Castleton (10), Cowie, Stirlingshire

Cup-and-Ring Stone:  OS Grid-Reference – NS 85887 88394

Also Known as:

  1. Castleton 1 (Morris 1891)
  2. Castleton 1a (van Hoek)
  3. Gosham Park

Getting Here

Castleton-10, looking S

To reach here from Stirling or Bannockburn, take the B9124 east to Cowie (and past it) for 3¾ miles (6km), turning left at the small crossroads; or if you’re coming from Airth, the same B9124 road west for just about 3 miles, turning right at the same minor crossroads up the long straight road.  Drive to the dead-end of the road and park up.  You’ll notice that this is a crossroads of dirt-tracks.  Walk along the one that heads to the houses you can see on a rise above the fields, eastwards.  About 300 yards on, instead of going up towards the houses, walk thru the gate and along the wall-edge for 85 yards and go thru the gate to your right.  You’ll see a small rise covered in gorse trees 100 yards in front you and roughly in the middle of it all, you’ll find this carving.

Archaeology & History

The naked stone

When John Bruce (1896) wrote his article on the mighty Cochno Stone a few miles north of mighty Glasgow, he left some end-notes about a petroglyph near Carnock (near Castleton) that was “found to bear a few much weathered cups with concentric circles.”  He wasn’t at all clear where the carving was located, merely telling it to be “in the Gosham Park” on Carnock estate.  This may have been the reason why, when the lads from the Royal Commission came looking for it in August 1955, they left without success.  Nevertheless, when Ron Morris (1981) explored this area he located the place-name of Gosham Field and, therein, this multi-ringed carving.  It seems more than likely that this was the carving described by Mr Bruce – and it’s an impressive one!

Despite being eroded by the passage of time, the carved design is still pretty easy to see, comprising of a cluster of archetypal cup-and-multiple rings in close proximity to each other, etched onto a sloping stone.  Ron Morris’s (1981) description told that, 125 yards east of Gosham Field’s western wall,

“is a prominent greywacke outcrop, part of a rocky ridge running NW-SE, exposed in 1969-75 for 3m by 2m (10ft x 6ft), 4m (12) high on its S, but at ground level elsewhere, sloping 15° NE.  On its fairly smooth surface are:

“5 cups-and-complete rings, with no grooves, 3 with three rings, 1 with four, and 1 with five rings, up to 36m (14in) diameters and 1cm (½in) depth.”

Ron Morris’ 1981 sketch

Yet contrary to Morris’ description, there are some “grooves”, or carved lines emerging from some of the rings; faint but definitely there.  You can make them out in the accompanying photos above. (are there any sketch artists out there could accompany us to these carvings, so we get some good portraits of the stones?)  When Maarten van Hoek (1996) visited this carving he also missed these ‘ere carved grooves.

An additional feature that needs to be mentioned is the cluster of small geological deep natural cups, inches away from the carved rings on the southern edge of this stone (completely covered in vegetation in the attached photos).  The same feature also exists on the southern edges of the Castleton 5, Castleton 6 and  Castleton 12 carvings and it probably had some mythic relationship with the petroglyph.

Apparently there’s another cup-marked stone, now hidden beneath the dense undergrowth of gorse, 20-30 yards east along this same geological ridge.  The rock surfaces here need to be laid bare to enable a greater visual experience of the wider Castleton complex.

References:

  1. Bruce, John, “Notice of Remarkable Groups of Archaic Sculpturings in Dumbartonshire and Stirlingshire,” in Proceedings Society Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 30, 1896.
  2. 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.
  3. Morris, Ronald W.B., The Prehistoric Rock Art of Southern Scotland, BAR: Oxford 1981.
  4. Ritchie, Graham & Anna, Edinburgh and South-East Scotland, Heinemann: London 1972.
  5. Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, Stirlingshire: An Inventory of the Ancient Monuments – volume 1, HMSO: Edinburgh 1963.
  6. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Archaeological Sites and Monuments of Stirling District, Central Region, Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 1979.
  7. van Hoek, M.A.M.,”Prehistoric Rock Art around Castleton Farm, Airth,” in Forth Naturalist & Historian, volume 19, 1996.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Castleton (3), Cowie, Stirlingshire

Cup-and-Ring Stone:  OS Grid-Reference – NS 85700 87971

Archaeology & History

Ron Morris’ 1980 photo

40-50 yards southwest of the Castleton (11) cup-and-ring stone, beneath the marauding mass of spindly-killer-bushes (or ‘gorse’ as it’s known in the common tongue) could once be seen another  impressive cup-and-ring, etched along the edge of the small rocky rise.  But Nature has done Her bit and hidden the old stone for the time being.  A pity – for as the old photos and sketches show, it’s quite a good one.

Listed in several archaeo-surveys, the best descriptions of this carving are from the reliable pens of Messrs Morris (1981) and van Hoek. (1996)  Morris first told us that,

“Leading S from near the farm to Bruce’s Castle (a ruin) is a greywacke ridge, up to 7m (24ft) high on its SW, but at ground level elsewhere, partly turf-covered.  Faint cup-marks, some possibly ringed, can still be traced at various points on its top.  On a shelf about 7m by 2½m (23ft x 8ft), sloping mostly 20° W, near the steep SW edge, are:

“7 cups-and-complete-rings — in one case broken off at rock edge — one with five rings, 2 with three, and 4 with two rings, up to 51cm (20in) diameter and 2cm (1in) deep.  The cup-and-five-rings has a cup-and-two arcs budding from it.”

Fifteen years later, when van Hoek visited the place, it was already “becoming overgrown with gorse,” but fortunately he was able to give us a slightly more detailed description.  “There are two engraved surfaces” here, he wrote,

van Hoek’s 1996 sketch
Sketch from Morris’s text

“The north part slopes 9° to the north and has two cups with two rings each.  The smaller is clearly unfinished and possibly the pocking of the east part of the outer ring caused a part of the ring to flake off.  Undescribed (by Morris, PB) are a very small cup and one complete ring, and a faint cup with incomplete ring in between the two larger devices although Morris…gives a clear photograph of all these features. (above)  The south group is dominated by a large but worn cup-and-five-complete-rings on a sloping surface 16° SSW.  It is encircled by four rather distinct cup-and-rings and one very faint cup with one incomplete ring, which has never been reported.  All single cups drawn on the plan are very doubtful and probably all are natural, especially the small ones.”

This doesn’t necessarily mean to say that these “probably natural” cups had no bearing on the man-made designs; such elements have been given mythic importance in traditional cultures elsewhere in the world, and some ‘bowls in the UK possess curative folklore of their own.

Due to the importance of this carving, effort needs to be made to clear it of the gorse and so allow fellow students the ability to contextualize it and probably uncover yet more cups-and-rings further along the surface of the rock.

References:

  1. 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.
  2. Morris, Ronald W.B., The Prehistoric Rock Art of Southern Scotland, BAR: Oxford 1981.
  3. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Archaeological Sites and Monuments of Stirling District, Central Region, Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 1979.
  4. van Hoek, M.A.M.,”Prehistoric Rock Art around Castleton Farm, Airth,” in Forth Naturalist & Historian, volume 19, 1996.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Dome Rock, St Fillans, Comrie, Perthshire

Cup-and-Ring Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NN 67511 25028

Getting Here

Dome Rock

On the A85 road from St Fillans to Lochearnhead, about 1½ miles on is the Loch Earn Sailing Club, with a large parking spot thereby.  From here, cross the road and go through the gate up the dirt-track, past the cottages where the track bends right until a few hundred yards further up where the track splits, bear right, along and down across the river, up the other side and past the cottage.  From here, the track becomes a grassy footpath.  Walk along here, east towards the trees 5-600 yards away.  Once you go through the large wooden slip-gate, about 150 yards on the path into the scattered trees, you’ll see a large dome-shaped rise on your right (south).  Y’ can’t really miss it!

Archaeology & History

This carving was rediscovered by the great Scottish petroglyph writer Ron Morris in 1968.  He told that, just below the overgrown track, “is a big dome-shaped outcrop with a smooth top.  On a scattered area on this, in 3 main groups, are over 24 cup-marks, up to 3″ diameter, ½” deep.”  But these aren’t mere cup-marks…

Faint, albeit clear cup-and-rings
Cup-marks, top & bottom of photo

It literally is just like a large dome of rock, with carvings on certain sections of it.  Half of the cup-marks are easy to see, especially the ones near to the top of the dome and which exist in three main clusters.  Much more faint is another, larger cluster of cups, on its south-side.

Dealing with those on top of the rock: on the easternmost side a long natural crack separates a faint single cup-mark from a notable triangle of three, clearly visible in the photo (left).  Below this are what may be a couple more cups, but they were difficult to make out and may simply be Nature’s handiwork.  Certainly Nature has a part to play in the next small cluster of cups about six-feet further along the stone.  A shallow natural ‘arc’ has clearly been used to create a ring around one of the cups, clearly visible in the photo (right), with another faint cup-and-ring visible below it.  In between these, both Paul Hornby and I could make out what may be another incredibly faint smaller cup-and-ring (and which seemed evident on a couple of photos), but we need to wait for the computer-tech boys to get their teeth into that one!  Several other single cup-marks exist either side of another moss-covered crack in the rock.  And as we roll over the top western-edge of the stone, another small cluster of three, maybe four single cup-marks greets our attention.

Close-up of southern C&Rs
Southern carved section

It’s on the sloping south-side of the stone where the best cluster is found.  At least ten faint cup-marks—one or two with very faint incomplete rings round them—are arranged in gentle arcs into the rock.  On both sides of this section is a covering of vegetation, beneath which the carved designs probably continue.  In fact if this entire stone dome was completely free of vegetation, it’s likely we’d have a much larger piece of prehistoric rock art.  A job for future antiquarians perhaps…

References:

  1. Morris, Ronald W.B., “Glentarken Wood, Strathyre – Cup-marked Rocks,” in Discovery & Excavation Scotland, 1969.

Acknowledgments:  Big thanks to Paul Hornby for use of his photographs.  Cheers dood. 😉

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Castleton (12), Cowie, Stirlingshire

Cup-and-Ring Stone:  OS Grid-Reference – NS 86032 87706

Also Known as:

  1. Castleton 8 (van Hoek)

Archaeology & History

Castleton-12 carving

Located near the top of one of Castleton’s rocky island outcrops and overlooking extensive flatlands many miles to the south, this impressive multi-ringed carving was  rediscovered in May 1985 by the Ordnance Survey lads and, I believe, was first described in an article by Maarten van Hoek (1996), whose description we’ll get to shortly.  It’s a design that incorporates some of Nature’s own cup-marks alongside the marks of men.

The overall design here is captured within three sections of the rock: between three large natural cracks running roughly north-south, as clearly shown in the accompanying photos.  It’s a multi-period carving, executed over what seems to be a considerable period of time—probably several centuries.  I base this on the differing degrees of erosion between the respective multiple rings — a factor found several of the Castleton carvings.

Eastern & central cup ring symbols
Closeup of central rings

One of the most eroded sections can be seen on the eastern side of the rock, where a very faded cup-and-three-rings was carved.  Initially it looked as if there was no central cup to this, but as I looked across this towards the falling sun, what seemed to be a possible ‘dot’ was noticed in the centre, very faint indeed.  There are several single cup-marks just a few inches east of this triple-ring, which look more recent than its eroded companion.

On the other side of the long natural crack we see two quite distinct multiple cup-and-rings: one with three rings and another with four, both of which have short carved lines running from their centres westwards.  Between these, a smaller single cup-and-ring nestles quietly, almost innocuously, minding its own business!  But below these two large multiple-ringers there’s a very faint cup-and-double ring, only visible when the light conditions are just right.  In numerous attempts I made to catch this element in my photos, none were successful. (I’m a crap photographer, which doesn’t help!)  Due to the erosion on this element, this is possibly the earliest section of the carving.  Above these rings, close to the edge of the small cliff, one or two carved lines can be seen that run into natural ‘bowls’ which, in all probability, were of some significance to those who made this design.  In cultures outside the UK, such elements have sometimes been afforded mythic importance.

Several other natural small ‘bowls’ exist above the most blatant of the cup-and-rings here, on the west side of the rock, which consists of a cup-and-triple-ring no less.  Erosion levels on this would seem to suggest that it was the most recent element of this petroglyph.

When Maarten van Hoek (1996) wrote his report, there was much less vegetation covering the stone and another cup-and-ring could be seen on the northernmost section of the rock – as his sketch here shows.  He wrote:

Westernmost element
van Hoek’s 1996 sketch

“Near the edge are five cup-and-rings and possibly up to four single cups, all on rock sloping about 6″ to 12″ NW.  The easternmost set consists of the worn remains of three rings (the innermost hardly visible) without a distinct central cup.  Across a crack is a cup with four rings, the outer incomplete and curving away; another cup with four rings, mostly incomplete.  A small cup-and-one-ring sits in between.  South of this group may be some grooves and a single cup, all doubtful being very near the cliff-edge which is heavily pitted by erosion.  The westernmost cup with three ovalish rings is the best preserved set of the group.  Further away from the scarp is one single cup on a horizontal part and even further N is a cup-and-two-rings on a part sloping 6″ SW.”

It would be good to completely clear this rock and make it all visible again, as it was long long ago…

References:

  1. Morris, Ronald W.B., The Prehistoric Rock Art of Southern Scotland, BAR: Oxford 1981.
  2. van Hoek, M.A.M.,”Prehistoric Rock Art around Castleton Farm, Airth,” in Forth Naturalist & Historian, volume 19, 1996.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Castleton (11), Cowie, Stirlingshire

Cup-and-Ring Stone:  OS Grid-Reference – NS 85725 88008

Archaeology & History

Amidst the cluster of at least twenty petroglyphs found at Castleton, this example close to the fence 60 yards southeast of the farmhouse, wasn’t included in the earlier surveys by Morris (1981) and van Hoek. (1996)  At this spot there a large smooth sloping rock broken into separate parts with natural cracks running over it at different angles, partially covered in soil.  The stone faces north.  On the easternmost side there exists a number of carved symbols, most notable of which is a large double cup-and-ring.  You can’t really miss it!  The other elements however, can be a little more troublesome to see…

Cup, rings & cross
Castleton 11 carving

A curious motif is the quite notable ‘cross’ that’s been pecked onto the stone, above the primary cup-and-ring.  This cross is probably a later addition to the petroglyph, perhaps added to christianize the original mythic function.  From the cross, it looks as if a curved line has been carved down towards the double-ring, nearly linking them together, which could also be viewed as a movement from the pre-christian to the new christian meaning conferred upon the stone.  …Just an idea…

It should be noted that a faint cross was also cut into natural cracks in the Castleton 2 carving, 380 yards northwest of here.

There are two more cup-and-rings on the stone, both on the right-hand side of the cross.  These were carved quite separately over large periods of time, as evidenced by their degrees of erosion.  One cup-and-ring (if you can call it that) is a somewhat erratically executed series of peck-marks that strives to join up with each other, almost failing miserably, creating a somewhat disjointed cup-and-ring.  Next to this, but much much fainter, is a cup-and-half-ring that was obviously carved decades, if not centuries earlier.  You can just make them out in the two photos here, to the right of the cross.

Carving in negative

Another very faint cup-and-half-ring also exists to the left of the primary motif that was only visible from one or two angles when we visited the place the other day, but barely shows up on any of the photos we took.  There are a number of single cup-marks, mainly between the double-ring and the smaller cup-and-rings, some of which are probably natural, but several seem to have been  worked upon by human hands.

A now-hidden petroglyph—known as “Castleton-3” in the Morris and van Hoek surveys—consisting of multiple cup-and-rings, exists beneath the mass or gorse bushes about forty years to the southwest.  We could do with cutting this back so we can see the carving again.

References:

  1. Morris, Ronald W.B., The Prehistoric Rock Art of Southern Scotland, BAR: Oxford 1981.
  2. van Hoek, M.A.M.,”Prehistoric Rock Art around Castleton Farm, Airth,” in Forth Naturalist & Historian, volume 19, 1996.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Fairy Oak, Killin, Perthshire

Legendary Tree:  OS Grid Reference – NN 57 33

  1. Coin Tree

Folklore

The Fairy Oak of Killin

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?”

I hadn’t.

“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.

More coins as offerings
Coins for the little people

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.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian 

St. Andrew’s Well, Coldingham, Berwickshire

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference – NT 8967 6600

  1. Archaeology & History
Site on the 1858 map

By the side of the stream known as St Andrew’s Burn, in the small wooded glen to the rear (west) of the Crosslaw Caravan Park (right by the side of the A1107 road), you can still find the flowing waters of this all-but-forgotten holy well that was dedicated to  Scotland’s patron saint, god knows how long ago!  The first description I’ve come across relating to the site is in William King’s  (1858) early work on Coldingham Priory, where he told that,

“In a dean a little westward from the village, and on the border of the property of Bogangreen, is a spring of excellent water, called St Andrew’s Well, from which the monastery was supplied by leaden conduits, portions of which are occasionally turning up to view. These pipes are thick and well made.”

Fifty years later when Adam Thomson (1908) penned his magnum opus on Coldingham parish, the well was still in a good state of affairs.  Hereby there grew much chamomile which, he thought, “the monks were wont to cultivate for the healing of the sick.”

Folklore

St Andrew’s feast day is November 30 and is known as Anermas.

References:

  1. Hunter, William K., History of the Priory of Coldingham, Sutherland & Knox: Edinburgh 1858.
  2. Morris, Ruth & Frank, Scottish Healing Wells, Alethea: Sandy 1982.
  3. Thomson, Adam, Coldingham: Parish and Priory, Craighead Brothers: Galashiels 1908.

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. Patrick’s Well (2), Struthill, Muthill, Perthshire

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference – NN 8555 1537

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 25329
  2. Chapel Well
  3. Struthill Well

Getting Here

Site on the 1866 map

From Muthill, go up Thornhill Street out of the village for nearly 1½ miles. You’ll have just passed the double hairpin bend, crossed the rivulet, then reached the large old farmhouse of Lurgs.  From here, turn right and after just over half-a-mile you reach Struthill where, running by the side of the house, is a small trackway.  Ask the folks at the house, who are most helpful, and walk down the track for nearly 400 yards and go through the first gate on your right, crossing the field until it dips down to the burn.  The boggy marshy mass running from near the top of the slope is what you’re looking for!

Archaeology & History

Shown on the 1863 map as the Chapel Well, the dedication of the waters to St. Patrick coincided with a chapel that once stood here, also in his name.  Very low faint remains of the chapel, completely overgrown, can still be made out amidst the rushes.  It’s one of two holy wells in Muthill parish that are dedicated to St. Patrick.

Very little of any real spring of water can be seen nowadays.  Indeed, the site today is merely a much overgrown bog-of-a-well whose water oozes down the slope into the Juncus rushes, trickling into the adjacent burn.  I had a drink of the water from the slopes, which tasted OK and did me no harm whatsoever.

Folklore

The most important aspects of this site was its use by local people and the attributes it was given.  We know not how far back such folklore goes, but it would have been many many centuries, if not millenia.  Water worship (if that’s the right word) is the most archaic of all traditional forms of veneration.  This place was no exception.  In John Shearer’s (1883) excellent local history work, he gave the following account of the site:

“About a quarter of a mile west from the Mill of Steps, upon a height on the right bank of the Machany, are to be seen the ruins of a small chapel.  When other places of Popish worship were thrown down after the Reformation, the Presbytery of Auchterarder ordered it to be demolished about 1650 to repress the superstitions practised at this place of resort.  West from the chapel is an excellent spring which was held in great veneration in those dark ages of superstition, when the ignorant and credulous populace were deceived by the crafty priests who stood below the spreading branches of an ancient ash which grew near the fount, pronouncing a benediction on the weary pilgrims as they drank of the waters.  And as it was celebrated for its healing qualities in many different distempers, numbers yearly visited it from a great distance to benefit by its virtues with as much devotedness as the Mahometan pilgrims visit the tomb of their Prophet.  Insanity was also cured here.  Several persons testified before the Presbytery of Stirling, in 1668, that having carried a woman thither, they staid two nights at a house hard by the well.  The first night they bound her twice to a stone at the well, but she came into the house to them being loosed without any help.  The second night they bound her again to the same stone and she returned loosed.  And they also declared that “she was mad before they took her to the well, but since that time she is working and sober in wits.”

“This well was still celebrated in the year 1723 and votive offerings were left, but no one then surviving appeared to appreciate the virtues of the stone.  Small offerings were given in coin and thrown into the well and those who had no coin brought white stones which were laid in regular order along the declivity where the water runs to the river.  Coins have been of late found in the well and the white stones are still to be seen.  The officiating priest generally resided at Drummond Castle.  Within the last sixty years, several of the gentry have come in their carriages to inspect these relics which were held in so great reputation in ancient times.  The chapel and well are about one mile south west from Muthill.”

References:

  1. MacKinlay, James M., Folklore of Scottish Lochs and Springs, William Hodge: Glasgow 1893.
  2. Morris, Ruth & Frank, Scottish Healing Wells, Alethea: Sandy 1982.
  3. Shearer, John, Antiquities of Strathearn, D. Phillips: Crieff 1883.

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

Creagantairbh, Ford, Kilmartin, Argyll

Standing Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NM 85952 01568

Also Known as:

  1. Creagantairbh Beag

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