Loch Ardinning, Mugdock, Stirlingshire

Cup-and-Ring Stone (lost):  OS Grid Reference – NS 56 77

Archaeology & History

The hidden Loch Ardinning stone

The hidden Loch Ardinning stone

This site-profile is one for the explorers amongst you.  It was last reported by the rock art author Ronald Morris (1981) who himself looked several times for this multiple-ringed carving, but never managed to find it.  The carving was rediscovered and described by the Glasgow archaeologist J. Harrison Maxwell, who took the only known photograph of the carving (reproduced here).  Sadly, he only left a short note about the site which read simply: “cups-and-rings to the west of Loch Ardinning.”

It seems probable that the carving would be in the area between the loch and the A81 road (between Strathblane and Bearsden) and not on the western side of the road—but we cannot be certain.  It may be hidden in the trees somewhere between the road and the lochside—which means that it’s probably completely overgrown by vegetation.  Morris (1981) described the carving as:

“a cup-and-four-rings, 2 cups-and-two-rings, and at least 4 cups-and-one-ring. Some rings are complete without radial groove and some are gapped with groove from the cup.”

If any explorers out there manage to unearth this lost carving, please give us a shout!

References:

  1. Morris, Ronald W.B., “The Cup-and-Ring and Similar Early Sculptures of Scotland; Part 2 – The Rest of Scotland except Kintyre,” in Transactions of the Ancient Monuments Society, volume 16, 1969.
  2. Morris, Ronald W.B., “The cup-and-ring marks and similar sculptures of Scotland: a survey of the southern Counties – part 2,” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 100, 1969.
  3. Morris, Ronald W.B., The Prehistoric Rock Art of Southern Scotland, BAR: Oxford 1981.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  55.968930, -4.300721 Loch Ardinning

Larkfield Moor, Inverkip, Renfrewshire

Cup-and-Ring Stone (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NS 2295 7591

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 41327

Archaeology & History

When the moorland here was still free from the dodgy factory workings of Texas Instruments (UK) Ltd, a Mr F. Newall (1960) came across this curious example of ancient rock art—now long gone.  He described the find as,

“A series of cup marks and one ring, worked in laminated sandstone (that) has been located on Larkfield Moor by Mr H.M. Sinclair. In several cases the outer edge of the cup has been deeply incised through yellow sandstone to leave a slightly raised boss of red sandstone at the centre.  From the side of the outcrop bearing the cups was recovered a chert scraper, doubly notched on one edge.”

R.W.B. Morris' 1981 sketch

R.W.B. Morris’ 1981 sketch

The “chert scraper” is marked on the adjacent diagram with an “X”.

Although this carving is described on the latest Canmore survey as “possibly a freak geological formation”, we are best erring on the side of caution with their note, as it wasn’t deemed as such by the rock art authority R.W.B. Morris. (1981) (the cup-marks on this stone were, as you can see, quite large—which is the likely reason for the geophysical suggestion) In his account of this design he described the carving as having,

“6 rings up to 20cm (8in) diameters, cut so that they penetrated the next lower yellow sandstone layer; but in 4 cases having a ‘boss’ of red sandstone slightly raised in the middle, and also 3 cups. Greatest carving depth 1cm (½ in).”

References:

  1. Morris, Ronald W.B., “The Cup-and-Ring Marks and Similar Sculptures of South-West Scotland,” in Transactions of the Ancient Monuments Society, volume 14, 1967.
  2. Morris, Ronald W.B., The Prehistoric Rock Art of Southern Scotland, BAR: Oxford 1981.
  3. Morris, Ronald W.B. & Bailey, Douglas C., “The Cup-and-Ring Marks and Similar Sculptures of Southwestern Scotland: A Survey,” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 98, 1966.
  4. Newall, F., “Larkfield Moor,” in Discovery & Excavation, Scotland, 1960.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  55.943550, -4.836541 Larkfield Moor

Tombreck (10), Kenmore, Perthshire

Cup-Marked Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NN 65042 37559

Getting Here

Tombreck's cup-marked stone

Tombreck’s cup-marked stone

Along the A827 north road around Loch Tay, between Killin and Kenmore, a few hundred yards east of Carie—and on the same side of the road—there’s a dirt-track down to the Tombreck community.  Go into it and just past The Big Shed you’ll see the small caravan where the helpful and friendly Gabriela lives.  The stone just in front of her caravan is the one you’re looking for!

Archaeology & History

Close-up of the cups

Close-up of the cups

Although this cup-marked rock has been known about for sometime by local people, it is one of many that are not in the archaeological record.  It’s nothing like as impressive as some of its petroglyphic neighbours on the slopes of Ben Lawers, as this simple carving comprises of two well-defined simple cup-marks, and another two that appear to have been worked slightly into natural cracks in the rock.  These two remain incomplete.  It’s nothing too special to look at and is, once again, only gonna be of interest to the petroglyphic purists amongst you.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Tombreck (CR10)

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Tombreck (CR10) 56.510646, -4.194623 Tombreck (CR10)

Tombreck (08), Kenmore, Perthshire

Cup-Marked Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NN 64795 38648

Getting Here

Tombreck (8) on its mound

Along the A827 road between Killin and Kenmore, park at the entrance to the Tombreck track and cross the road, walking up the track heading up Ben Lawers.  Pass the sheep pens, through the gate and keep going for a few hundred yards until you hit the old straight line of walling which runs off east into the pine trees a few hundred yards away. Walk along here, keeping to the south side, for less than 100 yards, watching out for a small stone on a small rise on a small hillock – and make sure your eyes are in good condition!

Archaeology & History

The stone in question

This is a seemingly unrecorded cup-marked stone, with very faint petroglyphic evidences just visible on the surface.  Set within the wider surrounds of more recent enclosure walling, this is a small slightly raised female (rounded, smooth) stone, roughly three feet in diameter, which has at least five cup-markings on its surface—mainly near the middle of the stone.  The rock itself is next to the western edge of a raised man-made feature, reminiscent of a collapsed denuded cairn or hut circle, which itself has not been archaeologically assessed.  It is one of a number of petroglyphs in relative proximity to each other on the geological ridge above Loch Tay (not visible from here).

Close-up of faint cups
Closer-up of faint cups

As you can see in the photos left and right, the cups are only truly visible when the stone has been wet.  Initially I thought that this carving may have been one that was mentioned briefly in George Currie’s (2009) notes—at NN 64736 38647, 62 (57m) yards to the east—but it doesn’t seem to be the case as the grid reference he cited differs from this.  There are going to be a number of other unrecorded carvings scattered about beneath the great shadow of Ben Lawers…

References:

  1. Currie, George, “Cup-and-Ring Marked Rocks,” in Discovery & Excavation, Scotland, volume 10, 2009.

Acknowledgements:  Huge thanks to Paul Hornby for the use of his photos in this site profile; and to Lisa Samson, for her landscape detective work at the site.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Tombreck (CR8)

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Tombreck (CR8) 56.520364, -4.199218 Tombreck (CR8)

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

Allt a’ Choire Chireinich (04), Ben Lawers, Kenmore, Perthshire

Cup-and-Ring Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NN 65306 39560

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 238575

Getting Here

The petroglyph & its associates

The petroglyph & its associates

Along the A827 road between Killin and Kenmore, park-up at the Tombreck entrance and cross the road, taking the long track which eventually zigzags up the slope of Ben Lawers.  Keep your eyes on the copse of trees a few hundred yards east that runs up the slopes.  Head towards this, past the multiple-ringed Allt a’ Choire Chireinich stone, then AaCC 2 and AaCC3 carvings, then notice on the other side of the stream a couple of large boulders.  That’s the spot!

Archaeology & History

This faint but intricately carved petroglyph is one in a cluster of three carvings, right next to each other—and it’s the best of the bunch by a long way.  A single cup-marking is found on the flat stone beneath this one (AaCC5); whilst the large egg-shaped boulder in front has perhaps a half-dozen cups on it (AaCC6).

Alex Hale's sketch of the carving

Alex Hale’s sketch of the carving

Faint remains of concentric rings

Faint remains of concentric rings

The large flat-topped boulder of AaCC4 however, possesses at least seventeen plain cup markings, along with twenty-four cup-and-rings, six cup-and-double-rings, three cup-and-three rings, three cup-and-four rings, and one cup-and-five rings!  There are some carved lines that emerge from several of the cups, with all of the three cup-and-four rings having a carved pathway emerging from the central cup and going out of the concentric system.  It’s quite a beauty!  And it sits upon the ridge next to the clear drinking waters of the burn, gazing out over Loch Tay and the mountains all around in a quite beautiful landscape.

Immediately above and below the carvings are a number of settlement spots or shielings, known to have been used until recent centuries.  They were quite ideal living quarters and some of the old folk here, in bygone days, would have known old customs and stories of this petroglyph.

References:

  1. Hale, Alex, “Prehistoric Rock Carvings in Strathtay,” in Tayside and Fife Archaeological Journal, 2009.
  2. Yellowlees, Sonia, Cupmarked Stones in Strathtay, Scotland Magazine: Edinburgh 2004.

Acknowledgments: Huge thanks to Lisa Samson, Fraser Harrick and Paul Hornby for their help reaching this site and exploring still further.  Let’s do it again sometime before I vanish forever up into the far North!

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.528694, -4.191400 Allt a’ Choire Chireinich (04)

Allt a’ Choire Chireinich (03), Kenmore, Perthshire

Cup-Marked Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NN 65249 39579  –  NEW FIND

Getting Here

Allt a' Choire Chireinich 03 Stone

Allt a’ Choire Chireinich 03 Stone

Take the same directions to reach the large rounded Allt a’ Choire Chireinich 02 carving.  Walk 65 yards (60m) northwest diagonally uphill to another large rounded stone of similar size.  That’s the one!

Archaeology & History

A large cup-marked boulder, not previously recognised, was rediscovered on the afternoon of May 15, 2015.  The great majority of the rock surface is covered in aged lichens, but at least three well-defined cup-markings were noted on the upper rounded surface of the stone: one near the middle of the stone; one near the centre-north; and another towards the top northwest section of the stone.  The cups are more than an inch in diameter and eighth-of-an-inch deep.  Others may be in evidence beneath the vegetation.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.528850, -4.192316 Allt a’ Choire Chireinich (03)

Allt a’ Choire Chireinich (02), Kenmore, Perthshire

Cup-Marked Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NN 65218 39525

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 291477

Getting Here

Allt a' Choire Chireinich 2 stone

Allt a’ Choire Chireinich 2 stone

Along the A827 road between Killin and Kenmore, park-up at the Tombreck entrance and cross the road, taking the long track which eventually zigzags up the slope of Ben Lawers.  Keep your eyes on the copse of trees a few hundred yards east that runs up the slopes and when you are level with the top of it, walk along the line of walling that heads to it.  Go past the top of the trees and the first big boulder you reach is the fella in question.

Archaeology & History

Adjacent to an ancient trackway that runs across the slopes of the mountain, this large glacial boulder sits proudly on the slopes calling out for attention — and attention it certainly received countless centuries ago, when local people (perhaps) decided to cut at least nine cup-markings onto the top of the rock.

Lichen-encrusted cups

Lichen-encrusted cups

Lichen-encrusted cups

Lichen-encrusted cups

The surface today is encrusted with olde lichens of colourful hues, beneath which may be other cup and ring carvings; but as I’m a great lover of such forgotten medicinal primers, I wasn’t about to scratch beneath their bodies to find out.  This petroglyph is worth looking at when you’re exploring the other, more impressive carvings in this Allt a’ Choire Chireinich cluster.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.528370, -4.192795 Allt a’ Choire Chireinich (02)

Allt a’ Choire Chireinich, Kenmore, Perthshire

Cup-and-Ring Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NN 65096 39442  —  NEW FIND

Getting Here

The stone, uncovered

The stone, uncovered

Take the A827 road between Killin and Kenmore and park-up at the entrance to Tombreck. Cross the road and walk up the track that goes up Ben Lawers.  As it zigzags uphill, watch out for you being level with the top of the copse of trees several hundred yards west, where a straight long overgrown line of walling runs all the way to the top of the copse. Go along here, and just as you reach the trees, walk uphill for about 50 yards.  You’re damn close!

Archaeology & History

Whether you’re into prehistoric carvings or not, this is impressive!  It’s one of several with a very similar multiple-ring design to be found along the southern mountain slopes of Ben Lawers.  Rediscovered on May 13, 2015, several of us were in search of a known cup-and-ring stone just 260 yards (238m) to the northwest in this Allt a’ Choire Chireinich cluster, but one stone amongst many called my nose to have a closer sniff—and as you can see, the results were damn good!

Looking from above

Looking from above

Etched onto a large flat rock perhaps 5-6000 years ago, probably over at least two different seasons, the primary design here is of two sets of multiple-rings: in one case, seven concentric ones emerging from, or surrounding a central cup-marking (more than an inch across); and the other is of at least eight concentric rings emerging from a cup-marking, about half-an-inch across. The largest cup-and-seven-rings is the one near the centre of the stone.  Initially I thought this was simply two concentric seven-rings; but the more that I looked through the many photos we’d taken, the more obvious it became that the residue of an eighth ring (possibly more) exist in the smaller-sized concentric system.  It must however be pointed out that neither of the concentric carved rings seem to be complete – i.e., they were never finished, either purposefully or otherwise.  The largest cup-and-seven-rings is the one near the centre of the stone; with the outer smaller example being half the size of the one in the middle.  At first glance, neither of the concentric rings seem complete – and so it turned out when it was enhanced by rain and sun.

First photo of the double-rings

First photo of the double-rings

The large central cup-and-seven-rings has two additional cup-marks within it: one on the outer fifth ring to the southeast, and the other in the outer sixth ring to the west.  This western cup-mark is also crossed by a carved line that runs from the first ring outwards to the west and to the edge of the rock, crossing another cup-mark along the way.  This particular carved line might be the same one that integrates itself into the first ring, and then re-emerges on is northeastern side, to continue out of the multiple-rings themselves and curve over to the eastern side of the rock.  Running roughly north-south through the middle of this larger seven-ring element, a line scarred by Nature is visible which has been pecked by humans on its northern end, only slightly, and running into the covering soil eventually, with no additional features apparent.  Another possible carved line seems in evidence running from the centre to the southeastern edge – but this is by no means certain.

The carving, looking north

The carving, looking north

This large central seven-ringed symbol has been greatly eroded, mainly on its southern sides, where the rings are incomplete, as illustrated in the photos.  Yet when the light is right, we can see almost a complete concentric system, with perhaps only the second ring from the centre being incomplete on its eastern side.  On the southern sides, the visibility factor is equally troublesome unless lighting conditions are damn good.  The northernmost curves, from west to east, are the deepest and clearest of what remains, due to that section of the stone being covered in soil when it was first discovered, lessening the erosion.

Smallest 7-ring section, with cups

Smallest 7-ring section, with cups

Multiple-ring complex & cups

Multiple-ring complex & cups

Moving onto the second, smaller concentric set of rings: this is roughly half the size of its counterpart in the middle of the stone.  Upon initial investigation you can clearly make out the seven rings, which have faded considerably due to weathering.  It seems that this section was never fully completed.  And the weathering on this smaller concentric system implies one of two things: either that it was left open to the elements much much longer than its larger seven-ring system, or it was carved much earlier than it.  In truth, my feeling on this, is the latter of the two reasons.  Adding to this probability is the fact that even more rings—or at least successive concentric carved ‘arcs’—are faintly visible around this more faint system: at least eight are evident, with perhaps as many as thirteen in all (which I think would put it in the record-books!).  But we need to visit it again under ideal lighting conditions to see whether there are any more than the definite eight.  It is also very obvious that the very edge of the rock here has been broken off at some time, and a section of the carving went with it—probably into the ancient walling below or the derelict village shielings on the mountains slopes above.

Just above the eroded eight-ring section are three archetypal cup-marks close to the very edge of the rock, one above each other in an arc.  Of these, the cup that is closest to the eight-rings possesses the faint remains of at least two other partial rings above it, elements of which may actually extend and move into the concentric rings themselves—but this is difficult to say with any certainty.  However, if this is the case, we can surmise that this small cup-and-two-rings was carved before its larger tree-ring-looking companion.

Below the smaller seven-ringer is the possibility of a wide cup-and-two-rings: very faint and incomplete.  This only seems visible in certain conditions and I’m not 100% convinced of its veracity as yet.

Curious 'eye'-like symbol

Curious ‘eye’-like symbol

'Eye' to the bottom-left

‘Eye’ to the bottom-left

We also found several other singular cup marks inscribed on the rock, all of them beneath the two concentrics, moving closer to the edge of the rock.  But a more curious puzzle is an eye-like symbol, or geological feature, on the more eastern side of the stone.  It gives the impression of being worked very slightly by humans, but as I’m not a geologist, I’ve gotta say that until it is looked at by someone more competent than me, I aint gonna commit myself to its precise nature.  What seems to be a carved line to the left (west) of this geological ‘eye’ may have possible interference patterns pecked towards it.  Tis hard to say with any certainty.

So – what is this complex double-seven-ringer?!  What does it represent?  Sadly we have no ethnological or folklore narratives that can be attributed to the stone since The Clearances occurred.  We only have the very similar concentric six- and seven-ringed petroglyphs further down the mountainside to draw comparisons with.  We could guess that the position of the stone halfway up Ben Lawers, giving us a superb view of the mountains all around Loch Tay might have some relevance to the carving; but this area was probably forested when these carvings were etched—which throws that one out of the window!  We could speculate that the two multiple rings represent the Moon and Sun, with the smaller one being the Moon. They could represent a mythic map of Ben Lawers itself, with the central cup being its peak and outer rings coming down the levels of the mountain.  Mountains are renowned in many old cultures as, literally, cosmic centres, from whence gods and supernal deities emerge and reside; and mountains in some parts of the world have been represented by cup-and-ring designs, so we may have a correlate here at Ben Lawers.  O.G.S. Crawford (1957) and Julian Cope (1998) would be bedfellows together in their view of it being their Eye Goddess.  But it’s all just guesswork.  We do know that people were living up here and were carving other petroglyphs along this ridge, some of which occur inside ancient settlements; but the traditions of the people who lived here were finally destroyed by the English in the 19th century, and so any real hope of hearing any old myths, or possible rites that our peasant ancestors with their animistic worldview possessed, has died with them.

Tis a fascinating carving nonetheless—and one worthy of seeking out amongst the many others all along this beautiful mountainside…

References:

  1. Bernbaum, Edwin, Sacred Mountains of the World, Sierra Club: San Francisco 1990.
  2. Cope, Julian, The Modern Antiquarian, Thorsons 1998.
  3. Crawford, O.G.S., The Eye Goddess, Phoenix House: London 1957.
  4. Eliade, Mircea & Sullivan, Lawrence E., “Center of the World,” in Encyclopedia of Religion – volume 3 (edited by M. Eliade), MacMillan: Farmington Hills 1987.
  5. Evans-Wentz, W.Y., Cuchuma and Sacred Mountains, Ohio University Press 1980.
  6. Gillies, William A., In Famed Breadalbane, Munro Press: Perth 1938.
  7. Michell, John, At the Centre of the World, Thames & Hudson: London 1994.
  8. Yellowlees, Sonia, Cupmarked Stones in Strathtay, Scotland Magazine: Edinburgh 2004.

Acknowledgements:  Huge thanks to Paul Hornby for the use of his photos in this site profile; to Lisa Samson, for her landscape detective work at the site; and to Fraser Harrick, for getting us there again.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.527595, -4.194717 Allt a’ Choire Chireinich

West Strathan Carving, Melness, Sutherland

 

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  58.540984, -4.468238 West Strathan Carving

Cup-and-Ring Stone: OS Grid Reference – NC 56428 64084  –  NEW FIND

Getting Here

West Strathan Petroglyph

Along the A836 road between Durness and Tongue, take the minor road north to Melness. Keeping to the right all the way along, drive almost to the very end, shortly before which is a double right-hand bend uphill. Park here and walk back along the road, north, past the cottage of Dun Bhuidhe for about 100 yards until you see the large sloping rock face with the telegraph post sticking out of it. That’s the place!

Archaeology & History

Not previously recorded, this cup-and-ring stone is right by the roadside up the far, lonely but beautiful glen west of Melness, which runs to a dead-end and into the heart of the silent moors high up in Sutherland’s remote landscape — and it’s a damn good one!  It’s also the most northern example known of a Neolithic or Bronze Age petroglyph on the British mainland.   The carving has been etched onto a large easterly sloping rock, fractured into several sections, with the decayed broch of Dun Bhuidhe rising to its immediate southwest. The setting alone is outstanding!

Sketch of the carving
3 cups on the lower-east side

It was rediscovered on 25 August, 2015, after Prof Hornby and I had analysed the chambered tomb south of Dalvaid about half-a-mile away. In walking back to explore the aforementioned broch, I cut across the bottom of a nearby rock and found three distinct cup-markings etched near the bottom of its sloping face. Calling out to Prof Hornby, he retreated in his direction to the broch and came back to look at the top of this very large rock surface.

“There are some more cups on this section of the stone!” he called – and began to count them. “At least ten in this little section,” he said. There were indeed!

Carving, looking west

Carving, looking west

Carving, looking south

Carving, looking south

By the time we’d finished counting, drawing and assessing the design etched onto the rock surface, amongst at least two cup-and-ring elements we found at least 67 cup-markings, mainly carved onto the northwest portion of the stone. The first three that I’d seen were on the much lower eastern part and were etched in deliberate isolation from the primary design.  However, of these three isolated cups, it looks as if one of them may have a spiral element curving out of it. This needs assessing in much better lighting conditions, because when we found it the skies were very grey and overcast, making an accurate survey very difficult (cup-marks on rocks can be hard to see unless daylight conditions are just right) – and, after a short while, the legendary Scottish midges appeared and began to feast on us, which stopped us in our work. The little buggers!

On a subsequent visit here with Sarah MacLean of Borgie in the summer of 2018, she found several more cup-marks beneath the lower arc shown in the above drawing (which I need to update, obviously).

Central features of the carving

Central features of the carving

Scatter of central cups

Scatter of central cups

The most notable feature to this carving is the arrangement of the great majority of the cup markings. They were quite deliberately carved along the very top of the stone, close to its edge, in two contiguous lines of nine with a small gap separating them. At the northwestern end of this, a very notable feature occurs: a natural crack in the rock runs down the stone and, almost all the way down, we find a line of cups have been pecked onto the stone along the natural crack, with some of them near the top that are unfinished. These cup-marks are more elongated in form than the usual circular status; but this is due to them being etched into the cleft itself. From top to bottom there are 13 such cups. At the bottom of this line, another linear stretch of cups change direction and move back onto the main rock surface, just above another large long natural crack cutting across the rock.  This gentle arc of cups (with two other possible cups beneath these) ends at a cup-and-ring, above which are two extra cups next to each other. Above these are a number of other cups of roughly similar size and depth, with a notably large one that gives the impression that the smaller cups around its edges are satellites to its larger parent body.

Line of cups on western edge

Line of cups on western edge

Row of cups etched into natural crack

Row of cups etched into natural crack

Without any doubt there are other faint features that have been carved onto the stone, but due to the poor visibility factor at the time of its discovery we could not see anything other than the elements highlighted in the rough sketch.  In looking through the many photos we took of this carving, there seem to be other faint lines, rings and cups within the overall design, but until we revisit the site (or someone else does!) such further features cannot be added to the drawing.

As the images of this petroglyph clearly shows, the primary feature defining it is the extensive line of continuous cup-markings running along the edges and enclosing a smaller number of internal cups. It’s an unusual element. Sequential line features such as these, defined by cups, are not common. My impression of this feature is that it was a pictorial representation of the horizons, inside which is played the story of….. something… But horizons they seem. Of course, this is a simplistic interpretation and is open to criticisms of any form. I care not!  Much more importantly as far as I’m concerned is the fact that we’ve uncovered yet another unrecorded carving – and according to the official records, no such carvings exist here; but where one such carving exists, others are close by!

Watch this space…..

Acknowledgements: Considerable thanks must be given to Prof Paul Hornby, for use of his photos and without whose help this carving might never have been located. Cheers dood!

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian