River Barvas, Barvas, Lewis

Sacred River:  OS Grid Reference – NB 351 494


As with traditions found all over the world, rivers and lakes had spirits, gods and rituals attached to them.  Despite us believing that no such things ever occurred in Britain and the rest of the so-called ‘civilized’ world, such things were once common.  One of the annual rites performed at the Hebridean river at Barbhas (Barvas)—and described by Alexander Fraser (1878)—is just one such example:

“The natives of Barvas had a peculiar custom on the first day of May, of sending a man across the river at (the) dawn of day to prevent any females from crossing it first, as that would hinder the salmon from ascending the river all the year through.” (Fraser 1878)

The importance of the salmon, both as an important food source and equally as a ‘sacred animal’, is known in myths and legends throughout the British Isles.  To the legendary hero-figure Finn, it played a part of him gaining supernatural wisdom, and this quality is integral to the fish itself who ate the hazelnuts of knowledge and gained such power.  In this same short piece of folklore, the time of year when the ritual should be enacted on the River Barvas is Beltane, which is renowned as the prime period in the annual cycle/calendar relating to fertility.  This element relates to maintaining the fecundity of the river and the salmon where, in this case, men crossing the waters symbolically fertilizes them to ensure the annual return of the fish.  It would be interesting to known when this custom finally died out.


  1. Fraser, Alexander, Northern Folk-lore on Wells and Water, Advertiser Office: Inverness 1878.
  2. Ross, Anne, Pagan Celtic Britain, RKP: London 1967.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Riverbank Cup-Marking, Askwith, North Yorkshire

Cup-Marked Stone:  OS Grid Reference – SE 1659 4744

Getting Here

Just over the county boundary on the north side of the Wharfe’s riverbank, the easiest way to find this is from the village of Burley-in-Wharfedale, walking out as if heading towards Ilkley (west) and, just 100 yards or so before reaching the A65(T) road, walk down the footpath that takes you down to the River Wharfe.  Go over the large stepping-stones and, once on the other side, walk down the edge of the riverbank for 10 yards, up the first ridge and there, just below the grass where the edge of the land is coming away, you’ll find this small cup-marking.

Archaeology & History

First discovered t’other day, on Friday, 28 May, 2010, when we were starting on another wander onto the hills.  We’d only just crossed the large stepping-stones over the River Wharfe just outside Burley and heading up to Askwith, when Michala Potts stopped, peered and said summat along the lines of, “Errr….look at this!”

Riverbank Cup-Marking
Close-up of cup-mark

My initial thought was it was gonna be some naturally eroded water-worn stone — but it didn’t seem that way.  Peering out from the edge of the ground n the company of many other small stones and gravel, which was slowly coming away just yards above the edge of the river, a rounded cup-marked stone with just a single cup-mark stood out like a sore thumb!  It was covered in dusty earth and looked a quite decent example; but once we’d cleared the dried earth away and wet the stone, the cup-marking was truly enhanced.  To those of you who have a thing about cup-markings and associations with rivers and streams, this one can be added to your statistics! (20 yards away the Askwith East Beck meets with the river)

Obviously added as part of the river embankment, the stone would obviously have been taken from a nearby source, but we’re unlikely to ever find out where.  It looks typical of cup-marked stones that were added to cairns, but no such site (that we know of) occurred close by.  We were gonna peel some of the embankment back and see if there was anything else here, but time and another ancient site that we’d arranged to see was calling us away, so we just got a few pictures and kept on our way…

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian