Were it not for the valuable records in the Scottish Statistical Accounts, we’d have lost all knowledge of this site. It was described in notes by by Colin Baxter (1793), where he told us:
“About 200 yards west from the church of Monivaird, a barrow was opened some years ago, in which two urns were found, each containing a stone of a bluish colour, very hard about four inches long, and of a triangular shape, somewhat resembling the head of an axe.”
The site was subsequently mentioned in the Ordnance Survey Name Book of the parish, with some additional bits of information:
“In the year 17–, there was found, about one hundred yards to the westward of the old church of Monzievaird, a barrow containing a stone-coffin, in which were inclosed two coarse earthen urns, the one filled with burnt bones, the other containing the bones of the head. Of these, the under jawbone and the teeth were very entire. In the stone coffin was also found a stone hatchet, bluish-coloured, very hard, about four inches long, and of a triangular shape, a remain which proves the barrow of very remote antiquity – prior to the use of iron. The stone hatchet is preserved at Ochtertyre.”
No traces remain of the site; and although the stone axes came to be in the possession of Sir William Murray of Ochtertyre, the urns and other remains have long since been lost.
The name of ‘St Serf’s Water’ derives from it this area being dedicated to St Servanus in early times; the holy well of St Serf could be found a short distance south from where this tomb was built.
Baxter, Colin, “United Parishes of Monivaird and Strowan,” in Statistical Account of Scotland – volume 8, William Creech: Edinburgh 1793.
A mile to the west side of Crieff, in the grounds of the 18th century mansion known as Ochtertyre House, could once be seen the little-known sacred well of St Serf. Sadly its waters seem to have disappeared beneath the rising waters of the loch known as St Serf’s Waters—which is a pity, as the place was of importance in the annual traditions of the local people, who left offerings to the spirit of the place, as was common in days of olde. It was described in Mr Porteous’ (1822) account of Monzievaird parish, in which he told that,
“Nigh to this place is St Serf’s Well, and the moor whereon St Serf’s market is held. He was the tutelary saint of the parish of Monivaird. This well is a plentiful spring of water. About sixty years ago, our people were wont, on Lammas day, to go and drink it, leaving white stones, spoons, or rags, which they brought with them; but nothing except the white stones now appear, this superstitious practice being quite in oblivion. It has been useful in a strangury, as any other very cold water would be; for a patient, taking a tub full of it immediately from the well, plunging his arms into it, which were bare to the elbows, was cured.
“St Serf’s fair is still kept on the 11th of July, where Highland horses, linen cloth, etc., both from the south and north, are sold.”
Although the well is deemed to be ‘lost’, it is possible that its waters might be seen after a good drought. Please let us know if that happens.
St. Serf was said to have been a hermit and tutor of the more renowned St. Mungo.
Just like the stone circle a half-mile east at Kirkton of Culsalmond, nothing now remains of this megalithic ring. It was first described very briefly by Rev. F. Ellis (1845) in the New Statistical Account as a “druidical temple”: one of two hereby, “on the farm of Colpie, although now almost obliterated. Several urns were dug up in making a road near one of them”—implying that one of them was a cairn circle or funerary monument of some kind. This was subsequently affirmed on the early OS-map and then described in Fred Coles’ (1902) survey, where he wrote:
“Site of a stone circle, the road going to Jericho Distillery having been made through it, and, on the south side of this road, the site of a cairn. Within the possible diameter of the circle an urn was found.”
A few hundred yards west of the circle an ancient fair used to be held, known as St Sair’s Fair, named after St Serf. Although St Serf’s Day is July 1, early records show that the fair—held in a long field with the curious name of ‘St Sairs Market Stance’—was to be held on the Wednesday after the last Tuesday in June. For a stone circle, this is too close to Midsummer to be a coincidence! Early records show that the fair was granted in 1591 and subsequent years thereafter.
St Serf is a very peculiar mythological figure with quite shamanistic traits and tales around him. In truth, many of these early saints were little more than lapsed shamans, utilising natural magick and medicine in the olde traditions, but which became grafted onto the incoming christian mythos. The evidence for this is quite overwhelming!
Barnatt, John, Stone Circles of Britain – volume 2, BAR: Oxford 1989.
Browne, G.F., On Some Antiquities in the Neighbourhood of Dunecht House, Aberdeenshire, Cambridge University Press 1921.
Burl, Aubrey, “The Recumbent Stone Circles of North-East Scotland”, in Proceedings Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 102, 1973.
Burl, Aubrey, The Stone Circles of the British Isles, Yale University Press 1976.
Burl, Aubrey, The Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany, Yale University Press 2000.
Along the main street running through Alva, towards Tillicoultry, watch out for the roman catholic church on your left, then shortly past it the house of St. Serfs. Just next to this is the small road called Lovers Loan. Walk up here and just before the graveyard, walk right, into the overgrown boggy marshlands. The first presence of the holy waters here are about 12-15 yards into the grasses, where you’ll walk right into it!
Archaeology & History
A sacred well that was named after the little known character of St. Serf, who was said to have been the hermit and tutor of the more renowned St. Mungo.
Highlighted on the 1866 Ordnance Survey map of the area as St. Servanus’ Well, 100 yards southeast of the church, it was included in MacKinlay’s (1893) fine survey, though without comment. However it was said by Mr & Mrs Morris (1982) to be “near the south entrance of the churchyard.” The boggy remains of the spring can indeed be found at the southern edge of the graveyard, up Lovers Loan, just below the edges of a large mound. In Mrs Drummond’s (1936) survey of Alva, she too told that the “Well of St Servanus”,
“contained healing waters and was still to be seen in St. Serf’s Glebe in 1845, nbut it is now just a marsh on the west wisde of the lower cemetrary gate.”
The original waters have in fact been completely capped and the well is now covered by a modern concrete block, standing right next to the resurrected remains of one of Alva’s remaining standing stones.
Drummond, Mrs A., The History of Alva and District from the Early Christian Period to 1900, in Transactions Stirling Natural History & Antiquarian Society, volume 58, 1936 (reprinted by Clackmannan District Libraries 1981).
MacKinlay, James M., Folklore of Scottish Lochs and Springs, William Hodge: Glasgow 1893.