Todholes, Fintry Hills, Stirlingshire

Cairn:  OS Grid Reference – NS 67761 87011

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 45284

Getting Here

Todholes Cairn one wintry evening

Todholes Cairn one wintry eve

Along the B818 road that runs between Fintry and Denny, get to the western end of the Loch Carron reservoir and park up at the entrance to the forest.  Across the road, walk up the track towards the (planned) wind farm.  Nearly a mile along watch out for the walling of derelict buildings on the slope above the track—but instead of walking up to them (west), walk up the slope on the other side of the track (east), over the annoying fence, then another one barely 50 yards away.  The large fairy mound on the moorland plain barely 100 yards ahead is the site in question.

Archaeology & History

Todholes Cairn looking north

Todholes Cairn looking north

On the day that Paul Hornby, Nina Harris and I visited this site, Nature had been watering Her ground excessively and the moorland was becoming an immense bog.  The daylight was fading fast too, so we didn’t get much time to sit and play and take in the colourful panorama that unfolds its vision as She normally would—and it would be a magnificent view on a clear bright day!  Instead, Her grey carpets and skies darkened quickly, leaving only a bare meander around this old prehistoric tomb before us.  It’s quite a big thing too…

Records of it are scant, both in archaeology accounts and popular culture.  In 1952 the Royal Commission (1963) lads visited the site and subsequently wrote that:

“This cairn…consists of a grass-covered mound of stones which stands to a height of 8ft and measures about 55ft in diameter. Two large boulders which lie at the foot of the mound to the south may represent the remains of a peristalith.  Three small holes caused by quarrying or by excavation appear on the surface of the cairn.”

Another cairn can be found a short distance northwest and what seems to be the remains of a prehistoric hut circle was visible on the moorland plain a few hundred yards south.  The word ‘todholes’ derives from ‘the abode of foxes’—and I saw two dead foxes recently shot by local land-owners hereby, showing that the place-name is valid.

References:

  1. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments Scotland, Stirlingshire – volume 1, HMSO: Edinburgh 1963.
  2. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Archaeological Sites and Monuments of Stirling District, Central Region, Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 1979.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.057630, -4.125152 Todholes cairn

Wallace’s Oak, Larbert, Falkirk, Stirlingshire

Legendary Tree:  OS Grid Reference – NS 847 836?

Also Known as:

  1. Wallace’s Tree

Archaeology & History

The archaeology and traditions ascribed to this ancient tree (exact position unknown) is based on words that were first penned two hundred years ago.  It was thankfully recorded with a reasonable description when William Nimmo wrote about the great Sir William Wallace in the second edition of his Stirlingshire (1817) work.  Known about in oral tradition by local people, Nimmo told how:

“Torwood was a place where he and his party, when engaged in any expedition in this part of the country, often held their rendezvous, and to which they retreated in the hour of danger.  Here is still to be seen an aged oak, well known by the name of Wallace’s Tree; which seems to have been, even then, rotten and hollow within, and is said to have often afforded a lodging to him and a few of his trusty friends. It is supposed to have been one of the largest trees that ever grew in Scotland.  It is now almost quite decayed; but, from its ruins, appears to have been of an uncommon size. The remaining stump is no less than eleven or twelve feet in diameter. It stands upon the summit of a small eminence, which is surrounded on all sides by a swamp.  A rugged causeway runs from the south through the swamp, and leads up to the tree.  Some other vestiges of the stonework are discernible, surrounding the tree in a circular form, and leading to the conjecture that this oak is of a very high antiquity; and that, having been much frequented by Druidical priests, amongst whom the oak was sacred, the causeway had been laid for their approach to it, and the performance, underneath its branches, of religious rites.”

Nimmo may have a point here.  Not necessarily of druids (although druidic traditions and reality is known from many old tracts to have continued in many of the hidden places in Scotland), but certainly in relation to the paved track leading to a what may have been a recognised moot-hill, on top of which this great oak once stood.  Great trees and ancient meeting places were held in high esteem, not only in the legends of druidism and more established animistic pantheons, but in the recognised pragmatism of local tribal gatherings, in Scotland, Wales, England and in traditional cultures all over the world. (Gomme 1880) The traces of stonework leading to the hill strongly implies an archaeological site in the paving alone; but moreso, as an important site in the traditions of the Scottish people.  The fact that these stone ruins were still visible when Nimmo visited the site in the latter-half of the 18th century in the context he describes, implies it may have been the remains of a possible crannog; or a moot hill; or even, with its great oak surmounting, a sacred grove!  In my mind, it was probably being used as a gathering place long before William Wallace and his men gathered here…

In 1880, a 3rd edition of Nimmo’s Stirlingshire was published and edited by R. Gillespie.  Herein were additional notes about Wallace’s Oak that had been uncovered by Mr Gillespie.  Although he’d visited the place,

“Not the smallest vestige…of the Wallace oak remains. Even the ” oldest inhabitant” can say nothing of it save what he has gathered from tradition.  Sir Walter Scott, in his Tales of a Grandfather, speaks of having seen some of its roots eighty years ago; and recently we were shown a treasured morsel of the tree in the Chambers’ Institute at Peebles. Wallace, undoubtedly, often chose the solitude of the Torwood as a place of rest for his army, raised and roused to oppose the tyranny of Edward.  Here he concealed his numbers and his designs, sallying out suddenly on the enemy’s garrisons, and retreating as suddenly when afraid of being overpowered. While his army lay in these woods, “the oak” was his head-quarters. Within it, the illustrious hero generally slept, the hollow trunk being huge enough to afford shelter both to himself and one or more of his associates.”

When John Gibson (1908) came to write about it, he told that “Wallace’s Oak, which stood on another part of Woodside (low Torwood), has…vanished.” No roots, no lingering trunk—nothing.  But although the tree has long since gone, William M. Stirling pointed out in 1817 that,

“A young tree is pointed out in the neighbourhood, as having sprung from an acorn of Wallace’s Oak.”

If and when we can locate the old toll-house of Broomage at Larbert, we get much closer to identifying the exact location of this long lost oak.  Then, perhaps, a commemorative plaque should surely be placed there to remind people of their great history, and included on tours of sites relating to Sir William Wallace.

References:

  1. Gibson, John C., Lands and Lairds of Larbert and Dunipace Parishes, Hugh Hopkins: Glasgow 1908.
  2. Gomme, George L., Primitive Folk-Moots, Sampson Low: London 1880.
  3. Nimmo, William, The History of Stirlingshire (2nd edition), John Frazer: Stirling 1817.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 

 

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  56.031823, -3.851130 Wallace\'s Oak