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…

Folklore

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…?

Forteana

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…

References:

  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

 

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  55.539927, -5.315861 Fingals Cauldron SeatTwelve Apostles

Cuckoo Stones, Haworth Moor, West Yorkshire

Standing Stones:  OS grid reference – SD 99034 35709

Getting Here

The Cuckoo Stones – looking north

Best approached from Haworth and then walking along the Bronte Way footpath onto the moors (ask at the local Tourist Info if you aint sure).  A few hundred yards along, cross the ‘Bronte Bridge’ and keep following the footpath up until you get past the trees and get onto the moors. Once on the heathland, a few hundred yards on keep your eyes to the right and at least one of the two stones here will appear!

Archaeology & History

The <i>original</i> Cuckoo Stone
The original Cuckoo Stone

This is a fascinating little site that has been mentioned in a few old local history guides, including John Lock’s Guide to Haworth (c.1965).  First described in 1852 and only briefly noted in passing by Horsfall Turner (1879), the place was previously thought to have comprised just one standing stone, but in recent years explorations by Mark Davey and I found there to be two standing stones close to each other. They are not marked on any maps and are unknown even to many local people. However, the place once had a bit of a reputation (see folklore) and seemed to be well known in the region when the cult of the Church was at its height!

Both of the stones are between three and four feet tall, but the westernmost of the two was probably much taller in bygone days – that’s because the top of the stone was vandalised in centuries past, presumably by some christians if the folktale is anything to go by! On the north-facing side of the western stone is the faint carved outline of an old cross, first described by local historians in the 1960s.  It’s faint, but you can work it out if your eyes work properly!  The newly-recovered (July 2005) easternmost stone is in two sections, with the very top of it having been hacked off in centuries gone by, as seen in the photos.

The second Cuckoo Stone, resurrected!
The second Cuckoo Stone, resurrected!

When we unearthed the previously unknown Cuckoo Stone (which was laid in the earth and covered with heather and peat), a small deposit of quartz crystals was found in the original socket beneath it when we came to stand the stone back in position.  Question is: who put the quartz there?  The original builders, or the nutters who knocked it down?  And then we might ask: what was the reason behind placing a large handful of quartz beneath the standing stone?

In the heather beyond, about thirty yards to the north, we also find what looks like the remains of an old prehistoric tomb. If we make sense of the Cuckoo Stone’s folklore, we can safely assert that these monoliths were the spirit-home of the old dood/s buried in the tomb behind…

Tis a lovely little place…

There’s also something from that strange electromagnetic-anomaly region attached to this site, well-known to students exploring the physics of megalithic sites.  When my lovely friend Mark – “grope me baby! grope me!” – Davey and I rediscovered the second Cuckoo Stone, Mark brought with him a device that measures fluctuations in electromagnetic radiation. The readings taken were fine just about everywhere (background, with minor fluctuations), apart from two very curious straight lines which ran either side of the burial mound down towards the two Cuckoo Stones, with radiation readings being between 10 and more than 60 times above background! The highest readings came from those closest to the burial mound, with levels dropping as we approached the standing stones. Such magnetic anomalies have been found at a number of megalithic sites in the UK, as described in Paul Devereux’s Place of Power (1989) and other books.  But the fact that the anomaly lines here seemed to run in lines would be something that those ley enthusiasts would no doubt be intrigued by!

Folklore

The creation myth of this site tells that once, long ago, a great giant lived upon these old moors. He wasn’t a good giant though, from all acounts: robbing and persecuting those who would venture onto the hills hereabouts. The local people wouldn’t dare venture onto the moors and they long sought for a hero who’d be able to sort him out! This eventually happened and in a great fight, our unnamed hero caught and killed the old giant. But just as the giant was about to die, he used his ancient magick powers and, “with a magical groan, he did transform before them and became the Cuckoo Stone.”

But that wasn’t the end of the matter because, as our unnamed hero realised, knowing that the head was the seat of the soul, even in his petrified stoney state the giant may one day recover his life, and so he chopped off the top of the Cuckoo Stone and rolled it into the valley below, dismembering the ‘head’ from the giant, seemingly forever…

It is said that the winnings of this old giant, stolen from his countless victims, are hidden somewhere high upon these hills, awaiting the shovel of some fortunate treasure hunter!

The motif of this tale is universal and archaic, echoing traditional or aboriginal lore from elsewhere in the world.  The tale is a simple one: originally the ‘giant’ was a local hero, chief or medicine man who lived on these hills and the Cuckoo Stones his petrified body, and with the incoming christian cult, the giant became demonised.  It seems that the ingredient of the giant’s death may infer a burial of sorts and, a hundred yards behind the Cuckoo Stones (both of whom have had their ‘heads’ hacked off), is a mound of earth which, when seen after all the heather’s been burnt away, has all the hallmarks of a prehistoric tomb (it is seen in the top photo above, as the mound in the background behind the standing stones).

…to be continued…

References:

  1. Bennett, Paul, The Old Stones of Elmet, Capall Bann: Milverton 2003.
  2. Burl, Aubrey, From Carnac to Callanish, Yale University Press 1993.
  3. Devereux, Paul, Places of Power, Blandford: London 1989.
  4. Dodd, Gerald, Ghosts and Legends of Bronte-Land, Bobtail Press: Haworth 1986.
  5. Eliade, Mircea, Patterns in Comparative Religion, Sheed & Ward: London 1958.
  6. Eliade, Mircea, A History of Religious Ideas – Volume 1: From the Stone Age to the Eleusianian Mysteries, Chicago University Press 1978.
  7. Evans, E.E., Prehistoric and Early Christian Ireland, Batsford: London 1966.
  8. Lock, John, Guide to Haworth, Haworth n.d. (c.1965).
  9. Turner, J. Horsfall, Haworth Past and Present, J.S. Jowett: Brighouse 1879.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Cuckoo Stones

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Cuckoo Stones 53.817659, -2.016155 Cuckoo Stones