Turn right off the A93 at Cargill onto the side road at Keepers Cottage and up the hill. Gladsfield Wood is at the top of the hill on your right. Park up at the top side of the Wood and walk along the narrow track to where it crosses another track, look 45º to your right and you’ll see the stone.
Archaeology & History
One of those chance finds that turns up when you’re looking for something else. Recent forestry work had dislodged the stone from its original earthfast position of millenia, only a few feet away. It may have been rotated from its original position. The grey whinstone rock measures around 5′ 8″ (1·75 m) long, 3′ 9″ wide (1·15 m ), 2′ 9″ (0·85m) high, and the moss shows its original depth in the ground. Fortunately the cup marks weren’t damaged in what appears to have been a quite brutal move. On what is now the north east facing side there are three definite and one possible very shallow fourth cup mark. The top cup is the most prominent, while the possible fourth cup is just to the left of the bottom one.
One for the enthusiasts really, in an area of Strathmore quite rich in megaliths and rock art; whatever the future holds for this dislodged stone in the savage world of agri-business, it is now recorded for posterity!
From Fortingall take the road into the legendary Glen Lyon. About 8 miles along, a short distance past the Adamnan’s Cross standing stone, you reach the tiny hamlet of Camusvrachan. On your left is a singular dirt-track, past some cottages. Go along here and over the river bridge until you reach the junction on the other side. From here, turn right and a half-mile on when you reach the farm and manor-house on your right, park up. From here you’ll see a track going uphill. Walk straight up and after a half-mile or so, keep your eyes peeled to your right. You cannot fail to see this impressive giant on the slopes above you!
Archaeology & History
This is a truly mighty monolith! — a beauty no less! Standing upon a rocky ridge nearly halfway along the glen, the landscape it looks across is, without doubt, some of the finest in the British Isles. To our ancestors who, until just two hundred years ago peopled this and nearby glens in great numbers, this great stone would have been well known and had old myths told of it. Today we have only bare fragments.
To give an ‘archaeological survey’ of any kind to this site would seem somewhat of an anathema, as it is generally deemed to be little other than one of Nature’s incredible creations. We’ll come to that in a minute. But what is quite certain is that a line of very old and very low-lying walling runs from up the slope and almost straight down to Clach na Sgoltadh. You can see it pretty clearly in the photograph below. The walling stops at the giant stone and continues no further downhill from the other side of the giant upright.
Walk diagonally down the slope about 30 yards south-east from the stone and you’ll find a small but distinctly man-made ring of stones, low to the ground, with an entrance on its northeastern side. It’s somewhat of a puzzle as it’s too small for a hut circle (I laid down in it in various ways and found you’d have to lie foetal all night if you were to use it as your own little abode), and it equally too small as an animal pen – unless it was for just one animal, which is most unlikely. The small circular construction wouldn’t seem to be prehistoric, but it would be good to know what it is.
So, we do have some very slight archaeological association with the site, albeit minimal, with the very ancient walling that leads to the stone being the most intriguing.
The stone is generally attributed to be a geological creation. I certainly cannot say, as I have no expertise in the subject. However, in the opinion of just about everyone with whom I’ve visited this stone, I seem to be the only one who doesn’t think it’s man-made. A number of people have each insisted to me that it’s been stood upright by humans due to the quite distinct ‘squaring’ of the upright stone, particularly at the north-facing base. —and been seemingly bemused at my own lack of conviction. It does look as if it could have been cut and squared just as they all say but, let me repeat, I’m no expert at geology, and so all I can say is that I simply don’t know one way or the other. (useless prick that I am!)
“Perhaps a stone mason might know?” someone suggested—which seemed to be a good idea. Certainly a stone mason would surely be able to tell if it had been cut and dressed at the base, where it fits into the large earthfast rock….
Cue Chris Swales: a reputable stone mason from near Skipton, North Yorkshire. Chris and his friends took a week long whistle-stop tour in and around the Loch Tay region and thought they’d visit Glen Lyon. I heard about this and so asked him if he’d have the time to visit this stone giant and, if possible, let us know his opinion: is is a natural obelisk, or does it look to have been erected by humans? I told him my opinion and that of the geologists who give it an entirely natural provenance.
It was a few weeks later when he got back in touch and I asked him if he’d been up to Clach na Sgoltadh.
“I did,” he said. “it’s bloody impressive Paul. And what a gorgeous landscape too. I’d love to go there again.”
“Aye, it is Chris. And what did you think of the giant stone then? In your opinion is it man-made or natural?”
“Well I don’t know for certain Paul,” he said, “but in my opinion I’m 95% sure that it’s man-made.” He said it plain as day, just like a typical daan-to-Earth Yorkshireman. Chris isn’t into any the energy ley-line stuff, so his words carry more weight than those who wanna spice-up a site by projecting their own beliefs onto a place. As a result, I was somewhat taken aback by his words.
“What—are you sure Chris?!” I asked.
“Like I said – I’m not 100% sure Paul. I can’t really say it 100% – but I’m 95% certain that people cut and dressed the base of that stone and put it there. If it’s natural, then I’d like to know how they think that’s the case. I’m willing to be shown otherwise, but in my opinion, on the whole, it’s man-made. People stuck that stone there!”
It would be great to get another stone mason’s opinion about this site; and it would definitely be good to read a geological viewpoint, but I’m not aware of any papers regarding this stone. (does anyone know of any?) For my part: I can only reiterate that I’m ‘unsure’ whether or not this is man-made. I’m simply not qualified to give an objective opinion.
The curious thing is: if this isNature’s handiwork, then it would have been held in greater reverence to our ancestors than if it had been erected by people. Impressive creations of Nature were always deemed to be inhabited by genius loci of truly archaic potency. And in these deep impressive mountains, where the names of nature spirits still abound, this—without doubt!—would have been a place of considerable awe and sanctity. May it remain as such…
Looking to the west immediately uphill and behind Clach na Sgoltadh is the rising rounded hill of Creag nan Eildeag. Legend has it that the great Celtic hero Fionn stood atop of this crag and fired one of his arrows at the stone, splitting it in half and leaving the stone as we see it today.
In a small cleft in the stone, quartz deposits can be seen along with an effigy of the Virgin Mary. However, the title of the Praying Hands of Mary is a modern attribution and has no historical or mythic veracity.
Stewart, Alexander, A Highland Parish; or, The History of Fortingall, Alex MacLaren: Glasgow 1928.
Take the Glenfarg road out of Bridge of Earn, cross the motorway and park at the layby past the bend. Go through the gate opposite and follow the track up to the telecoms mast, you can’t miss it..
Archaeology & History
Visible from the lowlands below, it is described in the official listing as a cairn of prehistoric date, a funerary monument dating to the late neolithic to early Bronze Age. It is a broadly round stony mound, partially overgrown with turf on the north eastern (mid-summer sunrise) slope of Balmanno Hill, where it has extensive views over the surrounding country. It is 1.8m (6′) high, 17m (56′) across on the N-S axis and 16m (52′ ) on the E-W axis.
The top of the cairn has a depression in it: possibly the result of treasure-seeking long ago, but there is no evidence of any burial cist.
So who was ‘Edmund’? Was this a place of heathen ritual Christianised with the designation of St Edmund during the Anglo-Saxon incursions of the early middle ages, or the name of a local landowner? It is lost to history. The name ‘Balmanno’ can be interpreted as ‘Place of the Big Man’ – so have we an echo of a lost giant legend here in an area of Scotland where such legends abound, and long pre-date the construction of the cairn? Did later people name their local mythic giant ‘Edmund’?
An alternative meaning of ‘Balmanno’ is given by David Dow in the Old Statistical Account – the ‘Town of the Monk’.
The Ordnance Survey inspectors of the early 1860s were told that the cairn is where one of the Roman Generals of Agricola’s time was buried.
Dow, Rev. David, The Statistical Account of Scotland 1791-99, Vol. XI, EP Publishing, Wakefield, 1976
Jamieson,John, An Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language, Vols.I & III, Alexander Gardner, Paisley, 1880
Ordnance Survey Name Books Perthshire, Volume 21 OS1/25/21/11, 1859-62
The easiest way is to turn south off the A91 at Gateside onto Station Road, and the site of the cairn is in the third field to the left over the railway bridge. I accessed the site walking along the old railway line and climbing up the embankment.
Archaeology & History
In the shadow of the Lomond Hills of Fife, what was once a very large pre-historic cairn, officially described as of ‘unassigned’ period, was quarried to destruction around two hundred and twenty years ago, presumably to provide stones for dykes (stone walls), at that time of enclosures of common land and what the landowners liked to call ‘agricultural improvements’.
In the early nineteenth century, this part of the Eden Valley between Gateside and the Lomond Hills was what would now be called a ritual landscape. There were, according to Miller:
‘nearly in a line between the two Laws ( Lomond Hills) noless than eight “druidical temples” (Stone circles) close together‘
and a number of impressive burial cairns, of which Easter Nether Urquhart seems to have been the largest. There were in addition large numbers of graves containing masses of cremated of human bones. Nearly all this archaeology has been subsequently destroyed by the farmers.
Two local antiquarian writers proposed that all these human remains had been buried there following the battle of Mons Graupius between the Roman Invaders under Agricola, and the Caledonians, and went on to argue that the Eden Valley was the site of this historic defeat for the ancient Caledonians defending their homeland. Whatever and whenever the origins of the cairns and human remains, subsequent researchers disagree with these nineteenth century arguments in favour of the Eden Valley, and tend to favour a more northerly location for Mons Graupius. Nevertheless we have these two historians to thank for leaving us descriptions of the cairn.
One of the antiquarians, Rev. Andrew Small wrote in 1823:
‘The Slaughter here seems to have been so dreadful, that even after the lapse of 17 Centuries the Common tradition of the Country bears, and seems to be as fresh in the Mouths of both old and young as though the battle had been fought only a hundred years ago, – that after this battle the River Eden ran red with blood for two days…’
It seems more likely that the event remembered was part of the campaign by Roman Emperor Septimus Severus and his son Caracalla to subdue the Caledonians around 209-210 CE. Modern writer, Simon Elliott:
‘Archaeological data is now emerging to show ….. a major depopulation event, indicating something close to a genocide was committed by the Romans in the central and upper Midland Valley.’
Andrew Small describing the cairn and some of the cremation remains in 1823:
‘There was also a very large cairn laid upon these ; and the proprietor lately told me that when removing the stones, besides the ashes already mentioned, there was also a pit of pure fine sand by itself, about as fine as is usually put into sand-glasses, which he thinks had been used for regulating the fire in burning of the dead. This cairn stood a little north of an ancient Druids temple, only one stone now remaining, out of ten of which it formerly consisted ‘.
Lieutenant – Colonel, Miller writing in 1829:
‘Farther west ….a very large cairn stood, containing upwards of two thousand cart-loads of stones. Upon removing it about thirty years ago, a pit six feet long, two broad, and of the same depth, was found, quite full of burnt bones; and near it another, two feet square and two deep, full of the finest sand. An urn was also found, near the surface of the cairn, full of bones. A very fine Druid’s temple stood on the south side of it, consisting of seven very large stones…’
As the builders of the cairn didn’t have access to carts, and that the stones all had to be moved by hand, it gives an indication of the manpower needed to build the cairn, and the status of the individuals whose remains were buried there. And we have to question why a special chamber been built into the base of the cairn to hold fine sand, and what was the purpose of this sand?
While not writing specifically of the cairn, Revd. Small recounts these tales of the surrounding land, relating it to his belief that it was the site of Mons Graupius:
‘I cannot forbear to mention here, also, a singular circumstance I had from the landlord and landlady, both yet alive, — viz. that before parking or inclosing took place, they were accustomed to have folds built of feal or turf for the cattle lying in at night ; but that, when the folds happened to be in this place where the dead had been burnt, the cattle would never lie in them, but always broke through or leaped over the dyke ; that they were obliged to give a man a boll of barley extra to watch them, when they lay in this spot, which was obliged to be repeated every four or five years in rotation ; but that sometimes the man was not able to keep them in by all his endeavours, the cattle looking wild and terrified in appearance ; and sometimes it required the united efforts of all the hands that could be had to keep them in, oftentimes springing over the fold dykes close beside them, and frequently crouching and trembling as if they would have fallen down with terror, although nothing appeared visible to the visual organs either of the man or those that occasionally assisted him. However, after the discovery of so many ashes and fragments of human bones, the man declared that, had he known of these being so near, he would not have been so fond of watching.’
‘The late farmer of Upper Orquart, a most respectable man, with whom I was well acquainted, and upon whose farm the principal part of the battle was fought, told me also that always when the folds happened to be both at where the Caledonians were burnt as well as the Romans — but particularly he specified the spot where the Romans had been burnt, or the Witch Know or Knoll — the cattle would never lie in the fold, but were always breaking ” the fauld,” as he called it, except when they were particularly watched ; and even that was not always effectual for keeping them from doing it either. This would insinuate as if the spirits of these departed heroes of antiquity sometimes visited and hovered about the places where their ashes had been deposited ; though invisible to the more refined visual organs of the human eye, yet obviously visible in some shape or other to the more gross visual organs of the irrational or bestial tribe, else how can these forementioned occurrences be accounted for? This hypothesis seems to be borne out by Balaam’s Ass perceiving the Angel twice, when he himself could not do so till his eyes were supernaturally opened.’
Although the cairn no longer exists, its stones were probably reused for local walling, and it’s likely, but not provable, that the wall on the south side of the A91 past the Station Road turning is built from stones removed from the cairn.
Elliott, Simon, Septimus Severus in Scotland, Greenhill Books, 2018.
Miller, Lt. Col., “An Inquiry Respecting the Site of theBattle of Mons Grampius“, 1829, published in Archaeologica Scotica vol. IV, 1857.
Small, Andrew, Interesting Roman Antiquities Recently Discovered in Fife, John Anderson, Edinburgh, 1823
From Crieff central, take the A85 road east out of town where the golf club is on your left. Park up and ask the helpful lads who work in the shop, who’ll direct you to the standing stones on the golf course. The cupmark is on the second stone along the row of stones from the direction you’ve approached from.
Archaeology & History
Here’s another one of those petroglyphs only of interest to those with the madness in their bloodstream! Found within the ruins of the Ferntower megalithic ring is a distinct single cupmark on what John Coles (1911) called ‘Stone D’ in his survey:
“Stone D, a boulder of whinstone also containing seams of quartz, 5 feet 6 inches in length and breadth, and 2 feet 3 inches above ground. At some period the intention of blasting this block must have been considered, for there is the beginning of a jumper-hole near the centre of its upper surface. Close to this unmistakably modern hole there is one single genuine cup-mark about 1¼ inch in diameter.”
A note of this was also made when Aubrey Burl (1988) surveyed the site, who pointed out that in accordance with a characteristic found at other ‘four poster’ stone circles, the carving is “another example of a decorated stone on the eastern side” (my italics) of such a ring.
Although we have nothing specifically relating to the carving, it’s worth noting that when we visited the stone circle, the groundsman told us that it had been a place where local people gathered at summer solstice.
Tumuli (destroyed): OS Grid Reference – TL 584 600
Archaeology & History
The precise location of two prehistoric burial mounds at place with the conspicuous name of Beacon Hill, has yet to be satisfactorily located. Their existence is recorded way back, in 1279 according to P.H. Reaney (1943), when they were described as Tweynhowes, being on the boundary of Swaffham Priory. Information on them is scant and scattered with the earliest seeming to be an account by Thomas Kerrich (1817), who reported their removal and finds therein, in 1815. The editor of Archaeologia told us:
“The Rev. Thomas Kerrich…exhibited to the Society, an Urn, which had been found a few days before by some labourers who were employed to remove one of the Barrows upon Newmarket-heath, called the Beacon Hills. “It stood upon what probably was the surface of the earth before the tumulus was raised. The diameter of the barrow was near thirty yards, and the perpendicular height probably about eight or nine feet. There are more of these tumuli remaining, some of them very near to the place on which this, out of which the urn came, lately stood. They command an extensive view over the town of Cambridge, Gog-Magog Hills, &c.”
Subsequently a short piece in the Cambridge Chronicle in 1846 told the following:
“Two of the barrows on the edge of Newmarket Heath, belonging to the group called the Beacons, were examined in May 1846 by a party from Cambridge. In one of them nothing was found as it appeared to have been previously opened; in the other the remains of a British interment, consisting of rude vase (now in the Cambridge Antiquarian Museum), a few bones and some ashes, were discovered.”
This was echoed nearly forty years later in a survey by Charles Babbington (1883), who gave little by way of extra information; and was echoed again in Cyril Fox’s (1923) huge archaeological survey. Herein, Mr Fox told us that the two barrows were located at the “east end of a four-mile racecourse.” The only additional lore we’ve had since then is a collation of by the Royal Commission lads who thought that the respective tombs were located more precisely as the grid-references TL 5839 5998 and TL 5850 6004 respectively.
This large boulder found off the Cromarty coast, was highlighted on the 1880 OS-map of the region. It is one of the ancient boundary stones of the township.
We know from the vast array on the folklore of stones that many were imbued with magickal abilities, some of which were witnesses to vows and others to make curses from. This large boulder off the coast of Cromarty was, according to Donald MacKenzie (1935), a place where the latter used to be done. He told us:
“At Cromarty there is a big boulder known as the Clach na Mallachd (‘Stone of Cursing’). Curses were delivered when an individual stood or knelt bare-kneed upon it.”
In an earlier account by the Ordnance Survey lads in one of their Name Books, they gave the following tale that had been narrated to them:
“A large stone Situate at the Low Water, and forming one of the boundary Stones of the burgh, the reason of its having this name is, that a young lad while Sitting on it was overwhelmed by the advancing tide and drowned, his mother when told of it, cursed the stone, hence the name Clach Mallach (Accursed Stone)”
MacKenzie, Donald A., Scottish Folk-lore and Folk Life, Blackie: Glasgow 1935.
Difficult to reach, this large protruding rock on the west side of Thorrisdail Hill, was known as the Thorrisdail Stone in the old boundary records. It’s a bittova giveaway when you find it, as its name is inscribed on the lower face of the stone – etched a century or two ago by the look of it.
It’s a difficult rock to climb upon if you aren’t used to such things – and you need to do this if you want to see the cupmarks; although they’re hardly worth seeing unless you’re a petroglyph freak! If you go to the trouble so see them, make sure to squat down carefully, being even more careful not to fall off (you’re screwed if y’ do). Once in position, you’ll see between three and five very faint shallow cups etched onto its flat surface. You can just make one of them out in the photo here. The more impressive thing to see here is the small standing stone that seems to artificially crown the top of the rounded hill to which the Thorrisdail Stone is attached.
Acknowledgements: Huge thanks to Sarah MacLean for her company and landscape knowledge in visiting this and other nearby antiquarian remains.
Visiting this site is a bittova walk across the moors, with probably the best route being along one of two footpaths from near the Outdoor Centre following (whichever is your preference) the moorland track or path westward onto the open landscape. Tis a 2½ mile walk before you reach two large buildings stuck high up in the middle of nowhere. Y’ can’t miss them. Equally unmissable is the large blatant rocking stone between the buildings. Gerron top of it!
Archaeology & History
This impressive-looking rock that sits between the two buildings has a number of cup-markings of varying sizes across its topmost surface: some deep and some not-so-deep. There are perhaps as many as 20 of them on different parts of the stone, but some have been intruded on by more recent graffiti. On a recent visit to the site, photographer James Elkington and his young assistant MacKenzie, saw what looked like “a very faint ring around one of the cups” – which doesn’t surprise me. On one section of the stone we see a fascinating series of natural curves and geological undulations, some of which may have been modified a long time ago when the cupmarks were etched. But whether they were added to or not, it’s more than likely they’d have had some significance in the mythic nature of the rock.
The earliest description telling us that this possessed any prehistoric attributes seems to have been written by William Grainge (1871), in his huge work on the history of this region. He told that,
“This rock…is eleven feet in length, seven feet six inches in breadth, and two feet six inches in thickness. The whole of the upper surface is thickly indented and grooved with cups and channels; the artificial character of which can be easily seen by anyone. This logan rests upon a lower rock, the upper surface of which is about three feet above the ground, fourteen feet in length, and nearly the same in breadth.”
Although this yummy-looking geological sight no longer rocks, it wasn’t always that way. Indeed, according once more to the pen of Mr Grainge, although “it does not rock now, it has done so within living memory” – meaning that it would have been swaying at the beginning of the 19th century. We can only take his word for it. Also, as with many rocking stones the length and breadth of the land this, unsurprisingly it was adjudged to have been a place used by the druids.
Grainge, William, The History and Topography of Harrogate and the Forest of Knaresborough, John Russell Smith: London 1871.
You can either head up to the Twelve Apostles stone circle, then a short distance west to the Ashlar Chair and head just head west along the moorland footpath that runs parallel with the old walling for ¾-mile (1.2km). This is the boggier route, beloved of real walkers! The other route is from the top of the Roman Road that bisects the moor at Whetstone Gate. From here, where the normal ‘road’ meets up with the dirt-track at the very top of the moors, take the footpath east for ½-mile (0.75km) until you reach the large cluster of rocks, just over the wall on your right-hand side. The carving is on top of one of them there stones.
Archaeology & History
Without doubt there’s one helluva spirit to this cluster of large weather-worn rocks whose bodies gaze in every cardinal direction—and it’s a place where me and a number of earlier historians thought cup-and-rings could be found. The first petroglyphic context of the rocks was made in the 1860s by the grand 19th century historians Forrest & Grainge (2012) where they gave it the usual druidic associations, so beloved of academics and antiquarians alike at the time. They wrote:
“The Thimble Stones are a ½-mile north of the Two Eggs, with which they are nearly in line. They are of the same outcrop of stratification and appear as though they had been pushed upwards by some force acting from beneath, breaking them up with a vertical fracture, and separating them so as to leave wide spaces between the blocks. They are about a furlong in length and in front about 10ft in height, diminishing eastward to the level of the ground. Two of them a few feet apart are 7ft high, and bear on their eastern angles the cups and channels which we designate the marks of Druidic consecration.”
Subsequently, in Collyer & Turner’s (1885) work they told that the rocks “bear cups on two margins”; and when the great Harry Speight (1900) came here, he found they were “bearing cups and grooves.” Yet no-one reported any rings. And in the countless visits I’ve made here—thinking that there must have been cup-and-rings!—no such symbols have ever cried out. The various large ‘bowls’ and lines that Nature has carved here—some of which may have been important in ancient days—are all that the casual eyes can see. Until now…
The local rambler and photographer James Elkington and James Turner were up here a couple of years ago. The light was falling through a clear bright sky and so, as James likes to do at such times, he clicked his camera a few times to catch the landscape. Clambering onto the rocks, Mr Turner unknowingly stood upon the carved rings, and when he moved his foot Mr Elkington spotted them! And as we can see on the image above, only just, there’s a single cup-mark surrounded by a concentric triple ring. Incredibly faint, it is without doubt the real McCoy—and the highest of all petroglyphs on these moors. In the photo it seems that there may be other elements to the carving, but until conditions allow for a further examination, we won’t know for sure.
James is hoping to get back up there when conditions are just right so he can get clearer photos. But if you hardcore antiquarians and petroglyph seekers wanna get up there y’selves to get some photos of your own, please send us whatever you might find.
On the esoteric side, the Thimble Stones were a favoured spot for a ritual magickal Order in years gone by.
Allen, J. Romilly, ‘Cup and Ring Sculptures on Ilkley Moor,’ in Reliquary & Illustrated Archaeology, volume 2, 1896.
Bennett, Paul, The Old Stones of Elmet, Capall Bann: Milverton 2001.
Boughey, Keith & Vickerman, E.A., Prehistoric Rock Art of the West Riding, WYAS: Wakefield 2003.
Collyer, Robert & Turner, J. Horsfall, Ilkley, Ancient and Modern, William Walker: Otley 1885.
Feather, Stuart, “Mid-Wharfedale Cup-and-Ring Markings,” in Bradford Cartwright Hall Archaeology Group Bulletin, 6:3, 1961.
Forrest, Charles & Grainge, William, A Ramble on Rombald’s Moor, Northern Antiquarian: Bradford 2012 (1st published 1867-69).
Hedges, John (ed.), The Carved Rocks on Rombalds Moor, WYMCC: Wakefield 1986.
Speight, Harry, Upper Wharfedale, Elliott Stock: London 1900.
Acknowledgements: Huge thanks as always to James Elkington for use of his photos.