Broad Oak, Hatfield Broad Oak, Essex

Legendary Tree:  OS Grid Reference – TL 5352 2083

Also Known as:

  1. Doodle Oak

Archaeology & History

Hatfield’s Doodle Oak, 1807

Erroneously ascribed by the reverend Winsland (1952) as being the ‘Doodle Oak’, the ancient and giant tree called the Broad Oak was, as records show, always known by this name, but was subsequently replaced by another after its demise.  It was this second tree that became known as the Doodle Oak.  Winsland described it as “an immense and famous oak tree”, under whose “spreading branches in olden days the Lord of the Manor probably held his court and dispensed justice.”

The tree was described as early as 1136 AD and was probably an early tribal meeting site, or moot spot.  In Philip Morant’s (1763) work, he described it as,

“A tree of extraordinary bigness. There has been another since…called Doodle Oak.”

The old Oak in 1890

The Doodle Oak was thought to date from around 10-11th century and its predecessor may have been upwards of a thousand years old before this one took its place.  In 1949, one patient botanist, Maynard Greville, investigated the Doodle Oak tree-rings and found it to be 850 years old.  Other estimates suggest it was a hundred years older than that!  Whichever was the correct one, a measurement of its trunk found it to be some 19 yards in circumference – one of the largest trees ever recorded in Britain!

Sketches of its dying body were thankfully made near the beginning and the end of the 19th century: one in Mr Vancouver’s (1807) Agriculture of Essex, and the other by Henry Cole of the Essex Naturalist journal.

Doodle Oak on 1896 map

Some speculate that the Broad Oak of ancient times and the subsequent Doodle Oak were at very different places in the parish, but without hard evidence this idea is  purely hypothetical.  And whilst the name ‘broad’ oak is easily explained, the name ‘doodle’ is slightly more troublesome.  However, a seemingly likely etymology is found in the Essex dialect word dool, which Edward Gepp (1920) told,

“seems to mean, (1) a landmark; (2) a path between plots in a common field.”

The former of the two would seem to be the most likely.  This is echoed to a greater degree in Wright’s (1900) magnum opus, where he found the dialect word dool all over the southeast, meaning,

“a boundary mark in an unenclosed field.”

Giant trees on ancient boundaries, like the Broad Oak of earlier times, would seem to be the most probable reason for its name.  Today, all that’s left of the site is a small plaque on a small tree-stump, telling us what once stood here…

References:

  1. Gepp, Edward, Contributions to an Essex Dialect Dictionary, George Routledge: London 1920.
  2. Morant, Philip, The History and Antiquities of the County of Essex – volume 2, 1763.
  3. Reaney, P.H., The Place-Names of Essex, Cambridge University Press 1935.
  4. Vancouver, Charles, General View of the Agriculture of the County of Essex – volume 2, Richard Phillips: Blackfriars 1807.
  5. Winsland, Charles, The Church of Saint Mary the Virgin, Hatfield Broad Oak, Anchor: Bishop Stortford 1952.
  6. Wright, Thomas, English Dialect Dictionary – volume 2, Henry Frowde: London 1900.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Broad Oak, Hatfield

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Broad Oak, Hatfield 51.865151, 0.228285 Broad Oak, Hatfield

Witch Tree, Aberuthven, Perthshire

Sacred Tree:  OS Grid Reference – NN 9621 1587

Getting Here

Witch Tree on 1901 OS-map

Witch Tree on 1901 OS-map

Just off the A9 between Stirling and Perth is Aberuthven village.  Down the Main Street and just south of the village, turn west along Mennieburn Road.  A half-mile on, just past Ballielands farm, you reach the woods.  Keep along the road for another half-mile, close to where the trees end and go through the gate where all the rocks are piled. Walk up to the tree-line 50 yards away and follow it along the line of the fence east, til it turns down the slope.  Naathen – over the barbed fence here, close to the corner, about 10 yards in, is the tree in question…

Archaeology & History

Witch Tree03

Looking along the fallen trunk

Laid down on the peaty earth, fallen perhaps fifty years ago or more, are the dying remains of this all-but forgotten Witch Tree.  To those of you who may strive to locate it—amidst the dense eye-poking branches of the surrounding Pinus monoculture—the curious feature on this dying tree are a number of old iron steps or pegs, from just above the large upturned roots.  About a dozen of them were hammered into the trunk some 100 years or more ago and, were it to stand upright again, reach perhaps 30 feet high or more.  These iron pegs give the impression of them being used to help someone climb the tree when it was upright; but their position on the trunk and the small distance between some of them shows that this was not their intention.  Their purpose on the tree is a puzzle to us (does anyone have any ideas?).

Embedded pieces or iron from roots...

Embedded iron from the roots

Embedded iron 30-40ft along

Embedded iron 30-40ft along

The fallen trunk has broken into two main sections, each with iron pegs in them.  The very top of the tree has almost completely been eaten back into the Earth.  Unfortunately too, all the bark has completely rotted away and so identifying the species of the tree is difficult (though I’m sure there are some hardcore botanists out there who’d be able to enlighten us).  The possibility that the early map-reference related to a Wych-elm (Ulmus glabra) cannot be discounted, although this would be most unusual for Ordnance officers to mistake such a tree species with a ‘witch’.  Local dialect, of course, may have been a contributing factor; but in Wilson’s (1915) detailed analysis of the regional dialect of this very area, “wych elm” for witches does not occur.  Added to this is the fact that the indigenous woodland that remains here is an almost glowing birchwood (Betula pendula) in which profusions of the shaman’s plant, Amanita muscaria, exceed.  There were no wych elms hereby.

The tree was noted by the Ordnance Survey team in 1899 and was published on their maps two years later, but we know nothing more about it.  Hence, we publish it here in the hope that someone might be able top throw some light on this historical site.

Folklore

Looking along the fallen trunk

Halfway along the fallen tree

We can find nothing specific to the tree; but all around the area there are a plethora of tales relating to witches (Hunter 1896; Reid 1899)—some with supposedly ‘factual’ written accounts (though much of them are make-believe projections of a very corrupt Church), whilst others are oral traditions with more realistic tendencies as they are rich in animistic content. One of them talks of the great mythical witch called Kate McNiven, generally of Monzie, nearly 8 miles northwest of here.  She came to possess a magickal ring which ended up being handed to the owners of Aberuthven House, not far from the Witch Tree, as their associates had tried to save her from the crazies in the Church.  This may have been one of the places where she and other witches met in bygone centuries, to avoid the psychiatric prying eyes of christendom.

Until the emergence of the Industrialists, trees possessed a truly fascinating and important history, integral to that of humans: not as ‘commodities’ in the modern depersonalized religion of Economics, but (amongst other things) as moot points—gathering places where tribal meetings, council meetings and courts were held. (Gomme 1880)  The practice occurred all over the world and trees were understood as living creatures, sacred and an integral part of society.  The Witch Tree of Aberuthven may have been just such a site—where the local farmers, peasants, wise women and village people held their traditional gatherings and rites.  It is now all but gone…

References:

  1. Gomme, Laurence, Primitive Folk-Moots, Sampson Lowe: London 1880.
  2. Hunter, John, Chronicles of Strathearn, David Philips: Crieff 1896.
  3. Reid, Alexander George, The Annals of Auchterarder and Memorials of Strathearn, Davdi Philips: Crieff 1899.
  4. Wilson, James, Lowland Scotch as Spoken in the Lower Strathearn District of Scotland, Oxford University Press 1915.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Witch Tree

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Witch Tree 56.323789, -3.679771 Witch Tree

Witches Stone, St. Martin’s, Perthshire

‘Standing Stone’:  OS Grid Reference – NO 15927 31609

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 28628

Getting Here

The Witches Stone of MacBeth

Going north-eastish from the city of Perth, take either the A93 or A94, turning west along the A93 a mile south of Guildtown, or east at Balbeggie on the A94, until you reach St. Martin’s hamlet and park up just below the church opposite the old cottages. Walk up the track below the cottages (not the one above them!) for ⅘-mile (1.35km) [past the ruined Cupar Stone Circle], and where the land has levelled out and in the huge flat field on your left, you’ll eventually reach a gate and see the odd-looking ‘rock’ about 250 yards away in the middle.

Archaeology & History

A fungal morel turned to stone

In a quiet and little-known parish that was once littered with about a dozen stone circles, there remains a most curious and fascinating stone which, in earlier days, was to be seen on the open moorlands at this spot.  The area was then forested and then the agriculturalists came with their farming and destroyed the forests, leaving the old stone as it presently stands, isolated, above the hamlet of St. Martin’s to the south.  Although it was described in the 19th century as being “four feet high”, it stands barely three feet tall, is very curiously-shaped—just like a morel mushroom from some angles—and in the middle of an extensive piece of flatland where the crops barely grow.

Witches Stone on 1866 map

Witches Stone, looking west

The stone was highlighted on the first OS-map of the parish in 1866, showing it in the woodland plantation of Eastmuir.  It may have been some sort of northern outlier related to the now-destroyed stone circle of Cupar 400 yards south; and if this was the case, its position in the landscape relative to the circle would give the Witches Stone an airt (virtue ascribed to cardinal directions) in the cycle of the year that relates to darkness and death. (Perhaps oddly—perhaps not—the name of parish St. Martin’s relates to that dark period in the calendar, as St. Martin’s day in the old calendar was Samhain or Halloween: old New Year’s Day, when the spirits of the dead moved across both land and skies.)

It was erroneously described by the Canmore lads as being little more than “a glacial erratic”, but the stone here is quite earthfast; and their idea that “its peculiar shape has probably been caused by wind erosion”, is also somewhat dubious considering the shape of other monoliths and megalithic rings in the region.  The stone has an appearance similar to some Bull Stones, where the animal was chained to rocks such as this and then baited by dogs, although I can find no such lore here. Indeed, the history and archaeology of the stone seems all but silent.  Its folklore however, would have the Shakespearian romanciers amongst you flocking to the place…

Deep grooves atop of the stone

The top of the stone has some very distinct and deep-cut lines running across it at angles, and has the appearance of being cut into at some time in the dim and distant past.  By whom, and for what reason, we cannot say.

Folklore

William Richie (1845) told us that in the 11th Century when Scotland was having to deal with the english disease of stealing land and spreading its violence, King MacBeth—whose castle stood within this parish at Cairnbeddie (NO 1498 3082)—took that advice of two witches, and that

“they met him one night at a place still called ‘the Witch Stane’ (where a remarkable stone still stands), about a mile from his old residence, and warned him to beware, ‘Till Birnam forest come to Dunsinane.’”

The 1860 Name Book told us that,

“The Moor where the witches met, which is in St. Martins Parish is yet pointed out by the country people, and there is a stone still preserved, which is called the Witches Stone.”

References:

  1. Scott, Aleander, St. Martin’s and Cambusmichael, Perth 1911.
  2. Richie, William, “St. Martins and Cambusmichael,” in New Statistical Account of Scotland – volume 10: Perthshire, William Blackwood: Edinburgh 1845.

Acknowledgements:  Huge thanks to Prof Paul Hornby for showing me this site. Cheers matey!

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Witches Stone

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Witches Stone 56.469085, -3.366207 Witches Stone

Judge’s Cairn, Dunblane, Perthshire

Cairn:  OS Grid Reference – NN 73944 05618

Judges Cairn, surveyed 1862

Judges Cairn, surveyed 1862

Also Known as:

  1. The Big Cairn
  2. Canmore ID 24661
  3. Dalbrack

Getting Here

Judges Cairn, looking west

Judges Cairn, looking west

Along the A820 road between Dunblane and Doune, from the Dunblane-side, take the very first minor road on your right a few hundred yards after you’ve come off (or over) the A9 dual-carriageway.  Go all the way to the very top of this long and winding road for several miles, until you reach the gate which prevents you going any further. Walk up the slope on your left (west) and you’ll see the large grassy mound a coupla hundred yards ahead of you. That’s it!

Archaeology & History

This is a large rounded prehistoric cairn of some considerable size, whose position in the landscape allows for an impressive 360° view—a deliberate ingredient, no doubt, when it came to building this probable tomb.  I say “probable”, as there has never been a dig (not an ‘official’ one anyway) into the heart of this overgrown rocky mound.

Looking SE, at the Ochil Hills

Looking SE, at the Ochil Hills

More than 60 feet in diameter at its greatest and 6 feet high, with a circumference of 67 yards (61m), the top of the mound has been disturbed and, clearly, has been dug into at some time in the past—but archaeohistorical accounts are silent on the matter.  The first description of the Judge’s Cairn seems to have been in Peter Stewart’s (1839) notes on local antiquities of Dunblane, where he described it most simply:

“The Judges Cairn, yet undispersed, a circular heap of rough mountains stones covered with furze, on the farm of Bowie, barony of Kilbride.”

Along with the Ordnance Survey lads who came here in 1862, all subsequent visits gave rise to only short notes about the place.  Odd, considering its size and distinct vantage point.  And yet it remains hidden from view unless you come from the north, from whence that archetype of a fairy mound raises itself above Nature’s fair body into the eyes of any ambling wanderer…. A wonderful place sit and dream for a while…

Folklore

Judges Cairn, looking NE

Judges Cairn, looking NE

We enquired with a local whose family had been resident here since the mid-18th century about the name and folklore of the site, but he said he knew of nothing.  However, in earlier times it was said to be a place where the local sheriff held court and dispensed justice.  Mr Mackay (1984) told that the site “has been connected with the Judge’s Seat at Severie” nearby.  It seems possible that, as “it is just outside the parish boundary” between Doune and Dunblane, this may have been a moot site in ancient times, from whence laws were dispensed.  Old perambulation records may, perhaps, prove fruitful…

References:

  1. Barty, Alexander, The History of Dunblane, Eneas MacKay: Stirling 1944.
  2. Mackay, Moray S., Doune – Historical Notes, Forth Naturalist: Stirling 1984.
  3. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Archaeological Sites and Monuments of Stirling District, Central Region, Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 1979.
  4. Shearer, John E., “Prehistoric Man and Prehistoric Remains in Britain,” in Transactions of the Stirling Natural History & Archaeological Society, 1907.
  5. Stewart, Peter G., Essay on the Dunblane Mineral Springs, Hewit: Dunblane 1839.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Judge's Cairn

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Judge\'s Cairn 56.226399, -4.034878 Judge\'s Cairn

Cromlix Lodge, Dunblane, Perthshire

Long Cairn:  OS Grid Reference – NN 7617 0671

Also Known as:

  1. Bracklin Burn
  2. Canmore ID 73465

Getting Here

Long line of the cairn, looking S

Long line of the cairn, looking S

Take the B8033 north out of Dunblane and, immediately out the other side of Kinbuck, as you cross the river, take the first track on your left to Cromlix.  Keep right along here to Cullings and beyond, till you reach the edge of the forestry plantation.  Go left instead of going into the trees and, instead, follow the edge of the woodland for about 750 yards.  You’ll see the land rise up on the other side of the stream and the huge length of stones thereby.  That’s it!

Archaeology & History

Main axis of the cairn

Main axis of the cairn

Not included in any major archaeology tomes, this giant long prehistoric pile of rocks—probably constructed in neolithic times—sits along the edge of a natural ridge, out of sight of all but the lone wanderer and the birds.  Aligned ESE to WNW, this huge monument measures more than 61 yards (56m) in length and is 12 yards across at its present widest section.  Much of the tomb has been severely robbed for stone in making the local walling: two of which emerge out of the structure itself—one running directly downhill from its larger eastern edge, and a more extensive wide line of walling running west and northwest for quite some distance.  This western section of walling has the hallmarks of being constructed as far back as the Iron Age, which may be when the initial destruction of the chambered cairn first started.  But, until we get an excavation here, we won’t know for sure.

Portion of the central mass of stones

Portion of the central mass of stones

Western wall leads to the cairn

Western wall leads to the cairn

The next closest tomb of any great size is the Judge’s Cairn, 1½ miles (2.4km) to the southwest.  Clusters of smaller single cairns exist about nearly a mile northwest, with prehistoric settlement traces accompanying them—but nothing seems in immediate attendance to this Cromlix giant.

Other sites, obviously, await discovery in this area.  We know that a spring of water roughly 50 yards east of here was used by so-called ‘witches’ in earlier centuries, for both healing and sympathetic magick.  Whether this tradition ever had any relationship with the cairn is difficult to say.

 

References:

  1. Royal Commission Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Braes of Doune: An Archaeological Survey, Edinburgh 1994.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.236729, -3.999269 Cromlix Lodge cairn

Law Knowe, Niddrie, Edinburgh, Midlothian

Tumulus (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NT 3076 7177

Archaeology & History

Long since gone, this little-known burial mound could once be seen not far from the old mansion of Niddrie House.  The only reference I’ve found of it is in Thomas Whyte’s (1792) early essay on the parish of Liberton, where he told:

“East from the house and plantations, and on the north side of the public road, is a rising ground, or tumulus, called the Law Know, where, in more early times, judgment was dispensed, and where, probably, certain acknowledgments were made, by those who held of the baron or family.  It is of a circular form.  And this is the cafe with all places of the same kind. For they were considered as emblems of the sun, that great object of Druidical worship.”

The site appears to have been destroyed when the Industrialists blasted their quarry here and, as historians well know, quarrymen are dreadful when it comes to making notes of anything!  Any additional info on this place would be good….

References:

  1. Whyte, Thomas, “An Account of the Parish of Liberton in Midlothian, or County of Edinburgh,” in Archaeologica Scotica, volume 1, 1792.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  55.933981, -3.109783 Law Knowe

Strand Cross, Westminster, London, Middlesex

Cross (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – TQ 3077 8093

Also Known as

  1. Stone Cross of the Strand

Archaeology & History

First mentioned in Latin manuscripts from 1274 CE, the best description of this long lost monument, curiously, appears to be in Gover’s Place Names tome.  In a slightly edited format he told us the following:

“There was a stone cross “without the bar of the New Temple” traditionally supposed to have been erected by William Rufus “in devotion to the Holy Cross and for the health of the souls of himself and his mother, Queen Maud… It was in the Strand, possibly on the site of the present church of St. Mary.  It is referred to as crucem lap’ in 1274; la Crois de Piere in 1293; …Stonecrouch in 1337; crucem fractum in 1342…”

In subsequent notes Gover et al (1942) tell of a man they found in historical records to be Thomas le Barber, “described alternatively  as being Thomas le Barber atte Stonecourche” in the Calendar of Rolls records of 1337, and again in the 1339 accounts.

Of the cross itself, information is minimal and scattered.  It was destroyed several centuries ago but is mentioned in a number of old books on the history of the city.  The historian Thomas Allen (1829), for example, told that

“opposite to Chester Inn stood an ancient cross.  On this cross in the year 1294, the judges sat to administer justice, without the City.”

It was also a site where legal pleas for the county of Middlesex were to be held, at “the Stone Cross of lad Straund” as it was then known.  Due to the early administrative function delivered from this cross, it strongly implies the place to have been a moot site prior to the erection of the cross, probably dating from the period in which tribal elders met here.

A Mr Newton tells in his London in the Olden Time that the top of the cross was damaged and knocked off by the crazy christians around the time of the Reformation and that for many years stood headless.  When Vallance (1920) came to describe it, he told merely that,

“the Strand Cross, near Covent Garden.  This cross was hexagonal on plan, and comprised four stages.  It was standing in 1547, but was ultimately removed, its site being occupied by the Maypole, which was spoken of in 1700 as new.”

The Strand Cross would have been on the ancient ley (not one of those ‘energy lines’ invented by New Age fantasists) described first of all by Alfred Watkins (1925)—running from St. Martins-in-the-Field to St. Dunstan’s in Fleet Street—but he seems to have been unaware that the monolith ever existed.  The alignment was subsequently described in more detail in Devereux & Thomson’s (1979) work on the same subject, but its existence seems to have evaded them too!  Chris Street (2010) did include it in his much more detailed walk down the same ley.   A maypole was also known to exist close to the site of the cross; with one account showing that the two monuments existed at the same time in 1543.

As the site seemed to have been an early moot spot, the Strand Cross may have been an omphalos in early popular culture (before the christians of course), or at the very least, a site of popular animistic tradition.

References:

  1. Allen, Thomas, The History and Antiquities of London – volume 4, Cowie & Strange: London 1829.
  2. Anon., Rotuli Hundredorum – 2 volumes, G. Eyre and A. Strahan: London 1812.
  3. Aungier, George James, Croniques de London, Camden Society: London 1854.
  4. Devereux, Paul & Thomson, Ian, The Ley Hunter’s Companion, Thames & Hudson: London 1979.
  5. Gover, J.E.B., Mawer, Allen & Stenton, F.M., The Place-Names of Middlesex, Cambridge University Press 1942.
  6. Newton, William, London in the Olden Time, Bell & Daldy: London 1855.
  7. Stevenson, W.H. (ed.), Calendar of the Close Rolls Preserved in the Public Record Office, HMSO: London 1900.
  8. Street, Christopher E., London’s Ley Lines, Earthstars: London 2010.
  9. Vallance, Aymer, Old Crosses and Lychgates, Batsford: London 1920.
  10. Watkins, Alfred, The Old Straight Track, Methuen: London 1925.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Strand Cross

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Strand Cross 51.512179, -0.116853 Strand Cross

Broken Cross, Westminster, London, Middlesex

Cross (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – TQ 322 812

Archaeology & History

In truly that most unholy of places in England—Westminster, London—there was, in bygone times, a slightly more sacred site which, earlier still, might have been where a standing stone stood…. Might….  But such days are long gone down there.  A gathering place of local people in very early times, the Broken Cross was, according to Vallance (1920),

“erected by the Earl of Gloucester in the reign of Henry III (1216-1272), but it did not stand very long.  Its site is said to have been ‘the place of the meeting of the Folkmote…near St. Martin’s-le-Grand, about midway between the Northgate of the precinct (of St. Paul’s) and the church of St. Vedast.’  On 5th September 1379, agreements were drawn up for letting the stations about the Broken Cross to five divers persons.  The cross was bodily taken down in 1390.”

Yet its name was maintained in street-names for many years later, simply as ‘Broken Cross’.  Its position would have been very close to Cheapside.

George Gomme (1880) pointed out that such early folk moots were the development of tribal gatherings grafted from megalithic meetings onto early christian assemblies, pointing out how such assemblies for laws and councils were made at nearby St. Paul’s as early as 973 AD.

References:

  1. Gomme, George Laurence, Primitive Folk-Moots, Sampson Low: London 1880.
  2. Gover, J.E.B., Mawer, Allen & Stenton, F.M., The Place-Names of Middlesex, Cambridge University Press 1942.
  3. Vallance, Aymer, Old Crosses and Lychgates, Batsford: London 1920.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Broken Cross

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Broken Cross 51.514645, -0.097060 Broken Cross

Footprint Stone, Dunadd, Kilmichael Glassary, Argyll

Petroglyph:  OS Grid Reference – NR 83668 93579

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 212008

Getting Here

Footprint Stone in context

From Lochgilphead, take the A816 road north for several miles (towards the megalithic paradise of Kilmartin), keeping your eyes peeled for the road-signs saying “Dunadd.”  Turn left and park-up a few hundred yards down. Go through the gate and walk up Dunadd.  Just before the flattened plateau at the top, a length of smooth stone is accompanied to its side by the deep cup-and-ring of the Dunadd Basin.  Three or four yards away, you’ll see the long ‘footprint’.

Archaeology & History

Near the top of Dunadd’s Iron Age ‘fortress’ and overlooking the megalithic paradise of the Kilmartin valley, several man-made carvings are in evidence very close to each other, all with seemingly differing mythic content.  This one—the footprint—stands out; but it’s not alone!  Faint etchings of at least one other ‘foot’ is clearly visible.  The first literary account of it was by Ardrishaig historian R.J. Mapleton (1860), who told,

“There is on the top of Dunadd a mark that strikes me as interesting; it is like a large axe-head, or a rough outline of a foot.  My impression is that it may have been the spot on which the chief would place his foot when succeeding to the headship of his tribe. The footmark was always considered among the people here as a mould for an axe-head, and I was rather laughed at for suggesting an inaugurating stone.”

Dunadd Footprint (after Royal Commission 1988)
F.W.K. Thomas’ 1879 sketch

Be that as it may, a few years later the carving had caught the attention of the Scottish Society of Antiquaries.  In his article exploring the potential for ritual inaugurations at Dunadd, Captain F.W.L. Thomas (1879) explored, not only the footprint, but the mythic functions of this symbol, looking at parallels with petroglyphs elsewhere in the world where the ‘foot’ was known to be a ritual inauguration symbol (amongst other things).  He gave us the first real detailed account of the carving:

“About 10 or 12 feet below, and to the northward of the highest point, the living rock is smooth, flat and bear of sward, and in it is engraved an impression of a footmark, not of a naked foot, but such as would be made when the foot is clothed by a thick stocking or cuaran… The engravure is for the right foot; and it exactly fitted my right boot.  The footmark is sunk half-an-inch deep, with perpendicular sides, the surface is smoothed or polished, and the outline is regular… It has probably been sheltered by the turf until recently.  The footmark is 11 inches long, nearly 4½ inches broad where broadest, and 3½ inches across at the heel.  When a person stands with his foot in the depression, he looks a little easterly of north.”

A century or so later when the Royal Commission (1988) boys got here, they found not one, but two ‘feet’ carved into the rock!  A few feet away, near to the carved boar,

“At the south end of the main rock surface there is the lightly-pecked outline of a shod right foot. 0.24m long and 0.1m in maximum width, with a pronounced taper to the heel.  There are further peck marks within the outline, and a sunken footmark was intended but not completed.  This print is on almost the same alignment as the more prominent footprint some 2m to the north, which measures 0.27m from NNE to SSW, by 0.1m in maximum width and 25mm in depth.  It is somewhat broader at the heel than the incomplete mark, and its sides are straighter.”

Close-up of the carving

They then emphasize how we’re unable to date the footprints, although point out how such carvings are “found in Britain from the Iron Age onwards.”  But footprints have be found on other petroglyphs in Scotland (much less in England) and date between the neolithic and Bronze Age periods—but whether Dunadd’s example goes that far back, we cannot say.  Extensive excavations occurred at Dunadd between 1980-81 and most of the finds were Iron Age and early medieval in nature (this carving and the cup-and-ring barely got a mention in Lane & Campbell’s [2000] extensive summation).  But we may be looking at an evolutionary developmental relationship in symbolism and form, if the traditions of the place have any substance.  This is something I’ll return to when writing of the Boar Carving, just a few feet away…

Folklore

The legends behind this seemingly insignificant mark near the top of Dunadd ostensibly echo and relate to the huge cup-and-ring of Dunadd Basin four yards away.  I can only repeat what I said in that site profile.

R.J. Mapleton (1860) said that Dunadd was known by local people to be a meeting place of witches and the hill of the fairies, whose amblings in this wondrous landscape are legion. Legends and history intermingle upon and around Dunadd.  Separating one from the other can be troublesome as Irish and Scottish Kings, their families and the druids were here.  One such character was the ever-present Ossian.  Mapleton told:

“From these ancient tales we turn to a much later period of romance, when Finn and his companions had developed into extraordinary and magical proportions; a story is current that when Ossian abode at Dunadd, he was on a day hunting by Lochfyneside; a stag, which his dogs had brought to bay, charged him; Ossian turned and fled. On coming to the hill above Kilmichael village, he leapt clean across the valley to the top of Rudal hill, and a second spring brought him to the top of Dunadd.  But on landing on Dunadd he fell on his knee, and stretched out his hands to prevent himself from falling backwards.  ‘The mark of a right foot is still pointed out on Rudal hill, and that of the left is quite visible on Dunadd, with impressions of the knee and fingers.’”

As Mr Thomas (1879) clarified:

“The footmark is that of the right foot, and the adjacent rock-basin is the fabulous impression of a knee.”

References:

  1. Bord, Janet, Footprints in Stone, Heart of Albion Press 2004.
  2. Campbell, Marion, Mid-Argyll: An Archaeological Guide, Dolphin Press: Glenrothes 1984.
  3. Campbell, M. & Sanderman, M., “Mid-Argyll: An Archaeological Survey,”  in Proceedings of the Society Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 95, 1962.
  4. Craw, J.H. “Excavations at Dunadd and other Sites,” in Proceedings of the Society Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 64, 1930.
  5. Lane, Alan & Campbell, Ewan, Dunadd: An Early Dalriadic Capital, Oxbow: Oxford 2000.
  6. Mapleton, R.J., Handbook for Ardrishaig Crinan Loch Awe and Pass of Brandir, n.p. 1860.
  7. Morris, Ronald W.B., The Prehistoric Rock Art of Argyll, Dolphin Press: Poole 1977.
  8. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Argyll – Volume 6: Mid-Argyll and Cowal, HMSO: Edinburgh 1988.
  9. Thomas, F.W.K., “Dunadd, Glassary, Argyleshire: The Place of Inauguaration of the Dalriadic Kings,” in Proceedings of the Society Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 13, 1879.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian 

 

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  56.085889, -5.478621 Footprint Stone

Wallace’s Oak, Larbert, Falkirk, Stirlingshire

Legendary Tree:  OS Grid Reference – NS 847 836?

Also Known as:

  1. Wallace’s Tree

Archaeology & History

The archaeology and traditions ascribed to this ancient tree (exact position unknown) is based on words that were first penned two hundred years ago.  It was thankfully recorded with a reasonable description when William Nimmo wrote about the great Sir William Wallace in the second edition of his Stirlingshire (1817) work.  Known about in oral tradition by local people, Nimmo told how:

“Torwood was a place where he and his party, when engaged in any expedition in this part of the country, often held their rendezvous, and to which they retreated in the hour of danger.  Here is still to be seen an aged oak, well known by the name of Wallace’s Tree; which seems to have been, even then, rotten and hollow within, and is said to have often afforded a lodging to him and a few of his trusty friends. It is supposed to have been one of the largest trees that ever grew in Scotland.  It is now almost quite decayed; but, from its ruins, appears to have been of an uncommon size. The remaining stump is no less than eleven or twelve feet in diameter. It stands upon the summit of a small eminence, which is surrounded on all sides by a swamp.  A rugged causeway runs from the south through the swamp, and leads up to the tree.  Some other vestiges of the stonework are discernible, surrounding the tree in a circular form, and leading to the conjecture that this oak is of a very high antiquity; and that, having been much frequented by Druidical priests, amongst whom the oak was sacred, the causeway had been laid for their approach to it, and the performance, underneath its branches, of religious rites.”

Nimmo may have a point here.  Not necessarily of druids (although druidic traditions and reality is known from many old tracts to have continued in many of the hidden places in Scotland), but certainly in relation to the paved track leading to a what may have been a recognised moot-hill, on top of which this great oak once stood.  Great trees and ancient meeting places were held in high esteem, not only in the legends of druidism and more established animistic pantheons, but in the recognised pragmatism of local tribal gatherings, in Scotland, Wales, England and in traditional cultures all over the world. (Gomme 1880) The traces of stonework leading to the hill strongly implies an archaeological site in the paving alone; but moreso, as an important site in the traditions of the Scottish people.  The fact that these stone ruins were still visible when Nimmo visited the site in the latter-half of the 18th century in the context he describes, implies it may have been the remains of a possible crannog; or a moot hill; or even, with its great oak surmounting, a sacred grove!  In my mind, it was probably being used as a gathering place long before William Wallace and his men gathered here…

In 1880, a 3rd edition of Nimmo’s Stirlingshire was published and edited by R. Gillespie.  Herein were additional notes about Wallace’s Oak that had been uncovered by Mr Gillespie.  Although he’d visited the place,

“Not the smallest vestige…of the Wallace oak remains. Even the ” oldest inhabitant” can say nothing of it save what he has gathered from tradition.  Sir Walter Scott, in his Tales of a Grandfather, speaks of having seen some of its roots eighty years ago; and recently we were shown a treasured morsel of the tree in the Chambers’ Institute at Peebles. Wallace, undoubtedly, often chose the solitude of the Torwood as a place of rest for his army, raised and roused to oppose the tyranny of Edward.  Here he concealed his numbers and his designs, sallying out suddenly on the enemy’s garrisons, and retreating as suddenly when afraid of being overpowered. While his army lay in these woods, “the oak” was his head-quarters. Within it, the illustrious hero generally slept, the hollow trunk being huge enough to afford shelter both to himself and one or more of his associates.”

When John Gibson (1908) came to write about it, he told that “Wallace’s Oak, which stood on another part of Woodside (low Torwood), has…vanished.” No roots, no lingering trunk—nothing.  But although the tree has long since gone, William M. Stirling pointed out in 1817 that,

“A young tree is pointed out in the neighbourhood, as having sprung from an acorn of Wallace’s Oak.”

If and when we can locate the old toll-house of Broomage at Larbert, we get much closer to identifying the exact location of this long lost oak.  Then, perhaps, a commemorative plaque should surely be placed there to remind people of their great history, and included on tours of sites relating to Sir William Wallace.

References:

  1. Gibson, John C., Lands and Lairds of Larbert and Dunipace Parishes, Hugh Hopkins: Glasgow 1908.
  2. Gomme, George L., Primitive Folk-Moots, Sampson Low: London 1880.
  3. Nimmo, William, The History of Stirlingshire (2nd edition), John Frazer: Stirling 1817.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 

 

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  56.031823, -3.851130 Wallace\'s Oak