Wife with the Bratty Plaid, Balfron, Stirlingshire

Standing Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NS 60027 91383

Getting Here

The Wife with the Bratty Plaid

The Wife with the Bratty Plaid

Take the same route as if you’re visiting the small Carlin Stone (a few hundred yards further along): along the B822 road between Kippen and Fintry, stop at Balafark farm and cross the road above the farm to take the track into the forest.  1km along, note the small green track, off the main central track, slightly up on the rise on your right, which bends round and then goes (eventually) to the other side of the forest.  Once you reach the gate at its edge, walk left 285 yards (261m) along the fence.

Archaeology & History

The Wife and the Carlin on the 1865 OS-map

The Wife and the Carlin on the 1865 OS-map

Described in the Ordnance Survey’s (1870) Book of Reference (volume 47) as “a flat rock on the boundary between Perth and Stirling,” the rock is certainly not flat—and any geographical relationship it had with Perth has long since gone.  Instead, the stone in question here is an upright one—although it’s not much more than two feet tall.  However, on the other side of the present-day fence there is a small flat stone in the ground; but it is the moss-covered upright that is our ‘Wife with the Bratty Plaid.’  A smaller curious-looking quartz-lined stone also lies next to this old Wife…

The Wife, looking east

The Wife, looking east

The Wife, looking west

The Wife, looking west

Marked on the ancient boundary line, this small but sturdy standing stone probably has a prehistoric pedigree, although we cannot be certain without an excavation.  It is shown on the earliest OS-maps from the 1860s, but we have no notifications from any literary sources telling the tale behind the stone’s fascinating name: meaning simply, the ‘wife wearing the tartan shawl.’  When Marion Woolley and I came here the other day, we tried to see if a simulacrum of such a figure was hiding in the moss-covered upright—but unlike the notable simulacrum at MacBeth’s Stone, we struggled somewhat here.  It was possible, from certain angles (if we didn’t stand on our heads and poke each other in the eyes!) to see this ‘wife in a shawl’, but twas a struggle…

There’s every likelihood that whatever the old tale once was about this petrified ancestral stone, it would have had some mythic relationship with the Old Wife known as the Carlin, or cailleach, a few hundred yards to the west, at the Carlin Stone.  As yet however, their histories remain hidden in the sleep of the Earth…

Links: 

  1. Nataraja’s Foot – The Wife with the Bratty Plaid

Acknowledgements:  Huge thanks to Marion Grace Woolley, for a truly soggy day out and for the photos in this site profile.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.094675, -4.251535 Wife with the Bratty Plaid

Carlin Stone, Balfron, Stirlingshire

Legendary Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NS 59553 91277

Getting Here

Carling Stone on 1866 map

Carling Stone on 1866 map

Take the B822 road between Kippen and Fintry, stopping at Balafark farm.  On the other side of the road, above the farm, take the track into the forest.  Naathen…. 1120 yards (1.02km) along, note the small green track, off the main central track, slightly up on the rise on your right. It bends round and then goes (eventually) straight to the edge of the forest.  Once you reach the edge, go left all along the fence until it meets the large gate 800 yards WSW.  20 yards past the gate, a small stone is along the fence-line. This is the Carlin!

Archaeology & History

Carling Stone, looking east

Carling Stone, looking east

Found along the same boundary line as another stone with similar mythic virtues (called the ‘Wife with the Bratty Plaid’), when Marion Grace Woolley and I visited the site earlier, we found only a small upright, barely a foot tall, right in line with the ancient boundary along a newly made fence.  Thankfully, whoever built the fence, understood the nature of the stone, and left it in the ground where it belongs.  We know not for sure exactly how old this stone might be, but it its name and position suggest very old – probably prehistoric.

The Carlin is another word for the Cailleach: the prima mater or great Earth goddess in Irish, Scottish and northern English animistic traditions.  Her virtues are immense, representing the cycles of the natural world, a creation giant, healer and a whole host of other elements inherent to the natural world.  Although She tends to be represented as the Winter hag, the Cailleach changes Her faces and attributes as the cloaks of the seasons go by, annually, cyclically, year after year after year.  She’s as much the cloak of the Winter as She is the fertility of Spring, the warmth of the Summer and the fruits of Autumn.

Carling Stone, looking west

Carling Stone, looking west

Whatever traditions there might have been at this small Carlin Stone are now long forgotten it seems.  We find no bodach (Her husband) in immediate attendance.  However, the existence of the small standing stone called the ‘Wife with the Bratty Plaid,’ several hundred yards to the east along the same ancient boundary line, implies there would have been a traditional perambulation along this boundary, and during such annual ritual walks, tales or words may have been said here.  Does anyone know more…?

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.093579, -4.259022 Carlin Stone

Strathblane Churchyard, Stirlingshire

Standing Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NS 56387 79375

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 44452

Getting Here

Strathblane church's heathen creator

Strathblane church’s heathen creator

From whichever direction you’re coming from along the A81 into Strathblane, make sure you keep your eyes peeled for where the A891 turns off it to the east.  Go  and along there and barely 100 yards on the church is set back from the road.  Walk into the graveyard, turn left and you can’t really miss it amidst the mass of modern graves.

Archaeology & History

Location of the stone, from Smith 1886

Location of the stone, from Smith 1886

In accordance with the occasional tradition of standing stones in churchyards (such as the Rudston monolith and many others), a short stumpy monolith, less than four feet high, here stands alone in the christian burial ground surrounding Strathblane’s parish church.  The top of the stone is quite flat and it’s possible that this once stood much taller, with the top of the stone being chopped off (such destruction has happened at the Cuckoo Stones and many other megalithic sites).  It’s certainly worth looking at and stands amidst a cluster of other ancient sites—some gone, some still in evidence—in and around this lovely old village.  Not much has been written about the stumpy little fella and its first literary reference seems to be in Mr Smith’s (1886) magnum opus on the area, where he tells:

“There is a very old standing stone in the churchyard, but most probably it was placed there long before there was any church in the parish.”

…Nothing else.  Even the Royal Commission (1963) lads said little about it, merely telling us:

“A few yards within the entrance to the graveyard of Strathblane Parish Church…a standing stone appears among the monuments.  It is a five-sided pillar, 3ft 9in high, with an uneven but flattish top.  At ground level the sides range from 1ft 9ins to 2ft 3in in width.”

The stone, looking south

The stone, looking south

The stone, looking southeast

The stone, looking southeast

The fact that it stands by the church (rebuilt around 1803 out of its more ancient fabric) suggests that the site was a heathen temple or sacred site, redesignated by the invading christian priesthood.  A short distant east and west have been found a number of prehistoric remains in the forms of burials, standing stones and giant cairns, indicating this site to have had particular mythic importance in earlier centuries.  From the standing stone if we look southeast, we see the rise of Dunglass, but the view to the stones and great pyramid of Dumgoyach, northwest, is blocked by the rise of Cuilt Brae, which I found to be a little surprising.

References:

  1. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments Scotland, Stirling – volume 1, HMSO: Edinburgh 1963.
  2. Smith, John G., The Parish of Strathblane, James Maclehose: Glasgow 1886.
  3. Ure, David, The History of Rutherglen and East Kilbride, Glasgow 1793.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  55.985778, -4.303557 Strathblane church

Broadgate Farm, Strathblane, Stirlingshire

Standing Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NS 56929 79402

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 44439

Getting Here

Broadgate Farm standing stone

Broadgate Farm standing stone

From Strathblane, take the A891 road eastwards out of the village, past the standing stone in the churchyard and the row of houses set back off the road until, a few hundred yards along, the fields open up on both sides of you.  In the very first field on the north side of the road, you’ll see the standing stone, all alone, resting quietly.  There’s a gate enabling you access into the field…

Archaeology & History

Broadgate Stone, with Dunglass SE

Broadgate Stone, with Dunglass SE

Found in close proximity to the destroyed chambered tomb of Broadgate, this small standing stone is presently set in a concrete base after an excavation here in 1982 located a cremation urn beneath the stone, confirming an old tradition that told as much.  But there are some who think the stone isn’t a prehistoric one—the Royal Commission (1963) lads for one.  In their brief resumé of the site they wrote:

“This stone stands just N of the road from Campsie to Strathblane, 140 yds E of Broadgate farmhouse.  It is 4ft high and measures 2ft 3inches by 3ft at ground level.  It may well be the stone referred to in the New Statistical Account as marking the spot where Mr Stirling of Ballagan was murdered in the 17th century and should therefore not necessarily be accepted as of prehistoric origin.”

And were it not for an excavation nearly twenty years later, this view may have been maintained.  However, when Lorna Main (1982) told of what was found beneath the monolith, no mention was made of any recent remains.  She wrote:

“Excavation at the base of the fallen standing stone was undertaken prior to its re-erection. A ledge had been cut on the south-west side of the shallow stone hole and fragments of the base survived and the diameter of the base is approximately 17cm.  The urn contained a cremation and a small quantity of charcoal.  It lay only 15cm below the ground surface and is in a poor condition.”

The very fragile state of the urn and the very eroded rounded stature of the rock itself would seem to indicate that this is more a prehistoric upright than a later 17th century one.

Folklore

There are legends of early battles in this region and J.G. Smith (1886) thought that perhaps “this great stone…mark the resting-places of Cymric heroes who did their share of the battle on the north side of the valley.”

References:

  1. Main, Lorna, “Broadgate Farm – Standing Stone and Cinerary Urn,” in Discovery & Excavation Scotland, 1982.
  2. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments Scotland, Stirling – volume 1, HMSO: Edinburgh 1963.
  3. Smith, John G., The Parish of Strathblane, James Maclehose: Glasgow 1886.
  4. Ure, David, The History of Rutherglen and East Kilbride, Glasgow 1793.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  55.986189, -4.294888 Broadgate Farm

Old Wife’s Stone, Batley, West Yorkshire

Standing Stone? (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – SE 2428 2329

Archaeology & History

Old Wifes Stone on 1854 map

My first hint at the existence of this once valuable archaeological relic came as a result of me seeking out the history and folklore of some hitherto unknown, forgotten holy wells in the Batley and Dewsbury area.  I located the material I was looking for on the old wells, but my fortuitous discovery of this site, the Old Wife’s Stone, blew me away!

It was the place-name of ‘Carlinghow’ about one mile northwest of the grid-reference above that initially caught my attention.  From an antiquarian or occultist’s viewpoint, it’s intriguing on two counts: the first is the element ‘how‘ in Carlinghow, which can mean a variety of things, but across the Pennines tends to relate to either an ancient tribal or council meeting place, or a prehistoric burial cairn: an element that wasn’t lost in the giant archaeology survey of West Yorkshire by Faull & Moorhouse (1981).  But the first part of this place-name, ‘carling‘, was the exciting element to me; for it means ‘old woman,’ ‘old hag,’ ‘witch’ or cailleach!  The cailleach (to those who don’t know) was the prima mater: the Great Mother deity of our pre-christian British ancestors.  Meaning that Carlinghow hill was a hugely important sacred site no less—right in the heart of industrial West Yorkshire!  What is even more intriguing—or perhaps surprising—is that we have no record of such a powerful mythic creature anywhere in local folklore… Or so it first seemed…

Memory told me that no such prehistoric remains were recorded anywhere in that area—and certainly no prehistoric tombs.  I scoured through my library just to triple-check, and found the archaeological records as silent as I first thought.  Just to make sure I spent a day at the Central Library, where again I found nothing… So then I explored the region on the modern OS-maps, only to find that much of the area where the Carlinghow place-name existed was, surprisingly, still untouched by housing and similar modern pollutants. This was a great surprise to say the least.  And so to check for any potential archaeological sites which might once have been in the Carlinghow area, I turned to the large-scale 1850 OS-maps (6-inch to the mile).

This is when I came across the Old Wife’s Stone, marked in the middle of fields on the outskirts of old Batley.  There was no notice of it being a standing stone, or a simple boulder, or archaeological relic—nothing.  But its place-name compatriot of ‘Carlinghow’ was the rising hill about a mile to the northwest.  In days of olde, if Carlinghow was indeed the ‘burial tomb of the Old Woman’ or ‘meeting place of the cailleach’ (or whatever variants on the theme it may have been), it may have marked the setting sun on the longest day of the year if you had been standing at the Old Wife’s Stone – a midsummer sunset marker no less. (There are other ancient and legendary sites scattering northern England and beyond that are dedicated to the Cailleach, like the Old Woman Stone in Derbyshire, the Old Wife’s Neck in North Yorkshire, the Carlin Stone in Stirlingshire, the Old Woman Stone at Todmorden, Carlin Stone of Loch Elrig and many more.)

As if these curious ingredients weren’t enough to imply something existed in the heathen pantheon of Batley before the Industrialists swept away our indigenous history, we find echoes of the ‘Old Woman’ yet again, immediately east; this time where the animism of water and trees enfolded Her mythos in local rites and traditions, thankfully captured by the pens of several writers, and transmuted into another guise—but undeniably Her!  But that, as they say, is for another day and another site profile…

Position of stone in 1894

So is our Old Wife’s Stone (or for that matter, Carlinghow’s old tomb) still in evidence?  A school has been built where it was highlighted on the 1854 OS-map and, from the accounts of local people, seems to have long since disappeared.  The stone looks to have been incorporated into a length of walling, sometime between 1854 and 1888, and a bench-mark of “BM 318.2” carved onto it.  But when the Ordnance Survey lads re-surveyed the area in 1905, this had gone.  I have been unable to find any more information about this site and hope that, one day, a fellow antiquarian or occult historian might be able to unravel more of its forgotten mythic history.

References:

  1. Faull, M.L. & Moorhouse, S.A. (eds), West Yorkshire: An Archaeological Survey to 1500 AD – volume 1, WYMCC: Wakefield 1981.
  2. Goodall, Armitage, Place-Names of South-west Yorkshire, Cambridge University Press 1914.
  3. Keighley, J.J., ‘The Prehistoric Period’, in Faull & Moorhouse, 1981.
  4. o’ Crualaoich, Gearoid,  The Book of the Cailleach, Cork University Press 2004.
  5. Smith, A.H., English Place-Name Elements – volume 2, Cambridge University Press 1956.
  6. Smith, A.H., The Place-Names of the West Riding of Yorkshire – volume 2, Cambridge University Press 1961.
  7. Wright, Joseph, English Dialect Dictionary – volume 1, Henry Frowde: London 1898.

Acknowledgements:  Many thanks for the assistance of Simon Roadnight and Julia King in the Batley History Group.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  53.705479, -1.633672 Old Wife\'s Stone

Dwarf’s Tomb, Alva, Clackmannanshire

Tomb:  OS Grid Reference – NS 8848 9754

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 47076

Getting Here

Quarry of the Dwarf's Tomb
Quarry of the Dwarf’s Tomb

From the main street through Alva, between the Co-op and the corner shop, go up the small road at the side of the Johnstone Arms Hotel (Brook Street) and, at the small crossroads, straight across as if following the sign to the golf course. Stay along the track parallel with the Alva Burn waters and as you go into the trees a hundred yards or so along, to your left is a disused quarry, with a couple of plaques telling you its brief history. This is the spot!

Archaeology & History

This is a truly fascinating site for a number of reasons.  Sadly, we can no longer see what had been here for oh so many thousands of years thanks, as usual, to the industrialists destroying the land here.  Although in this case, without them we’d be unaware of its very existence.  Additionally, there is a twist to the industrial’s find, which seems to have stopped further quarrying by some local people….

The tomb was somewhere in the left-middle
The tomb was somewhere in the left-middle

Listed in the relative Royal Commission accounts (1933; 1978), without comments, the tale is a simple one, but was narrated in some detail by J.G. Callander (1914) in Scotland’s prodigious Society of Antiquaries journal.  During some quarrying operations over the Christmas period of 1912, James Murdoch “uncovered the remains of a human skeleton which had been buried in a natural cavity in the rock.”  Three weeks later, local police officer George Donald and Dr W.L. Cunningham of Alva, accompanied Mr Callander to the site and made a detailed assessment of what had been found.  He wrote:

“The quarry in which the grave was found is situated at the mouth of Alva Glen, a few yards distant from the right bank of the burn which flows through it.  The body had been placed in a cavity or rock shelter in the face of the cliff, about 40 feet from the base, and about 200 feet above sea-level, and a rough, curved wall of dry-stone building, about 1 foot in thickness, had been built across the opening, which faced the east, the ends of the wall being still in situ when I visited the site. The space enclosed measured about 4 feet 6 inches from north to south, and about 5 feet from east to west.  Subsequent to the burial the whole face of the rock and the walling had been covered, to a thickness of probably some 6 feet, by soil and detritus washed down from the hill face above.  The greater part of the floor of the cavity was formed of clean, broken, angular stones, but the space on which the body was placed had been covered with a thin layer of soil preparatory to the burial.  No charcoal or charred wood, which is so often seen in prehistoric graves, was found in this deposit.  The skull lay in the north end of the grave, on its right side, facing the rock to the west, the vertebrae and ribs followed a line to the south, and the nether limbs were inclined towards the interior of the cavity.  The whole  face, including all the teeth and the lower jaw, was a-wanting.  Apparently the body had been placed in a flexed position, half on its side and half on its back.  Nothing else was found in the grave but a quantity of snail shells, probably twenty or thirty, which were nearly all broken, the few complete examples being in a very fragile condition.

“Elsewhere it has been stated that these formed a necklace, but while they were strewn out in front of the skeleton for a distance of over 3 feet, none of them showed any signs of artificial perforation.  The species of Helixis is probably hortensis, the common garden snail.”

Mr Callander then included a lengthy description of the body itself, some of whose bones were fractured.  He told that a certain

“Professor Bryce states that the skeleton is that of a dwarf of about 4 feet 2 inches in stature.  The epiphyses are all fully united, although the line of union is visible on the surface at some points.  Growth must therefore have been completed, and the person must have been, if the union of the epiphyses of the long bones had pursued its normal course, over twenty-one years of age…”

Regarding the sex of the dwarf, Mr Bryce wasn’t 100% certain, but told:

“The calvaria shows the general characters of a female skull, but it cannot be stated definitely that the individual was a woman, because the cranial characters are such as might have been present in a dwarf of the male sex.  The calvaria is of moderate size, and is well formed.”

Bryce concluded as a whole that this person was in reasonably good health and, from the condition of the bones, showed “there was no evidence of the disease known as rickets.”  In his final remarks he told:

“The general conclusions to which a careful examination of the skeleton leads, is that we have here to do, not with a representative of a dwarfish race, but with an individual who from premature union of the epiphyses was to a remarkable degree stunted in growth.  The condition is a well-known one, and the class of dwarfs, in which this individual must be included, is well recognised.”

Probable spot of the lost tomb
Probable spot of the lost tomb

The exact spot of the tomb appears to have been destroyed, or at the very least is certainly covered over and no longer visible.  The section of the quarry looking east, into which the tomb was built, is all-but gone and no initial evidence prevails to show its exact location.  However, it would seem from the description to have been close to the tops of the tree-line, perhaps giving a clear view to the rising sun in the east.  Perhaps… 

The position of this tomb, enclosed high up in the cliffs, hidden away at the entrance to the deeply cut ravine of the Alva Glen, is intriguing in that it is a rarity.  Ravines like this are always peopled by olde spirits in animistic tribal traditions — and this dangerous glen with its fast waters and high falls would have been no different, especially to the Pictish people who we know were still here even after the Romans had buggered off.  Is it possible that this figure was a guardian to the Glen itself, a medicine woman or shaman, whose very Glen was her home?  We know from traditional accounts in many of the North American tribes that dwarves were accessories to the spirit worlds, and some were shamans. (Park 1938)  In northern and central European lore, these small people are “the mysterious craftsmen-priests of early civilizations.” (Motz 1987)  Whilst in Scottish lowland lore, the ‘Brown Man of the Muirs’ was a dwarfish creature described by Briggs (1979) as “a guardian spirit of wild beasts”, or watered-down shaman figure. There is more to this burial than meets the eye of dry academia…

Folklore

The Alva Glen—in addition to being beautiful and home to the Ladies Well—was long known to be one of many places in the Ochils that were peopled by the faerie folk. (Fergusson 1912)  Local people still say this place is haunted by the spirit of a dangerous witch called Jenny Mutton.

It’s worth reiterating the words of Mr Callander (1914) regarding the finding and subsequent death of the man who uncovered this fascinating tomb, as some folk (then as now) think his demise was as inevitable as the man who planned on building turbines in Glen Cailleach:

“On the 24th December last, while quarrying stone for road metal in a quarry at the foot of the Ochils, at Alva, James Murdoch uncovered the remains of a human skeleton which had been buried in a natural cavity in the rock.  Two days later he was killed at the same spot by the fall of a mass of overhanging rock, a tragic sequel, which not long ago would have been considered a judgement on him for disturbing the dead.”

References:

  1. Briggs, Katherine M., A Dictionary of Fairies, Penguin: Harmondsworth 1979.
  2. Callander, J. Graham, “Of a Prehistoric Burial at Alva, Clackmannanshire,” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 48, 1914.
  3. Corbett, L., et al., The Ochil Hills, Forth Naturalist & Historian 1994.
  4. Drummond, A.L., “The Prehistory and Prehistoric Remains of the Hillfoots and Neighbouring District”, in Transactions Stirling Natural History & Antiquarian Society, volume 59, 1937.
  5. Fergusson, R. Menzies, The Ochil Fairy Tales, David Nutt: London 1912.
  6. Gimbutas, Marija, “Slavic Religion,” in Encyclopedia of Religion – volume 13 (editor M. Eliade), MacMillan: New York 1987.
  7. Motz, Lotte, “Dvergar,” in Encyclopedia of Religion – volume 4 (editor M. Eliade), MacMillan: New York 1987.
  8. Park, Willard Z., Shamanism in Western North America: A Study in Cultural Relationships, Evanston: Chicago 1938.
  9. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, Inventory of Monuments and Constructions in the Counties of Fife, Kinross and Clackmannan, HMSO: Edinburgh 1933.
  10. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, The Archaeological Sites and Monuments of Clackmannan District and Falkirk District, Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 1978.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.157346, -3.796862 Dwarf\'s Tomb

St. Fillan’s Chair, Dundurn, Comrie, Perthshire

Legendary Rock:  OS Grid Reference – NN 7081 2325

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 24876
  2. Dundurn
  3. Fillan’s Chair
  4. St. Fillan’s Bed

Getting Here

Dundurn, near St. Fillans
Dundurn, near St. Fillans

Not hard to find. Between the small towns of Comrie and St. Fillans along the A85 road, keep your eyes peeled for the small but rocky crags that rise in front of the background of dramatic mountains not far from the roadside to the south. It looks truly majestic even on a dull day. Just as you reach the eastern edge of St. Fillans village, take the small road over the river-bridge and go to the golf club. Walk past the golf club itself, keeping along the track that leads you to Dundurn hill.  It’s easy enough. Then climb to the very top of the hill where you’ll find this curious, large, flat bed-like rock right in front of you!

Archaeology & History

The rocky bed or 'chair' of St Fillan
The rocky bed or ‘chair’ of St Fillan

The archaeological data for St. Fillan’s Chair relates more to the folklore practices of the people upon Dundurn hill than anything else and ostensibly little can be said by such students. The place is more satisfying for geologists than archaeologists, who would adore the rocky fluctuations and geophysical propensities with greater verve than any archaeologist could muster! For this rocky bed-shaped feature is a fascinating structure whose only potential interest to archaeologists are what may be a couple of reduced cup-marks on the top of the stone (and even then, such potential rock art is more the province of religious historians and anthropologists than archaeologists).

Small quartz offerings left on St Fillan's Chair at Beltane
Small quartz offerings left on St Fillan’s Chair at Beltane
The view of the Chair from below
The view of the Chair from below

But this ‘bed’ or ‘chair’, as it was locally known, was – and it seems, still is – important in the social history of the area, as its folklore clearly tells.  The ‘chair’ plays an important part in the holistic role of Dundurn as a hill, a fort, a healing centre, an inauguration site, and very probably an omphalos: a sacred centre whereupon the ordination of shamans, kings and the cosmos as a whole was brought to bear here… (these features will be explored in greater depth when I write a singular profile of Dundurn as a ‘fort’).

Folklore

Looking west over St Fillan's Chair
Looking west over St Fillan’s Chair

The character of St. Fillan was described by James Cockburn (1954) as “an Irish Pict” and the “son of a King – his father being Angus mac Nadfraich who died in battle in 490 AD.”  Quite an important dood in his day! The relationship this early christian figure had with this Chair was in its supposedly curative properties.  Yeah…you read it right: curative properties!  As with countless rocks all over the world, some of Nature’s outcrop boulders were imbued with a spirit of their own and, when conditions and/or the cycle of the spirit ‘awoke’, healing attributes could be gained from the place. And such was the case at St. Fillan’s Chair, especially on Beltane morning (May 1).  And some element of this traditional pilgrimage is still done; for when the author Marion Woolley and I visited the site on Mayday 2013, it was obvious that some people had been up earlier that Beltane morning and left some offerings of quartz stones on the top end of the bed.

The earliest written reference of this medicinal virtue was told in the Old Statistical Account of Perthshire (1791):

The rock on the summit of the hill, formed, of itself, a chair for the saint, which still remains. Those who complain of rheumatism in the back, must ascend the hill, sit in this chair, then lie down on their back, and be pulled by the legs to the bottom of the hill. This operation is still performed, and reckoned very efficacious.

More than a hundred years later, the sites was still being used and was described in similar vein in MacKinlay’s (1893) excellent study:

“On the top of green Dunfillan, in the parish of Comrie, is a rocky seat known in the district as Fillan’s Chair. Here, according to tradition, the saint sat and gave his blessing to the country around. Towards the end of last century, and doubtless even later, this chair was associated with a superstitious remedy for rheumatism in the back. The person to be cured sat in the chair, and then, lying on his back, was dragged down the hill by the legs. The influence of the saint lingering about the spot was believed to ensure recovery.”

The origins of this dramatic rite were probably pre-christian in nature and we should have little doubt that St. Fillan replaced the figure of a shaman or local medicine woman of some sort. The ritual “dragging down the hill” may be some faint remnant of initiation rites…

…to be continued…

References:

  1. Cockburn, James H., The Celtic Church in Dunblane, Friends of Dunblane Cathedral 1954.
  2. Eliade, Mircea, Rites and Symbols of Initiation, Spring: Woodstock 1995.
  3. Finlayson, Andrew, The Stones of Strathearn, One Tree Island: Comrie 2010.
  4. Hunter, John, Chronicles of Strathearn, David Philips: Crieff 1896.
  5. MacKinlay, James M., Folklore of Scottish Lochs and Springs, William Hodge: Glasgow 1893.
  6. Shearer, John, Antiquities of Strathearn, David Philips: Crieff, 1883.
  7. Skene, William F., Celtic Scotland (3 volumes), Edmonston & Douglas: Edinburgh 1876-1880.
  8. Toulson, Shirley, Celtic Journeys in Scotland and the North of England, Fount: London 1995.

Links:

  1. Nataraja’s Foot: The Curious Incident of Dundurn

© Pual BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

St Fillan's Chair

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St Fillan\'s Chair 56.383864, -4.094137 St Fillan\'s Chair

Well of the Whooping-Cough, Killin, Perthshire

Legendary Stone & Healing Well (lost):  OS Grid Reference – NN 579 323

Also Known as:

  1. Fuaran na Druidh Chasad
  2. Whooping Cough Well

Archaeology & History

“Well of the Whooping Cough” stone, near Killin

The grid-reference given for this site is only an approximation based on the description given by Hugh MacMillan (1884), below.  The exact whereabouts of the place remains forgotten, but based on the story we have of the place it would be great if we could locate it and — as far as I’m concerned — be highlighted and preserved as an important spot in the history of religious and social history for the people of Killin and the wider mountain community.  The region here was well populated all along the northern and southern sides of the adjacent Loch Tay before the coming of the Highland Clearances (Prebble 1963), and so the lore which MacMillan describes below was very likely of truly ancient pedigree.

Not to be confused with a site of the same name (and attributes) as the healing well at Balquhidder, this site comprises of a large stone, typical of the region, covered in that delicious carpet of old mosses and lichen bestowed by the aged love from Nature that bedecks much of the hidden sites in the area.  Upon one side of the rock was a large hollow, in which water was always collected: of both dew and rain and the breath of low clouds, within which were great medicinal virtues long known of by local people.  Foreign or shallow archaeologists would denounce this rock and its virtues as little more than the superstitious beliefs of an uneducated people living in uneducated times, but such derision is simply foolish words from pretentious souls who know little of the real world.  For the attributes and mythic elements at this old stone is another example of living animism: vitally important ingredients in the spiritual background and nourishment of a people not yet overcome by the degrading influence of homo-profanus.  Here we still find the living principles of the natural world, sleeping away in the consensus trance of modern folk…

Folklore

The stone and its ‘healing well’ are not mentioned in the standard Scottish texts on holy wells (MacKinlay 1893; Morris 1982) and we have to rely solely on Hugh MacMillan’s first-person account of the place from the latter-half of the 19th century.  He told that the stone was to be found “in the woods of Auchmore at Killin,” some twelve miles from a similar curative rock at Fearnan called the Clach-na Cruich:

“This stone is called Fuaran na Druidh Chasad, or the Well of the Whooping-Cough.  I heard of it incidentally last year in Paisley from a native of Killin, who remembered vividly when a boy having been taken to drink the water in the cavity of the stone, in order to cure the whooping-cough, from which he was suffering at the time.  Happening to be in Killin lately, enjoying a few days’ holiday, I made inquiries in the village; but though some of the older inhabitants remembered having heard of the stone, and the remarkable practice connected with it, I could not get any one to describe the exact locality of it to me, so completely has the superstition passed away from the mind of the present generation.  I went twice in search of the stone; and though, as I afterwards found, I had been within a very short distance of it unawares on both occasions, I was unsuccessful in finding it. At last I met an old man, and after some search we found the stone, and he identified it.

“I understood then what had puzzled me before, viz., why it should have been called Fuaran or Well, for I had supposed it had a cavity in a stone like that at Fernan. It was indeed a cavity; but it was in the projecting side of the stone, not on its top surface. It consisted of a deep basin penetrating through a dark cave-like arched recess into the heart of the stone.  It was difficult to tell whether it was natural or artificial, for it might well have been either, and was possibly’ both; the original cavity having been a mere freak of nature — a weather-worn hole — afterwards perhaps enlarged by some superstitious hand, and adapted to the purpose for which it was used.  Its sides were covered with green cushions of moss; and the quantity of water in the cavity was very considerable, amounting probably to three gallons or more.  Indeed, so natural did it look, so like a fountain, that my guide asserted that it was a well formed by the water of on underground spring bubbling up through the rock.  I said to him, “Then why does it not flow over?”  That circumstance he seemed to regard as a part of its miraculous character to be taken on trust. I put my hand into it, and felt all round the cavity where the water lay, and found, as was self-evident, that its source of supply was from above and not from below; that the basin was simply filled with rain water, which was prevented from being evaporated by the depth of the cavity, and the fact that a large part of it was within the arched recess in the stone, where the sun could not get access to it.  I was told that it was never known to be dry — a circumstance which I could well believe from its peculiar construction.

“The stone, which was a rough irregular boulder, somewhat square-shaped, of mica schist, with veins of quartz running through it, about 8 feet long and 5 feet high, was covered almost completely with luxuriant moss and lichen; and my time being limited, I did not examine it particularly for traces of cup-marks.  There were several other stones of nearly the same size in the vicinity, but there was no evidence, so far as I could see, of any sepulchral or religious structure in the place.  There is indeed a small, though well-formed and compact so-called Druidical circle, consisting of some seven or eight tall massive stones, with a few faint cup-marks on one of them, all standing upright within a short distance on the meadow near Kinnell House, the ancestral seat of the Macnabs, and it is a reasonable supposition that the Fountain of the Whooping-Cough may have had some connection in ancient times with this prehistoric structure in its immediate neighbourhood; for, unlike the cavity in the stone at Fernan, the peculiar shape of the cavity in this stone precluded its ever having been used as a mortar, and apparently it has never been used for any other purpose than that which it has so long served.  There can be no doubt that the fountain dates from a remote antiquity; and the superstition connected with it has survived in the locality for many ages. It has now passed away completely, and the old stone is utterly neglected. The path leading to it, which. used to be constantly frequented, is now almost obliterated. This has come about within the last thirty years, and one of the principal causes of its being forgotten is that its site is now part of the private policies of Auchmore. The landlady of the house at Killin, where I resided, remembered distinctly having been brought to the stone to be cured of the whooping-cough; and, at the foot of it, there are still two flat stones that were used as steps to enable children to reach up to the level of the fountain, so as to drink its healing waters; but they are now almost hidden by the rank growth of grass and moss.  There is more verisimilitude about the supposititious cures effected at this fountain than about those connected with the stone at Fernan; for one of the best remedies for the whooping-cough, it is well known, is change of air, and this the little patient would undoubtedly get, who was brought, it may be, a considerable distance to this spot. I am led to understand that, in connection with the cure, the ceremonial turn called “Deseul” was performed. The patient was required, before drinking the water, to go round the stone three times in a right-hand direction, which may be regarded as an act of solar adoration. This practice lingered long in this as in other parts of the Highlands, and the “deseul” was religiously performed round homesteads, newly-married couples, infants before baptism, patients to be cured, and persons to whom good success in some enterprise was wished; while the “Tuathseul,” or the unhallowed turn to the left, was also performed in cases of the imprecation of evil.”

Should anyone know the whereabouts of this fascinating healing stone and its waters, please let us know!

References:

  1. MacKinlay, James M., Folklore of Scottish Lochs and Springs, William Hodge: Glasgow 1893.
  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 Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 18, 1884.
  3. Morris, Ruth & Frank, Scottish Healing Wells, Alethea: Sandy 1982.
  4. Prebble, John, The Highland Clearances, Secker & Warburg: London 1963.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Whooping Cough Well

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Whooping Cough Well 56.461992, -4.305353 Whooping Cough Well

The Bodach and Cailleach, Gigha, Argyll

Sacred Stones:  OS Grid Reference – NR 6382 4730

Folklore

The Bodach and the Cailleach
The Bodach & the Cailleach

On this “Isle of the Gods” — as some historians proclaim Gigha to mean — the ancient rites and ceremonies of local folk continued until pretty recent times.  One writer narrated some intriguing pre-christian events connected to this curious and little-known place, speaking of indigenous heathen rites:

“These are in fact known to have persisted on the island until well into the early part of the (19th) century when Irish fishermen could still be seen climbing the little hill of Moinean Sitheil, in the sacred Moss of Peace below Ardminish, to pay homage to the “Old Ones” of Gigha: a pair of ancient legend-shrouded stones known as the Bodach and the Cailleach, that from time immemorial have stood upon a low green knoll below the farm of Achamore.

“Through the countless ages the strange jug-headed little Bodach and his smaller consort have kept steadfast vigil over Gigha: their mysterious aura said to guarantee its continuing fertility and prosperity as they link the thriving island of today with beliefs and traditions having roots in the earth-cults and sun-worship of primeval times.  In the past folk would have honoured them with offerings of meal or milk and even now they still command considerable local affectation and respect, albeit expressed in less overtly pagan ways.  And so they stand as ever upon their tiny hillock gazing out across tumbling terraces of old Cantereoch and beautiful Ardlamey Bay, inscrutable and silent, yet with a strangely ‘knowing’ air impossible to define.”

References:

  1. Anonymous, Exploring Historic Kintyre and the Isle of Gigha, Harlequin Press: Oban n.d.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  55.661677, -5.756533 Bodach and Cailleach

Allt na Ceardaich Knoll, Killin, Perthshire

Cup-Marked Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NN 564 364

Getting Here

Truly troublesome if you aint into walking.  Many ways up, but the easiest has to be the zigzagging trackway up from the valley bottom just by The Green a few hundred yards past Lochay Power Station, up the southern edge of Creag na Cailleach. At the end of the trackway, take the stream uphill for a few hundred yards and watch out for the rocky rise to your right (east).  Head for it and check out the rocks there.  You’ll find it!

Archaeology & History

Allt na Ceardaich01
Single cup-marked rock below Creag na Cailleach

I’m not sure that anything’s previously been written about this curious single cup-marked boulder. I say ‘curious’, simply because of the location and position of the clear cup-mark on this near-gigantic piece of embedded stone.  We walked upon the rocky outcrop south of Creag na Cailleach (above the tree-line where the land levels out) and first saw the cup-marking at the top-end of this huge rock (amidst a number of others) on the large rise a coupla hundred yards west of Allt na Ceardaich.  And as the carved cup was on the top-end of the boulder, I was expecting to find much more of the rock with other motifs scattering its body — but was amazed to find that this was the only single cup-marking on an otherwise huge stone.  A mixture of bewilderment and disappointment came over me as I shook my head in disbelief that only a single cup had been scribed into an otherwise massive rock.

Allt na Ceardaich02
Close-up of the cup-marking

However, the light was poor with low cloud and it was nearing sunset, so there may have been other aspects to this carving which we missed out on.  One other ‘possible’ cup-mark might have been done, but it seemed very dubious even in the poor light.  I was all for having another look at it the following day; but wandering halfway up a mountain just to see if this was the only cup-marking on this outcrop was summat my daughter wasn’t into doing!  So the site must await another mad cup-and-ring-crazed traveller on another day to get a more detailed inspection!  George – are you out there anytime soon!?

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.498148, -4.333506 Allt na Ceardaich Knoll