Clach na Sgoltadh, Bridge of Balgie, Perthshire

Legendary Rock:  OS Grid Reference – NN 61080 46501

Also Known as:

  1. Fionn’s Stone
  2. Praying Hands of Mary 

Getting Here

Clach na Sgoltadh, Glen Lyon (photo – Lisa Samson)

From Fortingall take the road into the legendary Glen Lyon.  About 8 miles along, a short distance past the Adamnan’s Cross standing stone, you reach the tiny hamlet of Camusvrachan.  On your left is a singular dirt-track, past some cottages.  Go along here and over the river bridge until you reach the junction on the other side.  From here, turn right and a half-mile on when you reach the farm and manor-house on your right, park up.  From here you’ll see a track going uphill.  Walk straight up and after a half-mile or so, keep your eyes peeled to your right.  You cannot fail to see this impressive giant on the slopes above you!

Archaeology & History

This is a truly mighty monolith! — a beauty no less!  Standing upon a rocky ridge nearly halfway along the glen, the landscape it looks across is, without doubt, some of the finest in the British Isles.  To our ancestors who, until just two hundred years ago peopled this and nearby glens in great numbers, this great stone would have been well known and had old myths told of it.  Today we have only bare fragments.

Clach na Sgoltadh (photo by James Elkington)
Clach na Sgoltadh (photo by James Elkington)

To give an ‘archaeological survey’ of any kind to this site would seem somewhat of an anathema, as it is generally deemed to be little other than one of Nature’s incredible creations.  We’ll come to that in a minute.  But what is quite certain is that a line of very old and very low-lying walling runs from up the slope and almost straight down to Clach na Sgoltadh.  You can see it pretty clearly in the photograph below.  The walling stops at the giant stone and continues no further downhill from the other side of the giant upright.

Walk diagonally down the slope about 30 yards south-east from the stone and you’ll find a small but distinctly man-made ring of stones, low to the ground, with an entrance on its northeastern side.  It’s somewhat of a puzzle as it’s too small for a hut circle (I laid down in it in various ways and found you’d have to lie foetal all night if you were to use it as  your own little abode), and it equally too small as an animal pen – unless it was for just one animal, which is most unlikely.  The small circular construction wouldn’t seem to be prehistoric, but it would be good to know what it is.

So, we do have some very slight archaeological association with the site, albeit minimal, with the very ancient walling that leads to the stone being the most intriguing.

Small stone ‘hut’
Low line of walling

The stone is generally attributed to be a geological creation.  I certainly cannot say, as I have no expertise in the subject.  However, in the opinion of just about everyone with whom I’ve visited this stone, I seem to be the only one who doesn’t think it’s man-made.  A number of people have each insisted to me that it’s been stood upright by humans due to the quite distinct ‘squaring’ of the upright stone, particularly at the north-facing base.  —and been seemingly bemused at my own lack of conviction.  It does look as if it could have been cut and squared just as they all say but, let me repeat, I’m no expert at geology, and so all I can say is that I simply don’t know one way or the other. (useless prick that I am!)

“Perhaps a stone mason might know?” someone suggested—which seemed to be a good idea.  Certainly a stone mason would surely be able to tell if it had been cut and dressed at the base, where it fits into the large earthfast rock….

Cue Chris Swales: a reputable stone mason from near Skipton, North Yorkshire.  Chris and his friends took a week long whistle-stop tour in and around the Loch Tay region and thought they’d visit Glen Lyon.  I heard about this and so asked him if he’d have the time to visit this stone giant and, if possible, let us know his opinion: is is a natural obelisk, or does it look to have been erected by humans?  I told him my opinion and that of the geologists who give it an entirely natural provenance.

It was a few weeks later when he got back in touch and I asked him if he’d been up to Clach na Sgoltadh.

“I did,” he said. “it’s bloody impressive Paul.  And what a gorgeous landscape too.  I’d love to go there again.”

“Aye, it is Chris. And what did you think of the giant stone then?  In your opinion is it man-made or natural?”

“Well I don’t know for certain Paul,” he said, “but in my opinion I’m 95% sure that it’s man-made.”  He said it plain as day, just like a typical daan-to-Earth Yorkshireman.  Chris isn’t into any the energy ley-line stuff, so his words carry more weight than those who wanna spice-up a site by projecting their own beliefs onto a place.  As a result, I was somewhat taken aback by his words.

“What—are you sure Chris?!” I asked.

Cut & dressed stone?

“Like I said – I’m not 100% sure Paul.  I can’t really say it 100% – but I’m 95% certain that people cut and dressed the base of that stone and put it there.  If it’s natural, then I’d like to know how they think that’s the case.  I’m willing to be shown otherwise, but in my opinion, on the whole, it’s man-made.  People stuck that stone there!”

It would be great to get another stone mason’s opinion about this site; and it would definitely be good to read a geological viewpoint, but I’m not aware of any papers regarding this stone. (does anyone know of any?)  For my part:  I can only reiterate that I’m ‘unsure’ whether or not this is man-made.  I’m simply not qualified to give an objective opinion.

The curious thing is:  if this is Nature’s handiwork, then it would have been held in greater reverence to our ancestors than if it had been erected by people.  Impressive creations of Nature were always deemed to be inhabited by genius loci of truly archaic potency.  And in these deep impressive mountains, where the names of nature spirits still abound, this—without doubt!—would have been a place of considerable awe and sanctity.  May it remain as such…

Folklore

Looking to the west immediately uphill and behind Clach na Sgoltadh is the rising rounded hill of Creag nan Eildeag.  Legend has it that the great Celtic hero Fionn stood atop of this crag and fired one of his arrows at the stone, splitting it in half and leaving the stone as we see it today.

In a small cleft in the stone, quartz deposits can be seen along with an effigy of the Virgin Mary.  However, the title of the Praying Hands of Mary is a modern attribution and has no historical or mythic veracity.

References:

  1. Stewart, Alexander, A Highland Parish; or, The History of Fortingall, Alex MacLaren: Glasgow 1928.

Links:

  1. Clach na Sgoltadh on The Megalithic Portal

Acknowledgements:   Huge thanks to James Elkington and Lisa Samson for use of their photos.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian


Mineral Well, Glen Lyon, Perthshire

Healing Well:  OS Grid Reference – NN 72110 47768

Also Known as:

  1. Iron Well

Getting Here

Mineral Well, Glen Lyon

From Fortingall village, head west and turn down into the incredible beauty that is Glen Lyon.  As you enter the trees, a half-mile along you pass the small gorge of MacGregor’s Leap in the river below.  2-300 yards pass this, keep your eyes peeled for an old small overgrown walled structure on the left-hand side of the road, barely above the road itself.  A large tree grows up above the tiny walled enclosure, within which are the unclear waters that trickle gently….

Archaeology & History

In previous centuries, this all-but-forgotten spring of water wasn’t just a medicinal spring, but was one of the countless sites where sympathetic magick was practised.  The old Highlanders would have had a name for the spirit residing at these waters, but it seems to have been lost.  The site is described in Alexander Stewart’s (1928) magnum opus on this stunning glen, where he wrote:

“Still a few yards more and Glenlyon’s famous mineral wishing well is seen gushing up, surrounded by its wall of rough stones now sadly in need of repair.  It has a stone shelf to receive the offerings of those who still retain a trace of superstition or like to uphold old customs as they partake of its waters.  The offerings usually consist of small pebbles, but occasionally something more valuable is found among them. The roadmen may clear that shelf as often as they like, but it is seldom empty for long.”

A local lady from Killin told us that she remembers the stone above the well still having offerings left on it 20-30 years ago. Hilary Wheater (1981) sketched it and called it the Iron Well.

Close-up of the waters (photo by Paul Hornby)
Hilary Wheater’s sketch

The waters in this small roadside well-house actually emerge some 50 yards up the steep hillside (recently deforested) and in parts have that distinct oily surface that typifies chalybeates, or iron-bearing springs – which this site is an example of.  Its medicinal properties would help to people with anaemia; to heal women just after childbirth; to aid those who’d been injured and lost blood; as well as to fortify the blood and stimulate the system.

Across the road from the well, Stewart (1928) told of a giant lime tree that was long known to be the meeting place for lovers (perhaps relating to the well?), and the name of the River Lyon here is the Poll-a-Chlaidheamh, or ‘the pool of the sword’, whose history and folklore fell prey to the ethnic cleansing of the english.

References:

  1. Stewart, Alexander, A Highland Parish, Alexander Maclaren: Glasgow 1928.
  2. Wheater, Hilary, Aberfeldy to Glenlyon, Appin Publications: Aberfeldy 1981.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian


Clachaig, Glen Lyon, Perthshire

Stone Circle (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NN 583 468

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 24237
  2. Kerrowmore

Archaeology & History

Upright slab in graveyard

Upright slab in graveyard

In a discussion about the ancient chapel to St. Eonan (the local name in these parts for Adamnan) that once existed near the Bridge of Balgie in Glen Lyon, the local historian Duncan Campbell (1886) informed us that,

“St. Eonan built his chapel near the only stone circle in Glenlyon.  The stones of this circle have been removed within my memory.  The place is called Clachaig.”

The same writer (Campbell 1888) later told how its remains were still visible around 1848 CE.  Campbell’s (1910) later memoirs also mentioned his childhood recollections when the stone circle was in situ, telling that the

“place above the churchyard to Clachaig, named so, the Place of Stones, (was) because the old Druidic stone circle was there.”

We don’t know exactly where the megalithic ring stood; and although modern analysts think the site may have been underneath the invading forestry commission plantation, local lore puts it closer to the graveyard above Kerrowmore.

Enhanced image of curious near-circular form close by

Enhanced image of curious near-circular form close by

A local dowser thinks that the upright slab in the graveyard at Kerrowmore may be the one remaining stone left here after the circle’s destruction.  A quick meander back and forth on a rainy day here, on the geological ridge at the back (south) of Kerrowmore, found only a curious near-circular earthwork that might have been the original site, but it may be fortuitous. A nearby rock outcrop known as “Coill a’ Bhaird” may have been related to the circle.

Folklore

A local man (thanks Tom) said how tradition tells that some of the stones from this circle were taken and used in making the drive to Meggernie Castle last century.

References:

  1. Campbell, Duncan, The Lairds of Glenlyon, Cowan: Perth 1886.
  2. Campbell, Duncan, The Book of Garth and Fortingall, Northern Counties Newspaper: Inverness 1888.
  3. Campbell, Duncan, Reminiscences and Reflections of an Octogenarian Highlander, Northern Counties Newspaper: Inverness 1910.
  4. Stewart, Alexander, A Highland Parish; or, The History of Fortingall, Alex MacLaren: Glasgow 1928.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian


Leachd Nam Braoileag, Dull, Perthshire

Cup-Marked Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NN 7526 5531

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 25049

Archaeology & History

Leachd Nam Braoileag (photo by Michelle Allan)

If you take the path up to Schiehallion (the great hill of the faeries) from the car park near the Braes of Foss, just a hundred yards or so past the first set of trees onto the moorland, keep your eyes peeled for the long stone on your right, a few yards off the path.  Upon its upper elongated surface you’ll notice a series of cup-markings etched onto it, oh so long ago now…

Close-up of cups (photo by Michelle Allan)

Located below the legendary Schiehallion, or Mountain of the Faeries, this carving is best visited over the winter and spring months (before the bracken encroaches).  On its upper surface there are about 25 cup-marks, many of them pecked to about an inch deep, with one of them being more than 6 inches across and 2 inches deep.  Weathering over the ages has effected them.  It seems to have been rediscovered in the early 1970s and is, officially speaking, an isolated carving; this is most unlikely—and needs the keen eyes of fellow antiquarians to find others in this beautiful neighbourhood.

Acknowledgements:  Massive thanks to Michelle Allan for allowing us to use her photos of the Leachd Nam Braoileag carving in this site profile.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian


MacRee’s Cairn, Glen Meurain, Fortingall, Perthshire

Cairn:  OS Grid Reference – NN 3959 4375

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 23899
  2. Gleann Meran

Getting Here

MacRee's Cairn, looking south
MacRee’s Cairn, looking south

Get to Pubil at the top of Glen Lyon, then walk on the track on the north side of Loch Lyon.  Several miles along you turn up Glen Meurain. When you reach the crossing of the stream, follow the waters up Allt Meurain for about 3-400 yards until you find a small flat section of marshland right by the streamside. You’ll notice rocky undulations of human remains here, and a distinct small cairn of rocks near the top of this section. Have a good rest here (and I’d advise avoiding the place in the summer months).

Archaeology & History

Remote indeed is this small cairn—less than 3 feet high and 4 feet across—sitting by the burn-side in a place many miles from any human habitation.  It is found amidst a small cluster of other archaeological remains close to each other, as if indicating a settlement of sorts, abandoned probably around the time of the Highland Clearances.  Although it is highlighted on modern OS-maps in antiquated lettering, the cairn here looks like it is only a few centuries old.  A larger mass of rubble stone is found adjacent to the small pile of rocks, from which it may originally have been taken.  Without archaeological analysis we will not know for certain the real age of this old tomb.

MacRee's Cairn & adjacent rubble
MacRee’s Cairn & adjacent rubble

Folklore

The small grassy hillside immediately across the trout stream here is known as Sith Trom’aidh – the Sad Fairy mound, whose history appears to have been lost.  Alexander Stewart (1928) told that this cairn was the burial place of one of Colin Campbell’s dairymaids, found and slain here during a skirmish with cattle raiders in the 16th century.

References:

  1. Stewart, Alexander, A Highland Parish; or, The History of Fortingall, Alex MacLaren & Sons: Glasgow 1928.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian


Fortingall Churchyard, Perthshire

Cup-Marked Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NN 7417 4703

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 25003
The stone & the yew
The stone & the yew

Getting Here

Go into the Fortingall churchyard, turning left through the gates (walking across in front of the enclosed sacred yew tree), towards the dip in the walling past the graves.  Go over this wall, turning left and through another small gate.  Immediately through the gate, note the small upright stone on your right, below an offspring of the old yew tree.  That’s the spot!

Archaeology & History

In the legendary churchyard at Fortingall — home to remains from a panoply of beliefs — below the sacred yew tree we find the remains of this hewn piece of stone, recovered from the Earth beneath the roots of the old tree more than 100 years ago.  Upon its crown we see a cluster of cup-markings: Fred Coles (1910) counted 14, I counted 13, the Ordnance Survey boys counted 9, and other surveyors are somewhere in between.

Fred Cole's sketch of the stone
Fred Cole’s sketch of the stone
Photo of the cup-markings
Photo of the cup-markings

Described and illustrated in the Strathtay rock art survey of Sonia Yellowlees (2004), it seems that the earliest mention of the stone was by our Perthshire megalith hunter Fred Coles (1910).  When he wrote about it, the site had only recently been rediscovered.  He told that he was,

“informed by Rev. W. Camphell, minister of the parish, that in 1903, when some alterations were being made in that portion of the burying-ground belonging to the late Sir Donald Currie of Garth, the workmen came upon this Stone lying at a depth of 8 feet, at a point not many feet distant from the stem of the famous Yew-tree. Noticing the cup-marks on the Stone, the workmen raised it and set it up erect on the site it now occupies, close to the western wall of the Garth burial-ground — about 25 feet from the spot where it was unearthed: In the plan annexed (fig.2) the oblong bounded by the letters A B C D shows the dimensions of the base, and the small cup-marked surface, evidently much broken, and 2 feet 10 inches above ground, shows all that now remains of the work of the prehistoric artificer. There are no rings or grooves, and the cups, except for clearness and neatness of finish, do not present any special features.”

...and another angle.
…and another angle.

Mr Coles then made some intriguing suggestive remarks regarding the position of the carving beneath the ancient yew tree (which to those of you who aren’t aware, is believed to be the oldest yew tree in Europe and has a pagan altar next to it), wondering whether the animistic tradition of the tree had anything to do with the carving itself.  It would certainly make sense.  But there is also the possibility that the carving was brought from elsewhere and placed by the tree at a later date.  We simply don’t know.

References:

  1. Coles, Fred, “Report on Stone Circles Surveyed in Perthshire,” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 44, 1910.
  2. Yellowlees, Walter, Cupmarked Stones in Strathtay, Scotland Magazine: Edinburgh 2004.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian 


Allt Leathan Stone, Fortingall, Perthshire

Standing Stone: OS Grid Reference –NN 7251 5659 

Getting Here

Allt Leathan stone

Follow the same directions to reach the Allt Leathan enclosure and hut circles.  Walk along the eastern side of the hill on which the enclosure mainly sits, and as it slopes down the hill, you’ll note an odd-shaped stone leaning at an angle less than halfway down.

Archaeology & History

A truly curious and fascinating site, not previously recorded, but found by Paul Hornby on August 7, 2012, during a venture to explore the nearby settlement and hut circles around Meall Dubh.  On the eastern slope over the edge of the Allt Leathan enclosure, with its hut circles and possible cairns, we see this upright worn stone, leaning at an angle, which would stand nearly 5 feet high if pushed properly upright.  It is found in association with two other smaller stones, all of which stand and lean in the same direction.

Possible cairn remnants surrounds base of stone
…and again

Around the base of the main stone is a scatter of small rocks, as if suggesting that a cairn was once next to the standing stone, perhaps inferring that the stone marked a tomb.  There is also a very distinct line of walling running along the axis of the upright stones, meaning that we cannot discount the possibility that the monoliths here were connected with a walled enclosure in some capacity. And considering the excess of other prehistoric remains close by, this may be more likely than not!

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian


Allt Leathan, Fortingall, Perthshire

Enclosure: OS Grid Reference – NN 7246 5659

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 25089

Getting Here

Eastern enclosure walling

Although found within the parish of Fortingall many miles to the south, this site is much closer to Kinloch Rannoch, just a few miles northwest.  From Kinloch Rannoch, take the south road, heading east for about 5 miles, till you go past the small Lochan an Daim on the left (north) of the road.  As the moorland opens up ahead of you, about a half-mile further on, watch for the dirt-track running up onto the hills on your left. Cross the road from here, over the stream and bogs, onto the small hill ahead of you.  You’re getting very close!

Archaeology & History

The Canmore entry for this site tells of just a large single hut circle being here, 13.5m by 12m across, but this is in fact part of a much larger enclosure system with extensive walls rising to heights of up to 3 feet in places and covering a very wide area indeed across the sloping grass-covered ridge above the streams on either side. The walling is typically Iron Age in structure and there are remains of other internal features that we gave only cursory attention to (other sites were calling out for us!).

This shows walling of another nearby enclosure
Allt Leathan enclosure walling

What seem to be a cluster of several very overgrown cairns, roughly 20 feet across and 3 feet high, are evident on the south side of the enclosure walling. These need examining in greater detail. Also, on the eastern slope below the edge of the main walled enclosure, Paul Hornby found what seems to be a prehistoric standing stone, leaning to one side, which if completely upright would be about 5 feet tall. There are also the remains of at least two other large walled enclosures further onto the hillside, just before you start walking up the slopes to Schiehallion. They appear to be similar in nature and structure to this one at Allt Leathen, but I can find no account of them in any records.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian


Clach-na-Cruich, Fearnan, Perthshire

Cup-Marked Rock:  OS grid reference – NN 71868 44743

Also known as:

  1. Canmore ID 25037
  2. Clach-na-Gruich
  3. St. Ciaran’s Seat
  4. Measles Stone

Getting Here

Pretty easy to get to.  It’s in one of the fields above the old farmhouse of Boreland on the western edge of Fearnan, a couple of hundred yards away on the other side of the road from the Clach an Tuirc.

Archaeology & History

Clach-na-Cruich in 1884

In the field we find this great chair-shaped boulder with a great ‘bowl’ on it where the seating section is, and on its top and sides are a few cup-markings — MacMillan (1884) noted seven of them, two of which had half-rings around them, “associated together in a singular manner, and forming a figure like the eyes of a pair of spectacles.”

Folklore

Regarded in local legends to be an ancient initiation seat, this was taken over and ordained as being the seat of St. Ciaran at some time when the Celtic church started having influence up here.

The ‘seat’ of this great stone regularly fills up with rainwater and was, wrote William A. Gillies, “regarded as an effectual cure for measles, and there are persons still residing at Fearnan who were taken as children to drink from the water in the hollow of Clach-na-Gruich, the Measles Stone.”  His lengthy account of the site told:

“In the district of Breadalbane, Perthshire – which has in it the Pool of St Fillans, famous for its supposed power of curing mentally afflicted persons – there are two boulders with water-filled cavities, which have a local reputation for their healing virtues. One is at Fernan, situated on the north side of Loch Tay, about three miles from Kenmore. It is a large rough stone with an irregular outline, somewhat like a rude chair, in the middle of a field immediately below the farmhouse of Mr Campbell, Borland. The rest of the field is ploughed; but the spot on which it stands is carefully preserved as an oasis amid the furrows. The material of which it is composed is a coarse clay slate; and the stone has evidently been a boulder transported to the spot from a considerable distance.

“In the centre on one side there is a deep square cavity capable of holding about two quarts of water. I found it nearly full, although the weather had been unusually dry for several weeks previously. There were some clods of earth around it, and a few small stones and a quantity of rubbish in the cavity itself, which defiled the water. This I carefully scooped out, and found the cavity showing unmistakeable evidence of being artificial. On the upper surface of the stone I also discovered seven faint cup-marks, very much weather-worn; two of them associated together in a singular manner, and forming a figure like the eyes of a pair of spectacles.

“The boulder goes in the locality by the name of Clach-na-Cruich, or the Stone of the Measles; and the rain-water contained in its cavity, when drunk by the patient, was supposed to be a sovereign remedy for that disease. At one time it had a wide reputation, and persons afflicted with the disease came from all parts of the district to drink its water. Indeed, there are many persons still alive who were taken in their youth, when suffering from this infantile disease, to the stone at Fernan; and I have met a man not much past forty, who remembers distinctly having drunk the water in the cavity when suffering from measles.

“It is is only within the lifetime of the present generation that the Clach-na-Cruich has fallen into disuse. I am not sure, indeed, whether any one has resorted to it within the last thirty years. Its neglected state would seem to indicate that all faith in it had for many years been abandoned.”

References:

  1. Gillies, William A., In Famed Breadalbane, Munro Press: Perth 1938.
  2. 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.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian