Fairy Oak, Killin, Perthshire

Legendary Tree:  OS Grid Reference – NN 57 33

  1. Coin Tree

Folklore

The Fairy Oak of Killin

Nothing has previously been written of this site.  Its existence came to light during one of umpteen enquiries I’d made with a well-known and very respected local lady, born and bred in Killin (sadly, a dying breed), who is known as a fount of knowledge regarding the history of the area.  We were talking about the ancient sites and folklore of the neighbourhood and, amidst being her usual helpful self she asked, “have you been to the Coin Tree?  The place where we leave offerings to the spirit of the place?”

I hadn’t.

“No, I’ve never heard of the place.”

“We keep it quiet, ” she said, “for obvious reasons.”

I knew what she meant.  The Fairy Tree at Aberfoyle is a case in point: littered with plastic pentagrams, children’s toys and so-called “offerings” of all kinds that have made it little more than a dumping ground for pseudo-pagans and new-age nuts that needs to be cleaned regularly by local folk.

Anyhow, our informant proceeded to give us directions to find the place, going out of the village, but asked that if we were to write about it, to keep its location quiet, “as the place is still used by us”—i.e., old locals.  After a slow trek along one of the roads out of the village we saw nothing that stood out.  Eventually we came across a fella relaxing in his garden and asked him if he knew anything about an old tree where offerings were made.  He gave us that look that olde locals do, to work out whether you’re a tourist or not and, after telling him what we’d been told and who had told us —that seemed to do the trick!

“You’d mean the Fairy Oak I s’ppose?  Aye,” he said, “gerrin the car and I’ll drive y’ down to it.”

So we did.  A short distance back along the road that we’d come down he stopped and walked along a to large oak tree beside the road.  We’d walked straight past it—but in truth it’s not a conspicuous tree and unless you were shown where it was, you’d miss it as easily as we did (and I’m usually damn good at finding such things!).  We thanked the fella for taking us to see it and he drove back home to leave us with out thoughts.

More coins as offerings
Coins for the little people

Embedded into the tree—some of them barely visible where the bark had grown over them—were clusters of old coins all around its trunk; some of them very old.  These had been inserted into the tree as offerings in the hope that the little people, or the genius loci would bring aid to that which was asked of it.

In a field across the road there’s a large “fairy-mound” hillock: one of Nature’s creations, but just the sort of place where many little people are said to live in many an old folk-tale.  Some such mounds are old tumuli, but this aint one of them.  It’s possible that it had some relationship with the tree where the fairy folk are said to reside but, if it did, our informants didn’t seem to know.

The important thing to recognise here is that in some of the small villages and hamlet in our mountains, practices and beliefs of a world long lost in suburbia are still alive here and there… But even these are dying out fast, as most incomers have no real attachment to the landscape that surrounds them.  Simply put: they see themselves as apart from the landscape as opposed to being a part of it.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian 

Cottingley Woods (3), Bingley, West Yorkshire

OS Grid-Reference – SE 09825 37861

Getting Here

Follow the same directions as if you’re visiting the impressive Fairy Stone carving, then 3 yards east is the Cottingley 2 double cup-and-ring, keep walking past through trees for another 5-6 yards  where you’ll come across this reasonably large curved flat stone.  Y’ can’t really miss it

Archaeology & History

Cup, with ring faintly visible

This was another carving in the small cluster by the Fairy Stone that I found on my visit here in the 1980s—but it’s a pretty innocuous one to be honest.  There’s a faded incomplete “ring” (not really visible on my photos due to pouring rain and very poor light when I was here) with a distinct cup-mark in the middle.  Several inches away from the cup-and-ring is a carved line that arcs around it creating an incomplete oval design; and what seems to be a single cup-mark is visible at the top of this oval.  Other marks on the stone are both natural as well as recent ‘scratches’.

Some elements of this carving—as with others in this petroglyph cluster—seems to be modern.  The cup-and-ring seems to be the real deal, but the ‘oval’ seems to have been added much more recently, perhaps by the scouts who play around in this part of the woods.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Cottingley Woods (5), Bingley, West Yorkshire

Cup-and-Ring Stone:  OS Grid-Reference – SE 09843 37869

Getting Here

Cottingley Woods CR-5

Get yerself to the Fairy Stone, then walk east past the adjacent woodland carvings—numbers 2, 3 and 4—from where you should walk about another 10 yards east across the grass, keeping your eyes peeled for a large flat stone measuring about 6ft by 10ft just as you go back into the tree cover north-side.  You’ll find it.

Archaeology & History

This large carved rock is the easternmost known petroglyph in this small woodland cluster of five. (a sixth one can be found, but it’s several hundred yards east from here)  Consisting of two distinct cup-and-rings in relative proximity to each other on the northern section of the stone, this design—unlike others in this group—has a greater sense of stylistic authenticity to it.  Despite this, one of the two cup-and-rings seems to be a more recent addition to the rock, as close inspection shows peck marks that aren’t very well eroded as you’d expect on rock of this type if it was truly ancient.  The more faded cup-and-ring on its northwestern section looks to have a greater sense of age about it when we look at its erosion level….perhaps…

The 2 Cup & Rings
The 2 cup-and-rings

We have to take into consideration when looking at this carving and the others nearby that possess some quite peculiar design-elements, that this section of woodland is used extensively by boy scouts who do what boy scouts do in their teenage ventures: from making fires, climbing trees and, perhaps, scribing on stones if/when their elders aint looking.  It’s an important ingredient that has to be taken into consideration when looking at the more rash motifs hereby—this carving included.  The more faded cup-and-ring on this, however, may be the real deal.  And hopefully, next time I visit this site, She’ll not be dark and pouring with rain (much though I love such weather), so I’ll be able to get some better photos!

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Cottingley Woods (2), Bingley, West Yorkshire

Cup-and-Ring Stone:  OS Grid-Reference – SE 09819 37862

Getting Here

The carving in situ

Follow the same directions as if you’re visiting the impressive Fairy Stone carving, then check out the overgrown rock three yards away, to the east.  You might have to rummage under the scrubbage to see it, but you’ll find it if you want to!

Archaeology & History

I first found this stone in the 1980s when I’d been shown the Fairy Stone carving which, at the time, was thought to be all alone.  But I used the olde adage: “where’s there’s one cup-and-ring, others tend to be“—and found this and several others closed by.

Large messy cup-and-ring

It’s a relatively small, slightly-domed earthfast rock, upon which we find an unusually large cup-and-double-ring design with a carved line running from the large central cup out to the edge of the stone.  However, the carved lines that constitute both the inner and outer rings are ‘crude’ in form and style when compared to the vast majority of other British petroglyphs; and for some reason, this aspect of the design has me casting doubts over its prehistoric authenticity.  I hope I’m wrong!

References:

  1. Bennett, Paul, ‘Tales of Yorkshire Faeries,’ in Earth 9, 1988.
  2. Bennett, Paul, The Old Stones of Elmet, Capall Bann: Milverton 2001.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

St. Philip’s Well, Keyingham, East Yorkshire

Holy Well (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – TA 23584 25549

Archaeology & History

The Well shown on the 1855 6″ OS map

This holy well was formerly on the northern boundary of a field adjoining the north side of the A1033 west of Keyingham.

In view of the surviving folklore relating to the well it seems that its dedication to St. Philip may have been an effort by the Church to ‘Christianise’ it; and the St Philip here is not the Biblical Apostle, but a local saint – Philip Ingleberd (died c.1325 and also known as Philip Inglebred), whose memory was celebrated by a nearby Cross and a shrine at St Nicholas Church in the village.  The well and the cross may have been dedicated some time after 1392 following a ‘miracle’ relating to Philip’s tomb.  These were destroyed by the mob in the Reformation, although the cross-base survives.  It seems the well may have been restored in the late seventeenth century.  By the early twentieth century the well was described as laying on the Common to the west of the village, by then filled in, only showing signs it ever existed by making the ground near its site wet and boggy in a rainy season.

Folklore

George Poulson writing in 1841 told that,

“…a few fields more to the west is a well, called St. Philip’s Well; on a small stone are inscribed W. H. W. D. IG67. W. K.  It is called the wishing well; and the country lasses were in the habit of dropping pins, or even a sixpence into it, for the purpose of ensuring to themselves either particular or general good luck.”

William Smith (1923) described the well as one of six wishing wells or pin wells in Yorkshire and, moreover, the only ‘Cross Well’ in the East Riding.  At none of these wells was evil allowed to be foreshadowed, and the wells were only to show to a girl the portrait of her future husband.  He told us that,

“In every case the wish had to be with truthful devotion, and not divulged to any living person, or the desired consummation would not be gained…. Tradition adds that the well was much visited by maidens, who, on dropping their pins or coins, expressed the wish to see their lovers mirrored on its waters. Thus they kept a custom, dating to the time when the well was counted to be under the control of the fairies.”

And as Keyingham Common was once the abode of the fairies, it is worth noting that some 700 yards west of the site of the well a ‘Pans Hill’ is shown on the old maps, although whether this rural spirit of classical myth ever made it up to the East Riding is altogether another matter….

References:

  1. Arrowsmith, Nancy & Moorse, George, A Field Guide to the Little People, Macmillan: London 1977.
  2. Hope, Robert, Legendary Lore of the Holy Wells of England, Elliot Stock: London 1893.
  3. Poulson, George, History and Antiquities of the Seigniory of Holderness, Thomas Topping: Hull 1841.
  4. Smith, Rev. William, Ancient Springs & Streams of the East Riding of Yorkshire, A.Brown: Hull 1923.

© Paul T Hornby 2021

Fairies’ Cradle, Cromarty, Ross & Cromarty

Legendary Rock (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NH 792 651

Archaeology & History

In the ruins St Bennet’s Chapel, along with his accompanying holy well (NH 7923 6502), could once be seen a curiously shaped rock which, according to tradition has been destroyed.  In Mr Innes’ (1855) major history work he mentioned this Fairies Cradle in passing.  Not far from here and close to the coast, is a curiously-shaped boulder with several natural cupmarks (at NH 9150 6497).

Folklore

In Hugh Miller’s (1878) definitive local history work, Scenes and Legends, we have our main description of this once important site.  It existed,

“near the chapel itself, which was perched like an eyry on a steep solitary ridge that overlooks the Moray Firth, there was a stone trough, famous, about eighty years before, for virtues derived also from the saint, like those of the well. For if a child was carried away by the fairies, and some mischievous unthriving imp left in its place, the parents had only to lay the changeling in this trough, and, by some invisible process, their child would be immediately restored to them. It was termed the fairies’ cradle; and was destroyed shortly before the rebellion of 1745, by Mr. Gordon, the minister of the parish, and two of his elders.”

The story of children here being carried away by littlepeople and then restored by an impish offering, is a play on the site being a healing stone.  There are numerous other “curing stones” found elsewhere in Scotland, but with their own respective traditions—like the Measles Stone at Fearnan, the Whooping Cough Stone near Killin, and many others.

If anyone knows anything more about this lost “curing stone”, please let us know.

References:

  1. Alston, David, “The Old Parish Church of Cromarty,” Cromarty, May 2005.
  2. Innies, Cosmo, Origines Parochiales – volume 2:2, W.H. Lizars: Edinburgh 1855.
  3. Miller, Hugh, Scenes and Legends of the North of Scotland; the Traditional History of Cromarty, William Nimmo: Edinburgh 1878.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Giant’s Leap & Rock, Black Hill, Abernyte, Perthshire.

Legendary Rock: OS Reference – NO 21559 31659

Getting Here

Giant’s Rock in ravine overlooked by the Leap

The Rock and Leap may be seen from the B953 Bandirran to Abernyte road.  Approach across the fields.

Archaeology & History

A large boulder perhaps 40 tons in weight lies in a ravine between Dunsinane and Black Hill. The ‘Leap’ is a flat topped ledge jutting out from the west side of Black Hill facing Dunsinane.

Folklore

Melville (1939) in his The Fair Land of Gowrie writes of the simple pleasures of the giant:

“From the farther side of the ravine [between Dunsinane and Black Hill], a precipitous rock juts out, which is called the “Giant’s Leap”. According to the lore of the Sidlaws, a giant, who once lived in these parts, leaped from this rock right on to the top of Dunsinane Hill.  The giant also amused himself by tossing about a huge boulder which can be seen lying at the bottom of the ravine.”

And adds:

The Big Fellow’s toy
Giant’s Leap from the north

“Fairies haunted the hills here and on summer nights they descended to the meadows, where they danced at a spot called “Fairygreen”. The Black Hill gets its name from the dark heath which covers it. Weird and bleak looking for most of the year, the lower slopes are brightened by glowing patches of purple flowers in late summer.”

Fairygreen Farm lies a mile almost due north of Dunsinane.

Reference:

  1. Melville, Lawrence, The Fair Land of Gowrie, William Culross & Son, Coupar Angus, 1939.

© Paul T Hornby 2020, The Northern Antiquarian


Tobar Bhride, Keppoch, Kilmonivaig, Inverness-shire

Sacred Well (lost):  OS Grid Reference – NN 27 81

Also Known as:

  1. St Bride’s Well

Archaeology & History

This long lost ‘holy well of St Brigit’ (Tobar Bhride) has been mentioned—purely in literary repetition—by such folklore giants as F.M. MacNeill and others, but none of them give any additional information about it than that first mentioned by Alexander Stewart’s (1890) in his fascinating article on magical stones.  Indeed, knowledge of this well’s very existence was only preserved thanks to a ritual incantation that was recited to imbue and maintain healing properties of one such magickal stone, known as the Charm Stone of Keppoch.  It

“was an oval of rock crystal, about the size of a small egg, fixed in a bird’s claw of silver, and with a silver chain attached, by which it was suspended when about to be dipped.”

It was dipped in water taken from the sacred well of St Brigit, somewhere not far from Keppoch.  The incantation made over the stone was in Gaelic, obviously, but the english translation is:

“Let me dip thee in the water,
Thou yellow, beautiful gem of Power!
In water of purest wave,
Which (saint) Bridget didn’t permit to be contaminated.
In the name of the Apostles twelve,
In the name of Mary, virgin of virtues,
And in the name of the high trinity
And all the shining angels,
A blessing on the gem,
A blessing on the water, and
A healing of bodily ailments to each suffering creature.”

On the east side of the river, just a few hundred yards away, could once be found the Fuaran na Ban-Tighearna, or the Well of Her Ladyship.  In this sense, the term ‘ladyship’ refers to the “wife of a baronet or knight.” (Dwelly 1918)  The idea that it may refer to Bride in Her guise as a ‘lady’ is linguistically improbable here (though not impossible).  Also, if this fuaran did have a geomythic relationship with Bride, we would expect to find a Cailleach in the nearby landscape, which we don’t.

Folklore

An interesting piece of folklore that may relate to this well is described by the great Scottish landscape wanderer, Seton Gordon. (1948)  Although he makes no mention of a Bride’s Well, there is the tale of a missing bride up Glen Roy, of which Keppoch sits below.  “It was in earlier times,” he wrote,

“that the Maid of Keppoch was taken by the fairies in Glen Roy.  She was an Irish girl, little more than a child, and had become the wife of MacDonell of Keppoch.  But the wedding rejoicings were scarcely over when the bride, wandering into the oak woods which still clothe the lower slopes of Glen Roy, disappeared mysteriously.  It was believed that, like the Rev Robert Kirk…she had been spirited away by the fairies.  If indeed she was abducted by the Little People they held her closely, for from that day to this no trace has been found of the fair Maid of Keppoch.”

St Bride of course was Irish, like the Maid of Keppoch.  And just a mile up Glen Roy from Keppoch House we find the Sron Dubh and Sithean, or Ridge of the Dark Fairy Folk.  There are several burns (streams) running either side and below this fairy haunt, but I can find none with Bride’s name.  Someone, somewhere, must know where it is…

References:

  1. Gordon, Seton, Highways and Byways in the Central Highlands, MacMillan: London 1948.
  2. Dwelly, Edward, The Illustrated Gaelic English Dictionary – volume 1, Fleet Hants 1918.
  3. Stewart, Alexander, “Notice of a Highland Charm-Stone,” in Proceedings Society Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 24, 1890.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian


Breckon Howe, Sleights Moor, Sleights, North Yorkshire

Tumulus:  OS Grid Reference – NZ 85374 03406

Also Known as:

  1. Brakken Howe
Breckon Howe on 1853 map

Getting Here

Along the A169 road between Sleights and Pickering, some two miles south of Sleights at the highest point on the moors just above the west side of the road, you’ll see a large mound with what looks like a standing stone on top of it.  A minor road turns off the A169 at this point, heading southeast, and the large mound is 150 yards from the roadside. You can’t really miss it!

Archaeology & History

Shown on the first OS map of the area in 1853, this conspicuous prehistoric tomb surmounted by a relatively recent boundary stone, sits at the highest point on the moors in these parts.  Despite this (as with others on these moors), very little has been written about the place and it has received only minimal attention in archaeology tomes.  Even the renowned pen of Frank Elgee (1912; 1930) gave it only passing mention.  Perhaps it aint a bad thing to be honest.

Breckon Howe, from the south

As well as being conspicuous, it’s large.  Rising some six feet above the natural ground level, it measures 26 yards across its east-west axis, and 29 yards north-south, with a rough circumference of 88 yards.  The boundary stone that surmounts its crown sits in a hollow that looks like it was opened up a century or two ago by antiquarians (much like ourselves).  But its position of the tomb in the landscape that is most striking.  The view from here is considerable, having a clear 360º view for many miles around.  Other prehistoric tombs can be seen from here, but more importantly this tomb can be seen on the skyline from many others.  This was probably a deliberate feature intended by its builders–and it’s not uncommon, as many of our upland regions are crowned with ancient tombs like Breckon Howe.  In all likelihood this would have been the resting place of some important ancestral figure: a tribal elder or a shaman, whose spirit after death could view and travel across the landscape they inhabited in life.

Although the tomb presently sits amidst an endless sea of heather (Calluna vulgaris) typical of moorland across our northern lands, the name of the site ‘breckon’, according to George Young (1817) derives from the dialect word meaning ferns or bracken.  This is echoed in Francis Kildale’s (1855) local dialect study and subsequently in Joseph Wright’s (1898) unequalled magnum opus.

Folklore

In the early 19th century, one George Calvert who lived in the area, collected as much folklore as he could, as it was dying off with the coming of the Church.  One such piece told that there was once a hob who lived by this old tomb.  A hob is generally known as a supernatural creature, but in this area it can also be a medicine man.  Some hobs were good, others were malicious.  We know not what type of hob lived lived here, but Calvert simply told us there used to be “T’ Hob of Brackken Howe”.  Nowt more!  It would be good to find the story behind this old character, if it hasn’t been lost entirely…

References:

  1. Elgee, Frank, Early Man in Northeast Yorkshire, Frank Bellows: Gloucester 1930.
  2. Elgee, Frank, The Moorlands of North-Eastern Yorkshire, A. Brown: London 1912.
  3. Kildale, Francis, A Glossary of Yorkshire Words and Phrases Collected in Whitby and the Nieghbourhood, J.R. Smith: London 1855.
  4. Home, Gordon, The Evolution of an English Town, J.M. Dent: London 1905.
  5. Wright, Joseph, English Dialect Dictionary – volume 1, .Henry Frowde: London 1898.
  6. Young, George, A History of Whitby and Streoneshalh Abbey – volume 2, Clarke & Medd: Whitby 1817.

Acknowledgements:  A huge thanks to Lindsay Mitchell for getting us up to see this great tomb and its companion.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian


Spittal of Glenshee, Kirkmichael, Perthshire

Standing Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NO 10865 70201

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 29609

Getting Here

Spittal of Glenshee stone

Take to A93 road, north, between Blairgowrie and Braemar, keeping your eyes peeled many miles on, to turn left along the minor road as you approach the tiny Spittal of Glenshee hamlet. Just as you go over the ancient bridge, park up on your left, below the church.  Walk round the back of the church and you’ll see a large tree-covered mound.  Walk onto its top.

Archaeology & History

Stone marked on 1862 map

This quiet, almost hidden, six-foot tall standing stone on what initially seems to be a large fairy mound or tumulus at the back of the rude church, has been occluded from general view (in my opinion, deliberately) by the construction of the more debased christian edifice right in front of it.  But it detracts not from its gentle majesty once you reach its ancient body, atop of the old hill.

The stone is one in a cluster of prehistoric sites in and around this Glen of the Fairy Folk (as its name tells), where the rivers Shee and Beag converge.  If the church didn’t obstruct the view, some of the other sites would have been visible from here.

Folklore

The old stone, looking east

Folklore tells that when the christians came into the Glen to build a church—initially a half-mile or so to the east—the little people were much annoyed at the actions of the incomers, as it intruded on one of their sacred rings of stone close by.  By night they came out, and every stone that had been laid by the christians in the day was removed.  Each day the insensitive christians came and built their church without asking, and each night the little people removed it.  Eventually an agreement was made, and the fairies let them build the church next to this standing stone.  So goes the tale….

A veritable cluster of stories about Fingal, Ossian, Dermid and Grianne scatter this area, with many of them relating to ancient sites, but I’ve not found one directly relating to this stone.

References:

  1. Miller, T.D., Tales of a Highland Parish, Munro Press: Perth 1929.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian