MacBeth’s Stone, Belmont, Meigle, Perthshire

Standing Stone / Cup Marked Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NO 27997 43473

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 30824
  2. Siward’s Stone
  3. Witches’ Stone

Getting Here

MacBeth's Stone, near Meigle

MacBeth’s Stone, near Meigle

From the centre of Meigle village, you need to go along the country lane southwest towards the village of Ardler (do not go on the B954 road).  About three-quarter of a mile (1.25km) along—past the entrance to Belmont Castle—you’ll reach a small triangle of grass on your left, and a driveway into the trees.  Walk down here, past the first house—behind which is the stone in question.  A small path takes you through the trees and round to it.  You can’t really miss it!

Archaeology & History

MacBeth Stone on 1st OS-map

MacBeth Stone on 1st OS-map

This is a magnificent site.  A giant of a stone.  Almost the effigy of a King, petrified, awaiting one day to awaken and get the people behind him!  It has that feel of awe and curiosity that some of us know very well at these less-visited, quieter megalithic places. Its title has been an interchange between the Scottish King MacBeth and the witches who played so much in his folklore, mixed into more realistic local traditions of other heathen medicine-women of olde…

The first account of this giant standing stone came from the travelling pen of Thomas Pennant (1776) who, in his meanderings to the various historical and legendary sites of Meigle district, wrote that

“In a field on the other side of the house is another monument to a hero of that day, to the memory of the brave young Seward, who fell, slain on the spot by MacBeth.  A stupendous stone marks the place; twelve feet high above ground, and eighteen feet and a half in girth in the thickest place.  The quantity below the surface of the Earth is only two feet eight inches; the weight. on accurate computation amounts to twenty tons; yet I have been assured that no stone of this species is to be found within twenty miles.”

It was visited by the Ordnance Survey lads in 1863, several years after one Thomas Wise (1855) had described the monolith in an article on the nearby hillfort of Dunsinane.  But little of any substance was said of the stone, and this is something that hasn’t changed for 150 years, despite the huge size of this erection!  Local historians make mention of it in their various travelogues, but the archaeologists haven’t really given the site the attention it deserves.  Even the Royal Commission (1994) report was scant; and apart from suggesting it to have a neolithic provenance, they merely wrote:

“Rectangular in cross-section, the stone tapers to a point some 3.6m above the ground; each of its sides is decorated with cupmarks, as many as forty occurring on the east face and twenty-four on the west.”

MacBeth Stone (Wise 1884)

MacBeth Stone (Wise 1884)

East face of MacBeth's Stone

East face of MacBeth’s Stone

Thankfully, the fact that there are cup-markings on the stone has at least given it the attention it deserves amongst the petroglyph students.  The first account of the cup-markings seem to have come from the pen of Sir James Simpson (1867) who mentions them, albeit in passing, in his seminal work on the subject.  A few years later however, the same Thomas Wise visited MacBeth’s Stone again, and not only described the carvings, but gave us our first known illustration in his fascinating History of Paganism (1884).  He told it to be,

“A large boulder, some 12 tons in weight, situated within the policies of Belmont Castle, in Strathmore, Perthshire…is supposed to have been erected on the spot where MacBeth was slain.  Two feet above the ground this boulder has a belt of cups of different sizes, and in irregular groups.  None of these cups are surrounded by incised circles or gutters.  This boulder was probably intended for some sacred purpose, as it faces the SE.”

Running almost around the middle of the standing stone, on all four sides, are the great majority of the cup-markings (no rings or additional lines are visible).  They were very obviously etched into the stone after it had been erected, not before.  This is in stark contrast to the cup-and-rings found on the standing stones at Machrie, Kilmartin and elsewhere, where we know the carvings were done before the stones were stood upright.

Cup-narks on western face

Cup-narks on western face

Cups on the western face

Cups on the western face

On the northern face of the stone is one possible cup-marking, and three of them are etched onto its south face; but the majority of them, forty, are on its western face, and twenty-five on its eastern side.  The great majority of them on the east and west sides occur roughly in the middle of the stone, almost like a ‘belt’ running across its body.  Those on the eastern face are difficult to discern as a thick layer of lichens covers this side, so there may be even more beneath the vegetation.

An increasingly notable element in the singular monoliths of this region, echoed again here, is that at least one side of the standing stone is smooth and flat—in the case of MacBeth’s Stone the flat face is the eastern one.  Whether this was a deliberate feature/ingredient in some of the standing stones, I do not know.  If there was such a deliberate reason, it would be good to know what it meant!

The 'face' in the top of the stone

The ‘face’ in the top of the stone

Close-up of Macbeth's face

Close-up of Macbeth’s face

Another fascinating feature at this site was noticed by Nina Harris of ‘Organic Scotland’.  Meandering around the stone in and out of the trees, she called our attention to a fascinating simulacra when looking at the upper section of the monolith on its southern side.  At first it didn’t seem clear – but then, as usual, the more you looked, the more obvious it became.  A very distinct face, seemingly male, occurs naturally at the top of the stone and it continues as you walk around to its heavily cup-marked western side.  It’s quite unmistakable!  As such, it has to be posited: was this simulacra noticed by the people who erected this stone and seen as the spirit of the rock?  Did it even constitute the reason behind its association with some ancestral figure, whose spirit endured here and was petrified?  Such a query is neither unusual nor outlandish, as every culture on Earth relates to such spirit in stones where faces like this stand out.

But whatever your opinion on such matters, when you visit this site spend some time here, quietly.  Get into the feel of the place.  And above all, see what impression you get from the stony face above the body of the stone. Tis fascinating…..

Folklore

Known locally as being a gathering place of witches, the site is still frequented by old people at certain times of the year, at night.  The stone’s association with MacBeth comes, not from the King himself (whose death occurred many miles to the north), but one of his generals.  In James Guthrie’s (1875) huge work on the folklore of this region, he told that this giant

“erect block of whinstone, of nearly twenty tons in weight…(is) said to be monumental of one of his chief officers”,

which he thought perhaps gave the tale an “air of probability about it.”  But Guthrie didn’t know that this great upright was perhaps four thousand years older than the MacBeth tradition espoused!  However, as Nick Aitchison (1999) pointed out in his singular study of the historical MacBeth,

“another MacBeth was sheriff of Scone in the late twelfth century and it is possible that he, and not MacBeth, King of Scots, is commemorated in the name.”

He may be right.  Or it the name may simply have been grafted onto the stone replacing a more archaic relationship with some long forgotten heathen elder.  We might never know for sure.

When Geoff Holder (2006) wrote about the various MacBeth sites in this area, he remarked that the folklore of the local people was all down to the pen of one Sir John Sinclair, editor of the first Statistical Account of the area—but this is a gross and probably inaccurate generalization.  Nowhere in Holder’s work (or in any of his other tomes) does he outline the foundations of local people’s innate subjective animistic relationship to their landscape and its legends; preferring instead, as many uninformed social historians do, to depersonalise the human/landscape relationships, which were part and parcel of everyday life until the coming of the Industrial Revolution.  Fundamentally differing cultural, cosmological and psychological attributes spawned many of the old myths of our land, its megaliths and other prehistoric sites.  It aint rocket science!  Sadly, increasing numbers of folklore students are taking this “easy option” of denouncement, due to educational inabilities.  It’s about time researchers started taking such misdirected students to task!

References:

  1. Aitchison, Nick, MacBeth – Man and Myth, Sutton: Stroud 1999.
  2. Coutts, Herbert, Ancient Monuments of Tayside, Dundee Museum 1970.
  3. Guthrie, James C., The Vale of Strathmore – Its Scenes and Legends, William Paterson: Edinburgh 1875.
  4. Hazlitt, W.C., Faiths and Folklore: A Dictionary, Reeves & Turner: London 1905.
  5. Holder, Geoff, The Guide to Mysterious Perthshire, History Press 2006.
  6. MacNeill, F. Marian, The Silver Bough – volume 1, William MacLellan: Glasgow 1957.
  7. MacPherson, J.G., Strathmore: Past and Present, S. Cowan: Perth 1885.
  8. Michell, John, Simulacra, Thames & Hudson: London 1979.
  9. Pennant, Thomas, A Tour in Scotland and Voyage to the Hebrides – volume 2, London 1776.
  10. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, South-East Perth: An Archaeological Landscape, HMSO: Edinburgh 1994.
  11. Simpson, James, Archaic Sculpturings of Cups, Circles, etc., Upon Stones and Rocks in Scotland, England and other Countries, Edmonston & Douglas: Edinburgh 1867.
  12. Wise, Thomas A., “Notice of Recent Excavations in the Hill Fort of Dunsinane, Perthshire,” in Proceedings Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 2, 1855.
  13. Wise, Thomas A., History of Paganism in Caledonia, Trubner: London 1884.

Acknowledgements:  With huge thanks to Paul Hornby for his help getting me to this impressive monolith; and to Nina Harris, for prompting some intriguing ideas.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

MacBeth's Stone

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MacBeth\'s Stone 56.577634, -3.173642 MacBeth\'s Stone

Witches Stone, St. Martin’s, Perthshire

‘Standing Stone’:  OS Grid Reference – NO 15927 31609

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 28628

Getting Here

The Witches Stone of MacBeth

Going north-eastish from the city of Perth, take either the A93 or A94, turning west along the A93 a mile south of Guildtown, or east at Balbeggie on the A94, until you reach St. Martin’s hamlet and park up just below the church opposite the old cottages. Walk up the track below the cottages (not the one above them!) for ⅘-mile (1.35km) [past the ruined Cupar Stone Circle], and where the land has levelled out and in the huge flat field on your left, you’ll eventually reach a gate and see the odd-looking ‘rock’ about 250 yards away in the middle.

Archaeology & History

A fungal morel turned to stone

In a quiet and little-known parish that was once littered with about a dozen stone circles, there remains a most curious and fascinating stone which, in earlier days, was to be seen on the open moorlands at this spot.  The area was then forested and then the agriculturalists came with their farming and destroyed the forests, leaving the old stone as it presently stands, isolated, above the hamlet of St. Martin’s to the south.  Although it was described in the 19th century as being “four feet high”, it stands barely three feet tall, is very curiously-shaped—just like a morel mushroom from some angles—and in the middle of an extensive piece of flatland where the crops barely grow.

Witches Stone on 1866 map

Witches Stone, looking west

The stone was highlighted on the first OS-map of the parish in 1866, showing it in the woodland plantation of Eastmuir.  It may have been some sort of northern outlier related to the now-destroyed stone circle of Cupar 400 yards south; and if this was the case, its position in the landscape relative to the circle would give the Witches Stone an airt (virtue ascribed to cardinal directions) in the cycle of the year that relates to darkness and death. (Perhaps oddly—perhaps not—the name of parish St. Martin’s relates to that dark period in the calendar, as St. Martin’s day in the old calendar was Samhain or Halloween: old New Year’s Day, when the spirits of the dead moved across both land and skies.)

It was erroneously described by the Canmore lads as being little more than “a glacial erratic”, but the stone here is quite earthfast; and their idea that “its peculiar shape has probably been caused by wind erosion”, is also somewhat dubious considering the shape of other monoliths and megalithic rings in the region.  The stone has an appearance similar to some Bull Stones, where the animal was chained to rocks such as this and then baited by dogs, although I can find no such lore here. Indeed, the history and archaeology of the stone seems all but silent.  Its folklore however, would have the Shakespearian romanciers amongst you flocking to the place…

Deep grooves atop of the stone

The top of the stone has some very distinct and deep-cut lines running across it at angles, and has the appearance of being cut into at some time in the dim and distant past.  By whom, and for what reason, we cannot say.

Folklore

William Richie (1845) told us that in the 11th Century when Scotland was having to deal with the english disease of stealing land and spreading its violence, King MacBeth—whose castle stood within this parish at Cairnbeddie (NO 1498 3082)—took that advice of two witches, and that

“they met him one night at a place still called ‘the Witch Stane’ (where a remarkable stone still stands), about a mile from his old residence, and warned him to beware, ‘Till Birnam forest come to Dunsinane.’”

The 1860 Name Book told us that,

“The Moor where the witches met, which is in St. Martins Parish is yet pointed out by the country people, and there is a stone still preserved, which is called the Witches Stone.”

References:

  1. Scott, Aleander, St. Martin’s and Cambusmichael, Perth 1911.
  2. Richie, William, “St. Martins and Cambusmichael,” in New Statistical Account of Scotland – volume 10: Perthshire, William Blackwood: Edinburgh 1845.

Acknowledgements:  Huge thanks to Prof Paul Hornby for showing me this site. Cheers matey!

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Witches Stone

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Witches Stone 56.469085, -3.366207 Witches Stone

Culhawk Hill, Kirriemuir, Angus

Stone Circle:  OS Grid Reference – NO 3530 5620

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 32209

Getting Here

The largest stone in the ring

From Kirriemuir central, head up the Kinnordy road, going straight across the main road and continuing past the Kinnordy turn-off for just over a mile towards Mearns, stopping where a small copse of trees appears on your left.  From here, walk along the track to the west. It goes gradually uphill, cutting through a small cleft with a hillfort on the north and a cairn circle on the south until, ⅔-mile along, you reach the moorland.  Keep going on the same path for another ½-mile west where the grasslands level out.  Here, on the flat bit between the two hills, a small incomplete ring of stones lives, with one stone sticking out.  You’ll find it!

Archaeology & History

This is a curious site on several levels—not least, that its definition as a ‘stone circle’ is a fragile one; although to be honest, we do find here a large unfinished arc of stones in what looks like either an unfinished ring, or a deliberately constructed large arc.  But you won’t find it in the standard megalithic gazetteers of Burl, Barnatt or Thom as it was only relocated in the 1980s by local researchers Sherriff and MacKnight. (1985)  They didn’t have much to say about it either, simply telling that they’d found,

“A stone setting representing the remains of either a denuded cairn or a stone circle lies in the saddle between Culhawk Hill and Castle Hill. One erect and 4 prone boulders describe a portion of a roughly circular site some 10m in diameter.”

Arc of fallen stones, looking NE

Faint low ring, looking W

This is roughly the gist of it, with the largest and most prominent of the stones—barely three feet tall—standing on the western side (this is the stone which draws your attention – otherwise you’d never even notice it).  The rest of the stones seem to have been knocked down some time ago.  A barely discernible embankment constructed around the edge of the ring can be seen around the northern side.  It seems unlikely that it was a cairn, as no inner piles of stones were in evidence when we visited the site.  It may be a large hut circle.  But in truth it could do with an excavation so that we can suss out its exact nature.  Beneath the grasses we found an additional stone to those counted by Sherriff & MacKnight; but more intriguing is what Frank Mercer and I found before we even reached the small circle….

Trackway leading to the circle

More visibly distinct than the ring itself were two artificial raised embankments, running parallel with each other 3-4 yards apart.  The raised edges of these embankments were about a yard across, on both sides, with the inner area slightly lower than the outlying natural background.  These distinct linear earthworks are, quite simply, an early medieval or prehistoric trackway—and it leads directly into the circle!  It’s quite unmistakable and is clearly visible as it drops down the slope to the south and away into the fields below.  Sadly when we found it last week, darkness was falling and so we didn’t trace the trackway any further.  But the most notable thing was that it stopped at the circle and did not continue on its northern side, implying that it was constructed with the circle as its deliberate focal point.  The trackway and its embankments are roughly the same size as other recognized prehistoric routes, such as Elkington’s Track on Ilkley Moor and the other ancient causeway that runs past the prehistoric ring known as Roms Law.

Regarding the ring of stones: unless you’re a real megalith fanatic, you’ll probably be disappointed by what you see here.  It’s a bittova long wander to something that may once have been just a hut circle, but the avenue leading up to it is something else – and much more intriguing!

References:

  1. Sherriff, John R. & MacKnight, O., “Culhawk Hill (Kirriemuir p): Stone Setting,” in Discovery & Excavation Scotland, 1985.

Acknowledgements:  Thanks as always to Nina Harris and Frank Mercer; and to Paul Hornby for use of his photos.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.693039, -3.058092 Culhawk Hill stone circle

White Caterthun Carving, Menmuir, Angus

Cup-Marked Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NO 54671 66022

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 35007

Getting Here

White CaterthunCR01

The carving below the walling

Many ways here, but from the nearest town of Brechin, take the minor north road out of town (not the B966) to Little Brechin, heading roughly north to the renowned hillforts of White and Brown Cathertun (ask a local if needs be).  Park up and walk up the slope to White Cathertun, following the immense walling around to the right.  Near where you reach the opposite side of the hillfort, look down the rocky slopes for a large boulder, just on the edge of the walling.  You’ll find it!

Archaeology & History

Although Canmore include this cup-marked stone in the site-profile of the incredible White Caterthun hillfort, it should really have an entry of its own, as it’s age and nature very probably pre-date the construction of the giant fortress.  But, this aside, if you’re visiting the hillfort (an incredible place!), at least give this heavily cup-marked stone your attention too.

Looking across the carving

Looking across the carving

Close-up of the main cups

Close-up of the main cups

Probably neolithic in origin, there was a small portable cup-marked companion found 30 yards away, suggesting perhaps that a cairn might once have stood on this hilltop—but tradition is silent on the matter.  No other petroglyphs of any note have been located nearby, which is unusual.  In all probability other carvings remain undiscovered, particularly in the hills immediately to the north.

Consisting of around 80 cup-marks, several of which appear linked by carved lines, the stone has been bound together with concrete and metal bolts after some idiot damaged it in the 19th century.  It was first described by Miss Christian Maclagan (1875) in her stunning megalithic survey of the period.  She wrote:

“To Sir James Simpson’s list of cup-markings we are able to add the one at the Caterthun, on a large block 6 feet long, which is quite covered with very distinctly cut cup-markings.  It is a block of basalt…and the cups are so very clear and sharp in their lines that their freshness can only be accounted for by the stone having lain with the markings buried in the ground.  This curious stone has been quite recently broken in two.  It is a pity to see it so destroyed, because it is valuable to the antiquary in helping to establish a very remote antiquity for the fortification.  It lies on the north side of the fort, among a chaos of stones, having probably once formed the side of a gateway.”

A few years later the late great J. Romilly Allen (1882) visited the site and gave us his description, telling:

“On the west side (of the hillfort), 10 yards north of the boundary of the fir plantation that covers one-half of the hill is a cup-marked boulder… The stone has been broken in two, and one portion of it lies at the foot of the stone rampart just above the first outer ditch, whilst the other half has been rolled down the hill by some mischievous person with more muscles than brains, and is to be found immediately below, where its further progress was arrested by coming in contact with the outermost wall.  The two fragments when placed together measure 6 feet 9 inches long by 3 feet wide, and 1 foot 9 inches thick.  The stone is greenish quartzose slate, and on its upper surface are carved eighty cups, varying from 1½ to 2½ inches diameter.  In two cases two cups are united into one by a connecting groove.”

J. Sherriff's 1995 drawing

J. Sherriff’s 1995 drawing

J.R. Allen's 1882 drawing

J.R. Allen’s 1882 drawing

The most recent description and illustration of the stone is in John Sherriff’s (1995) survey. When we visited the carving recently we noticed three cup-marks etched onto the side of the stone, with a possible carved line running above one of them—but due to the bright sunlight on of the day of our visit, it was difficult to say whether this was a geological in nature or not (bright daylight can hamper good visibility of many carvings).  Check it out!

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. Kenworthy, J., “White Caterthun: Cup-Marked Stone”, in Discovery & Excavation, Scotland, 1980.
  3. MacLagan, Christian, The Hill Forts, Stone Circles and other Structural Remains of Ancient Scotland, Edmonston & Douglas: Edinburgh 1875.
  4. Sherriff, John, “Prehistoric Rock-Carvings in Angus,” in Tayside & Fife Archaeological Journal, volume 1, 1995.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.783562, -2.743499 White Catherthun carving

Lady Well, Menmuir, Angus

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference – NO 5835 6623

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore 34976
  2. The Lady’s Well, Chapelton of Dunlappie
  3. The Ladywell, Chapelton of Dunlappie

Getting Here

Original position of Lady Well, near the gate

Travelling north along the minor Little Brechin to Reidhall road, take the left fork at the Drumchapel Estate Company sign towards Chapelton Farm, take a sharp left then right turn and the site of the well is through the green metal gate on the left of the road behind the cottage.

Archaeology and History

Andrew Jervise, in 1853 describing the ‘Hermitage of the Chapel of the Blessed Virgin Mary of the Forest of Kilgery’ quotes in his The History and Traditions of the Land of the Lindseys:

“This old chaplainry stood in a field near the farmhouse of Chapelton of Dunlappie. The stones of the chapel were taken to build the farm-steading, and a fine spring, about a hundred and fifty yards south east of the site of the chapel, still bears the name of Ladywell, in honour of the Virgin.”

William Fraser, writing about the Chapel in 1867 wrote:

“The ruins of the Forest Chapel of the Virgin existed till lately in the vicinity of a fine spring, still known as the Lady’s Well.”

This chapel was subsidiary to the Hermitage Notre Domine Maria de Kilgery, situated almost 1½ miles due west on the southern slope of the Brown Caterthun hill-fort.

Lady Well on 1865 map

Lady Well now runs into a cistern in front of the gap

The Lady Well is shown on the 1868 Ordnance Survey map as being in the field, with the spring issuing at the roadside as a ‘spout’. Where the Lady Well stood, there is now just a lush patch of grass by the metal gates. On my field visit, I met the farmer, who was totally unaware that there had ever been a holy well. He said that a brick cistern with a wooden lid had been built on the site of the ‘spout’, and that the water was pumped from there to supply the adjoining cottage. He said the water flowed into the cistern from a pre-existing pipe, and never dried up, but he had no idea where the supply originated. So perhaps the flow from the spring was diverted from the site shown on the map when the ruins of the chapel were taken down.

There is now nothing to see above ground of the Chapel or the original Holy Well, and while the nineteenth century quotation above refers to the Well being at Chapelton of Dunlappie, it is now known as Chapelton of Menmuir.

References:

  1. Andrew Jervise, The History and Traditions of the Land of The Lindsays in Angus and Mearns, 2nd Edition, Edinburgh, David Douglas, 1882.
  2. William Fraser, History of The Carnegies, Earls of Southesk, and of Their Kindred,Volume One, Edinburgh, Privately Printed, 1867.
  3. Jervise, A, Notices of the Localities of the Sculptured Stone Monuments at St Vigeans, Inchbrayoch, Pitmuies, and Menmuir, in Angus, and of Fordoun in the Mearns. Part IV. (pp 458-66), Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, Volume 2, 1855-56.

© Paul T. Hornby 2016, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.785734, -2.683190 Lady Well

Fenton Hill, Airlie, Angus

Souterrain (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NO 3044 5040

Also Known as:

  1. Airlie II
  2. Canmore ID 32376

Archaeology & History

One in a cluster of at least seven souterrains that could once be found to the east of Alyth, this was first described in notes by David Whyte in the 1845 New Statistical Account as being “about a mile to the south” of those at Barns of Airlie.  Although Whyte told that the two places “are separated by a deep hollow but are within view of each other,” the explorer F.T. Wainwright (1963) was unable to locate the precise spot, despite several visits.  Three earlier writers (Anderson, Jervise and Warden) merely echoed notes of there being a cluster of sites hereby and made no personal explorations of their own.  Without the expertise of local people, the exact status of this underground chamber remains unknown…

References:

  1. Anderson, Joseph, Scotland in Pagan Times – volume 1: The Iron Age, David Douglas: Edinburgh 1883.
  2. Jervise, A., “Notice of Antiquities in the Parish of Airlie, Forfarshire,” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 5, 1864.
  3. Royal Commission of Ancient & Historicc Monuments, Scotland, The Archaeological Sites and Monuments of Scotland: Central Angus, RCAHMS: Edinburgh 1983.
  4. Wainwright, F T., The Souterrains of Southern Pictland, RKP: London 1963.
  5. Warden, Angus J., Angus or Forfarshire – volume 1, Charles Alexander: Dundee 1880.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.640253, -3.135660 Fenton Hill souterrain

Brae of Airlie, Airlie, Angus

Souterrain (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NO 3102 5187

Also Known as:

  1. Airlie IV (Wainwright)
  2. Canmore ID 32383

Archaeology & History

This was one amongst a good cluster of souterrains that existed hereby, remains of which may still exist beneath the ground.  It was rediscovered in the 19th century through a series of most curious events—owing more to the local belief in spirits and witches than any archaeological rationale.  Mr A. Jervise (1864) told the story in his essay on Airlie parish:

“The circumstances which led to the discovery of one of these weems is curious.  Local story says, that the wife of a poor cottar could not for long understand why, whatever sort of fuel she burned, no ashes were left upon the hearth; and if a pin or any similar article was dropt at the fireside, it could not be recovered.  Having “a bakin” of bannocks, or oatmeal cakes, on some occasion, one of the cakes accidentally slipped from off “the toaster,” and passed from the poor woman’s sight!  This was more than she was prepared for; and, believing that the house was bewitched, she alarmed her neighbours, who collected in great numbers, and, as may be supposed, after many surmises and grave deliberation, they resolved to pull down the house!  This was actually done: still the mystery remained unsolved, until one lad, more courageous and intelligent than the rest, looking attentively about the floor, observed a long narrow crevice at the hearth. Sounding the spot, and believing the place to be hollow, he set to work and had the flag lifted, when the fact was disclosed, that the luckless cottage had been built right over an “eirde” house.  The disappearance of ashes, and the occasional loss of small articles of household use, were thus satisfactorily accounted for; but, unfortunately, although the site of this weem remains, as well as that of another near the same place, both were long ago destroyed, and the materials of which they were constructed used for a variety of utilitarian purposes.”

Or to put it simply: right beneath the fireplace, a small opening into the souterrain below appeared, into which all things fell.  F.T. Wainwright (1963) placed the position of the site “about 100 feet east of the road between Barns of Airlie and Brae of Airlie, about 200 yards from the former.”  On the 1865 OS-map, this spot is marked with a small unnamed building.  No excavation has ever been tried here

References:

  1. Jervise, A., “Notice of Antiquities in the Parish of Airlie, Forfarshire,” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 5, 1864.
  2. Wainwright, F T., The Souterrains of Southern Pictland. RKP: London 1963.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.653632, -3.126560 Brae of Airlie

Barns of Airlie (2), Airlie, Angus

Souterrain (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NO 3052 5152

Also Known as:

  1. Airlie III (Wainwright 1963)
  2. Canmore ID 32385

Archaeology & History

There are no remains left of this old ‘weem’, earth-house, or souterrain as they are now commonly known.  It was one of at least seven separate souterrains beneath the fields between the Barns of Airlie and Brae of Airlie, but very little is now known of this one.  The first and only real note of the site was given in Mr A. Jervise’s (1864) essay on the antiquities of Airlie parish.  Nearly a hundred years later when F.T. Wainwright (1963) went to investigate any possible remains, he found very little, telling:

“A possible location for Airlie III…presented itself on 24 June, 1951, when Mr D.B. Taylor and I noticed a considerable number of boulders and slabs cast up in the field which lies over the wall from the entrance to Airlie I (souterrain).  The farmer was aware that there was a heavy concentration of stones spread over an area of two or three thousand square feet, but he could add no further information.  In 1951 we were not able to do more than record this possibly significant scatter of stones—it lies between 150 and 200 feet west from the present entrance of Airlie I on a bearing of 260º—and to note that it could very well indicate a souterrain settlement.”

Many of the scattered stone have subsequently been removed for use in walling and no trace remains of the site.

References:

  1. Jervise, A., “Notice of Antiquities in the Parish of Airlie, Forfarshire,” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 5, 1864.
  2. Wainwright, F T., The Souterrains of Southern Pictland. RKP: London 1963.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian 

 

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  56.650324, -3.134742 Barns of Airlie (2)

Crown Tree, Keillor, Perthshire

Legendary Tree (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NO 27279 40789

Getting Here

The Crown Tree, shown on the 1865 6″ OS map

The site of the tree may be seen from the north side of the Kettins to Newtyle road, just before the Perthshire-Angus boundary sign. It stood on the south-west side of the dip at the far end of the field, next to the raised causeway.

Archaeology & History

Nothing now remains of the tree.  The Ordnance Survey name book gives the following description, attested by Hugh Watson of Keillor, Thomas Mole of Denside and Charles Wood of High Keillor:

“[Situation] About 32 chains NE of Keillour. A large tree situated on the farm of Keillor. It is traditionally stated that Barons held their court under this tree, also that criminals were executed on it. Whence the name.”

Crown Tree stood left of the dip in front of the causeway

The tree was about 160 feet to the south-west of the boundary between the parishes of Kettins and Newtyle, on the Kettins side, both of which parishes were historically in the county of Angus, so it was likely also to have been an ancient boundary marker. Keillour, with the Parish of Kettins is now in Perthshire.

Based on the evidence of the 25″ OS maps, it seems the tree was felled sometime between 1900 and 1921.

Reference:

  1. Ordnance Survey Name Book, Forfar (Angus) Volume 52, 1857-61

© Paul T. Hornby, The Northern Antiquarian 2017

 

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  56.553481, -3.184489 Crown Tree

St. Madden’s Well, Kirkton of Airlie, Angus

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference – NO 3179 5188

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 32367
  2. St. Madan’s Well 
  3. St. Medan’s Well

Getting Here

One of the present issues of St. Madden's spring looking south.
One of the present issues of St. Madden’s spring looking south.

At Kirkton of Airlie, park next to the church and walk north eastwards along the track, past the houses ‘Crabra’ and ‘Cleikheim’ and the spring that once supplied the Holy Well will be seen on the opposite side of the burn in a small fenced off enclosure. To the north east of the enclosure is a small hillock known as St Medan’s Knowe.

Archaeology & History

According to the Ordnance Survey Name Books, St Madden’s Well was located in a hamlet called St Maddens, which has since been almost entirely destroyed.  In the mid nineteenth century a number of stone coffins and pottery were recovered from around the site, and the well was described as,

“filled up and defaced, the spring…still to be seen issuing into the mouth of a covered drain that was made some few years ago”.

There are now two issues of water from the spring, while nothing now remains of the original well housing. An adjoining resident informed me that the local landowner had gone to some trouble to try to find any evidence of the well housing, but had found nothing.

St. Madden's Well highlighted in red on the 1865 6" OS Map.
St. Madden’s Well highlighted in red on the 1865 6″ OS Map.

As is often the case with these early mediaeval Scottish saints there is some confusion as to St Madden’s identity. To some writers his Saint’s day is accepted to be April 29th, and he has been identified as Saint Middanus, abbot of the monastery of Holywood, but Bishop Alexander Forbes considers he is more likely to have been a Bishop Medanach listed in the Dunkeld Litany.

To confuse things even more, J.M. MacKinlay (1904) wrote:

“The Hamlet of St Madden’s or St Medan’s in the parish of Airlie, where are also St Medan’s Well and St Medan’s Knowe, probably retains the name of St Modan, believed to have been a contemporary of St. Ronan.  Skene says: ‘Modan appears in the Scotch calendars as an abbot on the fourth February, and as a bishop on the fourteenth November; but the dedications to him are so much mixed up together that it is probable that the same Modan is meant for both'”.

Andrew Jervise provides the following quote about St Medan:

“..bishop and confessor whose feast is held on 14th November was in great favour with King Conran c.503 – Coll. for Aberdeen and Banff.”

The other issue of the spring.
The other issue of the spring.

Whosoever St Madden was, his quadrangular bell was the subject of an extant fifteenth century deed whereby the bell with its appurtenant parcel of land was granted to the Countess of Moray as dewar (hereditary keeper of a Holy Relic with appurtenant land), together with “the infeftment being completed by (the Countess) being shut up in a house and then receiving the feudal symbols of earth and stone.” On the death and subsequent disposal of the estate of the last dewar in the nineteenth century, the bell was sold along with a load of rubbish, its true identity and value not being realised at the time.

References:

  1. Andrew Jervise, The History and Traditions of the Land of the Lindsays, Edinburgh, Sutherland & Knox 1853.
  2. Andrew Jervise, Epitaphs and Inscriptions from Burial Grounds and Old Buildings in the North East of Scotland, Edinburgh, Edmonston and Douglas 1875.
  3. James Murray MacKinlay, Influence of the Pre-Reformation church on Scottish Place-Names, Edinburgh and London, William Blackwood and Sons 1904.
  4. Dom Michael Barrett, A Calendar of Scottish Saints, Fort Augustus 1919.
  5. Bishop Alexander Forbes, Kalendars of Scottish Saints, Edinburgh, Edmonston and     Douglas 1872.
  6. Scotland’s Place Names
  7. Andrew Jervise, Notice of Antiquities in the Parish of Airlie, Forfarshire, in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, June 1864

© Paul T. Hornby 2016 The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.653741, -3.114015 St Maddens Well