Nether Glenny (38), Port of Menteith, Perthshire

Cup-and-Ring Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NN 56322 02162

Getting Here

Another Nether Glenny carving

Another Nether Glenny carving

About 1 mile west of where the B8034 meets the A81, between the Port of Menteith and Aberfoyle, a small road on the right (north) at Portend takes you up the single-track road to Upper Glenny.  Go 2-300 yards up past Mondowie Farm and take the next track, left.  Walk up through the gate for nearly 300 yards, going through the gate on your left and onto the fields.  Follow the fence for 300 yards then go through the gate into the next field—past one of the Nether Glenny cairns—and walk across it until you reach an open gate at the far side, just where the hillside goes up.  It’s nearly under your feet!

Archaeology & History

The cup-and-ring

The cup-and-ring

This single cup-and-ring carving, found amidst the massive cluster of both simple and highly complex petroglyphs between Ballochraggan and Upper Glenny, doesn’t seem to have been included in any previous surveys.  It was located during the incredible rains yesterday on Sunday 7 February, wetting this and other rocks, enabling better visibility of otherwise invisible symbols faintly remaining here and on other stones.  The carving appears to have been etched into naturally occurring notches and fissures.  Certainly worth looking at when exploring the other incredible carvings on this hillside.

References:

  1. Brouwer, Jan & van Veen, Gus, Rock Art in the Menteith Hills, BRAC 2009.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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Garadh Ban Wood, Buchanan, Stirlingshire

Chambered Cairn:  OS Grid Reference – NS 45217 91907

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 282019

Getting Here

The main stones in this ruined cairn

The main stones in this ruined cairn

On the B837 between Balmaha and Drymen at the hamlet called Milton of Buchanan, at the little road junction where the houses are on the right, go uphill for 1 mile (1.6km) until you reach the West Highland Way, where you need to go left (NW).  Keep walking for another half-mile (if you get to end of the forestry plantation, you’ve gone too far) where, on your left, a small widening valley appears.  Walk along the eastern edge of this, keeping your eyes peeled for a small upright stone and two large flat companions next to it.

Archaeology & History

This site is really only for the archaeological purists amongst you, as the forestry plantation has truly taken its toll on the site and very little of it remains.  It appears to have been described first of all in H.G. Smith’s (1896) masterful local history work—although popular tradition was not assigning the place as a prehistoric tomb of any sort.  Rather, it possessed a somewhat familiar folklore element, well-known to occult historians and antiquarians.  Smith told us:

“Not far off, in Garradh-ban Wood, is the ‘Deil’s foot mark stone‘.  It is a large flat stone, 7 feet long and 6 feet wide, with an impression on it not unlike a huge foot mark.  There is another stone close to it, 7 feet by 5 feet.  These stones were probably placed there for some purpose now unknown.”

Mr Smith’s dimensions of the stones correlate closely with the modern analysis taken up by the archaeologists who visited the site more than 100 years later.  Mainly comprising of two large stones on the ground with an accompanying upright monolith on the western side, the official Canmore account tells us:

“The cairn has been reduced to a low stony mound measuring 15m from N to S by 12m transversely and up to 0.5m in height. The chamber, which lies off-centre to the SW, comprises two upright stones and two displaced capstones. The overall plan of the chamber can no longer be determined, and the two upright stones are set splayed to one another; that on the W measures 0.53m by 0.25m and 0.15m in height, and that on the E is heavily laminated measuring 1m by 0.18m and 0.8m in height. The SE corner of one capstone rests on the smaller of the two uprights. It measures 2.1m by 2.03m and up to 0.3m in thickness, and has two fragments broken off at its NE corner. The second capstone lies immediately adjacent to the N, flush with the surface of the cairn, and measures 2.3m by 1.7m and 0.17m in thickness.”

When they assessed the site in 2006, archaeologists reported finding small pieces of quartz scattered over the surface of the cairn, but when we visited here last week, there was little trace of any.

The 'Deil's foot mark'

The ‘Deil’s foot mark’

Garadh Ban, looking west

Garadh Ban, looking west

I was hoping that the “Devil’s footmark” on the stone was going to be a cup-marking of some form, as found at some other sites (Kilneuair church, etc)—but it wasn’t to be.  Instead, it seems that the curvaceous indentation left by the ‘devil’ was simply a natural cavity.  The folktale behind the name, and its possible cultural function, seems to have been forgotten.

Although (perhaps) unrelated, H.G. Smith told us of other remains not too far from here, which remain elusive and not in any official record-books.  We had a quick meander over to see if there was anything to be seen, but daylight was fading fast and more searches are required.  It sounds intriguing:

“A little above these ruins (of Cul-an-Endainn farmhouse at NS 4453 9244 – PB), on the right of the burn, but considerably above it, is a curious structure built of turf.  It is quite round, and is 25 feet in diameter at the top and 15 feet at the bottom.  It has entrances at the south, east and west.  There are others of the same construction both above and below, but not so well defined.”

Recently, industrialists have gone onto this part of the countryside and have already began scarring the hillsides, perhaps even destroying these curious remains before we’ve had a chance to assess them.  Hopefully however, they will remain untouched and allow us site analysis before any real damage is done.

Folklore

Followers of the christian cult said this site was a place where the devil had been.

References:

  1. Smith, H. Guthrie, Strathendrick and its Inhabitants from Early Times, James Maclehose: Glasgow 1896.

Acknowledgements:  Many thanks to Aisha, Lara & Leo Domleo, Unabel Gordon, Nina Harris, Paul Hornby and Naomi Ross for their help and attendance in finding this ancient site.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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St. Maha’s Well, Buchanan, Stirlingshire

Sacred Well:  OS Grid Reference – NS 4573 9180

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 43475
  2. Saintmaha Well

Getting Here

St Maha's Well on 1865 map

St Maha’s Well on 1865 map

Bittova walk to reach this one.  From The Square in Drymen village, take the long Old Gartmore Road north for 1.4 miles (2.25km) until you reach the West Highland Way track. Turn left and walk along the track for 1.75 miles (2.8km), making sure that you note crossing the large burn as a guide before your next turn, right, uphill and further north. About 400 yards up, you emerge from the forestry plantation and onto the open moorland. Walk about 200 yards (185m) up the track then walk left, right into the boggy moorland. Keep your eyes peeled for a small standing stone on the heath about 130 yards along, and just below this is a stone-lined spring of water.

Archaeology & History

St Maha's Well

St Maha’s Well, near Drymen

This little-known healing spring of water, high upon the moors overlooking the southern isles of Loch Lomond and the mountains beyond, is in a beautiful (if boggy) setting.  We visited here on a somewhat wet day, amidst a wealth of Nature’s downpours in previous days giving us the masks of grey overcast skies and soaking grounds.  Despite this, the setting is gorgeous and, if we’d have visited on a sunny day, the feel and views would be outstanding.  This might have been one of the reasons that this particular spring of water was chosen to be sanctified.  Certainly it has an ancient history, if christian tales are anything to go by…

Although listed in the parish of Buchanan, the well resides on the hills above the village of Balmaha more than 2 miles to the west, on the shores of Loch Lomond; and Balmaha is thought to have its origins enwrapped with an early christian characters of some prominence.  The element maha derives, said Watson (1926) from the Scottish Gaelic ‘Mo-Thatha’, from the earlier Irish name Tua, meaning “the silent one.”  The character known as St. Maha gives his name to the village and according to H.G. Smith (1896),

Bal maha may most probably retain the memory of St Mochai or Macai; Latin, Maccaeus, also known as St Mahew, a companion to St Patrick, to whom the church of Kilmahew in Cardross was dedicated.  Mahew lived at Kingarth in Bute, and Buchanan formed part of the district superintended by Kingarth.  He was a poet, physician, and noted in his day for his mathematical learning… (St Mahew’s day was 11 April).”

Close-up of the waters and stone surround

Close-up of the waters and its stone surround

It seems therefore probable that this poet-healer character underlies the old name at this well.  St. Maha’s attributes as a poet and healer would suggest he was trained in archaic techniques before declaring himself as ‘christian.’  In the landscape nearby are other early Irish christian traditions, pasted onto much earlier heathen ingredients.

When Mr Smith (1896) wrote about the well, the remains of an old tree still grew above the waters onto which local people left memaws and offerings for the resident spirit, maintaining the animistic traditions of popular culture that still endure.  He wrote:

“St Maha’s Well is in an upper field of the farm of Crietihall.  It was of old a healing well, and in the memory of man pieces of cloth used to be fastened to a tree which overshadowed it, votive offerings by the pilgrims who sought the saint’s favour.”

…Although in truth, “the saint’s favour” is mere window dressing for the more archaic and natural feel of the site: what John Michell (1975) would have termed the “resident Earth spirit.”

The well is surrounded by a small arc of stone masonry, which the ever-reliable Royal Commission (1963) lads tell us, “measures 2ft by 3ft internally and stands about 1ft above the surface of the water.”  Just above the well itself is a small rise with a standing stone at its edge—probably medieval in origin.  Barely three feet tall, it sits upon an overgrown arc of stones that curves around the hillock reaching down towards the well and was obviously a small building of some sort in previous centuries.  Its precise nature is unknown, but it has been suggested to have either been an earlier well-house or surround, or perhaps the remains of a hermit’s cell—even St. Maha himself—that has fallen away over time.  Without an excavation, we may never know what it was!

Little Leo by the little stone

Little Leo by the little stone

Aisha with Leo, shortly before he threw himself in!

Aisha with Leo, shortly before he threw himself in!

Whatever the origin behind the small standing stone and the overgrown scatter of rocks, one of our adventurers on the day we visited—little Leo—was fascinated by it, almost attaching himself to it and stroking his way round and round the old stone with playful endurance.  And then, when he got to see the sacred spring below, became so taken by it that he simply sat down in the waters without as much as making a gasp, despite the cold!  Aisha (his mum) would pick him up, only for him to walk right back over and sit himself right back into it again!  It was both comical and fascinating to watch and he seemed quite at home in the pool, despite being drenched and cold.  Indeed, he took exception to being lifted out of the water—and simply plonked himself back in it again!

Folklore

The Canmore website tells some intriguing folklore about the place, saying:

“The well is still a focus of local cult, and is visited by people who leave offerings in the water. A man dying recently in a local hospital refused to drink any water except water taken from this well.”

References:

  1. Edlin, Herbert L. (ed.), Queen Elizabeth Forest Park, HMSO: Edinburgh 1973.
  2. Johnston, James B., The Place-Names of Stirlingshire, R.S. Shearer 1904.
  3. Michell, John, The Earth Spirit: Its Ways, Shrines and Sanctuaries, Thames & Hudson: London 1975.
  4. Morris, Ruth & Frank, Scottish Healing Wells, Alethea: Sandy 1982.
  5. Nicholson, A. & Beaton, J.M., “Gaelic Place-Names and their Derivations,” in Edlin’s Queen Elizabeth Forest Park, HMSO: Edinburgh 1973.
  6. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments Scotland, Stirling – volume 1, HMSO: Edinburgh 1963.
  7. Smith, H. Guthrie, Strathendrick and its Inhabitants from Early Times, James Maclehose: Glasgow 1896.
  8. Watson, W.J., The History of the Celtic Place-names of Scotland, Edinburgh 1926.

Acknowledgements:  Many thanks to Aisha Domleo, Lara Domleo, Leo (the stone-hugger) Domleo, Unabel Gordon, Nina Harris, Paul Hornby and Naomi Ross for their help and attendance in finding and falling about this ancient sacred well. A damn good wet day all round!

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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Robin Hood & Little John Stones, Whitby, North Yorkshire

Standing Stones (destroyed?):  OS Grid Reference – NZ 9171 0952

Also Known as:

  1. Robin Hood’s Pillars

Archaeology & History

The 2 stones on 1853 map

The 2 stones on 1853 map

References to these old standing stones are scarce—at least in archaeology books anyway.  Even the usually diligent masters of Burl (1993) and Thom (1990) missed them!  But thankfully our folklorists and antiquarians with their keen interest in popular culture have written about these long lost monoliths, which could once be seen in fields just a mile or so south of Whitby town.

The earliest known account of the site is as the “Robyn-Hood-stone” in records dating from 1540 CE cited in the Cartularium Abbathiae de Whiteby (1881).  It was later described in land registers in 1713 and the fields in which they stood were—and still are—respectively known as Robin Hood’s Close and Little John’s Close.

These Whitby monoliths—like their namesakes in Northamptonshire— weren’t too big.  In Mr Young’s (1817) early description, when the stones were still visible, he told how Robin Hood’s stone was “a stone pillar about a foot square and four feet high”, and Little John’s Stone was “a similar pillar about two-and-a-half feet high.”  Mr J.C. Atkinson, the editor of the Cartularium (1881), also told that the two stones were “still in situ in the earlier part of the present century,” continuing:

“Both stones have now been removed, and are, I was informed, set up again near the enclosing fence of the field in which they stood. Almost beyond question , like the other monoliths of the district, they marked the site of ancient British interments.”

So—do the remains of these old stones still exist somewhere close by as J.C. Atkinson said, either in the walling, as a gatepost, or just pushed over and now covered in grass (like the long lost Thief Thorne standing stone near Addingham)?  Are any northern antiquarians living close by who might enable their rediscovery?

Folklore

A number of writers exploring the mythic histories of Robin Hood have included this site in their surveys, usually repeating the earlier creation myths about them that could be heard in popular culture.  The Whitby historian George Young (1817) told the tale:

“According to tradition, Robin Hood and his trusty mate, Little John, went to dine with one of the Abbots of Whitby, and, being desired by the Abbot to try how far each of them could shoot and arrow, they both shot from the top of the Abbey, and their arrows fell on the west side of Whitby Laithes, beside the lane leading from thence to Stainsacre; that of Robin Hood falling on the north side of the lane and that of Little John about a hundred feet further, on the south side of the lane.”

Whitby folklorist P.S. Jeffrey (1923) took this myth literally, saying how the distance of the arrows fired by the respective folk heroes was “scarcely credible, as the distance in each case is about a mile-and-a-half.”  However, the earlier historian Lionel Charlton (1779) thought the incredible feat quite credible!

The distance between the Abbey and the stones is 1.36 miles (2.2km); but it may be that the direction related in the tale was more important than the distance, as the alignment between the two sites runs northwest to southeast—or southeast to northwest, whichever you prefer!—and may relate to an early astro-archaeological alignment.  Might…..

References:

  1. Anonymous, “Robin Hood in Yorkshire“, in Yorkshire Folk-Lore Journal – volume 1, T.Harrison: Bingley 1888.
  2. Anonymous, “Whitby Arms,” in Yorkshire Folk-Lore Journal – volume 1, T.Harrison: Bingley 1888.
  3. Benedicti, Ordinis S., Cartularium Abbathiae de Whiteby – volume 2, Andrews: Durham 1881.
  4. Burl, Aubrey, From Carnac to Callanish, Yale University Press 1993.
  5. Charlton, Lionel, The History of Whitby and Whitby Abbey, T. Cadell: York 1779.
  6. Doel, Fran & Goeff, Robin Hood: Outlaw or Greenwood Myth, Tempus: Stroud 2000.
  7. Green, Barbara, The Outlaw Robin Hood – His Yorkshire Legend, KCS: Huddersfield 1992.
  8. Gutch, Mrs, County Folk-lore – volume 2: North Riding of Yorkshire, York and the Ainsty, David Nutt: London 1901.
  9. Jeffrey, P. Shaw, Whitby Lore and Legend, Whitby 1923.
  10. Mitchell, W.R., Exploring the Robin Hood Country, Dalesman: Clapham 1978.
  11. Parkinson, Thomas, Yorkshire Legends and Traditions – volume 2, Elliot Stock: London 1889.
  12. Thom, A., Thom, A.S. & Burl, Aubrey, Stone Rows and Standing Stones – 2 volumes, BAR: Oxford 1990.
  13. Young, George, The History of Whitby and Streoneshalh Abbey – volume 2, Clark & Medd: Whitby 1817.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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Lady Well, Leeds, West Yorkshire

Holy Well (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – SE 3060 3373

Archaeology & History

Lady Lane, where the well was

Lady Lane, where the well was

Deep in the industrial centre of Leeds, not far from the main bus station, could once be found one of Yorkshire’s many ‘Lady Wells’.  The great historian and antiquarian Ralph Thoresby (1715) was the first to write of this great spring, which is now lost beneath the concrete buildings near Quarry Hill.  He described it as,

“a noted spring…to this day called Lady Well and the adjoining way, Lady Lane.”

In 1806 Edward Baines of Leeds described this spring of “soft, pure water,” also telling it to be on Lady Lane, saying that

“At the bottom of this street is a spring of excellent water, called Lady-Well, which affords a copious supply of that necessary article to this populous part of town.”

This Lady Well was also included in Andrea Smith’s (1982) survey, who noted that less than two hundred yards northwest of was The Chantry of Our Lady. This church has medieval foundations and its dedication would be derived from the healing waters here; plus, Smith notes, in West Yorkshire, “the number of churches dedicated to Our Lady is only two and these are both classed as ancient.”

References:

  1. Baines, Edward, The Leeds Guide, E. Baines: Leeds 1806.
  2. Smith, Andrea N., “Holy Wells in and around Bradford, Leeds and Pontefract,” in Wakefield Historical Society Journal, volume 9, 1982.
  3. Thoresby, Ralph, Ducatus Leodiensis, London 1715.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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Machar Stones, Fintry, Stirlingshire

Standing Stones:  OS Grid Reference – NS 65705 83932

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 45311
  2. Waterhead Stones

Getting Here

The Machar Stones

The Machar Stones

Of the 2 ways to reach here: one via the Crow Road, up to Waterhead Farm and then meandering through the forest—we took the other one!  From the car park at the western end of Carron Reservoir, take the track into the forest. Stick to the track closest to the loch until, after crossing the small river bridge, veer right at the next junction 200 yards on.  Another 600 yards (0.5km) along, take the right turn and walk all along this track to the very end.  From here, take your feet down into the opening along the small burn and stick to this gap in the trees for 100 yards or so, where the gap in the trees veers left.  Keep walking for another 200 yards.

Archaeology & History

These stones might take some finding, but they’re worth the effort if you like your megaliths.  When Nina, Paul and I visited them yesterday, the meander turned into what have become known as Barmy Bennett Bimbles as we ventured off-path and into the forest, wading through marshland and getting our eyes poked out in the dense trees!  And then the snow came. Twas gorgeous to be honest…

Machar Stones, looking SE

Machar Stones, looking SE

Machar Stones, looking west

Machar Stones, looking west

Probably neolithic in origin, the Machar Stones are set upon an elevated rise above the confluence of the Bin Burn and the River Carron on what seems to be an enhanced artificial platform, akin to those which some stone circles and ring cairns are mounted upon. Around the edges of the stones themselves, the earth has been dug into at some point in the past, as evidenced by the distinct oval dip in the ground surrounding the stones; although I can find no antiquarian accounts describing such a dig.  There is the possibility that these stones may once have marked the site of a prehistoric tomb.

Once you walk ten yards away from the stones in any direction, you begin to walk downhill.  Sadly the trees presently obscure any view from the stones, completely silencing the panorama that quite intentionally awoke from here in centuries gone by, disabling any immediate visual landscape analysis or geomancy.  The proximity of the two rivers was probably relevant in the construction of the stones; as may be the ridge between the Little and Meikle Bin to the southeast.

First described in Nimmo’s Stirlingshire (1817) as “a druidical remain…in the parish of Fintry, about the middle of the moor towards Campsie and northwest of the Meikle Bin”, another early account of these megaliths was in H.G. Smith’s (1896) work on the parish of Strathendrick, before the imposition of the modern ‘forest’ occurred and the views from the stones were unrestricted.  After describing their geographical position, he told:

“On a comparatively level part of the muirland between the two rivers and under Meikle Bin, there are two old standing stones known locally as the Machar Stones, this name being derived from the Gaelic magh, a plain.  The more northerly stones measures 8 feet in height, and the other is 5 feet 7 inches high.  Little…is known of the origin of these standing stones… They were apparently in some way connected with the religious worship of the prehistoric inhabitants of the land.  The general uniform direction in which they point, which is to the north of east, looking as nearly as possible to the quarter of sunrise at the summer solstice, seems to point to their having been erected by a race of sun worshippers.”

Machar Stones, looking NW

Machar Stones, looking NW

Around the same time, A.F. Hutchison (1893) gave a lecture on these and other Stirlingshire megaliths, giving slight variants on the heights of the monoliths, adding that “the two stones are standing in a line pointing to 220°.”  Sadly, even the great authorities of Aubrey Burl (1993) and Alexander Thom (1990), in their respective tomes on the subject, were unable to define any astronomical alignments here.  Hutchison puzzled about the seeming artificiality of the platform upon which the stones appear to have been set, though wrote how “geological authority pronounces it to be a quite natural formation.”

As to the name of the site, William Grant (1963) ascribes the word ‘Machar’ and its variants to mean “a stretch of low-lying land adjacent to the sand” or “low-lying fertile plain”—which doesn’t seem relevant here, unless it was so named by people living on the higher grounds.  It seems odd… As does the alignment of the stones.  When Nina Harris stood between the stones with a compass to work out the cardinal points, the stone that was leaning was due north of the upright stone.  When she walked several yards away from them, the compass deviated and we were given a more northeast-southwest alignment from stone to stone.  This isn’t too unusual as we find similar magnetic anomalies at other megalithic sites in Britain (see Devereux 1989), due to a variety of geophysical ingredients.

Royal Commission 1954 photo

Royal Commission 1954 photo

Not that your bog standard archaeo-tomes ever mention magnetic anomalies, as basic physics is too complex a subject for your standard archaeo-types!  Instead however, we just get the usual measurements and data-sets, much as the Royal Commission (1963) lads gave us after their visit here in 1954—but at least there was no forest when they came here!  They were fortunate.  “These two stones,” they told us,

“stand on a slight eminence in open moorland, half a mile ENE of Waterhead farmhouse and at an elevation of 850ft… Described by Nimmo’s editor as “a Druidical remain”, they have also been nown as the Machar Stones.  The more northerly stone, a four-sided pillar of irregular section, has fallen almost prostrate and its whole length, 7ft 6in, is revealed.  At the centre it measures 3ft in width by 2ft 6in in breadth.  The other stone stands 4ft 6in further S.  It is a slab…standing to a height of 5ft and measuring about 2ft in thickness.  Its width is 2ft 8in at ground level, 3ft 8in at a point 2ft above this, and 2ft at the top.”

They posit the idea that the reason the taller stone is leaning at such an angle was due to there being a prehistoric cist nearby which had been ‘excavated’ by peoples unknown, who then took it upon themselves to explore the Machar Stones with similar venture.

The 'cup-marked' stone

The ‘cup-marked’ stone

In recent years it has been said that there are cup-markings on the leaning stone, seven of them apparently.  When we visited yesterday they were difficult to make out.  There were a number of ‘cups’ on the stone, but these were debatable and seemed more the result of conglomerate disintegration than man-made.  A couple of them were perhaps ‘possibles’.  However, the light was poor and I’d prefer another visit before making my mind up!

The Machar Stones are quite evocative megaliths, despite their lack of grandeur.  Maybe it was the snow.  Maybe it was the trees.  Maybe it was me.  Or probably a mix of all three and more; but this had a real feel to the place.  Well hidden, miles from human touch or visits, awaiting just the occasional visitor—and in this weather (of floods, downpours, cold and snow) saturated humans would be the only sorts of crazy people whose spirits would risk getting completely lost to find them.  And my god were they worth the effort!  Paul, Nina and I thought so anyway!

References:

  1. Burl, Aubrey, From Carnac to Callanish, Yale University Press 1993.
  2. Devereux, Paul, Places of Power, Blandford: London 1990.
  3. Feachem, Richard, Guide to Prehistoric Scotland, Batsford: London 1977.
  4. Grant, William (ed.), Scottish National Dictionary – volume 6, SNDA: Edinburgh 1963.
  5. Hutchison, A.F., “The Standing Stones of Stirling District,” in The Stirling Antiquary, volume 1, 1893.
  6. Nimmo. William, History of Stirlingshire, Andrew Bean: Stirling 1817.
  7. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments Scotland, Stirlingshire – volume 1, HMSO: Edinburgh 1963.
  8. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Archaeological Sites and Monuments of Stirling District, Central Region, Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 1979.
  9. Smith, H. Guthrie, Strathendrick and its Inhabitants from Early Times, James Maclehose: Glasgow 1896.
  10. Thom, A., Thom, A.S. & Burl, Aubrey, Stone Rows and Standing Stones – 2 volumes, BAR: Oxford 1990.

Acknowledgements:  Huge thanks to Nina Harris and Paul Hornby for their endurance and endeavor in locating these great old stones, in attendance with the great rain, snow and deep muddy bogs!

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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Todholes, Fintry Hills, Stirlingshire

Cairn:  OS Grid Reference – NS 67761 87011

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 45284

Getting Here

Todholes Cairn one wintry evening

Todholes Cairn one wintry eve

Along the B818 road that runs between Fintry and Denny, get to the western end of the Loch Carron reservoir and park up at the entrance to the forest.  Across the road, walk up the track towards the (planned) wind farm.  Nearly a mile along watch out for the walling of derelict buildings on the slope above the track—but instead of walking up to them (west), walk up the slope on the other side of the track (east), over the annoying fence, then another one barely 50 yards away.  The large fairy mound on the moorland plain barely 100 yards ahead is the site in question.

Archaeology & History

Todholes Cairn looking north

Todholes Cairn looking north

On the day that Paul Hornby, Nina Harris and I visited this site, Nature had been watering Her ground excessively and the moorland was becoming an immense bog.  The daylight was fading fast too, so we didn’t get much time to sit and play and take in the colourful panorama that unfolds its vision as She normally would—and it would be a magnificent view on a clear bright day!  Instead, Her grey carpets and skies darkened quickly, leaving only a bare meander around this old prehistoric tomb before us.  It’s quite a big thing too…

Records of it are scant, both in archaeology accounts and popular culture.  In 1952 the Royal Commission (1963) lads visited the site and subsequently wrote that:

“This cairn…consists of a grass-covered mound of stones which stands to a height of 8ft and measures about 55ft in diameter. Two large boulders which lie at the foot of the mound to the south may represent the remains of a peristalith.  Three small holes caused by quarrying or by excavation appear on the surface of the cairn.”

Another cairn can be found a short distance northwest and what seems to be the remains of a prehistoric hut circle was visible on the moorland plain a few hundred yards south.  The word ‘todholes’ derives from ‘the abode of foxes’—and I saw two dead foxes recently shot by local land-owners hereby, showing that the place-name is valid.

References:

  1. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments Scotland, Stirlingshire – volume 1, HMSO: Edinburgh 1963.
  2. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Archaeological Sites and Monuments of Stirling District, Central Region, Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 1979.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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Lund Well, Bingley, West Yorkshire

Sacred Well (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – SE 0973 4091

Archaeology & History

Lund Well on 1852 map

Lund Well on 1852 map

Once found in a cluster of three little wells all very close to each other near the top of the field where the Crossflatts roundabout joins up with the Aire-Valley trunk road, this is an intriguing site if you happen to be a pagan, or have an interest in druidism — and for one main reason: its name.  When I first came across a reference to the place about 25 years ago, the only piece of information I could find about it came from the arduous detailed researches of the Victorian industrial historian J. Horsfall Turner who, unfortunately, neglected to record much of the fading folklore in the region at his time.  Marked on the 1852 6-inch Ordnance Survey map, ‘Lund’ was a bit of an etymological curiosity, and Mr Turner (1897) thought the well’s name was little other than that of a local mill owner, whose nickname was ‘Lund’ Thompson.  He was guessing of course…and I thought little more about it…

In checking out A.H. Smith’s (1961-63) magnum opus on the place-names of West Yorkshire, I found that he didn’t include the Lund Well in his survey.  However, an eventual perusal of Kenneth Cameron’s (1996) work told that in Old Norse place-names (and there is a preponderance of such places scattering Yorkshire and Lancashire), lund or lundr was a “‘small wood, grove,’ also had a meaning, ‘sacred grove’.” The word is echoed in old French, launde, meaning ‘forest glade’.  In A.H. Smith’s (1954) earlier survey on the origins of words he told it to derive from a “small wood, grove, also a sacred grove, one offering sanctuary.”  However, Margaret Gelling (2000) urged caution on the origin of lund as a sacred grove and erred more to the usual English tendency of depersonalizing everything, taking the animistic attribution away from its root meaning; but we must urge caution upon her caution here!  Neither Joseph Wright (English Dialect Dictionary vol.3 1905) nor William Grant (Scottish National Dictionary vol.6, 1963) have entries for this word, so we must assume the Scandinavian root word origin to be correct.

One vitally important ingredient with the Lund Well is its geographical position.  For across the adjacent River Aire the land climbs uphill—and a few hundred yards above we reach the well-known and legendary Druid’s Altar, with its Druid’s Well just below.  This association is what suggests our Lund Well may have had a real association with a “sacred grove of trees”, as—despite us knowing very little about them—we do at least know that druids performed rites in sacred groves.  In Greenbank’s (1929) historical analysis of the Druid’s Altar, he was left perplexed as to the origin of its name as all early accounts and popular culture assigned it this title, and so he opted for the probability that the druids did indeed once perform rites here.  If this was true, then our seemingly innocuous Lund Well once had a much more sacred history than anyone might have thought.  Sadly, those self-righteous industrialists destroyed it….

References:

  1. Cameron, Kenneth, English Place-Names, Batsford: London 1996.
  2. Gelling, Margaret, Place-Names in the Landscape, Phoenix: London 2000.
  3. Greenbank, Sydney, The Druid’s Altar, Bingley, R.G. Preston: Bingley 1929.
  4. Smith, A.H., English Place-Name Elements – volume 2, Cambridge University Press 1954.
  5. Smith, A.H., The Place-Names of the West Riding of Yorkshire – 8 volumes, Cambridge University Press 1961-63.
  6. Wainwright, F.T., Scandinavian England, Phillimore: Chichester 1975.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Posted in Brigantia (Northern England), Holy Wells, Yorkshire, West | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Knockraich, Fintry, Stirlingshire

Standing Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NS 60889 87739

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 45305
  2. Knockcraich

Getting Here

Knockraich standing stone

Knockraich standing stone

From Fintry village take the B822 road towards Kippen.  Only half-a-mile (0.8km) along, take the track on your left to Knockraich Farm and cafe.  Go all the way through the farm along the track and out the other side then follow the fence downhill across the field. At the bottom, go through the gate towards the stone which you’ll already be able to see ahead of you, in the next field. Y’ can’t miss it!

Archaeology & History

This little-known four-foot tall monolith standing alone in the fields northwest of Fintry, just above the River Endrick, is a fascinating little fella!  It stands at the western end of an elongated rise in the land, almost as if mimicking an ancient long barrow.  But more intriguingly (for me at least) are the cup-markings that adorn each of its four sides.

Cup-mark at base of the north side

Cup-mark at base of the north side

Cup-mark near top of west face

Cup-mark near top of west face

Upon first glance it seems that there are a number of such cup marks on the stone, but further inspection shows that only one occurs on each of the four faces.  Near the very bottom of the stone on its north and south sides a single large cup-mark has been etched; and on its east and western faces, the cup-mark has been carved further up towards the middle of the stone, with the east-facing side having a groove running from near the top and stopping at the cup-mark.  On top of the stone is a large ‘bowl’ (possibly natural, possibly man-made—it is difficult to say with any certainty) and a single cup-mark next to it.  When Nina, Paul and I visited here a few days ago, a palm-sized smooth stone was resting in the large bowl on top, akin to the healing and divination stones found placed in bullauns in Ireland and other parts of the world.

The first description of any length was cited in A.F. Hutchinson’s (1893) paper on the standing stones of Stirlingshire in which he wrote:

“This stone…is placed on the bank rising up from the river.  In shape it is approximately square—the two sides facing nearly east and west, measuring each 1ft 7in, the north face 1ft 6in, and the south 1ft 3in.  These dimensions are uniform from top to bottom.  The total girth is therefore 5ft 11in, while the height is 3ft 8 in.  Orientation 225º.  There are a number of cupmarks both on the top and side, as well as having several incised lines and other markings, some of which, however, give evidence of recent sculpture.”

Knockraich stone, looking south at Dunmore hillfort

Knockraich stone, looking south at Dunmore hillfort

Cupmark, hollow & stone on top

Cupmark, hollow & stone on top

The more modern or “recent sculpture” was that of a human figure, now very faint, etched onto the most western face of the stone, beneath a large solitary cup-mark.  When the site was visited and described by the Royal Commission (1963) lads, they gave a lengthier description of the carved elements on the stone, telling us that:

“On the top, which has been brought to an irregularly rounded point, there is an almost circular hollow measuring 5½in to 6in across and 2½in in depth; it is difficult to suppose that this is other than artificial, although its bottom shows differential weathering.  The SE side of the stone shows several natural cavities, and a deep and wide vertical groove which is also presumably natural.  The NW face seems to have been flattened to a certain extent, a slight ridge which is visible along part of either margin probably representing a survival of the original surface.  On this face, 12in above the ground, a human figure has been outlined in pocked technique.  It is in full-face, the features being indicated by pocked marks; the arms are extended jut below the level of the shoulders and the legs are widely spread with the feet turned outwards.  The lower edge of a tunic or short kilt seems to be indicated by a single line between the legs.  The figure is 8in heigh and measures 7in in breadth between the hands and 7½in between the feet.  This face of the stone also shows a number of small natural cavities, together with a shallow cup which has a somewhat artificial appearance; this cup is in the centre of the face and 2ft 4½in above ground level, apparently at the upper margin of the flattened area.  The figure lacks any distinctive characteristics which might afford evidence of date, but it may be relatively modern…”

Folklore

Mr Hutchinson (1893) told that,

“The stone seems to have brought down through the ages a tradition of sanctity in connection with it, as there is a legend to the effect that any attempt to move it is attended by convulsions of Nature and evil consequences to the rash disturber.”

Whether the position of the water-worn smooth rock found in the bowl on top of this standing stone has any ancient tradition, records seem silent on the matter.

References:

  1. Hutchinson, A.F., “The Standing Stones of Stirling District,” in The Stirling Antiquary, volume 1, 1893.
  2. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments Scotland, Stirling – 2 volumes, HMSO: Edinburgh 1963.
  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. Smith, H. Guthrie, Strathendrick and its Inhabitants from Early Times, James Maclehose: Glasgow 1896.

Acknowledgements:  Many thanks to Nina Harris and Paul Hornby for their help and attendance at this old stone.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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St. Peter’s Well, York Minster, North Yorkshire

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference – SE 6038 5219

Also Known as:

  1. Holy Well, York Minster

Archaeology & History

Old photo of the well

Old photo of the well

For people who like to visit the sacred sites that determined a cross-over from Earth-based animism to one which ceased sanctifying the Earth, this ancient water source in the cellars beneath York Minster would be a good example.  Sadly, the church has closed off access to this ancient heritage and you can no longer see it.  Yet despite the fact that the modern-day christians have closed off your encounter with this important heritage site (York Minster’s website doesn’t even mention its existence!), we should not forget its mythic history…

As you walk into the building (at some great expense, it has to be said), the location of the holy well is said to be at its more western end, albeit in the crypt underground—although there does seems to be some confusion with some authors about exactly where the well is positioned.

1850 sketch of the well

1850 sketch of the well

The earliest account we hear of the place relates to when the northern tribal King Edwin, along with his sons Osfrid and Esfrid, came here to be “baptized” in the waters of this clear spring “on Easter day, April 12, 627” CE.  Immediately thereafter a small wooden chapel was constructed next to or above the well.  From then on, as the centuries passed, the renown of the well grew and eventually the magnificent ritual temple of York Minster was eventually built.  The waters eventually became dedicated to St. Peter and an annual festival occurred here soon after the Midsummer solstice on what became known as St. Peter’s Day (June 29).  After the year 1462, a secondary festival date was also given to the site by the Church and another annual celebration occurred here on October 1 too.  Its waters remained accessible to people for drinking, healing and rites throughout the centuries.  It is only now, in the 21st century, that its sacrality and spirit has been closed-off.  This is a situation that must be remedied!

In Mr Goole’s (1850) survey of York Minster, his architectural illustration of the building showed that the water from the well had been brought up onto the ground floor, on the southeast side of the inner cathedral building in the easternmost vestry, and named as St Peter’s Pump.  This is illustrated in the 1850 drawing above-left.

A whole series of early writers mention the well in earlier centuries—of whom a brief sample is given here.  When Celia Feinnes came here in the 17th century, she said that,

“In the vestry of York Minster there is a well of sweet spring water called St Peter’s Well ye saint of ye Church, so it is called St Peter’s Cathedral.” (Smith 1923)

Mr Torre (1719) gave it equal brevity, saying simply that,

“at the south-west corner thereof is a draw-well (called St. Peter’s Well) of very wholesome clear water much drunk by the common people.”

In R.C. Hope’s (1893) national survey of sacred wells, he told that

“There is a draw well with a stone cistern in the eastern part of the crypt of York Minster… The Crypt is about 40 feet by 35 feet.”

The well was even included in Murray’s Handbook to Yorkshire (1892) as being “in the southwest corner of the Minster.” William Smith (1923) included the site in his fine survey, telling his readers that,

“The water is excellent in quality, which in measure, so chemists say, is due to the lime washed into it by the rain from the walls of the Minster.  The water has for centuries been used for baptisms, and is so used today.  The well has now for some years been covered with a pump.”

Folklore

In Geoffrey of Monmouth’s famous early History, we find that King Arthur visited here. …And one final note, about which we know not for certain whether it was relevant to the holy well hiding in the crypt, but a fascinating heathen custom was enacted here in bygone days, almost above the spring.  Mistletoe, as Christina Hole (1950) told,

“was ceremonially carried to the cathedral on Christmas Eve and laid upon the high altar, after which a universal pardon and liberty for all was proclaimed at the four gates of the city for as long as the branch lay upon the altar.”

Mistletoe is one element that is known to have been sacred to the druids (not the present-day druids!) and was sacred to the ancient Scandinavians (who came here), and also possessed the powers of life and death in its prodigious folklore and phytochemistry.  Fascinating…

…to be continued…

References:

  1. Bord, Janet, Cures and Curses: Ritual and Cult at Holy Wells, HOAP: Wymeswold 2006.
  2. Gutch, Mrs, County Folk-lore volume 2 – North Riding of Yorkshire, York and the Ainsty, David Nutt: London 1901.
  3. Hole, Christina, English Custom and Usage, Batsford: London 1950.
  4. Hole, Christina, English Shrines and Sanctuaries, Batsford: London 1954.
  5. Hope, Robert Charles, Legendary Lore of the Holy Wells of England, Elliott Stock: London 1893.
  6. Murray, John, Handbook for Travellers in Yorkshire, J.Murray: London 1874.
  7. Parkinson, Thomas, Yorkshire Legends and Traditions, Elliot Stock: London 1888.
  8. Poole, G.A., An Historical and Descriptive Guide to York Cathedral and its Antiquities, R. Sunter: York 1850.
  9. Purey-Cust, A.P., York Minster, Isbister: London 1898.
  10. Rattue, James, The Living Stream: Holy Wells in Historical Context, Boydell: Woodbridge 1995.
  11. Smith, William, Ancient Springs and Streams of the East Riding of Yorkshire, A. Brown: Hull 1923.
  12. Torre, James, The Antiquities of York, York 1719.
  13. Whelan, Edna, “Holy Wells in Yorkshire – part 1,” in Source, No.3, November 1985.
  14. Whelan, Edna, The Magic and Mystery of Holy Wells, Capall Bann: Chieveley 2001.
  15. Whelan, Edna & Taylor, Ian, Yorkshire Holy Wells and Sacred Springs, Northern Lights: Dunnington 1989.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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