Wife with the Bratty Plaid, Balfron, Stirlingshire

Standing Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NS 60027 91383

Getting Here

The Wife with the Bratty Plaid

The Wife with the Bratty Plaid

Take the same route as if you’re visiting the small Carlin Stone (a few hundred yards further along): along the B822 road between Kippen and Fintry, stop at Balafark farm and cross the road above the farm to take the track into the forest.  1km along, note the small green track, off the main central track, slightly up on the rise on your right, which bends round and then goes (eventually) to the other side of the forest.  Once you reach the gate at its edge, walk left 285 yards (261m) along the fence.

Archaeology & History

The Wife and the Carlin on the 1865 OS-map

The Wife and the Carlin on the 1865 OS-map

Described in the Ordnance Survey’s (1870) Book of Reference (volume 47) as “a flat rock on the boundary between Perth and Stirling,” the rock is certainly not flat—and any geographical relationship it had with Perth has long since gone.  Instead, the stone in question here is an upright one—although it’s not much more than two feet tall.  However, on the other side of the present-day fence there is a small flat stone in the ground; but it is the moss-covered upright that is our ‘Wife with the Bratty Plaid.’  A smaller curious-looking quartz-lined stone also lies next to this old Wife…

The Wife, looking east

The Wife, looking east

The Wife, looking west

The Wife, looking west

Marked on the ancient boundary line, this small but sturdy standing stone probably has a prehistoric pedigree, although we cannot be certain without an excavation.  It is shown on the earliest OS-maps from the 1860s, but we have no notifications from any literary sources telling the tale behind the stone’s fascinating name: meaning simply, the ‘wife wearing the tartan shawl.’  When Marion Woolley and I came here the other day, we tried to see if a simulacrum of such a figure was hiding in the moss-covered upright—but unlike the notable simulacrum at MacBeth’s Stone, we struggled somewhat here.  It was possible, from certain angles (if we didn’t stand on our heads and poke each other in the eyes!) to see this ‘wife in a shawl’, but twas a struggle…

There’s every likelihood that whatever the old tale once was about this petrified ancestral stone, it would have had some mythic relationship with the Old Wife known as the Carlin, or cailleach, a few hundred yards to the west, at the Carlin Stone.  As yet however, their histories remain hidden in the sleep of the Earth…

Links: 

  1. Nataraja’s Foot – The Wife with the Bratty Plaid

Acknowledgements:  Huge thanks to Marion Grace Woolley, for a truly soggy day out and for the photos in this site profile.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.094675, -4.251535 Wife with the Bratty Plaid

Todholes, Fintry Hills, Stirlingshire

Cairn:  OS Grid Reference – NS 67761 87011

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 45284

Getting Here

Todholes Cairn one wintry evening

Todholes Cairn one wintry eve

Along the B818 road that runs between Fintry and Denny, get to the western end of the Loch Carron reservoir and park up at the entrance to the forest.  Across the road, walk up the track towards the (planned) wind farm.  Nearly a mile along watch out for the walling of derelict buildings on the slope above the track—but instead of walking up to them (west), walk up the slope on the other side of the track (east), over the annoying fence, then another one barely 50 yards away.  The large fairy mound on the moorland plain barely 100 yards ahead is the site in question.

Archaeology & History

Todholes Cairn looking north

Todholes Cairn looking north

On the day that Paul Hornby, Nina Harris and I visited this site, Nature had been watering Her ground excessively and the moorland was becoming an immense bog.  The daylight was fading fast too, so we didn’t get much time to sit and play and take in the colourful panorama that unfolds its vision as She normally would—and it would be a magnificent view on a clear bright day!  Instead, Her grey carpets and skies darkened quickly, leaving only a bare meander around this old prehistoric tomb before us.  It’s quite a big thing too…

Records of it are scant, both in archaeology accounts and popular culture.  In 1952 the Royal Commission (1963) lads visited the site and subsequently wrote that:

“This cairn…consists of a grass-covered mound of stones which stands to a height of 8ft and measures about 55ft in diameter. Two large boulders which lie at the foot of the mound to the south may represent the remains of a peristalith.  Three small holes caused by quarrying or by excavation appear on the surface of the cairn.”

Another cairn can be found a short distance northwest and what seems to be the remains of a prehistoric hut circle was visible on the moorland plain a few hundred yards south.  The word ‘todholes’ derives from ‘the abode of foxes’—and I saw two dead foxes recently shot by local land-owners hereby, showing that the place-name is valid.

References:

  1. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments Scotland, Stirlingshire – volume 1, HMSO: Edinburgh 1963.
  2. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Archaeological Sites and Monuments of Stirling District, Central Region, Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 1979.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.057630, -4.125152 Todholes cairn

Machar Stones, Fintry, Stirlingshire

Standing Stones:  OS Grid Reference – NS 65705 83932

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 45311
  2. Waterhead Stones

Getting Here

The Machar Stones

The Machar Stones

Of the 2 ways to reach here: one via the Crow Road, up to Waterhead Farm and then meandering through the forest—we took the other one!  From the car park at the western end of Carron Reservoir, take the track into the forest. Stick to the track closest to the loch until, after crossing the small river bridge, veer right at the next junction 200 yards on.  Another 600 yards (0.5km) along, take the right turn and walk all along this track to the very end.  From here, take your feet down into the opening along the small burn and stick to this gap in the trees for 100 yards or so, where the gap in the trees veers left.  Keep walking for another 200 yards.

Archaeology & History

These stones might take some finding, but they’re worth the effort if you like your megaliths.  When Nina, Paul and I visited them yesterday, the meander turned into what have become known as Barmy Bennett Bimbles as we ventured off-path and into the forest, wading through marshland and getting our eyes poked out in the dense trees!  And then the snow came. Twas gorgeous to be honest…

Machar Stones, looking SE

Machar Stones, looking SE

Machar Stones, looking west

Machar Stones, looking west

Probably neolithic in origin, the Machar Stones are set upon an elevated rise above the confluence of the Bin Burn and the River Carron on what seems to be an enhanced artificial platform, akin to those which some stone circles and ring cairns are mounted upon. Around the edges of the stones themselves, the earth has been dug into at some point in the past, as evidenced by the distinct oval dip in the ground surrounding the stones; although I can find no antiquarian accounts describing such a dig.  There is the possibility that these stones may once have marked the site of a prehistoric tomb.

Once you walk ten yards away from the stones in any direction, you begin to walk downhill.  Sadly the trees presently obscure any view from the stones, completely silencing the panorama that quite intentionally awoke from here in centuries gone by, disabling any immediate visual landscape analysis or geomancy.  The proximity of the two rivers was probably relevant in the construction of the stones; as may be the ridge between the Little and Meikle Bin to the southeast.

First described in Nimmo’s Stirlingshire (1817) as “a druidical remain…in the parish of Fintry, about the middle of the moor towards Campsie and northwest of the Meikle Bin”, another early account of these megaliths was in H.G. Smith’s (1896) work on the parish of Strathendrick, before the imposition of the modern ‘forest’ occurred and the views from the stones were unrestricted.  After describing their geographical position, he told:

“On a comparatively level part of the muirland between the two rivers and under Meikle Bin, there are two old standing stones known locally as the Machar Stones, this name being derived from the Gaelic magh, a plain.  The more northerly stones measures 8 feet in height, and the other is 5 feet 7 inches high.  Little…is known of the origin of these standing stones… They were apparently in some way connected with the religious worship of the prehistoric inhabitants of the land.  The general uniform direction in which they point, which is to the north of east, looking as nearly as possible to the quarter of sunrise at the summer solstice, seems to point to their having been erected by a race of sun worshippers.”

Machar Stones, looking NW

Machar Stones, looking NW

Around the same time, A.F. Hutchison (1893) gave a lecture on these and other Stirlingshire megaliths, giving slight variants on the heights of the monoliths, adding that “the two stones are standing in a line pointing to 220°.”  Sadly, even the great authorities of Aubrey Burl (1993) and Alexander Thom (1990), in their respective tomes on the subject, were unable to define any astronomical alignments here.  Hutchison puzzled about the seeming artificiality of the platform upon which the stones appear to have been set, though wrote how “geological authority pronounces it to be a quite natural formation.”

As to the name of the site, William Grant (1963) ascribes the word ‘Machar’ and its variants to mean “a stretch of low-lying land adjacent to the sand” or “low-lying fertile plain”—which doesn’t seem relevant here, unless it was so named by people living on the higher grounds.  It seems odd… As does the alignment of the stones.  When Nina Harris stood between the stones with a compass to work out the cardinal points, the stone that was leaning was due north of the upright stone.  When she walked several yards away from them, the compass deviated and we were given a more northeast-southwest alignment from stone to stone.  This isn’t too unusual as we find similar magnetic anomalies at other megalithic sites in Britain (see Devereux 1989), due to a variety of geophysical ingredients.

Royal Commission 1954 photo

Royal Commission 1954 photo

Not that your bog standard archaeo-tomes ever mention magnetic anomalies, as basic physics is too complex a subject for your standard archaeo-types!  Instead however, we just get the usual measurements and data-sets, much as the Royal Commission (1963) lads gave us after their visit here in 1954—but at least there was no forest when they came here!  They were fortunate.  “These two stones,” they told us,

“stand on a slight eminence in open moorland, half a mile ENE of Waterhead farmhouse and at an elevation of 850ft… Described by Nimmo’s editor as “a Druidical remain”, they have also been nown as the Machar Stones.  The more northerly stone, a four-sided pillar of irregular section, has fallen almost prostrate and its whole length, 7ft 6in, is revealed.  At the centre it measures 3ft in width by 2ft 6in in breadth.  The other stone stands 4ft 6in further S.  It is a slab…standing to a height of 5ft and measuring about 2ft in thickness.  Its width is 2ft 8in at ground level, 3ft 8in at a point 2ft above this, and 2ft at the top.”

They posit the idea that the reason the taller stone is leaning at such an angle was due to there being a prehistoric cist nearby which had been ‘excavated’ by peoples unknown, who then took it upon themselves to explore the Machar Stones with similar venture.

The 'cup-marked' stone

The ‘cup-marked’ stone

In recent years it has been said that there are cup-markings on the leaning stone, seven of them apparently.  When we visited yesterday they were difficult to make out.  There were a number of ‘cups’ on the stone, but these were debatable and seemed more the result of conglomerate disintegration than man-made.  A couple of them were perhaps ‘possibles’.  However, the light was poor and I’d prefer another visit before making my mind up!

The Machar Stones are quite evocative megaliths, despite their lack of grandeur.  Maybe it was the snow.  Maybe it was the trees.  Maybe it was me.  Or probably a mix of all three and more; but this had a real feel to the place.  Well hidden, miles from human touch or visits, awaiting just the occasional visitor—and in this weather (of floods, downpours, cold and snow) saturated humans would be the only sorts of crazy people whose spirits would risk getting completely lost to find them.  And my god were they worth the effort!  Paul, Nina and I thought so anyway!

References:

  1. Burl, Aubrey, From Carnac to Callanish, Yale University Press 1993.
  2. Devereux, Paul, Places of Power, Blandford: London 1990.
  3. Feachem, Richard, Guide to Prehistoric Scotland, Batsford: London 1977.
  4. Grant, William (ed.), Scottish National Dictionary – volume 6, SNDA: Edinburgh 1963.
  5. Hutchison, A.F., “The Standing Stones of Stirling District,” in The Stirling Antiquary, volume 1, 1893.
  6. Nimmo. William, History of Stirlingshire, Andrew Bean: Stirling 1817.
  7. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments Scotland, Stirlingshire – volume 1, HMSO: Edinburgh 1963.
  8. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Archaeological Sites and Monuments of Stirling District, Central Region, Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 1979.
  9. Smith, H. Guthrie, Strathendrick and its Inhabitants from Early Times, James Maclehose: Glasgow 1896.
  10. Thom, A., Thom, A.S. & Burl, Aubrey, Stone Rows and Standing Stones – 2 volumes, BAR: Oxford 1990.

Acknowledgements:  Huge thanks to Nina Harris and Paul Hornby for their endurance and endeavor in locating these great old stones, in attendance with the great rain, snow and deep muddy bogs!

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.029423, -4.156546 Machar Stones

Knockraich, Fintry, Stirlingshire

Standing Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NS 60889 87739

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 45305
  2. Knockcraich

Getting Here

Knockraich standing stone

Knockraich standing stone

From Fintry village take the B822 road towards Kippen.  Only half-a-mile (0.8km) along, take the track on your left to Knockraich Farm and cafe.  Go all the way through the farm along the track and out the other side then follow the fence downhill across the field. At the bottom, go through the gate towards the stone which you’ll already be able to see ahead of you, in the next field. Y’ can’t miss it!

Archaeology & History

This little-known four-foot tall monolith standing alone in the fields northwest of Fintry, just above the River Endrick, is a fascinating little fella!  It stands at the western end of an elongated rise in the land, almost as if mimicking an ancient long barrow.  But more intriguingly (for me at least) are the cup-markings that adorn each of its four sides.

Cup-mark at base of the north side

Cup-mark at base of the north side

Cup-mark near top of west face

Cup-mark near top of west face

Upon first glance it seems that there are a number of such cup marks on the stone, but further inspection shows that only one occurs on each of the four faces.  Near the very bottom of the stone on its north and south sides a single large cup-mark has been etched; and on its east and western faces, the cup-mark has been carved further up towards the middle of the stone, with the east-facing side having a groove running from near the top and stopping at the cup-mark.  On top of the stone is a large ‘bowl’ (possibly natural, possibly man-made—it is difficult to say with any certainty) and a single cup-mark next to it.  When Nina, Paul and I visited here a few days ago, a palm-sized smooth stone was resting in the large bowl on top, akin to the healing and divination stones found placed in bullauns in Ireland and other parts of the world.

The first description of any length was cited in A.F. Hutchinson’s (1893) paper on the standing stones of Stirlingshire in which he wrote:

“This stone…is placed on the bank rising up from the river.  In shape it is approximately square—the two sides facing nearly east and west, measuring each 1ft 7in, the north face 1ft 6in, and the south 1ft 3in.  These dimensions are uniform from top to bottom.  The total girth is therefore 5ft 11in, while the height is 3ft 8 in.  Orientation 225º.  There are a number of cupmarks both on the top and side, as well as having several incised lines and other markings, some of which, however, give evidence of recent sculpture.”

Knockraich stone, looking south at Dunmore hillfort

Knockraich stone, looking south at Dunmore hillfort

Cupmark, hollow & stone on top

Cupmark, hollow & stone on top

The more modern or “recent sculpture” was that of a human figure, now very faint, etched onto the most western face of the stone, beneath a large solitary cup-mark.  When the site was visited and described by the Royal Commission (1963) lads, they gave a lengthier description of the carved elements on the stone, telling us that:

“On the top, which has been brought to an irregularly rounded point, there is an almost circular hollow measuring 5½in to 6in across and 2½in in depth; it is difficult to suppose that this is other than artificial, although its bottom shows differential weathering.  The SE side of the stone shows several natural cavities, and a deep and wide vertical groove which is also presumably natural.  The NW face seems to have been flattened to a certain extent, a slight ridge which is visible along part of either margin probably representing a survival of the original surface.  On this face, 12in above the ground, a human figure has been outlined in pocked technique.  It is in full-face, the features being indicated by pocked marks; the arms are extended jut below the level of the shoulders and the legs are widely spread with the feet turned outwards.  The lower edge of a tunic or short kilt seems to be indicated by a single line between the legs.  The figure is 8in heigh and measures 7in in breadth between the hands and 7½in between the feet.  This face of the stone also shows a number of small natural cavities, together with a shallow cup which has a somewhat artificial appearance; this cup is in the centre of the face and 2ft 4½in above ground level, apparently at the upper margin of the flattened area.  The figure lacks any distinctive characteristics which might afford evidence of date, but it may be relatively modern…”

Folklore

Mr Hutchinson (1893) told that,

“The stone seems to have brought down through the ages a tradition of sanctity in connection with it, as there is a legend to the effect that any attempt to move it is attended by convulsions of Nature and evil consequences to the rash disturber.”

Whether the position of the water-worn smooth rock found in the bowl on top of this standing stone has any ancient tradition, records seem silent on the matter.

References:

  1. Hutchinson, A.F., “The Standing Stones of Stirling District,” in The Stirling Antiquary, volume 1, 1893.
  2. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments Scotland, Stirling – 2 volumes, HMSO: Edinburgh 1963.
  3. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Archaeological Sites and Monuments of Stirling District, Central Region, Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 1979.
  4. Smith, H. Guthrie, Strathendrick and its Inhabitants from Early Times, James Maclehose: Glasgow 1896.

Acknowledgements:  Many thanks to Nina Harris and Paul Hornby for their help and attendance at this old stone.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.062256, -4.235886 Knockraich

Carlin Stone, Balfron, Stirlingshire

Legendary Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NS 59553 91277

Getting Here

Carling Stone on 1866 map

Carling Stone on 1866 map

Take the B822 road between Kippen and Fintry, stopping at Balafark farm.  On the other side of the road, above the farm, take the track into the forest.  Naathen…. 1120 yards (1.02km) along, note the small green track, off the main central track, slightly up on the rise on your right. It bends round and then goes (eventually) straight to the edge of the forest.  Once you reach the edge, go left all along the fence until it meets the large gate 800 yards WSW.  20 yards past the gate, a small stone is along the fence-line. This is the Carlin!

Archaeology & History

Carling Stone, looking east

Carling Stone, looking east

Found along the same boundary line as another stone with similar mythic virtues (called the ‘Wife with the Bratty Plaid’), when Marion Grace Woolley and I visited the site earlier, we found only a small upright, barely a foot tall, right in line with the ancient boundary along a newly made fence.  Thankfully, whoever built the fence, understood the nature of the stone, and left it in the ground where it belongs.  We know not for sure exactly how old this stone might be, but it its name and position suggest very old – probably prehistoric.

The Carlin is another word for the Cailleach: the prima mater or great Earth goddess in Irish, Scottish and northern English animistic traditions.  Her virtues are immense, representing the cycles of the natural world, a creation giant, healer and a whole host of other elements inherent to the natural world.  Although She tends to be represented as the Winter hag, the Cailleach changes Her faces and attributes as the cloaks of the seasons go by, annually, cyclically, year after year after year.  She’s as much the cloak of the Winter as She is the fertility of Spring, the warmth of the Summer and the fruits of Autumn.

Carling Stone, looking west

Carling Stone, looking west

Whatever traditions there might have been at this small Carlin Stone are now long forgotten it seems.  We find no bodach (Her husband) in immediate attendance.  However, the existence of the small standing stone called the ‘Wife with the Bratty Plaid,’ several hundred yards to the east along the same ancient boundary line, implies there would have been a traditional perambulation along this boundary, and during such annual ritual walks, tales or words may have been said here.  Does anyone know more…?

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.093579, -4.259022 Carlin Stone

Balgair Muir Woods, Balfron, Stirlingshire

Cup-and-Ring Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NS 58763 90113  —  NEW FIND

Getting Here

The stone in question
The stone in question

Take the B822 Fintry to Kippen road and just over 2 miles (3.3km) north of Kippen, take the small country lane on your left. Parking is truly troublesome along here, so: nearly half-a-mile along, a road/track on your right takes you into the huge forestry plantation (or ‘tree farm’ as Nina Harris calls them).  Go up here and, when you reach the tree-line, walk along the outer perimeter fence to your left.  Keep walking – and walking – through bog and over fence – keeping all along to the outside of the forest for more than a mile. You eventually reach a rise on the Balfron side with huge views to the west – and just here is an opening into the trees on your right where a long ridge of rock is obvious.  You’re here!

Archaeology & History

Main feature of the carving
Main feature of the carving

Not far from the recently rediscovered Footsteps Stone (coming soon…), this large cup-and-ring carving was found by Paul Hornby on a TNA rock art venture in November 2016 on a journey to the petroglyphs on Balgair Muir, between Balfron and Fintry.  Twas a damn good day indeed!  We’d been up here the previous week, but the grey daylight gave little away.  Upon revisiting the place, Paul eventually called us over and, beneath a mass of fallen tree foliage, the long raised rock gave up its ancient symbols once again.

Very faint partial rings?
Very faint partial cup&rings?
Main feature, looking ENE (photo by Nina Harris)
Main feature, looking ENE (photo by Nina Harris)

Along the main face of the stone are a variety of geophysical undulations and small natural hollows—lots of them!—some of which give the impression of being primitive cup-markings, but they’re more the result of erosion.  However, amidst these are several very possible cup-markings, and some photo-images show that at least one of them has portions of a distinct faint ring around it, possibly two of them.  On the whole however, we’d need a geological specialist to tell us with certainty about the other doubtful ‘cups’ here (TNA neeeeds an in-house crazy geologist into petroglyphs and things!).

The Balguir Moor Woods design
Balgair Muir Woods design
Main feature, looking west
Main feature, looking west

As the rock face slopes down on its northern edges, away from the many natural pits and nodules, Paul uncovered two large incomplete ‘rings’, each with short outer ‘lines’, distinctly carved.  The ‘rings’ are somewhat larger than the average cup-and-ring motifs — but it also appears that at least one of the ‘rings’ is lacking an internal cup-mark.

Large semi-carved 'bowl' (photo by Nina Harris)
Large semi-carved ‘bowl’ (photo by Nina Harris)

On the same piece of rock, several feet to the east and almost covered by an adjacent tree, we also found a large half-natural half-carved ‘bowl’ more than 12 inches (30cm) across with a possible cup-marking near its centre.  Whoever carved this section of the petroglyph has definitely utilised the natural features in the rock and, it seems, may never have finished the work.

We need more visits to this area to find what more lies beneath the fallen forest debris.

Acknowledgements:  Massive thanks to Paul Hornby for uncovering this carving.  Huge thanks also to Nina Harris for her help and some of the photos; and also to Ann Rankin and Mick for all their relative help too.  Until next time…

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 

 

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  56.082861, -4.271196 Balgair Muir Woods