Fingal’s Cauldron Seat, Machrie Moor, Kilmory, Arran

Stone Circle:  OS Grid Reference – NR 90878 32353

Fingal's Cauldron, on 1864 OS map
Fingal’s Cauldron, on 1864 OS map

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 39705
  2. Machrie Moor 5
  3. Moss Farm Stone Circle
  4. Suidhe Coire Fhionn
  5. Tormore Stones

Getting Here

The stone circle of Fingal's Cauldron Seat, Machrie Moor, Arran <c>(photo by Aisha Domleo)</c>
The stone circle of Fingal’s Cauldron Seat, Machrie Moor, Arran (photo by Aisha Domleo)

By whichever way you come (be it from Brodick on the east, Lochranza to the north) ask any local the way to Machrie and they’ll point you the road onto the west side of the island, roughly halfway.  You’re after the hamlets of Blackwaterfoot or Auchagallon. From either of these spots, take the road to Tormore.  From here, the dirt-track east close to the Machrie Water is where you need to walk.  About a mile along this well-defined track you’ll see the large barn ahead of you.  Hereabouts you’ll begin to notice some very tall standing stones. Keep walking on the track, and the first double-ring of smaller stones to your right is the place yer after!

Archaeology & History

Approaching the ring (photo by Aisha Domleo)
Approaching the ring (photo by Aisha Domleo)

This is one well-preserved stone circle in a superb setting with other large megalithic rings all close by—at least 12 of them!—set upon the flat open moorlands on the west side of Arran, with views in all directions sending the enquiring nose tasting for more wherever the eyes gaze….  It has been written about by many many writers over the last few centuries—which aint surprising!  But it was in recent times that the place was said by Aubrey Burl (1981) to be “holy ground,” because although there are many prehistoric settlement sites and other remains scattered across this landscape,

“it is noticeable that the dozens of huts whose ruins litter the moor were built well away to the west, none of them near these powerful and lonely stones.”

1832 sketch of Fingal's Cauldron by James Skene
1832 sketch of Fingal’s Cauldron by James Skene

It’s a fair point.

Fingal’s Cauldron was first defined in an archaeological context by James Bryce in 1863, who named it the ‘Machrie Moor 5’ stone circle (MM5)—and it was he and several others who dug into the ring, to see what it might be hiding!

“Excavating at the centre we found a small cist at less than a foot in depth, and lying about north-east.  It was covered by a small lid, and the dimensions were 2 feet 2 inches in length, 10½ inches in depth, and 11 inches in width.  Inside there were several bone fragments and black earth.  A flint implement was found in the stony soil above, and three other flint fragments, but nothing of this kind in the cist itself.  This was of much ruder structure than any we had seen before (Ed. – i.e., in the other Machrie circles); it was cut out of the sold sandstone rock, but with little care or exactness; the sides however, were nearly perpendicular.  The difficulty of excavating without iron tools may account for the smaller size and ruder form of this cist.  No other cist was found, nor remains of any kind, though a trial was made at several points around the centre.  A deep opening was also made on both sides of the upright stone, but nothing was met with worthy of being recorded.”

A.E. Roy's 1967 site-plan
A.E. Roy’s 1967 site-plan

Described thereafter a number of times by different historians and antiquarians, Fingal’s Cauldron (and its associates) was then recounted in the Machrie Moor survey of Mr Balfour (1910) in his magnum opus on the Isle of Arran.  Although he gave more attention to the other stone circles in this multiple megalithic complex, he did thankfully make note that,

“upon higher ground free of peat, and immediately to the south of the farmhouse, is the celebrated double circle of granite blocks known popularly as Fingal’s Cauldron Seat. The inner ring consists of eight and the outer of fourteen blocks. The diameter of the inner circle is 36 feet and of the outer 57 feet. The largest stones are in the inner series; they are more or less round-topped blocks, about 4 feet high. One of the stones of the outer ring has a ledge which is perforated by a round hole, with the edges worn smooth.

“In the centre of the inner ring, only a foot from the surface, a ruined cist was laid bare. It had been previously disturbed, and was represented by two stones only, lying parallel to one another. There was no capstone, and no relics were discovered.”

More recently in the 1960s, another survey of Fingal’s Cauldron was undertaken by A.E. Roy and other archaeologists.  They found nothing new of any value, but gave us the ground-plan we see here (sadly it seems that Alexander Thom didn’t bless this site with his theodolite and survey).  Aubrey Burl re-examined the site again during his own survey in the 1980s.

An elemental called Lara sat seated on one of the uprights! (photo by Aisha Domleo)
An elemental called Lara sat seated on one of the uprights! (photo by Aisha Domleo)
Small section of inner & outer rings (photo by Aisha Domleo)
Small section of inner & outer rings (photo by Aisha Domleo)

There are other curious features to this ring that aint generally talked about amongst the archaeo-fraternity, out of fear of sounding inspiring perhaps…  In the 1980s, a chap called Paul Devereux and a number of physicists organized volunteers from across the country to monitor electromagnetic anomalies at many megalithic rings, in order to explore the validity, or otherwise, of the idea that there were ‘energies’ at stone circles.  The study was called The Dragon Project and went on for many years.  The Machrie Moor complex was one of the places where examinations of electromagnetic fields were undertaken—Fingal’s Cauldron being one of them.  Devereux (1990) tells us a small part of the story:

“In May 1983 Dave and Lynn Patrick monitored several of the Machrie Moor circles, including MM5, with a geiger counter for the Gaia Programme.  They also took background control readings and monitored a non-megalithic ‘dummy site’ for comparisons.

“Five of the circles…gave average site readings 2 to 13 per cent higher than background, but MM5 gave a site average of 33 per cent above background.  A non-megalithic ‘dummy site’ was 5 per cent above background.  The Patricks had taken 20 readings within MM5—one hour of monitoring time—plotted onto the ground-plan.  There was no mystery about why the site gave a higher average than anywhere else, and a third higher than background—the stones are radioactive granite, and there are 23 of them.  But one stone, the tallest, and the most westerly of the upright stones in the inner ring, is particularly energetic, giving readings 16 per cent above the next most radioactive stone in the double ring, and more than that for the other 58 stones monitored in the Patrick’s study on Machrie Moor.

“I took measurements at the site myself in April 1988, using new equipment, and confirmed that the MM5 stone did indeed give a moderately high naturally radiation count (about 33 per cent above normal).”

This rather hot “Cauldron of Finn” certainly does throw off more heat than its compatriots nearby, as scientific analysis has shown!  It turned out to be the type of stone which our ancestors used in constructing the site.  Fascinating…


1861 drawing of the site
1861 drawing of the site

Although this is one of the smallest of the megalithic rings on the moor, it’s the one that has the main legend.  In line with its folk-title, twas said to have been the place where the Irish giant and hero-figure, Finn, “assigning to the encircling stones the purpose of supporting the cauldron of the giant,” with the inner ring being where it was placed and he cooked. Finn also used another part of the circle, as James Bryce (1863) said:

“A block on the southeast side of the outer circle has a ledge perforated by a round hole, which is well worn on the edges, and said to have been formed for the purpose of fastening the favourite dog Bran.”

Shortly after this, John McArthur (1873) wrote his work on the ancient remains of the island, giving additional elements to the myths of this ring; firstly telling that the perforated hole which Bran was tied to,

“was probably associated with some old superstition or religious ceremony, now forgotten. The hole is sufficiently large to admit the two fingers, and runs perpendicularly through the side of the column…

“The perforated column of “Fiongal’s Cauldron Seat,” on the Mauchrie Moor, was believed to contain a fairy or brownie, who could only be propitiated by the pouring of milk through the hole bored in the side of the stone.”

The animistic tradition of pouring milk into stones is more usually found at bullauns and some cup-and-ring carvings, so we need to look closely in good weather conditions at the uprights in the circle just to make sure we aint missed anything here… Carvings are found on some of the other Machrie stones.

Regarding the small hole through the stone which Bran was tied to, Gareth Weston (2007), in his otherwise terrible book, tells that,

“The middle of the perforated stone and the geometric centre (of the ring) are in line with the sharp summit of Goat Fell, Arran’s loftiest peak and the highest point in southeast Scotland.”

Geomancy anyone…?


Over the years I have slept at many prehistoric sites in Britain—stone circles, chambered tombs and cup-and-ring stones all—hundreds of times, in all weathers.  Sadly in recent years I’ve been neglecting this duty.  However, during the winter of 1986 I spent a few nights in the snow on the Machrie plain, between this circle and the taller uprights a short distance away.  On one dark freezing February night, shortly before we hit the sack,

“a bright orange glow was seen on the summit of the mountain (Ard Bheinn), three miles away.  A second or two later a ball of light rose up from the snow-clad hills and into the clouds, a hundred feet above.  A few minutes later we saw the same ball of light again; on both occasions the ball of light was visible for two seconds at the most.”

Several times when sleeping rough at Machrie I got talking with an old farmer who had grown up round here.  He told that he’d “seen strange lights around the moors a few times” down the years.  With the moorland scent and feel of the place round here, that surprises me not one bit!

…to be continued…


  1. Armit, Ian, Scotland’s Hidden History, Tempus: Stroud 1998.
  2. Balfour, J.A., The Book of Arran – volume 1, Arran Society of Glasgow 1910.
  3. Bennett, Paul, “Events in the Annals of Arran,” in UFO Brigantia, March 1986.
  4. Bryce, James, “Account of excavations within the stone circle of Arran“, in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 4, 1863.
  5. Burl, Aubrey, A Guide to the Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany, New Haven & London 1995.
  6. Burl, Aubrey, The Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany, Yale University Press 2000.
  7. Devereux, Paul, Places of Power, Blandford: London 1990.
  8. Ewart, G. & Sharman, P., “Moss Farm stone circle, Arran (Kilmory parish),” in Discovery & Excavation Scotland, 1997.
  9. Fairhurst, Horace, Exploring Arran’s Past, Kilbrannan: Brodick 1988.
  10. McArthur, John, The Antiquities of Arran, Adam & Charles Black: Edinburgh 1873 (2nd edition).
  11. MacLellan, Robert, The Ancient Monuments of Arran, HMSO: Edinburgh 1989.
  12. Roy, A.E., “A New Survey of the Tormore Circles,” in Transactions of the Glasgow Archaeological Society, 51, 1963.
  13. Weston, Garth, Monuments and Mountains, Ashridge Press: Bakewell 2007.

AcknowledgementsHUGE thanks to Aisha Domleo—and Her brilliant clan!—not only for kicking my arse to write this up, but for the photos of the site too!  More to come. 

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Rollright Stones, Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire

Stone Circle:  OS Grid Reference – SP 29578 30869

Also known as:

  1. King’s Men
  2. The Rollrights
  3. Rowldrich

Getting Here

One of Camden’s early drawings

All sorts of ways to get here – all via road I’m afraid.  Those southern-types aint into walking over fields and ambling about like we can do ‘ere up North.  Best way to get here really, is get to Chipping Norton (a good little town with many good folk there), and ask!  Take the road out of the town to Over Norton, taking the first road left as you enter the village. Go along this country  lane for a mile until you reach a crossroads at the top of the hill. Turn right at the crossroads and watch out for the parking space at the roadside a few hundred yards along. Stop there and walk through the gate to go round to the other side of the trees. (if there’s a Rollright Trust member there loitering in the entrance asking you for some money to walk or sit by the stone circle – don’t give ’em it!  They’ve used the cash for poisoning the wildlife in the past (killing the moles, field mice and other indigenous creatures there) and then lied about what they did (reckoning it was nowt to do with them!), so I wouldn’t trust them).

Archaeology & History

Southern arc of stones
Southern arc of stones

There’s masses to be said on this site, which I can’t add all in one go (I’ve literally got a full unpublished book on the many aspects if this lovely site) — so this entry will be updated occasionally with additional bits and bats of info and images as time floats by.

This remarkable and quite atmospheric megalithic complex has so much to say for itself that entire books have been written on the place (see the extensive references below), dealing with its archaeology, folklore and ritual use.

1920s Ground-plan
Mr Taunt’s 1907 plan

The King’s Men is a near-perfect circle of oolitic limestone uprights.  Thought for centuries to be the memorial site of some victory by the Danish King Rollo, they have been described by many historians, travellers and antiquarians from the 14th century upwards.  Several early writers described a sort of “avenue” running from the circle, not unlike the one perceived at Stonehenge and elsewhere.  Evidence for this cannot be fully disregarded, as there are some recumbent monoliths along the road beside the stone complex, known as the Jurassic Way.  This was a prehistoric trade route and it is more likely than not that some other uprights would have been nearby.

The Rollright Stones were used as the prime base for what was known as the Dragon Project: an exploratory examination of potential electromagnetic anomalies that were recorded at the standing stones here by scientists, geomancers and archaeologists who were involved daily monitoring work over many years.  Much of this was published in Paul Devereux’s book, Places of Power – required reading for everyone who pretends an interest in megalithic sciences.

Northern section of the ring
Northern section of the ring

The Rollright complex today consists primarily of three sites: the Whispering Knight’s portal dolmen, the King’s Men stone circle, and the King Stone.  Of these, it is the stone circle which draws most attention. Several alignments are connected with the complex.  The original ritual use of the place would have, primarily, involved rites of passage and death rituals; though it seems obvious that menstrual rites were also an important social event here.  After dark, this stone circle has distinctly ‘female’ spirit, sometimes manifesting in a quite wrathful form (please don’t confuse any of the modern witchcraft mythos with such things – they are fundamentally different in both social and ritual aspects). Women obviously played a large part in the ritual use and geomantic layout of the original complex.  It also seems likely that the stone circle was used as a moot spot, which may have been in use until medieval times.  The recent discovery of the carving of a family crest, at least 500 years old, implies this.

Until Tom Wilson and I lived in the hut at the circle in the 1990s, previous reports of ‘carvings’ at the stone circle were few and debatable.  But two of the stones in the Rollright circle have quite distinct carvings on them.  The most pronounced is etched on the tallest stone (stone 1 – Barnatt Survey) and comprises of a typical heraldic shield – although we cannot, as yet, ascertain the motif in the middle of the shield.  This was first seen by a visiting tourist who wanted to remain anonymous, but the finding was written up in an article I wrote shortly afterwards. (Bennett 1999)  The image below – reproduced courtesy of Alistair Carty’s Archaeoptics Limited laser scanning company – clearly shows the carving, which confirmed the initial discovery.  The report of his findings can be read here.

Shield carving on tallest stone
Shield carving on tallest stone (© Archaeoptics Ltd)
L.V. Grinsell’s 1930 photo

Not unsurprisingly, since the discovery of the shield various screwy interpretations have been put forward to account for the design.  My favourite has to be the one suggested by a pagan friend of the Rollright Trust, who, occult-like and all secret (y’ get the drift) reckoned it was all to do with King Arthur!  Needless to say, my response of, “Y’ talking bollox mate!” was received somewhat nervously by pagan Karin Attwood and the twee little entourage who were discussing the shield, in the usual ‘secrecy – secrecy’ hush-hush tone of false witches and similar idiots!

A few months later I found another set of carvings on stone 62 (Barnatt survey), comprising a set of Ogham letters. These Ogham are very faint and are best observed before midday, when lighting conditions highlight them much clearer. If anyone can decipher them, it would be greatly appreciated. (though please don’t gimme some shit about King Arthur)


Folklore ascribes that the number of stones in the complex cannot be counted (a motif found at other megalithic sites) and, intriguingly, of the surveys done here, no two are the same!  One early illustration of the circle shows 30 stones, nother describes 46, and one survey describes just 22 stones!  As the 20th century progressed the numbers increased dramatically, with surveys differing at 58, 60, 71, 72, 73, 77 and 105. The present-day ‘guesstimate’ is about 77. Weird!

Folklore tells that if you can count the stones three times in a row and get the same number, you may have any wish you choose.  But recently this has become reversed and it is said to be a curse if you count three times the same.  Intriguingly, modern visitors who allege no superstitious beliefs, will not count the stones a third time if the same number crops up twice.

The best-known folk tale of this place is of the King, his men and the knights, who “were once men who were changed into vast rocks and fossilised,” as Camden first put it in 1586.  The King’s men sometimes go to drink at a well near Little Rollright, as does the king, but he only goes at certain times.  At midnight however, on certain days, the King’s Men have sometimes been known to come to life, join hands and dance in a circle.  This sounds more like a folk remnant of ritual use here.

Faerie folk are said to live beneath the circle, in great caverns, some of which are linked up to the single monolith across the road. Ravenhill [1926] described how local folk had sometimes seen the little people dancing around the circle by moonlight, but nobody has seen them of late.

…to be continued…!


  1. Anonymous, The Rollright Stones: Theories and Legends, privately printed, n.d.
  2. Anonymous, ‘Oxfordshire Mysteries,’ in The Ley Hunter 86, 1979.
  3. Aubrey, John, Monumenta Britannica, Milbourne Port 1980.
  4. Barnatt, John, Stone Circles of Britain (2 volumes), BAR: Oxford 1989.
  5. Beesley, T., ‘The Rollright Stones,’ in Trans. N.Oxon Arch. Soc., 1, 1855.
  6. Bennett, Paul, ‘Remarkable Carving found at the King’s Men Stone Circle, Rollright, Oxfordshire,’ in Right Times 5, 1999.
  7. Bennett, Paul & Wilson, Tom, The Old Stones of Rollright and District, Cockley Press: London 1999.
  8. Bloxham, Christine, Folklore of Oxfordshire, Tempus 2005.
  9. Bord, Janet & Colin, The Secret Country, Paul Elek: London 1976.
  10. Bord, Janet & Colin, A Guide to Ancient Sites in Britain, Paladin 1979.
  11. Brooker, Charles, ‘Magnetism and the Standing Stones,’ in New Scientist, January 1983.
  12. Burl, Aubrey, A Guide to the Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany, New Haven & London 1995.
  13. Burl, Aubrey, Great Stone Circles, Yale University Press: New York & London 1999.
  14. Burl, Aubrey, The Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany, Yale University Press 2000.
  15. Clayton, Peter, Archaeological Sites of Britain, Weidenfeld & Nicolson: London 1976.
  16. Cooper, Roy, ‘Some Oxfordshire Leys,’ in The Ley Hunter 86, 1979.
  17. Cowper, B.H., ‘Oxfordshire Legend in Stone,’ Notes & Queries (1st series), 7, January 15, 1853.
  18. Crawford, O.G.S., Long Barrows of the Cotswolds, John Bellows: Oxford 1932.
  19. D., A.J., ‘Rollwright or Rollright,’ in Notes & Queries, 2nd series, 7, 1859.
  20. Devereux, Paul, ‘Is This the Image of the Earth Force?’ in The Ley Hunter 87, 1979.
  21. Devereux, Paul, ‘Operation Merlin,’ in The Ley Hunter 88, 1980.
  22. Devereux, Paul, ‘Operation Merlin 2,’ in The Ley Hunter 89, 1980.
  23. Devereux, Paul, ‘The Third Merlin,’ in The Ley Hunter 92, 1981.
  24. Devereux, Paul, Places of Power, Blandford: London 1990.
  25. Devereux, Paul, The Sacred Place, Cassell: London 2000.
  26. Devereux, Paul, Steele, John & Kubrin, David, Earthmind, Harper & Row: New York 1989.
  27. Devereux, Paul & Thomson, Ian, The Ley Hunter’s Companion, Thames & Hudson: London 1979.
  28. Dyer, James, Discovering Regional Archaeology: The Cotswolds and the Upper Thames, Shire: Tring 1970.
  29. Evans, Arthur J., ‘The Rollright Stones,’ in Trans. Bristol & Glouc. Arch. Soc., 40, 1892.
  30. Evans, Arthur J., ‘The Rollright Stones and their Folklore (3 parts),’ in Folklore Journal, 1895.
  31. Graves, Tom, Dowsing, Techniques and Application, Turnstone: London 1976.
  32. Graves, Tom, Needles of Stone, Granada: London 1980.
  33. Graves, Tom (ed.), Dowsing and Archaeology, Turnstone: Wellingborough 1980.
  34. Gray, William, The Rollright Ritual, Helios: Cheltenham 1975.
  35. Grinsell, Leslie V., The Ancient Burial Mounds of England, Methuen: London 1936.
  36. Grinsell, Leslie V., The Rollright Stones and their Folklore, Toucan Press: Guernsey 1977.
  37. Hamper, W., ‘Observations on certain Ancient Pillars of Memorial, called Hoar Stones,’ in Archaeologia, 25, 1833.
  38. Hawkes, Jacquetta, A Guide to the Prehistoric and Roman Monuments in England and Wales, BCA: London 1973.
  39. Higgins, Geoffrey, The Celtic Druids, Rowland Hunter: London 1829.
  40. Krupp, E.C., In Search of Ancient Astronomies, Chatto & Windus: London 1979.
  41. Lambrick, George, The Rollright Stones: The Archaeology and Folklore of the Stones and their Surroundings, Oxford Archaeology Review 1983. (Reprinted and updated in 1988.)
  42. Liebreich, Karen, UneXplained: Spine-tingling tales from Real Places in Great Britain and Ireland, Kindle 2012.
  43. Michell, John, Megalithomania, Thames & Hudson: London 1982.
  44. Millson, Cecilia, Tales of Old Oxfordshire, Countryside Books: Newbury 1983.
  45. Ravenhill, T.H., The Rollright Stones and the Men Who Erected Them, Little Rollright 1926.
  46. Richardson, Alan, Spirits of the Stones, Virgin: London 2001.
  47. Robins, Don, ‘The Dragon Awakes,’ in The Ley Hunter 87, 1979.
  48. Robins, Don, ‘The Dragon Project and the Talking Stones,’ in New Scientist, October 1982.
  49. Robins, Don, Circles of Silence, Souvenir Press: London 1985.
  50. Saltzman, L.F. (ed.), Victoria County History of Oxford, Dawsons: London 1970 (first published 1939).
  51. Stanley, Christopher C., ‘A Rollright Processional Way?’ in The Ley Hunter 90, 1981.
  52. Taunt, Harry, The Rollright Stones: The Stonehenge of Oxfordshire, Oxford 1907.
  53. Thom, Alexander & Thom, A.S., ‘Rings and Menhirs: Geometry and Astronomy in the Neolithic Age,’ in E.C. Krupp, 1979.
  54. Thom, Alexander, Megalithic Sites in Britain, Oxford University Press 1967.
  55. Thom, A., Thom, A.S. & Burl, H.A.W., Megalithic Rings, BAR: Oxford 1980.
  56. Turner, Mark, Folklore and Mysteries of the Cotswolds, Hale: London 1993.

AcknowledgementsHUGE thanks to Marion Woolley for her images in this site profile, and other memorable ventures at this awesome megalithic ring!


  1. Rollright Stones on The Megalithic Portal

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian