St Fillan’s Chair, Killin, Stirlingshire

Sacred Stone: OS Grid Reference – NN 56432 32010

Getting Here

Take the road to Auchlyne from Killin which follows the north side of the River Dochart, and on the edge of the village the stone will be seen on the left hand side behind a hedge, opposite the entrance to ‘Springburn’.

Archaeology & History

The chair is mentioned in Rev. Gillies’ exemplary work, In Famed Breadalbane (1938):

St. Fillan would appear to have had a great liking for stone seats.  Besides the one already mentioned…there is..a..flat stone on the top of a knoll about a mile to the west of the village, and on the north side of the river, on which he is said to have sat and taught

St Fillan’s Chair, ‘twixt road and river
The ‘seat’, facing the River Dochart

Two local ladies told us that the Chair had recently been uncovered from the vegetation. It is a flattish earth-fast slab of rock, which has on the right hand side a seat indentation, which faces the river bank about 12 feet away. Its proximity to the river bank would seem to limit its use as a preaching pulpit, and yet, well over a millennium after the death of Fillan, his ‘Chair’ is still remembered. Did the Chair serve another purpose, a purpose that long preceded Fillan and Christianity?

Here at Killin we are in an area of Scotland where Christianity was for long a veil worn very lightly over long-held ancient animistic beliefs and customs. Indeed in the early nineteenth century, missionaries were sent in the face of considerable local opposition by the Haldanes into Gaelic speaking Breadalbane to try to convert the locals to Christianity.

St Fillan and other saints had it seems become the named facilitators for healing at ancient places on behalf of the incoming religion from the Middle East.  To the west of Killin, there are the St Fillan’s Pools at Auchtertyre near Tyndrum, where he is reputed to have cured madness but which continued to be used for that purpose until the late eighteenth century at least.  There are stones for preventing measles and whooping cough near Killin that are still known and pointed out.  So what of our chair?

There is a nineteenth century story of a chair of St Fiacre (Irish born like Fillan) at the village church of St Fiacre near Monceaux in France being used to ‘confer fecundity upon women who sit upon it ‘.  The shape and proximity to the river may otherwise suggest St Fillan’s Chair was a birthing Chair?  Maybe some very old locals still know the true story of this Chair, but would they tell it?

References:

  1. Anon., Phallic Worship – a Description of the Mysteries of the Sex Worship of the Ancients, privately Printed: London 1880.
  2. Calder, Walter, Lawers, Lochtayside: A Historical Sketch, Macduff, Cunning & Watson, c.1930.
  3. Gillies, William, In Famed Breadalbane, Munro: Perth 1938.

© Paul T Hornby 2020

 

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  56.458306, -4.331382 St Fillans Chair

Cragganester (5), Kenmore, Perthshire

Cup-Marked Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NN 65379 38389

Getting Here

3 cups on the side & 2-3 on top

From Killin, take the A827 road to Kenmore. 6 miles along, on your right, is the track down to the Big Shed at Tombreck.  Keep on the A827 for exactly ⅓-mile (0.53km), and opposite the driveway to Craggantoul is a small parking spot.  Go through the gate here and walk up the little hill right in front of you until you can see an electricity pylon 200 yards away.  Head for, go up the slope behind and along until you drop into a tiny little valley where a long line of very distinct old walling runs east-west.  Walk back and forth along it till you see a reasonably large earthfast stone on its own.

Archaeology & History

Close to a long line of what I think is pre-medieval walling—possibly Iron Age—is what can only be described as a truly crap-looking petroglyph which, to be honest, I’d walk past and give not a jot of notice if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s been recorded.  When we visited here, three very worn large cup-marks were visible on its sloping west face, with what looked like two more on top of the stone—but these seemed questionable in terms of them being man-made.  Apparently there’s another one on it, but in the searing heat and overhead midday sun when we visited, this couldn’t be seen.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.518218, -4.189608 Cragganester (5)

Cragganester (9), Kenmore, Perthshire

Cup-Marked Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NN 65596 38828

Getting Here

The stone in its setting

From Killin, take the A827 road to Kenmore. 6 miles along, on your right, is the track down to the Big Shed at Tombreck.  Keep on the A827 for exactly ⅓-mile (0.53km), and opposite the driveway to Craggantoul is a small parking spot.  A few yards on the road, over the burn, go thru the gate on your left.  Follow the straight line of walling up for 800 yards where the walling hits the burn, then follow the water up until you cross a fence.  Once over this, 50- yards to your right you’ll see a large rounded rock and companion.  It’s the rounded rock.

Archaeology & History

As with most the carvings along here, it is the setting that captivates more than the petroglyph.  This is another one mainly for the purists amongst you, but there’s a distinct feel of other carvings hiding very close by that remain hidden.  Anyhoo…

4 of the cups numerated
Rough sketch of design

This reasonably large, rounded, female stone has the usual scatter of quartz in its veins, along with at least four cup-marks on its upper sloping surface.  Three of them are seen in a slight arc on the more northern slope of the stone with one of them particularly faint; but the most notable of the lot on the very crown of the stone. (see the numerated image, right)  A fifth cup-mark is clearly visible on the western face of the boulder, shortly below where the rock begins to level out.  You’ll see it.  Some 200 yards west of this carving, the prominent rock hosting the Cragganester 10 carving is visible on top of its rounded knoll.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.522217, -4.186317 Cragganester (9)

Cragganester (10), Kenmore, Perthshire

Cup-Marked Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NN 65796 38799

Getting Here

The stone on its knoll

From Killin, take the A827 road to Kenmore. 6 miles along, on your right, is the track down to the Big Shed at Tombreck.  Keep on the A827 for exactly ⅓-mile (0.53km), and opposite the driveway to Craggantoul is a small parking spot.  A few yards on the road, over the burn, go thru the gate on your left.  Follow the straight line of walling up for 7-800 yards and then walk to your right, into the field.  About 300 yards into the overgrown meadowland you’ll see a rounded knoll with a very notable boulder on its crown. Y’ can’t really miss it!

Archaeology & History

It’s the setting of this carving that captures you way more than the carving itself—which is probably somewhat of a disappointment to most folk, unless you’re a petroglyph fanatic like myself.

The five cup-marks
…and from another angle

Found relatively close to other carvings, this reasonably large boulder has, upon its roughly smooth top, just five simple cup-marks with varying degrees of weathering, from the very noticeable to the somewhat faint—hinting at the unlikely possibility that it might have been carved at different times.  A possible sixth cup can be seen in certain daylight conditions on the southwest section of the stone.  That’s it!

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.522014, -4.183054 Cragganester (10)

St Ellen’s Well, Harrisend Fell, Scorton, Lancashire

Holy Well: OS Reference – SD 53683 50975

Also Known as:

  1. St Ellin’s Well

Getting Here

The Well on the 1846 Map

Approaching the site from the north, walk along the Lane Head track, and along the path south-eastwards, then turn right onto the main footpath until coming to the stream. Follow the stream up the fell to the large clump of reeds, then follow your ears until you locate the spring! Or you can approach it along the main footpath from the Oakenclough – Galgate road. The well and the path to it
are on access land.

Archaeology & History

Fortunately recorded by the Ordnance Survey on their 1846 6″ map Lancashire XL, the story of St Ellen’s Well was taken up sixty years later by local holy wells historian Henry Taylor (1906):

Listen for the spring in the reeds

“The site of this holy well is marked on the ordnance map at a lonely spot on Harris Fell, five hundred feet above the sea-level, four and a half miles in a north-easterly direction from the town of Garstang.

“Mr. A. King has kindly examined the site.  He writes, 4th August, 1902: “We had no difficulty in locating the spot…. There is no outward indication of the place being used for curative means, and there is no stonework at all. It is a beautifully cold spring which is at the side of ‘Bonny Pad’, a pathway leading across the moor from Harris End, and it was grown around with rushes….  All I can glean about it is that one of the oldest inhabitants, when asked if he knew of it, replied, ‘It will be th’ holy well, you mean.'”

The original dedication of this remote holy well was clearly to St. Helen, and its presence next to the Bonny Pad or path may indicate a pre-Christian dedication to a local cognate of the Celtic Elen Luyddog, Elen of the hosts or ways.  The Bonny Pad is shown but not not named on the 1846 map, and follows a broadly southwest to northeast direction from Harris End (again not named on the 1846 map) up to Grizedale Head on the southern edge of the Catshaw Vaccary.  It was perhaps an ancient route used by farmers to take their animals up onto the fell for the summer, and return them to the lowlands in the autumn.

Bubbling away at source

The western portion of Bonny Pad is not shown on the modern map and St Ellen’s Well is not marked, and both have it seems passed out of local memory.  An elderly farmer I encountered on my way up to the fell had never heard of the Well.

It is certainly worth the walk if only for the delightful sound of this powerfully flowing spring, the water is pure and cold, and it commands a fine view over the Lancashire plain to the coast.

References:

  1. Taylor, Henry, The Ancient Crosses and Holy Wells of Lancashire, Sherratt & Hughes: Manchester 1906.
  2. Wise, Caroline, “Elen of the Roads of Country and Town”, in Finding Elen – The Quest for Elen of the Ways, edited by Caroline Wise, Eala Press: London 2015.

© Paul T. Hornby, 2020

 

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  53.952785, -2.707269 St Ellen\'s Well

Weary Hill Stone, Ilkley Moor, West Yorkshire

Cup-and-Ring Stone:  OS Grid Reference – SE 10617 46586

Also Known as:

  1. Carving no. 75 (Hedges)
  2. Carving no. 244 (Boughey & Vickerman)
  3. I/1 carving (Davis)
  4. Silverwell Stone

Getting Here

Weary Hill Stone (photo by Dave Whittaker)

From Ilkley town centre take the road up to White Wells (ask any local if y’ can’t find it), but instead of heading up the track to the wells, keep on the road and, after just over 200 yards, turn left up the Keighley Road.  Half-a-mile up there’s a dirt-track on your right which leads to Silver Well Farm.  Walk along here for about 150 yards, keeping your eyes peeled for a large rock in the heather about 50 yards up onto the moor.  You’ll find it.

Archaeology & History

Located just 100 yards west of the old Roman road that effectively runs north-south through the middle of Rombalds Moor and which, when this carving was executed, was a prehistoric trackway, this is an impressive carving, all but unknown by many.  On my last visit to this stone—maybe 10 years ago or more—it was a cloudy day.  I know this from the fact that the design on the stone was difficult to see in its entirety.  But not anymore!  When the northern antiquarian Dave Whittaker came a-wandering this way a few years back,  the stone so overgrown in vegetation that the design was very difficult to appreciate and, like any healthy curious antiquarian, he wanted to know what the full carving would look like.  He enquired whether or not it was OK to uncover the stone from beneath its mass of heather to see the full image and, as far as we were concerned the idea was a good one.  And so, following in the footsteps of Beckensall, Currie, Chappell, me and a few others, he got stuck in!

Cup-and-rings from above (photo by Dave Whittaker)
Looking across the stone (photo by Dave Whittaker)

As you can see in Dave’s fine photos, the petroglyph is indeed a fine one.  It comprises mainly of four cup-and-rings, two of which are incomplete  The rings, as you can see, are very faint, whilst the cups, both in the rings and those outside of them, are notably deep; perhaps indicating that they were carved into many times over a long period.

One of the great petroglyphic pioneers, J.Romilly Allen (1882) seems to have been the earliest to record this carving.  Allen’s early sketch (below) was obviously drawn on a shady day, as it misses several of of the rings that are clear to see when the the daylight is just right.  It’s an easy mistake to make.  He wrote:

J.R. Allen’s 1882 sketch
Hedge’s 1986 sketch

“One mile south-west of Ilkley is a road leading over the top of the Moor…very appropriately as Weary Hill.  To the west of the road, and between it and the boundary-wall of Silver Well Farm, is a small boulder of gritstone with cup-markings on it.  It lies at a level of 900 ft. above the sea, and it measures 8ft by 5ft.  On its upper surface, which is nearly level, are carved ten cups, varying in diameter from 2 to 3 ins., one of them being surrounded by a single ring.”

The pseudonymous “A. Reader” (1891) also included the stone in his international overview of prehistoric carvings, but merely copied the notes of his predecessors.  Nearly a hundred years later when archaeologist John Hedges (1986) did his survey of these moors, he described this carving simply as:

“Medium seized rock…in grass, heather and crowberry with c.ten cups, four with rings, two with grooves from rings, three depressions and series of probably natural lines running down to bottom edge.”

And as with the pseudonymous A. Reader (1891), Boughey & Vickerman’s (2003) also just copied Hedges’ earlier description.

Seeking numeracy in Alan Davis 1988 sketch
And from another angle (photo by Dave Whittaker)

The greatest analysis of this carving to date is by physicist and mathematician Alan Davis.  He set out in 1983 to explore the possibility of there being a universal measurement used in neolithic times that was coded into our cup-and-rings—a theory first espoused by the great archaeo-astronomer Alexander Thom. (1968)  He selected carvings from Rombalds Moor and Northumberland, including this one at Weary Hill (calling it the I/1 carving) to see if a ‘megalithic inch’ (MI) that was propounded by Thom had any foundation in fact.  As a mathematician he was ideally qualified to examine this proposition.  His 1983 paper found there to be “substantial support” for this prehistoric megalithic inch.  However, in a subsequent 30-page analysis of the same carvings Davis (1988) found that some criteria in his initial investigation needed re-examining.  In his updated report he told that “many of these deficiencies have now been remedied.”

His initial 1983 report concluded the Weary Hill carving possessed a deliberate mathematical code in accordance with Thom’s MI.  However in the subsequent 1988 report, Davis found that the measurements were based on 5MI and 3 MI, but only in the cup-and-rings and not the single cups.  Despite this, there remained an overall scepticism in terms of any deliberate universal use of the MI.  My own take on this is a simple one: there was no deliberate use of any MI at carvings.  Where we do find precise MIs, this is due simply to the average size of human hands, meaning that some obvious figurative correspondences will occur upon investigation.  The more you think about it, the more obvious it becomes.

Anyhow, all this intriguing geometry aside: to those of you who take the time to check this out, have a bimble in the heather barely 100 yards west and you’ll find a few other carvings sleeping quietly, whose site profiles I’ve yet to do…

References:

  1. Allen, J. Romilly, “Notice of Sculptured Rocks near Ilkley,” in Journal of the British Archaeological Association, volume 38, 1882.
  2. Anonymous, Walks Around Cup and Ring Stones, ITIC: Bradford n.d. (1995)
  3. Boughey, K.J.S. & Vickerman, E.A., Prehistoric Rock Art of the West Riding, WYAS: Leeds 2003.
  4. Collyer, Robert & Turner, J. Horsfall, Ilkley, Ancient and Modern, William Walker: Otley 1885.
  5. Davis, Alan, ‘The Metrology of Cup and Ring Carvings near Ilkley in Yorkshire,’ in Science and Archaeology, 25, 1983.
  6. Davies, Alan, ‘The Metrology of Cup and Ring Carvings,’ in Ruggles, C., Records in Stone, Cambridge 1988.
  7. Hedges, John (ed.), The Carved Rocks of Rombald’s Moor, WYMCC: Wakefield 1986.
  8. Reader, A., Archaic Rock Inscriptions, privately printed: London 1891.
  9. Thom, Alexander, “The Metrology and Geometry of Cup and Ring Marks,” in Systematics, volume 6, 1968.
  10. Turner, J. Horsfall, Historical Notices of Shipley, Saltaire, Idle, Windhill, Wrose, Baildon, Hawksworth, Eccleshill, Calverley, Rawdon and Horsforth, Shipley Express: Idle 1901.

Links:

  1. Weary Hill Stone on The Megalithic Portal

Acknowledgments:  Huge thanks to Dave Whittaker for his work at this stone, plus allowing us use of his photos in this site profile.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  53.915315, -1.839855 Weary Hill Stone

Clach an Eolas, St Kilda, Outer Hebrides

Legendary Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NF 101 996?

Also Known as:

  1. Stone of Knowledge

Archaeology & History

This stone has very similar qualities to the one found upon Mullach-geal, ⅔ of a mile to the west, as a place where ritual magick was performed.  And, just like the Mullach-geal stone, we only have an approximate position of its whereabouts: “behind the village”, as Mr Sands (1878) said.  The same words were used by other St Kildan writers when it came to describing the whereabouts of Tobar Childe, so we must assume it to be reasonably close to the old well.

Folklore

Mr Sands seems to be the first person to write about it, telling us,

“At the back of the village is a stone, which does not differ in external appearance from the numerous stones scattered around, but which was supposed to possess magical properties.  It is called Clach an Eolas, or Stone of Knowledge.  If any one stood on it on the first day of the quarter, he became endowed with the second sight — could “look into the seeds of Time,” and foretell all that was to happen during the rest of the quarter.  Such an institution must have been of great value in Hirta, where news are so scanty.  To test its powers I stood on it on the first day of Spring (old style) in the present year, but must acknowledge that I saw nothing, except two or three women laden with peats, who were smiling at my credulity.”

Charles MacLean (1977) mentioned the stone a hundred years later, but seems to have just copied this earlier description.  Does anyone up there know its whereabouts?

References:

  1. MacLean, Charles, Island on the Edge of the World, Canongate: Edinburgh 1977.
  2. Sands, J., Out of the World; or Life in St. Kilda, Maclachlan & Stewart: Edinburgh 1878.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  57.815359, -8.570241 Clach an Eolas

Mullach-Geal Stone, St Kilda, Outer Hebrides

Legendary Rock:  OS Grid Reference – NF 092 996

Archaeology & History

This is a most intriguing site, whose exact location seems to have been forgotten.  It was first mentioned in Macaulay’s History of St Kilda (1764) as being one of four stone altars that the islanders used for worship.  Three of them were related to the early christian figure of St. Brendan, whose well and chapel remains are on the south-side of the island.  However, this fourth stone altar possessed a purely magickal and heathen function.  Macaulay initially gives the location as being “on top of a hill to the southwest” of St. Brendan’s chapel; but subsequently tells us it was upon “Mulach-geall” which is a mile NNW.  It was an important place to the people of Hirta and its exact position needs to be found and, hopefully, the altar still exists.

Folklore

Despite Macaulay’s conflicting directions of how to get here (a common feature of early writers), he wrote:

“I have already made mention of one St. Kilda altar, that in Brendans Chapel.  There are no less than four more in the island, of which three lie at considerable distances from the holy places.  There is one particularly on the top of a hill to the south-weft (sic), dedicated according to tradition to the God who presides over Seasons; The God of thunder, lightning, tempests and fair weather.  To avert the terrible judgments inflicted by this mighty Divinity, the ancient St. Kildians offered propitiatory sacrifices on this altar, sacrifices of different forts, much like the old Pagans, who offered a black sheep to Winter, or the Tempest, and a white one to the Spring…  The place where the people of this island, offered their victims to Taranis, is called Mulach-geall, that is to say, the White eminence or hill…”

More than a hundred years later, Seton (1878) made mention of it, but added no further details.

The invocation to Nature’s elements is something we find echoed at some sites further east, such as the Well of the North Wind on Iona and its compatriot Well of the South Wind.  At both these places, so-called ‘pagan’ rituals were used to both placate and invoke the gods and spirits of the wind.  This one on St Kilda possessed additional magickal prowess.  But where is it?  Have we lost it, or is it sleeping somewhere on the edge of Mullach-Geal…?

References:

  1. Macaulay, Kenneth, The History of St. Kilda; Containing a Description of This Remarkable Island; the Manners and Customs of the Inhabitants; the Religious and Pagan Antiquities There Found, T. Becket: London 1764.
  2. Seton, Gordon, St. Kilda – Past and Present, William Blackwood: Edinburgh 1878.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  57.814575, -8.585289 Mullach-geal Stone

Giant’s Stones, Arnbathie, Perthshire.

Legendary Stones: OS Reference – NO 16695 26086

Getting Here

The two stones in relation to each other

Travelling north from Perth on the A94, take the right turning for Murrayshall just before entering Scone, then take the first right and continue up to the road junction, and park up at the trackway opposite.  You’ll see the big stone in the field to the right, up against the road embankment; and the small stone is in the paddock to the left of the trackway at the edge of the trees.

Archaeology & History

Two large glacial erratics which have acquired mythic status and picked up a Christian triumphalist message on the way.

Folklore

In Lawrence Melville’s (1939) excellent local history work, he thankfully put to pen an all-but-forgotten tale of oral tradition:

“Where the road from the Muir of Durdie leaves Kilspindie parish, a grass grown road leads north to Boglebee….. A few yards from the highway lie two large stones, said to have been flung from the Giant’s Hill in Collace parish – the flat topped eminence lying due north from the stones, about two or three miles away, better known as “Macbeth’s Hill”, or “Dunsinane Hill”.

The ‘string’ marks of legend
The smaller stone with its ‘string’ marks

“When the church dedicated to St John in Perth was being built and its tower began to appear, a witch living in Collace was enraged to see this proof of the approach of Christianity and determined to destroy it. She had a son, a giant (after whom the hill receives one of its names), whom she sent to the top of the hill, giving him two huge stones with which to destroy the rising church.

“By her incantations she had supernatural power and knew that when Christianity came her power would be destroyed. She gave him her mutch from her head to be used as sling and in it the giant put the two huge stones. Whirling it around his head, he aimed them in a line with the tower, but, just as he let them fly, the string of his mother’s cap broke and the stones only went the length of Boglebee. The marks on the stones are said to be the marks of the witch’s mutch strings.”

Another view of the larger stone

A familiar folkloric message is remembered the length of Britain:  a giant, a devil or other supernatural being throwing stones that either spill out of an apron or otherwise miss their mark.  And in this case an unsubtle message to anyone trying to take on the might of the church.  But what was the original story of these stones as told by the old time oral storytellers before Christian missionaries stalked the land?

If the string hadn’t broken and the stones had followed their original trajectory they would have fallen south of St John’s Kirk, but it was the thought that counted….

Reference:

  1. Melville, Lawrence, The Fair Land of Gowrie, William Culross: Coupar Angus, 1939.

©Paul T. Hornby 2020, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.419613, -3.351980 Giants Stones

Wester Nether Urquhart Stane, Gateside, Fife

Standing Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NO 1862 0799

Getting Here

Wester Nether Urquhart Stane

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.

© Maggie Overett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.257414, -3.315181 Wester Nether Urquhart Stane