Cup-Marked Stone: OS Grid Reference – NT 10837 85060
Take the A823 road out of Dunfermline south towards Rosyth. A half-mile before you hit the motorway roundabout, at the roundabout where Carnegie Avenue takes you east, turn west and park up along the road where the modern business park lives. 30-40 yards from the roundabout, set back on the pavement, you can’t really miss the huge flat slab of stone, covered in cup-markings, resting on a stone plinth with ‘St Margaret’s Stone’ stamped on it!
Archaeology & History
On the 1856 OS-map of this area, St Margaret’s Stone is shown at the roadside just above a farm of the same name, a short distance away from its present location. In October 1879, Alexander Stewart (1889) told us that funds were raised and steps taken to properly fix and preserve this ancient ‘resting-place’ of Queen Margaret on the Queensferry Road. It was quite a few years later before it was moved the few hundred yards further to its present location.
Early writers tell us that originally its position in the landscape was on the crest of one of the rises in the land between Dunfermline and the sea, making it visible for some considerable distance. This would seem to have been a deliberate placement. In my mind, and in accordance with the placement of many a prehistoric tomb, St Margaret’s Stone may originally have been part of a neolithic or Bronze age cairn, long since gone. The size and shape of the rock implies it too, with similarities here of the impressive cist or gravestone found inside the Netherlargie North cairn at Kilmartin. However, this wasn’t the thought of the prodigious Scottish historian, William Skene. He thought that St Margaret’s Stone originally stood upright, being a Pictish-style standing stone that was mentioned in the first Statistical Account of the area. The brilliant Scottish antiquarian, John Stuart (1856)—who gave us an illustration of the ‘standing stone’ in question—told us:
“It has been supposed by some that “St. Margaret’s Stone,” a block now lying on the side of the highway leading from Inverkeithing to Dunfermline, and about midway between these places, can be identified with the standing stone referred to in the Statistical Account. Mr Skene has noted below a sketch of St. Margaret’s Stone:- “The sculpture upon this stone has been lately chipped off in mere wantonness, so as to leave few traces of the subject recorded upon it.” He farther states that it formerly stood erect, and was called “The Standing Stone.” According to Mr. Skene’s measurement, St. Margaret’s stone is about nine feet and a half in length, one foot in thickness, and four feet broad at the widest end, and broken off to a narrow point at the other.”
In this instance, Skene was confusing St Margaret’s Stone with the lost Pictish monolith (left) that used to exist nearby, which had carved horse figures and other memorial designs upon it and which he thought had faded away. Whereas the large slab we are looking at here, and which Skene visited and measured, is covered on one side by a gathering of prehistoric cup-markings—much earlier than any Pictish or early christian carvings. At first glance, it seems that some of these cups may well be natural, but it has to be said that some of them are distinctly man-made. And if we were to believe the archaeo-accounts of the stone, the cupmarks are only to found on one side of the stone. Which aint true. As we can see here, a number of cupmarks run along the edge of the stone. We cannot say for sure whether all of them are artificial, but they certainly look like it! Also, on the other side of the flat surface, one or two single cups are visible. It would be good if we could get an artist to give us a detailed impression of the prehistoric carvings without the modern engraving of St Margaret’s Stone etching on the main face. (is there anybody out there!?)
The Royal Commission (1933) lads visited the stone in 1925 and, several years later in their write-up, told us simply:
“This stone…stands with its main axis due north and south and measures 8 feet 6 inches, by 4 feet 7 inches, by 1 foot 6 inches. On one side the entire surface is cup-marked, the markings varying in size from 1¼ inches to 3¼ inches and having an average depth of from ½ to ¾ inch.”
When the Scottish petroglyph writer and explorer, Ron Morris (1968) came to the site, he gave it an equally brief description, merely telling us:
“On standing stone (8 1/2 feet high, 4 1/2 feet wide), built in to roadside fence, over 80 cups, up to 4in in diam, 3/4in deep, some run together as rough dumbells.”
It’s well worth checking out!
When the Saxon Queen Margaret landed on the shores just west of Queensferry at Rosyth Castle (NT 1087 8200), legend reputes that she and her entourage made Her way north towards Dunfermline. Halfway along the ancient track She rested at this large stone which, thereafter, gained the name by which we know it today. It was said that Queen Margaret subsequently visited the stone on a regular basis for periods of solitude. The tale probably has some germ of true in it. Additional ingredients also told that,
“The large stone here is associated with St Margaret and was visited by women who hoped to conceive or sought a successful birth. The eight-foot high stone is said to mark the resting place of St Margaret when she journeyed between Queensferry and Dunfermline. Margaret had eight successful pregnancies and probably needed to rest quite a few times on her travels!”
The fertility aspects of the rock were not the only pre-christian virtues attached to it. We also find that oft-cited motif of rocks moving of their own accord: in this case, as J.B. MacKie (1905) told us, local people had always
“been told that the stone rose from its bed and whirled thrice round in the air every time it heard the cock at the adjoining farm crow.”
Cocks crowing are symbolic of sunrise, obviously, and this lore may simply represent a folk memory of the spirit in/of the stone being animated at that time of day. It’s a motif found at ancient sites all over the place!
- Chalmers, Peter, Historical and Statistical Account of Dunfermline, William Blackwood: Edinburgh 1844.
- Fernie, John, A History of the Town and Parish of Dunfermline, John Miller: Dunfermline 1815.
- Henderson, Ebenezer, The Annals of Dunfermline, John Tweed: Glasgow 1879.
- MacKie, J.B., Margaret, Queen and Saint, Oliphant: Edinburgh 1905.
- 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, 1968.
- Royal Commission Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Inventory of Monuments and Constructions in the Counties of Fife, Kinross, and Clackmannan. HMSO: Edinburgh 1933.
- Rupert-Jone, John A., Rosyth, A. Romanes: Dunfermline 1917.
- Stewart, Alexander, Reminiscences of Dunfermline and Neighbourhood, Scott Ferguson: Edinburgh 1889.
Stuart, John, Sculptured Stones of Scotland – volume 1, Spalding Club: Aberdeen 1856.
© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian