Holy Well, Longthorpe, Peterborough, Northamptonshire

Holy Well:  OS Grid-Reference – TL 1678 9815

Also known as:

  1. St. Cloud’s Well

Getting Here

From Thorpe Green, Longthorpe, then take the Larklands road.  Once a copse of trees appears at the front near a T-junction, the well can be accessed to the side of this wood.

Archaeology & History

The well was enclosed in grounds belonging to St John family, an estate laid out in a style similar to the pleasure gardens of Vauxhall. Within these grounds was an 18th century summerhouse, which has now vanished. A distillery was established here by a Doctor Skirmshire, who lived at Longthorpe, for making ‘considerable quantities of lavender and peppermint, cultivated in adjacent fields..’ (Arrowsmith n.d.).

Sadly, there appear to be no ancient records which justify ascribing an ancient date to the Holy Well complex. Indeed, it would appear to be contemporary with the summerhouse. Perhaps it was built to provide a folly-hermitage to support the legend? It is said that the summerhouse was demolished in the mid-ninteenth century because of the disorderly proceedings undertaken in it by visitors from Peterborough! According to Thompson (1913), the dressed stone was used for the kitchen floor of the nearby Manor House.

Thompson gives a plan of the well along with an accurate description, which luckily does not differ from the sight which greets the visitor today (although there is now an ugly metal gate on the structure):

‘The subterranean chambers constitute a medley of design and structure; they are not caves, although now underground, but were apparently first built….

The walls and domed roofs consist of undressed stone. The passage from the pool runs in a direction of N 60 W, and is some six feet long. The entrance being two feet four inches wide by five feet high. The first chamber or antechamber is mostly to the left and nearly at right angles to the passage; it is approximately ten feet by eight feet. In this there is a window high up, evidently a more recent introduction, for the frame is of dressed stone, and the rough stone roof cuts across it, so that external appearance rather than internal use would appear to have been the dominating factor in its design. On the opposite wall of the window is a doorway, and at one time evidently a door, for one stone jamb of dressed stone is left. This doorway opens into the very irregular second or main chamber, roughly twenty feet long, by fifteen feet wide near the widest part. Immediately within the doorway is a well, with dressed stone curb, of three feet internal diameter, and exactly above, in the roof is another smaller circular opening lined with dressed stone as though arranged to draw water from the well from the mound above without going into the chamber, but this is not now open. The well is now choked with stones, but the water used to overflow from the well and run down the passage way to the pool outside, it now flows out oat a lower level leaving the passage way dry. Immediately on the right, after entering the large chamber is am opening leading to a third chamber, smaller, crudely oval, but an indescribable shape, approximately eight to nine feet one way by twelve feet another.

Comparing Thompson’s description and the photograph, one can note a few differences, the main one being that the site in general has become noticeably overgrown. The wall which appears to run along one side has become overgrown and derelict, the pool overgrown, and rubbish-strewn. Within the structure, the curbed well has gone and now one can see the water bubbling from the rock.

Folklore

One side of this is the opening, now blocked up, to a supposed underground passage to Peterborough Cathedral, by which the monks of the Abbey of Burgh, were said to come and bathe in the pool….

To the left of this large chamber, on entering the latter, is a recess some fifteen feet wide and nine feet deep, with a floor consisting essentially of two steps, both apparently of ‘live’ rock, i.e. rock in situ; the upper step being the wider and more like a dais. There is a rather small opening high up on the outer wall of this recess, some five feet from the dais, and is about seventeen inches wide by twenty two feet high, but goes four feet or more in the thickness of the wall or mound without providing an external opening.’

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe site’s greatest fame stems from the tunnel mentioned above by Thompson, which is said to run from the Holy Well to the Abbey at Peterborough. A blocked-up doorway in the third chamber is described as the entrance to this tunnel, although one can imagine that the nature of the whole edifice would lend to such a belief. Certainly records show that the Abbey was supplied by a conduit at the Infirmary end of the Chapel of St Lawrence. However, it is more likely that this took its waters from the St Leonard’s Well at Spital, whose water also filled the Boroughbury Pools and Swan’s Pool.

Yet records show that the Abbey was interested in the site. During Abbot Godfreys tenure, in 1130s the following document states:

Amos ejus viii inclusat porceum Burgi Sumptus iiij I lb: xv sol. Item feat fossutum salveunium inter Thorpe fen et le Dom Sumptus xx sol‘.

Anon 1904-6

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This enclosure cost four pounds and fifteen shillings. Under Abbot Gyerge another document notes the extent of this land (Halywelle), of four acres, three rood and twenty pearches, which until the building of the estate remained the same (Anon 1904-1906). Yet neither of these documents explicitly refers to the laying of a conduit.

The only possible justification for this belief came in November 6th 1964, when workmen, excavating to set up telephone kiosks beside the old Guildhall on Cathedral square, unearthed an underground passage. This continued for twenty five feet under church street, and ran parallel to land belonging to the Almoner’s Garden that was exchanged in the 1194-1200 agreement between the Abbot and the Vicar of Burgh and Longthorpe.  Unfortunately, the underground passage turned out to be some kind of eighteenth century fire precautions.

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Much of the site’s folklore and history derives from a story entitled The Knight of the Red Cross, a story based in the twelfth century, in Richard I’s reign. There is some confusion about the place where this work is published. Thompson (1913)  in his Peculiarities of water and wells states that it is contained within a work called Wild flowers gathered: original pieces in prose and rhyme, printed by J. S. Clarke, with no author or date; whereas  Arrowsmith (n.d) states it comes from a similarly titled, A list of wild flowers found in the neighbourhood of Peterborough, by F. A. Paley. Arrowsmith further notes that the work is advertised on the back of the same author’s Notes on twenty Parish churches round Peterborough, published in 1859. Unfortunately, I have been unable to trace either of these to confirm which is the right source. How much the story is based on any ancient account is unclear. It may be ‘faction’ or fiction, a problem of course with many sites. The applicable parts are produced below as Thompson (1913) notes:

“There is a beautiful spot, called Holywell, in the neighbourhood of Peterborough, well known, and much frequented by the inhabitants. The road lies through a pleasant park, where stands an ancient edifice belonging to the Fitzwilliam family, called Thorpe Hall… After passing the front of this mansion, turn to the left, by the stables and outer buildings will lead, through a white gate, to a small green field from whence this picturesque little spot is seen, with its ivy clad walls, and its dark cypress and yew trees, casting their gloomy shadows around. Passing some broken steps which form the entrance, a shady path conducts to a modern niche, supported by two pilasters, over a slab pavement to a stone basin about six feet in depth and thirty in circumference. This is constantly supplied with clear water, running from the mouth of a subterraneous passage which connects Holywell with the cathedral of Peterborough. An artificial mound of earth is thrown up above this cavity, which is covered with creepers, ground-ivy and a few wild flowers.

Contiguous to the basin are some small fish ponds, partially shaded by beautiful trees; and the green rushes which grow at their bank form undisturbed retreat in which the moor-hen builds her solitary nest. A little further on is a piece of an old pillar, which is gracefully overhung with a wreath of ivy… An old wall surrounding Holywell on two sides, in which traces of windows and doorways are still discernible, is the last feature we shall mention.”

Arrowsmith (n.d) states that these pools have been called ‘Monk’s Stew Ponds’ or ‘Paradise Ponds’, although Arrowsmith considers that the long distance from the Abbey makes it unlikely, as the Abbey was close to good fishing waters  He continues, ‘The waters of this well were formerly in high repute, and were much frequented by those who came on pilgrimages’

Its waters, according to Thompson (1913), are said to be slightly ferruginous, though he detected no sign of it, and nor did I. It was also thought to be efficacious for gout, rheumatism, skin diseases, and good for eyes.

It was believed that a Hermit, called St Cloud, lived at the site. Thompson (1913) continues, quoting J. S. Clarke, that he was ‘of great celebrity, whose pious councils and paternosters were generally in request amongst all pilgrims who visited the spot.’

Some authorities, such as Arrowsmith, have identified this hermit as St Botolph, who is said to have lived within a mile of his chapel during its construction on the Thorpe Avenue site. He is associated with other wells, such as that at Hadstock, Essex, so it is not impossible.

References:

  1. Anonymous, “Holywell,” in Fenland Notes and Queries6, pp.22-4, 1904-6
  2. Arrowsmith, A. L., Longthorpe and its Environs: Microcosm of a Village, privately published: no date.
  3. Bord, J. and C., Sacred Waters, Granada: London 1985.
  4. Thompson, B., “The Peculiarities of Water and Wells,” in Journal of Northants Natural History Society and Field Club18(135), 1913.

Extracted and edited from the original post – Holy & Healing Wells

© R.B. Parish, The Northern Antiquarian

Posted in Cambridgeshire, Holy Wells, Northamptonshire | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Holy Well, Hollinshead Hall, Tockholes, Lancashire

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference –  SD 6636 1994

Getting Here

Take the A675 road to Bolton from Abbey Village, going up the track opposite Piccadily farmhouse until you reach the ruins in the woods.  The site can also be reached by going south down the Tockholes Road car park following the sign for Hollinshead Hall on your right.

Archaeology & History

Hollinshead Hall

Hollinshead Hall

Associated with Hollinshead Hall, which is now a ruin, the well is made of the same sandstone rubble as the hall with a stone slate roof. The building a single cell is built into a slope from which the spring arises and is encapsulated by it. Either side a high walls creating a sort of forecourt with side benches with inward-facing chamfered piers with ball finials at the ends. The well house itself is quite an attractive building and is certainly not thrown up, having a symmetrical facade with chamfered unglazed widows which are fitted with spear-headed iron bars and clearly the building has never been glazed. The gable end has a large oval opening with a matching one at the rear. In the centre is a heavy board door with a chamfered doorway. This doorway unfortunately is locked baring any entrance to the well house.

Peering in through the windows one can see how strong the vaulted roof is, adorned by a pendent ball in its centre. The spring’s water flows from a crudely carved lion’s head, either side of a reredo of Ionic colonnettes, with a sunken stone tank beneath or each side a rectangular recess which enclose rectangular pools. There is a diamond-paved floor with a central gutter draining from this well or trough at centre of rear wall.

Local tradition accounts that there was a site here from Medieval times and indeed, that the name Hollinshead was derived from a version of holy well although O.E hol, for hollow is more likely although there is a Halliwell Fold Farm nearby being derived from O.E halig for healing. The pool with steps down above the well house may be the original well of course. The discovery of a hoard of medieval coins in 1970s would support the date and perhaps they were an offering.

Folklore

Abram’s Blackburn (1877) is perhaps the first to state that the water was curative. However, anonymous quote in Nightingales History of Tockholes  describes the well as:

“Here no less than five different springs of water, after uniting together and passing through a very old carved stone representing a lion’s head, flow into a well.  To this Well pilgrimages were formerly made and the water which is of a peculiar quality, is remarkable as an efficacious remedy for ophthalmic complaints.”

 Another tradition is that the site was a resting place for pilgrims to Whalley Abbey and that the trough was used as  baptistery, however, this would be more likely to be the spring above the well house.  It is probably a spring house, a structure built over a natural source of water for the storage of dairy products and other foods that needed to be kept fresh.

Reculsancy, was very prevalent in Lancashire and the well house does the bear the coat of arms of the Radcliffes . It would suggest why the structure is so ornate and suggest a 1600s date although many authorities suggest an 18th century origin.  The site would be a secret baptistery and its design as a dairy, would also help as well as being still function, certainly the presence of benches suggest this functionality. It appears to be too close to the house to be a garden folly such as a grotto! The suggestion of stained glass in the windows suggests something more significant discovered during the present stone roof’s construction. Indeed, the choice of the lion’s head is possibly that of the ‘Lion of Judah’, meaning Jesus providing rich and valuable water, although this is a common motif on many drinking fountains of course! Interesting, Cramshaw (1994) tells us that the site was in the 1980s the site of a well dressing, although what type is unclear and no other author has mentioned it as far as I am aware. Perhaps we shall never know the real origin of this delightful building.

References:

  1. Abram, William Alexander, History of Blackburn, Toulmin: Blackburn 1877.
  2. Billington, W.D., From Affetside to Yarrow, Ross Anderson: Bolton 1982.
  3. Crawshaw, J., “Hollinshead Hall Holy Well”, in Source new series Issue 2, Winter 1994.

Edited from – Holy & Healing Wells

© R.B. Parish, The Northern Antiquarian

Posted in Holy Wells, Lancashire | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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