Machar Stones, Fintry, Stirlingshire

Standing Stones:  OS Grid Reference – NS 65705 83932

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 45311
  2. Waterhead Stones

Getting Here

The Machar Stones

The Machar Stones

Of the 2 ways to reach here: one via the Crow Road, up to Waterhead Farm and then meandering through the forest—we took the other one!  From the car park at the western end of Carron Reservoir, take the track into the forest. Stick to the track closest to the loch until, after crossing the small river bridge, veer right at the next junction 200 yards on.  Another 600 yards (0.5km) along, take the right turn and walk all along this track to the very end.  From here, take your feet down into the opening along the small burn and stick to this gap in the trees for 100 yards or so, where the gap in the trees veers left.  Keep walking for another 200 yards.

Archaeology & History

These stones might take some finding, but they’re worth the effort if you like your megaliths.  When Nina, Paul and I visited them yesterday, the meander turned into what have become known as Barmy Bennett Bimbles as we ventured off-path and into the forest, wading through marshland and getting our eyes poked out in the dense trees!  And then the snow came. Twas gorgeous to be honest…

Machar Stones, looking SE

Machar Stones, looking SE

Machar Stones, looking west

Machar Stones, looking west

Probably neolithic in origin, the Machar Stones are set upon an elevated rise above the confluence of the Bin Burn and the River Carron on what seems to be an enhanced artificial platform, akin to those which some stone circles and ring cairns are mounted upon. Around the edges of the stones themselves, the earth has been dug into at some point in the past, as evidenced by the distinct oval dip in the ground surrounding the stones; although I can find no antiquarian accounts describing such a dig.  There is the possibility that these stones may once have marked the site of a prehistoric tomb.

Once you walk ten yards away from the stones in any direction, you begin to walk downhill.  Sadly the trees presently obscure any view from the stones, completely silencing the panorama that quite intentionally awoke from here in centuries gone by, disabling any immediate visual landscape analysis or geomancy.  The proximity of the two rivers was probably relevant in the construction of the stones; as may be the ridge between the Little and Meikle Bin to the southeast.

First described in Nimmo’s Stirlingshire (1817) as “a druidical remain…in the parish of Fintry, about the middle of the moor towards Campsie and northwest of the Meikle Bin”, another early account of these megaliths was in H.G. Smith’s (1896) work on the parish of Strathendrick, before the imposition of the modern ‘forest’ occurred and the views from the stones were unrestricted.  After describing their geographical position, he told:

“On a comparatively level part of the muirland between the two rivers and under Meikle Bin, there are two old standing stones known locally as the Machar Stones, this name being derived from the Gaelic magh, a plain.  The more northerly stones measures 8 feet in height, and the other is 5 feet 7 inches high.  Little…is known of the origin of these standing stones… They were apparently in some way connected with the religious worship of the prehistoric inhabitants of the land.  The general uniform direction in which they point, which is to the north of east, looking as nearly as possible to the quarter of sunrise at the summer solstice, seems to point to their having been erected by a race of sun worshippers.”

Machar Stones, looking NW

Machar Stones, looking NW

Around the same time, A.F. Hutchison (1893) gave a lecture on these and other Stirlingshire megaliths, giving slight variants on the heights of the monoliths, adding that “the two stones are standing in a line pointing to 220°.”  Sadly, even the great authorities of Aubrey Burl (1993) and Alexander Thom (1990), in their respective tomes on the subject, were unable to define any astronomical alignments here.  Hutchison puzzled about the seeming artificiality of the platform upon which the stones appear to have been set, though wrote how “geological authority pronounces it to be a quite natural formation.”

As to the name of the site, William Grant (1963) ascribes the word ‘Machar’ and its variants to mean “a stretch of low-lying land adjacent to the sand” or “low-lying fertile plain”—which doesn’t seem relevant here, unless it was so named by people living on the higher grounds.  It seems odd… As does the alignment of the stones.  When Nina Harris stood between the stones with a compass to work out the cardinal points, the stone that was leaning was due north of the upright stone.  When she walked several yards away from them, the compass deviated and we were given a more northeast-southwest alignment from stone to stone.  This isn’t too unusual as we find similar magnetic anomalies at other megalithic sites in Britain (see Devereux 1989), due to a variety of geophysical ingredients.

Royal Commission 1954 photo

Royal Commission 1954 photo

Not that your bog standard archaeo-tomes ever mention magnetic anomalies, as basic physics is too complex a subject for your standard archaeo-types!  Instead however, we just get the usual measurements and data-sets, much as the Royal Commission (1963) lads gave us after their visit here in 1954—but at least there was no forest when they came here!  They were fortunate.  “These two stones,” they told us,

“stand on a slight eminence in open moorland, half a mile ENE of Waterhead farmhouse and at an elevation of 850ft… Described by Nimmo’s editor as “a Druidical remain”, they have also been nown as the Machar Stones.  The more northerly stone, a four-sided pillar of irregular section, has fallen almost prostrate and its whole length, 7ft 6in, is revealed.  At the centre it measures 3ft in width by 2ft 6in in breadth.  The other stone stands 4ft 6in further S.  It is a slab…standing to a height of 5ft and measuring about 2ft in thickness.  Its width is 2ft 8in at ground level, 3ft 8in at a point 2ft above this, and 2ft at the top.”

They posit the idea that the reason the taller stone is leaning at such an angle was due to there being a prehistoric cist nearby which had been ‘excavated’ by peoples unknown, who then took it upon themselves to explore the Machar Stones with similar venture.

The 'cup-marked' stone

The ‘cup-marked’ stone

In recent years it has been said that there are cup-markings on the leaning stone, seven of them apparently.  When we visited yesterday they were difficult to make out.  There were a number of ‘cups’ on the stone, but these were debatable and seemed more the result of conglomerate disintegration than man-made.  A couple of them were perhaps ‘possibles’.  However, the light was poor and I’d prefer another visit before making my mind up!

The Machar Stones are quite evocative megaliths, despite their lack of grandeur.  Maybe it was the snow.  Maybe it was the trees.  Maybe it was me.  Or probably a mix of all three and more; but this had a real feel to the place.  Well hidden, miles from human touch or visits, awaiting just the occasional visitor—and in this weather (of floods, downpours, cold and snow) saturated humans would be the only sorts of crazy people whose spirits would risk getting completely lost to find them.  And my god were they worth the effort!  Paul, Nina and I thought so anyway!

References:

  1. Burl, Aubrey, From Carnac to Callanish, Yale University Press 1993.
  2. Devereux, Paul, Places of Power, Blandford: London 1990.
  3. Feachem, Richard, Guide to Prehistoric Scotland, Batsford: London 1977.
  4. Grant, William (ed.), Scottish National Dictionary – volume 6, SNDA: Edinburgh 1963.
  5. Hutchison, A.F., “The Standing Stones of Stirling District,” in The Stirling Antiquary, volume 1, 1893.
  6. Nimmo. William, History of Stirlingshire, Andrew Bean: Stirling 1817.
  7. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments Scotland, Stirlingshire – volume 1, HMSO: Edinburgh 1963.
  8. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Archaeological Sites and Monuments of Stirling District, Central Region, Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 1979.
  9. Smith, H. Guthrie, Strathendrick and its Inhabitants from Early Times, James Maclehose: Glasgow 1896.
  10. Thom, A., Thom, A.S. & Burl, Aubrey, Stone Rows and Standing Stones – 2 volumes, BAR: Oxford 1990.

Acknowledgements:  Huge thanks to Nina Harris and Paul Hornby for their endurance and endeavor in locating these great old stones, in attendance with the great rain, snow and deep muddy bogs!

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.029423, -4.156546 Machar Stones

Whispering Knights, Rollright, Oxfordshire

Chambered Tomb:  OS Grid Reference – SP 29936 30841

Also Known as:

  1. Five Knights

Getting Here

William Stukeley's 1743 drawing
William Stukeley’s 1743 drawing

Follow the directions to reach the Rollrights stone circle, from Chipping Norton.  Walk past the entrance to the circle along the road for a coupla hundred yards, keeping your eyes peeled looking into the field on your right.  You’ll notice the large rocky mass of these Knights a hundred yards down in the field, which can be reached by a footpath running straight along the old hedge from the roadside straight to the collapsed tomb.

Archaeology & History

The Whispering Knights
The Whispering Knights

A brilliant site—albeit nowhere like how it once was—where I slept a few times when I lived in the old hut at the Rollright stone circle down the road.  A field-mouse lived here when I slept at the place and, hopefully, its ancestors still reside hereby (Rollright Trust’s poisons notwithstanding!).  On my first encounter with the little fella, I felt him running into my waist-side whilst laying, dozing in the old tomb.  He nudged into me—then again —and yet again; before I leaned over to see what was going on!  And the little mouse looked up at me, without a care in the world, as if to say, “What are you doing lying on my path!? Can I get past please?” (though I’d not had a bath for a good 3 months, so didn’t smell like any modern human, which I think explained his total lack of fear)

Laying there, I smiled at the little fella, who then decided to jump up the side of my waist and walk over the top of me to get to the other side!  He jumped down into the grasses and disappeared!  However, a few minutes later, I felt another tiny ‘thud’ at my side and looked down to see the same lovely mouse wanting to go back along his obviously traditional route – and looking up at me again, whiskers twitching inquisitively, realised I was still here; and so once again took it upon himself to climb over the scruffy smelly human-sort who was blocking his route!

He was a gorgeous little mouse and we got to know each other quite well over the unwashed springs and summers I slept here….. But anyway, that’s not what you folks are interested in hearing about!  Back to the archaeo-shit

The Whispering Knights is one of the main sites in the cluster known collectively as the Rollright Stones, which also comprises of the standing stone commonly called the King Stone, plus the King’s Men stone circle a coupla hundred yards down the road from the Knights.  They all sit atop of the ridge which separates the counties of Oxfordshire and Warwickshire along the edge of the prehistoric road known as the Jurassic Way. The sites are non-contemporaneous having been erected over a period of many centuries.  The Whispering- or Five Knights are by far the oldest part of the complex dating from a period never previously anticipated.  They comprise of four upright megaliths in close proximity, and a fifth fallen stone which is said to be the capstone on the original monument.  This stone alone weighs some 10 tons.

The general archaeological opinion is that the place is a ‘portal dolmen burial chamber’ of which the capstone has fallen.  The Oxford archaeologist George Lambrick (1988) postulated the stones to have been covered with a mound of earth, but any evidence supporting this has long since gone.

1920s postcard of the site
1920s postcard of the site
The Knights in 1995
The Knights in 1995

This great monument was initially thought by archaeologists to have been built sometime around 1800 BCE—a favourite date of academics for many an unexcavated site for many decades—until they turned their astute attention to the place in the 1980s.  And what they found was astonishing.  Well…astonishing for the archaeologists!  Affirming the local folk tradition that the Knights were the “oldest monuments in Oxfordshire,” the dates truly went back.  Way back!  Datable remains at the site gave results from between 3500 and 3800 BCE: two thousand years earlier than anyone had ever expected of them.

Although five stones remain of the site, when the great William Stukeley (1743) visited the Whispering Knights, he described six of them to be visible with the great stones here to be sat upon a tumulus, saying:

“Tis composed of six stones, one broader for the back part, two and two narrower for the sides, set square to the former; and above all, as a cover, a still larger. The opening is full west to the temple or Rowldrich.  It stands on a round tumulus, and has a fine prospect southwestward down the valley, where the head of the Evenlode runs.”

O.G.S. Crawford (1932) told us of a description which Sir Henry Dryden gave of the Knights in 1898, when he wrote:

“About 356 yards E from the (Rollright) circle and S of the road, is the dolmen about to be described, called the Five Whispering Knights.  It is in a ruinous state.  It now consists of four stones, upright, or nearly so, and one prostrate, all of coarse limestone…

  1. Height, 8ft 3ins (4ft by 2ft 6ins)
  2.     ”      , 7ft 3ins (3ft 6ins by 1ft 10ins)
  3.     ”      , 6ft 7ins (3ft 8ins by 1ft 4ins)
  4.     ”      , 5ft 4ins (4ft 9ins by 2ft)
  5. Capstone (then fallen), 8ft 4ins by 5ft 9ins, by 2ft 4ins

“The chamber appears to have been about 5 feet 6 inches W and E, and the same N and S.  If, as usual, there was an entrance, with or without a passage, it was probably to the ENE… There is not, so far as I know, any record of remains having been found in this dolmen.  In a small stone pit about 700 feet NE by E from the circle it is stated that 12 skulls were found in 1835.  In another stone pit near it was found in 1836 an urn and beads…”

1840 plan by Lukis & Dryden
1840 plan by Lukis & Dryden

During the last century, very little has really changed at the Knights.  The ring fencing surrounding the stones has kept it pretty much protected, despite it ruining all sense of healthy ambience.  But they have gained greater and greater attention the older they have got.  Archaeologists are not the only ones exploring the site.  Fascinated astronomers, engineers and architects have been and seemingly uncovered other mythic ingredients here.

When the legendary Alexander Thom came here, he used the archaeological data that was being espoused at the time, which said the Knights and the Rollright stones had both been built around 1750 to 1800 BC.  With these dates as his guide, he found that someone standing at the centre of the Rollright circle, on the morning of the equinoxes—March 21 and September 21—the sun would rise right above the Whispering Knights.  And the effect, he thought, was a notable one: with the light from the rising sun going straight through a hole in one of the stones in the circle as it rose up behind the Knights.  It would have looked both spectacular and eerie in the rising mists of first light, like a laser cutting through the still morning air… However, although Thom’s measurements were very accurate, the archaeologists had got their dates wrong.  Very wrong!  For the Whispering Knights were about 1500 years older than the stone circle—and so the alignments Thom pronounced, based on the archaeologist’s erroneous proclamations, were also incorrect.

There may be other alignments connected to the Rollright complex.  In a survey of the site as part of the Dragon Project experiments conducted here in June 1980, Leslie Banks and Christopher Stanley flew over the place and found, adjacent to the Whispering Knights, a quite distinct “trace of two dark green parallel lines in a field of ripening corn” running northwest to the roadside.  To this day nobody quite understands the nature of this enigmatic alignment:

“In the absence of excavation we can only speculate,” said Stanley.  “But the most likely explanation is that it is what archaeologists refer to as a Cursus.  Cursuses are thought to be prehistoric religious processional ways.”

As with many of the alignments described here, the jury is still out on this one!

Folklore

The folklore here is prodigious!  The prime story of the neolithic tomb of the Whispering Knights tells that originally they were in fact a group of traitors who moved away from a King and his army in ages past, and who were plotting against him, when the great Witch of Rollright (a southern version of the great cailleach, found in more northern counties, Scotland and Ireland) turned them all to stone (this tale is intimately bound up with the King’s Men stone circle and the associated King’s Stone).

Another tale tells how the King Stone and the Whispering Knights venture, at midnight, less than half a mile south to drink from a spring in the small woodland at Little Rollright Spinney, although it is difficult to ascertain precisely which of the two springs the stones are supposed to visit.  In some accounts, the stones reputedly drink from the well every night, but others tell that they only go there at certain times of the year, or on saint’s days.  When Arthur Evans (1895) wrote of these tales he described there being a “gap in the bushes… through which they go down to the water,” but the terrain has altered since his day.

Other accounts imbuing the stones with life tell how they only ‘awaken’ when disturbed by humans.  A story well-known to local people is that of when the Knights had its capstone removed one day by a farmer who used it to build a bridge across the stream at Little Rollright. As Evans told us,

“it took a score of horses to drag it down the hill, for at first it would not move, and they had to strain and strain to get it along till every bit of the harness was broken.   At last they got it to the brook by Rollright Farm, and with great difficulty laid it across to serve as a bridge. But every night the stone turned over back again and was found in the morning lying on the grass.”

Three nights of this led the farmer to think he should replace the stone which, so the fable goes, took only one horse to move it back uphill and into position.  A variation of the same tale was told by T.H. Ravenhill, who wrote:

“The Lord of the Manor of Little Rollright desired to possess the King’s Stone in order to bridge Little Rollright brook. So he dug it up and tried to cart it away, but found that he had not enough horses. He hitched on more, and yet more, and still he found that he could not move the stone. Finally he succeeded and hauled the stone away to the Manor House. The same night he was alarmed by strange sounds about the house, which he attributed to the presence of the King’s Stone, and decided, therefore, to replace it on its mound.  No sooner had he harnessed the first horse to the cart than it galloped away up hill with ease, taking with it the stone, which leapt to position on reaching its resting place.”

There are still more variations that are worth mentioning. One from 1876,

“said that a miller in Long Compton, thinking the stone would be useful in damming the water of his mill, carried it away and used it for that purpose, but he found that whatever water was dammed up in the day disappeared in the night, and thinking it was done by the witches (at Long Compton) and that they would punish him for his impertinence in removing the stone, he took it back again; and, though it required three horses to take it to Long Compton, one easily brought it back.”

In yet another version, the stone was wanted by a local farmer for his outhouse.  In taking it downhill, the horses that pulled his wagon died and the vehicle itself was irreparably damaged.  It got even worse for the poor chap: his crops failed, his family were taken ill and his cattle died.  Eventually when all but his last horse remained, he made another cart and it pulled the stone back uphill with ease.  Thereafter, so the tale goes, all his adversities stopped and he lived a normal life.  In one version of this tale, the great monolith was said to have been taken north-north-west down to the stream at The Hollows, Long Compton.  Tales such as these are, once more, found throughout the world.

The truth of these stories was seemingly unquestionable to some local people in the 19th century,

“one man going as far as to say that there were those now living who had spoken to men who had helped to bring the stone down and up again.”

In William Stukeley’s day, one Farmer Baker was so troubled by his actions that he couldn’t rest until he returned the old stone.

The doyen of the early geodelic sciences or Earth Mysteries movement, John Michell, suggested how the legends of megaliths moving of their own accord harked back to ancient days when the people of those times were more attuned to the terrestrial magnetic flows of the Earth.

The Whispering Knights were also a place where “young girls of the neighbourhood (use it as) a kind of primitive oracle.”  One local told Arthur Evans that around barley harvest the young women of the district visited the Five Knights to listen to them whisper.  One at a time they would rest their ears against the strange shapes of stone and, if fortune and conditions were right, they would hear the future told.  This mass of animistic lore is very revealing indeed, telling us much about the way our peasant ancestors viewed the living world around them. (Eliade 1958)

In more recent times, the site has been explored by dowsers and ley hunters, who claim to have found a veritable bags of fascinating lost material around the Knights.  Although originally ‘leys’ were described by Alfred Watkins as quite acceptable prehistoric trackways linking site to site to site, in recent years the original theory has been ignored and superceded with a host of almost incredulous fluctuations.  Leys these days can run just about anywhere – and do!

One writer who tells about the leys around Whispering Knights is Lawrence Main. (1997) He dowsed and found a ley running south to the famous White Horse at Uffington.  Roy Cooper (1979) was the first person to write about this alignment and extended it further north to the impressive and legendary Brailles Hill. That one seems reasonable.  However,

“Other leys I dowsed,” said Main, “Linked the King Stone, the stone circle, and the Whispering Knights with each other; the King Stone with Banbury Cross; the Whispering Knights with Hook Norton church; and the stone circle with the churches at Todenham and Stretton-on-Fosse.”

Another dowsing ley hunter is Dennis Wheatley (not The Devil Rides Out dood).  He wrote a couple of short works on his lengthy experiments at the Rollright stones and reported how he found a

“tangential aerial energy course…across the country (which) latches on to a solitary standing stone, six miles south, known as the Hawk Stone.”

Perhaps of greater importance here is that Wheatley also discovered how,

“all of the Rollright ring’s stones engage in aerial energetic cross-talk with the King Stone producing a triangulation of energy lines.”

This cross-talk of Wheatley’s involves more than seventy energy lines running between the circle and the King’s Stone.  He tells us that a greater “aerial cross-talk” also occurs between the circle and the Knights; and “a lesser energetic triangulation” runs between the King and the Knights.

Along similar lines are the findings of the dowser Reginald Smith. (1980) Beneath the Whispering Knights he claimed to have found,

“a concealed spring which runs underground to the northwest and may betoken a consecrated site; but 100 feet to the east there seems to be another blind spring with issue to the northeast.”

…to be continued…

References:

  1. Bennett, Paul & Wilson, Tom, The Old Stones of Rollright and District, Cockley Press: London 1999.
  2. Burl, Aubrey, Great Stone Circles, Yale University Press: New York & London 1999.
  3. Cooper, Roy, ‘Some Oxfordshire Leys,’ in The Ley Hunter 86, 1979.
  4. Crawford, O.G.S., Long Barrows of the Cotswolds, John Bellows: Oxford 1932.
  5. Devereux, Paul, Places of Power, Blandford: London 1990.
  6. Devereux, Paul, The Sacred Place, Cassell: London 2000.
  7. Eliade, Mircea, Patterns in Comparative Religion, Sheed & Ward: London 1958.
  8. Evans, Arthur J., ‘The Rollright Stones and their Folklore (3 parts),’ in Folklore Journal, 1895.
  9. Gelling, Margaret, The Place-Names of Oxfordshire – volume 2, Cambridge University Press 1971.
  10. Graves, Tom, Dowsing: Techniques and Applications, Turnstone: London 1976.
  11. Grinsell, Leslie V., The Ancient Burial Mounds of England, Methuen: London 1936.
  12. Lambrick, George, The Rollright Stones: The Archaeology and Folklore of the Stones and their Surroundings, Oxford Archaeology Review 1983. (Reprinted and updated in 1988.)
  13. Main, Lawrence, Walks in Mysterious Oxfordshire, Sigma: Wilmslow 1997.
  14. Ravenhill, T.H., The Rollright Stones and the Men Who Erected Them, Little Rollright 1926.
  15. Robins, Don, Circles of Silence, Souvenir Press: London 1985.
  16. Smith, Reginald A., ‘Archaeological Dowsing,’ in Graves, Tom (ed.), Dowsing and Archaeology (Turnstone: Wellingborough 1980).
  17. Stanley, Christopher C., ‘A Rollright Processional Way?’ in The Ley Hunter 90, 1981.
  18. Stuart, Sheila, Lifting the Latch, Oxford University Press 1987.
  19. Stukeley, William, Abury: A Temple of the British Druids, London 1743.
  20. Thom, Alexander, Megalithic Sites in Britain, Oxford University Press 1967.
  21. Wheatley, Dennis, The Rollright Ring, Braden Press: Swindon n.d. (c.1990)

Links

  1. The Whispering Knights on The Megalithic Portal

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Whispering Knights

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Whispering Knights 51.975249, -1.565603 Whispering Knights

Kerrycrusach, Bute, Argyll

Tumulus:  OS Grid Reference – NS 08878 61033

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 40375
  2. Scoulag Moor

Getting Here

Liz Sykes, Saul and I wandered up to see this lovely spot a few years ago, to be found perched upon the top of the grassy boggy ridge a few hundred yards southeast of the Kerrycrusach houses (a coupla miles south of Rothesay, down the B881, on your left-hand [east] side). There are a few easy ways to get up here and it’s a nice amble, though you’ll get yer legs pretty wet if She’s been raining!

Archaeology & History

It was pouring with rain when I visited this small round tumulus with Liz, but a damn good view opened 360-degrees all round us when we hit the spot, the old tomb talking with others scattered on a select few hilltops from here: an obviously important ingredient to those who put it here.  Mentioned only briefly in Marshall’s (1978) archaeological survey as being “seen on the skyline looking south from the West Road,” one side of the tomb had fallen away slightly, revealing numerous large pieces of quartz rocks in the construction: another obviously important ingredient (for whatever reason) to the doods who built it.  The tomb, deemed as Bronze Age by Marshall, is about 3-4 feet high above the moorland and about forty feet across. Although this tomb officially sits alone here, it’s likely there are other sites close by that have yet to be found.

If little Saul (7 year-old at the time) wouldn’t have been all freezing and saturated and dying to get back home, I’d have sat on top of this old tomb for quite sometime. Twas a fine feeling: hills talking with hills, tombs with tombs, and a soaking-wet Paulus breathing the tranquility of it all.

References:

  1. Marshall, Dorothy N., History of Bute, Bute Museum 1978.

Links:

  1. RCAHMS: Kerrycrusach, Scoulag Moor, Bute – The archaeological info on this old tomb, from the hallowed database of the Royal Commission for Ancient & Historic Monuments, Scotland.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  55.804611, -5.051038 Kerrycrusach

Carmyllie Hill, Greystone, Angus

Cairn:  OS Grid Reference – NO 545 434

Also Known as:

  1. Fairyfold Hillock
  2. Fairy Folk Hillock

Folklore

An intriguing site this, as it doesn’t appear to be in the Canmore archaeological register – unless it’s the Canmore site 34750.  Yet Alexander MacGregor (1937) mentions the place in his folklore study as being a site where the little people lived.  Shown on the first OS-map of the region as ‘Fairyfold Hillock’, Mr MacGregor (1937) said of it:

“Near the summit of Carmylie Hill is a large barrow or tumulus, which was believed at one time by the natives to be a favourite haunt of the fairies, where, with much splendour, they held their nightly revels. It still bears the name of ‘Fairy-Folk Hillock.'”

However it seems that quarrying operations may have destroyed the site.  The tomb here was probably the same one described by Mr Andrew Jervise in the Journal of the Kilkenny and South East of Ireland Archaeological Society (1864-66), where he wrote:

“Many years ago I took note of another example of these ‘footmarks,’ which was found in the parish of Carmyllie…  This was discovered in the course of making agricultural improvements some thirty-five years ago, on which occasion stone coffins or cists were got, and in one of these was a bronze (?) ring, of about three inches in diameter, now said to be lost.  Apart from the cists there was a rude boulder of about two tons weight; and upon the lower side of it, as my informant told me, was scooped the representation of a human foot. This too was associated with the elves; for the hillock upon which these discoveries were made was called the ‘fairies’ knowe;’ and tradition says that, but for a spirit that warned the workmen to suspend operations when they began to prepare for the foundations of the parish church, the church would have been built upon that spot!”

References:

  1. MacGregor, Alexander, Highland Superstitions, Eneas MacKay: Stirling 1937.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.580691, -2.741459 Carmyllie Hill

Serpent Mound, Scallasaig, Glen More, Inverness-shire

Cairn:  OS Grid Reference – NG 848 202

Folklore

I’m presuming that this burial site is the right one, described in the fine Mr MacGregor’s Peat Fire Flame (1937) as being “by the roadside up near Scallasaig.”  There certainly doesn’t appear to be another alternative site close by (though if I’ve got it wrong, someone please lemme know!).  This place was, said MacGregor, a site “where the people in olden times used to worship the serpent.”

MacGregor spoke with a local man about the myths here and asked how long it had been associated with serpents.

“Och, about two thousand years,” said Mr John MacRae. “The mound was in the shape of a serpent, and when the chief of the people would die, he would be buried in the head of the serpent..”

He continued, saying, “One from London, that was going about searching things like that, opened the mound, and they found in the mound a big stone coffin with a big stone slab on the top. And there the bowl was found with the ashes of the chief of the people at that time. The bowl was taken to the Manse. That’s about fifty years ago. It was there for a few months; and they took it to Edinburgh, to some museum or something. They were saying that there was a funny noise in the Manse when the bowl was lying there. If there was any treasure in the bowl, or in the grave along with the bowl, it was taken out before. You see, had he any treasure – the chief like – guns and money and the like – I’m sure they wouldn’t be putting much money in the grave. It would be going into the grave with the dead man, so, when he would rise in the next world, he would be ready to start at the same game as he was carrying on here on Earth.”

This sounds a little like the folk-memory of an idea of a heathen afterlife – and of course it’d make sense finding such lore here at a tomb.

I’ve come across references to several other serpent mounds scattering the western side of Scotland, but their exact locations have proven hard to pin down. It makes y’ wonder how many more there once were before the christian paradigm became entangled in the myths of the country people.

References:

  1. MacGregor, Alisdair Alpin, The Peat-Fire Flame: Folk-Tales and Traditions of the Highlands and Islands, Ettrick Press: Edinburgh 1937.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  57.222206, -5.565268 Serpent Mound

Barnhill, Jura, Argyll

Cairn:  OS Grid Reference – NR 7057 9700

Archaeology & History

Very close to being at the top of the island.  If you do manage to get here take a gander at the legendary Gulf of Corryvreckan: one of the largest whirlpools on Earth, where the cailleach swirled her stuff when angry! This is the ‘hill where sorrel grows,’ and where George Orwell wrote 1984 – but more important for us is where the Royal Commission for Historic & Ancient Monuments of Scotland (Argyll, vol.5) designated that,

“a stony mound about 5.5m in diameter and 0.5m high, situated on the crest of the ridge east of Barnhill, appears to be a prehistoric burial cairn.”

Sadly I never managed to check this out when I was last up here as I didn’t know it was here!

References:

  1. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Argyll: volume 5 – Islay, Jura, Colonsay and Oronsay, HMSO: Edinburgh 1984.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.110510, -5.691511 Barnhill cairn

Ardminish, Gigha, Argyll

Cist:  OS Grid Reference – NR 6495 4890

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 38528

Archaeology & History

When the Scottish Royal Commission lads came here in 1963, they reported seeing

“the remains of a short cist…set into the west side of a small turf-covered knoll some 18 metres north of the schoolhouse at Ardminish.”

It was first found during quarrying operations here, and was thankfully kept pretty well preserved, apart from the western slab, which was dislodged and fell to the foot of the knoll. The cist aligns roughly north-south (the airt, or cardinal virtue of ‘death’ is north) and measured about 3 feet long by 2 feet wide.

References:

  1. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, Argyll: volume 1 – Kintyre,  HMSO: Edinburgh 1971.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  55.676531, -5.739929 Ardminish

Stoodley Pike Circle, Mankinholes, West Yorkshire

Ring Cairn (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – SD 9730 2418

Getting Here

Stoodley Pike is unmissable! Get to either Hebden Bridge or Todmorden – ask someone – then get to it! Nice climb – nice view – excellent moors all round!

Archaeology & History

Artist’s impression of Stoodley Pike Circle (bottom left of ruin)

All traces of this site have gone, but local gossip still tells there was once something here. When building work commenced on the huge folly in 1814, in clearing the ground “an accumulation of stones (and)…a quantity of bones” were unearthed. After the huge folly had been built, a curious ritual was made by local Freemasons, from here to the nearby Slake Well. The circle was only a small one, but ideal for the spirit of the ancestor to both look-out from, and fly across the landscape.  In another description of the place from 1832 — wrote E.M. Savage (1974) — local writer and poet, William Law, told how “a rude heap of stones had stood on the site from time immemorial.”

Folklore

Suggested by earlier writers to have been an old beacon site, though evidence for this is uncertain.  The site was said to be a meeting place of the “gude grannies,” who met here and told old stories.  E.M. Savage (1974) told us:

“Another story was that the cairn marked the grave of an old chietain and that the bones of a human skeleton had been found… A contemporary of (William) Law, called Holt…stated that this was so.  Another story was that someone had been murdered and buried there.  Many years later, Law quizzed the workmen.  Bones had been found but no one knew whose bones, or their age, so the mystery remained.

“Yet another story had it that the occupant, presumably owner, of Stoodley, had to keep the original Pike, the cairn, in neat and good order.  If a single stone was out of place, no one could sleep.  The banging of doors and other noises started up, to remind the owner to tidy up the stones.  Elusive flames were to be seen playing round the stones. Sor the stories went.”

As can be seen in the artist’s drawing above, done more than a century after the cairn had been destroyed, a ring of stones is shown just below the remains of the earlier of the Peace Monuments, which today carries the old name of Stoodley Pike.

References:

  1. Booth, Thomas, Ancient Grave Mounds on the Slopes of the Pennine Range, R. Chambers: Todmorden 1899.
  2. Savage, E.M., Stoodley Pike, Todmorden Antiquarian Society 1974.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  53.714030, -2.042387 Stoodley Pike cairn

Skirtful of Stones, Horton-in-Ribblesdale, North Yorkshire

Cairn (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – SD 785 747

Getting Here

Although apparently long gone, we could find this giant prehistoric tomb on the eastern side of the great Ingleborough and was one of many with this name once scattering the mid-Pennines. It was found less than a mile south of the hamlet of Selside, a few miles above Horton-in-Ribblesdale, on the west side of the B6479 and its existence is thankfully preserved in the place-name, ‘Borrens’, where the giant tomb was once found, 200 yards south of Gill Garth Farm.  If you look on the OS-map, you’ll notice an ancient settlement site close by.

Archaeology & History

In 1892, the great Yorkshire historian Harry Speight told us:

“We have no proper account of it, but it was doubtless ransacked and removed in the expectation of finding treasure. It is mentioned…in the Gentleman’s Magazine for 1761, as follows:

‘In the valley above Horton, near the base of this mountain (Ingleborough), I observed a large heap or pile of greet-stones all thrown promiscuously together, without any appearance of building or workmanship, which yet cannot be reasonably thought to be the work of Nature. Few stones are found near it, though ’tis computed to contain 400 of that country cart-loads of stones, or upwards. There is likewise another at the base north-east, in resemblance much the same, but scarce so large.'”

Speight speculated that it may have been raised to commemorate “some dire conflict between the Romans and the native hill tribes, as it lay on the old Roman thoroughfare across Ribblehead to the camp under Smearside.” We may never know this for sure, but there are plenty of Iron- and Bronze Age remains scattering this region – and just a few hundred yards south of this lost cairn are the old remnants of an ancient settlement…whose pages and images (it is hoped) will appear on TNA in the near future…

References:

  1. Smith, A.H., English Place-Name Elements, volume 1, Cambridge University Press 1956.
  2. Smith, A.H., Place-Names of the West Riding, volume 6, Cambridge University Press 1961.
  3. Speight, Harry, The Craven and Northwest Yorkshire Highlands, Elliott Stock: London 1892.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian 

Skirtful of Stones

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Skirtful of Stones 54.167643, -2.330808 Skirtful of Stones

Scale House, Rylstone, North Yorkshire

Tumulus:  OS Grid Reference – SD 97088 56870

Getting Here

Pretty simple really.  Go up the B6265 Skipton-Rylstone road for about 3 miles, past the Nettlehole Ridge woodland on your right.  The next turn along to your right, up the track, is Scale House.  Go past this until you get to Scale House Farm.  The remains of the burial mound is in the field to your left, just before the farm.  Knock on the door and ask!

Archaeology & History

This ‘tumulus’ (as it’s marked on the OS-map) was one of the many explored by the legendary reverend William Greenwell (1864) in the middle to latter-half of the 19th century.  His description of the finds at Scale House were considerable; thankfully our old Yorkshire antiquarian Edmund Bogg (1904) shortened it and told us the following:

“The tumulus was 31 feet in diameter and about 7 feet high; it opened from the southeast; the soil immediately under the sod consisting of yellow clay to a considerable depth; then layers of blue clay… Exactly in the centre…at a depth of 7 feet, and on a level with the plane of the field, was found an oak coffin, formed out of a tree, split and hollowed-out, and placed due north and south, the head being placed to the south, as that as the larger part of the tree. After being exposed to the air for about 2 minutes, the bared coffin parted at the sides, and could not be moved except by detached pieces. The body had been wrapped in a cloth or shroud of texture resembling wool and coarsely-woven, of which there was a considerable quantity remaining; but the body itself was dissolved… The interment was considered to be that of an ancient Briton… The learned antiquary said it was the only instance (except the one at Gristhorpe, near Scarborough) where an interment in an oak tree hollowed out had a tumulus placed over it. It was more than 6 feet in length inside and about 7 feet 6 inches outside. The remains were carefully replaced and the mound restored to its former shape; a small leaden tablet being placed within, stating that it had been opened in AD 1864.”

Folklore

Jessica Lofthouse (1976) listed this as one of the places reputed to be an old fairy haunt, wherein “the folk of Scale House discovered a fairy kist or chest.”

References:

  1. Bogg, Edmund, Higher Wharfeland, James Miles: Leeds 1904.
  2. Greenwell, William, British Barrows, Clarendon Press: Oxford 1877.
  3. Lofthouse, Jessica, North Country Folklore, Hale: London 1976.

Links:

  1. Out of Oblivion: Archaeology and Notes – Directions and notices on this once giant tomb.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Scale House tumulus

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Scale House tumulus 54.007842, -2.045921 Scale House tumulus