Ardjachie Farm, Tain, Ross & Cromarty

Cup-Marked Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NH 746 845

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 14736
  2. Tain Museum Stone

Getting Here

Ardjachie Stone, Tain

Ardjachie Stone, Tain

No longer in its original position; the stone can now be found if you visit the Tain & District Museum, just off Tower Street, in towards St Duthus’ Church.  The stone is upright around the side of the buildings adjacent, probably more accessible if you walk down Castle Brae, keeping your eyes peeled to your left. Otherwise, just ask the helpful people at the Museum.

Archaeology & History

Ardjachie CR Taylor 2004001

Ardjachie Carving (after Mark Taylor 2004)

An intriguing stone with what may be a long and fascinating history behind it…. It was only rediscovered in the 1960s, when the farmer at Ardjachie (2½ miles northwest of Tain town centre) came across it in one of his fields.  It’s not large or notable in any way, other than it possessing a couple of really peculiar symbols etched amongst a mass of otherwise standard neolithic and Bronze Age cup-marks.  These other symbols are (as seen in Mark Taylor’s drawing, right) a very distinct ‘spoked wheel’ and what looks like a right-angled ‘tool’ or set-square of some sort.  These symbols have brought with them notions from academics who are claim it has Pictish provenance.  However, we must be very cautious of this idea….

The first written account of the stone was by Ellis Macnamara (1971) who gave a detailed description of the carving:

“Boulder found on Ardjachie Farm, now in Tain Museum.  The boulder, of probably local old red sandstone, is uncut and very irregular in shape but has two principal faces; the maximum length is 1.7m; maximum width is 0.65m and on the maximum thickness is some 0.35m.  The carvings are all on one face, which is much weathered; the opposing face is conspicuously less smooth so that it is possible that this stone was never set upright.  The weathered face is covered with at least 30 ill-defined cup markings scattered over nearly the whole surface, though grouped towards one end; the average diameter of these cup markings is about 3 to 4cm, depth about 1.5cm.  There are several indistinct lines among the cup markings and there is among the thickest cluster of cup markings a symbol like a ‘wheel’, with the outer ‘rim’ drawn as a fairly perfect circle, with a diameter at the outer edge of some 17cm.  The ‘wheel’ has twelve ‘spokes’ and a single inner circle, or ‘hub’, with a diameter at the outer edges of about 4 or 5cm.”

Subsequent to Macnamara’s description, it’s been suggested that there are cup markings on both sides of the stone; but the ones on the other side are a little less certain.  The stone itself almost typifies the cup-marked cist covers we find scattered all over the country—yet no burial or other structure was noted upon its discovery in the fields.  It’s an oddity on various levels…

Close-up of spoked-wheel

Close-up of spoked-wheel

Close-up of spoked-wheel

Close-up of spoked-wheel

The spoked-wheel symbol and, moreso, the right-angled element, have led some to speculate that the symbol was carved in Pictish times; but there are problems with this on two levels at least.  The cup-marks we know are neolithic or Bronze Age in origin, and their design always inclines to abstract non-linear forms, screwing egocentric analysis. But the ‘spoked wheel’ is more linear in nature. But as acclaimed petroglyph researchers from George Coffey (1912) to Martin Brennan (1983) show, this spoked wheel occurs in neolithic Ireland; and the identical symbol occurs in prehistoric carvings at Petit Mont in France (Twohig 1981), at Cairnbaan in Argyll (Royal Commission 2008) and there’s even a partial spoked-ring on the Badger Stone on Ilkley Moor!  We have no need to jump into Pictish times to account for its origin and unless we have direct archaeological evidence to prove this, the academic Pictish association must be treated with a pinch of salt. It is nevertheless scarce amongst neolithic and Bronze Age carvings in Britain.   Maarten van Hoek (1990) suggested it to be a variant on the ‘rosette’ design, also neolithic in origin.  On the whole the symbol is interpreted as being the sun—which it may well be.

If you look carefully at the images above you can see, to the right of the ‘wheel’, a cup-marking surrounded by a ring of six-cups.  It is possible that this may be an older variant of the spiked-wheel solar symbol.  All speculation of course.  The other peculiar element here is the curious right-angled design, below the ‘sun’.  This symbol in particular is quite different from the early cup-marks and may have been carved at a much later date.  In which case, this raises the potential for a continuity of tradition here… which mightjust bring in the Picts!

A closer look at the carving

A closer look at the stone

But the general problem with a Pictish assignment is that of the Picts themselves.  If we ascribe the current anglocentric belief that the Picts only existed between the 3rd and 9th centuries (because we only have written records of them during that period), we are assuming the rather naive philosophy that anything before written history did not exist: a sort of blind-man’s Schrodinger’s Cat ideology, only really accepted by pseudo-historians.  But if the Picts didhave something to do with this carving, we may indeed be talking about a continuity of tradition from the ancient past into the written period.  Such an idea would be no problem in developed tribal cultures with an animistic cosmology—and that’s assuming that this stone was deemed as ‘special’ in some form or another to the local people. But all these are uncertainty principles in themselves and we may never know for sure…

There are no adjacent monuments to where Ardjachie’s stone came from, and apart from a scatter of flints found a hundred yards or so closer to the beach, other archaeological remains are down to a minimal.  Its isolation is peculiar.  There are however, a number of springs of water a few hundred yards away, just across the main A9 road, two of which have left their old names with us as the Cambuscurrie Well and the Fuaran nan Slainte, or fountain/spring of Healing (the modern Glenmorangie whisky gets it waters hereby!).  Although we must be careful not to assign every example of prehistoric rock art with the material, the mythic association between petroglyphs and water cannot be understated, and although such an association at Ardjachie is conjectural, it cannot go unnoticed.

References:

  1. Brennan, Martin, The Stars and the Stones: Ancient Art and Astronomy in Ireland, Thames & Hudson: London 1983.
  2. Coffey, George, New Grange and other Incised Tumuli in Ireland, Hodges Figgis: Dublin 1912.
  3. McHardy, Stuart, A New History of the Picts, Luath: Edinburgh 2012.
  4. Mack, Alastair, Symbols and Pictures: The Pictish Legacy in Stone, Pinkfoot Press: Brechin 2007.
  5. Macnamara, Ellen, “Tain, Ardjachie Farm: Cup Markings and Incised Symbol”, inDiscovery & Excavation Scotland, 1971.
  6. Macnamara, Ellen, The Pictish Stones of Easter Ross, Tain & District Museum 2010.
  7. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Pictish Symbol Stones: A Gazetteer, Edinburgh 1999.
  8. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Kilmartin – Prehistoric and Early Monuments, HMSO: Edinburgh 2008.
  9. Scott, Douglas, The Stones of the Pictish Peninsulas of Easter Ross and the Black Isle, Historic Hilton Trust 2004.
  10. Twohig, Elizabeth Shee, The Megalithic Art of Western Europe, Clarendon: Oxford 1981.
  11. van Hoek, M.A.M., “The Rosette in British and Irish Rock Art,” in Glasgow Archaeological Journal, volume 16, 1990.

Acknowledgements:  Huge thanks to Mark Taylor for use of his fine drawing in this site profile; copies of his work with Ellen Macnamara being available for sale from the Tain Museum.  Many thanks to the staff at Tain Museum for their help; and many thanks again to Prof Paul Hornby in the venture to this curious old petroglyph.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

loading map - please wait...

  57.832466, -4.113786 Ardjachie Farm

River Balgy, Shieldaig, Ross & Cromarty

Standing Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NG 849 533

Getting Here

Standing Stone near Shieldaig

From Shieldaig, take the A896 road east to Torridon and Kinlochewe (a bloody superb part of Scotland – perhaps the best!) for a couple of miles, round the stunning bay of Ob Mheallaidh, till you reach the tiny hamlet of Balgie.  From here, walk upstream following the small River Balgie until you hit Loch Damh.  At the edge of the rugged and boggy flatland shortly before the loch itself, amble about in the rushes on your right (west).  You’ll find it!

Archaeology & History

This is a small but chunky standing stone was rediscovered by Dr J. Havelock Fidler in the 1980s.  Less than four-feet tall, it stands alone at the edge of the boggy landscape, with superb views all around (the hill in the background photo is An Ruadh-mheallan). There are other human remains scattered amidst the rocky landscape close by, including the remains of old buildings not far away, but this prehistoric monolith seems to be an isolated example.  However, the landscape here is so vast that it’s highly likely that other standing stones remain hidden in these ancient mythic hills…

References:

  1. Fidler, J. Havelock, Earth Energies, Aquarian: Wellingborough 1988.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

loading map - please wait...

  57.518842, -5.592404 River Balgie stone

Torr Mor, Applecross, Ross & Cromarty

Settlement: OS Grid Reference – NG 709 431

Getting Here

Pretty easy to get to.  Go south through the village for a half-mile until you reach the hall by the fire station, sat back on the left-hadn side of the road a few hundred yards past Loch a’ Mhuillinn.  Stop here and walk up the slope behind the hall for a hundred yards or so.  Walk about!

Archaeology & History

The OS-coordinate here is a loose one. It centres on the notable hillock of Torr Mor, around which are a number of hut circles (at NG 7097 4293; NG 7139 4303; NG 7087 4309; NG 7088 4310 and NG 7090 4320) which are each in a relatively good condition and are thought to date from at least the Iron Age. When I visited them, the bracken had encroached on all but one of them (the last in the list above), which was about 30 feet across.

North of here are several curious-looking heaps of stones which need closer examination when the vegetation has died away. At first glance they would seem to be cairns, i.e. tombs. No such prehistoric graveyard has been found anywhere on the peninsula as yet – but considering the existence of the settlements in the area at Sand, you’d think there’d be one somewhere!

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

loading map - please wait...

  57.420751, -5.816434 Torr Mor

Toscaig, Applecross, Ross & Cromarty

Standing Stones: OS Grid Reference – NG 715 384

Archaeology & History

The Cambridge biologist J. Havelock Fidler described finding three standing stones in the gorgeous little remote hamlet of Toscaig in his book Ley Lines (1983), which neither the Applecross Local History Society, myself, nor anyone else has been able to locate (the OS grid reference cited above is simply an approximation of their locality). In an updated version of his work, Mr Fidler seems to indicate they can be found a short distance south-east of the village, at the end of an alignment which is supposed to start at Fearnmore (NG 724 605), at the northern edge of the peninsula. If they exist, could anyone perhaps enlighten us as to their whereabouts…?

References:

  1. Fidler, J. Havelock, Ley Lines – Their Nature and Property, Aquarian: Wellingborough 1983.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

loading map - please wait...

  57.378710, -5.801652 Toscaig stones

Holy Well of Isle Maree, Loch Maree, Ross & Cromarty

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference – NG 9310 7236

Also known as:

  1. Canmore ID 12049
  2. Mourie
  3. St. Maelrubha’s Well

Getting Here

Loch Maree, looking south. Painting © Bryan Islip
Loch Maree, looking south. Painting © Bryan Islip.

We were up here again in July 2009, but I’ve still not been across onto the island itself — just stared from the lochside, dying to swim across and spend a night or three alone on the island amidst this legendary landscape.  Basically, get to Talladale on the A832 (halfway between Gairloch and Kinlochewe), then walk up to the loch-side to your right (east) for a mile till you reach the small wooded outcrop.  Look north, betwixt the two isles and its the one in the middle with the Crag of the Bull and Maire’s Cairn rising up the mountain face behind.  But you can reach it via a boat trip from one of the local harbours.  Staying there overnight however, would seem more troublesome.  It seems that a winter visit seems best!

Folklore

This ‘holy well’ has a prodigious occult history which, sez my nose, is still maintained by one or two old Highland folk up here.  This small island (one of many in this long loch) was the Isle of the Druids in old days: legend telling it to be the teaching ground of these shady priests. Even the Iona druids came here. The main relics on on the island are the old holy well, accompanied by an old legendary tree into which all local people flocked and wedged coins at least once in their life. This devotional rite eventually took its toll, with so many of the coins covering the old tree with metallic scales to a height of nine feet, eventually killing it.

The well itself was said to cure insanity — no doubt the remedial quality given to the waters after neophyte druids had spent many days of ritual solitude here, eventually sipping its life-giving fluid to revive them from their ordeal.

It eventually became sanctified by the Church: legend saying it was St. Maelrubha (the same dood who turned the healthy Applecross heathens into church-goers) who was the guilty party.  Indeed, the name Maree itself, was proclaimed as deriving from this old saint, though local lore tells it to derive from the pagan ‘ane god Mourie.’

Elizabeth Sutherland (1985) reported that remains of the sacred tree were still visible. It is also said that no-one makes ritual commemmoration here anymore. Hmmmm… don’t always believe what you read.

In the 18th century, when Thomas Pennant visited this sacred well, he described that,

“in the midst is a circular dike of stones… I expect the dike to have originally been druidical, and that the ancient superstition of paganism had been taken up by the saint (Maelrubha) as the readiest method of making a conquest over the minds of the inhabitants.”

References:

  1. Dixon, John, Gairloch in North-west Ross-Shire, Co-op: Edinburgh 1886.
  2. MacKenzie, Kenneth C., Loch Maree: The Jewel in the Crown, privately printed 2002.
  3. MacKinlay, James M., Folklore of Scottish Lochs and Springs, William Hodge: Glasgow 1893.
  4. Morris, Ruth & Frank, Scottish Healing Wells, Alethea: Sandy 1982.
  5. Pennant, Thomas, A Tour in Scotland and Voyage to the Hebrides, MDCCLXXII, John Monk: Chester 1774.
  6. Polson, Alexander, Gairloch, George Souter: Dingwall 1920.
  7. Sutherland, Elizabeth, Ravens and Black Rain, Constable: London 1985.
  8. Watson, W.J., Place-Names of Ross and Cromarty, Northern Counties Printing: Inverness 1904.

* This beautiful painting is one of many done by local artist, Bryan Islip.  It is taken from his 2010 Calendar, Scotland’s Wester Ross, and is available direct from him. If you’d like to know more, or want copies of his calendar or other artworks, email him at:  pico555@btopenworld.com – or check his website at www.picturesandpoems.co.uk

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Painting © Bryan Islip

 

loading map - please wait...

  57.693334, -5.473033 Holy Well of Maree