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

 

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  56.462812, -4.321139 St Fillan\'s Tree

Cow and Calf Stones, East Bierley, West Yorkshire

Crosses / Legendary Rocks (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – SE 1975 2909

Archaeology & History

Site location at Cross House

Not to be confused with a much more renowned namesake above Ilkley, this was the name given to two old stones that once existed in the middle of the East Bierley hamlet (as it was then) southeast of Bradford.  They were two large boulders next to each other, not far from the early farmstead of Cross House (see map, right) and were described in James Parker’s (1904) historic collage of the area, where he informed us that:

“On the village green (are) the primitive large stones locally called the “Cow and Calf stones,” which used to be in days gone by a Preaching Cross and Market Cross.”

When William Cudworth (1876) described the place nearly thirty years prior, he only mentioned a single cross, telling us:

“There is a lane which has long been called Kirkgate at Birkenshaw, leading up to an ancient cross on the hill.  The fact of this cross being on the hill must have given rise to the name Kirk (church) gate, as there was not, until a few years ago, any church at Birkenshaw.  In a previous paper we had occasion to notice the existence of the cross as an evidence of a pre-church period.”

The meaning behind the name Cow & Calf is unexplained by our respective authors, although Cudworth’s citation of “the cross as an evidence of a pre-church period” is probably not without merit here.  It seems very likely that the animal names of the two large stones—akin to the Cow & Calf Rocks at Ilkley and others of the same name elsewhere in the country—that sat near the top of the hill, probably possessed a creation myth similar to others of the same name.  From this, it seems logical that local folk held the rocks as important, which would have obviously attracted the regressive attention of Church; so they stuck a cross here to christianize the place and in doing so ensured that local people could continue using the place as a meeting place.  This practice (as if you didn’t already know) was widespread.

Although Mr Cudworth seems to give the first real account of the place, field-name records of 1567 listed a ‘Cowrosse’, which may have been the “cross on the Cow” stone.  A.H. Smith (1961) listed the site and suggested the element –rosse may derive from a local dialect word meaning a marsh, but a ‘cow’s marsh‘ seems a little odd.  It is perhaps just as likely that an error was made in the writing of rosse instead of crosse.

References:

  1. Cudworth, William, Round about Bradford, Thomas Brear: Bradford 1876.
  2. Parker, James, Illustrated History from Hipperholme to Tong, Percy Lund: Bradford 1904.
  3. Smith, A.H., The Place-Names of the West Riding of Yorkshire – volume 3, Cambridge University Press 1961.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian 

 

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  53.757799, -1.701925 Cow & Calf Stones

Thistle Brig, Stanley, Perthshire

Legendary Rock: OS Grid Reference – NO 10842 32040

Getting Here

The easiest way to see the site is to stop at the car park at Craighall on the B9099 south of Stanley, and follow the path to the river.  The remains of the Brig will be seen on the other side of the Tay from the riverside walk.

Archaeology & History

The Thistle Brig was described in the nineteenth century Ordnance Survey Name Book as:-

‘A remarkable spot in the River Tay, when the breadth of the river becomes suddenly narrow by the protrusion of a bed of trap rock which crosses it at this place.’

Thistle Brig & the quarries for its hard stone on the 1901 25 in OS-map

According to local historian Alexander Scott, the Thistle Brig formed a convenient place to ford the Tay until  much of it was blasted away by explosives some time in the mid-nineteenth century in order to improve the flow of the river.  Old maps imply that an actual bridge may have spanned the Tay hereabouts at some time in the past.  The seemingly little known folklore of this site relates to an invasion by the Danes in the early mediaeval period. Elsewhere there are similar stories, so the truth or otherwise depends on where you are in Scotland, but this one may have more validity as the tale seems to give its name to the place!

The name ‘Thistle Bridge’ has been applied on old postcards to a stone footbridge over a side channel or lade between the road and the River Tay to the south of the Brig, and is not the subject of this profile.

The remains of the Thistle Brig – a hard basalt dyke on the east bank of the River Tay

Folklore

Alexander Scott, writing of the Brig:-

“…tradition holds that here the thistle received the distinction  of becoming the national emblem of Scotland.  In one of the many invasions the country suffered from foreign armies, the Danes, on one occasion, having landed on the east coast sacked the town of Montrose and continued on their march across the country, burning and pillaging as they went.  While crossing the Tay at this ford at night, the incident occurred of one of the leading soldiers arriving on the opposite side suddenly coming in contact with a thistle with his bare leg, which caused him to emit a shreik of pain.

“The noise was heard by the Scots, who had been encamped nearby, and the alarm thus given was the means of securing a victory over their enemies. The thistle was thereafter honoured as the national badge.”

Reference:

  1. Scott, Alexander, St Martins and Cambusmichael, A Parochial Retrospect, Munro & Scott 1911.

Link:

  1. Ordnance Survey Name Book

© Paul T Hornby 2021

 

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  56.472017, -3.448859 Thistle Brig

Blind Well, Sutton-in-Holderness, East Yorkshire

Healing Well:  OS Grid Reference – TA 1204 3306

Archaeology & History

Site of well on 1855 map

We don’t know for certain the precise whereabouts of this long lost healing well, but it would seem to be the one highlighted here (right) on the 1855 OS-map.  However, I think it equally possible that the small unnamed building, roughly halfway between the highlighted ‘Well’ and Spring Cottage, where the walling meets, could be the site in question.  It’s one or the other!

Folklore

When Thomas Blashill (1896) wrote of the Blind Well in his standard history work of the area, memory of it was already falling away.  In discussing where local people could wash and look after their health, he told that

“There was one place in the parish where washing seems to have been practised as a curative measure.  Down in the East Field, near to Spring Cottage Farm, was the Blindwell, to which the people had access. If they used its waters freely when suffering from sore eyes, their faith would probably be rewarded.”

References:

  1. Blashill, Thomas, Sutton-in-Holderness, William Andrews: Hull 1896.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  53.781819, -0.301093 Blind Well

St Everilda’s Well, Everingham, East Yorkshire

Holy Well (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – SE 80528 42531

Also Known as:

  1. St Everildis Well

Archaeology & History

Shown on the 1855 Ordnance Survey map as a ‘pump’, in the grounds of Everingham Priory, the ‘seat’ of the lord of the manor, it was in an enclosure formerly open to the people of the village. It was filled in prior to 1923. The water was described as ‘abundant and excellent.’ Graeme Chapman, in his Yorkshire Holy Wells website states:

‘A few metres to the south of the site of the well the modern OS map marks the start of a stream (SE 8055 4250) which could be the original source of the Holy well’s water.’ 

The well shown on the 1855 6″ OS Map.

The present writer has not been able to verify this from the materials available to him.

Everilda, also known as Everild and Averil, is recorded in the York Breviary, printed in 1493. She was a mid Yorkshire Saint who died around 700 CE.  According to this source she was of a noble Wessex family who went to Yorkshire with companions Bega and Wulfreda, settling on land called Bishop’s Farm, an estate of the Bishop of York, St Wilfrid , which he gave to them, the place being then called Everildisham. There they established a nunnery, of which all trace is now lost. Her Saint’s day is July 9th. The name of St Everilda has been changed to ‘Emeldis’ in the dedication of the church at Everingham. Some historians claim the village is not named after her, but as a derivation of ‘ham of Eofor’s people’. The only other church known to be dedicated to her is at Nether Poppleton, some 17 miles north west of Everingham.

Folklore

The water of the village and the mothers of Everingham are said to have been blessed by St Everilda, and the Reverend Smith wrote that over a fifty year period, no mother had died in childbirth.

References:

  1. Farmer, David, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1987
  2. Raine, James, The Dedications of the Yorkshire Churches, The Yorkshire Archaeological and Topographical Journal, Vol II, 1873
  3. Salisbury, Matthew Cheung, The Use of York: Characteristics of the Medieval Liturgical Office in York, Borthwick Institute, York, 2008
  4. Smith, Rev William, Ancient Springs & Streams of the East Riding of Yorkshire, A.Brown & Sons, London, Hull & York, 1923
  5. Stanton, Richard, A Menology of England & Wales.., Burns and Oates, London, 1887

Link:

  1. St Everilda’s Well on Yorkshire’s Holy Wells

© Paul T Hornby 2021

 

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  53.872745, -0.776719 St Everilda\'s Well

High Cross, Aberford, West Yorkshire

Cross (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – SE 433 390

Archaeology & History

Mentioned only in passing in the Becca and Aberford Enclosure Act of 1825, all remains of this site have gone.  It was subsequently referred to by Edmund Bogg (1904) in his journey through Elmet as previously standing where the Roman road veered off to the northeast from the “new road”, as it was then.  Bogg’s brief description told that from Nut Hill,

“A little distance south, where the old and new roads part, formerly stood a cross; Highcross Cottage keeps its memory green.”

References:

  1. Bogg, Edmund, The Old Kingdom of Elmet, James Miles: Leeds 1904.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian 

 

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  53.845444, -1.343365 High Cross

St John’s Well, Dunrobin, Golspie, Sutherland

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference – NC 8505 0081

St Johns Well, 1879 map

Archaeology & History

Very little has been written of this site due to the fact that little seems to known about it.  A few of the usual ‘official’ on-line catalogues mention it but information on the site is truly scant.  It is shown on the earliest Ordnance Survey map of the region and the same cartographers describe it in the Ordnance Name Book (1873), saying briefly how St John’s Well,

“Applied to a very deep pump well situated in the court of the ancient portion of “Dunrobin Castle”.  No information respecting the dedication or origin of this name can be obtained in the District.”

But an earlier reference than this is cited in Fraser’s (1892) work, telling us that,

“In the midst of the court within the castle there is one of the deepest draw-wells in Scotland, all lined with ashlar-work, which was built and finished before the house was begun.  The well was known as that of St. John.  In the year 1512 sasine (i.e. delivery of feudal property) of the earldom and castle was taken at the well.  At other times sasine was taken at the castle, at its gates, or near the well.”

Subsequent to this, we read in Cumming’s (1897) definitive folklore work of the region how,

“(it) looks as if there had been a chapel of St. John on Drumrabyn.  In that case it may have been one dependent upon Kileain (=Kirk of John) on Loch Brora, which was only ½ a mile further than Kilmalin.”

Having not visited the castle, I’m unsure whether or not the well can still be seen.  Does anyone know…?

References:

  1. Cumming, Anna & Bella et al, Golspie – Contributions to its Folklore, David Nutt: London 1897.
  2. Fraser, William, The Sutherland Book – volume 1, Edinburgh 1892.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  57.981632, -3.945495 St John\'s Well

Easter Nether Urquhart Cairn, Gateside, Fife

Cairn (destroyed): OS Grid ReferenceNO 1886 0890

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore 27787

Getting Here

The easiest way is to turn south off the A91 at Gateside onto Station Road, and the site of the cairn is in the third field to the left over the railway bridge. I accessed the site walking along the old railway line and climbing up the embankment.

Archaeology & History

The site of the Cairn on the 1894 25 in. OS map.

In the shadow of the Lomond Hills of Fife, what was once a very large pre-historic cairn, officially described as of ‘unassigned’ period, was quarried to destruction around two hundred and twenty years ago, presumably to provide stones for dykes (stone walls), at that time of enclosures of common land and what the landowners liked to call ‘agricultural improvements’.

In the early nineteenth century, this part of the Eden Valley between Gateside and the Lomond Hills was what would now be called a ritual landscape. There were, according to Miller:

nearly in a line between the two Laws ( Lomond Hills) no less than eight “druidical temples” (Stone circles) close together

and a number of impressive burial cairns, of which Easter Nether Urquhart seems to have been the largest. There were in addition large numbers of graves containing masses of cremated of human bones. Nearly all this archaeology has been subsequently destroyed by the farmers.

Two local antiquarian writers proposed that all these human remains had been buried there following the battle of Mons Graupius between the Roman Invaders under Agricola, and the Caledonians, and went on to argue that the Eden Valley was the site of this historic defeat for the ancient Caledonians defending their homeland. Whatever and whenever the origins of the cairns and human remains, subsequent researchers disagree with these nineteenth century arguments in favour of the Eden Valley, and tend to favour a more northerly location for Mons Graupius. Nevertheless we have these two historians to thank for leaving us descriptions of the cairn.

One of the antiquarians, Rev. Andrew Small wrote in 1823:

‘The Slaughter here seems to have been so dreadful, that even after the lapse of 17 Centuries the Common tradition of the Country bears, and seems to be as fresh in the Mouths of both old and young as though the battle had been fought only a hundred years ago, – that after this battle the River Eden ran red with blood for two days…’

It seems more likely that the event remembered was part of the campaign by Roman Emperor Septimus Severus and his son Caracalla to subdue the Caledonians around 209-210 CE. Modern writer, Simon Elliott:

‘Archaeological data is now emerging to show ….. a major depopulation event, indicating something close to a genocide was committed by the Romans in the central and upper Midland Valley.’

Andrew Small describing the cairn and some of the cremation remains in 1823:

There was also a very large cairn laid upon these ; and the proprietor lately told me that when removing the stones, besides the ashes already mentioned, there was also a pit of pure fine sand by itself, about as fine as is usually put into sand-glasses, which he thinks had been used for regulating the fire in burning of the dead. This cairn stood a little north of an ancient Druids temple, only one stone now remaining, out of ten of which it formerly consisted ‘.

Lieutenant – Colonel, Miller writing in 1829:

‘Farther west ….a very large cairn stood, containing upwards of two thousand cart-loads of stones. Upon removing it about thirty years ago, a pit six feet long, two broad, and of the same depth, was found, quite full of burnt bones; and near it another, two feet square and two deep, full of the finest sand. An urn was also found, near the surface of the cairn, full of bones. A very fine Druid’s temple stood on the south side of it, consisting of seven very large stones…’

As the builders of the cairn didn’t have access to carts, and that the stones all had to be moved by hand, it gives an indication of the manpower needed to build the cairn, and the status of the individuals whose remains were buried there. And we have to question why a special chamber been built into the base of the cairn to hold fine sand, and what was the purpose of this sand?

Left – View of Cairn site looking north, centre of the field beyond the tractor tracks.
Centre – View looking south. Right – The cairn recycled? Walling on the south side of A91 at
Gateside

Folklore 

While not writing specifically of the cairn, Revd. Small recounts these tales of the surrounding land, relating it to his belief that it was the site of Mons Graupius:

‘I cannot forbear to mention here, also, a singular circumstance I had from the landlord and landlady, both yet alive, — viz. that before parking or inclosing took place, they were accustomed to have folds built of feal or turf for the cattle lying in at night ; but that, when the folds happened to be in this place where the dead had been burnt, the cattle would never lie in them, but always broke through or leaped over the dyke ; that they were obliged to give a man a boll of barley extra to watch them, when they lay in this spot, which was obliged to be repeated every four or five years in rotation ; but that sometimes the man was not able to keep them in by all his endeavours, the cattle looking wild and terrified in appearance ; and sometimes it required the united efforts of all the hands that could be had to keep them in, oftentimes springing over the fold dykes close beside them, and frequently crouching and trembling as if they would have fallen down with terror, although nothing appeared visible to the visual organs either of the man or those that occasionally assisted him. However, after the discovery of so many ashes and fragments of human bones, the man declared that, had he known of these being so near, he would not have been so fond of watching.’  

‘The late farmer of Upper Orquart, a most respectable man, with whom I was well acquainted, and upon whose farm the principal part of the battle was fought, told me also that always when the folds happened to be both at where the Caledonians were burnt as well as the Romans — but particularly he specified the spot where the Romans had been burnt, or the Witch Know or Knoll — the cattle would never lie in the fold, but were always breaking ” the fauld,” as he called it, except when they were particularly watched ; and even that was not always effectual for keeping them from doing it either. This would insinuate as if the spirits of these departed heroes of antiquity sometimes visited and hovered about the places where their ashes had been deposited ; though invisible to the more refined visual organs of the human eye, yet obviously visible in some shape or other to the more gross visual organs of the irrational or bestial tribe, else how can these forementioned occurrences be accounted for? This hypothesis seems to be borne out by Balaam’s Ass perceiving the Angel twice, when he himself could not do so till his eyes were supernaturally opened.’

Afterword

Although the cairn no longer exists, its stones were probably reused for local walling, and it’s likely, but not provable, that the wall on the south side of the A91 past the Station Road turning is built from stones removed from the cairn.

References:

  1. Elliott, Simon, Septimus Severus in Scotland, Greenhill Books, 2018.
  2. Miller, Lt. Col., “An Inquiry Respecting the Site of theBattle of Mons Grampius“, 1829, published in Archaeologica Scotica vol. IV, 1857.
  3. Small, Andrew, Interesting Roman Antiquities Recently Discovered in Fife, John Anderson, Edinburgh, 1823

Links:

  1. Battle of Mons Graupius

© Paul T Hornby 2020

 

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  56.265629, -3.311587 Easter Nether Urquhart Cairn

Beacon Hill, Swaffham Bulbeck, Cambridgeshire

Tumuli (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – TL 584 600

Archaeology & History

The precise location of two prehistoric burial mounds at place with the conspicuous name of Beacon Hill, has yet to be satisfactorily located.  Their existence is recorded way back, in 1279 according to P.H. Reaney (1943), when they were described as Tweynhowes, being on the boundary of Swaffham Priory.  Information on them is scant and scattered with the earliest seeming to be an account by Thomas Kerrich (1817), who reported their removal and finds therein, in 1815.  The editor of Archaeologia told us:

Beacon Hill urn, 1817

“The Rev. Thomas Kerrich…exhibited to the Society, an Urn, which had been found a few days before by some labourers who were employed to remove one of the Barrows upon Newmarket-heath, called the Beacon Hills. “It stood upon what probably was the surface of the earth before the tumulus was raised.  The diameter of the barrow was near thirty yards, and the perpendicular height probably about eight or nine feet. There are more of these tumuli remaining, some of them very near to the place on which this, out of which the urn came, lately stood. They command an extensive view over the town of Cambridge, Gog-Magog Hills, &c.”

Subsequently a short piece in the Cambridge Chronicle in 1846 told the following:

“Two of the barrows on the edge of Newmarket Heath, belonging to the group called the Beacons, were examined in May 1846 by a party from Cambridge. In one of them nothing was found as it appeared to have been previously opened; in the other the remains of a British interment, consisting of rude vase (now in the Cambridge Antiquarian Museum), a few bones and some ashes, were discovered.”

This was echoed nearly forty years later in a survey by Charles Babbington (1883), who gave little by way of extra information; and was echoed again in Cyril Fox’s (1923) huge archaeological survey.  Herein, Mr Fox told us that the two barrows were located at the “east end of a four-mile racecourse.”  The only additional lore we’ve had since then is a collation of by the Royal Commission lads who thought that the respective tombs were located more precisely as the grid-references TL 5839 5998 and TL 5850 6004 respectively.

References:

  1. Cambridge Chronicle, May 23, 1846.
  2. Babbington, Charles C., Ancient Cambridgeshire, Cambridge Antiquarian Society 1883.
  3. Fox, Cyril, The Archaeology of the Cambridge Region, Cambridge University Press 1923.
  4. Hore, J.P., The History of Newmarket – volume 1, A.H. Baily: London 1886.
  5. Kerrich, Thomas, “An Urn found Under a Tumulus on Newmarket Heath,” Archaeologia, volume 18, 1817.
  6. Reaney, P.H., The Place-Names of Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely, Cambridge University Press 1943.
  7. Royal Commission Ancient Historical Monuments, Inventory of Historical Monuments in the County of Cambridgeshire – Volume 2: North-East Cambridgeshire, HMSO: London 1972.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  52.215446, 0.317155 Beacon Hill

Clach Mhallaichte, Cromarty, Ross & Cromarty

Legendary Rock:  OS Grid Reference – NH 7949 6746

Also Known as:

  1. Clach Mallach
  2. Clach na Mallachd
  3. Clackmalloch Rock
  4. Stone of Cursing

Archaeology & History

Stone shown on 1880 map

This large boulder found off the Cromarty coast, was highlighted on the 1880 OS-map of the region.  It is one of the ancient boundary stones of the township.

Folklore

We know from the vast array on the folklore of stones that many were imbued with magickal abilities, some of which were witnesses to vows and others to make curses from.  This large boulder off the coast of Cromarty was, according to Donald MacKenzie (1935), a place where the latter used to be done.  He told us:

“At Cromarty there is a big boulder known as the Clach na Mallachd (‘Stone of Cursing’).  Curses were delivered when an individual stood or knelt bare-kneed upon it.”

In an earlier account by the Ordnance Survey lads in one of their Name Books, they gave the following tale that had been narrated to them:

“A large stone Situate at the Low Water, and forming one of the boundary Stones of the burgh, the reason of its having this name is, that a young lad while Sitting on it was overwhelmed by the advancing tide and drowned, his mother when told of it, cursed the stone, hence the name Clach Mallach (Accursed Stone)”

References:

  1. MacKenzie, Donald A., Scottish Folk-lore and Folk Life, Blackie: Glasgow 1935.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  57.680797, -4.022601 Clach Mhallaichte