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

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

Balgair Moor, Fintry, Stirlingshire

Standing Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NS 60774 90383

Getting Here

Balgair Moor stone

Go up the B822 road from Fintry for literally 2.5 miles (about 500 yards below the small copse of trees that almost hide Balafark Farm above you) and at a very small ‘parking’ spot are 2 farm-gates.  Go through the lower of the two and head downhill, crossing the small burn and up the other side for just over 100 yards where you’ll meet a very low, old and very overgrown wall.  Keep your eyes peeled for it!  Walk left along this wall, uphill, for another 100 yards till you meet a a dried-up dyke that runs downhill.  10-15 yards down this, a small stone greets you…

Archaeology & History

It’s difficult to call this a ‘standing stone’ and, as far as I’m concerned, is even more troublesome to cite it as a legitimate prehistoric monument.  Nevertheless it is shown on the modern OS-maps as such and was listed by the Royal Commission (1963:1) lads in their standing stones inventory.  But it’s really pushing it to be honest!  They told us:

“This stone stands about 180 yds NW of a gate which opens off the Fintry-Kippen road, 340 yds N of its crossing of the Lernock Burn.  It is triangular in profile and wedge-shaped in section, measuring 3’3″ both in height and breadth along its base, by 1’7″ in greatest thickness.  It may well have been a boundary stone as it is near the corner of some ground which is enclosed by a turf dyke and has been cultivated.”

Looking southwest
Looking up to the ancient cairn of Stronend

In truth, if we call this a standing stone, then there are hundreds of others that I’ve come across over the years—frobbling off-path across huge swathes of moorland—that must also be added to our prehistoric inventories, as the height of this isolated rock is echoed in countless others which are off the archaeological listings.   One such stone ‘stands’ 100 yards northeast of here—although there are many others with  much greater potential.  …I think the only thing that may sway this as being a possible prehistoric upright is the fact that the top of the stone appears to have been broken off, albeit a few hundred years ago if the weathering is owt to go by.   But a cursory look for any broken top-piece found nothing.

References:

  1. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments Scotland, Stirling – volume 1, HMSO: Edinburgh 1963.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

East Whitefield, Cargill, Perthshire

Stone Circle (destroyed): OS Grid Reference – NO 1730 3515

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 28503 

Getting Here

Site shown on 1867 OS map

Travelling north from Perth on the A94, take the left hand turn to Strelitz as you go into Burrelton, and follow that road for two miles, and park up about 300 yards past the turning to Gallowhill. The circle stood at the far end (south-east) of the field on your left. Keep the distant gap in the hills in sight and the probable site of the circle is in a dip in the land in front of the ditch.

History & Archaeology

The circle had been destroyed by the middle of the nineteenth century, but was remembered by locals who gave this description to the Ordnance Survey bods:

‘The authorities quoted says that this is the site of a number of standing stones, they formed a circle, and one stood in the centre and according to tradition they were the remains of a Druidical Temple.’

In 1969 an Ordnance Survey archaeologist wrote:

‘There is no trace of this circle, the site being in a level arable field. Immediately to the SE in a ditch running parallel to the fence are about a dozen large boulders cleared from the field, possibly from the site of the circle.’

The boulders have now gone but there are some broken stones on the banks of the drainage ditch which may or may not be the sorry remains of some of the stones. There is a depression in the field just in front of the ditch which is the likely site of the circle based on the position shown on the 1867 map.

Left – A faint cropmark which may show the position of the circle in this winter view. Centre – Shattered stones in the ditch bank. Right – View looking south-east from the probable site of the circle – the gap between Black Hill, left and Dunsinane, right

What is interesting is the gap in the horizon facing south east from the site of the circle. On the left of the gap is Black Hill, and on the right Dunsinane Hill of Macbeth fame. My reading of the angle from the probable site of the circle to the gap using a hand held compass was around 135° to 140°, and that may indicate a midwinter sunrise alignment from the lost circle. Something to be checked out when winter comes.

And there is a legend of a giant who leaped from Black Hill to Dunsinane who also tossed a boulder which stands between the two hills – whether this legend has anything to do with the possible solstitial sighting line from East Whitehill is an intriguing question.

Reference:

  1. Ordnance Survey Name Book – Perthshire Vol. XV, 1859-62

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

To be continued…

© Paul T Hornby 2021

Whitefield Stone, Auchtermuchty, Fife

Cup Marked Stone: OS Grid Reference – NO 23958 13177

Getting Here

Take the B936 out of Auchtermuchty, and park at the small car park for Auchtermuchty Common on your right just before Lumquhat Mill.  Follow the path through the Common southwards and along the narrow strip until the Common opens out past the boundary stone. Head for the sign board on the right and when you get there turn left and march straight up the hillock and the stone is ahead of you in front of a gorse bush.

Archaeology & History

A curious little stone that I found quite by chance. It is wedge shaped in plan, bearing one large cup mark on its top surface. The cup is approximately 2″ in diameter and about ¾” deep.  The raised part of the stone is about 3′ high, it is 3′ long and about 13″ wide at the blunt south end, although at ground level it is nearly 3′ wide at this end.

The stone is orientated due N-S, the south end aligning with the peak of East Lomond (a mythic hill of which at least one legend survives), while the north end points to the river port of Newburgh. It gives the impression of having been carved as a direction marker from what was a much larger stone, which, if this is the case may have originally borne more cups.

Left to Right 1.Facing North – the stone looks to have been cut down from a larger boulder. 2. The summit of East Lomond due South. 3. Aligned North – South.
The cup mark.

Folklore

The first time I visited, there were three small polished coloured stones at the foot of the rock, while the second time there were four stones within the cup. A long term resident out walking his dog told me he knew of no folklore relating to the stone, but that over the last thirty years he had kept seeing offerings of stones in the cup, so the rock clearly still has some ritual significance for local heathens/pagans…

© Paul T Hornby 2021

Moonshade Stones, Cargill, Perthshire

Standing Stones (buried):  OS Grid Reference – NO 16161 35767

Also Known as:

  1. Moonshade
  2. Canmore ID 28487

Getting Here

Site shown on the 6″ OS Map of 1867

Travelling north, turn right to Wolfhill off the A93 at Cargill, then up the hill, turning left at the first junction. The stones are buried in the field to your left before the bend.

Archaeology & History

The earliest description of these stones, and the only one written while they were still standing comes from J.P.Bannerman, writing in the Old Statistical Account in 1793:

‘Near the village of Cargill may be seen some erect stones of considerable magnitude, having the figure of the moon and stars cut out on them, and are probably the rude remains of Pagan superstition. The corn-field where these stones stand is called the Moonshade to this day.’

Later writers, who only had verbal reports of the stones from locals who remembered them, gave differing descriptions of them. The people who spoke to the Ordnance Survey name book scouts around 1860, described them as:

‘Moonshade – “This name is applied to an arable field immediately west of Gallowhill. Two large Standing Stones having the representation of the Moon and 7 Stars cut out on one of them were removed from this field about 60 years ago.”‘

The local antiquary Andrew Jervise wrote in 1861 that the stones were:

‘interesting relics….purposely buried below the reach of the plough, appear to have been of the same class of antiquities as the sculptured stones at Meigle and, from the desire which is now being manifested for the preservation of national antiquities, it is hoped that those relics will soon be disinterred, so that their symbols may be properly examined.’

Looking north from the road the stones stood to the right of and beyond the pylon

Or as another writer puts it, they were; ‘dug around and under, and buried, in the agricultural improvement of theground’. For all we know from the written descriptions that have come down to us the stones may be prehistoric monoliths, with it seems only one of them carved. As they stood alongside the Roman road from Muthill to Kirriemuir, the moon and stars may have been cut by the Romans, or they could equally have been from the hand of a Pictish or later mediaeval mason. The field in which they stood was alternatively known as ‘Moonstone Butts’ or ‘Moonbutts’ – where the local archers practised.

Folklore

While the word ‘moonshade’ doesn’t appear in Jamieson’s Scottish Dictionary, nor the online Dictionaries of the Scots Language, the Oxford English Dictionary defines it as an obsolete word for ‘nightshade’, citing a quotation from Sir Francis Bacon’s Sylva Sylvarum of 1627:

‘The Ointment, that Witches use, is reported to be made, of the Fat of Children, digged out of their Graves; Of the juyces of Smallage, Wolfe- bane, And Cinquefoile; Mingled with the meale of fineWheat. But I suppose that the Soperiferous Medicines are likest to doe it; Which are Henbane, Hemlocke, Mandrake, Moone-Shade, Tobacco, Opium, Saffron, Poplar- Leaves.’

Given the stones are in the Perthshire witch country (the Witches Stone of Shakespeare’s Macbeth is only 2½ miles due south of here), this is nevertheless almost certainly a ‘red herring’, with the field deriving its name from the carvings on the stone. Only when we can again see the Moonshade Stones, ‘digged out of their grave’ will we be able to begin to understand them. So will there be any motivation to excavate them?

References:

  1. Bacon, Francis, Sylva Sylvarum : or, A Naturall historie, William Lee: London, 1627.
  2. Bannerman, J.P., Old Statistical Account, Perthshire, 1793.
  3. Jervise, Andrew, Memorials of Angus and Mearns, A & C Black: Edinburgh, 1861.
  4. Ordnance Survey Name Book, Perthshire, Volume 15, 1859-62.
  5. Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford University Press: Oxford, 1971.
  6. Simpson, J., Archaic Sculpturings, Edmonston & Douglas: Edinburgh, 1867.

© Paul T Hornby, 2021 

Bombie, Kirkcudbright, Kirkcudbrightshire

Stone Circle (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NX 7079 5018

Archaeology & History

This stone circle was destroyed sometime in the early 1780s by some moron who cared little for our ancient sites.  Its destruction was described by Robert Muter in 1794—the earliest known reference to the site—when he told:

“Near the Roman camp there is a Druidical temple, which was destroyed within these eight years, by the hands of an ignorant Goth, who carried off the stones, split them, and applied them to build a contemptible bridge over an insignificant rivulet, called Buckland Burn.  The stones were seven in number, of round granite, and of unequal sizes.  The smallest at least three feet in diameter.”

In the 1850s, when the Ordnance Survey lads came this way to map and seek out the place-names of the area, the ‘Clownstane’ was one such place they listed.  In seeking an explanation of the word, a local man told them the folk memory from seventy years prior:

“Mr. Bell of Balgreddan says the name Clownstane originated from the Stones of a Druid Circle which stood convenient to this place and which was broken up and removed to build a bridge near by.”

Fred Coles (1895) included the site in his survey of the Kirkcudbright circles, simply reiterating how,

“According to Dr Muter, the stones “were seized by some vandal for the building of Buckland Bridge.””

References:

  1. Coles, Fred R., “The Stone Circles of the Stewarty of Kirkcudbright,” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries Scotland, volume 29, 1895.
  2. Muter, Robert, “The Parish of Kirkcudbright,” in Statistical Account of Scotland – volume 11, William Creech: Edinburgh 1794.

Links:

  1. Canmore notes on Bombie
  2. Ordnance Name Book on the Bombie Circle

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Little Balmae, Kirkcudbright, Kirkcudbrightshire

Stone Circle (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NX 691 447

Archaeology & History

In an area littered with neolithic and Bronze Age remains, the great Fred Coles (1895) reported a stone circle that was destroyed sometime roughly between 1890 and 1911.  When he visited the place with his colleague, Mr E.A. Hornel in 1887, the megalithic ring had already been tampered with.  It was, he said,

“found to consist of five granite boulders, all of them large, in situ, and the ridgy grassy hollows of five others—removed, no one can say when.  In the centre of this nearly true circle, 90 feet in diameter, is a slight mound, possibly artificial.”

In 1911, when the Royal Commission lads visited the area, they could find no stone circle and reported how “no information could be obtained concerning it” from the local farmer.  This might have been because he destroyed it.  Some land-owners do such things, as we know; but in this case we may never know.

The site was listed without comment in the Master’s magnum opus (Burl 2000), but he gave it the “uncertain status” category; whilst John Barnatt (1989) questioned whether this was a destroyed stone circle or merely a natural setting that Cole had misinterpreted.

References:

  1. Barnatt, John, Stone Circles of Britain – volume 2, BAR: Oxford 1989.
  2. Burl, Aubrey, The Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany, Yale University Press 2000.
  3. Coles, Fred R., “The Stone Circles of the Stewarty of Kirkcudbright,” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries Scotland, volume 29, 1895.
  4. Royal Commission Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, Inventory of Monuments and Constructions in Galloway – volume 2: County of the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright, HMSO: Edinburgh 1914.

Links:

  1. Canmore notes on Little Balmae

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Hangie’s Stone, Cargill, Perthshire

Standing Stone: OS Grid Reference – NO 15751 35578 

Also Known as:

  1. Gallowshade
  2. Canmore ID 28479

Getting Here

Turn right off the A93 at Cargill onto the side road by Keepers  Cottage and up the hill to Gladsfield Wood at the top on your right. Park up at the top side of the Wood and walk straight along the narrow track for around 450 yards and what may be the remains of the stone will be seen between a pair of mature trees.

Archaeology & History

In 1862 the stone was described in the Ordnance Survey Name Book for Perthshire:

‘And about 150 yards from the same object [Hangie’s Well], in a north-westerly direction, there is a small Standing Stone, having the appearance of the ancient monumental standing stones.’

It seems the stone had been removed by the time Fred Coles (1909) came to see it nearly fifty years later.  He told us:

“On the day of my visit the mist was so abnormally dense and confusing that it was with considerable difficulty the wood itself was identified; and as its interior is an utter wilderness of trees, shrubs, brambles, broom, wild roses and tall grass, besides being a pheasantry, it is just possible that the monolith searched for evaded my zeal.  I think not, however, because, hearing a hedger at work on the Newbigging side of the wood, I made for him; and after plying him with various questions, could get no statement to the effect that he had, though living so near, ever seen any conspicuously tall Stone in the wood.

“On retracing my steps, I searched a fresh portion of the wood, and noticed one biggish block of whinstone lying on the grass in a slight hollow of the ground. It was somewhat cubical, about 2 feet 6 inches square, and fractured.  This may he a portion of the former monolith, possibly; and with this dubious result I had to be content.”

In 1967 the archaeologist O.G.S. Crawford described “a sharp-edged boulder standing near the spot marked on the map,” but was not certain if it was the stone.  It had no markings on it.

25 in OS map of 1866 showing original position of stone outlined red and position of possible remains of stone in green

Moving on to 2020, and I found the same impenetrable jungle that Coles described more than a century earlier.  When a site has been destroyed I can normally take a photograph of where it once was, but not in this case.  I continued westward over difficult and potentially ankle snapping terrain that had recently been replanted with conifer saplings, until I got out of the planting area to a line of mature trees next to the track through the wood.

One large elongated stone presented itself that had clearly lain there for many years judging from the moss growth, a short distance away at NO 15641 35478.  Could this be the top part of the standing stone, dragged from its original position some 500 feet to the north-east?  It is of grey whinstone, heavily veined at the base, with white quartz and tapering to a pointed tip.  It has a squarish base measuring approximately 3 feet across by at least 2 feet deep and is some 7 feet in length.  It doesn’t look to be natural, so is it a likely candidate for our missing stone?  Felled by a man with a hammer and chisel and dragged by a heavy horse to the edge of the field as part of the ‘improvements’, so beloved of nineteenth century landowners…

We can’t prove it is the remains of Hangie’s Stone which may, after all, still lie buried in the boscage…

The possible remains of Hangie’s Stone

The stone in its original position was next to the Roman road from Camelon via Stirling and Muthill to Kirriemuir near to the junction of a road to Inchtuthill Roman Fort, so may have once been a way marker, although it is not of Roman origin.

References:

  1. Coles, Fred R., “Stone Circles Surveyed in Perthshire (South-east District),” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries Scotland, volume 43, 1909.
  2. Margary, Ivan D, Roman Roads in Britain, John Baker: London 1973.
  3. Ordnance Survey Name Book
  4. Sedgley, Jeffrey P., The Roman Milestones of Britain, BAR Reports No. 18: Oxford 1975.

© Paul T Hornby 2021

Clach na Sgoltadh, Bridge of Balgie, Perthshire

Legendary Rock:  OS Grid Reference – NN 61080 46501

Also Known as:

  1. Fionn’s Stone
  2. Praying Hands of Mary 

Getting Here

Clach na Sgoltadh, Glen Lyon (photo – Lisa Samson)

From Fortingall take the road into the legendary Glen Lyon.  About 8 miles along, a short distance past the Adamnan’s Cross standing stone, you reach the tiny hamlet of Camusvrachan.  On your left is a singular dirt-track, past some cottages.  Go along here and over the river bridge until you reach the junction on the other side.  From here, turn right and a half-mile on when you reach the farm and manor-house on your right, park up.  From here you’ll see a track going uphill.  Walk straight up and after a half-mile or so, keep your eyes peeled to your right.  You cannot fail to see this impressive giant on the slopes above you!

Archaeology & History

This is a truly mighty monolith! — a beauty no less!  Standing upon a rocky ridge nearly halfway along the glen, the landscape it looks across is, without doubt, some of the finest in the British Isles.  To our ancestors who, until just two hundred years ago peopled this and nearby glens in great numbers, this great stone would have been well known and had old myths told of it.  Today we have only bare fragments.

Clach na Sgoltadh (photo by James Elkington)
Clach na Sgoltadh (photo by James Elkington)

To give an ‘archaeological survey’ of any kind to this site would seem somewhat of an anathema, as it is generally deemed to be little other than one of Nature’s incredible creations.  We’ll come to that in a minute.  But what is quite certain is that a line of very old and very low-lying walling runs from up the slope and almost straight down to Clach na Sgoltadh.  You can see it pretty clearly in the photograph below.  The walling stops at the giant stone and continues no further downhill from the other side of the giant upright.

Walk diagonally down the slope about 30 yards south-east from the stone and you’ll find a small but distinctly man-made ring of stones, low to the ground, with an entrance on its northeastern side.  It’s somewhat of a puzzle as it’s too small for a hut circle (I laid down in it in various ways and found you’d have to lie foetal all night if you were to use it as  your own little abode), and it equally too small as an animal pen – unless it was for just one animal, which is most unlikely.  The small circular construction wouldn’t seem to be prehistoric, but it would be good to know what it is.

So, we do have some very slight archaeological association with the site, albeit minimal, with the very ancient walling that leads to the stone being the most intriguing.

Small stone ‘hut’
Low line of walling

The stone is generally attributed to be a geological creation.  I certainly cannot say, as I have no expertise in the subject.  However, in the opinion of just about everyone with whom I’ve visited this stone, I seem to be the only one who doesn’t think it’s man-made.  A number of people have each insisted to me that it’s been stood upright by humans due to the quite distinct ‘squaring’ of the upright stone, particularly at the north-facing base.  —and been seemingly bemused at my own lack of conviction.  It does look as if it could have been cut and squared just as they all say but, let me repeat, I’m no expert at geology, and so all I can say is that I simply don’t know one way or the other. (useless prick that I am!)

“Perhaps a stone mason might know?” someone suggested—which seemed to be a good idea.  Certainly a stone mason would surely be able to tell if it had been cut and dressed at the base, where it fits into the large earthfast rock….

Cue Chris Swales: a reputable stone mason from near Skipton, North Yorkshire.  Chris and his friends took a week long whistle-stop tour in and around the Loch Tay region and thought they’d visit Glen Lyon.  I heard about this and so asked him if he’d have the time to visit this stone giant and, if possible, let us know his opinion: is is a natural obelisk, or does it look to have been erected by humans?  I told him my opinion and that of the geologists who give it an entirely natural provenance.

It was a few weeks later when he got back in touch and I asked him if he’d been up to Clach na Sgoltadh.

“I did,” he said. “it’s bloody impressive Paul.  And what a gorgeous landscape too.  I’d love to go there again.”

“Aye, it is Chris. And what did you think of the giant stone then?  In your opinion is it man-made or natural?”

“Well I don’t know for certain Paul,” he said, “but in my opinion I’m 95% sure that it’s man-made.”  He said it plain as day, just like a typical daan-to-Earth Yorkshireman.  Chris isn’t into any the energy ley-line stuff, so his words carry more weight than those who wanna spice-up a site by projecting their own beliefs onto a place.  As a result, I was somewhat taken aback by his words.

“What—are you sure Chris?!” I asked.

Cut & dressed stone?

“Like I said – I’m not 100% sure Paul.  I can’t really say it 100% – but I’m 95% certain that people cut and dressed the base of that stone and put it there.  If it’s natural, then I’d like to know how they think that’s the case.  I’m willing to be shown otherwise, but in my opinion, on the whole, it’s man-made.  People stuck that stone there!”

It would be great to get another stone mason’s opinion about this site; and it would definitely be good to read a geological viewpoint, but I’m not aware of any papers regarding this stone. (does anyone know of any?)  For my part:  I can only reiterate that I’m ‘unsure’ whether or not this is man-made.  I’m simply not qualified to give an objective opinion.

The curious thing is:  if this is Nature’s handiwork, then it would have been held in greater reverence to our ancestors than if it had been erected by people.  Impressive creations of Nature were always deemed to be inhabited by genius loci of truly archaic potency.  And in these deep impressive mountains, where the names of nature spirits still abound, this—without doubt!—would have been a place of considerable awe and sanctity.  May it remain as such…

Folklore

Looking to the west immediately uphill and behind Clach na Sgoltadh is the rising rounded hill of Creag nan Eildeag.  Legend has it that the great Celtic hero Fionn stood atop of this crag and fired one of his arrows at the stone, splitting it in half and leaving the stone as we see it today.

In a small cleft in the stone, quartz deposits can be seen along with an effigy of the Virgin Mary.  However, the title of the Praying Hands of Mary is a modern attribution and has no historical or mythic veracity.

References:

  1. Stewart, Alexander, A Highland Parish; or, The History of Fortingall, Alex MacLaren: Glasgow 1928.

Links:

  1. Clach na Sgoltadh on The Megalithic Portal

Acknowledgements:   Huge thanks to James Elkington and Lisa Samson for use of their photos.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian