Long since gone, this great olde ash tree could once be found on the south side of Killin’s Mill building, close to the bridge at the Falls of Dochart. It was deemed to be ‘sacred’ by local people – just as all trees were, once upon a long time ago.
In John Shearer’s (1883) wonderful book on the ancient ways of the Perthshire people, he described the tree as being adjacent to the earthfast rock known as St. Fillan’s Seat:
“At the side of it grows a large ash tree which is held sacred by the natives as no person will burn any of the branches although fallen to the ground nor destroy them in any manner. However, there was one who had the hardihood to take one of the branches for a caber to repair his house. Strange to tell the first fire that was kindled burned it to the ground as a punishment for this impious sacrilege. Of course no person since has troubled it or taken any of the wood. The branches that fall lie till they rot.”
The brilliant Killin historian, W.G. Gillies (1938) reported that the tree was still standing until it was “blown down by a gale in 1893″—but it didn’t quite kill it off for good; for in September 1911, C.G. Cash visited Killin and this was one of the many places he looked for and, despite local folk telling him about the more famous St Fillan Stones (still in existence and found at the Mill), he saw the last remnants of this great Ash, telling simply that,
“the mere dead stump of St Fillan’s Ash-tree still stands against the south post of the mill gate. And quite near it is a young ash, said to be its descendant. This younger tree has an out-curving branch that was said to have been the gallows-branch in olden days; but it is obviously too young and too weak.”
…So, does anyone know precisely which is the “descendant” of St. Fillan’s Ash and where happens it to be growing?
In Norse myth, the ash tree Yggdrasil was the tree of Odin and was one of the primal ingredients in their Creation myths. It stood at the centre of the cosmos: an axis mundi no less, linking the many worlds and was the abode of the gods. Its mythologies are extensive. In Scotland, the myths of the ash are not so well known, but there’s little doubt that it possessed a sanctity and certainly has many traditions of it own, which are unfortunately outside the remit of this site profile.
The easiest way to see the site is to stop at the car park at Craighall on the B9099 south of Stanley, and follow the path to the river. The remains of the Brig will be seen on the other side of the Tay from the riverside walk.
Archaeology & History
The Thistle Brig was described in the nineteenth century Ordnance Survey Name Book as:-
‘A remarkable spot in the River Tay, when the breadth of the river becomes suddenly narrow by the protrusion of a bed of trap rock which crosses it at this place.’
According to local historian Alexander Scott, the Thistle Brig formed a convenient place to ford the Tay until much of it was blasted away by explosives some time in the mid-nineteenth century in order to improve the flow of the river. Old maps imply that an actual bridge may have spanned the Tay hereabouts at some time in the past. The seemingly little known folklore of this site relates to an invasion by the Danes in the early mediaeval period. Elsewhere there are similar stories, so the truth or otherwise depends on where you are in Scotland, but this one may have more validity as the tale seems to give its name to the place!
The name ‘Thistle Bridge’ has been applied on old postcards to a stone footbridge over a side channel or lade between the road and the River Tay to the south of the Brig, and is not the subject of this profile.
Alexander Scott, writing of the Brig:-
“…tradition holds that here the thistle received the distinction of becoming the national emblem of Scotland. In one of the many invasions the country suffered from foreign armies, the Danes, on one occasion, having landed on the east coast sacked the town of Montrose and continued on their march across the country, burning and pillaging as they went. While crossing the Tay at this ford at night, the incident occurred of one of the leading soldiers arriving on the opposite side suddenly coming in contact with a thistle with his bare leg, which caused him to emit a shreik of pain.
“The noise was heard by the Scots, who had been encamped nearby, and the alarm thus given was the means of securing a victory over their enemies. The thistle was thereafter honoured as the national badge.”
Scott, Alexander, St Martins and Cambusmichael, A Parochial Retrospect, Munro & Scott 1911.
Shown on the 1855 Ordnance Survey map as a ‘pump’, in the grounds of Everingham Priory, the ‘seat’ of the lord of the manor, it was in an enclosure formerly open to the people of the village. It was filled in prior to 1923. The water was described as ‘abundant and excellent.’ Graeme Chapman, in his Yorkshire Holy Wells website states:
‘A few metres to the south of the site of the well the modern OS map marks the start of a stream (SE 8055 4250) which could be the original source of the Holy well’s water.’
The present writer has not been able to verify this from the materials available to him.
Everilda, also known as Everild and Averil, is recorded in the York Breviary, printed in 1493. She was a mid Yorkshire Saint who died around 700 CE. According to this source she was of a noble Wessex family who went to Yorkshire with companions Bega and Wulfreda, settling on land called Bishop’s Farm, an estate of the Bishop of York, St Wilfrid , which he gave to them, the place being then called Everildisham. There they established a nunnery, of which all trace is now lost. Her Saint’s day is July 9th. The name of St Everilda has been changed to ‘Emeldis’ in the dedication of the church at Everingham. Some historians claim the village is not named after her, but as a derivation of ‘ham of Eofor’s people’. The only other church known to be dedicated to her is at Nether Poppleton, some 17 miles north west of Everingham.
The water of the village and the mothers of Everingham are said to have been blessed by St Everilda, and the Reverend Smith wrote that over a fifty year period, no mother had died in childbirth.
Farmer, David, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1987
Raine, James, The Dedications of the Yorkshire Churches, The Yorkshire Archaeological and Topographical Journal, Vol II, 1873
Salisbury, Matthew Cheung, The Use of York: Characteristics of the Medieval Liturgical Office in York, Borthwick Institute, York, 2008
Smith, Rev William, Ancient Springs & Streams of the East Riding of Yorkshire, A.Brown & Sons, London, Hull & York, 1923
Very little has been written of this site due to the fact that little seems to known about it. A few of the usual ‘official’ on-line catalogues mention it but information on the site is truly scant. It is shown on the earliest Ordnance Survey map of the region and the same cartographers describe it in the Ordnance Name Book (1873), saying briefly how St John’s Well,
“Applied to a very deep pump well situated in the court of the ancient portion of “Dunrobin Castle”. No information respecting the dedication or origin of this name can be obtained in the District.”
But an earlier reference than this is cited in Fraser’s (1892) work, telling us that,
“In the midst of the court within the castle there is one of the deepest draw-wells in Scotland, all lined with ashlar-work, which was built and finished before the house was begun. The well was known as that of St. John. In the year 1512 sasine (i.e. delivery of feudal property) of the earldom and castle was taken at the well. At other times sasine was taken at the castle, at its gates, or near the well.”
Subsequent to this, we read in Cumming’s (1897) definitive folklore work of the region how,
“(it) looks as if there had been a chapel of St. John on Drumrabyn. In that case it may have been one dependent upon Kileain (=Kirk of John) on Loch Brora, which was only ½ a mile further than Kilmalin.”
Having not visited the castle, I’m unsure whether or not the well can still be seen. Does anyone know…?
This large boulder found off the Cromarty coast, was highlighted on the 1880 OS-map of the region. It is one of the ancient boundary stones of the township.
We know from the vast array on the folklore of stones that many were imbued with magickal abilities, some of which were witnesses to vows and others to make curses from. This large boulder off the coast of Cromarty was, according to Donald MacKenzie (1935), a place where the latter used to be done. He told us:
“At Cromarty there is a big boulder known as the Clach na Mallachd (‘Stone of Cursing’). Curses were delivered when an individual stood or knelt bare-kneed upon it.”
In an earlier account by the Ordnance Survey lads in one of their Name Books, they gave the following tale that had been narrated to them:
“A large stone Situate at the Low Water, and forming one of the boundary Stones of the burgh, the reason of its having this name is, that a young lad while Sitting on it was overwhelmed by the advancing tide and drowned, his mother when told of it, cursed the stone, hence the name Clach Mallach (Accursed Stone)”
MacKenzie, Donald A., Scottish Folk-lore and Folk Life, Blackie: Glasgow 1935.
The historian William Addison (1951), in his history on the subject, told how “the spas began as holy wells”; and although no direct accounts are left of early dedications here, the remnants of Mayday traditions tell us there were more archaic goings-on before the waters were taken by the aristocrats. Once it had been designated as a spa, the waters were covered and a typical Spa House constructed over them. From hereon, for more than a century, the waters were accessible only to those with money who wished their ailments to be treated.
Between the end of the 18th to the end of the 19th century, the Horley Green Spa was a very prominent ingredient in the history of Calderdale. A chalybeate or iron-bearing spring, its waters were directed into a large underground cistern covered by metal. Thomas Garnett (1790) was the first to write about it, telling us:
“The Horley Green water is quite pellucid—sparkles when poured out of one glass into another—and has a sharp, aluminous, styptic taste, not unlike ink. The taste is not unpleasant when the water is taken from the springhead and drank immediately.”
He went on to espouse the waters to be good in healing bone and rheumatic diseases, giving many first-hand accounts from people in Yorkshire and beyond who used the waters here with apparent success, including one case of curing diabetes! Its reputation was later reinforced in a book by William Alexander (1840), who told us how,
“I unhesitatingly affirm that the Horley Green Spa possesses a very strong claim to be regarded as a powerful tonic and chalybeate.”
By the time those words were written, it had already gained a considerable reputation and many were those who’d received treatment.
A years after Alexander, the roving doctor A.B. Granville (1841) visited Horley Green—who described it as “a renowned steel-water Spa”. But at the same time he reported how its popularity had started to decline. But, via one Mr West, he did leave us with a greater chemical analysis of the Horley Green waters in an attempt, once more, to certify and prove its curative properties. Their results found the waters to possess, in varying quantities, lime, magnesia, silica, iron oxide, sulphur and silica—all of which further attributed the science of its medicinal actions. A number of case histories of the people cured here can be found in the works of Granville, Garnett and Alexander.
The well-house that stood here eventually fell into disuse. When it was eventually restored as someone’s home in the the late 20th century, the disused spring was found beneath the foundations, filled with stones.
Horley Green’s spa well came about as a result of local people visiting the site around Beltane, probably for centuries before the aristocrats and early pharmacists took their hand to the place. But once the spa became renowned, people could only gather here “on the first Sundays in the month of May,” with Sunday being that legendary ‘day of the lord’ crap, to which the people would abide to save them from prosecution. It is obvious though that it had been used as a place of magick thanks to the snippets of lore which have found their way into local history books. We read how, at 6am, people gathered here, to such an extent that the roads were completely crowded. Those who arrived first were given bags of nuts: an archaic traditional motif found at many pre-christian wells in Britain. Occultists and ritual magickians amongst you will note the time when folk frequented the well, at 6am: the time when many nature-spirits are invoked for full effects. We find this time echoed in the ritual gatherings at Lady or St. Anne’s Well in Morley, just a few miles to the east.
Addison, William, English Spas, Batsford: London 1951.
Alderson, Frederick, The Inland Resorts and Spas of Britain, David & Charles: Newton Abbot 1973.
An old church dedicated to St Bennet once existed on the hill above where this spring of water emerges, but little is now left of the building. Thankfully the holy well hasn’t quite followed in the footsteps of the church. Miss Riley (1935) told us that it can be found “near the high-water mark…situated at the foot of a beautiful little glen which runs inland from the coast” – and from all accounts it is still there.
Shown on the 1880 OS-map of the region, the dedication to St Bennet is obscure. Mr Pullan (1927) suggested it derived from the 6th century St Benedict of Nursia, but this is improbable. The Royal Commission lads thought it more likely derived from “a Celtic foundation.”
The earliest description I’ve found regarding the traditions surrounding this well are by Hugh Miller (1835). He wrote:
“It is not yet twenty years since a thorn-bush, which formed a little canopy over the spring of St. Bennet, used to be covered anew every season with little pieces of rag, left on it as offerings to the saint, by sick people who came to drink of the water.”
But the tradition didn’t die out, as evidenced by a short article by Miss M.D. Riley (1935) in Antiquity journal where she gave us further valuable information about its folk history, saying:
“In order to insure the fulfilment of the wish it is essential that the wisher should drink the water and leave something of his personal attire. When the writer visited the spot there was a heterogeneous collection of ‘rags’ hanging on the branches.
“Mr Francis Scott tells me that the site is locally supposed to be the place of judgement. It is close to the ruins of St Bennet’s Chapel and the ground is said to be cursed as it was stoeln by the Church. Even at the present day the owner has to provide each year at Christmas-tide 8 cwt of oatmeal free for the poor of the parish. This has been operative since 1630 and though the owner has tested the matter in the highest court of law in Scotland, his appeal was not allowed.”
The tradition of giving offerings to the spirit of this well was still recorded in 1966.
Hiley, M.D., “Rag-Wells,” in Antiquity, volume 9:4, December 1935.
As with traditions found all over the world, rivers and lakes had spirits, gods and rituals attached to them. Despite us believing that no such things ever occurred in Britain and the rest of the so-called ‘civilized’ world, such things were once common. One of the annual rites performed at the Hebridean river at Barbhas (Barvas)—and described by Alexander Fraser (1878)—is just one such example:
“The natives of Barvas had a peculiar custom on the first day of May, of sending a man across the river at (the) dawn of day to prevent any females from crossing it first, as that would hinder the salmon from ascending the river all the year through.” (Fraser 1878)
The importance of the salmon, both as an important food source and equally as a ‘sacred animal’, is known in myths and legends throughout the British Isles. To the legendary hero-figure Finn, it played a part of him gaining supernatural wisdom, and this quality is integral to the fish itself who ate the hazelnuts of knowledge and gained such power. In this same short piece of folklore, the time of year when the ritual should be enacted on the River Barvas is Beltane, which is renowned as the prime period in the annual cycle/calendar relating to fertility. This element relates to maintaining the fecundity of the river and the salmon where, in this case, men crossing the waters symbolically fertilizes them to ensure the annual return of the fish. It would be interesting to known when this custom finally died out.
A bit troublesome to locate if you don’t know the area. Get into the town centre where the paved St George Square is by the main road. Cross the road and go up Hill Street, which runs straight into Ferntower Road. A few hundred yards up turn left up Ewanfield, all the way to the very end at Crieff Hydro. From here you’ll see the path uphill by the tennis courts. Walk up and past the holiday chalets until your hit the road that curls round the bottom of the woods. Go along until you find the car park and just above here by the roadside is a tourist board showing the Knock Walk footpath. The Cradle Stone is about 250 yards up the Knock Walk from here, 100 yards into the woods on the right.
Archaeology & History
This large broken boulder is the result of it once living further up the hillside. One of Nature’s great forces then kicked the olde fella and he rolled down the hill to its present position. It was mentioned in a detailed 19th century geological survey by Mr Thomson (1836), where he told:
“At Crieff, in Perthshire, there occurs a series of low hills running parallel to the Grampians. These hills consist of old red sandstone and greywacke. On one of them, the Cnock, the village of Crieff is built. Upon the south-east side of this hill, towards the southern extremity, not far from the summit, there are deposited a number of boulder stones of syenitic granite. The largest of these is called the ‘Cradlestone’. It is nearly spherical, quite smooth on the surface, and 29 feet in circumference. It has been split in two by lightning, (according to the tradition of the place,) and one of the fragments has made one complete revolution down the hill and then stopped. The weight of this boulder is about 30 tons. The nearest mountains of syenitic granite, are those in the neighbourhood of Bennevis, distant more than 60 miles north-west…”
The stone was subsequently entered in Fred Cole’s (1911) outstanding survey of the local megaliths, although acknowledged it has having no archaeological pedigree. The Cradle Stone, he wrote, is
“the appellation printed in Old English lettering on the Ordnance Map, given to one of two huge boulders difficult to find in the fir-woods at the western extremity of the Knock, and at a height of nearly 600 feet, midway between Knockearn House and Culcrieff. On visiting the site, the conclusion became apparent that these two blocks were merely natural curiosities, and had no interest for the archaeologist beyond the name.”
In volume 10 of the New Statistical Account it was told how local folklore attested the Cradle Stone as being where the babies came from, perhaps intimating some fertility legend long since forgotten.
The main thing attached to this giant broken stone is the old folk-tale that used to be more well-known in the 19th century than it is today. It was narrated at length in Macara’s (1881) fine pot pourri of local histories and legends and which I hope you can forgive me citing in its entirity here:
“In the memory of men still living, two well-known weavers, named James Livingstone and James M’Laren, lived in Barnkettick, at the west end of the town. Livingstone was a thorough wag, and M’Laren was somewhat of a simpleton. Livingstone was in the habit of telling his neighbour all sorts of extravagant stories about ghosts and witches. The facility with which the latter fraternity could turn themselves into hares and scamper about was an accepted fact, which M’Laren as truly believed as his Bible.
“The Rocking or Cradle Stone on the brow of the Knock, behind the town, was supposed to be of Druidical origin, and for ages drew forth the fear and wonder of the natives. A belief prevailed that something valuable was buried in its foundation, and worth lifting, if it could only be got at. Livingstone having heard of “Whang, the Miller” directed McLaren’s attention to the subject of valuable treasure being beneath the cradle stone, which was greedily swallowed, and he expressed his astonishment that no one tried digging for it.
“Livingstone suggested that they both should try it, and divide the spoil. M’Laren agreed, and it was resolved to make the attempt that night after dusk. The necessary picks and spades were soon borrowed. Livingstone called on an acquaint- ance or two, and informed them of the “ploy,” and they readily agreed to arrange and have some fun at the “howking” of the treasure.
“The acquaintances were up at the spot early, with a view to set some snares for hares, so that the journey would combine pleasure with profit. They had also provided a few “squibs” for contingencies. At the time appointed the two weavers, with their implements on their shoulders, arrived at the stone and set to work. M’Laren did so with strong impressions of a coming calamity, which soon made him feel the greatest terror. Livingstone worked with a will, and upbraided M’Laren with cowardice.
“With that a strange, unearthly sound came up the hill, and on looking round, a ball of fire was seen careering through the underwood. M’Laren felt queerish and almost speechless. Another hissing sound was heard, and the strange fire came nearer. Livingstone still wrought on, telling M’Laren never to heed, as these things were only bits of falling stars. M’Laren thought otherwise. They were in the neighbourhood of Monzie, where it was certain there were plenty of witches, and it was evident something “no canny” was brewing. He would have given anything to have been at his loom.
“In an instant three or four fiery darts from different directions came hissing along, and darted through the heath at their feet. M’Laren was paralysed with fear. Livingstone ceased work instantly, and jumping out of the trench he made, yelled he smelt brimstone, rushed from the stone and was lost in the darkness. Poor M’Laren’s limbs trembled like a leaf and were scarcely able to support him. As he was trying to follow his companion, another fire shower rained about him, and down the hill he went like a deer, yelling on Livingstone to wait on him.
“As he neared the parks above Milnab, the hares acid rabbits were scampering in all directions, and a few found their necks in the snares, which caused them to squeal at the pitch of their voices too. M’Laren being now thoroughly convinced that the witches were let loose, speed was added to his limbs, and with supernatural fleetness he bounded over all obstructions and found himself in an instant or two in his room, and jumped into bed. A cold sweat broke out all over his body and his heart beat with sharp thuds, shaking the bed. It was some time ere he could collect his scattered senses, so as to realise whether or not he was dreaming. The moisture in his eyes caused every blink of the fire to appear like the horrid hissing fire darts of the Knock. After a time he fell into a stupor, the recent events being still vividly before his mind.
“His cronies on the Knock tumbled amongst the heather and broom, shouting with joy at the success of the scheme. After giving vent to their excited feelings they went back to the Cradle Stone and lifted the picks and spades, and on their way home went round the snares and found a good “take.” As they were killing the hares, Livingstone suggested that a live one be taken to M’Laren, which was readily agreed to. On reaching home, Livingstone slipped into M’Laren’s house, and all seemed at rest. Creeping quietly ben to Jamie’s end of the bigging, he tied the live hare to the foot of his bed. As he was retiring he jostled against the hen roost and set the cock a-crowing, which so far roused Jamie that he thought it was scarcely morning yet. The cock crowed away, and soon the neighbouring roosts bestirred themselves, and all the cocks in the neighbourhood returned the vocal sound, as if it were morning.
“Poor Jamie, on reflecting, resolved that if he got over the present raising of “Auld Clootie” scathless, he would pledge himself never to trouble him or his again. As he thus pondered he thought he heard a strange pattering on the floor, and an occasional slight pull at the bed. On straining his eyes and looking floorwards he saw something not unlike a reputed witch moving about the foot of the bed. On closer observation this was fully confirmed, and he instinctively roared for help. His daft brother was now roused, and he roared also, and the hamlet dogs lent a willing voice. The wags who had collected outside rushed in, and on putting some fir roots on the fire the blaze showed Jamie, nearly demented, in bed, with his wearing clothes still on, and some dogs entering the room set a-worrying the hare. At the sight of well-known faces Jamie jumped out of bed. So much excited that it was feared that the joke had been carried rather far. Livingstone was still equal to the occasion, and drawing a bottle of whisky from his pocket handed round a few glasses, and in a short time “they didna care for deils a boddle.” Jamie was advised to divest himself of his clothes and go to bed, which he did, and soon fell into a deep sleep, and awakened next morning not much the worse. The affair got wind, and many a country fireside was made merry by the story of the Cradle Stone treasure.”
Were it not for the valuable records in the Scottish Statistical Accounts, we’d have lost all knowledge of this site. It was described in notes by by Colin Baxter (1793), where he told us:
“About 200 yards west from the church of Monivaird, a barrow was opened some years ago, in which two urns were found, each containing a stone of a bluish colour, very hard about four inches long, and of a triangular shape, somewhat resembling the head of an axe.”
The site was subsequently mentioned in the Ordnance Survey Name Book of the parish, with some additional bits of information:
“In the year 17–, there was found, about one hundred yards to the westward of the old church of Monzievaird, a barrow containing a stone-coffin, in which were inclosed two coarse earthen urns, the one filled with burnt bones, the other containing the bones of the head. Of these, the under jawbone and the teeth were very entire. In the stone coffin was also found a stone hatchet, bluish-coloured, very hard, about four inches long, and of a triangular shape, a remain which proves the barrow of very remote antiquity – prior to the use of iron. The stone hatchet is preserved at Ochtertyre.”
No traces remain of the site; and although the stone axes came to be in the possession of Sir William Murray of Ochtertyre, the urns and other remains have long since been lost.
The name of ‘St Serf’s Water’ derives from it this area being dedicated to St Servanus in early times; the holy well of St Serf could be found a short distance south from where this tomb was built.
Baxter, Colin, “United Parishes of Monivaird and Strowan,” in Statistical Account of Scotland – volume 8, William Creech: Edinburgh 1793.