Giant’s Stones, Arnbathie, Perthshire.

Legendary Stones: OS Reference – NO 16695 26086

Getting Here

The two stones in relation to each other

Travelling north from Perth on the A94, take the right turning for Murrayshall just before entering Scone, then take the first right and continue up to the road junction, and park up at the trackway opposite.  You’ll see the big stone in the field to the right, up against the road embankment; and the small stone is in the paddock to the left of the trackway at the edge of the trees.

Archaeology & History

Two large glacial erratics which have acquired mythic status and picked up a Christian triumphalist message on the way.

Folklore

In Lawrence Melville’s (1939) excellent local history work, he thankfully put to pen an all-but-forgotten tale of oral tradition:

“Where the road from the Muir of Durdie leaves Kilspindie parish, a grass grown road leads north to Boglebee….. A few yards from the highway lie two large stones, said to have been flung from the Giant’s Hill in Collace parish – the flat topped eminence lying due north from the stones, about two or three miles away, better known as “Macbeth’s Hill”, or “Dunsinane Hill”.

The ‘string’ marks of legend
The smaller stone with its ‘string’ marks

“When the church dedicated to St John in Perth was being built and its tower began to appear, a witch living in Collace was enraged to see this proof of the approach of Christianity and determined to destroy it. She had a son, a giant (after whom the hill receives one of its names), whom she sent to the top of the hill, giving him two huge stones with which to destroy the rising church.

“By her incantations she had supernatural power and knew that when Christianity came her power would be destroyed. She gave him her mutch from her head to be used as sling and in it the giant put the two huge stones. Whirling it around his head, he aimed them in a line with the tower, but, just as he let them fly, the string of his mother’s cap broke and the stones only went the length of Boglebee. The marks on the stones are said to be the marks of the witch’s mutch strings.”

Another view of the larger stone

A familiar folkloric message is remembered the length of Britain:  a giant, a devil or other supernatural being throwing stones that either spill out of an apron or otherwise miss their mark.  And in this case an unsubtle message to anyone trying to take on the might of the church.  But what was the original story of these stones as told by the old time oral storytellers before Christian missionaries stalked the land?

If the string hadn’t broken and the stones had followed their original trajectory they would have fallen south of St John’s Kirk, but it was the thought that counted….

Reference:

  1. Melville, Lawrence, The Fair Land of Gowrie, William Culross: Coupar Angus, 1939.

©Paul T. Hornby 2020, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.419613, -3.351980 Giants Stones

Giant’s Leap & Rock, Black Hill, Abernyte, Perthshire.

Legendary Rock: OS Reference – NO 21559 31659

Getting Here

Giant’s Rock in ravine overlooked by the Leap

The Rock and Leap may be seen from the B953 Bandirran to Abernyte road.  Approach across the fields.

Archaeology & History

A large boulder perhaps 40 tons in weight lies in a ravine between Dunsinane and Black Hill. The ‘Leap’ is a flat topped ledge jutting out from the west side of Black Hill facing Dunsinane.

Folklore

Melville (1939) in his The Fair Land of Gowrie writes of the simple pleasures of the giant:

“From the farther side of the ravine [between Dunsinane and Black Hill], a precipitous rock juts out, which is called the “Giant’s Leap”. According to the lore of the Sidlaws, a giant, who once lived in these parts, leaped from this rock right on to the top of Dunsinane Hill.  The giant also amused himself by tossing about a huge boulder which can be seen lying at the bottom of the ravine.”

And adds:

The Big Fellow’s toy
Giant’s Leap from the north

“Fairies haunted the hills here and on summer nights they descended to the meadows, where they danced at a spot called “Fairygreen”. The Black Hill gets its name from the dark heath which covers it. Weird and bleak looking for most of the year, the lower slopes are brightened by glowing patches of purple flowers in late summer.”

Fairygreen Farm lies a mile almost due north of Dunsinane.

Reference:

  1. Melville, Lawrence, The Fair Land of Gowrie, William Culross & Son, Coupar Angus, 1939.

© Paul T Hornby 2020, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.470503, -3.274832 Giant\'s Leap & Rock

Blakey Topping, Allerston, North Yorkshire

Stone Circle:  OS Grid Reference – SE 8719 9338

Getting Here

Old stones of Blakey Topping (James Elkington)

From Pickering, take the A169 towards Whitby. When you get to the Car Park at the ‘Hole-of-Horcum’ – (you can’t miss it), park the car and walk North along the side of the road towards Whitby. After 60 yds, take the track East. Follow this for approximately a mile until the track splits. Take the concrete track left towards the farm-house of ‘Newgate Foot’. Go through the yard past the house on the right, and you will come to a stream and a gate. Enter the field on the right and up the track. The stones are in front of you.

Archaeology & History

The great rounded hill of Blakey Topping—recorded as early as 1233 CE and meaning the ‘black mound’ or ‘black meeting-place’— has the ruins of a stone circle living several hundred yards to its south, little-known to many.  The early writer George Young (1817) seemed to come close here, mentioning the ‘druidic’ standing stones of Blakey Moor and district, but gave no specific indication of the ruinous ring we’re visiting here.  Instead, the first real description was penned by Robert Knox (1855) who, at the time of writing, was under the academic spell of druidism: prevalent as it was amongst most universities and places of learning back then.  Also, beset by the equally sad plague of Biblical comparitivism—beloved even to this day by halfwits—Knox’s formula about this ancient ring was founded on the druidical reverence of Blakey Topping as a site beneath which our Bronze age tribal ancestors erected their stones with the rounded hill immediately to the north, as signified by its early name, black. (In early place-names, ‘black’ and its variants—dubh, dove, etc—relates to the cardinal direction of ‘north’ and actually means ‘shining’; and white or ban is ‘south’, when both elements are located in relative proximity.)  Knox told us:

“At the southwest side of this arch-Druid’s tomb-like hill (Blakey Topping) a far more conspicuous cluster of larger Druid stones occurs; here three pillars form a triangle…and a smaller one…stands one hundred and fifty paces east of these nearer to the farmhouse there.  These single stones, possibly, once formed part of a circle… The diameter of a circle formed on this triangle of stones would be about fifty-five feet; but as these pillars form a nearly equilateral triangle, the number of stones in that circle cannot now be correctly ascertained, if, indeed, they ever formed part of a circle…

“These three sandstone pillars, untouched by tools…are much weather-worn; and hence it may be inferred that they are very ancient.  I shall only add that the tallest pillar here is nine feet high, from two-and-a-half to three feet wide, and rom fifteen to twenty inches thick, and is the tallest ancient pillar next to the celebrated one in Rudston churchyard, now standing in the eastern part of Yorkshire.  When I last visited the Blakey Topping Druid-stones in 1836, I learned that the farmer, on whose ground they stand, “had talked about breaking the three large ones to pieces,” and perhaps nothing but the trouble of doing so has hitherto preserved them, and many others.  I told him what had been their use, and begged he would preserve them.”

Stone re-used as gatepost (James Elkington)

And thankfully they remain there to this day!  Around the same time of Mr Knox’s visit, the Ordnance Survey lads came here too and, in 1854, highlighted the remaining ‘Druidical Stones’ on the first map of the area.  But references to the stones from here onwards are sparse and add nothing pertinent to its archaeomythic status.  It was a Mr & Mrs Elgee (1930) who were the next to tell us about the site in their exposition on Yorkshire archaeology.  They wrote:

“Three large standing stones about 6 feet high on the south-west side of Blakey Topping…are the remains of a circle about 18 yards in diameter.  Two or three hollows in the ground indicate the position of other stones, some of which are serving as gateposts nearby. Others have been broken up to help build a wall.  These stones are associated with a large settlement sites similar to (one) on Danby Rigg not very far from the imposing Bridestones and approached by an ancient trackway known as the Old Wife’s Trod.”

The general interpretation by the great megalithic archaeologists Aubrey Burl, John Barnatt and their fellow associates, is that these stones are the remains of a stone circle – which seems apt.  But of even greater importance seems to be the great hill of Blakey Topping itself, to which this olde ring no doubt related to.  Many other prehsitoric sites once scattered this area, but sadly most of them have been destroyed.

References:

  1. Barnatt, John, Stone Circles of Britain (2 volumes), BAR: Oxford 1989.
  2. Burl, Aubrey, A Guide to the Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany, New Haven & London 1995.
  3. Burl, Aubrey, The Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany, Yale University Press 2000.
  4. Elgee, F., Early Man in Northeast Yorkshire, Frank Bellows: Gloucester 1930.
  5. Elgee, F. & H.W., The Archaeology of Yorkshire, Methuen: London 1933.
  6. Gutch, Mrs E., Examples of Printed Folklore Concerning the North Riding of Yorkshire, David Nutt: London 1899.
  7. Knox, Robert, Descriptions Geological, Topographical and Antiquarian in Eastern Yorkshire, London 1855.
  8. Phillips, Guy Ragland, Brigantia, RKP: London 1976.
  9. Smith, A.H., The Place-Names of the North Riding of Yorkshire, Cambridge University Press 1928.
  10. Spratt, D.A., Prehistoric and Roman Archaeology of North-East Yorkshire, BAR: Oxford 1982.
  11. White, Stanhope, Standing Stones and Earthworks on the North Yorkshire Moors, privately printed: Scarborough 1987.
  12. Young, George, A History of Whitby and Streoneshalh Abbey – 2 volumes, Clark & Medd: Whitby 1817.

Links:

  1. Mountains, Myths and Moorlands

Acknowledgements:  Big thanks to the photographer James Elkington, for use of his photos in this profile. Cheers mate.  Also, accreditation of early OS-map usage, reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland.

© Paul Bennett & James ElkingtonThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  54.328552, -0.660786 Blakey Topping circle

Blakey Topping, Allerston, North Yorkshire

Sacred Hill:  OS Grid Reference – SE 8731 9377

Getting Here

Blakey Topping (James Elkington)

From Pickering, take the A169 towards Whitby. When you get to the Car Park at the ‘Hole-of-Horcum’ – (you can’t miss it), park the car and walk North along the side of the road towards Whitby. After 60 yds, take the track East. Follow this for approximately a mile until the track splits. Take the concrete track left towards the farmhouse of ‘Newgate Foot’. Go through the yard past the house on the right, and you will come to a stream and a gate and there, ahead of you, rises Blakey Topping…

Archaeology & History

The giant hill of Blakey Topping was recorded as early as 1233 CE and in a simplistic style just means the ‘black mound’; but this derivation has additional ingredients, implying it as a ‘black meeting-place’ or moot.  Black in the etymological sense also implies ‘shining’ and it may also relate to the northern airt of black (meaning death, darkness, north, etc), when you’re stood at the ruined stone circle 400 yards to the south. But I’m speculating here…

Several 19th century antiquarians suggested there may have once been a cairn on top of the hill, but others who’ve explored this idea seem to have put it to bed.

Folklore

This great hill is well recognised amongst local people and, to this day, its animistic creation myths and other folklore elements are still spoken.  When the photographer James Elkington recently visited the nearby standing stones, he bumped into the old farmer who told him how his father had seen the faerie-folk on the hill many years back.  And its modern reputation as a gorgeous site adds to such lore, which dates way back.

In Frank & Harriett Elgee’s (1933) archaeology work, they narrated the old creation myth that local people used to tell of this great hill,

“A witch story related by a native 25 years ago attempts to explain two conspicuous natural features two miles apart on Pickering Moor; Blakey Topping, an isolated hill, and the Hole of Horcum, a deep basin-shaped valley. The local witch had sold her soul to the devil on the usual terms, but when he claimed it, she refused to give it up, and flew over the moors, with the devil in hot pursuit. Overtake her he could not, so he grabbed up a handful of earth and flung it at her. he missed his aim and she escaped.  The Hole of Horcum remains to prove where he tore up the earth and Blakey Topping where it fell to the ground.

“From our point of view the significance of this story lies in the fact that between the Hole and the Topping there is a Bronze Age settlement site at Blakey Farm, with its stone circle. The rough trackway leading from the Hole to the circle is known as the Old Wife’s Way, presumably also marking the witch’s flight. This, together with other Old Wife’s Ways, preserves as it were Bronze Age church tracks”.

Looking up from the SW (James Elkington)

A relative variation on this tells that the Hole of Horcum was made by the local giant, Wade. He was having a row with his wife, Bell, and got so angry that he scooped out a lump of earth and threw it at her.  The huge geological feature known as the Hole of Horcum is the dip left where he scooped out the earth, and Blakey topping, the clod itself, resting in situ where it landed.  A christian appropriation of the story replaces Wade and his wife with their ‘devil’: a puerile element unworthy of serious consideration.

In more recent times, the old geomancer Guy Ragland Phillips (1976; 1985) found that a number of alignments, or leys (known as a ‘node’), centred on Blakey Topping: twelve in all, reaching out and crossing numerous holy wells, prehistoric tumuli, standing stones, etc.  The precision of the alignments is questionable, yet the matter of the hill being a centre-point, or omphalos, would seem moreso than not.

References:

  1. Elgee, F. & H.W., The Archaeology of Yorkshire, Methuen: London 1933.
  2. Phillips, Guy Ragland, Brigantia, RKP: London 1976.
  3. Phillips, Guy Ragland, The Unpolluted God, Northern Lights: Pocklington 1987.
  4. Smith, A.H., The Place-Names of the North Riding of Yorkshire, Cambridge University Press 1928.

Links:

  1. Mountains, Myths and Moorlands

Acknowledgements:  Big thanks to the photographer, James Elkington, for use of his photos in this profile. Cheers mate.

© Paul Bennett & James ElkingtonThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  54.332035, -0.658827 Blakey Topping

Samson’s Stone, Crieff, Perthshire

Legendary Rock:  OS Grid Reference – NN 82519 22021

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 96866

Getting Here

Samson Stone on 1866 map

Samson Stone on 1866 map

Tale the A85 road between Comrie and Crieff and, roughly halfway between the two towns, take the minor road south to Strowan (it’s easily missed, so be aware!).  A few hundred yards along, stop where the trees begin and walk into the fields immediately east.  Keep walking, below the line of the trees, and you’ll get to it within five minutes.

Archaeology & History

Samson's Stone, looking east

Samson’s Stone, looking east

Mistakenly cited by some as a standing stone, the large boulder which rests here on the hillside just below the woodland is a glacial erratic.  Highlighted on the 1866 OS-map of the region, I hoped that we might find some rock art on the stone, but cup-and-rings there were none.  However, there is a curious ‘footprint’ on top of it, similar to the ones found at Dunnad, at Murlaganmore and other places (see Bord 2004); but I can find no previous reference to this carved footprint.

'Footprint' on top of stone

‘Footprint’ on top of stone

In 1863 the site was described in the local Name Book, where it was reported to be “a large oblong shaped stone lying on the surface, eight feet long, four wide, and three thick”; but, much like today, it was also reported that “There is no tradition respecting it in the neighbourhood. Supposed to have received the name in consequence of its great size.”

Most peculiar…..

References:

  1. Bord, Janet, Footprints in Stone, Heart of Albion Press 2004.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Samson Stone

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Samson Stone 56.375822, -3.903839 Samson Stone

Beinn na Caillich cairn, Broadford, Skye

Chambered Cairn:  OS Grid Reference – NG 6291 2377

Getting Here

Henshall’s plan of Beinn na Caillich tomb

From Broadford town, head northwest outta town up the A87 for a mile, turning left and stopping by the electricity station just 100 yards along.  Follow the line of cables down, SE, through the trees, dead straight for about 600 yards (crossing the large stream about halfway) till you notice an open gap through the trees on your right where, 40 yards in, there’s a large circular arena which has been kept aside amidst which a scattered mound is clearly visible.  In this opening in the trees…this is where the tomb/s rest…

Archaeology & History

Sited a mile east on lowlands beneath the shadow of Beinn na Cailleach mountain, with its host of heathen legends and lore, is reputed to be the prehistoric remains of an important ancestral burial site, under dominion of the cailleach’s eye.  In Audrey Henshall’s (1972-2) magnum opus she describes the remains of what may be two separate tombs here as “difficult to interpret”; even “questioning whether they do in fact represent the ruins of a chambered cairn” as has been ascribed.  The site is still included in the Canmore survey, where they cite the same reference as I do here, but add no additional data to Henshall’s query.  There is obviously something to be seen here, but until excavation of the site has been done, the exact nature of what lies here cannot be clarified.  Miss Henshall wrote:

“There is a setting of stones forming about a third of the west side of a circle which would have a diameter of about 30ft if complete; its greatest N to S measurement is 23ft. The stones are thin slabs 4 to 5in thick, up to 3ft 6in long, set on their long sides and projecting up to 2ft above the turf.  The stones have probably been reduced in size due to natural fracturing as the stone readily flakes away. Within this setting, which might be interpreted as the kerb of a cairn, there is a rise of about 1ft above ground level and the grass grows greener, but except for this and a number of boulders lying about the site, there is no sign of cairn material. This is curious as there is no obvious reason for removing it.

“Inside the ‘kerb’ there is a horse-shoe setting of five similar slabs, just visible except for two on the S side which project 1ft 2in due to some peat on their N side having been removed. The enclosed area is 7ft wide by 7ft 6in long, open on the E end.  On this side, 14ft from the W end of the setting, is a larger stone, set on end, 2ft 8in high.  This might be regarded as a portal stone except that it is set opposite the centre of the open end of the horse-shoe setting, and there is a low thin slab projecting westwards from the middle of its W face.  E of this there lie a number of flat slabs and boulders, the larger (some measuring 3ft 8in by 3ft and 4 by 2ft) marked on the plan, but they do not suggest the form of the original structure.

“A stone is set radially to the kerb, 15ft 8in to the N.  It is on its long edge, 4ft 11in long and 2ft 2in high.  Twenty eight feet S of the kerb there is a circular setting of small boulders, 6ft 6in across inside, and part of another concentric setting can be traced 6ft outside these.”

References:

  1. Henshall, Audrey, The Chambered Tombs of Scotland – volume 2, Edinburgh University Press 1972.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  57.243040, -5.931341 Beinn na Caillich cairn

Beinn na Cailleach, Kylerhea, Skye

Sacred Mountain:  OS Grid Reference – NG 770 229

Also Known as:

  1. Beinn na Caillich

Getting Here

As you drive down the A87 road towards Broadford from the Kyle, just before Breakish there’s a small road on the left that runs down to Glen Arroch, where the forest lines the hill.  A couple of miles beyond the end of the forest, watch out for the TV mast on the slopes on the right-hand side of the road.  Stop here and go up the slopes on the left-side of the road (north), to the peak of Sgurr na Coinnich; and once here you’ll see the high rocky peak of Beinn na Cailleach a half-mile to your northeast.  

Folklore

The legend of this sacred mountain was described at some length in Otta Swire’s (1961) excellent work on the Isle of Syke.  She wrote:

“”As you drive down the road towards Broadford, three peaks can be seen to the north; the first two are Beinn na Greine (2,000 feet) and Scurr na Coinnich (2,401 feet); the third and most northerly is Beinn na Caillich (2, 396 feet). This last must not be confused with the Beinn na Caillich near Broadford, which is one of the Red Cuchullins although, just to make it more confusing, on the summit of our Beinn na Caillich, as on that of her larger sister, tradition has placed a woman’s grave. This time it is that of a giantess, one of the Fiennes: beneath her body is a large crock filled with gold and jewels, for she was a great lady, no less than Grainnhe herself, wife of Fionn, and at her burial every man of the Fiennes, for love of her and of their leader, cast their rarest jewels into the earthenware crock to do her honour. Her story, as is so usual in Celtic legend, is a sad one. Grainne is the daughter of the King of Morven and is reputed the fairest and truest princess in all Alban, so the Grey Magician, who hates all that is good, carries her off. One day, as Fionn and his men rest after hunting, an old, old woman, wrapped in the red mantle that denoted royal blood, comes to him, tells him of the theft of Grainnhe and begs him to rescue her. He agrees, whereupon she gives him a fir twig and three small pebbles, all highly magic; she then goes out of sight ‘on an eddy of the western wind, growing smaller as she went until she seemed no bigger than a butterfly, a honey bee, a red spider on a thin rope of its web, and a speck of dust in the sun’. Fionn sets out and after many adventures, during which he is assisted by several talking animals, he finds the Grey Magician’s palace and escapes with Grainnhe. Thanks to the old woman’s gifts, forests and mountains rise behind the fugitives, but before they can reach the Red river, to cross which is safety, the Magician overcomes the old woman’s charms. They reach the river bank only to find they cannot cross, and Fionn’s magic is exhausted. But Grainnhe has a jewel, a charm against death; as long as she wears it in her hair no evil can harm her; alternatively it will give her one wish and vanish. She takes it from her hair to wish for a boat and immediately sees, as in a vision, the fate to which she will condemn herself if she gives up her talisman. But Fionn is in peril through his efforts to save her, and already she loves him, so she lays the jewel on the water. A boat at once appears and takes them to safety.

Fionn and Grainnhe are married and live in great happiness until Grainnhe’s son is about to be born. Then come messengers to Fionn to tell him that sea-pirates are attacking his small dark-skinned allies, the Sons of Morna, who have sent to remind him of his pledge to assist them. Fionn longs to remain with Grainnhe but will not break his vow. He and his men spend three days defeating the sea-pirates and when he returns Grainnhe and her baby are gone, carried off by the Grey Magician. Fionn learns from his ‘tooth’ that she has been turned into a hind. He searches for her for many years, but she has been sent to run with the deer in lone Glen Affaric and he never finds her. Twelve years later, when the Fiennes are hunting, their hounds pick up a scent and follow it to a small copse; Bran, who is leading, is the first to enter it, whereupon, to the surprise of all, he turns at bay, teeth bared against the Fiennes and his fellow hounds of the pack and will allow no one but Fionn to pass him. Fionn finds him guarding a wild boy, with long hair and wild, beautiful, frightened eyes, who can make only such sounds as deer make. Fionn adopts him and teaches him human speech. Needless to say, he is Grainnhe’s son, but Grainnhe, the beautiful white hind of whom her son talks, is never found. After her death the Grey Magician permits her son to take her body, once more that of a woman, for burial, and the Fiennes make her grave on the summit of Beinn na Caillich, where she once ran as a hind.

It is recounted of this boy that he had in the centre of his forehead a tuft of deer’s fur where his mother’s tongue had licked him, and that it was from her that he got his gift of poetry. Once he was shipwrecked on Fladda and a party of hunters on the island offered him a share of their venison stew, to whom he made indignant reply: ‘When everyone picks his mother’s shank-bone, I will pick my mother’s slender shank-bone.’  The boy was Ossian.”

References:

  1. Bernbaum, Edwin, Sacred Mountains of the World, Sierra Club: San Francisco 1990.
  2. Swire, Otta F., Skye: The Island and its Legends, Blackie & Sons: Glasgow 1961.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian 

 

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  57.242744, -5.696383 Beinn na Cailleach

Stone of Mannan, Clackmannan, Clackmannanshire

Legendary Stone:  OD Grid Reference – NS 91114 91891

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 48321
  2. Clackmannan Stone
  3. King Robert’s Stone

Getting Here

The Stone of Mannan

The Stone of Mannan

Take the A907 road between Alloa and Kincardine, and up the B910 into Clackmannan.  To get into the village, depending on which route you’re coming in, go up the Kirk Wynd or the Cattle Market—both of which lead you to the Main Street where, beneath the old clock tower, you’ll see the Market Cross and its companion erection just to the side. You can’t really miss it!

Archaeology & History

The phallic upright!

The phallic upright!

The history of this curious-looking giant phallic stone, sat quietly on the Main Street of sleepy Clackmannan village, isn’t as heathen as you’d expect when first seeing the huge upright—but there are mysteries and myths gathered about it.  The county of Clackmannan itself takes its name from this stone—but not the entire stone that we see today; merely the rounded, smaller element on top.  For it’s this that’s the real Mannan Stone. The rest of it, the tall upright pillar, was only attached to the smaller rounded stone—the Stone of Mannan— in the first-half of the 19th century.

First mentioned as a place-name in 12th century writings, the story of the stone was best told by Peter Miller (1889), who wrote:

“The old ‘clack’ or stone that forms the prefix to the name-word Clackmananmust be of considerable antiquity.  Its form and appearance have nothing to excite remark. The two larger portions of the stone are battened together with iron, and the portion forming the cleft appears to be detached from the larger one.  It is only the legend or tradition respecting its history and its association with the name-word Clackmanan that makes it interesting to the antiquary. Its dimensions are as follows: —It is over 3 feet in length, 2 in breadth, and about the same in thickness.  Its form is oval, and it has a deep cleft on its upper side.  The stone has nothing peculiar about it to indicate what it may have been originally, or the uses it was made to serve in early times.  There is no appearance of its ever having had an inscription or any ornamentation upon it.  It is simply a boulder-stone stone of whinstone, such as are found in abundance at the Abbey Craig near Cambuskenneth.  It was placed on the tall boulder slab on which it now stands, brought from the Abbey Craig in the year 1833 by the late Robert Bruce of Kennet, and the late Professor Fleming, who was then minister of the parish.  Previous to that time it lay on the ground alongside of the old jail and court-house of Clackmannan, close by the old cross of the town…”

Clackmannan Stone (after Miller)

Clackmannan Stone (after Miller)

The old stone & its upright

The old stone & its upright

Mr Miller then went on at some length to show the derivation of ‘Clackmannan’ to be from the old Irish, meaning “the stone of the monks.”  It seems a plausible theory too.  Despite this, Watson (1926) deemed it to be the ‘Stone of Manau’, being deemed vaguely as the people of the land north of the Forth.  The great Celtic scholar John Rhys (1888) declared Clackmannan to derive from the Irish deity or hero-figure, Manannan, as have other academic authorities since then.  But it’s all just a bit vague if we’re wanting ‘certainty’…

When T.C. Crouther (1936) wrote about this, he said how the Stone of Mannan had originally come from a position only a few hundred yards south of its present spot, at a place known as Lookabootye Brae  (NS 912 911), just above where the land begins to drop down closer to sea level.  This doesn’t seems too improbable.  Close to this spot could once be seen the sacred site of the Lady Well.

At the turn of the 21st century the stone was caged by the local council as it was beginning to crumble and was in danger of collapse; and so, the local council repaired the great upright and its sacred top-stone—albeit at the staggering cost of £160,000!!!  As the local people and other masons know to this day, the job could have been done for a fraction of that cost with equal efficiency.

Folklore

Said by T.C. Crouther (1936), the local council, and others to have got its name from the sea god Mannan, other legends have grown around this fascinating old rock.  When Edwin Adams (1863) wrote about it, these were the tales that local people gave him:

“Its legendary history is curious. When King Robert Bruce was residing in Clackmannan tower, and before there was a town attached to that regal mansion, he happened, in passing one day near this way on a journey, to stop awhile at the stone and, on going away, left his glove upon it.  Not discovering his loss till he had proceeded about half-a-mile towards the south, he desired his servant to go back to the clack (for King Robert seems to have usually spoken his native Carrick Gaelic), and bring his mannan, or glove. The servant said, ‘If ye’ll just look about ye here, I’ll be back wi’t directly,’ and accordingly soon returned with the missing article.

£From this trivial circumstance arose the name of the town which was subsequently reared about the stone, as also that of a farm at which the King stopped, about half-a-mile from the south, on the way to Kincardine, which took its name from what the servant said, namely, ‘Look about ye,’ and is so called to this day.”

But as the various dates in this tale simply don’t add up, it seems that the writer had been easily fooled.

References:

  1. Adams, Edwin, Geography Classified, Chapman Hall: London 1863.
  2. Drummond, James, Scottish Market-Crosses, Neill & Co.: Edinburgh 1861.
  3. Drummond, James,”Notice of Some Stone Crosses, with Especial Reference to the Market Crosses of Scotland,” in Proceedings Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 4, 1862.
  4. Gordon, T Crouther, The History of Clackmannan, Civic Press: Glasgow 1936.
  5. Miller, Peter, “Notices of the Standing Stones of Alloa and Clackmannan,” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 23, 1889.
  6. Rhys, John, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by Celtic Heathendom, Williams & Norgate London 1888.
  7. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, Inventory of Monuments and Constructions in the Counties of Fife, Kinross and Clackmannan, HMSO: Edinburgh 1933.
  8. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, The Archaeological Sites and Monuments of Clackmannan District and Falkirk District, Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 1978.
  9. Simpkins, John Ewart, County Folklore – volume VII: Examples of Printed Folk-Lore Concerning Fife, with some Notes on Clackmannan and Kinross-Shires, Folk-Lore Society: London 1914.
  10. Small, John W., Scottish Market Crosses, Eneas Mackay: Stirling 1900.
  11. Watson, W.J., The History of the Celtic Place-names of Scotland, Edinburgh 1926.

Links:

  1. Nataraja’s Foot – Skullduggery

Acknowledgements:  Big thanks to author Marion Grace Woolley for use of her photo in this site profile. 🙂

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.107304, -3.752332 Stone of Mannan

Girdle Stane, Dunnichen, Angus

Cup-and-Ring Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NO 52808 49737

John Sheriff's 1995 drawing of Girdle Stane

John Sheriff’s 1995 drawing of Girdle Stane

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 34662
  2. Dunnichen 1
  3. Girdlestane
  4. The Girdle Stane of Dunnichen
  5. Girdle Stone

Getting Here

From The Square in Letham village, go north up Auldbar Road and out of the village for 0.6 miles (1km).  Shortly before reaching the road junction at the top, on the left-side of the road is a recess with a stone and a small aging plaque telling you that you’ve reached the Girdle Stane.

Archaeology & History

The Girdle Stane

The Girdle Stane

This cup-and-ring stone is not in its original position.  Although we know from Ordnance Survey records in the 1860s that it was located about 130 yards north of here, close to the road junction, even that is unlikely to have been its original position—but we know not where that might have been!  It is an undoubted multi-period carving, with the earliest section being our typical neolithic or Bronze Age cup-and-ring near the centre of the stone, with several outlying cup-marks toying with our intellect as per usual!  The central cup-and-ring may have an incised line running down out of it, although this isn’t highlighted on John Sheriff’s (1995) drawing of the stone.

Girdle Stane on 1865 map

Girdle Stane on 1865 map

Surrounding the central archetype, by some distance, is a much wider carved ring that almost reaches to defines the edges of the stone itself.  This large encircling motif and other features of the petroglyph—including a large elongated “S” and marks that were probably executed by the Ordnance Survey lads at the bottom corner—were ingredients which prompted Sir James Simpson (1867) to question the veracity of the Girdle Stane’s antiquity.  He wrote:

“The so-called ‘Girdle-stone’ in the…parish of Rescobie, about four feet long and three broad, is cut on its surface with two circles, the largest of which is above two feet and a half broad, and hence does not, I believe, belong to the class which we are considering in this essay”—

More recent "S"-shaped motif

More recent “S”-shaped motif

Close-up of cups, ring and lines

Close-up of cups, ring and lines

i.e., neolithic or Bronze Age petroglyphs.  And you can see his point!  My first impression when Prof Paul Hornby and I visited the site a few days ago, after the initial “that’s a cup-and-ring in the middle”, was to proclaim: “that bit’s much more recent, maybe Pictish?”  But it probably isn’t even Pictish.  This “more recent” carved element is a distinct large elongated “S”, which may have been marked onto it when the stone was used as a township boundary marker between the local parishes.  The grand historical writer Alex Warden (1882) talks about this in his magnum opus, saying:

“At the junction of two roads, a little to the northeastward of Letham, there is a rough boulder, about five feet long by three in breadth, having on its face a circle of about thirty inches in diameter, and another smaller circle about six inches across.  It is called the Girdle Stane of Dunnichen, from the larger circle resembling the utensil called the girdle, s.c. This stone marks the boundaries between the parishes of Dunnichen and Rescobie, also between the lands of Dunnichen and Ochterlony (Balmadies).  It is probably the Grey Stone referred to in a note on the marches of Dunnichen, about 1280.”

Folklore

The folklore of the stone indicates how its origins are rooted in prehistory, despite the later additional symbols.  Alex Warden (1882) tells the all-too-familiar creation myth, usually symptomatic of giant prehistoric cairns:

“Tradition says a witch was carrying this boulder from ‘the Crafts’ of Carmylie in her apron, when the strings broke, and the stone fell where it now lies.”

Carmyllie Hill is 5 miles (8km) to the south and is a place rich in fairy-lore and vandalized prehistoric sites.

References:

  1. Coutts, Herbert, Ancient Monuments of Tayside, Dundee Museum 1970.
  2. Kidd, Scott, The Churches of the Parish of Dunnichen, David Winter: Dundee 1995.
  3. Sherriff, John, “Prehistoric rock-carving in Angus,” in Tayside & Fife Archaeological Journal, volume 1, 1995.
  4. Simpson, James, Archaic Sculpturings of Cups, Circles, etc., Upon Stones and Rocks in Scotland, England and other Countries, Edmonston & Douglas: Edinburgh 1867.
  5. Warden, Alex J., Angus or Forfarshire – volume 3, Charles Alexander: Dundee 1882.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.637054, -2.770979 Girdle Stane

Robin Hood & Little John Stones, Whitby, North Yorkshire

Standing Stones (destroyed?):  OS Grid Reference – NZ 9171 0952

Also Known as:

  1. Robin Hood’s Pillars

Archaeology & History

The 2 stones on 1853 map

The 2 stones on 1853 map

References to these old standing stones are scarce—at least in archaeology books anyway.  Even the usually diligent masters of Burl (1993) and Thom (1990) missed them!  But thankfully our folklorists and antiquarians with their keen interest in popular culture have written about these long lost monoliths, which could once be seen in fields just a mile or so south of Whitby town.

The earliest known account of the site is as the “Robyn-Hood-stone” in records dating from 1540 CE cited in the Cartularium Abbathiae de Whiteby (1881).  It was later described in land registers in 1713 and the fields in which they stood were—and still are—respectively known as Robin Hood’s Close and Little John’s Close.

These Whitby monoliths—like their namesakes in Northamptonshire— weren’t too big.  In Mr Young’s (1817) early description, when the stones were still visible, he told how Robin Hood’s stone was “a stone pillar about a foot square and four feet high”, and Little John’s Stone was “a similar pillar about two-and-a-half feet high.”  Mr J.C. Atkinson, the editor of the Cartularium (1881), also told that the two stones were “still in situ in the earlier part of the present century,” continuing:

“Both stones have now been removed, and are, I was informed, set up again near the enclosing fence of the field in which they stood. Almost beyond question , like the other monoliths of the district, they marked the site of ancient British interments.”

So—do the remains of these old stones still exist somewhere close by as J.C. Atkinson said, either in the walling, as a gatepost, or just pushed over and now covered in grass (like the long lost Thief Thorne standing stone near Addingham)?  Are any northern antiquarians living close by who might enable their rediscovery?

Folklore

A number of writers exploring the mythic histories of Robin Hood have included this site in their surveys, usually repeating the earlier creation myths about them that could be heard in popular culture.  The Whitby historian George Young (1817) told the tale:

“According to tradition, Robin Hood and his trusty mate, Little John, went to dine with one of the Abbots of Whitby, and, being desired by the Abbot to try how far each of them could shoot and arrow, they both shot from the top of the Abbey, and their arrows fell on the west side of Whitby Laithes, beside the lane leading from thence to Stainsacre; that of Robin Hood falling on the north side of the lane and that of Little John about a hundred feet further, on the south side of the lane.”

Whitby folklorist P.S. Jeffrey (1923) took this myth literally, saying how the distance of the arrows fired by the respective folk heroes was “scarcely credible, as the distance in each case is about a mile-and-a-half.”  However, the earlier historian Lionel Charlton (1779) thought the incredible feat quite credible!

The distance between the Abbey and the stones is 1.36 miles (2.2km); but it may be that the direction related in the tale was more important than the distance, as the alignment between the two sites runs northwest to southeast—or southeast to northwest, whichever you prefer!—and may relate to an early astro-archaeological alignment.  Might…..

References:

  1. Anonymous, “Robin Hood in Yorkshire“, in Yorkshire Folk-Lore Journal – volume 1, T.Harrison: Bingley 1888.
  2. Anonymous, “Whitby Arms,” in Yorkshire Folk-Lore Journal – volume 1, T.Harrison: Bingley 1888.
  3. Benedicti, Ordinis S., Cartularium Abbathiae de Whiteby – volume 2, Andrews: Durham 1881.
  4. Burl, Aubrey, From Carnac to Callanish, Yale University Press 1993.
  5. Charlton, Lionel, The History of Whitby and Whitby Abbey, T. Cadell: York 1779.
  6. Doel, Fran & Goeff, Robin Hood: Outlaw or Greenwood Myth, Tempus: Stroud 2000.
  7. Green, Barbara, The Outlaw Robin Hood – His Yorkshire Legend, KCS: Huddersfield 1992.
  8. Gutch, Mrs, County Folk-lore – volume 2: North Riding of Yorkshire, York and the Ainsty, David Nutt: London 1901.
  9. Jeffrey, P. Shaw, Whitby Lore and Legend, Whitby 1923.
  10. Mitchell, W.R., Exploring the Robin Hood Country, Dalesman: Clapham 1978.
  11. Parkinson, Thomas, Yorkshire Legends and Traditions – volume 2, Elliot Stock: London 1889.
  12. Thom, A., Thom, A.S. & Burl, Aubrey, Stone Rows and Standing Stones – 2 volumes, BAR: Oxford 1990.
  13. Young, George, The History of Whitby and Streoneshalh Abbey – volume 2, Clark & Medd: Whitby 1817.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Robin Hood & Little John stones

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Robin Hood & Little John stones 54.472767, -0.586328 Robin Hood & Little John stones