Castleton (7c), Airth, Stirlingshire

Cup-Marked Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NS  8551 8819

Archaeology & History

Looking down on C-7c

Near the northwestern end of the small geological ridge that runs to the west of Castleton farmhouse, close to an awesome nine-ringed carving, we find this more simplified triple-ringed petroglyph.  And although the carving is easy enough to describe, its labelling (as ‘Castleton 7c’) is rather troublesome.  As with other carvings in this locale, the name of the stone is based on a survey done by Maarten van Hoek in the mid-1990s.  But van Hoek’s sketch of Castleton 7c and the one shown in our photos, whilst very similar, possess attributes that aren’t on van Hoek’s drawing.  Now this isn’t too odd, as many petroglyphs look different when lighting conditions change; to the point where some features you can see one day are almost invisible the next.  But this carving has attributes that are very difficult to miss – and van Hoek’s detailing tended to be good.  But, all this aside: until we can verify with certainty one way or the other and despite my suspicions that this isn’t what van Hoek described, I’m still entering this carving as Castleton 7c. So – now that bit’s out of the way…!

When we visited the site two years ago the day was dark and overcast, so we didn’t really have good conditions for seeing any faint carvings.  But this wasn’t faint, thankfully.  It was completely buried beneath soil and gorse bushes, but thankfully Paul Hornby managed to unearth the one you can see in the photos.  If it is the Castleton 7c petroglyph, it was rediscovered by van Hoek on one of his ventures here in 1985.

Carving showing wavy lines on right
…and from another angle

When we visited the site we only managed to uncover a small section of the stone, as the roots of the surrounding gorse prevented us from seeing more. (it’s tough stuff unless you’ve got the right gardening equipment!)  The section we uncovered consisted of a cup-and-triple-ring.  This is consistent with van Hoek’s sketch and description; but we also found there were two very notable ‘arcs’ on the outer edge of the rings—nearly opposite each other—as if another, fourth ring had been started.  You can’t really miss these elements – and even in the poor lighting conditions we had, these outer arcs are very evident on a number of photos – especially when they are expanded to full-scale.  However, as I mentioned, we were unable to uncover all the rock; but when van Hoek was here there was far less herbage.  What he saw on this carving was as follows:

“Deturfing part of this ridge revealed a fine cup with three rings with a broadly pecked tail; one solo cup; one large oval ring with small central cup; and a faint cup with two rings, the outer one incomplete.  The rock slopes 12º ENE.”

Crap drawing done in crap lighting
van Hoek’s 1996 sketch

The “broadly pecked tail” he mentions is also not really clear in any of the 60 photos we took.  There is a faint line that runs through the three rings, into the central cup and out the other side: a single curving line no less.  It’s certainly visible, but it’s far from broad.  But there are a number of other lines coming out of the rings.  These maybe just natural scratch marks, or even scratches acquired from farming activity.  It’s difficult to say.  In the poor light that we had, there as looked to be a single cupmark a few inches away from the rings, but this isn’t consistent with the position of the cupmark on van Hoek’s sketch.

There’s a simple solution to all this: we need to revisit the site and expose more of the rock.  At least that will tell us once and for all whether this is the same as van Hoek’s stone, or whether we’ve found yet another new carving. Watch this space, as they say! 😉

References:

  1. van Hoek, Martin A.M., “Prehistoric Rock Art around Castleton Farm, Airth, Central Scotland,” in Forth Naturalist & Historian, volume 19, 1996.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.072784, -3.840828 Castleton CR-7c

Castleton (5f), Airth, Stirlingshire

Cup-Marked Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NS 85584 88087

Archaeology & History

As with other carvings in this locale, the name of the stone is based on a survey done by Maarten van Hoek. (1996)  It’s a pretty simplistic design within the impressive Castleton complex, found at the southeastern end of the gorse-covered rocky ridge, about 70-80 yards west of the farmhouse.  It was uncovered on a visit here by Nina Harris, Paul Hornby, Frank Mercer and Lisa Samson on Sunday 19 November, 2018.

The cup-marked stone
Large cup & arc of 3

Unlike the others in the Castleton complex, this carving is probably of interest only to the hardcore petroglyph hunters.  The design consists of at least ten cup-marks on the uncovered section of the rock, one of which appears to have a broken circle with two ‘entrances’ either side of it, so to speak.  The most notable element in the design is close to the edge, where an arc of three cups almost corners a larger cup right at the edge.   There may be more carved elements to be found on the westerly side of the stone, which was covered in deep vegetation when we came here.

References:

  1. van Hoek, Martin A.M., “Prehistoric Rock Art around Castleton Farm, Airth, Central Scotland,” in Forth Naturalist & Historian, volume 19, 1996.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.071877, -3.839595 Castleton 5f carving

Ellen’s Well, Blair Drummond, Stirlingshire

Healing Well:  OS Grid Reference – NN 7196 0080

Getting Here

Ellen’s Well on 1856 map

This takes some finding!  From the village of Doune take the A84 road towards Stirling and, just over the bridge barely 100 yards along, on your left, walk down the track past the old lodge house.  350 yards along, up the slope on your right where young trees and an excess of boscage prevails, walk up through it until, about 10 yards below an overgrown path at the top, beneath a raised section of old stonework, an old pipe protrudes from the undergrowth.  The small spring of water that emerges 10 yards beneath this, amidst the brambles and reeds, is what you’re looking for.

Archaeology & History

Wells named ‘Ellen’ usually have a long and sacred history behind them, but this one seems unusually silent.   Apart from being shown on the 1866 OS-map—simply as a ‘Well’—it is only mentioned briefly in Mr Mackay’s (1953) survey of Doune, being not far from the Clans Well, and in his day it was “still in use.”  But not anymore!  The water is barely running, but the trickle that still exists is nice and clear and it tastes good.  It’s seen much better days though….

‘Ellen’s Wells’ tend to have one of three origins, being either 1) dedicated to St Helen, whose festival date is August 18; (2) named after or dedicated to the Elder tree (Sambucus niger); or, (3) named after a local person of this name.  At some wells it may be two of these elements with their relative mythologies complimenting each other, overlapping between heathen peasant lore and early christian folklore. This has been the case at a number of St Helen’s Wells I’ve surveyed in Yorkshire and Lancashire.  At this site however, there are no remaining Elder trees, meaning that its name relates to one of the two other options; but without any extant historical references to St. Helen hereby, we must conclude that at some point in the dim and distant past, a local lady called Ellen found her name immortalized in this all-but-forgotten sweet spring.

References:

  1. Mackay, Moray S., Doune Historical Notes, privately printed: Doune 1953.

Acknowledgements:  The map accompanying this site profile is Reproduced with the kind permission of the National Library of Scotland

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.182568, -4.064413 Ellen\'s Well

Whin Well, Stirling, Stirlingshire

Healing Well (lost):  OS Grid Reference – NS 7934 9412

Whin Well on 1858 map

Archaeology & History

Shown on the 1858 map of the city, this ‘Well of the Gorse’ (from the old folk-name ‘whin’, or Ulex Europareus) on the northern side of the old town, about 300 yards east of Stirling Castle, has long since gone.  An old cottage of the same name was once to be found at the end of the appropriately named Whinwell Road, which also preserves its memory.  Although the folklore of the site has seemingly been forgotten, it may be that the waters here had medicinal qualities akin to those given by the plant – i.e., jaundice, intestinal problems and to strengthen the heart. (see Mrs Grieve’s Modern Herbal)

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.124514, -3.942565 Whin Well

Castleton (2), Cowie, Stirling, Stirlingshire

Cup-and-Ring Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NS 85494 88272

Also Known as:

  1. Castleton 9 (van Hoek)

Getting Here

Castleton 2 carving, Airth

If you’re travelling 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, then walk back up the road 350 yards to the small copse of trees on your left.  Therein, some 50 yards or so, zigzag about!

Archaeology & History

Petroglyphs can be troublesome things at the best of time: not only in their ever-elusive root meanings, but even their appearance is troublesome!  This example to the east of Cowie in the incredible Castleton complex is one such case.  It is undoubtedly a multi-period carving, probably first started in the neolithic period, added onto in the Bronze Age, and maybe even finished in the early christian period.  You’ll see why!

It’s been described several times in the past, with Maarten van Hoek (1996) telling how it was rediscovered,

“by Mrs Margaret Morris in 1986 in the birch-coppice at Castleton Wood. A fragment of outcrop rock with a distinct cup-and-three-rings, rather oval-shaped like others in the area.”

The main cup-and-3-rings (photo, Paul Hornby)

But as our own team found out, there’s more to it than that.  Like many of the Castleton carvings, vital elements have been missed in the previous archaeological assessments.  But it’s an easy thing to do.  The carved design here almost ebbs and flows with daylight, shadows, changes in weather, bringing out what aboriginal and traditional peoples have always told us about rock itself, i.e., it’s alive, with qualities and virtues that can and do befuddle even that great domain of ‘objectivity’—itself an emergent construct of an entirely subjective creature (humans).  But that’s what petroglyphs do!—whether they are part of a living tradition, or lost in our striving modernity, exhibiting once more that implicit terrain of animism.  And this carving exemplifies it very clearly.

The primary visual design is the odd triple-ring, which isn’t quite as clear-cut as the earlier descriptions would have you think.  In the drawing below by van Hoek (1996), three complete elliptical ‘rings’ are shown; whereas on its northern edge where the outer ring is closest to the rock edge, we find that the ‘ring’ has carved lines that run off and down the slope of the stone towards ground-level.  It also seems that from the inner second-ring, a natural scar in the rock has been heightened by pecking, creating an artificial carved line running from near the centre and ‘out’ of the three rings.  You can make this out in the accompanying photo, above.

van Hoek’s 1996 sketch
The more complete design

Additionally we found two very faint carved ‘eyes’ or trapezoids pecked onto the stone, obviously at a much earlier date than the notable triple-ring—which could almost be modern!  They would no doubt have excited the old archaeologist O.G.S. Crawford (1957), whose curious theory of petroglyphs was that they were images of some sort of Eye Goddess.  Archaeo’s can come out with some strange ideas sometimes…

Fainter still was another triple-ring—albeit incomplete—with what appears to be a very small central cup-mark, just below and between the two ‘eyes’.  It was first noticed by Paul Hornby when he was playing with the contrast settings on his camera, in the hope of getting clearer photos of any missing elements.

Very faint triple-ring, bottom-left of photo (photo by Paul Hornby)

“Can you see this?” he asked.  And although very faint indeed (on most days you can’t see it at all), it’s undoubtedly there: another multiple-ringer all but lost by the erosion of countless centuries, and older still than the ‘eyes’ above it.  In all the photos we took of this stone, from different angles in different weathers (about 100 in all), this very faint triple-ring can only be seen on a handful of images.  But it’s definitely there and you can see it faintly in the attached image (right) to the bottom-left.

A final note has to be made of a possible unfinished, large circular section with a cross cut into the natural feature of the stone.  It’s uncertain whether this has been touched by human hands (are there any geologists reading?), but it’s something that we’re noticing increasingly at more and more petroglyph sites.  They’re not common, but it has to be said that we found two more man-made ‘crosses’ attached to multiple cup-and-rings near Killin just a few weeks ago.  Also, folklore tells us that not far from this Castleton cluster, a christian hermit once lived….

References:

  1. Crawford, O.G.S., The Eye Goddess, Phoenix House: London 1957.
  2. Morris, Ronald W.B., The Prehistoric Rock Art of Southern Scotland, BAR: Oxford 1981.
  3. van Hoek, M.A.M.,”Prehistoric Rock Art around Castleton Farm, Airth,” in Forth Naturalist & Historian, volume 19, 1996.

Acknowledgements:  Huge thanks as always to Nina Harris, Fraser & Lisa Harrick, Paul Hornby, Frank Mercer, Penny & Thea Sinclair, for their additional senses and input.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.073503, -3.841260 Castleton (2)

Lady Well, Airth, Stirlingshire

Holy Well (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NS 89801 86524

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 46862
  2. Lady’s Well
  3. Spaw Well

Archaeology & History

Site of the Lady Well, Airth

Once to be seen flowing on the south-side of the Pow Burn below Airth Castle, all traces of this once sacred site has fallen prey to the usual advance of the so-called ‘civilized’.  In literary terms, the site was first described in church records from 1657—as Ladieswell—and the accounts we have of the place from then are most revealing in describing the traditional use of the place by local people.  It was a sacred site, obviously, chastised by the madness of the christian regime of the period, in their attempt to destroy indigenous customs and societal norms.  William Hone (1837) gave an extended account of what some people were up to here in his Everyday Book:

“In 1657, a mob of parishioners were summoned to the session, for believing in the powers of the well of Airth, a village about six miles north of Falkirk, on the banks of the Forth, and the whole were sentenced to be publicly rebuked for the sin. –

“”Feb. 3, 1757, Session convenit. Compeared Bessie Thomson, who declairit scho went to the well at Airth, and that schoe left money thairat, and after the can was fillat with water, they keepit it from touching the ground till they cam horm.”

“”Ffebruary 24. — Compeired Robert Fuird who declared he went to the well of Airth, and spoke nothing als he went, and that Margrat Walker went with him, and schoe said ye beleif about the well, and left money and ane napkin at the well, and all was done at her injunction.”

“”Compeared Bessie Thomson declarit schoe fetch it horn water from the said well and luit it not touch the ground in homcoming, spoke not as sha went, said the beleif at it, left money and ane nap-kin thair; and all was done at Margrat Walker’s command.”

“”Compeired Margrat Walker who denyit yat scho was at yat well befoir and yat scho gave any directions ”

“”March 10. Compeared Margrat Forsyth being demand it if scho went to the well of Airth, to fetch water thairfrom, spok not by ye waye, luit it not touch ye ground in homcoming? if scho said ye belief? left money and ane napkin at it? Answered affirmatively in every poynt, and yat Nans Brugh directit yem, and yat they had bread at ye well, with them, and yat Nans Burg said shoe wald not be affrayit to goe to yat well at midnight hir alon.”

“”Compeired Nans Burg, denyit yat ever scho had bein at yat well befoir.”

“”Compeired Robert Squir confest he went to yat well at Airth, fetchit hom water untouching ye ground, left money and said ye beleif at it.”

“”March 17. Compeired Robert Cochran, declairit, he went to the well at Airth and ane other well, bot did neither say ye beleif, nor leave money.”

“”Compeired Grissal Hutchin, declairit scho commandit the lasses yat went to yat well, say ye beleif, but dischargit hir dochter.”

“”March 21. Compeired Robert Ffuird who declairit yat Margrat Walker went to ye well of Airth to fetch water to Robert Cowie, and when schoe com thair, scho laid down money in Gods name, and ane napkin in Robert Cowie’s name.”

“”Compeired Jonet Robison who declairit yat when scho was seik, Jean Mathieson com to hir and told hir, that the water of the well of Airth was guid for seik people, and yat the said Jean hir guid sister desyrit hir fetch sum of it to hir guid man as he was seik, bot sho durst never tell him.”

“”These people were all 44 publicly admonishit for superstitious carriage.””

The practices continued.  In 1723, a Mr Johnstoun of Kirkland, writing about the parish of Airth, also told of the reputation of the well, saying,

“Upon the south side of the Pow of Airth, upon its very edge, is a spaw well famous in old times for severall cures, and at this day severalls gets good by it, either by drinking or bathing. Its commonly called by the name of Ladies well. Its about two pair of butts below Abbytown bridge.”

The fact that he told us it was “good for bathing” suggests a pool was adjacent, or at least the tiny tributary between it and the Pow Burn gave room for bathing and had a curative reputation. (there are many pools in the Scottish mountains with this repute – some are still used to this day!)

It was then described by Robert Ure in the first Statistical Account of 1792, where he told how the people were still using the waters, despite the crazy early attempts to stop them.  “There is a Well, near Abbeytown Bridge,” he told,

“called Lady-Well, which is thought to be medicinal.  Numbers have used it, and still use it as such.  It is supposed to have obtained that name, from the holy water, in the time of Popery, being taken from it, to supply the abbacy, or Catholic Church, then at Airth.”

Lady Well on 1865 map

But we know that its origins as a celebrated well pre-date any christian overlay.  People were reported visiting the site from as far away as Edinburgh, such was its repute!

Much later when the Ordnance Survey lads came here, showing it on their first map of Airth, they made their own notes of the place, saying briefly,

“A small well close to the Pow Burn – it is supposed to have derived its name from the Custom of dedicating wells to the Virgin Mary – so Common prior to the Reformation. It is not a mineral well.”

Ugly plastic pipe is all that remains

But its demise was coming.  In the wake of the christian Industrialists and their myth, subsuming the necessary integral sacrality of the Earth, the waters of the well were eventually covered.  When the Royal Commission (1963) lads gave the site their attention in October 1954, they reported that “no structural remains” of any form could be seen here, and in recent years all trace of the well has vanished completely.  When we visited the site a few months ago, perhaps the very last remnant of it was a small plastic pipe sticking out of the muddy bankside, dripping dirty water into the equally dirty Pow Burn.

It would be good if local people could at least put a plaque hereby to remind people of the history and heritage that was once so integral to the way they lived their lives.

References:

  1. Bennett, Paul, Ancient and Holy Wells of Stirling, TNA 2018.
  2. Fraser, Alexander, Northern Folk-lore on Wells and Water, Advertiser Office: Invermess 1878.
  3. Frost, Thomas, “Saints and Holy Wells,” in Bygone Church Life in Scotland (W. Andrews: Hull 1899).
  4. Hone, William, The Every-day Book – volume 2, Thomas Tegg: London 1837.
  5. MacFarlane, Walter, Geographical Collections Relating to Scotland – volume 1, Edinburgh Universoty Press 1906.
  6. MacKinlay, James M., Folklore of Scottish Lochs and Springs, William Hodge: Glasgow 1893.
  7. Morris, Ruth & Frank, Scottish Healing Wells, Alethea: Sandy 1982.
  8. Murray, G.L., Records of Falkirk Parish – volume 1, Duncan & Murray, Falkirk 1887.
  9. Reid, John, The Place-Names of Falkirk and East Stirlingshire, Falkirk Local History Society 2009.
  10. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments Scotland, Stirling – volume 2, HMSO: Edinburgh 1963.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.058779, -3.771173 Lady Well

St. Ninian’s Well, Stirling, Stirlingshire

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference – NS 79690 93012

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 46210
  2. St. Ringan’s Well

Getting Here

St Ninian's Well, Stirling

St Ninian’s Well, Stirling

A short distance south out of Stirling town centre, along Port Street where it meets with Ninian’s Road, walk across at the traffic lights then turn immediately left down Wellgreen Road.  Barely 100 yards down (before you reach the roundabout), note the path on your right.  Walk along here and as it bends round into the car-park, look to your left and see the small ivy-covered building hiding away in below you, with an information plaque at its side.

Archaeology & History

“St Ninian’s” is a district unto itself on the south side of the ancient city of Stirling—and it has this holy well (and the demolished chapel that once stood by its side) to thank for this. James Johnston’s (1904) place-name study of the region showed that it had acquired its association with St Ninian as early as 1242 CE when it was described, “Ecclesia Sancti Niniani de Kirketoune.”  It was mentioned again in 1301 CE as the site of “Saint Rineyan”, or St Ringan, which was the other name given to this saint who spent much of his time at Whithorn, Galloway, where he “preached the gospel among the southern Picts.” (Attwater 1965)

The waters in the building

The waters in the building

The old well building

The old well building

At some later date, Ninian is thought to have ventured north and sanctified this already renowned water source which, in his day, would have been open and surrounded by ancient trees and an abundance of wild flowers and healing plants.  But today, typically, it is hiding almost secretly away, behind locked doors and not in view for the general public.  This needs to be changed!  Standing outside of the unkempt and overgrown building, you can faintly hear these ancient waters still flowing within their darkened enclave.

It has been described in a number of local history books down the years, but a lot of the old stories and traditions have sadly moved into forgotten memories… The first major description of the site was by J.R. Walker (1883) who wrote freshly about it soon after his visit—despite being “disappointed” with the architectural features of the building built over the well; which is hardly the right attitude as far as I’m concerned!  The waters, their natural environment, feeling and genius loci are the primary features to sacred wells—nottheir dissolution, nor the artifice of humans to contain and reduce the natural world at such a place!  But, this aside:  for the architects amongst you, here’s what Walker had to say about the well-house:

“Mr T.S.  Muir, in his Characteristics of Old Church Architecture, mentions it as “a large vaulted building with a chamber above it, which is supposed to have been a chapel.” From this notice I was led to think something of interest would be found in the chamber; but as will be seen by the drawing…it is utterly destitute of any feature worthy of particular notice.  On looking at the surroundings, however, which are all modern, and mostly new houses and streets in course of erection, I came to the conclusion that at no distant date the well was doomed, and that consequently I had better make a correct drawing of it.

“The lower chamber measures 16 feet by 11 feet 1 inch, and is covered with a vault running from end to end, measuring from floor to springing 2 feet 9 inches, and from floor to crown of arch 6 feet.  At the end where the spring rises there is a square recess 1 foot 9 inches high and 1 foot 7 inches wide and 17 inches deep; and at the other end two recesses, the largest measuring 2 feet 7 inches in height, 1 foot 4 inches wide and 1 foot 4 inches deep, the other 8 inches high, 8 inches wide, and 8 inches deep.  To what purpose these have been put I have formed no idea; they are on an average 12 inches from the floor to the sill.  The side walls are 2 feet 9 inches thick, and the end gable 3 feet; the other gable, between the well chamber and the adjacent building, being about 2 feet 3 inches.  The room above is the same size as the vaulted chamber below, and is divided by timber partitions to form a dwelling-house.  There is an ordinary fireplace and press in the gable; the press, however, does not go down to the floor, but is simply a recess or “aumbry,” such as we see in old Scotch houses.

“The roof seems to have been renewed at no distant date, although some of the timbers are, without doubt, home-grown.  The ground rises rapidly to the back, so that the entrance door to the house is level with the top of the vault; this door is simply splayed in the Scotch manner, with a square lintel over, and a relieving arch inside.  The door to the well chamber is also splayed, and in like manner the windows; the largest window has been altered, and a new projecting sill put in.

“At present the well is used for washing purposes, and must have been so for a considerable length of time, if we may judge from the table of rates affixed to the building; and a channel has been formed down one side and along the bottom end to carry away the water, the floor being paved with stones.  The vault inside is roughly dressed, very little labour seemingly having been bestowed upon it.

“In the New Statistical Account it is suggested that the chamber was used as a bath, and it also states that, “it is celebrated for its copiousness and its purity. It is a hardish water, but of low specific gravity, and much used for washing. It has been calculated that were all the waters proceeding from this spring forced into the pipes that supply the town, it would afford every individual not less than 14.03 gallons per twenty-four hours.  Its temperature is very cold and it exhibits muriate of lime and sulphate of lime. It is also much used for brewing.”

“Externally the building is roughly cast, or in Scottish phraseology, harled.”

A few years later when J.S. Fleming (1898) wrote an account of the place in his survey of local holy wells, he described a number of other historical elements not included in Walker’s (1883) account, telling:

“RINGAN” is stated to be the Scoto-Irish form of Saint Ninian’s name. He is alleged to have come from Ireland in the fifth century. St. Ringan’s Chapel was one of three attached to St. Ninians, the others being at Skeoch—dedicated to the Virgin Mary—and at Cambusbarron.  The remains of St. Ringan’s Chapel, a simple, barrel-vaulted chamber, 11 feet by 14 feet, built over the spring, are situated a few yards off Pitt Terrace, the upper walls having been built, in 1731, by order of the Stirling Town Council, and formed into a house for the convenience of the town’s washerwomen.  A niche in the north-east wall has evidently been made to hold the image of the Saint; while there has also been a piscina in the same wall. The flow of water is enormous, and enters the building from under the south-west gable, and after passing through the little chamber, flows out at the east wall.  In 1740, the Town Council, considering the large volume of water of some value, entertained the idea of having it conveyed into the town by means of pipes, and consulted an Edinburgh engineer with regard to the feasibility of the project.  Nothing resulted from their efforts, however.  The water of this spring is stated to be so cold in summer that people cannot stand in it for any length of time; while in winter, again, it is so warm that it rapidly thaws whatever is thrown into it.  Smoke rises from it at times, hanging over it like a vapour on a frosty morning.  These characteristics indicate that the waters must issue from a great depth in the ground.

“This Chapel was apparently held in high repute by King James IV., as in the Exchequer Rolls we find the following entries: — “1497, April 24. — Item to the King’s offerand in Saint Ringans Chapel, besid Strivelin, 14/.” ” Samen day to Schir Andro to get say a hental of messes of Saint Ringans, 20⋅/.”

The site was mentioned in the standard surveys of MacKinlay (1893) and Morris (1981), but with very little additional information other than to cite how the larger surrounding building that once stood next to the well,

“was used as a powder magazine by Prince Charles after the battle of Falkirk, was blown up, and only the tower remains.”

Folklore

Ninian's Well on 1832 map

Ninian’s Well on 1832 map

St. Ninian’s festival date is September 16, but I’ve been unable to find any information about any practices here for that date. However, in 1659, St Ninian’s Well was mentioned as a site used in what the deluded criminal courts of the period called “a case of witchcraft”, against one Bessie Stevenson.  The lady concerned told of performing quite normal herbal practices and similar animistic healing traditions, typical of those found universally in peasant cultures, but which the crazed church-goers saw as something completely different.  Bessie told that for people who were either sick or bewitched, she would wash their clothes in the running waters of St. Ninian’s Well, to wash away any disease and cure the said person.  It is likely that the waters here were commonly used for such rites, much as the christian priesthood still do at many ‘holy waters’ to this very day.  Indeed, of the sacred waters here, St. Ninian himself was said to “have endowed it with peculiar virtues.” (Roger 1853)

References:

  1. Attwater, Donald, The Penguin Dictionary of Saints, Penguin: Harmondsworth 1965.
  2. Fleming, J.S., Old Nooks of Stirling, Delineated and Described, Munro & Jamieson: Stirling 1898.
  3. Johnston, James B., The Place-Names of Stirlingshire, R.S. Shearer 1904.
  4. MacKinlay, James M., Folklore of Scottish Lochs and Springs, William Hodge: Glasgow 1893.
  5. Morris, Ruth & Frank, Scottish Healing Wells, Alethea: Sandy 1982.
  6. Mould, D.D.C.P., Scotland of the Saints, Batsford: London 1952.
  7. Reid, John, The Place-Names of Falkirk and East Stirlingshire, Falkirk Local History Society 2009.
  8. Roger, Charles,  A Week at Bridge of Allan, Adam & Charles Black: Edinburgh 1853.
  9. Ronald, James, Landmarks of Old Stirling, Eneas Mackay: Stirling 1899.
  10. Simpson, W.D., St. Ninian and the Origins of the Christian Church in Scotland, Oliver & Boyd: Edinburgh 1940.
  11. Walker, J. Russel, “‘Holy Wells’ in Scotland,” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol.17 (New Series, volume 5), 1883.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.114650, -3.936406 St Ninian\'s Well

Our Lady’s Well, Stirling, Stirlingshire

Holy Well (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NS 7932 9454 

Also Known as:

  1. Whiskey Well
  2. Whusky Well

Archaeology & History

Fleming's 1898 drawing of Our Lady Well

Fleming’s 1898 drawing of Our Lady Well

Once found beneath the northern foot of Gowan Hill, below the old hillfort and close to Stirling’s famous castle, the Industrialists, as usual, built over and destroyed this piece of ancient heritage in the 20th century, leaving us only a few words and an old drawing to remember it by.  It was one of several holy wells in and around Stirling, most of which have fallen prey to the same scavengers in the march they call ‘progress.’

Thankfully the local writer J.S. Fleming’s (1898) talked about the well in his fine work, where he told:

“This Well is situated at the foot of the Gowan Hills, and adjacent to the skating pond, as shown in (the) sketch.  Though part of the waters of this Well have been abstracted, and led, by means of a pipe, to a neighbouring factory, it still gives off a considerable flow of water.  The local name, “Whusky Well” is supposed to be given this Well on account of the virtues of its waters for mixing with whisky, without any perceptible deterioration of the latter.  We can find no allusion to this Well in any of the Burgh Records, and Dr. Rogers gives no reason for its dedication to the Virgin Mary.  We do know, however, that “St. James’s Chapel of the Crag” was situated only 200 or 300 yards distant, and is referred to frequently as receiving alms from King James IV, especially on 26th July, 1496, of 14s.  We learn from a charter by Robert III to the Canon of Cambuskenneth Abbey, dated 10th March, 1402, that he grants “to God, and the blessed Virgin Mary, and to the said Canon,” this Chapel, or Hospital of St. James, at the end of the roadway of the Bridge of Stirling; and that King James II, on 24th June, 1456, grants the said Chapel, or Hospital, to the town of Stirling, ” to the praise and honour of God, the blessed Virgin Mary, his mother, and Saint James the Apostle.” May not this well have had connection with St. James’s chapel, an appanage of Cambuskenneth Abbey, dedicated to our Lady the Virgin, and thus give reason for its name, ” Our Lady Well? ” Saint James’s Chapel was held by Sir Robert Cristisoun, as part of his emoluments as master of the Grammar School, whose right was challenged in 1522; and in November, 1562, having become ruinous, the stones of the Chapel were directed by the Magistrates to be “brocht to the utility and profit of the common work,” — strengthening the town’s wall.  A northern boundary, in a charter of the Abbot of Aberbrothock, dated 1299, of lands in the burgh, is described as “the land of Saint Marie of Strivelin.” There is also “a Ladyrig,” but its situation is not indicated and, therefore, its connection with the Well is hypothetical.”

In early references of the site by Ordnance Survey in the 1860s and 1890s, it was only described and shown as the Whiskey Well.

References:

  1. Bennett, Paul, Holy Wells and Healing Springs of Stirling and District, forthcoming
  2. Fleming, J.S., Old Nooks of Stirling, Delineated and Described, Munro & Jamieson: Stirling 1898.
  3. Roger, Charles, A Week at Bridge of Allan, Adam & Charles Black: Edinburgh 1853.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.128311, -3.943050 Our Lady\'s Well

Airthrey Mineral Wells, Bridge of Allan, Stirlingshire

Healing Wells:  OS Grid Reference – NS 79504 97686

Also Known as:

  1. Airthrey Spa
  2. Airthrey Springs
  3. Bridge of Allan Spa
  4. Canmore ID 317260

Getting Here

Site shown on 1865 OS map

The old well-house is accessed easily.  From the main road of Henderson Street (or A9), that runs through the town, as you approach the main shopping area, go up Alexander Drive, then immediately turn right up Well Road. 100 yards up, take your first right again along Kenilworth Road and then first right up Mine Road.  100 yards or so along here, as you reach the tennis courts on your right, a small crumbly-tumbly building is to your left, just by the car-park to the hotel, with some old trees hiding its presence.  You can’t get into it and the waters therein sound to have fallen silent.

Archaeology & History

In 1761, the great writer Daniel Defoe in his Tour across Britain, found himself visiting a healing spring under the western reaches of the Ochils:

“Airthrey Well, two miles north of Stirling, flows from a mountain, where is a copper mine, with some mixture of gold; the water is very cold, and being tinctured with the minerals it flows through, is of use against outward distempers.”

Airthrey Wellhouse in ruins

Perhaps the earliest literary description of this site, the Bridge of Allan that we see today was little more than a stretch of old abodes, reaching into woodland above the crystal clear river and burns, chiming with countless fauna and that rich chorus of colours that pre-date the Industrialist’s ‘progress’.  The old hamlet was said by Robert Chambers (1827) to be “a confusion of straw-roofed cottages and rich massy trees; possessed of a bridge and a mill, together with kail-yards, bee-skeps, colleys, callants, and old inns.” But all of this was about to change.

In the old woods on the northwest slopes above the hamlet was indeed an old copper mine as Defoe described, and housed therein were a number of mineral springs–six of them according to the early reports of Forrest (1831) and Thomson. (1827)  They were obviously “known to the country people,” said Thomson, and had been “used by them as an occasional remedy for more than forty years”; although in Forrest’s very detailed account of these wells, he told how

“one of the old miners, an intelligent man and an enthusiastic admirer of the medicinal virtues of these waters, informs me, that they have been known for at least one hundred years.”

This comment was echoed a few years later when Charles Roger (1853) wrote his extensive book on the village.

It was in the 1790s when the mineral waters were channeled out of the mines for the first time, and Mr Forrest told that they were collected lower down the slope,

“in a wooden trough, for the use of the miners, and of the country people, some of whom used it as an aperient, whilst others, deeming the water impregnated with common salt merely, employed it for culinary purposes. …It was…much used as a medicine by the country people of the neighbourhood who attended regularly every Sunday morning to partake of it.”

Airthrey waters channeled along the long trough (Robert Mitchell 1831)

The fact that Sunday mornings was when people came here tell us that the Church had something to do with the timing; strongly implying that the wells possessed earlier indigenous traditions—probably similar to those practiced at the Christ’s Well, the Chapel Well and countless others across the country.  But written records on this are silent.

The main history of the Airthrey Springs is of them becoming famous Spa Wells and, much like Harrogate in Yorkshire, were responsible for the very growth of Bridge of Allan itself.  Oddly enough, this came about a few years after the copper mines were closed in 1807.  This wouldn’t have stopped some of the local people still getting into them and drinking the waters when needed—but the written records simply tell that, for a few years at least, their reputation faded.  Around the same time in the village of Dunblane, just a few miles to the north, another Spa Well had been discovered and it was attracting quite a lot of those rich wealthy types—bringing fame and money to the area.  As a result of this, the medicinal virtues of the Airthrey Springs were revived thanks to the attention of the local lord, a Mr Robert Abercromby, who thought that Bridge of Allan could gain a reputation of his own.  And so in the winter of 1821-22, Abercromby procured the research chemist Thomas Thompson to analyse the medicinal waters at Airthrey and have them compared with the ones at Dunblane.  He was in luck! Not only were they medicinal, they were incredibly medicinal!

Dr Thomson then wrote a series of articles in various academic journals in the early 19th century—each espousing, not just the health-giving property of the Airthrey waters, but lengthy chemical analyses outlining the active constituents.  To his considerable surprise he found that the Airthrey waters were as good as any of the great spa towns in England at Harrogate, Buxton, Bath and Leamington.  Their virtues were so good that Mr Forrest (1831) doubted any of the Spa Wells in England were as beneficial as the waters here!  R.M. Fergusson (1905) echoed this sentiment in his massive work on the adjacent parish of Logie, calling the Airthrey springs “the Queen of Scottish Spas”!—and these accolades prevailed long after Dr Thomson’s analyses.  He wrote:

“At Airthrey there are six springs containing, all of them, the same saline constituents, but differing a good deal in their relative strengths. I analyzed two of these during the winter of 1821-22, and the other four during the autumn of 1827.”

He found that, in varying degrees, the main constituents were salt, muriate of lime, sulphate of lime and muriate of magnesia. At that time, in medical circles, these ingredients were beauties!  As Mr Logie (1905) said:

“This mineral water has been for long distinguished as a specific for derangements of the stomach and liver, and skin and chest diseases, rheumatism, gout, sciatica, and nerve affections…”

Thomson’s initial findings were much to the liking of Mr Abercromby; for hereafter, he realised, all and sundry who could read and travel to the country spas in England and beyond, would visit Bridge of Allan and bring with it great trade.  So Abercromby quickly,

“caused the water of the two Springs analysed by Dr. Thomson, one of which was characterised by its strength, the other by its comparative weakness, to be carefully collected and conveyed apart in earthen pipes, to two stone troughs placed in a convenient situation, from which it was raised by two well-constructed forcing pumps. Over these pumps a commodious house was erected.

In 1822, several thousand copies of Dr. Thomson’s analyses were circulated; and the water acquired immediate celebrity.  Invalids from all parts of the country, but especially from Glasgow and its vicinity, resorted to Airthrey. Every house, in fact, in its neighbourhood, however mean and incommodious, was occupied by strangers; and so great was the popularity of the new springs that even in 1823 they threatened to supersede all the other same springs of Scotland.”

The success of these medicinal waters created the town itself and, unlike many other spa wells, this one continued to be used until the end of the 1950s.  Its demise came when, in one financial year, only two people came to “take the cure,” as it was called.

Side wall of ruined wellhouse

If you visit the well-house nowadays, it’s in rather poor condition and will be of little interest unless you’re a devout architectural fanatic.  It’s thought to be the earliest surviving building associated with this spa town, said by Mr Roger (1853) to have been built in 1821.  Shown on the first OS-map of the area, adjacent buildings were constructed to accommodate the overflow of people who came here.  And in the woodlands above, if you look around halfway up the slopes, an old trough has water running into it just by the side of a path.  This, say some local folk, is the trickling remains of the medicinal waters, still used occasionally by some people…

References:

  1. Durie, Alastair J., “Bridge of Allan: Queen of the Scottish Spas,” in Forth Naturalist & Historian, volume 16, 1993.
  2. Erskine, John, Guide to Bridge of Allan, Observer Press: Stirling: 1901.
  3. Fergusson, R. Menzies, Logie: A Parish History – 2 volumes, Alexander Gardner: Paisley 1905.
  4. Forrest, W.H., Report, Chemical and Medical, of the Airthrey Mineral Springs, John Hewit: Stirling 1831.
  5. Morris, Ruth & Frank, Scottish Healing Wells, Alethea: Sandy 1982.
  6. Roger, Charles, A Week at Bridge of Allan, Adam & Charles Black: Edinburgh 1853.
  7. Stewart, Peter G., Essay on the Dunblane Mineral Springs, Hewit: Dunblane 1839.
  8. Thomson, Thomas, “On the Mineral Waters of Scotland,” in Glasgow Medical Journal, volume 1, 1827.
  9. Turner, E.S., Taking the Cure, Michael Joseph: London 1967.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.156658, -3.941580 Airthrey Wells

King’s Yett, St. Ninians, Stirlingshire

Cairn:  OS Grid Reference – NS 7373 8922

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 45951

Getting Here

King's Yett cairn, from the track below

King’s Yett cairn, from the track below

Going west out of Stirling or St Ninians, you need to take the minor road/s that cross the M9 and head past the wooded hills, past Graystale and Wallstale.  A mile or so on, keep right when you hit the small road junction past Shielbrae.  A mile past here, where the edges of the road disappears into the moors and the forest grows to your right, park up where the small parking spot takes you down the track into the trees on the right-side.  Walk down here for a coupla hundred yards and keep yer eyes peeled for the rounded fairy-mound on the heaths about 30 yards above you.

Archaeology & History

When we visited this place a few weeks ago, the Dark was almost upon us when we arrived and the clouds were low with a deathly silent mist breathing from the trees and reaching up to meet the low clouds not far above.  It was a curious feeling, borne from the darkening landscape, feeling almost as if the dead were around us—which I suppose they were, in this prehistoric tomb at least.  At the clap of our hands, a great echo rang loudly from the misty silence and the land in which it lived.  Twas almost hypnotic in its lull…..

Looking to the NW

Looking to the NW

King's Yett cairn, looking NE

King’s Yett cairn, looking NE

This site isn’t always gonna have this feel to it of course.  If we’d have visited it on a nice clean blue-sky day, no such feelings would have greeted us—and the tomb would, perhaps, have been little more than an uninteresting-looking mound, overgrown with heather and grasses.  But Nature breathes and casts such entrancements to our central nervous system every now and then—and such states are as worthy of sincere attention as any intellect preys to insist otherwise…. and I should know!

The King’s Yett cairn has yet to be excavated, but it has all the hallmarks of a traditional Bronze Age signature in its structure.  When the Royal Commission  lads came here in 1954, after a report describing the mound, their brief account of it (1963:1) later told, simply:

“A cairn is situated on open moorland, a quarter of a mile W of King’s Yett, at an elevation of 950ft OD.  It consists of a grass-covered, stony mound which measures about 30ft in diameter and stands to a height of 4ft 6in.  A rectangular boulder which lies in the S arc of the base of the cairn, and which appears to be in situ, may have formed part of a peristalith.” (i.e., an encircling ring of stones, PB)

Adjacent circular mound nearby

Adjacent circular mound nearby

This singular fallen stone is now covered in vegetation and there is little evidence of any stone circle around the tomb.  But immediately west, 70 yards WNW on the other side of the forestry track, rises an even larger circular mound, deeply covered in heather and consisting of earth and stones beneath the surface.  It looks for all the world like another giant cairn (up to 6ft high and measuring about 26 yards (23.9m) E-W, by 27.5 yards (25.2m) N-S) upon which new trees have recently been planted.  It might not be, of course—but we’re gonna look at this again when She gives us more daylight and clearer skies…..just in case…

Locally there are various tales of the Sma’ Folk or little people, fallaciously ascribed by romantic intellectuals as ethereal spirits, but which were and are known to have been tribal people in these uplands; and although such stories excel in this area, we have nothing specific relating to the rounded mound of King’s Yett – yet!

References:

  1. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments Scotland, Stirling – volume 1, HMSO: Edinburgh 1963.
  2. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Archaeological Sites and Monuments of Stirling District, Central Region, Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 1979.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.079117, -4.030450 Kings Yett