When the Ordnance Survey lads visited this area in 1860, they stood upon this small knoll that was known as Torrnacloch – or the Knoll of the Stone. They were informed that a ring of stones had stood here, but had been destroyed about 1840, apparently by a local farmer. The stones were described as being about 3 feet high. They subsequently added it on the earliest OS-map of the area, but also made note that a cist was found within the site. The circle was included and classed as a stone circle in Aubrey Burl’s (2000) magnum opus, but had previously been classed as a cairn with “a kerb of large boulders” by the Royal Commission doods. (1983) They based their assessment on the appearance of some of the stones found on a gravel mound behind the farm which had apparently been removed from the circle when it was destroyed. Andrew Jervise (1853) gave us the following account:
“The Chapelry of Dalbog was on the east side of the parish, due west of Neudos. The time of its suppression is unknown; and though no vestige of any house remains, the site of the place of worship is still called the “chapel kirk shed” by old people, and, in the memory of an aged informant, a fine well and hamlet of houses graced the spot. This field adjoins the hillock of Turnacloch, or “the knoll of stones,” which was probably so named, from being topped in old times by a so-called Druidical circle, the last of the boulders of which were only removed in 1840. Some of them decorate a gravel mound behind the farm house; and, on levelling the knoll on which they stood, a small sepulchral chamber was discovered, about four feet below the surface. The sides, ends, and bottom, were built of round ordinary sized whinstones, cemented with clay, and the top composed of large rude flags. It was situate on the sunny side of the knoll, within the range of the circle; but was so filled with gravel, that although carefully searched, no relics were found.”
Burl, Aubrey, The Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany, Yale University Press 2000.
Jervise, Anrew, The History and Traditions of the Land of the Lindsays in Angus and Mearns, Sutherland & Knox: Edinburgh 1853.
MacLaren, A. et al, The Archaeological Sites and Monuments of Central Angus, RCAHMS: Edinburgh 1983.
Acknowledgements: Big thanks for use of the 1st edition OS-map in this site profile, Reproduced with the kind permission of the National Library of Scotland.
From Pickering take the moor road towards Whitby (A169) for approx. 12 miles. After passing the Fylingdales Early Warning radar on the right (you can’t miss it), the road dips down to cross Eller Beck as a dog leg. After a half mile turn off left (west) towards Goathland (signposted). Follow the road under the North Yorks Moor railway bridge and after a third-of-a-mile the road turns slightly left. Park in the little layby and follow the track onto the moors. Cross the small stream and walk along the narrow track through gorgeous heather for a mile and a half. Ahead you will see Simon Howe prominent on a ridge, with a stone row leading to it.
Archaeology & History
Not included in either of the giant megalithic alignments surveys of Burl or Thom, it seems that the first archaeological reference to this site was made by Raymond Hayes (1988). He visited the site in 1947, shortly after a moorland fire had cleared away all the vegetation, allowing for a clearer view of the stones and, after his brief description of the adjacent Simon Howe tomb, he told that,
“The ridge is also the site of what is an unusual feature for the moors: a stone alignment consisting of three, formerly five upright stones that lead to a low eroded cairn c.65m to the south(west). A moor fire in 1947 revealed the fourth, fallen stone, and I was able to locate the socket of a fifth.”
From hereon, Hayes seemed to more interested in seeking out and describing a large number of flints that he found scattered on the ground around Simon Howe and its associated monoliths than the stones themselves. Very sad… The exact position of the missing fifth stone seems to be shown on Hayes’ plan as being closest to the cairn, about 10-15 yards away, but no trace of this remains. However, of the remaining monoliths, they are all clearly visible from the air on Google Earth!
The most southerly of the four stones (SE 83016 98119) stands just over 3 feet tall and the second upright, leaning at an angle, is just slightly taller, with the tallest of the three uprights at the northeastern end, being some 6 feet tall. The fourth fallen stone (SE 83031 98142) lies just beyond this in the heather and which, if resurrected, would stand some 4 feet in height. The length of the row, stone-to-stone, is just over 29 yards (26.6m). I’m not aware if this site has ever been assessed as having an astronomical function, but its angle to the northeast might suggest a lunar rising. Perhaps more pertinent would be another prehistoric cairn that can be seen less than 100 yards away past the northern end of stone row…
From Pickering take the moor road towards Whitby (A169) for approx. 12 miles. After passing the huge Fylingdales Early Warning radar on the right (you can’t miss it), the road dips down to cross Eller Beck as a dog leg. After a half mile turn off left (west) towards Goathland (signposted). There’s a free car park on the left where you can sit for awhile and enjoy the views. Follow the road under the North Yorks Moor railway bridge, and after a third-of-a-mile the road turns slightly left. Park in the little layby and follow the track onto the moors. Cross the small stream and walk along the narrow track through gorgeous heather for a mile and a half. Ahead you will see Simon Howe prominent on a ridge, with a stone row leading to it.
Archaeology & History
This impressive prehistoric tomb was first described in deeds as early as 1335 as Simondshou, which A.H. Smith (1928) translates to mean ‘Sigemund’s mound’ – alluding it to have been either the burial of someone with that name, or a name given to it by the incoming Vikings, oh so many centuries ago. The latter is the more probable of the two…
With excellent views in all directions, this monument is found high up in the landscape at the meeting of four paths that are closely aligned to the cardinal directions. It was highlighted as a tumulus on the 1854 OS-map of the region and subsequently included in Windle’s (1909) listings as a “round barrow”, found in association with “three upright stones” running to the northeast. There are in fact four stones.
Not much has been written of it in archaeological circles. Thankfully a brief survey of it was undertaken in 1947 by Raymond Hayes (1988) after a moorland blaze had cleared the heather that enabled good conditions to see the site clearly. When he came here he told that,
“Simon Howe…is very mutilated, what survives indicates that it was 11.50m in diameter and it is clear that it incorporated a stone kerb.”
This “stone kerb”, or surrounding ring of stones, is a feature found at other tombs on these hills—Flat Howe (1) being just one example. However, in contrast to Flat Howe (1), Simon Howe has had most of its central mound totally stripped by peoples unknown a few centuries ago. The remains we see today look more like a small ruined stone circle with internal rubble and a new walker’s cairn emerging from its centre. Outside the cairn, just a few yards northeast, a fascinating megalithic stone row emerges. Whether these were erected at the same time (in the early to mid-Bronze age, in my opinion) only an excavation would show.
Take the same directions to reach the impressive Carn Ban prehistoric tomb. From here, walk along the winding track past the giant cairn onto the moors for about 350 yards, until the track goes dead straight and heads NNW uphill. Walk up here for another 350 yards keeping your eyes peeled on the rounded pyramidal hill with the large rock on top. The circle is 20 yards off the track as you head up to the pyramidal hill stone.
Archaeology & History
Although this site is mentioned in notes by the Scottish Royal Commission and highlighted by Ordnance Survey, information thereafter is pretty scarce. Which is surprising when you check this place out first-hand. It’s bloody impressive! David Cowley (1997) describes the area, but not in much detail.
Northern arc of walling
Eastern arc of walling
The circle seems to have been rediscovered first of all by the dowser J. Scott Elliott (1964), who thought it was a cairn circle – which is understandable. However, it has been classified by the Royal Commission lads as a “hut circle”, so we’ll stick with that for the time being.
An entrance to the circle doesn’t stand out. There may be one on the southeastern side, but this isn’t clear; and what looked like a possible entrance on its northern edge was discounted, as a larger stone blocked this on the outside. There was no immediate evidence of any internal structure, no hearth, no tomb – merely a small stone at its centre, deeply embedded in the peat. This may, however, cover a central cist – which would make this a cairn circle and not a large hut circle. But that’s guesswork on my behalf!
Never excavated, what we’ve got here is a very well-preserved, large ring of stones, more typical of Pennine and Derbyshire ring cairns than any standard hut circles. But this is Scotland we’re talking about! This impressive ring measures outer-edge to outer-edge 12 yards in diameter (north-south), by 11 yards (east-west), with the stone walling that defines the ring being between 3 and 4 feet across all round, and between 1-2 feet high. And it’s in damn good nick! More similar in structure to the likes of Roms Law, a number of notably large stones define the edges, but many hundreds of smaller packing stones build up the ring walls. Of the larger rocks in the ring, the most notable one is a large white quartz crystal stone on its NNE side.
Quartz rock reflects the sun, looking W
It’s an impressive site whatever it may be! – in very good condition for its age (Bronze Age by the look of it) and, whilst still visible above the heather, well worth checking out if you like your stone circles and prehistoric rings. The small prehistoric graveyard 30-40 yards south and east, plus the extensive settlement systems all over these moors are all worth exploring if you visit this place.
Cowley, David C., “Archaeological Landscapes in Strathbraan,” in Tayside & Fife Archaeological Journal, volume 3, 1997.
Scott-Elliot, J., “Kinloch House, Amulree,” in Discovery & Excavation in Scotland, 1964.
Scott-Elliot, J., Dowsing – One Man’s Way, Neville Spearman: London 1977.
Take the A826 road south out of Aberfeldy, uphill, till you reach the White Cairn or Carn Ban, then follow the dirt-track for 700 yards onto the moors until you reach the Glen Cochill Circle 1. From here, look at the large stone atop of the very notable rounded hillock barely 50 yards east (at NN 90367 41478) and meander on the slopes immediately below it on the south and west. If the heather’s grown back, you don’t stand a chance!
Archaeology & History
As far as I’m aware, despite there being some brief notes of cairnfields in and around the rich prehistoric arena of Glen Cochill, I can find no data indicating that the five small single cairns a short distance south and southeast of the Glen Cochill Ring (01), have been described before.
Cairn 1 – looking north
Cairn 2 – looking north
Deeply embedded into the peat, they are only visible when the heather has been burnt away, as highlighted in the accompanying photos. Each cairn is of roughly the same size and structure: 2-3 yards across and only a couple of feet above ground-level, consisting of the traditional small rounded stones, each probably constituting a single burial or cremation.
Cairn 4, below the hilltop rock
Of at least five cairns that we found here (there may be others beneath the covering heather), it was very notable that they’re on edges of a rounded pyramidal hillock, whose top is surmounted by a large pointed stone – probably a glacial erratic. We looked at this rock in the hope of finding some cup-markings, but there were none. However, it seemed as if the cairns and this crowning stone were related to each other, as if rites for the dead were proclaimed here for those in the tombs. It may sound silly, but go there and take a look at it yourselves – before the heather grows back. Just as a priests today, and shamans throughout history, have used an altar or plinth to make commemorations to the dead, so this crowning stone may equally have been used. It makes sense. And, as if to add validating ingredients: if we look east, past the crowning stone and across the River Cochill, we see the great rocks in the forest known as Creag a Bhaird, or the Crag of the Bard, from whence orations and tales were known to be told… But that’s another site with its very own story…
Acknowledgements: Once again, thanks must be given to Mr Paul Hornby for his help in finding these sites.
Take the dirt-track, off-road, up to the start of Glen Almond, for more than 4 miles — past the curious Conichan Ring, and past the standing stone of Clach an Tiompan, until you see the large modern walled circle in the field on your left. Go into that field and you’ll notice a ruined pile and small standing stones 56 yards (51m) WSW. Y’ can’t really miss it!
Archaeology & History
Sitting upon a flat grassland plateau close to the confluence of the Glenshervie Burn with the River Almond, the visitor here will notice an overgrown ovoid mass of old worn stones in the form of a prehistoric cairn, with two upright standing stones on the western edges of the pile. This is the remains of what the megalithic magus Aubrey Burl (1988) called the Glenshervie “four poster” stone circle.
Glenshervie stones, looking N
Glenshervie stones, looking W
Structurally similar to the neighbouring four-poster of Clach an Tiompan 470 yards (427m) to the ESE, and less damaged than the remaining megaliths of Auchnafree 568 yards (520m) to the northwest, this megalithic ruin was first mentioned in passing by Audrey Henshall (1956) in her survey of the giant Clach an Tiompan tomb and its adjacent ring. She told that,
“In meadowland beside the Almond, a small circle of standing stones, hitherto unrecorded, protrude through the water-worn material of a low cairn. This is a similar type of monument to the ruined site at Clach na Tiompan.”
Close-up of cairn & stones
Glenshervie ruins, looking S
Indeed it is! Sadly however, it remains unexcavated — so we know not what its precise nature and function may have been. When Burl included the site in his 1988 survey, he could add nothing more than I can; but curiously described the two standing stones here as being only “about 1 ft (30cm) high.” They’re between two and three feet tall respectively, and the remaining cairn is between 5 and 6 yards in diameter, with the central rubble rising between 1 and 2 feet above the natural ground level.
The landscape at the point where this circle was built enables you to look up and down the glens of Almond and Shervie in three different directions. Whether or not this was deliberate, we cannot know for sure. But the setting on the whole, in the middle of where the glen widens out and hold this and the nearby monuments, is a beautiful setting indeed…
Burl, Aubrey, Four Posters: Bronze Age Stone Circles of Western Europe, BAR 195: Oxford 1988.
A recent visit to try find this intricate carving—the only one of its kind in Clackmannanshire—proved unsuccessful, and so I add it here in the hope that someone might know where it is and bring it back to light. It looked like quite an impressive petroglyph. If the stone isn’t hiding in undergrowth at the edge of someone’s garden, it may well have been destroyed—which would be appalling. As a unique design, this important carving should have been preserved. Even when the Victorian explorers found it, the covering stone circle had been greatly damaged and many stones in the ring had been removed. This carved stone remained intact however. When Mr R. Robertson (1895) and his friend visited the site, it was covered in sand and dirt and had fallen to the side of an internal cist:
“On clearing this away a remarkable feature was brought to light. The block was found to be elaborately ornamented on its sides and upper surface, with rings, spirals and lines. The labour of cutting these in the hard granite with primitive tools of the period must have been very great. Several successful photos of the stone and its carvings were taken by Provost Westwood, Dollar…. This stone has now been removed to the vicinity of Tillicoultry for safety.”
In the same article, George Black told slightly more of the design:
“The covering stone of the cist…bears on the face a series of concentric circles, and spirals springing from one of the groups of circles, Four grooves also unite the same set of circles with the left-hand edge of the stone. On the edge shown in the photograph there is another group, consisting of two concentric circles. The unevenness of the surface of the stone appears to have been of no moment to the sculptor of the circles, as the incisions follow the surface into its sinuosities and depressions.”
Not long after Robertson & Black’s visit, the great megalithomaniac Fred Coles (1899) came here—and he found that the “spirals” that Mr Black described were nothing of the sort.
“The huge irregularly-shaped diorite boulder which covered the cist has several cup-and-ring marks on one face and one side…. These marks are now, so I was informed when inspecting them, very much less distinct than they were when the photograph was taken (above) in 1894. It would be difficult now to describe the incised markings with accuracy; it is difficult even to see them when wet. But…I must take exception to the term ‘spirals’ as applied to any of these ‘rings.’ There are three groups of rings so placed as to make the outermost ring in each group touch that of the others (not an uncommon form), but there is no one true volute.
“…What is more noteworthy is the group of four long parallel, nearly perpendicular grooves issuing (probably) from the outermost ring of the group of five rings, and ending at the edge of the boulder.”
Alison Young’s 1937 sketch
Cole also noted that the carvings were to be found on the upper surface of the stone. It would seem very probable that the excessive erosion which Cole described was due to the fact that the stone was, many centuries earlier, exposed to the elements within the stone circle and not buried as it later came to be. It makes sense.
The excessive erosion was spoken of by the Royal Commission (1933) lads, aswell as the last person to describe the site, Ronald W.B. Morris (1981), who said that during his visits here between 1966-75,
“the author has only found traces of possible cups visible on the rough surface, which has flaked badly.”
Morris (1981) said that the stone measured “1½m by 1¾m by ½m (5½ft x 4½ft x 2ft)”—and was last known to be some 10 yards NW of the Tillicoultry House cottage, but we could locate no trace of the stone or its carving. If anyone is aware of the whereabouts or fate of this important neolithic carving, please let us know.
From Kirriemuir central, head up the Kinnordy road, going straight across the main road and continuing past the Kinnordy turn-off for just over a mile towards Mearns, stopping where a small copse of trees appears on your left. From here, walk along the track to the west. It goes gradually uphill, cutting through a small cleft with a hillfort on the north and a cairn circle on the south until, ⅔-mile along, you reach the moorland. Keep going on the same path for another ½-mile west where the grasslands level out. Here, on the flat bit between the two hills, a small incomplete ring of stones lives, with one stone sticking out. You’ll find it!
Archaeology & History
This is a curious site on several levels—not least, that its definition as a ‘stone circle’ is a fragile one; although to be honest, we do find here a large unfinished arc of stones in what looks like either an unfinished ring, or a deliberately constructed large arc. But you won’t find it in the standard megalithic gazetteers of Burl, Barnatt or Thom as it was only relocated in the 1980s by local researchers Sherriff and MacKnight. (1985) They didn’t have much to say about it either, simply telling that they’d found,
“A stone setting representing the remains of either a denuded cairn or a stone circle lies in the saddle between Culhawk Hill and Castle Hill. One erect and 4 prone boulders describe a portion of a roughly circular site some 10m in diameter.”
Arc of fallen stones, looking NE
Faint low ring, looking W
This is roughly the gist of it, with the largest and most prominent of the stones—barely three feet tall—standing on the western side (this is the stone which draws your attention – otherwise you’d never even notice it). The rest of the stones seem to have been knocked down some time ago. A barely discernible embankment constructed around the edge of the ring can be seen around the northern side. It seems unlikely that it was a cairn, as no inner piles of stones were in evidence when we visited the site. It may be a large hut circle. But in truth it could do with an excavation so that we can suss out its exact nature. Beneath the grasses we found an additional stone to those counted by Sherriff & MacKnight; but more intriguing is what Frank Mercer and I found before we even reached the small circle….
Trackway leading to the circle
More visibly distinct than the ring itself were two artificial raised embankments, running parallel with each other 3-4 yards apart. The raised edges of these embankments were about a yard across, on both sides, with the inner area slightly lower than the outlying natural background. These distinct linear earthworks are, quite simply, an early medieval or prehistoric trackway—and it leads directly into the circle! It’s quite unmistakable and is clearly visible as it drops down the slope to the south and away into the fields below. Sadly when we found it last week, darkness was falling and so we didn’t trace the trackway any further. But the most notable thing was that it stopped at the circle and did not continue on its northern side, implying that it was constructed with the circle as its deliberate focal point. The trackway and its embankments are roughly the same size as other recognized prehistoric routes, such as Elkington’s Track on Ilkley Moor and the other ancient causeway that runs past the prehistoric ring known as Roms Law.
Regarding the ring of stones: unless you’re a real megalith fanatic, you’ll probably be disappointed by what you see here. It’s a bittova long wander to something that may once have been just a hut circle, but the avenue leading up to it is something else – and much more intriguing!
Sherriff, John R. & MacKnight, O., “Culhawk Hill (Kirriemuir p): Stone Setting,” in Discovery & Excavation Scotland, 1985.
Acknowledgements: Thanks as always to Nina Harris and Frank Mercer; and to Paul Hornby for use of his photos.
The long country road running between Aysgarth and Kettlewell is the B6160. Whether you’re coming from the north (Aysgarth) or south (Kettlewell), when you reach either Buckden or Cray, take the minor road west to Hubberholme. Just over 1½ miles further on, you reach the tiny hamlet of Yockenthwaite itself. Cross the river bridge, then turn left and walk along the footpath parallel with the river. 600 yards or so along, keep your eyes peeled for the low small ring of stones in front of you.
Archaeology & History
Just above the well-trod path that runs parallel with the usually shallow River Wharfe, this small and silent ring of stones rests in the idyllic host of Langstrothdale, deep in olde Yorkshire. Tis a wonderful spot… Classed as a ‘stone circle’ for many a decade (even by the esteemed Aubrey Burl), this small but ancient ring shouldn’t really be held in the same category as our larger megalithic circles. In truth, it looks more like some of the larger hut circles I’ve seen and uncovered down the decades—and it may well be that. Indeed, even the archaeo’s aren’t in agreement as to what it is, with the general idea being that it is the remains of a ring cairn of some type, despite no human remains being found here.
Yockenthwaite itself was already know by this name in 1241 CE, when the monks of Fountains Abbey were given the land by one of the murderous invading Norman families of the period. This ingredient may be relevant to the history of the circle, for as the great northern antiquarian Harry Speight (1900) pointed out,
“in several places in the dales there are traces of what seems like ancient sheep or cattle enclosures, which are probably vestiges of this grant to the monks of Fountains in 1241.”
And Speight thought the circle had a similar origin to these remains. He continued:
“An enclosure of this kind, composed of a number of big stones on end, lies at the low end of the second pasture on the north side of the river between Yockenthwaite and Deepdale, and has been described as a Druid’s Circle. It is doubtless one of these monastic folds.”
And he may have a point. Although when Arthur Raistrick (1929) ventured here in the early 1920s, he had other ideas, pushing the date of the site way way back into the Bronze Age. “The circle,” Raistrick told,
“is slightly raised above the surrounding ground-level, and the stones, standing edge to edge, can be seen from a considerable distance on either fell side. The circle is 25 feet diameter, very nearly a true circle, there being only about 6 inches variation in diameter. The stones number 20, placed on edge to edge to edge…with only two small gaps, which would accommodate three or perhaps four more stones. These stones were probably removed some years ago to repair the stile in the neighbouring wall. Outside this circle of 20 stones, on the northwest side, there are four others placed concentrically, and very close to the circle, but there is no evidence that the circle was ever double, or that there were ever more than these extra four stones. There is a slight mound at the centre, and probing with a rod proved a small circle of stones, about 9 feet diameter at the centre, indicating probably a burial. Several large boulders lie on the level ground around the circle, but these are all rolled down from the fell-side above, and not placed in any connection with the circle. All the stones of the circle are of limestone…”
It was this designation that led to Burl (1976; 2000) to include it in his corpus of megalithic rings; although John Barnatt (1989) did question the validity of the site as a true ‘stone circle’ in his own gazetteer, saying:
“This unusual site comprises a contiguous ring of orthostats of c. 7.5m diameter, which are graded downslope to the SSW to allow for the gradient; their tops are all roughly horizontal. They range from 0.30 to 1.05m in height, 22-3 stones survive today and 3-4 appear to be missing. To the NNW there is a short outer arc of 4-5 stones placed immediately outside the main ring. 4 loose stones appear to have been added to the ring recently. Raistrick’s plan does not tally with the present remains, despite the sites undisturbed nature. The interior of the site is filled by a low horizontal platform, with virtually no height upslope to the north-east and a height of c. 0.5m to the south-west. The ring of stones stand well proud of this round the full circumference. This site appears to be a variant form of kerb-cairn rather than a true stone circle.”
The structure has been built onto a slight but notable platform, as has also been done with many hut circles—and the Yockenthwaite site may just be one of them. Only an excavation will tell us for sure. It’s isolated from other remains, but on the hills above, both north and south, denuded Iron Age and Bronze Age settlements look down on this solitary ring. Whatever it may be, it’s olde and in a beautiful setting. Well worth checking out if you like yer ancient sites!
Barnatt, John, Stone Circles of Britain (2 volumes), BAR: Oxford 1989.
Burl, Aubrey, A Guide to the Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany, New Haven & London 1995.
Burl, Aubrey, The Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany, Yale University Press 2000.
Elgee, Frank & Harriet, The Archaeology of Yorkshire, Methuen: London 1933.
Longworth, Ian H., Regional Archaeologies: Yorkshire, Cory, Adams & MacKay: London 1965.
Raistrick, Arthur, ‘The Bronze Age in West Yorkshire,’ in Yorkshire Archaeology Journal, volume 29, 1929.
There are two ways into this glen by road. Whichever route you take (from Crieff side, or via the long Dunkeld route), when you hit the flat bottom of it, where the green fields are right by the roadside, walk along till you find the road meets the river’s edge. On the south-side of this small roadside section of the river, you’ll see a single large boulder 10-20 yards away. That’s the spot!
Archaeology & History
Described in some of the archaeology texts as just a ‘cist’, this giant stone is obviously the remains of much more. For a start, as the 1834 drawing illustrates here (coupled with several other early descriptions of the place), other visible antiquarian remains were very much apparent at Ossian’s Stone before a destructive 18th century road-laying operation tore up much of this ancient site. A marauding General Wade of the English establishment was cutting through the Scottish landscape a “military road”, to enable the English to do the usual “civilize the savages”, as they liked to put it. This curious “Giant’s Grave” was very lucky to survive.
The earliest description of events surrounding the site, as well as the attitude of the Highlanders when they saw the disrespectful English impose their usual disregard, is most insightful. In a series of letters written by a Captain Edward Burt (1759) in the first-half of the 18th century to the english monarch of the period, we read a quite fascinating account which must have been very intriguing to witness first-hand.
General Wade and his band of marauders had reached the Sma’ Glen at the end of Glen Almond and were about to continue the construction of their road. Burt (1759) wrote:
“A small part of the way through this glen having been marked out by two rows of camp colours, placed at a good distance one from another, whereby to describe the line of the intended breadth and regularity of the road by the eye, there happened to lie directly in the way an exceedingly large stone; and, as it had been made a rule from the beginning, to carry on the roads in straight lines as far as the way would permit, not only to give them a better air, but to shorten the passenger’s journey, it was resolved the stone should be removed, if possible, though otherwise the work might have been carried along on either side of it.
“The soldiers, by vast labour, with their levers and jacks, or hand-screws, tumbled it over and over till they got it quite out of the way, although it was of such an enormous size that it might be matter of great wonder how it could ever be removed by human strength and art, especially to such who had never seen an operation of that kind: and, upon their digging a little way into that part of the ground where the centre of the base had stood, there was found a small cavity, about two feet square, which was guarded from the outward earth at the bottom, top, and sides, by square flat stones.
“This hollow contained some ashes, scraps of bones, and half-burnt ends of stalks of heath; which last we concluded to be a small remnant of a funeral pile. Upon the whole, I think there is no room to doubt but it was the urn of some considerable Roman officer, and the best of the kind that could be provided in their military circumstances; and that it was so seems plainly to appear from its vicinity to the Roman camp, the engines that must have been employed to remove that vast piece of a rock, and the unlikeliness it should, or could, have ever been done by the natives of the country. But certainly the design was, to preserve those remains from the injuries of rains and melting snows, and to prevent their being profaned by the sacrilegious hands of those they call Barbarians, for that reproachful name, you know, they gave to the people of almost all nations but their own.
“…As I returned the same way from the Lowlands, I found the officer, with his party of working soldiers, not far from the stone, and asked him what was become of the urn? To this he answered, that he had intended to preserve it in the condition I left it, till the commander-in-chief had seen it, as a curiosity, but that it was not in his power so to do; for soon after the discovery was known to the Highlanders, they assembled from distant parts, and having formed themselves into a body, they carefully gathered up the relics, and marched with them, in solemn procession, to a new place of burial, and there discharged their fire-arms over the grave, as supposing the deceased had been a military officer.
“You will believe the recital of all this ceremony led me to ask the reason of such homage done to the ashes of a person supposed to have been dead almost two thousand years. It did so; and the officer, who was himself a native of the Hills, told me that they (the Highlanders) firmly believe that if a dead body should be known to lie above ground, or be disinterred by malice, or the accidents of torrents of water, &c. and care was not immediately taken to perform to it the proper rites, then there would arise such storms and tempests as would destroy their corn, blow away their huts, and all sorts of other mis-fortunes would follow till that duty was performed. You may here recollect what I told you so long ago, of the great regard the Highlanders have for the remains of their dead…”
We can rest assured that the ‘Roman officer’ idea proclaimed by our early narrator is most probably wrong and that the nature of this site, when seen at ground-level even today and moreso by referencing Skene’s 1834 drawing of the place, above (which shows a more complete low surrounding ring of stones) indicate this to be of prehistoric provenance. Of intrigue to me, is the ritual of the incoming Highlanders, who took the relics onto another place and re-interred them in their own customary manner. We do not know where the Highlanders moved these (probable) prehistoric relics and I can find no supporting folklore to show precisely where they went—but a likely site would be the prehistoric cairn on the mountaintop southwest of here (at NN 8899 3018), or a site that has sometimes been confused with Ossian’s Stone a short distance to the south in the Sma’ Glen, known as the Giant’s Grave (at NN 9050 2956). This latter site would seem more probable.
Anyway…. many years after Edward Burt’s initial Letters defined the site for outsiders, one Thomas Newte (1791) came a-wandering hereby. He found that the account of General Wade’s intrusion was still on the tongues of local people, along with additions of further giant-lore and Fingalian tales, typical of the Creation myths of our early ancestors. In typically depreciative English manner Newte told:
“In that awful part of Glen Almon, already mentioned, where lofty and impending cliffs on either hand make a solemn and almost perpetual gloom, is found Clachan-Of-Fian, or monumental Stone of Ossian. It is of uncommon size, measuring seven feet and an half in length, and five feet in breadth. About fifty years ago, certain soldiers, employed under General Wade in making the Military Road from Stirling to Inverness, through the Highlands, raised the stone by large engines, and discovered under it a coffin full of burntbones. This coffin consisted of four gray stones, which still remain, such as are mentioned in Ossian’s Poems. Ossian’s Stone, with the four gray stones in which his bones are said to have been deposited, are surrounded by a circular dyke, two hundred feet in circumference, and three feet in height. The Military Road passes through its centre.”
From hereon, many other writers and travellers came to see this great legendary stone within the depleted remains of its embanked circle—and thankfully it hasn’t been disturbed any further, still being visible to this day. The greatest ‘archaeological’ attention the site has received was from the early pen of great antiquarian Fred Coles (1911). On his journey here, after travelling past a large white stone which was mistakenly named as Ossian’s Stone by the usual contenders, he and his friend reached the right place:
“close to a strip of ground where the river and road almost touch each other, and immediately below the steepest of the crags of Dun More on the eastern side and the debris slopes of Meall Tarsuinn on the west, a most impressive environment, be the stone a prehistoric monument or not! The spot is interesting for itself, apart from all legend; and the remains consist of a mighty monolith…and a narrow grassy mound…to its east, with a few earthfast blocks set edgewise near its eastern extremity. Close to the roadside, but at the same level of 690 feet above the sea, there is a slab-like stone set up, measuring 3 feet in width, 1 foot 3 inches in thickness, and about 2 feet 6 inches in height. A space of 63 feet separates this block…from the huge rhomboidal mass called Ossian’s Stone. Five feet east of the latter is the base of the grassy mound which measures about 12 feet in length, 4 feet in greatest breadth, and 3 feet 10 inches in height. To the north and the south in a slightly curving line are set the six small slabs shown. There seems also to be a vague continuation of this strange alignment in both directions. All over the ground between A and B, are many strangle low parallel ridges of smallish stones having a general direction of nearly north and south. The rest of the ground is grassy, and here and there a little stony. In the plan all the stones are drawn larger than exactly to scale.
“The great stone is 8 feet high and has a basal girth of 27 feet. Several small stones lie near it. Such are the facts as at present to be observed on the ground.”
There are two small conjoined cup-marks on top of the stone, but these seem to be geological in nature. The precise nature of the site is difficult to ascertain without excavation; but the Royal Commission lads reckon it to be a prehistoric ‘cist’ or grave in their own analysis, based mainly on the quoted literary texts. The surrounding ‘ring’ of small stones doesn’t seem to have captured their attention too much; but the site needs contextualizing within this damaged circular enclosure, which appears to have been a cairn circle initially, of some sort, with Ossian’s huge stone resting over the grave of one late great ancestral character, probably placed here thousands of years back in the Bronze Age… A truly fascinating place in truly gorgeous landscape.
The glen itself has a scattering of giant lore associated with Finn and/or Ossian. A nearby cave was one of the places where this legendary character, and subsequent bards, were said to have spent time.
There are a small number of heavy rocks presently placed on top of Ossian’s Stone. These may be due to the site being used as a “lifting stone”: a sort of rite of passage found at a number of sites in the Perthshire mountains and across the Highlands to indicate a boy’s strength before entering manhood. Not until they have lifted and deposited a very heavy rock onto the boulder can they rightly become chief or leader, etc.
The poet William Wordsworth wrote about Ossian’s Stone, calling it “Glen Almein, or The Narrow Glen”:
In this still place, remote from men,
Sleeps Ossian, in the Narrow Glen;
In this still place, where murmurs on
But one meek streamlet, only one:
He sang of battles, and the breath
Of stormy war, and violent death;
And should, methinks, when all was past,
Have rightfully been laid at last
Where rocks were rudely heaped, and rent
As by a spirit turbulent;
Where sights were rough, and sounds were wild,
And everything unreconciled;
In some complaining, dim retreat,
For fear and melancholy meet;
But this is calm; there cannot be
A more entire tranquillity.
Does then the Bard sleep here indeed?
Or is it but a groundless creed?
What matters it? I blame them not
Whose Fancy in this lonely Spot
Was moved; and in such way expressed
Their notion of its perfect rest.
A convent, even a hermit’s cell,
Would break the silence of this Dell:
It is not quiet, is not ease;
But something deeper far than these:
The separation that is here
Is of the grave; and of austere
Yet happy feelings of the dead:
And, therefore, was it rightly said
That Ossian, last of all his race!
Lies buried in this lonely place.
Anonymous, Tourists Guide to Crieff, Comrie and the Vale of Strathearn, Crieff