Highlighted on the earliest OS-maps about half a mile to the south of the great prehistoric camp of Yeavering Bell and 100 yards southwest of Tom Tallon’s Crag, there once stood an apparently “massive” Bronze Age tumulus, or cairn, called Tom Tallon. I’d hedge a bet that it was much older, from the neolithic period. It was described by P.A. Graham (1921) as “the largest cairn in the district,” but when it was visited by the antiquarian Henry MacLauchlan in July 1858, he reported that “it was being removed to make a fence”!!! Unbe-fuckin’-lievable… Who were the dickheads that did that?!
The Ordnance Survey Name Book of 1860 for Tom Tallon’s Crag told that, “There is a vague tradition about Tom Tallon having been a Warrior and Slain here – hence the name, but nothing authentic respecting Tom, can now be ascertained.” The word tom derives from “a rounded hill”, sometimes associated with a tumulus and in Scotland (just over the border) associated “with a dwelling place of the fairies” with tallon suggested by Graham (1921) to derive from “tal, a forehead or promontory, and Llan, an enclosure.”
What is quite obviously an older name, or certainly one that was more recognised by local people, is its title of the Auld Wife’s Apronful of Stones: a title we find associated with a number of the giant cairns in northern England and Scotland. It relates to the creation myth of the site, whereby the countless stones that made up the cairn were dropped or thrown across the landscape by a giantess who inhabited this landscape.
Hall, James, A Guide to Glendale, M. Brand: Wooler 1887.
Legendary Rock (destroyed): OS Grid Reference – HP 5223 0467
Archaeology & History
Whilst classifying this as a “legendary” rock, it was as much a functional stone that played an integral part of local village life in the 19th century and, most probably, way before that. This large stone possessed a large cavity in the shape of a giant human footprint, measuring 12 inch by 4 inch. It could be seen “above the Deeks of Bracon, North Yell, up Hena”, but when first described in 1865, it was said to be “no longer in existence.” Despite this, when an Ordnance Survey dood came looking for it in 1969, he reported it as “still in existence” and known of by local people. Is there anyone in the far far north who can tell us?
The impression of the large footprint was natural, but the use to which local people made of it is valuable when we seek to understand pre-industrial customs. The Royal Commission (1946) lads echoed the folklore handed down by J.T. Irvine from 1865, telling that,
“Formerly the people used to wash in dew or rain-water that had gathered in the cavity and stand in it to get rid of warts. The tradition was that a giant had planted one foot here and the other on a stone on the Westing of Unst.”
Healing stones with such properties can be found everywhere on Earth.
Royal Commission Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, Inventory of the Ancient Monuments of Orkney and Shetland – volume 3, HMSO: Edinburgh 1946.
A site whose main claim to fame is its legendary nature. Seemingly buried or destroyed around the end of the 19th century, there have been suspicions that the stone might have had cup-marks on it (see Folklore below), but we’re not sure. Modern lore tells that when roadworks were done here in the 1950, a large stone was uncovered. A local man who was passing by told that he’d seen the Crawey Stone in his youth and that the stone they’d uncovered was one and the same.
The story that used to be told amongst local people was thankfully preserved in an article by the pseudonymous “Mormond” (1889) in Scottish Notes & Queries. He told that:
“In the parish of New Deer, and in a field near the Old Castle of Fedderat, there is a large boulder of ten or twelve tons known as the Crawey Stone. I am unable to say if it still occupies its old site, or if it has been broken up for building purposes. The legend connected with this stone used to be well known in the parish, and a version of it appeared in The Aberdeen Magazine some 70 or 80 years ago. This version is substantially the same as the legend known in the district, and relates how a Crawford, the lord of the castle and lands, one day “as he looked o’er his castle wa’ ” — a phrase which often occurs in old ballads — observed a crunkled carl (old woman or witch, PB) inspecting the stone and afterwards successfully lifting up one end clear of the ground. Not to be conquered by such a shabby looking stranger, the laird, who was famed for his athletic powers, went out and challenged the carl; but on attempting to lift the boulder, burst a blood vessel; and the carl, who stood by watching him, suddenly disappeared in a flash of fire taking the remains of the laird along with her. The tradition is that the laird was not mourned for in the district, and the moral drawn was “He couldna hae expected ony ither en’.” When passing the boulder going to school, the legend was often referred to, and some indentations on it pointed out as the marks of the ill man’s fingers made at the time the superhuman feat was accomplished.”
These finger marks have been taken as possible cup-markings. They might have been, but we simply don’t know; they may just have been curious natural markings that gave rise to this animistic creation myth. Another tale told that the markings were due to an old giant in the neighbourhood who used the rock as a putting stone and rolled it to the spot where it used to stand. Giants are always attached to indigenous creation myths, some of which go back thousands of years.
“a large Stone of a roundish shape, built on an old fence, forming a side of the Public road leading from New Deer to Brocklay. Tradition asserts that it has been the putting Stone of a Giant in ancient times. There are Several holes in the Stone said to be the finger marks of the Giant.”
Chambered Cairn (destroyed): OS Grid Reference – H 277 998
Archaeology & History
Included in Eamon Cody’s (2002) magnum opus, this site has long since gone. It was highlighted on the 1845-47 OS-map of the area and the only subsequent information about it was written in the 1903 Ordnance Survey Name Book, where it was described as a “supposed Giant’s Grave” that was marked by a large spread of boulders.
Perhaps the only thing we can ascertain here is from the name Giant’s Grave. Invariably, giants are part and parcel of creation myths in early traditional societies. Such giants, as well as being huge mythical creatures, can also be the progenitor of tribes and communities, i.e., the person who laid the initial foundation of where the tribe came to live, usually an early queen, king or shaman figure. So, in the case of this Giant’s Grave, it was likely to have been known as the burial place of such a figure: mythical in importance as well as size.
Cody, Eamon, Survey of the Megalithic Tombs of Ireland: Volume VI – County Donegal, Duchas: Dublin 2002.
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.
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”.
“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.”
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….
Melville, Lawrence, The Fair Land of Gowrie, William Culross: Coupar Angus, 1939.
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.
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.”
“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.
Melville, Lawrence, The Fair Land of Gowrie, William Culross & Son, Coupar Angus, 1939.
By whichever route you wanna take, get y’self to the prominent cup-and-ring marked rocks known as the Thimble Stones near the very top of these moors. From here, walk roughly 400 yards southwest onto the bare open moors (there are no footpaths here) and you’ll see these two isolated prominent boulders living quietly on their own. You can’t really miss ’em! You’re there.
Archaeology & History
Of the two giant boulders here, both are included in the petroglyph surveys of Hedges (1986) and Boughey & Vickerman’s (2003) as possessing “all natural” cup-marks on their top and vertical surfaces. Those on top of the rocks certainly seem to be Nature’s handiwork, whilst many of the seeming ‘cups’ on the vertical face of one (not the one pictured here) are due to gunshots. I’m not quite sure when they were done, but they certainly didn’t exist during the many visits I made here in the in the 1970s and ’80s.
They stones included in most of the standard antiquarian surveys of the 19th century, with the earliest being Forrest & Grainge (1869) who described them as,
“two detached masses of rock, standing alone upon the moor. The first is 14ft in length by 8ft in height, tapering to the ground; a set of cups and channels occupy the highest point. The other, distant 13 yards, is of an irregular square form, 45 yards in circumference and 7ft high. This stone appears to be tilted on its edge, presenting its cleavage upwards, and has hollows containing water, but is so much wasted above that if it has ever borne the cups and channels, they are now obliterated.”
Collyer & Turner (1885) described “a number of cups” on the edge of the northern rock; and Romilly Allen (1896) likewise. Even that historical literary giant, Harry Speight (1900), added his own tuppence here, telling folks how both Eggs “are channelled and bear cups.”
It’s very possible that these isolated stones did have some sort of significance to our prehistoric ancestors. There are innumerable examples worldwide of rocks like this possessing ritual and mythic lore—and many in the British Isles too. And the cupmarks on the stones may have been enhanced by those same prehistoric ancestors. But we’ll never know for sure…
The creation myth behind the Two Eggs is one echoed in traditions across the world. Folklore tells that the Eggs were said to have been laid here by a great dragon who lived within a hill some distance to the south. All other aspects of the tale have sadly long since been forgotten…
Allen, J. Romilly, “Cup and Ring Sculptures on Ilkley Moor,” in The Reliquary, volume 2, 1896.
Bennett, Paul, The Old Stones of Elmet, Capall Bann: Milverton 2001.
Boughey, Keith & Vickerman, E.A., Prehistoric Rock Art of the West Riding, WYAS: Wakefield 2003.
Collyer, Robert & Turner, J.H., Ilkley: Ancient and Modern, William Walker: Otley 1885.
Forrest, Charles & Grainge, William, A Ramble on Rombald’s Moor, Northern Antiquarian: Bradford 2012 (1st published 1867-69).
Hedges, John (ed.), The Carved Rocks on Rombalds Moor, WYMCC: Wakefield 1986.
Speight, Harry, Upper Wharfedale, Elliott Stock: London 1900.
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.”
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.
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, F., Early Man in Northeast Yorkshire, Frank Bellows: Gloucester 1930.
Elgee, F. & H.W., The Archaeology of Yorkshire, Methuen: London 1933.
Gutch, Mrs E., Examples of Printed Folklore Concerning the North Riding of Yorkshire, David Nutt: London 1899.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
Elgee, F. & H.W., The Archaeology of Yorkshire, Methuen: London 1933.
Phillips, Guy Ragland, Brigantia, RKP: London 1976.
Phillips, Guy Ragland, The Unpolluted God, Northern Lights: Pocklington 1987.
Smith, A.H., The Place-Names of the North Riding of Yorkshire, Cambridge University Press 1928.
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
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
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.”
Bord, Janet, Footprints in Stone, Heart of Albion Press 2004.