The Wartie Stone, Yell, Shetland

Legendary Rock (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – HP 5223 0467

Archaeology & History

Whilst classifying this as a “legendary” rock, it was as much a functional stone that played an integral part of local village life in the 19th century and, most probably, way before that.  This large stone possessed a large cavity in the shape of a giant human footprint, measuring 12 inch by 4 inch.  It could be seen “above the Deeks of Bracon, North Yell, up Hena”, but when first described in 1865, it was said to be “no longer in existence.”  Despite this, when an Ordnance Survey dood came looking for it in 1969, he reported it as “still in existence” and known of by local people.  Is there anyone in the far far north who can tell us?

Folklore

The impression of the large footprint was natural, but the use to which local people made of it is valuable when we seek to understand pre-industrial customs.  The Royal Commission (1946) lads echoed the folklore handed down by J.T. Irvine from 1865, telling that,

“Formerly the people used to wash in dew or rain-water that had gathered in the cavity and stand in it to get rid of warts.  The tradition was that a giant had planted one foot here and the other on a stone on the Westing of Unst.”

Healing stones with such properties can be found everywhere on Earth.

References:

  1.  Royal Commission Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, Inventory of the Ancient Monuments of Orkney and Shetland – volume 3, HMSO: Edinburgh 1946.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Heugh Well, Blairgowrie, Perthshire

Healing Well:  OS Grid Reference – NO 17103 46984

Also Known as:

  1. Mineral Well

Archaeology & History

This little-known iron-bearing spring can still be found in the woodland known today as the Heugh of Mawse, a mile north of Blairgowrie.  It was included in the Object Name Book of 1863, where they referred to an earlier account in the New Statistical Account, which told that,

“On the south end of it is a chalybeate spring much resorted to by the people of the locality. “There are one or two chalybeate springs in the parish; but they have never been chemically analyzed. There is one very fine spring called the “Heugh Well” It springs from the face of the “Heughs of Mause” (a mortar cliff of singular appearance; which descends abruptly into the bed of the river with an almost perpendicular declivity of about 200 feet) and judging from its colour, contains a considerable quantity of ferruginous matter. The use of its water has been found to be very beneficial in cutaneous eruptions, & affections of the Stomach.””

Heugh Well on 1867 map

Subsequently highlighted on the 1867 OS-map, a singular footpath led to the site and no further.  It was mentioned by the regional historians J.G. McPherson (1885) and John MacDonald (1899), albeit briefly, where they respectively told that its waters were “formerly much resorted to by persons in the neighbourhood.”  It possessed considerable medicinal properties which, according to tradition, were “found very beneficial for skin diseases and derangement of the stomach”!  Doubtless such attributes will still be effective.

References:

  1. MacDonald, John A.R., The History of Blairgowrie, Advertiser Office: Blairgowrie 1899.
  2. McPherson, J.G., Strathmore: Past and Present, S. Cowan: Perth 1885.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Cross Well, Dundee, Angus

Healing Well (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NO 4032 3025

Archaeology & History

This old water supply had no direct ‘holy’ nature, despite its proximity to the cathedral, the old market cross and St Clement’s Well some fifty yards away!  Most odd.  A much more mundane story lies behind this long lost water source.  The Dundee historian William Kidd (1901) told us,

“When the public wells were erected, about the year 1749, to supply the town with water from the Lady-well reservoir at foot of Hilltown, one was placed on the High Street, on the east side of the Cross, and was called the Cross Well.”

It didn’t have too long a life either—much like the old Market Cross, for,

“In the year 1777 that quaint structure was demolished.  The platform and octagonal tower were carted away as rubbish, the least decayed stones being selected to be used in other buildings.  The stone shaft, also, was preserved, and placed beside the Old Steeple. With the demolition of the Cross, the Cross Well was cleared away from the High Street, but, as water was an essential to the people, the well was re-erected behind the Town House in St. Clement’s Lane.  In that situation it remained for nearly one hundred years, when, being rendered unnecessary by the introduction of the Lintrathen water supply, it was also demolished, along with the old buildings in the Vault and St. Clement’s Lane, to make room for the additions to the Town House.”

References:

  1. Colville, A., Dundee Delineated, A. Colville: Dundee 1822.
  2. Kidd, William, Dundee Market Crosses and Tolbooths, W. Kidd: Dundee 1901.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Cotterton, Moulin, Perthshire

Standing Stone:  OS Grid-Reference – NO 03818 63692

Also Known as:

  1. Straloch

Getting Here

Cotterton standing stone

Along the A924 road, just over 4 miles (6.6km) NW from Kirkmichael, or about 8 miles (13km) NE from Pitlochry, you’ll hit the large farmhouse of Straloch.  You’ve really gotta keep your eyes peeled!  A few hundred yards west of Straloch itself, a small parking spot is on the south-side of the road, above the river.  From this parking spot, walk a few yards to the fence that overlooks the river and look into the field below you, where you’ll see the stone.  If y’ walk down the slope, you’ll see a gate on the right that leads you into the field.

Archaeology & History

First shown on the 1900 OS-map of the area, this petrified hunchbacked witch-of-a-stone stands on the flat grassland plain (previously scattered woodland when first raised) forty yards from the River Brerachan: a proximity characteristic found at many of the stones along Strathardle.

Cotterton stone 1900 map
Fred Coles’ sketch

Descriptions of the site prior to 1900 seem non-existent (does anyone know otherwise?).  It was the brilliant antiquarian Fred Coles (1908) who, it seems, was the first to mention the old stone — whose very crooked appearance had an unusual effect on him, saying how “such a decided leaning over towards the north…almost make one uneasy when standing beside it”!  It didn’t have that effect on me, but I was mightily impressed by both its appearance and curious hunched gait.  Twas one of those monoliths that had a distinct ‘feel’ about it, which many people report at such places up and down the country.  Whether it was its position by the river, or the color of the landscape, or the silence, or the shape of the stone, or combinations of them all—which ever it was, there was almost a sense of genius loci residing here…

But in that other world of pragmatic measurements, as Mr Coles told us:

“The Stone is at the base an oblong in shape, measuring 14 inches on its east end, 2 feet 7 inches along its south side, 17 inches at the west, and 3 feet 6 inches on its north side—a girth, therefore, of 8 feet 8 inches.  At the middle its dimensions are the same, but the top is rather less.   At its N.E. apex the Stone is 7 feet 8 inches clear of the ground, and at the west edge 7 feet.  In the illustration…I have shown the monolith from the south, with the craggy profile of Menachban in the background.”

The stone was mentioned in passing in Hugh Mitchell’s (1923) local survey.  A few years later in John Dixon’s (1925) account he repeated the dimensions of the stone that Coles had cited; and although he found there to be no known traditions of the place, he conjectured how it may have been connected with the numerous battles “that in former days occurred along this entrance to the Highlands.”

It’s a damn good site is this.  All you megalith hunters will love it!

References:

  1. Anonymous, Notes on Strathardle, Strathardle 1880.
  2. Coles, Fred, “Report on Stone Circles Surveyed in Perthshire – Northeastern Section,” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, volume 42, 1908.
  3. Dixon, John H., Pitlochry, Past and Present, L. Mackay: Pitlochry 1925.
  4. Mitchell, Hugh, Pitlochry District: Its Topography, Archaeology and History, L. Mackay: Pitlochry 1923.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Black Morrow Well, Kirkcudbright, Kirkcudbrightshire

Well:  OS Grid Reference – NX 6843 4940

Archaeology & History

A curious little-known site with more of a Scottish genealogical history behind it.  Mentioned in McCormick’s (1906) fascinating survey of tinkers in the Galloway region, the site was given a more succinct description in the Morris survey (1982), where they told that,

Well shown on 1854 map
Black Morrow Well, c.1905

“a mile from the town in Black Moray (formerly Morrow) Road, a short distance from the road…was this well that the MacLellan family are said to have derived their crest of a Moor’s head impaled on a sword.  The local story is that James II wanted to get rid of some gypsies infesting Galloway and offered the Barony of Bombie to anyone who could do so.  MacLellan filled the well with potent liquor which the gypsy chief drank to excess and while he was in a drunken stupor MacLellan killed him, cut off his head and presented it to the King on the point of his sword, immediately receiving the barony as his reward.”

This story goes way back and was first mentioned in 1680.  According to McCormick (1906), the name Black Morrow derived from the “More”, the title given to the leader of the so-called gypsy clan, “or, as tradition suggests, a man named Black Morrow, of Irish tinkler descent.”

References:

  1. Andrew McCormick, The Tinkler-Gypsies of Galloway, J. Maxwell: Dumfries 1906.
  2. Morris, Ruth & Frank, Scottish Healing Wells, Alethea: Sandy 1982.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

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


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

Abernethy Den, Abernethy, Perthshire

Standing Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NO 1883 1610

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 185835

Getting Here

Hidden by creeping ivy

Along the main A913 Perth Road that runs round the northern edge of Abernethy village, as you approach the village from the western side, go right at the mini-roundabout up the Main Street into the village.  However, just where this roundabout is, there’s a footpath into the trees known as the Castlelaw.  Walk up here, keeping to the left-side of the burn (don’t cross over onto the right-hand side!) and after about 200 yards or so, keep your eyes peeled for a large upright stone, almost overgrown in dark vegetation on your left.

Archaeology & History

An intriguing standing stone in a most unusual position: a small wooded glen with a steep slope on its immediate eastern side, very enclosed.  It’s quite a big thing too, standing some six-feet high with the usual worn rounded crown, typical of olde stones.

The olde stone, unmasked

In the very brief account of this site by Hallyburton & Brown (2000) they describe this “previously unrecorded /lost standing stone and possible ruinous stone circle.”  This is also echoed in Canmore’s description.  A standing stone we certainly have, but in several visits here there was no evidence of any stone circle either side of the burn.  It was suggested that the “circle” may once have been atop of the slope immediately above this stone, but again there is no evidence at all to suggest this and old maps show nothing.  I’m extremely doubtful of any megalithic ring here (I’d love to be wrong though).

References:

  1. Hallyburton, I. & Brown, R., “Abernethy Den (Abernethy Parish),” in Discovery & Excavation Scotland, New Series – volume 1, 2000.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Giant’s Stones, Arnbathie, Perthshire.

Legendary Stones: OS Reference – NO 16695 26086

Getting Here

The two stones in relation to each other

Travelling north from Perth on the A94, take the right turning for Murrayshall just before entering Scone, then take the first right and continue up to the road junction, and park up at the trackway opposite.  You’ll see the big stone in the field to the right, up against the road embankment; and the small stone is in the paddock to the left of the trackway at the edge of the trees.

Archaeology & History

Two large glacial erratics which have acquired mythic status and picked up a Christian triumphalist message on the way.

Folklore

In Lawrence Melville’s (1939) excellent local history work, he thankfully put to pen an all-but-forgotten tale of oral tradition:

“Where the road from the Muir of Durdie leaves Kilspindie parish, a grass grown road leads north to Boglebee….. A few yards from the highway lie two large stones, said to have been flung from the Giant’s Hill in Collace parish – the flat topped eminence lying due north from the stones, about two or three miles away, better known as “Macbeth’s Hill”, or “Dunsinane Hill”.

The ‘string’ marks of legend
The smaller stone with its ‘string’ marks

“When the church dedicated to St John in Perth was being built and its tower began to appear, a witch living in Collace was enraged to see this proof of the approach of Christianity and determined to destroy it. She had a son, a giant (after whom the hill receives one of its names), whom she sent to the top of the hill, giving him two huge stones with which to destroy the rising church.

“By her incantations she had supernatural power and knew that when Christianity came her power would be destroyed. She gave him her mutch from her head to be used as sling and in it the giant put the two huge stones. Whirling it around his head, he aimed them in a line with the tower, but, just as he let them fly, the string of his mother’s cap broke and the stones only went the length of Boglebee. The marks on the stones are said to be the marks of the witch’s mutch strings.”

Another view of the larger stone

A familiar folkloric message is remembered the length of Britain:  a giant, a devil or other supernatural being throwing stones that either spill out of an apron or otherwise miss their mark.  And in this case an unsubtle message to anyone trying to take on the might of the church.  But what was the original story of these stones as told by the old time oral storytellers before Christian missionaries stalked the land?

If the string hadn’t broken and the stones had followed their original trajectory they would have fallen south of St John’s Kirk, but it was the thought that counted….

Reference:

  1. Melville, Lawrence, The Fair Land of Gowrie, William Culross: Coupar Angus, 1939.

©Paul T. Hornby 2020, The Northern Antiquarian


Temple Tree, Templeton, Newtyle, Angus

Sacred Tree: OS Grid Reference – NO 31339 42894

Getting Here

The tree is at Templeton on the west hand side of the Newtyle to Balkeerie Road travelling north, just before the bend in the road at Templeton Farm.

Archaeology & History

The only written record of the tree is in Strathmore Past and Present by the Reverend J.G. M’Pherson (1885): 

Standing Proud

“After driving two miles eastward from the village of Newtyle along a most excellent level road, we enter the united parishes of Eassie and Nevay.  The time-honoured boundary-mark is a conspicuous old ash, which popularly goes by the name of the Temple-tree. Tradition cannot guess its age. It is of considerable diameter, but quite hollow from the ground upwards for twenty feet. The bark is stripped off in several parts, and the thin shell of wood exposed is quite worm eaten; here and there being quite worn through, forming a rude door and rugged windows for the weird like interior.

“Large branches spread out, half dead-and-alive, with some foliage, scantily furnished with the life-giving root-sap. Could it speak it would tell of many a strange incident in its vicinity or underneath its arms. Its appearance might almost take one back to the time when the Templars left the neighbourhood; thus fixing its curious appellation”.

Sadly the tree described in the above quotation from 1885 has perished, but, just as it was not growing at the time of the Knights Templars’ local involvement, it is not unreasonable to speculate that it was a daughter of an ash tree that had formed a parish boundary marker of the original estate at the time of the Templars or even before.  And now a daughter tree of that venerable 1885 tree grows in its place, the Temple-tree of the present day.

Various writers have attested to the Templar presence in Meigle, indeed M’Pherson writes:

“When the Knight Templars were in pomp…they had considerable interest in Meigle, several lands in the parish still being known as the Temple Lands. We prefer this derivation to the common one of templum, any religious house”.

In describing the now famous Meigle Pictish stones in the New Statistical Account, the Reverend William Ramsay (1845) writes;

“…A more satisfactory account of them has been suggested by Captain T.P. Mitchell, …He considers them as neither more nor less than the monuments of the Knights Templars, who unquestionably had a burying-ground at Meigle”.

While Mitchell was wrong in his attribution of the carved stones, he was clearly aware of the continuing memory of the Templars.

Modern research has shown that many of the Templar estates and lands in Scotland remained as separate fiscal entities within the Hospitaller lands up until at least the Reformation, which may explain the enduring Templar nomination of our tree.

Note: The tree formed the 19th century boundary of the parishes of Eassie and Nevay to the north, and Newtyle, both in Angus.  We must assume the Templar lands boundary has been incorporated into the later parish system.

Note: This is not a clooty tree – please treat her with respect.

References:

  1. Rev William Ramsay, Parish of Alyth, The New Statistical Account of Scotland, 1845. 
  2. Rev J.G. M’Pherson, Strathmore Past and Present, S. Cowan & Co: Perth, 1885. 
  3. Robert Ferguson, The Knights Templar And Scotland, The History Press: Stroud 2010

© Paul T Hornby 2020, The Northern Antiquarian