Cross / Sacred Tree: OS Grid Reference – NN 581 012
Also Known as:
Archaeology & History
As a folklorist and antiquarian, I find this long lost site more than intriguing. Most ancient crosses are stone; but in early centuries many were made from wood which, obviously, have decayed down the years. But this cross, located on the northeast edge of the Lake of Menteith, was actually a tree: a hawthorn no less. This choice would have been made based on it being one of the few trees that are deemed sacred in both christian and indigenous lore. It was described—albeit briefly—in A.F. Hutchison’s (1899) excellent history book of the area:
“The cross of the burgh is said to have been the trunk of an old hawthorn tree, which stood by the lake side, opposite the manse of Port, and was known as ” the law tree.” Around this tree an annual fair was held in the month of September, and called after St. Michael.”
We’re obviously seeing here the traditional animistic veneration of trees by local people, with the incoming christian symbol being grafted onto it. Hawthorns were one of the potent protections against witchcraft and so the handshake between christian and pre-christian systems obviously worked here. Faerie-lore was also rampant at many places for many miles around this site.
Hutchison, Andrew F., The Lake of Menteith – Its Islands and Vicinity, Eneas Mackay: Stirling 1899.
Nothing has previously been written of this site. Its existence came to light during one of umpteen enquiries I’d made with a well-known and very respected local lady, born and bred in Killin (sadly, a dying breed), who is known as a fount of knowledge regarding the history of the area. We were talking about the ancient sites and folklore of the neighbourhood and, amidst being her usual helpful self she asked, “have you been to the Coin Tree? The place where we leave offerings to the spirit of the place?”
“No, I’ve never heard of the place.”
“We keep it quiet, ” she said, “for obvious reasons.”
I knew what she meant. The Fairy Tree at Aberfoyle is a case in point: littered with plastic pentagrams, children’s toys and so-called “offerings” of all kinds that have made it little more than a dumping ground for pseudo-pagans and new-age nuts that needs to be cleaned regularly by local folk.
Anyhow, our informant proceeded to give us directions to find the place, going out of the village, but asked that if we were to write about it, to keep its location quiet, “as the place is still used by us”—i.e., old locals. After a slow trek along one of the roads out of the village we saw nothing that stood out. Eventually we came across a fella relaxing in his garden and asked him if he knew anything about an old tree where offerings were made. He gave us that look that olde locals do, to work out whether you’re a tourist or not and, after telling him what we’d been told and who had told us —that seemed to do the trick!
“You’d mean the Fairy Oak I s’ppose? Aye,” he said, “gerrin the car and I’ll drive y’ down to it.”
So we did. A short distance back along the road that we’d come down he stopped and walked along a to large oak tree beside the road. We’d walked straight past it—but in truth it’s not a conspicuous tree and unless you were shown where it was, you’d miss it as easily as we did (and I’m usually damn good at finding such things!). We thanked the fella for taking us to see it and he drove back home to leave us with out thoughts.
Embedded into the tree—some of them barely visible where the bark had grown over them—were clusters of old coins all around its trunk; some of them very old. These had been inserted into the tree as offerings in the hope that the little people, or the genius loci would bring aid to that which was asked of it.
In a field across the road there’s a large “fairy-mound” hillock: one of Nature’s creations, but just the sort of place where many little people are said to live in many an old folk-tale. Some such mounds are old tumuli, but this aint one of them. It’s possible that it had some relationship with the tree where the fairy folk are said to reside but, if it did, our informants didn’t seem to know.
The important thing to recognise here is that in some of the small villages and hamlet in our mountains, practices and beliefs of a world long lost in suburbia are still alive here and there… But even these are dying out fast, as most incomers have no real attachment to the landscape that surrounds them. Simply put: they see themselves as apart from the landscape as opposed to being a part of it.
Long since gone, this great olde ash tree could once be found on the south side of Killin’s Mill building, close to the bridge at the Falls of Dochart. It was deemed to be ‘sacred’ by local people – just as all trees were, once upon a long time ago.
In John Shearer’s (1883) wonderful book on the ancient ways of the Perthshire people, he described the tree as being adjacent to the earthfast rock known as St. Fillan’s Seat:
“At the side of it grows a large ash tree which is held sacred by the natives as no person will burn any of the branches although fallen to the ground nor destroy them in any manner. However, there was one who had the hardihood to take one of the branches for a caber to repair his house. Strange to tell the first fire that was kindled burned it to the ground as a punishment for this impious sacrilege. Of course no person since has troubled it or taken any of the wood. The branches that fall lie till they rot.”
The brilliant Killin historian, W.G. Gillies (1938) reported that the tree was still standing until it was “blown down by a gale in 1893″—but it didn’t quite kill it off for good; for in September 1911, C.G. Cash visited Killin and this was one of the many places he looked for and, despite local folk telling him about the more famous St Fillan Stones (still in existence and found at the Mill), he saw the last remnants of this great Ash, telling simply that,
“the mere dead stump of St Fillan’s Ash-tree still stands against the south post of the mill gate. And quite near it is a young ash, said to be its descendant. This younger tree has an out-curving branch that was said to have been the gallows-branch in olden days; but it is obviously too young and too weak.”
…So, does anyone know precisely which is the “descendant” of St. Fillan’s Ash and where happens it to be growing?
In Norse myth, the ash tree Yggdrasil was the tree of Odin and was one of the primal ingredients in their Creation myths. It stood at the centre of the cosmos: an axis mundi no less, linking the many worlds and was the abode of the gods. Its mythologies are extensive. In Scotland, the myths of the ash are not so well known, but there’s little doubt that it possessed a sanctity and certainly has many traditions of it own, which are unfortunately outside the remit of this site profile.
From the B6265 valley road between Bingley and Keighley, just near Riddlesden Hall, take the road up and over the canal into Riddlesden, bearing left up past West Riddlesden Hall and up Banks Lane. As you reach the T-junction at the top, where you hit the Silsden Road that goes round the moors, park up.Cross the road and follow the footpath diagonally across the bottom of the field, then when you hit the track, follow it up through the closed gates into the woods. A half-mile along the track, watch out for the dark pool a few yards beneath you on your left. That’s it!
Archaeology & History
The spirit and feel of this pool is a curious one: still, calming, but with a slight sense of unease at times. It felt like this before the large forestry plantation was planted around it — so it’s good to know it’s kept its spirit intact. I’m not quite sure how long it will last though… The small spring of water from just above the edge of the pool which in part feeds it, tastes good and refreshing after a good downpour, but sometimes in recent years the waters have slowed somewhat compared to earlier decades — an unhealthy state of affairs that’s happening all over the world.
A favourite haunt for very colourful dragonflies, deer, pheasant and other animals, very little has been written about this site. Said by place-name authorities to get its name from an old oak that once stood by its side, the name must be pretty old as no remains of such a tree has been mentioned by any antiquarians in the last 200 years. But the first element in the place-name “riv-ock” is an intriguing puzzle. Does it mean simply a split oak? Or was it a more regal in nature, and derive from the old Gaelic Righ, (proncounced ‘ree’) meaning a King’s Oak? More probably the name relates to the “well by the twisted oak,” from the dialect word, rive, or ‘twisted’. However, when we begin exploring dialect variations on this word, a whole host of possible meanings emerge!
Ancient people who lived on these moors obviously used this well — and no doubt had old tales of its medicinal virtues, but sadly these are lost. All we have to remind us that our ancestors came here are the numerous cup-and-ring stones found at Rivock Edge itself, a short distance southeast of here…
Whelan, Edna & Taylor, Ian, Yorkshire Holy Wells and Sacred Springs, Northern Lights: Dunnington 1989.
This was one of the many sacred trees beneath or next to which, in pre-christian days, tribal councils met. Thanks to the local historians Paul Rowland and Lis Tigi Maguire Coyle (see ‘Comments’, below), the whereabouts of the tree has been located (contrary to my earlier idea that it had sadly died). The local writer Harry Garbutt wrote of it in the 1940s, saying:
“The importance of Harthill in Saxon days may be adduced also from the fact that of the Three Hundreds of the Wapentake, Harthill was one. The Hundred was the Court of local justice and government, and at Harthill would meet under the old Trysting Tree.”
The very word trysting relates to any species of tree that has importance, be it by its appearance or position, and relates to those that were used as traditional or popular meeting sites.
Garbett, Harry, The History of Harthill-with-Woodall and its HamletKivetonPark, Arthur H. Stockwell: Ilfracombe n.d. (c.1948)
Acknowledgements: Massive thanks to Paul Rowland (‘Comments’, below), for information pointing us to the exact spot where our Trysting Tree lived; and to Lis Tigi Maguire Coyle for the additional folklore ‘Comment’, below. Huge thanks to you both!
Dead easy! Near the western end of Caton village, right on the edge of the main road (A683) running through the village (south-side of the road), enclosed by railings, you’ll see the remains of this ancient tree, just by the side of the stream. Keep your eyes peeled!
Archaeology & History
The small scruffy-looking remnant of an oak standing here by the roadside in Caton village, surrounded by protective railings, is the dying remnants of the old tree, standing upon the sandstone steps which were known as the Fish Stones: a curious monument that has been listed as a protected monument by the Dept of National Heritage. A small plaque on the side tells:
“The three semi-circular sandstone steps, shaded by the oak tree, were used in medieval times by the monks of Cockersand Abbey to display and sell fish caught from the River Lune. The ancient oak tree, reputed to date back to the time of the druids, and the Fish Stones, have become a landmark and Symbol of Caton.”
This was probably the local moot spot for villagers and those living in outlying farms and hills in medieval times. No doubt a market of some sort was also once here; perhaps even an old cross, as the Fish Stones have all the appearance of some village cross steps. I’ve found little else about this old tree, nor any folklore (but aint looked too hard if truth be had!). There’s surely more to be said about this once sacred tree.
From Carlton, take the western Hirst Road to Temple Hirst village, then turn right once you’re in the village and go up Common Lane up for about a mile. There’s a footpath on your left leading you to the Fair Oaks farmhouse. This was the spot!
Archaeology & History
This is fascinating sounding place which marked the central point of three old township boundaries nearly 1000 years ago. I first found it mentioned in Morrell’s History and Antiquities of Selby (1867: 36-7), where this once famous tree is described in land sale transactions. Morrell told:
“At Carlton the (Selby) abbey had considerable property, which was sold to the neighbouring priory of Drax. The boundary of the property sold was a certain oak tree, called Fair-haia, in Burn Wood, which Adam de Bellaqua gave for this purpose, binding himself and his heirs never to cut it down or root it up, sub poena anathematis.”
But we found a more detailed outline in Dugdale’s Selby Abbey in Yorkshire, where the premises and townships given to Selby Abbey in the 12th and 13th centuries are listed. In the township of ‘Carleton’ (as it was then spelt) Dugdale wrote:
“Peter de Brus gave the grange here, which the monks had held of Agnes, late wife of Ranulph FitzSwain. Richard abbat of Selby granted to Robert prior of Drax all the tithe from the north part of the oak called Fair-haia, in the wood of Birne, or Berlay, through the middle of the marsh to Hundolfsweith; and from thence by the strait ditch directly to Espholm, and all the tithe from Espholme to Appletreholme, as the ditch goes to the new fosse or ditch of Carleton: and the prior granted to the abbat all the tithes on the south to the new ditch, and from thence to the river Ayre. And Adam de Bellaqua gave this oak tree, called Fair-haia, as a boundary, never to be cut down (ad standum in perpetuum et non rescindendum), binding himself and his successors never to cut it down or root it up.”
One wonders: are there any remains left of this once great tree? Has anyone actually transgressed and uprooted it in times past? Is any other lore known of it? And who was Adam de Bellaqua?
One of the most intriguing elements to this site is its name, for the word ‘haia’ literally means ‘god of the land’ — but whether we can take this meaning seriously is questionable, as it’s of Sumerian origin. However, no local dialect words throw any light on the word and it may aswell be the name of the spirit of the tree as anything else. Does anyone know owt more about this place?