In the mid-1890s, workmen ploughing one of the fields near the steading at Magdalen’s Kirkton farm hit a large stone beneath the soil. It turned out to be the covering stone of a prehistoric burial, or cist, that was aligned east-west. Whilst the remains in the cist had all but turned to dust, the covering stone had a number of cupmarks on it. It was described only briefly by R.N. Kerr (1896), who told that,
“The stone forming the lid of the cist is cup-marked. It weighs 5 cwt., 1 qr., 21½ lbs., and its thickness varies from 9 to 12 inches. There are 40 or more cup-markings on it, varying from 1 to 3 inches in diameter.”
It would seem that no sketches were made of this carving and I’ve been unable to find any more details about it. Help!
From Kirriemuir town centre up the B956 Kinnordy Road, turn left where it goes along the B955 road for several miles towards Cortachy, following the same route as if you’re going to the curious Whitehillocks stone circle. Literally two miles (3.2km) along the road past Whitehillocks farmhouse, a large “parking” spot is at the right-hand side of the road. From here, walk along the road for 230 yards and go thru the gate on your left. The first low-rise hut circle is to your immediate right; and from here, meander along the track ahead of you, keeping your eyes peeled…
Archaeology & History
Despite being initially difficult to make out (as the photos here indicate), once your eyes have adjusted to the landscape morphology, you realise what an impressive prehistoric complex you’re wandering through. Saying that, it’s primarily a site that’s gonna be of interest to antiquarians, archaeologists and historians, as this is a settlement you’re looking at, lacking in megaliths, petroglyphs and similar ritual sites.
The first site that you’ll probably notice is visible from the road—but it’s not the first part of the settlement that you’ll pass. Immediately through the gate (as I’ve said) is the embanked rise of earth—only one or two feet high—making up the first notable hut circle (NO 36612 70453), measuring roughly 15 yards across. The shape and form of this circle typifies the others in the arena ahead of you, so that once you’ve made yourself aware of what this one looks like, you’ll be able to see the others with greater ease. Another low embanked circle of roughly the same size is just a few yards away at NO 36605 70439.
Straight back onto the track you’ll notice another larger D-shaped enclosure immediately on your left (NO 36622 70406), about 17 yards across; this is accompanied by what looks like a cairn immediately right of the track (NO 36609 70413), but this is actually a much smaller D-shaped enclosure, just right for one or two people.
The small rounded hill in front of you has what may be a circular enclosure on its top, but I wasn’t too sure about it. But looking down from this hill is the most visible of all the structures in the settlement (NO 36580 70307)—and the one I mentioned as being visible from the road. At first it’s a little deceptive in appearance, as you get the impression that the oval of stones (top photo) is what constitutes this hut circle, when in fact this element may be mediaeval in nature as it’s been built on top of an earlier Iron Age (?) enclosure. You can barely see this earlier form at ground level, so it’s best to walk back up the rounded hillock and cast your gaze back and forth and round the side of the ring of stones. You’ll see, eventually, the shallow overgrown walling of a larger oval-shaped enclosure, measuring eighteen yards across, whose edges start from the bottom of the hillock and arc around to the outer edges of the stone construction.
Back onto the track and further into the meadows, the next hut circle you’ll meet is (keep your eyes peeled) right by the track-side (NO 36573 70230). It has wide embanked walls that are low to the ground and completely overgrown, measuring 15 yards (E-W) by 18 yards (N-S), with what looks to be the original entrance or door on its south-side. A similar large circle exists on the other side of the track a little bit further along (NO 36499 70138).
There’s much more to this settlement, including lengths of walling in the grasslands below the last two circles and where, if you look carefully, you’ll see one of at least two cairns in this area. On the other side of the road are one or two other small hut circles and a much larger construction in the field further down the road, measuring 25 yards in length (NO 36569 70481). This would seem to be the largest of the lot.
The age of this settlement probably covers a considerable period of time: beginning perhaps in the Bronze Age, certainly in the Iron Age and all the way through into the mediaeval period where, all down Glen Clova, remnants of such hamlets still live beneath the soil. This entire arena is bathed in silence, save the wind and call of the birds. Tis a beautiful space to spend a few endless hours…
From Kirriemuir town centre up the B956 Kinnordy Road, turn left where it goes along the B955 road for several miles towards Cortachy. Keep going on the B955 for a few more miles into the quiet beauty of Glen Clova. A third-of-a-mile (0.5km) past Glenarm house, the road splits. Take the right-hand road, which goes down and across the river below. Keep on this road for just over a mile (1.8km) and as you approach the large farmhouse of Whitehillock—about 200 yards before it—keep your eyes very well focused in the field on your left and you’ll see a mass of large fallen stones right up against the other side of the fence. You’ve arrived.
Archaeology & History
A half-mile north of Clach na Brain, or the Stone of the Raven (a stone that was traditionally used to beat woven cloth after it had been washed), we come across this ruined stone circle, which has seen better days. Not shown on any of the early OS-maps, nor found in the standard megalithic catalogues (Barnatt 1989; Burl 2000), its existence seems to have been logged for the first time by some of the Royal Commission doods in 1999, but of late its veracity as a prehistoric site has been questioned as the local farmer alleged it to have been built by his father sometime in the 20th century. It might have been – but if he did, he made a bloody bad job of it! The site doesn’t have that “new” look about it and, unless someone told you that this was a stone circle, you wouldn’t give it a second look! That aside…
The stones have been placed around the edge of a small rise in the land, within which is a scatter of small and reasonably large stones that give the impression of a cairn at its centre. All but one of the stones (the eastern one) is still standing and measures about 3 feet in height. The rest are either laid down or near to collapse and measure between four and six feet in length. Without an excavation of the site, we cannot be certain of its age, but the official records still have it listed as a stone circle. We await further examination…
Dorward, David, The Glens of Angus, Pinkfoor Press: Forfar 2001.
From Kirriemuir town centre up the B956 Kinnordy Road, turn left where it goes along the B955 road for several miles towards Cortachy. Keep going on the B955 for a few more miles into Glen Clova, past the Caddam stone and eventually, after going over the bridge into Clova village, you turn left and go up towards the mountains. Nearly 3 miles along you see the very conspicuous and impressive rising crag, like a small volcano on the right-hand side of the road, which is Dun Mor. Walk up the steep climb round to the back of it – and you’re in the middle of the old ruins…
Archaeology & History
Highlighted on the 1865 OS map of the region, Dun Mor is Gaelic for a “large or great fort” – and such it is! Those of you with a nose for these sorts o’ things will no doubt take to the remains pretty quickly. Its position in the landscape is a bit of a gem! On its north-side— invisibile to anyone in the glen below—an overgrown arc of walling some 3 feet high and about 70 yards long bends towards the crag of rocks on each side, with a notable “dip” or entrance about 8 feet wide in the middle of it. The walling itself averages about 4 yards wide all along its arc.
It’s quite impressive once you get a good feel of the place and envisage it as it once was. The sheltered fortress within the rise of Nature’s crags is about 100 yards across and would be ample space for several families to live in when it was first built, in those mythic times of so so long ago. It was probably constructed in the Iron Age, although several ruined rectangular stone structures inside it are thought to be medieval shelters; and even in those more recent times, the people here would have regularly heard the howl of the wolves, whose names are kept in the hills above as reminders of a world not too long past….
The only real way to get here is via Kirriemuir. Head north to the hamlet of Cortachy and past it, as you enter Glen Clova, where the road splits make sure you bear to the left-hand (western) side. Nearly 5½ miles along, keep your eyes peeled on your right where you can’t really miss it. The stone’s less than 100 yards into the field. …It may perhaps be a bit easier if you take the eastern road of the glen all the way to Clova village. Turn right from there, over the small river bridge and as it curves to go back down the glen, a half-mile along you pass Caddam house. Keep going for another 500 yards and you’ll notice it in the field.
Archaeology & History
Not to be confused with the ruined stone circle of the same name 10 miles to the south, this small standing stone—only some three feet in height—is at the eastern edge of a small overgrown hut circle measuring some 3 yards by 4 yards across. You can just make out the overgrown low walling in the second photo (right). The stone probably had some architectural relationship with the hut circle, but without an excavation we can’t know for certain what that relationship might have been. A settlement of much larger hut circles can be found on the other side of the river, near Rottal, two miles southeast of here.
A long long way for a single little spring, go from Kirriemuir town centre up the B956 Kinnordy Road, going straight across at the crossroads up the countryside lane towards Lednathie (signposted 8 miles): dead straight, long-and-winding, up-and-over…. Stick to this single road, all along, ignoring all turn-off junctions until, once reaching the hamlet of Easter Lednathie, stay awake for the turn up to Glenprosen, 2 miles along, over the bridge. Turn left until and a few hundred yards along go over the next little bridge until you reach the “Private Road” sign, then walk up the track past Katy’s Cottage. ¾-mile along just before Balnaboth, keep your eyes peeled for a splatter of quartz rocks with a spring of water thereby. At long long last, you’ve reached your destination!
Archaeology & History
Miles to the winding north of Kirriemuir, in the depth of the olde mountains, this clear spring of iron-bearing water (still fresh and drinkable) was, earlier in the 20th century, covered over by someone-or-other and surrounded by straight slabs of stone. The waters were maintained however, by the builders who cut a small hole into the moss-embolded rock allowing this pure water to still run freely for all to use…
Shown on the early OS-maps, its sacrality or holy association would seem to be lost from the tongues of the older folk, most of whom seem long gone from this beautiful glen-to-nowhere. The only remaining religious connection we might have relating to the place comes from the ruined 17th century chapel less than 250 yards away to the west on the slope above the track, from where a singular stone-lined footpath runs dead straight to the well.
But another important feature found here is the large scatter of quartz rocks a few yards away from the water source. They are in disarray but would seem to have once been built around the spring where it first emerged from beneath the ground, then being cast aside to their present positions when the more modern stone structure was built above it. We can’t prove this with any certainty, but there are a number of other holy wells with this quartz-defining feature elsewhere in Scotland: the St Mary’s Well at Callander and Beltane Well of Kenmore to name just two.
Robertson, D.O., Long-Ago Legends of Clova, Edinburgh 1872.
Acknowledgements:Huge thanks for use of the Ordnance Survey map in this site profile, reproduced with the kind permission of the National Library of Scotland.
This old water supply had no direct ‘holy’ nature, despite its proximity to the cathedral, the old market cross and St Clement’s Well some fifty yards away! Most odd. A much more mundane story lies behind this long lost water source. The Dundee historian William Kidd (1901) told us,
“When the public wells were erected, about the year 1749, to supply the town with water from the Lady-well reservoir at foot of Hilltown, one was placed on the High Street, on the east side of the Cross, and was called the Cross Well.”
It didn’t have too long a life either—much like the old Market Cross, for,
“In the year 1777 that quaint structure was demolished. The platform and octagonal tower were carted away as rubbish, the least decayed stones being selected to be used in other buildings. The stone shaft, also, was preserved, and placed beside the Old Steeple. With the demolition of the Cross, the Cross Well was cleared away from the High Street, but, as water was an essential to the people, the well was re-erected behind the Town House in St. Clement’s Lane. In that situation it remained for nearly one hundred years, when, being rendered unnecessary by the introduction of the Lintrathen water supply, it was also demolished, along with the old buildings in the Vault and St. Clement’s Lane, to make room for the additions to the Town House.”
Colville, A., Dundee Delineated, A. Colville: Dundee 1822.
This is another one of Dundee’s lost holy wells (see also the Lady Well, the Nine Wells, St Clement’s Well, St Mary’s Well and Sinavey Well), around which the town was first built. Its cold fresh waters were located less than a hundred yards north of the old Houff graveyard in the middle of town, or where Alex Maxwell (1884) described as upon “the sunny slopes of the Gray Friars’ meadows.”
Maxwell told us that this sacred site was the most favoured of the the holy wells in the area, having been dedicated to St Francis of Assisi by the monks who built the medieval Grey Friars monastery, whose ruins lie beneath the Houff graveyard. After the destruction of the priory in the 16th century, the holy well and surrounding meadows came under the ownership of the local council. The well had become ruinous and so was repaired back to its old condition, but a few decades later had become very neglected again and was ordered to be closed. It was mentioned in several early land rental documents, including this from 1630 which told,
“That haugh or meadow lying on the south side of the Tentour Hill, and on the east side of the meadow called Monorgan’s croft, togidder with the lands lying about St. Francis’ well, were set for the yearly penny mail of fifty-ane pounds.”
The most extensive description of it came from Alex Maxwell’s own pen, and I reproduce it here in full. He began by speaking of the other holy wells of Our Lady and St. Clement’s in Dundee, but told us that,
“The most important of them was the Gray Friars’ well, which came out of the rising ground westward from where the High School is built, and had been dedicated to the honour of St. Francis, the founder of the order — a man of exalted character, whom Dean Milman calls “most blameless and gentle.” The water, which ran perennially and was of singular purity, had no doubt been highly venerated in the days of the old Church, and it continued to be much esteemed, and even to maintain somewhat of its traditional sanctity, long after the memory of the good man whose name it bore had become forgotten.
“When the Friars’ house was in ruins, and the gardens laid waste, St. Francis’ well did not escape unharmed. One austere iconoclast—James Patrie was his name—had probably been offended at its sculptural reminiscences of the old faith, and he cast it down. When arraigned to answer for this,
“he confest and grantit that he took down the common well callit the Friar well, quhilk servit the haill town with guid and wholesome water, and referrit him in the Bailies’ and Council’s will thereanent; and they being advisit with his offence, declarit that he sail pay for the reparation of the said well and common warks the soum of ten pounds; always, gif he big and repair the well as Weill as it wes of before with lime mortar, or Pasch next, this pain to be remitted; otherwise, the day past and the well nocht biggit, to pay the said soum but favour.”
James, however, proved contumacious; the day did pass, and the well still lay in ruins. But he got further time, for the Council not yet having possession of the monastic lands, had not chosen to act arbitrarily, and
“James Patrie was ordained to repair the Friar well conform to the last act, under the pain contenit thereintil, betwix the date hereof and Whitsunday;”
and he probably then proceeded to restore it into good condition, as we do not find any other ordinance on the matter. He had not, however, erected it very substantially; for, before thirty years had elapsed, the structure was again ruinous, and the Council resolved
“that St. Francis’ well be of new biggit and made close, so that na common access be had thereto.”
“The meadow land of the Gray Friars which lay around the well, formed a pleasant open space for the use of the old burgh, and it was always held in much regard. Early in last century, the water from the Lady well was impounded and conveyed in pipes for supplying other cisterns throughout the town ; but St. Francis’ spring, which was softer and purer, was left undisturbed to flow down the grassy slope in its natural course ; and when the place became appropriated for homely purposes, and upon
“Its verdant braes,
The lasses used to wash and spread their claes,”
“the gossiping naiads made the meadow very lively as they plashed in the brimming basins of the Friars’ old well, or filled their pitchers at the fresh fountain, or sprinkled the water in crystal showers over their snowy linen. About the time that the ground was sacrificed for the erection of buildings, a dyer in the neighbourhood sank a well which evidently reached the source of the spring and drained it off. Years afterwards, when the place had been overbuilt, he ceased to use his well, and the stream, returning to its old course, found access into the lower part of a church which now covers the site of the fountain, much to the dismay of the deacons. The water was then carried off elsewhere, and will be seen no more ; and the remembrance of those virtues which belonged to the once famous well will soon have passed away.”
In Christian lore, St Francis’ festival day was October 4.
Highlighted on the 1865 OS-map, this lost water source was located between the Brechin cathedral/round tower and the curiously-named St. Michael’s Mount, whose history seems to be lost. It would seem to be the well which Ruth & Frank Morris (1981) name as the ‘Ancient Well’ in their survey.
The reason behind this site being classified as a sacred (or holy) well is based on the tradition that the Culdees had a religious convent here in the 12th century and, according to David Black (1839),
“This convent is believed to have stood a little to the west of the present parish church, in the gardens now belonging to the kirk-session, still called “the College Yards.” A small well of delightfully pure water in these gardens receives the name of the College Well, and is reported, by tradition, to have been the well of the Culdee convent.”
On the issue of St. Michael, students of folklore will know that, in the christian cult, he was an early dragon-slayer. His annual commemoration day is September 29. One of his shamanistic functions “relates to the very old tradition of Michael as the receiver of the souls of the dead.” (Attwater 1965)
Black, David D., The History of Brechin, Alexander Black: Brechin 1839.
Gibson, Colin, Folklore of Tayside, Dundee Museum c.1968.
One of at least five sacred wells that could once be visited in Dundee: like its compatriots they have all fallen under the hammer of the Industrialists and flow no more. Our Lady’s Well could once be seen near the ancient Chapel of our Lady, “flowing from under the Chapelshade Braes,” said Maxwell (1884), its waters “bright and sparkling,” but today it has been drained and laid to rest beneath the road. Its memory however, has been preserved in the modern place-names of the Ladywell Roundabout and the nearby Ladywell Avenue.
The well was mentioned as far back as 1409 when, as Alex Lamb (1895) found, it was referred to in a contract between the Constable of Dundee and the burgesses. It flowed freely until the beginning of the 18th century when, as Maxwell told us, “the water from the Lady well was impounded and conveyed in pipes for supplying other cisterns throughout the town.” Nicoll (1923) thought there may have been a well-house built around it. Previously, the water from here was one of many springs and burns that fed the larger Castle Burn down to the sea.
The generally approved idea that Lady Wells derive from St Mary was questioned in this instance in Colville’s (1822) survey, who thought, not unreasonably, that
“As a convent stood near the same place, it is more probable that it took the name of the Ladies-well, from the fair sisterhood, who must have been the guardians of it and of all the places near them.”
He may be right. Colville also brought attention to a second water supply close by that seemed to be of equal importance in a pragmatic sense as the Lady Well herself. In danger of being destroyed, the author brought attention to it and insisted on securing its survival. He wrote:
“A little to the west, and adjoining to the Lady-well, is a large garden lying on a gentle declivity, called the Lady-well Yard,— in which there is a most abundant spring of excellent water, that was never known to fail in the driest summer, even when the Lady-well was so drained as not to afford supply to the inhabitants. Should this be employed for a steam-engine in the present prosperous state of manufactures, a pit for the water would require to be sunk, which might materially injure the Lady- well. It would certainly, therefore, be of advantage to the town, if the Magistrates could procure this property,— which would prevent the Lady- well being endangered; and the addition of this copious spring would at all seasons afford a plentiful supply of excellent water to the town.”