Take the A917 road southeast out of St Andrews, heading towards the hamlet of Boarhills about 4 miles away. However, about a half-mile before you get to Boarhills, keep your eyes peeled for a small minor road on your right, signposted to Dunino, 3 miles. Go along here for about 350 yards where you’ll reach a track cutting across the road. Walk up the gently sloping field here on your right and you’ll see, 400 yards from the road whence you’ve parked, a tall thin upright stone standing alone…
Archaeology & History
Highlighted on the 1893 and 1896 OS-maps (as merely a “Stone”), this tall and incredibly skinny standing stone has seen better days. After many-a-millenia, the god of storms cut the stone to the ground not too many years ago, leaving it broken in the middle o’ the field where once it stood. Thankfully however, local folk ensured that it was eventually resurrected and fixed into position once more, albeit in a somewhat ugly cage—or corset as Mr Hornby called it!
The Royal Commission (1933) lads checked the stone out for inclusion in one of their damn good surveys, they told us the following:
“About midway between the farms of Polduff and Peekie, and on the south side of the Anstruther and St Andrews Railway, 200 feet above sea level, there is a fine block of red sandstone, which rises to a height of just over 9 above ground. It averages 4¼ inches in thickness and measures 2 feet 4 inches wide across the broad faces. The stone has been set up with the major axis north-east and south-west and has been well packed round the base with smaller stones.”
Interestingly—to me anyhow—when the monolith was recently stood back in its upright position, the archaeo’s found a spring of water beneath it. Many dowsers (and I don’t mean the ones who fallaciously reckon they’re finding ‘energy lines’ all over the place) have found the crossing of underwater streams and water sources to be a common feature beneath megalithic sites.
In Richard Batchelor’s (1997) short work on the ancient sites of this area, he calls attention to what a Mr N. Dow thought was a ley-line passing from the cairn on top of Kellie Hill 4¾ miles (7.64km) away, northeast to the Peekie Stone, and which Mr Batchelor points out is close to the major lunar standstill.
Batchelor, Richard A., Origin of St Andrews, Shieling: St Andrews 1997.
Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, Inventory of Monuments and Constructions in the Counties of Fife, Kinross and Clackmannan, HMSO: Edinburgh 1933.
Acknowledgements: Huge thanks to Paul Hornby for use of his photos.
From Kilmartin go north on the A816 Oban road, and after 1½ miles watch out for the small B840 road on your right, to Ford and Loch Awe. Less than a mile along the winding road, just after the track to the farmhouse on your left, keep your eyes peeled for the standing stone on your right, whose top is peeking over the old walling. If you’re not careful you’ll miss it!
Archaeology & History
From the roadside this looks like just a reasonably small standing stone, but closer inspection shows it’s been snapped halfway up—apparently in a great storm in December 1879. If you look over the wall, just a couple of yards behind the upright you’ll see the larger section of stone that was attached to the 6-foot upright before its calamitous fall. Originally it was said to have been 16 feet tall!
The first description of the stone is thought to be by the great J. Romilly Allen (1880) in his brief visit to Ford, saying simply that the stone “is close to the road on the east side, 1 mile from Ford. It is 14 feet high and 3 feet by 4 feet at the base. The material is slate. It inclines considerably from the perpendicular”—meaning, that he saw it before the stone had been broken. Lucky bugger!
More than twenty years later David Christison (1904) visited the site and wrote his of his finds in an essay for the Society of Antiquaries, although in truth he said little more than anyone before and after has been able to say:
“A mile and a quarter south-south-west of Ford Church, 130 yards east by south of Creagantairbh Beag farmhouse, close to the west side of the highway, stands the base of an obelisk, at the foot of which the shaft lies prostrate. The base is 5 feet 6 inches high,’and has an oblique ledge, half way up on to which the shaft would accurately fit. If restored, the height of the stone would be 16 feet 2 inches above ground, and it must have had a very handsome appearance, tapering in width as it gradually does from 2 feet 6 inches to 2 feet. It is 18 inches thick at the base and 10 inches to 12 inches at the top.”
The name Creagantairbh derives from the Crag of the Bull, which is the sharp hill immediately in front of you to the north; and its geological consort, the Creag a’ Chapuill (or Crag of the Horse) rises to its immediate northwest. A few hundred yards further along the road towards Ford is the large Auchinellan standing stone.
When I lived in Ford many years ago, the olde folk told me how, in bygone centuries, bulls were sacrificed on the Creagantairbh above.
Various ways to get here. From Peebles take the A72 road west to Kirkurd, but after 4 miles turn left onto B712. Several miles down, go past Stobo village and before crossing the bridge over the River Tweed, turn left up minor road leading to Dreva and Broughton. The track into Altarstone Farm is about a mile along and the stone is across the road from there. The other way is going south along the A701 from Broughton village, where you take the left turn towards Stobo. Go along here for just over 3 miles where you reach the woodland (park here where the small track goes into the woods). A coupla hundred yards further along is Altar Stone Farm on your right and the stone is above the verge on your left.
Archaeology & History
Archaeologically speaking, there’s nowt much to say about this site apart from the usual tedium of its measurements and the rock-type. I’ll give the latter a miss, but the stone stands at nearly five feet high and nearly as broad; with its upper face relatively smooth and the top of it pretty flat. A section from the top of this stone was cut and sliced off a few centuries ago and this was said to have been taken to Stobo church a few miles away, where it was fashioned into a stone font for baptisms. If this is true, then it’s possible that this was once an authentic prehistoric standing stone, but we’ll probably never know for certain. Also on top of the stone you can see a number of geophysical scratches, one of which looks as if it may have been worked by human hands and which has some relevance to the folklore of the stone.
It is shown on the 1859 OS-map of the area and was mentioned in the Ordnance Name Book where they told how it was “supposed to have formed the Altar of a druids Temple or some such object,” but they could find no local verification of such lore at the time of their visit… or at least, no one was telling them anything about it…
This fascinating bit of rock—or possible sliced standing stone—is of note due to its association with that old shaman of shamans known as Merlin! Near the end of His days, when He’d truly retired from the world of men and wandered, they say, mad amidst the great lowland forests, an old christian dood by the name of Kentigern—later known as St Mungo—who’d been trying to convert our old magickian away from the animistic ways of Nature. Legend says that He succeeded. The old Scottish traveller Ratcliffe Barnett (1925) wrote:
“Merlin is the real genius of Drumelzier. Dumelzier means the Ridge of Meldred, a pagan prince of the district. And it was Meldred’s shepherds that slew Merlin the bard. The heathen bard was present at the battle of Arthuret in the year 573, when the christian army gained a victory over the Heathen Host. Merlin fled to the forest of Caledon at Drumelzier and there ever after the old Druid spent his life among the wild hills with a repute for insanity. This poet priest was doubtless heart-broken at the defeat of his pagan friends. The old order was changing. But the christian king had brought his friend, St Kentigern or Munro, to preach the gospel in upper Tweedside at Stobo. One day Kentigern met a weird-looking man and demanded who he was. “Once I was the prophet of Vortigern (Gwendollen). My name is Merlin. Now I am in these solitudes enduring many privations.”
“So Kentigern preached the gospel to the old nature worshipper and won him to Christ. Up yonder, at the east end of the Dreva road, you will find the rude Altar Stone where, it is said, Kentigern received the Druid into the christian church and dispensed the sacrament. But in those dark days of the faith, the Druids and their pagan adherents fought hard against the new religion. So immediately after the admission of Merlin to the Church, the shepherds of Meldred sought him out, stoned him to death on the haugh of Drumelzier, and there, where the Powsail Burn falls quietly into Tweed, Merlin the Martyr was buried. For long his grave was marked by a hawthorn tree.”
These shepherds were said to have stoned him and then threw his body upon a sharp stake and then into the stream. (stone – wood – water)
If there is any hint of truth in this tale, it is unlikely Merlin would have given himself over to the christian ways unless—as any shaman would—he knew of his impending death. In which case it would have done him no harm to pretend a final allegiance to the unnatural spirituality that was growing in the land. But whatever he may have been thinking, it is said that this Altar Stone was where he made such a deed.
An equally peculiar legend—variations of which are found at a number of places in the hills of northern England and Scotland—speaks of another shamanic motif, i.e., of humans changing into animals and back. For here, legend tells, an old witch was being chased (by whom, we know not) across the land. She’d turned herself into the form of a hare and, as she crossed over the Altar Stone, her claws dug so deeply into the rock that they left deep scars that can still be seen to this day. From here, the hare scampered at speed downhill until reaching the River Tweed at the bottom, whereupon transforming itself back into the form of the witch, who promptly fled into the hills above on the far side of the river.
One final thing mentioned by Barnett (1943) was the potential oracular property of the Altar Stone:
“You have to only place your hand on top of this rude altar, shut your eyes, and if you have the gift you will see visions.”
Ardrey, Adam, Finding Merlin, Mainstream 2012.
Barnett, Ratcliffe, Border By-Ways and Lothian Lore, John Grant: Edinburgh 1925.
Buchan, J.W. & Paton, H., A History of Peeblesshire – volume 3, Glasgow 1927.
Crichton, Robin, On the Trail of Merlin in a Dark Age, R. Crichton 2017.
Glennie, John Stuart, Arthurian Localities, Edmonston & Douglas: Edinburgh 1869.
Moffat, Alistair, Arthur and the Lost Kingdoms, Phoenix: London 1999.
Rich, Deike & Begg, Ean, On the Trail of Merlin, Aquarian: London 1991.
Wheatley, Henry B., Merlin, or, The Early History of King Arthur – 2 volumes, Trubner: London 1865.
Acknowledgements: Big thanks for use of the 1st edition OS-map in this site profile, Reproduced with the kind permission of the National Library of Scotland.
Go up the B822 road from Fintry for literally 2.5 miles (about 500 yards below the small copse of trees that almost hide Balafark Farm above you) and at a very small ‘parking’ spot are 2 farm-gates. Go through the lower of the two and head downhill, crossing the small burn and up the other side for just over 100 yards where you’ll meet a very low, old and very overgrown wall. Keep your eyes peeled for it! Walk left along this wall, uphill, for another 100 yards till you meet a a dried-up dyke that runs downhill. 10-15 yards down this, a small stone greets you…
Archaeology & History
It’s difficult to call this a ‘standing stone’ and, as far as I’m concerned, is even more troublesome to cite it as a legitimate prehistoric monument. Nevertheless it is shown on the modern OS-maps as such and was listed by the Royal Commission (1963:1) lads in their standing stones inventory. But it’s really pushing it to be honest! They told us:
“This stone stands about 180 yds NW of a gate which opens off the Fintry-Kippen road, 340 yds N of its crossing of the Lernock Burn. It is triangular in profile and wedge-shaped in section, measuring 3’3″ both in height and breadth along its base, by 1’7″ in greatest thickness. It may well have been a boundary stone as it is near the corner of some ground which is enclosed by a turf dyke and has been cultivated.”
In truth, if we call this a standing stone, then there are hundreds of others that I’ve come across over the years—frobbling off-path across huge swathes of moorland—that must also be added to our prehistoric inventories, as the height of this isolated rock is echoed in countless others which are off the archaeological listings. One such stone ‘stands’ 100 yards northeast of here—although there are many others with much greater potential. …I think the only thing that may sway this as being a possible prehistoric upright is the fact that the top of the stone appears to have been broken off, albeit a few hundred years ago if the weathering is owt to go by. But a cursory look for any broken top-piece found nothing.
Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments Scotland, Stirling – volume 1, HMSO: Edinburgh 1963.
This stone circle was found close to the roadside and is remembered today only by the street-name of ‘Pipers Stones’. Shown on the first OS-map of the area, the site was destroyed sometime before 1838.
In a folklore motif found at a number of megalithic rings, Grogan & Kilfeather (1997) tell us that the name of this circle,
“refers to a tradition that people caught dancing on a Sunday were turned to stone.”
Grogan, Eion & Kilfeather, Annaba, Archaeological Inventory of County Wicklow, Stationery Office: Dublin 1997.
o’ Flanagan, Michael, Letters Containing Information Relative to the Antiquities of the County of Wicklow, Bray 1928.
Travelling north from Perth on the A94, take the left hand turn to Strelitz as you go into Burrelton, and follow that road for two miles, and park up about 300 yards past the turning to Gallowhill. The circle stood at the far end (south-east) of the field on your left. Keep the distant gap in the hills in sight and the probable site of the circle is in a dip in the land in front of the ditch.
History & Archaeology
The circle had been destroyed by the middle of the nineteenth century, but was remembered by locals who gave this description to the Ordnance Survey bods:
‘The authorities quoted says that this is the site of a number of standing stones, they formed a circle, and one stood in the centre and according to tradition they were the remains of a Druidical Temple.’
In 1969 an Ordnance Survey archaeologist wrote:
‘There is no trace of this circle, the site being in a level arable field. Immediately to the SE in a ditch running parallel to the fence are about a dozen large boulders cleared from the field, possibly from the site of the circle.’
The boulders have now gone but there are some broken stones on the banks of the drainage ditch which may or may not be the sorry remains of some of the stones. There is a depression in the field just in front of the ditch which is the likely site of the circle based on the position shown on the 1867 map.
What is interesting is the gap in the horizon facing south east from the site of the circle. On the left of the gap is Black Hill, and on the right Dunsinane Hill of Macbeth fame. My reading of the angle from the probable site of the circle to the gap using a hand held compass was around 135° to 140°, and that may indicate a midwinter sunrise alignment from the lost circle. Something to be checked out when winter comes.
And there is a legend of a giant who leaped from Black Hill to Dunsinane who also tossed a boulder which stands between the two hills – whether this legend has anything to do with the possible solstitial sighting line from East Whitehill is an intriguing question.
Travelling north, turn right to Wolfhill off the A93 at Cargill, then up the hill, turning left at the first junction. The stones are buried in the field to your left before the bend.
Archaeology & History
The earliest description of these stones, and the only one written while they were still standing comes from J.P.Bannerman, writing in the Old Statistical Account in 1793:
‘Near the village of Cargill may be seen some erect stones of considerable magnitude, having the figure of the moon and stars cut out on them, and are probably the rude remains of Pagan superstition. The corn-field where these stones stand is called the Moonshade to this day.’
Later writers, who only had verbal reports of the stones from locals who remembered them, gave differing descriptions of them. The people who spoke to the Ordnance Survey name book scouts around 1860, described them as:
‘Moonshade – “This name is applied to an arable field immediately west of Gallowhill. Two large Standing Stones having the representation of the Moon and 7 Stars cut out on one of them were removed from this field about 60 years ago.”‘
The local antiquary Andrew Jervise wrote in 1861 that the stones were:
‘interesting relics….purposely buried below the reach of the plough, appear to have been of the same class of antiquities as the sculptured stones at Meigle and, from the desire which is now being manifested for the preservation of national antiquities, it is hoped that those relics will soon be disinterred, so that their symbols may be properly examined.’
Or as another writer puts it, they were; ‘dug around and under, and buried, in the agricultural improvement of theground’. For all we know from the written descriptions that have come down to us the stones may be prehistoric monoliths, with it seems only one of them carved. As they stood alongside the Roman road from Muthill to Kirriemuir, the moon and stars may have been cut by the Romans, or they could equally have been from the hand of a Pictish or later mediaeval mason. The field in which they stood was alternatively known as ‘Moonstone Butts’ or ‘Moonbutts’ – where the local archers practised.
While the word ‘moonshade’ doesn’t appear in Jamieson’s Scottish Dictionary, nor the online Dictionaries of the Scots Language, the Oxford English Dictionary defines it as an obsolete word for ‘nightshade’, citing a quotation from Sir Francis Bacon’s Sylva Sylvarum of 1627:
‘The Ointment, that Witches use, is reported to be made, of the Fat of Children, digged out of their Graves; Of the juyces of Smallage, Wolfe- bane, And Cinquefoile; Mingled with the meale of fineWheat. But I suppose that the Soperiferous Medicines are likest to doe it; Which are Henbane, Hemlocke, Mandrake, Moone-Shade, Tobacco, Opium, Saffron, Poplar- Leaves.’
Given the stones are in the Perthshire witch country (the Witches Stone of Shakespeare’s Macbeth is only 2½ miles due south of here), this is nevertheless almost certainly a ‘red herring’, with the field deriving its name from the carvings on the stone. Only when we can again see the Moonshade Stones, ‘digged out of their grave’ will we be able to begin to understand them. So will there be any motivation to excavate them?
This stone circle was destroyed sometime in the early 1780s by some moron who cared little for our ancient sites. Its destruction was described by Robert Muter in 1794—the earliest known reference to the site—when he told:
“Near the Roman camp there is a Druidical temple, which was destroyed within these eight years, by the hands of an ignorant Goth, who carried off the stones, split them, and applied them to build a contemptible bridge over an insignificant rivulet, called Buckland Burn. The stones were seven in number, of round granite, and of unequal sizes. The smallest at least three feet in diameter.”
In the 1850s, when the Ordnance Survey lads came this way to map and seek out the place-names of the area, the ‘Clownstane’ was one such place they listed. In seeking an explanation of the word, a local man told them the folk memory from seventy years prior:
“Mr. Bell of Balgreddan says the name Clownstane originated from the Stones of a Druid Circle which stood convenient to this place and which was broken up and removed to build a bridge near by.”
Fred Coles (1895) included the site in his survey of the Kirkcudbright circles, simply reiterating how,
“According to Dr Muter, the stones “were seized by some vandal for the building of Buckland Bridge.””
Stone Circle (destroyed): OS Grid Reference – NX 691 447
Archaeology & History
In an area littered with neolithic and Bronze Age remains, the great Fred Coles (1895) reported a stone circle that was destroyed sometime roughly between 1890 and 1911. When he visited the place with his colleague, Mr E.A. Hornel in 1887, the megalithic ring had already been tampered with. It was, he said,
“found to consist of five granite boulders, all of them large, in situ, and the ridgy grassy hollows of five others—removed, no one can say when. In the centre of this nearly true circle, 90 feet in diameter, is a slight mound, possibly artificial.”
In 1911, when the Royal Commission lads visited the area, they could find no stone circle and reported how “no information could be obtained concerning it” from the local farmer. This might have been because he destroyed it. Some land-owners do such things, as we know; but in this case we may never know.
The site was listed without comment in the Master’s magnum opus (Burl 2000), but he gave it the “uncertain status” category; whilst John Barnatt (1989) questioned whether this was a destroyed stone circle or merely a natural setting that Cole had misinterpreted.
Barnatt, John, Stone Circles of Britain– volume 2, BAR: Oxford 1989.
Burl, Aubrey, The Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany, Yale University Press 2000.
Crosses / Legendary Rocks (destroyed): OS Grid Reference – SE 1975 2909
Archaeology & History
Not to be confused with a much more renowned namesake above Ilkley, this was the name given to two old stones that once existed in the middle of the East Bierley hamlet (as it was then) southeast of Bradford. They were two large boulders next to each other, not far from the early farmstead of Cross House (see map, right) and were described in James Parker’s (1904) historic collage of the area, where he informed us that:
“On the village green (are) the primitive large stones locally called the “Cow and Calf stones,” which used to be in days gone by a Preaching Cross and Market Cross.”
When William Cudworth (1876) described the place nearly thirty years prior, he only mentioned a single cross, telling us:
“There is a lane which has long been called Kirkgate at Birkenshaw, leading up to an ancient cross on the hill. The fact of this cross being on the hill must have given rise to the name Kirk (church) gate, as there was not, until a few years ago, any church at Birkenshaw. In a previous paper we had occasion to notice the existence of the cross as an evidence of a pre-church period.”
The meaning behind the name Cow & Calf is unexplained by our respective authors, although Cudworth’s citation of “the cross as an evidence of a pre-church period” is probably not without merit here. It seems very likely that the animal names of the two large stones—akin to the Cow & Calf Rocks at Ilkley and others of the same name elsewhere in the country—that sat near the top of the hill, probably possessed a creation myth similar to others of the same name. From this, it seems logical that local folk held the rocks as important, which would have obviously attracted the regressive attention of Church; so they stuck a cross here to christianize the place and in doing so ensured that local people could continue using the place as a meeting place. This practice (as if you didn’t already know) was widespread.
Although Mr Cudworth seems to give the first real account of the place, field-name records of 1567 listed a ‘Cowrosse’, which may have been the “cross on the Cow” stone. A.H. Smith (1961) listed the site and suggested the element –rosse may derive from a local dialect word meaning a marsh, but a ‘cow’s marsh‘ seems a little odd. It is perhaps just as likely that an error was made in the writing of rosse instead of crosse.
Cudworth, William, Round about Bradford, Thomas Brear: Bradford 1876.
Parker, James, Illustrated History from Hipperholme to Tong, Percy Lund: Bradford 1904.
Smith, A.H., The Place-Names of the West Riding of Yorkshire – volume 3, Cambridge University Press 1961.