Breckon Howe, Sleights Moor, Sleights, North Yorkshire

Tumulus:  OS Grid Reference – NZ 85374 03406

Also Known as:

  1. Brakken Howe
Breckon Howe on 1853 map

Getting Here

Along the A169 road between Sleights and Pickering, some two miles south of Sleights at the highest point on the moors just above the west side of the road, you’ll see a large mound with what looks like a standing stone on top of it.  A minor road turns off the A169 at this point, heading southeast, and the large mound is 150 yards from the roadside. You can’t really miss it!

Archaeology & History

Shown on the first OS map of the area in 1853, this conspicuous prehistoric tomb surmounted by a relatively recent boundary stone, sits at the highest point on the moors in these parts.  Despite this (as with others on these moors), very little has been written about the place and it has received only minimal attention in archaeology tomes.  Even the renowned pen of Frank Elgee (1912; 1930) gave it only passing mention.  Perhaps it aint a bad thing to be honest.

Breckon Howe, from the south

As well as being conspicuous, it’s large.  Rising some six feet above the natural ground level, it measures 26 yards across its east-west axis, and 29 yards north-south, with a rough circumference of 88 yards.  The boundary stone that surmounts its crown sits in a hollow that looks like it was opened up a century or two ago by antiquarians (much like ourselves).  But its position of the tomb in the landscape that is most striking.  The view from here is considerable, having a clear 360º view for many miles around.  Other prehistoric tombs can be seen from here, but more importantly this tomb can be seen on the skyline from many others.  This was probably a deliberate feature intended by its builders–and it’s not uncommon, as many of our upland regions are crowned with ancient tombs like Breckon Howe.  In all likelihood this would have been the resting place of some important ancestral figure: a tribal elder or a shaman, whose spirit after death could view and travel across the landscape they inhabited in life.

Although the tomb presently sits amidst an endless sea of heather (Calluna vulgaris) typical of moorland across our northern lands, the name of the site ‘breckon’, according to George Young (1817) derives from the dialect word meaning ferns or bracken.  This is echoed in Francis Kildale’s (1855) local dialect study and subsequently in Joseph Wright’s (1898) unequalled magnum opus.

Folklore

In the early 19th century, one George Calvert who lived in the area, collected as much folklore as he could, as it was dying off with the coming of the Church.  One such piece told that there was once a hob who lived by this old tomb.  A hob is generally known as a supernatural creature, but in this area it can also be a medicine man.  Some hobs were good, others were malicious.  We know not what type of hob lived lived here, but Calvert simply told us there used to be “T’ Hob of Brackken Howe”.  Nowt more!  It would be good to find the story behind this old character, if it hasn’t been lost entirely…

References:

  1. Elgee, Frank, Early Man in Northeast Yorkshire, Frank Bellows: Gloucester 1930.
  2. Elgee, Frank, The Moorlands of North-Eastern Yorkshire, A. Brown: London 1912.
  3. Kildale, Francis, A Glossary of Yorkshire Words and Phrases Collected in Whitby and the Nieghbourhood, J.R. Smith: London 1855.
  4. Home, Gordon, The Evolution of an English Town, J.M. Dent: London 1905.
  5. Wright, Joseph, English Dialect Dictionary – volume 1, .Henry Frowde: London 1898.
  6. Young, George, A History of Whitby and Streoneshalh Abbey – volume 2, Clarke & Medd: Whitby 1817.

Acknowledgements:  A huge thanks to Lindsay Mitchell for getting us up to see this great tomb and its companion.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  54.418942, -0.685822 Breckon Howe

Flat Howe (2), Sleights Moor, Sleights, North Yorkshire

Cairn:  OS Grid Reference – NZ 85510 04614

Also Known as:

  1. Flat Howe (south)

Getting Here

Flat Howe-2 on 1853 map

Along the A169 road that runs may miles from Whitby to Pickering, as you go through the small town of Sleights, the road gets steep for a mile or so, until you reach the moorland tops, where the road runs dead straight.  After 1.2 miles (1.93km) along the straight road, a small minor road is to your right.  Go along here for literally half-a-mile (0.8km) where you’ll see a small dirt-track on your right, with a locked gate.  There’s room to park here.  Walk straight onto the moor towards the large rounded mound about 200 yards northeast.  That’s it!

Archaeology & History

Highlighted as a blip on the 1853 OS-map (see above) 250 yards south of Flat Howe (1), this is the slightly smaller of the two prehistoric cairns on this flat piece of moorland (which covered in scattered woodland at the time of its construction).  It has been severely robbed of stones by some land-owning fuckwits in the 19th century, who saw fit to build a shooting hut into the tomb itself!  Knob-heads!   As a result, much of the content of the cairn has been severely depleted, with only its western side having any real height to it.

Flat Howe 2 looking south (photo, James Elkington)
Flat Howe 2, looking east

Just like Flat Howe 1, it seems that it’s never been excavated, so we can only guess about how old it is; though it is very probably Bronze Age.  The cairn is roughly 25 yards across and oval in form, but was probably more circular before those morons built their hunting lodge into it.  Its western side stands some 4-5 feet tall, which was probably the uniform height all round it before it was vandalized.  A few yards to the south is what may be a cup-marking on one of the flat earthfast rocks, although I’m slightly sceptical of it.

The position of the site in the landscape is a fine one: living on a large flat open expanse of land, which was probably cleared of some trees when it was first built, allowing for a very wide view in all directions, just like its companion 250 yards to the north.  Well worth checking out.

Folklore

It’s worth repeating the myth we have of a place on Sleights Moor that I’ve also cited in the Flat Howe 1 site profile.  Although we have nothing specific relating to this tomb, an olde creation myth tells us that the local giants, Wade and his wife Bel, left their young son (whose name seems to have been forgotten) somewhere on Sleights Moor (which aint a big place).  The story was first written down by George Young (1817) in his magnum opus on Whitby and the tale was subsequently re-told by many others – Mrs Gutch (1901) for one:

“Young Wade, even when an infant, could throw a rock several tons weight to a vast distance; for one day when his mother was milking her cow near Swarthoue, the child, whom she had left on Sleights moor, became impatient for the breast, and seizing a stone of vast size, heaved it across the valley in wrath, and hit his mother with such violence, that though she was not materially hurt, her body made an impression on the stone which remained indelible, till the stone itself was broken up, a few years ago, to mend the highways!”

This rock was Bel’s Rock, whose exact location seems to have been lost.

References:

  1. Elgee, Frank, Early Man in Northeast Yorkshire, Frank Bellows: Gloucester 1930.
  2. Elgee, Frank, The Moorlands of North-Eastern Yorkshire, A. Brown: London 1912.
  3. Grinsell, Leslie V., The Ancient Burial Mounds of England, Methuen: London 1936.
  4. Gutch, Mrs, County Folk Lore – volume 2: Examples of Printed Folk-lore Concerning the North Riding of Yorkshire, York and the Ainsty, David Nutt: London 1901.
  5. Jeffrey, P. Shaw, Whitby Lore and Legend, Home: Whitby 1923.
  6. Roberts, Anthony, Sowers of Thunder, Rider: London 1978.
  7. Smith, A.H., The Place-Names of the North Riding of Yorkshire, Cambridge University Press 1928.
  8. Young, George, A History of Whitby and Streoneshalh Abbey – volume 2, Clarke & Medd: Whitby 1817.

Acknowledgements:  A huge thanks to Lindsay Mitchell for getting us up to see this great tomb and its companion; and to James Elkington for use of the photograph.

Links:  Flat Howe on The Megalithic Portal

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  54.429770, -0.683386 Flat Howe (2)

Flat Howe (1), Sleights Moor, Sleights, North Yorkshire

Tumulus:  OS Grid Reference – NZ 85483 04866

Also Known as:

  1. Flat Howe (north)

Getting Here

Flat Howe-1 on 1853 map

Along the A169 road that runs may miles from Whitby to Pickering, as you go through the small town of Sleights, the road gets steep for a mile or so, until you reach the moorland tops, where the road runs dead straight.  After 1.2 miles (1.93km) along the straight road, a small minor road is to your right.  Go along here for literally half-a-mile (0.8km) where you’ll see a small dirt-track on your right, with a locked gate.  There’s place to park here.  You’ll see the large rounded mound of Flat Howe-2 about 200 yards NE.  Head there, then another 250 yards north.  You’ve arrived!

Archaeology & History

Of the two ‘Flat Howe’ burial mounds on Sleights Moor, this is the northern one of the two, being 250 yards (230m) away from its southern companion (at NZ 85510 04614).  It’s quite a big fella too – and so you’d expect there to be quite a bit of information about it.  But there isn’t!  No recorded excavation has taken place here, despite the top of the monument being cut into.  But this might have occurred when the Ordnance Survey lads built one of their triangulation pillars into the side of it.  Thankfully it’s not done too much damage.

I was quite surprised to find that even Frank Elgee (1912; 1930) had little to say about either of the two Flat Howes, simply mentioning them in passing in relation to the numerous other prehistoric tombs on these moors.  Despite this, the archaeologist L.V. Grinsell (1936) thought this site to be one of “the finest peristalith barrows I have ever seen.”  And this one in particular is still very impressive.

Flat Howe from the south
Flat Howe (by James Elkington)

First shown on the 1853 OS-map, this large heather-covered mound of earth and stone is some six feet high and measures roughly 22 yards (20m) east-west by 19 yards (17.5m) north-south.  The tomb was originally constructed within a circle of reasonably large boulders, some of which were upright.  These can still be seen, mainly along the western and southern sides of the monument, although many have been dislodged over time and fallen at various angles, as you can see in the photo.  Whether or not these stones were erected first and then the mound built inside the ring, we do not know.  It’s the highest point in the landscape on Sleights Moor, with damn good views in all directions: an element that is common to many large prehistoric tombs, for obvious reasons.  Other tombs of similar size and probably similar periods in prehistory can be seen close by and on the skyline.  Whether this was a deliberate visual ingredient by our tribal ancestors is difficult to say, as the moors here were covered in scattered woodlands in prehistoric times.  Only detailed archaeo-botanical surveys would be able to tell us one way or the other.

Folklore

Flat Howe, with large stones defining its edge

Although we have nothing specific relating to this tomb, an olde creation myth told us that the local giants, Wade and his wife Bel, left their young son (whose name seems to have been forgotten) somewhere on Sleights Moor (which aint a big place).  It is worth narrating simply because it may have related to this tomb or its companion close by.  Giant legends have long been associated with the creation of many prehistoric tombs in this country and abroad.  The story was first written down by George Young (1817) in his magnum opus on Whitby and the tale was subsequently re-told by many others – Mrs Gutch (1901) for one:

“Young Wade, even when an infant, could throw a rock several tons weight to a vast distance; for one day when his mother was milking her cow near Swarthoue, the child, whom she had left on Sleights moor, became impatient for the breast, and seizing a stone of vast size, heaved it across the valley in wrath, and hit his mother with such violence, that though she was not materially hurt, her body made an impression on the stone which remained indelible, till the stone itself was broken up, a few years ago, to mend the highways!”

This rock was Bel’s Rock, whose exact location seems to have been lost.

References:

  1. Elgee, Frank, Early Man in Northeast Yorkshire, Frank Bellows: Gloucester 1930.
  2. Elgee, Frank, The Moorlands of North-Eastern Yorkshire, A. Brown: London 1912.
  3. Grinsell, Leslie V., The Ancient Burial Mounds of England, Methuen: London 1936.
  4. Gutch, Mrs, County Folk Lore – volume 2: Examples of Printed Folk-lore Concerning the North Riding of Yorkshire, York and the Ainsty, David Nutt: London 1901.
  5. Jeffrey, P. Shaw, Whitby Lore and Legend, Home: Whitby 1923.
  6. Roberts, Anthony, Sowers of Thunder, Rider: London 1978.
  7. Smith, A.H., The Place-Names of the North Riding of Yorkshire, Cambridge University Press 1928.
  8. Young, George, A History of Whitby and Streoneshalh Abbey – volume 2, Clarke & Medd: Whitby 1817.

AcknowledgementsA huge thanks to Lindsay Mitchell for getting us up to see this great tomb and its companion; and to James Elkington for use of the photograph.

LinksThe Megalithic Portal on Flat Howe

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  54.432038, -0.683730 Flat Howe (1)

Blakey Topping, Allerston, North Yorkshire

Stone Circle:  OS Grid Reference – SE 8719 9338

Getting Here

Old stones of Blakey Topping (James Elkington)

From Pickering, take the A169 towards Whitby. When you get to the Car Park at the ‘Hole-of-Horcum’ – (you can’t miss it), park the car and walk North along the side of the road towards Whitby. After 60 yds, take the track East. Follow this for approximately a mile until the track splits. Take the concrete track left towards the farm-house of ‘Newgate Foot’. Go through the yard past the house on the right, and you will come to a stream and a gate. Enter the field on the right and up the track. The stones are in front of you.

Archaeology & History

The great rounded hill of Blakey Topping—recorded as early as 1233 CE and meaning the ‘black mound’ or ‘black meeting-place’— has the ruins of a stone circle living several hundred yards to its south, little-known to many.  The early writer George Young (1817) seemed to come close here, mentioning the ‘druidic’ standing stones of Blakey Moor and district, but gave no specific indication of the ruinous ring we’re visiting here.  Instead, the first real description was penned by Robert Knox (1855) who, at the time of writing, was under the academic spell of druidism: prevalent as it was amongst most universities and places of learning back then.  Also, beset by the equally sad plague of Biblical comparitivism—beloved even to this day by halfwits—Knox’s formula about this ancient ring was founded on the druidical reverence of Blakey Topping as a site beneath which our Bronze age tribal ancestors erected their stones with the rounded hill immediately to the north, as signified by its early name, black. (In early place-names, ‘black’ and its variants—dubh, dove, etc—relates to the cardinal direction of ‘north’ and actually means ‘shining’; and white or ban is ‘south’, when both elements are located in relative proximity.)  Knox told us:

“At the southwest side of this arch-Druid’s tomb-like hill (Blakey Topping) a far more conspicuous cluster of larger Druid stones occurs; here three pillars form a triangle…and a smaller one…stands one hundred and fifty paces east of these nearer to the farmhouse there.  These single stones, possibly, once formed part of a circle… The diameter of a circle formed on this triangle of stones would be about fifty-five feet; but as these pillars form a nearly equilateral triangle, the number of stones in that circle cannot now be correctly ascertained, if, indeed, they ever formed part of a circle…

“These three sandstone pillars, untouched by tools…are much weather-worn; and hence it may be inferred that they are very ancient.  I shall only add that the tallest pillar here is nine feet high, from two-and-a-half to three feet wide, and rom fifteen to twenty inches thick, and is the tallest ancient pillar next to the celebrated one in Rudston churchyard, now standing in the eastern part of Yorkshire.  When I last visited the Blakey Topping Druid-stones in 1836, I learned that the farmer, on whose ground they stand, “had talked about breaking the three large ones to pieces,” and perhaps nothing but the trouble of doing so has hitherto preserved them, and many others.  I told him what had been their use, and begged he would preserve them.”

Stone re-used as gatepost (James Elkington)

And thankfully they remain there to this day!  Around the same time of Mr Knox’s visit, the Ordnance Survey lads came here too and, in 1854, highlighted the remaining ‘Druidical Stones’ on the first map of the area.  But references to the stones from here onwards are sparse and add nothing pertinent to its archaeomythic status.  It was a Mr & Mrs Elgee (1930) who were the next to tell us about the site in their exposition on Yorkshire archaeology.  They wrote:

“Three large standing stones about 6 feet high on the south-west side of Blakey Topping…are the remains of a circle about 18 yards in diameter.  Two or three hollows in the ground indicate the position of other stones, some of which are serving as gateposts nearby. Others have been broken up to help build a wall.  These stones are associated with a large settlement sites similar to (one) on Danby Rigg not very far from the imposing Bridestones and approached by an ancient trackway known as the Old Wife’s Trod.”

The general interpretation by the great megalithic archaeologists Aubrey Burl, John Barnatt and their fellow associates, is that these stones are the remains of a stone circle – which seems apt.  But of even greater importance seems to be the great hill of Blakey Topping itself, to which this olde ring no doubt related to.  Many other prehsitoric sites once scattered this area, but sadly most of them have been destroyed.

References:

  1. Barnatt, John, Stone Circles of Britain (2 volumes), BAR: Oxford 1989.
  2. Burl, Aubrey, A Guide to the Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany, New Haven & London 1995.
  3. Burl, Aubrey, The Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany, Yale University Press 2000.
  4. Elgee, F., Early Man in Northeast Yorkshire, Frank Bellows: Gloucester 1930.
  5. Elgee, F. & H.W., The Archaeology of Yorkshire, Methuen: London 1933.
  6. Gutch, Mrs E., Examples of Printed Folklore Concerning the North Riding of Yorkshire, David Nutt: London 1899.
  7. Knox, Robert, Descriptions Geological, Topographical and Antiquarian in Eastern Yorkshire, London 1855.
  8. Phillips, Guy Ragland, Brigantia, RKP: London 1976.
  9. Smith, A.H., The Place-Names of the North Riding of Yorkshire, Cambridge University Press 1928.
  10. Spratt, D.A., Prehistoric and Roman Archaeology of North-East Yorkshire, BAR: Oxford 1982.
  11. White, Stanhope, Standing Stones and Earthworks on the North Yorkshire Moors, privately printed: Scarborough 1987.
  12. Young, George, A History of Whitby and Streoneshalh Abbey – 2 volumes, Clark & Medd: Whitby 1817.

Links:

  1. Mountains, Myths and Moorlands

Acknowledgements:  Big thanks to the photographer James Elkington, for use of his photos in this profile. Cheers mate.  Also, accreditation of early OS-map usage, reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland.

© Paul Bennett & James ElkingtonThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  54.328552, -0.660786 Blakey Topping circle

Blakey Topping, Allerston, North Yorkshire

Sacred Hill:  OS Grid Reference – SE 8731 9377

Getting Here

Blakey Topping (James Elkington)

From Pickering, take the A169 towards Whitby. When you get to the Car Park at the ‘Hole-of-Horcum’ – (you can’t miss it), park the car and walk North along the side of the road towards Whitby. After 60 yds, take the track East. Follow this for approximately a mile until the track splits. Take the concrete track left towards the farmhouse of ‘Newgate Foot’. Go through the yard past the house on the right, and you will come to a stream and a gate and there, ahead of you, rises Blakey Topping…

Archaeology & History

The giant hill of Blakey Topping was recorded as early as 1233 CE and in a simplistic style just means the ‘black mound’; but this derivation has additional ingredients, implying it as a ‘black meeting-place’ or moot.  Black in the etymological sense also implies ‘shining’ and it may also relate to the northern airt of black (meaning death, darkness, north, etc), when you’re stood at the ruined stone circle 400 yards to the south. But I’m speculating here…

Several 19th century antiquarians suggested there may have once been a cairn on top of the hill, but others who’ve explored this idea seem to have put it to bed.

Folklore

This great hill is well recognised amongst local people and, to this day, its animistic creation myths and other folklore elements are still spoken.  When the photographer James Elkington recently visited the nearby standing stones, he bumped into the old farmer who told him how his father had seen the faerie-folk on the hill many years back.  And its modern reputation as a gorgeous site adds to such lore, which dates way back.

In Frank & Harriett Elgee’s (1933) archaeology work, they narrated the old creation myth that local people used to tell of this great hill,

“A witch story related by a native 25 years ago attempts to explain two conspicuous natural features two miles apart on Pickering Moor; Blakey Topping, an isolated hill, and the Hole of Horcum, a deep basin-shaped valley. The local witch had sold her soul to the devil on the usual terms, but when he claimed it, she refused to give it up, and flew over the moors, with the devil in hot pursuit. Overtake her he could not, so he grabbed up a handful of earth and flung it at her. he missed his aim and she escaped.  The Hole of Horcum remains to prove where he tore up the earth and Blakey Topping where it fell to the ground.

“From our point of view the significance of this story lies in the fact that between the Hole and the Topping there is a Bronze Age settlement site at Blakey Farm, with its stone circle. The rough trackway leading from the Hole to the circle is known as the Old Wife’s Way, presumably also marking the witch’s flight. This, together with other Old Wife’s Ways, preserves as it were Bronze Age church tracks”.

Looking up from the SW (James Elkington)

A relative variation on this tells that the Hole of Horcum was made by the local giant, Wade. He was having a row with his wife, Bell, and got so angry that he scooped out a lump of earth and threw it at her.  The huge geological feature known as the Hole of Horcum is the dip left where he scooped out the earth, and Blakey topping, the clod itself, resting in situ where it landed.  A christian appropriation of the story replaces Wade and his wife with their ‘devil’: a puerile element unworthy of serious consideration.

In more recent times, the old geomancer Guy Ragland Phillips (1976; 1985) found that a number of alignments, or leys (known as a ‘node’), centred on Blakey Topping: twelve in all, reaching out and crossing numerous holy wells, prehistoric tumuli, standing stones, etc.  The precision of the alignments is questionable, yet the matter of the hill being a centre-point, or omphalos, would seem moreso than not.

References:

  1. Elgee, F. & H.W., The Archaeology of Yorkshire, Methuen: London 1933.
  2. Phillips, Guy Ragland, Brigantia, RKP: London 1976.
  3. Phillips, Guy Ragland, The Unpolluted God, Northern Lights: Pocklington 1987.
  4. Smith, A.H., The Place-Names of the North Riding of Yorkshire, Cambridge University Press 1928.

Links:

  1. Mountains, Myths and Moorlands

Acknowledgements:  Big thanks to the photographer, James Elkington, for use of his photos in this profile. Cheers mate.

© Paul Bennett & James ElkingtonThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  54.332035, -0.658827 Blakey Topping

Samson’s Stone, Waltonhill Farm, Craigrothie, Fife

Legendary Stone: OS Grid Reference – NO 36312 09667

Getting Here

Lighter coloured Samson Stones visible from road south of farm

Travelling South along the A916 just past Craigrothie, turn right down to Chance Inn, and turn left at the T junction. and follow the road on to just past the left hand bend when Waltonhill Farm will be seen on the right. The Stones form part of the structure of a dwelling house and are not accessible to the public, but are visible from the public highway further down the road as the light coloured irregular shaped stones at ground level either side of the door of the south-facing house.

Archaeology & History

According to a piece published in the Fife Herald & Journal in 1905:-

“Once upon a time, so runs the legend, Samson challenged the devil to match him at boulder throwing. As challenger, Samson stood on the West Lomond; Satan stood on the East. The signal was given; two mighty rocks whistled through the air. ‘The De’ils Stane‘ fell where it now lies, on the road-side about a quarter of a mile west from Waltonhill Farm. Samson, though handicapped by three miles greater distance, flung his stone fully four hundred yards beyond that of Satan, and with such force that it split into three parts; which parts are now built into Waltonhill barn.”

The light-coloured, irregularly-shaped stones at ground level are the likely remains

This is of course a variant of a creation myth that is to be found throughout Britain, of an Age of Giants who strode the land quarrelling with each other and the mortal humans. The original names of the Giants have been lost in the aeons of oral transmission of the legend from pre-history, and replaced by that of a probably equally legendary Middle Eastern strong man from the Christian’s Bible, in combat with the Christian’s Naughty Man. And to prove the point of Christianity’s superiority over the old animistic cults of the land, the De’il has to be demonstrably the Loser.

Another view of the Stones

The house owner told me that what is now the farmhouse bearing the stones, was originally the barn, that they rebuilt after 40 years of dereliction, and interestingly she had heard something about some Samson’s Stones, but not about the nearby De’il’s Stane, which shows that these ancient legends are still being orally transmitted.

The Stone was thrown over 10 miles from West Lomond (right). No wonder it split!

There are five ‘odd’ stones either side of the doorway, along the base of the wall facing the Lomond Hills, of irregular shape and lighter colour than the rest of the building’s walls. These are the likely candidates for the Samson’s Stones (unless anyone can come up with more convincing evidence). While the legend speaks of three stones, it is quite feasible that the masons dressed these when they built the original barn, making five stones out of the three. They look like they may be successive horizontal slices of a larger square to triangular sectioned stone. Pure speculation on the writer’s part, but are these the remains of a lost standing stone(s) that had to be demolished in order for the barn to be built, pieces of which were incorporated into the building to give the original stone’s magical protection to the farmer’s animals and crops?

References:

  1. Fife Herald & Journal, 1st November 1905, quoted in John Ewart Simpkins’ County Folklore – Volume VII: Fife, with some notes concerning Clackmannan and Kinross-shires, Folk-Lore Society by Sidgwick& Jackson: London 1914.

© Paul T Hornby, The Northern Antiquarian 2018

Samson Stone

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Samson Stone 56.275184, -3.030087 Samson Stone

De’il’s Stane, Waltonhill, Craigrothie, Fife

Legendary Stone: OS Grid Reference – NO 36304 09352

Also Known as:

  1. Devil’s Stone

Getting Here

Travelling South along the A916 just past Craigrothie, turn right down to Chance Inn, and turn left at the T junction. and follow the road on to just past the left hand bend when Waltonhill Farm will be seen on the right. Continue south down the road a few hundred yards until it takes a slight right turn. The De’il’s Stane, a huge flat faced slab of rock, will be seen at the roadside on the left side of the road, partly obscured by gorse.

Archaeology & History

According to a piece published in the Fife Herald & Journal in 1905:-

“Once upon a time, so runs the legend, Samson challenged the devil to match him at boulder throwing. As challenger, Samson stood on the West Lomond; Satan stood on the East. The signal was given; two mighty rocks whistled through the air. ‘The De’ils Stane’ fell where it now lies, on the road-side about a quarter of a mile west [sic] from Waltonhill Farm. Samson, though handicapped by three miles greater distance, flung his stone fully four hundred yards beyond that of Satan, and with such force that it split into three parts; which parts are now built into Waltonhill barn”.

The roadside location, just south of the bend

The De’il’s Stane, a huge slab of rock!

This is of course a variant of a creation myth that is to be found throughout Britain, of an Age of Giants who hurled rocks around and strode the land quarrelling with each other and the mortal humans . The original names of the Waltonhill Giants have been lost in the aeons of oral transmission of the legend from pre-history, and replaced by that of a probably equally legendary Middle Eastern strong man from the Christian’s Bible, in combat with the Christian’s Naughty Man. And this was of course done to prove the point of Christianity’s superiority over the old animistic cults of the land, and the De’il had to be demonstrably the loser.

De’ils Stane thrown by the Man in the Red Velvet Suit from East Lomond (Left)

Owing to the Stone being partly hidden by gorse, it was not possible to make a close inspection of the rock for carvings etc. A further visit will no doubt be made to try to clear some of the gorse so a closer inspection can be made. The Stone’s size (approximately 15′ high by 20′ wide by 4′ thick) and the way it is resting against a natural bank, does give a credence to the legend of its having been slung by a giant from East Lomond, clearly visible nearly 7¾ miles away.

Reference:

  1. Fife Herald & Journal, 1st November 1905, quoted in John Ewart Simpkins’ County Folklore – Volume VII: Fife, with some notes concerning Clackmannan and Kinross-shires, Folk-Lore Society by Sidgwick& Jackson: London 1914.

© Paul T. Hornby, The Northern Antiquarian 2018

De'il's Stane

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De\'il\'s Stane 56.272356, -3.030144 De\'il\'s Stane

Samson’s Stone, Crieff, Perthshire

Legendary Rock:  OS Grid Reference – NN 82519 22021

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 96866

Getting Here

Samson Stone on 1866 map

Samson Stone on 1866 map

Tale the A85 road between Comrie and Crieff and, roughly halfway between the two towns, take the minor road south to Strowan (it’s easily missed, so be aware!).  A few hundred yards along, stop where the trees begin and walk into the fields immediately east.  Keep walking, below the line of the trees, and you’ll get to it within five minutes.

Archaeology & History

Samson's Stone, looking east

Samson’s Stone, looking east

Mistakenly cited by some as a standing stone, the large boulder which rests here on the hillside just below the woodland is a glacial erratic.  Highlighted on the 1866 OS-map of the region, I hoped that we might find some rock art on the stone, but cup-and-rings there were none.  However, there is a curious ‘footprint’ on top of it, similar to the ones found at Dunnad, at Murlaganmore and other places (see Bord 2004); but I can find no previous reference to this carved footprint.

'Footprint' on top of stone

‘Footprint’ on top of stone

In 1863 the site was described in the local Name Book, where it was reported to be “a large oblong shaped stone lying on the surface, eight feet long, four wide, and three thick”; but, much like today, it was also reported that “There is no tradition respecting it in the neighbourhood. Supposed to have received the name in consequence of its great size.”

Most peculiar…..

References:

  1. Bord, Janet, Footprints in Stone, Heart of Albion Press 2004.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Samson Stone

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Samson Stone 56.375822, -3.903839 Samson Stone

Giant’s Stone, Tweedsmuir, Peeblesshire

Standing Stones:  OS Grid Reference – NT 0953 2398

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 48527
  2. Menzion Farm

Getting Here

The small Giant's Stone

The small Giant’s Stone

Take the long long A701 road betwixt Moffat and Penicuik, and in the middle, somewhere, keeps your eyes attentive to the Tweedsmuir hamlet, across the small bridge almost lost in the expanse of old hills.  Once over the bridge, park up by the edge of the forest.  Walk along the small road that follows the riverside – and after a few hundred yards you’ll see, either side of the small road, three stones. Our “giant” is the tallest of the smallests here, right by forestside.

Archaeology & History

Giant's Stone & Grave on 1865 OS-map

Giant’s Stone & Grave on 1865 OS-map

Hiding away in the Back-of-Beyond, amidst a small cluster of other small megalithic remains, sleeps this quiet standing stone and its companions – three of them altogether, almost lost to anyone but old locals, whose tongues have sadly all but died.  Very little has been written about the place in any archaeology tomes and the earliest mention of the site seems to have been in the Second Statistical Account of 1845, when the surveyors told:

“Close by the road leading from the church to Menzion House, there are the remains of a Druidical temple or Pictish court of justice. Only one stone is left of a number similar in appearance and size which stood together, and which have been removed for the purpose of dike-building, &c. It is called the Standing Stone, and is five feet above the surface of the earth.”

Stone 2, across the road

Stone 2, across the road

More than a century later, the Royal Commission (1967) lads got round to checking the place out, but there seems to be some slight confusion as to what they recorded and the situation as it stands today.  The present Royal Commission lads reports the existence of what they call the Menzion Stones: quite separate standing stones—although ‘fallen’—just a short distance from the Giant’s Stone (Canmore ID 48561), citing them as described in the Peeblesshire (1967) survey which, oddly, neither includes nor names the Giant’s Stone which is only yards away.  It seems safe to assume that the respective Royal Commission inspectors have made erroneous judgements here, brought about due to the repositioning of the original Giant’s Stone when the Forestry Commission afflicted the place and, it seems, damaged the site.  It’s difficult to say with any certainty—but there are definitely some official errors in the description of this site.  Anyway, if we assume that the ‘Menzion’ standing stones in the Peeblesshire Inventory were actually the Giant’s Stone and its companions, this is how they reported it following a visit here in 1956:

“A quarter of a mile NE of Menzion farmhouse, the road to Tweedsmuir passes between two standing stones. The more northerly stone, situated 10 yds W of the roadway measures about 2 ft. 3 in square at ground level and stands to a height of 2 ft 6 in. The other stone is 25 yds SE of the first and 12 yds E of the roadway. It, too, is almost square on plan, measuring about 2 ft 2 in along each side at ground level, and stands to a height of 2 ft.”

Even more peculiar is that today we have three standing stones at this spot!  Like those at Perthshire’s Tigh nam Bodach, perhaps the metamorphosized spirit of the site is reproducing!

Folklore

In the very same Second Statistical Account (1845) was recounted the folklore of the largest stone, which had obviously been told them by local folk.  Twas said that,

“From behind it, a person of diminutive stature, known by the name of Little John, discharged an arrow at the head of a freebooter of formidable dimension who greatly annoyed the peaceful inhabitants, and who, though on the opposite side of the Tweed, was unable to elude the deadly stroke.”

Folklorists Janet & Colin Bord narrated a variation on the above story, telling that,

“This stone and the two nearby mark the place where Jack the Giant Killer despatched his last victim. Jack hid behind the Giant’s Stone to shoot, but unfortunately the mortally wounded giant managed to get a punch in and Jack was himself killed. The stone now acts as his gravestone.”

All three stones together

All three stones together

Invariably, references to “giants” in folklore—be it in mountains or standing stones—indicates early Creation Myth stories that tell about the origin of the given site.  In the case of this standing stone and its companions, and the related Giant’s Grave tomb 320 yards WNW across the River Tweed, it would seem to indicate a folk memory of the hero-figure or giant who was buried here thousands of years ago, and whose spirit inhabits the stone.  This motif is widespread and very archaic.

References:

  1. Bord, Janet & Colin, Atlas of Magical Britain, Sidgwick & Jackson: London 1990.
  2. Eliade, Mircea, A History of Religious Ideas – volume 1, University of Chicago Press 1978.
  3. Johnson, Walter, Folk Memory, Oxford University Press 1908.
  4. Maclagan, David, Creation Myths, Thames & Hudson: London 1977.
  5. Roberts, Anthony, Sowers of Thunder, Rider: London 1978.
  6. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, Peeblesshire – volume 1, Aberdeen University Press 1967.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  55.501225, -3.433425 Giant\'s Stone

Giant’s Grave, Tweedsmuir, Peeblesshire

Tumulus (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NT 0925 2410

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 48535

Archaeology & History

Giant's Grave & Stone on 1865 OS-map

Giant’s Grave & Stone on 1865 OS-map

Marked on the 1865 OS-map as a “tumulus”, it was destroyed by some idiot in 1818 due to some basic lacking; but we can see from the old map how close it was to the Giant’s Stone on the south-side of the River Tweed, to which it may have had an archaeological connection with.  When it was destroyed, the New Statistical Account in 1845 described there being a six-foot long stone coffin (cist) beneath the tumulus, containing the usual burial urn.

Folklore

When the 18th century writer Alexander Pennecuik (1715) wrote about this old tomb, he narrated the tradition of the site as told him by the local people, telling:

“….upon the head of a burn on the south side of Tweed, stands the old-house of Hawkshaw, belonging (to) Porteous, from a numerous race of Ancestor’s Chiefs of that surname.  Over against the foot of Hawkshaw-Burn in a Kairn beside the High road is the Giants Grave, so called from a huge and mighty Fellow, that robbed all on the way, but was at length from a Mount in the over side of the River supprised and shor to Death as Tradition goes.”

References:

  1. Pennecuik, Alexander, A Geographical, Historical Description of the Shire at Tweeddale, John Moncur: Edinburgh 1715.
  2. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, Peeblesshire – volume 1, Aberdeen University Press 1967.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  55.502464, -3.438224 Giant\'s Grave