St. Finglassin’s Well, Kinglassie, Fife

Holy Well: OS Grid Reference – NT 22797 98814

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 52894
  2. St Finglassin’s Well 
  3. St Glass’s Well 

Finglassins Well on early OS-map

Getting Here

In Kinglassie village, from the Main Street follow Redwells Road and turn right where it forks and follow the track until you get to the derelict ground; then turn left up the slope, following the eastern (right hand) edge of the wall up to the well.

Archaeology & History

Under its bower of hawthorn & elder

Sheltered under its bower of hawthorn and elder bushes, at a distance it has the romantic look of an ancient holy well.  But close up, the spring issuing from Finglassins Well shows evidence of having been connected up to the public water supply, with ugly brickwork and pipes obliterating any previous structures that may or may not have existed there. There even seems to be doubt as to its name. Ordnance Survey and Nicolson Street Atlas show it as ‘Finglassins Well’. According to the Canmore citation, which lists it as ‘St Finglassin’s Well’ or ‘St. Glass’s Well’:

This spring is now piped into a trough. There are several boulders nearby but no dressed stone and it is doubtful if there was ever any structure here. It is known by both names.

A well of fine water…

Past industrial despoilation..

So who was the patronal saint, who is remembered variously as Finglassin, Glass, Glascianus, and Glastian? There seems to be some difference of opinion among the various sources, even as to whether any saint existed at all.  Alban Butler, in his Lives of the Saints, tells:

“St. Glastian, Bishop and Confessor in Scotland: HE was a native of the county of Fife, and discharged in the same, during many years, the duties of the episcopal character with which he was honoured. Amidst the desolation which was spread over the whole country, in the last bloody civil war between the Scots and Picts, in which the latter were entirely subdued, St. Glastian was the comforter, spiritual father, and most charitable protector of many thousands of both nations. He died in 830, at Kinglace in Fifeshire, and was particularly honoured in that country, and in Kyntire. According to the ancient custom of that country, his name is frequently written Mac-Glastian, the word Mac signifying son.”

Bishop Forbes of Brechin, writing of St Glascianus in Kalendars of Scottish Saints:

“Of the life of the saint we have no details. The collect in the Breviary runs in these terms – ‘Grant we beseech Thee, Almighty God, that we, who celebrate the anniversary of blessed Glascianus, Thy confessor and bishop, may by the intercession of his devout prayers, be deemed meet to attain to eternal joys through out Lord’ He is known in the parish of Kinglassie (or Kinglassin), near Kirkcaldy, of which frequent mention is made in the Register of Dunfermline.”

In the Old Statistical Account of 1792, Reverend James Reid, writing of the origins of Kinglassie:

“It is the opinion of some, that the name is originally Gaelic, and expressive of the situation; others trace it from a saint, whose name was Glass, and point out a well of fine water, called St. Glass’s well.”

Reverend J.M.Cunnynghame, in the New Statistical Account of 1845 wrote:

“While some have supposed that the village after which the parish is called, derives its appellation from a spring denominated St Glass’s Well, others, with apparently greater reason, have traced the name to Gaelic words signifying the ‘head of grey land’. This idea seems to be corroborated by the large extant of inundated, marshy, and mixed surface which….still stretches itself to the immediate vicinity of the village. The preferable conjecture concerning the the derivation of the name acquires additional support from the circumstance, that a locality, somewhat elevated above the channel, along which the water runs from the swamp alluded to, has received the appropriate designation of ‘Finglassie’ signifying the ‘termination of the gray land, or mixed bog.”

W.J.Watson, in The Celtic Place Names of Scotland gives the derivation of Kinglassie from the gaelic ‘cill glaise’ – ‘church of the brook’, and further:

“A well near the church is known as St Glass’s Well or St Finglassin’s Well. Here again, the stream ‘glais’ on which the church stands has been made into a saint; Findgassin is ‘find glaisín’ – ‘holy streamlet’. Near the church is an eminence called Finmont, for ‘finn monad’, later ‘fionn mhonadh’ – ‘white hill’, here probably ‘holy hill’. The real saint of Kinglassie is unknown.”

A closer view

I am inclined to discount Cunnynghame’s laboured interpretation in view of Watson’s later linguistic analysis, as well as bearing in mind he was a minister of a Kirk that went out of its way to deny and denigrate the native pre-Reformation saints. Because of its position and ambience despite past industrial despoilation, I am inclined to a saintly attribution to the well, which as in so many cases in Scotland has lost its true history owing to the depredations of the Reformation. If Watson’s interpretation of ‘Finmont’, ½ mile north-east of the well, is indeed ‘Holy Hill’ then Finglassins Well may have been a part of an ancient, perhaps heathen ritual landscape.

References:

  1. Reid, James, Parish of Kinglassie, Old Statistical Account, Fife, 1792.
  2. Cunnynghame, J.M. Parish of Kinglassie, New Statistical Account , Fife, 1845.
  3. Butler, Alban, The Lives of the Fathers,Martyrs and Other Principal Saints, James Duffy: Dublin 1866.
  4. Forbes, Bishop A.P., Kalendars of Scottish Saints, Edmiston & Douglas: Edinburgh 1872.
  5. Watson, W.J., The Celtic Place Names of Scotland, (revised edition), Birlinn, Edinburgh, 2004 (originally published 1926).

© Paul T. Hornby 2018

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Hill Chapel Cross, Horns Lane, Goosnargh, Lancashire

Wayside Cross : OS Grid Reference – SD 57273 38505

Also Known as:

  1. Historic England Monument No. 42648

Getting Here

Position of cross-base shown on the 1912 OS map

The Cross base is situated in a thick hedgerow on the east side of Horns Lane, opposite St Francis’ Hill Chapel, just to the north of and on the field side of the electricity transmission line that crosses the road at this point. It can be accessed from the field to the north by crossing the stream. In winter the Cross base is just visible from the road side through the hedge.

Archaeology & History

Cross position highlighted

This cross is not described or noted by Henry Taylor in the 1906 edition of his Ancient Crosses and Holy Wells of Lancashire. All that survives is the substantial socketed base of what is likely to have been a mediaeval cross. It is almost completely hidden in the hedge, and is only accessible for ‘hands-on’ inspection from the field side of the road.

It was described by Historic England as:

‘The socket-stone of a probable wayside cross 1.0m square and 1.5m high…. Its present position in a pasture field suggests that it is not in situ.’

Despite this description, the substantial nature of the base leads me to query why anyone would wish to move it from elsewhere. It is more likely that past land-owners have encroached on to the ancient highway, and fenced it accordingly. Maybe the Hill Chapel congregation will at some consider exposing the base on its hill crest position and insert a replica cross?

Hidden in the boscage

The leaf-filled cross-base

There is no record of what happened to the original Cross.  According to a pamphlet describing Hill Chapel, “this house appears to have always been in Catholic hands”, but no mention is made of the Cross.  A likely culprit for its destruction is the early nineteenth century Protestant fundamentalist the Reverend Richard Wilkinson.

In view of the continuity of Catholic ownership and worship at the Hill Chapel site over the road since before the Reformation, and the sustained persecution suffered by local Catholics in the centuries following the Reformation, it is very unlikely that they would have drawn attention to themselves by erecting the Cross, making it almost certainly of pre-Reformation construction.

Reference:

  1. Anonymous, Hill Chapel Goosnargh, privately published pamphlet available from Hill Chapel, n.d..

© Paul T Hornby 2018

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Uphall Camp, Ilford, Essex

Hillfort (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference –TQ 4383 8510

Archaeology & History

Uphall Camp, 1893

This prehistoric site was a giant – a huge colossus of an ‘enclosure’, a ‘settlement’, a ‘camp’—call-it-what-you-will.  More than a mile in circumference and an internal area of 48 acres (big enough to hold 37 football fields!), archaeologist Pamela Greenwood (1989) told us, not only that it was “the largest recorded hillfort in Essex”, but that it compared in size with the immensity of Maiden Castle in Dorset!  Yet despite it being cited by the Oxford Archaeology report of Jonathan Millward (2016) as “the most significant archaeological site within the Borough” from the Iron Age period, it has fallen prey to the thoughtless actions of the self-righteous Industrialists who, as usual, have completely destroyed it.  It was already in a “bad” state when the Royal Commission lads visited here around 1916, saying how it was “in some danger of destruction.”

Thankfully, there were more civilized and educated people in earlier centuries who seemed proud to describe their local history.

Early literary accounts seem sparse; although in Mr Wright’s (1831) huge commentary to Philip Morant’s (1768) Antiquities of Essex, he thought that the adjoining parish of Barking—whose ancient boundary line is marked here by the southern embankments of the enclosure—derived from the Saxon words burgh-ing, which he transcribed as ‘the fortress in the meadow’.  The same derivation was propounded in Richard Gough’s 1789 edition of Camden’s Britannia, from the “Fortification in the meadows.”  It seems a more reasonable derivation than that ascribed in the Oxford Names Companion (2002) as the “(settlement of) the family or followers of a man called *Berica” (the asterisk here denotes the fact that no personal name of this form has ever been found and is pure guesswork).  But according to the English Place-Name Society text on Essex by Paul Reaney (1935), the early spellings of Barking implies a derivation from ‘birch trees.’  Anyway….

Uphall Camp c.1735

A fine plan of the site was drawn by John Noble some time around 1735 although, curiously, he seems to have written no notes about the place.  The first real citation of Uphall Camp as an antiquity seems to have been by Morant himself (1768).  In a work bedevilled by genealogical and ecclesiological tedium, he occasionally breaks from that boredom to tell of the landscape and the people living there, mentioning our more ancient monuments—but only in passing, as illustrated here:

“Near the road leading from Ilford to Berking, on the north west side of the brook which runs across it, are the Remains of an ancient Entrenchment: one side of which is parallel with the lane that goes to a farm called Uphall; a second side is parallel with the Rodon, and lies near it; the third side looks towards the Thames; the side which runs parallel with the road itself has been almost destroyed by cultivation, though evident traces of it are still discernible.”

Just over thirty years later we were thankfully given a more expansive literary portrayal by Daniel Lysons. (1796)  Lysons was drawing some of his material from a manuscript on the history of Barking by a Mr Smart Lethieullier, written about 1750 (this manuscript was unfortunately destroyed by fire, and no copies of it ever made).  He told us:

“In the fields adjoining to a farm called Uphall, about a quarter of a mile to the north of Barking-town, is a very remarkable ancient entrenchment: its form is not regular, but tending to a square; the circumference is 1792 yards, (i.e., one mile and 32 yards,) inclosing an area of forty-eight acres, one rood, and thirty-four perches.  On the north, east, and south sides it is single trenched: on the north and east sides the ground is dry and level (being arable land), and the trench from frequent ploughing almost filled up: on the south side is a deep morass: on the west side, which runs parallel with the river Roding, and at a short distance from it, is a double trench and bank: at the north west corner was an outlet to a very fine spring of water, which was guarded by an inner work, and a high keep or mound of earth.  Mr. Lethieullier thinks that this entrenchment was too large for a camp: his opinion therefore is, that it was the site of a Roman town.  He confesses that no traces of buildings have been found on that spot, which he accounts for on the supposition that the materials were used for building Barking Abbey, and for repairing it after it was burnt by the Danes.  As a confirmation of this opinion, he relates, that upon viewing the ruins of the Abbey-church in 1750, he found the foundations of one of the great pillars composed in part of Roman bricks. A coin of Magnentius was found also among the ruins.”

But this is a spurious allusion; albeit an understandable one when one recognizes that the paradigm amongst many writers at the time was to say that anything large and impressive was either a construction of the Romans or the Danes, as the early British—it was deemed—were incapable of building such huge monuments.  How wrong they were!

In Mrs Ogborne’s (1814) description of Uphall Camp, she thought that its form and character betrayed anything Roman and—although she wasn’t specific—seemed to prefer the idea that our earliest Britons had built this place.  And she was right!  She wrote:

“There is, about a quarter of a mile from Barking, adjoining Uphal farm, on the road to Ilford, an antient entrenchment, a mile and 32 yards in circumference, with the corners rounded off; the west side, parallel with the river Rodon, has a double trench and bank, and a high keep, or mound of earth, about 94 yards round the base, about nine in height, on the side of the river, and seven on the opposite side: there was an outlet to a spring of water at the north-west corner; the south side has a morass; the north and east sides are single trenched, which is almost lost by cultivation, and in some places barely discernible.”

Uphall Camp on 1873 map

Uphall Camp on 1897 map

When the Ordnance Survey lads gave the site their attention in the 1870s, they showed its real size for the first time—cartographically at least!  As the two old maps either side here show, it was a big one!  Although some sections of the edges of the ‘camp’ were diminishing at the time, much of it was still in evidence.  And when the local writer Edward Tuck (1899) wrote about it, he told us,

“On the north and east sides the ground is dry and level (being arable land) and the trench from frequent ploughings is almost filled up. On the south side is a deep morass; on the west side which runs parallel with the river Roding, and at a short distance from it is a double trench and bank; at the north-west corner is an outlet to a very fine spring of water, which is guarded by an inner work and a high keep or mound of earth designated “Lavender Mound.”  Mrs. Ogborne in her History of Essex gives a charming drawing of this mound as it was in 1814, and says that the mound was then about 94 yards round the base, and about nine yards in height, with trees growing upon it, and its surface covered with soft verdure.”

Uphall earthworks in 1893

Several other writers mentioned the remaining embankments of Uphall Camp, which was beginning to fade fast as the city-builders spread themselves further afield.  A chemical factory did most of the damage (as they still do, in more ways than one!).  When the Royal Commission (1921) lads came here they curiously deemed it as an “unclassified” structure; but in those days unless things were Roman in this neck of the woods, it could unduly puzzle them!  Their account of it told that,

“the remaining earthworks consist of a short length of rampart with an irregularly shaped mound at the north end, which is known locally as Lavender Mount, and another short length north of the farmhouse; there are also traces of the east side of the camp running parallel with Barking Lane.  An early plan shows part of the north and east sides of the earthwork and suggests that it was roughly rectangular in outline.  In 1750 the north, east and south sides are said to have had a single trench, and the west side a double trench and bank.

“The mound is 21 ft. high and 85 ft. in diameter at the base. The date of the earthwork is doubtful, but it does not appear to be pre-Roman.”

1908 photo of Lavender Mount

1814 sketch of Lavender Mount

The ‘Lavender Mount’ aspect in this monument, seemed a peculiar oddity.  Even modern archaeologists aren’t sure of what it might have been, erring on the side of caution with interpretations saying it was a keep of some sort, or a small beacon hill.  It might have been of course; but if it was a beacon hill, there would very likely be some written account of it – but none exist as far as I’m aware.  Initial impressions when just looking at the images is that it was a tumulus, but the position of the mound on top of the raised earthen embankments tells us that it was constructed after the Iron Age ramparts.  Writers of the Victoria County History (1903) said the same, suggesting a Saxon or more likely Danish origin.  The area around Lavender Hill was eventually explored by archaeologists in 1960, and several times thereafter – and what they uncovered showed us a continuity of usage that spanned several thousand years!

The 1960 excavation took place where, adjacent to the embankment, “the bank and ditch contained middle-Iron Age pottery”, along with traces of the large wooden fencing-posts (palisade) that initially surrounded and protected the enclosure. In Pamela Greenwood’s (1989) archaeological report, she told us that in further digs in 1983-4 there were discoveries of neolithic and Bronze Age flint remains.  The finds included,

“a leaf-shaped arrowhead and a discoidal scraper… fragments of an Ardleigh type urn, probably from a middle Bronze Age burial disturbed by later activity.  An L-shaped ditch, possibly part of an enclosure or field boundary, was found during the watching-brief. It contained flint-gritted pottery, perhaps attributable to the Bronze Age.”

But the majority of the finds at Uphall came from the mid-Iron Age period.  Greenwood continued:

“The settlement, judging from the relatively small area of the fortification actually excavated, was laid out in a regular way.  As might be expected, the round-houses appear to be aligned, indicating some sort of street-pattern.  ‘Four-poster’ structures have been located in particular areas, again pointing to some sort of designation of special zones of activity. Large quantities of charred grain from the post-pits and surroundings would confirm that these structures are granaries….

“The middle Iron Age structures are of several types: round-houses or round-buildings, pennanular enclosures, (wooden) ‘four-posters’; rectangular structures, ditches, post-holes and innumerable and ill-assorted small pits, small gullies and holes dug into the gravel.  Many of the last three types are undatable and could belong to the Iron Age, Roman, medieval or later activity on the site.”

I could just copy and paste the rest of Greenwood’s report here, but it’s quite extensive and interested readers should refer to her own account in the London Archaeologist .  It’s a pity that it’s been destroyed.

References:

  1. Crouch, Walter, “Ancient Entrenchments at Uphall, near Barking, Essex,” in Essex Naturalist, volume 7, 1887.
  2. Crouch, Walter, “Uphall Camp,” in Transactions of the Essex Archaeological Society, volume 9 (New Series), 1906.
  3. Doubleday, H.A. & Page, William (eds.), Victoria History of the County of Essex – volume 1, Archibald Constable: Westminster 1903.
  4. Greenwood, Pamela, “Uphall Camp,” in Essex Archaeology & History News, 1987.
  5. Greenwood, Pamela, “Uphall Camp, Ilford, Essex,” in London Archaeologist, volume 6, 1989.
  6. Hogg, A.H.A., British Hill-Forts: An Index, BAR: Oxford 1979.
  7. Kemble, James, Prehistoric and Roman Essex, History Press: Stroud 2009.
  8. Lysons, Daniel, The Environs of London – volume 4, T. Cadell: London 1796.
  9. Millward, Jonathan, London Borough of Redbridge: Archaeological Priority Areas Appraisal, Oxford Archaeology 2016.
  10. Morant, Philip, The History and Antiquities of Essex – volume 1, T.Osborne: London 1768.
  11. Norris, F.J., “Uphall Camp”, in Gentleman’s Magazine, 1888.
  12. Ogborne, Elizabeth, The History of Essex, Longmans: London 1814.
  13. Royal Commission Ancient & Historical Monuments, England, An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Essex – volume 2, HMSO: London 1921.
  14. Tuck, Edward, A Sketch of Ancient Barking, Its Abbey, and Ilford, Wilson & Whitworth: Barking 1899.
  15. Wilkinson, P.M., “Uphall Camp,” in Essex Archaeology & History, volume 10, 1979.
  16. Wright, Thomas & Bartlett, W., The History and Topography of the County of Essex – volume 2, G. Virtue: London 1831.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

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St. Blane’s Well, Dunblane, Stirlingshire

Holy Well (lost):  OS Grid Reference –NN 781 015

Also Known as:

  1. Bruce’s Well

Archaeology & history

Very little is known about this long-lost site, mentioned just once in Alexander Barty’s (1944) standard history book on Dunblane.  Its exact location is difficult to cite with any certainty, although a ‘Well’ is marked on the 1862 OS-map not far from where Mr Barty proclaimed it to be:

“In the close known as Regent’s Square in Braeport, opposite the public school, was a well called Bruce’s Well and also St Blane’s Well, and probably water from this supplied a well in Cathedral Market Garden to the west.”

Position of St. Blane’s Well?

St Blane is a Celtic saint whom tradition says gave his name to the town and whose festival date is August 10.  In the area of the Allan Water St Blane was said to have set up his cell, which eventually became the prestigious ceremonial temple known as Dunblane Cathedral (although some evidence points to his original settlement being on the higher ground above the cathedral).  Originally born on the Isle of Bute around 565 CE, another St Blane’s Well can be found at Kingarth on his home island.

References:

  1. Barty, Alexander B., The History of Dunblane, Eneas Mackay: Stirling 1944.
  2. Towill, Edwin Sprott, The Saints of Scotland, St Andrews Press 2012.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian 

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Croc-tigh-goil, Ribigill, Tongue, Sutherland

Standing Stones (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference –  NC 582 541

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 5349

Archaeology & History

Large stones in field to the north

When I visited this place last year, I had a good look all around for any trace of what James Horsburgh (1870) told us about 150 years earlier, i.e., monoliths that had been broken up and used in the making of the road.  Sadly I found nothing.  When I enquired about the stones amongst local people, they were unaware of any such site and it had fallen out of oral tradition amongst them.  Mr Horsburgh told us simply:

“Near Ribegal there used to be three upright stones, called by the old people a Teampul.  They were broken up by Mr Mitchell, the late farmer, and are now built into the dyke at the road side; the hillock on which they stood is still called Croc-tigh-goil, the ‘hillock of the school-house’.”

However, in the fields 300 yards to the north, three large stones are visible—almost in a straight line—but they seem to be Nature’s handiwork; although the southernmost stone looks like it might once have stood upright.  But I think I’m being more hopeful than realistic!

References:

  1. Horsburgh, James, Notes of Cromlechs, Duns, Hut-circles, Chambered Cairns and other Remains, in the County of Sutherland“, in Proceedings Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 7, 1870.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian 

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Ribigill, Tongue, Sutherland

Souterrain (missing):  OS Grid Reference – NC 5821 5471

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 5354

Archaeology & History

The Royal Commission (1911) lads paid a visit to this site in June, 1909, after an earlier report—allegedly by James Horsburgh—told there to have been one close to the right-hand side of the road, but it has long since been forgotten.  The Commission lads told us simply,

“In a park about ¼-mile north of Ribigil farm-house is the site of an earth-house which was closed up many years ago.”

When I asked a number of local people about the place, they knew nothing of it; so I wandered around in the hope that I might find something.  All that I came across, close to where it was described, were two large flat stones covering a hole in the ground on the other side of the fence from the road.  A number of reeds were in the same field and I thought it must have been a well, but when I laid my ear to it, could hear no running water whatsoever.

References:

  1. Horsburgh, James, Notes of Cromlechs, Duns, Hut-circles, Chambered Cairns and other Remains, in the County of Sutherland“, in Proceedings Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 7, 1870.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian 

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Moonzie, Cupar, Fife

Cup-Marked Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NO 34 18

Archaeology & History

There are no previous literary references to this small portable cup-marked rock, relocated recently by Paul Hornby during one of his various antiquarian meanderings.  Found in association with a much later architectural structure, it position in the landscape (near the top of a hill) would suggest that is was most probably located in a prehistoric cairn in earlier days—all traces of which have vanished.  But we cannot be sure of this and I’m merely speculating.

Moonzie cup-marked stone

Site of carving

The thin, fairly flat stone is about 18 inches across, by a foot wide, and consists of what seems to be 10 cup-marks (no rings, sadly), of which six of them are the real deal.  No other carvings officially exist anywhere near it and its isolation is an enigma… such as it is with petroglyphs…

Due to the fact that the stone can literally be picked up and moved by anyone, we’re hoping that it can be seen by local archaeologists and perhaps placed into a museum for safe-keeping.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian 

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Culhawk Hill, Kirriemuir, Angus

Stone Circle:  OS Grid Reference – NO 3530 5620

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 32209

Getting Here

The largest stone in the ring

From Kirriemuir central, head up the Kinnordy road, going straight across the main road and continuing past the Kinnordy turn-off for just over a mile towards Mearns, stopping where a small copse of trees appears on your left.  From here, walk along the track to the west. It goes gradually uphill, cutting through a small cleft with a hillfort on the north and a cairn circle on the south until, ⅔-mile along, you reach the moorland.  Keep going on the same path for another ½-mile west where the grasslands level out.  Here, on the flat bit between the two hills, a small incomplete ring of stones lives, with one stone sticking out.  You’ll find it!

Archaeology & History

This is a curious site on several levels—not least, that its definition as a ‘stone circle’ is a fragile one; although to be honest, we do find here a large unfinished arc of stones in what looks like either an unfinished ring, or a deliberately constructed large arc.  But you won’t find it in the standard megalithic gazetteers of Burl, Barnatt or Thom as it was only relocated in the 1980s by local researchers Sherriff and MacKnight. (1985)  They didn’t have much to say about it either, simply telling that they’d found,

“A stone setting representing the remains of either a denuded cairn or a stone circle lies in the saddle between Culhawk Hill and Castle Hill. One erect and 4 prone boulders describe a portion of a roughly circular site some 10m in diameter.”

Arc of fallen stones, looking NE

Faint low ring, looking W

This is roughly the gist of it, with the largest and most prominent of the stones—barely three feet tall—standing on the western side (this is the stone which draws your attention – otherwise you’d never even notice it).  The rest of the stones seem to have been knocked down some time ago.  A barely discernible embankment constructed around the edge of the ring can be seen around the northern side.  It seems unlikely that it was a cairn, as no inner piles of stones were in evidence when we visited the site.  It may be a large hut circle.  But in truth it could do with an excavation so that we can suss out its exact nature.  Beneath the grasses we found an additional stone to those counted by Sherriff & MacKnight; but more intriguing is what Frank Mercer and I found before we even reached the small circle….

Trackway leading to the circle

More visibly distinct than the ring itself were two artificial raised embankments, running parallel with each other 3-4 yards apart.  The raised edges of these embankments were about a yard across, on both sides, with the inner area slightly lower than the outlying natural background.  These distinct linear earthworks are, quite simply, an early medieval or prehistoric trackway—and it leads directly into the circle!  It’s quite unmistakable and is clearly visible as it drops down the slope to the south and away into the fields below.  Sadly when we found it last week, darkness was falling and so we didn’t trace the trackway any further.  But the most notable thing was that it stopped at the circle and did not continue on its northern side, implying that it was constructed with the circle as its deliberate focal point.  The trackway and its embankments are roughly the same size as other recognized prehistoric routes, such as Elkington’s Track on Ilkley Moor and the other ancient causeway that runs past the prehistoric ring known as Roms Law.

Regarding the ring of stones: unless you’re a real megalith fanatic, you’ll probably be disappointed by what you see here.  It’s a bittova long wander to something that may once have been just a hut circle, but the avenue leading up to it is something else – and much more intriguing!

References:

  1. Sherriff, John R. & MacKnight, O., “Culhawk Hill (Kirriemuir p): Stone Setting,” in Discovery & Excavation Scotland, 1985.

Acknowledgements:  Thanks as always to Nina Harris and Frank Mercer; and to Paul Hornby for use of his photos.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian 

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Devil’s Well, Abernethy, Perthshire

Sacred Well:  OS Grid Reference – NO 19430 14758

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 28084

Getting Here

Devils Well on 1860 map

From Abernethy village, go west along the A913 road for half-a-mile, then turn left up the long and winding Glenfoot road up the Abernethy Glen.  About a mile up on your left-side is Craigden Farm and, just a bit past this, the forestry plantation.  Just before the trees, cut up the field and head uphill, passing the near forest of gorse, until you reach the huge detached house of Turflundie.  In the field immediately east, right up against the barbed-wire fence where it meets the depleted forestry, a very small trickle of water emerges beneath a small pile of rocks.  You’re here!

Archaeology & History

The trickling waters are on the other side of this fence

Long since thought to have been lost, the trickling remains of this old Well of the Devil are, in fact, still running beneath the pile of stones just over the barbed-wire fence on the edge of the forestry section.  A cluster of other worn rounded rocks scatter the ground just to the rear of where the water first comes out of the ground, suggesting, perhaps, that a small well-house covered the spring; but this is me being speculative, as there’s no mention of this in the early writings of the Ordnance Survey lads, nor is one shown on the first OS-map of the area in 1860.  And you’ll see on the OS-map how the well is slightly lower than where it presently trickles, but this is down to the fact that the source of it was piped-off at sometime in the not-too-distant past, as evidenced by remains of such piping laying just over the barbed-wire fence close to the source.  In truth, unless you’re hardcore, there’s very little to see.

Folklore

The dedication of this water-site to the christian ‘devil’ is obviously a corruption of its original traditional name, which may have simply been to the Bodach, or ‘Old Man’ in Gaelic and northern British lore.  The bodach‘s consort is the great prima Mater of the northern realms known as the Cailleach, but I can find no dedication to Her anywhere nearby.  The best we have are the ‘Witches Graves’ a half-mile to the northwest, below the edge of the geological ridge overlooking Abernethy, where folklore tells us 22 women were murdered and buried by the local christians several centuries ago.

References:

  1. Morris, Ruth & Frank, Scottish Healing Wells, Alethea: Sandy 1982.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian 

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Spittal of Glenshee, Kirkmichael, Perthshire

Standing Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NO 10865 70201

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 29609

Getting Here

Spittal of Glenshee stone

Take to A93 road, north, between Blairgowrie and Braemar, keeping your eyes peeled many miles on, to turn left along the minor road as you approach the tiny Spittal of Glenshee hamlet. Just as you go over the ancient bridge, park up on your left, below the church.  Walk round the back of the church and you’ll see a large tree-covered mound.  Walk onto its top.

Archaeology & History

Stone marked on 1862 map

This quiet, almost hidden, six-foot tall standing stone on what initially seems to be a large fairy mound or tumulus at the back of the rude church, has been occluded from general view (in my opinion, deliberately) by the construction of the more debased christian edifice right in front of it.  But it detracts not from its gentle majesty once you reach its ancient body, atop of the old hill.

The stone is one in a cluster of prehistoric sites in and around this Glen of the Fairy Folk (as its name tells), where the rivers Shee and Beag converge.  If the church didn’t obstruct the view, some of the other sites would have been visible from here.

Folklore

The old stone, looking east

Folklore tells that when the christians came into the Glen to build a church—initially a half-mile or so to the east—the little people were much annoyed at the actions of the incomers, as it intruded on one of their sacred rings of stone close by.  By night they came out, and every stone that had been laid by the christians in the day was removed.  Each day the insensitive christians came and built their church without asking, and each night the little people removed it.  Eventually an agreement was made, and the fairies let them build the church next to this standing stone.  So goes the tale….

A veritable cluster of stories about Fingal, Ossian, Dermid and Grianne scatter this area, with many of them relating to ancient sites, but I’ve not found one directly relating to this stone.

References:

  1. Miller, T.D., Tales of a Highland Parish, Munro Press: Perth 1929.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

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