Standing Stone (destroyed): OS Grid Reference – NO 483 603(approximation)
Archaeology & History
In an area once teeming with megaliths, this is but one that lost its life in the 19th century. It would seem that the only reference of its existence—and demise—comes from the pen of the great regional historian Andrew Jervise (1853) who, in a description of the nearby holy well of St Ninian, in a field near Wellford,
“within the last half century there were two or three large rude boulders nearby, which were called Druidical stones.”
Jervise, Andrew, The History and Traditions of the Land of the Lindsays in Angus and Mearns, Sutherland & Knox: Edinburgh 1853.
A bit troublesome to locate if you don’t know the area. Get into the town centre where the paved St George Square is by the main road. Cross the road and go up Hill Street, which runs straight into Ferntower Road. A few hundred yards up turn left up Ewanfield, all the way to the very end at Crieff Hydro. From here you’ll see the path uphill by the tennis courts. Walk up and past the holiday chalets until your hit the road that curls round the bottom of the woods. Go along until you find the car park and just above here by the roadside is a tourist board showing the Knock Walk footpath. The Cradle Stone is about 250 yards up the Knock Walk from here, 100 yards into the woods on the right.
Archaeology & History
This large broken boulder is the result of it once living further up the hillside. One of Nature’s great forces then kicked the olde fella and he rolled down the hill to its present position. It was mentioned in a detailed 19th century geological survey by Mr Thomson (1836), where he told:
“At Crieff, in Perthshire, there occurs a series of low hills running parallel to the Grampians. These hills consist of old red sandstone and greywacke. On one of them, the Cnock, the village of Crieff is built. Upon the south-east side of this hill, towards the southern extremity, not far from the summit, there are deposited a number of boulder stones of syenitic granite. The largest of these is called the ‘Cradlestone’. It is nearly spherical, quite smooth on the surface, and 29 feet in circumference. It has been split in two by lightning, (according to the tradition of the place,) and one of the fragments has made one complete revolution down the hill and then stopped. The weight of this boulder is about 30 tons. The nearest mountains of syenitic granite, are those in the neighbourhood of Bennevis, distant more than 60 miles north-west…”
The stone was subsequently entered in Fred Cole’s (1911) outstanding survey of the local megaliths, although acknowledged it has having no archaeological pedigree. The Cradle Stone, he wrote, is
“the appellation printed in Old English lettering on the Ordnance Map, given to one of two huge boulders difficult to find in the fir-woods at the western extremity of the Knock, and at a height of nearly 600 feet, midway between Knockearn House and Culcrieff. On visiting the site, the conclusion became apparent that these two blocks were merely natural curiosities, and had no interest for the archaeologist beyond the name.”
In volume 10 of the New Statistical Account it was told how local folklore attested the Cradle Stone as being where the babies came from, perhaps intimating some fertility legend long since forgotten.
The main thing attached to this giant broken stone is the old folk-tale that used to be more well-known in the 19th century than it is today. It was narrated at length in Macara’s (1881) fine pot pourri of local histories and legends and which I hope you can forgive me citing in its entirity here:
“In the memory of men still living, two well-known weavers, named James Livingstone and James M’Laren, lived in Barnkettick, at the west end of the town. Livingstone was a thorough wag, and M’Laren was somewhat of a simpleton. Livingstone was in the habit of telling his neighbour all sorts of extravagant stories about ghosts and witches. The facility with which the latter fraternity could turn themselves into hares and scamper about was an accepted fact, which M’Laren as truly believed as his Bible.
“The Rocking or Cradle Stone on the brow of the Knock, behind the town, was supposed to be of Druidical origin, and for ages drew forth the fear and wonder of the natives. A belief prevailed that something valuable was buried in its foundation, and worth lifting, if it could only be got at. Livingstone having heard of “Whang, the Miller” directed McLaren’s attention to the subject of valuable treasure being beneath the cradle stone, which was greedily swallowed, and he expressed his astonishment that no one tried digging for it.
“Livingstone suggested that they both should try it, and divide the spoil. M’Laren agreed, and it was resolved to make the attempt that night after dusk. The necessary picks and spades were soon borrowed. Livingstone called on an acquaint- ance or two, and informed them of the “ploy,” and they readily agreed to arrange and have some fun at the “howking” of the treasure.
“The acquaintances were up at the spot early, with a view to set some snares for hares, so that the journey would combine pleasure with profit. They had also provided a few “squibs” for contingencies. At the time appointed the two weavers, with their implements on their shoulders, arrived at the stone and set to work. M’Laren did so with strong impressions of a coming calamity, which soon made him feel the greatest terror. Livingstone worked with a will, and upbraided M’Laren with cowardice.
“With that a strange, unearthly sound came up the hill, and on looking round, a ball of fire was seen careering through the underwood. M’Laren felt queerish and almost speechless. Another hissing sound was heard, and the strange fire came nearer. Livingstone still wrought on, telling M’Laren never to heed, as these things were only bits of falling stars. M’Laren thought otherwise. They were in the neighbourhood of Monzie, where it was certain there were plenty of witches, and it was evident something “no canny” was brewing. He would have given anything to have been at his loom.
“In an instant three or four fiery darts from different directions came hissing along, and darted through the heath at their feet. M’Laren was paralysed with fear. Livingstone ceased work instantly, and jumping out of the trench he made, yelled he smelt brimstone, rushed from the stone and was lost in the darkness. Poor M’Laren’s limbs trembled like a leaf and were scarcely able to support him. As he was trying to follow his companion, another fire shower rained about him, and down the hill he went like a deer, yelling on Livingstone to wait on him.
“As he neared the parks above Milnab, the hares acid rabbits were scampering in all directions, and a few found their necks in the snares, which caused them to squeal at the pitch of their voices too. M’Laren being now thoroughly convinced that the witches were let loose, speed was added to his limbs, and with supernatural fleetness he bounded over all obstructions and found himself in an instant or two in his room, and jumped into bed. A cold sweat broke out all over his body and his heart beat with sharp thuds, shaking the bed. It was some time ere he could collect his scattered senses, so as to realise whether or not he was dreaming. The moisture in his eyes caused every blink of the fire to appear like the horrid hissing fire darts of the Knock. After a time he fell into a stupor, the recent events being still vividly before his mind.
“His cronies on the Knock tumbled amongst the heather and broom, shouting with joy at the success of the scheme. After giving vent to their excited feelings they went back to the Cradle Stone and lifted the picks and spades, and on their way home went round the snares and found a good “take.” As they were killing the hares, Livingstone suggested that a live one be taken to M’Laren, which was readily agreed to. On reaching home, Livingstone slipped into M’Laren’s house, and all seemed at rest. Creeping quietly ben to Jamie’s end of the bigging, he tied the live hare to the foot of his bed. As he was retiring he jostled against the hen roost and set the cock a-crowing, which so far roused Jamie that he thought it was scarcely morning yet. The cock crowed away, and soon the neighbouring roosts bestirred themselves, and all the cocks in the neighbourhood returned the vocal sound, as if it were morning.
“Poor Jamie, on reflecting, resolved that if he got over the present raising of “Auld Clootie” scathless, he would pledge himself never to trouble him or his again. As he thus pondered he thought he heard a strange pattering on the floor, and an occasional slight pull at the bed. On straining his eyes and looking floorwards he saw something not unlike a reputed witch moving about the foot of the bed. On closer observation this was fully confirmed, and he instinctively roared for help. His daft brother was now roused, and he roared also, and the hamlet dogs lent a willing voice. The wags who had collected outside rushed in, and on putting some fir roots on the fire the blaze showed Jamie, nearly demented, in bed, with his wearing clothes still on, and some dogs entering the room set a-worrying the hare. At the sight of well-known faces Jamie jumped out of bed. So much excited that it was feared that the joke had been carried rather far. Livingstone was still equal to the occasion, and drawing a bottle of whisky from his pocket handed round a few glasses, and in a short time “they didna care for deils a boddle.” Jamie was advised to divest himself of his clothes and go to bed, which he did, and soon fell into a deep sleep, and awakened next morning not much the worse. The affair got wind, and many a country fireside was made merry by the story of the Cradle Stone treasure.”
Highlighted on the 1901 OS-map of the area, this old rocking stone was located on the heights of Pen y Filas above Llandudno. Originally a site of heathen worship—the druids, it is said—the site was later patronised by the Irish saint, Tudno: a hermit who lived in a cave (Ogof Llech) a mile to the northwest, on the heights of the legend-filled Great Orme.
Rocking stones are well-known as geo-oracular forms (stone oracles) in folklore texts across the country, although they’re almost entirely rejected by historians as little more than ‘curiousities’ and meaningless geological formations. In olde cultures elsewhere in the world however, stones like this were always held in reverence by traditional people – much as they would have done in Wales and elsewhere in Britain.
Hughes, Arthur R., The Great Orme: Its History and Traditions, R.E. Jones: Conway n.d. (c. 1950)
Jones, H. Clayton, “Welsh Place-Names in Llandudno and District” in Mountain Skylines and Place-Names in Llandudno and District, Modern Etchings: Llandudno n.d. (c.1950)
Takes a bitta getting to this spot, but it’s worth the effort! Make a day of it and walk up here via the little-known Cuckoo Stones monoliths. From here the walk gets steeper! Follow the footpath from the standing stones, uphill, to the legendary Wuthering Heights building of Bronte-fame a half-mile ahead of you. Then walk immediately up the slope at the side of the derelict house higher onto the moor (there’s no real footpath to follow) until the moorland levels out. From here, look west and walk that way for a few hundred yards where you’ll be seeing a large rock outcrop ahead of you. That’s where you’re heading! (if you reach the triangulation pillar, take the small path from there along the top of the moor towards this large rock outcrop)
Archaeology & History
To those of you who like a bitta wilderness, or healthy normal people I suppose, this is a stunning place! Even though there’s little by way of archaeology here — save the usual expectations of a few flints and arrowheads — its geomancy, its position in the landscape, makes it excel as a once important ritual site for our ancestors in not-so-distant centuries. Although local tradition gave these great rocks a prehistoric pedigree, the archaeological record doesn’t say as much — but that doesn’t really mean much up here. We’ve found a singular Bronze Age cairn on the level at Middle Moor Flat 400 yards northwest (not in the record books), some prehistoric walling on the flat east of here (not in the record books), so a lot more attention is needed hereby to see what more may be hiding in this rocky heathland area.
The main feature amidst this extensive scattering of rocks is the large rocking stone, said to weigh six- or seven-tons, resting upon other glacial deposits. The rock itself can be made to rock very slightly. It was described in Lewis’ Topographical Dictionary as a
“cromlech, an evident druidical remain, (which) consists of one flat stone, weight about six tons, placed horizontally upon two huge upright blocks.”
But the placement here was done by Nature and not humans — making it much more important to our ancestors. This was a site for solace, for ritual and to commune with the gods themselves. A few visits to this place show this quite clearly — unless you’re unable to relax that is! It’s a place I wanna spend more time working with, as the mythic history around these stones feels strong, despite their absence from written records.
The druidic sentiments espoused by Lewis were all but echoed by our otherwise sober historian, J. Horsfall Turner, in his history of Haworth (1879), where he describes the Alcomden Stones as “the remains of a Druid’s Altar.” On top of the main ‘altar stone’ are what could be ascribed as worn cup-markings, but it seems they’re Nature’s handiwork once again; though this wouldn’t deny them as having some significance to our ancestors. A number of other boulders amidst this mass of rocks also have what seem like cup-markings, but none of them can be said with any certainty to have been carved by people. Indeed, the entirety of this legendary rock outcrop seems to have been created solely by the spirits of Nature.
It was first described as ‘Alconley’ in 1371, then in the 1379 Poll Tax returns as ‘Halcom’, the etymology of which is difficult. Al- is a cliff or rock, many of which occur here; den is certainly a valley, over which we look to the northeast (to Ponden Kirk, 500 yards away); but the central element of ‘com‘ is the greatest puzzle. Blakeborough (1911) tells of the old Yorkshire word ‘con’ — found in the 1371 spelling — meaning “to scan, or observe critically,” which one can certainly apply here in a topographical sense, i.e., “observation stones above a valley.” It’s simple, succinct, and makes sense!
As Elizabeth Southwart (1923) rightly said,
“Our forefathers, instinct and imagination more highly developed than knowledge, peopled their woods with fairies and their valleys with ghosts. On the high, wind-swept spaces they built their altars to Unknown Gods.”
And such she thought was done at this “heap of rocks called Oakenden Stones.” It seems likely, as this place is superb for ritual magick and meditative systems. But all we have are the repeats of numerous old historians, from Whiteley Turner (1913) and his namesake J. Horsfall, to James Whalley, J.W. Parker and more, who recorded what the old locals said: that is was a place of the druids. There may be a grain of truth in it somewhere…
Bennett, Paul, The Old Stones of Elmet, Capall Bann: Milverton 2001.
Blakeborough, Richard, Wit, Character, Folklore and Customs of the North Riding of Yorkshire, W. Rapp: Saltburn 1911.
Parker, J.W., Guide to the Bronte Country, J.W. Parker: Haworth n.d. (c.1971)
Southwart, Elizabeth, Bronte Moors and Villages: From Thornton to Haworth, John Lane Bodley Head: London 1923.
Turner, J. Horsfall, Haworth, Past and Present, Hendon Mill: Nelson 1879.
Turner, Whiteley, A Spring-Time Saunter round and about Bronte Lane, Halifax Courier 1913.