Cross / Sacred Tree: OS Grid Reference – NN 581 012
Also Known as:
Archaeology & History
As a folklorist and antiquarian, I find this long lost site more than intriguing. Most ancient crosses are stone; but in early centuries many were made from wood which, obviously, have decayed down the years. But this cross, located on the northeast edge of the Lake of Menteith, was actually a tree: a hawthorn no less. This choice would have been made based on it being one of the few trees that are deemed sacred in both christian and indigenous lore. It was described—albeit briefly—in A.F. Hutchison’s (1899) excellent history book of the area:
“The cross of the burgh is said to have been the trunk of an old hawthorn tree, which stood by the lake side, opposite the manse of Port, and was known as ” the law tree.” Around this tree an annual fair was held in the month of September, and called after St. Michael.”
We’re obviously seeing here the traditional animistic veneration of trees by local people, with the incoming christian symbol being grafted onto it. Hawthorns were one of the potent protections against witchcraft and so the handshake between christian and pre-christian systems obviously worked here. Faerie-lore was also rampant at many places for many miles around this site.
Hutchison, Andrew F., The Lake of Menteith – Its Islands and Vicinity, Eneas Mackay: Stirling 1899.
This long-forgotten site was found just by the old roadside several miles northwest of Aberfoyle, up the B829 Loch Chon road. Shown on the first Ordnance Survey map of the area in 1866, subsequent visits showed no remains of it and we must assume it had fallen back to Earth. When we visited the place recently, although there were no remains of any water trough, the spot where the well was shown on the map was very boggy with a small trickle of water running out of the slope. There is the possibility that, if the soaked soil just above the trickling water was excavated a few feet into the ground, that the original spring might be retrievable.
Obviously, its name tells of the tradition that this was a place where Rob Roy was known to drink. A number of places in this area bear his name. Surely this is a site that is worthy of bringing back to life, so to speak, and place it on the Scottish heritage map, where it belongs?
Acknowledgements: Huge thanks for use of the 1st edition OS-map in this site profile, Reproduced with the kind permission of the National Library of Scotland.
The quickest way here is bedevilled with troublesome parking (and an unhelpful local at Malling Cottage). That aside, roughly halfway along the A81 between the Braeval roundabout (near Aberfolye) and Port of Meneith, turn down the track at Malling, following it round for 300 yards through the farm, then another 500 yards or so until you reach a junction with a gate on your left. Walk down the track to your right, roughly alongside the Lake of Menteith, for nearly 700 yards until you reach the gate into the forestry commission land. Go thru the gate and turn immediate right, following the fence for about 200 yards where a clump of stones lives. You’re there!
Archaeology & History
The Peace Stone in 1899
This seemingly isolated petroglyph, known about by local people in the middle of the 19th century and earlier, was said to have been “held in great reverence.” It was first mentioned in literary accounts in 1866, when the oral traditions about it were more important than any archaeocentricism. But things change with the times: local people were kicked off their lands, old stories and knowledge of sites were lost, and the ‘discipline’ of archaeology was beginning to look at these curious carved rocks with puzzled minds.
The Peace Stone was described at some length and with considerable accuracy in Mr A.F. Hutchison’s (1893) gazetteer on the ancient stones of Stirlingshire. It was one of the regions only known petroglyphs at that time and thankfully he gave us a good account of it, saying:
“On the west ride of the Lake of Menteith, about half a mile south from the farm-house of Malling, this stone is to be found, lying at the boundary of the arable land. The ground at the place rises into a slight eminence, on the top of which the stone lay till some seven or eight years ago, when a labourer took it into his head that a stone on which so much labour had evidently been spent must have been intended to cover something valuable. He proceeded to excavate the earth at the side with the intention of getting at the buried treasure, with the result that the stone slipped down into the hole which he had made, where it now lies. It is quite possible, however, that an interment, if no treasure, might be found beside it on further research. The stone is roughly circular on the surface, measuring about 4 feet in diameter. It is entirely covered with cup and ring marks—22 cups in all—varying in size from an inch to two inches in diameter. The cups and rings are very symmetrically formed. Nearly in the centre is a fine one surrounded by four circular grooves. Others have incomplete triple and quadruple circles, with radial duct dividing them. There are other curious curves that sometimes interlace, and near the lower side of the stone are five or six cups with straight channels running out from them over the edge. This is an extremely interesting stone. It is unique in our neighbourhood, so far as I know, in showing these symmetrical carvings. They are now, however, much weather-worn.”
Ron Morris’ sketch & photo
When Alison Young (1938) came to write about the carving, she echoed Hutchison’s thought that the stone might originally have covered a tomb—but we simply don’t know and it should be treated as guesswork, as there are no known prehistoric tombs anywhere hereby.
Close-up of faded cups
Years passed before the next archaeological visit – by which time the stone had been uprooted and moved, apparently “ploughed up by the Forestry Commission”, and when Ron Morris (1981) last sought it out found that “the stone was un-traceable”. On a previous visit, before being moved, he found it to be,
“a cup-and-three-rings, 3 cups surrounded by two rings…and 6 cup-and-one-ring. One of these and 2 cups form part of the design of the cup-and-three-rings. There were also at least 7 other cups, and a number of grooves, some forming lines from a central cup, or a cup-mark, downhill. Greatest diameter visible in 1977 30cm (12in) and depth of carving 3cm (1 in)… Many of the carvings are so weathered as to be visible only when wet in early morning or late evening.”
And when we visited the site a few days ago, the stunning sunlight that had followed us all day, sadly faded and disallowed us better photographs of the site. Huge apologies…. But it’s worth visiting when the daylight’s good, perhaps when you’re exploring the huge number of brilliant petroglyphs at Ballochraggan and Nether Glenny on the hillside 1½ miles immediately north of this “outlier”, as Brouwer & van Veen (2009) called it.
In a landscape bedevilled with stunning petroglyphs, traditions and folklore of them is all but gone; but the story of the Peace Stone was thankfully captured in words by Mr Dun (1866), who told us:
There is a curious prophecy connected with a stone situated near the ruins of the chapel of Arnchly, and which is worth recording. From time immemorial this stone went under the name of the Peace Stone, and it was held in great reverence by the natives. One Pharic McPharic, a noted Gaelic prophet, foretold that, in the course of time, this stone would be buried underground by two brothers, who, for their indiscretion, were to die childless. By-and-by the stone would rise to the surface, and by the time it was fairly above ground, a battle was to be fought on “Auchveity,” that is, “Betty’s Field.” The battle was to be long and fierce, until “Gramoch-Cam” of Glenny, that is, “Graham of the one eye,” would sweep from the “Bay-wood” with his clan and decide the contest. After the battle, a large raven was to alight on the stone and drink the blood of the fallen. So much for the prophecy then; now for the fulfilment. About fifty years ago, two brothers (tenants of the farm of Arnchly), finding that the stone interfered with their agricultural labours, made a large trench, and had it put several feet below the surface. Very singular, indeed, both these men, although married, died without leaving any issue. With the labouring of the field for a number of years, the stone has actually made its appearance above ground, and there is at present living a descendant of the Grahams of Glenny who is blind of one eye, and the ravens are daily hovering over the devoted field. Tremble ye natives! and rivals of the “Hero Grahams,” keep an eye on Gramoch-Cam!
The name of Betty’s Field came from an earlier piece of folklore: where a prince out hunting a stag was caught in one of the deep bogs hereby, only to be rescued by a local lass. In return for her help, she was given a large piece of land which was to bear her name.
Armit, Ian, “The Peace Stone (Port of Menteith parish),” in Discovery & Excavation Scotland, 1998.
The easiest way to see this is to reach the Nether Glenny 2 Cairn, looking north to the slope a coupla hundred yards away, where you can see a long rock halfway up. If you can’t see it from here, walk to the impressive Nether Glenny 35 Carving, where the large long slab is much more obvious on the hillside. Walk through the gates to the Nether Glenny 37 carving and then diagonally up to the rock itself. You can’t really miss it.
This 15-foot long stone halfway up the slope was said by the Royal Commission lads to have “four possible cup-marks” on it, whereas there are at least nine of them and maybe as many as eleven! Most of them are dead certs as prehistoric etchings, not just ‘possibles’.
The more visible cup-marks here are found on the more western end of the stone, just below the grass-line. The cups here are quite distinct, measuring some two-inches across and nearly half-an-inch deep in two of them. The others in this section are a little smaller and further down the slope of the rock. Seemingly not noticed for a long long time however is a small cluster of very faded cups, gathered like a very faint 4-star Pleiades cluster more than halfway along out in the photo here (I hope!).
This entire area is covered with cup-and-ring stones, possessing one of the greatest densities of carvings anywhere in Scotland.When we visited the place last week, Nature was pouring with rain, so we weren’t able to sketch the design. Something that we’ll hopefully amend in the near future!
About 1 mile west of where the B8034 meets the A81, between the Port of Menteith and Aberfoyle, a small road on the right (north) at Portend takes you up the single-track road to Upper Glenny. Go 2-300 yards up past Mondowie Farm and take the next track, left. Walk up through the gate for nearly 300 yards, going through the gate on your left and onto the fields. Follow the fence for 300 yards then go through the gate into the next field—past one of the Nether Glenny cairns—and walk across it until you reach an open gate at the far side, just where the hillside goes up. It’s nearly under your feet!
Archaeology & History
This single cup-and-ring carving, found amidst the massive cluster of both simple and highly complex petroglyphs between Ballochraggan and Upper Glenny, doesn’t seem to have been included in any previous surveys. It was located during the incredible rains yesterday on Sunday 7 February, wetting this and other rocks, enabling better visibility of otherwise invisible symbols faintly remaining here and on other stones. The carving appears to have been etched into naturally occurring notches and fissures. Certainly worth looking at when exploring the other incredible carvings on this hillside.
Take the same directions as if you’re visiting the nearby Nether Glenny 2 cairn. Once here, walk less than 100 yards further down into the same field, north, roughly parallel with the fencing. You’ll reach several large rocks, and the elongated one on the slight rise closer to the fence is the one you’re after. You’ll find it!
This is one in a number of impressive cup-and-ring stones scattered along this grassy ridge overlooking the Lake of Menteith and the Gargunnock Hills to the south. Petroglyph lovers amongst you will love it! And it seems that with each and every analysis, the carvings gives up more and more of its ancient symbolism. When it was first described (in a literary sense) by Maarten van Hoek (1989) he told it to be:
“Irregular outcrop with at least 72 single cups; 3 cups with 2 rings; 6 cups with 1 ring and 2 possible horse-shoe rings only.”
But when Kaledon Naddair (1992) visited the site a few years later he amended this initial description, telling us how,
“Further temporary turf removal extended the total to 124 solo cups, and 9 cups with 1 ring, and 5 cups with 2 rings.”
Naddair’s description is closer to our own inspection, although I think that a small number of the ‘cups’ are natural. Other features that we’ve found occur on the more western side of the rock. A faint partial-double-ringed cup is accompanied a few inches away by a carved element that seems to have been unfinished. An initially indistinct circle, faintly pecked, has internal lines at the quadrants, akin to an early cross form. A line emerges from this symbol which also seems to have been slightly worked.
Subsequent investigations of this carving has uncovered much more which, to be honest, requires almost an entire re-write of this profile……
Take the same directions to reach the Nether Glenny cairn (about 1 mile west of where the B8034 meets the A81, between the Port of Menteith and Aberfoyle, up a small road on the right [north] at Portend) and walk to its companion cairn 100 yards north. From here, walk west across the field towards the nearby forest. Nearly 20 yards from the wall and about 35 yards from the corner of the field where it meets the forest, this elongated stone lies amidst the grasses and reeds. You’ll find it.
Archaeology & History
Looking somewhat like a small fallen standing stone (the Royal Commission list just such a stone nearly 200 yards east), this slim elongated rock was first described in Maarten van Hoek’s Menteith (1989) survey where he told it to be a “loose slab north of the…burn, bears at least thirteen cups.” But of the “thirteen cups”, only five of these (seven at the most) appear to be man-made. The others are, quite distinctly, geophysical in origin (and in all probability, the other cups were forged from the geological nicks and dimples). One of them may have the faint remains of a ring around it, but this is uncertain. When we visited the site yesterday, the light was poor and although this ‘ring’ seems to show up on a couple of photos, I’m erring on the side of caution.
Along the A81 road from Port of Menteith to Aberfoyle, watch out for the small road in the trees running at an angle sharply uphill, nearly opposite Portend, up to Coldon and higher. Keep going, bearing right past Mondowie and stopping at the dirt-track 100 yards or so further up on the left. Walk up this dirt-track for ⅔ mile, and just before reaching the planted forestry, turn right along another dirt-track. Less than 200 yards along there’s a large sycamore tree, and about 20 yards below it (south) are several open flat rock surfaces. This is the most westerly of them.
Archaeology & History
On this small smooth rock surface we find an almost archetypal cup-and-ring stone, whose design consists of a double cup-and-ring and a faint cup-and-ring. The double-ring has several seemingly natural small fissures in the rock running at various angles into the central cup from the outside; and there are two faint ones running from the double-rings outwards to the cup-mark in the single-ring, framing the central cupmark in the middle. It may have been that these scratches on the rock gave rise to the position of the cupmark in this petroglyph. It’s difficult to see whether or not the single cup-and-ring was ever completed.
Canmore’s description of this petroglyph tells simply: “The larger of the two is 180mm in diameter and has two rings around a cup that is 70mm in diameter and 15mm deep. The smaller has one ring around a cup.”
Along the A81 road from Port of Menteith to Aberfoyle, watch out for the small road in the trees running at an angle sharply uphill, nearly opposite Portend, up to Coldon and higher. Keep going, bearing right past Mondowie and stopping at the dirt-track 100 yards or so further up on the left. Walk up this dirt-track for ⅔ mile, and just before reaching the planted forestry, turn right along another dirt-track. Less than 200 yards along there’s a large sycamore tree, and about 20 yards below it (south) is the carving you’re looking for.
Archaeology & History
It’s difficult keeping up with the carvings in this region to the north of the Lake of Menteith, as we find new unrecorded ones on every visit, maintaining the tradition of fellow rock art students Maarten van Hoek, Kaledon Naddair, George Currie, Jan Broewer and the rest—and we know that there’s more of them hidden away. This one doesn’t seem to be in the Canmore listings, but I put that down to the fact that they’ve got a grid-references wrong somewhere, as it’s pretty plain to see. Although, to be honest, in the rather vague descriptions of the adjacent carvings (Over Glenny 4 and 6), this carving is in-between them, so you’d expect it to be listed. Anyway, that aside…
This long flat exposed rock surface has two primary cup-and-rings upon it: one cup with a double-ring, and the other standard cup-and-ring; there are also two single cup-markings on the stone: one near the middle of the rock and the other on its lower-right side. The main element is the double-cup-and-ring, which appears to be incomplete—not only in terms of its design, but also, as you can see in the photos, seems unfinished. From the central double-ring, a faint carved line runs out from the centre and into the other faint, incomplete, single cup-and-ring.
At the bottom of the stone (as with several others hereby) a curious set of deep scars have been cut into the edge of the rock. They’re unmistakable when you see them. They have probably been created by metal artifacts being sharpened along the bottom of the rock—many many times by the look of it. These deep cuts reminded me of the more famous Polisher Stone, down Avebury-way. They may be explained by the fact that, several centuries ago, a battle occurred here and some of the men gathered in the area before the attack. It would seem as if this and the other cup-and-ring stones were used to sharpen their blades before going into battle. Whether this was done because of some local lore which imbued these stones with some sort of magick, we do not know. Folklore here seems curiously scarce (english incomers destroyed local traditions, as writers were telling us in the 19th century), apart from the well-known one of the area being rife with fairies: Robert Kirk’s famous The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Faeries (1691) was written three miles west of here, at Aberfoyle.
Take the same directions to locate the cup-and-ring stone of Ballochraggan 12. There are several rocks adjacent. The one immediately next to it, to the northeast, is the one you’re looking for. Be gentle and careful if you’re gonna look at it — deadly serious, be very careful indeed!
Archaeology & History
One of the most intriguing and most fascinating of all the prehistoric carvings I’ve yet to discover. Not that this was all my own work. If it hadn’t been for Paul Hornby, we might have simply walked past it as being little more than a single cup-marked stone—and in this area, single cup-marks tend to be little more than geological in nature.
After we’d looked over several of the registered carvings close by, I did my usual meandering back and forth, stroking stones and seeing if there were any carvings that had been missed by previous surveyors. And in walking past a small piece of smooth rock, a singular cupmark seemed to stand out. I walked past it, shouting across to my colleague.
“It looks like we’ve got a single cup-mark here Paul,” I said, “with possible half-ring.” Thankfully Mr Hornby gave it his better attention.
The sun was still out and shining across the smooth rock surface, which tends to mean that you’re not seeing any carving on the stone quite as good as it actually is. Thankfully however, the sun was beginning to get lower and, when this happens, if we wet the rock, any carvings that might be there stand out much better. And this little fella just seemed to get better and more curious the more attention Paul gave it!
The first thing that became obvious were a series of faint carved lines above the single cup-mark. Initially these didn’t seem to merit much attention (straight lines on rock are usually more the product of geophysical action than that of humans), but as the rock got wetter, Paul saw something very distinct indeed.
“There’s a face on it!” he exclaimed. And indeed there was. A Rorschach response no doubt, but it was still very much like a face. This looked for all the world akin to the stylised olde English gentry sort of countenance, as in old cartoons. It was quite ‘distinct’, as such characters themselves insist on being! Yet around this initial face, more lines seemed to be emerging as the stone gave up more and more of its hidden story.
Standing back from an initial investigation, the carving was seen to consist of a triple-ring, but without the traditional ‘cup’ in its centre. Instead, the centre was marked simply by a small ‘dot’—perhaps, originally, being a small conglomerate hole formed as a result of another tiny harder fragment of stone falling away from its larger mass. But a ‘dot’ it was. The other carved ‘lines’ however, immediately below and attached to the triple-ring, gave us something almost unique—and another strong Rorschach response. As the photos clearly show, we have a distinct second ‘face’ made up of the same lines but in a quite different form. This ‘face’ has all the attributes we usually associate with pictures of mythical spirits, demons, or a mask—hence the name!
Paul took a series of fine photos, hoping that he could catch the image that our eyes could clearly see. And thankfully, his digital camera brought the image to life even better than our eyes did! The ‘mask’ is comprised of carved lozenge forms, akin to the more decorative ones we find at Kilmartin, and more especially around Newgrange, Ireland. We sat and talked about this: wondering and working out routes that we’d take over mountains and moors, from Ireland, to Kilmartin, then onto Ballochraggan, etching the same designs onto the rocks hereby and attaching similar mythic notions to them: of shamanism and kingship; underworlds and journeys—paradigms lost and certainly misunderstood in the non-polysemia of many modern academics.
…The stone here was still slightly covered over and, beneath the loose grasses, another feature emerged of another petroglyphic rarity. At the topmost western side of the rock a straight line ran across the surface, seemingly marked by the hand of man, with a curious little line almost doubling back on itself for just an inch or so, and then feeling to run down the stone, towards the concentric rings and the face below. When we stood back and took the photos, this line and its tracer took on a form that I’ve only seen echoed in one of the Netherlargie tombs at Kilmartin, Argyll, 44.4 miles (73km) to the west. It is very distinct.
Spuriously ascribed as being ‘axe’ carvings (oh how archaeologists love this Rorschach projection), the Netherlargie North tomb cover-stone in Kilmartin has a series of burial ‘urns’ or beakers carved onto the rock, amidst a scattered collection of cup markings. (Beckensall 2005:73-4; Bradley 1983:92-3; Royal Commission 1971:68-70; Twohig 1972, etc) Here too at Ballochraggan we find another such symbol, but just a singular example, much larger and more clearly a beaker or urn, as are traditionally found within many old neolithic and Bronze Age tombs; although no tomb is immediately apparent at this Ballochraggan carving.
The entire carving is very faint indeed (you can’t even see it when you’re looking directly at it unless conditions are good) showing that it remained open to the elements for thousands of years. Other adjacent carvings lack the erosion that we find on this one, even on those which, as archaeologist Lisa Samson said, is “softer sandstone rock than this one”—implying that it’s one of the older carvings in this incredible cluster.
The carving was covered over when we finished examining it, to ensure that Nature’s erosion keeps it alive for just a few more centuries at least, hopefully…..
Beckensall, Stan, The Prehistoric Rock Art of Kilmartin, Kilmartin Trust: Kilmartin 2005.
Bradley, Richard, Altering the Earth, Society of Antiquaries Scotland: Edinburgh 1993.
Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Argyll – volume 6: Mid-Argyll and Cowal, HMSO: Edinburgh 1971.
Twohig, Elizabeth Shee, The Megalithic Art of Western Europe, Clarendon: Oxford 1981.
Acknowledgments: Huge thanks again to Mr Paul Hornby for his considerable help with this site, and for use of his photos.