Thorrisdail Stone, Torrisdale, Sutherland

Cup-Marked Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NC 66556 61609

Archaeology & History

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.

Thorrisdail Stone, with Sarah stood below
One of the cupmarks highlighted, upper middle

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.

AcknowledgementsHuge thanks to Sarah MacLean for her company and landscape knowledge in visiting this and other nearby antiquarian remains.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  58.522097, -4.292946 Thorrisdail Stone

St. Bennet’s Well, Cromarty, Ross & Cromarty

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference – NH 7923 6502

Archaeology & History

St Bennets Well 1880 map

An old church dedicated to St Bennet once existed on the hill above where this spring of water emerges, but little is now left of the building.  Thankfully the holy well hasn’t quite followed in the footsteps of the church.  Miss Riley (1935) told us that it can be found “near the high-water mark…situated at the foot of a beautiful little glen which runs inland from the coast” – and from all accounts it is still there.

Shown on the 1880 OS-map of the region, the dedication to St Bennet is obscure.  Mr Pullan (1927) suggested it derived from the 6th century St Benedict of Nursia, but this is improbable.  The Royal Commission lads thought it more likely derived from “a Celtic foundation.”

Folklore

The earliest description I’ve found regarding the traditions surrounding this well are by Hugh Miller (1835).  He wrote:

“It is not yet twenty years since a thorn-bush, which formed a little canopy over the spring of St. Bennet, used to be covered anew every season with little pieces of rag, left on it as offerings to the saint, by sick people who came to drink of the water.”

But the tradition didn’t die out, as evidenced by a short article by Miss M.D. Riley (1935) in Antiquity journal where she gave us further valuable information about its folk history, saying:

“In order to insure the fulfilment of the wish it is essential that the wisher should drink the water and leave something of his personal attire.  When the writer visited the spot there was a heterogeneous collection of ‘rags’ hanging on the branches.

“Mr Francis Scott tells me that the site is locally supposed to be the place of judgement.  It is close to the ruins of St Bennet’s Chapel and the ground is said to be cursed as it was stoeln by the Church. Even at the present day the owner has to provide each year at Christmas-tide 8 cwt of oatmeal free for the poor of the parish.  This has been operative since 1630 and though the owner has tested the matter in the highest court of law in Scotland, his appeal was not allowed.”

The tradition of giving offerings to the spirit of this well was still recorded in 1966.

References:

  1. Hiley, M.D., “Rag-Wells,” in Antiquity, volume 9:4, December 1935.
  2. Innies, Cosmo, Origines Parochiales – volume 2:2, W.H. Lizars: Edinburgh 1855.
  3. Miller, Hugh, Scenes and Legends of the North of Scotland; the Traditional History of Cromarty, William Nimmo: Edinburgh 1835.
  4. Morris, Ruth & Frank, Scottish Healing Wells, Alethea: Sandy 1982.
  5. Pullan, L., The Banner of St Boniface, London 1927.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  57.658824, -4.025735 St Bennet\'s Well

River Barvas, Barvas, Lewis

Sacred River:  OS Grid Reference – NB 351 494

Folklore

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.

References:

  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

 

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  58.352757, -6.529821 River Barvas

St. Serf’s Water, Crieff, Perthshire

Cist:  OS Grid Reference – NN 8488 2344

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 25503

Archaeology & History

Were it not for the valuable records in the Scottish Statistical Accounts, we’d have lost all knowledge of this site.  It was described in notes by by Colin Baxter (1793), where he told us:

“About 200 yards west from the church of Monivaird, a barrow was opened some years ago, in which two urns were found, each containing a stone of a bluish colour, very hard about four inches long, and of a triangular shape, somewhat resembling the head of an axe.”

The site was subsequently mentioned in the Ordnance Survey Name Book of the parish, with some additional bits of information:

“In the year 17–, there was found, about one hundred yards to the westward of the old church of Monzievaird, a barrow containing a stone-coffin, in which were inclosed two coarse earthen urns, the one filled with burnt bones, the other containing the bones of the head.  Of these, the under jawbone and the teeth were very entire.  In the stone coffin was also found a stone hatchet, bluish-coloured, very hard, about four inches long, and of a triangular shape, a remain which proves the barrow of very remote antiquity – prior to the use of iron. The stone hatchet is preserved at Ochtertyre.”

No traces remain of the site; and although the stone axes came to be in the possession of Sir William Murray of Ochtertyre, the urns and other remains have long since been lost.

Folklore

The name of ‘St Serf’s Water’ derives from it this area being dedicated to St Servanus in early times; the holy well of St Serf could be found a short distance south from where this tomb was built.

References:

  1. Baxter, Colin, “United Parishes of Monivaird and Strowan,” in Statistical Account of Scotland – volume 8, William Creech: Edinburgh 1793.
  2. Porteous, A., “Extracts from a History of the Parishes of Monivaird and Strowan“, in Archaeologia Scotica, volume 2, 1822.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.389164, -3.866274 St Serfs Water

St. Serf’s Well, Crieff, Perthshire

Holy Well (lost):  OS Grid Reference – NN 8457 2323

Archaeology & History

St Serfs Well on 1866 map

A mile to the west side of Crieff, in the grounds of the 18th century mansion known as Ochtertyre House, could once be seen the little-known sacred well of St Serf.  Sadly its waters seem to have disappeared beneath the rising waters of the loch known as St Serf’s Waters—which is a pity, as the place was of importance in the annual traditions of the local people, who left offerings to the spirit of the place, as was common in days of olde.  It was described in Mr Porteous’ (1822) account of Monzievaird parish, in which he told that,

“Nigh to this place is St Serf’s Well, and the moor whereon St Serf’s market is held.  He was the tutelary saint of the parish of Monivaird.  This well is a plentiful spring of water.  About sixty years ago, our people were wont, on Lammas day, to go and drink it, leaving white stones, spoons, or rags, which they brought with them; but nothing except the white stones now appear, this superstitious practice being quite in oblivion.  It has been useful in a strangury, as any other very cold water would be; for a patient, taking a tub full of it immediately from the well, plunging his arms into it, which were bare to the elbows, was cured.

“St Serf’s fair is still kept on the 11th of July, where Highland horses, linen cloth, etc., both from the south and north, are sold.”

Although the well is deemed to be ‘lost’, it is possible that its waters might be seen after a good drought.  Please let us know if that happens.

Folklore

St. Serf was said to have been a hermit and tutor of the more renowned St. Mungo.

References:

  1. Morris, Ruth & Frank, Scottish Healing Wells, Alethea: Sandy 1982.
  2. Porteous, A., “Extracts from a History of the Parishes of Monivaird and Strowan“, in Archaeologia Scotica, volume 2, 1822.

Acknowledgements:  Big thanks for use of the 1st edition OS-map in this site profile, Reproduced with the kind permission of the National Library of Scotland

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.387202, -3.871200 St Serf\'s Well

Fairies’ Cradle, Cromarty, Ross & Cromarty

Legendary Rock (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NH 792 651

Archaeology & History

In the ruins St Bennet’s Chapel, along with his accompanying holy well (NH 7923 6502), could once be seen a curiously shaped rock which, according to tradition has been destroyed.  In Mr Innes’ (1855) major history work he mentioned this Fairies Cradle in passing.  Not far from here and close to the coast, is a curiously-shaped boulder with several natural cupmarks (at NH 9150 6497).

Folklore

In Hugh Miller’s (1878) definitive local history work, Scenes and Legends, we have our main description of this once important site.  It existed,

“near the chapel itself, which was perched like an eyry on a steep solitary ridge that overlooks the Moray Firth, there was a stone trough, famous, about eighty years before, for virtues derived also from the saint, like those of the well. For if a child was carried away by the fairies, and some mischievous unthriving imp left in its place, the parents had only to lay the changeling in this trough, and, by some invisible process, their child would be immediately restored to them. It was termed the fairies’ cradle; and was destroyed shortly before the rebellion of 1745, by Mr. Gordon, the minister of the parish, and two of his elders.”

The story of children here being carried away by littlepeople and then restored by an impish offering, is a play on the site being a healing stone.  There are numerous other “curing stones” found elsewhere in Scotland, but with their own respective traditions—like the Measles Stone at Fearnan, the Whooping Cough Stone near Killin, and many others.

If anyone knows anything more about this lost “curing stone”, please let us know.

References:

  1. Alston, David, “The Old Parish Church of Cromarty,” Cromarty, May 2005.
  2. Innies, Cosmo, Origines Parochiales – volume 2:2, W.H. Lizars: Edinburgh 1855.
  3. Miller, Hugh, Scenes and Legends of the North of Scotland; the Traditional History of Cromarty, William Nimmo: Edinburgh 1878.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  57.659534, -4.026278 Fairies Cradle

Cragganester (3), Kenmore, Perthshire

Cup-Marked Stone – NN 65632 38144

Getting Here

The rock in the landscape

From Killin, take the A827 road to Kenmore. 6 miles along, on your right, is the track down to the Big Shed at Tombreck.  Keep on the A827 for exactly ⅓-mile (0.53km), and opposite the driveway to Craggantoul is a small parking spot.  A few yards on the road, over the burn, go thru the gate on your left and walk up the path for less than 100 yards. The stone is just a coupla yards on your right (if you reach the derelict tractor, you’ve gone about 10 yards past the stone).

Archaeology & History

Cupmarks along the top

This is another one of the many simple cup-marked petroglyphs scattering the Cragganester and Tombreck regions beneath the slope of Ben Lawers.  It’s an elongated, smoothly-shaped ‘female’ stone, aligned north-south, possessing four distinct cups along its crown: three in a small line at the south-end of the stone and a single one close to the north end.  However between these is what may be another, shallow fifth cupmark—but this is uncertain.

One notable feature here is that the rock is encrusted with small garnets.  This geological ingredient isn’t uncommon in this area, and we’ve found that quite a proportion of the petroglyphs hereby possess this feature.  It was probably of some importance to the people who carved them.

Acknowledgements:  Thanks to Paul Hornby for use of his photograph.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.516087, -4.185379 Cragganester (3)

Stob Cross, Markinch, Fife

Wayside Cross: OS Grid Reference – NO 29607 02202

Also Known as;

  1. Stobb Cross
  2. Canmore ID 29950

Getting Here

Shown on 1856 OS map

The cross is located on a bluff of land overlooking the west side of Stob Cross Road on the northern edge of Markinch.

Archaeology & History

In 1933, following a visit in 1925, the county archaeological inventory described it thus:-

Close beside the East Lodge of Balbirnie House, on a knoll 200 feet above sea-level, stands a stone known, from the nature of its sculpturings, as the “Stob Cross.” It is a somewhat mutilated rectangular slab, 7 feet 5 ½ inches in height, 2 feet broad at the base and 6 inches thick, having a plain cross carved in relief on the east and on the west face. The cross on the east is now very much damaged but sufficient remains to indicate that the arms have been 1 foot wide and that the shaft has measured 1 foot 5 inches across at the intersection. On the west face the design stands out in relief from 1 to 1 ¼ inches. The arms of the cross measure 11 ½ inches in width, and the upper limb, which tapers slightly to its extremity, is 12 ½ inches across at the point of intersection. The shaft measures 1 foot 2 inches across below the arms and widens gradually downwards to 1 foot 8 inches at the base. In 1790, when the cross was in danger of falling, the Earl of Leven had the position faced up with masonry, and the monument now stands, with its major axis north and south, on a two-stepped base of modern construction.

Roadside views l. & centre – Rear view r.

It’s certainly had a hard life, and its official designation as ‘early medieval’ leads us to suspect that it may have been a decorated Pictish cross that has had its ornamentation obliterated by Reformation iconoclasts. Those same iconoclasts may have concocted the ‘history’ recounted by Rev  John Thomson (1794) in the Old Statistical Account of 1794 of what he describes as a ‘very coarse piece of work’:-

‘Vulgar tradition says, that it was erected to the memory of a gentleman, who fell on this spot, in a mortal encounter with one of his neighbours.’

Writing of Markinch, nineteenth century historian Aeneas Mackay (1896) has this to say:-

‘A cell of the Culdees was established there by one of the last Celtic bishops, and the ancient cross near Balgonie [sic] may mark its site.’

Modern place-name research ascribes Markinch as a place where horses were grazed while their owners were attending the early mediaeval courts and assemblies at Dalginch a quarter of a mile to the east, so the cross may at that time have been a waymarker. A roadside plaque describes the Cross as possibly marking the limit of an ancient sanctuary enclosure related to the church of St Drostan (known locally as St. Modrustus) in the centre of Markinch.  Additionally, it was on the ancient (and recently revived) Fife Pilgrim Way from Culross to St Andrews, so would have been a wayside station for the pilgrims. which if it was a Pictish cross would have made it a target for desecration by iconoclasts. We are lucky that it has survived at all, and with the revival of the Pilgrim Way as a long distance path it will attract many new admirers.

References:

  1. Forbes, A.P., Kalendars of Scottish Saints, Edmonston & Douglas: Edinburgh 1872.
  2. Mackay, Aeneas J.G., A History of Fife and Kinross, Blackwood: Edinburgh 1896.
  3. Markinch Heritage Group, – http://www.markinchheritage.org.uk/Index.asp?MainID=5250
  4. Royal Commission, Inventory of Fife, Kinross & Clackmannan, HMSO: Edinburgh 1933.
  5. Taylor, Simon & Márkus, Gilbert, The Place Names of Fife – volume 2, Shaun Tyas: Donnington 2013.
  6. Thomson, Rev John. The Statistical Account of Scotland – volume 12, Creech: Edinburgh 1794.

© Paul T. Hornby, The Northern Antiquarian, 2020

 

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  56.207181, -3.136337 Stob Cross

Cragganester (19), Kenmore, Perthshire

Cup-Marked Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NN 66627 38647

Getting Here

Cragganester 19 stone

Although you could just as well follow the directions to reach the Cragganester 22 carving (exactly 100 yards away), it’s probably easier to get there from where the track leads down to Balnasuim, but there’s nowhere to park any vehicle here—unless you’re on a bike!  Across the road from the Balnasuim track is a gate.  Go thru this and then follow the fence immediately on your left, running parallel with the road for roughly 250 yards (218m), until you reach a denuded wall that runs onto the hillside above you.  Follow this up for roughly 200 yards (96m) until you reach a grass-lined track.  Walk to your left and keep your eyes peeled for a reasonably large rounded boulder next to the track 40 yards on.  That’s it!

Archaeology & History

2 cupmarks highlighted

This is one of the many simplistic petroglyphs in the Cragganester complex, probably only of interest to the fanatics amongst you!  There are two distinct cup-marks on this nice rounded ‘female’ stone, one near the top and one near the middle, amidst the olde lichen growth.  Loch Tay stretches along the glen below here, but only a portion of it is visible nowadays.  In times gone by, tree growth probably prevented any vision of the waters below…

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.520886, -4.169479 Cragganester (19)

Cragganester (22), Kenmore, Perthshire

Cup-Marked Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NN 66585 38564

Getting Here

Looking across Loch Tay

It’s a bittova pain-in-the-arse to reach this and its associated carvings, as there’s little place to park along here.  The easiest is to park 600 yards east of Tombreck at the spot just by the small bridge at Craggantoul.  Keep your eyes truly peeled!  From here, walk along the road for ⅔-mile where you’ll hit a gate taking you onto the boggy hillside.  Go diagonally up here for 150 yards where you’ll hit an overgrown track and small disused quarry.  Some 50 yards along you’ll see a small rock outcrop on your left (as if you’re going back to the road).  That’s the spot!

Archaeology & History

Close-up of cupmark

Not previously recorded, this simple petroglyph on a small rock outcrop—barely 50 yards above the A827 Killin-Kenmore road—comprises of one clear cup-mark prominently etched near the middle of the upper surface; and another possible cup on the left (eastern) section of the rock.  Cragganester carvings 19 and 20 are respectively about 100 yards NE and NW of here but, like other carvings nearby, is only gonna be of interest to the fanatic nutters out there!

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.520133, -4.170118 Cragganester (22)