St. Serf’s Well, Crieff, Perthshire

Holy Well (lost):  OS Grid Reference – NN 8457 2323

Archaeology & History

St Serfs Well on 1866 map

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.

Folklore

St. Serf was said to have been a hermit and tutor of the more renowned St. Mungo.

References:

  1. Morris, Ruth & Frank, Scottish Healing Wells, Alethea: Sandy 1982.
  2. Porteous, A., “Extracts from a History of the Parishes of Monivaird and Strowan“, in Archaeologia Scotica, volume 2, 1822.

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

 

loading map - please wait...

  56.387202, -3.871200 St Serf\'s Well

St Fillan’s Chair, Killin, Stirlingshire

Sacred Stone: OS Grid Reference – NN 56432 32010

Getting Here

Take the road to Auchlyne from Killin which follows the north side of the River Dochart, and on the edge of the village the stone will be seen on the left hand side behind a hedge, opposite the entrance to ‘Springburn’.

Archaeology & History

The chair is mentioned in Rev. Gillies’ exemplary work, In Famed Breadalbane (1938):

St. Fillan would appear to have had a great liking for stone seats.  Besides the one already mentioned…there is..a..flat stone on the top of a knoll about a mile to the west of the village, and on the north side of the river, on which he is said to have sat and taught

St Fillan’s Chair, ‘twixt road and river
The ‘seat’, facing the River Dochart

Two local ladies told us that the Chair had recently been uncovered from the vegetation. It is a flattish earth-fast slab of rock, which has on the right hand side a seat indentation, which faces the river bank about 12 feet away. Its proximity to the river bank would seem to limit its use as a preaching pulpit, and yet, well over a millennium after the death of Fillan, his ‘Chair’ is still remembered. Did the Chair serve another purpose, a purpose that long preceded Fillan and Christianity?

Here at Killin we are in an area of Scotland where Christianity was for long a veil worn very lightly over long-held ancient animistic beliefs and customs. Indeed in the early nineteenth century, missionaries were sent in the face of considerable local opposition by the Haldanes into Gaelic speaking Breadalbane to try to convert the locals to Christianity.

St Fillan and other saints had it seems become the named facilitators for healing at ancient places on behalf of the incoming religion from the Middle East.  To the west of Killin, there are the St Fillan’s Pools at Auchtertyre near Tyndrum, where he is reputed to have cured madness but which continued to be used for that purpose until the late eighteenth century at least.  There are stones for preventing measles and whooping cough near Killin that are still known and pointed out.  So what of our chair?

There is a nineteenth century story of a chair of St Fiacre (Irish born like Fillan) at the village church of St Fiacre near Monceaux in France being used to ‘confer fecundity upon women who sit upon it ‘.  The shape and proximity to the river may otherwise suggest St Fillan’s Chair was a birthing Chair?  Maybe some very old locals still know the true story of this Chair, but would they tell it?

References:

  1. Anon., Phallic Worship – a Description of the Mysteries of the Sex Worship of the Ancients, privately Printed: London 1880.
  2. Calder, Walter, Lawers, Lochtayside: A Historical Sketch, Macduff, Cunning & Watson, c.1930.
  3. Gillies, William, In Famed Breadalbane, Munro: Perth 1938.

© Paul T Hornby 2020

 

loading map - please wait...

  56.458306, -4.331382 St Fillans Chair

Tammy Mill’s Well, Laurieston, Falkirk, Stirlingshire

Healing Well (lost):  OS Grid Reference – NS 910 790

Also Known as:

  1. Tammy Milns Well

Archaeology & History

This all-but-forgotten site situated somewhere on the north side of Lauriston was mentioned in Falkirk’s Notes & Queries (1906) journal, but its whereabouts is somewhat of a mystery (to me at least!).   In a series of question and answers about the site, the editor of the journal, James Love, told us:

“Mr Charles Brown, factor to the Marquis of Zetland, kindly informs us that on a late occasion there passed through his hands a copy of a feu contract by the Right Honorable Francis Lord Napier in favour of Alexander Cowie, brewer, at New Merchiston (now Laurieston), of a piece of ground lying to the north of Mary Street.  This is dated 7 August, 1762 and contains the following clause:  ‘Providing also that the said Alexr Cowie and his foresaid have the Liberty of the water of Tammy Milns Well in common with the said Lord Napier’s other vassals ay New Merchiston.'”

The well was mentioned again in 1781 with similar historical information.  As to the name of the well, Mr Love wrote,

“it would appear, from the circumstance, that an old infirm man belonging to the village, called Thomas Mills or Milns, used to sit with his wooden cup at the spring which flowed from the face of the hill, over which the present structure now stands, and served out to the weary passers-by the cooling and refreshing draught for any small pittance they in their generosity might think proper to give him.  After the lands of Lauriston passed into the hands of Sir Laurence Dundas, he took the advantage of such a copious supply of what then was pure water, and built the present reservoir over the spring, and had it conveyed to Kerse House by means of leaden pipes.”

But he fails to tell us what “the present structure” was that covered the well, nor the whereabouts of the “reservoir over the spring”; and as there’s no such feature on any of the Ordnance Survey maps at the time he wrote his article, nor beforehand, I remain puzzled as to its exact position.  This situation isn’t helped by the earlier description, which said it was found on “a piece of ground lying to the north of Mary Street”.  There are two wells literlly on the other side of Mary Street, but Kerse House meanwhile—whose water supply came from the well—is about 1½ miles to the north!  All in all there are more questions than answers here.  Added to this, in John Reid’s (2009) magnum opus on local place-names, the site is mentioned, albeit in passing, where he gives us the vague grid-reference of just NS 91 79, but this may just be educated guesswork on his part.  It would be good to know exactly where it was…

References:

  1. Love, James (ed.), “Tammy Mills (or Milns) Well, Laurieston”, in Local Antiquarian Notes & Queries, Falkirk – volume 1, 1906.
  2. Reid, John, The Place-Names of Falkirk and East Stirlingshire, Falkirk Local History Society 2009.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

loading map - please wait...

  55.991537, -3.748943 Tammy Mill\'s Well

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

 

loading map - please wait...

  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

 

loading map - please wait...

  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

 

loading map - please wait...

  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

 

loading map - please wait...

  56.124514, -3.942565 Whin Well

Peace Stone, Port of Menteith, Stirlingshire

Cup-and-Ring Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NS 56413 99540

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 44622
  2. Gartrenich
  3. Malling
  4. Menteith 1

Getting Here

Peace Stone cup-and-ring

The quickest way here is bedevilled with troublesome parking (and an unhelpful local at Malling Cottage).  That aside, roughly halfway along the A81 between the Braeval roundabout (near Aberfolye) and Port of Meneith, turn down the track at Malling, following it round for 300 yards through the farm, then another 500 yards or so until you reach a junction with a gate on your left. Walk down the track to your right, roughly alongside the Lake of Menteith, for nearly 700 yards until you reach the gate into the forestry commission land. Go thru the gate and turn immediate right, following the fence for about 200 yards where a clump of stones lives. You’re there!

Archaeology & History

The Peace Stone in 1899

This seemingly isolated petroglyph, known about by local people in the middle of the 19th century and earlier, was said to have been “held in great reverence.”  It was first mentioned in literary accounts in 1866, when the oral traditions about it were more important than any archaeocentricism.  But things change with the times: local people were kicked off their lands, old stories and knowledge of sites were lost, and the ‘discipline’ of archaeology was beginning to look at these curious carved rocks with puzzled minds.

The Peace Stone was described at some length and with considerable accuracy in Mr A.F. Hutchison’s (1893) gazetteer on the ancient stones of Stirlingshire.  It was one of the regions only known petroglyphs at that time and thankfully he gave us a good account of it, saying:

“On the west ride of the Lake of Menteith, about half a mile south from the farm-house of Malling, this stone is to be found, lying at the boundary of the arable land. The ground at the place rises into a slight eminence, on the top of which the stone lay till some seven or eight years ago, when a labourer took it into his head that a stone on which so much labour had evidently been spent must have been intended to cover something valuable. He proceeded to excavate the earth at the side with the intention of getting at the buried treasure, with the result that the stone slipped down into the hole which he had made, where it now lies.  It is quite possible, however, that an interment, if no treasure, might be found beside it on further research. The stone is roughly circular on the surface, measuring about 4 feet in diameter. It is entirely covered with cup and ring marks—22 cups in all—varying in size from an inch to two inches in diameter.  The cups and rings are very symmetrically formed. Nearly in the centre is a fine one surrounded by four circular grooves.  Others have incomplete triple and quadruple circles, with radial duct dividing them. There are other curious curves that sometimes interlace, and near the lower side of the stone are five or six cups with straight channels running out from them over the edge. This is an extremely interesting stone. It is unique in our neighbourhood, so far as I know, in showing these symmetrical carvings. They are now, however, much weather-worn.”

Ron Morris’ sketch & photo

When Alison Young (1938) came to write about the carving, she echoed Hutchison’s thought that the stone might have originally have covered a tomb—but we simply don’t know and it should be treated as guesswork, as there are no known prehistoric tombs anywhere hereby.

Close-up of faded cups

Years passed before the next archaeological visit – by which time the stone had been uprooted and moved, apparently “ploughed up by the Forestry Commission”, and when Ron Morris (1981) last sought it out found that “the stone was un-traceable”.  On a previous visit, before being moved, he found it to be,

“a cup-and-three-rings, 3 cups surrounded by two rings…and 6 cup-and-one-ring.  One of these and 2 cups form part of the design of the cup-and-three-rings.  There were also at least 7 other cups, and a number of grooves, some forming lines from a central cup, or a cup-mark, downhill.  Greatest diameter visible in 1977 30cm (12in) and depth of carving 3cm (1 in)… Many of the carvings are so weathered as to be visible only when wet in early morning or late evening.”

And when we visited the site a few days ago, the stunning sunlight that had followed us all day, sadly faded and disallowed us better photographs of the site.  Huge apologies…. But it’s worth visiting when the daylight’s good, perhaps when you’re exploring the huge number of brilliant petroglyphs at Ballochraggan and Nether Glenny on the hillside 1½ miles immediately north of this “outlier”, as Brouwer & van Veen (2009) called it.

Folklore

In a landscape bedevilled with stunning petroglyphs, traditions and folklore of them is all but gone; but the story of the Peace Stone was thankfully captured in words by Mr Dun (1866), who told us:

There is a curious prophecy connected with a stone situated near the ruins of the chapel of Arnchly, and which is worth recording.  From time immemorial this stone went under the name of the Peace Stone, and it was held in great reverence by the natives.  One Pharic McPharic, a noted Gaelic prophet, foretold that, in the course of time, this stone would be buried underground by two brothers, who, for their indiscretion, were to die childless. By-and-by the stone would rise to the surface, and by the time it was fairly above ground, a battle was to be fought on “Auchveity,” that is, “Betty’s Field.”  The battle was to be long and fierce, until “Gramoch-Cam” of Glenny, that is, “Graham of the one eye,” would sweep from the “Bay-wood” with his clan and decide the contest. After the battle, a large raven was to alight on the stone and drink the blood of the fallen. So much for the prophecy then; now for the fulfilment. About fifty years ago, two brothers (tenants of the farm of Arnchly), finding that the stone interfered with their agricultural labours, made a large trench, and had it put several feet below the surface. Very singular, indeed, both these men, although married, died without leaving any issue. With the labouring of the field for a number of years, the stone has actually made its appearance above ground, and there is at present living a descendant of the Grahams of Glenny who is blind of one eye, and the ravens are daily hovering over the devoted field. Tremble ye natives! and rivals of the “Hero Grahams,” keep an eye on Gramoch-Cam!

The name of Betty’s Field came from an earlier piece of folklore: where a prince out hunting a stag was caught in one of the deep bogs hereby, only to be rescued by a local lass.  In return for her help, she was given a large piece of land which was to bear her name.

References:

  1. Armit, Ian, “The Peace Stone (Port of Menteith parish),” in Discovery & Excavation Scotland, 1998.
  2. Brouwer, Jan & van Veen, Gus, Rock Art in the Menteith Hills, BRAC 2009.
  3. Dun, P., Summer at the Lake of Monteith, James Hedderwick: Glasgow 1866.
  4. Hutchison, A.F., “The Standing Stones and other Rude Monuments of Stirling District,” in Transactions Stirling Natural History & Antiquarian Society, volume 15, 1893.
  5. Hutchison, A.F., The Lake of Menteith: Its Islands and Vicinity with Historical Accounts of the Priory of Inchmahome and the Earldom of Menteith, Stirling 1899.
  6. Mallery, Garrick, “Pictographs of the North American Indians,” in Bureau of Ethnology of the Smithsonian Institution, volume 4, 1886.
  7. Morris, Ronald W.B., The Prehistoric Rock Art of Southern Scotland, BAR: Oxford 1981.
  8. van Hoek, Maarten, “Menteith (Port of Menteith parish) Rock Art Sites,” in Discovery Excavation Scotland, 1989.
  9. Young, Alison, “Cup-and ring Markings on Craig Ruenshin, with some Comparative Notes”, in Proceedings Society Antiquaries Scotland, vol. 72, 1938.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Peace Stone CR

loading map - please wait...

Peace Stone CR 56.166808, -4.313964 Peace Stone CR

Katie Thirsty’s Well, Logie, Stirlingshire

Sacred Well:  OS Grid Reference – NS 81787 97653

Getting Here

The scraggy hawthorn of Katie Thirsty’s Well

Not too tricky to locate, as long as you get onto the right footpath!  Take either road (both steep narrow and very bendy in places!) up from Logie on one side or Bridge of Allan on the other, towards Sheriffmuir and head to the Faerie or Highlandman’s Well.  About 150 yards before this, note the small car-park.  From here, go through the gate as if you’re walking to Dumyat, but 50 yards along the footpath it splits into two.  Take the lower right-hand path and keep walking for another 600 yards until you see a large worn hawthorn tree on your left, with boggy land just in front of it that runs to the path you’re walking on.  That’s it!

Archaeology & History

‘Katie Thirsty’ is a most intriguing character who pops up at a number of healing wells, primarily in Scotland.  Dedications to her are known near Abernethy, Falkirk, Innerleithen, Killearn, Kilsyth and elsewhere, with one example just over the Scottish border in Northumberland.  So who was she? And what’s the story behind this little known example, close to the ruinous Iron Age village east of Dumyat?  The truth is, we don’t know for sure as yet.  Tales are told of a local lady called ‘Katie’ at the wells near Abernethy and Kilsyth, each with their own domestic myth—but it seems that a wider mythic status underlies this dedication.

One very fine notion comes from the pen of Pictish researcher Ronald Henderson (2008; 2014), who tells that the name derives from a corruption of both St. Katherine of Alexandria [Katie] and the Pictish King, Drust or Drustan [Thirsty].  The latter etymological postulation finds faith in the fact that the great crags of Dumyat less than a mile to the east is universally credited with being the last Pictish stronghold at the old hillfort there.

The flowing clear waters

…This well on the hills north of Logie village—with its old hawthorn for companion above the old path to medieval Fossachie village—flows nicely, and its freezing waters are very good to drink.  Twenty yards east of the boggy overflow are the overgrown remains of an isolated Iron Age ‘homestead’ or hut circle, and the waters of Katie Thirsty’s Well would have been the primary drinking supply to the people living there in ancient times.

Very little is known about the specific history or folklore of the site and it is mentioned only in passing by David Morris (1935) who told us simply:

‘“Katie Thirty’s Well’ was the old name of a clear spring on the hillside by the track leading to Dumyat.”

It’s a beautiful spot to visit, with lovely views for many miles to the east, south and west.  If you’re going to visit the Fairy or Highlandman’s Well nearby, take time to visit Katie Thirsty’s refreshing flow too.

As for Katie herself: does anyone have their own ideas about her…?

References:

  1. Henderson, Ronald W., Rex Pictorum – The History of the Kings of the Picts, Perth 2008.
  2. Henderson, Ronald W., “Drust… of the Hundred Battles,” in Celtic Guide, 3:4, April 2014.
  3. Morris, David B., “Causewayhead a Hundred Years Ago,” in Stirling Natural History & Archaeological Society Transactions, 1935.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

loading map - please wait...

  56.156829, -3.904796 Katie Thirsty\'s 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

 

loading map - please wait...

  56.073503, -3.841260 Castleton (2)