Clach na h-ealea, Clachan, Lismore, Argyll

Legendary Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NM 861 435

Also Known as:

  1. Clach na h-eala
  2. Stone of the Swan
  3. Swan Stone

Archaeology & History

Although the lads at the Scottish Royal Commission (1974) initially described this site as a ‘Standing Stone’, it is in fact,

“an erratic boulder of granite roughly shaped in the form of a cross… It measures 0.8m in height, 0.6m in width at base, and 0.4m in width at the top…(and) the stone is supposed to have marked a boundary.”

The site was evidently of some mythic importance, as the great Cathedral of St. Moluag was built next to the stone — unless the giant cairn of Cnoc Aingil, 500 yards away, was to blame. A holy well of this saint’s name (an obvious heathen site beforehand) is also nearby.

Folklore

Although this stone was dedicated to swans, I’ve not found the story behind the name.  There were no buried swans here, but local tradition told that this old boulder could give sanctuary to anyone who touched it, or ran round it sunwise.  The Hebridean folklorist Otta Swire (1964) told that,

“anyone who claimed such sanctuary had his case considered by ‘the Elders.’ If they considered his plea justified, they ‘came out and walked sun-wise round the Swan Stone.’ If they did not approve of his right to sanctuary, they walked round it anti-clockwise and the man was then given over, not to his enemies, but ‘to Authority’ to be tried.”

This old tradition derives from well known pre-christian rites. Swire also reported that even in the 1960s here, “at funerals the coffin is always carried round the grave sun-wise before being laid in it.” An old cross placed in the Field of the Cross next to the stone was an attempt to tease folk away from heathen rites of the stone, but failed.

References:

  1. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Argyll – volume 2: Lorn, RCAHMS: Edinburgh 1974.
  2. Swire, O.F., The Inner Hebrides and their Legends, Collins: London 1964.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.534882, -5.479486 Clach na h-ealea

Achnacree, Achnacreebeag, Argyll

Chambered Cairn:  OS Grid Reference – NM 9227 3636

Also known as:

  1. Achnacridhe
  2. Canmore ID 23223
  3. Carn Ban
  4. Moss of Achnacree
  5. Ossian’s Cairn

Archaeology & History

Not to be confused with the Achnacreebeag chambered tomb a short distance to the east, Achnacree is  a site that has been made ruinous over the last 100 years, prior to which — as R.A. Smith’s (1885) illustration here shows — we had a quite grand prehistoric chambered cairn to behold. It’s still worth looking at though!

R.A. Smith’s old drawing
Smith’s early plan of the cairn

The once giant tomb is neolithic in age and nature, and was defined by Audrey Henshall (1972) as a passage grave of the Clyde Cairns group. It appears to have been built over two different periods: the earliest being when the first two internal chambers were done, “which in building technique and plan are comparable to a two-compartment Clyde-chamber and which may have been covered by a small cairn.” (RCAHMS 1974)  Much later, the long passage seems to have been added and built over the original chambers.

Although Smith (1885) and Henshall describe the large cairn, the Scottish Royal Commission (1974) entry gives the most succint archaeocentric summary of the site:

“The cairn is about 24.4m in diameter and now stands to a height of some 3.4m on the S and 4.1m on the NE, although it is said to have been about 4.6m high before excavation; it consists of small and medium-sized stones, interspersed with a few large boulders.  A low platform of cairn material, now grass-covered and about 1m high, extends round the base of the cairn and increases the overall diameter to about 40m.  The entrance to the passage is on the SE side of the cairn and is marked by four upright stones, one of which is now leaning out of position.  The central pair, set about 1.2m apart and protruding 1.3m and 0.4m above the cairn material, are the portal stones on either side of the passage, while the flanking pair may be the remains of a shallow forecourt.  The passage, which measured 6.4m in length and 0.6m in width, was constructed of upright slate slabs about 1m in height, and the roof was composed of similar slabs.  The excavator recorded that the passage was filled with stones, and these seem to indicate a deliberate blocking after the final burial-deposit.  The chamber comprised three compartments.  The outer, measuring 1.8m by 1.2m and about 2.1m in height, was constructed of upright slabs and drystone walling supplemented by corbelling, and was covered by a single capstone.  The central compartment, measuring 2m by 0.7m and 1.6m in height, was entered across a large transverse slab, and the entrance itself appeared to have been deliberately sealed with stones ‘built firmly in after the chamber had been completed.’  The sides of this chamber were formed of blocks of stone supplemented by dry-stone walling, and it was roofed by a singular capstone.  The inner compartment was entered across a sill-stone, and measured 1.4m by 0.9m and 1.7m in height.  A combination of slabs and dry-stone walling had been employed in its construction, and it was roofed by a single massive capstone some 0.4m thick.  Each side-wall was constructed of two slabs set lengthwise one above the other, in such a way that a narrow ledge was formed at their junction.  On these two ledges a number of white quartz pebbles had been deliberately deposited… Three neolithic pottery bowls were discovered in the course of the excavation — a fragmentary vessel from the outer compartment, and one complete and one fragmentary bowl from the inner compartment.”

These bowls were sent to Edinburgh’s National Museum of Antiquities soon after being found.

Folklore

Those of you into earthlights will like this one!  Also known as Carn Ban, or the White Cairn, aswell as Ossian’s Cairn, R. Angus Smith (1885:217) told how,

“it was curious…to listen to the superstitions that came out (about this tomb). One woman who lived here, and might therefore be considered an authority, said that she used to see lights upon it in dark nights.”

Another old local was truly terrified of the place, and said he would not enter this tomb for all the money in Lochnell Estate.

Regarding the various names given to the site, when Mr Smith (1885) wrote about it all those years ago, he told:

“We have often inquired the name of the cairn. The cairn really has had no definite name. Some people have called it Carn Ban or White Cairn, but that is evidently confusing it with the other cairn which we saw over the moss, and which is really whiter. Some people have called it Ossian’s Cairn, but that is not an old name, and even if it had been, we know that it is a common thing to attach this name to anything old.  We call it Achnacree Cairn, from the name of the farm on which it stands.”

References:

  1. Henshall, A.S., The Chambered Tombs of Scotland – volume 2, Edinburgh University Press 1972.
  2. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Argyll – Volume 2: Lorn, HMSO: Edinburgh 1974.
  3. Smith, R. Angus,”Descriptive List of Antiquities near Loch Etive,” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 9, 1870-72.
  4. Smith, R. Angus, Loch Etive and the Sons of Uisneach, Alexander Gardner: London 1885 (2nd edition).

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 

Dun Chathach, Connel, Argyll

Hillfort: OS Grid Reference – NM 9674 3401

Also known as:

  1. Canmore ID 23261
  2. Dun Cathich

Getting Here

Dun Chathach (drawn by Miss J. Knox Smith 1885)

Go up from Oban on the A85, past Connel and towards Taynuilt, keeping your eye out for where the train-line crosses the road. Just before this is a small road on your left leading down to the sea, with the train line running parallel all the way down. Go right to the end and then look up to the rocky rise a coupla hundred yards on where the train line runs out of view round the coastal edge. That’s it!

Archaeology & History

When Scottish writer and historian R. Angus Smith (1885) first saw this, the close arrangement and size of the stones that make up the edges of this dun made him think this was actually a stone circle up here.  Sadly it wasn’t to be.  Following an examination of the site in 1969 by members of the Scottish Royal Commission (Argyll – Volume 2, 1975), they described Dun Chathach as,

“circular in plan…measuring 18.3 metres in diameter externally. The wall, which has been about 3.4 metres in average thickness, is now reduced to a low grass-grown stony bank, but considerable stretches of the outer face are still visible in situ. Many of the facing stones, which lie as much as 1.6 metres below the level of the summit, are of massive proportions, the largest measuring 1.4 metres by 1.3 metres and 1 metre high. It is uncertain which of the three gaps now visible in the wall indicates the site of the original entrance.”

Folklore

Legend has it that this was a hill of battles.  It was also said by R. Angus Smith (1885) to “have been used as one of a chain of beacons,” with the next fire on being lit upon a small hill nearer Connel called Tom na h-aire, ‘the mound of watching.’

References:

  1. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, Argyll- volume 2, HMSO: 1974.
  2. Smith, R. Angus, Loch Etive and the Sons of Uisnach, Alexander Gardner: London & Paisley 1885.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.454189, -5.300001 Dun Chathach hillfort

Kilninver, Oban, Argyll

Standing Stone (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NM 8250 2207

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 22969

Archaeology & History

Marked on the earliest 6-inch Ordnance Survey map of this area (1875), this 4ft tall standing stone (now gone) once stood on the east bank of the River Euchar. The prehistoric cairn 400 yards to the west on the other side of the river would seem to have had some relationship with the stone, as they aligned to the equinoxes.

References:

  1. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Argyll – volume 2: Lorn, HMSO: Edinburgh 1974.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.340791, -5.520768 Kilninver

Invercharnan, Glen Etive, Argyll

Cairn:  OS Grid Reference – NN 1439 4761

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 23689

Getting Here

As you enter the top eastern end of Glencoe, take the only tiny road to your left (south) into Glen Etive, past the great Buachaille Etive Mor (she kills four or five folk a year, so a local told me, as if to remind me who’s boss!), past Dalness for another couple of miles until you hit Invercarnan (watch you don’t miss it). Behind you are the great falls screaming down the mountain slopes on Buachaille’s south-side; but on the east-side of the road another 500 yards down (you’ll have to gerrout and walk down near the riverside – if you hit the tidgy bridge, you’ve missed it) on the far side of the trees behind the singular house, the little mound can be seen.

Archaeology & History

Down this awesome valley (perhaps mi favourite – it’s difficult to say) is very very little in terms of ancient remains – at least according to the record books. I find this hard to believe. Etive is scattered with various ancient legends of hero-figures and mythical creatures, and harbours geological features, waterfalls and magic unlike anywhere else in these great mountains.  The tomb here is only a small one, but it’s pretty well-preserved.  It’s about 30 feet across and three or four feet high. Described by the Royal Commission lads, thus:

“One of the best-preserved cairns in Lorn is situated in pasture on the west bank of the River Etive, some 700m south of Invercharnan.  Bowl-shaped in profile, it measures 8.25m in diameter by 1.6m in height, and has been constructed with a kerb of boulders on which a second retaining course of stones has been carefully set.”

…Tis an utterly gorgeous arena. The cairn is good – but it’s the land upon which it rests that truly holds you. I was just ambling here – and the rain didn’t stop for three solid days, but I could have stayed amidst its blessing for an eternity. On the walk back up to my tent, two mature stags came out from the trees and enacted a play-fight right in front of me, careless of me being there.  It was utterly superb to watch!  I was saturated, cold, hungry – but watching this stopped it all.  I bimbled back to mi tent in that dreamy state beloved of such places when the elements are alive.

Anyway – back to normality!  Just north of the old tomb – which I didn’t know at the time as I had no decent map – is found the ‘Crag of the Cailleach’ (a favourite creature of mine); and there are also a couple of old fairy place-names a few hundred yards to the southeast.  There’s got to be more ancient stuff around here tat are off the record-books.  Bimbling expeditions are a-calling…!

References:

  1. Barnett, T. Ratcliffe, The Land of Lorne and the Isles of Rest, W. & R. Chambers: Edinburgh 1933.
  2. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Argyll – volume 2: Lorn, HMSO: Edinburgh 1974.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.583597, -5.023604 Invercharnan

Connel, Oban, Argyll

Standing Stone (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NM 9169 3408

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 23281

Archaeology & History

Connel stone on 1871 map

The Royal Commission for Historic Scotland (1974) recorded this “stone that formerly stood within the area now occupied by Connel Station,” which was thought to have been destroyed shortly before construction of the said building.  Thankfully the Ordnance Survey lads recorded its position on their cartographic ventures here in 1871.  Mr R.A. Smith (1874) also mentioned the site, albeit briefly, in his fine series of essays on the antiquities of Loch Etive, telling us:

“Above Connell Ferry we come to a small brook called Lusragan, and a few houses with a mill called Clachaleven. To the east, in a  field above the road, is a large standing stone, and around it marks where others, well remembered, lately stood.”

But sadly it seems, these have all gone.

References:

  1. Royal Commission for Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, Argyll – volume 2: Lorn, HMSO: Edinburgh 1974.
  2. Smith, R. Angus, “Descriptive List of Antiquities near Loch Etive, part 3,” in PSAS, 10, 1874.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.452715, -5.381718 Connel standing stone

Clach na h-ealea, Clachan, Lismore, Argyll

Legendary Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NM 8609 4342

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 23090
  2. Clach na h-eala
  3. Stone of the Swan
  4. Swan Stone

Archaeology & History

Although the lads at the Scottish Royal Commission (1974) initially described this site as a ‘Standing Stone’, it is in fact,

“an erratic boulder of granite roughly shaped in the form of a cross… It measures 0.8m in height, 0.6m in width at base, and 0.4m in width at the top…(and) the stone is supposed to have marked a boundary.”

The site was evidently of some mythic importance, as the great Cathedral of St. Moluag was built next to the stone — unless the giant cairn of Cnoc Aingil, 500 yards away, was to blame. A holy well of this saint’s name (an obvious heathen site beforehand) is also nearby.

Folklore

Although this stone was dedicated to swans, I’ve not found the story behind the name.  There were no buried swans here, but local tradition told that this old boulder could give sanctuary to anyone who touched it, or ran round it sunwise.  The Hebridean folklorist Otta Swire (1964) told that,

“anyone who claimed such sanctuary had his case considered by ‘the Elders.’ If they considered his plea justified, they ‘came out and walked sun-wise round the Swan Stone.’ If they did not approve of his right to sanctuary, they walked round it anti-clockwise and the man was then given over, not to his enemies, but ‘to Authority’ to be tried.”

This old tradition derives from well known pre-christian rites. Swire also reported that even in the 1960s here, “at funerals the coffin is always carried round the grave sun-wise before being laid in it.” An old cross placed in the Field of the Cross next to the stone was an attempt to tease folk away from heathen rites of the stone, but failed.

References:

  1. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Argyll – volume 2: Lorn, RCAHMS: Edinburgh 1974.
  2. Swire, O.F., The Inner Hebrides and their Legends, Collins: London 1964.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.534002, -5.480231 Clach na h-ealea

Cairnbane, Portnacroish, Argyll

Chambered Cairn (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NM 925 473

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 23301
  2. Karn Vain

Getting Here

Sadly this site can no longer be seen, but it was evidently something worth seeing in its day.  Twas found “on the north side of Loch Laich, opposite Castle Stalker.”

Archaeology & History

In 1758 W. Burrell wrote about “a very large circular heap of stones, called Cairnbane, in which are said to be several subterraneous apartments, the passages leading to them, supported by large beams of timber in some places, in others by large stones, the entrance is now closed with a stone.” But in 1760 Richard Pococke reported that he could enter the cairn, saying that,

“on the west side of it a little way up is a very difficult entrance which leads to a cell about two yards long and one and a half broad, a this by a sort of door place to another about the same dimensions. I observed in some parts the stones on the side are laid flat, in others edge way, and a little sloping, and large stones are laid across on the top; To the north of it is a low heap of stones, in which three mouths of entrances are very visible, and there seemed to be two more; …the large one is twelve yards long at the top and about a yard broad: It is not improbable that these cells were built all round and several stories of them one over another.”

Explorations here by A.S. Henshall and the Royal Commission for Historic Scotland were unable to find the site and it has been deemed missing or destroyed.  I have yet to seek out any folklore relating to this lost site, but would be very surprised if there wasn’t something loitering in some of the old tongues and tomes!

References:

  1. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Argyll – volume 2: Lorn, HMSO: Edinburgh 1975.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.571859, -5.379108 Cairnbane chambered cairn

Acharra, Duror, Argyll

Standing Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NM 9866 5455

Also known as:

  1. Achara

Getting Here

Not hard to find really.  From Ballachulish, take the western coastal road south, as if you’re going to Oban.  After about 5 miles you’ll hit the lovely hamlet of Duror (nowt much here: a hotel, small school and a few cottages).  Stop here and walk across the River Duror.  A couple of fields down on your left-hand side you’ll see what you’re looking for!

Archaeology & History

Described as “one of the most impressive standing stones in Lorn,” northern Argyll, it “is situated in a level field 180m NW of Acharra. It measures 3.7m in height and 1.1m by 0.6 m at the base, and tapers to a pointed top about 0.4m in thickness; the long axis lies NE and SW.”

Aubrey Burl (Thom, Thom & Burl 1990) thought: “it is possible that this, and other stones near Loch Creran, once marked a prehistoric trackway, 4.5 miles in length.”

Folklore

On the potential folklore side of this monolith, Burl mentions how this monolith – also known as the Hard Stone – “and the site on which it stands, is called Cnoc nam Aingeal, or ‘Angel’s Hillock.'”  Does anyone know the story behind this?

References:

  1. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Argyll: volume 2 – Lorn, HMSO: Edinburgh 1974.
  2. Thom, A., Thom, A.S. & Burl, A., Stone Rows and Standing Stones, BAR: Oxford 1990.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.639389, -5.284792 Acharra standing stone

Achacha, Barcaldine, Argyll

Standing Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NM 9444 4075

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 23330

Getting Here

Not quite halfway along the A828 road between Oban and Ballachulish, just before the village of Barcaldine, a large expanse of forested land unfurls on the slopes to your left (east). You can either just walk straight into the woods and follow your nose, or do the easier thing and head up the track into the woods from Mill Farm. As you walk up, keep an eye out for where the open land to your left starts fading. Once here, head straight north into the trees (it’s not too bad and a few animal paths help you along the way). Walk into the trees for a couple of hundred yards and look around. If you hit the triangulation pillar (Cnoc Reamhar), walk back 100 yards.

Archaeology & History

There are actually two monuments here: a small overgrown cairn not far from the forest edge, kerbed with several large boulders between one and three feet high – 15 of which were still in situ in 1974 – with the inner section lower than the surrounding stones. The other more impressive site and much easier to locate is the tall standing stone, nearly 8 feet tall, about 100 yards east of the cairn.

I liked the feel of this place. There’s good clean waters all round, a coupla decent little waterfalls close by, an abundance of healthy wildlife and an old holy well apparently dedicated to St. Columba in the trees a short distance away, though I never got a look at it.

References:

  1. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, Argyll – volume 2, HMSO: Edinburgh 1974.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.513789, -5.342546 Achacha standing stone