In the ancient tiny hamlet of Botriphnie, local historian J.F.S. Gordon (1880) told us that:
“About 40 years ago, a Cross of rude picked stone, in low relief, and about 5½ feet high, by about 3 feet broad, stood within the Kirkyard of Botriphnie. Unfortunately, about the time indicated, the Stone was broken up by a Blacksmith, who used it as a Hearth for his Smiddy! This had probably been the ancient Cross of St Fumack’s Fair of Botriphnie.”
This little-known saint has a feast day of May 3, when curious ceremonies were performed in and around his holy well, found just outside the churchyard to the northeast. Little is known about Fumac, but he was said to have been the first Christian missionary in this part of Scotland.
Gordon, J.F.S., The Book of the Chronicles of Keith, Grange, Ruthven, Cairney and Botriphnie, Robert Forrester: Glasgow 1880.
The standing stone that could once be seen here is long gone. Its existence was reported in John Stuart’s (1854) short essay on stone circles of the region, in which he told:
“On the summit of the Hill of Balnoon, or rather on its neck towards the east, there was till lately a lofty upright stone called The Conwath or Conway Stone, and by some The Charter Stone. It was surrounded by a slight ditch.”
A recumbent stone in the field immediately north may relate to Stuart’s old report.
In the same article, Mr Stuart told some interesting folklore which strongly implies the stone to have had importance for women. He said:
“It has been said that funerals coming from the west end of the parish were accompanied to this stone by the females of the family, and that the funeral here rested for a time, and the females returned (the stone being in sight of the churchyard). My informant (the minister of the parish) states, that a cairn on the hill of Auchinhamper was used for a similar purpose by funerals coming from the east end of the parish. On visiting the stone, however, I found that the churchyard was not visible from that spot.”
Described on the earliest OS-map of the region as Taber Chalaich, this great “well of the old woman, or hag” is found on the northern slopes of Cairds Hill, amidst increasingly dense woodland up the top of the stream which ebbs and flows in strength (depending on the weather). A water source dedicated the prima mater Herself — i.e., the heathen pre-Celtic female creation deity par excellence — it was once of considerable repute locally as being a great curing well and was described by Ruth and Frank Morris (1981) as being,
“the scene of a pagan ceremony in which the Earth Mother in her old woman phase bathed at the well and returned as a young maiden.”
On the hill at the top we find remains of old tombs (mistakenly ascribed by Mr & Mrs Morris as ‘stone circles’), some of which may have had some mythic relationship with this legendary water source. Further information and/or any photos of this little-known site would be hugely welcomed!
This site had already passed into memory when the Ordnance Survey lads visited the area in 1870, but at least they included it on their early survey. Fred Coles (1906) described this site in his essay on the megaliths of Banffshire, where once could be found perhaps five stone circles close to each other – but all are now gone! Bloody disgraceful really. When Coles explored here, although the site was still shown on maps, little could be seen of the place.
“On the farm,” he wrote, “we heard long-handed-down tradition of the Circle, and the site was, rather vaguely, pointed out.” But there was nothing there. He described one reference to the place written by a Mr James Morrison, who said, “We have remains of two so-called Druid Circles, and during the last half-century three others have been swept away. One of these was in horse-shoe form and was called the Haer Stanes.” The same writer later says, “These stones were unfortunately found to lie in the line of a road then formed (1830) and were ignominiously tumbled down the slope on which for ages they had rested, and buried in a gravel pit by the side of the road.”
Cole, Fred, ‘Report on Stone Circles Surveyed in the North-East of Scotland…’, in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 40, Edinburgh 1906.