Cow and Calf Stones, East Bierley, West Yorkshire

Crosses / Legendary Rocks (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – SE 1975 2909

Archaeology & History

Site location at Cross House

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.

References:

  1. Cudworth, William, Round about Bradford, Thomas Brear: Bradford 1876.
  2. Parker, James, Illustrated History from Hipperholme to Tong, Percy Lund: Bradford 1904.
  3. Smith, A.H., The Place-Names of the West Riding of Yorkshire – volume 3, Cambridge University Press 1961.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian 

 

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  53.757799, -1.701925 Cow & Calf Stones

Hangie’s Stone, Cargill, Perthshire

Standing Stone: OS Grid Reference – NO 15751 35578 

Also Known as:

  1. Gallowshade
  2. Canmore ID 28479

Getting Here

Turn right off the A93 at Cargill onto the side road by Keepers  Cottage and up the hill to Gladsfield Wood at the top on your right. Park up at the top side of the Wood and walk straight along the narrow track for around 450 yards and what may be the remains of the stone will be seen between a pair of mature trees.

Archaeology & History

In 1862 the stone was described in the Ordnance Survey Name Book for Perthshire:

‘And about 150 yards from the same object [Hangie’s Well], in a north-westerly direction, there is a small Standing Stone, having the appearance of the ancient monumental standing stones.’

It seems the stone had been removed by the time Fred Coles (1909) came to see it nearly fifty years later.  He told us:

“On the day of my visit the mist was so abnormally dense and confusing that it was with considerable difficulty the wood itself was identified; and as its interior is an utter wilderness of trees, shrubs, brambles, broom, wild roses and tall grass, besides being a pheasantry, it is just possible that the monolith searched for evaded my zeal.  I think not, however, because, hearing a hedger at work on the Newbigging side of the wood, I made for him; and after plying him with various questions, could get no statement to the effect that he had, though living so near, ever seen any conspicuously tall Stone in the wood.

“On retracing my steps, I searched a fresh portion of the wood, and noticed one biggish block of whinstone lying on the grass in a slight hollow of the ground. It was somewhat cubical, about 2 feet 6 inches square, and fractured.  This may he a portion of the former monolith, possibly; and with this dubious result I had to be content.”

In 1967 the archaeologist O.G.S. Crawford described “a sharp-edged boulder standing near the spot marked on the map,” but was not certain if it was the stone.  It had no markings on it.

25 in OS map of 1866 showing original position of stone outlined red and position of possible remains of stone in green

Moving on to 2020, and I found the same impenetrable jungle that Coles described more than a century earlier.  When a site has been destroyed I can normally take a photograph of where it once was, but not in this case.  I continued westward over difficult and potentially ankle snapping terrain that had recently been replanted with conifer saplings, until I got out of the planting area to a line of mature trees next to the track through the wood.

One large elongated stone presented itself that had clearly lain there for many years judging from the moss growth, a short distance away at NO 15641 35478.  Could this be the top part of the standing stone, dragged from its original position some 500 feet to the north-east?  It is of grey whinstone, heavily veined at the base, with white quartz and tapering to a pointed tip.  It has a squarish base measuring approximately 3 feet across by at least 2 feet deep and is some 7 feet in length.  It doesn’t look to be natural, so is it a likely candidate for our missing stone?  Felled by a man with a hammer and chisel and dragged by a heavy horse to the edge of the field as part of the ‘improvements’, so beloved of nineteenth century landowners…

We can’t prove it is the remains of Hangie’s Stone which may, after all, still lie buried in the boscage…

The possible remains of Hangie’s Stone

The stone in its original position was next to the Roman road from Camelon via Stirling and Muthill to Kirriemuir near to the junction of a road to Inchtuthill Roman Fort, so may have once been a way marker, although it is not of Roman origin.

References:

  1. Coles, Fred R., “Stone Circles Surveyed in Perthshire (South-east District),” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries Scotland, volume 43, 1909.
  2. Margary, Ivan D, Roman Roads in Britain, John Baker: London 1973.
  3. Ordnance Survey Name Book
  4. Sedgley, Jeffrey P., The Roman Milestones of Britain, BAR Reports No. 18: Oxford 1975.

© Paul T Hornby 2021

 

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  56.504697, -3.370345 Hangies Stone

Clach na Sgoltadh, Bridge of Balgie, Perthshire

Legendary Rock:  OS Grid Reference – NN 61080 46501

Also Known as:

  1. Fionn’s Stone
  2. Praying Hands of Mary 

Getting Here

Clach na Sgoltadh, Glen Lyon (photo – Lisa Samson)

From Fortingall take the road into the legendary Glen Lyon.  About 8 miles along, a short distance past the Adamnan’s Cross standing stone, you reach the tiny hamlet of Camusvrachan.  On your left is a singular dirt-track, past some cottages.  Go along here and over the river bridge until you reach the junction on the other side.  From here, turn right and a half-mile on when you reach the farm and manor-house on your right, park up.  From here you’ll see a track going uphill.  Walk straight up and after a half-mile or so, keep your eyes peeled to your right.  You cannot fail to see this impressive giant on the slopes above you!

Archaeology & History

This is a truly mighty monolith! — a beauty no less!  Standing upon a rocky ridge nearly halfway along the glen, the landscape it looks across is, without doubt, some of the finest in the British Isles.  To our ancestors who, until just two hundred years ago peopled this and nearby glens in great numbers, this great stone would have been well known and had old myths told of it.  Today we have only bare fragments.

Clach na Sgoltadh (photo by James Elkington)
Clach na Sgoltadh (photo by James Elkington)

To give an ‘archaeological survey’ of any kind to this site would seem somewhat of an anathema, as it is generally deemed to be little other than one of Nature’s incredible creations.  We’ll come to that in a minute.  But what is quite certain is that a line of very old and very low-lying walling runs from up the slope and almost straight down to Clach na Sgoltadh.  You can see it pretty clearly in the photograph below.  The walling stops at the giant stone and continues no further downhill from the other side of the giant upright.

Walk diagonally down the slope about 30 yards south-east from the stone and you’ll find a small but distinctly man-made ring of stones, low to the ground, with an entrance on its northeastern side.  It’s somewhat of a puzzle as it’s too small for a hut circle (I laid down in it in various ways and found you’d have to lie foetal all night if you were to use it as  your own little abode), and it equally too small as an animal pen – unless it was for just one animal, which is most unlikely.  The small circular construction wouldn’t seem to be prehistoric, but it would be good to know what it is.

So, we do have some very slight archaeological association with the site, albeit minimal, with the very ancient walling that leads to the stone being the most intriguing.

Small stone ‘hut’
Low line of walling

The stone is generally attributed to be a geological creation.  I certainly cannot say, as I have no expertise in the subject.  However, in the opinion of just about everyone with whom I’ve visited this stone, I seem to be the only one who doesn’t think it’s man-made.  A number of people have each insisted to me that it’s been stood upright by humans due to the quite distinct ‘squaring’ of the upright stone, particularly at the north-facing base.  —and been seemingly bemused at my own lack of conviction.  It does look as if it could have been cut and squared just as they all say but, let me repeat, I’m no expert at geology, and so all I can say is that I simply don’t know one way or the other. (useless prick that I am!)

“Perhaps a stone mason might know?” someone suggested—which seemed to be a good idea.  Certainly a stone mason would surely be able to tell if it had been cut and dressed at the base, where it fits into the large earthfast rock….

Cue Chris Swales: a reputable stone mason from near Skipton, North Yorkshire.  Chris and his friends took a week long whistle-stop tour in and around the Loch Tay region and thought they’d visit Glen Lyon.  I heard about this and so asked him if he’d have the time to visit this stone giant and, if possible, let us know his opinion: is is a natural obelisk, or does it look to have been erected by humans?  I told him my opinion and that of the geologists who give it an entirely natural provenance.

It was a few weeks later when he got back in touch and I asked him if he’d been up to Clach na Sgoltadh.

“I did,” he said. “it’s bloody impressive Paul.  And what a gorgeous landscape too.  I’d love to go there again.”

“Aye, it is Chris. And what did you think of the giant stone then?  In your opinion is it man-made or natural?”

“Well I don’t know for certain Paul,” he said, “but in my opinion I’m 95% sure that it’s man-made.”  He said it plain as day, just like a typical daan-to-Earth Yorkshireman.  Chris isn’t into any the energy ley-line stuff, so his words carry more weight than those who wanna spice-up a site by projecting their own beliefs onto a place.  As a result, I was somewhat taken aback by his words.

“What—are you sure Chris?!” I asked.

Cut & dressed stone?

“Like I said – I’m not 100% sure Paul.  I can’t really say it 100% – but I’m 95% certain that people cut and dressed the base of that stone and put it there.  If it’s natural, then I’d like to know how they think that’s the case.  I’m willing to be shown otherwise, but in my opinion, on the whole, it’s man-made.  People stuck that stone there!”

It would be great to get another stone mason’s opinion about this site; and it would definitely be good to read a geological viewpoint, but I’m not aware of any papers regarding this stone. (does anyone know of any?)  For my part:  I can only reiterate that I’m ‘unsure’ whether or not this is man-made.  I’m simply not qualified to give an objective opinion.

The curious thing is:  if this is Nature’s handiwork, then it would have been held in greater reverence to our ancestors than if it had been erected by people.  Impressive creations of Nature were always deemed to be inhabited by genius loci of truly archaic potency.  And in these deep impressive mountains, where the names of nature spirits still abound, this—without doubt!—would have been a place of considerable awe and sanctity.  May it remain as such…

Folklore

Looking to the west immediately uphill and behind Clach na Sgoltadh is the rising rounded hill of Creag nan Eildeag.  Legend has it that the great Celtic hero Fionn stood atop of this crag and fired one of his arrows at the stone, splitting it in half and leaving the stone as we see it today.

In a small cleft in the stone, quartz deposits can be seen along with an effigy of the Virgin Mary.  However, the title of the Praying Hands of Mary is a modern attribution and has no historical or mythic veracity.

References:

  1. Stewart, Alexander, A Highland Parish; or, The History of Fortingall, Alex MacLaren: Glasgow 1928.

Links:

  1. Clach na Sgoltadh on The Megalithic Portal

Acknowledgements:   Huge thanks to James Elkington and Lisa Samson for use of their photos.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.589784, -4.263771 Clach na Sgoltadh

Ferntower carving, Crieff, Perthshire

Cup-Marked Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NN 87415 22626

Getting Here

From Crieff central, take the A85 road east out of town where the golf club is on your left.  Park up and ask the helpful lads who work in the shop, who’ll direct you to the standing stones on the golf course.  The cupmark is on the second stone along the row of stones from the direction you’ve approached from.

Archaeology & History

Here’s another one of those petroglyphs only of interest to those with the madness in their bloodstream!  Found within the ruins of the Ferntower megalithic ring is a distinct single cupmark on what John Coles (1911) called ‘Stone D’ in his survey:

The stone in question
Cupmark, lower centre

“Stone D, a boulder of whinstone also containing seams of quartz, 5 feet 6 inches in length and breadth, and 2 feet 3 inches above ground.  At some period the intention of blasting this block must have been considered, for there is the beginning of a jumper-hole near the centre of its upper surface.  Close to this unmistakably modern hole there is one single genuine cup-mark about 1¼ inch in diameter.”

A note of this was also made when Aubrey Burl (1988) surveyed the site, who pointed out that in accordance with a characteristic found at other ‘four poster’ stone circles, the carving is “another example of a decorated stone on the eastern side” (my italics) of such a ring.

Folklore

Although we have nothing specifically relating to the carving, it’s worth noting that when we visited the stone circle, the groundsman told us that it had been a place where local people gathered at summer solstice.

References:

  1. Burl, Aubrey, Four Posters, BAR: Oxford 1988.
  2. Coles, Fred, “Report on Stone Circles Surveyed in Perthshire, Principally Strathearn” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 45, 1911.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.382465, -3.824887 Ferntower carving

Clach Mhallaichte, Cromarty, Ross & Cromarty

Legendary Rock:  OS Grid Reference – NH 7949 6746

Also Known as:

  1. Clach Mallach
  2. Clach na Mallachd
  3. Clackmalloch Rock
  4. Stone of Cursing

Archaeology & History

Stone shown on 1880 map

This large boulder found off the Cromarty coast, was highlighted on the 1880 OS-map of the region.  It is one of the ancient boundary stones of the township.

Folklore

We know from the vast array on the folklore of stones that many were imbued with magickal abilities, some of which were witnesses to vows and others to make curses from.  This large boulder off the coast of Cromarty was, according to Donald MacKenzie (1935), a place where the latter used to be done.  He told us:

“At Cromarty there is a big boulder known as the Clach na Mallachd (‘Stone of Cursing’).  Curses were delivered when an individual stood or knelt bare-kneed upon it.”

In an earlier account by the Ordnance Survey lads in one of their Name Books, they gave the following tale that had been narrated to them:

“A large stone Situate at the Low Water, and forming one of the boundary Stones of the burgh, the reason of its having this name is, that a young lad while Sitting on it was overwhelmed by the advancing tide and drowned, his mother when told of it, cursed the stone, hence the name Clach Mallach (Accursed Stone)”

References:

  1. MacKenzie, Donald A., Scottish Folk-lore and Folk Life, Blackie: Glasgow 1935.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  57.680797, -4.022601 Clach Mhallaichte

Thorrisdail Stone, Torrisdale, Sutherland

Cup-Marked Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NC 66556 61609

Archaeology & History

Difficult to reach, this large protruding rock on the west side of Thorrisdail Hill, was known as the Thorrisdail Stone in the old boundary records.  It’s a bittova giveaway when you find it, as its name is inscribed on the lower face of the stone – etched a century or two ago by the look of it.

Thorrisdail Stone, with Sarah stood below
One of the cupmarks highlighted, upper middle

It’s a difficult rock to climb upon if you aren’t used to such things – and you need to do this if you want to see the cupmarks; although they’re hardly worth seeing unless you’re a petroglyph freak!  If you go to the trouble so see them, make sure to squat down carefully, being even more careful not to fall off (you’re screwed if y’ do).  Once in position, you’ll see between three and five very faint shallow cups etched onto its flat surface.  You can just make one of them out in the photo here.  The more impressive thing to see here is the small standing stone that seems to artificially crown the top of the rounded hill to which the Thorrisdail Stone is attached.

AcknowledgementsHuge thanks to Sarah MacLean for her company and landscape knowledge in visiting this and other nearby antiquarian remains.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  58.522097, -4.292946 Thorrisdail Stone

Cradle Stone, Crieff, Perthshire

Legendary Rock:  OS Grid Reference – NN 8654 2272

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 25498

Getting Here

Cradle Stone on 1866 map

A bit troublesome to locate if you don’t know the area.  Get into the town centre where the paved St George Square is by the main road.  Cross the road and go up Hill Street, which runs straight into Ferntower Road.  A few hundred yards up turn left up Ewanfield, all the way to the very end at Crieff Hydro.  From here you’ll see the path uphill by the tennis courts.  Walk up and past the holiday chalets until your hit the road that curls round the bottom of the woods.  Go along until you find the car park and just above here by the roadside is a tourist board showing the Knock Walk footpath. The Cradle Stone is about 250 yards up the Knock Walk from here, 100 yards into the woods on the right.

Archaeology & History

This large broken boulder is the result of it once living further up the hillside.  One of Nature’s great forces then kicked the olde fella and he rolled down the hill to its present position.  It was mentioned in a detailed 19th century geological survey by Mr Thomson (1836), where he told:

“At Crieff, in Perthshire, there occurs a series of low hills running parallel to the Grampians.  These hills consist of old red sandstone and greywacke.  On one of them, the Cnock, the village of Crieff is built.  Upon the south-east side of this hill, towards the southern extremity, not far from the summit, there are deposited a number of boulder stones of syenitic granite. The largest of these is called the ‘Cradlestone’.  It is nearly spherical, quite smooth on the surface, and 29 feet in circumference.  It has been split in two by lightning, (according to the tradition of the place,) and one of the fragments has made one complete revolution down the hill and then stopped.  The weight of this boulder is about 30 tons.  The nearest mountains of syenitic granite, are those in the neighbourhood of Bennevis, distant more than 60 miles north-west…”

The stone was subsequently entered in Fred Cole’s (1911) outstanding survey of the local megaliths, although acknowledged it has having no archaeological pedigree.  The Cradle Stone, he wrote, is

“the appellation printed in Old English lettering on the Ordnance Map, given to one of two huge boulders difficult to find in the fir-woods at the western extremity of the Knock, and at a height of nearly 600 feet,  midway between Knockearn House and Culcrieff.   On visiting the site, the conclusion became apparent that these two blocks were merely natural curiosities, and had no interest for the archaeologist beyond the name.”

Folklore

In volume 10 of the New Statistical Account it was told how local folklore attested the Cradle Stone as being where the babies came from, perhaps intimating some fertility legend long since forgotten.

The main thing attached to this giant broken stone is the old folk-tale that used to be more well-known in the 19th century than it is today.  It was narrated at length in Macara’s (1881) fine pot pourri of local histories and legends and which I hope you can forgive me citing in its entirity here:

“In the memory of men still living, two well-known weavers, named James Livingstone and James M’Laren, lived in Barnkettick, at the west end of the town. Livingstone was a thorough wag, and M’Laren was somewhat of a simpleton. Livingstone was in the habit of telling his neighbour all sorts of extravagant stories about ghosts and witches.  The facility with which the latter fraternity could turn themselves into hares and scamper about was an accepted fact, which M’Laren as truly believed as his Bible.

“The Rocking or Cradle Stone on the brow of the Knock, behind the town, was supposed to be of Druidical origin, and for ages drew forth the fear and wonder of the natives. A belief prevailed that something valuable was buried in its foundation, and worth lifting, if it could only be got at.  Livingstone having heard of “Whang, the Miller” directed McLaren’s attention to the subject of valuable treasure being beneath the cradle stone, which was greedily swallowed, and he expressed his astonishment that no one tried digging for it.

“Livingstone suggested that they both should try it, and divide the spoil. M’Laren agreed, and it was resolved to make the attempt that night after dusk.  The necessary picks and spades were soon borrowed.  Livingstone called on an acquaint- ance or two, and informed them of the “ploy,” and they readily agreed to arrange and have some fun at the “howking” of the treasure.

“The acquaintances were up at the spot early, with a view to set some snares for hares, so that the journey would combine pleasure with profit.  They had also provided a few “squibs” for contingencies.  At the time appointed the two weavers, with their implements on their shoulders, arrived at the stone and set to work.  M’Laren did so with strong impressions of a coming calamity, which soon made him feel the greatest terror.  Livingstone worked with a will, and upbraided M’Laren with cowardice.

“With that a strange, unearthly sound came up the hill, and on looking round, a ball of fire was seen careering through the underwood.  M’Laren felt queerish and almost speechless. Another hissing sound was heard, and the strange fire came nearer.  Livingstone still wrought on, telling M’Laren never to heed, as these things were only bits of falling stars.  M’Laren thought otherwise. They were in the neighbourhood of Monzie, where it was certain there were plenty of witches, and it was evident something “no canny” was brewing.  He would have given anything to have been at his loom.

“In an instant three or four fiery darts from different directions came hissing along, and darted through the heath at their feet.  M’Laren was paralysed with fear.  Livingstone ceased work instantly, and jumping out of the trench he made, yelled he smelt brimstone, rushed from the stone and was lost in the darkness.  Poor M’Laren’s limbs trembled like a leaf and were scarcely able to support him.  As he was trying to follow his companion, another fire shower rained about him, and down the hill he went like a deer, yelling on Livingstone to wait on him.

“As he neared the parks above Milnab, the hares acid rabbits were scampering in all directions, and a few found their necks in the snares, which caused them to squeal at the pitch of their voices too.  M’Laren being now thoroughly convinced that the witches were let loose, speed was added to his limbs, and with supernatural fleetness he bounded over all obstructions and found himself in an instant or two in his room, and jumped into bed.  A cold sweat broke out all over his body and his heart beat with sharp thuds, shaking the bed.  It was some time ere he could collect his scattered senses, so as to realise whether or not he was dreaming. The moisture in his eyes caused every blink of the fire to appear like the horrid hissing fire darts of the Knock. After a time he fell into a stupor, the recent events being still vividly before his mind.

“His cronies on the Knock tumbled amongst the heather and broom, shouting with joy at the success of the scheme.  After giving vent to their excited feelings they went back to the Cradle Stone and lifted the picks and spades, and on their way home went round the snares and found a good “take.”  As they were killing the hares, Livingstone suggested that a live one be taken to M’Laren, which was readily agreed to.  On reaching home, Livingstone slipped into M’Laren’s house, and all seemed at rest.  Creeping quietly ben to Jamie’s end of the bigging, he tied the live hare to the foot of his bed.  As he was retiring he jostled against the hen roost and set the cock a-crowing, which so far roused Jamie that he thought it was scarcely morning yet.  The cock crowed away, and soon the neighbouring roosts bestirred themselves, and all the cocks in the neighbourhood returned the vocal sound, as if it were morning.

“Poor Jamie, on reflecting, resolved that if he got over the present raising of “Auld Clootie” scathless, he would pledge himself never to trouble him or his again.  As he thus pondered he thought he heard a strange pattering on the floor, and an occasional slight pull at the bed.  On straining his eyes and looking floorwards he saw something not unlike a reputed witch moving about the foot of the bed.  On closer observation this was fully confirmed, and he instinctively roared for help.  His daft brother was now roused, and he roared also, and the hamlet dogs lent a willing voice.  The wags who had collected outside rushed in, and on putting some fir roots on the fire the blaze showed Jamie, nearly demented, in bed, with his wearing clothes still on, and some dogs entering the room set a-worrying the hare.  At the sight of well-known faces Jamie jumped out of bed.  So much excited that it was feared that the joke had been carried rather far.  Livingstone was still equal to the occasion, and drawing a bottle of whisky from his pocket handed round a few glasses, and in a short time “they didna care for deils a boddle.”  Jamie was advised to divest himself of his clothes and go to bed, which he did, and soon fell into a deep sleep, and awakened next morning not much the worse.  The affair got wind, and many a country fireside was made merry by the story of the Cradle Stone treasure.”

References:

  1. Coles, Fred, “Report on Stone Circles Surveyed in Perthshire, Principally Strathearn” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 45, 1911.
  2. Macara, Duncan, Crieff: Its Tradtions and Characters, D. Macara: Edinburgh 1881.
  3. Thomson, Thomas, Outlines of Mineralogy, Geology and Mineral Analysis – volume 2, Baldwin & Cradock: Edinburgh 1836.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.383100, -3.839090 Cradle Stone

Fairies’ Cradle, Cromarty, Ross & Cromarty

Legendary Rock (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NH 792 651

Archaeology & History

In the ruins St Bennet’s Chapel, along with his accompanying holy well (NH 7923 6502), could once be seen a curiously shaped rock which, according to tradition has been destroyed.  In Mr Innes’ (1855) major history work he mentioned this Fairies Cradle in passing.  Not far from here and close to the coast, is a curiously-shaped boulder with several natural cupmarks (at NH 9150 6497).

Folklore

In Hugh Miller’s (1878) definitive local history work, Scenes and Legends, we have our main description of this once important site.  It existed,

“near the chapel itself, which was perched like an eyry on a steep solitary ridge that overlooks the Moray Firth, there was a stone trough, famous, about eighty years before, for virtues derived also from the saint, like those of the well. For if a child was carried away by the fairies, and some mischievous unthriving imp left in its place, the parents had only to lay the changeling in this trough, and, by some invisible process, their child would be immediately restored to them. It was termed the fairies’ cradle; and was destroyed shortly before the rebellion of 1745, by Mr. Gordon, the minister of the parish, and two of his elders.”

The story of children here being carried away by littlepeople and then restored by an impish offering, is a play on the site being a healing stone.  There are numerous other “curing stones” found elsewhere in Scotland, but with their own respective traditions—like the Measles Stone at Fearnan, the Whooping Cough Stone near Killin, and many others.

If anyone knows anything more about this lost “curing stone”, please let us know.

References:

  1. Alston, David, “The Old Parish Church of Cromarty,” Cromarty, May 2005.
  2. Innies, Cosmo, Origines Parochiales – volume 2:2, W.H. Lizars: Edinburgh 1855.
  3. Miller, Hugh, Scenes and Legends of the North of Scotland; the Traditional History of Cromarty, William Nimmo: Edinburgh 1878.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  57.659534, -4.026278 Fairies Cradle

Abernethy Den, Abernethy, Perthshire

Standing Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NO 1883 1610

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 185835

Getting Here

Hidden by creeping ivy

Along the main A913 Perth Road that runs round the northern edge of Abernethy village, as you approach the village from the western side, go right at the mini-roundabout up the Main Street into the village.  However, just where this roundabout is, there’s a footpath into the trees known as the Castlelaw.  Walk up here, keeping to the left-side of the burn (don’t cross over onto the right-hand side!) and after about 200 yards or so, keep your eyes peeled for a large upright stone, almost overgrown in dark vegetation on your left.

Archaeology & History

An intriguing standing stone in a most unusual position: a small wooded glen with a steep slope on its immediate eastern side, very enclosed.  It’s quite a big thing too, standing some six-feet high with the usual worn rounded crown, typical of olde stones.

The olde stone, unmasked

In the very brief account of this site by Hallyburton & Brown (2000) they describe this “previously unrecorded /lost standing stone and possible ruinous stone circle.”  This is also echoed in Canmore’s description.  A standing stone we certainly have, but in several visits here there was no evidence of any stone circle either side of the burn.  It was suggested that the “circle” may once have been atop of the slope immediately above this stone, but again there is no evidence at all to suggest this and old maps show nothing.  I’m extremely doubtful of any megalithic ring here (I’d love to be wrong though).

References:

  1. Hallyburton, I. & Brown, R., “Abernethy Den (Abernethy Parish),” in Discovery & Excavation Scotland, New Series – volume 1, 2000.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.330294, -3.314290 Abernethy Den

Giant’s Stones, Arnbathie, Perthshire.

Legendary Stones: OS Reference – NO 16695 26086

Getting Here

The two stones in relation to each other

Travelling north from Perth on the A94, take the right turning for Murrayshall just before entering Scone, then take the first right and continue up to the road junction, and park up at the trackway opposite.  You’ll see the big stone in the field to the right, up against the road embankment; and the small stone is in the paddock to the left of the trackway at the edge of the trees.

Archaeology & History

Two large glacial erratics which have acquired mythic status and picked up a Christian triumphalist message on the way.

Folklore

In Lawrence Melville’s (1939) excellent local history work, he thankfully put to pen an all-but-forgotten tale of oral tradition:

“Where the road from the Muir of Durdie leaves Kilspindie parish, a grass grown road leads north to Boglebee….. A few yards from the highway lie two large stones, said to have been flung from the Giant’s Hill in Collace parish – the flat topped eminence lying due north from the stones, about two or three miles away, better known as “Macbeth’s Hill”, or “Dunsinane Hill”.

The ‘string’ marks of legend
The smaller stone with its ‘string’ marks

“When the church dedicated to St John in Perth was being built and its tower began to appear, a witch living in Collace was enraged to see this proof of the approach of Christianity and determined to destroy it. She had a son, a giant (after whom the hill receives one of its names), whom she sent to the top of the hill, giving him two huge stones with which to destroy the rising church.

“By her incantations she had supernatural power and knew that when Christianity came her power would be destroyed. She gave him her mutch from her head to be used as sling and in it the giant put the two huge stones. Whirling it around his head, he aimed them in a line with the tower, but, just as he let them fly, the string of his mother’s cap broke and the stones only went the length of Boglebee. The marks on the stones are said to be the marks of the witch’s mutch strings.”

Another view of the larger stone

A familiar folkloric message is remembered the length of Britain:  a giant, a devil or other supernatural being throwing stones that either spill out of an apron or otherwise miss their mark.  And in this case an unsubtle message to anyone trying to take on the might of the church.  But what was the original story of these stones as told by the old time oral storytellers before Christian missionaries stalked the land?

If the string hadn’t broken and the stones had followed their original trajectory they would have fallen south of St John’s Kirk, but it was the thought that counted….

Reference:

  1. Melville, Lawrence, The Fair Land of Gowrie, William Culross: Coupar Angus, 1939.

©Paul T. Hornby 2020, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.419613, -3.351980 Giants Stones