Take the same directions as if you’re going to visit the Black Beck cairn. From here, walk through the heather northwest for about 60 yards. If the heather’s been cleared, you’ll see it low down, otherwise you’re pretty much screwed when it comes to finding this one!
Archaeology & History
Seemingly in isolation, this low-walled, D-shaped hut circle is presently the only the structure of its kind known to exist on this part of Hawksworth Moor; although to be honest we should expect there to be such structures in the area when we consider the size and proximity of the associated cairnfields immediately north and southeast of here.
As with most hut circles, it’s nowt special to look at in all honesty. The south side of the structure is rubble walling typical of these structures, curving round as usual; but its more northern section straightens out, creating a D-shaped structure. This line of straight walling seems attached to another, outer parallel wall 3 feet away, creating its very outer edge. The rubble walls themselves average three feet across; whilst the hut circle measures 6-7 yards across. We assume that it was constructed during the same period as the adjacent prehistoric necropolis.
Acknowledgements: With huge thanks, as always, for James Elkington for use of his photos. Also to the evolving megalith and landscape explorer Mackenzie Erichs; and to Linzi Mitchell, for additional input…
If you’re coming by car, Braco’s an easy place to park. Once here, walk up the main road, past the terrace houses until, on your left, you reach the B8033 Feddal Road. About 500 yards on, where the houses end and you reach the small river bridge, you’ll notice a footpath immediately on your left with a small table where you can have a cuppa. Walk past this, into the trees and along the riverside for barely 100 yards, and walk up the hillside on your left. On your way up are a couple of large humps, a bit like a small roller-coaster. You’re here!
Archaeology & History
Antiquarians amongst you are gonna love this. It’s huge! Hiding away and all but forgotten in the little village of Braco, overgrown with trees and brambles, this steep wooded defensive structure has a series of large ramparts—three in all—that you’ll walk up and down before hitting a slightly undulating summit.
The site was shown as an unnamed triple-ringed hill on William Roy’s 1747-52 survey of Scotland, with the lines representing the ramparts of this ‘fortress’. Some years later, Roy (1793) briefly mentioned the site when he was comparing indigenous fortifications with those of the Roman invaders, saying that “the small camp at Ardoch” probably “contained more than a Roman legion, with their auxiliaries.” His sketch and layout of the hillfort (right) is interesting in that it shows the more compete fortified ramparts on the north-eastern sides, which have today been covered by the modern houses. The ramparts in this part of the hillfort were still visible when the brilliant Miss Christian MacLagan (1875) came here; and in a subsequent visit by Mr Christison (1900) they could still be seen, as we can see in in his sketch (left). When we visited recently, it looked as if the lads who’d landscaped the large gardens most probably, unknowingly, used the soil of the ramparts to create them!
Apart from the missing northeastern ramparts, the site today is little different from when our antiquarians wrote of it more than a hundred years back. Read Miss MacLagan for example, who said:
“Near the parish church is an eminence called Grianan Hill, on which are still to be traced the remains of a British fort. The hill is a beautifully wooded knoll to the west of the village of Braco. It appears to be about 100 feet in height above the level of the surrounding land; on three of its sides the ground is perfectly flat, and we could suppose that in the amply days of the fort above, it had been environed on three sides by a lake, which would of course contribute to its strength. The fourth side of the hill, having but little natural strength, has been strongly fortified by three great walls. This is the side which connects the knoll with the neighbouring rising ground which is nearly as high as itself.
“The area enclosed by the innermost circular wall has a diameter of 130 feet. The space between this wall and the second is 37 feet, and the space between the second and third walls 47 feet. Almost every stone of this fort has been removed, but the lines and trenches which mark their former presence are still very distinct.”
Christison (1900) subsequently gave us much the same, with just some additional points here and there:
“The site is less than ½-mile SW of Ardoch camp, 420 ft above the sea, on the edge of a steep descent, 40 to 50 ft high, to Keir Burn, but only slightly elevated above the field towards Braco village. It has apparently been an earthwork with a semi-oval triple line of defence…partly ramparted and trenched, partly terraced, the broad oval being rudely completed by the unfortified edge of the steep bank. The entrance, a, is along the narrow crest of a ridge, i, from the E, and it is likewise approached by a rude roadway, c, from the burnside below. Roy’s plan makes the work nearly complete, but the middle half of the lines no longer exists. He says that it may have been a work of the natives before the arrival of the Romans, but calls it a (Roman?) ‘post.’ There can be no doubt that it belongs to a common type of native fortresses. Its extreme length is about 320 ft, and the interior may have been about 200 by 170.”
What he failed to point out—and contrary to Canmore’s comment that “the interior is featureless”—is the length of internal walling running nearly halfway through the top of the hillfort, cutting it in half so to speak, roughly southeast to northwest: the eastern area slightly larger than the west, which is a little higher. A ‘gate’ or passage between these two sides seems apparent halfway along this line of walling. This wall, like the long one running along its southern edge, is a couple of feet high and more than a yard across. In the western section a small pit has been dug, about eight feet across and a yard or so deep. Local lore tells that this was an old Roman fire-pit!
Around the very bottom mainly on the west-side of the hill, remains of old walling can be seen for a couple of hundred feet beneath the vegetation, but I’m unsure about the date of this structure. It may well be a 19th century construction, but without an excavation—and none has ever been done here—we will never know for sure.
One final thought on this place is how is may have related with the large Roman forts that are just a few hundred yards away to the northeast. When the invaders came here, local tribal folk no doubt watched them with caution. One wonders whether or not some sort of ‘agreement’ was made between our local folk and the aggressive incomers, with them coming to some sort of nervous truce between them which allowed the Romans to build their camp to the east, as long as they kept their distance from the folk in this hillfort. Just a thought…..
Christison, D., “The Forts, Camps and other Field-Works of Perth, Forfar and Kincardine,” in Proceedings Society Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 34, 1900.
Hogg, A.H.A., British Hill-Forts: An Index, BAR: Oxford 1979.
MacLagan, Christian, The Hill Forts, Stone Circles and other Structural Remains of Ancient Scotland, Edmonston & Douglas: Edinburgh 1875.
Roy, William, Military Antiquities of the Romans in North Britain, W. Bulmer: London 1793.
Take the directions to find the unusual and impressive West Strathan petroglyph, and keep following the road up past the carving until you reach the dead-end. A footpath takes you down to the river, where a rickety bridge takes you to the other side. From here, a footpath to your right goes up the slope at an easy angle and into the wilds ahead. Just a couple of hundred yards up, keeps your eyes peeled some 10-20 yards above you, to the left. It is a little difficult to see, and perhaps is better looked at from above the footpath, then looking down onto it. If you’re patient, you’ll find it!
Archaeology & History
Stuck out on its own, way off the beaten track, this seemingly isolated ‘hut circle’—as it’s been officially termed—rests on a small level piece of land some 400 yards north from the ruins of Dalvraid’s chambered cairn. It’s nowt much to look at to be honest, and is probably only gonna be of interest to the hardcore antiquarians amongst you.
When I came here, the walling was mainly covered in dead bracken and internally is a veritable lawn!—but it was pretty easy to make out. Slightly ovoid in form, with its entrance on the southern side, the circle is 10 yards across; and the although the low walling is barely a yard high on three sides, on the eastern section the natural slope was dug into to create a higher wall on that side.
Travelling north, turn right to Wolfhill off the A93 at Cargill, then up the hill, turning left at the first junction. The stones are buried in the field to your left before the bend.
Archaeology & History
The earliest description of these stones, and the only one written while they were still standing comes from J.P.Bannerman, writing in the Old Statistical Account in 1793:
‘Near the village of Cargill may be seen some erect stones of considerable magnitude, having the figure of the moon and stars cut out on them, and are probably the rude remains of Pagan superstition. The corn-field where these stones stand is called the Moonshade to this day.’
Later writers, who only had verbal reports of the stones from locals who remembered them, gave differing descriptions of them. The people who spoke to the Ordnance Survey name book scouts around 1860, described them as:
‘Moonshade – “This name is applied to an arable field immediately west of Gallowhill. Two large Standing Stones having the representation of the Moon and 7 Stars cut out on one of them were removed from this field about 60 years ago.”‘
The local antiquary Andrew Jervise wrote in 1861 that the stones were:
‘interesting relics….purposely buried below the reach of the plough, appear to have been of the same class of antiquities as the sculptured stones at Meigle and, from the desire which is now being manifested for the preservation of national antiquities, it is hoped that those relics will soon be disinterred, so that their symbols may be properly examined.’
Or as another writer puts it, they were; ‘dug around and under, and buried, in the agricultural improvement of theground’. For all we know from the written descriptions that have come down to us the stones may be prehistoric monoliths, with it seems only one of them carved. As they stood alongside the Roman road from Muthill to Kirriemuir, the moon and stars may have been cut by the Romans, or they could equally have been from the hand of a Pictish or later mediaeval mason. The field in which they stood was alternatively known as ‘Moonstone Butts’ or ‘Moonbutts’ – where the local archers practised.
While the word ‘moonshade’ doesn’t appear in Jamieson’s Scottish Dictionary, nor the online Dictionaries of the Scots Language, the Oxford English Dictionary defines it as an obsolete word for ‘nightshade’, citing a quotation from Sir Francis Bacon’s Sylva Sylvarum of 1627:
‘The Ointment, that Witches use, is reported to be made, of the Fat of Children, digged out of their Graves; Of the juyces of Smallage, Wolfe- bane, And Cinquefoile; Mingled with the meale of fineWheat. But I suppose that the Soperiferous Medicines are likest to doe it; Which are Henbane, Hemlocke, Mandrake, Moone-Shade, Tobacco, Opium, Saffron, Poplar- Leaves.’
Given the stones are in the Perthshire witch country (the Witches Stone of Shakespeare’s Macbeth is only 2½ miles due south of here), this is nevertheless almost certainly a ‘red herring’, with the field deriving its name from the carvings on the stone. Only when we can again see the Moonshade Stones, ‘digged out of their grave’ will we be able to begin to understand them. So will there be any motivation to excavate them?
The easiest way is to turn south off the A91 at Gateside onto Station Road, and the site of the cairn is in the third field to the left over the railway bridge. I accessed the site walking along the old railway line and climbing up the embankment.
Archaeology & History
In the shadow of the Lomond Hills of Fife, what was once a very large pre-historic cairn, officially described as of ‘unassigned’ period, was quarried to destruction around two hundred and twenty years ago, presumably to provide stones for dykes (stone walls), at that time of enclosures of common land and what the landowners liked to call ‘agricultural improvements’.
In the early nineteenth century, this part of the Eden Valley between Gateside and the Lomond Hills was what would now be called a ritual landscape. There were, according to Miller:
‘nearly in a line between the two Laws ( Lomond Hills) noless than eight “druidical temples” (Stone circles) close together‘
and a number of impressive burial cairns, of which Easter Nether Urquhart seems to have been the largest. There were in addition large numbers of graves containing masses of cremated of human bones. Nearly all this archaeology has been subsequently destroyed by the farmers.
Two local antiquarian writers proposed that all these human remains had been buried there following the battle of Mons Graupius between the Roman Invaders under Agricola, and the Caledonians, and went on to argue that the Eden Valley was the site of this historic defeat for the ancient Caledonians defending their homeland. Whatever and whenever the origins of the cairns and human remains, subsequent researchers disagree with these nineteenth century arguments in favour of the Eden Valley, and tend to favour a more northerly location for Mons Graupius. Nevertheless we have these two historians to thank for leaving us descriptions of the cairn.
One of the antiquarians, Rev. Andrew Small wrote in 1823:
‘The Slaughter here seems to have been so dreadful, that even after the lapse of 17 Centuries the Common tradition of the Country bears, and seems to be as fresh in the Mouths of both old and young as though the battle had been fought only a hundred years ago, – that after this battle the River Eden ran red with blood for two days…’
It seems more likely that the event remembered was part of the campaign by Roman Emperor Septimus Severus and his son Caracalla to subdue the Caledonians around 209-210 CE. Modern writer, Simon Elliott:
‘Archaeological data is now emerging to show ….. a major depopulation event, indicating something close to a genocide was committed by the Romans in the central and upper Midland Valley.’
Andrew Small describing the cairn and some of the cremation remains in 1823:
‘There was also a very large cairn laid upon these ; and the proprietor lately told me that when removing the stones, besides the ashes already mentioned, there was also a pit of pure fine sand by itself, about as fine as is usually put into sand-glasses, which he thinks had been used for regulating the fire in burning of the dead. This cairn stood a little north of an ancient Druids temple, only one stone now remaining, out of ten of which it formerly consisted ‘.
Lieutenant – Colonel, Miller writing in 1829:
‘Farther west ….a very large cairn stood, containing upwards of two thousand cart-loads of stones. Upon removing it about thirty years ago, a pit six feet long, two broad, and of the same depth, was found, quite full of burnt bones; and near it another, two feet square and two deep, full of the finest sand. An urn was also found, near the surface of the cairn, full of bones. A very fine Druid’s temple stood on the south side of it, consisting of seven very large stones…’
As the builders of the cairn didn’t have access to carts, and that the stones all had to be moved by hand, it gives an indication of the manpower needed to build the cairn, and the status of the individuals whose remains were buried there. And we have to question why a special chamber been built into the base of the cairn to hold fine sand, and what was the purpose of this sand?
While not writing specifically of the cairn, Revd. Small recounts these tales of the surrounding land, relating it to his belief that it was the site of Mons Graupius:
‘I cannot forbear to mention here, also, a singular circumstance I had from the landlord and landlady, both yet alive, — viz. that before parking or inclosing took place, they were accustomed to have folds built of feal or turf for the cattle lying in at night ; but that, when the folds happened to be in this place where the dead had been burnt, the cattle would never lie in them, but always broke through or leaped over the dyke ; that they were obliged to give a man a boll of barley extra to watch them, when they lay in this spot, which was obliged to be repeated every four or five years in rotation ; but that sometimes the man was not able to keep them in by all his endeavours, the cattle looking wild and terrified in appearance ; and sometimes it required the united efforts of all the hands that could be had to keep them in, oftentimes springing over the fold dykes close beside them, and frequently crouching and trembling as if they would have fallen down with terror, although nothing appeared visible to the visual organs either of the man or those that occasionally assisted him. However, after the discovery of so many ashes and fragments of human bones, the man declared that, had he known of these being so near, he would not have been so fond of watching.’
‘The late farmer of Upper Orquart, a most respectable man, with whom I was well acquainted, and upon whose farm the principal part of the battle was fought, told me also that always when the folds happened to be both at where the Caledonians were burnt as well as the Romans — but particularly he specified the spot where the Romans had been burnt, or the Witch Know or Knoll — the cattle would never lie in the fold, but were always breaking ” the fauld,” as he called it, except when they were particularly watched ; and even that was not always effectual for keeping them from doing it either. This would insinuate as if the spirits of these departed heroes of antiquity sometimes visited and hovered about the places where their ashes had been deposited ; though invisible to the more refined visual organs of the human eye, yet obviously visible in some shape or other to the more gross visual organs of the irrational or bestial tribe, else how can these forementioned occurrences be accounted for? This hypothesis seems to be borne out by Balaam’s Ass perceiving the Angel twice, when he himself could not do so till his eyes were supernaturally opened.’
Although the cairn no longer exists, its stones were probably reused for local walling, and it’s likely, but not provable, that the wall on the south side of the A91 past the Station Road turning is built from stones removed from the cairn.
Elliott, Simon, Septimus Severus in Scotland, Greenhill Books, 2018.
Miller, Lt. Col., “An Inquiry Respecting the Site of theBattle of Mons Grampius“, 1829, published in Archaeologica Scotica vol. IV, 1857.
Small, Andrew, Interesting Roman Antiquities Recently Discovered in Fife, John Anderson, Edinburgh, 1823
This is one of at least five prehistoric tombs that were known to have existed in and around the Newmarket race-course—all long gone. It stood some 50-60 yards northeast of the Newmarket Heath (2) tumulus and was one in the cluster highlighted as ‘tumuli’ on the 1834 OS-map (right). Despite its destruction sometime in 1883, a scar of the monument was seen from the air in the 1940s by J.K.S. St Joseph as a ploughed-out ring ditch, showing it to have been some seventy feet across. Sadly, no ground trace of the monument exists.
This is one of at least five prehistoric tombs that were known to have existed in and around the Newmarket race-course. Found some 600 yards NNE of the Ninescore Hill tumulus, and some 40 yards from its nearest companion, it was shown as one in a group of ‘Tumuli’ on the 1834 OS-map (right) but, along with the rest, was subsequently destroyed sometime around 1883. A landscape scar of the monument was seen from the air in the 1940s by J.K.S. St Joseph as a ploughed-out ring ditch some 75 feet across. This was reported as still visible by the Royal Commission doods in the 1970s, but no ground trace whatsoever exists.
This is one of many long lost prehistoric tombs that were known to have existed in and around the Newmarket race-course, but unlike the Newmarket tumuli 1 – 4 which were all on the first OS-map of the area, this one had been destroyed before the Ordnance Survey lads came here. As a result we don’t know its exact whereabouts.
Described in both the Cambridge Chronicle and Gentleman’s Magazine in 1827, the accounts even then were talking about it in the past tense, albeit pretty recently. The race-course at Newmarket was being modified, leading to the destruction of our ancient landscape—and with it, this tumulus. In those days however, such destruction was deemed as an ‘improvement’, as Sylvanus Urban (1827) tells at the start of his account:
“The improvements making in the exercise ground at Newmarket, Cambridgeshire, have led to some discoveries which may, perhaps, tend to the elucidation of the hitherto obscure origin of the entrenchment commonly called “The Devil’s Ditch.” In removing one of the monumental remains denominated barrows, or tumuli, which are numerous in this neighbourhood, the skeleton of a person was found deposited near the surface, whose remains were too recent to be associated with the area of its place of interment; but, upon clearing away the earth to the centre of the mound, a discovery was made of an urn, of rude construction and materials, containing ashes, together with some beads, which, it is presumed, formed the ornaments of the person to whose honour the barrow was dedicated. There were also found two coins, supposed to be Roman, and a fragment of a cup, of far superior manufacture to the urn, lying promiscuously at the depth of about two feet.”
A summary of this was included in Babbington’s (1883) archaeological survey. But in Cyril Fox’s (1932) list of barrows near Cambridge he seemed to confuse this “tumulus on Exercise Ground” (no.16) with what he thought was another tumulus (no.17), which he described as, “Exact site unknown. Contained a cremation interment. Burnt bones and sherds of Bronze Age type, also Roman sherds.” The two are the same thing.
Tumulus (destroyed): OS Grid Reference – TL 613 633
Archaeology & History
This is one of at least five prehistoric tombs that were known to have existed in and around the Newmarket race-course. It could be seen five-hundred-and-odd yards northeast of the Ninescore Hill tumulus and about 280 yards southeast of its Newmarket Heath 2 companion. The site was shown as one of the “tumuli” on the 1834 OS-map (right) but, along with its friends, was destroyed sometime around 1883. Unlike its companions, no scar of its remains are visible from the air so we don’t know how big it was, but I’d assume the olde fella to be of a similar size and style to its close neighbours.
Upon the small and curiously-named Ninescore Hill on the edge of Newmarket’s race-course, the old-school archaeologist Cyril Fox (1923) told that “800 yards due east of Running Gap”, was a prehistoric burial mound that was destroyed in 1885. Highlighted on the 1834 OS-map, a 19th century excavation found that the tomb “contained two inhumation interments associated with beakers,” along with some “flint arrowheads, and a secondary interment, probably Saxon.” In more recent times, the doods from the Royal Commission (1972) added the site to their inventory and noted that a faint outline—known as as ring ditch—is visible from the air when conditions are just right. But there’s bugger all left of it at ground level.
Fox, Cyril, The Archaeology of the Cambridge Region, Cambridge University Press 1923.
Royal Commission Ancient Historical Monuments, Inventory of Historical Monuments in the County of Cambridgeshire – Volume 2: North-East Cambridgeshire, HMSO: London 1972.