Gladsfield Wood Stone, Cargill, Perthshire

Cup-Marked Stone: OS Grid Reference – NO 15607 35797 – NEW DISCOVERY

Getting Here

Turn right off the A93 at Cargill onto the side road at Keepers Cottage and up the hill. Gladsfield Wood is at the top of the hill on your right. Park up at the top side of the Wood and walk along the narrow track to where it crosses another track, look 45º to your right and you’ll see the stone.

Archaeology & History

One of those chance finds that turns up when you’re looking for something else.  Recent forestry work had dislodged the stone from its original earthfast position of millenia, only a few feet away. It may have been rotated from its original position.  The grey whinstone rock measures around 5′ 8″ (1·75 m) long, 3′ 9″ wide (1·15 m ), 2′ 9″ (0·85m) high, and the moss shows its original depth in the ground.  Fortunately the cup marks weren’t damaged in what appears to have been a quite brutal move.  On what is now the north east facing side there are three definite and one possible very shallow fourth cup mark.  The top cup is the most prominent, while the possible fourth cup is just to the left of the bottom one.

L-R 1. The original position of the stone 2. The stone showing the possible fourth cup 3. The prominent top cup 4. The three definite cups

One for the enthusiasts really, in an area of Strathmore quite rich in megaliths and rock art; whatever the future holds for this dislodged stone in the savage world of agri-business, it is now recorded for posterity!

© Paul T Hornby 2021

 

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  56.506638, -3.372755 Gladsfield Wood Stone

Blind Well, Sutton-in-Holderness, East Yorkshire

Healing Well:  OS Grid Reference – TA 1204 3306

Archaeology & History

Site of well on 1855 map

We don’t know for certain the precise whereabouts of this long lost healing well, but it would seem to be the one highlighted here (right) on the 1855 OS-map.  However, I think it equally possible that the small unnamed building, roughly halfway between the highlighted ‘Well’ and Spring Cottage, where the walling meets, could be the site in question.  It’s one or the other!

Folklore

When Thomas Blashill (1896) wrote of the Blind Well in his standard history work of the area, memory of it was already falling away.  In discussing where local people could wash and look after their health, he told that

“There was one place in the parish where washing seems to have been practised as a curative measure.  Down in the East Field, near to Spring Cottage Farm, was the Blindwell, to which the people had access. If they used its waters freely when suffering from sore eyes, their faith would probably be rewarded.”

References:

  1. Blashill, Thomas, Sutton-in-Holderness, William Andrews: Hull 1896.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  53.781819, -0.301093 Blind Well

St Everilda’s Well, Everingham, East Yorkshire

Holy Well (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – SE 80528 42531

Also Known as:

  1. St Everildis Well

Archaeology & History

Shown on the 1855 Ordnance Survey map as a ‘pump’, in the grounds of Everingham Priory, the ‘seat’ of the lord of the manor, it was in an enclosure formerly open to the people of the village. It was filled in prior to 1923. The water was described as ‘abundant and excellent.’ Graeme Chapman, in his Yorkshire Holy Wells website states:

‘A few metres to the south of the site of the well the modern OS map marks the start of a stream (SE 8055 4250) which could be the original source of the Holy well’s water.’ 

The well shown on the 1855 6″ OS Map.

The present writer has not been able to verify this from the materials available to him.

Everilda, also known as Everild and Averil, is recorded in the York Breviary, printed in 1493. She was a mid Yorkshire Saint who died around 700 CE.  According to this source she was of a noble Wessex family who went to Yorkshire with companions Bega and Wulfreda, settling on land called Bishop’s Farm, an estate of the Bishop of York, St Wilfrid , which he gave to them, the place being then called Everildisham. There they established a nunnery, of which all trace is now lost. Her Saint’s day is July 9th. The name of St Everilda has been changed to ‘Emeldis’ in the dedication of the church at Everingham. Some historians claim the village is not named after her, but as a derivation of ‘ham of Eofor’s people’. The only other church known to be dedicated to her is at Nether Poppleton, some 17 miles north west of Everingham.

Folklore

The water of the village and the mothers of Everingham are said to have been blessed by St Everilda, and the Reverend Smith wrote that over a fifty year period, no mother had died in childbirth.

References:

  1. Farmer, David, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1987
  2. Raine, James, The Dedications of the Yorkshire Churches, The Yorkshire Archaeological and Topographical Journal, Vol II, 1873
  3. Salisbury, Matthew Cheung, The Use of York: Characteristics of the Medieval Liturgical Office in York, Borthwick Institute, York, 2008
  4. Smith, Rev William, Ancient Springs & Streams of the East Riding of Yorkshire, A.Brown & Sons, London, Hull & York, 1923
  5. Stanton, Richard, A Menology of England & Wales.., Burns and Oates, London, 1887

Link:

  1. St Everilda’s Well on Yorkshire’s Holy Wells

© Paul T Hornby 2021

 

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  53.872745, -0.776719 St Everilda\'s Well

High Cross, Aberford, West Yorkshire

Cross (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – SE 433 390

Archaeology & History

Mentioned only in passing in the Becca and Aberford Enclosure Act of 1825, all remains of this site have gone.  It was subsequently referred to by Edmund Bogg (1904) in his journey through Elmet as previously standing where the Roman road veered off to the northeast from the “new road”, as it was then.  Bogg’s brief description told that from Nut Hill,

“A little distance south, where the old and new roads part, formerly stood a cross; Highcross Cottage keeps its memory green.”

References:

  1. Bogg, Edmund, The Old Kingdom of Elmet, James Miles: Leeds 1904.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian 

 

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  53.845444, -1.343365 High Cross

Clach na Sgoltadh, Bridge of Balgie, Perthshire

Legendary Rock:  OS Grid Reference – NN 61080 46501

Also Known as:

  1. Fionn’s Stone
  2. Praying Hands of Mary 

Getting Here

Clach na Sgoltadh, Glen Lyon (photo – Lisa Samson)

From Fortingall take the road into the legendary Glen Lyon.  About 8 miles along, a short distance past the Adamnan’s Cross standing stone, you reach the tiny hamlet of Camusvrachan.  On your left is a singular dirt-track, past some cottages.  Go along here and over the river bridge until you reach the junction on the other side.  From here, turn right and a half-mile on when you reach the farm and manor-house on your right, park up.  From here you’ll see a track going uphill.  Walk straight up and after a half-mile or so, keep your eyes peeled to your right.  You cannot fail to see this impressive giant on the slopes above you!

Archaeology & History

This is a truly mighty monolith! — a beauty no less!  Standing upon a rocky ridge nearly halfway along the glen, the landscape it looks across is, without doubt, some of the finest in the British Isles.  To our ancestors who, until just two hundred years ago peopled this and nearby glens in great numbers, this great stone would have been well known and had old myths told of it.  Today we have only bare fragments.

Clach na Sgoltadh (photo by James Elkington)
Clach na Sgoltadh (photo by James Elkington)

To give an ‘archaeological survey’ of any kind to this site would seem somewhat of an anathema, as it is generally deemed to be little other than one of Nature’s incredible creations.  We’ll come to that in a minute.  But what is quite certain is that a line of very old and very low-lying walling runs from up the slope and almost straight down to Clach na Sgoltadh.  You can see it pretty clearly in the photograph below.  The walling stops at the giant stone and continues no further downhill from the other side of the giant upright.

Walk diagonally down the slope about 30 yards south-east from the stone and you’ll find a small but distinctly man-made ring of stones, low to the ground, with an entrance on its northeastern side.  It’s somewhat of a puzzle as it’s too small for a hut circle (I laid down in it in various ways and found you’d have to lie foetal all night if you were to use it as  your own little abode), and it equally too small as an animal pen – unless it was for just one animal, which is most unlikely.  The small circular construction wouldn’t seem to be prehistoric, but it would be good to know what it is.

So, we do have some very slight archaeological association with the site, albeit minimal, with the very ancient walling that leads to the stone being the most intriguing.

Small stone ‘hut’
Low line of walling

The stone is generally attributed to be a geological creation.  I certainly cannot say, as I have no expertise in the subject.  However, in the opinion of just about everyone with whom I’ve visited this stone, I seem to be the only one who doesn’t think it’s man-made.  A number of people have each insisted to me that it’s been stood upright by humans due to the quite distinct ‘squaring’ of the upright stone, particularly at the north-facing base.  —and been seemingly bemused at my own lack of conviction.  It does look as if it could have been cut and squared just as they all say but, let me repeat, I’m no expert at geology, and so all I can say is that I simply don’t know one way or the other. (useless prick that I am!)

“Perhaps a stone mason might know?” someone suggested—which seemed to be a good idea.  Certainly a stone mason would surely be able to tell if it had been cut and dressed at the base, where it fits into the large earthfast rock….

Cue Chris Swales: a reputable stone mason from near Skipton, North Yorkshire.  Chris and his friends took a week long whistle-stop tour in and around the Loch Tay region and thought they’d visit Glen Lyon.  I heard about this and so asked him if he’d have the time to visit this stone giant and, if possible, let us know his opinion: is is a natural obelisk, or does it look to have been erected by humans?  I told him my opinion and that of the geologists who give it an entirely natural provenance.

It was a few weeks later when he got back in touch and I asked him if he’d been up to Clach na Sgoltadh.

“I did,” he said. “it’s bloody impressive Paul.  And what a gorgeous landscape too.  I’d love to go there again.”

“Aye, it is Chris. And what did you think of the giant stone then?  In your opinion is it man-made or natural?”

“Well I don’t know for certain Paul,” he said, “but in my opinion I’m 95% sure that it’s man-made.”  He said it plain as day, just like a typical daan-to-Earth Yorkshireman.  Chris isn’t into any the energy ley-line stuff, so his words carry more weight than those who wanna spice-up a site by projecting their own beliefs onto a place.  As a result, I was somewhat taken aback by his words.

“What—are you sure Chris?!” I asked.

Cut & dressed stone?

“Like I said – I’m not 100% sure Paul.  I can’t really say it 100% – but I’m 95% certain that people cut and dressed the base of that stone and put it there.  If it’s natural, then I’d like to know how they think that’s the case.  I’m willing to be shown otherwise, but in my opinion, on the whole, it’s man-made.  People stuck that stone there!”

It would be great to get another stone mason’s opinion about this site; and it would definitely be good to read a geological viewpoint, but I’m not aware of any papers regarding this stone. (does anyone know of any?)  For my part:  I can only reiterate that I’m ‘unsure’ whether or not this is man-made.  I’m simply not qualified to give an objective opinion.

The curious thing is:  if this is Nature’s handiwork, then it would have been held in greater reverence to our ancestors than if it had been erected by people.  Impressive creations of Nature were always deemed to be inhabited by genius loci of truly archaic potency.  And in these deep impressive mountains, where the names of nature spirits still abound, this—without doubt!—would have been a place of considerable awe and sanctity.  May it remain as such…

Folklore

Looking to the west immediately uphill and behind Clach na Sgoltadh is the rising rounded hill of Creag nan Eildeag.  Legend has it that the great Celtic hero Fionn stood atop of this crag and fired one of his arrows at the stone, splitting it in half and leaving the stone as we see it today.

In a small cleft in the stone, quartz deposits can be seen along with an effigy of the Virgin Mary.  However, the title of the Praying Hands of Mary is a modern attribution and has no historical or mythic veracity.

References:

  1. Stewart, Alexander, A Highland Parish; or, The History of Fortingall, Alex MacLaren: Glasgow 1928.

Links:

  1. Clach na Sgoltadh on The Megalithic Portal

Acknowledgements:   Huge thanks to James Elkington and Lisa Samson for use of their photos.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.589784, -4.263771 Clach na Sgoltadh

St Loy’s Well, Tottenham, London

Holy Well (destroyed): OS ReferenceTQ 3370 8999

Also Known as:

  1. Old Tottenham Well
  2. St. Eloy’s Well

Getting Here

The site of the well, which was in the historic county of Middlesex, appears to have been on the west side of the present Moorefields Road just north of the junction with St Loy’s Road. The OS reference is an approximation.  The restored circular well house to the south of the High Cross at the High Road – Philip Lane junction now popularly known as ‘St Eloy’s Well’ is not the historic well described in this profile.

Archaeology & History

Likely position of the well on the 1873 6″ OS Map

The well was still in existence in 1876, but by the time of the revision of the OS map around 1894, it had been destroyed following building of the Great Eastern Railway’s Enfield branch line and the construction of terraced housing along the new St Loy’s Road.

So where was the well? The 1873 6″ OS map shows a field on parts of which the railway line and St Loy’s Road are now built, and a small area of water is shown in this field which is the likely position of St Loy’s Well on the eve of its destruction, when it was described as a dirty pool of water full of mud and rubbish. If this was the position of the well then it has now been completely built over…

It was described by Robinson in his 1841 History of Tottenham as being:

‘..in a field….on the western side of the High Road…surrounded by willows…it is bricked up on all sides, square and about 4 feet deep..’ ‘ In Bedwell’s time [it was]…always full of water, but never running over; the water of which is said to exceed all other near it.’.. ‘the properties of the water are similar to the water of the Cheltenham springs’.

Thomas Clay ‘s 1619 map of Tottenham, illustrated in Robinson’s book shows a field north west of Tottenham High Cross called ‘Southfeide at St Loys’. The Tottenham historian Wilhelm Bedwell described the well in 1631 as:

“nothing else but a deep pit in the highway, on the west side thereof;”….”it was within memory cleaned out, and at the bottom was found a fair great stone, which had certain letters or characters on it; but being broken or defaced by the negligence of the workmen, and nobody near that regarded such things, it was not known what they were or meant.’

This fair great stone with its ‘certain letters or characters that no one knew what they were or meant’ is intriguing especially in view of the well’s proximity to the Roman Ermine Street (Now the High Street). Were those mysterious characters spelling out an undecipherable Latin inscription on a Roman stone? We shall never know, but  it hints at a pre-Christian origin or veneration of the well. Another hint is that before the Reformation there was nearby a chapel of St Eloy known as the Offertory, which may have been originally built to ‘Christianise’ a pre-existing heathen sacred spring. The Roman origins of the well are also hinted at (probably erroneously) by W.L. Bowles in 1830, writing of a ‘Druidical Tour’ that one Sir Thomas Phillipps undertook on the continent, first quoting Phillipps before adding his own conclusion:

“Near Arras in France, are found the mount of St. Eloi and the very name of a place, Tote. I have no doubt Druidical remains will be found there, if this be not the very country of Carnutes.”

Now let me observe, that Tote is Taute —Tot—Thoth, latinized into Tewtates by Lucan, &c. the chief deity of the Celts. St. Eloi is neither more nor less than the Celtic word Sul, turned into the Greek the Sun; and Elios, turned into the Catholic St. Eloi, as at Tottenham, Middlesex, anciently Tote-ham, the ham of Taute or Tent, where is also the sacred well of St. Eloi, or ‘Helios’, the Sun !’

Saint Eloi / Eloy /Loy / Eligius, is the patron saint of those who work in the alchemists’ metal of the sun – goldsmiths! He is also the patron saint of blacksmiths, farriers, and all who earned their livings from horses, and lived from around 588 to 660 to become Bishop of Noyon and the evangelising apostle for much of modern day Belgium. His feast day is 1st December, and he had a widespread cult in mediaeval Europe, including England. In addition to being a healing well for humans, one writer hints that the well’s waters may have been employed for healing horses…they certainly would have drunk from it with its proximity to what is now the High Street.

Around 1770, an artist called Townsend (the sources are unsure as whether it was a Mrs or Mr) produced a romanticised drawing of the well, which was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1770-1. It depicts a hermit beside the well (the Hermitage of St Anne stood to the south of High Cross prior to the Reformation) receiving an offering from a lady. It was engraved and sold as a print, and may be the only image of the well before its demise.

Folklore

In 1819 – 20, John Abraham Heraud wrote a poem about St Loy’s Well, set in the time of St. Edward the Martyr, (the late 970s), entitled ‘ Stanzas in the Legend of St Loy‘ of which the most relevant verses are;

‘TOTEHAM! the Legend of thine olden day,
To the last note hath on thine echoes died;
But the Bard’s soul still lingers o’er the lay,
To muse upon thy transitory pride
The pride of times that hath been — blank and void—
When all was Nature, big with many a song
Of Chivalry and Fame, with Love allied—
But Time both changed the scene — now houses throng
Where once was solitude — and people crowd along.

Where now thy WOOD, that spread its misty shade
O’er twice two hundred acres? — past away!
And vain its PROVERB, as the things that fade,
Earth, sun, moon, stars, that change as they decay!
The lonely CELL, the tenor of the lay,
Its grove, which hermit tendance loved to rear;
And, St. LOY, mouldering to Time’s gradual sway,
Thy rites, thy OFFERTORY disappear;—
Forgot thy SPRING OF HEALTH no votary worships there!

Forgot, neglected — still my harp shall dwell
On thee, thou blest BETHESDA of ST. LOY!
As Fancy muses o’er the vital WELL
On years of storied yore, with grief and joy,
Exults they were — weeps Truth should e’er destroy!
Thrice I invoke the Spirit of the Stream
With charm she may not question, or deny,
And, like a Naiad, o’er the watery gleam
She rises to my voice, and answers thus the theme:— ‘

Heraud wrote a further poem mentioning the well, his ‘Tottenham‘ of 1820, the relevant verse being:

‘St. Loy! here is this fountain—emblem pure
Of chaste unostentatious charity—
Never in vain intreated, ever sure ;
Yet o’er the marge thy waters fair and free
Ascend not, overflowing vauntingly,
But in thy bounty humble as unfailing,
In grief, disease, and sickness, visit thee.
But part in joy, changed by thy holy healing
To manhood, strength, and life, thy far renown revealing.
There is thy offertory, and thy shrine,
Simple, inartificial ; nor of fame,
Nor any honour, save that it is thine,
And all its glory centres in thy name !’

References:

  1. Baker, T.F.T. & Pugh, R.B. (eds.), Victoria County History – A History of the County of Middlesex, volume 5, VCH: London 1976.
  2. Bowles, W.L., Tottenham High Cross, Gentleman’s Magazine, Vol C, April 1830.
  3. Breeze, Andrew, Chaucer, St Loy and the Celts, Reading Medieval Studies 17, 1991.
  4. Foord, Alfred Stanley, Springs, Streams and Spas of London: History and Association, T. Fisher Unwin: London 1910.
  5. Heaword, Rose, “Holy Wells and Lost Waters,” in London Earth Mysteries Journal, 2, 1990.
  6. Heraud, John Abraham, Stanzas in the Legend of St Loy, …
  7. Hope, Robert Charles, Legendary Lore of the Holy Wells of England, Elliott Stock: London 1893.
  8. Robinson, William, The History and Antiquities of the Parish of Tottenham, Nichols & Sons: London 1840.
  9. Sunderland, Septimus, Old London Spas, Baths and Wells, John Bale: London 1915.
  10. Thornbury, Walter & Walford, Edward, Old and New London – volume 5, Cassell: London 1878.
  11. Walford, Edward, Old and New London, Vol. V,  Cassell, Petter & Galpin: London, 1878.

Links:

  1. St. Eloy’s Well on The Megalithic Portal

© Paul T. Hornby 2020

 

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  51.592902, -0.071283 St Loy\'s Well

St John’s Well, Dunrobin, Golspie, Sutherland

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference – NC 8505 0081

St Johns Well, 1879 map

Archaeology & History

Very little has been written of this site due to the fact that little seems to known about it.  A few of the usual ‘official’ on-line catalogues mention it but information on the site is truly scant.  It is shown on the earliest Ordnance Survey map of the region and the same cartographers describe it in the Ordnance Name Book (1873), saying briefly how St John’s Well,

“Applied to a very deep pump well situated in the court of the ancient portion of “Dunrobin Castle”.  No information respecting the dedication or origin of this name can be obtained in the District.”

But an earlier reference than this is cited in Fraser’s (1892) work, telling us that,

“In the midst of the court within the castle there is one of the deepest draw-wells in Scotland, all lined with ashlar-work, which was built and finished before the house was begun.  The well was known as that of St. John.  In the year 1512 sasine (i.e. delivery of feudal property) of the earldom and castle was taken at the well.  At other times sasine was taken at the castle, at its gates, or near the well.”

Subsequent to this, we read in Cumming’s (1897) definitive folklore work of the region how,

“(it) looks as if there had been a chapel of St. John on Drumrabyn.  In that case it may have been one dependent upon Kileain (=Kirk of John) on Loch Brora, which was only ½ a mile further than Kilmalin.”

Having not visited the castle, I’m unsure whether or not the well can still be seen.  Does anyone know…?

References:

  1. Cumming, Anna & Bella et al, Golspie – Contributions to its Folklore, David Nutt: London 1897.
  2. Fraser, William, The Sutherland Book – volume 1, Edinburgh 1892.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  57.981632, -3.945495 St John\'s Well

Edmund’s Grave, Dron, Perthshire

Cairn: OS Grid Reference – NO 14676 14519

Also Known as:

  1. Balmanno Hill
  2. Canmore ID 28087

Getting Here

Take the Glenfarg road out of Bridge of Earn, cross the motorway and park at the layby past the bend. Go through the gate opposite and follow the track up to the telecoms mast, you can’t miss it..

Archaeology & History

Shown on the 1866 OS Map

Visible from the lowlands below, it is described in the official listing as a cairn of prehistoric date, a funerary monument dating to the late neolithic to early Bronze Age. It is a broadly round stony mound, partially overgrown with turf on the north eastern (mid-summer sunrise) slope of Balmanno Hill, where it has extensive views over the surrounding country.  It is 1.8m (6′) high, 17m (56′) across on the N-S axis and 16m (52′ ) on the E-W axis.

The top of the cairn has a depression in it: possibly the result of treasure-seeking long ago, but there is no evidence of any burial cist.

So who was ‘Edmund’?  Was this a place of heathen ritual Christianised with the designation of St Edmund during the Anglo-Saxon incursions of the early middle ages, or the name of a local landowner?  It is lost to history. The name ‘Balmanno’ can be interpreted as ‘Place of the Big Man’ – so have we an echo of a lost giant legend here in an area of Scotland where such legends abound, and long pre-date the construction of the cairn?  Did later people name their local mythic giant ‘Edmund’?

An alternative meaning of ‘Balmanno’ is given by David Dow in the Old Statistical Account – the ‘Town of the Monk’.

Left – View from South, Centre – View from west looking towards Firth of Tay, Right – The disturbed summit.
© Paul T. Hornby, 2020

Folklore

The Ordnance Survey inspectors of the early 1860s were told that the cairn is where one of the Roman Generals of Agricola’s time was buried.

References:

  1. Dow, Rev. David, The Statistical Account of Scotland 1791-99, Vol. XI, EP Publishing, Wakefield, 1976
  2. Jamieson,John, An Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language, Vols.I & III, Alexander Gardner, Paisley, 1880
  3. Ordnance Survey Name Books Perthshire, Volume 21 OS1/25/21/11, 1859-62
  4. http://portal.historicenvironment.scot/designation/SM9458

© Paul T Hornby 2020 

 

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  56.315363, -3.380935 Edmund\'s Grave

Easter Nether Urquhart Cairn, Gateside, Fife

Cairn (destroyed): OS Grid ReferenceNO 1886 0890

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore 27787

Getting Here

The easiest way is to turn south off the A91 at Gateside onto Station Road, and the site of the cairn is in the third field to the left over the railway bridge. I accessed the site walking along the old railway line and climbing up the embankment.

Archaeology & History

The site of the Cairn on the 1894 25 in. OS map.

In the shadow of the Lomond Hills of Fife, what was once a very large pre-historic cairn, officially described as of ‘unassigned’ period, was quarried to destruction around two hundred and twenty years ago, presumably to provide stones for dykes (stone walls), at that time of enclosures of common land and what the landowners liked to call ‘agricultural improvements’.

In the early nineteenth century, this part of the Eden Valley between Gateside and the Lomond Hills was what would now be called a ritual landscape. There were, according to Miller:

nearly in a line between the two Laws ( Lomond Hills) no less than eight “druidical temples” (Stone circles) close together

and a number of impressive burial cairns, of which Easter Nether Urquhart seems to have been the largest. There were in addition large numbers of graves containing masses of cremated of human bones. Nearly all this archaeology has been subsequently destroyed by the farmers.

Two local antiquarian writers proposed that all these human remains had been buried there following the battle of Mons Graupius between the Roman Invaders under Agricola, and the Caledonians, and went on to argue that the Eden Valley was the site of this historic defeat for the ancient Caledonians defending their homeland. Whatever and whenever the origins of the cairns and human remains, subsequent researchers disagree with these nineteenth century arguments in favour of the Eden Valley, and tend to favour a more northerly location for Mons Graupius. Nevertheless we have these two historians to thank for leaving us descriptions of the cairn.

One of the antiquarians, Rev. Andrew Small wrote in 1823:

‘The Slaughter here seems to have been so dreadful, that even after the lapse of 17 Centuries the Common tradition of the Country bears, and seems to be as fresh in the Mouths of both old and young as though the battle had been fought only a hundred years ago, – that after this battle the River Eden ran red with blood for two days…’

It seems more likely that the event remembered was part of the campaign by Roman Emperor Septimus Severus and his son Caracalla to subdue the Caledonians around 209-210 CE. Modern writer, Simon Elliott:

‘Archaeological data is now emerging to show ….. a major depopulation event, indicating something close to a genocide was committed by the Romans in the central and upper Midland Valley.’

Andrew Small describing the cairn and some of the cremation remains in 1823:

There was also a very large cairn laid upon these ; and the proprietor lately told me that when removing the stones, besides the ashes already mentioned, there was also a pit of pure fine sand by itself, about as fine as is usually put into sand-glasses, which he thinks had been used for regulating the fire in burning of the dead. This cairn stood a little north of an ancient Druids temple, only one stone now remaining, out of ten of which it formerly consisted ‘.

Lieutenant – Colonel, Miller writing in 1829:

‘Farther west ….a very large cairn stood, containing upwards of two thousand cart-loads of stones. Upon removing it about thirty years ago, a pit six feet long, two broad, and of the same depth, was found, quite full of burnt bones; and near it another, two feet square and two deep, full of the finest sand. An urn was also found, near the surface of the cairn, full of bones. A very fine Druid’s temple stood on the south side of it, consisting of seven very large stones…’

As the builders of the cairn didn’t have access to carts, and that the stones all had to be moved by hand, it gives an indication of the manpower needed to build the cairn, and the status of the individuals whose remains were buried there. And we have to question why a special chamber been built into the base of the cairn to hold fine sand, and what was the purpose of this sand?

Left – View of Cairn site looking north, centre of the field beyond the tractor tracks.
Centre – View looking south. Right – The cairn recycled? Walling on the south side of A91 at
Gateside

Folklore 

While not writing specifically of the cairn, Revd. Small recounts these tales of the surrounding land, relating it to his belief that it was the site of Mons Graupius:

‘I cannot forbear to mention here, also, a singular circumstance I had from the landlord and landlady, both yet alive, — viz. that before parking or inclosing took place, they were accustomed to have folds built of feal or turf for the cattle lying in at night ; but that, when the folds happened to be in this place where the dead had been burnt, the cattle would never lie in them, but always broke through or leaped over the dyke ; that they were obliged to give a man a boll of barley extra to watch them, when they lay in this spot, which was obliged to be repeated every four or five years in rotation ; but that sometimes the man was not able to keep them in by all his endeavours, the cattle looking wild and terrified in appearance ; and sometimes it required the united efforts of all the hands that could be had to keep them in, oftentimes springing over the fold dykes close beside them, and frequently crouching and trembling as if they would have fallen down with terror, although nothing appeared visible to the visual organs either of the man or those that occasionally assisted him. However, after the discovery of so many ashes and fragments of human bones, the man declared that, had he known of these being so near, he would not have been so fond of watching.’  

‘The late farmer of Upper Orquart, a most respectable man, with whom I was well acquainted, and upon whose farm the principal part of the battle was fought, told me also that always when the folds happened to be both at where the Caledonians were burnt as well as the Romans — but particularly he specified the spot where the Romans had been burnt, or the Witch Know or Knoll — the cattle would never lie in the fold, but were always breaking ” the fauld,” as he called it, except when they were particularly watched ; and even that was not always effectual for keeping them from doing it either. This would insinuate as if the spirits of these departed heroes of antiquity sometimes visited and hovered about the places where their ashes had been deposited ; though invisible to the more refined visual organs of the human eye, yet obviously visible in some shape or other to the more gross visual organs of the irrational or bestial tribe, else how can these forementioned occurrences be accounted for? This hypothesis seems to be borne out by Balaam’s Ass perceiving the Angel twice, when he himself could not do so till his eyes were supernaturally opened.’

Afterword

Although the cairn no longer exists, its stones were probably reused for local walling, and it’s likely, but not provable, that the wall on the south side of the A91 past the Station Road turning is built from stones removed from the cairn.

References:

  1. Elliott, Simon, Septimus Severus in Scotland, Greenhill Books, 2018.
  2. Miller, Lt. Col., “An Inquiry Respecting the Site of theBattle of Mons Grampius“, 1829, published in Archaeologica Scotica vol. IV, 1857.
  3. Small, Andrew, Interesting Roman Antiquities Recently Discovered in Fife, John Anderson, Edinburgh, 1823

Links:

  1. Battle of Mons Graupius

© Paul T Hornby 2020

 

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  56.265629, -3.311587 Easter Nether Urquhart Cairn

Ferntower carving, Crieff, Perthshire

Cup-Marked Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NN 87415 22626

Getting Here

From Crieff central, take the A85 road east out of town where the golf club is on your left.  Park up and ask the helpful lads who work in the shop, who’ll direct you to the standing stones on the golf course.  The cupmark is on the second stone along the row of stones from the direction you’ve approached from.

Archaeology & History

Here’s another one of those petroglyphs only of interest to those with the madness in their bloodstream!  Found within the ruins of the Ferntower megalithic ring is a distinct single cupmark on what John Coles (1911) called ‘Stone D’ in his survey:

The stone in question
Cupmark, lower centre

“Stone D, a boulder of whinstone also containing seams of quartz, 5 feet 6 inches in length and breadth, and 2 feet 3 inches above ground.  At some period the intention of blasting this block must have been considered, for there is the beginning of a jumper-hole near the centre of its upper surface.  Close to this unmistakably modern hole there is one single genuine cup-mark about 1¼ inch in diameter.”

A note of this was also made when Aubrey Burl (1988) surveyed the site, who pointed out that in accordance with a characteristic found at other ‘four poster’ stone circles, the carving is “another example of a decorated stone on the eastern side” (my italics) of such a ring.

Folklore

Although we have nothing specifically relating to the carving, it’s worth noting that when we visited the stone circle, the groundsman told us that it had been a place where local people gathered at summer solstice.

References:

  1. Burl, Aubrey, Four Posters, BAR: Oxford 1988.
  2. Coles, Fred, “Report on Stone Circles Surveyed in Perthshire, Principally Strathearn” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 45, 1911.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.382465, -3.824887 Ferntower carving