Rob Roy’s Well, Aberfoyle, Perthshire

Healing Well:  OS Grid Reference –  NN 43172 04274

Archaeology & History

Site shown on 1866 map

This long-forgotten site was found just by the old roadside several miles northwest of Aberfoyle, up the B829 Loch Chon road.  Shown on the first Ordnance Survey map of the area in 1866, subsequent visits showed no remains of it and we must assume it had fallen back to Earth.  When we visited the place recently, although there were no remains of any water trough, the spot where the well was shown on the map was very boggy with a small trickle of water running out of the slope.  There is the possibility that, if the soaked soil just above the trickling water was excavated a few feet into the ground, that the original spring might be retrievable.

Obviously, its name tells of the tradition that this was a place where Rob Roy was known to drink.  A number of places in this area bear his name.  Surely this is a site that is worthy of bringing back to life, so to speak, and place it on the Scottish heritage map, where it belongs?

Acknowledgements:  Huge thanks for use of the 1st edition OS-map in this site profile, Reproduced with the kind permission of the National Library of Scotland

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Falls of Monzie (6), Crieff, Perthshire

Cup-Marked Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NN 88740 26366

Getting Here

The rock in the landscape

A couple of miles east of Crieff, take the A822 road from the Gilmerton junction towards the Sma’ Glen.  After literally 1¾ miles (2.8km)—just 100 yards before the track up to Connachan Farm—you’ll reach a dirt-track on your left that leads into the hills.  Go on here and after an easy walk of 400 yards or so, you’ll reach a conspicuous large boulder just by the track-side, on your left.  It’s impossible to miss!

Archaeology & History

Immediately adjacent to the Falls of Monzie (7) carving, this petroglyph was located by Paul Hornby on a recent visit to the Falls of Monzie cluster.

The 3 cups numerated

More than halfway up its south-sloping face are two very distinct cup-marks, some two inches across and up to half-inch deep: one near the western-edge and the other closer to the middle of the rock face.  You can’t really miss them.  They seem to be accompanied by a third about 2 feet further across to the right on its more eastern side.  In formation, the three of them form a small raised arc.  With the naked eye they’re very easy to make out, but were difficult to photograph due to the daylight and angle of the stone; hence in the photo here, I’ve numerated them.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Grinnan Hill, Braco, Perthshire

Hillfort:  OS Grid Reference – NN 8338 0936

Also Known as:

  1. Grianan Hill
  2. Grinan Hill
  3. Grinnon Hill

Getting Here

Grinnan Hill on 1866 map

If you’re coming by car, Braco’s an easy place to park.  Once here, walk up the main road, past the terrace houses until, on your left, you reach the B8033 Feddal Road.  About 500 yards on, where the houses end and you reach the small river bridge, you’ll notice a footpath immediately on your left with a small table where you can have a cuppa.  Walk past this, into the trees and along the riverside for barely 100 yards, and walk up the hillside on your left.  On your way up are a couple of large humps, a bit like a small roller-coaster.  You’re here!

Archaeology & History

Antiquarians amongst you are gonna love this.  It’s huge!  Hiding away and all but forgotten in the little village of Braco, overgrown with trees and brambles, this steep wooded defensive structure has a series of large ramparts—three in all—that you’ll walk up and down before hitting a slightly undulating summit.

William Roy’s 1793 plan
Christison’s 1900 plan

The site was shown as an unnamed triple-ringed hill on William Roy’s 1747-52 survey of Scotland, with the lines representing the ramparts of this ‘fortress’.  Some years later, Roy (1793) briefly mentioned the site when he was comparing indigenous fortifications with those of the Roman invaders, saying that “the small camp at Ardoch” probably “contained more than a Roman legion, with their auxiliaries.”  His sketch and layout of the hillfort (right) is interesting in that it shows the more compete fortified ramparts on the north-eastern sides, which have today been covered by the modern houses.  The ramparts in this part of the hillfort were still visible when the brilliant Miss Christian MacLagan (1875) came here; and in a subsequent visit by Mr Christison (1900) they could still be seen, as we can see in in his sketch (left).  When we visited recently, it looked as if the lads who’d landscaped the large gardens most probably, unknowingly, used the soil of the ramparts to create them!

Apart from the missing northeastern ramparts, the site today is little different from when our antiquarians wrote of it more than a hundred years back.  Read Miss MacLagan for example, who said:

“Near the parish church is an eminence called Grianan Hill, on which are still to be traced the remains of a British fort.  The hill is a beautifully wooded knoll to the west of the village of Braco.  It appears to be about 100 feet in height above the level of the surrounding land; on three of its sides the ground is perfectly flat, and we could suppose that in the amply days of the fort above, it had been environed on three sides by a lake, which would of course contribute to its strength.  The fourth side of the hill, having but little natural strength, has been strongly fortified by three great walls.  This is the side which connects the knoll with the neighbouring rising ground which is nearly as high as itself.

“The area enclosed by the innermost circular wall has a diameter of 130 feet.  The space between this wall and the second is 37 feet, and the space between the second and third walls 47 feet.  Almost every stone of this fort has been removed, but the lines and trenches which mark their former presence are still very distinct.”

Christison (1900) subsequently gave us much the same, with just some additional points here and there:

Looking up at SW side
Looking up at S side

“The site is less than ½-mile SW of Ardoch camp, 420 ft above the sea, on the edge of a steep descent, 40 to 50 ft high, to Keir Burn, but only slightly elevated above the field towards Braco village.  It has apparently been an earthwork with a semi-oval triple line of defence…partly ramparted and trenched, partly terraced, the broad oval being rudely completed by the unfortified edge of the steep bank.   The entrance, a, is along the narrow crest of a ridge, i, from the E, and it is likewise approached by a rude roadway, c, from the burnside below.  Roy’s plan makes the work nearly complete, but the middle half of the lines no longer exists.  He says that it may have been a work of the natives before the arrival of the Romans, but calls it a (Roman?) ‘post.’   There can be no doubt that it belongs to a common type of native fortresses.  Its extreme length is about 320 ft, and the interior may have been about 200 by 170.”

Southern line of walling
Footpath along rampart

What he failed to point out—and contrary to Canmore’s comment that “the interior is featureless”—is the length of internal walling running nearly halfway through the top of the hillfort, cutting it in half so to speak, roughly southeast to northwest: the eastern area slightly larger than the west, which is a little higher.  A ‘gate’ or passage between these two sides seems apparent halfway along this line of walling.  This wall, like the long one running along its southern edge, is a couple of feet high and more than a yard across.  In the western section a small pit has been dug, about eight feet across and a yard or so deep.  Local lore tells that this was an old Roman fire-pit!

Around the very bottom mainly on the west-side of the hill, remains of old walling can be seen for a couple of hundred feet beneath the vegetation, but I’m unsure about the date of this structure.  It may well be a 19th century construction, but without an excavation—and none has ever been done here—we will never know for sure.

Undulating ramparts

One final thought on this place is how is may have related with the large Roman forts that are just a few hundred yards away to the northeast.  When the invaders came here, local tribal folk no doubt watched them with caution.  One wonders whether or not some sort of ‘agreement’ was made between our local folk and the aggressive incomers, with them coming to some sort of nervous truce between them which allowed the Romans to build their camp to the east, as long as they kept their distance from the folk in this hillfort.  Just a thought…..

References:

  1. Christison, D., “The Forts, Camps and other Field-Works of Perth, Forfar and Kincardine,” in Proceedings Society Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 34, 1900.
  2. Hogg, A.H.A., British Hill-Forts: An Index, BAR: Oxford 1979.
  3. MacLagan, Christian, The Hill Forts, Stone Circles and other Structural Remains of Ancient Scotland, Edmonston & Douglas: Edinburgh 1875.
  4. Roy, William, Military Antiquities of the Romans in North Britain, W. Bulmer: London 1793.

Links:

  1. Canmore notes

Acknowledgements:  Huge thanks for use of the 1st edition OS-map in this site profile, Reproduced with the kind permission of the National Library of Scotland

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Whitefield Stone, Auchtermuchty, Fife

Cup Marked Stone: OS Grid Reference – NO 23958 13177

Getting Here

Take the B936 out of Auchtermuchty, and park at the small car park for Auchtermuchty Common on your right just before Lumquhat Mill.  Follow the path through the Common southwards and along the narrow strip until the Common opens out past the boundary stone. Head for the sign board on the right and when you get there turn left and march straight up the hillock and the stone is ahead of you in front of a gorse bush.

Archaeology & History

A curious little stone that I found quite by chance. It is wedge shaped in plan, bearing one large cup mark on its top surface. The cup is approximately 2″ in diameter and about ¾” deep.  The raised part of the stone is about 3′ high, it is 3′ long and about 13″ wide at the blunt south end, although at ground level it is nearly 3′ wide at this end.

The stone is orientated due N-S, the south end aligning with the peak of East Lomond (a mythic hill of which at least one legend survives), while the north end points to the river port of Newburgh. It gives the impression of having been carved as a direction marker from what was a much larger stone, which, if this is the case may have originally borne more cups.

Left to Right 1.Facing North – the stone looks to have been cut down from a larger boulder. 2. The summit of East Lomond due South. 3. Aligned North – South.
The cup mark.

Folklore

The first time I visited, there were three small polished coloured stones at the foot of the rock, while the second time there were four stones within the cup. A long term resident out walking his dog told me he knew of no folklore relating to the stone, but that over the last thirty years he had kept seeing offerings of stones in the cup, so the rock clearly still has some ritual significance for local heathens/pagans…

© Paul T Hornby 2021

St. Brendan’s Well, Abernethy, Perthshire

Holy Well (lost):  OS Grid Reference – NO 191 161

Also Known as:

  1. Brendan’s Well
  2. Brendi’s Well

Archaeology & History

In 1897, when Butler wrote his history of the village, he told that a certain well, “adjacent to the Gattaway stream” (thought to be the Nethy Burn which passes Gattaway farm) was known to old locals as Brendan’s Well, with the name still surviving as ‘Bredni Well’.  There were a number of large boulders around it that had been scattered by blasting, but which Butler thought were, “in all probability placed originally near the wall as a guide for pilgrims.”

The site was included in Ruth & Frank Morris’ (1982) survey, adding simply that the site was named “after the saint who lived here in the seventh century.”  In the christian calendar, St. Brendan’s day was May 16.

When the local antiquarian Paul Hornby looked for the well, a local lady told him that she thought an occasional but regular boggy patch that appeared in her garden was due to the underground waters from St Brendan’s Well.

References:

  1. Butler, D., The Ancient Church and Parish of Abernethy, Edinburgh 1897. Page(s): 102
  2. Morris, Ruth & Frank, Scottish Healing Wells, Alethea: Sandy 1982.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Moonshade Stones, Cargill, Perthshire

Standing Stones (buried):  OS Grid Reference – NO 16161 35767

Also Known as:

  1. Moonshade
  2. Canmore ID 28487

Getting Here

Site shown on the 6″ OS Map of 1867

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.’

Looking north from the road the stones stood to the right of and beyond the pylon

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.

Folklore

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?

References:

  1. Bacon, Francis, Sylva Sylvarum : or, A Naturall historie, William Lee: London, 1627.
  2. Bannerman, J.P., Old Statistical Account, Perthshire, 1793.
  3. Jervise, Andrew, Memorials of Angus and Mearns, A & C Black: Edinburgh, 1861.
  4. Ordnance Survey Name Book, Perthshire, Volume 15, 1859-62.
  5. Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford University Press: Oxford, 1971.
  6. Simpson, J., Archaic Sculpturings, Edmonston & Douglas: Edinburgh, 1867.

© Paul T Hornby, 2021 

Cragganester (11), Kenmore, Perthshire

Cup-Marked Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NN 65858 38750

Getting Here

Cragganster 11 in situ

From Killin, take the A827 road to Kenmore. 6 miles along, on your right, is the track down to the Big Shed at Tombreck.  Keep on the A827 for exactly ⅓-mile (0.53km), and opposite the driveway to Craggantoul is a small parking spot.  A few yards on the road, over the burn, go thru the gate on your left.  Follow the straight line of walling up for 400 yards it meets where another line of walling running right (E), into the boggy pasture-lands. Walk along here for roughly another 400 yards then go up the slope as if walking up Ben Lawers (N).  You’ll come to 2 large boulders next to each other where the slope levels out.  It’s the one on your left!

Archaeology & History

This carving is really for the purists amongst you.  It’s like most of the carvings along this contour line in that the design is simplistic.  Consisting of at least nine cups all on top of the stone, they can be difficult to see amidst the rough garnet and lichen-encrusted rock.

Cupmarks on its west face
Looking down on the cups

On one of our visits here, when the light cut across the surface at a lower angle, it seemed as if one of the cups had a faint ring around it; but it looked as if the outline of it had been started, but then for some reason the ring was never actually carved.  This outline is very faint.  We’ve found examples of this at two of the Duncroisk carvings, several miles to the west, where the faintest trace of a ring was outlined, but never carved.  Of the cup-marks: five of them are carved on the east-side of the rock and are pretty easy to see (with the ring around one of them), whilst the other four—slightly more difficult to make out—are on its west side.  A couple of hundred yards north you can see the Cragganester 10 carving.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

St. Fillan’s Tree, Killin, Perthshire

Sacred Tree (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NN 5708 3249

  1. St Fillan’s Ash

Archaeology & History

Long since gone, this great olde ash tree could once be found on the south side of Killin’s Mill building, close to the bridge at the Falls of Dochart.  It was deemed to be ‘sacred’ by local people – just as all trees were, once upon a long time ago.

In John Shearer’s (1883) wonderful book on the ancient ways of the Perthshire people, he described the tree as being adjacent to the earthfast rock known as St. Fillan’s Seat:

“At the side of it grows a large ash tree which is held sacred by the natives as no person will burn any of the branches although fallen to the ground nor destroy them in any manner.  However, there was one who had the hardihood to take one of the branches for a caber to repair his house.  Strange to tell the first fire that was kindled burned it to the ground as a punishment for this impious sacrilege.  Of course no person since has troubled it or taken any of the wood.  The branches that fall lie till they rot.”

The brilliant Killin historian, W.G. Gillies (1938) reported that the tree was still standing until it was “blown down by a gale in 1893″—but it didn’t quite kill it off for good; for in September 1911, C.G. Cash visited Killin and this was one of the many places he looked for and, despite local folk telling him about the more famous St Fillan Stones (still in existence and found at the Mill), he saw the last remnants of this great Ash, telling simply that,

“the mere dead stump of St Fillan’s Ash-tree still stands against the south post of the mill gate.  And quite near it is a young ash, said to be its descendant.  This younger tree has an out-curving branch that was said to have been the gallows-branch in olden days; but it is obviously too young and too weak.”

…So, does anyone know precisely which is the “descendant” of St. Fillan’s Ash and where happens it to be growing?

In Norse myth, the ash tree Yggdrasil was the tree of Odin and was one of the primal ingredients in their Creation myths.  It stood at the centre of the cosmos: an axis mundi no less, linking the many worlds and was the abode of the gods.  Its mythologies are extensive.  In Scotland, the myths of the ash are not so well known, but there’s little doubt that it possessed a sanctity and certainly has many traditions of it own, which are unfortunately outside the remit of this site profile.

References:

  1. Cash, C.G., “Archaeological Gleanings from Killin,” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, volume 46, 1912.
  2. Elders, E A., “Saintly stones in a Perthshire village,” in Country Life, December 1962.
  3. Gillies, William A., In Famed Breadalbane, Munro Press: Perth 1938.
  4. Shearer, John, Antiquities of Strathearn, D. Phillips: Crieff 1883.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Hangie’s Stone, Cargill, Perthshire

Standing Stone: OS Grid Reference – NO 15751 35578 

Also Known as:

  1. Gallowshade
  2. Canmore ID 28479

Getting Here

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

Archaeology & History

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The possible remains of Hangie’s Stone

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

References:

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

© Paul T Hornby 2021

Thistle Brig, Stanley, Perthshire

Legendary Rock: OS Grid Reference – NO 10842 32040

Getting Here

The easiest way to see the site is to stop at the car park at Craighall on the B9099 south of Stanley, and follow the path to the river.  The remains of the Brig will be seen on the other side of the Tay from the riverside walk.

Archaeology & History

The Thistle Brig was described in the nineteenth century Ordnance Survey Name Book as:-

‘A remarkable spot in the River Tay, when the breadth of the river becomes suddenly narrow by the protrusion of a bed of trap rock which crosses it at this place.’

Thistle Brig & the quarries for its hard stone on the 1901 25 in OS-map

According to local historian Alexander Scott, the Thistle Brig formed a convenient place to ford the Tay until  much of it was blasted away by explosives some time in the mid-nineteenth century in order to improve the flow of the river.  Old maps imply that an actual bridge may have spanned the Tay hereabouts at some time in the past.  The seemingly little known folklore of this site relates to an invasion by the Danes in the early mediaeval period. Elsewhere there are similar stories, so the truth or otherwise depends on where you are in Scotland, but this one may have more validity as the tale seems to give its name to the place!

The name ‘Thistle Bridge’ has been applied on old postcards to a stone footbridge over a side channel or lade between the road and the River Tay to the south of the Brig, and is not the subject of this profile.

The remains of the Thistle Brig – a hard basalt dyke on the east bank of the River Tay

Folklore

Alexander Scott, writing of the Brig:-

“…tradition holds that here the thistle received the distinction  of becoming the national emblem of Scotland.  In one of the many invasions the country suffered from foreign armies, the Danes, on one occasion, having landed on the east coast sacked the town of Montrose and continued on their march across the country, burning and pillaging as they went.  While crossing the Tay at this ford at night, the incident occurred of one of the leading soldiers arriving on the opposite side suddenly coming in contact with a thistle with his bare leg, which caused him to emit a shreik of pain.

“The noise was heard by the Scots, who had been encamped nearby, and the alarm thus given was the means of securing a victory over their enemies. The thistle was thereafter honoured as the national badge.”

Reference:

  1. Scott, Alexander, St Martins and Cambusmichael, A Parochial Retrospect, Munro & Scott 1911.

Link:

  1. Ordnance Survey Name Book

© Paul T Hornby 2021