Temple of Anaitis, Lusta, Waternish, Skye

‘Stone Circle’: OS Grid Reference – NG 2725 5273

Also Known as:

  1. Annait
  2. Temple of Annait

Getting Here

1880 map of Anaitis

1880 map of Anaitis

Otta Swire (1961) told how to find this place, thus: “The Waternish road turns off to the north at Fairy Bridge, whence it runs along the valley of the Bay river. On the left of the road, though at some little distance from it, where the river cleaves its way through a gorge to the sea, stands the mound which is now all that remains of the ‘Temple of Anaitis’ (so called).”

Archaeology & History

This is a curious place, full of archaeological potential if the folklore and history records are owt to go by, yet little of any substance remains to substantiate what may have been an important stone circle or other heathen site in earlier times. It seems to have been described first of all in the famous Hebridean journeys of Boswell and Johnson in the late 18th century.  Amidst his insulting description of both the landscape and local people, on Friday 17th September 1773, James Boswell visited the site and told:

“The weather this day was rather better than any that we had since we came to Dunvegan. Mr M’Queen had often mentioned a curious piece of antiquity near this which he called a temple of the goddess Anaitis.  Having often talked of going to see it, he and I set out after breakfast, attended by his servant, a fellow quite like a savage.  I must observe here, that in Skye there seems to be much idleness; for men and boys follow you, as colts follow passengers upon a road. The usual figure of a Sky boy, is a lown with bare legs and feet, a dirty kilt, ragged coat and waistcoat, a bare head, and a stick in his hand, which, I suppose, is partly to help the lazy rogue to walk, partly to serve as a kind of a defensive weapon. We walked what is called two miles, but is probably four, from the castle, till we came to the sacred place. The country around is a black dreary moor on all sides, except to the sea-coast, towards which there is a view through a valley, and the farm of Bay shews some good land. The place itself is green ground, being well drained, by means of a deep glen on each side, in both of which there runs a rivulet with a good quantity of water, forming several cascades, which make a considerable appearance and sound.  The first thing we came to was an earthen mound, or dyke, extending from the one precipice to the other.  A little farther on, was a strong stone-wall, not high, but very thick, extending in the same manner.  On the outside of it were the ruins of two houses, one on each side of the entry or gate to it. The wall is built all along of uncemented stones, but of so large a size as to make a very firm and durable rampart. It has been built all about the consecrated ground, except where the precipice is deep enough to form an enclosure of itself. The sacred spot contains more than two acres. There are within it the ruins of many houses, none of them large, a cairn, and many graves marked by clusters of stones. Mr M’Queen insisted that the ruin of a small building, standing east and west, was actually the temple of the goddess Anaitis, where her statue was kept, and from whence processions were made to wash it in one of the brooks. There is, it must be owned, a hollow road visible for a good way from the entrance; but Mr M’Queen, with the keen eye of an antiquary, traced it much farther than I could perceive it. There is not above a foot and a half in height of the walls now remaining; and the whole extent of the building was never, I imagine, greater than an ordinary Highland house. Mr M’Queen has collected a great deal of learning on the subject of the temple of Anaitis; and I had endeavoured, in my journal, to state such particulars as might give some idea of it, and of the surrounding scenery” —

But in all honesty it seems Mr Johnson was either too lazy to write about the place, or simply didn’t actually get there, in spite of what he alleged!  But later that evening, Boswell dined with the same Mr MacQueen, who told him more of this site.  In the typically pedantic tone of english supremacy (which still prevails in some idiots who visit these lands), he continued by saying:

“Mr Macqueen had laid stress on the name given to the place by the country people, Ainnit; and added, ” I knew not what to make of this piece of antiquity, till I met with the Anaitidis delubrum in Lydia, mentioned by Pausanias and the elder Pliny.”  Dr. Johnson, with his usual acuteness, examined Mr Macqueen as to the meaning of the word Ainnit, in Erse, and it proved to be a water-place, or a place near water, “which,” said Mr. Macqueen, “agrees with all the descriptions of the temples of that goddess, which were situated near rivers, that there might be water to wash the statue.”

There ensued a discussion between Mr MacQueen and Samuel Johnson about the etymology of ‘Anaitis’, with one thinking it was of a goddess, and another that it represented an early christian site.  To this day it is difficult to say what the word means with any certainty.  In W.J. Watson’s (1993) fine work he tells us,

Andoit, now annaid, has been already explained as a patron saint’s church, or a church that contains the relics of the founder.  This is the meaning in Ireland and it is all we have to go upon.  How far it is held with regard to Scotland is hard to say… They are often in places  that are now, and must always have been, rather remote and out of the way.  It is very rarely indeed that an Annat can be associated with any particular saint, nor have I met any traditions connected with them.  But wherever there is an Annat there are traces of an ancient chapel or cemetery, or both; very often, too, the Annat adjoins a fine well or stream…”

The great Skye historian and folklorist Otta Swire (1961) also wrote about this mysterious site, mainly echoing what’s said above, but also adding:

“This name of Annait or Annat is found all over Scotland. It has been interpreted as meaning the ‘Water-place’ from Celtic ‘An’ = water, because many are near water. Others suggest ‘Ann’ = a circle (Celtic) and claim that most Annats are near standing stones. The most-favoured derivation seems to be from Ann, the Irish mother of the Gods, and those who hold this view claim that the Annats are always near a revered spot, where either a mother-church or the cell of a patron saint once stood. Probably Annat does, in fact, come from an older, pre-Celtic tongue, and belongs to an older people whose ancient worship it may well commemorate. The curious shape of the Waternish Temple of Anaitis and its survival make it seem likely that it was something of importance in its day, built with more than usual care and skill. Perhaps the Temple tradition is correct – but whose, if so, and to what gods? One cannot help wondering if cats played any part in its ritual, and if so, if any faint memory remains, for the nickname of the people of this wing was ‘Na Caits’ = The Cats, and not far off, by one of the tributary burns on the right of the roadway, there stands a small cairn, crowned by a long, sharp stone somewhat resembling a huge claw. This is the ‘Cats’ Cairn’.”

The Cats’ Cairn (NG271526) is said to mark the grave of a young boy from the 18th century, who was buried where he died and its story is told elsewhere on TNA.  Another example of the Annait place-name can be found elsewhere on Skye at the megalithic site, Clach na h’annait.

References:

  1. Boswell, James, The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson, National Illustrated Library: London 1899.
  2. Swire, Otta F., Skye: The Island and its Legends, Blackie: Glasgow 1961.
  3. Watson, W.J., The History of the Celtic Place-Names of Scotland, Birlinn: Edinburgh 1993.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

loading map - please wait...

  57.482467, -6.552290 Temple of Anaitis

Dun Osdale, Dunvegan, Skye

Broch:  OS Grid Reference – NG 24162 46424

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 10832

Getting Here

Dun Osdale, by the roadside

From the A863 Dunvegan road, a mile south of the village turn onto the B884 road at Lonmore, making sure you veer right after a few hundred yards and head towards Glendale.  About a mile along, on the left-hand side of the road, note the small rocky crag that begins to grow just above the roadside.  At the end of this crag you’ll see a huge pile of rocks, seemingly tumbling down, just by a small T-junction to Uiginish.  You can’t really miss it.

Archaeology & History

Listed as one of the duns, or fortified prehistoric structures in Skye by the old writer J.A. MacCulloch (1905), the rediscovery of this broch was, said A.A. MacGregor (1930), one that “became historical only within living memory.”  I find that hard to believe!  The Gaelic speakers hereby merely kept their tongues still when asked, as was common in days of olde—and it was a faerie abode….

Looking at the SW walling

Looking at the SE walls

Once you go through the gate below the broch, the large boggy area you have to circumnavigate is the overflow from an ancient well, known as Tobar na Maor, where Anne Ross said, “tradition that the stewards of three adjacent properties met there.”  This well was covered by an ancient Pictish stone (now in Dunvegan Castle), which may originally have been associated with the broch just above it.  When I visited the site with Aisha and Her clan, we passed the overgrown well and walked straight up to the broch.

Despite being ruinous it is still most impressive.  The massive walling on its southwestern side is still intact in places; but you don’t get a real impression of the work that went into building these structures until you’re on top.  The walls themselves are so thick and well-built that you puzzle over the energy required to build so massive a monument.  And Scotland has masses of them!

Aisha in the broch

Small internal chamber

The site was surveyed briefly when the Ordnance Survey lads came here in 1877, subsequently highlighting it on the first OS-map of the area.  But it didn’t receive any archaeocentric assessment until the Royal Commission (1928) lads explored the area some fifty years later.  In their outstanding Inventory of the region they described Dun Osdale in considerable detail, although kept their description purely architectural in nature, betraying any real sense of meaning and history which local folk must have told them.  They wrote:

“The outer face of the wall of the broch for a great part is reduced to the lower courses, but on the west-southwest a section still maintains a height of about 7 feet; on the south-side, although hidden by fallen stones, it is about 4 to 5 feet high, and on the northeast there is a very short section 3 feet in height.  The stones are of considerable size and laid in regular courses.  In the interior a mass of tumbled stone obscures the most of the inner face of the wall, but on the south and northwest it stands about 8 feet above the debris.  The broch is circular with an internal diameter of 35 feet to 35 feet 6 inches, and the wall thickens from 10 feet on the north to 13 feet 7 inches on the south. The entrance, which is one the east, is badly broken down, but near the inside has a width of 3 feet 2 inches, and appears to have been 2 feet 10 inches on the outside; it has run straight through the wall without checks.  In the thickness of the wall to the south of the entrance is an oval chamber measuring 10 feet long by 4 feet 9 inches broad above the debris with which it is half-filled.  The roof has fallen in, but the internal corbelling of the walls is well displayed.  The fallen stones no doubt still cover the entrance, which has probably been from the interior.  Within the western arc of the wall, nearly opposite the main doorway, is another oval cell 12 feet in length and 4 feet 6 inches in breadth over debris, with a doorway 2 feet 9 inches wide; its outer and inner walls are 5 feet 9 inches, and 2 feet 6 inches respectively.  The roof od this chamber has also collapsed, but from the masonry which remains in position it must have been over 6 feet in height.  Immediately to the west of the cell near the entrance are exposed the left jamb of a door and a short length of a gallery 3 feet 6 inches wide in the thickness of the southern wall, which probably contained the stairs, as traces of a gallery at a higher level than the oval chambers are seen here, the inner wall being about 3 feet and the outer 8 feet thick. Parts of a scarcement 9 inches wide can be detected on the northwestern and southeastern arcs.”

Dun Osdale plan (RCAHMS 1928)

Dun Osdale on 1881 map

Measurements and architectural tedium aside, the broch is worthwhile for anyone interested in our ancient mythic past, not least because of its position in the landscape and its visual relationship with other sites of the same period nearby.  As well as that, there are unrecorded ancient sites still hiding in these olde moors…

Folklore

Tradition tells that Dun Osdale was used as a watch-tower by the tribal folk—which seems quite credible.  But the original inhabitants of Duirinish, the sith or fairy folk, were also said to live here.  It’s one of several places in Duirinish where the legendary Fairy Cup of Dunvegan was said to have come from.  Otta Swire (1961) told its tale:

“One midsummer night a MacLeod, searching for strayed cattle, stayed late on the moor.  In the moonlight he saw the door of Dun Osdale open and the little people come out, a long train of them, and began to dance on the green grass knoll nearby.  Fascinated, he watched, forgetting everything but the wonderful dance. Suddenly he sneezed.  The spell was broke.  The dance stopped.  MacLeod sprang up to fly, but the fairies were upon him and he was dragged, willy-nilly, into the dun.  Inside, as soon as his eyes grew accustomed to that strange green light associated with fairyland, he beheld a pleasing sight.  A great banquet was spread on a large table carved from a single tree: on it were vessels of gold and silver, many of them set with jewels or chased in strange designs.  His fairy ‘hosts’ led him to the table, poured wine into one of the beautiful cups and, giving it to him, invited him to toast their chief.  Now this man’s mother was a witch, so he knew well that if he ate or drank in the dun he was in the Daoine Sithe’s power for ever.  He lifted the cup and appeared to drink the required toast, but in fact skilfully let the wine run down inside his coat.  As soon as his neighbours saw the cup was half empty, they ceased to bother about him but went off on their own affairs or to attend the banquet.  Thereafter MacLeod watched for a chance of escape and, when one offered, slipped quietly through the door of the dun and away, carrying the cup with him.

“The fairies soon realised what had happened and started in pursuit, but he was already across the Osdale river and in safety.  He hurried home, told his mother the story, and showed her the cup.  Being a wise woman she realised the peril in which he undoubtedly stood and at once put her most powerful spell upon him to protect him from the arts of the Daoine Sithe, warning him seriously never to leave the house for a moment without getting the spell renewed.  But she forgot to put a protecting spell upon the cup also.  The fairies soon discovered the exact state of affairs and immediately laid their own spell upon the cup, a spell so powerful that all who saw the cup or even heard of it, were seized with an overmastering desire to possess it, even if such possession involved the murder of the holder.

“For a year, all went well and thanks to his mother’s care the young man went unharmed.  Then he grew careless and one day ventured out without the protecting spell.  A one-time friend, bewitched by the cup, had been awaiting just such a chance and immediately murdered him and went off with the prize.  The fairies, their revenge achieved, took no further interest in the matter, but MacLeod of MacLeod did.  The boy’s mother hurried to him with her story, and he at once gave orders that the murderer be found and brought to justice.  He was duly hanged and the trouble-making cup, now free of enchantment, passed into the possession of the chief and can still be seen in (Dunvegan) castle.”

References:

  1. Donaldson-Blyth, Ian, In Search of Prehistoric Skye, Thistle: Insch 1995.
  2. MacCulloch, J.A.,  The Misty Isle of Skye, Oliphant, Anderson & Ferrier: Edinburgh 1905.
  3. MacGregor, Alasdair Alpin, Over the Sea to Skye, Chambers: Edinburgh 1930.
  4. Royal Commission on Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Inventory of Monuments and Constructions in the Outer Hebrides, Skye and the Small Isles, HMSO: Edinburgh 1928.
  5. Swire, Otta F., Skye: The Island its Legends, Blackie & Sons: Glasgow 1961.

Acknowledgements:  Eternally grateful to the awesome Aisha Domleo and Her little clan for getting us to this ancient haven on Skye’s endless domain of natural beauty.  Without Her, this would not have been written.  Also, accreditation of early OS-map usage, reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

loading map - please wait...

  57.424152, -6.596830 Dun Osdale

Temple of Anaitis, Lusta, Waternish, Skye

‘Stone Circle’: OS Grid Reference – NG 2725 5273

Also Known as:

  1. Annait
  2. Temple of Annait

Getting Here

1880 map of Anaitis
1880 map of Anaitis

Otta Swire (1961) told how to find this place, thus: “The Waternish road turns off to the north at Fairy Bridge, whence it runs along the valley of the Bay river. On the left of the road, though at some little distance from it, where the river cleaves its way through a gorge to the sea, stands the mound which is now all that remains of the ‘Temple of Anaitis’ (so called).”

Archaeology & History

This is a curious place, full of archaeological potential if the folklore and history records are owt to go by, yet little of any substance remains to substantiate what may have been an important stone circle or other heathen site in earlier times. It seems to have been described first of all in the famous Hebridean journeys of Boswell and Johnson in the late 18th century.  Amidst his insulting description of both the landscape and local people, on Friday 17th September 1773, James Boswell visited the site and told:

“The weather this day was rather better than any that we had since we came to Dunvegan. Mr M’Queen had often mentioned a curious piece of antiquity near this which he called a temple of the goddess Anaitis.  Having often talked of going to see it, he and I set out after breakfast, attended by his servant, a fellow quite like a savage.  I must observe here, that in Skye there seems to be much idleness; for men and boys follow you, as colts follow passengers upon a road. The usual figure of a Sky boy, is a lown with bare legs and feet, a dirty kilt, ragged coat and waistcoat, a bare head, and a stick in his hand, which, I suppose, is partly to help the lazy rogue to walk, partly to serve as a kind of a defensive weapon. We walked what is called two miles, but is probably four, from the castle, till we came to the sacred place. The country around is a black dreary moor on all sides, except to the sea-coast, towards which there is a view through a valley, and the farm of Bay shews some good land. The place itself is green ground, being well drained, by means of a deep glen on each side, in both of which there runs a rivulet with a good quantity of water, forming several cascades, which make a considerable appearance and sound.  The first thing we came to was an earthen mound, or dyke, extending from the one precipice to the other.  A little farther on, was a strong stone-wall, not high, but very thick, extending in the same manner.  On the outside of it were the ruins of two houses, one on each side of the entry or gate to it. The wall is built all along of uncemented stones, but of so large a size as to make a very firm and durable rampart. It has been built all about the consecrated ground, except where the precipice is deep enough to form an enclosure of itself. The sacred spot contains more than two acres. There are within it the ruins of many houses, none of them large, a cairn, and many graves marked by clusters of stones. Mr M’Queen insisted that the ruin of a small building, standing east and west, was actually the temple of the goddess Anaitis, where her statue was kept, and from whence processions were made to wash it in one of the brooks. There is, it must be owned, a hollow road visible for a good way from the entrance; but Mr M’Queen, with the keen eye of an antiquary, traced it much farther than I could perceive it. There is not above a foot and a half in height of the walls now remaining; and the whole extent of the building was never, I imagine, greater than an ordinary Highland house. Mr M’Queen has collected a great deal of learning on the subject of the temple of Anaitis; and I had endeavoured, in my journal, to state such particulars as might give some idea of it, and of the surrounding scenery” —

But in all honesty it seems Mr Johnson was either too lazy to write about the place, or simply didn’t actually get there, in spite of what he alleged!  But later that evening, Boswell dined with the same Mr MacQueen, who told him more of this site.  In the typically pedantic tone of english supremacy (which still prevails in some idiots who visit these lands), he continued by saying:

“Mr Macqueen had laid stress on the name given to the place by the country people, Ainnit; and added, ” I knew not what to make of this piece of antiquity, till I met with the Anaitidis delubrum in Lydia, mentioned by Pausanias and the elder Pliny.”  Dr. Johnson, with his usual acuteness, examined Mr Macqueen as to the meaning of the word Ainnit, in Erse, and it proved to be a water-place, or a place near water, “which,” said Mr. Macqueen, “agrees with all the descriptions of the temples of that goddess, which were situated near rivers, that there might be water to wash the statue.”

There ensued a discussion between Mr MacQueen and Samuel Johnson about the etymology of Anaitis, with one thinking it was of a goddess, and another that it represented an early christian site.  To this day it is difficult to say what the word means with any certainty.  In W.J. Watson’s (1993) fine work he tells us,

Andoit, now annaid, has been already explained as a patron saint’s church, or a church that contains the relics of the founder.  This is the meaning in Ireland and it is all we have to go upon.  How far it is held with regard to Scotland is hard to say… They are often in places  that are now, and must always have been, rather remote and out of the way.  It is very rarely indeed that an Annat can be associated with any particular saint, nor have I met any traditions connected with them.  But wherever there is an Annat there are traces of an ancient chapel or cemetery, or both; very often, too, the Annat adjoins a fine well or stream…”

The great Skye historian and folklorist Otta Swire (1961) also wrote about this mysterious site, mainly echoing what’s said above, but also adding:

“This name of Annait or Annat is found all over Scotland. It has been interpreted as meaning the ‘Water-place’ from Celtic ‘An’ = water, because many are near water. Others suggest ‘Ann’ = a circle (Celtic) and claim that most Annats are near standing stones. The most-favoured derivation seems to be from Ann, the Irish mother of the Gods, and those who hold this view claim that the Annats are always near a revered spot, where either a mother-church or the cell of a patron saint once stood. Probably Annat does, in fact, come from an older, pre-Celtic tongue, and belongs to an older people whose ancient worship it may well commemorate. The curious shape of the Waternish Temple of Anaitis and its survival make it seem likely that it was something of importance in its day, built with more than usual care and skill. Perhaps the Temple tradition is correct – but whose, if so, and to what gods? One cannot help wondering if cats played any part in its ritual, and if so, if any faint memory remains, for the nickname of the people of this wing was ‘Na Caits’ = The Cats, and not far off, by one of the tributary burns on the right of the roadway, there stands a small cairn, crowned by a long, sharp stone somewhat resembling a huge claw. This is the ‘Cats’ Cairn’.”

The Cats’ Cairn (NG271526) is said to mark the grave of a young boy from the 18th century, who was buried where he died and its story is told elsewhere on TNA.  Another example of the Annait place-name can be found elsewhere on Skye at the megalithic site, Clach na h’annait.

References:

  1. Boswell, James, The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson, National Illustrated Library: London 1899.
  2. Swire, Otta F., Skye: The Island and its Legends, Blackie: Glasgow 1961.
  3. Watson, W.J., The History of the Celtic Place-Names of Scotland, Birlinn: Edinburgh 1993.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian