Creagantairbh, Ford, Kilmartin, Argyll

Standing Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NM 85952 01568

Getting Here

Stone on the 1875 map

From Kilmartin go north on the A816 Oban road, and after 1½ miles watch out for the small B840 road on your right, to Ford and Loch Awe.  Less than a mile along the winding road, just after the track to the farmhouse on your left, keep your eyes peeled for the standing stone on your right, whose top is peeking over the old walling.  If you’re not careful you’ll miss it!

Archaeology & History

From the roadside this looks like just a reasonably small standing stone, but closer inspection shows it’s been snapped halfway up—apparently in a great storm in December 1879.  If you look over the wall, just a couple of yards behind the upright you’ll see the larger section of stone that was attached to the 6-foot upright before its calamitous fall.  Originally it was said to have been 16 feet tall!

Broken bit laid flat
From the roadside

The first description of the stone is thought to be by the great J. Romilly Allen (1880) in his brief visit to Ford, saying simply that the stone “is close to the road on the east side, 1 mile from Ford. It is 14 feet high and 3 feet by 4 feet at the base.  The material is slate.  It inclines considerably from the perpendicular”—meaning, that he saw it before the stone had been broken.  Lucky bugger!

More than twenty years later David Christison (1904) visited the site and wrote his of his finds in an essay for the Society of Antiquaries, although in truth he said little more than anyone before and after has been able to say:

“A mile and a quarter south-south-west of Ford Church, 130 yards east by south of Creagantairbh Beag farmhouse, close to the west side of the highway, stands the base of an obelisk, at the foot of which the shaft lies prostrate.  The base is 5 feet 6 inches high,’and has an oblique ledge, half way up on to which the shaft would accurately fit.  If restored, the height of the stone would be 16 feet 2 inches above ground, and it must have had a very handsome appearance, tapering in width as it gradually does from 2 feet 6 inches to 2 feet.  It is 18 inches thick at the base and 10 inches to 12 inches at the top.”

Christison’s 1904 sketch

The name Creagantairbh derives from the Crag of the Bull, which is the sharp hill immediately in front of you to the north; and its geological consort, the Creag a’ Chapuill (or Crag of the Horse) rises to its immediate northwest.  A few hundred yards further along the road towards Ford is the large Auchinellan standing stone.

Folklore

When I lived in Ford many years ago, the olde folk told me how, in bygone centuries, bulls were sacrificed on the Creagantairbh above.

References:

  1. Allen, J. Romilly, “Note on a Standing Stone near Ford, Argyllshire,” in Proceedings Society Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 14, 1880.
  2. Campbell, Marion & Sandeman, M., “Mid Argyll: An Archaeological Survey,” in Proceedings Society Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 95, 1964.
  3. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Argyll – Volume 6: Mid-Argyll and Cowal, HMSO: Edinburgh 1988.
  4. Ruggles, Clive, Megalithic Astronomy, BAR: Oxford 1984.

Acknowledgements:  Big thanks for use of the 1st Edition OS-maps, reproduced with the kind permission of the National Library of Scotland

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

St. Francis’ Well, Dundee, Angus

Holy Well (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NO 4007 3046

Also Known as:

  1. Grey Friar’s Well

Archaeology & History

Site shown on 1776 map

This is another one of Dundee’s lost holy wells (see also the Lady Well, the Nine Wells, St Clement’s Well, St Mary’s Well and Sinavey Well), around which the town was first built.  Its cold fresh waters were located less than a hundred yards north of the old Houff graveyard in the middle of town, or where Alex Maxwell (1884) described as upon “the sunny slopes of the Gray Friars’ meadows.”

Maxwell told us that this sacred site was the most favoured of the the holy wells in the area, having been dedicated to St Francis of Assisi by the monks who built the  medieval Grey Friars monastery, whose ruins lie beneath the Houff graveyard.  After the destruction of the priory in the 16th century, the holy well and surrounding meadows came under the ownership of the local council.  The well had become ruinous and so was repaired back to its old condition, but a few decades later had become very neglected again and was ordered to be closed.  It was mentioned in several early land rental documents, including this from 1630 which told,

“That haugh or meadow lying on the south side of the Tentour Hill, and on the east side of the meadow called Monorgan’s croft, togidder with the lands lying about St. Francis’ well, were set for the yearly penny mail of fifty-ane pounds.”

The most extensive description of it came from Alex Maxwell’s own pen, and I reproduce it here in full.  He began by speaking of the other holy wells of Our Lady and St. Clement’s in Dundee, but told us that,

“The most important of them was the Gray Friars’ well, which came out of the rising ground westward from where the High School is built, and had been dedicated to the honour of St. Francis, the founder of the order — a man of exalted character, whom Dean Milman calls “most blameless and gentle.”  The water, which ran perennially and was of singular purity, had no doubt been highly venerated in the days of the old Church, and it continued to be much esteemed, and even to maintain somewhat of its traditional sanctity, long after the memory of the good man whose name it bore had become forgotten.

“When the Friars’ house was in ruins, and the gardens laid waste, St. Francis’ well did not escape unharmed.  One austere iconoclast—James Patrie was his name—had probably been offended at its sculptural reminiscences of the old faith, and he cast it down.  When arraigned to answer for this,

“he confest and grantit that he took down the common well callit the Friar well, quhilk servit the haill town with guid and wholesome water, and referrit him in the Bailies’ and Council’s will thereanent; and they being advisit with his offence, declarit that he sail pay for the reparation of the said well and common warks the soum of ten pounds; always, gif he big and repair the well as Weill as it wes of before with lime mortar, or Pasch next, this pain to be remitted; otherwise, the day past and the well nocht biggit, to pay the said soum but favour.”

James, however, proved contumacious; the day did pass, and the well still lay in ruins.  But he got further time, for the Council not yet having possession of the monastic lands, had not chosen to act arbitrarily, and 

“James Patrie was ordained to repair the Friar well conform to the last act, under the pain contenit thereintil, betwix the date hereof and Whitsunday;”

and he probably then proceeded to restore it into good condition, as we do not find any other ordinance on the matter.  He had not, however, erected it very substantially; for, before thirty years had elapsed, the structure was again ruinous, and the Council resolved

“that St. Francis’ well be of new biggit and made close, so that na common access be had thereto.”

“The meadow land of the Gray Friars which lay around the well, formed a pleasant open space for the use of the old burgh, and it was always held in much regard. Early in last century, the water from the Lady well was impounded and conveyed in pipes for supplying other cisterns throughout the town ; but St. Francis’ spring, which was softer and purer, was left undisturbed to flow down the grassy slope in its natural course ; and when the place became appropriated for homely purposes, and upon

“Its verdant braes,
The lasses used to wash and spread their claes,”

“the gossiping naiads made the meadow very lively as they plashed in the brimming basins of the Friars’ old well, or filled their pitchers at the fresh fountain, or sprinkled the water in crystal showers over their snowy linen. About the time that the ground was sacrificed for the erection of buildings, a dyer in the neighbourhood sank a well which evidently reached the source of the spring and drained it off. Years afterwards, when the place had been overbuilt, he ceased to use his well, and the stream, returning to its old course, found access into the lower part of a church which now covers the site of the fountain, much to the dismay of the deacons. The water was then carried off elsewhere, and will be seen no more ; and the remembrance of those virtues which belonged to the once famous well will soon have passed away.”

In Christian lore, St Francis’ festival day was October 4.

References:

  1. Maxwell, Alexander, The History of Old Dundee, David Douglas: Edinburgh 1884.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Altar Stone, Stobo, Peeblesshire

Legendary Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NT 15710 35754

Also Known as:

  1. Arthur’s Stane

Getting Here

Altar Stone on 1859 map

Various ways to get here.  From Peebles take the A72 road west to Kirkurd, but after 4 miles turn left onto B712.  Several miles down, go past Stobo village and before crossing the bridge over  the River Tweed, turn left up minor road leading to Dreva and Broughton.  The track into Altarstone Farm is about a mile along and the stone is across the road from there.  The other way is going south along the A701 from Broughton village, where you take the left turn towards Stobo.  Go along here for just over 3 miles where you reach the woodland (park here where the small track goes into the woods).  A coupla hundred yards further along is Altar Stone Farm on your right and the stone is above the verge on your left.

Archaeology & History

Altar Stone, Stobo

Archaeologically speaking, there’s nowt much to say about this site apart from the usual tedium of its measurements and the rock-type.  I’ll give the latter a miss, but the stone stands at nearly five feet high and nearly as broad; with its upper face relatively smooth and the top of it pretty flat.  A section from the top of this stone was cut and sliced off a few centuries ago and this was said to have been taken to Stobo church a few miles away, where it was fashioned into a stone font for baptisms.  If this is true, it’s possible that this stone was once an authentic squat standing stone, but we’ll probably never know.  Also on top of the stone you can see a number of geophysical scratches, one of which looks as if it may have been worked by human hands and which has some relevance to the folklore of the stone.

It is shown on the 1859 OS-map of the area and was mentioned in the Ordnance Name Book where they told how it was “supposed to have formed the Altar of a druids Temple or some such object,” but they could find no local verification of such lore at the time of their visit… or at least, no one was telling them anything about it…

Folklore

This fascinating bit of rock—or possible sliced standing stone—is of note due to its association with that old shaman of shamans known as Merlin!  Near the end of His days, when He’d truly retired from the world of men and wandered, they say, mad amidst the great lowland forests, an old christian dood by the name of Kentigern—later known as St Mungo—who’d been trying to convert our old magickian away from the animistic ways of Nature.  Legend says that He succeeded.  The old Scottish traveller Ratcliffe Barnett (1925) wrote:

“Merlin is the real genius of Drumelzier.  Dumelzier means the Ridge of Meldred, a pagan prince of the district.  And it was Meldred’s shepherds that slew Merlin the bard.  The heathen bard was present at the battle of Arthuret in the year 573, when the christian army gained a victory over the Heathen Host.  Merlin fled to the forest of Caledon at Drumelzier and there ever after the old Druid spent his life among the wild hills with a repute for insanity.  This poet priest was doubtless heart-broken at the defeat of his pagan friends.  The old order was changing.  But the christian king had brought his friend, St Kentigern or Munro, to preach the gospel in upper Tweedside at Stobo.  One day Kentigern met a weird-looking man and demanded who he was.  “Once I was the prophet of Vortigern (Gwendollen).  My name is Merlin.  Now I am in these solitudes enduring many privations.”

“So Kentigern preached the gospel to the old nature worshipper and won him to Christ.  Up yonder, at the east end of the Dreva road, you will find the rude Altar Stone where, it is said, Kentigern received the Druid into the christian church and dispensed the sacrament.  But in those dark days of the faith, the Druids and their pagan adherents fought hard against the new religion.  So immediately after the admission of Merlin to the Church, the shepherds of Meldred sought him out, stoned him to death on the haugh of Drumelzier, and there, where the Powsail Burn falls quietly into Tweed, Merlin the Martyr was buried.  For long his grave was marked by a hawthorn tree.”

These shepherds were said to have stoned him and then threw his body upon a sharp stake and then into the stream. (stone – wood – water)

If there is any hint of truth in this tale, it is unlikely Merlin would have given himself over to the christian ways unless—as any shaman would—he knew of his impending death.  In which case it would have done him no harm to pretend a final allegiance to the unnatural spirituality that was growing in the land.  But whatever he may have been thinking, it is said that this Altar Stone was where he made such a deed.

Scratch-marks of the mythic hare
Altar Stone, Stobo

An equally peculiar legend—variations of which are found at a number of places in the hills of northern England and Scotland—speaks of another shamanic motif, i.e., of humans changing into animals and back.  For here, legend tells, an old witch was being chased (by whom, we know not) across the land.  She’d turned herself into the form of a hare and, as she crossed over the Altar Stone, her claws dug so deeply into the rock that they left deep scars that can still be seen to this day.  From here, the hare scampered at speed downhill until reaching the River Tweed at the bottom, whereupon transforming itself back into the form of the witch, who promptly fled into the hills above on the far side of the river.

One final thing mentioned by Barnett (1943) was the potential oracular property of the Altar Stone:

“You have to only place your hand on top of this rude altar, shut your eyes, and if you have the gift you will see visions.”

References:

  1. Ardrey, Adam, Finding Merlin, Mainstream 2012.
  2. Barnett, Ratcliffe, Border By-Ways and Lothian Lore, John Grant: Edinburgh 1925.
  3. Buchan, J.W. & Paton, H., A History of Peeblesshire – volume 3, Glasgow 1927.
  4. Crichton, Robin, On the Trail of Merlin in a Dark Age, R. Crichton 2017.
  5. Glennie, John Stuart, Arthurian Localities, Edmonston & Douglas: Edinburgh 1869.
  6. Moffat, Alistair, Arthur and the Lost Kingdoms, Phoenix: London 1999.
  7. Rich, Deike & Begg, Ean, On the Trail of Merlin, Aquarian: London 1991.
  8. Wheatley, Henry B., Merlin, or, The Early History of King Arthur – 2 volumes, Trubner: London 1865.

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

Skerray Mains, Torrisdale, Sutherland

Souterrain (lost):  OS Grid Reference – NC 6601 6315

Archaeology & History

In the middle of the 19th century the opening to a prehistoric souterrain used to be in evidence on the north-side of the single track road running past old Skerray Mains house.  It was mentioned in Hew Morrison’s (1883) historical guide, albeit briefly and without ambiguity:

“Below the house of Skerra Mains is an artificial cave that enters from below the road and extends 40 or 50 yards in length.  Two urns were found it when it was discovered but they soon crumbled away on being exposed to the air.”

More than thirty years later, the Royal Commission (1911) lads ventured to check it out, only to find that it had just recently been covered up:

“At the farm of Skerray Mains is an earth-house, the mouth or entrance to which was recently exposed by the farmer.  It is situated about 15 feet distant from the northeast window of the dwelling-house, and is now entirely covered over again.”

Of the old locals I met here, only one of them remembers hearing of it, but the precise location of its entrance had been forgotten.  Surely it aint gonna be toooo difficult to find it again?

References:

  1. Morrison, Alex, “Souterrains in Sutherland,” in J.R. Baldwin’s Province of Strathnaver, SSNS: Edinburgh 2000.
  2. Morrison, Hew, A Tourist’s Guide to Sutherland and Caithness, D.H. Edwards: Brechin 1883.
  3. Royal Commission on Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, Second report and inventory of monuments and constructions in the county of Sutherland. HMSO: Edinburgh 1911.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

St. Mungo’s Well, Peebles, Peeblesshire

Holy Well (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NT 2523 4045

Archaeology & History

St Mungo’s Well, 1858 map

Highlighted on the 1858 OS-map, two-thirds the way up the High Street, this long forgotten sacred well was described by the Ordnance Survey lads in their Name Book (1856) as “an excellent spring”—and no doubt an ever-flowing one, even in the greatest of droughts.  But it had already been destroyed when they came here.  It was mentioned in passing by William Chambers’ (1856), who described it as a “public fountain” dedicated to old Mungo, a.k.a. St Kentigern.  But its position in the High Street wasn’t where it originally emerged.  Local tradition told it was once on the slopes of Venlaw immediately north of the town, possibly making it into the folklore category of “Wells that Move”—usually because the spirit of the place has been offended.

But in truth, little is known about its mythic history.  Its origin seems, as with so many ancient sites, entangled in what Dr Gunn (1908) in his definitive work on the history of Peebles church explained, the heathen “superstitious regard for fountains”, pre-dating the christian dedications.  St Mungo himself, said Gunn,

“is remembered in Peebles to-day by his holy well upon the slopes of Venlaw, hallowed by its use in the Sacrament of Baptism.”

It’s profane history tells simply that, in 1728, its waters were piped into the trough on High Street for public use.  It became damaged sometime in the early 19th century, but some remains of the  stonework were found when roadworks were done here in 1845.  It would be good if we could recover further information about this important holy well.

References:

  1. Chambers, William, A History of Peeblesshire, W. & R. Chambers: Edinburgh 1864.
  2. Gunn, P., The Book of Peebles Church, A. Walker: Galashiels 1908.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian 


Bishop’s Well, Stow, Midlothian

Holy Well (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NT 4598 4454

Archaeology & History

At the edge of the ruins known as the Bishop’s Palace, up the slope behind the ruined church in Stow, could once be seen the waters of the Bishop’s Well which, wrote Thomas Wilson (1924), fed the palace hereby and was used by the clergy.  Apart from a barely discernible circular depression at the edge of the old manse ruins, no trace of this site remains.

References:

  1. Royal Commission Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, Inventory of Monuments and Constructions in the Counties of Midlothian and West Lothian, HMSO: Edinburgh 1929.
  2. Wilson, Thomas, The Stow of Wedale, Aberdeen Newspapers 1924.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

College Well, Brechin, Angus

Sacred Well:  OS Grid Reference – NO 5945 6006

Archaeology & History

College Well on 1865 map

Highlighted on the 1865 OS-map, this lost water source was located between the Brechin cathedral/round tower and the curiously-named St. Michael’s Mount, whose history seems to be lost.  It would seem to be the well which Ruth & Frank Morris (1981) name as the ‘Ancient Well’ in their survey.

Folklore

The reason behind this site being classified as a sacred (or holy) well is based on the tradition that the Culdees had a religious convent here in the 12th century and, according to David Black (1839),

“This convent is believed to have stood a little to the west of the present parish church, in the gardens now belonging to the kirk-session, still called “the College Yards.”  A small well of delightfully pure water in these gardens receives the name of the College Well, and is reported, by tradition, to have been the well of the Culdee convent.”

On the issue of St. Michael, students of folklore will know that, in the christian cult, he was an early dragon-slayer.  His annual commemoration day is September 29.  One of his shamanistic functions “relates to the very old tradition of Michael as the receiver of the souls of the dead.” (Attwater 1965)

References:

  1. Black, David D., The History of Brechin, Alexander Black: Brechin 1839.
  2. Gibson, Colin, Folklore of Tayside, Dundee Museum c.1968.
  3. Morris, Ruth & Frank, Scottish Healing Wells, Alethea: Sandy 1982.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

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

Falls of Monzie (7), Crieff, Perthshire

Cup-Marked Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NN 88737 26366

Getting Here

The site in the landscape

A couple of miles east of Crieff, take the A822 road from the Gilmerton junction towards the Sma’ Glen.  After literally 1¾ miles (2.8km)—just 100 yards before the track up to Connachan Farm—you’ll reach a dirt-track on your left that leads into the hills.  Go on here and after an easy walk of 400 yards or so, you’ll reach the conspicuous boulder known as the Falls of Monzie (6) stone.  Two or three yards to its side is a large flat stone.  That’s it!

Archaeology & History

This large flat smooth earthfast rock, is possessed of a number of very faint cup-marks.  Altogether there are at least nine cup-marks, most of which are closing in to the middle of the stone, with other single cups near the western and southern edges.

The faint cupmarks
Close-up of cups

Near the middle of the rock, one cup has an equally faint semi-circular arc, just visible on the photos here.  Close-up photos of this semi-circle seem to suggest it was more complete in ages gone by, but the erosion is such that it’s difficult to say with any certainty. (possibly the computer-tech kids could give us a bit more certainty).  The nearest other carving with more definite cup-and-rings can be found on the Falls of Monzie (8) stone, about 200 yards to the west.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

Chapel Well, Clackmannan, Clackmannanshire

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference – NS 9125 9122

Archaeology & History

Chapel Well on 1866 map

A little-known holy well on the south-side of the village has seen better days – if indeed it’s still there!  Located 500 yards due south of the destroyed Lady Well, this spring of water gained it name, according to local lore, from its proximity to an ancient chapel—remains of which have been frugal to say the least!  Shown on the earliest Ordnance Survey maps and continued to be shown until the 1950s, it seems that the first written account of it was in the Object Name Book of 1861 where it was told:

“A Spring well adjacent to Chapelhill.  It is cut in a freestone rock, from which issues a constant supply of pure spring water even in the dryest Seasons.  It is not impregnated with any Kind of Mineral.  A Chapel Stood near it at one time, the site of which Cannot be pointed out by any person in the neighbourhood.”

A visit by one of the Ordnance Survey lads here in 1950 found the well to be blocked-up by silt and soil; and on a quick visit I made here today I could find no remains of the well, but it may have been beneath the mass of excessive vegetation.  A subsequent visit in the winter may prove more fruitful – he sez, hopefully…..

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Denny Bridge, Denny, Stirlingshire

Cist (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NS 808 830

Archaeology & History

A small and seemingly prehistoric grave, or cist, destroyed sometime around 1840, once existed on the top of a large hillock close to the River Carron where the bridge leads from Dunipace to Denny.  Thankfully, memory of its existence was preserved by Robert Watson (1845) in his short description of Dunipace parish.  He first began by talking of some large natural mounds on the eastern side of the township which, folklore told, gave rise to the place-name Dunipace; but from those mounds,

“About two miles to the westward of these hills, there was a very beautiful one about forty feet in height, and covering nearly three roods of ground, said also to be artificial.  This hill was mutilated, from time to time, for the purpose of repairing roads and other purposes.  It was entirely removed about six years ago, to form an embankment on the turnpike road near Denny bridge. The strata of which this hill was composed, were carefully observed during its removal. These were so regular, and as if rising out of, and gradually returning again to similar strata in the circumjacent level ground, as to afford conclusive evidence that the hill was not the work of man.  On the top of this hill, and about three feet below the surface, was found a coffin or tomb, composed of five large un wrought stones, in which were the bones of a human body, scull and teeth not much decayed.  Along with these, was a vase of coarse unglazed earthenware, containing a small quantity of material resembling the lining of a wasp’s nest, probably decayed paper or parchment, which in the lapse of ages had assumed that appearance.  No conjecture could be formed about the individual here interred, tradition being entirely silent on the subject ; but this circumstance corroborates the opinion of some writers, that the hills of Dunipace might have been used as burying-places for ancient chiefs.”

The site was included in the Royal Commission’s (1963:1) Inventory, but they found no additional data about it.

References:

  1. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments Scotland, Stirling – volume 1, HMSO: Edinburgh 1963.
  2. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Archaeological Sites and Monuments of Stirling District, Central Region, Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 1979.
  3. Watson, Robert, “Parish of Dunipace,” in New Statistical Account of Scotland – volume 8, William Blackwood: Edinburgh 1845.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian