Simply what the term suggests: upright singular or multiple sets of stones plonked there thousands of years back (traditionally betwixt neolithic to Iron Age) for various uses. Some relate to burial; others to land-markers (tribal boundaries, etc); some may be alignment-markers (solar and lunar); others simple meeting spots (moots). They are closely related to stone circles, tombs, and many of them are outliers to such sites.
Take the B936 out of Auchtermuchty, and park at the small car park for Auchtermuchty Common on your right just before Lumquhat Mill. Follow the path through the Common southwards and along the narrow strip until the Common opens out past the boundary stone. Head for the sign board on the right and when you get there turn left and march straight up the hillock and the stone is ahead of you in front of a gorse bush.
Archaeology & History
A curious little stone that I found quite by chance. It is wedge shaped in plan, bearing one large cup mark on its top surface. The cup is approximately 2″ in diameter and about ¾” deep. The raised part of the stone is about 3′ high, it is 3′ long and about 13″ wide at the blunt south end, although at ground level it is nearly 3′ wide at this end.
The stone is orientated due N-S, the south end aligning with the peak of East Lomond (a mythic hill of which at least one legend survives), while the north end points to the river port of Newburgh. It gives the impression of having been carved as a direction marker from what was a much larger stone, which, if this is the case may have originally borne more cups.
The first time I visited, there were three small polished coloured stones at the foot of the rock, while the second time there were four stones within the cup. A long term resident out walking his dog told me he knew of no folklore relating to the stone, but that over the last thirty years he had kept seeing offerings of stones in the cup, so the rock clearly still has some ritual significance for local heathens/pagans…
Travelling north, turn right to Wolfhill off the A93 at Cargill, then up the hill, turning left at the first junction. The stones are buried in the field to your left before the bend.
Archaeology & History
The earliest description of these stones, and the only one written while they were still standing comes from J.P.Bannerman, writing in the Old Statistical Account in 1793:
‘Near the village of Cargill may be seen some erect stones of considerable magnitude, having the figure of the moon and stars cut out on them, and are probably the rude remains of Pagan superstition. The corn-field where these stones stand is called the Moonshade to this day.’
Later writers, who only had verbal reports of the stones from locals who remembered them, gave differing descriptions of them. The people who spoke to the Ordnance Survey name book scouts around 1860, described them as:
‘Moonshade – “This name is applied to an arable field immediately west of Gallowhill. Two large Standing Stones having the representation of the Moon and 7 Stars cut out on one of them were removed from this field about 60 years ago.”‘
The local antiquary Andrew Jervise wrote in 1861 that the stones were:
‘interesting relics….purposely buried below the reach of the plough, appear to have been of the same class of antiquities as the sculptured stones at Meigle and, from the desire which is now being manifested for the preservation of national antiquities, it is hoped that those relics will soon be disinterred, so that their symbols may be properly examined.’
Or as another writer puts it, they were; ‘dug around and under, and buried, in the agricultural improvement of theground’. For all we know from the written descriptions that have come down to us the stones may be prehistoric monoliths, with it seems only one of them carved. As they stood alongside the Roman road from Muthill to Kirriemuir, the moon and stars may have been cut by the Romans, or they could equally have been from the hand of a Pictish or later mediaeval mason. The field in which they stood was alternatively known as ‘Moonstone Butts’ or ‘Moonbutts’ – where the local archers practised.
While the word ‘moonshade’ doesn’t appear in Jamieson’s Scottish Dictionary, nor the online Dictionaries of the Scots Language, the Oxford English Dictionary defines it as an obsolete word for ‘nightshade’, citing a quotation from Sir Francis Bacon’s Sylva Sylvarum of 1627:
‘The Ointment, that Witches use, is reported to be made, of the Fat of Children, digged out of their Graves; Of the juyces of Smallage, Wolfe- bane, And Cinquefoile; Mingled with the meale of fineWheat. But I suppose that the Soperiferous Medicines are likest to doe it; Which are Henbane, Hemlocke, Mandrake, Moone-Shade, Tobacco, Opium, Saffron, Poplar- Leaves.’
Given the stones are in the Perthshire witch country (the Witches Stone of Shakespeare’s Macbeth is only 2½ miles due south of here), this is nevertheless almost certainly a ‘red herring’, with the field deriving its name from the carvings on the stone. Only when we can again see the Moonshade Stones, ‘digged out of their grave’ will we be able to begin to understand them. So will there be any motivation to excavate them?
Turn right off the A93 at Cargill onto the side road by Keepers Cottage and up the hill to Gladsfield Wood at the top on your right. Park up at the top side of the Wood and walk straight along the narrow track for around 450 yards and what may be the remains of the stone will be seen between a pair of mature trees.
Archaeology & History
In 1862 the stone was described in the Ordnance Survey Name Book for Perthshire:
‘And about 150 yards from the same object [Hangie’s Well], in a north-westerly direction, there is a small Standing Stone, having the appearance of the ancient monumental standing stones.’
It seems the stone had been removed by the time Fred Coles (1909) came to see it nearly fifty years later. He told us:
“On the day of my visit the mist was so abnormally dense and confusing that it was with considerable difficulty the wood itself was identified; and as its interior is an utter wilderness of trees, shrubs, brambles, broom, wild roses and tall grass, besides being a pheasantry, it is just possible that the monolith searched for evaded my zeal. I think not, however, because, hearing a hedger at work on the Newbigging side of the wood, I made for him; and after plying him with various questions, could get no statement to the effect that he had, though living so near, ever seen any conspicuously tall Stone in the wood.
“On retracing my steps, I searched a fresh portion of the wood, and noticed one biggish block of whinstone lying on the grass in a slight hollow of the ground. It was somewhat cubical, about 2 feet 6 inches square, and fractured. This may he a portion of the former monolith, possibly; and with this dubious result I had to be content.”
In 1967 the archaeologist O.G.S. Crawford described “a sharp-edged boulder standing near the spot marked on the map,” but was not certain if it was the stone. It had no markings on it.
Moving on to 2020, and I found the same impenetrable jungle that Coles described more than a century earlier. When a site has been destroyed I can normally take a photograph of where it once was, but not in this case. I continued westward over difficult and potentially ankle snapping terrain that had recently been replanted with conifer saplings, until I got out of the planting area to a line of mature trees next to the track through the wood.
One large elongated stone presented itself that had clearly lain there for many years judging from the moss growth, a short distance away at NO 15641 35478. Could this be the top part of the standing stone, dragged from its original position some 500 feet to the north-east? It is of grey whinstone, heavily veined at the base, with white quartz and tapering to a pointed tip. It has a squarish base measuring approximately 3 feet across by at least 2 feet deep and is some 7 feet in length. It doesn’t look to be natural, so is it a likely candidate for our missing stone? Felled by a man with a hammer and chisel and dragged by a heavy horse to the edge of the field as part of the ‘improvements’, so beloved of nineteenth century landowners…
We can’t prove it is the remains of Hangie’s Stone which may, after all, still lie buried in the boscage…
The stone in its original position was next to the Roman road from Camelon via Stirling and Muthill to Kirriemuir near to the junction of a road to Inchtuthill Roman Fort, so may have once been a way marker, although it is not of Roman origin.
Along the main A913 Perth Road that runs round the northern edge of Abernethy village, as you approach the village from the western side, go right at the mini-roundabout up the Main Street into the village. However, just where this roundabout is, there’s a footpath into the trees known as the Castlelaw. Walk up here, keeping to the left-side of the burn (don’t cross over onto the right-hand side!) and after about 200 yards or so, keep your eyes peeled for a large upright stone, almost overgrown in dark vegetation on your left.
Archaeology & History
An intriguing standing stone in a most unusual position: a small wooded glen with a steep slope on its immediate eastern side, very enclosed. It’s quite a big thing too, standing some six-feet high with the usual worn rounded crown, typical of olde stones.
In the very brief account of this site by Hallyburton & Brown (2000) they describe this “previously unrecorded /lost standing stone and possible ruinous stone circle.” This is also echoed in Canmore’s description. A standing stone we certainly have, but in several visits here there was no evidence of any stone circle either side of the burn. It was suggested that the “circle” may once have been atop of the slope immediately above this stone, but again there is no evidence at all to suggest this and old maps show nothing. I’m extremely doubtful of any megalithic ring here (I’d love to be wrong though).
Hallyburton, I. & Brown, R., “Abernethy Den (Abernethy Parish),” in Discovery & Excavation Scotland, New Series – volume 1, 2000.
To find this stone take the A91 to Gateside and turn into Station Road. Follow to the end, then turn right. 200 yards on there is a parking spot for the Bunnet Stane, and a track to follow. As you go up this track towards the Bunnet, approximately 280 yards on is this beauty.
Archaeology & History
At over 6ft high, this previously unrecorded standing stone has quite a presence on this slight incline. It’s hard to tell the true height as he is set in a grassy bank with a drystane wall behind. It has obviously been used as a gatepost at some time in the past, but there’s no hint of being moved for that purpose. There are many ancient relics in this area and there used to be a stone circle across the road and behind Nether Urquhart Farm, along with several burial cairns. I reckon there is a lot more to be found, and we fully intend to go back there.
Take the third left road off the A961 past St Mary’s Hope, travelling south, taking the right fork at Lythes, and continue down to the end of the metalled road. From there, walk up the slope to your right (south) and follow the fence on your left into the next field and the stone will be seen in a fenced enclosure.
Archaeology & History
Two things strike you when you first see this stone, the triangular shape of the east facing side, and the lichen which covers this face and much of the rest of the stone giving it the distinct illusion of having a green velvet coat! From another angle it has a distinct lean and there are quite a few packing stones around its base. The Royal Commission inventory (1946) describes it thus:
“On a ridge barely a quarter of a mile S of the farmhouse of Stews is a triangular block of red sandstone nearly 6 ft high, set with a packing of small stones at the base and with its axis N-S. At the bottom where it is widest it measures 2 ft. 6 in. across and is from 12-13 in. thick. As it rises it tapers gradually to a pointed top, which is slightly inclined towards the W.”
George Low on his 1774 tour wrote:
“Left this spot, and May 12th, proceeded southward by Stowse head; observed on the hill the remains of a tri-angular monument, but very much defaced, and two of the stones broke to the stumps. Tradition is there none as to the reason &c. of its erection. The figure with a plan follows…”
There is now no trace on the surface of the other two stones of this group so we are fortunate to have Mr Low on the spot sketch to record them. The stones would have been visible to the seafarers of times past who may have used them as navigation landmarks in pre-literate times, this being one of a number of surviving coastal stones on the Orkneys but whether they were erected for this purpose cannot be known. If you’ve been to see the Sorquoy stone up the coast, the surviving Stews stone is worth the journey if only for its ‘velvet’ coat.
RCAHMS, Twelfth report with an inventory of the ancient monuments of Orkney and Shetland, 3v. Edinburgh. 1946
Low, George, A Tour Through the Islands of Orkney and Schetland…collected in 1774, William Peace & Son: Kirkwall 1879.
Acknowledgements: Big thanks for use of the 1st edition OS-map for this site profile, Reproduced with the kind permission of the National Library of Scotland.
Travelling south on the A961, take the first road left past St Margaret’s Hope, and follow it over the cross roads, and down the hill towards the sea, and it’s visible on the left hand side. You can’t miss it! It’s accessed by a narrow pathway which has been partly ditched – be careful!
Archaeology & History
One of the less well known but most impressive of the Orkney standing stones, and seemingly one of the least visited. On my visit in July 2019, it was clear no one had walked the path for several months. The Royal Commission Inventory describes it as being, “14′ – 14′ 6″ high with some packing at the base. At 3′ above ground level, it is 2′ 6″ wide and 18″ thick, thickening to 21-22″ as it rises.”
It has a distinctly top-heavy look, and although invisible from the west above the brow of the hill, it can be clearly seen from the sea.
George Low visited the stone on May 11th 1774, saying:
‘In this beautiful hollow, in a cornfield, saw a large erected stone about 16 feet above ground, probably monumental, tho’ tradition is silent about it, and by digging nothing was found that could certainly prove this’.
Described by local historian George Barry (1748 – 1805):
‘To the north (of South Ronaldsay), – at no great distance, is a most beautiful vale, with the ocean on one side, and gently declining hills on the other; which, for the production of every sort of beneficial crop, is far superior to any other part of the island. In the middle of this pleasant spot, on the brow of a hill, is a monumental stone, sixteen feet high, which, like many others through the country, bears no marks of human art, in carving, figures, or inscription. The whole delightful dale is known by the name of Paplay’ .
If you’re in the islands, this impressive stone is certainly worth a detour!
Barry, Dr George, History of the Orkney Islands, Longman,Hurst,Bell & Orme: London 1808.
Low, George, A Tour Through the Islands of Orkney and Schetland…collected in 1774, William Peace & Son: Kirkwall 1874.
Royal Commission Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, Inventory of the Ancient Monuments of Orkney and Shetland, HMSO 1946.
From Pickering take the moor road towards Whitby (A169) for approx. 12 miles. After passing the Fylingdales Early Warning radar on the right (you can’t miss it), the road dips down to cross Eller Beck as a dog leg. After a half mile turn off left (west) towards Goathland (signposted). Follow the road under the North Yorks Moor railway bridge and after a third-of-a-mile the road turns slightly left. Park in the little layby and follow the track onto the moors. Cross the small stream and walk along the narrow track through gorgeous heather for a mile and a half. Ahead you will see Simon Howe prominent on a ridge, with a stone row leading to it.
Archaeology & History
Not included in either of the giant megalithic alignments surveys of Burl or Thom, it seems that the first archaeological reference to this site was made by Raymond Hayes (1988). He visited the site in 1947, shortly after a moorland fire had cleared away all the vegetation, allowing for a clearer view of the stones and, after his brief description of the adjacent Simon Howe tomb, he told that,
“The ridge is also the site of what is an unusual feature for the moors: a stone alignment consisting of three, formerly five upright stones that lead to a low eroded cairn c.65m to the south(west). A moor fire in 1947 revealed the fourth, fallen stone, and I was able to locate the socket of a fifth.”
From hereon, Hayes seemed to more interested in seeking out and describing a large number of flints that he found scattered on the ground around Simon Howe and its associated monoliths than the stones themselves. Very sad… The exact position of the missing fifth stone seems to be shown on Hayes’ plan as being closest to the cairn, about 10-15 yards away, but no trace of this remains. However, of the remaining monoliths, they are all clearly visible from the air on Google Earth!
The most southerly of the four stones (SE 83016 98119) stands just over 3 feet tall and the second upright, leaning at an angle, is just slightly taller, with the tallest of the three uprights at the northeastern end, being some 6 feet tall. The fourth fallen stone (SE 83031 98142) lies just beyond this in the heather and which, if resurrected, would stand some 4 feet in height. The length of the row, stone-to-stone, is just over 29 yards (26.6m). I’m not aware if this site has ever been assessed as having an astronomical function, but its angle to the northeast might suggest a lunar rising. Perhaps more pertinent would be another prehistoric cairn that can be seen less than 100 yards away past the northern end of stone row…
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.
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.
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.
Campbell, Marion & Sandeman, M., “Mid Argyll: An Archaeological Survey,” in Proceedings Society of Antiquaries Scotland, volume 95, 1964.
Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Argyll – Volume 6: Mid-Argyll and Cowal, HMSO: Edinburgh 1988.
Ruggles, Clive L.N., Megalithic Astronomy, BAR: Oxford 1984.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
Burl, Aubrey, From Carnac to Callanish, Yale University Press 1993.
Campbell, M. & Sandeman, M., “Mid Argyll: An Archaeological Survey,” in Proceedings Society Antiquaries Scotland, volume 95, 1964.
Campbell, Marian, ‘Salachary, Kintraw’, in Discovery & Excavation Scotland, 1962.
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.
Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Argyll – volume 6: Mid-Argyll and Cowal, HMSO: Edinburgh 1988.
Ruggles, Clive L.N., Megalithic Astronomy, BAR: Oxford 1984.
Ruggles, Clive L.N., “The Stone Alignments of Argyll,” in Records in Stone (ed. C. Ruggles), Cambridge University Press 1988.
Swarbrick, Olaf, A Gazetteer of Prehistoric Standing Stones in Great Britain, BAR: Oxford 2012.
Thom, A., Thom, A.S. & Burl, Aubrey, Stone Rows and Standing Stones – volume 1, BAR: Oxford 1990.
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.