Witch Tree, Aberuthven, Perthshire

Sacred Tree:  OS Grid Reference – NN 9621 1587

Getting Here

Witch Tree on 1901 OS-map

Witch Tree on 1901 OS-map

Just off the A9 between Stirling and Perth is Aberuthven village.  Down the Main Street and just south of the village, turn west along Mennieburn Road.  A half-mile on, just past Ballielands farm, you reach the woods.  Keep along the road for another half-mile, close to where the trees end and go through the gate where all the rocks are piled. Walk up to the tree-line 50 yards away and follow it along the line of the fence east, til it turns down the slope.  Naathen – over the barbed fence here, close to the corner, about 10 yards in, is the tree in question…

Archaeology & History

Witch Tree03

Looking along the fallen trunk

Laid down on the peaty earth, fallen perhaps fifty years ago or more, are the dying remains of this all-but forgotten Witch Tree.  To those of you who may strive to locate it—amidst the dense eye-poking branches of the surrounding Pinus monoculture—the curious feature on this dying tree are a number of old iron steps or pegs, from just above the large upturned roots.  About a dozen of them were hammered into the trunk some 100 years or more ago and, were it to stand upright again, reach perhaps 30 feet high or more.  These iron pegs give the impression of them being used to help someone climb the tree when it was upright; but their position on the trunk and the small distance between some of them shows that this was not their intention.  Their purpose on the tree is a puzzle to us (does anyone have any ideas?).

Embedded pieces or iron from roots...

Embedded iron from the roots

Embedded iron 30-40ft along

Embedded iron 30-40ft along

The fallen trunk has broken into two main sections, each with iron pegs in them.  The very top of the tree has almost completely been eaten back into the Earth.  Unfortunately too, all the bark has completely rotted away and so identifying the species of the tree is difficult (though I’m sure there are some hardcore botanists out there who’d be able to enlighten us).  The possibility that the early map-reference related to a Wych-elm (Ulmus glabra) cannot be discounted, although this would be most unusual for Ordnance officers to mistake such a tree species with a ‘witch’.  Local dialect, of course, may have been a contributing factor; but in Wilson’s (1915) detailed analysis of the regional dialect of this very area, “wych elm” for witches does not occur.  Added to this is the fact that the indigenous woodland that remains here is an almost glowing birchwood (Betula pendula) in which profusions of the shaman’s plant, Amanita muscaria, exceed.  There were no wych elms hereby.

The tree was noted by the Ordnance Survey team in 1899 and was published on their maps two years later, but we know nothing more about it.  Hence, we publish it here in the hope that someone might be able top throw some light on this historical site.

Folklore

Looking along the fallen trunk

Halfway along the fallen tree

We can find nothing specific to the tree; but all around the area there are a plethora of tales relating to witches (Hunter 1896; Reid 1899)—some with supposedly ‘factual’ written accounts (though much of them are make-believe projections of a very corrupt Church), whilst others are oral traditions with more realistic tendencies as they are rich in animistic content. One of them talks of the great mythical witch called Kate McNiven, generally of Monzie, nearly 8 miles northwest of here.  She came to possess a magickal ring which ended up being handed to the owners of Aberuthven House, not far from the Witch Tree, as their associates had tried to save her from the crazies in the Church.  This may have been one of the places where she and other witches met in bygone centuries, to avoid the psychiatric prying eyes of christendom.

Until the emergence of the Industrialists, trees possessed a truly fascinating and important history, integral to that of humans: not as ‘commodities’ in the modern depersonalized religion of Economics, but (amongst other things) as moot points—gathering places where tribal meetings, council meetings and courts were held. (Gomme 1880)  The practice occurred all over the world and trees were understood as living creatures, sacred and an integral part of society.  The Witch Tree of Aberuthven may have been just such a site—where the local farmers, peasants, wise women and village people held their traditional gatherings and rites.  It is now all but gone…

References:

  1. Gomme, Laurence, Primitive Folk-Moots, Sampson Lowe: London 1880.
  2. Hunter, John, Chronicles of Strathearn, David Philips: Crieff 1896.
  3. Reid, Alexander George, The Annals of Auchterarder and Memorials of Strathearn, Davdi Philips: Crieff 1899.
  4. Wilson, James, Lowland Scotch as Spoken in the Lower Strathearn District of Scotland, Oxford University Press 1915.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Witch Tree

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Witch Tree 56.323789, -3.679771 Witch Tree

Lawers, Comrie, Perthshire

Standing Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NN 80102 22666

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 25535

Getting Here

Lawers01 (9)

Lawers standing stone, Comrie

Take the A85 road between Comrie and Crieff.  Nearly 1.7 miles (2.7km) east out of Comrie—or 4 miles (6.44km) west out of Crieff—keep your eyes peeled on the fields to the south-side of the road, below and across the mansion of Lawers House.  Alongside a long but small plantation of trees you’ll see a large upright stone.  You can walk along the track adjacent to the field and through the gate.

Archaeology & History

The stone on 1886 OS-map

The stone on 1886 OS-map

Shown on the early Ordnance Survey maps of the area, this probably neolithic monolith was suggested by Fred Coles (1911) to have once been part of a larger megalithic circle—although Aubrey Burl (2000) didn’t consider it as a good enough contender to be listed as such in his gazetteer; and unless we can have some positive affirmation, either through folklore or excavation, we should maintain its status as a singular monolith.  There is the possibility that it stood as an outlier or had some relationship with a nearby prehistoric tomb—but even this is contentious.  Nevertheless, the stone itself is an impressive one!

Mr Coles curiously got the size of the old stone wrong too (although, we have to give him credit, as he did all of his work without electricity or any of our modern ‘stuff’).  He wrote that:

“This massive boulder of whinstone is rounded at the base, where it girths 10 feet 3 inches, but tapers upwards to its apex of 5 feet 10 inches, with the eastern edge somewhat jagged and broken.  Near its base on the west is a small slab-like fragment of stone, quite earthfast.  The north and south surfaces are smooth and nearly vertical, and the longer axis is ESE 75º by WNW 75º.”

Fred Coles' 1911 sketch

Fred Coles’ 1911 sketch

Lawers monolith, looking SE

Lawers monolith, looking SE

The stone is actually larger than Coles described, being more than 6 feet 6 inches tall.  His sketch (right) “shows the stone from the east”, and is pretty much as we find it today.  A notable crack in the stone along the southern face, about a third of the way up, suggests that the stone was broken at some time in the past.

Local architect Andrew Finlayson (2010) included the stone in his local megalith guide and noted how the axes of the stone, east-west, lines it up with Ben Halton to the west and The Knock to the east.

References:

  1. Burl, Aubrey, The Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany, Yale University Press 2000.
  2. Coles, F.R., “Report on stone circles in Perthshire principally Strathearn,” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 45, 1911.
  3. Finlayson, Andrew, The Stones of Strathearn, One Tree Island: Comrie 2010.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Lawers stone

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Lawers stone 56.381094, -3.943188 Lawers stone

Auchingarroch, Muthill, Perthshire

Standing Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NN 78732 19579

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 24795
  2. Roman Stone

Getting Here

Auchingarroch stone

The Auchingarroch stone

Take the B827 road south out of Comrie as if you’re heading towards Braco, and after a mile or so, as you start going uphill, turn left to go to the Wildlife Centre.  Go along the track and park up at the buildings.  The monolith is round the back of the first building (ask at the Centre, where the people there are very helpful).

Archaeology & History

F. Coles 19l1 sketch

F. Coles 19l1 sketch

Shown on the earliest Ordnance Survey map of the region as one of several ‘Roman Stone’ sites, this prehistoric upright is similar in size and feel to the other standing stones in the highly impressive Dunruchan complex close by.  The big fella stands on a raised piece of ground more than 8½ feet tall and, said Fred Coles (1911) has “a basal girth of 12ft 8ins.”  Quite a big stone!  A dubious large cup-mark is visible on the thin western face and three faint ones on its east.

The monolith is surrounded all along the southern landscape arc with forested moorland and low mountains, with the primary extended views reaching mainly into the north and western arc.  Although a rounded hillock immediately southwest of the stone looks promising, no calendrical or astronomical alignments have been found here.

Folklore

Auchingarroch, looking SW

Auchingarroch, looking SW

As with the other standing stones in this region, legend ascribes it as marking the resting place of a Roman soldier who fell in a great battle close by with our local heathens, in what was known as “battle of Mons Grampius.”

References:

  1. Coles, F.R., “Report on stone circles in Perthshire principally Strathearn,” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 45, 1911.
  2. Finlayson, Andrew, The Stones of Strathearn, One Tree Island: Comrie 2010.
  3. Hunter, John, Chronicles of Strathearn, David Phillips: Crieff 1896.

Acknowledgements:  Thanks to Paul Hornby for the journey here; and more especially a different sorta thanks to Linzi Mitchell for her influence whilst the site profile of this megalithic erection was being written. Who sez that men can’t do two things at the same time?!

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.352960, -3.963994 Auchingarroch

Clach na Ba, St Fillans, Comrie, Perthshire

Legendary Rock:  OS Grid Reference – NN 70318 24159

Clach na Ba, from roadside

Also Known as:

  1. Stone of the Cattle

Getting Here

Along the A85 road at the east-end of Lochearnhead, head out of the village east towards Comrie. Just above the main-road, maybe 50 yards after passing the small road to St Fillan’s Golf Club, on the north side of the road you’ll see a huge boulder resting in the edge of the garden of the large detached house that was known as The Oaks.  That’s the fella!

Archaeology & History

Clach na Ba, from the rear

Almost fallen out of history, oral tradition has thankfully kept the name and brief history of this huge boulder alive.  Found in association with the prehistoric standing stones just yards away, the Clach na Ba lives beside the ancient drover’s road (and probable prehistoric route before that) just yards east of the old cottage known as Casetta.  This occupies a site where an old toll-house stood, and the drovers would have to stop and pay a toll before continuing onwards past the Clach na Ba, or Stone of the Cattle.

Folklore

When the drovers passed their highland cattle here, the animals rubbed themselves against the stone to ensure good health and fertility (as well as just having a good scratch, no doubt).

References:

  1. Porteous, Alexander, Annals of St Fillans, David Philips: Crieff 1912.

Acknowledgements:  With huge thanks to Nina Harris and Paul Hornby for the day out and for use of their photos in this site-profile; and to the lovely couple (we didn’t get their names – soz) who live in the house behind the Clach na Ba, for their help with the fascinating local history .

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.391839, -4.102239 Clach na Ba

Dunruchan Hill, Muthill, Perthshire

Standing Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NN 8022 1645 —  NEW FIND

Getting Here

Lisa standing with the old stone
Lisa with the old stone

Take the directions to the hugely impressive Dunruchan A standing stone.  Walk directly south, over the gate and follow the fence straight down the fields, crossing the burn at the very bottom. Walk over the boggy grassland and start veering uphill, southeast.  You’ll notice the land goes up in geological ‘steps’ and, a few hundred yards up, a small standing stone pokes up on the near skyline ahead of you.  Head straight for it!

Archaeology & History

This small standing stone was first noted after a quick visit to the major Dunruchan megalithic complex in the summer of 2016.  Photographer James Elkington was taking images of the landscape and the standing stones when he noticed a stone on the horizon a half-mile away.  As we were in a rush, he took a couple of photos from different angles on the way back to the car—both of which looked promising.  And so, several months later, we revisited the site again.  Lisa Samson, Paul Hornby, Martin Ferner and I meandered up the geological steps of the hillside until we reached the site in question.

Looking northwest
Looking northwest
Looking northeast
Looking northeast

Standing more than four-feet tall, this solitary stone overlooks the megalithic Dunruchan complex a half-mile or so to the north and northwest.  Like the Dunruchan C monolith, this smaller upright is conglomerate stone.  Paul Hornby noted what may be a single cup-marked stone roughly 100 yards east along the same ridge. (Please note that the grid-ref may be slightly out by perhaps 50 yards or so at the most. If anyone visits and can rectify my ineptitude on this matter, please let me  know.)

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 

Dunruchan Hill stone

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Dunruchan Hill stone 56.325264, -3.938488 Dunruchan Hill stone

Trinity Well, Trinity Gask, Perthshire

Healing Spring:  OS Grid Reference — NN 9631 1812

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore 25993

Getting Here

The spring is by the trees. The roof of the church is visible past the tree
The spring is in the trees. The roof of the church is visible past the tree

Take the B8062 North from Auchterarder, and turn right immediately after crossing Kinkell Bridge. Continue through the hamlet of Trinity Gask, and take the next turn left. The Well is situated in the wooded area of land to your left, before you reach the church on the right. I tried visiting in summer but was beaten back by the boscage of man high nettles, goose grass and brambles. An autumn visit was made, and access was readily available to the wooded area over a barbed wire fence from the field behind the wood.

Archeology & History

The Canmore description quotes from an August 1967 report by an Ordnance Survey inspector:

“Trinity Well is now dry, and all that remains is an overgrown hollow. A manhole cover nearby suggests the spring is now piped.”

On the day of my 2014 visit, the water was flowing from an issue on the field side of the woodland. There was some low walling on the field side of the enclosure, otherwise no masonry or paving was visible. Any there may have been is now either buried or robbed for building material.

The waters still flow despite a 1967 report to the contrary
The waters still flow despite a 1967 report to the contrary

The 1796 Statistical Account has this to say: ‘ The most noted well in the parish is at Trinity Gask. It is remarkable for the purity and lightness of its water; the spring is copious and perennial. Superstition, aided by the interested artifices of popish priests, raised, in times of ignorance and bigotry, this well to no small degree of celebrity. It was affirmed, that every person who was baptised with the water of this well, would never be seized with the plague….. But the extraordinary virtue of Trinity Gask well has perished with the downfall of superstition, and the introduction of a free and rational enquiry into nature and religion.’

Walling is visible behind the spring issue
Walling is visible behind the spring issue

The 1837 New Statistical Account goes on to say: ‘….the Trinity Well, a little to the South of the manse, of great renown in Popish days for the performing of miraculous cures, fortifying against plague, witchcraft and such other evils. The right of bleaching at this well is one of the privileges of the minister’.

The Rev. John Wilson writes, in The Gazetteer of Scotland: ‘…a noticeable object is a well famous in Roman times for alleged thaumaturgic properties…’.

Processions to the Well were made on Trinity Sunday and the first Sunday in June

References:

  1. The (First) Statistical Account of Scotland, 1796, Volume 18, page 487
  2. The New (Second) Statistical Account of Scotland, 1837, Volume 10, page 335
  3. Morris, Ruth & Frank, Scottish Healing Wells, Alethea: Sandy 1981.
  4. Wilson, John, The Gazetteer of Scotland, W.A. & K. Johnston: Edinburgh 1882

© Paul Hornby, The Northern Antiquarian 

Trinity Well

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Trinity Well 56.344164, -3.679180 Trinity Well

Concraig, Muthill, Perthshire

Standing Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NN 85480 19503

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 25285

Getting Here

Concraig on the 1863 map
Concraig on the 1863 map

Take the A822 road south out of Crieff and less than half a mile down, in a field on the east side of the road is the giant solitary standing stone of Dargill. On the opposite side of the road from here (roughly) is a small country lane. Go along here and past the third field on your left, park up.  Look down the fields for a coupla hundred yards and you’ll see the standing stone. Make your way there by following the field-edges.

Archaeology & History

Concraig stone, near Crieff
Concraig stone, near Crieff

Closer to the larger town of Crieff than it is to the village of Muthill, this seven-foot tall standing stone, leaning at an angle to the north, with a small scatter of stones around its base, stands alone near the side of the field, feeling as if others once lived close by.  It’s set within a distinctly nurturing landscape, enclosed all round instead of screaming to the hills, with that nourishing female quality, less commonly found than those stones on the open moors.  The only real ‘opening’ in the landscape is “to the distant east”, as Andrew Finlayson (2010) noted.

Concraig, looking south
Concraig, looking south
Fred Coles 191 drawing
Fred Coles 191 drawing

First highlighted when the Ordnance Survey lads came here in 1863, the stone hasn’t fared too well in antiquarian tomes.  Fred Coles (1911), as usual, noted it in one of his Perthshire surveys, but could find very little information from local people about the place, simply stating that,

“in an open field about 300 yards to the north-west of Concraig, there stands this irregularly four-sided block of conglomerate schist… The stone measures 9 feet 3 inches round the base and stands 7 feet 3 inches in height.  About halfway up its eastern face it has been broken so as to leave a very distinct ledge.”

What appears to be cup-markings on the southern-face of the stone are just Nature’s handiwork.

References:

  1. Coles, Fred, “Report on Stone Circles Surveyed in Perthshire, Principally Strathearn” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 45, 1911.
  2. Finlayson, Andrew, The Stones of Strathearn, One Tree Island: Comrie 2010.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.353958, -3.854827 Concraig stone

Strowan, Crieff, Perthshire

Tumulus:  OS Grid Reference – NN 81998 20832

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 25510

Getting Here

The faerie mound of Strowan
The faerie mound of Strowan

If you’re coming southwest out of Crieff on the A822, as you cross the river take the right-turn just before leaving the town along the country lane onto Strowan and Dalginross.  Nearly 2½ miles along there’s the small junction on your right to Strowan House and church. Just past this turning, the next field on by the roadside, has a large rounded tree-covered mound living quietly. That’s the fella!

Archaeology & Folklore

Found halfway between Crieff and Comrie in the field on the north-side of the road, this large oak-covered tumulus was, seemingly, first described in notes made by the old archaeologist O.G.S. Crawford following a quick visit he made here in 1936.  The place has, since then, never been excavated to find out exactly what might be hiding therein!  It’s quite a big fella too: about 10 feet high and 40 yards across (east-west)—similar in size and design to the prehistoric burial mounds at Tulloch and Kinpurnie.  Some large rocks make up the sides and edges of the mound, with smaller ones scattered here and there, giving the distinct impression of a very overgrown cairn of sorts.

Tis a quiet and tranquil arena, amidst fervent colours of meadows and old trees. Another 2 miles further down the same road is the equally tranquil (though ruined) megalithic ring of Dunmoid

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Strowan tomb

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Strowan tomb 56.365064, -3.911740 Strowan tomb

Dunmoid, Dalginross, Comrie, Perthshire

Stone Circle:  OS Grid Reference – NN 78030 21266

Dunmoid Circle, Comrie
Dunmoid Circle, Comrie

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 24857
  2. The Court Knoll
  3. Dalginross
  4. Dunmhoid
  5. Judgement Mound
  6. Muirend
  7. Roundel

Getting Here

From the main road running through lovely Comrie, take the south B827 road over the old river bridge.  Go dead straight for several hundred yards until the road bends right; but take the left turn here.  100 yards or so along note the trees on your right, and the road begins to swerve round here. Just round the corner in the trees, the stones are in the clearing right by the roadside. You can’t miss them! (if you hit the graveyard, you’ve gone past them)

Archaeology & History

This is a truly lovely, almost warming enclosed megalithic site—albeit damaged by the ruin of centuries; but on the occasions I’ve been here it feels quite nurturing and elicits a quite natural meditative state.  Whether or not this is due to the surround of trees, or the natural electromagnetic field, or just me, I dunno….

Dunmoid Circle, looking SE
Dunmoid Circle, looking SE
Dunmoid from the North (Coles 1911)
Dunmoid from the North (Coles 1911)

The ‘circle’ is constructed upon a flat rounded section of ground, surrounded by a ditch on two-thirds of its edges, very reminiscent of a typical henge monument—but there is no mention of this in modern surveys.  One of the earliest accounts of Dunmoid was written by John MacPherson (1896) who gave us as much of the known history of the site as is still known by any modern academic.  He wrote:

“At the west side of the new cemetery, close to the public road, there is a curious round knoll, which at one time must have been used as a place for the burial of the dead.  The attention of the writer of this was drawn to it about twenty years ago.  There were three large slabs of stone lying upon the ground, which apparently had been at some former period placed erect by some loving hands to mark the last resting-place of some departed friend or hero.  By the aid of some of the Comrie masons the stones were placed in a standing position.  Curious to know what lay beneath the surface, we dug up the earth in front of the largest slab, and came upon a stone cist placed north and south, 7 inches long, 1 foot 8 inches broad, and 1 foot 3 inches deep.  The only remains discovered was a thigh-bone, but whether it at one time formed a part of the leg of a Celt, a Roman, or a Saxon we could not tell. An old man who then lived in the village of Comrie told us that in his young days the same mound was dug up, when an urn filled with ashes was discovered.  This, perhaps, would indicate that it formed a place of burial for Romans rather than for Caledonians.  The spot is called Dunmoid, or ‘hill of judgment.'”

Fred Coles 1991 plan
Fred Coles 1991 plan
Dunmoid from SE (Coles 1911)
Dunmoid from SE (Coles 1911)

The circle gained the attention of the prolific Fred Coles (1911) in his Perthshire surveys, whose drawings and measurements are still repeated in the modern textbooks more than a century later.  When he visited the site, two of the stones were still upright, but today only one still stands.  In Aubrey Burl’s (1988) survey on ‘four-poster’ stone circles, he reiterated Coles’ words, telling:

“Originally four stone stood at the corners of a rectangle on a mound some 75ft (23m) across and 2ft (60cm) high.  Coles’ plan showed the NW stone standing 5ft 4ins (1.6m) high and the SE, opposite, 5ft 2ins (1.6m), with the thick NW stone prostrate, 4ft 6ins (1.4m) long, with the more slender SW pillar also supine and 4ft (1.2m) long.  The longer SE and NW sides of the oblong were roughly 9ft 6ins (2.9m) long and the others 9ft (2.7m) in length.  The circle on which the stones had been placed had a diameter 13ft 2ins (4m), of which the Megalithic Yard is not an integer.”

The circle is included in Andrew Finlayson’s (2010) modern survey of the region.

References:

  1. Burl, Aubrey, Four Posters: Bronze Age Stone Circles of Western Europe, BAR 195: Oxford 1988.
  2. Finlayson, Andrew, The Stones of Strathearn, One Tree Island: Comrie 2010.
  3. Hunter, John (Ed.), Chronicles of Strathearn, David Philips: Crieff 1896.
  4. Hutchison, A.F., “The Standing Stones of Stirling District,” in The Stirling Antiquary, volume 1, 1893.
  5. MacPherson, John, “At the Head of Strathearn,” in Chronicles of Strathearn, Crieff 1896.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Dunmoid circle

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Dunmoid circle 56.367912, -3.976259 Dunmoid circle

Witches Stone, Monzie, Crieff, Perthshire

Standing Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NN 87980 24321

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 25448
  2. The Witches Stone & her crags to the rear
    The Witches Stone & her crags to the rear

    Kor Stone

Getting Here

Along the A822 road past Crieff and then Gilmerton, shortly past here is a small road to Monzie and the Glenturret Distillery or Famous Grouse Experience. Go on this road and after a just a coupla hundred yards you’ll see the large old gatehouse for Monzie Castle on the left. Ask at the gatehouse and they’ll point you to the stone—in the field about 300 yards past the Monzie stone circle, 200 yards past the gatehouse itself.  You can’t really miss it!

Archaeology & History

The southern flat face of the Witches Stone
The southern flat face of the Witches Stone

This is a fascinating stone for a variety of reasons—not least of which it enabled us to identify an otherwise curious geological anomaly as an unerected standing stone some 16 miles SSW…but that’s a story for later!  The stone here leans at an angle in the field, as shown in the photo, but it still rises 5 feet tall and is a thick chunky fella, with one face very flat and smoothed indeed from top to bottom.  This side of the stone was obviously cut and dressed this way when first erected.  As Paul Hornby then noted, its western face is also quite flat and smoothed aswell, with the edge between the two sides almost squared at right-angles.  The eastern and southern sides of the stone are undressed, as the phrase goes.  These physical characteristics have just been found at a newly found pair of un-erected standing stones on the western edges of the Ochils, just below a newly found cairn circle.

Fred Coles 1911 drawing
Fred Coles 1911 drawing
Witches Stone, looking NE past Milquhanzie Hill fort
Witches Stone, looking NE past Milquhanzie Hill fort

There were several early descriptions of this stone, two of which talked about an avenue or road along which the stone seemed to stand within.  This ‘avenue’ was in fact the very edge of what is probably an earlier prehistoric enclosure—but you can’t really see this anymore unless you’re in the air (check Google Earth, which shows it reasonably well).

In J. Romilly Allen’s (1882) account, he mentions the stone only in passing, telling it to be “a single standing stone measuring 4 feet by 3 feet and 5 feet high (with) no markings on it.”  It was later described in Fred Coles’ (1911) survey of the region where he told:

“This monolith is the westerly of the two prehistoric sites grouped on the O.M. as Standing Stones. It stands a few yards to the south of the avenue, almost half a mile from the East Lodge. The Stone has a slight lean towards the north. Its southern side is remarkably broad and smooth, measuring 4 feet across the base on that side, in girth 13 feet 1 inch and in vertical height 4 feet 9 inches.”

Alignment to Monzie stone circle, just visible in field
Alignment to Monzie stone circle, just visible in field

In Alexander Thom’s edited magnum opus (1980) he found that this standing stone—800 feet northwest of the superb Monzie cup-and-ring stone and associated megalithic ring—marks the midsummer sunset from the stone circle. We noted on our visit here, that this alignment runs to the distant cairn on the far northwest horizon, many miles away.

Folklore

In Joyce Miller’s (2010) excellent work on Scottish heathenism, she told the folowing tale of this stone:

“The standing stone is said to mark the site of Kate McNiven or MacNieven’s, sometimes known as the witch of Monzie, execution. The story goes that she was put in a barrel and rolled down what is now known as Kate MacNieven’s Craig on the north side of the Knock of Crieff before being burnt.  Kate had been the nurse to the Grahams of Inchbrackie, and was accused of witchcraft, including turning herself into a bee.  Graham of Inchbrackie tried to save her but to no avail, but as she was about to die it is said that she spat a bead from her necklace into his hand. The bead – a blue sapphire – was turned into a ring and it was believed that the ring would keep the family and lands secure.  She did, however, curse the laird of Monzie, although whether this worked or not is not known. MacNiven or Nic Niven was also believed to be the name of the Queen of Fairies.  Indeed it is not clear whether Kate MacNiven was a real person or is a conflation of stories. There do not appear to be any contemporary records of her execution at or near Crieff, and dates for her unpleasant death are variously given as 1563, 1615 and 1715.”

…to be continued…

References:

  1. Allen, J. Romilly, “Notes on some Undescribed Stones with Cup Markings in Scotland,” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries Scotland, volume 16, 1882.
  2. Coles, F.R., “Report on stone circles in Perthshire principally Strathearn,” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 45, 1911.
  3. Finlayson, Andrew, The Stones of Strathearn, One Tree Island: Comrie 2010.
  4. Holder, Geoff, The Guide to Mysterious Perthshire, History Press 2006.
  5. Marshall, William, Historic Scenes in Perthshire, Oliphant: Edinburgh 1881.
  6. Miller, Joyce, Magic and Witchcraft in Scotland, Goblinshead 2010.
  7. Thom, Alexander, “Megalithic Astronomy: Indications in Standing Stones,” in Vistas in Astronomy, volume 7, 1966.
  8. Thom, A., Thom, A.S. & Burl, H.A.W., Megalithic Rings, BAR: Oxford 1980.
  9. Watson, David, A Simple Introduction to the Stone Circles and Standing Stones of Perthshire, 2006.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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Witches Stone 56.397824, -3.816463 Witches Stone