Along the A84 Callander road, just going out on the east side of town, take the signposted road up and up and towards the car-park for the Bracklinn Falls. Another mile past here, keep your eyes peeled for the Wishing Well sign on the right-hand side of the road. From here, walk straight up the hillside for 150 yards (137m) and zigzag about. You’ll see it!
Archaeology & History
This small standing stone (not previously recorded) hides away up on the hillside not far from the old Tobhar na Cailleach (nowadays demoted as a just a Wishing Well), with its history and traditions seemingly long forgotten. About 3 feet high and barely a foot thick, it may once have had a companion standing just a few yards away by its side, where now lays a moss-covered stone. It reminded me a little of the stone pairing called the Cuckoo Stones near Wuthering Heights at Haworth, West Yorkshire.
Possible fallen stone
Druim Mor stone, looking N
Slightly higher up the grassy slope, 15-20 yards away, we find a low line of ancient walling that runs slightly uphill and then across a slightly level piece of land for about 40 yards, before turning back down the hillside and towards the road below.
Although we have no recorded traditions of this stone, it needs to be highlighted that the waters, the woods and the slopes below this stone are dedicated to the Cailleach – the great prima Mater of Scottish and Irish traditional history.
Acknowledgements: Many thanks to Nina Harris and Paul Hornby for their help on the day of this find.
Along the A84 road between Doune and Callander, take the tiny country lane up to your right to Drumloist (if you’re coming from Doune) or up the tiny unmarked road past Keltie Bridge on your left (if you’re coming from Callander). Uphill for several miles, you eventually emerge from the trees and are on the top of the tiny road. Once here, keep your eyes peeled for Drumloist farm. Best thing to do is walk up the track and ask at the farm. The fella there is a superb old Highlander who’ll point you to the place on the hill above.
Archaeology & History
A site that was never explored by that giant of chambered tomb research, Audrey Henshall. A pity, as it has a lot of potential and seems to have a lot more to say about itself than the meagre findings reported by the Scottish Royal Commission doods.
Although there’s a very notable “fairy hill” eminence close by which strongly draws your attention, the actual hillock upon which this chambered tomb was constructed is in front of this, closer to the farm. A couple of rows of ancient walling—Iron Age by the look o’things—run up the hillside, with one of them running into the eastern sides of the huge mound which this tomb plays a part in. The mound itself is about a hundred feet across, although seems to have been damaged over the centuries. Although it is probably neolithic in origin, sections of the monument seem to have been altered and re-used for other purposes, giving it that distinctly multi-period look.
The farmer informed us how some of the stones from the mound had been robbed and used in some of the walling in the past. He also told us how there are so many other archaeological features upon the moors above here that remain to be “officially” recorded, despite the efforts of some who swept the region for remains a few decades ago.
The main prehistoric section of the tomb that can be seen are the two opened cists, or stone-lined graves, to the top north-western edges of the mound. They align together, NE to SW, with a gap of about three yards between the two open tombs. The more northerly of the two is much more overgrown; whilst the southwestern grave comprises of three large flat upright stones, forming a traditional ‘box’ with smaller flat stones lining the floor. But these two separate tombs (if indeed they were originally separated) point directly to the large, very prominent “fairy mound” about 100 yards northeast, on the north side of the Drumloist Burn. The alignment seems very deliberate.
Walking over the boggy ground to the (unnamed) fairy mound, a natural ‘platform’ of rocks sticks out on its southeasterly side, and upon this are two large cup-markings, with the more easterly one of the two seeming to have a carved arc along its edge. Looking from this mound, back across to the Ballachraggan tomb, the open flat landscape heading southwest is held where the sunset falls. Sadly on the day we visited, Nature greeted us with grey cloud and the drizzle of light rain all afternoon, so we couldn’t make out if there was something, far away, which the tomb was truly aligned with… A damn good site though!
You’ll need wellies or no shoes for this excursion! From the lovely town of Callander, take the A84 road southeast out towards Doune and Stirling for a mile or so. Keep your eyes peeled for Straid by the roadside on your left and the turning right down to Ballochallan quarries. About 200 yards down, notice the industrial works on your left. Walk about 50 paces past this, then turn right into the trees. Less than 100 yards in, you’ll hit a shallow bend in the River Teith. Walk across and into the trees opposite…and if you amble just yards above the edge of the river, along the tree-line, you’ll find St. Mary’s Well…
Archaeology & History
Highlighted on the 1862 Ordnance Survey map of Callander and cited in the Object Name Book of the same year, oddly there is no mention of this mythic site in the Scottish surveys on holy wells (MacKinlay 1894; Morris 1981) — which seems rather unusual considering the importance this legendary entity (St. Mary) possessed in the christian pantheon.
There is also some doubt about the precise position of this holy well. According to the Royal Commission account, the well “is stone lined; it measures 0.9m in diameter, and is choked with fallen leaves.” However, this appears to be the remains of a latrine (or “a bog,” as my northern tongue so eloquently exclaimed soon after finding it), now used more by frogs to lay their spawn in which their tadpoles thankfully emerge (as we found when visiting it last week). The holy well itself is about 10 yards further along the edge of the river and has a most curious architectural feature to it.
When we found the place, much of it was very overgrown indeed and it took a while to recover its status. But in doing so, we found that on all sides where the stone-lining marked the emergence of the waters, rocks large and small consisting almost entirely of quartz constituted the opening as it came out of the ground. This was a very deliberate construction feature no less! Also, the fine sandy silt which clogged up the waters were also found to have small pieces of quartz laying beneath it, seemingly as offerings that had been made here many years ago. But on the whole there seemed little evidence that the well had been used ritually for many years. So, once we’d cleaned up the debris and made the site more notable, I drank its waters and found them very fine and refreshing indeed!
In the trees behind the well you will find the overgrown remains of the old chapel, also dedicated to St. Mary. The tranquility and spirit of this place would have been truly superb. Even today, it is an ideal retreat for meditation and spiritual practice. It just seems such a curious mystery that nothing seems to be known of the place…
The 1862 “Object Name Book” told that the waters here were renowned for having great healing properties. St. Mary’s feast day was August 15 and great were the country fairs and rituals surrounding this period across Scotland and beyond — many of which may have supplanted the more arcane festival of Lammas. However, local records are silent about any such events performed at Callander’s St. Mary’s Well. Do any old locals know more about it…?
MacKinlay, James M., Folklore of Scottish Lochs and Springs, William Hodge: Glasgow 1893.
Go west out of Callander on the A84 road and after a mile or so turn left at Kilmahog, down the A821. After a few hundred yards, past the parking spot by the roadside, look up the small Bochastle Hill on your right and you’ll see a large singular boulder resting on top. That’s it!
Archaeology & History
When I first wandered up to this giant rock, I was hoping there may have been cup-markings on its surface, but none could be found. The stone is a glacial erratic. The Iron Age hillfort of Dunmore is 370 yards (338m) to the southwest.
In Mr Rogers’ (1853) fine historical tour of the region, he notes the Samson Stone “on the summit of one of the eminences of Bochastle,” a couple of miles west of Callander, but wondered “how it came to occupy this remarkable position.” If he’d have asked some of the old locals they may have told him what Rennie McOwan (1996) came across and described in his excellent work on the folklore of Scottish mountains. For the Samson Stone was traditionally thrown here by one of the Fingalian giants in ancient times. It was originally located upon Ben Ledi, nearly 3 miles northwest, and was one of several stones being thrown in a competition to see who was the strongest of the giants — and Samson was the name of the one who threw this huge rock. Another version of the same legend tells that the stone was originally thrown from Ben Lawers, 21 miles (34km) to the north.
Bain, William, Around and about Callander, Callander & District Round Table n.d. (c.1978).
From the tourist-infested (but lovely) town of Callander, look west to the largest of the nearby mountains — that’s where you’re heading! You can keep along the A84 road out of the town for 4-5 miles (past the Falls and Pass of Leny) till you reach the parking spot on your left. Cross the river and go up into the signposted woodland. Keep walking up thru the trees until the rocky mass emerges above you. You can either keep to the path and follow the long walk round the mountain, or go straight up the crags above you. The top’s in sight!
Getting up here is no easy task if you’re unfit — but it’s well worth the effort for the journey alone! And in bygone centuries it seems, local people made it a particular pilgrimage at specific times during the year. Even the name of this great hill has some supposed affinity with holy issues; though some modern english etymologists put a dampener on such things. In Charles Rogers’ (1853) excellent Victorian exposition, he told that,
“Benledi is an abbreviation of the Celtic Ben-le-dia, signifying the hill of God.”
But whether the old heathens who named most of these ancient mountains would echo his oft-repeated derivation is another thing altogether! However, there are other decidedly pre-christian events that used to be enacted here, for the summit of Ben Ledi was, tradition tells, where the sun god was worshipped. It would seem, however, that this tradition is a somewhat watered-down version of it as a site of cosmological and social renewal. (see Eliade 1974) For akin to the annual pilgrimage that happens upon Croagh Patrick in County Mayo, Ireland, here upon Ben Ledi,
“For three days and three nights…the inhabitants of the district in those primitive times convened, at the period of summer solstice, on the summit of the mountain, to join in the rites of heathen worship.”
More recent lore tells the date of such sacred gatherings was Beltane. Also a short distance to the north of the summit of Ben Ledi is a small loch known as Lochan-nan-corp. Mr Rogers again tells us that,
“Here two hundred persons, who were accompanying a funeral from Glenfinglas to the churchyard of St. Bride, suddenly perished; the ground had been covered with snow and the company were crossing the lake on the ice, when it at once gave way.”
It seems a most unusual event. But the tale itself implies that a corpse route passed by the way of this high summit, down to the heathen chapel of St. Bride at the bottom of its eastern face: a huge undertaking in itself with probably archaic origins. Does anyone know owt more about this?
Eliade, Mircea, The Myth of the Eternal Return, Princeton University Press 1974.
Eliade, Mircea, Patterns in Comparative Religion, Sheed & Ward: London 1958.
Roger, Charles, A Week at Bridge of Allan, Adam & Charles Black: Edinburgh 1853.