In the middle of the 19th century the opening to a prehistoric souterrain used to be in evidence on the north-side of the single track road running past old Skerray Mains house. It was mentioned in Hew Morrison’s (1883) historical guide, albeit briefly and without ambiguity:
“Below the house of Skerra Mains is an artificial cave that enters from below the road and extends 40 or 50 yards in length. Two urns were found it when it was discovered but they soon crumbled away on being exposed to the air.”
More than thirty years later, the Royal Commission (1911) lads ventured to check it out, only to find that it had just recently been covered up:
“At the farm of Skerray Mains is an earth-house, the mouth or entrance to which was recently exposed by the farmer. It is situated about 15 feet distant from the northeast window of the dwelling-house, and is now entirely covered over again.”
Of the old locals I met here, only one of them remembers hearing of it, but the precise location of its entrance had been forgotten. Surely it aint gonna be toooo difficult to find it again?
This long-lost stone cross should not be confused with the more recent one, erected by one Mr H. C. Richards in 1901 to commemorate some malarky about Edward VII. The one in this profile was much older than that, although both of them were erected close to each other. The older cross was found, said T.H. Cole (1884), “at the head of the Town, near All Saints’ Church.” Also known as the North End’s Cross, the old market was held here and close by were the gallows, the whipping post and the stocks.
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.
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.
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 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.