If you take the path up to Schiehallion (the great hill of the faeries) from the car park near the Braes of Foss, just a hundred yards or so past the first set of trees onto the moorland, keep your eyes peeled for the long stone on your right, a few yards off the path. Upon its upper elongated surface you’ll notice a series of cup-markings etched onto it, oh so long ago now…
Located below the legendary Schiehallion, or Mountain of the Faeries, this carving is best visited over the winter and spring months (before the bracken encroaches). On its upper surface there are about 25 cup-marks, many of them pecked to about an inch deep, with one of them being more than 6 inches across and 2 inches deep. Weathering over the ages has effected them. It seems to have been rediscovered in the early 1970s and is, officially speaking, an isolated carving; this is most unlikely—and needs the keen eyes of fellow antiquarians to find others in this beautiful neighbourhood.
Acknowledgements: Massive thanks to Michelle Allan for allowing us to use her photos of the Leachd Nam Braoileag carving in this site profile.
Follow the same directions for the Croft Moraig stone Circle. Then check out the largest of the fallen or elongated stones on the northwest side of the ring, with a smoothed sloping surface, just at the side of the overgrown stone platform on which it rests. Y’ can’t really miss it.
“noticed that several of the upright stones…show cup-markings on their perpendicular surfaces. Some of these are quite distinct, but others are so worn through weathering that they can only be traced with the fingers.”
This is one of them. Barely visible at the best of times, the cup-markings are faded and very hard to see unless daylight conditions are just right. As you can see in the photos, several distinct cup-like impressions are visible, but it only appears that two of them are cup-marks. The others seem to be more geophysical in nature – but I’d love to be wrong!
The great northern Antiquarian Fred Coles (1910) noted that this particular stone (stone D in his ground-plan of the circle) had “been polished by the sliding of generations of children”. This playful action on stones elsewhere in the UK and around the world sometimes relates to fertility rites (i.e., the spirit of the stone could imbue increased fertility upon the practitioner), but Mr Coles made no mention of such rituals here.
The best way to find this site, in the middle of the large woods up the slopes, is to follow the circular mile-long tourist path that runs through it. Take the B846 road out of Aberfeldy over the bridge towards Dull and Weem. As you go through Weem, watch closely for the signpost directing you into the trees of Weem Rock and Woods on the right. Follow this tiny road up until you reach the parking circle in the edge of the trees. Follow the directed footpath up into the woods & keep to the winding track, up, zigzagging, and up again, until it levels out a bit and runs below the large long crags. Tis beneath here you need to be!
Archaeology & History
Not far from the curious Weem Wood carvings, hidden beneath one section of the long high crags in remains of the ancient forest, is this trickle of fresh water which collects into a small stone-lined pool. (a small round plaque which reads ‘St. David’s Well’ on the cliff-face above the waters is helpful) It’s in a truly lovely setting, with a small ‘cave’ about 50 yards west along the same footpath and a modern carved ‘cross’ in front of it.
The well was formerly known as St. Cuthbert’s Well (date: 20 March) who, so legend tells, lived nearby—probably at the christian-druid college at Dull, a mile west of here. It was he who collected the waters from the rock face into the small pool we see today. This used to be known as St. Cuthbert’s Bath. But several centuries after the saint’s death, the local laird, Sir David Menzies, came and restored the well and gained a reputation for spending much time living hereby, sometimes in the small cave along the edge of the cliffs. It was to him that the New Statistical Account wrongly dedicated the waters to in the 19th century—but the title has stuck!
Described in several old local history works, the site was included in the giant folklore tome on Scottish waters by MacKinlay (1893), who wrote the following:
“In the wood clothing the steep hill of Weem, in Perthshire, is St. David’s Well, said to be named after a former laird who turned hermit. The spring has a considerable local fame, and many have been the wishes silently breathed over its water. Part of an ancient stone cross lies at its margin, and on it the visitor kneels while framing his or her wish.”
Nothing of this ‘cross’ can now be seen, but it is said that its remnants are housed at Weem church in the village below. Also in the 19th century, occasional christian gatherings were held here and as many as fifty people came “for religious services.” Thomas Hunter (1886) reported that “a collection of human bones” were found near the well in front of the crags. There is also what looks like a newly cut large cup-marking with two carved lines reaching out from it, heading towards the well, on a small ledge of stone close to the pool.
Folklore tells that once, long ago, dragons lived in these old woods—overcome no doubt by the incoming christians who stole and denigrated the olde peasant ways of our ancestors. In bygone times, locals used the waters here for their health-giving properties. As Ruth and Frank Morris (1982) told,
“it was an ancient wishing well which was still visited in 1954, when such objects as pins and buttons and an occasional penny was thrown in.”
Ferguson, Malcolm, Rambles in Breadalbane, Thomas Murray: Glasgow 1891.
Take the B846 road out of Aberfeldy over the bridge towards Dull and Weem. As you go through Weem, watch closely for the signpost directing you into the trees of Weem Rock and Woods on the right. Follow this tiny road up until you reach the parking circle in the edge of the trees. Follow the directed footpath up into the woods & keep to the winding track, keeping your eyes peeled for the first large rocky crag above you, with a huge tree growing out of the edge. Once you get to the top of the steps and onto these crags, look right in front of you!
Archaeology & History
The nearest ‘officially recognised’ cup and ring carvings to the one we’re gonna see here, are those described by Kaledon Naddair (1990) in his brief descriptions of the Glassie Farm carvings a short distance northeast in the same woods. Other than that, I can find no account of the carvings I’m about to describe – other than a couple of short local history walking guides, which tell that one of the carvings here is “modern.” And that much is plainly evident.
There are at least seven carved stones here – all very close to each other on the top of an impressive crag with a large old tree growing out of the edge of the cliff. But the carvings are located on the flat ground above the cliffs and, it would seem, may well be modern. But I thought that since there are no accounts of the site on-line and no remarks in the Canmore registers, they should be mentioned as future students may mistake them as ancient. There is the possibility (unless someone can show us otherwise) that one or two of them are prehistoric, but I think it’s best we surmise that they are all recent additions in the landscape for the time being. And damn good designs they are too!
The first and most notable of the group of seven (at least), is on the large earthfast triangular flat rock, pointing out to the cliff’s edge and the hills across the valley. This is where the greatest cluster of multiple cup-and-rings can be seen. Double- and triple rings surround several of the central cup-markings, with the traditional lines running out from the central cup. There are a great number of single cups scattering the surface; and we also find a typical ‘rosette’ element, comprised of a central cup surrounded by eight singular cups, which some students have interpreted as solar and lunar symbols (amongst other things) when found on other carvings (there is a prehistoric Rosette Stone is known on Ilkley Moor; but similar examples are known in Ireland, Northumberland and elsewhere).
Below this triangular rock (perhaps attached beneath the) is another long piece of earthfast stone, with more carvings on. But when Lindsey Campbell and I came here yesterday, it was obvious that some elements along this section of stone were carved in recent years. Two double-cup-and-rings are at the bottom-left of this section of rock, with a scattering of other cup-marks reaching across its surface. Several of these are obviously quite new.
The third notable example is to the top-right of the triangular rock. This stone is mainly of quartzite rock, apart from near the top-end, where another multiple cup-and-ring (four, with a possible fifth broken ring fading away) stand out very blatantly. This carving also seems to be not that olde…
From this third quartz carving, look 10 yards (if that!) back towards the trees and there’s a large boulder. On the surface of this is another multiple cup-and-ring that was very obviously new, and several other cup-markings, also quite new. I presume that the other sections carved onto this stone have also been etched by the same modern artists.
As I looked back to the main triangular carved stone, I noticed other small pieces of stone peeking up from the ground and, upon closer inspection, found one small rounded triangular piece with another multiple cup-and-ring that just fit onto the rock. And close by this was another long piece of stone which, when I rolled the turf gently back, found three simple cup-markings along the surface.
A seventh carving was found on one of the rocks that is falling slightly down the slope, close to the fourth ‘new’ carving that I described. This was heavily covered in moss and autumn’s fallen leaves, and I wasn’t about to take the moss away just for the sake of my curiosity. But it was obvious that other cup-markings were on the sloping face of this large stone.
We’ll have to venture back here soon and get some better photos and, with any luck, find some old locals who can tell us when the carvings first appeared. It’s quite a superb spot for a bimble, with the healing waters of St. David’s Well and his cave close by—and the woods were, so local legends tell, inhabited by dragons and good heathen creatures in centuries past. But the proximity of the Druid school—formed by the Ionian druids no less—around the 6-7th century, may have thankfully preserved these old tales and relate to some of the many other monuments found in this area. Although some of these carvings (possibly all) are of recent years, this is a gorgeous spot well worth exploring… And if anyone knows precisely when they were done – please let us know!
Take the A827 road that runs from Kenmore (top-end of Loch Tay) to Aberfeldy, and about 2 miles outside Kenmore, once you come out of the woodland (past the hidden standing stones of Newhall Bridge) and the fields begin on the east-side of the road, a small dirt-track leads you slightly uphill to the farm and house of Croftmoraig. The stone circle is right in front of the house less than 100 yards up the track (you can see it from the road).
Archaeology & History
A truly fascinating site, whose history is much richer than its mere appearance suggests. It has mythic associations with both moon and sun, a cup-marked stone to the southwest, and an earlier structure that had Aubrey Burl (1979) suggesting was possibly “the dwelling-place of a priest, a witch-doctor, a shaman.” Not bad at all!
The sad thing today is its proximity to the increasingly noisy road to Aberfedly whose begoggled drivers care little for the spirit of place or stones. Here sits a feel of isolation and tranquility broken. But at least the cold information of its architecture is available for tourists and archaeologists alike; at least their depersonalized appreciations are served!
Described first of all (I think) in the old Statistical Account by Colin MacVean (1796), he told Croft Moraig to be one of “several druidical temples” in the area, “perhaps the largest and most entire of any in Scotland,” he thought:
“It is about 60 yards in circumference, and consists of three concentric circles. The stones in the outermost (ring) are not so large as those in the inner circles, and are not, like them, set on end.”
The first decent archaeocentric evaluation of Croft Moraig was done in the 19th century by Alexander Hutcheson (1889), who gave us not only the first decent ground-plan of the site, but was also the first chap to note there were faded cup-and-ring markings at the circle. After first directing his antiquarian readers to the site, he told of the multiple rings of stones found here, built on top of an artificial platform of earth and stones:
“The circles are concentric, three in number, and occupy a little plateau which may be artificial, as the outer circle just covers it, on the gentle slope which here rises towards the south from the public road.
“I have prepared and exhibit a plan of the circles, and for reference have distinguished the stones by numbering them in the plan. The inner circle consists of eight stones all standing, with one exception, No. 3, which presumably has fallen inwards. The next or second circle consists of thirteen much larger stones, nine of which stand erect; Nos. 3 and 5 have presumably fallen in, while Nos. 7 and 9 have fallen outwards. The outer circle is formed by a number of smaller stones placed so as to form a sort of rampart. These are recumbent, and lie generally with their larger axes in the direction of the rampart. The circle measures, over the stones, as follows:
“Inner circle, West to East, 25 ft. 6 ins., North to South, 22 ft. 6 ins.
“Second circle, West to East, 40 ft North to South, 41ft 3in
“Outer circle, West to East, 58 ft North to South, 58ft
The stones are all rounded or water-worn boulders of dolerite, granite, schist, &c. The stones marked A and B are large blocks, 6 feet 6 inches high, 4 feet broad, and 2 feet 6 inches thick, standing upright. C seems to be a large (section) which has fallen from B, and lies flat on the ground.
“At the south-west side and in the line of the outer circle lies the cupmarked stone… If, as has been suggested, the two large blocks A and B formed the entrance to the circles, then the entrance faced towards the south-east. The blocks vary in height from 3 feet to 7 feet above ground, while of those which I have supposed to have fallen, their dimensions are, naturally from the ground-hold having to be added, much greater, amounting in one of them to 9 feet 6 inches long. There is a longish low mound of small stones, like an elongated cairn, which might yield something if it were to be searched. It lies just abreast of the cup-marked stone. I have referred to the recumbent stones in the two inner circles as having probably stood at one time erect. This I have presumed for several reasons, the principal being that one end of each of these stones corresponds in position with the circle formed by the standing stones; and while this is the case the recumbent stones do not preserve a uniformity of direction, but lie indifferently outwards and inwards from the lines of circularity, and at differing angles from these lines…”
Some twenty years later, the legendary northern antiquarian Fred Coles (1910) brought his lucidity to Croft Moraig and with it, even greater attention to detail. In a lengthy description of each and every aspect of the circle that has yet to be equalled he gave the reader the most detailed description we have. I hope you’ll forgive me adding Mr Coles’ prolonged description, but it is most valuable for anyone wanting to explore the site in greater detail. He wrote:
“As will be seen from the plan…the structural portion of Croft Morag consists, first, of a roughly circular, earthen mound (lettered in small type a-t), some 3 feet high, which is marked off by several stones of a more or less slab-like character, set irregularly upon a circumference of, approximately, 185 feet. This outermost setting, or revetment of stones is visible now only at certain fragments of the arcs; i.e., it is well-defined on the SW at a, where a long Stone, 6 feet 5 inches by 2 feet lies flat, and bears numerous cup-marks…; on the S arc there are five small Stones (b, c, d, e, f) all earthfast and flattish; on the SE are three similar Stones (g, h, i); on the E arc, four (j, k, l, m); on the N arc, very slightly to the west, one very large Stone (n) flush with the ground at the edge of the bank and a good deal overgrown with grass, measuring 8 feet 6 inches by 3 feet 3 inches; farther to the NW are five stones more (o, p, q, r, s), the last three having only very small portions visible; and, still farther round, is the last of what I consider to be these ridge-slabs (t) close under the edge of the great fallen sloping stone D. Thus the total number of measurable and separate stones now resting on the outermost ring is twenty.
“The stones of the intermediate ring constitute the imposing feature of the circle. They are thirteen in total number in the present condition of the circle, but they probably numbered eighteen when the circle was complete. Nine of them are the tallest in the whole group; four of these are prostrate on the W arc. By striking a radius from the common centre of the circle through the centres of these great stones which are erect, to the outermost circumference, the following measures are obtained: from centre of E, the NNW stone, to the ridge 14 feet 6 inches; from F, NNE stone to the ridge 13 feet 4 inches; from G to ridge 14 feet 4 inches; from H to ridge 13 feet 4 inches; and from I, the SE stone, only 10 feet 6 inches. The four fallen blocks, lying as shown A, B, C, D, no doubt stood on this intermediate ring, the diameter of which measured from centre to centre is 38 feet. Now, it must be observed that between A and B and A and I there are Stones (shaded in the plan); these two are erect, the one near B measuring 3 feet in length, 2 feet in breadth, and 3 feet 4 inches in height; it is quite vertical, and is undoubtedly in situ. The other small erect Stone midway between A and I has much the same size’ and features. Between B and C there is shown in outline another of these small stones ‘in line’ with the great pillars which remain on the E arc; and it is quite clear that if this remarkable and novel feature of alternating each tall stone with a very small but vertical block was originally carried out all round this intermediate ring, there would have been eighteen stones in all. Without the most arduous and careful excavation in these interspaces however, it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to prove that these small blocks did once stand on the eastern semicircle.
“As illustrating the general size of the great stones, when fully exposed to view, the dimensions of the four fallen blocks are here given: A, 7 feet 7 inches by 4 feet 10 inches, and fully 2 feet thick; B, 9 feet 2 inches by 3 feet 9 inches (on the upper face), and 2 feet 9 inches thick; C, 8 feet by 4 feet, and 3 feet fi inches thick; D, 7 feet by 4 feet 6 inches, and 3 feet thick at its vertical outer edge.
“The five upright stones of the intermediate ring measure as follows: I, the SE stone, 5 feet 6 inches in height, and in girth 11 feet; H, the east stone, 5 feet 8 inches in height, pyramidal in contour, and in girth 11 feet 4 inches; G, the NE stone, 5 feet 3 inches in height and 11 feet in girth; the next stone, F, 5 feet 7½ inches in height and 13 feet 6 inches in girth; and stone E, nearest to the north on the W arc, stands 6 feet 3 inches in height and measures round the base 9 feet 3 inches.
“The stones forming the inner ring, which is a broad oval in form, are eight in number, quite erect, with one exception; the fallen one (shown in outline) is due south of one set at the north point and the distance between these two is 23 feet 8 inches. If however, the distance between the N Stone and the E one at the SSE be taken, this diameter is 26 feet, as against one of 21 feet taken between the NW and SE stones. Measured from the centre of the fallen stone a space of 10 feet 3 inches divides that from the centre of the erect stone on the east, and an equal space divides it from the centre of the stone on the west. Between the N stone and that on its southwest an equal space of 11 feet 3 inches exists as between that stone and its SE stone; but between these last two there is a third almost exactly midway. The fallen stone measures 5 feet 10 inches by 3 feet 9 inches; the NW stone is 4 feet 6 inches in height, the SW stone 3 feet 6 inches, the N stone 3 feet 4 inches, the NE one 2 feet 6 inches, and the stone between it and the fallen block 3 feet 4 inches in height.
“In addition to the feature above noticed, of tall stones alternating with much smaller ones, Croft Morag possesses another noticeable arrangement in the presence of two great massive monoliths (U and V on the plan) standing like the remains of a portal, nearly eight feet outside of the boundary ridge on the SE. Neither of these stones is now absolutely vertical, stone U leaning considerably out towards the SE, and V having a very slight lean inwards to the circle. The former is 6 feet 2 inches in vertical height with a basal girth of nearly 12 feet, which is probably an under-estimate, for there are two large fragments (w and x) which appear to have been severed from this stone, the edges of which nearest the fragments are rough and sharp. The latter (V) stands 6 feet 4 inches in height and girths 11 feet 8 inches…
“…Besides its complexity of arrangement and the great number of measurable stones, forty-two in all, this circle is emphasised by the existence of a cup-marked stone set in a portion of its structure…on the SW arc… There are nineteen cups in all, only two of which differ much in diameter and depth from the rest, and there does not appear to be anything in their design to suggest a meaning or lend a clue to their symbolism.”
When the monument was excavated by Stuart Piggott and his mates in 1965, it was found to have been built over many centuries. As Aubrey Burl told:
“The first phase, of the late neolithic, consisted of about 14 heavy posts arranged in a horseshoe shape about 25ft 10in x 22ft 10in (7.9 x 7m) with a natural boulder at its centre. Burnt bone was found near this. Outside was a surrounding ditch and at the E was an entrance composed of 2 short rows of posts.
“In the second phase the timbers were replaced by 8 stones graded in height towards the SSW, also erected in a horseshoe 29ft 10 x 21ft (9.1 x 6.4m). A rubble bank was heaped up around it. On it at the SSW was a prostate stone with over 20 cupmarks carved on it. Other cupmarks were ground into the NE stone.
“Finally a circle of 12 stones, about 40ft (12.2m) is diameter, was erected around the megalithic horseshoe with a pair of stones forming an entrance at the ESE. Graves may have been dug at their bases later.”
Fred Coles mentioned a couple of other local names given to the site, one of which – Mary’s Croft – he thought may point “to a dedication to the Virgin.” Another curious place-name next to the site is called Styx,
“which appears to be the modern abbreviated form of the Gaelic word stuicnean. This, Mr Dugald McEwan affirms, meant ground full of overturned forest-trees; and it is therefore probable that in the remote past all the land surrounding the Stone Circle was a deep forest, and perhaps because of its seclusion, this site was selected as the most fitting for the erection of the principal Circle of the district.”
When the engineer and archaeoastronomer Alexander Thom (1967) came to examine Croft Moraig, he found the outlying stones to the southeast could have been solar alignment indicators, albeit poor ones. However, the geometric structure of the ring appeared to further confirm the use of his Megalithic Yard by those who built the circle. Thom’s illustration shows his finding, which he described briefly as follows:
“Two concentric circle and an ellipse. The circle diameters drawn are obviously too large and could be as small as 58.5ft outer circle and 41.0ft inner. Outer circle diameter58.5ft = 21.5 MY. Perimeter 67.5 MY = 27 MR. Inner circle diameter 41.0ft = 15.1 MY. Perimeter 47.3 MY = 18.9 MR. Ellipse drawn has major axis 11 MY, minor axis 8 MY, distance between foci is 7.5 MY. Perimeter is 30.0 MY = 12 MR. This ellipse looks slightly large but the triangle on which it is based and the perimeter are almost perfect.”
Old lore told that the standing stones of Newhall Bridge 850 yards away (777m) were once connected with the Croft Moraig circle. William Gillies (1938) told this tradition saying,
“that at one time there was a paved way connecting the circle, of which these stones are the remains, with the great Croftmoraig circle.”
Fred Coles also noted that one of the stones in the circle (stone D in his plan) had “been polished by the sliding of generations of children”. This playful action on stones elsewhere in the UK and around the world sometimes relates to fertility rites (i.e., the spirit of the stone could imbue increased fertility upon the practitioner), but Coles made no mention of such rituals here.
…to be continued…
Burl, Aubrey, Rings of Stone, Frances Lincoln: London 1979.
Burl, Aubrey, The Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany, Yale University Press 2000.
Follow the same directions for the Croft Moraig stone Circle. Then check out the elongated stone lying in the grass on the southern edge of the circle. It’s not that hard to find!
Archaeology & History
Nearly 13 yards (11.75m) south of the faded Croft Moraig 2 carving, this cup-and-ring stone on the SSW edge of Croft Moraig is one of at least four that have been found in this megalithic ring. It has been suggested that the stone on which the carving is found once stood upright. The earliest account I’ve found of it comes from Alex Hutcheson’s (1889) essay in which he wrote:
“At the south-west side and in the line of the outer circle lies the cupmarked stone. It is a recumbent stone, and like the others in that circle lies with its larger axis in the direction of the encircling line. It measures 6 feet 6 inches long by 2 feet broad, and bears on its surface 23 cups. Two of these are connected by straight channels. The largest cup is 2 inches in ‘diameter and f inch deep. Two of the cups are encircled, each with a concentric ring. None of the other stones exhibit any cups or other artificial markings.”
…Although other cup-marks have subsequently been found on other stones within the circle. Consistent with the location of cup-and-ring marks elsewhere in the country, Hutcheson found the carved rock to be just in front of “a longish low mound of small stones, like an elongated cairn, which might yield something if it were to be searched.” Very little of this cairn remains today.
When Fred Coles (1910) came to explore Croft Moraig about 20 years later, he could only discern 19 cups on the stone, most of them the same size, “only two of which differ much in diameter and depth from the rest.” The cup-and-ring that Hutcheson described and the other missing cups had been overgrown by the grasses, Coles said. When Sonia Yellowlees described the carving in 2004, she said that 21 cups were visible, “one of which is surrounded by a single ring”—which you can clearly see in the photos below.
When archaeologist Evan Hadingham (1974) looked at this site, he found deposits of quartz here and thought that their presence may have been relevant to the placement of the carving, noting how such a relationship is found at other circles in Scotland. In more recent years, rock art students Richard Bradley and others have found similar quartz deposits in or around some petroglyphs a few miles from here; as have fellow students Jones, Freedman and o’ Connor (2011) at some of the rock art around Kilmartin. In my own explorations of the carvings near Stag Cottage, hundreds of quartz chippings were found that had been pecked into the cups and rings.
Burl, Aubrey, Rings of Stone, Frances Lincoln: London 1979.
From Aberfeldy, take the B846 road over the river bridge, past Weem, a couple of miles down the valley until you see the small road on the right which leads up to the ancient hamlet of Dull. Go up and round the corner until you reach the centre of the village; and here the road turns back downhill. At this point, right by the roadside, entrapped within old railings, you’ll see the Cross of Dull.
Archaeology & History
Standing more than three feet tall, the remains of this old cross with one of its extended arms broke off in previous centuries, was one of three such monuments that used to stand in the valley. This and its associates were, according to christian legend, placed as markers at an ancient centre of christian learning at Dull around the time of Adamnam (who died in Glen Lyon in 704 AD). The area was said to be an early druid college, which was later incorporated into early christian teachings. Hilary Wheater (1981) also told that in previous centuries, if anyone fell foul of the law,
“Within the boundaries of these crosses debtors, offenders or miscreants were protected from retribution. One of the crosses stands in the centre of Dull village to this day, having been used as a market cross in more recent times, and the other two, having been stolen for use as gateposts during the (19th) century, were placed in the old kirk at Weem for safety.”
Stuart, John, The Sculptured Stones of Scotland, Aberdeen 1856.
Wheater, Hilary, Aberfeldy to Glenlyon, Appin Publications: Aberfeldy 1981.
To get here, follow the same directions to reach its nearby colleague of Carse Farm south — but instead of walking down the track to where its companion is found, this small ring of stones is found a coupla hundred yards into the first field by the roadside. Unless the field’s fulla corn (in which case, give it a miss cos even if you do find it, you won’t be able to make much out), y’ can’t really miss it!
Archaeology & History
As with its nearby companion of Carse Farm south, this small “ring” of four stones is found along the Tay valley floor and, though cited as a stone circle in many archaeology tomes, should more accurately be defined as a cairn circle of sorts. Structurally akin to other four-posters, it reminded me of a distant companion in North Yorkshire more than 200 miles south: the Druids Altar at Bordley, which is also a robbed prehistoric tomb and not a stone circle. But it’s a fine little site sat amidst the majestic temple of surrounding hills on all sides, bar east, where the Tay valley reaches into the distance.
Like its damaged companion in the field below, some of the stones in this circle also have well-defined cup-markings on top of the uprights; although when we visited here, low cloud and late daylight conditions prevented us from getting good images of the cup-marks concerned (as the photo of one of them here illustrates). The cup-markings are, curiously, carved on the top of the small standing stones.
Described briefly in Alexander Thom’s Megalithic Rings (1980), he regarded its geometry as “circular” in structure. Aubrey Burl (1988) gave the lengthier archaeological history of the site, telling:
“On the ‘carse’, or lowland…this 4-poster was excavated in 1964. When Coles saw it in 1907 only three smallish stones remained standing although “it seems clear that at this site there were originally four Stones as in so many other Perthshire groups”… The SW stone was missing but halfway between the NW and SE stones a long, thin slab lay half-buried.
“Coles noticed that there were cupmarks on the tops of both the NE and SE stones. The SE had three carvings but the top of the NE had no fewer than 17, the largest ‘cup’ being 4 by 3½in (10 x 9cm). In the group were two ‘dumb-bells’. In the same field the farmer had dragged away a buried stone which was also cupmarked.* (my italics, PB)
“Of the three standing stones, the NE is 3ft 11in (1.2m) high; the SE, 5ft 1in (1.6m); and the NW, 4ft 1in (1.3m). These heights…are almost double those cited by Coles (1908: 126).
“”The 1964 excavation discovered the SW stonehole. The 5ft 10in (1.8m) long stone lying at the centre of the 4-Poster was erected in it, a task made easier by the fact that its base had been keeled… The base was unweathered showing that the stone had been toppled in quite recent times as had the stones of the two Fortingall 4-Posters…3¾ miles to the WSW. The four stones stood at the corners of a rectangle 12ft by 8ft (3.7 x 2.4m) on a long ENE-WSW axis. They also stood on the circumference of a circle 14ft 5in (4.4m) in diameter.
“A tapering pit was discovered against the inner face of the NE stone, about 2ft 6in (76cm) across and 1ft 2in (37cm) deep. It was filled with cremated bone and sticky black earth and charcoal. At the bottom, a collared urn lay on is side, its rim decorated in geometrical designs. A flint flake lay near it. Within the 4-Poster there were three shallow pits, two between the NW and NE stones, another between the SE and SW. Their edges were clean and they had been backfilled with brown loam. The excavators thought they might have “been used for stabilising props during the erection of the stones.” …As the heaviest block, that at the NW, weighed about 6 tons it would have required 20 to 30 people to drag it upright…and the use of such props would have made their insertion safer.”
Unless the people building this site were dwarves, we’ve gotta re-assess this latter remark (which Burl quotes from the earlier archaeologist’s report from the 1960s). Having personally been involved with the creation of modern stone circles with stones larger than the ones here, we know that the uprights here could have been erected by 8-10 people at the very most.
Archaeology and folklore records describe many other prehistoric sites along this section of the upper Tay valley, but it’s also very likely that other “circles” or cairns of similar structure to the two known at Carse Farm once existed close by that are not in modern literary accounts.
Burl, Aubrey, Four Posters: Bronze Age Stone Circles of Western Europe, BAR 195: Oxford 1988.
Pretty easy to find – assuming it aint at the height of summer and the crops are approaching maturity, otherwise you’re only gonna see its head! But, this aside: from Aberfeldy, take the B846 road over the river bridge that bends you along the valley of the River Tay towards Appin of Dull. After some 2 miles you’ll pass the right-turn up to Dull. Go past this for another coupla hundred yards or so, watching out for the left-turn down towards the farmhouse of Carse and park up where you can (if you go past it, there’s the second turn up to Dull, again on your right, where you can turn round). As you walk down the track towards Carse Farm, watch out on your right in the field below Carse I, in the second field down. You can’t really miss it. (and the farmer here is spot on if you ask to check the stone – as long as the crops aint growing)
Archaeology & History
Although all that’s left of what is thought to have been a once proud stone circle is the singular upright standing stone in the middle of the field. Aubrey Burl (1988) thought that this was one of the typical “four poster”rings that scatter our isles, but I’m not so sure misself. There were other stones associated with the site when Burl described it, but these were covered over in our visit here a few months back — which is a pity, as two of the stones are reported as possessing cup-markings (if/when we revisit the site, I’ll try get some images of the respective stones and add them on TNA as individual carved stones). The site gives the distinct impression of it having a funerary character of some sort and not a true stone circle — and this was strongly suggested by some of the finds inside the “ring”, described below.
Both this and its associated “circle” a few hundred yards away — known as Carse Farm north — sit on a flat level of ground in the Tay valley, with rounded hills all most sides. This landscape setting was obviously of some importance to the people who put the circle here in the first place but, not living in the region, it’s difficult to assess the mythic relevance some of the hills will have obviously played in the siting of these stones.
In bygone days, it was reported that the much of the site was ploughed away due to agricultural excesses, so there was obviously much more to it in earlier centuries. Describing the solitary stone that’s left today, along with the earlier excavation results, Mr Burl (1988) wrote:
“The stone still standing, of quartziferous schist, is 6ft 3in (1.9m) high. Its longer faces are aligned NW-SE. 32ft 6in (9.9m) to its SW is a large prostate block, sub-elliptical and about 8ft long and 4ft 3in wide (2.4 x 1.3m). It has probably fallen outwards. (my italics, PB) If so, when standing near the top of its inner face were four cupmarks in a cross pattern.
“About 32ft ((9.8m) to its NW is a fallen and enormous schist slab, 11ft long and 5ft wide (3.4 x 1.5m). It also appears to have toppled outwards. Near the bottom of its inner face are two cupmarks. The situation of these three stones suggests that they once stood at the corners of a rectangle some 32ft (9.8m) square, the pillars of a huge four-poster nearly six-times the national average and with an internal area ten times bigger than the small 4-poster (Carse Farm north, PB) just to its north.
“Excavation in 1964 found the socket from which the great prostrate slab had been dragged… Cash (1911) had noted the presence of a small stone inside the ring about 20ft (6.1m) west of the standing stone. It proved to be 4ft (1.2m) square with a carefull-dressed face. It had been set upright, standing about 1ft 4in (41cm) above the ground. Three sides of the worked face ‘had been carefully chiselled away to a straight edge.’ It may have been a slab lining the inner central space of a destroyed ring-cairn. Burnt bone was found near it. There was also a rounded river pebble with a worked hollow on one side…”
Stewart (1964) described the site as having been “christianized” not long ago, by having the northernmost standing stone in the ring removed. This is intriguing inasmuch as “north” is the place of greatest symbolic darkness in the pre-christian mythos, and represented death and illumination in magickal terms. North was also the point taken by witches and shamans in their excursions into Underworlds, usually via the North Star, which tethered the Earth to the heavens (see Godwin’s Arktos , and Grant, The Magical Revival ) In the removal of this northern stone for the reasons given, that implies some magickal events or folklore were in evidence here when this took place. Anyone got any further information along these lines, or has it long since been subsumed?
Burl, Aubrey, Four Posters: Bronze Age Stone Circles of Western Europe, BAR 195: Oxford 1988.
Here we have another case of another loch in Scotland that was said by local people to be inhabited by legendary water monsters. In the tale which follows we may simply have a case of a very bad accident that was, in more superstious times, bestowed upon this legendary animal. We may never know. James Kennedy (1928) told the story, saying:
“It was inhabited, like Loch Derculich, by the ‘Each Uisge‘ of Icelandic origin. On summer evenings it could be seen roaming at large on a green meadow adjacent to the tarn, and to all appearance a canny enough creature. One summer Sunday afternoon, six Strathtay girls and a boy set out from their homes to inspect the ‘Each Uisge.’ They found him, patted him on the head and neck, and this kindness is apparently relished, for it lay on the sward and allowed them to sit on its back. The boy, who had a semi-bald scabbed head, stood at a distance and watched developments. He concluded that this animal was not the genuine horse it seemed to be, and thought that it grew considerably larger than it was at first. When the Each has the six girls comfortably seated on its back, it suddenly rose, plunged into the loch, and drowned the lot. The boy immediately took to his heels and the Each after him, but fear enabled the boy to outstrip the horse, who would stop now and again in the pursuit and cry, “Fuirich mo ghille maol carrach! Fuirich mo ghille maol carrach!” — Stop, you bald scabbed-headed boy. Ultimately the Each gave up the chase, and the boy, much frightened, got safely home and related all that happened on that eventful Sunday evening. The parents of the girls found parts of their bodies floating on the waters of the loch, and the name Loch Lassie was given to it, which it retains to this day.”
Kennedy, James, Folklore and Reminiscences of Strathtay and Grandtully, Munro Press: Perth 1928.