Nothing has previously been written of this site. Its existence came to light during one of umpteen enquiries I’d made with a well-known and very respected local lady, born and bred in Killin (sadly, a dying breed), who is known as a fount of knowledge regarding the history of the area. We were talking about the ancient sites and folklore of the neighbourhood and, amidst being her usual helpful self she asked, “have you been to the Coin Tree? The place where we leave offerings to the spirit of the place?”
“No, I’ve never heard of the place.”
“We keep it quiet, ” she said, “for obvious reasons.”
I knew what she meant. The Fairy Tree at Aberfoyle is a case in point: littered with plastic pentagrams, children’s toys and so-called “offerings” of all kinds that have made it little more than a dumping ground for pseudo-pagans and new-age nuts that needs to be cleaned regularly by local folk.
Anyhow, our informant proceeded to give us directions to find the place, going out of the village, but asked that if we were to write about it, to keep its location quiet, “as the place is still used by us”—i.e., old locals. After a slow trek along one of the roads out of the village we saw nothing that stood out. Eventually we came across a fella relaxing in his garden and asked him if he knew anything about an old tree where offerings were made. He gave us that look that olde locals do, to work out whether you’re a tourist or not and, after telling him what we’d been told and who had told us —that seemed to do the trick!
“You’d mean the Fairy Oak I s’ppose? Aye,” he said, “gerrin the car and I’ll drive y’ down to it.”
So we did. A short distance back along the road that we’d come down he stopped and walked along a to large oak tree beside the road. We’d walked straight past it—but in truth it’s not a conspicuous tree and unless you were shown where it was, you’d miss it as easily as we did (and I’m usually damn good at finding such things!). We thanked the fella for taking us to see it and he drove back home to leave us with out thoughts.
Embedded into the tree—some of them barely visible where the bark had grown over them—were clusters of old coins all around its trunk; some of them very old. These had been inserted into the tree as offerings in the hope that the little people, or the genius loci would bring aid to that which was asked of it.
In a field across the road there’s a large “fairy-mound” hillock: one of Nature’s creations, but just the sort of place where many little people are said to live in many an old folk-tale. Some such mounds are old tumuli, but this aint one of them. It’s possible that it had some relationship with the tree where the fairy folk are said to reside but, if it did, our informants didn’t seem to know.
The important thing to recognise here is that in some of the small villages and hamlet in our mountains, practices and beliefs of a world long lost in suburbia are still alive here and there… But even these are dying out fast, as most incomers have no real attachment to the landscape that surrounds them. Simply put: they see themselves as apart from the landscape as opposed to being a part of it.
Take the directions to the Balnasuim (1) carving, then up and across to Balnasuim (2). From here, walk diagonally uphill to your right (NE) for about 150 yards and head to the the very top-corner of this field. You’ll see the large embedded rock emerging out of the ground, just ten yards away from a small stream. You’re there!
Archaeology & History
As Officer Barbrady likes to put it, “move along people, there’s nothing to see here!“—and that’s really the case with this, another of Balnasuim’s petroglyphs. This lichen-encrusted rock has just two simple cup-marks, barely visible when the daylight’s poor – and it’s almost as disappointing when the day is good! In all honesty, in wilfully visiting this site and its geographical compatriots, I can sincerely understand how people can tell us petroglyph-nuts that we “really have nothing better to do” with our time!
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. From here, follow the straight line of walling uphill and 20 yards before reaching Cragganester (9) carving, follow the line of fencing right (ENE) until you hit the wall more than 350 yards away. From here, follow the walling uphlil 350 yards where it turns a right-angle west. About 50 yards east of the right-angled wall, look around…
Archaeology & History
As with the other carvings up here at Balnasuim, there is little to look at unless you’re one of the ardent petroglyphic crazies! On this small rounded stone, cushioned beneath the skylines of Ben Lawers and Meall Odhar, are at least three cupmarks in a rough arc running from the northern part of the stone, with the most pronounced of them being close to the northern edge of the rock. The others are very shallow and can be difficult to make out in poor sunlight. A possible fourth cupmark with a short protruding line may exist close to the SE part of the stone. The Balnasuim (2) carving is 305 yards (279m) to the NE.
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. From here, follow the straight line of walling up past Cragganester (9) carving, following the burn uphill parallel to the copse of trees until, after about 800 yards, you reach the wall. From here, walk towards the rounded hill of Meall Odhar and, after about 450 yards, you’ll notice it meets a line of walling that runs downhill. Keep walking along, past this, but after 150 yards, go into the field on your right and walk downhill for about 100 yards. Look around!
Archaeology & History
Despite the climb, plus its description as a ‘cup-and-ring’ stone, this petroglyph is somewhat of a disappointment. An elongated stone, half-covered in earth faces south towards Loch Tay and the mountains across, with a series of very eroded cup-marks.
They are separated into two small groups. At the southwest side of the rock we can see three or four faded cup-marks. The middle of the rock seems devoid of anything, but on its more northeastern side we find four more cups in close attendance to a standard cup-and-ring motif. That’s about it! The Balnasuim (1) carving can be found 305 yards (279m) to the southwest.
Pretty easy to find unless the vegetation takes over! From Fearnan take the road to Fortingall. Just as you’re going out of Fearnan, in the walling by the very last house on the right-hand side of the road is this large earthfast boulder. Y’ can’t miss it!
Archaeology & History
I first visited the Clach an Tuirc – or the Boar’s Stone – in 1981 when I stayed at Fearnan for a few weeks and, after clambering on top, looked down on the several simple cupmarks. Forty years later, I returned with a camera!
First highlighted on the 1862 OS-map, Fred Coles (1910) made a brief note of the petroglyph in one of his megalithic surveys, but only noticed a single cup, saying:
“Near Cromraor, close to the cottage at Clash na Tuirc, stands the large boulder bearing that name, the Boar Stone. Its highest point is about six feet above the road, and bears one very distinct cup-mark.”
But there are several cup-markings on top of the stone, just as William Gillies (1938) described.
Not far from here tradition tells of a legendary figure who is known today only as the Lady of Lawers (whom tradition asserts to have been a member of the Stewart family, from Appin, Argyll – they of the daemonic Red Book of Appin). She made various prophecies, one of which said “that when Clach an Tuirc, the Boar’s Stone at Fearnan, would topple over, a strange heir would come to Balloch.” Though as the stone still aint toppled, we’re still waiting… (let’s just hope this doesn’t augur more of those selfish tories into our mountains who bring with them their mantras of “gerrof mah land”)
Coles, Fred, “Report on Stone Circles Surveyed in Perthshire (Aberfeldy District),” in Proceedings Society Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 44, 1910.
Gillies, William A., In Famed Breadalbane, Munro Press: Perth 1938.
MacMillan, Hugh, ‘Notice of Two Boulders having Rain-Filled Cavities on the Shores of Loch Tay, Formerly Associated with the Cure of Disease,’ in PSAS 18, 1884. ???
Yellowlees, Walter, Cupmarked Stones in Strathtay, Scotland Magazine: Edinburgh 2004.
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 400 yards it meets where another line of walling running right (E), into the boggy pasture-lands. Walk along here for roughly another 400 yards then go up the slope as if walking up Ben Lawers (N). You’ll come to 2 large boulders next to each other where the slope levels out. It’s the one on your left!
Archaeology & History
This carving is really for the purists amongst you. It’s like most of the carvings along this contour line in that the design is simplistic. Consisting of at least nine cups all on top of the stone, they can be difficult to see amidst the rough garnet and lichen-encrusted rock.
On one of our visits here, when the light cut across the surface at a lower angle, it seemed as if one of the cups had a faint ring around it; but it looked as if the outline of it had been started, but then for some reason the ring was never actually carved. This outline is very faint. We’ve found examples of this at two of the Duncroisk carvings, several miles to the west, where the faintest trace of a ring was outlined, but never carved. Of the cup-marks: five of them are carved on the east-side of the rock and are pretty easy to see (with the ring around one of them), whilst the other four—slightly more difficult to make out—are on its west side. A couple of hundred yards north you can see the Cragganester 10 carving.
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.
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.
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.
“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 isNature’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…
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.
Stewart, Alexander, A Highland Parish; or, The History of Fortingall, Alex MacLaren: Glasgow 1928.
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 and walk up the path for less than 100 yards. The stone is just a coupla yards on your right (if you reach the derelict tractor, you’ve gone about 10 yards past the stone).
Archaeology & History
This is another one of the many simple cup-marked petroglyphs scattering the Cragganester and Tombreck regions beneath the slope of Ben Lawers. It’s an elongated, smoothly-shaped ‘female’ stone, aligned north-south, possessing four distinct cups along its crown: three in a small line at the south-end of the stone and a single one close to the north end. However between these is what may be another, shallow fifth cupmark—but this is uncertain.
One notable feature here is that the rock is encrusted with small garnets. This geological ingredient isn’t uncommon in this area, and we’ve found that quite a proportion of the petroglyphs hereby possess this feature. It was probably of some importance to the people who carved them.
Acknowledgements: Thanks to Paul Hornby for use of his photograph.
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‘
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?
Anon., Phallic Worship – a Description of the Mysteries of the Sex Worship of the Ancients, privately Printed: London 1880.
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.