Altar Stone, Stobo, Peeblesshire

Legendary Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NT 15710 35754

Also Known as:

  1. Arthur’s Stane

Getting Here

Altar Stone on 1859 map

Various ways to get here.  From Peebles take the A72 road west to Kirkurd, but after 4 miles turn left onto B712.  Several miles down, go past Stobo village and before crossing the bridge over  the River Tweed, turn left up minor road leading to Dreva and Broughton.  The track into Altarstone Farm is about a mile along and the stone is across the road from there.  The other way is going south along the A701 from Broughton village, where you take the left turn towards Stobo.  Go along here for just over 3 miles where you reach the woodland (park here where the small track goes into the woods).  A coupla hundred yards further along is Altar Stone Farm on your right and the stone is above the verge on your left.

Archaeology & History

Altar Stone, Stobo

Archaeologically speaking, there’s nowt much to say about this site apart from the usual tedium of its measurements and the rock-type.  I’ll give the latter a miss, but the stone stands at nearly five feet high and nearly as broad; with its upper face relatively smooth and the top of it pretty flat.  A section from the top of this stone was cut and sliced off a few centuries ago and this was said to have been taken to Stobo church a few miles away, where it was fashioned into a stone font for baptisms.  If this is true, it’s possible that this stone was once an authentic squat standing stone, but we’ll probably never know.  Also on top of the stone you can see a number of geophysical scratches, one of which looks as if it may have been worked by human hands and which has some relevance to the folklore of the stone.

It is shown on the 1859 OS-map of the area and was mentioned in the Ordnance Name Book where they told how it was “supposed to have formed the Altar of a druids Temple or some such object,” but they could find no local verification of such lore at the time of their visit… or at least, no one was telling them anything about it…

Folklore

This fascinating bit of rock—or possible sliced standing stone—is of note due to its association with that old shaman of shamans known as Merlin!  Near the end of His days, when He’d truly retired from the world of men and wandered, they say, mad amidst the great lowland forests, an old christian dood by the name of Kentigern—later known as St Mungo—who’d been trying to convert our old magickian away from the animistic ways of Nature.  Legend says that He succeeded.  The old Scottish traveller Ratcliffe Barnett (1925) wrote:

“Merlin is the real genius of Drumelzier.  Dumelzier means the Ridge of Meldred, a pagan prince of the district.  And it was Meldred’s shepherds that slew Merlin the bard.  The heathen bard was present at the battle of Arthuret in the year 573, when the christian army gained a victory over the Heathen Host.  Merlin fled to the forest of Caledon at Drumelzier and there ever after the old Druid spent his life among the wild hills with a repute for insanity.  This poet priest was doubtless heart-broken at the defeat of his pagan friends.  The old order was changing.  But the christian king had brought his friend, St Kentigern or Munro, to preach the gospel in upper Tweedside at Stobo.  One day Kentigern met a weird-looking man and demanded who he was.  “Once I was the prophet of Vortigern (Gwendollen).  My name is Merlin.  Now I am in these solitudes enduring many privations.”

“So Kentigern preached the gospel to the old nature worshipper and won him to Christ.  Up yonder, at the east end of the Dreva road, you will find the rude Altar Stone where, it is said, Kentigern received the Druid into the christian church and dispensed the sacrament.  But in those dark days of the faith, the Druids and their pagan adherents fought hard against the new religion.  So immediately after the admission of Merlin to the Church, the shepherds of Meldred sought him out, stoned him to death on the haugh of Drumelzier, and there, where the Powsail Burn falls quietly into Tweed, Merlin the Martyr was buried.  For long his grave was marked by a hawthorn tree.”

These shepherds were said to have stoned him and then threw his body upon a sharp stake and then into the stream. (stone – wood – water)

If there is any hint of truth in this tale, it is unlikely Merlin would have given himself over to the christian ways unless—as any shaman would—he knew of his impending death.  In which case it would have done him no harm to pretend a final allegiance to the unnatural spirituality that was growing in the land.  But whatever he may have been thinking, it is said that this Altar Stone was where he made such a deed.

Scratch-marks of the mythic hare
Altar Stone, Stobo

An equally peculiar legend—variations of which are found at a number of places in the hills of northern England and Scotland—speaks of another shamanic motif, i.e., of humans changing into animals and back.  For here, legend tells, an old witch was being chased (by whom, we know not) across the land.  She’d turned herself into the form of a hare and, as she crossed over the Altar Stone, her claws dug so deeply into the rock that they left deep scars that can still be seen to this day.  From here, the hare scampered at speed downhill until reaching the River Tweed at the bottom, whereupon transforming itself back into the form of the witch, who promptly fled into the hills above on the far side of the river.

One final thing mentioned by Barnett (1943) was the potential oracular property of the Altar Stone:

“You have to only place your hand on top of this rude altar, shut your eyes, and if you have the gift you will see visions.”

References:

  1. Ardrey, Adam, Finding Merlin, Mainstream 2012.
  2. Barnett, Ratcliffe, Border By-Ways and Lothian Lore, John Grant: Edinburgh 1925.
  3. Buchan, J.W. & Paton, H., A History of Peeblesshire – volume 3, Glasgow 1927.
  4. Crichton, Robin, On the Trail of Merlin in a Dark Age, R. Crichton 2017.
  5. Glennie, John Stuart, Arthurian Localities, Edmonston & Douglas: Edinburgh 1869.
  6. Moffat, Alistair, Arthur and the Lost Kingdoms, Phoenix: London 1999.
  7. Rich, Deike & Begg, Ean, On the Trail of Merlin, Aquarian: London 1991.
  8. Wheatley, Henry B., Merlin, or, The Early History of King Arthur – 2 volumes, Trubner: London 1865.

Acknowledgements:  Big thanks for use of the 1st edition OS-map in this site profile, Reproduced with the kind permission of the National Library of Scotland

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Skerray Mains, Torrisdale, Sutherland

Souterrain (lost):  OS Grid Reference – NC 6601 6315

Archaeology & History

In the middle of the 19th century the opening to a prehistoric souterrain used to be in evidence on the north-side of the single track road running past old Skerray Mains house.  It was mentioned in Hew Morrison’s (1883) historical guide, albeit briefly and without ambiguity:

“Below the house of Skerra Mains is an artificial cave that enters from below the road and extends 40 or 50 yards in length.  Two urns were found it when it was discovered but they soon crumbled away on being exposed to the air.”

More than thirty years later, the Royal Commission (1911) lads ventured to check it out, only to find that it had just recently been covered up:

“At the farm of Skerray Mains is an earth-house, the mouth or entrance to which was recently exposed by the farmer.  It is situated about 15 feet distant from the northeast window of the dwelling-house, and is now entirely covered over again.”

Of the old locals I met here, only one of them remembers hearing of it, but the precise location of its entrance had been forgotten.  Surely it aint gonna be toooo difficult to find it again?

References:

  1. Morrison, Alex, “Souterrains in Sutherland,” in J.R. Baldwin’s Province of Strathnaver, SSNS: Edinburgh 2000.
  2. Morrison, Hew, A Tourist’s Guide to Sutherland and Caithness, D.H. Edwards: Brechin 1883.
  3. Royal Commission on Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, Second report and inventory of monuments and constructions in the county of Sutherland. HMSO: Edinburgh 1911.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Black Beck, Hawksworth Moor, West Yorkshire

Hut Circle:  OS Grid Reference – SE 1415 4401

Getting Here

Hut circle, looking NW

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.

Southern arc of walling
NW section of walling; Black Beck tomb to rear

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…

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Grinnan Hill, Braco, Perthshire

Hillfort:  OS Grid Reference – NN 8338 0936

Also Known as:

  1. Grianan Hill
  2. Grinan Hill
  3. Grinnon Hill

Getting Here

Grinnan Hill on 1866 map

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.

William Roy’s 1793 plan
Christison’s 1900 plan

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:

Looking up at SW side
Looking up at S side

“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.”

Southern line of walling
Footpath along rampart

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.

Undulating ramparts

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…..

References:

  1. Christison, D., “The Forts, Camps and other Field-Works of Perth, Forfar and Kincardine,” in Proceedings Society Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 34, 1900.
  2. Hogg, A.H.A., British Hill-Forts: An Index, BAR: Oxford 1979.
  3. MacLagan, Christian, The Hill Forts, Stone Circles and other Structural Remains of Ancient Scotland, Edmonston & Douglas: Edinburgh 1875.
  4. Roy, William, Military Antiquities of the Romans in North Britain, W. Bulmer: London 1793.

Links:

  1. Canmore notes

Acknowledgements:  Huge thanks for use of the 1st edition OS-map in this site profile, Reproduced with the kind permission of the National Library of Scotland

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

Dalvraid, Melness, Sutherland

Hut Circle:  OS Grid Reference – NC 56573 63389

Getting Here

The light-coloured ring of Dalvraid hut circle

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.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Moonshade Stones, Cargill, Perthshire

Standing Stones (buried):  OS Grid Reference – NO 16161 35767

Also Known as:

  1. Moonshade
  2. Canmore ID 28487

Getting Here

Site shown on the 6″ OS Map of 1867

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.’

Looking north from the road the stones stood to the right of and beyond the pylon

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.

Folklore

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?

References:

  1. Bacon, Francis, Sylva Sylvarum : or, A Naturall historie, William Lee: London, 1627.
  2. Bannerman, J.P., Old Statistical Account, Perthshire, 1793.
  3. Jervise, Andrew, Memorials of Angus and Mearns, A & C Black: Edinburgh, 1861.
  4. Ordnance Survey Name Book, Perthshire, Volume 15, 1859-62.
  5. Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford University Press: Oxford, 1971.
  6. Simpson, J., Archaic Sculpturings, Edmonston & Douglas: Edinburgh, 1867.

© Paul T Hornby, 2021 

Easter Nether Urquhart Cairn, Gateside, Fife

Cairn (destroyed): OS Grid ReferenceNO 1886 0890

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore 27787

Getting Here

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

The site of the Cairn on the 1894 25 in. OS map.

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) no less 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?

Left – View of Cairn site looking north, centre of the field beyond the tractor tracks.
Centre – View looking south. Right – The cairn recycled? Walling on the south side of A91 at
Gateside

Folklore 

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.’

Afterword

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.

References:

  1. Elliott, Simon, Septimus Severus in Scotland, Greenhill Books, 2018.
  2. Miller, Lt. Col., “An Inquiry Respecting the Site of theBattle of Mons Grampius“, 1829, published in Archaeologica Scotica vol. IV, 1857.
  3. Small, Andrew, Interesting Roman Antiquities Recently Discovered in Fife, John Anderson, Edinburgh, 1823

Links:

  1. Battle of Mons Graupius

© Paul T Hornby 2020

Newmarket Heath (3), Newmarket, Suffolk

Tumulus (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – TL 6122 6358

Archaeology & History

Tumulus ‘3’ on 1834 map

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.

References:

  1. Fox, Cyril, The Archaeology of the Cambridge Region, Cambridge University Press 1923.
  2. Royal Commission Ancient Historical Monuments, Inventory of Historical Monuments in the County of Cambridgeshire – Volume 2: North-East Cambridgeshire, HMSO: London 1972.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian


Newmarket Heath (2), Newmarket, Suffolk

Tumulus (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – TL 6116 6352

Archaeology & History 

Tumulus 2, centre-left

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.

References:

  1. Fox, Cyril, The Archaeology of the Cambridge Region, Cambridge University Press 1923.
  2. Royal Commission Ancient Historical Monuments, Inventory of Historical Monuments in the County of Cambridgeshire – Volume 2: North-East Cambridgeshire, HMSO: London 1972.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian


Newmarket Heath (5), Swaffam Prior, Cambridgeshire

Tumulus (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – TL 60 62

Archaeology & History

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.

References:

  1. Babbington, Charles C., Ancient Cambridgeshire, Cambridge Antiquarian Society 1883.
  2. Fox, Cyril, The Archaeology of the Cambridge Region, Cambridge University Press 1923.
  3. Royal Commission Ancient Historical Monuments, Inventory of Historical Monuments in the County of Cambridgeshire – Volume 2: North-East Cambridgeshire, HMSO: London 1972.
  4. Urban, Sylvanus, “Domestic Occurrences,” in Gentleman’s Magazine, September 1827.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian