Wallace’s Thorn, Dunfermline, Fife

Legendary Tree:  OS Grid Reference – NT 090 873

Archaeology & History 

This little-known tree, said to have been planted in memory of Sir William Wallace’s mother, is long gone.  The only notice I can find of it, is in the writings of Pete Chalmers (1844), who told us:

“There is a tradition that the mother of Sir William Wallace was buried in the old church-yard, on the spot where the present thorn-tree is growing, but how she came to die here history seems to be silent.  It is added that her son wished afterwards to erect a monument to her memory, but being in pursuit of, or flight from, his enemies, had not time to do so, and, as a substitute, planted a thorn-tree.”

Much of what constitutes “the old church-yard” has long been covered by the new cathedral and so the precise location of this old thorn tree will never be known, which is a pity, for as Chalmers told,

“This tree had reached an immense size, and was seemingly of great age about 60 years ago (c.1784), when it was blown down by a storm and replaced by a stem from the old tree, now advanced to a considerable height and magnitude—the only living and remaining memorial of the filial affection of the Scottish Patriot.”

Due to a lack of writings from the viewpoint of Wallace and the Scottish people, we are only left with fragments regarding the why’s and wherefores of Wallace and his mum being in Dunfermline.  Chalmers thought,

“Possibly the occasion of their being here is referred to in the following lines of the poet, an account of a pretended pilgrimage of Wallace and his mother to St Margaret’s shrine.”

He then cites a more assured account of Sir William being in the area, saying:

“It is recorded of this renowned person, that, on one occasion, in 1808, when he was surrounded by his enemies, he came from the fastnesses where he had taken refuge, to the Forest of Dunfermline, and by the mediation of his friends, proposed, on certain conditions, yiz., the assurance of safety in life, limbs, sad estate, to surrender himself.  These conditions were indignantly refused by the haughty and infuriated Edward (the Tosser), who cursed him, by the fiend, for a traitor, and even set a price on his head. On hearing this, the Patriot ” betook himself again to the wilds and mountains, and subsisted on plunder.”

References:

  1. Chalmers, Peter, Historical and Statistical Account of Dunfermline, William Blackwood: Edinburgh 1844.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

St. Andrew’s Cross, Dunfermline, Fife

Cross (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NT 1017 8630

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 50858

Archaeology & History

In Pete Chalmers (1844) historical brief about the long lost chapel and hospital of St. Leonard (and its associated holy well), mention is made of this long forgotten relic.  Its memory was preserved in an old place-name, and was to be found less than half-a-mile southeast of St. Leonard’s sites on,

“the high part of the road, about a quarter of a mile to the south, the Spital-Crosshead, (named) from a pillar which, according to tradition, was erected there, decorated on the top by a St Andrew’s Cross, and removed probably towards the close of the 16th or 17th century.”

The cross is believed to have been erected in the 15th century.

References:

  1. Chalmers, Peter, Historical and Statistical Account of Dunfermline, William Blackwood: Edinburgh 1844.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

St. Leonard’s Well, Dunfermline, Fife

Holy Well (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NT 0976 8666

Archaeology & History

Site shown on 1856 map

There seems to be very little information available about this holy well, lost long ago and now hidden beneath the foundations of a food superstore!  It was found in close association with both a chapel and a hospital in St. Leonard’s name—both of which have also been destroyed.  The water from here may have been used by the monks for patients in the hospital, but that’s purely speculative.  St. Leonard was known to be connected with lepers, which may be something that the waters here were used to treat.  But again, I’m speculating…

When the Ordnance Survey lads came here in 1853, the waters were still running and they subsequently added it to their map a few years later.  The site was still visible when Erskine Beveridge (1917) came here, telling us briefly that,

“St. Leonard’s Well still remains a little to the south-east, and, though now built up, is recognisable.”

But a few years later it had been destroyed and its position was shown on the updated OS-map of 1926 as “Site of.”  The old well had gone…

References:

  1. Beveridge, Erskine, The Burgh Records of Dunfermline, William Brown: Edinburgh 1917.
  2. Simpkins, John Ewart, Examples of Printed Folk-lore Concerning Fife, with some Notes on Clackmannan and Kinross-shires, Sidgwick & Jackson: London 1914.
  3. Walker, J. Russel, “‘Holy Wells’ in Scotland,” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol.17 (New Series, volume 5), 1883.

Acknowledgements:  Big thanks for use of the 1st edition OS-map in this site profile, Reproduced with the kind permission of the National Library of Scotland

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Wallace’s Well, Dunfermline, Fife

Healing Well:  OS Grid Reference – NT 08782 87275

Also Known as:

  1. Spa Well
  2. Wallace Spa

Archaeology & History

The ruins of this little-known site, dedicated to the legendary Sir William Wallace, can still be seen in the form of an overgrown stone ruin just off the footpath that runs through the Pittencrieff Glen out of the town centre.  In earlier times the waters were evidently of some repute, as a Council meeting in May 1773 reported with some disdain the closure of the waters by a Mr Chalmers:

“This Day the Council considering that the entry from the Town to the Well of Spaw is now shut up by Mr. Chalmers, which was a particular privilege to ye Inhabitants of the Burgh, Do hereby appoint the Provost to intimate to Mr. Chalmers that the Town will not give up that privilege, and to require him to oppen an entry thereto as formerly.”

We don’t know whether the miserable Mr Chalmers gave access to the well, as there seem to be no Council meeting notes telling us the outcome.  My guess would be that the local people got their way, hopefully at Chalmers expense!  More than 70 years later, another Mr Chalmers (1844) wrote about the well in a more respectful light:

“On the north edge of the rivulet, a little below this bridge, at the foot of the Tower Hill, there is a famous well, named the Wallace Spa, or well of Spa, which was formerly much resorted to by the inhabitants of the town for its excellent water, but which has been long since disused. It is noticed here simply on account of the traditionary antiquity of its name, Sir William Wallace, it is said, having once, in the haste of a flight, drank a little of it, out of the palm of his hand.”

In spite of there being local folklore of William Wallace, the local historian Ebeneezer Henderson (1879), in his giant work on Dunfermline, thought there was a more prosaic origin to the well’s name. He told,

“This well is still in existence, about fifty yards south of the ruins of Malcolm Canmore’s Tower — Tower Hill.  The water is reported as being “very cold at all times.” The water should be analysed.  The well during the period of its being used was known as the “Spaw Well,” and the ” Well of Spaw,” and, by and by an easy, natural transition, ” Wallace Spa;” and thus the name of the well has sometime been connected with that of the great Scottish hero.”

The Well after 1900
pre-1900 image

By the end of the 19th century, the well had become almost buried by earth and foliage, but was subsequently brought back to life following architectural improvements of the glen around the turn of the 20th century.  In Patrick Geddes’ (1904) work he gives us “before and after” portraits (attached here) showing how it had been restored.  He also mentioned “its tradition of medicinal value”, but could give no further information regardings the ailments it was reputed to cure…

References:

  1. Chalmers, Peter, Historical and Statistical Account of Dunfermline, William Blackwood: Edinburgh 1844.
  2. Geddes, Patrick, City Development: A Study of Parks, Gardens and Culture-Institutes, St George Press: Birmingham 1904.
  3. Henderson, Ebenezer, The Annals of Dunfermline, John Tweed: Glasgow 1879.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Stob Cross, Markinch, Fife

Wayside Cross: OS Grid Reference – NO 29607 02202

Also Known as;

  1. Stobb Cross
  2. Canmore ID 29950

Getting Here

Shown on 1856 OS map

The cross is located on a bluff of land overlooking the west side of Stob Cross Road on the northern edge of Markinch.

Archaeology & History

In 1933, following a visit in 1925, the county archaeological inventory described it thus:-

Close beside the East Lodge of Balbirnie House, on a knoll 200 feet above sea-level, stands a stone known, from the nature of its sculpturings, as the “Stob Cross.” It is a somewhat mutilated rectangular slab, 7 feet 5 ½ inches in height, 2 feet broad at the base and 6 inches thick, having a plain cross carved in relief on the east and on the west face. The cross on the east is now very much damaged but sufficient remains to indicate that the arms have been 1 foot wide and that the shaft has measured 1 foot 5 inches across at the intersection. On the west face the design stands out in relief from 1 to 1 ¼ inches. The arms of the cross measure 11 ½ inches in width, and the upper limb, which tapers slightly to its extremity, is 12 ½ inches across at the point of intersection. The shaft measures 1 foot 2 inches across below the arms and widens gradually downwards to 1 foot 8 inches at the base. In 1790, when the cross was in danger of falling, the Earl of Leven had the position faced up with masonry, and the monument now stands, with its major axis north and south, on a two-stepped base of modern construction.

Roadside views l. & centre – Rear view r.

It’s certainly had a hard life, and its official designation as ‘early medieval’ leads us to suspect that it may have been a decorated Pictish cross that has had its ornamentation obliterated by Reformation iconoclasts. Those same iconoclasts may have concocted the ‘history’ recounted by Rev  John Thomson (1794) in the Old Statistical Account of 1794 of what he describes as a ‘very coarse piece of work’:-

‘Vulgar tradition says, that it was erected to the memory of a gentleman, who fell on this spot, in a mortal encounter with one of his neighbours.’

Writing of Markinch, nineteenth century historian Aeneas Mackay (1896) has this to say:-

‘A cell of the Culdees was established there by one of the last Celtic bishops, and the ancient cross near Balgonie [sic] may mark its site.’

Modern place-name research ascribes Markinch as a place where horses were grazed while their owners were attending the early mediaeval courts and assemblies at Dalginch a quarter of a mile to the east, so the cross may at that time have been a waymarker. A roadside plaque describes the Cross as possibly marking the limit of an ancient sanctuary enclosure related to the church of St Drostan (known locally as St. Modrustus) in the centre of Markinch.  Additionally, it was on the ancient (and recently revived) Fife Pilgrim Way from Culross to St Andrews, so would have been a wayside station for the pilgrims. which if it was a Pictish cross would have made it a target for desecration by iconoclasts. We are lucky that it has survived at all, and with the revival of the Pilgrim Way as a long distance path it will attract many new admirers.

References:

  1. Forbes, A.P., Kalendars of Scottish Saints, Edmonston & Douglas: Edinburgh 1872.
  2. Mackay, Aeneas J.G., A History of Fife and Kinross, Blackwood: Edinburgh 1896.
  3. Markinch Heritage Group, – http://www.markinchheritage.org.uk/Index.asp?MainID=5250
  4. Royal Commission, Inventory of Fife, Kinross & Clackmannan, HMSO: Edinburgh 1933.
  5. Taylor, Simon & Márkus, Gilbert, The Place Names of Fife – volume 2, Shaun Tyas: Donnington 2013.
  6. Thomson, Rev John. The Statistical Account of Scotland – volume 12, Creech: Edinburgh 1794.

© Paul T. Hornby, The Northern Antiquarian, 2020


Wester Nether Urquhart Stane, Gateside, Fife

Standing Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NO 1862 0799

Getting Here

Wester Nether Urquhart Stane

To find this stone take the A91 to Gateside and turn into Station Road.  Follow to the end, then turn right.  200 yards on there is a parking spot for the Bunnet Stane, and a track to follow.  As you go up this track towards the Bunnet, approximately 280 yards on is this beauty.

Archaeology & History

At over 6ft high, this previously unrecorded standing stone has quite a presence on this slight incline.  It’s hard to tell the true height as he is set in a grassy bank with a drystane wall behind.  It has obviously been used as a gatepost at some time in the past, but there’s no hint of being moved for that purpose.  There are many ancient relics in this area and there used to be a stone circle across the road and behind Nether Urquhart Farm, along with several burial cairns.  I reckon there is a lot more to be found, and we fully intend to go back there.

© Maggie Overett, The Northern Antiquarian

St. Margaret’s Stone, Dunfermline, Fife

Cup-Marked Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NT 10837 85060

Getting Here

St Margarets Stone on 1856 OS-map

Take the A823 road out of Dunfermline south towards Rosyth. A half-mile before you hit the motorway roundabout, at the roundabout where Carnegie Avenue takes you east, turn west and park up along the road where the modern business park lives.  30-40 yards from the roundabout, set back on the pavement, you can’t really miss the huge flat slab of stone, covered in cup-markings, resting on a stone plinth with ‘St Margaret’s Stone’ stamped on it!

Archaeology & History

On the 1856 OS-map of this area, St Margaret’s Stone is shown at the roadside just above a farm of the same name, a short distance away from its present location.  In October 1879, Alexander Stewart (1889) told us that funds were raised and steps taken to properly fix and preserve this ancient ‘resting-place’ of Queen Margaret on the Queensferry Road.  It was quite a few years later before it was moved the few hundred yards further to its present location.

Cups on stone’s edge

Early writers tell us that originally its position in the landscape was on the crest of one of the rises in the land between Dunfermline and the sea, making it visible for some considerable distance.  This would seem to have been a deliberate placement.  In my mind, and in accordance with the placement of many a prehistoric tomb, St Margaret’s Stone may originally have been part of a neolithic or Bronze age cairn, long since gone.  The size and shape of the rock implies it too, with similarities here of the impressive cist or gravestone found inside the Netherlargie North cairn at Kilmartin.  However, this wasn’t the thought of the prodigious Scottish historian, William Skene.  He thought that St Margaret’s Stone originally stood upright, being a Pictish-style standing stone that was mentioned in the first Statistical Account of the area.  The brilliant Scottish antiquarian, John Stuart (1856)—who gave us an illustration of the ‘standing stone’ in question—told us:

“It has been supposed by some that “St. Margaret’s Stone,” a block now lying on the side of the highway leading from Inverkeithing to Dunfermline, and about midway between these places, can be identified with the standing stone referred to in the Statistical Account.  Mr Skene has noted below a sketch of St. Margaret’s Stone:-  “The sculpture upon this stone has been lately chipped off in mere wantonness, so as to leave few traces of the subject recorded upon it.”  He farther states that it formerly stood erect, and was called “The Standing Stone.” According to Mr. Skene’s measurement, St. Margaret’s stone is about nine feet and a half in length, one foot in thickness, and four feet broad at the widest end, and broken off to a narrow point at the other.”

The missing ‘standing stone’

In this instance, Skene was confusing St Margaret’s Stone with the lost Pictish monolith (left) that used to exist nearby, which had carved horse figures and other memorial designs upon it and which he thought had faded away.  Whereas the large slab we are looking at here, and which Skene visited and measured, is covered on one side by a gathering of prehistoric cup-markings—much earlier than any Pictish or early christian carvings.  At first glance, it seems that some of these cups may well be natural, but it has to be said that some of them are distinctly man-made.  And if we were to believe the archaeo-accounts of the stone, the cupmarks are only to found on one side of the stone.  Which aint true.  As we can see here, a number of cupmarks run along the edge of the stone.  We cannot say for sure whether all of them are artificial, but they certainly look like it!  Also, on the other side of the flat surface, one or two single cups are visible.  It would be good if we could get an artist to give us a detailed impression of the prehistoric carvings without the modern engraving of St Margaret’s Stone etching on the main face. (is there anybody out there!?)

The Royal Commission (1933) lads visited the stone in 1925 and, several years later in their write-up, told us simply:

“This stone…stands with its main axis due north and south and measures 8 feet 6 inches, by 4 feet 7 inches, by 1 foot 6 inches.  On one side the entire surface is cup-makred, the markings varying in size from 1¼ inches to 3¼ inches and having an average depth of from ½ to ¾ inch.”

When the Scottish petroglyph writer and explorer, Ron Morris (1968) came to the site, he gave it an equally brief description, merely telling us:

“On standing stone (8 1/2 feet high, 4 1/2 feet wide), built in to roadside fence, over 80 cups, up to 4in in diam, 3/4in deep, some run together as rough dumbells.”

It’s well worth checking out!

Folklore

St Margarets Stone in 1825

When the Saxon Queen Margaret landed on the shores just west of Queensferry at Rosyth Castle (NT 1087 8200), legend reputes that she and her entourage made Her way north towards Dunfermline.  Halfway along the ancient track She rested at this large stone, which thereafter gained its name.  Subsequebt to this, Margaret was said to use the stone as a seat and would go to rest there upon occasions.  The tale probably has some germ of true in it.  Additional elements were also said of the great rock:

“The large stone here is associated with St Margaret and was visited by women who hoped to conceive or sought a successful birth. The eight-foot high stone is said to mark the resting place of St Margaret when she journeyed between Queensferry and Dunfermline. Margaret had eight successful pregnancies and probably needed to rest quite a few times on her travels!”

The fertility aspects of the rock were not the only pre-chritian virtues attached to it.  We also find that oft-cited motif of rocks moving of their own accord: in this case, as J.B. MacKie (1905) told us, local people had always

“been told that the stone rose from its bed and whirled thrice round in the air every time it heard the cock at the adjoining farm crow.”

Cocks crowing are symbolic of sunrise, obviously.  Whether the rest of the short theme is a folk memory of the stone becoming animated when something in the sky occurred – at sunrise perhaps, in accordance with many an alignment found in the ancient tombs up and down the country.

References:

  1. Chalmers, Peter, Historical and Statistical Account of Dunfermline, William Blackwood: Edinburgh 1844.
  2. Fernie, John, A History of the Town and Parish of Dunfermline, John Miller: Dunfermline 1815.
  3. Henderson, Ebenezer, The Annals of Dunfermline, John Tweed: Glasgow 1879.
  4. MacKie, J.B., Margaret, Queen and Saint, Oliphant: Edinburgh 1905.
  5. Morris, Ronald W.B., “The cup-and-ring marks and similar sculptures of Scotland: a survey of the southern Counties – part 2,” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 100, 1968.
  6. Royal Commission Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Inventory of Monuments and Constructions in the Counties of Fife, Kinross, and Clackmannan. HMSO: Edinburgh 1933.
  7. Rupert-Jone, John A., Rosyth, A. Romanes: Dunfermline 1917.
  8. Stewart, Alexander, Reminiscences of Dunfermline and Neighbourhood, Scott Ferguson: Edinburgh 1889.
  9. Stuart, John, Sculptured Stones of Scotland – volume 1, Spalding Club: Aberdeen 1856.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 


Netherfoodie Cottage, Dairsie, Fife

Standing Stones (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference — NO 4128 1769

Also Known as:

  1. Dairsie Stones

Archaeology & History 

Looking across the field where the stones once stood (photo credit – Paul Hornby)

Recent archaeological investigations at the site which has become known as the Dairsie Hoard—where many pieces of broken Roman silverware were seemingly deposited in one spot, adjacent to a dried bog “which may arise from a former spring” of water—brought about the discovery of much earlier megalithic remains.  The position of two previously unrecorded standing stones were found during the archaeological dig here.  In the most recent edition of Current Archaeology, Fraser Hunter (2018) described the position of the Roman silverware close to some ancient pits or sockets in the ground. This “group of features was…intriguing”, he told,

“for two of them contained stumps of standing stones, one in association with probably Bronze Age pottery. This hoard had been buried in a memorable, perhaps even a sacred site, between an intriguing wet spot on one side and, on the other, two standing stones, which were already ancient by the time the silver was buried.  Such burial of valuables in association with prehistoric monuments can be readily paralleled elsewhere.  It suggests this silver was placed under the care of the gods, probably as a sacrifice rather than a burial for safekeeping.”

Two thousand years before the Roman silver deposit had been deposited, megaliths here stood.  Sadly they’re long gone, leaving more questions than answers as usual…

References:

  1. Hunter, Fraser, “Solving a Silver Jigsaw,” in Current Archaeology, 335, February 2018.

Acknowledgments:  Many thanks to Paul Hornby for use of his photo in this site profile.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian


Moonzie, Cupar, Fife

Cup-Marked Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NO 34 18

Archaeology & History

There are no previous literary references to this small portable cup-marked rock, relocated recently by Paul Hornby during one of his various antiquarian meanderings.  Found in association with a much later architectural structure, it position in the landscape (near the top of a hill) would suggest that is was most probably located in a prehistoric cairn in earlier days—all traces of which have vanished.  But we cannot be sure of this and I’m merely speculating.

Moonzie cup-marked stone

Site of carving

The thin, fairly flat stone is about 18 inches across, by a foot wide, and consists of what seems to be 10 cup-marks (no rings, sadly), of which six of them are the real deal.  No other carvings officially exist anywhere near it and its isolation is an enigma… such as it is with petroglyphs…

Due to the fact that the stone can literally be picked up and moved by anyone, we’re hoping that it can be seen by local archaeologists and perhaps placed into a museum for safe-keeping.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian 


Samson’s Stone, Waltonhill Farm, Craigrothie, Fife

Legendary Stone: OS Grid Reference – NO 36312 09667

Getting Here

Lighter coloured Samson Stones visible from road south of farm

Travelling South along the A916 just past Craigrothie, turn right down to Chance Inn, and turn left at the T junction. and follow the road on to just past the left hand bend when Waltonhill Farm will be seen on the right. The Stones form part of the structure of a dwelling house and are not accessible to the public, but are visible from the public highway further down the road as the light coloured irregular shaped stones at ground level either side of the door of the south-facing house.

Archaeology & History

According to a piece published in the Fife Herald & Journal in 1905:-

“Once upon a time, so runs the legend, Samson challenged the devil to match him at boulder throwing. As challenger, Samson stood on the West Lomond; Satan stood on the East. The signal was given; two mighty rocks whistled through the air. ‘The De’ils Stane‘ fell where it now lies, on the road-side about a quarter of a mile west from Waltonhill Farm. Samson, though handicapped by three miles greater distance, flung his stone fully four hundred yards beyond that of Satan, and with such force that it split into three parts; which parts are now built into Waltonhill barn.”

The light-coloured, irregularly-shaped stones at ground level are the likely remains

This is of course a variant of a creation myth that is to be found throughout Britain, of an Age of Giants who strode the land quarrelling with each other and the mortal humans. The original names of the Giants have been lost in the aeons of oral transmission of the legend from pre-history, and replaced by that of a probably equally legendary Middle Eastern strong man from the Christian’s Bible, in combat with the Christian’s Naughty Man. And to prove the point of Christianity’s superiority over the old animistic cults of the land, the De’il has to be demonstrably the Loser.

Another view of the Stones

The house owner told me that what is now the farmhouse bearing the stones, was originally the barn, that they rebuilt after 40 years of dereliction, and interestingly she had heard something about some Samson’s Stones, but not about the nearby De’il’s Stane, which shows that these ancient legends are still being orally transmitted.

The Stone was thrown over 10 miles from West Lomond (right). No wonder it split!

There are five ‘odd’ stones either side of the doorway, along the base of the wall facing the Lomond Hills, of irregular shape and lighter colour than the rest of the building’s walls. These are the likely candidates for the Samson’s Stones (unless anyone can come up with more convincing evidence). While the legend speaks of three stones, it is quite feasible that the masons dressed these when they built the original barn, making five stones out of the three. They look like they may be successive horizontal slices of a larger square to triangular sectioned stone. Pure speculation on the writer’s part, but are these the remains of a lost standing stone(s) that had to be demolished in order for the barn to be built, pieces of which were incorporated into the building to give the original stone’s magical protection to the farmer’s animals and crops?

References:

  1. Fife Herald & Journal, 1st November 1905, quoted in John Ewart Simpkins’ County Folklore – Volume VII: Fife, with some notes concerning Clackmannan and Kinross-shires, Folk-Lore Society by Sidgwick& Jackson: London 1914.

© Paul T Hornby, The Northern Antiquarian 2018