Along the A81 road from Port of Menteith to Aberfoyle, watch out for the small road in the trees running at an angle sharply uphill, nearly opposite Portend, up to Coldon and higher. Keep going, bearing right past Mondowie and stopping at the dirt-track 100 yards or so further up on the left. Walk up this dirt-track for ⅔ mile, and just before reaching the planted forestry, turn right along another dirt-track. Less than 200 yards along there’s a large sycamore tree, and about 20 yards below it (south) are several open flat rock surfaces. This is the most westerly of them.
Archaeology & History
On this small smooth rock surface we find an almost archetypal cup-and-ring stone, whose design consists of a double cup-and-ring and a faint cup-and-ring. The double-ring has several seemingly natural small fissures in the rock running at various angles into the central cup from the outside; and there are two faint ones running from the double-rings outwards to the cup-mark in the single-ring, framing the central cupmark in the middle. It may have been that these scratches on the rock gave rise to the position of the cupmark in this petroglyph. It’s difficult to see whether or not the single cup-and-ring was ever completed.
Canmore’s description of this petroglyph tells simply: “The larger of the two is 180mm in diameter and has two rings around a cup that is 70mm in diameter and 15mm deep. The smaller has one ring around a cup.”
Along the A81 road from Port of Menteith to Aberfoyle, watch out for the small road in the trees running at an angle sharply uphill, nearly opposite Portend, up to Coldon and higher. Keep going, bearing right past Mondowie and stopping at the dirt-track 100 yards or so further up on the left. Walk up this dirt-track for ⅔ mile, and just before reaching the planted forestry, turn right along another dirt-track. Less than 200 yards along there’s a large sycamore tree, and about 20 yards below it (south) is the carving you’re looking for.
Archaeology & History
It’s difficult keeping up with the carvings in this region to the north of the Lake of Menteith, as we find new unrecorded ones on every visit, maintaining the tradition of fellow rock art students Maarten van Hoek, Kaledon Naddair, George Currie, Jan Broewer and the rest—and we know that there’s more of them hidden away. This one doesn’t seem to be in the Canmore listings, but I put that down to the fact that they’ve got a grid-references wrong somewhere, as it’s pretty plain to see. Although, to be honest, in the rather vague descriptions of the adjacent carvings (Over Glenny 4 and 6), this carving is in-between them, so you’d expect it to be listed. Anyway, that aside…
This long flat exposed rock surface has two primary cup-and-rings upon it: one cup with a double-ring, and the other standard cup-and-ring; there are also two single cup-markings on the stone: one near the middle of the rock and the other on its lower-right side. The main element is the double-cup-and-ring, which appears to be incomplete—not only in terms of its design, but also, as you can see in the photos, seems unfinished. From the central double-ring, a faint carved line runs out from the centre and into the other faint, incomplete, single cup-and-ring.
At the bottom of the stone (as with several others hereby) a curious set of deep scars have been cut into the edge of the rock. They’re unmistakable when you see them. They have probably been created by metal artifacts being sharpened along the bottom of the rock—many many times by the look of it. These deep cuts reminded me of the more famous Polisher Stone, down Avebury-way. They may be explained by the fact that, several centuries ago, a battle occurred here and some of the men gathered in the area before the attack. It would seem as if this and the other cup-and-ring stones were used to sharpen their blades before going into battle. Whether this was done because of some local lore which imbued these stones with some sort of magick, we do not know. Folklore here seems curiously scarce (english incomers destroyed local traditions, as writers were telling us in the 19th century), apart from the well-known one of the area being rife with fairies: Robert Kirk’s famous The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Faeries (1691) was written three miles west of here, at Aberfoyle.
This large cup-marked stone was known by local people as the Clach na Sithean, or the stone of the fairies. Its smooth surface and well-cut grooves was said to be due to the fairies sharpening their knives upon it, and the straight cuts or grooves were tests of the keenness of their blades.
In addition to the fairies having hold over this stone, a brownie creature also roamed between here and the burn of Allt Mor. Although a dutiful creature, he commonly used to scare the women when they returned from the ceilidhs by chasing them and screaming a curious noise at them. But as well as this, he would also enter the local houses and farms after nightfall and, when the local folk were asleep, would clean the supper dishes and put them in their rightful places. But if there was no work to be done once he had entered their homes, he would take the dishes out and place them on the floors where they would be found in the morning by perplexed householders. Then they’d know that the brownie had visited. Sometimes he was a great help to the housewives, other times a nuisance. He became known to local people as Puddlefoot, or Cas an Lubain, but so offended was he by the name when he heard it, that he let out an almighty scream and vanished, never to be seen again.
Kennedy, James, Folklore and Reminiscences of Strathtay and Grandtully, Munro Press: Perth 1927.
We were graciously guided to this spot by local archaeological authority, Pete Glastonbury — which is good, cos otherwise it’d have probably taken us all day to find the damn thing! Best way to get here is out of the Avebury circle, east, up for about a mile up the Herepath or Green Street till you hit the ancient track of the Ridgeway. Turn left and walk up the gentle slope for another 350 yards or so, then note the footpath on your right. Go down the slope for about 150 yards, keeping your eyes peeled for the smooth rock with the slits in it, not far from the Holed Stone!
Archaeology & History
Although classified on the Wiltshire Sites & Monuments Record as an “unclassified feature,” this is one of a number of whetstones (as we call ’em up North) that feature in various settings in and around the Avebury region: literally, a rock used for sharpening axes, daggers and other metallic artifacts. First rediscovered in the spring of 1963 by a Mr Inigo Jones when he was out exploring the many rocks hereby for rare lichens and any more cup-markings like the one at nearby Fyfield Down, the site we see today is merely a long piece of stone with five or six long lines or grooves cut into the top-end, along which the ancient weapons and tools slid and cut into the rock, sharpening them.
It was thought until recently that this was the prime function of this stone; but following excavation work done here by Pete Fowler and his team in 1963, it seems that the stone actually stood upright! Digs were made on three sides of the stone and some earlier disturbance seemed apparent:
“The material appeared to be redeposited on top of an earlier ground surface, inferentially of medieval or earlier date. At the north end of the sarsen bench, the lip of a pit or trench was partly excavated. It showed clearly in plan as a feature dug into the top of an undated surface level with the disturbed top of the clay-with-flints; it was filled with flinty, clayey humus similar to that through which it was cut. In the top of that fill was a heavily weathered sarsen, c 0.6m by 0.45m, and a cluster of smaller, broken sarsen stones. The hole was at least 0.45m deep, its bottom as excavated marked by an increase in the density of flints. The evidence, though incomplete, suggested very strongly that the feature was part of a hole dug to take the pollisoir as an upright stone.” (my italics, Ed)
In the same dig, a medieval coin of King John (1199-1216) and the remains of a medieval horseshoe were found beneath the stone, giving Fowler and his team the notion that the stone had been split and pushed over at this period. Consistent evidence of activity from the neolithic period onwards was expected and found here.
In Lacaille’s (1963) original description of the site, he gave a most accurate description of the dimensions of the stone and its incisions. Highlighting its proximity to a cluster of other stones, as well as being close to a wide ditch, Lacaille’s measurements were thus:
“From 1ft (0.31m) above ground at its south end the regular surface of the sarsen slopes to the grass, its main axis being aligned about 15° west of the true north and south line. In length the stone measures 5ft 6in (1.68m) above the grass, and 2ft 10in (0.86m) in width.
“Closely grouped in the south-eastern corner of the sarsen there are six hollows. In plan the largest and southernmost is of long elliptical shape, 1ft 8in (0.5m) long and 9in (0.23m) at widest and 1in (0.0254m) deep. From its wider end near the eastern long margin there protrudes a short groove. Beside this, and curving slightly inward, there is another groove, 1¼in (0.028m) wide and ½in (0.013m) deep. It is as long as the large basin-like cavity. Next to it there runs one of similar length and width, but of only half the depth. In turn, a third groove, ½in (0.013m) wide, 1ft 8in (0.5m) long, has been worn at right angles to the long edge but to a much deeper hollow than its companions. At 2in (o.051m) to the north a lesser version of the main basin occurs. Like this it measures 1ft 8in (0.5m) in length, but is only 2¼in (0.058m) wide and ¾in (0.016m) deep. Vague in places over its interior length of 10in (0.25m), but attaining a maximum width of 1¼in (0.028m), a last hollowing shows faintly at both ends and nowhere deeper than 1/8in (0.0032m).”
It appears that this fallen standing stone was being used to sharpen knives and axes whilst it stood upright and, in all probability, as a result of this ability would have been possessed of magickal properties to our ancestors. Metalwork was an important province of shamanism and smiths, whose practices were deeply enmeshed in the very creation of mythical cosmologies. Hence, the simple act nowadays of sharpening metal tools onto rocks would not have been a mere profanity to the people who came and used this stone to re-empower their weapons, but would have been entwined within a magickal cosmology. The spirit inherent in this stone would likely have been named and recognised. Today it is forgotten…
It also seems that this standing stone was part of some ancient walling. Aerial views clearly show it along the line of some sort of enclosure that runs down the slope, along the bottom and back up and around. In the same stretch of this enclosure walling we find the Holed Stone a little further down the slope. And holed stones, as any student of folklore and occult history will tell you, have long-established magickal properties of their own…
Fowler, Peter, Landscape Plotted and Pierced: Landscape History and Local Archaeology in Fyfield and Overton, Wiltshire, Society of Antiquaries: London 2000.
Grigson, Geoffrey, The Shell Country Alphabet, Michael Joseph: London 1966.