Katie Thirsty’s Well, Logie, Stirlingshire

Sacred Well:  OS Grid Reference – NS 81787 97653

Getting Here

The scraggy hawthorn of Katie Thirsty’s Well

Not too tricky to locate, as long as you get onto the right footpath!  Take either road (both steep narrow and very bendy in places!) up from Logie on one side or Bridge of Allan on the other, towards Sheriffmuir and head to the Faerie or Highlandman’s Well.  About 150 yards before this, note the small car-park.  From here, go through the gate as if you’re walking to Dumyat, but 50 yards along the footpath it splits into two.  Take the lower right-hand path and keep walking for another 600 yards until you see a large worn hawthorn tree on your left, with boggy land just in front of it that runs to the path you’re walking on.  That’s it!

Archaeology & History

‘Katie Thirsty’ is a most intriguing character who pops up at a number of healing wells, primarily in Scotland.  Dedications to her are known near Abernethy, Falkirk, Innerleithen, Killearn, Kilsyth and elsewhere, with one example just over the Scottish border in Northumberland.  So who was she? And what’s the story behind this little known example, close to the ruinous Iron Age village east of Dumyat?  The truth is, we don’t know for sure as yet.  Tales are told of a local lady called ‘Katie’ at the wells near Abernethy and Kilsyth, each with their own domestic myth—but it seems that a wider mythic status underlies this dedication.

One very fine notion comes from the pen of Pictish researcher Ronald Henderson (2008; 2014), who tells that the name derives from a corruption of both St. Katherine of Alexandria [Katie] and the Pictish King, Drust or Drustan [Thirsty].  The latter etymological postulation finds faith in the fact that the great crags of Dumyat less than a mile to the east is universally credited with being the last Pictish stronghold at the old hillfort there.

The flowing clear waters

…This well on the hills north of Logie village—with its old hawthorn for companion above the old path to medieval Fossachie village—flows nicely, and its freezing waters are very good to drink.  Twenty yards east of the boggy overflow are the overgrown remains of an isolated Iron Age ‘homestead’ or hut circle, and the waters of Katie Thirsty’s Well would have been the primary drinking supply to the people living there in ancient times.

Very little is known about the specific history or folklore of the site and it is mentioned only in passing by David Morris (1935) who told us simply:

‘“Katie Thirty’s Well’ was the old name of a clear spring on the hillside by the track leading to Dumyat.”

It’s a beautiful spot to visit, with lovely views for many miles to the east, south and west.  If you’re going to visit the Fairy or Highlandman’s Well nearby, take time to visit Katie Thirsty’s refreshing flow too.

As for Katie herself: does anyone have their own ideas about her…?

References:

  1. Henderson, Ronald W., Rex Pictorum – The History of the Kings of the Picts, Perth 2008.
  2. Henderson, Ronald W., “Drust… of the Hundred Battles,” in Celtic Guide, 3:4, April 2014.
  3. Morris, David B., “Causewayhead a Hundred Years Ago,” in Stirling Natural History & Archaeological Society Transactions, 1935.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.156829, -3.904796 Katie Thirsty\'s Well

Ribigill Souterrain, Tongue, Sutherland

 

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  58.457583, -4.431551 Ribigill Souterrain

Souterrain (missing):  OS Grid Reference – NC 5821 5471

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 5354

Archaeology & History

The Royal Commission (1911) lads paid a visit to this site in June, 1909, after an earlier report—allegedly by James Horsburgh—told there to have been one close to the right-hand side of the road, but it has long since been forgotten.  The Commission lads told us simply,

“In a park about ¼-mile north of Ribigil farm-house is the site of an earth-house which was closed up many years ago.”

When I asked a number of local people about the place, they knew nothing of it; so I wandered around in the hope that I might find something.  All that I came across, close to where it was described, were two large flat stones covering a hole in the ground on the other side of the fence from the road.  A number of reeds were in the same field and I thought it must have been a well, but when I laid my ear to it, could hear no running water whatsoever.

References:

  1. Horsburgh, James, Notes of Cromlechs, Duns, Hut-circles, Chambered Cairns and other Remains, in the County of Sutherland“, in Proceedings Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 7, 1870.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

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

Fiscary (3), Farr, Sutherland

Cairn:  OS Grid Reference – NC 73222 62484

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 6446
  2. Pict’s House

Getting Here

Fiscary 3 giant cairn, looking west

Fiscary 3 giant cairn, looking west

Along the A836 road from Bettyhill to Thurso, a mile east of the village keep your eyes peeled to your left (or to the right if you’re coming the other way!), looking north, and you’ll see some very large piles of stones a few hundred yards away. Go through the gate onto the rough grasslands and the first one you reach is the cairn in question. Y’ can’t miss it!

Archaeology & History

On 1878 OS-map as Picts House

On 1878 OS-map as Picts House

Close to the Fiscary 1 and Fiscary 2 tombs, this is the third and southernmost of the three giant cairns on this moorland hillside and is the second largest of the trio.  Curiously it was the only one highlighted by the Ordnance Survey lads in their cartographic analysis here in 1873—they somehow missed the others—when they told it to be a ‘Pictish House’, or broch.  A few years later when the Royal Commission (1911) fellas got their noses up here, they said that this,

“which is the most easterly, is circular in form, is about 68ft in diameter, and 15ft 6in to the apex, on which a small pile of stones has recently been erected.  The cairn does not appear to have been excavated, but the stones in several places have been pulled out, probably in attempts to discover the chambers or in pursuit of rabbits.”

Looking into its centre

Looking into its centre

Long stone at southern edge

Long stone at southern edge

Considering the size of this giant cairn and its close association with is neighbours 150 yards northwest, I’m surprised at the lack of attention it’s been given.  Within the collapse of stones on its southern-side we find an elongated stone which seems to have stood upright at some point in the past, either at the very edge of the cairn, or just inside it.  It may even have been a covering stone to a collapsed entrance, but without an excavation we’re not gonna know for certain.

The fact that this cairn is on the slopes south of the crowning cairns of Fiscary 1 and Fiscary 2 implies that this was built some centuries later than them.  Also notable here is that the view to the north is blocked and we are instead only looking across a panorama east, south and west.

Folklore

Looking across into the east

Looking across into the east

Local tradition told that this was a Pict’s house, or broch (it may well have been) and is shown as such on the first Ordnance Survey account of the region in 1878.  Otta Swire (1963) told that this landscape was once peopled by giants who made the land and played a part in the creation of some of the giant tombs around here.  One time local school-teacher at Bettyhill, Alan Temperley (1977) also told us how the fairy folk lived close to the giant tombs of Fiscary.

References:

  1. Gourley, Robert, Sutherland: An Archaeological Guide, Birlinn: Edinburgh 1996.
  2. Henshall, Audrey S., The Chambered Tombs of Scotland – volume 1, Edinburgh University Press 1963.
  3. Henshall, Audrey S., “The Distant Past,” in The Sutherland Book (edited by Donald Omand), Northern Times: Golspie 1991.
  4. Henshall, Audrey S., The Chambered Cairns of Sutherland, Edinburgh University Press 1995.
  5. Lelong, Olivia C., “Writing People into the Landscape: Approaches to the Archaeology of Badenoch and Strathnaver,” University of Glasgow 2002.
  6. o’ Reilly, Kevin & Crockford, Ashley, What to See Around Bettyhill, privately printed 2009.
  7. Royal Commission on Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, Second report and inventory of monuments and constructions in the county of Sutherland. HMSO: Edinburgh 1911.
  8. Sutherland, George, Folk-lore Gleanings and Character Sketches from the Far North, John o’ Groats Journal: Wick 1937.
  9. Temperley, Alan, Tales of the North Coast, Research Publishing Company: London 1977.

Acknowledgments:  HUGE thanks to Aisha Domleo and for getting me up here.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  58.531911, -4.179048 Fiscary (3)

Dunvarich, Tongue, Sutherland

 

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  58.477954, -4.420205 Dunvarich Souterrain, Tongue

Souterrain (lost):  OS Grid Reference – NC 59 57

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 5341

Archaeology & History

Site of the lost souterrain

There are a number of souterrains—or “earth houses” as they used to be known—in Sutherland that have been lost.  Many have simply fallen prey to being filled-in or covered over.  This is one such site, found in the fields between Tongue village heading out towards the sea-bridge crossing the Kyle.  In a brief excursion I made to the area a few days ago, I couldn’t locate the site and no one I spoke to seemed to know anything about it.  I’m assuming that the site has simply been blocked-up and overgrown, hiding beneath the green pastures above the sea-line.

Its exact whereabouts is difficult to ascertain, for when it was described in Mr Horsburgh’s (1870) excursion to the area, the location he gave for it was somewhat vague, telling:

“Between Tongue House and Kirkiboll, in a field on the right of the road, there is an Eirde house, which I opened for examination (it had often been opened before); it is now about 25 feet long, 2½ feet broad at the entrance, and widens to 4 feet at the far end, where it terminates in a circle; the sides are built with small stones without mortar, and the top covered with large flat slabs.”

This places the location of the souterrain anywhere in the fields between grid-references NC 5904 5815 to the north (near Tongue House) and NC 5901 5678 to the south.  If anyone knows anything about this site, please let us know.

References:

  1. Horsburgh, James, Notes of Cromlechs, Duns, Hut-circles, Chambered Cairns and other Remains, in the County of Sutherland“, in Proceedings Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 7, 1870

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Baile Mhargaite Enclosure 1, Bettyhill, Sutherland

 

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  58.519653, -4.236361 Baile Mhargaite Enclosure 1

Enclosure:  OS Grid Reference – NC 69843 61228

Also Known as:

  1. Bail Margait
  2. Margaret’s Town

Getting Here

Baile Mhargaite 1 enclosure, looking NW

Baile Mhargaite 1 enclosure, looking NW

Take the A836 road west out of Bettyhill, down the road and cross the river on the tiny bridge.  From here, go over the gate on the right-hand side of the road and follow the edge of the river towards the sea. Crossing the large extensive sands, you’ll reach a large sand and gravel rise ahead of you. Once on top of this natural feature, walk NNE for 550 yards (0.5km) until you reach one of many extensive sandy expanses in the grasses (and pass tons of archaeological remains as you walk!).  You’ll get there!

Archaeology & History

Arc of south, west & north walling

Arc of south, west & north walling

On this naturally raised sand-and-gravel platform at the edge of this beautiful sandy coastline in the far north of Scotland, walking in search of this particular enclosure, you’ll meander past a whole host of prehistoric sites and remains – some of which are plain to see, others hiding almost just above ground level, barely visible.  But if you’re an antiquarian or historian, this plateau is a minefield of forgotten history!

The site is shown on the 1878 Ordnance Survey map of the region as a “hut circle”, which it may well have been—but this is a large hut circle and was more probably a place where a large family would easily have lived.  When I visited the place the other week, there were no internal features visible.  It is a large ring of stones made up of thousands of small rocks whose walls are low and scattered, barely a foot above present ground-level in places, and barely two-feet at the very highest.  It has been greatly ruined or robbed of other architectural elements and an excavation is in order.  My initial evaluation is that this structure is at least Iron Age in origin.  In Angus Mackay’s (1906) venture here in the early 1900s, he suggested that this and the other “circular rings” were “cattle folds.”

Aerial view, looking straight down

Aerial view, looking straight down

Looking down from the broch above

Looking down from the broch above

The enclosure measures, from outer-edge to outer-edge of the walling, 16.5 yards (15.1m) east-west by 18 yards (16.5m) north-south, and has a circumference of roughly 52.5 yards (4mm); although an accurate measure of its circumference is hampered by the scatter of spoilage from the collapsed walls stretching outwards.  Only the western walled section remains in reasonably good condition.

Looking south, thru the enclosure

Looking south, thru the enclosure

Close by are many cairns, some of which are prehistoric.  A chambered cairn  on the same ridge less than 200 yards away, with another enclosure of the same type yards away, clearly shows that people have lived and used this raised section of land for thousands of years.  We know that people were still living here at the end of the 18th century which—for me at least—begs the question: what ancient traditions, customs and lore did these people know about, which may have dated back into truly ancient history?  …And then the english Clearances destroyed them…

References:

  1. Mackay, Angus, “Notes on a Slab with Incised Crescentic Design, Stone Mould for Casting Bronze Spear-Heads, a Cup-Marked Stone, Holy Water Stoup, and other Antiquities in Strathnaver, Sutherlandshire,” in Proceedings of the Society Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 40, 1906.
  2. Royal Commission on Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, Second report and inventory of monuments and constructions in the county of Sutherland. HMSO: Edinburgh 1911.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Baile Mhargaite Cist (01), Bettyhill, Sutherland

Cist:  OS Grid Reference – NC 69908 61102

Getting Here

Get yourself to the Baile Mhargaite Enclosure 1 and walk less than 150 yards southeast.  Keep your eyes keenly peeled on the ground as you can easily miss this one!

Archaeology & History

One of Baile Mhargaite's cists

One of Baile Mhargaite’s cists

The only archaeological note I can find of this small singular prehistoric grave is in the Canmore entry, which is far from clear as to the position and situation of many sites hereby.  They described this small sand-filled grave (which they describe as ‘Cist b’) as being “on a gravel ridge and is oriented N-S. It measures 0.8m by 0.6m.”  That’s it!

Looking down on the tomb

Looking down on the tomb

But saying that, it is a small single little thing amidst a huge mass of material.  It may well have been covered by a larger cairn at an earlier date, as there are many such monuments on this elevated sandy plain and the slight surround of smaller stones at, and just beneath the surface may validate this.  It is also possible that this was the spot where “beaker fragments…found in a cist at Bettyhill” came from, but the archaeological records (Abercromby 1912; Mitchell 1934) are not accurate.  Two other cists close by are the other potential candidates!

References:

  1.  Abercromby, John, A Study of the Bronze Age Pottery of Britain and Ireland – volume 1, Clarendon: Oxford 1912.
  2. Mitchell, Margaret E.C., “A New Analysis of the Early Bronze Age BeakerPottery of Scotland,”in Proceedings of the Society Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 68, 1934.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  58.518699, -4.235258 Baile Mhargaite Cist (1)

Baile Mhargaite, Bettyhill, Sutherland

Broch: OS Grid Reference – NC 69742 60973

Highlighted on 1878 OS-map

Highlighted on 1878 OS-map

Also Known as:

  1. Ca an Duin
  2. Canmore ID 5786
  3. Invernaver
  4. Lochan Druim An Duin
  5. Sandy Dun

Getting Here

Baile Mhargaite broch from below

Baile Mhargaite broch from below

Take the A836 road west through Bettyhill and downhill, turning right and going over the small bridge at the bottom. From here, go over the gate on the right-hand side of the road and follow the edge of the river towards the sea. Crossing the large extensive sands, you’ll reach a large rise ahead of you and, to the left (west) a burn tumbles down from the hills above. Walk up it and head to the rocky rise on the level 50 yards past the burn. You’re here!

Archaeology & History

Once you’ve clambered the rocky hill to reach the broch, you’ll be damn impressed. This is a real beauty – although from the outside it looks nothing of the sort. The outer wall is a veritable jumbled mass of rocks piled on top of each other in a manner that looks as if human hands once fumbled them in some sort of order, long since fallen away. Around the western side of the structure, faint remains of steps lead up towards more ordered-looking walling ahead of you. Before you walk up the remains of steps, notice the more structured walling, about three feet high to your right, curving around the large structure you are already inside the edges of.

Whether you walk up the stepped remains or simply up the outer walling, once you see the internal stone walling of this high cliff broch, you’ll be impressed. It’s a big bugger – and in damn good condition when you consider that it’s probably 2000 years old, or more! A large round walled structure, about three feet high all round, well sheltered from the wind and rains, measures some 30 feet across.Arc of outer western wall

The internal living quarters

The internal living quarters

Eastern section of the broch

Eastern section of the broch

The site is still known by some local people as a “Pictish Tower” and was described as such on the 1878 Ordnance Survey map (see above) and its Gaelic name is Ca an Duin(Mackay 1906).  The probability of the brochs as being Pictish in origin is more than likely.  Tradition up here speaks of them as such – and we know that such traditions go back many centuries in these isolated areas.  An early mention of this Pictish Tower was given in James Horsburgh’s (1870) essay, but it wasn’t described in any real detail until the Royal Commission (1911) fellas looked at the site.  They wrote:

“On the summit of the hill which rises to the W of the gravelly plateau opposite Bettyhill, and on the N side of the track which leads from Strathnaver to Torrisdail, is situated a broch.  It is called the “Sandy Dun”.  The wall is probably erect for a considerable height, but the interior is largely filled up with blown sand.  The entrance is from the SW.  The interior diameter is 29 feet and the thickness of the wall 12 feet.  Near the top of the wall in the interior is a projecting ledge, about 10 feet wide, running all around.  The slabs which form it are an integral part of the structure and the wall is thicker below than above.  The outer face of the wall is much ruined…”

Gazing NE from inside the broch

Gazing NE from inside the broch

Although some of the internal walling has been taken away since the 1911 survey, the interior of the site has been cleaned up by local people and it is presently in a very good condition indeed.  The broch may have been built onto an earlier fortified structure, rising above the stunning prehistoric settlements and necropolis on the sandy plateau immediately below. It would make sense – as many earlier Neolithic and Bronze Age remains look up at the prominent rock pinnacle it’s built upon from the sandy plain below, almost as if it was a natural temple in the animistic traditions of the earlier peoples.

If you visit this gorgeous region, the Baile Mhargaite broch should definitely be on your list of sites to see.

Folklore

Old lore told that this broch was attacked by outside invaders many centuries ago.   Mr Horsburgh (1870) told that,

“an old woman hid a croc of gold previous to the dun being attacked, and measured the distance from it with a clew of thread.”

References:

  1. Horsburgh, James, Notes of Cromlechs, Duns, Hut-circles, Chambered Cairns and other Remains, in the County of Sutherland“, in Proceedings Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 7, 1870
  2. Mackay, Angus, “Notes on a Slab with Incised Crescentic Design, Stone Mould for Casting Bronze Spear-Heads, a Cup-Marked Stone, Holy Water Stoup, and other Antiquities in Strathnaver, Sutherlandshire,” in Proceedings of the Society Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 40, 1906.
  3. MacKie, E W., The Roundhouses, Brochs and Wheelhouses of Atlantic Scotland c.700 BC-AD 500 – volume 2, British Archaeological Report: Oxford 2007.
  4. o’ Reilly, Kevin & Crockfird, Ashley, What to See Around Bettyhill, privately printed 2009.
  5. Royal Commission on Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, Second report and inventory of monuments and constructions in the county of Sutherland. HMSO: Edinburgh 1911.

Acknowledgements:  Immense thanks go to Aisha Domleo and Unabel Gordon for their help getting me up here.  This site profile would not exist without their encouragement.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  58.517348, -4.237922 Baile Mhargaite Broch

Castle Craig, Tillicoultry, Clackmannanshire

‘Fort’ (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NS 9116 9769

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 48294

Archaeology & History

This ancient fort could once be seen in the ancient woodlands on the western side of the Mill Glen, above the village, going into the Ochils—but it was completely destroyed, as usual, by the Industrialists when they quarried the entire structure out of existence.  It was a big thing too, by all accounts.  When Stewart Cruden (1964) saw it, shortly before its final demise, it was still impressive to look at.  He told that the fort consisted of a deep rock-cut ditch with a stone wall on the inside and the remains of a stony rampart on the outside.  Although damaged it still measured 300 feet across.  Its interior contained an almost precise circular enclosure, more than eighty feet across inside the remains of a large stone wall some twelve feet thick.

Nearly a hundred years earlier, Miss Christian MacLagan (1875) told it to be much bigger!  Not only did she report how locals remembered a stone roof on top, but it possessed three concentric circular walls, thirty-five apart, with the central area eighty feet in diameter—much as Cruden later reported.  However, even in MacLagan’s day, she told how many of the stones from the fort were being used to construct sheepfolds.  This destruction was being lamented by the local historian William Gibson (1883), who wrote:

“On the west side of the burn, and overtopping the village, stands the beautiful Castle Craig, wooded to the top, and on which stood, in ancient times, a round Pictish fortress, the traces of which can still be distinctly seen. This craig is, I think, one of the most picturesque objects on the Alva estate, and it is a very great pity that it should be so disfigured by the extensive quarrying operations that are being at present carried on at it.”

On the top of the quarry edges can still be found old walled remains crumbling at the edge of the huge cliffs, but these are unlikely to have been attached to the ancient fortress, and may just be the fragmentary memories of the sheepfolds built from the old fort.

Folklore

Tradition told that this was one of the old forts of the Picts who lived in the Ochils.  If it was a fort, then the Pictish tradition is probably true.  Old lore also told that some of the stones from the fort were used in the construction of Stirling Castle, 7.8 miles (12.6km) to the west.

References:

  1. Corbett, L., et al., The Ochil Hills, Forth Naturalist & Historian 1994.
  2. Cruden, Stewart H., “Castle Craig, Tillicoultry,” in Discovery & Excavation Scotland, 1964.
  3. Feacham, Richard, Guide to Prehistoric Scotland, Batsford: London 1977.
  4. Gibson, William, Reminiscences of Dollar, Tillicoultry and other Districts Adjoining the Ochils, Andrew Elliot 1883.
  5. Maclagan, Christian, The Hill Forts, Stone Circles and other Structural Remains of Ancient Scotland, Edinburgh 1875.
  6. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, Inventory of Monuments and Constructions in the Counties of Fife, Kinross and Clackmannan, HMSO: Edinburgh 1933.
  7. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, The Archaeological Sites and Monuments of Clackmannan District and Falkirk District, Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 1978.
  8. Watson, Angus, The Ochils: Placenames, History, Tradition, PKDC: Perth 1995.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.159423, -3.754137 Castle Craig

Girdle Stane, Dunnichen, Angus

Cup-and-Ring Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NO 52808 49737

John Sheriff's 1995 drawing of Girdle Stane

John Sheriff’s 1995 drawing of Girdle Stane

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 34662
  2. Dunnichen 1
  3. Girdlestane
  4. The Girdle Stane of Dunnichen
  5. Girdle Stone

Getting Here

From The Square in Letham village, go north up Auldbar Road and out of the village for 0.6 miles (1km).  Shortly before reaching the road junction at the top, on the left-side of the road is a recess with a stone and a small aging plaque telling you that you’ve reached the Girdle Stane.

Archaeology & History

The Girdle Stane

The Girdle Stane

This cup-and-ring stone is not in its original position.  Although we know from Ordnance Survey records in the 1860s that it was located about 130 yards north of here, close to the road junction, even that is unlikely to have been its original position—but we know not where that might have been!  It is an undoubted multi-period carving, with the earliest section being our typical neolithic or Bronze Age cup-and-ring near the centre of the stone, with several outlying cup-marks toying with our intellect as per usual!  The central cup-and-ring may have an incised line running down out of it, although this isn’t highlighted on John Sheriff’s (1995) drawing of the stone.

Girdle Stane on 1865 map

Girdle Stane on 1865 map

Surrounding the central archetype, by some distance, is a much wider carved ring that almost reaches to defines the edges of the stone itself.  This large encircling motif and other features of the petroglyph—including a large elongated “S” and marks that were probably executed by the Ordnance Survey lads at the bottom corner—were ingredients which prompted Sir James Simpson (1867) to question the veracity of the Girdle Stane’s antiquity.  He wrote:

“The so-called ‘Girdle-stone’ in the…parish of Rescobie, about four feet long and three broad, is cut on its surface with two circles, the largest of which is above two feet and a half broad, and hence does not, I believe, belong to the class which we are considering in this essay”—

More recent "S"-shaped motif

More recent “S”-shaped motif

Close-up of cups, ring and lines

Close-up of cups, ring and lines

i.e., neolithic or Bronze Age petroglyphs.  And you can see his point!  My first impression when Prof Paul Hornby and I visited the site a few days ago, after the initial “that’s a cup-and-ring in the middle”, was to proclaim: “that bit’s much more recent, maybe Pictish?”  But it probably isn’t even Pictish.  This “more recent” carved element is a distinct large elongated “S”, which may have been marked onto it when the stone was used as a township boundary marker between the local parishes.  The grand historical writer Alex Warden (1882) talks about this in his magnum opus, saying:

“At the junction of two roads, a little to the northeastward of Letham, there is a rough boulder, about five feet long by three in breadth, having on its face a circle of about thirty inches in diameter, and another smaller circle about six inches across.  It is called the Girdle Stane of Dunnichen, from the larger circle resembling the utensil called the girdle, s.c. This stone marks the boundaries between the parishes of Dunnichen and Rescobie, also between the lands of Dunnichen and Ochterlony (Balmadies).  It is probably the Grey Stone referred to in a note on the marches of Dunnichen, about 1280.”

Folklore

The folklore of the stone indicates how its origins are rooted in prehistory, despite the later additional symbols.  Alex Warden (1882) tells the all-too-familiar creation myth, usually symptomatic of giant prehistoric cairns:

“Tradition says a witch was carrying this boulder from ‘the Crafts’ of Carmylie in her apron, when the strings broke, and the stone fell where it now lies.”

Carmyllie Hill is 5 miles (8km) to the south and is a place rich in fairy-lore and vandalized prehistoric sites.

References:

  1. Coutts, Herbert, Ancient Monuments of Tayside, Dundee Museum 1970.
  2. Kidd, Scott, The Churches of the Parish of Dunnichen, David Winter: Dundee 1995.
  3. Sherriff, John, “Prehistoric rock-carving in Angus,” in Tayside & Fife Archaeological Journal, volume 1, 1995.
  4. Simpson, James, Archaic Sculpturings of Cups, Circles, etc., Upon Stones and Rocks in Scotland, England and other Countries, Edmonston & Douglas: Edinburgh 1867.
  5. Warden, Alex J., Angus or Forfarshire – volume 3, Charles Alexander: Dundee 1882.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.637054, -2.770979 Girdle Stane