Tobair na h-oige, St. Kilda, Outer Hebrides

Sacred Well (lost):  OS Grid Reference – NA 100 000

Also Known as:

  1. Well of Eternal Youth

Folklore

An old story told in previous centuries by the indigenous folk of Hirta (St. Kilda) described a long-lost well that was thought to be an abode of the little people, known as the Well of Eternal Youth.  Not to be confused with the Well of Virtues near the Amazon’s House less than a mile west, the rough whereabouts of this site is cited by J. Sands (1878) in the folklore section of his otherwise historical account on these faraway Atlantic islands.  He wrote:

“Once on a time an old fellow, in going up Connagher with a sheep on his back, observed a Well which he had never seen or heard of before.  The water looked like cream, and was so tempting, that he knelt down and took a hearty drink.  To his surprise all the infirmities of age immediately left him, and all the vigour and activity of youth returned. He laid down the sheep to mark the spot, and ran down the hill to tell his neighbours. But when he came up again neither sheep nor well were to be found, nor has any one been able to find the Tobair na h-oige to this day.  Some say that if he had left a small bit of iron at the well—a brog with a tacket in it would have done quite well—the fairies would have been unable to take back their gift.”

Explorations of old maps and texts has failed to show with certainty where this legendary well may have been (the grid-ref is an approximation), but it was reported in Mrs Banks’ Scottish Calendar Customs (1937) to have been “issuing out of the face of a rock on the north-side of the east bay…only accesible by the inhabitants, no stranger daring to climb the steep rock.” Some of us would try!

References:

  1. Banks, M. MacLeod, British Calendar Customs: Scotland – volume 2, Folklore Society: London 1937.
  2. Sands, J., Out of the World; or Life in St. Kilda, Maclachlan & Stewart: Edinburgh 1878.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  57.819254, -8.571844 Tobair na h-oige

Higher Town Bay, St. Martin’s, Scilly Isles

Cist:  OS Grid Reference – SV 934 153

Also Known as:

  1. Monument no.303793

Archaeology & History

The remains of this old tomb were first noted by Mr Alexander Gibson, whose photograph of the site is here reproduced.  Thought by Paul Ashbee (1974) to date from between the Iron Age and Romano-British period, the site was first described in O.G.S. Crawford’s (1928) essay in Antiquity journal.  It was just one of several such sites in relative proximity to each other and which, due to them being so close to the sea, have been all-but washed over by Nature’s advance.  Mr Crawford told that this,

“cist on the shore…is on St. Martin’s, between Crethus Hill and English Island Point, about 20 yards from the edge of the rushy bank, and at approximately high water-mark.  It is oriented north and south and is 3 feet long by 2 (feet) wide.  It has now no capstone.  The cist when found was full of coarse, gravelly sand and stones, which were cleared out; amongst this were parts of leg bones (the joint-ends missing) and smaller fragments; then a piece of a human jaw, without teeth, and finally the skull.  The facial portion was missing.  The skull fell to pieces on removal but it and all the other pieces were preserved and the cist filled in again.”

In the same article, Crawford notes that,

“nearby, to the west, were two or three other cists of the same type, and many years ago yet others were observed, both round this bay and at Lawrence’s, to the west of Crethus Hill.”

References:

  1. Ashbee, Paul, Ancient Scilly, David & Charles: Newton Abbot 1974.
  2. Crawford, O.G.S., “Stone Cists,” in Antiquity Journal, volume 2, no.8, December 1928.
  3. Weatherhill, Craig, Cornovia, Halsgrove 2009.

Links:

  1. Pastscape Notes on Monument no.303793

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  49.959445, -6.275700 Higher Town cist

Town Lane, St. Mary’s, Scilly Isles

Cist:  OS Grid Reference – SV 9157 1175

Also Known as:

  1. Monument no.304025

Archaeology & History

Town Lane cist

In Crawford’s (1928) article on stone-lined burials, or cists, this was one site that he described from the Scilly Isles, though little can be seen of the site nowadays as a road was built on top of it.  It was first discovered by a Mr Alexander Gibson (who took the photo, here reproduced) and was described as “the cist in the road”, due to its position in the middle of the old lane.  A number of flints and other Crawford told that it,

“is in Town Lane, about midway between Holy Vale and the Marconi Station, St. Mary’s (lat. 49° 55′ 35.2″ N, long. 6° 17′ 52.5″ W).  Nothing is known about it, but presumably it was found when the road was made by Mr Augustus Smith more than 80 years ago.  It measures about 3 feet in length by 2 feet in width, and is oriented approximately NE-SW.  There is said to have been another near it, but Mr Gibson has searched without success.”

In Paul Ashbee’s (1974) fine archaeological survey, he describes there being several other small prehistoric burials found in fields a little further down the same lane.

References:

  1. Ashbee, Paul, Ancient Scilly, David & Charles: Newton Abbot 1974.
  2. Crawford, O.G.S., “Stone Cists,” in Antiquity Journal, volume 2, no.8, December 1928.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  49.926274, -6.298990 Town Lane cist

North Hill, Samson, Scilly Isles, Cornwall

Chambered Cairn:  OS Grid Reference – SV 877 131

Archaeology & History

Early photo of the North Hill tomb (Crawford 1928)

On the north side of Samson island there are several chambered tombs and cairns scattered around the edges of aptly-named North Hill; but the one illustrated here was one of the first to be excavated in 1862-3.  Although O.G.S. Crawford (1928) wrote about the site in his essay on Cornish cists — from where this old black-and-white photo of the site has been taken — it was described in much greater detail in Borlase’s (1872) archaeological magnum opus of the day.  In his time, this now much-denuded burial site had all the outer hallmarks of being a large tumulus.  This was described in some detail in a paper written by one Mr Augustus Smith (read at a Meeting of the Royal Institution of Cornwall in May, 1863) who was fortunate enough to be one of the first people to unearth this great tomb and find the site untouched since it had been laid, thousands of years earlier.  Citing extensively from Smith’s notes, Borlase told:

“The Barrow…is situated with four or five others, mostly rifled on the…high ground at the northern end.  “The mound, in its outer circumference, measured about 58 feet, giving, therefore, a distance of near upon 30 feet to its centre, from where the excavation was commenced.  For about 18 or 20 feet the mound appeared entirely composed of fine earth, when an inner covering, first of smaller and then or large rugged stones, was revealed.  These were carefully uncovered before being disturbed, and were then one by one displaced till a large upright stone was reached, covered by another of still more ponderous dimensions, which projected partially over the edges of the other.  At length this top covering, of irregular shape, but measuring about 5 feet 6 inches in its largest diameter, was thoroughly cleared of the superincumbent stones and earth, and showed itself evidently to be the lid to some mysterious vault or chamber beneath.”  On the lid being removed, there was “disclosed to view an oblong stone chest or sarcophagus beneath” on the floor of which, “in a small patch,” “a little heap of bones, the fragmentary framework of some denizen of earth, perhaps a former proprietor of the Islands—were discovered piled together in one corner.

“”The bones were carefully taken out, and the more prominent fragments, on subsequent examination by a medical gentleman, were found to give the following particulars: – Part of an upper jawbone presented the alveolæ of all the incisors, the canines, two cuspids and three molars, and the roots of two teeth, very white, still remaining in the sockets.  Another fragment gave part of the lower jaw with similar remains of teeth in the sockets.  All the bones had been under the action of fire and must have been carefully collected together after the burning of the body.  They are considered to have belonged to a man about 50 years of age…

“”The bottom of the sarcophagus was neatly fitted with a pavement of three flat but irregular-shaped stones, the joints fitted with clay mortar, as were also the insterstices where the stones forming the upright sides joined together, as also the lid, which was very neatly and closely fitted down with this same plaster.

“”Two long slabs, from seven to nine feet in length, and two feet in depth, form the sides, while the short stones fitted in between them make the ends, being about 3½ feet apart, and to fix which firmly in their places, grooves had been roughly worked in the larger stones.”  The paving stones had been “embedded immediately upon the natural surface of the granite of which the hill consists.”

References:

  1. Borlase, William Copeland, Nænia Cornubiæ, Longmans Green: London 1872.
  2. Crawford, O.G.S., “Stone Cists,” in Antiquity Journal, volume 2, no.8, December 1928.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  49.936726, -6.353258 North Hill cairn