Castleton (10), Cowie, Stirlingshire

Cup-and-Ring Stone:  OS Grid-Reference – NS 85887 88394

Also Known as:

  1. Castleton 1 (Morris 1891)
  2. Castleton 1a (van Hoek)
  3. Gosham Park

Getting Here

Castleton-10, looking S

To reach here from Stirling or Bannockburn, take the B9124 east to Cowie (and past it) for 3¾ miles (6km), turning left at the small crossroads; or if you’re coming from Airth, the same B9124 road west for just about 3 miles, turning right at the same minor crossroads up the long straight road.  Drive to the dead-end of the road and park up.  You’ll notice that this is a crossroads of dirt-tracks.  Walk along the one that heads to the houses you can see on a rise above the fields, eastwards.  About 300 yards on, instead of going up towards the houses, walk thru the gate and along the wall-edge for 85 yards and go thru the gate to your right.  You’ll see a small rise covered in gorse trees 100 yards in front you and roughly in the middle of it all, you’ll find this carving.

Archaeology & History

The naked stone

When John Bruce (1896) wrote his article on the mighty Cochno Stone a few miles north of mighty Glasgow, he left some end-notes about a petroglyph near Carnock (near Castleton) that was “found to bear a few much weathered cups with concentric circles.”  He wasn’t at all clear where the carving was located, merely telling it to be “in the Gosham Park” on Carnock estate.  This may have been the reason why, when the lads from the Royal Commission came looking for it in August 1955, they left without success.  Nevertheless, when Ron Morris (1981) explored this area he located the place-name of Gosham Field and, therein, this multi-ringed carving.  It seems more than likely that this was the carving described by Mr Bruce – and it’s an impressive one!

Despite being eroded by the passage of time, the carved design is still pretty easy to see, comprising of a cluster of archetypal cup-and-multiple rings in close proximity to each other, etched onto a sloping stone.  Ron Morris’s (1981) description told that, 125 yards east of Gosham Field’s western wall,

“is a prominent greywacke outcrop, part of a rocky ridge running NW-SE, exposed in 1969-75 for 3m by 2m (10ft x 6ft), 4m (12) high on its S, but at ground level elsewhere, sloping 15° NE.  On its fairly smooth surface are:

“5 cups-and-complete rings, with no grooves, 3 with three rings, 1 with four, and 1 with five rings, up to 36m (14in) diameters and 1cm (½in) depth.”

Ron Morris’ 1981 sketch

Yet contrary to Morris’ description, there are some “grooves”, or carved lines emerging from some of the rings; faint but definitely there.  You can make them out in the accompanying photos above. (are there any sketch artists out there could accompany us to these carvings, so we get some good portraits of the stones?)  When Maarten van Hoek (1996) visited this carving he also missed these ‘ere carved grooves.

An additional feature that needs to be mentioned is the cluster of small geological deep natural cups, inches away from the carved rings on the southern edge of this stone (completely covered in vegetation in the attached photos).  The same feature also exists on the southern edges of the Castleton 5, Castleton 6 and  Castleton 12 carvings and it probably had some mythic relationship with the petroglyph.

Apparently there’s another cup-marked stone, now hidden beneath the dense undergrowth of gorse, 20-30 yards east along this same geological ridge.  The rock surfaces here need to be laid bare to enable a greater visual experience of the wider Castleton complex.

References:

  1. Bruce, John, “Notice of Remarkable Groups of Archaic Sculpturings in Dumbartonshire and Stirlingshire,” in Proceedings Society Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 30, 1896.
  2. Morris, Ronald W.B., “The cup-and-ring marks and similar sculptures of Scotland: a survey of the southern Counties – part 2,” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 100, 1968.
  3. Morris, Ronald W.B., The Prehistoric Rock Art of Southern Scotland, BAR: Oxford 1981.
  4. Ritchie, Graham & Anna, Edinburgh and South-East Scotland, Heinemann: London 1972.
  5. Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, Stirlingshire: An Inventory of the Ancient Monuments – volume 1, HMSO: Edinburgh 1963.
  6. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Archaeological Sites and Monuments of Stirling District, Central Region, Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 1979.
  7. van Hoek, M.A.M.,”Prehistoric Rock Art around Castleton Farm, Airth,” in Forth Naturalist & Historian, volume 19, 1996.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Castleton (3), Cowie, Stirlingshire

Cup-and-Ring Stone:  OS Grid-Reference – NS 85700 87971

Archaeology & History

Ron Morris’ 1980 photo

40-50 yards southwest of the Castleton (11) cup-and-ring stone, beneath the marauding mass of spindly-killer-bushes (or ‘gorse’ as it’s known in the common tongue) could once be seen another  impressive cup-and-ring, etched along the edge of the small rocky rise.  But Nature has done Her bit and hidden the old stone for the time being.  A pity – for as the old photos and sketches show, it’s quite a good one.

Listed in several archaeo-surveys, the best descriptions of this carving are from the reliable pens of Messrs Morris (1981) and van Hoek. (1996)  Morris first told us that,

“Leading S from near the farm to Bruce’s Castle (a ruin) is a greywacke ridge, up to 7m (24ft) high on its SW, but at ground level elsewhere, partly turf-covered.  Faint cup-marks, some possibly ringed, can still be traced at various points on its top.  On a shelf about 7m by 2½m (23ft x 8ft), sloping mostly 20° W, near the steep SW edge, are:

“7 cups-and-complete-rings — in one case broken off at rock edge — one with five rings, 2 with three, and 4 with two rings, up to 51cm (20in) diameter and 2cm (1in) deep.  The cup-and-five-rings has a cup-and-two arcs budding from it.”

Fifteen years later, when van Hoek visited the place, it was already “becoming overgrown with gorse,” but fortunately he was able to give us a slightly more detailed description.  “There are two engraved surfaces” here, he wrote,

van Hoek’s 1996 sketch
Sketch from Morris’s text

“The north part slopes 9° to the north and has two cups with two rings each.  The smaller is clearly unfinished and possibly the pocking of the east part of the outer ring caused a part of the ring to flake off.  Undescribed (by Morris, PB) are a very small cup and one complete ring, and a faint cup with incomplete ring in between the two larger devices although Morris…gives a clear photograph of all these features. (above)  The south group is dominated by a large but worn cup-and-five-complete-rings on a sloping surface 16° SSW.  It is encircled by four rather distinct cup-and-rings and one very faint cup with one incomplete ring, which has never been reported.  All single cups drawn on the plan are very doubtful and probably all are natural, especially the small ones.”

This doesn’t necessarily mean to say that these “probably natural” cups had no bearing on the man-made designs; such elements have been given mythic importance in traditional cultures elsewhere in the world, and some ‘bowls in the UK possess curative folklore of their own.

Due to the importance of this carving, effort needs to be made to clear it of the gorse and so allow fellow students the ability to contextualize it and probably uncover yet more cups-and-rings further along the surface of the rock.

References:

  1. Morris, Ronald W.B., “The cup-and-ring marks and similar sculptures of Scotland: a survey of the southern Counties – part 2,” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 100, 1968.
  2. Morris, Ronald W.B., The Prehistoric Rock Art of Southern Scotland, BAR: Oxford 1981.
  3. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Archaeological Sites and Monuments of Stirling District, Central Region, Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 1979.
  4. van Hoek, M.A.M.,”Prehistoric Rock Art around Castleton Farm, Airth,” in Forth Naturalist & Historian, volume 19, 1996.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Castleton (12), Cowie, Stirlingshire

Cup-and-Ring Stone:  OS Grid-Reference – NS 86032 87706

Also Known as:

  1. Castleton 8 (van Hoek)

Archaeology & History

Castleton-12 carving

Located near the top of one of Castleton’s rocky island outcrops and overlooking extensive flatlands many miles to the south, this impressive multi-ringed carving was  rediscovered in May 1985 by the Ordnance Survey lads and, I believe, was first described in an article by Maarten van Hoek (1996), whose description we’ll get to shortly.  It’s a design that incorporates some of Nature’s own cup-marks alongside the marks of men.

The overall design here is captured within three sections of the rock: between three large natural cracks running roughly north-south, as clearly shown in the accompanying photos.  It’s a multi-period carving, executed over what seems to be a considerable period of time—probably several centuries.  I base this on the differing degrees of erosion between the respective multiple rings — a factor found several of the Castleton carvings.

Eastern & central cup ring symbols
Closeup of central rings

One of the most eroded sections can be seen on the eastern side of the rock, where a very faded cup-and-three-rings was carved.  Initially it looked as if there was no central cup to this, but as I looked across this towards the falling sun, what seemed to be a possible ‘dot’ was noticed in the centre, very faint indeed.  There are several single cup-marks just a few inches east of this triple-ring, which look more recent than its eroded companion.

On the other side of the long natural crack we see two quite distinct multiple cup-and-rings: one with three rings and another with four, both of which have short carved lines running from their centres westwards.  Between these, a smaller single cup-and-ring nestles quietly, almost innocuously, minding its own business!  But below these two large multiple-ringers there’s a very faint cup-and-double ring, only visible when the light conditions are just right.  In numerous attempts I made to catch this element in my photos, none were successful. (I’m a crap photographer, which doesn’t help!)  Due to the erosion on this element, this is possibly the earliest section of the carving.  Above these rings, close to the edge of the small cliff, one or two carved lines can be seen that run into natural ‘bowls’ which, in all probability, were of some significance to those who made this design.  In cultures outside the UK, such elements have sometimes been afforded mythic importance.

Several other natural small ‘bowls’ exist above the most blatant of the cup-and-rings here, on the west side of the rock, which consists of a cup-and-triple-ring no less.  Erosion levels on this would seem to suggest that it was the most recent element of this petroglyph.

When Maarten van Hoek (1996) wrote his report, there was much less vegetation covering the stone and another cup-and-ring could be seen on the northernmost section of the rock – as his sketch here shows.  He wrote:

Westernmost element
van Hoek’s 1996 sketch

“Near the edge are five cup-and-rings and possibly up to four single cups, all on rock sloping about 6″ to 12″ NW.  The easternmost set consists of the worn remains of three rings (the innermost hardly visible) without a distinct central cup.  Across a crack is a cup with four rings, the outer incomplete and curving away; another cup with four rings, mostly incomplete.  A small cup-and-one-ring sits in between.  South of this group may be some grooves and a single cup, all doubtful being very near the cliff-edge which is heavily pitted by erosion.  The westernmost cup with three ovalish rings is the best preserved set of the group.  Further away from the scarp is one single cup on a horizontal part and even further N is a cup-and-two-rings on a part sloping 6″ SW.”

It would be good to completely clear this rock and make it all visible again, as it was long long ago…

References:

  1. Morris, Ronald W.B., The Prehistoric Rock Art of Southern Scotland, BAR: Oxford 1981.
  2. van Hoek, M.A.M.,”Prehistoric Rock Art around Castleton Farm, Airth,” in Forth Naturalist & Historian, volume 19, 1996.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Castleton (11), Cowie, Stirlingshire

Cup-and-Ring Stone:  OS Grid-Reference – NS 85725 88008

Archaeology & History

Amidst the cluster of at least twenty petroglyphs found at Castleton, this example close to the fence 60 yards southeast of the farmhouse, wasn’t included in the earlier surveys by Morris (1981) and van Hoek. (1996)  At this spot there a large smooth sloping rock broken into separate parts with natural cracks running over it at different angles, partially covered in soil.  The stone faces north.  On the easternmost side there exists a number of carved symbols, most notable of which is a large double cup-and-ring.  You can’t really miss it!  The other elements however, can be a little more troublesome to see…

Cup, rings & cross
Castleton 11 carving

A curious motif is the quite notable ‘cross’ that’s been pecked onto the stone, above the primary cup-and-ring.  This cross is probably a later addition to the petroglyph, perhaps added to christianize the original mythic function.  From the cross, it looks as if a curved line has been carved down towards the double-ring, nearly linking them together, which could also be viewed as a movement from the pre-christian to the new christian meaning conferred upon the stone.  …Just an idea…

It should be noted that a faint cross was also cut into natural cracks in the Castleton 2 carving, 380 yards northwest of here.

There are two more cup-and-rings on the stone, both on the right-hand side of the cross.  These were carved quite separately over large periods of time, as evidenced by their degrees of erosion.  One cup-and-ring (if you can call it that) is a somewhat erratically executed series of peck-marks that strives to join up with each other, almost failing miserably, creating a somewhat disjointed cup-and-ring.  Next to this, but much much fainter, is a cup-and-half-ring that was obviously carved decades, if not centuries earlier.  You can just make them out in the two photos here, to the right of the cross.

Carving in negative

Another very faint cup-and-half-ring also exists to the left of the primary motif that was only visible from one or two angles when we visited the place the other day, but barely shows up on any of the photos we took.  There are a number of single cup-marks, mainly between the double-ring and the smaller cup-and-rings, some of which are probably natural, but several seem to have been  worked upon by human hands.

A now-hidden petroglyph—known as “Castleton-3” in the Morris and van Hoek surveys—consisting of multiple cup-and-rings, exists beneath the mass or gorse bushes about forty years to the southwest.  We could do with cutting this back so we can see the carving again.

References:

  1. Morris, Ronald W.B., The Prehistoric Rock Art of Southern Scotland, BAR: Oxford 1981.
  2. van Hoek, M.A.M.,”Prehistoric Rock Art around Castleton Farm, Airth,” in Forth Naturalist & Historian, volume 19, 1996.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Castleton (7c), Airth, Stirlingshire

Cup-Marked Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NS  8551 8819

Archaeology & History

Looking down on C-7c

Near the northwestern end of the small geological ridge that runs to the west of Castleton farmhouse, close to an awesome nine-ringed carving, we find this more simplified triple-ringed petroglyph.  And although the carving is easy enough to describe, its labelling (as ‘Castleton 7c’) is rather troublesome.  As with other carvings in this locale, the name of the stone is based on a survey done by Maarten van Hoek in the mid-1990s.  But van Hoek’s sketch of Castleton 7c and the one shown in our photos, whilst very similar, possess attributes that aren’t on van Hoek’s drawing.  Now this isn’t too odd, as many petroglyphs look different when lighting conditions change; to the point where some features you can see one day are almost invisible the next.  But this carving has attributes that are very difficult to miss – and van Hoek’s detailing tended to be good.  But, all this aside: until we can verify with certainty one way or the other and despite my suspicions that this isn’t what van Hoek described, I’m still entering this carving as Castleton 7c. So – now that bit’s out of the way…!

When we visited the site two years ago the day was dark and overcast, so we didn’t really have good conditions for seeing any faint carvings.  But this wasn’t faint, thankfully.  It was completely buried beneath soil and gorse bushes, but thankfully Paul Hornby managed to unearth the one you can see in the photos.  If it is the Castleton 7c petroglyph, it was rediscovered by van Hoek on one of his ventures here in 1985.

Carving showing wavy lines on right
…and from another angle

When we visited the site we only managed to uncover a small section of the stone, as the roots of the surrounding gorse prevented us from seeing more. (it’s tough stuff unless you’ve got the right gardening equipment!)  The section we uncovered consisted of a cup-and-triple-ring.  This is consistent with van Hoek’s sketch and description; but we also found there were two very notable ‘arcs’ on the outer edge of the rings—nearly opposite each other—as if another, fourth ring had been started.  You can’t really miss these elements – and even in the poor lighting conditions we had, these outer arcs are very evident on a number of photos – especially when they are expanded to full-scale.  However, as I mentioned, we were unable to uncover all the rock; but when van Hoek was here there was far less herbage.  What he saw on this carving was as follows:

“Deturfing part of this ridge revealed a fine cup with three rings with a broadly pecked tail; one solo cup; one large oval ring with small central cup; and a faint cup with two rings, the outer one incomplete.  The rock slopes 12º ENE.”

Crap drawing done in crap lighting
van Hoek’s 1996 sketch

The “broadly pecked tail” he mentions is also not really clear in any of the 60 photos we took.  There is a faint line that runs through the three rings, into the central cup and out the other side: a single curving line no less.  It’s certainly visible, but it’s far from broad.  But there are a number of other lines coming out of the rings.  These maybe just natural scratch marks, or even scratches acquired from farming activity.  It’s difficult to say.  In the poor light that we had, there as looked to be a single cupmark a few inches away from the rings, but this isn’t consistent with the position of the cupmark on van Hoek’s sketch.

There’s a simple solution to all this: we need to revisit the site and expose more of the rock.  At least that will tell us once and for all whether this is the same as van Hoek’s stone, or whether we’ve found yet another new carving. Watch this space, as they say! 😉

References:

  1. van Hoek, Martin A.M., “Prehistoric Rock Art around Castleton Farm, Airth, Central Scotland,” in Forth Naturalist & Historian, volume 19, 1996.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian


Castleton (5f), Airth, Stirlingshire

Cup-Marked Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NS 85584 88087

Archaeology & History

As with other carvings in this locale, the name of the stone is based on a survey done by Maarten van Hoek. (1996)  It’s a pretty simplistic design within the impressive Castleton complex, found at the southeastern end of the gorse-covered rocky ridge, about 70-80 yards west of the farmhouse.  It was uncovered on a visit here by Nina Harris, Paul Hornby, Frank Mercer and Lisa Samson on Sunday 19 November, 2018.

The cup-marked stone
Large cup & arc of 3

Unlike the others in the Castleton complex, this carving is probably of interest only to the hardcore petroglyph hunters.  The design consists of at least ten cup-marks on the uncovered section of the rock, one of which appears to have a broken circle with two ‘entrances’ either side of it, so to speak.  The most notable element in the design is close to the edge, where an arc of three cups almost corners a larger cup right at the edge.   There may be more carved elements to be found on the westerly side of the stone, which was covered in deep vegetation when we came here.

References:

  1. van Hoek, Martin A.M., “Prehistoric Rock Art around Castleton Farm, Airth, Central Scotland,” in Forth Naturalist & Historian, volume 19, 1996.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian


Castleton (2), Cowie, Stirling, Stirlingshire

Cup-and-Ring Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NS 85494 88272

Also Known as:

  1. Castleton 9 (van Hoek)

Getting Here

Castleton 2 carving, Airth

If you’re travelling from Stirling or Bannockburn, take the B9124 east to Cowie (and past it) for 3¾ miles (6km), turning left at the small crossroads; or if you’re coming from Airth, the same B9124 road west for just about 3 miles, turning right at the same minor crossroads up the long straight road. Drive to the dead-end of the road and park up, then walk back up the road 350 yards to the small copse of trees on your left.  Therein, some 50 yards or so, zigzag about!

Archaeology & History

Petroglyphs can be troublesome things at the best of time: not only in their ever-elusive root meanings, but even their appearance is troublesome!  This example to the east of Cowie in the incredible Castleton complex is one such case.  It is undoubtedly a multi-period carving, probably first started in the neolithic period, added onto in the Bronze Age, and maybe even finished in the early christian period.  You’ll see why!

It’s been described several times in the past, with Maarten van Hoek (1996) telling how it was rediscovered,

“by Mrs Margaret Morris in 1986 in the birch-coppice at Castleton Wood. A fragment of outcrop rock with a distinct cup-and-three-rings, rather oval-shaped like others in the area.”

The main cup-and-3-rings (photo, Paul Hornby)

But as our own team found out, there’s more to it than that.  Like many of the Castleton carvings, vital elements have been missed in the previous archaeological assessments.  But it’s an easy thing to do.  The carved design here almost ebbs and flows with daylight, shadows, changes in weather, bringing out what aboriginal and traditional peoples have always told us about rock itself, i.e., it’s alive, with qualities and virtues that can and do befuddle even that great domain of ‘objectivity’—itself an emergent construct of an entirely subjective creature (humans).  But that’s what petroglyphs do!—whether they are part of a living tradition, or lost in our striving modernity, exhibiting once more that implicit terrain of animism.  And this carving exemplifies it very clearly.

The primary visual design is the odd triple-ring, which isn’t quite as clear-cut as the earlier descriptions would have you think.  In the drawing below by van Hoek (1996), three complete elliptical ‘rings’ are shown; whereas on its northern edge where the outer ring is closest to the rock edge, we find that the ‘ring’ has carved lines that run off and down the slope of the stone towards ground-level.  It also seems that from the inner second-ring, a natural scar in the rock has been heightened by pecking, creating an artificial carved line running from near the centre and ‘out’ of the three rings.  You can make this out in the accompanying photo, above.

van Hoek’s 1996 sketch
The more complete design

Additionally we found two very faint carved ‘eyes’ or trapezoids pecked onto the stone, obviously at a much earlier date than the notable triple-ring—which could almost be modern!  They would no doubt have excited the old archaeologist O.G.S. Crawford (1957), whose curious theory of petroglyphs was that they were images of some sort of Eye Goddess.  Archaeo’s can come out with some strange ideas sometimes…

Fainter still was another triple-ring—albeit incomplete—with what appears to be a very small central cup-mark, just below and between the two ‘eyes’.  It was first noticed by Paul Hornby when he was playing with the contrast settings on his camera, in the hope of getting clearer photos of any missing elements.

Very faint triple-ring, bottom-left of photo (photo by Paul Hornby)

“Can you see this?” he asked.  And although very faint indeed (on most days you can’t see it at all), it’s undoubtedly there: another multiple-ringer all but lost by the erosion of countless centuries, and older still than the ‘eyes’ above it.  In all the photos we took of this stone, from different angles in different weathers (about 100 in all), this very faint triple-ring can only be seen on a handful of images.  But it’s definitely there and you can see it faintly in the attached image (right) to the bottom-left.

A final note has to be made of a possible unfinished, large circular section with a cross cut into the natural feature of the stone.  It’s uncertain whether this has been touched by human hands (are there any geologists reading?), but it’s something that we’re noticing increasingly at more and more petroglyph sites.  They’re not common, but it has to be said that we found two more man-made ‘crosses’ attached to multiple cup-and-rings near Killin just a few weeks ago.  Also, folklore tells us that not far from this Castleton cluster, a christian hermit once lived….

References:

  1. Crawford, O.G.S., The Eye Goddess, Phoenix House: London 1957.
  2. Morris, Ronald W.B., The Prehistoric Rock Art of Southern Scotland, BAR: Oxford 1981.
  3. van Hoek, M.A.M.,”Prehistoric Rock Art around Castleton Farm, Airth,” in Forth Naturalist & Historian, volume 19, 1996.

Acknowledgements:  Huge thanks as always to Nina Harris, Fraser & Lisa Harrick, Paul Hornby, Frank Mercer, Penny & Thea Sinclair, for their additional senses and input.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian


Lady Well, Airth, Stirlingshire

Holy Well (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NS 89801 86524

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 46862
  2. Lady’s Well
  3. Spaw Well

Archaeology & History

Site of the Lady Well, Airth

Once to be seen flowing on the south-side of the Pow Burn below Airth Castle, all traces of this once sacred site has fallen prey to the usual advance of the so-called ‘civilized’.  In literary terms, the site was first described in church records from 1657—as Ladieswell—and the accounts we have of the place from then are most revealing in describing the traditional use of the place by local people.  It was a sacred site, obviously, chastised by the madness of the christian regime of the period, in their attempt to destroy indigenous customs and societal norms.  William Hone (1837) gave an extended account of what some people were up to here in his Everyday Book:

“In 1657, a mob of parishioners were summoned to the session, for believing in the powers of the well of Airth, a village about six miles north of Falkirk, on the banks of the Forth, and the whole were sentenced to be publicly rebuked for the sin. –

“”Feb. 3, 1757, Session convenit. Compeared Bessie Thomson, who declairit scho went to the well at Airth, and that schoe left money thairat, and after the can was fillat with water, they keepit it from touching the ground till they cam horm.”

“”Ffebruary 24. — Compeired Robert Fuird who declared he went to the well of Airth, and spoke nothing als he went, and that Margrat Walker went with him, and schoe said ye beleif about the well, and left money and ane napkin at the well, and all was done at her injunction.”

“”Compeared Bessie Thomson declarit schoe fetch it horn water from the said well and luit it not touch the ground in homcoming, spoke not as sha went, said the beleif at it, left money and ane nap-kin thair; and all was done at Margrat Walker’s command.”

“”Compeired Margrat Walker who denyit yat scho was at yat well befoir and yat scho gave any directions ”

“”March 10. Compeared Margrat Forsyth being demand it if scho went to the well of Airth, to fetch water thairfrom, spok not by ye waye, luit it not touch ye ground in homcoming? if scho said ye belief? left money and ane napkin at it? Answered affirmatively in every poynt, and yat Nans Brugh directit yem, and yat they had bread at ye well, with them, and yat Nans Burg said shoe wald not be affrayit to goe to yat well at midnight hir alon.”

“”Compeired Nans Burg, denyit yat ever scho had bein at yat well befoir.”

“”Compeired Robert Squir confest he went to yat well at Airth, fetchit hom water untouching ye ground, left money and said ye beleif at it.”

“”March 17. Compeired Robert Cochran, declairit, he went to the well at Airth and ane other well, bot did neither say ye beleif, nor leave money.”

“”Compeired Grissal Hutchin, declairit scho commandit the lasses yat went to yat well, say ye beleif, but dischargit hir dochter.”

“”March 21. Compeired Robert Ffuird who declairit yat Margrat Walker went to ye well of Airth to fetch water to Robert Cowie, and when schoe com thair, scho laid down money in Gods name, and ane napkin in Robert Cowie’s name.”

“”Compeired Jonet Robison who declairit yat when scho was seik, Jean Mathieson com to hir and told hir, that the water of the well of Airth was guid for seik people, and yat the said Jean hir guid sister desyrit hir fetch sum of it to hir guid man as he was seik, bot sho durst never tell him.”

“”These people were all 44 publicly admonishit for superstitious carriage.””

The practices continued.  In 1723, a Mr Johnstoun of Kirkland, writing about the parish of Airth, also told of the reputation of the well, saying,

“Upon the south side of the Pow of Airth, upon its very edge, is a spaw well famous in old times for severall cures, and at this day severalls gets good by it, either by drinking or bathing. Its commonly called by the name of Ladies well. Its about two pair of butts below Abbytown bridge.”

The fact that he told us it was “good for bathing” suggests a pool was adjacent, or at least the tiny tributary between it and the Pow Burn gave room for bathing and had a curative reputation. (there are many pools in the Scottish mountains with this repute – some are still used to this day!)

It was then described by Robert Ure in the first Statistical Account of 1792, where he told how the people were still using the waters, despite the crazy early attempts to stop them.  “There is a Well, near Abbeytown Bridge,” he told,

“called Lady-Well, which is thought to be medicinal.  Numbers have used it, and still use it as such.  It is supposed to have obtained that name, from the holy water, in the time of Popery, being taken from it, to supply the abbacy, or Catholic Church, then at Airth.”

Lady Well on 1865 map

But we know that its origins as a celebrated well pre-date any christian overlay.  People were reported visiting the site from as far away as Edinburgh, such was its repute!

Much later when the Ordnance Survey lads came here, showing it on their first map of Airth, they made their own notes of the place, saying briefly,

“A small well close to the Pow Burn – it is supposed to have derived its name from the Custom of dedicating wells to the Virgin Mary – so Common prior to the Reformation. It is not a mineral well.”

Ugly plastic pipe is all that remains

But its demise was coming.  In the wake of the christian Industrialists and their myth, subsuming the necessary integral sacrality of the Earth, the waters of the well were eventually covered.  When the Royal Commission (1963) lads gave the site their attention in October 1954, they reported that “no structural remains” of any form could be seen here, and in recent years all trace of the well has vanished completely.  When we visited the site a few months ago, perhaps the very last remnant of it was a small plastic pipe sticking out of the muddy bankside, dripping dirty water into the equally dirty Pow Burn.

It would be good if local people could at least put a plaque hereby to remind people of the history and heritage that was once so integral to the way they lived their lives.

References:

  1. Bennett, Paul, Ancient and Holy Wells of Stirling, TNA 2018.
  2. Fraser, Alexander, Northern Folk-lore on Wells and Water, Advertiser Office: Invermess 1878.
  3. Frost, Thomas, “Saints and Holy Wells,” in Bygone Church Life in Scotland (W. Andrews: Hull 1899).
  4. Hone, William, The Every-day Book – volume 2, Thomas Tegg: London 1837.
  5. MacFarlane, Walter, Geographical Collections Relating to Scotland – volume 1, Edinburgh Universoty Press 1906.
  6. MacKinlay, James M., Folklore of Scottish Lochs and Springs, William Hodge: Glasgow 1893.
  7. Morris, Ruth & Frank, Scottish Healing Wells, Alethea: Sandy 1982.
  8. Murray, G.L., Records of Falkirk Parish – volume 1, Duncan & Murray, Falkirk 1887.
  9. Reid, John, The Place-Names of Falkirk and East Stirlingshire, Falkirk Local History Society 2009.
  10. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments Scotland, Stirling – volume 2, HMSO: Edinburgh 1963.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian