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)

Tombreck (15), Kenmore, Perthshire

Cup-Marked Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NN 64894 38308

Getting Here

Tombreck (15) carving

Along the A827 Loch Tay road between Morenish and Lawers, take the track uphill where Carie farmhouse and Tombreck are either side of the road. Walk up this track 2-300 yards till you go through the gate just past the sheep-folds on your left.  Ahead of you is a small grassy hillock on your right upon which you’ll find the unimpressive Tombreck-1 carving.  Walk down the grassy-slope to the boggy stream and then up the rounded knoll on the other side, where you’ll find a stone that’s been split in two.  You’re here!

Archaeology & History

This is another unrecorded carving, found amidst this already large petroglyphic cluster on August 9, 2020.  Carved on a stone that’s been spilt in half, three simple cup-marks can be seen on the larger easternmost section, with the lowest of them having a possible short line running towards the cup on the right.  It seems that the right-hand (north) side of the stone has also been cut, but there is no trace of this part of the stone on the ground.  Additionally, there is the possibility that this stone once stood upright, as evidenced by its very worn rounded top and the larger bottom end of the stone being distinctly lower compared to the ground all round it. But this is speculative.

The 3 cups, highlighted
3 cups on the lower stone

Although the rock is close to being on the top of a rounded knoll, giving good visibility both east and west for a few miles along the extensive grassy ridge (where many other petroglyphs exist), the grandeur of Loch Tay  in the glen below is not and could never have been visible from this, or indeed many other carvings on this ridge.  I mention this due to the fact that some students are positing that the existence of so many carvings along here may relate to some sort of deification of Loch Tay.  But here and at many others along this ridge, the idea simply aint valid, unfortunately.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.517351, -4.197451 Tombreck (15)

Mineral Well, Glen Lyon, Perthshire

Healing Well:  OS Grid Reference – NN 72110 47768

Also Known as:

  1. Iron Well

Getting Here

Mineral Well, Glen Lyon

From Fortingall village, head west and turn down into the incredible beauty that is Glen Lyon.  As you enter the trees, a half-mile along you pass the small gorge of MacGregor’s Leap in the river below.  2-300 yards pass this, keep your eyes peeled for an old small overgrown walled structure on the left-hand side of the road, barely above the road itself.  A large tree grows up above the tiny walled enclosure, within which are the unclear waters that trickle gently….

Archaeology & History

In previous centuries, this all-but-forgotten spring of water wasn’t just a medicinal spring, but was one of the countless sites where sympathetic magick was practised.  The old Highlanders would have had a name for the spirit residing at these waters, but it seems to have been lost.  The site is described in Alexander Stewart’s (1928) magnum opus on this stunning glen, where he wrote:

“Still a few yards more and Glenlyon’s famous mineral wishing well is seen gushing up, surrounded by its wall of rough stones now sadly in need of repair.  It has a stone shelf to receive the offerings of those who still retain a trace of superstition or like to uphold old customs as they partake of its waters.  The offerings usually consist of small pebbles, but occasionally something more valuable is found among them. The roadmen may clear that shelf as often as they like, but it is seldom empty for long.”

A local lady from Killin told us that she remembers the stone above the well still having offerings left on it 20-30 years ago. Hilary Wheater (1981) sketched it and called it the Iron Well.

Close-up of the waters (photo by Paul Hornby)
Hilary Wheater’s sketch

The waters in this small roadside well-house actually emerge some 50 yards up the steep hillside (recently deforested) and in parts have that distinct oily surface that typifies chalybeates, or iron-bearing springs – which this site is an example of.  Its medicinal properties would help to people with anaemia; to heal women just after childbirth; to aid those who’d been injured and lost blood; as well as to fortify the blood and stimulate the system.

Across the road from the well, Stewart (1928) told of a giant lime tree that was long known to be the meeting place for lovers (perhaps relating to the well?), and the name of the River Lyon here is the Poll-a-Chlaidheamh, or ‘the pool of the sword’, whose history and folklore fell prey to the ethnic cleansing of the english.

References:

  1. Stewart, Alexander, A Highland Parish, Alexander Maclaren: Glasgow 1928.
  2. Wheater, Hilary, Aberfeldy to Glenlyon, Appin Publications: Aberfeldy 1981.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.604226, -4.085031 Mineral Well

The Green, Glen Lochay, Killin, Perthshire

Cup-Marked Stone:  OS Grid Reference — NN 53976 35248

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 274203
  2. Falls of Lochay

Getting Here

The cliff-face and its ledge

Going out of Killin towards Kenmore on the A827 road, immediately past the Bridge of Lochay Hotel, turn left. Go down here for just over 2 miles and park-up where a small track turns up to the right (half-mile before the impressive Stag Cottage carvings), close to the riverside and opposite a flat green piece of land. Notice a small cliff-face just over the fence by the road and a small ledge about 3 feet above ground level. That’s yer spot!

Archaeology & History

Deep & shallow cups together

Rediscovered by rock art student George Currie in 2004, this small, little-known and unimpressive cup-marked site was carved onto a rocky ledge just off the roadside down Glen Lochay.  Comprising of at least three very distinct cup-marks—two next to each other on the far-right of the ledge and the other on the nose of the rock—at least another three more shallow cups are on the same surface. What looks like an unfinished cup, or deliberately etched crescent-Moon-shaped cup, has been cut into the same ledge a yard to the left of the prime cluster.

In Currie’s (2004) brief description of the site, he told:

“Ledge, 1m above ground level on a rock face; four cups, 50 x 25mm, 45 x 15mm and two at 40 x 10mm.”

Looking down at rock surface

Curious crescent-shape ‘cup’

It’s unusual in that the cups have been carved onto a small ledge that’s too small to stand upright on.  Whilst not without parallels, it’s an odd position to find petroglyphs and begs the question, “why here?” when there are other rocks close by that are easier and more accessible.

References:

  1. Currie, George, “Falls of Lochay (Killin parish): Cup-Marked Rocks”, in Discovery & Excavation Scotland, volume 5, 2004.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

The Green CR

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The Green CR 56.486693, -4.373006 The Green CR

Clachaig, Glen Lyon, Perthshire

Stone Circle (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NN 583 468

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 24237
  2. Kerrowmore

Archaeology & History

Upright slab in graveyard

Upright slab in graveyard

In a discussion about the ancient chapel to St. Eonan (the local name in these parts for Adamnan) that once existed near the Bridge of Balgie in Glen Lyon, the local historian Duncan Campbell (1886) informed us that,

“St. Eonan built his chapel near the only stone circle in Glenlyon.  The stones of this circle have been removed within my memory.  The place is called Clachaig.”

The same writer (Campbell 1888) later told how its remains were still visible around 1848 CE.  Campbell’s (1910) later memoirs also mentioned his childhood recollections when the stone circle was in situ, telling that the

“place above the churchyard to Clachaig, named so, the Place of Stones, (was) because the old Druidic stone circle was there.”

We don’t know exactly where the megalithic ring stood; and although modern analysts think the site may have been underneath the invading forestry commission plantation, local lore puts it closer to the graveyard above Kerrowmore.

Enhanced image of curious near-circular form close by

Enhanced image of curious near-circular form close by

A local dowser thinks that the upright slab in the graveyard at Kerrowmore may be the one remaining stone left here after the circle’s destruction.  A quick meander back and forth on a rainy day here, on the geological ridge at the back (south) of Kerrowmore, found only a curious near-circular earthwork that might have been the original site, but it may be fortuitous. A nearby rock outcrop known as “Coill a’ Bhaird” may have been related to the circle.

Folklore

A local man (thanks Tom) said how tradition tells that some of the stones from this circle were taken and used in making the drive to Meggernie Castle last century.

References:

  1. Campbell, Duncan, The Lairds of Glenlyon, Cowan: Perth 1886.
  2. Campbell, Duncan, The Book of Garth and Fortingall, Northern Counties Newspaper: Inverness 1888.
  3. Campbell, Duncan, Reminiscences and Reflections of an Octogenarian Highlander, Northern Counties Newspaper: Inverness 1910.
  4. Stewart, Alexander, A Highland Parish; or, The History of Fortingall, Alex MacLaren: Glasgow 1928.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.591617, -4.308743 Clachaig circle

The Bhacain, Cashlie, Glen Lyon, Perthshire

Standing Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NN 48367 41706

Also Known as:

  1. The Bhacan
  2. Canmore ID 23977
  3. Cona Bhacain

Getting Here

The Bhacain on the 1867 map

The Bhacain on the 1867 map

Whether you take the road west from Fortingall, or over the heights from Loch Tay, when you reach Meggernie Castle just keep going west for a few more miles.  Keep going past the large Stronuich reservoir on your left and you’re getting close.  Go past Caisteal Mhic Neill and the trees at Cashlie House for another 5-600 yards and where the track crosses the river Lyon, park up just past it.  Ahead of you in the field on the left of the road, nearer the riverside, is where you need to look.

Archaeology & History

The mound & its small stone

The mound & its small stone

One of the most peculiar and unique sites in the British Isles is this remote small upright stone, known locally as The Bhacain.  Standing upon a small mound in the field immediately east of one of Finn’s legendary ‘forts’ (a dun or a broch) called Caisteal Cona Bhacain, this curious monolith, less than two feet tall, has a thin upright stem with a much enlarged rounded end to it.  Some might even ascribe it as phallic—although local traditions of the stone relate it as a truth-sayer of a young girl’s virginity!

Its position on top of the small mound is intriguing, giving it the impression of being atop of a tumulus; and there is also the scatter of small stones surrounding the upright just beneath the surface (as evidenced in one of the photos), making it possible that the stone is an ancient burial marker.  If this is ever shown to be true, the likelihood is that the stone marks the grave of a hound, as the tradition of this spot implies.  No excavation has ever occurred here, so the precise nature of the stone (and the mound) has yet to be ascertained; but knowing the longevity of some oral traditions in these Highland glens, the idea of it being the burial-place of a dog is anything but far-fetched.

Duncan Fraser's old photo

Duncan Fraser’s old photo

The Bhacain & its stony pile

The Bhacain & its stony pile

If the stone is contemporaneous with the associated ‘duns’ close by, this would be a late standing stone, probably erected in the Iron Age.  We can certainly see, quite plainly from the erosion on the stone, that this is not neolithic or Bronze Age in origin.  A decent examination of the important sites hereby is long overdue…

Folklore

The Bhacain, looking south

The Bhacain, looking south

The folklore and traditions attached to this site are numerous when you consider how small it is.  Much of this relates to the fact that animistic cosmologies in the Highlands were retained until very recently, stretching way back.  Accounts from the 19th and 20th centuries tell of people still frequenting this and other sites, at sunrise, or full moons, as such things were still very much integral parts of rural life.  When the local historian Duncan Fraser (1973) wrote about The Bhacain in his fine work on this area, he told much about the traditions of the great warrior King Fionn and his activities hereby:

“Another traditional link with the warrior King is the Bhacain, on a mound beside the road, far up the glen.  Only a stone’s throw from one of the forts, it is about two feet high and shaped like the head of a dog.  This is said to have been the stake to which the Fians tethered their staghounds with leather thongs, when they returned from the chase.  And there were times, no doubt, when Fionn’s own dog, Bran was among them, with its yellow paws and its black flanks and its chain of pure gold.  It was the best hunting dog that ever lived.  And there was its brother, the dreaded Grey Hound, that used to roam on its own in the Great Glen, tearing its victims limb from limb, until it too abandoned its wildness and became one of the hounds of the Fians.  They say that the dogs’ food was thrown to them from the top of Caisteal Coin-a-bhacain, the castle of the dog’s stake, upwards of seventy yards to the west.  And any dog that failed to catch its supper was turned out of the pack.

“Time did not allow the Bhacain to become inanimate like other stones.  Even in comparatively recent times it was still regarded with superstitious awe.  A retired schoolmaster of Fortingall recorded eighty years ago that it was said to have a mysterious effect on those who crept under its head.  And old folk in the glen will tell you that those who did so were girls.  It had become the glen folk’s yardstick of virginity.  In the late eighteenth century, when the girls returned from gathering the harvest in the ungodly Lowlands, under the stone they went.  It was better than all your modern pills.”

References:

  1. Burke, Peter, Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe, Scolar Press: Aldershot 1994.
  2. Fraser, Duncan, Highland Perthshire, Standard Press: Montrose 1973.
  3. McKerracher, Archie, Perthshire in History and Legend, John Donald: Edinburgh 1988.
  4. Stewart, Alexander, A Highland Parish; or, The History of Fortingall, Alex MacLaren: Glasgow 1928.
  5. Wheater, Hilary, Aberfeldy to Glenlyon, Appin Publications: Aberfeldy 1981.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.542792, -4.467764 The Bhacain

Clach na Foinne, Glen Lochay, Perthshire

Legendary Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NN 50 38

Also Known as:

  1. Clach an Dlogh
  2. Wart Stone

Archaeology & History

Wart Stone, looking south

There is no written history of this site; only the quiet murmurings of a few locals whose families go back to when the english came and destroyed the people and their lives in the 18th and 19th century in the ethnic cleansing we known as The Clearances.  As with the Darach nan Sith (the Oak of the Fairies) a few miles away, the local traditions were lost, and ancient monuments destroyed.  Thankfully, due to the remote location of this site, its status remains….

It is found 2000 feet up, near an old derelict village (english academic romancers term it as ‘sheilings’).  An ancient track and stone bridge runs over the burn nearby, place-names evidence tells of a prehistoric tomb a few hundred yards west, and there’s a dispersal of forgotten human evidences scattering the south-side of the mountain all along here.  The clach (stone) sits on the very top of a large earthfast rock; is an elongated loaf-sized smooth red-coloured stone, about 14 inches long and 8 inches wide, and of a different type and much heavier than the local rock hereby.  It is said to have been a healing stone, used in earlier times to cure warts and other ailments.

Folklore

The Wart Stone itself

My first venture here was, like many in this area, amidst a dreaming.  Those who amble the hills properly, know what I mean.  I cut across the mountain slopes diagonally, zigzagging as usual, always off-path, resting by mossy stones and drinking the waters here and there.  My nose took me to the mass of giant rocks hedging into the higher regions of Allt Ghaordaidh: a pass betwixt the rounded giants of Meall Ghoaordie and Meall Cnap Laraich, where only eagles and Taoist romancers might roam.

The great rock comes upon you pretty easily.  Approaching it for the first time I wondered whether there might be petroglyphs on or around it, but the rich depth of lichens and its curious crowning elongated stone stopped any further thought on the matter.  The setting, the eagles, the colour of day and the fast waters close by, stole all such thoughts away.  In truth I must have walked back and forth and near-slept below the place for an hour or two before I gave way to rational focus!  And then my  curiosity got even more curious.

“This must be the place,” I mused, several times.

As you can see in the photo, a large natural earthfast boulder, six feet high or more, like a giant Badger Stone covered in centuries of primal lichens, has a large deep red-coloured stone on its very crown.  The stone is unlike any of the local rock and is very heavy.  I found this out when trying to prize it from its rocky mount, dislodging it slightly from the seeming aeons of vegetation that held it there.  But the moment I moved it, just an inch or so above its parent boulder, a quiet voice inside me rose sharply into focus.

“You shouldn’t have done that!”

The Wart Stone. looking east

Quickly I set it back into place, shaking my head at what I’d done.  One of those curious feelings you get at these places sometimes wouldn’t leave me, however much I tried to shake it off.  …Silly though it may sound, the echoes inside kept saying over and over to me, “you’re gonna get warts now you’ve done that!” Logically, of course, that made no sense whatsoever.  I’d only ever had one wart in my life, a couple of decades ago.  And yet, a few days later, one of the little blighters emerged on my finger!  So there was only one thing for it!  If this was a Wart Stone, I should revisit it again and place my afflicted finger back onto the wart and ask it to be taken back into the stone.

A week or so later, I clambered all the way up the mountainside again and asked the place to forgive my stupidity and take back the wart.  Apologising to the spirit of the stone, I rubbed my finger on the curious coloured rock and, I have to be honest, didn’t know what to expect.

I spent the next few hours meandering here and there over the hills and cast the thought of the Wart Stone back into my unconscious.  But a few days later it had started shrinking – and within a week, had completely gone!  This faint relic of an older culture, this Clach na Foinne had performed its old ways again, as in animistic ages past…

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian 

 

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  56.510084, -4.439106 Clach na Foinne