Temple Tree, Templeton, Newtyle, Angus

Sacred Tree: OS Grid Reference – NO 31339 42894

Getting Here

The tree is at Templeton on the west hand side of the Newtyle to Balkeerie Road travelling north, just before the bend in the road at Templeton Farm.

Archaeology & History

The only written record of the tree is in Strathmore Past and Present by the Reverend J.G. M’Pherson (1885): 

Standing Proud

“After driving two miles eastward from the village of Newtyle along a most excellent level road, we enter the united parishes of Eassie and Nevay.  The time-honoured boundary-mark is a conspicuous old ash, which popularly goes by the name of the Temple-tree. Tradition cannot guess its age. It is of considerable diameter, but quite hollow from the ground upwards for twenty feet. The bark is stripped off in several parts, and the thin shell of wood exposed is quite worm eaten; here and there being quite worn through, forming a rude door and rugged windows for the weird like interior.

“Large branches spread out, half dead-and-alive, with some foliage, scantily furnished with the life-giving root-sap. Could it speak it would tell of many a strange incident in its vicinity or underneath its arms. Its appearance might almost take one back to the time when the Templars left the neighbourhood; thus fixing its curious appellation”.

Sadly the tree described in the above quotation from 1885 has perished, but, just as it was not growing at the time of the Knights Templars’ local involvement, it is not unreasonable to speculate that it was a daughter of an ash tree that had formed a parish boundary marker of the original estate at the time of the Templars or even before.  And now a daughter tree of that venerable 1885 tree grows in its place, the Temple-tree of the present day.

Various writers have attested to the Templar presence in Meigle, indeed M’Pherson writes:

“When the Knight Templars were in pomp…they had considerable interest in Meigle, several lands in the parish still being known as the Temple Lands. We prefer this derivation to the common one of templum, any religious house”.

In describing the now famous Meigle Pictish stones in the New Statistical Account, the Reverend William Ramsay (1845) writes;

“…A more satisfactory account of them has been suggested by Captain T.P. Mitchell, …He considers them as neither more nor less than the monuments of the Knights Templars, who unquestionably had a burying-ground at Meigle”.

While Mitchell was wrong in his attribution of the carved stones, he was clearly aware of the continuing memory of the Templars.

Modern research has shown that many of the Templar estates and lands in Scotland remained as separate fiscal entities within the Hospitaller lands up until at least the Reformation, which may explain the enduring Templar nomination of our tree.

Note: The tree formed the 19th century boundary of the parishes of Eassie and Nevay to the north, and Newtyle, both in Angus.  We must assume the Templar lands boundary has been incorporated into the later parish system.

Note: This is not a clooty tree – please treat her with respect.

References:

  1. Rev William Ramsay, Parish of Alyth, The New Statistical Account of Scotland, 1845. 
  2. Rev J.G. M’Pherson, Strathmore Past and Present, S. Cowan & Co: Perth, 1885. 
  3. Robert Ferguson, The Knights Templar And Scotland, The History Press: Stroud 2010

© Paul T Hornby 2020, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.572946, -3.119094 Temple Tree

Pitcur Souterrain (3) – Carving 2, Kettins, Perthshire

Cup-and-Ring Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NO 25290 37378 

Getting Here

MacRitchie’s 1900 groundplan

Follow the same directions as if you’re visiting the Pitcur (3) souterrain.  Once here, you’re standing at the southernmost uncovered section of the monument, where one uncovered passageway bends round and meets up with another open section (“m” on MacRitchie’s plan, right).  From here, just to your right, a single large roofing stone joins one side of the open passageway with the other, enabling you to walk across it—and the stone you’d walk across has these very faint carvings on it.

Archaeology & History

Shortly before darkfall a few weeks ago, Nina Harris, Frank Mercer, Paul Hornby and I were just about ready to pack-up and leave the brilliant Pitcur souterrain with its underground chambers and various petroglyphs when, as I walked along one of the open passages beneath one of the monument’s many large capstones, my fingers gently stroked the rock above me, almost unconsciously.

First photo of the carving (by Paul Hornby)

“Was that a faint cup-mark?” I asked myself, fondling gently the smooth stone once more.

Standing eight-feet above me in the long grasses, Mr Hornby was gazing around in his usual way.

“Paul – can you see from up there if this is a cup-marking I’m feeling here?”

Walking onto the edge of the rock itself, he proclaimed, “it looks like it!”

It was indeed!  And during the remaining 30 minutes of daylight we found that the single cup-mark had a number of companions on the same stone.  With multiple rings!  Twas another good day out.

Carving when wet (photo, Frank Mercer)

Looking straight down

Previously unrecorded, this large rounded stone just about covers the space across from one side of the souterrain passage to the other, measuring roughly 6 feet by 4 feet, with its longer axis positioned roughly east-west.  It was on the westernmost edge of the stone where I located the first single cup-mark, close to the edge, but there are perhaps 12  others: three of which, as the photos show, are in a straight line from near the west-side of the stone to the upper-middle.  On its far eastern edge, another cup-mark is clearly evident; whilst on its southernmost edge is another.  It’s the middle and eastern section of the rock that grabs most of the attention.  Here we found the very faint rings becoming clearer and clearer as the dust of ages was carefully swept away, eventually giving us vision of carvings that were, in all likelihood, first pecked into the rock in the neolithic period, 4-6000 years ago.

Close-up of the 2 triple-rings

Cup-and-rings at an angle

As we can see, two faint triple-rings exist, each with lines running in/out of them.  The eastern concentric system is just about complete and has a small cup-mark on the NW edge of the outer ring.  A line that runs out from the central cup meets another carved line which, from some angles, appears to look almost like a bowl beneath the triple rings—but this is unclear.  The other triple cup-and-ring, slightly closer to the middle of the stone, has an incomplete outer ring, with evidence of another line running outwards from its central cup. There seems to be a slightly-pecked outline of a single cup-and-ring on the north side of the stone, but this is also unclear.

In truth we need to revisit the site soon, when the lighting gives us a clear idea of what we actually found, because our visit here was cut short by encroaching night and a grey cloudy evening—which are not the best conditions for isolating new petroglyphs!

At least six other petroglyphs exist within the Pitcur Souterrain (3), with the one closest to this (Pitcur 3:3) also used as a roofing stone, covering the deep trench from one side to the other.  However, it would appear the petroglyphs on that stone were on its underside, as the erosion on it is negligible, away from the elements—unlike this one! Another capstone that was also turned over (Pitcur 3:4) was found to possess more cup-and-rings, again on the underside of the stone.

This carving was probably executed 2-3000 years before the souterrain came into existence, and as a result of this we’re unsure as to the original location of the stone—but it was probably close by.  It might have originally been a carved standing stone, re-used here; or been part of a lost prehistoric tomb; or even a loose earthfast rock (though this is the least likely of the three).  Why it was used, and whether it retained any sense of the original meaning when it was re-positioned into the present construction, is a relevant question.  In all likelihood some of the original mythic element—or a morphed development of its original animistic narrative–was probably a functional ingredient of importance to the souterrain builders, 2-3000 years after the carving had been made.

A superb site!

References:

  1. Wainwright, F T., The Souterrains of Southern Pictland, RKP: London 1963.

Acknowledgements:  This site profile would not have been made possible were it not for the huge help of Nina Harris, Frank Mercer & Paul Hornby.  Huge thanks to you all, both for the excursion and use of your photos in this site profile. 🙂

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Pitcur Souterrain (3) CR-2

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Pitcur Souterrain (3) CR-2 56.522480, -3.215941 Pitcur Souterrain (3) CR-2

Pitcur Souterrain (3), Kettins, Perthshire

Souterrain:  OS Grid Reference – NO 2529 3738

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 30539
  2. The Cave
  3. Pitcur II (Wainwright)

Getting Here

Pitcur souterrain entrance

From Coupar Angus, take the A923 road southeast for nearly 2½ miles where you reach the crossroads.  Keeping walking along the A923 for just over 300 yards, then where you come to the second field on your left, follow the line of fencing the slope until you reach an overgrown fenced section.  It’s in there!

Archaeology & History

This is a mightily impressive site, which I’ve been looking forward to experience for many an age.  And—despite Nature covering it in deep grasses—it was even better than any of us anticipated.  Souterrains are ten-a-penny in this part of Scotland, but this one’s a beauty!  Here, dug 6-8 feet into the ground are at least two long curvaceous passageways, linked by another stone-roofed passageway—with the longest central passage leading at one end into a completely covered stone hallway, whose end is blocked by a massive fall of earth.  Outside this entrance, laid on the ground, is what looks like a possible old stone ‘door’ that may have once blocked the entrance, now fallen into disuse.  It is too small to have been a roofing stone.  In the walling just outside the entrance, on your left, you will see a faint cup-marked stone (Pitcur 3:5) and a larger cup-and-ring stone (Pitcur 3:6), both just above ground-level.

Inside looking out (photo by Frank Mercer)

Outside looking in (photo by Frank Mercer)

The site is evocative on so many levels: not least because we still don’t know what the hell it was used for.  The over-used idea that souterrains were cattle-pens makes no sense whatsoever here; the idea that they were food storage sites is, I suppose, a possibility; that they were possible shelters for people during inter-tribal raids is another; and equally as probable is that the deep dark enclosed construction was used by shamans, or neophytes enclosed for their rites of passage.  Iron Age archaeology specialist Ian Armit (1998) thought there may well be some as yet undiscovered “timber roundhouse” associated with this souterrain, awaiting excavation.  He may be right.  When we came here the other week we found previously unrecorded cup-and-ring carvings, at a site already renowned for decent petroglyphs.  A post-winter visit will hopefully bring us more finds.

The general history of this strange site is captured in Wainwright’s (1963) survey of souterrains, in which he wrote:

“Pitcur II was discovered in 1878 when a large stone, hit by a plough, was removed to reveal an underground passage.  Mr John Granger, tenant of Pitcur farm, excavated the souterrain himself, and twenty-two years later his son, Mr A. Granger Heiton, said that the only objects found by members of his family were ‘a small red clay bowl of Samian ware in pieces’ and ‘a Roman coin.’  The latter, according to David MacRitchie, ‘has been lost sight of’.  Mr Granger Heiton also told McRitchie that ‘one or two other coins were reported as having been found’, but were not seen by his father.

“As an excavation, Mr Granger’s effort seems to have been unsatisfactory by any standards, and it was followed by a ‘supplementary excavation’ conducted by Mr R. Stewart Menzies.  This was more successful as a relic-hunting operation, if not as an archaeological excavation, for between one hundred and two hundred finds are reported, including ‘a bronze pin’ and ‘a quantity of stones, beads, etc.’  But these too ‘seem to have been mislaid.’

Newly-found Pitcur 3:2 carving

Curiously Mr Wainwright made little mention of the impressive petroglyphs within this complex, save to say that “they were too heavy to be removed and ‘mislaid’.”  There are at least seven of them at Pitcur-3: four complex cup-and-ring designs and three basic cup-marked stones (described individually in separate site-profiles).  They have all been incorporated into the walls and roofing stones. At least one of these is so eroded (Pitcur 3:2) that there is little doubt it was re-used from a now-lost neolithic structure; the rest may have been from Bronze Age sites (also lost) and their respective lack of erosion shows they have been inside this Iron Age structure, away from Nature’s wind and weathering effects. It is likely that the re-use of these carvings in Pitcur-3 was of significance to the builders; although we cannot be sure as to what their function may have been within the souterrain.  It’s quite possible that some form of ‘continuity of tradition’ as posited by David MacRitchie (1890) was in evidence, over that huge time scale from the neolithic into the Iron Age, relating specifically to the animistic plinth implicit in all early agrarian cultures.

But the first real overview of the site was written at the end of the 19th century by David MacRitchie (1900), over twenty years after its rediscovery in 1878.  His account was a good one too:

“The Pitcur house consists of one long subterranean gallery, slightly curved throughout most of its length, and bending abruptly in a hook shape at its western end. From this western end a short broad gallery or room goes off, curving round the outside of the ‘hook.’ The length of the main gallery, following the medial line, and measuring from the extreme of the entrance at either end, is almost 190 feet; while the subsidiary room is 60 feet long. For most of its length, this subsidiary room is 10 feet wide, measuring at the floor level. On account of this unusual width, it is reasonable to suppose that its roof was of timber; for although the walls slightly converge at the top, reducing the intervening space to 8 or 9 feet, the span is still so great that a flagged roof would scarcely have been practicable. To be sure, the walls might have been raised several courses higher, in the usual ‘ Cyclopean arch,’ and thus the interval to be bridged would become sufficiently narrowed at a height of say 12 feet. But there is no indication that the walls of any portion of this earth-house ever rose higher than the present level of their highest parts. Thus the inference is that this subsidiary room may have been roofed with timber.”

Modern groundplan (after RCAHMS, 1994)

MacRitchie’s 1900 groundplan

It may, but we have no remaining evidence to tell us for sure. MacRitchie cited possible evidences from elsewhere to add weight to this thought, but had the humility to leave the idea open, telling simply how “no vestige of a roof is visible at the present day, and the whole of this side room is open to the sky,” as with the majority of this entire souterrain.  In my opinion, more of it would have been roofed in stone slabs, but these would seem to have been robbed.  Certainly a well-preserved cup-marked stone (Pitcur 3:3) laying up against one of the walls appears to have slid from its topmost covering position into where it now rests in the passageway (near ‘b‘ in MacRitchie’s plan).

Continuing with Mr MacRitchie’s account, he (like most of us) found the underground section most impressive, telling:

“This covered section is unquestionably the most interesting and instructive of the whole building; for, as already stated, the other parts are more or less ruined and roofless. A few remaining flags lying in the unroofed part of the main gallery show, however, that it once possessed the usual stone roof throughout its entire length. This was rendered possible by the comparative narrowness of the main gallery, the width of which on the floor averages about 6 feet. The greater breadth of the subsidiary gallery will be realised by glancing at the cross section, a-b in the plan.

“The Pitcur earth-house had at least three separate entrances, namely, at the points hi, and j.  The subsidiary room appears also to have had an independent connection with the, outside world, at the point g, and perhaps also f, though the latter may only mark a fireplace or air-hole, for the condition of the ruin makes it difficult for one to speak with certainty. The entrance at i, which slopes rapidly downward, is roofed all the way to d; and consequently this short passage remains in its original state.

“Within the covered portion, and quite near its entrance, a well-built recess (e in the plan) seems clearly to have been used as a fireplace, although the orifice which presumably once connected it with the upper air is now covered over.  Another and a smaller recess in the covered portion (k in the plan) can hardly have been a fireplace, and it is difficult to know what it was used as.

“One other point of interest is the presence of two cup-marked stones (p and q on the plan). Of these, the former is lying isolated on the surface of the ground near the entrance i, while the latter forms one of the wall stones beside the doorway c.”

‘Fireplace’ near the entrance

The internal ‘cave’ section has that typical damp smell and feel to it, beloved of underground explorers.  As we can see in MacRitchie’s old photo of the site, the seeming ‘fireplace’ that he mentions is very obvious. Frank Mercer posited the same idea about this underground alcove when he first saw it, and it makes a lot of sense.  On the left-upright stone in the photo (right) you can just make out a single cup-marking (Pitcur 3:7) which we found when we visited; another one may be on the inside edge of the same fireplace.  If you climb up on top of the souterrain close to where the opening of the fireplace would have been, you’ll see the impressive Pitcur 3:5 petroglyph; whilst the Pitcur 3:1 carving is difficult to see (though Mr Mercer noticed it), just above ground-level, beneath the covering stone ‘m‘ in MacRitchie’s plan.  All in all, a bloody impressive place!

Folklore

In earlier centuries the site was known locally as The Cave, yet considering how impressive it is, folklore and oral tradition seem sparse.  Even David MacRitchie (1897) struggled to find anything here.  But in one short article he wrote for The Reliquary, he thought that stories of little-people may have related to Pitcur-3:

“A tradition which a family of that neighbourhood has preserved for the past two centuries, has, in the opinion of the present writer, a distinct bearing upon the “cave” and its builders.

“This is that, a long time ago, a community of “clever” little people, known as “the merry elfins,” inhabited a “tounie,” or village, close to the place. The present inheritors of the tradition assume that they lived above ground and do not connect them at all with this “cave,” of whose existence they were unaware until a comparatively recent date. But, in view of a mass of folk-lore ascribing to such “little people” an underground life, the presumption is that the “tounie” was nothing else than the “cave”. This theme cannot be enlarged upon here; but a study of the traditions relating to the inhabitants of those subterranean houses will make the identification clearer.

“It may be added that the term “Picts’ house” applied to the Pitcur souterrain, is in agreement with the inherited belief, so widespread in Scotland, that the Picts were a people of immense bodily strength, although of small stature.”

References:

  1. Armit, Ian, Scotland’s Hidden History, Tempus: Stroud 1998.
  2. Barclay, Gordon, “Newmill and the ‘Souterrains of Southern Pictland’”, in Proceedings Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 110, 1980.
  3. Mackenna, F.S., “Recovery of an Earth House”, in The Kist, volume 4, 1972.
  4. Mackie, Euan, Scotland: An Archaeologial Guide, Faber: London 1975.
  5. MacRitchie, David, The Testimony of Tradition, Kegan Paul: London 1890.
  6. MacRitchie, David, “Pitcur and its Merry Elfins,” in The Reliquary, 1897.
  7. MacRitchie, David, “Description of an Earth-house at Pitcur, Forfarshire,” inProceedings Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 34, 1900.
  8. Neighbour, T., “Pitcur Souterrain (Kettins parish)”, in Discovery & Excavation Scotland, 1995.
  9. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, South-East Perth: An Archaeological Landscape, HMSO: Edinburgh 1994.
  10. Wainwright, F T., The Souterrains of Southern Pictland, RKP: London 1963.
  11. Warden, Alex J., Angus or Forfarshire: The Land and People – Descriptive and Historical – 5 volumes, Charles Alexander: Dundee 1880-1885.
  12. Young, Alison, “Cup-and ring Markings on Craig Ruenshin, with some Comparative Notes“, in Proceedings Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 72, 1938.

Acknowledgements:  This site profile would not have been made possible were it not for the huge help of Nina Harris, Frank Mercer & Paul Hornby.  Huge thanks to you all, both for the excursion and use of your photos in this site profile. 🙂

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Pitcur (3) souterrain

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Pitcur (3) souterrain 56.522520, -3.215835 Pitcur (3) souterrain

MacBeth’s Stone, Belmont, Meigle, Perthshire

Standing Stone / Cup Marked Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NO 27997 43473

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 30824
  2. Siward’s Stone
  3. Witches’ Stone

Getting Here

MacBeth's Stone, near Meigle

MacBeth’s Stone, near Meigle

From the centre of Meigle village, you need to go along the country lane southwest towards the village of Ardler (do not go on the B954 road).  About three-quarter of a mile (1.25km) along—past the entrance to Belmont Castle—you’ll reach a small triangle of grass on your left, and a driveway into the trees.  Walk down here, past the first house—behind which is the stone in question.  A small path takes you through the trees and round to it.  You can’t really miss it!

Archaeology & History

MacBeth Stone on 1st OS-map

MacBeth Stone on 1st OS-map

This is a magnificent site.  A giant of a stone.  Almost the effigy of a King, petrified, awaiting one day to awaken and get the people behind him!  It has that feel of awe and curiosity that some of us know very well at these less-visited, quieter megalithic places. Its title has been an interchange between the Scottish King MacBeth and the witches who played so much in his folklore, mixed into more realistic local traditions of other heathen medicine-women of olde…

The first account of this giant standing stone came from the travelling pen of Thomas Pennant (1776) who, in his meanderings to the various historical and legendary sites of Meigle district, wrote that

“In a field on the other side of the house is another monument to a hero of that day, to the memory of the brave young Seward, who fell, slain on the spot by MacBeth.  A stupendous stone marks the place; twelve feet high above ground, and eighteen feet and a half in girth in the thickest place.  The quantity below the surface of the Earth is only two feet eight inches; the weight. on accurate computation amounts to twenty tons; yet I have been assured that no stone of this species is to be found within twenty miles.”

It was visited by the Ordnance Survey lads in 1863, several years after one Thomas Wise (1855) had described the monolith in an article on the nearby hillfort of Dunsinane.  But little of any substance was said of the stone, and this is something that hasn’t changed for 150 years, despite the huge size of this erection!  Local historians make mention of it in their various travelogues, but the archaeologists haven’t really given the site the attention it deserves.  Even the Royal Commission (1994) report was scant; and apart from suggesting it to have a neolithic provenance, they merely wrote:

“Rectangular in cross-section, the stone tapers to a point some 3.6m above the ground; each of its sides is decorated with cupmarks, as many as forty occurring on the east face and twenty-four on the west.”

MacBeth Stone (Wise 1884)

MacBeth Stone (Wise 1884)

East face of MacBeth's Stone

East face of MacBeth’s Stone

Thankfully, the fact that there are cup-markings on the stone has at least given it the attention it deserves amongst the petroglyph students.  The first account of the cup-markings seem to have come from the pen of Sir James Simpson (1867) who mentions them, albeit in passing, in his seminal work on the subject.  A few years later however, the same Thomas Wise visited MacBeth’s Stone again, and not only described the carvings, but gave us our first known illustration in his fascinating History of Paganism (1884).  He told it to be,

“A large boulder, some 12 tons in weight, situated within the policies of Belmont Castle, in Strathmore, Perthshire…is supposed to have been erected on the spot where MacBeth was slain.  Two feet above the ground this boulder has a belt of cups of different sizes, and in irregular groups.  None of these cups are surrounded by incised circles or gutters.  This boulder was probably intended for some sacred purpose, as it faces the SE.”

Running almost around the middle of the standing stone, on all four sides, are the great majority of the cup-markings (no rings or additional lines are visible).  They were very obviously etched into the stone after it had been erected, not before.  This is in stark contrast to the cup-and-rings found on the standing stones at Machrie, Kilmartin and elsewhere, where we know the carvings were done before the stones were stood upright.

Cup-narks on western face

Cup-narks on western face

Cups on the western face

Cups on the western face

On the northern face of the stone is one possible cup-marking, and three of them are etched onto its south face; but the majority of them, forty, are on its western face, and twenty-five on its eastern side.  The great majority of them on the east and west sides occur roughly in the middle of the stone, almost like a ‘belt’ running across its body.  Those on the eastern face are difficult to discern as a thick layer of lichens covers this side, so there may be even more beneath the vegetation.

An increasingly notable element in the singular monoliths of this region, echoed again here, is that at least one side of the standing stone is smooth and flat—in the case of MacBeth’s Stone the flat face is the eastern one.  Whether this was a deliberate feature/ingredient in some of the standing stones, I do not know.  If there was such a deliberate reason, it would be good to know what it meant!

The 'face' in the top of the stone

The ‘face’ in the top of the stone

Close-up of Macbeth's face

Close-up of Macbeth’s face

Another fascinating feature at this site was noticed by Nina Harris of ‘Organic Scotland’.  Meandering around the stone in and out of the trees, she called our attention to a fascinating simulacra when looking at the upper section of the monolith on its southern side.  At first it didn’t seem clear – but then, as usual, the more you looked, the more obvious it became.  A very distinct face, seemingly male, occurs naturally at the top of the stone and it continues as you walk around to its heavily cup-marked western side.  It’s quite unmistakable!  As such, it has to be posited: was this simulacra noticed by the people who erected this stone and seen as the spirit of the rock?  Did it even constitute the reason behind its association with some ancestral figure, whose spirit endured here and was petrified?  Such a query is neither unusual nor outlandish, as every culture on Earth relates to such spirit in stones where faces like this stand out.

But whatever your opinion on such matters, when you visit this site spend some time here, quietly.  Get into the feel of the place.  And above all, see what impression you get from the stony face above the body of the stone. Tis fascinating…..

Folklore

Known locally as being a gathering place of witches, the site is still frequented by old people at certain times of the year, at night.  The stone’s association with MacBeth comes, not from the King himself (whose death occurred many miles to the north), but one of his generals.  In James Guthrie’s (1875) huge work on the folklore of this region, he told that this giant

“erect block of whinstone, of nearly twenty tons in weight…(is) said to be monumental of one of his chief officers”,

which he thought perhaps gave the tale an “air of probability about it.”  But Guthrie didn’t know that this great upright was perhaps four thousand years older than the MacBeth tradition espoused!  However, as Nick Aitchison (1999) pointed out in his singular study of the historical MacBeth,

“another MacBeth was sheriff of Scone in the late twelfth century and it is possible that he, and not MacBeth, King of Scots, is commemorated in the name.”

He may be right.  Or it the name may simply have been grafted onto the stone replacing a more archaic relationship with some long forgotten heathen elder.  We might never know for sure.

When Geoff Holder (2006) wrote about the various MacBeth sites in this area, he remarked that the folklore of the local people was all down to the pen of one Sir John Sinclair, editor of the first Statistical Account of the area—but this is a gross and probably inaccurate generalization.  Nowhere in Holder’s work (or in any of his other tomes) does he outline the foundations of local people’s innate subjective animistic relationship to their landscape and its legends; preferring instead, as many uninformed social historians do, to depersonalise the human/landscape relationships, which were part and parcel of everyday life until the coming of the Industrial Revolution.  Fundamentally differing cultural, cosmological and psychological attributes spawned many of the old myths of our land, its megaliths and other prehistoric sites.  It aint rocket science!  Sadly, increasing numbers of folklore students are taking this “easy option” of denouncement, due to educational inabilities.  It’s about time researchers started taking such misdirected students to task!

References:

  1. Aitchison, Nick, MacBeth – Man and Myth, Sutton: Stroud 1999.
  2. Coutts, Herbert, Ancient Monuments of Tayside, Dundee Museum 1970.
  3. Guthrie, James C., The Vale of Strathmore – Its Scenes and Legends, William Paterson: Edinburgh 1875.
  4. Hazlitt, W.C., Faiths and Folklore: A Dictionary, Reeves & Turner: London 1905.
  5. Holder, Geoff, The Guide to Mysterious Perthshire, History Press 2006.
  6. MacNeill, F. Marian, The Silver Bough – volume 1, William MacLellan: Glasgow 1957.
  7. MacPherson, J.G., Strathmore: Past and Present, S. Cowan: Perth 1885.
  8. Michell, John, Simulacra, Thames & Hudson: London 1979.
  9. Pennant, Thomas, A Tour in Scotland and Voyage to the Hebrides – volume 2, London 1776.
  10. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, South-East Perth: An Archaeological Landscape, HMSO: Edinburgh 1994.
  11. Simpson, James, Archaic Sculpturings of Cups, Circles, etc., Upon Stones and Rocks in Scotland, England and other Countries, Edmonston & Douglas: Edinburgh 1867.
  12. Wise, Thomas A., “Notice of Recent Excavations in the Hill Fort of Dunsinane, Perthshire,” in Proceedings Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 2, 1855.
  13. Wise, Thomas A., History of Paganism in Caledonia, Trubner: London 1884.

Acknowledgements:  With huge thanks to Paul Hornby for his help getting me to this impressive monolith; and to Nina Harris, for prompting some intriguing ideas.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

MacBeth's Stone

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MacBeth\'s Stone 56.577634, -3.173642 MacBeth\'s Stone

Witches Stones, Kirkton of Auchterhouse, Angus

Cup-and-Ring Stones (lost):  OS Grid Reference – NO 345 392

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 31908
  2. Greenfield Knowe
  3. Greenford Knowe
  4. Sidlaw Hospital
  5. Spittal Stones

Archaeology & History

1843 map showing the 'Stone'

1843 map showing the ‘Stone’

We have no precise location for this carving, nor several of its petroglyphic relatives who lived within this arena for countless centuries until (you guessed it!) the advance of the Industrialists brought their profane ways to the region, with the usual disregard for local people and their unwritten traditions.   Which is a great pity, for there was obviously some old stories and important archaeology hereby.  Aubrey Burl (1988) for one, thought this cup-and-ring carving may have played its part in being one of the stones in a larger “four-poster” stone circle; though local history accounts tell that it was part of an impressive prehistoric tomb.

One of the Witches Stones

One of the Witches Stones

The Witches’ Stone we see illustrated here was one of at least two carvings in a cluster of stones.  The great J. Romilly Allen (1881) wrote about the it, although it seems he never visited the site himself.  Instead, his description came from that of a colleague, a Mr W. McNicoll, who told him that at the position marked on the early OS-map as a single “Stone” that was “Remains of a Druidical Altar” there were in fact

“two in number: one, an upright pointed stone, 5ft by 2ft by 3ft 6in high; ans the other lying 3ft 6in to the southwest, 7ft 6in by 5ft by 2ft 6in thick.  The latter has fifteen cups, varying from 2 to 3in in diameter; one with a single ring carved on the sloping face at the south end of the stone.  It lies horizontally and has two hollows, worn at the ends where the cups are, by the toes of persons climbing onto the top.  The ground under this stone has been partly removed and it appears to rest on two others; but the whole appears to be natural and not a cromlech or rocking stone.”

Folklore

One of the Witches Stones

One of the Witches Stones

Reference was made to this “Witches Stone” in the 1860 Object Name Book of the region, where it was said to have been part of a larger group, “considered to have been used by the Druids as a place of worship.”  This catch-all phrase of druidic relevance should be translated as “local traditional importance” where animistic rites of some sort would have occurred.  Certainly we find the usual reverence or fear in the local tale told by Mr Hutcheson (1905) which he thankfully recorded following his visit to the site:

“Here…occupying a small knoll known locally as Greenfield Knowe, towards the western end of the plateau…two upright standing stones of boulder character formed a conspicuous feature.  They were, if tradition be accepted, the survivors of a larger group.  The same tradition records that the farmer of Greenfield Farm, requiring stones for the erection of dykes, removed some of the standing stones from Greenfield Knowe.  He, however, speedily found unexpected difficulty in carrying out his intentions.  The dykers whom he had employed absolutely refused to use the stones, alleging they would thereby bring misfortune upon themselves and families, , and threatened, rather than risk such calamities, to throw up the job.

“While in this quandry the farmer, it is said, had a vision: a ghostly figure appeared to him, and in a hollow voice warned him against interference with he stones on Greenfield Knowe, and concluded by the adjuration, “Gang ower the howe t’ anither knowe.”  Needless to say, the farmer lost no time in obeying his ghostly visitor.  Next morning he carted back the stones he had removed and sought material for his dykes elsewhere.”

This is probably the same tale, slightly reformed, which the local historian W.M. Inglis (1888) described, when he told that,

“About the beginning of the present century, when a worthy old parishioner was having some repairs carried out upon his house, he removed a few of the large stones with the intention of having them built into the walls.  Throughout the night, however, an eerie feeling came over him, his conscience was on fire, he could get no rest.  Accordingly he got out of bed, yoked his horse into the cart, and like a sensible man replaced yjr sacred stones where he found them, went home, and thereafter slept the sleep of the righteous.”

…to be continued…

References:

  1. Allen, J. Romilly, “Notice of Prehistoric Remains near Tealing, in Forfarshire” in Journal of British Archaeological Association, volume 37, 1881.
  2. Burl, Aubrey, Four Posters: Bronze Age Stone Circles of Western Europe, BAR 195: Oxford 1988.
  3. Hutcheson, Alexander, “Notice of the Discovery of Stone Coffins at Auchterhouse,” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 39, 1905.
  4. Inglis, W. Mason, Annals of an Angus Parish, John Leng: Dundee 1888.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.540953, -3.064462 Witches Stone petroglyph

Crown Tree, Keillor, Perthshire

Legendary Tree (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NO 27279 40789

Getting Here

The Crown Tree, shown on the 1865 6″ OS map

The site of the tree may be seen from the north side of the Kettins to Newtyle road, just before the Perthshire-Angus boundary sign. It stood on the south-west side of the dip at the far end of the field, next to the raised causeway.

Archaeology & History

Nothing now remains of the tree.  The Ordnance Survey name book gives the following description, attested by Hugh Watson of Keillor, Thomas Mole of Denside and Charles Wood of High Keillor:

“[Situation] About 32 chains NE of Keillour. A large tree situated on the farm of Keillor. It is traditionally stated that Barons held their court under this tree, also that criminals were executed on it. Whence the name.”

Crown Tree stood left of the dip in front of the causeway

The tree was about 160 feet to the south-west of the boundary between the parishes of Kettins and Newtyle, on the Kettins side, both of which parishes were historically in the county of Angus, so it was likely also to have been an ancient boundary marker. Keillour, with the Parish of Kettins is now in Perthshire.

Based on the evidence of the 25″ OS maps, it seems the tree was felled sometime between 1900 and 1921.

Reference:

  1. Ordnance Survey Name Book, Forfar (Angus) Volume 52, 1857-61

© Paul T. Hornby, The Northern Antiquarian 2017

 

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  56.553481, -3.184489 Crown Tree

Hill of Ballunie, Kettins, Perthshire

Stone Circle (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NO 265 389

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 30549

Archaeology & History

Looking dead straight from the Hill of Ballunie to Leys.
Looking dead straight from the Hill of Ballunie to Leys.

There seems to be nothing left of the stone circle described in Andrew Jervise’s (1879) immense work which, sadly, only described this stone circle in passing.  He told us simply that hereby, “are also the remains of stone circles upon the hill of Ballunie,” which is just a few hundred yards along the road from the magnificent Keillor Pictish symbol stone.  When we visited the place not long ago, no trace of any stones were visible hereby. The site is not listed in Burl’s (2000) magnum opus.

However, ley-hunters will love this place.  Not only was this lost circle located at the edge of a dead straight road, running from the Keillor standing stone a short distant east, but as it runs downhill it reaches, a couple of miles below, the hamlet called Leys.

References:

  1. Jervise, Andrew, Epitaphs and Inscriptions from Burial Grounds and Old Buildings in the North-East of Scotland – volume 2, Edmonston & Douglas: Edinburgh 1875.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Hill of Ballunie circle

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Hill of Ballunie circle 56.536641, -3.195186 Hill of Ballunie circle

Kinpurnie, Newtyle, Angus

Cairn:  OS Grid Reference – NO 2808 4069

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 30914

Getting Here

The giant Kinpurnie cairn
The giant Kinpurnie cairn

From the large village of Newtyle, take the straight road west as if heading to Kettins.  About half-a-mile along, 100 yards or so past the turn-off to Kinpurnie Castle on your left – stop!  In the second field after the turn-off, halfway up the slope you’ll see a large circular rise in the land with a crown of large trees sitting thereon. That’s the cairn!

Archaeology & History

Not far from the impressive Keillor standing stone is this huge prehistoric tomb.  Measuring about 90 feet across and more than 7 feet high in places, the mass of rocks making up the site is now crowned by a healthy ring of trees.  Near the middle of it you can see a collapsed tomb or cist, but there may be more than one inside this giant fella.  Its size implies that it was a tomb or burial centre for tribal elders, leaders or shamans.  When we visited the site last week, the field was still in full crop, so we couldn’t take a close look at it and must return again at a later date.  Apart from a brief note of the site in the Royal Commission (1983) archaeology listing for the county, no details have been made of this huge cairn—which is incredible in itself!

References:

  1. Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, The Archaeological Sites & Monuments of Central Angus, Angus District, Tayside Region, HMSO: Edinburgh 1983.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.552729, -3.171579 Kinpurnie cairn

Keillor, Kettins, Perthshire

Standing Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NO 27332 39760

The tall carved stone at Keillor
The tall carved stone at Keillor

Also Known as:

  1. Baldowrie
  2. Canmore ID 30545
  3. High Keillor
  4. Symbol Stone

Getting Here

Take the minor road that runs from the small town of Newtyle (in Angus) westwards to Kettins (in Perthshire). Less than a mile on, go up the first turn-off on your left to Kinpurnie Castle and continue (past the castle) for less than a mile. Keep your eyes peeled on the right-hand side of the road, opposite the drive to High Keillor – and you can’t really miss it!

Archaeology & History

Another feel of Keillor's Stone
Another feel of Keillor’s Stone

A fascinating site in an excellent setting.  Here we have a 6-7 foot tall standing stone living upon a what is most probably a Bronze Age tumulus (possibly neolithic, but we aint sure), on whose south-face were carved a series of Pictish symbols many many centuries ago.  In the surrounding district there is a vast wealth of similar sites (and many destroyed, like the lost Hill of Ballunie stone circle only a few hundred yards along the road), highlighting that this region was very important indeed to the prehistoric peoples of Strathmore and the Sidlaw Hills.

W.J. Skene's 1832 drawing
W.J. Skene’s 1832 drawing

The Keillor stone was described and illustrated by several of the giant Scottish antiquarians. When James Skene visited the site in the 1830s, the tumulus upon which the stone stands was still pretty complete, as his old drawing from 1832 clearly shows.  Since then the track beside the monument has widened and the road took away half of the burial mound.  But the place has lost little of its majesty.

Another 19th century historian, William Oliphant (1875), when describing the beauty and history of the Sidlaw Hills, below whose edges the old hamlet of Keillor stands, told of this,

“old and striking monument, making the spot on which it stands historical, though no syllable of the history has come down to us.  It is, one writer says, “one of those remarkable sculptured monuments of the ancient inhabitants of Scotland, embellished, in this instance, with the rude outline of the boar.”  Another writer says, “at Baldowrie there is an erect Danish monument six feet high.  It contains some figures, but they are almost entirely defaced.”

In John Stuart’s (1856) superb magnum opus he told that this carved pillar with “a boar” on it, standing on an ancient “tumulus of earth and stones” was found to have evidence of several burials inside when a dig at the site occurred which, he told, “I was present (at) in the autumn of 1854.” He described the site as follows:

Stone with carved symbols (after RCAHMS 1994)
Stone with carved symbols (after RCAHMS 1994)

Stuart's 1854 drawing of the carved stone
Stuart’s 1854 drawing of the carved stone

“The Stone at Keillor is placed on a tumulus on the north slope of the Hill of Keillor, in the Parish of Newtyle, and Shire of Forfar. It is a rough stone, formed of gneiss, convex in front, and rugged behind. The tumulus on which it is placed is formed of earth and stones, and several cists containing bones have been found in it. Ancient sepulchral remains have also been dug up in various parts of the adjoining field.

“The stone was broken across some years ago about a foot above the ground, but the parts have recently been clasped together, and the stone replaced in its original site by orders of Lord Wharncliffe. The present drawing was made with much care by Dr. Wise, and is more perfect than the copy in Mr. Chalmers’ volume.  The surface of the stone is so rough, that it is sometimes with difficulty that the incised lines can be satisfactorily distinguished from natural fissures, but having examined the stone in a variety of lights, and compared Dr. Wise’s sketch with the original, I am inclined to think that the drawing is as satisfactory as can now be obtained.  There is a rough sketch of the stone among Dr. Hibbcrt’s papers, with a supposed Gaelic inscription at the top, meaning “the burying place of the slain,” furnished to Dr. Hibbert by the late Mr. Donald Gregory.  Of such inscription 1 could see no trace.”

The old stone himself
The old stone himself

Faint carvings just visible
Faint carvings just visible

And as far as I am aware, this Gaelic inscription has not subsequently been recorded.  But considering the position of the stone in the landscape, it’s understandable if some of the carvings have eroded away by simple weathering.  Indeed, when Paul Hornby and I visited here only a couple of weeks ago, despite the weather conditions being excellent, the carvings were difficult to make out. Modern interpretations differ between the topmost animal carving being either a wolf or a boar. Below this we see the more common Pictish symbol described as a double disc and Z-rod symbol, for which academia still struggles to afford cogent explanations.

Keillor stone on 1865 map
Keillor stone on 1865 map

Whilst the prehistoric age of the tumulus on which this stone stands is not in doubt, we don’t know exactly when this stone was first erected here.  Whilst some of the early accounts—including the Ordnance Survey team who first visited here in 1860—describe it in an upright position, when A.J. Warden (1880) wrote about it in his massive survey of the region, he noted that wasn’t always the case:

“On the north slope of the Hill of Keillor, in the parish of Newtyle, there is a rough stone composed of gneiss, somewhat convex in front but rugged behind. It is placed on a tumulus formed of earth and stones, and several cists containing bones were found in it; while, in the adjoining field, ancient sepulchral remains have also been found.  The stone was broken across about a foot from the ground, but the parts have been again united and the stone replaced on its original site. On the stone there is the figure of an animal, below which are the spectacle and other symbols, all incised.”

The stone presently stands on a modern plinth to protect it from the elements and such things.  It was erroneously described in the Royal Commission’s 1999 survey of Pictish monuments as being just “1.4m in height”, whereas it is in fact some 6½ feet tall, or around 1.98m.

The Great Pyramid to the northwest
The Great Pyramid to the northwest

The view from here, east, north and west is superb. The high rolling hills of Angus stretch into the north and eastern skies; whilst more westerly are the grand olde mountain ridges into deepest Perthshire. And looking northwestwards from our old standing stone, one shapely mountain in particular is notable, standing out upon the ridge of distant hills: a great pyramid which I initially thought may have been Ben Vorlich.  But thanks to the help of several local people, have found that it is in fact Schiehallion – the great Mountains of the Fairy Folk, about 50 miles away!  Some folk think that it may have had relevance in the animistic formula with this monument—and I’ll hazard that it did too…

…to be continued…

References:

  1. Allen, J. Romilly, Early Christian Monuments of Scotland, 1903.
  2. Coutts, Herbert, Ancient Monuments of Tayside, Dundee Museum 1970.
  3. Guthrie, James C., The Vale of Strathmore – Its Scenes and Legends, William Peterson: Edinburgh 1875.
  4. Jervise, Andrew, Epitaphs and Inscriptions from Burial Grounds and Old Buildings in the North-East of Scotland – volume 1, Edmonston & Douglas: Edinburgh 1875.
  5. Mack, Alastair L., Field guide to the Pictish symbol stones, Pinkfoot Press 1997.
  6. MacPherson, J.G., Strathmore: Past and Present, S. Cowan: Perth 1885.
  7. Marshall, William, Historic Scenes of Forfarshire, William Oliphant: Edinburgh 1875.
  8. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, South-East Perth: An Archaeological Landscape, HMSO: Edinburgh 1994.
  9. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Pictish Symbol Stones: A Gazetteer, Edinburgh 1999.
  10. Stuart, John, Sculptured Stones of Scotland – volume 1, Spalding Club: Aberdeen & Edinburgh 1856.
  11. Sutherland, Elizabeth, A Guide to Pictish Stones, Birlinn: Edinburgh 1997.
  12. Warden, Alex J., Angus or Forfarshire: The Land and People – Descriptive and Historical – volumes 1, Charles Alexander: Dundee 1880.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Keillor stone

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Keillor stone 56.544179, -3.183417 Keillor stone