Sarah’s Stone, Borgie, Tongue, Sutherland

Cup-Marked Stone: OS Grid Reference – NC 66791 60343

Getting Here

Sarah, on top of her stone!

There’s no simple way to reach here – but the landscape alone makes the journey worthwhile.  Roughly halfway along the A836 between Bettyhill and Tongue, take the minor road up to Borgie, past the recently revamped Borgie Hotel for half-a-mile (0.8 km) where, on your left, is Deepburn Cottage.  On the other side of the road, on your left, go through the gate and follow the path uphill. It curves up and to the right where you hit some overgrown walling.  Walk up and along this wall for nearly half-a-mile (it’ll feel like twice that!) and as you approach the crystal blue waters of Lochan a’ Chaorruin, veer right and start walking up the small Torrisdale Burn.  Less than 200 yards along, you’ll see the large isolated rock on your left.

Archaeology & History

Cupmarks top & bottom
Single prominent cupmark

Previously unrecorded, this large boulder sitting above the edge of Torrisdale Burn was rediscovered by Sarah MacLean—hence its name—and has between five and nine cup-marks etched, primarily, on the topmost ridge of the rock.  Its eastern steep-sloping face also has a cup-mark near the middle top-half of the stone.  Apart from three of them (visible in the photos), the other cups aren’t very distinct and unless the lighting is right, you won’t see much here.  This one is probably gonna be of little interest unless you’re a real hardcore petroglyph freak.

Further up this tiny winding glen we reach the faint cup-marked Thorrisdail Stone and a little further on is the impressive ritual site of Allt Thorrisdail.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  58.510762, -4.288187 Sarahs Stone

Borgie Bridge Stone Row, Tongue, Sutherland

Stone Row: OS Grid Reference – NC 6613 5874

Also Known as:

  1. Allt Loch Tuirslighe
  2. Canmore ID 5745

Getting Here

The site of the stone rows

The site of the stone rows

Take the A836 road between Bettyhill and Tongue and, roughly halfway between the two villages, a few hundred yards west of the turning to Borgie, park up at the roadside. Cross the road and through the gate, follow the waters of Allt Loch Tuirslighe for 100 yards and then walk uphill onto the moors. You’re damn close!

Archaeology & History

This megalithic stone row was uncovered in the late 1970s – which is no surprise to be honest.  It is a very low parallel row of small upright stones, which Freer & Myatt (1982) initially found to consist of two rows of standing stones, twelve in all. When we visited the site a few days ago, I could find only ten of them that could appreciably be termed authentic – and that was stretching it a bit!

Several of the low stones

Several of the low stones

Close-up of the small stones

Close-up of the small stones

Of the two stone rows presently visible, the easterly one is easier to see and consists of seven small stones, running almost in a dead straight line NNE.  A few yards west we find the second stone row, in which I could only discern three tangible contenders, also running NNE, but slightly fanning outwards and away further north. When standing in the middle of the two rows, they align to a small natural rocky outcrop on the near-horizon 100 yards away, upon which Paul Hornby recently discovered 3 or 4 faint cup-markings. If we turn 180 degrees and look in the opposite direction, the alignment of stones points to the highest peak in the far distance.

Myatt's 1988 survey

Myatt’s 1988 survey

Gourlay's 1996 survey

Gourlay’s 1996 survey

All of the stones are small and difficult to see upon initial exploration. The highest of them stands no more than 1½ feet tall, with their average less than 1 foot. One of the stones in the eastern row is covered completely by vegetation.  However, in earlier assessments of this site, quite a few other stones were visible.  Its brief history and appearance was described in Leslie Myatt’s (1988) survey of such monuments in this remote region, where he told:

“This very ruinous setting of stone rows was fist recorded by the Archaeology Division of the Ordnance Survey… Peat cutting has taken place in the area and undoubtedly a number of stones have been removed from the site.

“(The illustration) shows the result of a survey carried out by the author showing a total of only 16 stones not more than 20cm above the surface.  Because of the small number of stones remaining, it has not been possible to superimpose a geometric construction on the site.  The ground slopes upwards to the north-northeast, at which end of the setting is a low peat-covered mound about 10m in diameter.  It has no distinctive features, although it does not appear to be natural…”

The site is described in Alexander Thom’s (1990) major survey, but sadly he didn’t turn his direct attention here, so we still have no accurate geometric or astronomical assessment.  A few years later Aubrey Burl (1993) gave us details of the larger initial size of the complex and told us that at

“Borgie, near Torrisdale Bay on the north coast of Sutherland, perhaps an early site, has three or four lines with the suspicion of a fifth.  The rows narrow from their base 20ft (6.1m) across to 18ft 8in (5.7m) over a distance of 59ft (18m), a contraction as they worm uphill towards a peat-covered mound of hardly a quarter of an inch in a foot (0.6: 31cm).”

The small peat-covered mound which the stone rows lead up to was suggested by Robert Gourlay (1996) as “perhaps a small cairn.”

References:

  1. Burl, Aubrey, From Carnac to Callanish, Yale University Press 1993.
  2. Freer, R. & Myatt, L.J., “The Multiple Stone Rows of Caithness and Sutherland,” in Caithness Field Club Bulletin, 3:3, April 1982.
  3. Gourley, Robert, Sutherland: An Archaeological Guide, Birlinn: Edinburgh 1996.
  4. Myatt, Leslie, “The Stone Rows of Northern Scotland,” in Ruggles 1988.
  5. Ruggles, Clive, Records in Stone: Papers in Memory of Alexander Thom, Cambridge University Press 1988.
  6. Thom, A., Thom, A.S. & Burl, Aubrey, Stone Rows and Standing Stones – 2 volumes, BAR: Oxford 1990.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  58.496201, -4.298554 Borgie Bridge Stone Row

Borgie Souterrain, Tongue, Sutherland

Souterrain:  OS Grid Reference –  NC 6762 5929 

Getting Here

 

The Borgie souterrain

From Bettyhill village, take the A836 road west towards Tongue.  Several miles along the road, keep your eyes peeled for Borgie and Skerray on your right.  Go down here for half-a-mile or so until, a hundred yards or so before the Borgie Hotel, a dirt-track on your right takes you down into some trees.  As you enter the edge of the woodland, right by the trackside on your left, a large stone lays in the grass.  A few yards from this is the hole in the ground.

Archaeology & History

When I was first shown this place, I could find no previous description of it in any of the archaeological records.  I was fortunate in being taken here by one of the land-owners hereby, who told me that it had been known about locally for some years – but informing the archaeologists (patronizing as they were to the people hereby, as can be the case sometimes) was the last thing on their minds….

Entrance to an underworld
Looking out from inside

Immediately beneath the ridge where the Borgie chambered cairn once stood, the site was uncovered quite by accident when a local man went to move a large stone on the grassy embankment, to make use of it in walling or something similar.  But much to his surprise, the boulder covered the entrance to an underground chamber known as a souterrain – inside which, local lore tends to tell, the little people once stayed.  It’s an impressive structure!  When Donna Murray took me to see this a few months ago, she said it was only a few yards long – but once I’d got inside, found it to be much longer than this.  After dropping perhaps six feet down into the hollow, the very well-preserved wide chamber beneath – some 6-8 feet across – curved around to the north-northeast and into pitch blackness.  I walked perhaps ten yards into the chamber, completely upright, and as the chamber curved and went further into the Earth, the pitch black stopped me venturing more.

Looking into the darkness
Line of roofing stones

The walls of the souterrain were very well structured indeed and were made up of hundreds of good-sized stones, akin to those used to build old stone walling in our northern hills.  The floor was, typically, muddy and apart from a scatter of a few stones I could see little by way of a ‘floor’ beneath my feet (but it was dark!). However, the roofing was made up of large flat stones measuring 6-8 feet across, as wide as the structure itself, running parallel all along the chamber.  I did not walk to the end of the chamber – but would assume that this roofing continued to the end of the souterrain.

In a number of souterrains we find examples of cup-and-ring carvings (the one at Pitcur, Perthshire, being one of the very best), but I could discern no such petroglyphs inside this chamber.  However, considering how dark it was, another investigation with torches is necessary before any definitive remarks regarding internal petroglyphs can be made.

 

Curving into the darkness

It’s in damn good condition indeed and is well worth looking at if you venture this far north.  Other unrecorded prehistoric monuments are found all over this remote landscape – from cup-and-rings, to stone circles, to tombs, enclosures, cairns, you name it!  If anyone knows of any permanent rental properties up here – please let me know and get in touch so that I can spend the rest of my life working here meandering, discovering and recording the prehistory of this truly archaic landscape!  I’m serious!

Acknowledgements:  Immense thanks to Donna from Borgie, for showing me this ancient monument and other sites.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  58.501574, -4.273373 Borgie Souterrain

Dun Riaskidh, Torrisdale Bay, Sutherland

 

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  58.520932, -4.254953 Dun Riaskidh, Torrisdale

Chambered Cairn:  OS Grid Reference – NC 68763 61406

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 5775
  2. Dun Richard

Getting Here

Approaching Dun Riaskidh

Along the A836 road between Bettyhill and Tongue, keep your eyes peeled for the turning down to Borgie and Skerray.  Go along here for 1.8 miles (2.9km) until, just past a tiny road on your left, a small parking spot with a tourist board is by the roadside. Walk down hill and over the River Borgie below and follow the footpath round until your reach the edge of Torrisdale Beach. From here, walk right, uphill, across overgrown sand-dunes to the stone escarpment 400 yards or so to the east.  A large scattered mass of rocks on top of one of the first rocky knolls is what you’re looking for.  You can’t really miss it.

Archaeology & History

Dun Riaskidh, looking north

This is worth the journey for the scenery of Torrisdale Bay alone: one of the most beautiful places in all Scotland. …Not far from the legendary Ringstone and the carving above, this collapsed mass of scattered rocks was said, in local lore, to have been the remains of an old broch—or that’s what Hew Morrison told the Royal Commission (1911) lads about it when they surveyed the area more than a century back.  Their description was short:

“About ½-mile E of the footbridge across the River Borgie, near Torrisdail, and on the W. side of Druim a’ Chleibh, are the remains of a broch. No outlines of walls are visible. The site is indicated by a structureless heap of stones.”

It seems at first to be in an unusual position for a chambered cairn: built onto solid rock instead of soil.  Yet we find this geocentric structuralism echoed at the Borgie chambered tomb 1½ miles to the southeast.  When you reach the place, a large mass of stones—hundreds of them piled-up several feet high—is strewn across the rocky surface and reaching onto more typical moorland ground.  On top are a number of large stones, some laid down, some half-upright appearing, perhaps, to have played some part in an internal cist or chamber.  On the eastern side the rocky mass falls down a natural steep slope, with many of the fallen stones covered by centuries of vegetation.  As you walk around it, cairn-scatter seems to extend southwards towards another natural rocky knoll 20 yards to the south, giving the impression of a second cairn (much like the Fiscary 1 and 2 cairns 2.8 miles to the east), but this is improbable.

The first detailed archaeological account of the site was by Audrey Henshall (1972), who told us:

“…The cairn is about 4ft high, consisting of a mass of angular stones.  On the S side the edge can be traced, and the indications are that the diameter was about 57ft.  The edge on the N side is rather vague and may have been flattened in plan.  On the E and W sides, where there are steep drops, the stones have evidently spread downhill, though on the E side parts of a roughly built edging can be seen.

“Many large slabs lie about the site, probably mainly displaced corbels and roofing stones.  Much of the chamber structure probably exists, and a few visible orthostats are probably in situ.  The entrance has probably been from the N or seaward side.  A slab towards the S side, aligned E-W, projects 1ft 6in, and is likely to be the back-slab.  The E side of the chamber is represented by a slab 4ft 6in to the N, aligned N-S, which is just visible.  On the W side of the chamber there are a number of large slabs, one over the other wide their E edges aligned vertically, and laid declining to the W, which appear to be corbel stones only slightly displaced.  To the N of them, a stone set transversely to the axis of the chamber, 10ft 3in N of the back-slab, might be a portal stone.  Another upright stone seemingly firmly set but obstructing the probable position of the entry into the chamber, is presumably displaced.”

More than twenty years later however, Miss Henshall (1995) revisited Dun Riaskidh and altered her initial diagnosis of it as a chambered cairn, suggesting it to be something completely different, telling:

“The cairn-like structure…has an overall spread of about 17m including stone displaced downhill, and a height of 1.6m on the S side.  On the summit a group of upright slabs protrudes up to 0.35m, and forms a rough oval 5.5m E to W, by 4.5m N to S.  They seem to be on the inner side of a ring of stony material  about 2.5m thick.  In the interior is a disorganised mass of lintel slabs and three earthfast upright slabs.  The structure appears to be a house with spaced uprights in the inner face of the wall, and with a series of uprights which helped to support a partly lintelled roof.  A hollow on the N or seaward side probably indicates the position of the entrance.”

Top of the cairn, looking W

Now woe am I to go against the words of a giant like Miss Henshall, but having slept in numerous derelict houses and seen countless numbers of them in the hills, this structure does not seem to have such properties.  The category that is continued by Canmore and Ordnance Survey re Dun Riaskidh is still a “chambered cairn”; but, perhaps, if Miss Henshall is correct in saying that it is not a cairn, then maybe the words of local tradition may have been right all along (again!) and this is a collapsed broch?  Who knows for sure…?

Whatever its original nature and function, this vestige of antiquity is enveloped within another one of Nature’s incredible domains…

References:

  1. Henshall, Audrey S., The Chambered Tombs of Scotland – volume 2, Edinburgh University Press 1972.
  2. Henshall, Audrey S. & Ritchie, J.N.G., The Chambered Cairns of Sutherland, Edinburgh University Press 1995.
  3. Horsburgh, James, Notes of Cromlechs, Duns, Hut-circles, Chambered Cairns and other Remains, in the County of Sutherland“, in Proceedings Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 7, 1870
  4. Mercer, R.J. & Howell, J.M., Archaeological Field Survey in Northern Scotland – volume 2, University of Edinburgh 1981.
  5. Royal Commission on Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, Inventory of Monuments and Constructions in the County of Sutherland. HMSO: Edinburgh 1911.

Acknowledgments:  Huge thanks to Donna Murray, for putting me up in this part of Paradise.  Cheers Donna.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 

Borgie Farmhouse, Tongue, Sutherland

Broch (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NC 675 594

Archaeology & History

A singular reference to this site appears in James Horsburgh’s (1870) early article on the prehistoric remains of Sutherland.  It seems he was on an early road-trip (or dirt-track-trip as it would have been in those days, as there were no real ‘roads’) and as his journey took him along the remote tracks in the far North, visiting places that are still intact and mentioning those which, oral tradition told, had passed into memory, local folk told him about a couple of brochs that had recently met their demise.  This was one of them.  He wrote:

“Between Farr and Tongue, after crossing the Naver Ferry… some miles on, near Borgie-farm house, there was a Pictish tower, now demolished, and on the side of the old road to Tongue, another.”

In asking the lady who lives here if she knew anything about the broch, she told that although she didn’t, she’d ask some old locals to see if they knew of any folk remnants about the place.  It would have stood a short distance above the little-known Borgie souterrain. If we receive any additional info, the site-profile will be updated. (the grid-reference for this broch is an approximation)

References:

  1. Horsburgh, James, Notes of Cromlechs, Duns, Hut-circles, Chambered Cairns and other Remains, in the County of Sutherland“, in Proceedings Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 7, 1870

Acknowledgements:  Huge thanks again to Donna Murray for enquiring to see if any old tales remained about this long-lost site.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  58.502926, -4.274836 Borgie Farmhouse

Borgie, Tongue, Sutherland

Chambered Cairn:  OS Grid Reference – NC 6737 5940

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 5743

Getting Here

Borgie Cairn under gorse, right

Very difficult to find under the herbage, but – along the A836 road between Tongue and Bettyhill, turn down at Borgie Bridge towards Skerray.  A few hundred yards along, past the third house on y’ right, a path through the gate on the left takes you up the slope. Once you meet the deep-cut dike, follow it north-ish for 200 yards, over the fence; then walk 150 yards towards the eastern edges where the mass of gorse meets with the rocky escarpment.  You’re damn close!

Archaeology & History

These days, much of the remains of this neolithic chambered cairn are inaccessible, as it is covered with the spindly-killer-bushes that are the yellow gorse (Ulex eurapæus).  A pity.  …Just like its fellow chambered tomb of Dun Riaskidh precisely 1½ miles NW, this was also built upon the edge of a natural rocky escarpment with some of the rocks making up the tomb falling to the edges (I nearly fell in and spined misself meandering around its edges!).

Little has been written about it in archaeo-tomes, despite it being first listed in 1947. Presumably neolithic in age, it was first classed as a ’round cairn’ and has subsequently been described by Canmore as,

“a severely robbed, chambered cairn. It is about 15.0m in diameter, with a maximum height of 0.6m in the centre; elsewhere the cairn is reduced to a stony rim and scattered stones. In the centre a chamber is indicated by two opposing earthfast boulders 1.1m apart and protruding up to 0.6m through the cairn material.”

References:

  1. Gourley, Robert, Sutherland: An Archaeological Guide, Birlinn: Edinburgh 1996.

Acknowledgments:  Huge thanks to Donna Murray, for putting me up in this part of Paradise.  Cheers Donna.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  58.502515, -4.277584 Borgie Chambered Cairn

Ringstone, Torrisdale Bay, Farr, Sutherland

 

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  58.524038, -4.248900 Ringstone, Torrisdale

Legendary Rock:  OS Grid Reference – NC 69128 61741

Getting Here

The Ringstone, Torrisdale Bay

Along the A836 road between Tongue and Bettyhill, turn down towards Skerray at Borgie Bridge for 1.8 miles (2.87km) until you reach the little information sign at the roadside. Walk downhill and cross the little bridge and wander onto the west side of the beach.  You’re likely to end up daydreaming… so once you’ve re-focussed, head into the middle of the beach and walk up the steep-ish sand-banks to your right (south).  Once at the top, you’ll see a gigantic rock—the Ringstone—bigger than a house.

Folklore

This gigantic boulder is part of one of Sutherland’s archaic Creation Myths as they’re known: ancient stories recounted by archaic societies about the nature and origins of the world.  Such tales tend to be peopled by giants, gods, huge supernatural creatures, borne of chaos, eggs, darkness and primal oceans.  Thankfully we still find some examples of these tales in the northern and northwestern mountainous regions of Britain, as the Church and Industrialism never quite destroyed the hardcore communities—despite what they might like to tell you…

Face of the Ringstone, from above Torrisdale’s sand dunes
The Ringstone, looking east

The following folktale of the Ringstone was thankfully preserved by the local school headmaster, Alan Temperley (1977), before it disappeared from the oral traditions of local people (as is sadly happening in these mountains).  It typifies stories told of such geological giants from aboriginal Australia, to Skye, to everywhere that people have lived.  Mr Temperley wrote:

“Many years ago there were two giants, the Naver giant from the river at Bettyhill, and the Aird giant from the hill above Skerray.  Normally they got on quite well, but one afternoon they became involved in a heated argument about some sheep and cattle, and both grew very angry.  The Aird giant was standing on top of the hill above Torrisdale bay with the animals grazing around him, and the Naver giant stormed across the river to the beach below.

“Those are my sheep,” he roared up the hill.

“No they’re not,” the Aird giant said. “At least not all of them.”

“You stole them. You’re a thief!”

“No I didn’t. They came up here themselves. Anyway, you owe me fifty sheep from last year.”

“You’re not only as thief, you’re a liar!” shouted the Naver giant.  If you don’t send them down this minute, I’ll come up and see to it myself.”

At this the Aird giant gave a disparaging laugh and made a rude face, and picking up a great boulder flung it down the hill at his friend.

The Naver giant was speechless with fury, and picking the stone up himself, hurled it back up the hillside, making a great hole in the ground.

The Aird giant saw things had gone far enough.

“I’ll send them back if you give me that silver ring you’re always wearing,” he said.

“Never!” roared his friend, his face all red and angry.

“Suit yourself then,” said the Aird giant, and picking the stone up again he tossed it back down the hill.

For long enough the rock kept flying between them, and in time the giant from Naver grew tired, because he was throwing it uphill all the time.

“Will you give me the ring now?” said the Aird giant.

For answer the Naver giant tried one more time to throw the stone up the hill, but it only got halfway, and rolled back down to the shore.

“Come on,” said the giant from Aird, for he wanted to be friends again. “Give me the ring, and I’ll let you have it back later.”

“No!” said the Naver giant from the bottom of the hill.  “I’ll never give it to you!” His eyes began to fill with tears.

“Oh, come on, please!” coaxed the Aird giant. “Just for a week.”

“Never, never, never!” shouted the giant from Naver, and pulling the ring from his finger he threw it on the ground and jammed the great boulder down on top of it.  Then he sat down on top of the stone and stared out to sea.  Every so often he sniffed, and his friend, looking down at his broad back, saw him lift the back of a hand to his eyes.

They never made friends again, and after a long time they both died.

The ring is still buried under the stone, and so far nobody has ever been able to shift it.”

The giant’s face, in profile

When I got back from visiting this immense rock a few weeks ago, a local lady Donna Murray asked me if I’d seen the face of the giant in the rock.  I hadn’t—as I was looking to see if the name ‘Ringstone’ related to any possible cup-and-rings on its surface, which it didn’t (although I didn’t clamber onto the top).  But in the many photos I took from all angles, Donna pointed out the blatant simulacra of the giant’s face when looking at it from the east.

However, on top of the slope above the Ringstone (not the Aird side), I did find a faint but distinct ‘Ringstone’ carving (without a central cupmark).  Whether this ever had any mythic relationship to the tale or the stone, we might never know.  The rocky terrain above Aird now needs to be looked at…

References:

  1. Eliade, Mircea, Patterns in Comparative Religion, Sheed & Ward: London 1958.
  2. Long, Charles H., “Cosmogony,” in Eliade, M., Encyclopedia of Religion – volume 4, MacMillan: New York 1987.
  3. MacLagan, David, Creation Myths: Man’s Introduction to the World, Thames & Hudson: London 1977.
  4. Temperley, Alan, Tales of the North Coast, Research Publishing Company: London 1977.

Acknowledgments:  Massive thanks again to Donna Murray, for her help and for putting up with me amidst my wanderings up in Torrisdale and district.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian 2017

Ringstone Carving, Torrisdale Bay, Farr, Sutherland

 

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  58.522828, -4.249015 Ringstone Carving

Cup-and-Ring Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NC 691 616  —  NEW FIND

Getting Here

Ringstone Carving, looking NW

Take the A836 road between Tongue and Bettyhill, turning down at Borgie Bridge for 1.8 miles (2.87km) until you reach the little information sign at the roadside. Walk downhill and cross the little bridge and wander onto the west side of the beach.  You’re likely to end up daydreaming… so once you’ve re-focussed, head into the middle of the beach and walk up the steep-ish sand-banks to your right (south).  Once at the top, you’ll see a gigantic rock—the Ringstone—bigger than a house.  Walk up the hill above this until your reach the rocky plateau where things roughly level out.  Look around!

Archaeology & History

This previously unrecognised carving on the edge of the rocky promontory that drops down to the stunning Torrisdale Bay—above the gigantic and legendary Ringstone boulder—is very much like the curious ‘C’-shaped motif on the Fyfield Down petroglyph, a couple of miles east of Avebury, literally 499 miles (803km) to the south.  Indeed, that’s all I kept thinking about when I found it!

Ringstone carving, looking S

The carving’s nowt special—apart from the fact that it’s seemingly isolated and has no apparent companions nearby.  It’s an incomplete circle, perhaps more like a bell-shape than a circle, about six inches across and seems to have no inner cup-mark.  Its general appearance on the rock surface seems to indicate it was carved by a metal tool, instead of being ‘pecked’—but it’s still very old.  Initially, I wondered whether it was an ichnological fossil or stromatolite—but it isn’t.

(Note that the OS-grid-ref is just a 6-figure one. I was ambling about and didn’t make an exact note of the place, but it won’t take much finding on the rocky levels above the giant Ringstone if you zigzag about. Apologies for the poor photos too, but She was cloudy most of the day.)

Acknowledgments:  Huge thanks to Donna Murray, for putting me up in this part of Paradise.  Cheers Donna.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian