Devil’s Stone, Winceby, Lincolnshire

Legendary Rock (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – TF 3127 6901

Also Known as:

  1. Big Stone of Slash Lane

Archaeology & History

Stone shown on 1887 map

There is no specific archaeological information about this stone.  However, we must take note of the so-called “devil’s footprint” that was on the boulder.  In some parts of the UK, some devilish and other mythic footprints on stone are prehistoric cup-markings; but we have no idea whether this impression was such a carving or—more probably in this case—Nature’s handiwork.  The field in which the stone existed was said to be the place where the so-called Battle of Winceby occurred.

Folklore

The stone was mentioned in several old tomes, with each one generally repeating the same familiar story, and with motifs that will be familiar to antiquarians and folklorists alike.  In an early edition of Notes & Queries we were told of,

“the large stone in Winceby field, where soldiers had sharpened their swords before the battle. This was a stone of fearful interest, for much treasure was supposed to have been buried under it. Numerous attempts have been made to get at this treasure, but they were always defeated by some accident or piece of bad luck. On the last occasion, by ‘yokkin’ several horses to chains fastened round the stone, they nearly succeeded in pulling it over, when, in his excitement, one of the men uttered an oath, and the devil instantly appeared, and stamped on it with his foot.  “Tha cheans all brok, tha osses fell, an’ tha stoan went back t’ its owd place solidder nur ivver; an’ if ya doan’t believe ya ma goa an’ look fur yer sen, an’ ya’ll see tha divvill’s fut mark like three kraws’ claws, a-top o’ tha stoan.’  It was firmly believed the lane was haunted, and that loud groans were often heard there.”

The tale was retold in Grange & Hudson’s (1891) essay on regional folklore.  In Mr Walter’s (1904) excellent local history survey, there was an additional shape-shifting element to the story which, in more northern climes, is usually attributed to hare; but this was slightly different.  The stone, as we’ve heard,

“was supposed to cover hidden treasure, and various attempts were made at different times to remove it, sometimes with six or even eight horses. At one of these attempts, his Satanic Majesty, having been invoked by the local title of ‘Old Lad’ appeared, it is said, in person, where upon the stone fell back, upsetting the horses.  On another occasion a black mouse, probably the same Being incarnate in another form…ran over the gearing of the horses, with a similar result.  Eventually, as a last resort, to break the spell, the boulder was buried, and now no trace of the boulder, black mouse, or Satan’s foot-print remains.”

Sadly we have no sketches of the devil’s ‘footprint’; and if local lore is right, we’ll never know.  For tis said that a local farmer in the 1970s dug down and removed the stone completely.  All that he found were numerous broken ploughshares around the rock, indicating that many tools had been used to shift the stone.

References:

  1. Grange, Ernest L. & Hudson, J.C. (eds.), Lincolnshire Notes and Queries – volume 2, W.K. Morton: Horncastle 1891.
  2. Gutch, Mrs & Peacock, Mabel, Examples of Printed Folklore Concerning Lincolnshire, David Nutt: London 1908.
  3. Walter, J. Conway, Records, Historical and Antiquarian of Parishes around Horncastle, W.K. Morton: Horncastle 1904.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

 

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  53.201966, -0.036193 Devil\'s Stone

Samson’s Stone, Waltonhill Farm, Craigrothie, Fife

Legendary Stone: OS Grid Reference – NO 36312 09667

Getting Here

Lighter coloured Samson Stones visible from road south of farm

Travelling South along the A916 just past Craigrothie, turn right down to Chance Inn, and turn left at the T junction. and follow the road on to just past the left hand bend when Waltonhill Farm will be seen on the right. The Stones form part of the structure of a dwelling house and are not accessible to the public, but are visible from the public highway further down the road as the light coloured irregular shaped stones at ground level either side of the door of the south-facing house.

Archaeology & History

According to a piece published in the Fife Herald & Journal in 1905:-

“Once upon a time, so runs the legend, Samson challenged the devil to match him at boulder throwing. As challenger, Samson stood on the West Lomond; Satan stood on the East. The signal was given; two mighty rocks whistled through the air. ‘The De’ils Stane‘ fell where it now lies, on the road-side about a quarter of a mile west from Waltonhill Farm. Samson, though handicapped by three miles greater distance, flung his stone fully four hundred yards beyond that of Satan, and with such force that it split into three parts; which parts are now built into Waltonhill barn.”

The light-coloured, irregularly-shaped stones at ground level are the likely remains

This is of course a variant of a creation myth that is to be found throughout Britain, of an Age of Giants who strode the land quarrelling with each other and the mortal humans. The original names of the Giants have been lost in the aeons of oral transmission of the legend from pre-history, and replaced by that of a probably equally legendary Middle Eastern strong man from the Christian’s Bible, in combat with the Christian’s Naughty Man. And to prove the point of Christianity’s superiority over the old animistic cults of the land, the De’il has to be demonstrably the Loser.

Another view of the Stones

The house owner told me that what is now the farmhouse bearing the stones, was originally the barn, that they rebuilt after 40 years of dereliction, and interestingly she had heard something about some Samson’s Stones, but not about the nearby De’il’s Stane, which shows that these ancient legends are still being orally transmitted.

The Stone was thrown over 10 miles from West Lomond (right). No wonder it split!

There are five ‘odd’ stones either side of the doorway, along the base of the wall facing the Lomond Hills, of irregular shape and lighter colour than the rest of the building’s walls. These are the likely candidates for the Samson’s Stones (unless anyone can come up with more convincing evidence). While the legend speaks of three stones, it is quite feasible that the masons dressed these when they built the original barn, making five stones out of the three. They look like they may be successive horizontal slices of a larger square to triangular sectioned stone. Pure speculation on the writer’s part, but are these the remains of a lost standing stone(s) that had to be demolished in order for the barn to be built, pieces of which were incorporated into the building to give the original stone’s magical protection to the farmer’s animals and crops?

References:

  1. Fife Herald & Journal, 1st November 1905, quoted in John Ewart Simpkins’ County Folklore – Volume VII: Fife, with some notes concerning Clackmannan and Kinross-shires, Folk-Lore Society by Sidgwick& Jackson: London 1914.

© Paul T Hornby, The Northern Antiquarian 2018

Samson Stone

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Samson Stone 56.275184, -3.030087 Samson Stone

De’il’s Stane, Waltonhill, Craigrothie, Fife

Legendary Stone: OS Grid Reference – NO 36304 09352

Also Known as:

  1. Devil’s Stone

Getting Here

Travelling South along the A916 just past Craigrothie, turn right down to Chance Inn, and turn left at the T junction. and follow the road on to just past the left hand bend when Waltonhill Farm will be seen on the right. Continue south down the road a few hundred yards until it takes a slight right turn. The De’il’s Stane, a huge flat faced slab of rock, will be seen at the roadside on the left side of the road, partly obscured by gorse.

Archaeology & History

According to a piece published in the Fife Herald & Journal in 1905:-

“Once upon a time, so runs the legend, Samson challenged the devil to match him at boulder throwing. As challenger, Samson stood on the West Lomond; Satan stood on the East. The signal was given; two mighty rocks whistled through the air. ‘The De’ils Stane’ fell where it now lies, on the road-side about a quarter of a mile west [sic] from Waltonhill Farm. Samson, though handicapped by three miles greater distance, flung his stone fully four hundred yards beyond that of Satan, and with such force that it split into three parts; which parts are now built into Waltonhill barn”.

The roadside location, just south of the bend

The De’il’s Stane, a huge slab of rock!

This is of course a variant of a creation myth that is to be found throughout Britain, of an Age of Giants who hurled rocks around and strode the land quarrelling with each other and the mortal humans . The original names of the Waltonhill Giants have been lost in the aeons of oral transmission of the legend from pre-history, and replaced by that of a probably equally legendary Middle Eastern strong man from the Christian’s Bible, in combat with the Christian’s Naughty Man. And this was of course done to prove the point of Christianity’s superiority over the old animistic cults of the land, and the De’il had to be demonstrably the loser.

De’ils Stane thrown by the Man in the Red Velvet Suit from East Lomond (Left)

Owing to the Stone being partly hidden by gorse, it was not possible to make a close inspection of the rock for carvings etc. A further visit will no doubt be made to try to clear some of the gorse so a closer inspection can be made. The Stone’s size (approximately 15′ high by 20′ wide by 4′ thick) and the way it is resting against a natural bank, does give a credence to the legend of its having been slung by a giant from East Lomond, clearly visible nearly 7¾ miles away.

Reference:

  1. Fife Herald & Journal, 1st November 1905, quoted in John Ewart Simpkins’ County Folklore – Volume VII: Fife, with some notes concerning Clackmannan and Kinross-shires, Folk-Lore Society by Sidgwick& Jackson: London 1914.

© Paul T. Hornby, The Northern Antiquarian 2018

De'il's Stane

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De\'il\'s Stane 56.272356, -3.030144 De\'il\'s Stane

Cloven Hoof Well, Shipley Glen, West Yorkshire

Sacred Well:  OS Grid Reference – SE 12839 39331

Also Known as:

  1. Raygate Well

Getting Here

Cloven Hoof Well, Shipley Glen

On the roadside at Shipley Glen, from Brackenhall Circle walk up for about 250 yards, where you’ll notice the land dips as it drops into the woods below. Follow this dried stream down until you reach the mossy Loadpit Beck in the valley.  By the waterside is a footpath: follow this upstream for a short distance, keeping your eyes peeled on the Earth below where a smaller stream crosses the path you’re walking on.  Follow this uphill to its source!

Archaeology & History

Halfway up (or down) the moss-covered waters of Shipley Glen the all-but-forgotten waters of the Cloven Hoof Well still flows nice and freely, and is still good to drink. It was shown on the first OS-map of the area in 1852, where it was called the Raygate Well, whose derivation neither the great Baildon historian W. Paley Baildon nor the place-name giant A.H. Smith could account for.  It sounds just like it was someone’s surname, but local genealogy cannot affirm this.  One possibility—and which reflects in the local lore of the site—is that it’s a compound word from the old northern dialect word Rea, “an evil spirit or demon”, and gate, “a hole, an opening or gap.”  The terms are used in a prayer given in Mr Sinclair’s Satan’s Invisible World Displayed (1814),

“as recited in the time of Popery by persons when going to bed, as a means of them being preserved from danger:

“Keep this house from the weir…
And from an ill Rea,
That be the gate can gae.””

But this purely speculative….

Cloven Hoof Well on 1852 map

A photograph and brief description of the Cloven Hoof Well was given in an early edition of the Bradford Scientific Journal after a geological excursion to Shipley, though nothing was said of its curious name. However on a rock below the spring, a hoof-print mark is clearly seen.  It appears to be part-natural and partly enhanced.  This is an area rich in prehistoric petroglyphs, or cup and rings stones.

Mosses thankfully still cover the rocks from whence the waters flow; and bilberry, blackberry, male fern and bracken also grow around it.  Psychoactive plants also abound nearby. The water is healthy and never seems to dry up, even during long warm summers.  And below here, on the other side of the stream at the bottom, you can visit the little-known Wood Well

Folklore

Local lore told that the devil stepped here and left his hoof-mark in the rock, making the waters rise from the Earth.  Possibly a venerated site in earlier days, one finds numerous ancient remains nearby (cup and rings, stone circle, walling, cairn fields).  Pagans amongst you should love this place!

References:

  1. Armitage, Paul, The Holy Wells and Healing Springs of West Yorkshire, forthcoming
  2. Baildon, W. Paley, Baildon and the Baildons (parts 1-15), St. Catherines: Adelphi 1913-26.
  3. la Page, John, The Story of Baildon, William Byles: London 1951.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  53.850079, -1.806321 Cloven Hoof Well

Devil’s Well, Abernethy, Perthshire

Sacred Well:  OS Grid Reference – NO 19430 14758

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 28084

Getting Here

Devils Well on 1860 map

From Abernethy village, go west along the A913 road for half-a-mile, then turn left up the long and winding Glenfoot road up the Abernethy Glen.  About a mile up on your left-side is Craigden Farm and, just a bit past this, the forestry plantation.  Just before the trees, cut up the field and head uphill, passing the near forest of gorse, until you reach the huge detached house of Turflundie.  In the field immediately east, right up against the barbed-wire fence where it meets the depleted forestry, a very small trickle of water emerges beneath a small pile of rocks.  You’re here!

Archaeology & History

The trickling waters are on the other side of this fence

Long since thought to have been lost, the trickling remains of this old Well of the Devil are, in fact, still running beneath the pile of stones just over the barbed-wire fence on the edge of the forestry section.  A cluster of other worn rounded rocks scatter the ground just to the rear of where the water first comes out of the ground, suggesting, perhaps, that a small well-house covered the spring; but this is me being speculative, as there’s no mention of this in the early writings of the Ordnance Survey lads, nor is one shown on the first OS-map of the area in 1860.  And you’ll see on the OS-map how the well is slightly lower than where it presently trickles, but this is down to the fact that the source of it was piped-off at sometime in the not-too-distant past, as evidenced by remains of such piping laying just over the barbed-wire fence close to the source.  In truth, unless you’re hardcore, there’s very little to see.

Folklore

The dedication of this water-site to the christian ‘devil’ is obviously a corruption of its original traditional name, which may have simply been to the Bodach, or ‘Old Man’ in Gaelic and northern British lore.  The bodach‘s consort is the great prima Mater of the northern realms known as the Cailleach, but I can find no dedication to Her anywhere nearby.  The best we have are the ‘Witches Graves’ a half-mile to the northwest, below the edge of the geological ridge overlooking Abernethy, where folklore tells us 22 women were murdered and buried by the local christians several centuries ago.

References:

  1. Morris, Ruth & Frank, Scottish Healing Wells, Alethea: Sandy 1982.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.318429, -3.304175 Devil\'s Well

Garadh Ban Wood, Buchanan, Stirlingshire

Chambered Cairn:  OS Grid Reference – NS 45217 91907

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 282019

Getting Here

The main stones in this ruined cairn

The main stones in this ruined cairn

On the B837 between Balmaha and Drymen at the hamlet called Milton of Buchanan, at the little road junction where the houses are on the right, go uphill for 1 mile (1.6km) until you reach the West Highland Way, where you need to go left (NW).  Keep walking for another half-mile (if you get to end of the forestry plantation, you’ve gone too far) where, on your left, a small widening valley appears.  Walk along the eastern edge of this, keeping your eyes peeled for a small upright stone and two large flat companions next to it.

Archaeology & History

This site is really only for the archaeological purists amongst you, as the forestry plantation has truly taken its toll on the site and very little of it remains.  It appears to have been described first of all in H.G. Smith’s (1896) masterful local history work—although popular tradition was not assigning the place as a prehistoric tomb of any sort.  Rather, it possessed a somewhat familiar folklore element, well-known to occult historians and antiquarians.  Smith told us:

“Not far off, in Garradh-ban Wood, is the ‘Deil’s foot mark stone‘.  It is a large flat stone, 7 feet long and 6 feet wide, with an impression on it not unlike a huge foot mark.  There is another stone close to it, 7 feet by 5 feet.  These stones were probably placed there for some purpose now unknown.”

Mr Smith’s dimensions of the stones correlate closely with the modern analysis taken up by the archaeologists who visited the site more than 100 years later.  Mainly comprising of two large stones on the ground with an accompanying upright monolith on the western side, the official Canmore account tells us:

“The cairn has been reduced to a low stony mound measuring 15m from N to S by 12m transversely and up to 0.5m in height. The chamber, which lies off-centre to the SW, comprises two upright stones and two displaced capstones. The overall plan of the chamber can no longer be determined, and the two upright stones are set splayed to one another; that on the W measures 0.53m by 0.25m and 0.15m in height, and that on the E is heavily laminated measuring 1m by 0.18m and 0.8m in height. The SE corner of one capstone rests on the smaller of the two uprights. It measures 2.1m by 2.03m and up to 0.3m in thickness, and has two fragments broken off at its NE corner. The second capstone lies immediately adjacent to the N, flush with the surface of the cairn, and measures 2.3m by 1.7m and 0.17m in thickness.”

When they assessed the site in 2006, archaeologists reported finding small pieces of quartz scattered over the surface of the cairn, but when we visited here last week, there was little trace of any.

The 'Deil's foot mark'

The ‘Deil’s foot mark’

Garadh Ban, looking west

Garadh Ban, looking west

I was hoping that the “Devil’s footmark” on the stone was going to be a cup-marking of some form, as found at some other sites (Kilneuair church, etc)—but it wasn’t to be.  Instead, it seems that the curvaceous indentation left by the ‘devil’ was simply a natural cavity.  The folktale behind the name, and its possible cultural function, seems to have been forgotten.

Although (perhaps) unrelated, H.G. Smith told us of other remains not too far from here, which remain elusive and not in any official record-books.  We had a quick meander over to see if there was anything to be seen, but daylight was fading fast and more searches are required.  It sounds intriguing:

“A little above these ruins (of Cul-an-Endainn farmhouse at NS 4453 9244 – PB), on the right of the burn, but considerably above it, is a curious structure built of turf.  It is quite round, and is 25 feet in diameter at the top and 15 feet at the bottom.  It has entrances at the south, east and west.  There are others of the same construction both above and below, but not so well defined.”

Recently, industrialists have gone onto this part of the countryside and have already began scarring the hillsides, perhaps even destroying these curious remains before we’ve had a chance to assess them.  Hopefully however, they will remain untouched and allow us site analysis before any real damage is done.

Folklore

Followers of the christian cult said this site was a place where the devil had been.

References:

  1. Smith, H. Guthrie, Strathendrick and its Inhabitants from Early Times, James Maclehose: Glasgow 1896.

Acknowledgements:  Many thanks to Aisha Domleo, Lara & Leo Domleo, Unabel Gordon, Nina Harris, Paul Hornby and Naomi Ross for their help and attendance in finding this ancient site. 

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.094795, -4.489620 Garadh Ban

Silver Well, Shouldham, Norfolk

Holy Well (destroyed?):  OS Grid Reference – TF 6753 0817

Archaeology & History

Once found in the small woodland known as the High Plantation, this holy well has, seemingly, long since fallen back to Earth.  Mary Manning (1994) included it in her survey where she told that in earlier days it could be seen

“in a field which has drainage ditches and cultivation. Here was formerly marshy land draining to the Nar and lying on the south slope of the Nar valley.”

She thought that the title ‘Silver Well’ meant it was a holy site, but others told that it was due to a silver scum that formed on the surface of the waters—and it was a chalybeate (or iron-bearing spring) this is possible.

It was described in Francis White’s (1854) Directory of Norfolk for Shouldham:

“On Mr. Cotton’s estate is a fine chalybeate spring, called Silver Well, which gives rise to a small rivulet which passes through the village.  Near this a new spring was discovered about 20 years ago, and both of them possess similar properties to those of Tunbridge Wells.”

This secondary “spring” was another chalybeate well, above which a stone obelisk was erected in 1839.

Folklore

In relation to the object found in the well, Manning (1994) thinks “the objects found could have been pagan votive offerings in a venerated well.”  She also told that:

“The well is the subject of a local legend, which takes two forms.  One version is that at the Dissolution, treasure from one of the abbeys was hidden in the well.  The second says that workmen repairing the well brought up a container/box of silver ware, which was inadvertently dropped back and never recovered.  Both tales attribute the silver colour of the well water to the effect of passing over silver treasure.”

A variation on this was noted by folklorist W.B. Gerish (1892) who told that the silver which the workmen dropped back into the well, did so as a result of the devil fighting them over it, and they fled!

References:

  1. Anonymous, Kelly’s Directory of the Counties of Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Suffolk, Kelly’s Directories Ltd 1925.
  2. Gerish, W.B., Norfolk Folklore Notes, 1892.
  3. Hope, Robert Charles, Legendary Lore of the Holy Wells of England, Elliott Stock: London 1893.
  4. Manning, M., Taking the Waters in Norfolk, NIAS: Norfolk 1994.
  5. White, Francis, Gazetteer and Directory of Norfolk, 1854.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 

Silver Well

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Silver Well 52.645488, 0.474761 Silver Well

Trysting Stone, Doune, Perthshire

Standing Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NN 7256 0182

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 24761
  2. Deil’s Head
  3. Devil’s Head
  4. Fairy Stone
  5. Gold Stone

Getting Here

Trysting Stone of Doune
Trysting Stone of Doune

From the old cross in the middle of the village, walk along the A820 Balkerach Street main road (NOT down George Street) until you reach Station Wynd on your right.  Walk up here for 100 yards towards the new housing estate (don’t buy these places – they’re dreadful quality beneath the veneers) and there, on a small grassy rise on the left just before the car park, stands our stone!

Archaeology & History

This little-known monolith on the northern edge of little Doune village, was recently moved a short distance from its original position thanks to another one of those sad Barratt housing estates being built here; but at least it has received protection with the surrounding fence and notice board telling its brief history and folklore (better than being destroyed I s’ppose).

Stone marked on 1866 OS map
Stone marked on 1866 OS map

Standing less than five feet tall, local lore tells that it has been moved around close to this spot several times in the last couple of centuries.  Although not mentioned in Hutchinson’s (1893) essay on local megaliths, the stone was highlighted on the 1866 Ordnance Survey of Doune, where the non-antiquated lettering showed how it was thought to be Roman in origin, not prehistoric.

Folklore

Trysting Stane, looking NE
Trysting Stane, looking NE

The name of the stone comes from it being used as a place where deeds were sworn, with the stone as witness to the words proclaimed by both parties (implying a living presence, or animistic formula of great age).  This activity was continued in the local ‘trysts’ or cattle fairs held a mile away, where buyers swore the sale of cattle at this stone—again with the stone being ‘witness’ to the spoken deals.  It was also used as a counter where gold was exchanged for cattle bought and sold during the Michaelmas and Martinmas Fairs.  Sue Harvey (2006) told that this standing stone,

“was called the Devil’s Head and was used during past Doune fairs to count gold on when cattle were being bought and sold.”

In local newspaper accounts from the 1950s, local historian Moray S. Mackay (1984) told how the children of the village used to gather round the stone, holding hands, and sing,

Olie Olie, peep, peep, peep,
Here’s the man with the cloven feet,
Here’s his head, but where’s his feet?
Olie Olie, peep, peep, peep.

Notice board telling its tale...
Notice board telling its tale…
Looking at the stone on its rise
Looking at the stone on its rise

This implies the stone once possessed a myth relating to a petrified ancestral deity of animistic (pre-christian) origin, but as yet we have found no additional information allowing us a confirmation of this probability.  A correlate of this theme—i.e., of the stone being the head of a deity—is found in West Yorkshire (amongst many other places), where one of the little known Cuckoo Stones was once known to be a local giant until a hero-figure appeared and cut off his head, leaving only his body which was then turned to stone.  Mircea Eliade (1958; 1963) cites examples of animistic religious rites and events explaining this early petrification formula via creation myths, etc. (we find very clear evidences of animistic worldviews and practices still prevailing in the mountains just a few miles north and west, still enacted by local people)

Folklore also alleged that the stone was Roman in nature, but neither archaeology nor the architectural form of the stone implies this.  Roman stones were cut and dressed—unlike the traditional looking Bronze Age, rough, uncut fella standing here.

References:

  1. Eliade, Mircea, Patterns in Comparative Religion, Sheed & Ward: London 1958.
  2. Eliade, Mircea, Myth and Reality, Harper & Row: San Francisco 1963.
  3. Harvey, Sue, Doune and Deanston, Kilmadock Development Centre 2006.
  4. Hutchinson, A.F., “The Standing Stones of Stirling District,” in The Stirling Antiquary, volume 1, 1893.
  5. Mackay, Moray S., Doune – Historical Notes, Forth Naturalist: Stirling 1984.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Trysting Stone

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Trysting Stone 56.192501, -4.055478 Trysting Stone

Deil’s Cradle, Dollar, Clackmannanshire

Legendary Rock:  OS Grid Reference – NS 9686 9906

Also Known as:

  1. Devil’s Cradle
  2. Devil’s Rock

Folklore

The Deil’s Cradle stone

Close to the legendary old Wizard’s Stone we find there’s a real cluster of witch-lore in this small area to the north of Dollar, which deserves careful analysis from competent researchers and students.  Not only is there the legendary Lochy Launds of the Black Goddess hereby, there was also this curious rock, described by one ‘J.C.’  in an early edition of the Scottish Journal (1848), which told:

“On the confines of the parish of Dollar, not far from Hillfoot, the seat of John McArthur Moir, Esq., lies a glen, called Burngrens, watered by a small stream and planted with numerous large trees.  A great number of these, however, have fallen, during the last few years, beneath the unsparing axe; but strong, healthy saplings are rising rapidly to supply their place.

“In this glen there is a large stone, of peculiar formation, in every way like a cradle. It is currently believed by the superstitious in the vicinity, that the stone, every Hallowe’en night, is raised from its place, and suspended in the air by some unseen agency, while “Old Sandy,” snugly seated upon it, is swung backwards and forwards by his adherents, the witches, until daylight warns them to decamp.

The following rather curious affair is told in connection with the “Cradle:”

“One Hallowe’en night a young man, who had partaken somewhat freely of the intoxicating cup, boasted before a few of his companions that he would, unaccompanied, visit the stone. Providing himself with a bottle, to keep his courage up, he accordingly set out.  The distance not being great, he soon reached his destination.  After a lusty pull at the bottle, he sat down upon the “Cradle,” boldly determined to dispute the right of possession, should his Satanic majesty appear to claim his seat. Every rustle of a leaf, as the wind moaned through the glen, seemed to our hero as announcing the approach of the enemy, and occasioned another application to fortifying “bauld John Barleycorn.” Overpowered at last by repeated potations, our hero, dreaming of “Auld Nick,” and his cohort of “rigwuddie hags,” fell sound asleep upon the stone.

“His companions, who had followed him, now came forward. With much shouting and noise, they laid hold of him, one by the head and another by the feet, and carrying him, half-awake, to the burn, dipped him repeatedly, accompanying each immersion with terrific yells. The poor fellow, thinking a whole legion of devils were about him, was almost frightened to death, and roared for mercy so piteously that his tormentors thought proper to desist. No sooner had our hero gained his feet than he rushed up the glen, and ran home, resolving never to drink more, or attempt such a feat again. For many a long day he was ignorant who his tormentors really were.

“We stood upon the stone about a week ago. Ivy and moss are slowly mantling over it, a proof that it is some considerable time since the Devil has been rocked on it.”

Historian Angus Watson (1995) told the place to be “south of Wizard’s Stone…near Kelty Burn,” and also that,

“it is said to be where witches rock Satan to sleep on Halloween.”

Above here, the tree-topped rounded hill to the north was one of the meeting places of the witches of Fife, Perthshire and Clackmannan.  Something of sincere pre-christian ritual importance was undoubtedly enacted in this region as the sites of the Maiden are also a short distance due north. Does anyone know more about this fascinating sounding place?

References:

  1. ‘J.C.,’ “The Deil’s Cradle”, in The Scottish Journal, February 5, T.G. Stevenson: Edinburgh 1848.
  2. 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.
  3. Watson, Angus, The Ochils: Placenames, History, Tradition, PKDC: Perth 1995.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.173072, -3.662833 Deil\'s Cradle

Great Stone of Fourstones, Lowgill, North Yorkshire

Legendary Stone:  OS Grid Reference – SD 66972 66292

Also Known as:

  1. Big Stone
  2. Four Stones

Getting Here

The Great Stone of Fourstones

From near the middle of the large village (or small town!) of High Bentham, go down Station Road, over the river — where the road becomes known as Thickrash Brow! — and keep going for about a mile.  The landscape opens up into the hills and there, on the left-hand side of the road, is a car-parking spot with a footpath taking you straight up to the large boulder a 100 yards on: that’s our Great Stone!  You can’t really miss it.

Archaeology & History

Great Stone on 1847 map

A meeting place of local tribes in more ancient days, the moorland plain upon which the Great Stone sits, beckons to a vast landscape on all quarters (north, south, east and west) calling the elders from their lands for annual rites and decisions to befit the health of the land and the people.  The stone rests on the ancient boundary of Yorkshire and Lancashire, just on the Yorkshire side, and was visited annually in more later centuries during the beating of the bounds, to define the edges of the local township.

Graffiti & cup-marks on the top

First described in a Yorkshire inquisition account from 1307, this Big Stone was visited by Harry Speight (1892) who described it as measuring 30 feet round and 12 feet high.  I came here for the first time in the 1980s when I was hitch-hiking into the Scottish mountains, but a good old “local” (from the Yorkshire side) took a detour to show me the place!  Once here, I climbed up the very worn “steps” which were carved into the side of the boulder several centuries back and it didn’t surprise me to find a number of cup-markings (no discernible rings) on its top surface.  When I came here again with Michala Potts and Paul Hornby yesterday, I couldn’t believe how many people had carved their names on top of the Great Stone in the intervening years — it’s almost covered in modern graffiti and the old cup-markings were much harder to see.  Taylor (1906) mentions them briefly in his holy wells survey, saying how,

“This great boulder is ascended on its eastern side by fourteen steps, and on the top are two circular holes about two inches deep and two inches in diameter.”

There used to be three others boulders very close to this one (hence its title), making a natural stone circle, but they were “broken up for sharpening scythes” a couple of hundred years back.  A much wider archaeological survey of this region is long overdue.

Folklore

Great Stone, looking east

Harry Speight (1892) told how the (original) Four Stones were the creation of our old friend the Devil, long ago, who dropped them in one his many megalithic travels across our land. The stones were also the meeting place of ancient councils, from the tribes either side of the Yorkshire-Lancashire border. Their presence here also had mythic relationship with the Queen of the Fairies Chair, about a mile southeast, along the same boundary line.

Weird how folklore changes. Whilst old Mr Speight told how the devil created the once great four stones that were here, many years later Jessica Lofthouse (1976) told how the three missing stones – which had been here “since the world began” – were actually taken from here by Old Nick. Carrying them over the land,

“His load he dropped on Casterton Fell, where the rocks he discarded, the Devil’s Apronful, are still lying around. He selected the most suitable, dressed them and carried them in panniers down to the (River) Lune”

— and built the legendary Devil’s Bridge at Kirkby Lonsdale – which itself has strange tales to tell.  Another creation myth about the Great Stone is told on the plaque near the stone, alongside the footpath, which tells:

“Legend has it that it is a small part of the debris hurled by the giant Finn McCool across the Irish Sea in a fit of anger.”

It’s very obvious that a lotta mythic landscape material has been neglected and overlooked around this site.  Something we need to remedy, if we can, in the coming years…

References:

  1. Lofthouse, J., North Country Folklore, Hale: London 1976.
  2. Speight, Harry, The Craven and Northwest Yorkshire Highlands, Elliott Stock: London 1892.
  3. Taylor, Henry, The Ancient Crosses and Holy Wells of Lancashire, Sherratt & Hughes: Manchester 1906.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 

 

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  54.091465, -2.506451 Great Stone of Fourstones