Ghaist Stane, Fern, Angus

Standing Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NO 4832 6173

Getting Here

Ghaist Stane on 1865 OS-map

Ghaist Stane on 1865 OS-map

Whichever route you take to reach this lovely hamlet, hiding away in deep greenery, when you get to the one and only road junction, where it goes downhill (towards the old church), look just above you just below the first tree.  All but covered in vegetation, the ruined stone lays down there. Climb up and see!

Archaeology & History

Tis up on the verge here

Tis up on the verge here

An exploration of this site was prompted when fellow antiquarian, Paul Hornby, came across the curious place-name of ‘Ghaist Stane’ when he was looking over some old Ordnance Survey maps of the region.  So we met up and took a venture over there!  Last highlighted on the 1865 map (when the old village was known as Fearn, not the modern spelling), even the Canmore lads had missed this one.  But it’s not easy to find….

After meandering back and forth by the village roadside, on the tops of the walls, into the field above, Paul eventually said, “Is that it?!” just above the roadside, almost buried in vegetation below the roots of a tree.  So I clambered back up and brushed some of the vegetation away – and there it was – in just the place that the old OS-map showed it to be (give or take a few yards).

The remains of the stone measure roughly 3 feet by 3 feet; with the present upper portion of the stone being of a lighter colour than the lower portion, indicating that this section of the stone was the portion that was underground when it was standing upright.  Its history is fragmentary, but we know that it was almost completely destroyed in the middle of the 19th century.  Notes from the Object Name Book of the region in 1861 told,

“The “Ghaist Stane”…formerly well known, is becoming little known from the stone having been recently blasted in making the Dike it now forms a part of, but it may be observed in the wall as a huge stone much larger than those beside it in the Dike. It does not project now from the side of the Road.”

Now the stone is almost entirely forgotten and lays covered, ignored, even by local people.  It could do with being resurrected and its heritage preserved before it disappears forever.

Folklore

The uncovered Ghaist Stane

The uncovered Ghaist Stane

The word “ghaist” is a regional dialect word meaning “a ghost or goblin”, inferring that the site was haunted.  And, considering the inherent animistic cultural psychology of the people here in earlier centuries, we must also consider the distinct possibility that the stone itself was the abode of a resident spirit, perhaps an ancestral one of a local chief, or queen, or elder of some sort.

In James Guthrie’s (1875) analysis of the folklore of Fern township, he told of the peculiarly odd violent brownies of the district and thought that they and the spirit of the Ghaist Stane were one and the same.

“In addition to the leading characteristics of Brownies in general the more prominent of these being, that they forded the rivers when their waters were at their highest, and that the sage femme always landed safely at the door of the sick wife—the brownies of Ferne are connected with scenes of cruelty and bloodshed.  This peculiarity would seem to indicate that the brownie and the ghaist of Feme, were one and the same.  The Ghaist Stane is in the vicinity of the church.   To this piece of isolated rock, it is said this disturber of the peace was often chained as a fitting punishment for his misdeeds, but tradition is silent as to the brownie being similarly dealt with, which strengthens the supposition that they were, in this quarter at least, generally regarded as one being.”

The spirit of the Ghaist Stane roamed far and wide in the district it seemed, and a long rhyme telling a tale of the ghaist was once well-known in the area which, thankfully, Mr Guthrie gave us in full:

THE GHAIST O’ FERNE-DEN

There liv’d a farmer in the North,
(I canna tell you when),
But just he had a famous farm
Nae far frae Feme-den.
I doubtna, sirs, ye a’ hae heard,
Baith women folks an’ men,
About a muckle, fearfu’ ghaist —
The ghaist o’ Ferne-den!
The muckle ghaist, the fearfu’ ghaist,
The ghaist o’ Ferne-den;
He wad hae wrought as muckle wark
As four-au’-twenty men!

Gin there was ony strae to thrash,
Or ony byres to clean,
He never thocht it muckle fash
0′ workin’ late at e’en!
Although the nicht was ne’er sae dark,
He scuddit through the glen,
An’ ran an errand in a crack —
The ghaist o’ Ferne-den!

Ane nicht the mistress o’the house
Fell sick an’ like to dee,—
“O! for a oanny wily wife!”
Wi’ micht an’ main, cried she!
The nicht was dark, an’ no a spark
Wad venture through the glen,
For fear that they micht meet the ghaist —
The ghaist o’ Ferne-den!

But ghaistie stood ahint the door,
An’ hearin’ a’ the strife,
He saw though they had men a score,
They soon wad tyne the wife!
Aff to the stable then he goes,
An’ saddles the auld mare,
An’ through the splash an’ slash he ran
As fast as ony hare!

He chappit at the Mammy’s door—
Says he — “mak’ haste an’ rise;
Put on your claise an’ come wi’ me,
An’ take ye nae surprise!”
“Where am I gaun?” quo’ the wife,
“Nae far, but through the glen —
Ye’re wantit to a farmer’s wife,
No far frae Ferne-den!”

He’s taen the Mammy by the hand
An’ set her on the pad,
Got on afore her an’ set aff
As though they baith were mad!
They climb’d the braes—they lap the burns—
An’ through the glush did plash:
They never minded stock nor stane,
Nor ony kind o’ trash!

As they were near their journey’s end
An’ scudden through the glen:
“Oh!” says the Mammy to the ghaist,
“Are we come near the den!
For oh! I’m feared we meet the ghaist!”
“Tush, weesht, ye fool! “quo’ he;
“For waur than ye ha’e i’ your arms,
This nicht ye winna see!”

When they cam to the farmer’s door
He set the Mammy down:—
“I’ve left the house but ae half hour—
I am a clever loon!
But step ye in an’ mind the wife
An’ see that a’ gae richt,
An’ I will tak ye hame again
At twal’ o’ clock at nicht!”

“What maks yer feet sae braid?” quo’ she,
“What maks yer een sae sair?”
Said he, — “I’ve wander’d mony a road
Without a horse or mare!
But gin they speir, wha’ brought ye here,
‘Cause they were scarce o’ men;
Just tell them that ye rade ahint
The ghaist o’ Ferne-den!”

References:

  1. Guthrie, James C., The Vale of Strathmore – Its Scenes and Legends, William Paterson: Edinburgh 1875.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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Cromlix Lodge, Dunblane, Perthshire

Long Cairn:  OS Grid Reference – NN 7617 0671

Also Known as:

  1. Bracklin Burn
  2. Canmore ID 73465

Getting Here

Long line of the cairn, looking S

Long line of the cairn, looking S

Take the B8033 north out of Dunblane and, immediately out the other side of Kinbuck, as you cross the river, take the first track on your left to Cromlix.  Keep right along here to Cullings and beyond, till you reach the edge of the forestry plantation.  Go left instead of going into the trees and, instead, follow the edge of the woodland for about 750 yards.  You’ll see the land rise up on the other side of the stream and the huge length of stones thereby.  That’s it!

Archaeology & History

Main axis of the cairn

Main axis of the cairn

Not included in any major archaeology tomes, this giant long prehistoric pile of rocks—probably constructed in neolithic times—sits along the edge of a natural ridge, out of sight of all but the lone wanderer and the birds.  Aligned ESE to WNW, this huge monument measures more than 61 yards (56m) in length and is 12 yards across at its present widest section.  Much of the tomb has been severely robbed for stone in making the local walling: two of which emerge out of the structure itself—one running directly downhill from its larger eastern edge, and a more extensive wide line of walling running west and northwest for quite some distance.  This western section of walling has the hallmarks of being constructed as far back as the Iron Age, which may be when the initial destruction of the chambered cairn first started.  But, until we get an excavation here, we won’t know for sure.

Portion of the central mass of stones

Portion of the central mass of stones

Western wall leads to the cairn

Western wall leads to the cairn

The next closest tomb of any great size is the Judge’s Cairn, 1½ miles (2.4km) to the southwest.  Clusters of smaller single cairns exist about nearly a mile northwest, with prehistoric settlement traces accompanying them—but nothing seems in immediate attendance to this Cromlix giant.  Other sites, obviously, await discovery in this area.

References:

  1. Royal Commission Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Braes of Doune: An Archaeological Survey, Edinburgh 1994.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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Judge’s Cairn, Dunblane, Perthshire

Cairn:  OS Grid Reference – NN 73944 05618

Judges Cairn, surveyed 1862

Judges Cairn, surveyed 1862

Also Known as:

  1. The Big Cairn
  2. Canmore ID 24661
  3. Dalbrack

Getting Here

Judges Cairn, looking west

Judges Cairn, looking west

Along the A820 road between Dunblane and Doune, from the Dunblane-side, take the very first minor road on your right a few hundred yards after you’ve come off (or over) the A9 dual-carriageway.  Go all the way to the very top of this long and winding road for several miles, until you reach the gate which prevents you going any further. Walk up the slope on your left (west) and you’ll see the large grassy mound a coupla hundred yards ahead of you. That’s it!

Archaeology & History

This is a large rounded prehistoric cairn of some considerable size, whose position in the landscape allows for an impressive 360° view—a deliberate ingredient, no doubt, when it came to building this probable tomb.  I say “probable”, as there has never been a dig (not an ‘official’ one anyway) into the heart of this overgrown rocky mound.

Looking SE, at the Ochil Hills

Looking SE, at the Ochil Hills

More than 60 feet in diameter at its greatest and 6 feet high, with a circumference of 67 yards (61m), the top of the mound has been disturbed and, clearly, has been dug into at some time in the past—but archaeohistorical accounts are silent on the matter.  The first description of the Judge’s Cairn seems to have been in Peter Stewart’s (1839) notes on local antiquities of Dunblane, where he described it most simply:

“The Judges Cairn, yet undispersed, a circular heap of rough mountains stones covered with furze, on the farm of Bowie, barony of Kilbride.”

Along with the Ordnance Survey lads who came here in 1862, all subsequent visits gave rise to only short notes about the place.  Odd, considering its size and distinct vantage point.  And yet it remains hidden from view unless you come from the north, from whence that archetype of a fairy mound raises itself above Nature’s fair body into the eyes of any ambling wanderer…. A wonderful place sit and dream for a while…

Folklore

Judges Cairn, looking NE

Judges Cairn, looking NE

We enquired with a local whose family had been resident here since the mid-18th century about the name and folklore of the site, but he said he knew of nothing.  However, in earlier times it was said to be a place where the local sheriff held court and dispensed justice.  Mr Mackay (1984) told that the site “has been connected with the Judge’s Seat at Severie” nearby.  It seems possible that, as “it is just outside the parish boundary” between Doune and Dunblane, this may have been a moot site in ancient times, from whence laws were dispensed.  Old perambulation records may, perhaps, prove fruitful…

References:

  1. Barty, Alexander, The History of Dunblane, Eneas MacKay: Stirling 1944.
  2. Mackay, Moray S., Doune – Historical Notes, Forth Naturalist: Stirling 1984.
  3. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Archaeological Sites and Monuments of Stirling District, Central Region, Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 1979.
  4. Shearer, John E., “Prehistoric Man and Prehistoric Remains in Britain,” in Transactions of the Stirling Natural History & Archaeological Society, 1907.
  5. Stewart, Peter G., Essay on the Dunblane Mineral Springs, Hewit: Dunblane 1839.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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Hillhead, Forgue, Aberdeenshire

Stone Circle (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NJ 638 367

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 18237
  2. Hillhead of Bogfouton
  3. Wether Hill

Archaeology & History

Described by the early 20th century antiquarian and megalithomaniac Fred Coles (1903) as being situated “about 1¼ mile SE from the church at Ythan Wells,” all trace of this stone circle has long gone, and had already disappeared when Coles was surveying the region, telling merely that it had been here “in open fields.”  All subsequent explorations looking for remains of the site has proven fruitless.

References:

  1. Barnatt, John, Stone Circles of Britain – volume 2, British Archaeological Report: Oxford 1989.
  2. Cole, Fred, “Report on the stone circles of North-Eastern Scotland, chiefly in Auchterless and Forgue,” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 37, 1903.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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Borland, Alyth, Perthshire

Standing Stone: OS Grid Reference – NO 15361 60677

Also Known as:

  1. Borland Stone
  2. Canmore ID 29401

Getting Here

The Borland Stone, looking NE

The Borland Stone, looking NE

From Blairgowrie, take the A93 north road, ensuring that when you reach the Bridge of Cally after 5½ miles (9km), you take the right-turn up Glenshee (the Valley of the Faerie folk) and not the A924 Strathardle road. After about 5 miles, turn right up the small lane to Blacklunans after, once you’ve weaved past the River Shee and started uphill, a few hundred yards on keep yer eyes peeled on the fields to your left. If you hit the Glenshee EcoCamp, you’ve gone too far.

Archaeology & History

Borland Stone, looking west

Borland Stone, looking west

This small, out-of-the-way standing stone is set amidst a small mass of rounded stones—as if once part of a cairn—at the top of a small hillock that can easily be passed by if your nose isn’t working properly.  Curiously isolated, the monolith seems more of an outlier to the Mount Blair hills immediately north and east; or perhaps the large settlement less than a mile south.

Very little seems to have been said about the stone, in literary terms at least.  The Royal Commission (1990) lads merely told us that,

“This stone, which stands on the summit of a prominent knoll 300m SE of Borland farmhouse, measures 0.7m by 0.3m at the base and 1m in height.”

Stone aligned NNE to Tom Bealaidh

Stone aligned NNE to Tom Bealaidh

Nowt else!  Although the stone was marked on the early 1900 OS-map, the small mass of loose stones at its base are more recently-worked than anything prehistoric and may simply be field clearance.  The monolith itself could do with assessment to positively ensure its prehistoric veracity.

References:

  1. Meikle, James, Places and Place-Names around Alyth, Alexander Gardner: Paisley 1925.
  2. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, North-East Perth: An Archaeological Landscape, HMSO: Edinburgh 1990.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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Glen Cochill Cairnfield 1, Little Dunkeld, Perthshire

Cairns:  OS Grid Reference – NN 9035 4145  —  NEW FIND

Getting Here

Two of at least five cairns hereby

Two of at least five cairns hereby

Take the A826 road south out of Aberfeldy, uphill, till you reach the White Cairn or Carn Ban, then follow the dirt-track for 700 yards onto the moors until you reach the Glen Cochill Circle 1.  From here, look at the large stone atop of the very notable rounded hillock barely 50 yards east (at NN 90367 41478) and meander on the slopes immediately below it on the south and west.  If the heather’s grown back, you don’t stand a chance!

Archaeology & History

As far as I’m aware, despite there being some brief notes of cairnfields in and around the rich prehistoric arena of Glen Cochill, I can find no data indicating that the five small single cairns a short distance south and southeast of the Glen Cochill Ring (01), have been described before.

Cairn 1 - looking north

Cairn 1 – looking north

Cairn 2 - looking north

Cairn 2 – looking north

Deeply embedded into the peat, they are only visible when the heather has been burnt away, as highlighted in the accompanying photos.  Each cairn is of roughly the same size and structure: 2-3 yards across and only a couple of feet above ground-level, consisting of the traditional small rounded stones, each probably constituting a single burial or cremation.

Cairn 4, below the hilltop rock

Cairn 4, below the hilltop rock

Of at least five cairns that we found here (there may be others beneath the covering heather), it was very notable that they’re on edges of a rounded pyramidal hillock, whose top is surmounted by a large pointed stone – probably a glacial erratic.  We looked at this rock in the hope of finding some cup-markings, but there were none.  However, it seemed as if the cairns and this crowning stone were related to each other, as if rites for the dead were proclaimed here for those in the tombs.  It may sound silly, but go there and take a look at it yourselves – before the heather grows back.  Just as a priests today, and shamans throughout history, have used an altar or plinth to make commemorations to the dead, so this crowning stone may equally have been used.  It makes sense.  And, as if to add validating ingredients: if we look east, past the crowning stone and across the River Cochill, we see the great rocks in the forest known as Creag a Bhaird, or the Crag of the Bard, from whence orations and tales were known to be told… But that’s another site with its very own story…

AcknowledgementsOnce again, thanks must be given to Mr Paul Hornby for his help in finding these sites.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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Glen Cochill Circle (01), Little Dunkeld, Perthshire

Hut Circle:  OS Grid Reference – NN 90324 41487

Getting Here

Glen Cochill Circle - No.1

Glen Cochill Circle – No.1

Take the same directions to reach the impressive Carn Ban prehistoric tomb.  From here, walk along the winding track past the giant cairn onto the moors for about 350 yards, until the track goes dead straight and heads NNW uphill.  Walk up here for another 350 yards keeping your eyes peeled on the rounded pyramidal hill with the large rock on top.  The circle is 20 yards off the track as you head up to the pyramidal hill stone.

Archaeology & History

Although this site is mentioned in notes by the Scottish Royal Commission and highlighted by Ordnance Survey, information thereafter is pretty scarce.  Which is surprising when you check this place out first-hand.  It’s bloody impressive!

Northern arc of walling

Northern arc of walling

Eastern arc of walling

Eastern arc of walling

The circle seems to have been rediscovered first of all by the dowser J. Scott Elliott (1964), who thought it was a cairn circle – which is understandable.  However, it has been classified by the Royal Commission lads as a “hut circle”, so we’ll stick with that for the time being.

WNW arc of walling

WNW arc of walling

Arc of ring from east to south

Arc of ring from east to south

Never excavated, what we’ve got here is a very well-preserved, large ring of stones, more typical of Pennine and Derbyshire ring cairns than any standard hut circles.  But this is Scotland we’re talking about!  This impressive ring measures outer-edge to outer-edge 12 yards in diameter (north-south), by 11 yards (east-west), with the stone walling that defines the ring being between 3 and 4 feet across all round, and between 1-2 feet high.  And it’s in damn good nick!  More similar in structure to the likes of Roms Law, a number of notably large stones define the edges, but many hundreds of smaller packing stones build up the ring walls.  Of the larger rocks in the ring, the most notable one is a large white quartz crystal stone on its NNE side.

An entrance to the circle doesn’t stand out.  There may be one on the southeastern side, but this isn’t clear; and what looked like a possible entrance on its northern edge was discounted, as a larger stone blocked this on the outside.  There was no immediate evidence of any internal structure, no hearth, no tomb – merely a small stone at its centre, deeply embedded in the peat.  This may, however, cover a central cist – which would make this a cairn circle and not a large hut circle.  But that’s guesswork on my behalf!

Quartz rock reflects the sun, looking W

Quartz rock reflects the sun, looking W

It’s an impressive site whatever it may be! – in very good condition for its age (Bronze Age by the look of it) and, whilst still visible above the heather, well worth checking out if you like your stone circles and prehistoric rings.  The small prehistoric graveyard 30-40 yards south and east, plus the extensive settlement systems all over these moors are all worth exploring if you visit this place.

References:

  1. Scott-Elliot, J., “Kinloch House, Amulree,” in Discovery & Excavation in Scotland, 1964.
  2. Scott-Elliot, J., Dowsing – One Man’s Way, Neville Spearman: London 1977.

Links:

  1. Canmore notes on Glen Cochill

AcknowledgementsMany thanks to Mr Paul Hornby for his help, as usual.  Cheers fella!

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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