Market Cross, Glanton, Northumberland

Cross (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NU 0708 1445

Archaeology & History

This site has long since gone, but its existence is worthy of note.  Indeed, when Dippie Dixon (1895) wrote about it in his classic work, faded memory was all he could tell of it too, saying:

“Glanton once possessed a market cross.  Not a vestige of it now remains; but it is said to have stood about the centre of the village, on a slight knoll facing the Whittingham road…”

This would place it close to the old Red Lion pub.  Old crosses that are found at the centre of a village or township represent (albeit forgotten) the spot whence the community was born: a faded form of an omphalos, in the christian guide; later debased into little more than where markets and trade was done. When the ‘market’ wasn’t active, it was the gathering place for local people. As George Tyack (1900) told us:

“The village cross, in its more humble way, played the same part in the rustic life of its neighbourhood as did the high cross in the more bustling life of the town. Such public matters as stirred the still waters of rural existence were there discussed: the items of news from the great world without that reached the village gossips were there recounted, and the summons to the yearly Manorial Court, and other notices not suitable for procalmation in church, were there made public.”

This is the mundane function of the cross.  In its earlier status, it was the animistic symbol not only of the centre of the village, but the origin of the world itself, where moots or gatherings took place annually, calendrically, to ritually re-establish and commemorate the birth of the local tribe and their world through consecration.  But all of this has long since faded…

References:

  1. Dixon, David D., Whittingham Vale, Robert Redpath: Newcastle-upon-Tyne 1895.
  2. Eliade, Mircea & Sullivan, Lawrence E., “Center of the World,” in Encyclopedia of Religion – volume 3, MacMillan: New York 1987.
  3. Tyack, George S., The Cross in Ritual, Architecture and Art, William Andrews: London 1900.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

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Meikle Findowie, Little Dunkeld, Perthshire

Standing Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NN 96105 39143

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 86434

Getting Here

Meikle Findowie stone

Along the A822 road between Dunkeld and Milton, 4.7 miles (7.6km) west of the A9, turn left down the track signposted ‘Meikle Findowie’.  About 700 yards along the track you reach modernised farmhouse and here, on your left, a track takes you east.  You’ll notice some ruins a couple of hundred yards along.  The standing stone is by its side.

Archaeology & History

Looking eastwards…

Beside the old trackway that runs east-west past Meikle Findowie, above the ancient flood-plain of the breathing River Braan, a solitary stone lives by the more modern shadow of old sheep-folds.  Tis a quiet little fella, less than 5 feet tall, that you could almost pass as a forgotten gatepost if you chattered when walking by. But it’s much more ancient than any old gate…

It nestles below the old hill of Airlich, with its beautiful stone circle and huge ancient enclosures higher up: a chunky old stone with no carvings or other human marks upon it.   Tis a site site worth visiting before heading uphill, to the megalithic ring of enchantment.

Acknowledgements:  Huge thanks as always to Paul Hornby for getting us to this site.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

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Murrayshall, Scone, Perthshire

Standing Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NO 15200 26263

Also Known as:

  1. Balgarvie (Swarbrick)
  2. Canmore ID 28135
  3. Mill of Bonhard

Getting Here

Murrayshall standing stone

On the main road (A94) through Scone, go east along either Murrayshall Road or Bonhard Road for a short distance until you go out of the town and into the countryside. About ⅓-mile (0.5km) along the country lane, go left at the road junction; and just another ¼-mile on, notice the field-gate on your left.  As you’ll see, the standing stone is just over 100 yards away in that field.

Archaeology & History

Murrayshall on 1867 map

In a region littered with megaliths, this fine upright single stone stands, quite deliberately, at a point in the field where you have excellent 360° views, which to the north looks way into the orgasm of the Scottish mountains.  History and tradition seem to tell it has always been a loner, without companions, but no archaeological excavation has taken place here to my knowledge; and the apparent proximity of some type of prehistoric ring-ditch 30 yards away may be related to the stone.  But we don’t for sure…

Close-up of cupmark

North-face with cupmark

Despite being shown on the first OS-map of the region in 1867 and despite being a large monolith more than 6 feet tall, very little seems to have been said of it.  The Royal Commission (1994) merely listed it, without comment, other than to say “it bears no markings.”  Yet when Paul Hornby and I visited the place recently, a large single cup-mark is plain to see on the north-face of the stone.

Although the stone is alone in this field, once you start exploring the hills a short distance to the south and the farmed fields heading north and east, masses of prehistoric sites begin to appear.  It’s well worth checking out!

References:

  1. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, South-East Perth: An Archaeological Landscape, HMSO: Edinburgh 1994.
  2. Swarbrick, Olaf, A Gazetteer of Prehistoric Standing Stones in Great Britain, BAR: Oxford 2012.

Acknowledgements:  Huge thanks as always to Paul Hornby for getting us to this site.  Plus, accreditation of early OS-map usage is reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Posted in Cup-and-Ring Stones, Perthshire, Scotland, Standing Stones | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Kipps, Linlithgow, West Lothian

Stone Circle (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NS 9909 7387

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 47920

Archaeology & History

Site shown on 1856 map

In an Address to the Scottish Society of Antiquaries in the middle of the 19th century, Sir James Simpson (1862) pointed out the outright destruction and vandalism that incoming land-owners (english mainly, and probably christians too) had inflicted on the monuments of the Scottish people.  Stone circles and two cromlechs, he said, that had existed in this part of West Lothian for thousands of years, were recently destroyed when Simpson was alive.  One of them was here at Kipps.  He told:

“In 1813 the cromlech at Kipps was seen by Sir John Dalzell, still standing upright.  In describing it, in the beginning of the last century, Sir Bobert Sibbald states that near this Kipps cromlech was a circle of stones, with a large stone or two in the middle; and he adds, “many such may be seen all over the country.”  They have all disappeared; and latterly the stones of the Kipps circle have been themselves removed and broken up, to build, apparently, some neighbouring field-walls, though there was abundance of stones in the vicinity equally well suited for the purpose.”

Simpson suggested, quite rightly, that efforts should be made to resurrect the old monument.  In his day the fallen remnants of the ‘cromlech’ that had stood inside the circle were still in evidence and it was highlighted on the early OS-map of the region; and when the northern antiquarian Ratcliffe Barnett (1925) came walking here earlier in the 20th century he told he could still see “the remains of an ancient cromlech, which stood within a circle of stones.”  Around the same time, the Royal Commission (1929) lads looked for these remains but seemed to have gone to the wrong site, “a quarter-mile northwest of Kipps Farm”, where they nevertheless found,

“a tumbled mass of boulders containing about thirty stones, one being erect; they vary from 6 by 3 by 1½ feet by 4 by 3 by 2½ feet, and are probably the remains of a cairn.”

When the renowned chambered tomb explorer Audrey Henshall (1972) followed up the directions of the Royal Commission, she was sceptical of giving any prehistoric provenance to the rocks there, describing them simply as geological “erratics.”

The very place-names Kipps may derive from the monument, for as Angus MacDonald (1941) told, “the word seems to come from Gaelic caep, ‘a block'”, but the word can also mean “a sharp-pointing hill, a jutting point, or crag on a hill”, and as the house and castle at Kipps is on an outlying spur, this could be its meaning.

Folklore

Local lore told how lads and lassies would use the stones as a site to promise matrimony with each other, by clasping their hands through a gap on the top boulder.  Using holes in or between stones to make matrimonial bonds, where the stone is the witness to the ceremony, occurs at many other sites and became outlawed by the incoming christian cult, which took people away from the spirits of rock, waters and land.

References:

  1. Barnett T. Ratcliffe, Border By-Ways & Lothian Lore, John Grant: Edinburgh 1925.
  2. Duns, J., “Notes on a Burial Mound at Torphichen, and an Urn found near the ‘Cromlech’ at Kipps, Linlithgowshire”,  in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 12, 1878.
  3. Henshall, Audrey S., The Chambered Tombs of Scotland – volume 2, Edinburgh University Press 1972.
  4. Lewis, A.L., “The Stone Circles of Scotland,” in Journal Anthropological Society Great Britain, volume 30, 1900.
  5. MacDonald, Angus, The Place-Names of West Lothian, Oliver & Boyd: Edinburgh 1941.
  6. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, Midlothian and Westlothian, HMSO: Edinburgh 1929.
  7. Simpson, James Y., “Address on Archaeology,” in Proceedings Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 4, 1862.

Acknowledgements:  Accreditation of early OS-map usage, reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian 

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Dun Osdale, Dunvegan, Skye

Broch:  OS Grid Reference – NG 24162 46424

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 10832

Getting Here

Dun Osdale, by the roadside

From the A863 Dunvegan road, a mile south of the village turn onto the B884 road at Lonmore, making sure you veer right after a few hundred yards and head towards Glendale.  About a mile along, on the left-hand side of the road, note the small rocky crag that begins to grow just above the roadside.  At the end of this crag you’ll see a huge pile of rocks, seemingly tumbling down, just by a small T-junction to Uiginish.  You can’t really miss it.

Archaeology & History

Listed as one of the duns, or fortified prehistoric structures in Skye by the old writer J.A. MacCulloch (1905), the rediscovery of this broch was, said A.A. MacGregor (1930), one that “became historical only within living memory.”  I find that hard to believe!  The Gaelic speakers hereby merely kept their tongues still when asked, as was common in days of olde—and it was a faerie abode….

Looking at the SW walling

Looking at the SE walls

Once you go through the gate below the broch, the large boggy area you have to circumnavigate is the overflow from an ancient well, known as Tobar na Maor, where Anne Ross said, “tradition that the stewards of three adjacent properties met there.”  This well was covered by an ancient Pictish stone (now in Dunvegan Castle), which may originally have been associated with the broch just above it.  When I visited the site with Aisha and Her clan, we passed the overgrown well and walked straight up to the broch.

Despite being ruinous it is still most impressive.  The massive walling on its southwestern side is still intact in places; but you don’t get a real impression of the work that went into building these structures until you’re on top.  The walls themselves are so thick and well-built that you puzzle over the energy required to build so massive a monument.  And Scotland has masses of them!

Aisha in the broch

Small internal chamber

The site was surveyed briefly when the Ordnance Survey lads came here in 1877, subsequently highlighting it on the first OS-map of the area.  But it didn’t receive any archaeocentric assessment until the Royal Commission (1928) lads explored the area some fifty years later.  In their outstanding Inventory of the region they described Dun Osdale in considerable detail, although kept their description purely architectural in nature, betraying any real sense of meaning and history which local folk must have told them.  They wrote:

“The outer face of the wall of the broch for a great part is reduced to the lower courses, but on the west-southwest a section still maintains a height of about 7 feet; on the south-side, although hidden by fallen stones, it is about 4 to 5 feet high, and on the northeast there is a very short section 3 feet in height.  The stones are of considerable size and laid in regular courses.  In the interior a mass of tumbled stone obscures the most of the inner face of the wall, but on the south and northwest it stands about 8 feet above the debris.  The broch is circular with an internal diameter of 35 feet to 35 feet 6 inches, and the wall thickens from 10 feet on the north to 13 feet 7 inches on the south. The entrance, which is one the east, is badly broken down, but near the inside has a width of 3 feet 2 inches, and appears to have been 2 feet 10 inches on the outside; it has run straight through the wall without checks.  In the thickness of the wall to the south of the entrance is an oval chamber measuring 10 feet long by 4 feet 9 inches broad above the debris with which it is half-filled.  The roof has fallen in, but the internal corbelling of the walls is well displayed.  The fallen stones no doubt still cover the entrance, which has probably been from the interior.  Within the western arc of the wall, nearly opposite the main doorway, is another oval cell 12 feet in length and 4 feet 6 inches in breadth over debris, with a doorway 2 feet 9 inches wide; its outer and inner walls are 5 feet 9 inches, and 2 feet 6 inches respectively.  The roof od this chamber has also collapsed, but from the masonry which remains in position it must have been over 6 feet in height.  Immediately to the west of the cell near the entrance are exposed the left jamb of a door and a short length of a gallery 3 feet 6 inches wide in the thickness of the southern wall, which probably contained the stairs, as traces of a gallery at a higher level than the oval chambers are seen here, the inner wall being about 3 feet and the outer 8 feet thick. Parts of a scarcement 9 inches wide can be detected on the northwestern and southeastern arcs.”

Dun Osdale plan (RCAHMS 1928)

Dun Osdale on 1881 map

Measurements and architectural tedium aside, the broch is worthwhile for anyone interested in our ancient mythic past, not least because of its position in the landscape and its visual relationship with other sites of the same period nearby.  As well as that, there are unrecorded ancient sites still hiding in these olde moors…

Folklore

Tradition tells that Dun Osdale was used as a watch-tower by the tribal folk—which seems quite credible.  But the original inhabitants of Duirinish, the sith or fairy folk, were also said to live here.  It’s one of several places in Duirinish where the legendary Fairy Cup of Dunvegan was said to have come from.  Otta Swire (1961) told its tale:

“One midsummer night a MacLeod, searching for strayed cattle, stayed late on the moor.  In the moonlight he saw the door of Dun Osdale open and the little people come out, a long train of them, and began to dance on the green grass knoll nearby.  Fascinated, he watched, forgetting everything but the wonderful dance. Suddenly he sneezed.  The spell was broke.  The dance stopped.  MacLeod sprang up to fly, but the fairies were upon him and he was dragged, willy-nilly, into the dun.  Inside, as soon as his eyes grew accustomed to that strange green light associated with fairyland, he beheld a pleasing sight.  A great banquet was spread on a large table carved from a single tree: on it were vessels of gold and silver, many of them set with jewels or chased in strange designs.  His fairy ‘hosts’ led him to the table, poured wine into one of the beautiful cups and, giving it to him, invited him to toast their chief.  Now this man’s mother was a witch, so he knew well that if he ate or drank in the dun he was in the Daoine Sithe’s power for ever.  He lifted the cup and appeared to drink the required toast, but in fact skilfully let the wine run down inside his coat.  As soon as his neighbours saw the cup was half empty, they ceased to bother about him but went off on their own affairs or to attend the banquet.  Thereafter MacLeod watched for a chance of escape and, when one offered, slipped quietly through the door of the dun and away, carrying the cup with him.

“The fairies soon realised what had happened and started in pursuit, but he was already across the Osdale river and in safety.  He hurried home, told his mother the story, and showed her the cup.  Being a wise woman she realised the peril in which he undoubtedly stood and at once put her most powerful spell upon him to protect him from the arts of the Daoine Sithe, warning him seriously never to leave the house for a moment without getting the spell renewed.  But she forgot to put a protecting spell upon the cup also.  The fairies soon discovered the exact state of affairs and immediately laid their own spell upon the cup, a spell so powerful that all who saw the cup or even heard of it, were seized with an overmastering desire to possess it, even if such possession involved the murder of the holder.

“For a year, all went well and thanks to his mother’s care the young man went unharmed.  Then he grew careless and one day ventured out without the protecting spell.  A one-time friend, bewitched by the cup, had been awaiting just such a chance and immediately murdered him and went off with the prize.  The fairies, their revenge achieved, took no further interest in the matter, but MacLeod of MacLeod did.  The boy’s mother hurried to him with her story, and he at once gave orders that the murderer be found and brought to justice.  He was duly hanged and the trouble-making cup, now free of enchantment, passed into the possession of the chief and can still be seen in (Dunvegan) castle.”

References:

  1. Donaldson-Blyth, Ian, In Search of Prehistoric Skye, Thistle: Insch 1995.
  2. MacCulloch, J.A.,  The Misty Isle of Skye, Oliphant, Anderson & Ferrier: Edinburgh 1905.
  3. MacGregor, Alasdair Alpin, Over the Sea to Skye, Chambers: Edinburgh 1930.
  4. Royal Commission on Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Inventory of Monuments and Constructions in the Outer Hebrides, Skye and the Small Isles, HMSO: Edinburgh 1928.
  5. Swire, Otta F., Skye: The Island its Legends, Blackie & Sons: Glasgow 1961.

Acknowledgements:  Eternally grateful to the awesome Aisha Domleo and Her little clan for getting us to this little haven on Skye’s endless domain of natural beauty.  Without Her, this would not have been written.  Also, accreditation of early OS-map usage, reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

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Pitcur Souterrain (3) – Carving 2, Kettins, Perthshire

Cup-and-Ring Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NO 25289 37380 – NEW FIND

Getting Here

MacRitchie’s 1900 groundplan

Follow the same directions as if you’re visiting the Pitcur (3) souterrain.  Once here, you’re standing at the southernmost uncovered section of the monument, where one uncovered passageway bends round and meets up with another open section (“m” on MacRitchie’s plan, right).  From here, just to your right, a single large roofing stone joins one side of the open passageway with the other, enabling you to walk across it—and the stone you’d walk across has these very faint carvings on it.

Archaeology & History

Shortly before darkfall a few weeks ago, Nina Harris, Frank Mercer, Paul Hornby and I were just about ready to pack-up and leave the brilliant Pitcur souterrain with its underground chambers and various petroglyphs when, as I walked along one of the open passages beneath one of the monument’s many large capstones, my fingers gently stroked the rock above me, almost unconsciously.

First photo of the carving (by Paul Hornby)

“Was that a faint cup-mark?” I asked myself, fondling gently the smooth stone once more.

Standing eight-feet above me in the long grasses, Mr Hornby was gazing around in his usual way.

“Paul – can you see from up there if this is a cup-marking I’m feeling here?”

Walking onto the edge of the rock itself, he proclaimed, “it looks like it!”

It was indeed!  And during the remaining 30 minutes of daylight we found that the single cup-mark had a number of companions on the same stone.  With multiple rings!  Twas another good day out.

Carving when wet (photo, Frank Mercer)

Looking straight down

Previously unrecorded, this large rounded stone just about covers the space across from one side of the souterrain passage to the other, measuring roughly 6 feet by 4 feet, with its longer axis positioned roughly east-west.  It was on the westernmost edge of the stone where I located the first single cup-mark, close to the edge, but there are perhaps 12  others: three of which, as the photos show, are in a straight line from near the west-side of the stone to the upper-middle.  On its far eastern edge, another cup-mark is clearly evident; whilst on its southernmost edge is another.  It’s the middle and eastern section of the rock that grabs most of the attention.  Here we found the very faint rings becoming clearer and clearer as the dust of ages was carefully swept away, eventually giving us vision of carvings that were, in all likelihood, first pecked into the rock in the neolithic period, 4-6000 years ago.

Close-up of the 2 triple-rings

Cup-and-rings at an angle

As we can see, two faint triple-rings exist, each with lines running in/out of them.  The eastern concentric system is just about complete and has a small cup-mark on the NW edge of the outer ring.  A line that runs out from the central cup meets another carved line which, from some angles, appears to look almost like a bowl beneath the triple rings—but this is unclear.  The other triple cup-and-ring, slightly closer to the middle of the stone, has an incomplete outer ring, with evidence of another line running outwards from its central cup. There seems to be a slightly-pecked outline of a single cup-and-ring on the north side of the stone, but this is also unclear.

In truth we need to revisit the site soon, when the lighting gives us a clear idea of what we actually found, because our visit here was cut short by encroaching night and a grey cloudy evening—which are not the best conditions for isolating new petroglyphs!

At least six other petroglyphs exist within the Pitcur Souterrain (3), with the one closest to this (Pitcur 3:3) also used as a roofing stone, covering the deep trench from one side to the other.  However, it would appear the petroglyphs on that stone were on its underside, as the erosion on it is negligible, away from the elements—unlike this one! Another capstone that was also turned over (Pitcur 3:4) was found to possess more cup-and-rings, again on the underside of the stone.

This carving was probably executed 2-3000 years before the souterrain came into existence, and as a result of this we’re unsure as to the original location of the stone—but it was probably close by.  It might have originally been a carved standing stone, re-used here; or been part of a lost prehistoric tomb; or even a loose earthfast rock (though this is the least likely of the three).  Why it was used, and whether it retained any sense of the original meaning when it was re-positioned into the present construction, is a relevant question.  In all likelihood some of the original mythic element—or a morphed development of its original animistic narrative–was probably a functional ingredient of importance to the souterrain builders, 2-3000 years after the carving had been made.

A superb site!

References:

  1. Wainwright, F T., The Souterrains of Southern Pictland, RKP: London 1963.

Acknowledgements:  This site profile would not have been made possible were it not for the huge help of Nina Harris, Frank Mercer & Paul Hornby.  Huge thanks to you all, both for the excursion and use of your photos in this site profile. :)

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian 

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Pitcur Souterrain (3), Kettins, Perthshire

Souterrain:  OS Grid Reference – NO 2529 3738

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 30539
  2. The Cave
  3. Pitcur II (Wainwright)

Getting Here

Pitcur souterrain entrance

From Coupar Angus, take the A923 road southeast for nearly 2½ miles where you reach the crossroads.  Keeping walking along the A923 for just over 300 yards, then where you come to the second field on your left, follow the line of fencing the slope until you reach an overgrown fenced section.  It’s in there!

Archaeology & History

This is a mightily impressive site, which I’ve been looking forward to experience for many an age.  And—despite Nature covering it in deep grasses—it was even better than any of us anticipated.  Souterrains are ten-a-penny in this part of Scotland, but this one’s a beauty!  Here, dug 6-8 feet into the ground are at least two long curvaceous passageways, linked by another stone-roofed passageway—with the longest central passage leading at one end into a completely covered stone hallway, whose end is blocked by a massive fall of earth.  Outside this entrance, laid on the ground, is what looks like a possible old stone ‘door’ that may have once blocked the entrance, now fallen into disuse.  It is too small to have been a roofing stone.  In the walling just outside the entrance, on your left, you will see a faint cup-marked stone (Pitcur 3:5) and a larger cup-and-ring stone (Pitcur 3:6), both just above ground-level.

Inside looking out (photo by Frank Mercer)

Outside looking in (photo by Frank Mercer)

The site is evocative on so many levels: not least because we still don’t know what the hell it was used for.  The over-used idea that souterrains were cattle-pens makes no sense whatsoever here; the idea that they were food storage sites is, I suppose, a possibility; that they were possible shelters for people during inter-tribal raids is another; and equally as probable is that the deep dark enclosed construction was used by shamans, or neophytes enclosed for their rites of passage.  Iron Age archaeology specialist Ian Armit (1998) thought there may well be some as yet undiscovered “timber roundhouse” associated with this souterrain, awaiting excavation.  He may be right.  When we came here the other week we found previously unrecorded cup-and-ring carvings, at a site already renowned for decent petroglyphs.  A post-winter visit will hopefully bring us more finds.

The general history of this strange site is captured in Wainwright’s (1963) survey of souterrains, in which he wrote:

“Pitcur II was discovered in 1878 when a large stone, hit by a plough, was removed to reveal an underground passage.  Mr John Granger, tenant of Pitcur farm, excavated the souterrain himself, and twenty-two years later his son, Mr A. Granger Heiton, said that the only objects found by members of his family were ‘a small red clay bowl of Samian ware in pieces’ and ‘a Roman coin.’  The latter, according to David MacRitchie, ‘has been lost sight of’.  Mr Granger Heiton also told McRitchie that ‘one or two other coins were reported as having been found’, but were not seen by his father.

“As an excavation, Mr Granger’s effort seems to have been unsatisfactory by any standards, and it was followed by a ‘supplementary excavation’ conducted by Mr R. Stewart Menzies.  This was more successful as a relic-hunting operation, if not as an archaeological excavation, for between one hundred and two hundred finds are reported, including ‘a bronze pin’ and ‘a quantity of stones, beads, etc.’  But these too ‘seem to have been mislaid.’

Newly-found Pitcur 3:2 carving

Curiously Mr Wainwright made little mention of the impressive petroglyphs within this complex, save to say that “they were too heavy to be removed and ‘mislaid’.”  There are at least seven of them at Pitcur-3: four complex cup-and-ring designs and three basic cup-marked stones (described individually in separate site-profiles).  They have all been incorporated into the walls and roofing stones. At least one of these is so eroded (Pitcur 3:2) that there is little doubt it was re-used from a now-lost neolithic structure; the rest may have been from Bronze Age sites (also lost) and their respective lack of erosion shows they have been inside this Iron Age structure, away from Nature’s wind and weathering effects. It is likely that the re-use of these carvings in Pitcur-3 was of significance to the builders; although we cannot be sure as to what their function may have been within the souterrain.  It’s quite possible that some form of ‘continuity of tradition’ as posited by David MacRitchie (1890) was in evidence, over that huge time scale from the neolithic into the Iron Age, relating specifically to the animistic plinth implicit in all early agrarian cultures.

But the first real overview of the site was written at the end of the 19th century by David MacRitchie (1900), over twenty years after its rediscovery in 1878.  His account was a good one too:

“The Pitcur house consists of one long subterranean gallery, slightly curved throughout most of its length, and bending abruptly in a hook shape at its western end. From this western end a short broad gallery or room goes off, curving round the outside of the ‘hook.’ The length of the main gallery, following the medial line, and measuring from the extreme of the entrance at either end, is almost 190 feet; while the subsidiary room is 60 feet long. For most of its length, this subsidiary room is 10 feet wide, measuring at the floor level. On account of this unusual width, it is reasonable to suppose that its roof was of timber; for although the walls slightly converge at the top, reducing the intervening space to 8 or 9 feet, the span is still so great that a flagged roof would scarcely have been practicable. To be sure, the walls might have been raised several courses higher, in the usual ‘ Cyclopean arch,’ and thus the interval to be bridged would become sufficiently narrowed at a height of say 12 feet. But there is no indication that the walls of any portion of this earth-house ever rose higher than the present level of their highest parts. Thus the inference is that this subsidiary room may have been roofed with timber.”

Modern groundplan (after RCAHMS, 1994)

MacRitchie’s 1900 groundplan

It may, but we have no remaining evidence to tell us for sure. MacRitchie cited possible evidences from elsewhere to add weight to this thought, but had the humility to leave the idea open, telling simply how “no vestige of a roof is visible at the present day, and the whole of this side room is open to the sky,” as with the majority of this entire souterrain.  In my opinion, more of it would have been roofed in stone slabs, but these would seem to have been robbed.  Certainly a well-preserved cup-marked stone (Pitcur 3:3) laying up against one of the walls appears to have slid from its topmost covering position into where it now rests in the passageway (near ‘b‘ in MacRitchie’s plan).

Continuing with Mr MacRitchie’s account, he (like most of us) found the underground section most impressive, telling:

“This covered section is unquestionably the most interesting and instructive of the whole building; for, as already stated, the other parts are more or less ruined and roofless. A few remaining flags lying in the unroofed part of the main gallery show, however, that it once possessed the usual stone roof throughout its entire length. This was rendered possible by the comparative narrowness of the main gallery, the width of which on the floor averages about 6 feet. The greater breadth of the subsidiary gallery will be realised by glancing at the cross section, a-b in the plan.

“The Pitcur earth-house had at least three separate entrances, namely, at the points h, i, and j.  The subsidiary room appears also to have had an independent connection with the, outside world, at the point g, and perhaps also f, though the latter may only mark a fireplace or air-hole, for the condition of the ruin makes it difficult for one to speak with certainty. The entrance at i, which slopes rapidly downward, is roofed all the way to d; and consequently this short passage remains in its original state.

“Within the covered portion, and quite near its entrance, a well-built recess (e in the plan) seems clearly to have been used as a fireplace, although the orifice which presumably once connected it with the upper air is now covered over.  Another and a smaller recess in the covered portion (k in the plan) can hardly have been a fireplace, and it is difficult to know what it was used as.

“One other point of interest is the presence of two cup-marked stones (p and q on the plan). Of these, the former is lying isolated on the surface of the ground near the entrance i, while the latter forms one of the wall stones beside the doorway c.”

‘Fireplace’ near the entrance

The internal ‘cave’ section has that typical damp smell and feel to it, beloved of underground explorers.  As we can see in MacRitchie’s old photo of the site, the seeming ‘fireplace’ that he mentions is very obvious. Frank Mercer posited the same idea about this underground alcove when he first saw it, and it makes a lot of sense.  On the left-upright stone in the photo (right) you can just make out a single cup-marking (Pitcur 3:7) which we found when we visited; another one may be on the inside edge of the same fireplace.  If you climb up on top of the souterrain close to where the opening of the fireplace would have been, you’ll see the impressive Pitcur 3:5 petroglyph; whilst the Pitcur 3:1 carving is difficult to see (though Mr Mercer noticed it), just above ground-level, beneath the covering stone ‘m‘ in MacRitchie’s plan.  All in all, a bloody impressive place!

Folklore

In earlier centuries the site was known locally as The Cave, yet considering how impressive it is, folklore and oral tradition seem sparse.  Even David MacRitchie (1897) struggled to find anything here.  But in one short article he wrote for The Reliquary, he thought that stories of little-people may have related to Pitcur-3:

“A tradition which a family of that neighbourhood has preserved for the past two centuries, has, in the opinion of the present writer, a distinct bearing upon the “cave” and its builders.

“This is that, a long time ago, a community of “clever” little people, known as “the merry elfins,” inhabited a “tounie,” or village, close to the place. The present inheritors of the tradition assume that they lived above ground and do not connect them at all with this “cave,” of whose existence they were unaware until a comparatively recent date. But, in view of a mass of folk-lore ascribing to such “little people” an underground life, the presumption is that the “tounie” was nothing else than the “cave”. This theme cannot be enlarged upon here; but a study of the traditions relating to the inhabitants of those subterranean houses will make the identification clearer.

“It may be added that the term “Picts’ house” applied to the Pitcur souterrain, is in agreement with the inherited belief, so widespread in Scotland, that the Picts were a people of immense bodily strength, although of small stature.”

References:

  1. Armit, Ian, Scotland’s Hidden History, Tempus: Stroud 1998.
  2. Barclay, Gordon, “Newmill and the ‘Souterrains of Southern Pictland'”, in Proceedings Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 110, 1980.
  3. Mackenna, F.S., “Recovery of an Earth House”, in The Kist, volume 4, 1972.
  4. Mackie, Euan, Scotland: An Archaeologial Guide, Faber: London 1975.
  5. MacRitchie, David, The Testimony of Tradition, Kegan Paul: London 1890.
  6. MacRitchie, David, “Pitcur and its Merry Elfins,” in The Reliquary, 1897.
  7. MacRitchie, David, “Description of an Earth-house at Pitcur, Forfarshire,” in Proceedings Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 34, 1900.
  8. Neighbour, T., “Pitcur Souterrain (Kettins parish)”, in Discovery & Excavation Scotland, 1995.
  9. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, South-East Perth: An Archaeological Landscape, HMSO: Edinburgh 1994.
  10. Wainwright, F T., The Souterrains of Southern Pictland, RKP: London 1963.
  11. Warden, Alex J., Angus or Forfarshire: The Land and People – Descriptive and Historical – 5 volumes, Charles Alexander: Dundee 1880-1885.
  12. Young, Alison, “Cup-and ring Markings on Craig Ruenshin, with some Comparative Notes“, in Proceedings Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 72, 1938.

Acknowledgements:  This site profile would not have been made possible were it not for the huge help of Nina Harris, Frank Mercer & Paul Hornby.  Huge thanks to you all, both for the excursion and use of your photos in this site profile. :)

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

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Blakey Topping, Allerston, North Yorkshire

Stone Circle:  OS Grid Reference – SE 8719 9338

Getting Here

Old stones of Blakey Topping (photo by James Elkington)

From Pickering, take the A169 towards Whitby. When you get to the Car Park at the ‘Hole-of-Horcum’ – (you can’t miss it), park the car and walk North along the side of the road towards Whitby. After 60 yds, take the track East. Follow this for approximately a mile until the track splits. Take the concrete track left towards the farm-house of ‘Newgate Foot’. Go through the yard past the house on the right, and you will come to a stream and a gate. Enter the field on the right and up the track. The stones are in front of you.

Archaeology & History

Stone re-used as gatepost (photo by James Elkington)

The great rounded hill of Blakey Topping—recorded as early as 1233 CE and meaning the ‘black mound’ or ‘black meeting-place’— has the ruins of a stone circle living several hundred yards to its south, little-known to many.  The early writer George Young (1817) seemed to come close here, mentioning the ‘druidic’ standing stones of Blakey Moor and district, but gave no specific indication of the ruinous ring we’re visiting here.  Instead, the first real description was penned by Robert Knox (1855) who, at the time of writing, was under the academic spell of druidism: prevalent as it was amongst most universities and places of learning back then.  Also, beset by the equally sad plague of Biblical comparitivism—beloved even to this day by halfwits—Knox’s formula about this ancient ring was founded on the druidical reverence of Blakey Topping as a site beneath which our Bronze age tribal ancestors erected their stones with the rounded hill immediately to the north, as signified by its early name, black. (In early place-names, ‘black’ and its variants—dubh, dove, etc—relates to the cardinal direction of ‘north’ and actually means ‘shining’; and white or ban is ‘south’, when both elements are located in relative proximity.)  Knox told us:

“At the southwest side of this arch-Druid’s tomb-like hill (Blakey Topping) a far more conspicuous cluster of larger Druid stones occurs; here three pillars form a triangle…and a smaller one…stands one hundred and fifty paces east of these nearer to the farmhouse there.  These single stones, possibly, once formed part of a circle… The diameter of a circle formed on this triangle of stones would be about fifty-five feet; but as these pillars form a nearly equilateral triangle, the number of stones in that circle cannot now be correctly ascertained, if, indeed, they ever formed part of a circle…

“These three sandstone pillars, untouched by tools…are much weather-worn; and hence it may be inferred that they are very ancient.  I shall only add that the tallest pillar here is nine feet high, from two-and-a-half to three feet wide, and rom fifteen to twenty inches thick, and is the tallest ancient pillar next to the celebrated one in Rudston churchyard, now standing in the eastern part of Yorkshire.  When I last visited the Blakey Topping Druid-stones in 1836, I learned that the farmer, on whose ground they stand, “had talked about breaking the three large ones to pieces,” and perhaps nothing but the trouble of doing so has hitherto preserved them, and many others.  I told him what had been their use, and begged he would preserve them.”

Two of the old stones (photo by James Elkington)

Standing stones on 1854 map

And thankfully they remain there to this day!  Around the same time of Mr Knox’s visit, the Ordnance Survey lads came here too and, in 1854, highlighted the remaining ‘Druidical Stones’ on the first map of the area.  But references to the stones from here onwards are sparse and add nothing pertinent to its archaeomythic status.  It was a Mr & Mrs Elgee (1930) who were the next to tell us about the site in their exposition on Yorkshire archaeology.  They wrote:

“Three large standing stones about 6 feet high on the south-west side of Blakey Topping…are the remains of a circle about 18 yards in diameter.  Two or three hollows in the ground indicate the position of other stones, some of which are serving as gateposts nearby. Others have been broken up to help build a wall.  These stones are associated with a large settlement sites similar to (one) on Danby Rigg not very far from the imposing Bridestones and approached by an ancient trackway known as the Old Wife’s Trod.”

The general interpretation by the great megalithic archaeologists Aubrey Burl, John Barnatt and their fellow associates, is that these stones are the remains of a stone circle – which seems apt.  But of even greater importance seems to be the great hill of Blakey Topping itself, to which this olde ring no doubt related to.  Many other prehsitoric sites once scattered this area, but sadly most of them have been destroyed.

References:

  1. Barnatt, John, Stone Circles of Britain (2 volumes), BAR: Oxford 1989.
  2. Burl, Aubrey, A Guide to the Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany, New Haven & London 1995.
  3. Burl, Aubrey, The Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany, Yale University Press 2000.
  4. Elgee, F., Early Man in Northeast Yorkshire, Frank Bellows: Gloucester 1930.
  5. Elgee, F. & H.W., The Archaeology of Yorkshire, Methuen: London 1933.
  6. Gutch, Mrs E., Examples of Printed Folklore Concerning the North Riding of Yorkshire, David Nutt: London 1899.
  7. Knox, Robert, Descriptions Geological, Topographical and Antiquarian in Eastern Yorkshire, London 1855.
  8. Phillips, Guy Ragland, Brigantia, RKP: London 1976.
  9. Smith, A.H., The Place-Names of the North Riding of Yorkshire, Cambridge University Press 1928.
  10. Spratt, D.A., Prehistoric and Roman Archaeology of North-East Yorkshire, BAR: Oxford 1982.
  11. White, Stanhope, Standing Stones and Earthworks on the North Yorkshire Moors, privately printed: Scarborough 1987.
  12. Young, George, A History of Whitby and Streoneshalh Abbey – 2 volumes, Clark & Medd: Whitby 1817.

Links:

  1. Mountains, Myths and Moorlands

Acknowledgements:  Big thanks to the photographer James Elkington, for use of his photos in this profile. Cheers mate.  Also, accreditation of early OS-map usage, reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland.

© Paul Bennett & James ElkingtonThe Northern Antiquarian 

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Brandy Well, Carlton, North Yorkshire

Holy Well (lost):  OS Grid Reference – NZ 52 03?

Archaeology & History

Brandy Well c.1910

Not marked on any map of the area (that I can find), this little-known possible holy well is described just once in one of Mr Blakeborough’s (1912) numerous regional history tomes.  Although he doesn’t explore the origin of the well’s name (which we find repeated at other water sources in northern Britain), the Scottish writers, Ruth & Frank Morris (1982) tell how examples of wells with this name in Scotland owe their names to the curious early christian figure of St. Brendan, whose annual saint’s day is May 16.  Whether this applies here I cannot tell.

We need some help locating the place, as it seems to have fallen off the radar.  The best I can do is give Mr Blakeborough description, who wrote of this Brandy Well:

“Speaking of superstitions reminds me of a tradition that the water in Brandy Well, half way up Carlton Bank, has most wonderful curative properties, and that a wish made here when drinking, is pretty certain to be fulfilled.  The well is by the road side and the water is no doubt just about as pure as it could possibly be, coming as it does, after much filtering through peat, straight from the hills.  There may be something more than mere superstition in the health giving properties of this water, especially in conjunction with the climb up the hill amid pine trees and the inhaling of the invigorating air.”

Its exact location is difficult to pin down.  There is no sign of any Well along the roadside between Carlton village and where the road eventually levels out on the northwest side of the hill.  It certainly isn’t the Mere Beck Spring on the south-side of the hill (is that still there and what is its history?); but there is however a ‘Spring’ shown on the early OS-maps on the east-side of the hill, along an old track at roughly NZ 52233 02357. Could this be it?  Or has the old Brandy Well been destroyed?  In an area littered with prehistoric and mythic sites, it would be good to relocate this one.

References:

  1. Blakeborough, J. Fairfax, Life in a Yorkshire Village, Yorkshire Publishing: Stockton-on-Tees 1912.
  2. Morris, Ruth & Frank, Scottish Healing Wells, Alethea: Sandy 1982.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian 

Posted in Brigantia (Northern England), Cleveland, Holy Wells, Yorkshire, North | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Blakey Topping, Allerston, North Yorkshire

Sacred Hill:  OS Grid Reference – SE 8731 9377

Getting Here

Blakey Topping (photo, James Elkington)

From Pickering, take the A169 towards Whitby. When you get to the Car Park at the ‘Hole-of-Horcum’ – (you can’t miss it), park the car and walk North along the side of the road towards Whitby. After 60 yds, take the track East. Follow this for approximately a mile until the track splits. Take the concrete track left towards the farmhouse of ‘Newgate Foot’. Go through the yard past the house on the right, and you will come to a stream and a gate and there, ahead of you, rises Blakey Topping…

Archaeology & History

The giant hill of Blakey Topping was recorded as early as 1233 CE and in a simplistic style just means the ‘black mound’; but this derivation has additional ingredients, implying it as a ‘black meeting-place’ or moot.  Black in the etymological sense also implies ‘shining’ and it may also relate to the northern airt of black (meaning death, darkness, north, etc), when you’re stood at the ruined stone circle 400 yards to the south. But I’m speculating here…

Several 19th century antiquarians suggested there may have once been a cairn on top of the hill, but others who’ve explored this idea seem to have put it to bed.

Folklore

Looking up from the SW (photo, James Elkington)

This great hill is well recognised amongst local people and, to this day, its animistic creation myths and other folklore elements are still spoken.  When the photographer James Elkington recently visited the nearby standing stones, he bumped into the old farmer who told him how his father had seen the faerie-folk on the hill many years back.  And its modern reputation as a gorgeous site adds to such lore, which dates way back.

In Frank & Harriett Elgee’s (1933) archaeology work, they narrated the old creation myth that local people used to tell of this great hill,

“A witch story related by a native 25 years ago attempts to explain two conspicuous natural features two miles apart on Pickering Moor; Blakey Topping, an isolated hill, and the Hole of Horcum, a deep basin-shaped valley. The local witch had sold her soul to the devil on the usual terms, but when he claimed it, she refused to give it up, and flew over the moors, with the devil in hot pursuit. Overtake her he could not, so he grabbed up a handful of earth and flung it at her. he missed his aim and she escaped.  The Hole of Horcum remains to prove where he tore up the earth and Blakey Topping where it fell to the ground.

“From our point of view the significance of this story lies in the fact that between the Hole and the Topping there is a Bronze Age settlement site at Blakey Farm, with its stone circle. The rough trackway leading from the Hole to the circle is known as the Old Wife’s Way, presumably also marking the witch’s flight. This, together with other Old Wife’s Ways, preserves as it were Bronze Age church tracks”.

A relative variation on this tells that the Hole of Horcum was made by the local giant, Wade. He was having a row with his wife, Bell, and got so angry that he scooped out a lump of earth and threw it at her.  The huge geological feature known as the Hole of Horcum is the dip left where he scooped out the earth, and Blakey topping, the clod itself, resting in situ where it landed.  A christian appropriation of the story replaces Wade and his wife with their ‘devil’: a puerile element unworthy of serious consideration.

In more recent times, the old geomancer Guy Ragland Phillips (1976; 1985) found that a number of alignments, or leys (known as a ‘node’), centred on Blakey Topping: twelve in all, reaching out and crossing numerous holy wells, prehistoric tumuli, standing stones, etc.  The precision of the alignments is questionable, yet the matter of the hill being a centre-point, or omphalos, would seem moreso than not.

References:

  1. Elgee, F. & H.W., The Archaeology of Yorkshire, Methuen: London 1933.
  2. Phillips, Guy Ragland, Brigantia, RKP: London 1976.
  3. Phillips, Guy Ragland, The Unpolluted God, Northern Lights: Pocklington 1987.
  4. Smith, A.H., The Place-Names of the North Riding of Yorkshire, Cambridge University Press 1928.

Links:

  1. Mountains, Myths and Moorlands

Acknowledgements:  Big thanks to the photographer, James Elkington, for use of his photos in this profile. Cheers mate.

© Paul Bennett & James ElkingtonThe Northern Antiquarian

Posted in Brigantia (Northern England), Sacred Nature, Yorkshire, North | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment