Take the same route as if you’re visiting the small Carlin Stone (a few hundred yards further along): along the B822 road between Kippen and Fintry, stop at Balafark farm and cross the road above the farm to take the track into the forest. 1km along, note the small green track, off the main central track, slightly up on the rise on your right, which bends round and then goes (eventually) to the other side of the forest. Once you reach the gate at its edge, walk left 285 yards (261m) along the fence.
Archaeology & History
The Wife and the Carlin on the 1865 OS-map
Described in the Ordnance Survey’s (1870) Book of Reference (volume 47) as “a flat rock on the boundary between Perth and Stirling,” the rock is certainly not flat—and any geographical relationship it had with Perth has long since gone. Instead, the stone in question here is an upright one—although it’s not much more than two feet tall. However, on the other side of the present-day fence there is a small flat stone in the ground; but it is the moss-covered upright that is our ‘Wife with the Bratty Plaid.’ A smaller curious-looking quartz-lined stone also lies next to this old Wife…
The Wife, looking east
The Wife, looking west
Marked on the ancient boundary line, this small but sturdy standing stone probably has a prehistoric pedigree, although we cannot be certain without an excavation. It is shown on the earliest OS-maps from the 1860s, but we have no notifications from any literary sources telling the tale behind the stone’s fascinating name: meaning simply, the ‘wife wearing the tartan shawl.’ When Marion Woolley and I came here the other day, we tried to see if a simulacrum of such a figure was hiding in the moss-covered upright—but unlike the notable simulacrum at MacBeth’s Stone, we struggled somewhat here. It was possible, from certain angles (if we didn’t stand on our heads and poke each other in the eyes!) to see this ‘wife in a shawl’, but twas a struggle…
There’s every likelihood that whatever the old tale once was about this petrified ancestral stone, it would have had some mythic relationship with the Old Wife known as the Carlin, or cailleach, a few hundred yards to the west, at the Carlin Stone. As yet however, their histories remain hidden in the sleep of the Earth…
Take the B822 road between Kippen and Fintry, stopping at Balafark farm. On the other side of the road, above the farm, take the track into the forest. Naathen…. 1120 yards (1.02km) along, note the small green track, off the main central track, slightly up on the rise on your right. It bends round and then goes (eventually) straight to the edge of the forest. Once you reach the edge, go left all along the fence until it meets the large gate 800 yards WSW. 20 yards past the gate, a small stone is along the fence-line. This is the Carlin!
Archaeology & History
Carling Stone, looking east
Found along the same boundary line as another stone with similar mythic virtues (called the ‘Wife with the Bratty Plaid’), when Marion Grace Woolley and I visited the site earlier, we found only a small upright, barely a foot tall, right in line with the ancient boundary along a newly made fence. Thankfully, whoever built the fence, understood the nature of the stone, and left it in the ground where it belongs. We know not for sure exactly how old this stone might be, but it its name and position suggest very old – probably prehistoric.
The Carlin is another word for the Cailleach: the prima mater or great Earth goddess in Irish, Scottish and northern English animistic traditions. Her virtues are immense, representing the cycles of the natural world, a creation giant, healer and a whole host of other elements inherent to the natural world. Although She tends to be represented as the Winter hag, the Cailleach changes Her faces and attributes as the cloaks of the seasons go by, annually, cyclically, year after year after year. She’s as much the cloak of the Winter as She is the fertility of Spring, the warmth of the Summer and the fruits of Autumn.
Carling Stone, looking west
Whatever traditions there might have been at this small Carlin Stone are now long forgotten it seems. We find no bodach (Her husband) in immediate attendance. However, the existence of the small standing stone called the ‘Wife with the Bratty Plaid,’ several hundred yards to the east along the same ancient boundary line, implies there would have been a traditional perambulation along this boundary, and during such annual ritual walks, tales or words may have been said here. Does anyone know more…?
It is difficult to assess the precise nature of this megalithic site, sadly destroyed some two hundred years ago. The Royal Commission thinks it may have been a rocking stone, but the legend said of it indicates it to have been associated with a giant prehistoric cairn, although nothing remains nowadays. The site was mentioned briefly in James Patterson’s (1863) huge work on the townships of Ayrshire, where he described the site as “standing upright” and “being in a field on Lodgehouse Farm,” near the village church.
“It stood on three stones, so high that a man could crawl under. It was blasted in 1819 to build houses. The farmer’s wife, it is said, took some antipathy to it, and would not give her husband rest until he consented to have it removed. A person of the name of Jamieson, and an assistant, were employed to blast it, which was accordingly done. When broken up, it filled twenty-four carts. Such was the feeling of sacrilege occasioned by the removal of the stone, that it was observed the farmer’s wife became blind, and continued so for eight years, when she died. Jamieson, who blasted it, never did well afterwards. He drank and went to ruin.”
Serves them right! Additional lore gained from a local lady in the 1870s has one of those all-too-familiar elements to it, speaking of something more substantive.
When Archibald Adamson (1875) wrote his fine work on the history of Kilmarnock and district, folklore elements more typical of the Cailleach—whose legends abound in our more northern climes—seemed to have been attached to this missing site. It is worth telling in full:
“After partaking of refreshments in the village inn, and indulging in a chat with the landlord, I retraced my steps to the highway, and in doing so got into conversation with an old lady who was very loquacious and well versed in the lore of the district. Amongst other things, she informed me that once on a time the church of Craigie had a narrow escape of being destroyed by a witch who had taken umbrage at it. It seems that the hag selected a large stone, and having placed it in her apron, flew with it in the direction of the building with the intention of dropping it upon its roof. Her design, however, was frustrated by the breaking of her apron strings, for, upon nearing the object of her spleen, they gave way, and the stone fell with a crash that shook the earth. This accident seemingly so disheartened the carlin that she abandoned the destructive idea and allowed her burden to lie where it fell. The boulder lay in a field near the churchyard wall, and was known as “The White Stane.” It was long regarded with superstitious awe by many; but the farmer on whose ground it lay being of a practical turn of mind, looked upon it with an eye to utility, and had it blasted for building purposes. Strange to relate, when broken up the debris filled twenty-five carts–a circumstance that would lead one to suppose that the witch must have been very muscular, and must have worn a very large apron.”
It is most likely that the witch in this legend originally set off from the Witch’s Knowe, more than 500 yards to the west of the church (and still untouched, despite the mess of the quarrying immediately adjacent). Any further information on this missing site would be greatly appreciated.
Adamson, Archibald S., Rambles round Kilmarnock, T. Stevenson: Kilmarnock 1875.
Paterson, James, History of the Counties of Ayr and Wigton – volume 1, James Stillie: Edinburgh 1863.
Standing Stone? (destroyed): OS Grid Reference – SE 2428 2329
Archaeology & History
My first hint at the existence of this once valuable archaeological relic came as a result of me seeking out the history and folklore of some hitherto unknown, forgotten holy wells in the Batley and Dewsbury area. I located the material I was looking for on the old wells, but my fortuitous discovery of this site, the Old Wife’s Stone, blew me away!
It was the place-name of ‘Carlinghow’ about one mile northwest of the grid-reference above that initially caught my attention. From an antiquarian or occultist’s viewpoint, it’s intriguing on two counts: the first is the element ‘how‘ in Carlinghow, which can mean a variety of things, but across the Pennines tends to relate to either an ancient tribal or council meeting place, or a prehistoric burial cairn: an element that wasn’t lost in the giant archaeology survey of West Yorkshire by Faull & Moorhouse (1981). But the first part of this place-name, ‘carling‘, was the exciting element to me; for it means ‘old woman,’ ‘old hag,’ ‘witch’ or cailleach! The cailleach (to those who don’t know) was the prima mater: the Great Mother deity of our pre-christian British ancestors. Meaning that Carlinghow hill was a hugely important sacred site no less—right in the heart of industrial West Yorkshire! What is even more intriguing—or perhaps surprising—is that we have no record of such a powerful mythic creature anywhere in local folklore… Or so it first seemed…
Memory told me that no such prehistoric remains were recorded anywhere in that area—and certainly no prehistoric tombs. I scoured through my library just to triple-check, and found the archaeological records as silent as I first thought. Just to make sure I spent a day at the Central Library, where again I found nothing… So then I explored the region on the modern OS-maps, only to find that much of the area where the Carlinghow place-name existed was, surprisingly, still untouched by housing and similar modern pollutants. This was a great surprise to say the least. And so to check for any potential archaeological sites which might once have been in the Carlinghow area, I turned to the large-scale 1850 OS-maps (6-inch to the mile).
This is when I came across the Old Wife’s Stone, marked in the middle of fields on the outskirts of old Batley. There was no notice of it being a standing stone, or a simple boulder, or archaeological relic—nothing. But its place-name compatriot of ‘Carlinghow’ was the rising hill about a mile to the northwest. In days of olde, if Carlinghow was indeed the ‘burial tomb of the Old Woman’ or ‘meeting place of the cailleach’ (or whatever variants on the theme it may have been), it may have marked the setting sun on the longest day of the year if you had been standing at the Old Wife’s Stone – a midsummer sunset marker no less. (There are other ancient and legendary sites scattering northern England and beyond that are dedicated to the Cailleach, like the Old Woman Stone in Derbyshire, the Old Wife’s Neck in North Yorkshire, the Carlin Stone in Stirlingshire, the Old Woman Stone at Todmorden, Carlin Stone of Loch Elrig and many more.)
As if these curious ingredients weren’t enough to imply something existed in the heathen pantheon of Batley before the Industrialists swept away our indigenous history, we find echoes of the ‘Old Woman’ yet again, immediately east; this time where the animism of water and trees enfolded Her mythos in local rites and traditions, thankfully captured by the pens of several writers, and transmuted into another guise—but undeniably Her! But that, as they say, is for another day and another site profile…
So is our Old Wife’s Stone (or for that matter, Carlinghow’s old tomb) still in evidence? A school has been built where it was highlighted on the 1854 OS-map and, from the accounts of local people, seems to have long since disappeared. The stone looks to have been incorporated into a length of walling, sometime between 1854 and 1888, and a bench-mark of “BM 318.2” carved onto it. But when the Ordnance Survey lads re-surveyed the area in 1905, this had gone. I have been unable to find any more information about this site and hope that, one day, a fellow antiquarian or occult historian might be able to unravel more of its forgotten mythic history.
Faull, M.L. & Moorhouse, S.A. (eds), West Yorkshire: An Archaeological Survey to 1500 AD – volume 1, WYMCC: Wakefield 1981.
Goodall, Armitage, Place-Names of South-west Yorkshire, Cambridge University Press 1914.
Keighley, J.J., ‘The Prehistoric Period’, in Faull & Moorhouse, 1981.
o’ Crualaoich, Gearoid, The Book of the Cailleach, Cork University Press 2004.
Smith, A.H., English Place-Name Elements – volume 2, Cambridge University Press 1956.
Smith, A.H., The Place-Names of the West Riding of Yorkshire – volume 2, Cambridge University Press 1961.
Wright, Joseph, English Dialect Dictionary – volume 1, Henry Frowde: London 1898.
Acknowledgements: Many thanks for the assistance of Simon Roadnight and Julia King in the Batley History Group.
The grid reference here is an approximation, but the old well was definitely somewhere very close by, as evidenced by the place-name of the farmhouse. But if you wanna get here and wander about in the hope that you can re-locate this once sacred water source, go up the B1269 road north of Guisborough for about a mile. Carling Howe farmhouse is on the left-hand side of the road. Obviously the old well is somewhere close by…
Archaeology & History
The information I have of this site comes from old place-name listings. I found the reference in the directory for North Yorkshire by A.H. Smith (1928), in his entry for the etymology of ‘Carling Howe’ at Guisborough. Smith ascribes the references of ‘Kerlinghou’ (which itself appears to have been lost) to mean the ‘Old woman’s mound’ and variants thereof, also saying, “There is an unidentified place in this township called Kerlingkelde,” (12th century ref. Guisborough Cartulary)—the ‘Old Woman’s Well’. Very commonly in this part of Yorkshire—as at many other locations in northern England—a hou or howe (and variants thereof) relates to a prehistoric tomb – which is probably what we had here: a prehistoric Old Woman’s Grave with an associated Old Woman’s Well in close attendance.
The ‘old woman’ element in this name very probably relates to that primal mythic deity, the cailleach, the great prima mater of indigenous heathen folk, beloved mainly in Scottish and Irish lore, where her copious name and tales resonate to this day. This “well of the Old Woman, or cailleach“, would have been a place of particular importance in the mythic cosmology of our ancestors, but its precise whereabouts seems forgotten. There is a plentiful supply of water around Carling Howe Farm, one or more of which may once have been the site of this well. However, a lot of quarrying operations occurred here in the not-too-distant past, and this may have irreparably damaged our ability to accurately find the site – though perhaps a perusal of old field-maps could be productive.
It would also be good if we could locate the original whereabouts of the old tomb here which gave the place its name – the ‘Carling Howe’. Other ‘howe’ sites in East and North Yorkshire turn out to be prehistoric burials and I have little doubt that the same occurred here.
o’ Crualaoich, Gearoid, The Book of the Cailleach, Cork University Press 2003.
Smith, A.H., The Place-Names of the North Riding of Yorkshire, Cambridge University Press 1928.
From Hawes, take the B6255 road west-ish to Ribblehead, but only for 1km, where there’s the Cam Road track on your left. Walk on here, and keep going till you’re looking down the valley past the very last house (those of you who wanna take the Pennine Way from Hawes will end up in the same place). It’s one of the springs down the steep slope on your right! (check the attached link to the OS-map to work out which one you’re heading for)
Archaeology & History
Apart from a singular mention in place-name records, I have found no historical information (yet!) about this old water supply. It was one of the great sites of the cailleach in our Yorkshire hills: a truly ancient and heathen place, all but forgotten and lost in the mythic landscape of our past. And it’s a bittova dodgy spot getting right up to her down the rather steep hilly slope — but it’s truly well worth the trek!
When I first visited this place, we took off from Cam Fell’s western side and ambled up the tops until the land gave us the beauty of Snaizeholme valley, which had us stopping, dreaming and wanting more as we sought to find this forgotten well. Most of you would probably come from the easier side of Hawes and walk along the path on the southern-side of the valley, or p’raps even wander up Snaizeholme valley itself – but I’d recommend a walk along the tops. Tis much much better!
If you’ve got the 1:25,000-scale OS-map, you’ll see the ‘Old Wife’s Gill’ running down the hillside. Get over the wall by the track-side and stagger down the steep slope. You’ll pass a small spring about 70 yards down – but this aint the one (though I think originally the Old Wife came from much further up Dodd Fell itself). You’ve got another 75 yards to go down before you get to the main spring – but if you’re old and fragile, unfit or fat, you’ll struggle like hell here!
The waters emerge from this very steep slope, surrounded by plenty of thorns and thistles, on a part of the hill where the land itself is slowly coming away. After a long dry-spell no doubt, this might be a little more secure; but when we came here She’d been raining on-and-off like hell and the waters were a-plenty. It’s difficult to actually locate the exact spot where the water first appears – but like I said, it seems to have, long ago, come from much further up the hill. As the photos show, the water’s nice n’ clear, good-tasting, and then continues along its downward stream – known as the Old Wife’s Gill – until hitting the small river at the valley bottom.
The other site in this valley which assures us of the cailleach’s validity comes from the place-name a few hundred yards further up the valley, seemingly giving source to the valley river herself: a Lady Spring or well, whose form once emerged close to the gate of the Cold Well close by. The third part of the cailleach’s form – the maiden or virginal – has been lost as far as local myth and literary records go. But I’ve gotta come here a few more times to get an idea as to where this ‘lost’ water-source originally appeared. A number of streams run off the hills here into the curiously-named Snaizeholme valley (which etymologists assign to nowt more than a “place where twigs are” – which seems nonsensical), and as there’s been very little by way of human habitation screwing the land up, there’s a damn good chance we’ll find and recover the mythic history of the landscape here after a few more treks and dreams…
Other sites of similar mythic relevance which need checking include Carlow Hill (SD 770 858)at Stonehouse, Dentdale; and the great valley of Carlin Gill on the North Yorkshire/Cumbria border (SD 634 993 – Gambles 1995:39).