif.  That’s about it!  The Balnasuim (1) carving can be found 305 yards (279m) to the southwest.

 

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Falls of Monzie (3), Crieff, Perthshire

Cup-Marked Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NN 88793 26304

Getting Here

Falls of Monzie-3 design

Follow the same directions as if you’re visiting the Falls of Monzie (2) carving; but instead of walking off the track to see that particular carving, keep to the track for about another 60 yards then go up the slight slope on your right.  The stone is pretty much overgrown, but if you’re patient you’ll find it.

Archaeology & History

It is difficult to say with any certainty whether or not this petroglyphs has previously been reported.  A somewhat confusing series of descriptions by several writers would indicate that is has not been recorded; but I’m happy to be shown otherwise…  It’s nowt much to look at if truth be had.  Heavily eroded by the elements, this elongated flat stone possesses seven very shallow cups, with a possible eighth, as you can see highlighted in the photo.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian