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 

St. Patrick’s Well (2), Struthill, Muthill, Perthshire

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference – NN 8555 1537

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 25329
  2. Chapel Well
  3. Struthill Well

Getting Here

Site on the 1866 map

From Muthill, go up Thornhill Street out of the village for nearly 1½ miles. You’ll have just passed the double hairpin bend, crossed the rivulet, then reached the large old farmhouse of Lurgs.  From here, turn right and after just over half-a-mile you reach Struthill where, running by the side of the house, is a small trackway.  Ask the folks at the house, who are most helpful, and walk down the track for nearly 400 yards and go through the first gate on your right, crossing the field until it dips down to the burn.  The boggy marshy mass running from near the top of the slope is what you’re looking for!

Archaeology & History

Shown on the 1863 map as the Chapel Well, the dedication of the waters to St. Patrick coincided with a chapel that once stood here, also in his name.  Very low faint remains of the chapel, completely overgrown, can still be made out amidst the rushes.  It’s one of two holy wells in Muthill parish that are dedicated to St. Patrick.

Very little of any real spring of water can be seen nowadays.  Indeed, the site today is merely a much overgrown bog-of-a-well whose water oozes down the slope into the Juncus rushes, trickling into the adjacent burn.  I had a drink of the water from the slopes, which tasted OK and did me no harm whatsoever.

Folklore

The most important aspects of this site was its use by local people and the attributes it was given.  We know not how far back such folklore goes, but it would have been many many centuries, if not millenia.  Water worship (if that’s the right word) is the most archaic of all traditional forms of veneration.  This place was no exception.  In John Shearer’s (1883) excellent local history work, he gave the following account of the site:

“About a quarter of a mile west from the Mill of Steps, upon a height on the right bank of the Machany, are to be seen the ruins of a small chapel.  When other places of Popish worship were thrown down after the Reformation, the Presbytery of Auchterarder ordered it to be demolished about 1650 to repress the superstitions practised at this place of resort.  West from the chapel is an excellent spring which was held in great veneration in those dark ages of superstition, when the ignorant and credulous populace were deceived by the crafty priests who stood below the spreading branches of an ancient ash which grew near the fount, pronouncing a benediction on the weary pilgrims as they drank of the waters.  And as it was celebrated for its healing qualities in many different distempers, numbers yearly visited it from a great distance to benefit by its virtues with as much devotedness as the Mahometan pilgrims visit the tomb of their Prophet.  Insanity was also cured here.  Several persons testified before the Presbytery of Stirling, in 1668, that having carried a woman thither, they staid two nights at a house hard by the well.  The first night they bound her twice to a stone at the well, but she came into the house to them being loosed without any help.  The second night they bound her again to the same stone and she returned loosed.  And they also declared that “she was mad before they took her to the well, but since that time she is working and sober in wits.”

“This well was still celebrated in the year 1723 and votive offerings were left, but no one then surviving appeared to appreciate the virtues of the stone.  Small offerings were given in coin and thrown into the well and those who had no coin brought white stones which were laid in regular order along the declivity where the water runs to the river.  Coins have been of late found in the well and the white stones are still to be seen.  The officiating priest generally resided at Drummond Castle.  Within the last sixty years, several of the gentry have come in their carriages to inspect these relics which were held in so great reputation in ancient times.  The chapel and well are about one mile south west from Muthill.”

References:

  1. MacKinlay, James M., Folklore of Scottish Lochs and Springs, William Hodge: Glasgow 1893.
  2. Morris, Ruth & Frank, Scottish Healing Wells, Alethea: Sandy 1982.
  3. Shearer, John, Antiquities of Strathearn, D. Phillips: Crieff 1883.

Acknowledgements:  Big thanks for use of the 1st Edition OS-maps, reproduced with the kind permission of the National Library of Scotland

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Altar Stone, Stobo, Peeblesshire

Legendary Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NT 15710 35754

Also Known as:

  1. Arthur’s Stane

Getting Here

Altar Stone on 1859 map

Various ways to get here.  From Peebles take the A72 road west to Kirkurd, but after 4 miles turn left onto B712.  Several miles down, go past Stobo village and before crossing the bridge over  the River Tweed, turn left up minor road leading to Dreva and Broughton.  The track into Altarstone Farm is about a mile along and the stone is across the road from there.  The other way is going south along the A701 from Broughton village, where you take the left turn towards Stobo.  Go along here for just over 3 miles where you reach the woodland (park here where the small track goes into the woods).  A coupla hundred yards further along is Altar Stone Farm on your right and the stone is above the verge on your left.

Archaeology & History

Altar Stone, Stobo

Archaeologically speaking, there’s nowt much to say about this site apart from the usual tedium of its measurements and the rock-type.  I’ll give the latter a miss, but the stone stands at nearly five feet high and nearly as broad; with its upper face relatively smooth and the top of it pretty flat.  A section from the top of this stone was cut and sliced off a few centuries ago and this was said to have been taken to Stobo church a few miles away, where it was fashioned into a stone font for baptisms.  If this is true, then it’s possible that this was once an authentic prehistoric standing stone, but we’ll probably never know for certain.  Also on top of the stone you can see a number of geophysical scratches, one of which looks as if it may have been worked by human hands and which has some relevance to the folklore of the stone.

It is shown on the 1859 OS-map of the area and was mentioned in the Ordnance Name Book where they told how it was “supposed to have formed the Altar of a druids Temple or some such object,” but they could find no local verification of such lore at the time of their visit… or at least, no one was telling them anything about it…

Folklore

This fascinating bit of rock—or possible sliced standing stone—is of note due to its association with that old shaman of shamans known as Merlin!  Near the end of His days, when He’d truly retired from the world of men and wandered, they say, mad amidst the great lowland forests, an old christian dood by the name of Kentigern—later known as St Mungo—who’d been trying to convert our old magickian away from the animistic ways of Nature.  Legend says that He succeeded.  The old Scottish traveller Ratcliffe Barnett (1925) wrote:

“Merlin is the real genius of Drumelzier.  Dumelzier means the Ridge of Meldred, a pagan prince of the district.  And it was Meldred’s shepherds that slew Merlin the bard.  The heathen bard was present at the battle of Arthuret in the year 573, when the christian army gained a victory over the Heathen Host.  Merlin fled to the forest of Caledon at Drumelzier and there ever after the old Druid spent his life among the wild hills with a repute for insanity.  This poet priest was doubtless heart-broken at the defeat of his pagan friends.  The old order was changing.  But the christian king had brought his friend, St Kentigern or Munro, to preach the gospel in upper Tweedside at Stobo.  One day Kentigern met a weird-looking man and demanded who he was.  “Once I was the prophet of Vortigern (Gwendollen).  My name is Merlin.  Now I am in these solitudes enduring many privations.”

“So Kentigern preached the gospel to the old nature worshipper and won him to Christ.  Up yonder, at the east end of the Dreva road, you will find the rude Altar Stone where, it is said, Kentigern received the Druid into the christian church and dispensed the sacrament.  But in those dark days of the faith, the Druids and their pagan adherents fought hard against the new religion.  So immediately after the admission of Merlin to the Church, the shepherds of Meldred sought him out, stoned him to death on the haugh of Drumelzier, and there, where the Powsail Burn falls quietly into Tweed, Merlin the Martyr was buried.  For long his grave was marked by a hawthorn tree.”

These shepherds were said to have stoned him and then threw his body upon a sharp stake and then into the stream. (stone – wood – water)

If there is any hint of truth in this tale, it is unlikely Merlin would have given himself over to the christian ways unless—as any shaman would—he knew of his impending death.  In which case it would have done him no harm to pretend a final allegiance to the unnatural spirituality that was growing in the land.  But whatever he may have been thinking, it is said that this Altar Stone was where he made such a deed.

Scratch-marks of the mythic hare
Altar Stone, Stobo

An equally peculiar legend—variations of which are found at a number of places in the hills of northern England and Scotland—speaks of another shamanic motif, i.e., of humans changing into animals and back.  For here, legend tells, an old witch was being chased (by whom, we know not) across the land.  She’d turned herself into the form of a hare and, as she crossed over the Altar Stone, her claws dug so deeply into the rock that they left deep scars that can still be seen to this day.  From here, the hare scampered at speed downhill until reaching the River Tweed at the bottom, whereupon transforming itself back into the form of the witch, who promptly fled into the hills above on the far side of the river.

One final thing mentioned by Barnett (1943) was the potential oracular property of the Altar Stone:

“You have to only place your hand on top of this rude altar, shut your eyes, and if you have the gift you will see visions.”

References:

  1. Ardrey, Adam, Finding Merlin, Mainstream 2012.
  2. Barnett, Ratcliffe, Border By-Ways and Lothian Lore, John Grant: Edinburgh 1925.
  3. Buchan, J.W. & Paton, H., A History of Peeblesshire – volume 3, Glasgow 1927.
  4. Crichton, Robin, On the Trail of Merlin in a Dark Age, R. Crichton 2017.
  5. Glennie, John Stuart, Arthurian Localities, Edmonston & Douglas: Edinburgh 1869.
  6. Moffat, Alistair, Arthur and the Lost Kingdoms, Phoenix: London 1999.
  7. Rich, Deike & Begg, Ean, On the Trail of Merlin, Aquarian: London 1991.
  8. Wheatley, Henry B., Merlin, or, The Early History of King Arthur – 2 volumes, Trubner: London 1865.

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

Dragon Well, Eccleshill, Bradford, West Yorkshire

Sacred Well (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – SE 17567 35473

Also Known as:

  1. Pendragon Well

Archaeology & History

Site on the 1893 map

A most curious place:  this ‘Well of the Dragon’ as it was first called (on the 1852 OS-map) and subsequently the ‘Pendragon Well’ (on the 1922 map) just off Pendragon Lane, seems to have been forgotten in both folklore and history.  I grew up round here and no legends of dragons were known, either in my life, nor that of the old folks I knew; nor any pub of that name that might account for it.

Equally unexplained is the name of the adjacent ‘Pendragon Lane’, which has been known as that for some 175 years.  We have no Arthurian myths anywhere in West Yorkshire that remains in folk memory—and certainly nothing hereby that accounts for it.

As for possible landscape associations (i.e., serpentine geological features), nothing in the vicinity has any bearing on the name.  Indeed, the only thing of any potential relevance was the former existence of a healing rock known as the Wart Stone, some 100 yards to the east at Bolton Junction.  Such stones are usually possessed of naturally-worn ‘bowls’ of some sort on top of the rock—akin to large cup-markings—into which water collected that was used to rid the sufferer of warts or similar skin afflictions.  But such an association seems very unlikely.

The only thing we can say of this Dragon Well is that probably, in times gone by, a folktale or legend existed of a dragon in the neighbourhood that had some association with the waters here.  Dragons are invariably related to early animistic creation myths, and this site may have been all that remained of such a forgotten tale.  The nearest other place in West Yorkshire with dragon associations is six miles northwest of here on the south-side of Ilkley Moor.  In Britain there are a number of other Dragon Wells, the closest of which is in South Yorkshire.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Clach an Tuirc, Fearnan, Perthshire

Cup-Marked Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NN 72183 44970

Also known as:

  1. Boar Stone

Getting Here

Clach an Tuirc on 1862 map

Pretty easy to find unless the vegetation takes over!  From Fearnan take the road to Fortingall.  Just as you’re going out of Fearnan, in the walling by the very last house on the right-hand side of the road is this large earthfast boulder. Y’ can’t miss it!

Archaeology & History

I first visited the Clach an Tuirc – or the Boar’s Stone – in 1981 when I stayed at Fearnan for a few weeks and, after clambering on top, looked down on the several simple cupmarks.  Forty years later, I returned with a camera!

First highlighted on the 1862 OS-map, Fred Coles (1910) made a brief note of the petroglyph in one of his megalithic surveys, but only noticed a single cup, saying:

“Near Cromraor, close to the cottage at Clash na Tuirc, stands the large boulder bearing that name, the Boar Stone. Its highest point is about six feet above the road, and bears one very distinct cup-mark.”

But there are several cup-markings on top of the stone, just as William Gillies (1938) described.

Folklore

Not far from here tradition tells of a legendary figure who is known today only as the Lady of Lawers (whom tradition asserts to have been a member of the Stewart family, from Appin, Argyll – they of the daemonic Red Book of Appin).  She made various prophecies, one of which said “that when Clach an Tuirc, the Boar’s Stone at Fearnan, would topple over, a strange heir would come to Balloch.” Though as the stone still aint toppled, we’re still waiting… (let’s just hope this doesn’t augur more of those selfish tories into our mountains who bring with them their mantras of “gerrof mah land”)

References:

  1. Coles, Fred, “Report on Stone Circles Surveyed in Perthshire (Aberfeldy District),” in Proceedings Society Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 44, 1910.
  2. Gillies, William A., In Famed Breadalbane, Munro Press: Perth 1938.
  3. MacMillan, Hugh, ‘Notice of Two Boulders having Rain-Filled Cavities on the Shores of Loch Tay, Formerly Associated with the Cure of Disease,’ in PSAS 18, 1884. ???
  4. Yellowlees, Walter, Cupmarked Stones in Strathtay, Scotland Magazine: Edinburgh 2004.

Links:

  1. Canmore notes on Clach an Tuirc

Acknowledgements:  Huge 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 

Bride’s Well, Ballintemple, Wicklow

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference – T 17340 77380

Archaeology & History

The earliest OS-map of this area shows this well a hundred yards or so northwest of an old church and just a few yards east of the stream that is now in woodland; but unlike today, when the early survey was done there were no trees, enabling a clear view of the waters.  When Myles Ronan (1927) wrote of the place, he told that it was still visible.  The site was added to the Grogan & Kilfeather (1997) county inventory where they suggested it’s probable relationship with the legendary St Brigid.  This seems highly probable.  Does anyone know if the Well is still there?

References:

  1. Grogan, Eion & Kilfeather, Annaba, Archaeological Inventory of County Wicklow, Stationery Office: Dublin 1997.
  2. Ronan, Myles V., “The Ancient Churches of the Deanery of Arklow”, in Journal Royal Society Antiquaries, Ireland, December 1927.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Lochan Hakel (02), Tongue, Sutherland

Cup-and-Ring Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NC 56995 52656

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 5375
  2. Lochan Hacoin
  3. Ribigill carving

Getting Here

Carving on the 1878 map

Whether you take the A836 or A838 into Tongue (through truly beautiful wilderness), make sure you go into the village itself—and then keep going, south, along the tiny country road.  Nearly 2½ miles along, note the small loch of Lochan na Cuilce on your right.  A few hundred yards past this, on the other side of the road (barely visible at first) is Lochan Hakel.  Walk around to the south-side of the loch until you find the Lochan Hakel 1 carving.  Then look up at the rock right above you.  That’s the one!

Archaeology & History

In James Simpson’s (1867) primary work on British petroglyphs, he mentions this site as being in the lands of “Ribigill, near Tongue”, although it is a little further to the south.  A certain “Mr Mitchell” had come across it in one of his many rambles in the hills.  Simpson told that he had:

“discovered cups and circles upon a large stone, about nine feet square, apparently lying in its original position, close to the edge of a loch, which contains the remains of an old castle… The surface of the stone shows eighteen or twenty round cup excavations, about an inch deep.  There is a ring of ‘hollow around each cup.'”

Although there aren’t rings around every cup, a great number of clear and impressive rings exist around many of them and are, thankfully, still reasonably visible amidst the mass of lichens.

Around the same time as Mr Simpson’s description, James Horsburgh (1868) wrote about the carving, telling us:

The rock and its island
Some of the cup-and-rings

“On the edge of the precipitous bank of the loch, and exactly opposite the island, there is a large boulder with a flat top, and on this there are a number of cups and rings… This stone is not generally known. Old Ross, the gamekeeper at Tongue, first told me of it, and he and I scraped off the moss and exposed the whole. He thought it was for playing some game. On the left of the stone, on a bit separated by a crack, there is a sort of a figure which appears to have been formed by cutting away the stone around it and leaving it in relief, and also some artificial cutting on the right, a sort of circular groove.”

A better description of the carving came near the beginning of the 20th century, when the Scottish Royal Commission (1911) lads included the site in their inventory.  They told:

From the rock, looking N
The carving from above

“At the S end of Lochan Hacoin, to the SE of the islet on the top of the bank, is a large earth-fast boulder, on the flat upper surface of which are a number of cup and ring marks placed irregularly over it.  The total number of undoubted markings is thirty-four, of which those surrounded by a ring number eleven.  No cup with a double ring round it is observable.  The best defined cup-mark measures 3″ across by 1¼” deep, and the enclosing ring is 7″ in diameter.  Eight of the markings are well defined; the others less noticeable.  At the S end there is a boss or projection, roughly rectangular, measuring 12″ x 6″.  A sketch of this stone, made about the year 1866 by Mr James Horsburgh, is preserved in the library of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.”

Does anyone know if this drawing still exists?

Folklore

In Horsburgh’s essay on the prehistoric remains of the area, he said how local people told that the cup-and-rings “were made by the high heels of a fairy who lived in the castle” on the island of Grianan about 40-50 yards away.

References:

  1. Close-Brooks, Joanna, Exploring Scotland’s Heritage: The Highlands, HMSO: Edinburgh 1995.
  2. Horsburgh, James, “Notes of Cromlechs, Duns, Hut-circles, Chambered Cairns and other Remains, in the County of Sutherland,” in Proceedings Society of Antiquaries Scotland, volume 7, 1868.
  3. o’ Reilly, Kevin, What to See Around the Kyle of Tongue, privately printed 1980.
  4. Royal Commission on Ancient & Historical Monuments & Constructions of Scotland, Inventory of Monuments and Constructions in the County of Sutherland., HMSO: Edinburgh 1911.
  5. Simpson, J.Y., “On Ancient Sculpturings of Cups and Concentric Rings,” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 6, 1866.
  6. Simpson, James, Archaic Sculpturings of Cups, Circles, etc., Upon Stones and Rocks in Scotland, England and other Countries, Edmonston & Douglas: Edinburgh 1867.

Acknowledgments:  Huge thanks to Sarah MacLean for guiding me to this carving, and also for the kind use of her photos in this site profile.  Cheers Sarah!  And to Donna Murray again, for putting up with me whilst in the area!  Also – Huge 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

St. Brendan’s Well, Abernethy, Perthshire

Holy Well (lost):  OS Grid Reference – NO 191 161

Also Known as:

  1. Brendan’s Well
  2. Brendi’s Well

Archaeology & History

In 1897, when Butler wrote his history of the village, he told that a certain well, “adjacent to the Gattaway stream” (thought to be the Nethy Burn which passes Gattaway farm) was known to old locals as Brendan’s Well, with the name still surviving as ‘Bredni Well’.  There were a number of large boulders around it that had been scattered by blasting, but which Butler thought were, “in all probability placed originally near the wall as a guide for pilgrims.”

The site was included in Ruth & Frank Morris’ (1982) survey, adding simply that the site was named “after the saint who lived here in the seventh century.”  In the christian calendar, St. Brendan’s day was May 16.

When the local antiquarian Paul Hornby looked for the well, a local lady told him that she thought an occasional but regular boggy patch that appeared in her garden was due to the underground waters from St Brendan’s Well.

References:

  1. Butler, D., The Ancient Church and Parish of Abernethy, Edinburgh 1897. Page(s): 102
  2. Morris, Ruth & Frank, Scottish Healing Wells, Alethea: Sandy 1982.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Oliver’s Mound, Richmond Park, Surrey

Tumulus (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – TQ 192 735

Also Known as:

  1. Oliver’s Mount

Archaeology & History

Roque’s 1746 map

Oliver’s Mound was highlighted as early as 1746 on John Roque’s map of the Country Near Ten Miles Round (London) as still standing.  One hundred and fifty years later, when the Ordnance Survey lads came to map the area, it had gone.  We don’t know exactly when it was demolished, so Historic England (not necessarily a good measure of accuracy) tell us its demise occurred “between 1760 and 1868”, so giving themselves at least some degree of safety!

As we can see in Mr Roque’s old map, an avenue of trees led up to the barrow.  This avenue will have been created when Richmond Park and its gardens were laid out.

The round barrow was most likely Bronze Age in origin.  The historian and folklorist Walter John (1093) reported that in 1834, three skeletons were found at a  depth of a yard beneath the surface.

Folklore

Site shown on 1873 map

Traditional tells that the name of this barrow comes from when the religious extremist, Oliver Cromwell, and his men, set up camp here.  A slight variant tells that Cromwell stood here to watch a skirmish.

References:

  1. Cundall, H.M., Bygone Richmond, Bodley Head: London, 1925
  2. Grinsell, Leslie V., The Ancient Burial Mounds of England, Metheun: London 1936.
  3. Johnson, Walter, Neolithic Man in North-East Surrey, Elliot Stock: London 1903.
  4. Johnson, Walter, Folk Memory, Clarendon: Oxford 1908.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

St. Fillan’s Tree, Killin, Perthshire

Sacred Tree (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NN 5708 3249

  1. St Fillan’s Ash

Archaeology & History

Long since gone, this great olde ash tree could once be found on the south side of Killin’s Mill building, close to the bridge at the Falls of Dochart.  It was deemed to be ‘sacred’ by local people – just as all trees were, once upon a long time ago.

In John Shearer’s (1883) wonderful book on the ancient ways of the Perthshire people, he described the tree as being adjacent to the earthfast rock known as St. Fillan’s Seat:

“At the side of it grows a large ash tree which is held sacred by the natives as no person will burn any of the branches although fallen to the ground nor destroy them in any manner.  However, there was one who had the hardihood to take one of the branches for a caber to repair his house.  Strange to tell the first fire that was kindled burned it to the ground as a punishment for this impious sacrilege.  Of course no person since has troubled it or taken any of the wood.  The branches that fall lie till they rot.”

The brilliant Killin historian, W.G. Gillies (1938) reported that the tree was still standing until it was “blown down by a gale in 1893″—but it didn’t quite kill it off for good; for in September 1911, C.G. Cash visited Killin and this was one of the many places he looked for and, despite local folk telling him about the more famous St Fillan Stones (still in existence and found at the Mill), he saw the last remnants of this great Ash, telling simply that,

“the mere dead stump of St Fillan’s Ash-tree still stands against the south post of the mill gate.  And quite near it is a young ash, said to be its descendant.  This younger tree has an out-curving branch that was said to have been the gallows-branch in olden days; but it is obviously too young and too weak.”

…So, does anyone know precisely which is the “descendant” of St. Fillan’s Ash and where happens it to be growing?

In Norse myth, the ash tree Yggdrasil was the tree of Odin and was one of the primal ingredients in their Creation myths.  It stood at the centre of the cosmos: an axis mundi no less, linking the many worlds and was the abode of the gods.  Its mythologies are extensive.  In Scotland, the myths of the ash are not so well known, but there’s little doubt that it possessed a sanctity and certainly has many traditions of it own, which are unfortunately outside the remit of this site profile.

References:

  1. Cash, C.G., “Archaeological Gleanings from Killin,” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, volume 46, 1912.
  2. Elders, E A., “Saintly stones in a Perthshire village,” in Country Life, December 1962.
  3. Gillies, William A., In Famed Breadalbane, Munro Press: Perth 1938.
  4. Shearer, John, Antiquities of Strathearn, D. Phillips: Crieff 1883.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian