Witches’ Stone, Horndean, Berwickshire

Standing Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NT 9050 4960

Archaeology & History

The first that I read of this place was in an article of the Scottish Ecclesiastical Society journal, on the parish history of Horndean.  Standing originally at the edge of the ruined remains of the old churchyard, the author W.S. Moodie (1915), told that a long lost,

“grim relic of olden days is said to have existed here till fifty years ago.  This was the Witches Stone—an upright pillar with a hole in it, to which the bodies of the poor unfortunates were fastened after they had been glede, while the faggots were piled around.”

A perusal in the Royal Commission inventory (1915) of the same year told that it had been moved several miles northeast to Paxton Cottage (NT 9279 5229) in the adjacent village.  It was described as being,

“about 4 feet 6 inches in height above the ground, some 2 feet in breadth, tapering towards the upper end, and about 7 inches thick.  Near the top are two perforations, not quite on the same level, about 2 inches in diameter at the surface on either side, constricted towards the Centre, and about 9 inches distant from centre to centre.”

Is this old stone still in existence…?

References:

  1. Moodie, W. Steven, “Ladykirk, or the Kirk of Steill, Berwickshire,” in Transactions of the Scottish Ecclesiological Society, 4:3, Aberdeen 1915.
  2. Royal Commission Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, Inventory of Monuments and Constructions in the County of Berwick, HMSO: Edinburgh 1915.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Giant’s Grave, Cloghfin, County Donegal

Chambered Cairn (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – H 277 998

Archaeology & History

Included in Eamon Cody’s (2002) magnum opus, this site has long since gone.  It was highlighted on the 1845-47 OS-map of the area and the only subsequent information about it was written in the 1903 Ordnance Survey Name Book, where it was described as a “supposed Giant’s Grave” that was marked by a large spread of boulders.

Perhaps the only thing we can ascertain here is from the name Giant’s Grave.  Invariably, giants are part and parcel of creation myths in early traditional societies.  Such giants, as well as being huge mythical creatures, can also be the progenitor of tribes and communities, i.e., the person who laid the initial foundation of where the tribe came to live, usually an early queen, king or shaman figure.  So, in the case of this Giant’s Grave, it was likely to have been known as the burial place of such a figure: mythical in importance as well as size.

References:

  1. Cody, Eamon, Survey of the Megalithic Tombs of Ireland: Volume VI – County Donegal, Duchas: Dublin 2002.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Market Cross, Harewood, West Yorkshire

Cross (destroyed):  OS Grid-Reference – SE 3224 4498

Archaeology & History

A Charter in the time of King John allowed for markets to be held in Harewood from 1209 CE onwards, “on the first day of July and the two following days, and also to hold one market there every week on the Monday.”  But whether or not a market cross was erected that far back, we don’t quite know.  Certainly, the edifice illustrated by John Jones (1859) in his standard work on Harewood didn’t date from such an early period!  It stood close to the old road junction to Wetherby in old Harewood village, “a little below the intersection of the roads, and about fifty yards higher up than the market house.” Jones told us:

Harewood Cross (Jones 1859)

“It stood upon a large stone pedestal, and was approached by a quadrangular flight of seven steps, very broad, where the neighbouring farmers used to stand, and dispose of their butter, fowls, eggs, &c.  It was re-erected, AD 1703, by John Boulter, Esq., and in the year 1804, when the road was lowered, it was taken down and destroyed.  This is to be regretted, it might have been re-erected in another situation, if that was inconvenient, and would have been in the present day, not only an ornament to the village but a relic of the past, of which the villagers might have been justly proud.  On the top of this cross there was a knur and spell, a game for which the village was celebrated in old times, while close to the toll booth there was a strong iron ring fastened to a large stone, where the villagers used to enjoy the barbarous amusement of bull baiting.”

References:

  1. Bogg, Edmund, Lower Wharfeland, J. Sampson: York 1904.
  2. Jones, John, The History and Antiquities of Harewood, Simpkin Marshall: London 1859.
  3. Speight, Harry, Lower Wharfedale, Elliott Stock: London 1902.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Fairy Oak, Killin, Perthshire

Legendary Tree:  OS Grid Reference – NN 57 33

  1. Coin Tree

Folklore

The Fairy Oak of Killin

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

I hadn’t.

“No, I’ve never heard of the place.”

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

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

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

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

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

More coins as offerings
Coins for the little people

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

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

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

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian 

Cottingley Woods (3), Bingley, West Yorkshire

OS Grid-Reference – SE 09825 37861

Getting Here

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

Archaeology & History

Cup, with ring faintly visible

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

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

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Cottingley Woods (5), Bingley, West Yorkshire

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

Getting Here

Cottingley Woods CR-5

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

Archaeology & History

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

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

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

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Cottingley Woods (2), Bingley, West Yorkshire

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

Getting Here

The carving in situ

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

Archaeology & History

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

Large messy cup-and-ring

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

References:

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

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

St. Andrew’s Well, Coldingham, Berwickshire

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference – NT 8967 6600

  1. Archaeology & History
Site on the 1858 map

By the side of the stream known as St Andrew’s Burn, in the small wooded glen to the rear (west) of the Crosslaw Caravan Park (right by the side of the A1107 road), you can still find the flowing waters of this all-but-forgotten holy well that was dedicated to  Scotland’s patron saint, god knows how long ago!  The first description I’ve come across relating to the site is in William King’s  (1858) early work on Coldingham Priory, where he told that,

“In a dean a little westward from the village, and on the border of the property of Bogangreen, is a spring of excellent water, called St Andrew’s Well, from which the monastery was supplied by leaden conduits, portions of which are occasionally turning up to view. These pipes are thick and well made.”

Fifty years later when Adam Thomson (1908) penned his magnum opus on Coldingham parish, the well was still in a good state of affairs.  Hereby there grew much chamomile which, he thought, “the monks were wont to cultivate for the healing of the sick.”

Folklore

St Andrew’s feast day is November 30 and is known as Anermas.

References:

  1. Hunter, William K., History of the Priory of Coldingham, Sutherland & Knox: Edinburgh 1858.
  2. Morris, Ruth & Frank, Scottish Healing Wells, Alethea: Sandy 1982.
  3. Thomson, Adam, Coldingham: Parish and Priory, Craighead Brothers: Galashiels 1908.

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

Holy Priests’ Well, York, North Yorkshire

Holy Well (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – SE 6071 5187

Archaeology & History

At the beginning of the 19th century, William Hargrove (1818) described the scant remains of some old walling along old Haver Lane (renamed as Green Lane and now known as The Stonebow) which were the remains of a building, long gone, and which,

“tradition informs us (was) a religious house, which formerly stood here, called Holy-Priests; and though the site of it is not known, the report is greatly strengthened by the appearance of the walls just mentioned, and by the circumstance of a deep draw-well which now remains, being still called Holy-Priests Well.”

Some suggest that this water source may still exist beneath one of the buildings hereby, but the landscape here has been so badly mutilated over the last two hundred years that it’s very unlikely.

References:

  1. Hargrove, Willliam, History and Description of the Ancient City of York – volume 2, part 2, W. Alexander: York 1818.

© 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