Elkington’s Track, Burley Moor, West Yorkshire

Prehistoric Trackway:  OS Grid Reference – SE 13169 44111 to SE 13321 44172

Getting Here

Mr Elkington's newly uncovered prehistoric track

Mr Elkington’s newly uncovered prehistoric track

Get yourself to the Roms Law circle, by hook or by crook.  Then take the long almost straight footpath south, as if you’re heading to the very damaged Horncliffe Well (thanks to Yorkshire Water).  You’ll notice the fencing that runs parallel to the path eventually.  Nearly 400 yards along the parallel fenced line you reach the first decent-sized stream.  From here, walk upstream, keeping to its northern edges for another 300 yards—then walk 10-20 yards into the heather.  You’re damn close!

Archaeology & History

The site is named after Mr James Elkington who recently rediscovered this previously unmapped prehistoric trackway, close to where Burley Moor meets the western edge of Hawksworth Moor, on the greater Rombald’s complex.  And it’s a bloody good find if I might say so myself!  But, like so many sites covering the Rombald’s complex, it begs more questions than it answers.

2014 aerial view showing outline of trackway

2014 aerial view showing outline of trackway

2002 aerial view of trackway

2002 aerial view of trackway

The trackway is consistent in architectural design and dimensions with at least six of the eight prehistoric trackways that I’m aware of on these moors — none of which have ever been adequately mapped nor investigated by regional archaeologists (thankfully, there are folk like us around!).  This ninth trackway, upon initial investigation, may be the shortest of them all up here.

Section of large stones marking the track

Section of large stones marking the track

Overgrown section of track-edge

Overgrown section of track-edge

Elkington’s Track seems to begin its route about 10-20 yards north of the once large, fast-flowing stream of the Middle Beck—which in itself seems curious.  No trace of any trackway seems evident on the other side of this stream and there are no other prehistoric remains accounting for why it should begin here…

Walking along the track, it heads northeast for 80 yards, with low lines of raised parallel walling 4-5 yards apart defining the avenue, before it begins to bend round in a more easterly direction.  Thirty yards along this more easterly alignment, in the southern walled section, lays an eroded stone (SE 13255 44165) that seems to have stood upright in the not-too-distant past.  It seems to mark an opening or gap in the walled trackway and a large scatter of small stones, akin to the denuded remains of a cairn is evident just below the track at this point.  The raised embankment of the trackway keeps heading east, towards the line of Hawksworth Moor boundary stones.

More long line of walled edges

More long line of walled edges

Looking NE up the track

Looking NE up the track

Upon initial investigation, the trackway was visible for a minimum of 185 yards (169.4m) in length, whereafter any immediate trace of it disappeared into the ancient peat.  However, aerial views of it on GoogleEarth indicate a faint extension of the track, but these are difficult to apprehend at ground-level.  There is every possibility that this trackway eventually meets up with one of the four other prehistoric trackways near the Great Skirtful of Stones giant tomb, or even the North Road running past Roms Law—but until this can be ascertained, the trackway must be defined on its own merits.  Further heather-burning on the moors at either end would obviously enable a great examination of the remains.

In the event that the southernmost point of this trackway does begin above the Middle Beck stream, as seems apparent, we may be looking at a ceremonial trackway and not just a ‘road’ as we define them in the modern parlance of homo-profanus culture.  Think of it as a small version of The Avenue trackway that runs from Stonehenge outwards, past the Heel Stone and eventually bending down to the River Avon. (Burl 2006)  Y’ just never know…..

References:

  1. Burl, Aubrey, A Brief History of Stonehenge, Constable: London 2006.
  2. Cowling, Eric T., Rombald’s Way, William Walker: Otley 1946.
  3. Raistrick, Arthur, Green Tracks on the Pennines, Dalesman: Clapham 1962.
  4. Wright, Geoffrey N., Roads and Trackways of the Yorkshire Dales, Moorland: 1985.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Posted in Prehistoric Trackways, Yorkshire, West | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Ossian’s Stone, Sma’ Glen, Fowlis Wester, Perthshire

Cairn Circle:  OS Grid Reference – NN 89532 30595

Ossian's Stone, Sma' Glen

Ossian’s Stone, Sma’ Glen

Also Known as:

  1. Cairn Ossian
  2. Canmore ID 25554
  3. Clach-na-Ossian
  4. Clach Ossian
  5. Giant’s Grave
  6. Ossian’s Grave
  7. Soldier’s Grave

Getting Here

Shown as Soldier's Graves on 1863 OS-map

Shown as Soldier’s Graves on 1863 OS-map

There are two ways into this glen by road. Whichever route you take (from Crieff side, or via the long Dunkeld route), when you hit the flat bottom of it, where the green fields are right by the roadside, walk along till you find the road meets the river’s edge.  On the south-side of this small roadside section of the river, you’ll see a single large boulder 10-20 yards away. That’s the spot!

Archaeology & History

Described in some of the archaeology texts as just a ‘cist’, this giant stone is obviously the remains of much more.  For a start, as the 1834 drawing illustrates here (coupled with several other early descriptions of the place), other visible antiquarian remains were very much apparent at Ossian’s Stone before a destructive 18th century road-laying operation tore up much of this ancient site.  A marauding General Wade of the English establishment was cutting through the Scottish landscape a “military road”, to enable the English to do the usual “civilize the savages”, as they liked to put it.  This curious “Giant’s Grave” was very lucky to survive.

Skene's 1834 sketch, showing surrounding ring

Skene’s 1834 sketch, showing surrounding ring

Ossian's Stone in the Sma' Glen

Ossian’s Stone in the Sma’ Glen

The earliest description of events surrounding the site, as well as the attitude of the Highlanders when they saw the disrespectful English impose their usual disregard, is most insightful.  In a series of letters written by a Captain Edward Burt (1759) in the first-half of the 18th century to the english monarch of the period, we read a quite fascinating account which must have been very intriguing to witness first-hand.

General Wade and his band of marauders had reached the Sma’ Glen at the end of Glen Almond and were about to continue the construction of their road.  Burt (1759) wrote:

“A small part of the way through this glen having been marked out by two rows of camp colours, placed at a good distance one from another, whereby to describe the line of the intended breadth and regularity of the road by the eye, there happened to lie directly in the way an exceedingly large stone; and, as it had been made a rule from the beginning, to carry on the roads in straight lines as far as the way would permit, not only to give them a better air, but to shorten the passenger’s journey, it was resolved the stone should be removed, if possible, though otherwise the work might have been carried along on either side of it.

“The soldiers, by vast labour, with their levers and jacks, or hand-screws, tumbled it over and over till they got it quite out of the way, although it was of such an enormous size that it might be matter of great wonder how it could ever be removed by human strength and art, especially to such who had never seen an operation of that kind: and, upon their digging a little way into that part of the ground where the centre of the base had stood, there was found a small cavity, about two feet square, which was guarded from the outward earth at the bottom, top, and sides, by square flat stones.

“This hollow contained some ashes, scraps of bones, and half-burnt ends of stalks of heath; which last we concluded to be a small remnant of a funeral pile.  Upon the whole, I think there is no room to doubt but it was the urn of some considerable Roman officer, and the best of the kind that could be provided in their military circumstances; and that it was so seems plainly to appear from its vicinity to the Roman camp, the engines that must have been employed to remove that vast piece of a rock, and the unlikeliness it should, or could, have ever been done by the natives of the country. But certainly the design was, to preserve those remains from the injuries of rains and melting snows, and to prevent their being profaned by the sacrilegious hands of those they call Barbarians, for that reproachful name, you know, they gave to the people of almost all nations but their own.

“…As I returned the same way from the Lowlands, I found the officer, with his party of working soldiers, not far from the stone, and asked him what was become of the urn?  To this he answered, that he had intended to preserve it in the condition I left it, till the commander-in-chief had seen it, as a curiosity, but that it was not in his power so to do; for soon after the discovery was known to the Highlanders, they assembled from distant parts, and having formed themselves into a body, they carefully gathered up the relics, and marched with them, in solemn procession, to a new place of burial, and there discharged their fire-arms over the grave, as supposing the deceased had been a military officer.

“You will believe the recital of all this ceremony led me to ask the reason of such homage done to the ashes of a person supposed to have been dead almost two thousand years.  It did so; and the officer, who was himself a native of the Hills, told me that they (the Highlanders) firmly believe that if a dead body should be known to lie above ground, or be disinterred by malice, or the accidents of torrents of water, &c. and care was not immediately taken to perform to it the proper rites, then there would arise such storms and tempests as would destroy their corn, blow away their huts, and all sorts of other mis-fortunes would follow till that duty was performed.  You may here recollect what I told you so long ago, of the great regard the Highlanders have for the remains of their dead…”

Ossian's Stone in his landscape

Ossian’s Stone in his landscape

We can rest assured that the ‘Roman officer’ idea proclaimed by our early narrator is most probably wrong and that the nature of this site, when seen at ground-level even today and moreso by referencing Skene’s 1834 drawing of the place, above—which shows a more complete low surrounding ring of stones—indicate this to be of prehistoric provenance.  Of intrigue to me, is the ritual of the incoming Highlanders, who took the relics onto another place and re-interred them in their own customary manner.  We do not know where the Highlanders moved these (probable) prehistoric relics and I can find no supporting folklore to show precisely where they went—but a likely site would be the prehistoric cairn on the mountaintop southwest of here (at NN 8899 3018), or a site that has sometimes been confused with Ossian’s Stone a short distance to the south in the Sma’ Glen, known as the Giant’s Grave (at NN 9050 2956).  This latter site would seem more probable.

Anyway…. many years after Edward Burt’s initial Letters defined the site for outsiders, one Thomas Newte (1791) came a-wandering hereby.  He found that the account of General Wade’s intrusion was still on the tongues of local people, along with additions of further giant-lore and Fingalian tales, typical of the Creation myths of our early ancestors.  In typically depreciative English manner Newte told:

“In that awful part of Glen Almon, already mentioned, where lofty and impending cliffs on either hand make a solemn and almost perpetual gloom, is found Clachan-Of-Fian, or monumental Stone of Ossian.  It is of uncommon size, measuring seven feet and an half in length, and five feet in breadth. About fifty years ago, certain soldiers, employed under General Wade in making the Military Road from Stirling to Inverness, through the Highlands, raised the stone by large engines, and discovered under it a coffin full of burnt bones. This coffin consisted of four gray stones, which still remain, such as are mentioned in Ossian’s Poems.  Ossian’s Stone, with the four gray stones in which his bones are said to have been deposited, are surrounded by a circular dyke, two hundred feet in circumference, and three feet in height. The Military Road passes through its centre.”

Cole's 1911 plan of stone & surrounding ring

Cole’s 1911 plan of stone & surrounding ring

Ossian Stone by Fred Cole

Ossian Stone by Fred Cole

From hereon, many other writers and travellers came to see this great legendary stone within the depleted remains of its embanked circle—and thankfully it hasn’t been disturbed any further, still being visible to this day.  The greatest ‘archaeological’ attention the site has received was from the early pen of great antiquarian Fred Coles (1911).  On his journey here, after travelling past a large white stone which was mistakenly named as Ossian’s Stone by the usual contenders, he and his friend reached the right place:

“close to a strip of ground where the river and road almost touch each other, and immediately below the steepest of the crags of Dun More on the eastern side and the debris slopes of Meall Tarsuinn on the west, a most impressive environment, be the stone a prehistoric monument or not!  The spot is interesting for itself, apart from all legend; and the remains consist of a mighty monolith…and a narrow grassy mound…to its east, with a few earthfast blocks set edgewise near its eastern extremity.  Close to the roadside, but at the same level of 690 feet above the sea, there is a slab-like stone set up, measuring 3 feet in width, 1 foot 3 inches in thickness, and about 2 feet 6 inches in height.  A space of 63 feet separates this block…from the huge rhomboidal mass called Ossian’s Stone.  Five feet east of the latter is the base of the grassy mound which measures about 12 feet in length, 4 feet in greatest breadth, and 3 feet 10 inches in height.  To the north and the south in a slightly curving line are set the six small slabs shown.  There seems also to be a vague continuation of this strange alignment in both directions.  All over the ground between A and B, are many strangle low parallel ridges of smallish stones having a general direction of nearly north and south.  The rest of the ground is grassy, and here and there a little stony.  In the plan all the stones are drawn larger than exactly to scale.

“The great stone is 8 feet high and has a basal girth of 27 feet.  Several small stones lie near it.  Such are the facts as at present to be observed on the ground.”

Section of outlying grass-covered low ring, just visible

Section of outlying grass-covered low ring, just visible

Geological cup-marks?

Geological cup-marks?

There are two small conjoined cup-marks on top of the stone, but these seem to be geological in nature.  The precise nature of the site is difficult to ascertain without excavation; but the Royal Commission lads reckon it to be a prehistoric ‘cist’ or grave in their own analysis, based mainly on the quoted literary texts.  The surrounding ‘ring’ of small stones doesn’t seem to have captured their attention too much; but the site needs contextualizing within this damaged circular enclosure, which appears to have been a cairn circle initially, of some sort, with Ossian’s huge stone resting over the grave of one late great ancestral character, probably placed here thousands of years back in the Bronze Age… A truly fascinating place in truly gorgeous landscape.

Folklore

The glen itself has a scattering of giant lore associated with Finn and/or Ossian.  A nearby cave was one of the places where this legendary character, and subsequent bards, were said to have spent time.

There are a small number of heavy rocks presently placed on top of Ossian’s Stone.  These may be due to the site being used as a “lifting stone”: a sort of rite of passage found at a number of sites in the Perthshire mountains and across the Highlands to indicate a boy’s strength before entering manhood. Not until they have lifted and deposited a very heavy rock onto the boulder can they rightly become chief or leader, etc.

The poet William Wordsworth wrote about Ossian’s Stone, calling it “Glen Almein, or The Narrow Glen”:

In this still place, remote from men,
Sleeps Ossian, in the Narrow Glen;
In this still place, where murmurs on
But one meek streamlet, only one:
He sang of battles, and the breath
Of stormy war, and violent death;
And should, methinks, when all was past,
Have rightfully been laid at last
Where rocks were rudely heaped, and rent
As by a spirit turbulent;
Where sights were rough, and sounds were wild,
And everything unreconciled;
In some complaining, dim retreat,
For fear and melancholy meet;
But this is calm; there cannot be
A more entire tranquillity.
Does then the Bard sleep here indeed?
Or is it but a groundless creed?
What matters it? I blame them not
Whose Fancy in this lonely Spot
Was moved; and in such way expressed
Their notion of its perfect rest.
A convent, even a hermit’s cell,
Would break the silence of this Dell:
It is not quiet, is not ease;
But something deeper far than these:
The separation that is here
Is of the grave; and of austere
Yet happy feelings of the dead:
And, therefore, was it rightly said
That Ossian, last of all his race!
Lies buried in this lonely place.

References:

  1. Anonymous, Tourists Guide to Crieff, Comrie and the Vale of Strathearn, Crieff
    1874.
  2. Burt, Edward, Letters from a Gentleman in the North of Scotland – volume 2, L.Pottinger: London 1759.
  3. Coles, F.R., “Report on stone circles in Perthshire principally Strathearn,” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 45, 1911.
  4. Finlayson, Andrew, The Stones of Strathearn, One Tree Island: Comrie 2010.
  5. Gordon, Seton, Highways and Byways in the Central Highlands, MacMillan Press 1948.
  6. Holder, Geoff, The Guide to Mysterious Perthshire, History Press 2006.
  7. Hunter, John, Chronicles of Strathearn, David Philips: Crieff 1896.
  8. Macara, Duncan, Guide to Crieff, Comrie, St Fillans and Upper Strathearn, Edinburgh 1890.
  9. Macculloch, James, The Highlands and Western Isles of Scotland, London 1824.
  10. Marshall, William, Historic Scenes in Perthshire, Edinburgh 1881.
  11. McKerracher, Archie, Perthshire in History and Legend, John Donald: Edinburgh 1988.
  12. Newte, Thomas, Prospects and Observations on a Tour in England and Scotland: Natural, Oenomical and Literary, G.G.J. Robinson: London 1791.

Acknowledgements:  Huge thanks again to Paul Hornby for his assistance with site inspection, and additional use of his photos.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Posted in Cairns, Tombs, Tumuli, Perthshire, Sacred Nature, Scotland | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concraig, Muthill, Perthshire

Standing Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NN 85480 19503

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 25285

Getting Here

Concraig on the 1863 map

Concraig on the 1863 map

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

Archaeology & History

Concraig stone, near Crieff

Concraig stone, near Crieff

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

Concraig, looking south

Concraig, looking south

Fred Coles 191 drawing

Fred Coles 191 drawing

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

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

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

References:

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

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Posted in Perthshire, Scotland, Standing Stones | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Glen Cochill 1, Little Dunkeld, Perthshire

Enclosure:  OS Grid Reference – NN 90732 41196

Aerial view shows outline of enclosure

Aerial view shows outline of enclosure

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 26252
  2. Southern Enclosure

Getting Here

Take the directions to find the Carn Ban giant cairn.  Once there, you’re in the middle of the enclosure—or near enough!

Archaeology & History

This is one of several very large extensive prehistoric enclosures that stretch across the undulating rocky plains of this wild moorland, high up below the mountain-tops south of Aberfeldy.   Although humans are scarce up here nowadays, in ancient times it was a very different ballgame.

Internal line of walling

Internal line of walling

Eastern edge walls

Eastern edge walls

Extensive and well constructed walling, measuring an average of 2-3 yards across and several feet high in places, encircles the giant White Cairn some distance away from it, running for a third-of-a-mile (0.5km) in a contorted oval shape.  The walling is pretty much continuous except for where the modern tracks have destroyed two sections of it (and other monuments within) and where entrances or ‘doors’ allowed access on the west, north and eastern sides.  The circuitous route of the walls  appears to start and end at a small unnamed stream at its southern end.

Outer northeastern walling

Outer northeastern walling

Inside the perimeter walls, there are scattered examples of simple hut circles and cairns—some singular, others for families, and others that may be clearance cairns. It’s difficult to say without excavations.  On the top northwestern side of the enclosure there is another, smaller enclosure attached to the main mass—seemingly earlier in construction than the giant creature its attached to—which overlooks the curious Shaman’s Lodge double hut-circle 75 yards to the west.  This and much of the internal area was, when we visited, covered in extensive and deep heather, so we couldn’t get a clear picture of the entire site.

We might never know exactly how many people used this site, but we can say with some certainty, due to the remains found inside and around the place, that it was used by lots of  people over many centuries, not just for what modern homo-profanus defines as ‘utilitarian’ purposes, but also important rituals were practised herein (though we are looking at an ahistorical period before the boundary of ‘sacred’ and ‘profane’ had been defined).

For antiquarians and explorers, this region is a must!  A weekend of sleeping rough up here might well be in order!

References:

  1.  Stewart, Margaret E.C., “Strath Tay in the Second Millenium BC – A Field Survey”, in Proceedings Society Antiquaries Scotland, volume 92, 1961

Acknowledgements:  Huge thanks again to Paul Hornby for his assistance with site inspection, and additional use of his photos.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Posted in Perthshire, Scotland, Settlement/Enclosures | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Shaman’s Lodge, Glen Cochill, Perthshire

Hut Circles:  OS Grid Reference – NN 90591 41247  —  NEW FIND

Getting Here

The large double hut circle, surrounded by tombs

The large double hut circle, surrounded by tombs

Take the same directions to reach the giant Carn Ban prehistoric tomb. Follow the track past the tomb further onto the moorland until you reach a small wooden bridge over the small burn.  From here, walk straight north off-path onto the moor for 100 yards and a small rise in the land, with several cairns just below it, is the site in question.

Archaeology & History

Hut circle are hut circles – right?  Well, usually that’s the case.  We find them attached to, or within, or outlying prehistoric enclosures and can date from anywhere between the neolithic and Iron Age periods.  With the site we’re looking at here, on the outer western side of Glen Cochill’s southernmost giant enclosure, there’s something amiss….or maybe that should be, “something rather peculiar.”

Mr Hornby, hut-side

Mr Hornby, hut-side

Shamans Lodge walling

Shamans Lodge walling

Paul Hornby found it a few weeks ago during an exploration of the region’s prehistory. We went in search of, and found, the giant Carn Ban close by, but noticed curious archaeological undulations ebbing in and out of the heathlands: cairns, walls, hut circles, settlements, more cairns—and then this!

Consisting of two slightly larger-than-average ovals of walled stone, probably Bronze Age in date, the first impression was of a remarkably well-preserved site (and that it is!), seemingly of an elongated stretch of walling, with a central wall that split it into two halves.  Each ‘hut circle’ was found to be between six and seven yards across, with the two conjoined architectural features giving an overall NW-SE length of 14 yards.  But the more we looked at this, the more obvious it became that this was originally one single hut circle—the lower southeastern one—with an additional one that was added and attached onto the northwestern side at a later date, probably several centuries later.

Lower earlier hut circle, with upper later hut circle attached

Lower earlier hut circle, with upper later hut circle attached

Walking around the structure we found that the very well-preserved walls—about 2 feet wide in places and rising a foot or so above the compacted peat—had been built onto a raised platform of earth.  This was no ordinary hut circle!  The ground beneath it seems to have been raised and supported and on the southern side in particular it is notable that other building stones are compacted into the peat.  There may even be the remains of a secondary outer wall on this southern edge, where it seems that the entrance was made.

Small group of cairns 15 yards away

Small group of cairns 15 yards away

Here’s the curious bit: immediately outside the northwestern and southern walls are small prehistoric tombs, or cairns.  Not just one or two, but more than a dozen of them, all constructed within 20 yards of this curiously raised double hut circle.  Literally, a small prehistoric house of some form was raised in the centre of a prehistoric graveyard—and it doesn’t end here.

Of at least three giant enclosures in this region, and what looks like a very well-preserved prehistoric tribal hall or meeting place, there are upwards of a hundred tombs scattered nearby.  Two cairn circles were also found about 100 yards to the north, one of which was damaged by a military road a few centuries ago.

Close-up of walling

Close-up of walling

I give this double-roomed abode the somewhat provocative title of the Shaman’s Lodge because of its setting: surrounded by tombs, the ‘house’ would seem to have been a deliberate setting erected in the Land of the Dead here.  I hope you can forgive my imaginative mind seeing this as a structure where, perhaps, a medicine woman would give rites to the dead, either for those being buried in the small graves, or rites relating to the giant White Cairn of the ancestors close by.  Shamans of one form or another occur in every culture on Earth and have been traced throughout all early cultures.  If no such individuals ever existed within the British Isles, someone needs to paint one helluva good reason as to why they believe such a thing….

When the heather grows back here, the site will disappear again beneath the vegetation.  It is unlikely to re-appear for quite sometime, so I recommend that anyone wanting to have a look at this does so pretty quick before our Earth covers it once again….

References:

  1.  Stewart, Margaret E.C., “Strath Tay in the Second Millenium BC – A Field Survey”, in Proceedings Society Antiquaries Scotland, volume 92, 1961

Acknowledgements:  Huge thanks again to Paul Hornby for his assistance with site inspection, and additional use of his photos.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Posted in Hut Circles, Perthshire, Scotland | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Carn Ban, Glen Cochill, Perthshire

Cairn:  OS Grid Reference – NN 90728 41161

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 26253
  2. White Cairn

Getting Here

White Cairn on the 1862 map

White Cairn on the 1862 map

Take the A826 road south out of Aberfeldy, uphill – and uphill.  Several miles up, past the roadside Loch na Craige, and past the solitary farmhouse of Scotston, you’re getting close.  A few hundred yards past here watch out for the small bridge over the small burn; and literally another half-mile past this, keep your eyes peeled for the small track on your right, onto the moors.  Walk 70 yards on the track and there, on your left, it rises from the heather!

Archaeology & History

Carn Ban, Glen Cochill (photo credit, Paul Hornby)

Carn Ban, Glen Cochill (photo credit, Paul Hornby)

This giant neolithic tomb in the middle of a beautiful nowhere is perhaps the tomb of an ancestral King or Queen, later idolised into creation myths by our heathen ancestors who, we know, lived across this huge moorland plain for countless centuries.  One account tells that “a circle of free-standing boulders set at irregular intervals” used to surround the cairn, but this seems to have gone.

Southeastern quadrant

Southeastern quadrant

Measuring 21 yards (19.2m) across east-west, and just over 21 yards (19.3m) north-south, this is quite a large construction made up of thousands of small stones in a near-perfect ring that measures 68 yards (62m) in circumference. The cairn seems to have been built in three layers, with its outer defining ring of medium-sized rocks, upon which a layer of typical cairn-spoil stones were laid.  A couple of yards within this is a second internal ring consisting of much larger stones, more typical of those found in small stone circles or average ring-cairns has been set.  Within this, the cairn seems to have been raised again and another large deposit of countless stones were scattered, with many pieces of white quartz (very common in this area) incorporated in the construction.

Capstone and outer ring

Capstone and outer ring

Section of internal ring

Section of internal ring

At the very centre of the cairn, at least one large central ‘tomb’ or cist is clearly evident.  Within this cist were found the severely damaged ruins of a small decorated beaker, in which, perhaps, the ashes of the dead might have once been found.  A very large and heavy capstone that covered the central tomb, has been rolled over and lays just off-centre in the cairn.  No rock art seems visible on this capstone, but we were unable to check its underside.  When standing here at the middle of the tomb, you are four feet above the average ground-level of the surrounding moorland.

Section of cairn edge

Section of cairn edge

Imaginative reconstruction of beaker in central tomb

Imaginative reconstruction of beaker in central tomb

Curiously and erroneously reported by Margaret Stewart (1961) to have “been completely removed”, this large and very visible monument lives near the middle of a very large and extensive prehistoric enclosure, whose walled remains extend for some distance all round this section of the moors.  Within this arena we find large numbers of other architectural features, including many smaller cairns, some hut circles and additional lines of internal prehistoric walling.  Just a few yards south of the tomb itself, we can clearly see a length of walling running east-west and another seemingly reaching up to the White Cairn.  Whether these were built at the same time, or later, is difficult to say.

In the event that you visit this site, take your time!  All round here, mainly to the north and west, you will find masses of prehistoric remains, none of which has been adequately excavated.  A few hundred yards north is an extended necropolis that doesn’t appear to have been surveyed.

References:

  1.  Stewart, Margaret E.C., “Strath Tay in the Second Millenium BC – A Field Survey”, in Proceedings Society Antiquaries Scotland, volume 92, 1961

Acknowledgements:  Huge thanks again to Paul Hornby for his assistance with site inspection, and additional use of his photos.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Posted in Cairns, Tombs, Tumuli, Perthshire | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Backstone Circle, Ilkley Moor, West Yorkshire

Stone Circle:  OS Grid Reference – SE 12605 46130

Getting Here

The ruins of Backstone Circle (photo, Richard Stroud)

The ruins of Backstone Circle (photo, Richard Stroud)

There are many routes to get here, but this is the one I usually take. From Cow & Calf Rocks, walk up the steep hillside onto the first moorland plain, taking the path right, diagonally, across to the NW as if you’re heading to the Map Stone.  From here, looking down at the stream valley below, follow the valley edge up, past the settlement, and then veer down to Backstone Beck and up on the other side till you meet with a footpath and also up in the heather ahead of you, notice the jumbled walling les than 100 yards away.  That’s where you need to be!

Archaeology & History

A singular short sentence in Robert Collyer and J.H. Turner’s Ilkley, Ancient and Modern (1885) started it all off, where they told:

“There was still a rude circle of rocks on the reach beyond White Wells fifty years ago, tumbled into such confusion that you had to look once, and again, before you saw what lay under your eyes.”

…..And thankfully this is still what we see today – and in just the area they mentioned.

I’m intrigued to find there’s so much said about this site on the Net and feel I should put my recent feelings about the place to print at last (and after being badgered to gerrit done by James Elkington!).  The information about its make-up and the mess it’s in, hasn’t changed since we rediscovered the place on June 3, 1989.  Here, amidst the tall grasses and reeds of Juncus effusus and J. conglomeratus, our jumble of megaliths hides within a breakdown of fallen walls, that are thought to have been part of some sheep-fold or a similar animal enclosure (mebbe for the annual sheep-shagging contests that are held, quietly, on these moors each year!).

The name ‘backstone’ itself come from the adjacent beck (slowly depleting as the years pulse by) and is mentioned in the 18th century parish registers.  A.H. Smith (1961) informs us that it was the “stream where bakestones were got”, and this was probably a tradition going way way back.  The baking stones from the beck may even have been used by the people living in the prehistoric settlements close to the circle.

Stones amidst the reeds

Stones amidst the reeds

In what looks today like a messy double-ring of stones, it’s likely there was originally just a single ring which has, subsequently, been knocked down and re-used for some form of sheep-fondling sessions—be it agricultural or otherwise!  But for the record at least: we have small inner ‘ring’ of four upright stones, re-worked in more recent centuries, between two-and-a-half to three-and-a-half feet tall.  Another stone is recumbent.  The outer ring is more conspicuous.  It consists of at least eight standing stones–seven of which are upright–between three and five feet tall, some of which have been re-worked in more recent times. There are several other stones either recumbent or partly covered by vegetation. The tallest of the stones is 4’11” tall. The outer circle has had at least one of the stones uprooted and used at the base of the dry-stone walling intruding the southwest side of the circle. What appears to be at least two original standing stones are embedded into earthworks on the other side of this wall, one of which was located through dowsing!

The best section of the ring can be seen on its eastern side, where an arc of upright stones between three and four feet high are still clearly in evidence, just inside a raised embankment like that found surrounding the Twelve Apostles stone circle less than a mile away.

A short while after finding the site, we contacted the Ilkley Head of Archaeology Studies, Gavin Edwards, about the circle and he subsequently included the site on one of the tourist-guides to the moors.

Alignments through this circle seem apparent in situ; and although such alignments are intriguing (to me anyhow), it’s the geometric relationship Backstone has with other circles on these moors that is rather notable. It’s position in the landscape plays an essential part in an isosceles triangle formation, 1180 yards [1.08km] from the Twelve Apostles stone circle which, as the centre point, is another 1180 yards from the Roms Law Circle.  Odd….

Immediately visible from our ruinous circle across the small valley to the slopes of Green Crag, the Ilkley Archaeology Group spent more than fifteen years excavating the remains of what was initially thought of as a Bronze Age village, but their work here has proved startling, pushing the date of human occupation here into the mesolithic period!  Local archaeologist Gavin Edwards opined that the Backstone circle would have been the religious site for the people who lived here.  I have to concur.  There are also more neolithic and Bronze Age walling, indicative of extended settlements and enclosures, less than 200 yards north of the Backstone Circle, structurally consistent with the remains across the valley at the excavated Green Crag Slack settlement.

Ten yards east of the circle is a small well which only runs following exceptional rainfall.  This was probably of some ritual importance to the people who practiced rites here.  Geological fault lines run not far away on three sides of the ring and an underground stream is present, quite close to the surface (as indicated by the presence of Juncus conglomeratus and J.effisus), encouraging the preponderance of regular electromagnetic variations: these in particular are likely to have some causative influence on the paranormal events described below….

Fortean History

Since rediscovering this site, a number of bizarre psychophysical anomalies have been experienced and described by more and more people — some of whom were previously very sceptical of such things.  Both day and night, no doubt when Moon and water speak their subtle electromagnetic accord, a gathering corpus of all-too-familiar events keep speaking of a most disturbing resident spirit

We begin on Wednesday, July 12, 1989, sometime around midnight, when an acquaintance and I were spending a few days here to record any possible electromagnetic anomalies at this disturbed ring of stones.  We weren’t to be disappointed, as something very untoward raised its peculiar head.

As I sat barely ten yards beyond the tumbled group of stones there suddenly appeared, from nowhere, a host of figures—a dozen at most—walking ever so slowly around the old site. I could discern no physical features other than their height and humanoid shape. It was just too dark to see any details about them—they were, effectively, silhouettes.  My acquaintance was terrified—although it was perhaps a minute or so before he even glanced at what I was pointing and exclaiming at, somewhat manically, stuttering and shaking my head in an attempt to make the things disappear back to my unconscious where they surely originated. Didn’t work though!

These were no psychic projections. I literally shook my head, closed my eyes and knocked my head against the walling; looked away, shook my head again, shouting at myself and looked back at the figures in front of us. It still didn’t do a damn thing! By now my friend was staring, aghast and scared shitless if the expression on his face was anything to go by.

“Wot a’ y’ seeing? Wot can y’ see?” I asked.

He murmured and mumbled something about some people he could see, walking round and round the old remains.

He was seeing exactly the same as what I could see. As the minutes passed by, this group of people, who were winding in and out of each and every stone and walking through the intrusive walling as it was not there, slowly but surely, ever so gradually, increased in speed. This was very slow and patient and went on for at least fifteen minutes — by which times they were barely visible as individual figures anymore. All we could see by now was a visual blur and a remarkable vortex that was created in the wake of their ‘dance’.

This spinning vortex of silhouettes seemed to get faster and faster until appearing to reach a sort of critical speed/energy state — and as this “critical state” occurred, what was by now a rapid spinning, energetic blur simply vanished right before our eyes!  It was as if someone, somewhere, had flicked a switch and they disappeared.  Yet, at the very same moment the blurred vortex vanished, several dead straight lines of orange-red appeared in their place.  These were as baffling as the dance we had just watched: very thin, wavering lines of what I can only describe as subtle light, bounced off several of the standing stones. These lines—perhaps four of them—did not originate from the circle but appeared to come from further afield. One in particular seemed to come from the direction of the great boulder known as the Idol Rock, 700 yards [650m] east and continued past our field of vision in the direction of the Swastika Stone.

To be honest these “lines of energy” perturbed me more than the spinning figures which had just disappeared. Not only were these lines two-dimensional [a real screw-up that one!], I was at a loss to explain what these lines really were. The first thought was, of course, leys – but my idea of leys did not, and still does not accord with what I was seeing. Eventually the lines faded back to wherever they came, leaving both of us wondering what the hell we had just experienced.

Several minutes after talking over what had just happened, I stood up and walked into the circle. At this point, please remember it was July 12 and the night was so warm that neither of us had taken sleeping bags or a tent onto the high moors with us. As I got to the circle and took my first step inside, a tremendous shiver hit right through my body, almost like I was walking into a freezer. But I moved another step forward, unperturbed if truth be had by the probable chill wind that made me shiver. As I did so, the chill became more manifest and intense. As I took my third step forward the cold became biting and I collapsed onto my knees. [This is not like me, honest. Give me camping in the Scottish mountains in mid-February with average temperatures of -6 degrees and that's my idea of a good night out!]

Shivering like hell, I stumbled upright and back onto my feet and virtually ran out of the circle. That, more than anything else that night, truly perturbed me.

The following morning another volunteer joined us. We told him about the events of the previous night and he thought whatever he thought; but he’d brought two thermometers with him and set them on two of the rocks: one of them about 25 yards outside the circle, the other on a stone in the circle.  The two of them had the same reading: 73° F.  We left them without checking for a good hour or so and then began to take readings. What transpired was bizarre to say the least: the one outside the circle was 62° F, the one in the circle was 72° F.  A further reading fifteen minutes later, close to sunset, showed the temperature variations had come a little closer: the inner reading was 70° F, and outer reading still 62° F. Readings were then taken every fifteen minutes and the respective readings closed in on each other until both were the same, exactly when the sun was touching the horizon to set, at 9.05pm.  But this was not the end of the anomaly. While the temperature outside the circle dropped naturally with nightfall, finally resting at 57-58° F, the inner circle reading continued falling at nearly twice the background rate!  Our final reading after 11pm showed a deviation of nearly 7 degrees between the respective thermometers!

If these elements seem in anyway somewhat unbelievable, what occurred next bends the parameters of reality still further!

No further anomalous Fortean events happened at the circle that night—for us at least. However, a friend in Leeds—the internationally renowned ritual magician and author, Phil Hine—was at home with some friends, chatting.

“On the night in question,” he came to write sometime later, “I was talking to another magickian. He returned from the toilet and informed me that there was an “entity” lurking in the stairwell… This was unusual, but not sufficiently unusual to cause undue concern, and so, picking up my thunderbolt, I went out to see what was what. In the stairwell we both agreed on seeing a black amorphous shape. Since my friend had first noticed this, I asked him if he would be prepared to “open his mind” to it, so that I could question it, using him as an interface [which was one of his particular talents] and a fairly accepted procedure for questioning strange entities. “The entity declared,” I have come from the ancient hills.” It also stated that it had been “awakened” only recently due to activity around a sacred site. It said that it had come to give me “power” with which I could do something, but was reticent about the exact nature of this. When I asked what it would do if I rejected this, it said that it would return “screaming to the hills.” When I asked it to identify itself it gave the name Azathoth—which could well have sprung from the mind of my friend, although he had no particular knowledge of the Cthulu mythos entities.”

Phil continued: “At the time I found it difficult to credit that such a powerful entity would be hanging politely about in the stairwell waiting to be noticed. Being unable to obtain a direct answer to my questions, I told it to go forth, which it apparently did. I later had to perform an intense banishing ritual on my friend who was suffering from symptoms such as feeling cold, a tight pressure on the chest, personality displacement, and motor spasms… Unbeknownst to me at the time, two friends of mine who were members of the West Yorkshire Earth Mysteries Group had experienced a strange encounter at the then newly-uncovered Backstone Circle on Ilkley Moor… It seems strange, on reflection, that the appearance of the entity claiming to originate from a newly disturbed site seems to relate to their experience.” [Hine 1994, 1997]

Other bizarre experiences at the circle itself have been reported by growing numbers of people—a lot of them quite unpleasant. One lady, Katy from Calderdale, whose interest in megaliths rarely stretched into the obscurities of their folklore or weird tales, will “probably never go there again. It terrified me. I don’t know why, there was nothing to be scared of, but the place just felt awful.”

There have been at least a dozen people who have related the same words to me—and I can empathise. On February 14, 1990, Mick N. and I went to the site for the night with intent to do a bit of sympathetic ritual magick.  The night was cold and a slight fall of snow glittered across the moors as far as we could see, invoking quite healthy feelings about the forthcoming rite.  But as we turned off the path and approached the stones, it was as if we had walked through an invisible gate or door just yards before the circle itself, screaming quite powerfully with gnarled teeth that we were not wanted there that night!  It was overwhelming!  We both acted accordingly and spent the night elsewhere, cold and querying over its genius loci.  The potency of Azathoth seemed inherent in its silent voice.

This particular feeling, almost of malevolance, has been described by many people at Backstone.  It occurs both day and night and is akin to what Prof Thomas Lethbridge (1961) described as ‘ghouls': place-memories so to speak, or spirits of place.  Most of the time there is no such feeling, of course.  But when conditions are right, these potent subjective consumations can be quite overwhelming at some spots.  They are reported worldwide in the aboriginal traditions of all races and are felt, obviously, even today by explorers, mountaineers and visitors to ancient haunted places like the Backstone Circle.

Strange lights have also been seen over and around here by a number of witnesses. On one occasion a ritual invocation of its spirit-nature brought forth a number of glowing red spheres of light.  These were about the size of footballs, appearing for a minute or two, floating in front and around us, then vanishing—only to reappear yards away around the edges of the damaged ring of stones. These were very obviously living things and were examining us with equal bewilderment.  Other light-phenomena that people have seen here and on this moor appear to relate to the phases of the Moon.

Although the site is quite ruinous, it is a worthwhile place to visit – just respect, and beware the Old Hag who sometimes comes forth from time to time….

…to be continued…

References:

  1. Bennett, Paul., “The Backstone Circle,” Earth 15, 1990.
  2. Bennett, Paul, “Archaeological and Geometrical Applications of the Lost Stone Circle of Ilkley Moor,” Earth 15, 1990.
  3. Bennett, Paul, Circles, Standing Stones and Legendary Rocks of West Yorkshire, Heart of Albion Press: Wymeswold 1994.
  4. Bennett, Paul, “The Strange Case of Backstone Circle,” Right Times 1, 1998.
  5. Bennett, Paul, The Old Stones of Elmet, Capall Bann: Milverton 2001.
  6. Collyer, Robert & Turner, J. Horsfall, Ilkley: Ancient and Modern, William Walker: Otley 1885.
  7. Devereux, Paul, Places of Power, Blandford: London 1990.
  8. Gyrus T., “An Interview with Phil Hine,” Towards 2012 volume 4, 1998.
  9. Hine, Phil, “The Physics of Evocation,” Chaos International 1990.
  10. Roberts, Andy, Ghosts and Legends of Yorkshire, Jarrold: Norwich 1997.
  11. Smith, A.H., The Place-Names of the West Riding of Yorkshire – volume 4, Cambridge University Press 1961.

AcknowledgementsMany thanks to Richard Stroud for his photo of Backstone at winter time; to James Elkington for saying, “Come on Paul – get yer finger out!” + his photos too…

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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