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, then it’s possible that this was once an authentic prehistoric standing stone, but we’ll probably never know for certain.  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…


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.”


  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

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.


  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 

St. Mungo’s Well, Glasgow Cathedral, Lanarkshire

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference – NS 6025 6558

Archaeology & History

St Mungos Well, Glasgow cathedral
St Mungos Well, Glasgow cathedral

Not to be confused with the sacred well of the same name found along Gallowgate a short distance to the south, the waters of this ancient well have sadly fallen back to Earth.  The structure built above it, however, is thankfully still preserved inside the Cathedral, as visitors will see.

Folklore and history accounts tell its dedication to be very early – and the tale behind the erection of the cathedral is closely associated with the waters themselves.  Indeed, if the folklore is accepted, we find merely a transference of early animistic ideas about the death of an ancestor placed onto this early Saint, with a simple association in the formula of:  tomb, holy site and architectural form.  It could almost be Bronze Age in nature!

The lengthiest (and best) description of St Mungo’s Well was by Mr Brotchie (1920) in a lecture he gave on the city’s holy wells in April 1920, which was thankfully transcribed by the local history society.  He told us:

“It seems to me that Glasgow in a very particular degree is a case that illustrates emphatically the existence of the early cult of the sacred fountain (sketch attached)… How came it to be there? In itself it represents the very beginning of Glasgow.  It was to the little spring on the hillside overlooking the Molendinar that there came the earliest of christian missionaries, Ninian. All that we know of Ninian is from the account of Jocelin, the monk of Furness, who tells us that “ane holy man Ninian cam to Gleschu or Glasgow in the third century”, and made his cell on the banks of the Molendinar. When Kentigern or Mungo came to Glasgow in the sixth century, he made his settlement near a certain cemetery, which had long before been consecrated by St. Ninian, and which at the time when Jocelin wrote (twelfth century), was “encircled by a delicious density of overshadowing trees.”  The crypt of the Cathedral—in reality an under church of extraordinary beauty of design and magnificence of mason work—is the shrine of St. Mungo, who is buried there, and the whole design of the lower church shows that the architect who in 1230 planned the building…built his scheme up with the idea of providing a shrine for the saint’s tomb and his holy well.

“The well is in the lower eastern corner of the church just opposite to the chapter house.  John Hardying, the chronicler, who visited Scotland in 1413, states that St. Mungo’s shrine was then the centre of the life of Glasgow.  In 1475 James III, on account of his great devotion to St. Kentigern, granted three stones of wax yearly for the lights at the tomb of the saint in the cathedral, near his holy well.

“St. Mungo adopted this well from the pagans of the district and changed its purpose from evil to good.  Beside it he erected in 560 his little wattle hut where he died.  He was buried inside it, and when the great cathedral was built the holy well was included within its walls…

“St. Mungo’s Well was a place of pilgrimage to the early christian fathers, and we find it described as “an idolatrous well” in 1614.  In 1579 we have a public statute prohibiting pilgrimages to wells, and in 1629 the Privy Council denounced these pilgrimages in the strongest terms, it being declared that for the purpose of “restraining the superstitious resort of pilgrimage to chapels and wells, which is so frequent and common in this kingdom, to the great offence of God, scandall of the kirk, and disgrace of his majesties government,” that commissioners cause diligent search in “all such pairts and places where this idolatrous superstition is used, and to take and apprehend all such persons of whatever rank and qualitie whom thay sall apprehend going on pilgrimage to chapels and wells.”  That decree was issued under the Dora of 1629.  But all in vain.  The custom of visiting chapels and wells had become a habit – and habits, as we all know, though easily formed are difficult to break.  The wells continued to be visited by stealth if need be.”


  1. Bennett, Paul, Ancient and Holy Wells of Glasgow, TNA 2017.
  2. Brotchie, T.C.F., “Holy Wells in and Around Glasgow,” in Old Glasgow Club Transactions, volume 4, 1920.
  3. Davidson, Nevile, The Cathedral Church of St. Mungo, Bell & Bain: Glasgow 1957.
  4. Walker, J.R., ‘”Holy Wells” in Scotland”, in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume17, 1883.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

St. Thenew’s Well, Glasgow, Lanarkshire

Holy Well (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NS 589 648

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 44288
  2. St. Tenew’s Well
  3. St. Theneu’s Well

Archaeology & History

St Thenew’s on early map

Whilst I’m in Glasgow (big thanks to Aisha!) I thought I’d check out any remaining heathen sites that might still be visible.  Many have perished of course, beneath the weight of religious industrialism—this one included.  Even when the Ordnance Survey lads came here in 1858, it had already been destroyed.  All that we now know of it comes from the writings of the earlier historians like Walker (1883), Renwick (1921) and co.

Known in early records as St. Theneu (mother of the legendary St. Mungo, who also had sacred wells dedicated to him in Glasgow, Gleneagles and much further afield), trackways and burns hereby were also named after this curious character, and a chapel was also commemorated to her, which fell into ruin several centuries ago.  Its position was highlighted on a late-16th century sketch of Glasgow village—as it was then—immediately south of the chapel, just north of the River Clyde.  The best description we have of it comes from a detailed paper on the holy wells of Glasgow by a Mr Brotchie (1920), who told:

“Where the subway station of St. Enoch’s Square stands…there was at one time the well of St. Tenew, the mother of St. Kentigern or Mungo.  It is thus described by a writer in 1750, “The ruins of a small chapel stood beside the well whose waters were sheltered by a bush, on which were to be seen, especially in early summer, bits of rags of all kinds and colours, while in the well itself enterprising boys were wont to get small coins.  The rags and the coins were the offerings of people, principally women, who came to drink of the waters of St. Tenew’s Well, and left these trifles as thank offerings.”

“This ancient well of St. Tenew stood near a chapel erected over the tomb of St. Tenew, and the ground in its vicinity remained sacred in the eyes of the faithful as the last resting place of the holy woman who had watched the infant steps of the great apostle of the Cambrian Britons, St. Mungo, the patron saint of Glasgow.  The Trongate and Argyle Street, which now stretch westwards from the cross, were in old times a country road leading to St. Tenew’s chapel, kirkyard and holy well.  In a deed of 1498 mention is made of “the blessed chapel where the bones of the beloved Tenew, mother of the blessed confessor, Kentigern, rest.”  When M’Ure wrote his History of Glasgow in  1736, the remains of this old chapel and kirkyard were described as standing “in a solitary spot in the country surrounded by cornfields.”  Looking westwards from St. Tenew’s Well in 1750, a writer describes the scene as “open country, pastures and cornfields, rude-looking country homesteads, barns and other farm buildings, and enclosed kailyards,” where now stand the busy arteries of Jamaica Street, the Caledonian Railway Station, and the miles of tenements that stretch westward to Anderston, Finnieston and Partick.

“We have a comparatively recent record of the holy well of St. Tenew in the statement of the late Mr Robert Hart, who told M’George that he had been informed by an old man, a Mr Thomson, who had resided in the neighbourhood of St. Enoch’s Square, that in the beginning of the last century, say 1800, he recollected the well being cleaned out, and of seeing picked from the debris at the bottom many old coins and votive offerings.  St. Tenew’s Well was a holy well.  For centuries it was a place of pilgrimage and was much resorted to for cures, especially in pre-Reformation days.  In 1586, James VI, addressed a letter to Mr Andrew Hay, commissioner for the west of Scotland, condemning the practice of people making pilgrimages to wells and chapels, but the royal edict was powerless to stop the practice and St. Tenew’s Well was resorted to by people in trouble as long as it was in existence.  The road that led to it was known up to the 15th century as St. Tenew’s Gait or path.  Indeed, it was so named till 1540, when the name of Trongate begins to make its appearance in old city deeds.  This name, of course, owes its origin to the granting in 1490 by James IV, to the Bishop of Glasgow of the privileges of a free tron in the city—hence our Trongate of today.”


  1. Bennett, Paul, Ancient and Holy Wells of Glasgow, TNA 2017.
  2. Brotchie, T.C.F., “Holy Wells in and Around Glasgow,” in Old Glasgow Club Transactions, volume 4, 1920.
  3. Eyre-Todd, George, History of Glasgow – volume 2, Jackson Wylie: Glasgow 1931
  4. MacGeorge, Andrew, Old Glasgow, Blackie & Son: Glasgow 1880.
  5. Renwick, Robert & Lindsay, John, History of Glasgow – volume 1, Maclehose Jackson: Glasgow 1921.
  6. Walker, J.R., ‘”Holy Wells” in Scotland”, in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume17, 1883.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

St. Mungo’s Well, Gleneagles, Perthshire

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference – NN 9376 0719

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 25905

Getting Here

St Mungo's Well, Gleneagles
St Mungo’s Well, Gleneagles

The best way here is to walk a mile to find it.  All the way up the road from Gleneagles Standing Stones to Glendevon, right at the very top where the two glens meet, there’s a small road heading to the Fishery. 100 yards along, park up. Then take the old green road back down the Glen, north towards Gleneagles, parallel with the new road. A mile or so down you’ll reach the farmhouse, but a coupla hundred yards before this, in a wooden gap in the electric fence, you can walk straight downhill to the large pool below you. Y’ can’t really miss it!

Archaeology & History

The strong cold spring of water known as St Mungo’s Well, now gathers into a large crystal clear pool and is gorgeous to drink and very refreshing!  All around the edges are the brilliant yellow masses of gorse, held amidst widespread vivid hues of green in this most rocky of landscapes.  Tis a gorgeous setting here….

St Mungo's Well, 1860 map
St Mungo’s Well, 1860 map

Unfortunately there is no literary information that tells us why this spring of water, amongst the many others all around these hills, gained the ‘blessing’ of one of those roaming christians and was deemed to be ‘holy’.  The greatest likelihood, as usual, is that the waters had some important heathen association which our peasant ancestors would have been able to tell us about if their animistic tales hadn’t been outlawed and demonized by the incoming cult — but we’ll probably never know for sure.  As a result, we know nothing now of its medicinal qualities or old stories.

The transference of its old name (whatever it may have been) to their ‘St. Mungo’ may date from when the character was wandering with his christians in the 7th century, but we have no literary account proving as such.  The name ‘St Mungo’ was an alternative name (a nickname if y’ like) of St. Kentigern — or at least that’s what the church historians tell us.  There is no history of Kentigern or St Mungo up the glen, but we do have a more prosaic account that tells of a Mr Mungo Haldane of Gleneagles, a member of the Scottish parliament in 1673 onwards; he was succeeded by another Mungo Haldane MP in 1755.  However, it’s highly unlikely that these political characters gave their name to the well.

The clear waters, looking south
The clear waters, looking south
Crystal clear perfect drinking water
Crystal clear perfect drinking water

Even the Scottish holy wells surveys are pretty silent on this beautiful site.  It was mentioned in Morris’ (1981) survey, but with no real information.  The earliest account seems to come from an article written in the Perthshire Advertiser in 1856, and thankfully reproduced in the otherwise tedious genealogical history of the Haldane (1880) family; but even here, the narrative simply mentions the presence of the well and no more.  Described in a walk up Gleneagles, it told:

“Journeying westward along the desolate moor…we soon came in front of Gleneagles, a narrow picturesque glen in the Ochils, through which the old road from Crieff leads into Kinross-shire.  The hills here, as throughout the whole range, are strictly pastoral, but in no place more so than Gleneagles.  Crowning the heights on both sides of the glen, we have craigs ragged and bare enough; but their show of beetling hard sterility is as nothing to the winding receding mass of grassy heights that bound the view. In looking on that quiet, sunny, Sabbath-like retreat, one would be apt to deem the name a misnomer, and yet it is not much above a hundred years since the monarch of birds had a home among its cliffs.  There, too, the Ruthven Water that dashes past Auchterarder has its rise — not in a scarcely seen bubbling spring almost covered with moss, but issuing at once into daylight at the bottom of yonder steep in volume sufficient to drive a mill.  In ancient times, as now, it must have been an object of mark, as it is called St. Mungo’s Well; but who this St. Mungo or St. Magnus was — whether the ghostly patron of Glasgow, Auchterarder old chapel, or the guardian saint of this particular spot, we cannot tell.  But he seems to have relished cold water; and it is satisfactory to know that he must have got his fill of it there, if his cell happened to be in the vicinity.”

The well was mentioned in passing in the Object Name Book in 1860 and shown on the earliest Ordnance Survey maps.


Apart from the fact that the waters here never run dry, we have no other folklore. However it should be noted that St. Mungo’s Day was January 14th — which may have been when the qualities of the spring were deemed most efficacious, or when olde rites were enacted here.  However, a hundred yards down we pass the stream known as Bride’s Burn, probably in honour of the heathen Queen St. Brigit, whose name and myths are integral to our great Earth goddess, the Cailleach and whose celebration date is only two weeks later than that of Mungo.  Hmmmmmmm…..


  1. Attwater, Donald, Penguin Dictionary of Saints, Penguin: Harmondsworth 1965.
  2. Haldane, Alexander, Memoranda Relating to the Family of Haldane of Gleneagles, C.A. MacKintosh: London 1880.
  3. MacKinlay, James M., Folklore of Scottish Lochs and Springs, William Hodge: Glasgow 1893.
  4. Morris, Ruth & Frank, Scottish Healing Wells, Alethea: Sandy 1982.
  5. Watson, Alexander, The Ochils – Placenames, History, Tradition, Perth & Kinross District Libraries 1995.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian