Low Well, Bradford, West Yorkshire

Sacred Well (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – SE 1589 3132

Archaeology & History

Low Well on 1852 map

Along the now-lost Low Well Road between Little Horton and West Bowling, could once be found this innocuous-sounding water source.   Shown on the 1st OS-map of the area in 1852, the site was deemed to be little other than a ‘public well’.  At the end of the 19th century, a small well-house was built over the waters; and the years following that saw its complete demise.  Its name you would think relates to a position in the land, but the dialect word low, or lowe can mean “a flame, blaze, light, glow”, it can also refer to a prehistoric tomb.  However in this case it most likely derives from “a pond or standing pool”.

…And if some of you wonder why I have given this so-called Public Well the provenance of being a “sacred well”, please keep reading…

Folklore

Although it was deemed a simple ‘public well’ by historians and the public water authority, local folk knew there was much more to it than that!  In the Bradford area, this innocuously-named Well is the most promiscuously supernatural of all water sources, with a hidden history of magickians, ghosts and black dogs haunting its once ancient flow.  It was a site remembered as having oracular powers, where local people used it in scrying the future.  For such powers to work here, one had to gaze into the waters as they stilled at 6 o’ clock in the morning – a common time used by ritual magickians for the invocations of spirits.

The Bradford historian William Scrotum (1889) told us that in the 1860s, local people reported that the phantom black dog—or Bharguest as it was known—with its glowing red eyes, was seen coming out of the well after dark and scaring people half out of their wits.  Very soon people would not even venture out after dark for fear of encountering this great harbinger of Death.  Several years passed before local people called upon the abilities of a ritual magickian in the hope that he could lay the ghostly hound and bring peace and stability back to the hearts and minds of those living hereabouts.  Eventually, after much work, the magickian exorcised the waters and cast the black dog back into the depths of the Earth from whence it had come and, to this day, sightings of the spectral hound have stopped.

Water sources that possess ingredients of hauntings, magic and oracular properties are universally ascribed as ‘sacred’ in one way or the other.  In pre-industrial times I have little doubt that, amongst the animistic pantheon of local Bradfordians, this was no exception.

References:

  1. Scruton, William, Pen and Pencil Pictures of Old Bradford, Thomas Brear: Bradford 1889.
  2. Wright, Joseph, The English Dialect Dictionary – volume 3, Henry Frowde: London 1902.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

loading map - please wait...

  53.777973, -1.760357 Low Well

Tobar Bhride, Keppoch, Kilmonivaig, Inverness-shire

Sacred Well (lost):  OS Grid Reference – NN 27 81

Also Known as:

  1. St Bride’s Well

Archaeology & History

This long lost ‘holy well of St Brigit’ (Tobar Bhride) has been mentioned—purely in literary repetition—by such folklore giants as F.M. MacNeill and others, but none of them give any additional information about it than that first mentioned by Alexander Stewart’s (1890) in his fascinating article on magical stones.  Indeed, knowledge of this well’s very existence was only preserved thanks to a ritual incantation that was recited to imbue and maintain healing properties of one such magickal stone, known as the Charm Stone of Keppoch.  It

“was an oval of rock crystal, about the size of a small egg, fixed in a bird’s claw of silver, and with a silver chain attached, by which it was suspended when about to be dipped.”

It was dipped in water taken from the sacred well of St Brigit, somewhere not far from Keppoch.  The incantation made over the stone was in Gaelic, obviously, but the english translation is:

“Let me dip thee in the water,
Thou yellow, beautiful gem of Power!
In water of purest wave,
Which (saint) Bridget didn’t permit to be contaminated.
In the name of the Apostles twelve,
In the name of Mary, virgin of virtues,
And in the name of the high trinity
And all the shining angels,
A blessing on the gem,
A blessing on the water, and
A healing of bodily ailments to each suffering creature.”

On the east side of the river, just a few hundred yards away, could once be found the Fuaran na Ban-Tighearna, or the Well of Her Ladyship.  In this sense, the term ‘ladyship’ refers to the “wife of a baronet or knight.” (Dwelly 1918)  The idea that it may refer to Bride in Her guise as a ‘lady’ is linguistically improbable here (though not impossible).  Also, if this fuaran did have a geomythic relationship with Bride, we would expect to find a Cailleach in the nearby landscape, which we don’t.

Folklore

An interesting piece of folklore that may relate to this well is described by the great Scottish landscape wanderer, Seton Gordon. (1948)  Although he makes no mention of a Bride’s Well, there is the tale of a missing bride up Glen Roy, of which Keppoch sits below.  “It was in earlier times,” he wrote,

“that the Maid of Keppoch was taken by the fairies in Glen Roy.  She was an Irish girl, little more than a child, and had become the wife of MacDonell of Keppoch.  But the wedding rejoicings were scarcely over when the bride, wandering into the oak woods which still clothe the lower slopes of Glen Roy, disappeared mysteriously.  It was believed that, like the Rev Robert Kirk…she had been spirited away by the fairies.  If indeed she was abducted by the Little People they held her closely, for from that day to this no trace has been found of the fair Maid of Keppoch.”

St Bride of course was Irish, like the Maid of Keppoch.  And just a mile up Glen Roy from Keppoch House we find the Sron Dubh and Sithean, or Ridge of the Dark Fairy Folk.  There are several burns (streams) running either side and below this fairy haunt, but I can find none with Bride’s name.  Someone, somewhere, must know where it is…

References:

  1. Gordon, Seton, Highways and Byways in the Central Highlands, MacMillan: London 1948.
  2. Dwelly, Edward, The Illustrated Gaelic English Dictionary – volume 1, Fleet Hants 1918.
  3. Stewart, Alexander, “Notice of a Highland Charm-Stone,” in Proceedings Society Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 24, 1890.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

loading map - please wait...

  56.888000, -4.841320 Tobar Bhride

Breckon Howe, Sleights Moor, Sleights, North Yorkshire

Tumulus:  OS Grid Reference – NZ 85374 03406

Also Known as:

  1. Brakken Howe
Breckon Howe on 1853 map

Getting Here

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

Archaeology & History

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

Breckon Howe, from the south

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

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

Folklore

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

References:

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

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

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

loading map - please wait...

  54.418942, -0.685822 Breckon Howe

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

Cairn:  OS Grid Reference – NZ 85510 04614

Also Known as:

  1. Flat Howe (south)

Getting Here

Flat Howe-2 on 1853 map

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

Archaeology & History

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

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

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

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

Folklore

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

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

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

References:

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

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

Links:  Flat Howe on The Megalithic Portal

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

loading map - please wait...

  54.429770, -0.683386 Flat Howe (2)

St. Margaret’s Stone, Dunfermline, Fife

Cup-Marked Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NT 10837 85060

Getting Here

St Margarets Stone on 1856 OS-map

Take the A823 road out of Dunfermline south towards Rosyth. A half-mile before you hit the motorway roundabout, at the roundabout where Carnegie Avenue takes you east, turn west and park up along the road where the modern business park lives.  30-40 yards from the roundabout, set back on the pavement, you can’t really miss the huge flat slab of stone, covered in cup-markings, resting on a stone plinth with ‘St Margaret’s Stone’ stamped on it!

Archaeology & History

On the 1856 OS-map of this area, St Margaret’s Stone is shown at the roadside just above a farm of the same name, a short distance away from its present location.  In October 1879, Alexander Stewart (1889) told us that funds were raised and steps taken to properly fix and preserve this ancient ‘resting-place’ of Queen Margaret on the Queensferry Road.  It was quite a few years later before it was moved the few hundred yards further to its present location.

Cups on stone’s edge

Early writers tell us that originally its position in the landscape was on the crest of one of the rises in the land between Dunfermline and the sea, making it visible for some considerable distance.  This would seem to have been a deliberate placement.  In my mind, and in accordance with the placement of many a prehistoric tomb, St Margaret’s Stone may originally have been part of a neolithic or Bronze age cairn, long since gone.  The size and shape of the rock implies it too, with similarities here of the impressive cist or gravestone found inside the Netherlargie North cairn at Kilmartin.  However, this wasn’t the thought of the prodigious Scottish historian, William Skene.  He thought that St Margaret’s Stone originally stood upright, being a Pictish-style standing stone that was mentioned in the first Statistical Account of the area.  The brilliant Scottish antiquarian, John Stuart (1856)—who gave us an illustration of the ‘standing stone’ in question—told us:

“It has been supposed by some that “St. Margaret’s Stone,” a block now lying on the side of the highway leading from Inverkeithing to Dunfermline, and about midway between these places, can be identified with the standing stone referred to in the Statistical Account.  Mr Skene has noted below a sketch of St. Margaret’s Stone:-  “The sculpture upon this stone has been lately chipped off in mere wantonness, so as to leave few traces of the subject recorded upon it.”  He farther states that it formerly stood erect, and was called “The Standing Stone.” According to Mr. Skene’s measurement, St. Margaret’s stone is about nine feet and a half in length, one foot in thickness, and four feet broad at the widest end, and broken off to a narrow point at the other.”

The missing ‘standing stone’

In this instance, Skene was confusing St Margaret’s Stone with the lost Pictish monolith (left) that used to exist nearby, which had carved horse figures and other memorial designs upon it and which he thought had faded away.  Whereas the large slab we are looking at here, and which Skene visited and measured, is covered on one side by a gathering of prehistoric cup-markings—much earlier than any Pictish or early christian carvings.  At first glance, it seems that some of these cups may well be natural, but it has to be said that some of them are distinctly man-made.  And if we were to believe the archaeo-accounts of the stone, the cupmarks are only to found on one side of the stone.  Which aint true.  As we can see here, a number of cupmarks run along the edge of the stone.  We cannot say for sure whether all of them are artificial, but they certainly look like it!  Also, on the other side of the flat surface, one or two single cups are visible.  It would be good if we could get an artist to give us a detailed impression of the prehistoric carvings without the modern engraving of St Margaret’s Stone etching on the main face. (is there anybody out there!?)

The Royal Commission (1933) lads visited the stone in 1925 and, several years later in their write-up, told us simply:

“This stone…stands with its main axis due north and south and measures 8 feet 6 inches, by 4 feet 7 inches, by 1 foot 6 inches.  On one side the entire surface is cup-makred, the markings varying in size from 1¼ inches to 3¼ inches and having an average depth of from ½ to ¾ inch.”

When the Scottish petroglyph writer and explorer, Ron Morris (1968) came to the site, he gave it an equally brief description, merely telling us:

“On standing stone (8 1/2 feet high, 4 1/2 feet wide), built in to roadside fence, over 80 cups, up to 4in in diam, 3/4in deep, some run together as rough dumbells.”

It’s well worth checking out!

Folklore

St Margarets Stone in 1825

When the Saxon Queen Margaret landed on the shores just west of Queensferry at Rosyth Castle (NT 1087 8200), legend reputes that she and her entourage made Her way north towards Dunfermline.  Halfway along the ancient track She rested at this large stone, which thereafter gained its name.  Subsequebt to this, Margaret was said to use the stone as a seat and would go to rest there upon occasions.  The tale probably has some germ of true in it.  Additional elements were also said of the great rock:

“The large stone here is associated with St Margaret and was visited by women who hoped to conceive or sought a successful birth. The eight-foot high stone is said to mark the resting place of St Margaret when she journeyed between Queensferry and Dunfermline. Margaret had eight successful pregnancies and probably needed to rest quite a few times on her travels!”

The fertility aspects of the rock were not the only pre-chritian virtues attached to it.  We also find that oft-cited motif of rocks moving of their own accord: in this case, as J.B. MacKie (1905) told us, local people had always

“been told that the stone rose from its bed and whirled thrice round in the air every time it heard the cock at the adjoining farm crow.”

Cocks crowing are symbolic of sunrise, obviously.  Whether the rest of the short theme is a folk memory of the stone becoming animated when something in the sky occurred – at sunrise perhaps, in accordance with many an alignment found in the ancient tombs up and down the country.

References:

  1. Chalmers, Peter, Historical and Statistical Account of Dunfermline, William Blackwood: Edinburgh 1844.
  2. Fernie, John, A History of the Town and Parish of Dunfermline, John Miller: Dunfermline 1815.
  3. Henderson, Ebenezer, The Annals of Dunfermline, John Tweed: Glasgow 1879.
  4. MacKie, J.B., Margaret, Queen and Saint, Oliphant: Edinburgh 1905.
  5. Morris, Ronald W.B., “The cup-and-ring marks and similar sculptures of Scotland: a survey of the southern Counties – part 2,” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 100, 1968.
  6. Royal Commission Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Inventory of Monuments and Constructions in the Counties of Fife, Kinross, and Clackmannan. HMSO: Edinburgh 1933.
  7. Rupert-Jone, John A., Rosyth, A. Romanes: Dunfermline 1917.
  8. Stewart, Alexander, Reminiscences of Dunfermline and Neighbourhood, Scott Ferguson: Edinburgh 1889.
  9. Stuart, John, Sculptured Stones of Scotland – volume 1, Spalding Club: Aberdeen 1856.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 

 

loading map - please wait...

  56.050067, -3.433078 St Margaret\'s Stone

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

Tumulus:  OS Grid Reference – NZ 85483 04866

Also Known as:

  1. Flat Howe (north)

Getting Here

Flat Howe-1 on 1853 map

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

Archaeology & History

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

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

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

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

Folklore

Flat Howe, with large stones defining its edge

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

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

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

References:

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

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

LinksThe Megalithic Portal on Flat Howe

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

loading map - please wait...

  54.432038, -0.683730 Flat Howe (1)

Blakey Topping, Allerston, North Yorkshire

Sacred Hill:  OS Grid Reference – SE 8731 9377

Getting Here

Blakey Topping (James Elkington)

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

Archaeology & History

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

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

Folklore

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

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

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

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

Looking up from the SW (James Elkington)

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

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

References:

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

Links:

  1. Mountains, Myths and Moorlands

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

© Paul Bennett & James ElkingtonThe Northern Antiquarian

 

loading map - please wait...

  54.332035, -0.658827 Blakey Topping

Peace Stone, Port of Menteith, Stirlingshire

Cup-and-Ring Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NS 56413 99540

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 44622
  2. Gartrenich
  3. Malling
  4. Menteith 1

Getting Here

Peace Stone cup-and-ring

The quickest way here is bedevilled with troublesome parking (and an unhelpful local at Malling Cottage).  That aside, roughly halfway along the A81 between the Braeval roundabout (near Aberfolye) and Port of Meneith, turn down the track at Malling, following it round for 300 yards through the farm, then another 500 yards or so until you reach a junction with a gate on your left. Walk down the track to your right, roughly alongside the Lake of Menteith, for nearly 700 yards until you reach the gate into the forestry commission land. Go thru the gate and turn immediate right, following the fence for about 200 yards where a clump of stones lives. You’re there!

Archaeology & History

The Peace Stone in 1899

This seemingly isolated petroglyph, known about by local people in the middle of the 19th century and earlier, was said to have been “held in great reverence.”  It was first mentioned in literary accounts in 1866, when the oral traditions about it were more important than any archaeocentricism.  But things change with the times: local people were kicked off their lands, old stories and knowledge of sites were lost, and the ‘discipline’ of archaeology was beginning to look at these curious carved rocks with puzzled minds.

The Peace Stone was described at some length and with considerable accuracy in Mr A.F. Hutchison’s (1893) gazetteer on the ancient stones of Stirlingshire.  It was one of the regions only known petroglyphs at that time and thankfully he gave us a good account of it, saying:

“On the west ride of the Lake of Menteith, about half a mile south from the farm-house of Malling, this stone is to be found, lying at the boundary of the arable land. The ground at the place rises into a slight eminence, on the top of which the stone lay till some seven or eight years ago, when a labourer took it into his head that a stone on which so much labour had evidently been spent must have been intended to cover something valuable. He proceeded to excavate the earth at the side with the intention of getting at the buried treasure, with the result that the stone slipped down into the hole which he had made, where it now lies.  It is quite possible, however, that an interment, if no treasure, might be found beside it on further research. The stone is roughly circular on the surface, measuring about 4 feet in diameter. It is entirely covered with cup and ring marks—22 cups in all—varying in size from an inch to two inches in diameter.  The cups and rings are very symmetrically formed. Nearly in the centre is a fine one surrounded by four circular grooves.  Others have incomplete triple and quadruple circles, with radial duct dividing them. There are other curious curves that sometimes interlace, and near the lower side of the stone are five or six cups with straight channels running out from them over the edge. This is an extremely interesting stone. It is unique in our neighbourhood, so far as I know, in showing these symmetrical carvings. They are now, however, much weather-worn.”

Ron Morris’ sketch & photo

When Alison Young (1938) came to write about the carving, she echoed Hutchison’s thought that the stone might have originally have covered a tomb—but we simply don’t know and it should be treated as guesswork, as there are no known prehistoric tombs anywhere hereby.

Close-up of faded cups

Years passed before the next archaeological visit – by which time the stone had been uprooted and moved, apparently “ploughed up by the Forestry Commission”, and when Ron Morris (1981) last sought it out found that “the stone was un-traceable”.  On a previous visit, before being moved, he found it to be,

“a cup-and-three-rings, 3 cups surrounded by two rings…and 6 cup-and-one-ring.  One of these and 2 cups form part of the design of the cup-and-three-rings.  There were also at least 7 other cups, and a number of grooves, some forming lines from a central cup, or a cup-mark, downhill.  Greatest diameter visible in 1977 30cm (12in) and depth of carving 3cm (1 in)… Many of the carvings are so weathered as to be visible only when wet in early morning or late evening.”

And when we visited the site a few days ago, the stunning sunlight that had followed us all day, sadly faded and disallowed us better photographs of the site.  Huge apologies…. But it’s worth visiting when the daylight’s good, perhaps when you’re exploring the huge number of brilliant petroglyphs at Ballochraggan and Nether Glenny on the hillside 1½ miles immediately north of this “outlier”, as Brouwer & van Veen (2009) called it.

Folklore

In a landscape bedevilled with stunning petroglyphs, traditions and folklore of them is all but gone; but the story of the Peace Stone was thankfully captured in words by Mr Dun (1866), who told us:

There is a curious prophecy connected with a stone situated near the ruins of the chapel of Arnchly, and which is worth recording.  From time immemorial this stone went under the name of the Peace Stone, and it was held in great reverence by the natives.  One Pharic McPharic, a noted Gaelic prophet, foretold that, in the course of time, this stone would be buried underground by two brothers, who, for their indiscretion, were to die childless. By-and-by the stone would rise to the surface, and by the time it was fairly above ground, a battle was to be fought on “Auchveity,” that is, “Betty’s Field.”  The battle was to be long and fierce, until “Gramoch-Cam” of Glenny, that is, “Graham of the one eye,” would sweep from the “Bay-wood” with his clan and decide the contest. After the battle, a large raven was to alight on the stone and drink the blood of the fallen. So much for the prophecy then; now for the fulfilment. About fifty years ago, two brothers (tenants of the farm of Arnchly), finding that the stone interfered with their agricultural labours, made a large trench, and had it put several feet below the surface. Very singular, indeed, both these men, although married, died without leaving any issue. With the labouring of the field for a number of years, the stone has actually made its appearance above ground, and there is at present living a descendant of the Grahams of Glenny who is blind of one eye, and the ravens are daily hovering over the devoted field. Tremble ye natives! and rivals of the “Hero Grahams,” keep an eye on Gramoch-Cam!

The name of Betty’s Field came from an earlier piece of folklore: where a prince out hunting a stag was caught in one of the deep bogs hereby, only to be rescued by a local lass.  In return for her help, she was given a large piece of land which was to bear her name.

References:

  1. Armit, Ian, “The Peace Stone (Port of Menteith parish),” in Discovery & Excavation Scotland, 1998.
  2. Brouwer, Jan & van Veen, Gus, Rock Art in the Menteith Hills, BRAC 2009.
  3. Dun, P., Summer at the Lake of Monteith, James Hedderwick: Glasgow 1866.
  4. Hutchison, A.F., “The Standing Stones and other Rude Monuments of Stirling District,” in Transactions Stirling Natural History & Antiquarian Society, volume 15, 1893.
  5. Hutchison, A.F., The Lake of Menteith: Its Islands and Vicinity with Historical Accounts of the Priory of Inchmahome and the Earldom of Menteith, Stirling 1899.
  6. Mallery, Garrick, “Pictographs of the North American Indians,” in Bureau of Ethnology of the Smithsonian Institution, volume 4, 1886.
  7. Morris, Ronald W.B., The Prehistoric Rock Art of Southern Scotland, BAR: Oxford 1981.
  8. van Hoek, Maarten, “Menteith (Port of Menteith parish) Rock Art Sites,” in Discovery Excavation Scotland, 1989.
  9. Young, Alison, “Cup-and ring Markings on Craig Ruenshin, with some Comparative Notes”, in Proceedings Society Antiquaries Scotland, vol. 72, 1938.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Peace Stone CR

loading map - please wait...

Peace Stone CR 56.166808, -4.313964 Peace Stone CR

Spittal of Glenshee, Kirkmichael, Perthshire

Standing Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NO 10865 70201

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 29609

Getting Here

Spittal of Glenshee stone

Take to A93 road, north, between Blairgowrie and Braemar, keeping your eyes peeled many miles on, to turn left along the minor road as you approach the tiny Spittal of Glenshee hamlet. Just as you go over the ancient bridge, park up on your left, below the church.  Walk round the back of the church and you’ll see a large tree-covered mound.  Walk onto its top.

Archaeology & History

Stone marked on 1862 map

This quiet, almost hidden, six-foot tall standing stone on what initially seems to be a large fairy mound or tumulus at the back of the rude church, has been occluded from general view (in my opinion, deliberately) by the construction of the more debased christian edifice right in front of it.  But it detracts not from its gentle majesty once you reach its ancient body, atop of the old hill.

The stone is one in a cluster of prehistoric sites in and around this Glen of the Fairy Folk (as its name tells), where the rivers Shee and Beag converge.  If the church didn’t obstruct the view, some of the other sites would have been visible from here.

Folklore

The old stone, looking east

Folklore tells that when the christians came into the Glen to build a church—initially a half-mile or so to the east—the little people were much annoyed at the actions of the incomers, as it intruded on one of their sacred rings of stone close by.  By night they came out, and every stone that had been laid by the christians in the day was removed.  Each day the insensitive christians came and built their church without asking, and each night the little people removed it.  Eventually an agreement was made, and the fairies let them build the church next to this standing stone.  So goes the tale….

A veritable cluster of stories about Fingal, Ossian, Dermid and Grianne scatter this area, with many of them relating to ancient sites, but I’ve not found one directly relating to this stone.

References:

  1. Miller, T.D., Tales of a Highland Parish, Munro Press: Perth 1929.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Spittal of Glenshee stone

loading map - please wait...

Spittal of Glenshee stone 56.814728, -3.461654 Spittal of Glenshee stone

Mineral Well, Glen Lyon, Perthshire

Healing Well:  OS Grid Reference – NN 72110 47768

Also Known as:

  1. Iron Well

Getting Here

Mineral Well, Glen Lyon

From Fortingall village, head west and turn down into the incredible beauty that is Glen Lyon.  As you enter the trees, a half-mile along you pass the small gorge of MacGregor’s Leap in the river below.  2-300 yards pass this, keep your eyes peeled for an old small overgrown walled structure on the left-hand side of the road, barely above the road itself.  A large tree grows up above the tiny walled enclosure, within which are the unclear waters that trickle gently….

Archaeology & History

In previous centuries, this all-but-forgotten spring of water wasn’t just a medicinal spring, but was one of the countless sites where sympathetic magick was practised.  The old Highlanders would have had a name for the spirit residing at these waters, but it seems to have been lost.  The site is described in Alexander Stewart’s (1928) magnum opus on this stunning glen, where he wrote:

“Still a few yards more and Glenlyon’s famous mineral wishing well is seen gushing up, surrounded by its wall of rough stones now sadly in need of repair.  It has a stone shelf to receive the offerings of those who still retain a trace of superstition or like to uphold old customs as they partake of its waters.  The offerings usually consist of small pebbles, but occasionally something more valuable is found among them. The roadmen may clear that shelf as often as they like, but it is seldom empty for long.”

A local lady from Killin told us that she remembers the stone above the well still having offerings left on it 20-30 years ago. Hilary Wheater (1981) sketched it and called it the Iron Well.

Close-up of the waters (photo by Paul Hornby)
Hilary Wheater’s sketch

The waters in this small roadside well-house actually emerge some 50 yards up the steep hillside (recently deforested) and in parts have that distinct oily surface that typifies chalybeates, or iron-bearing springs – which this site is an example of.  Its medicinal properties would help to people with anaemia; to heal women just after childbirth; to aid those who’d been injured and lost blood; as well as to fortify the blood and stimulate the system.

Across the road from the well, Stewart (1928) told of a giant lime tree that was long known to be the meeting place for lovers (perhaps relating to the well?), and the name of the River Lyon here is the Poll-a-Chlaidheamh, or ‘the pool of the sword’, whose history and folklore fell prey to the ethnic cleansing of the english.

References:

  1. Stewart, Alexander, A Highland Parish, Alexander Maclaren: Glasgow 1928.
  2. Wheater, Hilary, Aberfeldy to Glenlyon, Appin Publications: Aberfeldy 1981.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

loading map - please wait...

  56.604226, -4.085031 Mineral Well