A small and seemingly prehistoric grave, or cist, destroyed sometime around 1840, once existed on the top of a large hillock close to the River Carron where the bridge leads from Dunipace to Denny. Thankfully, memory of its existence was preserved by Robert Watson (1845) in his short description of Dunipace parish. He first began by talking of some large natural mounds on the eastern side of the township which, folklore told, gave rise to the place-name Dunipace; but from those mounds,
“About two miles to the westward of these hills, there was a very beautiful one about forty feet in height, and covering nearly three roods of ground, said also to be artificial. This hill was mutilated, from time to time, for the purpose of repairing roads and other purposes. It was entirely removed about six years ago, to form an embankment on the turnpike road near Denny bridge. The strata of which this hill was composed, were carefully observed during its removal. These were so regular, and as if rising out of, and gradually returning again to similar strata in the circumjacent level ground, as to afford conclusive evidence that the hill was not the work of man. On the top of this hill, and about three feet below the surface, was found a coffin or tomb, composed of five large un wrought stones, in which were the bones of a human body, scull and teeth not much decayed. Along with these, was a vase of coarse unglazed earthenware, containing a small quantity of material resembling the lining of a wasp’s nest, probably decayed paper or parchment, which in the lapse of ages had assumed that appearance. No conjecture could be formed about the individual here interred, tradition being entirely silent on the subject ; but this circumstance corroborates the opinion of some writers, that the hills of Dunipace might have been used as burying-places for ancient chiefs.”
The site was included in the Royal Commission’s (1963:1) Inventory, but they found no additional data about it.
Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments Scotland, Stirling – volume 1, HMSO: Edinburgh 1963.
Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Archaeological Sites and Monuments of Stirling District, Central Region, Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 1979.
Watson, Robert, “Parish of Dunipace,” in New Statistical Account of Scotland – volume 8, William Blackwood: Edinburgh 1845.
Tumulus (destroyed): OS Grid Reference – SE 234 336
Archaeology & History
Today, Hough Hill has almost completely given way to modern housing; but in bygone centuries, this hilltop once housed a prehistoric burial mound—albeit an inconspicuous one. It was mentioned briefly in Faull & Morehouse’s (1981) magnum opus, but we know very little of its overall appearance and stature. Its existence was recorded posthumously thanks to the antiquarian John Holmes, without whose notes it would have been lost to history.
During quarrying operations at Hough Hill in December 1879, an ornamental urn was found,
“filled with calcined bones (that) was placed on a dish shaped hollow, some two or three feet deep, with charcoal and burnt earth.”
Holmes compared some markings that were upon this urn to one that was uncovered in Acrehowe Hill above Baildon by J.N.M. Coll in 1845. Unfortunately the Hough Hill urn was broken into fragments shortly after being uncovered. All remains of the burial mound have been completely destroyed.
Faull, M.L. & Moorhouse, S.A. (eds.), West Yorkshire: An Archaeological Guide to AD 1500– volume 1, WYMCC: Wakefield 1981.
Holmes. John, “A Sketch of the Pre-Historic Remains of Rombalds Moor,” in Proceedings of the Yorkshire Geological & Polytechnic Society, volume 9, 1886.
Wardell, James, Historical Notes of Ilkley, Rombald’s Moor, Baildon Common, and other Matters of the British and Roman Periods, Joseph Dodgson: Leeds 1869. (2nd edition 1881).
Were it not for the valuable records in the Scottish Statistical Accounts, we’d have lost all knowledge of this site. It was described in notes by by Colin Baxter (1793), where he told us:
“About 200 yards west from the church of Monivaird, a barrow was opened some years ago, in which two urns were found, each containing a stone of a bluish colour, very hard about four inches long, and of a triangular shape, somewhat resembling the head of an axe.”
The site was subsequently mentioned in the Ordnance Survey Name Book of the parish, with some additional bits of information:
“In the year 17–, there was found, about one hundred yards to the westward of the old church of Monzievaird, a barrow containing a stone-coffin, in which were inclosed two coarse earthen urns, the one filled with burnt bones, the other containing the bones of the head. Of these, the under jawbone and the teeth were very entire. In the stone coffin was also found a stone hatchet, bluish-coloured, very hard, about four inches long, and of a triangular shape, a remain which proves the barrow of very remote antiquity – prior to the use of iron. The stone hatchet is preserved at Ochtertyre.”
No traces remain of the site; and although the stone axes came to be in the possession of Sir William Murray of Ochtertyre, the urns and other remains have long since been lost.
The name of ‘St Serf’s Water’ derives from it this area being dedicated to St Servanus in early times; the holy well of St Serf could be found a short distance south from where this tomb was built.
Baxter, Colin, “United Parishes of Monivaird and Strowan,” in Statistical Account of Scotland – volume 8, William Creech: Edinburgh 1793.
In a lecture given by Frank Hall at the Ilkley Library in February, 1910, he described a number of prehistoric remains found in the area—including the remnants of a “cinerary urn, containing calcined human remains” and more, as illustrated in the old photo here. He contextualized the findings as being typical of the remains found “under a large heap of earth and stones which we now call a ‘barrow’, ‘cairn’ or ‘tumulus'” and believed that one must have existed here in bygone times. The urn, he told us,
“was found within a few yards of these premises, for it was dug up when the excavations were being carried out for the erection of Messrs Robinson and Sons’ buildings on the opposite side of Cowpasture Road, in March 1874.”
Although we list this site as a cist, we don’t know for sure; but due to the lack of descriptive and historical data about a mound of any form in this area, it is most likely to have been a cist burial and not a tumulus or barrow which Mr Hall inferred. Its location near the valley bottom is unusual when we consider the huge number of cairns on the moors above here; but a cist was found in a similar low-lying geographical position on the south side of the moors near Bingley, 5.8 miles due south, when construction of local sewage works were being done.
Hall, Frank, The Contents of Ilkley Museum, William Walker: Otley 1910.
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.”
The emphasis on this place being where a stone circle stood, as opposed a cairn, is highlighted in the place-name Torrnacloch, or the hillock of stones/boulders. Both Dorwood (2001) and Will (1963), each telling it to be where a stone circle stood; with Will adding that parts of the circle “may yet be seen in rear of the steading of Dalbog.” If this had been where a cairn existed, some variant on the word carn would have been here.
Burl, Aubrey, The Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany, Yale University Press 2000.
Dorwood, David, The Glens of Angus, Pinkfoot: Balgavies 2001.
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.
Will, C.P., Place Names of Northeast Angus, Herald: Arbroath 1963.
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.
This was an impressive site by the sound of things. Sadly destroyed, its exact whereabouts isn’t clear but should—if the description of the site is anything to go by—be on one of the highest points of land around Langside Farm. In Irving & Murray’s description (1864), they tell the cairn to have been one amidst a cluster of tombs that could once be seen “a mile to the south of his residence”, but this seems to be contested by the definitive pen of the Lesmahagow historian, John Greenshields. (1864) He told us:
“The late Lord Corehouse had an excavation scientifically made of a karn or cairn on his farm at Longside. It is to be regretted that information cannot now be obtained of so accurate a nature as the subject merits; but there were stones so arranged in the centre as to have been evidently intended for sepulchral purposes. Two rude urns of baked clay, one very large, the other smaller, were found inside a stone coffin. The small urn contained bones partially calcined and broken or pounded, some of them perfectly fresh. It has been erroneously stated in Swan’s “Views of the Clyde,” that there were eighteen small urns around the large chest, in the form of a circle, which gave rise to the idea that the remains of the chief had been surrounded by those of his family or warriors. One of the urns has been lost sight of: the smaller one, about 6 inches in diameter at the top, and 4 in height, is now in the possession of Miss Edmondstoun Cranstoun, as well as a still smaller funerary urn, recently restored by kiln-burning it with some fresh clay.”
When the local historian John Greenshields (1864) wrote his definitive history of Lesmahagow parish, the book was just going to press when the remains of an ancient tomb was unearthed. We are fortunate that he held publication of the book before adding the brief information about the findings. He told us:
“When these pages were passing through the press, a stone cist was discovered on the farm of Eastwood, by the hollow sound emitted when the ploughshare struck its lid. It was of the usual dimensions (about three feet by two), and contained fragments of bones, and a cinerary urn. There were no indications that a cairn had ever been heaped on its top, but the stones may have long since been removed, as the field was in a high state of cultivation. The bones were much decayed, and the urn was shivered to fragments by the finder, in his anxiety to discover hidden treasures of gold or silver.”
No further information is known to exist about this site. In all probability the cist was Bronze Age in nature, possibly earlier. We surmise this from the rapid rate of decay of artefacts upon it being unearthed.
Greenshields, John B., Annals of the parish of Lesmahagow, Caledonian: Edinburgh 1864.
Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, Lanarkshire: An Inventory of the Prehistoric and Roman Monuments, HMSO: Edinburgh 1978.
Dead easy. From the top of the hill at Bettyhill, take the road east out of the village along the A836 Thurso road. At the bottom of the hill, on your left, you’ll see the white building of Farr church Museum. Walk to it and instead of going in the door, walk past it and round the back, or north-side of the church where, up against the wall, you’ll see this small stone-lined hole in the ground. Y’ can’t really miss it.
Archaeology & History
Originally located 7½ miles (12.1km) to the south at Chealamy (NC 7240 5017), in the prehistoric paradise of Strathnaver, it was uncovered following road-building operations in 1981 and, to save it from complete destruction, was moved to its present position on the north-side of Farr church museum. It was fortunate in being saved, as it was covered by a large boulder which the road operators tried to smash with a large jack-hammer; but in breaking it up, they noticed a hole beneath it. Thankfully, old Eliot Rudie of Bettyhill—a well respected amateur historian and archaeologist in the area—was driving past just as it had been uncovered by the workmen. He recognised it as being a probable cist and so further operations were stopped until it was investigated more thoroughly.
The cist—measuring some 4 feet long by 3 feet wide and about 1½ feet deep—contained the burial of what was thought to be a man in his mid- to late-twenties. The remains were obviously in very decayed state and it was thought by archaeologist Robert Gourlay (1996), that the body itself had been “deposited in the grave (when it was) in an advanced state of decomposition.” Also in the cist they found a well-preserved decorated beaker, within which Gourlay thought “probably contained some kind of semi-alcoholic gruel for the journey of the departed to the after-life.”
Gourlay, Robert, Sutherland – An Archaeological Guide, Birlinn: Edinburgh 1996.
Gourlay, Robert B., “A Short Cist Beaker Inhumation from Chealamy, Strathnaver, Sutherland”, in Proceedings Society Antiquaries Scotland, volume 114, 1984.
Gourlay, Robert & Rudie, Eliot, “Chealamy, Strathnaver (Farr) Beaker Cist”, in Discovery Excavation Scotland, 1981.
Acknowledgments: To that inspiring creature Aisha Domleo, for her bounce, spirit and madness to get me up here; and for little Lara too, for meandering to the church museum where this cist can be seen; and to Eliot Rudie, who pointed it out to us.
It seems that very little is known about this site, long since gone when quarrying operations did what quarrying operations do. The site was recorded by the Ordnance Survey lads on their 1908 map of the region, on which they noted: “Stone coffin containing human remains found AD 1905.” The Royal Commission boys visited the site in April 1962 and reported that “nothing now survives.” They listed it in their inventory as a prehistoric cist, or small stone-lined burial chest. Such remains tend to be either neolithic or Bronze Age in nature.
Royal Commission Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, Peeblesshire – volume 1, HMSO: Edinburgh 1967.
This is another of the many sites in the country that was uncovered fortuitously, as a result of widening the road just west of the Loch of Blairs. It’s in relative isolation from other prehistoric sites. The best description of it was by local antiquarian and folklorist James Ritchie (1932), to whom we owe our gratitude for the old photo. “This cist,” he wrote,
“as such tombs are called, had been discovered by workmen who were digging sand from a mound just by the main road to Grantown. Flat, rectangular stones formed its ends and sides; its top was a single slab of massive proportions. All around were packed smooth. water-worn boulders, that had once lain in the bed of the Findhorn. The opening of the cist revealed the ashes of some long-departed dweller in Moray, together with pieces of what had been beautifully moulded pot of clay. On examination of the remains by antiquarian experts, the date of the burial was estimated to be at least a thousand years BC.”
The attached photo makes the site look larger than it is; as the length of the chamber is just 2ft 7in long, by 1ft 8in across, with the covering stone being nearly twice as large as the cist itself. The urn found inside the cist now resides in the Scottish National Museum of Antiquities.
Ritchie, James B., The Pageant of Morayland, Elgin Courant 1932.