Robin Hood’s Well, Higham, Lancashire

Sacred Well: OS Grid Reference – SD 81755 35151

Archaeology & History

Robin Hoods Well on 1848 map

On the north-side of the River Calder, a short distance above the riverbank below Pendle Hall—as shown on the earliest OS-map of the area, but without a name—the local history writer, Joe Bates (1926), told us about this “spring of icy cold water”, which, in bygone years, “used to be called Robin Hood’s Well.”  (Having moved out of the area, I’m not able to say whether this site is still visible.  Can any local folk illuminate us on the matter?)

Folklore

Like many other sacred and healing wells across Britain, Bates (1926) said that the waters from Robin Hood’s Well,

“was at one time considered a specific for certain ailments of the eyes.”

References:

  1. Bates, Joe, Rambles twixt Pendle and Holme, Nelson 1926.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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Spurn Clough, Fence, Higham, Lancashire

Standing Stone:  OS Grid Reference – SD 8249 3685

Archaeology & History

First noted on 1848 OS-map

Following a request to see if anyone could locate a lost standing stone in Fence (in the Forest of Pendle) not far from my home, I took up the challenge to locate this relic.  One evening in July 2017, I decided to go take a look and having studied all maps I was fairly sure of its old position.  Upon finding the deep ravine and the old field boundaries, I followed the line of old mature beech trees (perhaps 250-300 years old) that shroud the deep clough.  Behind the biggest beech tree, but now some 10 feet down the slope, there I found the said standing stone, now recumbent and partly stuck into the earth due to its weight (approx 1.5 tonne). 

Spurn Clough Stone, laid halfway down the slope

It appears to have either fallen on its own accord as the steep sides of clough are soft clays, unstable and eroding, or it has been pushed out of the way by a previous landowner. It is made of millstone grit and is likely a glacial erratic from off the top of the local fells; it is not of the same type of fine gain flaggy bedrock that exists in the river below.  There are no more similar boulders within the clough other than a few small boulders in the bed of the stream.  This stone is big: being about 4ft by 3ft and 5ft long that is visible, with considerably more into the banking.

Exact position of the stone on the 1893 OS-map

I think it is worth approaching the local landowner to seek his approval to try and re-erect this standing stone in a position away from the crest of the ravine. It obviously was locally important and worthy of noting on the OS Map of 1848 and was not cut up and used as local walling stone, so it either was a boundary marker or held other folklore significance.

Research so far indicates no name is attached to the standing stone, but nearby is a ‘Hoarstones Lodge’ mentioned as a place for the Pendle witches to meet and the ravine and stream is called Spurn Clough, so I feel it apt to name it the Spurn Clough Standing Stone—unless I uncover another name used for the stone.  It’s nice to locate a lost standing stone!

Now I throw open the question: should it be restored to its upright position and made safe from falling down the clough?

© Nick Livsey, The Northern Antiquarian

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Over Glenny (04), Port of Menteith, Stirlingshire

Cup-and-Ring Stone: OS Grid Reference — NN 56991 02834

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 352014

Getting Here

Over Glenny 4 cup-and-ring

Along the A81 road from Port of Menteith to Aberfoyle, watch out for the small road in the trees running at an angle sharply uphill, nearly opposite Portend, up to Coldon and higher. Keep going, bearing right past Mondowie and stopping at the dirt-track 100 yards or so further up on the left. Walk up this dirt-track for ⅔ mile, and just before reaching the planted forestry, turn right along another dirt-track. Less than 200 yards along there’s a large sycamore tree, and about 20 yards below it (south) are several open flat rock surfaces.  This is the most westerly of them.

Archaeology & History

…and again

On this small smooth rock surface we find an almost archetypal cup-and-ring stone, whose design consists of a double cup-and-ring and a faint cup-and-ring. The double-ring has several seemingly natural small fissures in the rock running at various angles into the central cup from the outside; and there are two faint ones running from the double-rings outwards to the cup-mark in the single-ring, framing the central cupmark in the middle. It may have been that these scratches on the rock gave rise to the position of the cupmark in this petroglyph.  It’s difficult to see whether or not the single cup-and-ring was ever completed.

Canmore’s description of this petroglyph tells simply: “The larger of the two is 180mm in diameter and has two rings around a cup that is 70mm in diameter and 15mm deep. The smaller has one ring around a cup.”

References:

  1. Brouwer, Jan & van Veen, Gus, Rock Art in the Menteith Hills, BRAC 2009.
  2. Sorowka, P., Davenport, C., & Fairclough, J., “Stirling, Over Glenny,” in Discovery & Excavation, Scotland, vol. 15, 2014.

Acknowledgements:  Massive thanks to Paul Hornby, Lisa Samson & Fraser Harrick for all their help on the day of this visit.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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Over Glenny (05), Port of Menteith, Stirlingshire

Cup-and-Ring Stone:  OS Grid — NN 56993 02835

Getting Here

‘Over Glenny 5’ Carving

Along the A81 road from Port of Menteith to Aberfoyle, watch out for the small road in the trees running at an angle sharply uphill, nearly opposite Portend, up to Coldon and higher. Keep going, bearing right past Mondowie and stopping at the dirt-track 100 yards or so further up on the left.  Walk up this dirt-track for ⅔ mile, and just before reaching the planted forestry, turn right along another dirt-track.  Less than 200 yards along there’s a large sycamore tree, and about 20 yards below it (south) is the carving you’re looking for.

Archaeology & History

Portrait of the petroglyph

It’s difficult keeping up with the carvings in this region to the north of the Lake of Menteith, as we find new unrecorded ones on every visit, maintaining the tradition of fellow rock art students Maarten van Hoek, Kaledon Naddair, George Currie, Jan Broewer and the rest—and we know that there’s more of them hidden away.  This one doesn’t seem to be in the Canmore listings, but I put that down to the fact that they’ve got a grid-references wrong somewhere, as it’s pretty plain to see.  Although, to be honest, in the rather vague descriptions of the adjacent carvings (Over Glenny 4 and 6), this carving is in-between them, so you’d expect it to be listed.  Anyway, that aside…

Looking down at the rings

Close-up of the faint rings

This long flat exposed rock surface has two primary cup-and-rings upon it: one cup with a double-ring, and the other standard cup-and-ring; there are also two single cup-markings on the stone: one near the middle of the rock and the other on its lower-right side.  The main element is the double-cup-and-ring, which appears to be incomplete—not only in terms of its design, but also, as you can see in the photos, seems unfinished. From the central double-ring, a faint carved line runs out from the centre and into the other faint, incomplete, single cup-and-ring.

Series of metal-sharpening grooves

At the bottom of the stone (as with several others hereby) a curious set of deep scars have been cut into the edge of the rock.  They’re unmistakable when you see them.  They have probably been created by metal artifacts being sharpened along the bottom of the rock—many many times by the look of it.  These deep cuts reminded me of the more famous Polisher Stone, down Avebury-way.  They may be explained by the fact that, several centuries ago, a battle occurred here and some of the men gathered in the area before the attack.  It would seem as if this and the other cup-and-ring stones were used to sharpen their blades before going into battle.  Whether this was done because of some local lore which imbued these stones with some sort of magick, we do not know.  Folklore here seems curiously scarce (english incomers destroyed local traditions, as writers were telling us in the 19th century), apart from the well-known one of the area being rife with fairies: Robert Kirk’s famous The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Faeries (1691) was written three miles west of here, at Aberfoyle.

References:

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

Acknowledgements:  Massive thanks to the rest of the crew: Paul Hornby, Lisa Samson & Fraser Harrick.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

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Ancient & Holy Wells of Edinburgh

Ancient & Holy Wells of Edinburgh

by

Paul Bennett

Northern Antiquarian: Alva 2017.  Kindle edition – 123 pages. 

Price – £3.99

This is the first detailed guide ever written on the holy wells and healing springs in and around the ancient city of Edinburgh, Scotland. Written in a simple A-Z gazetteer style, nearly 70 individual sites are described, each with their grid-reference location, history, folklore and medicinal properties where known. Although a number them have long since fallen prey to the expanse of Industrialism, many sites can still be visited by the modern historian, pilgrim, christian, pagan or tourist.

The book opens with two introductory chapters: the first explores the origin and nature of holy wells and what they meant to local people in earlier centuries; and the next is a comparative overview of water cults worldwide. It is an invaluable guide for any student or tourist who wants to look beneath the modern history of the city and get a taste of the more archaic customs that once belonged here…

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Carleatheran, Gargunnock, Stirlingshire

Cairn:  OS Grid Reference – NS 68789 91880

Also Known as:

  1. Caerlatheran
  2. Canmore ID 45381

Getting Here

Caerlatheron, looking NW

The quickest way here is still a long one.  From Gargunnock village, take the road west towards the A811, turning left just before the bend down to the main road, and up through what looks like private estate gates.  Walk all the way along this road as if you’re visiting the Leckie broch and its carvings, but keep going, until it becomes a track.  Continue into the woods, uphill and out the other side until you have the Gargunnock cliffs rising a few hundred yards ahead of you.  On your right a few yards up is a long straight length of walling running to the first set of cliffs.  Go up it and up the next rise and the next. When you’re on top of the moors, look for the highest spot close by.  You can’t miss it!

Archaeology & History

Cairn-edge, looking NW

Nearly 1600 feet above sea level, this seemingly isolated giant cairn sits on the highest point of the Gargunnock Hills, giving a truly fantastic 360º view, looking across a diameter of perhaps 100 miles on a clear day—which is what I was greeted with when I visited.  Giant cairns scatter hilltops all across the British Isles, many of them peopled with creation myths of giants, devils and thoroughly animistic creatures!  But I can find no such tales here… Equal lackings are in the archaeological texts which, it seems, only catalogued the site in recent years.

Caerlatheron, looking SE

The name of the site is intriguing.  The element caer is a fort, but no such ‘fort’ seems to be here.  But we’ll come back to that shortly.  The element latheron and its variants apparently relates to a mire or swamp (Watson 1926), whose existence to the immediate south and west is considerable (a small loch was once hereby, but its size has decreased over the last 150 years), and it is very boggy across the tops here.  When I visited, it was a scorching day (I was fucked by the time I got here!), but in many places the ground was very dangerous to walk over.  It was superb!  So it seems that the place-name indicates Caerlatheron was ‘the fort by the swamp’.  It works perfectly, except that this is listed as a cairn – and it’s a large one at that!

Note the overgrown raised embankment (lower centre)

The cairn sites on top of a large mound.  This mound seems to be artificial and is between 10-12 feet high.  The cairn and mass of rocks on top of the mound (within which is a triangulation pillar) is itself 4-5 feet high—although much of this relates to Ordnance Survey and walkers piling up many of the loose stones to create an enclosure or wind-break to protect any traveller up here in stormy weather.  The cairn-pile is 20 yards across at the top, and as you walk around it you become aware that this appears to be slightly raised on top of its parent mound with an evident ’embankment’, particularly on the eastern side.  As you follow this round, you lose sight of it completely on the southern edges, which is covered by the extended cairn-mass; but some of it seems in evidence on the northwest and northern side.  A number of stones marking this out would seeeem to be in evidence.  A few larger flat stones on the south and western top of the cairn might suggest that it was once a chambered cairn – but this is highly speculative.  The late great Audrey Henshall never got here; and I don’t know whether the great local archaeologist, Miss Christian MacLagan, ever got her fingers here either, so we don’t have their expertise to help us out.

Caerlatheron, looking E

Cairn-mass of the huge mound

The mound upon which the ‘cairn’ sits is also intriguing.  When walking round and around the bottom of it, you note the unmistakable substantial mass of overgrown rocks, particularly around from the northwest, to north, to northeast, both on the slopes and at the bottom, seeming to imply that the entire mound is artificial.  I kept walking up and down and around it, to see if these had simply fallen from the top, but wasn’t 100% sure and wished there was a geologist at hand to tell me, one way or the other.  In truth, the shape of the mound from the bottom, from most angles, reminded me of an overgrown broch and not a cairn.  And there are a few brochs nearby—the closest of which is just at the bottom of the hill from here: the Leckie broch (I aint done the site profile for it yet, soz….).  It was only when I got home and looked for the meaning of Caerlatheron that the ‘broch’ idea came back to me with a little more fortitude, perhaps making sense of it as a ‘fortified structure by the bogs and swamps’.  Perhaps…  Without an excavation, we may never know for sure.

Singular cairn, 350yd NNW

About 350 yards northwest, across truly dodgy swampy ground (walk up here at night and it’ll probably be the last thing you ever do!) is another small singular cairn, made up of quite large rocks, with a few smaller ones filling it up.  It looks to be either a shepherd’s cairn, or one for his sheepdog perhaps, a few centuries old.  I can find nothing about it in any local history or record-books.

The place is well worth visiting—but it’s a full day out and you’ll be knackered when you get back.  However, from here Nature grants us a stunning view of these tiny parts of Her body.  It’s well worth the effort!

References:

  1. Watson, W.J., Celtic Placenames of Scotland, William Blackwood 1926.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 

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Snowden Carr carving (610), Askwith, North Yorkshire

Cup-Marked Stone:  OS Grid Reference – SE 18105 51210

Getting Here

Snowden Carr carving 610

From Otley, take the road north across the River Wharfe up and up, heading towards Askwith Moor.  As the moorland opens up ahead of you, at the crossroads turn right along Snowden Carr Road and literally ¾-mile along (1.25km) where a track on your right goes to Carr Farm, on the left-side of the road is a gate.  Go through here to the Naked Jogger Stone and walk up the rocky ridge ahead of you, alongside the walling (as if you’re going to the Sunrise Stone), and about 20-30 yards up you’ll reach this carving.

Archaeology & History

Best visited on a clear day, this is one carving amidst a small cluster of cup-marked petroglyphs found along the small geological ridge between the Sunrise Stone and Naked Jogger carving (none of which are as impressive as those two!).  This particular design consists of a number of faint cup-marks— between 17 and 25 of them—reaching along the horizontal surface, with no distinct formal pattern, as usual.  The carving continues beneath the encroaching soil.

Looking down at the carving

Archaeo-sketch

It seems to have been described for the first time by Stuart Feather (1973); then subsequently in Boughey & Vickerman’s (2003) survey, in which they attach a single cup-marking on an adjacent rock into the matrix of this design—but the two rock surfaces are distinctly separate.  This apart, their description tells, briefly as always: “Large long rock which may be outcrop, with hill falling away steeply below. Seventeen worn cups.”

References:

  1. Boughey, Keith & Vickerman, E.A., Prehistoric Rock Art of the West Riding, WYAS: Leeds 2003.
  2. Feather, Stuart, “Askwith, W.Yorkshire,” in ‘Yorkshire Archaeological Register’, Yorkshire Archaeology Journal, volume 45, 1973.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 

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Dun Riaskidh, Torrisdale Bay, Sutherland

Chambered Cairn:  OS Grid Reference – NC 68763 61406

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 5775
  2. Dun Richard

Getting Here

Approaching Dun Riaskidh

Along the A836 road between Bettyhill and Tongue, keep your eyes peeled for the turning down to Borgie and Skerray.  Go along here for 1.8 miles (2.9km) until, just past a tiny road on your left, a small parking spot with a tourist board is by the roadside. Walk down hill and over the River Borgie below and follow the footpath round until your reach the edge of Torrisdale Beach. From here, walk right, uphill, across overgrown sand-dunes to the stone escarpment 400 yards or so to the east.  A large scattered mass of rocks on top of one of the first rocky knolls is what you’re looking for.  You can’t really miss it.

Archaeology & History

Dun Riaskidh, looking north

This is worth the journey for the scenery of Torrisdale Bay alone: one of the most beautiful places in all Scotland. …Not far from the legendary Ringstone and the carving above, this collapsed mass of scattered rocks was said, in local lore, to have been the remains of an old broch—or that’s what Hew Morrison told the Royal Commission (1911) lads about it when they surveyed the area more than a century back.  Their description was short:

“About ½-mile E of the footbridge across the River Borgie, near Torrisdail, and on the W. side of Druim a’ Chleibh, are the remains of a broch. No outlines of walls are visible. The site is indicated by a structureless heap of stones.”

It seems at first to be in an unusual position for a chambered cairn: built onto solid rock instead of soil.  Yet we find this geocentric structuralism echoed at the Borgie chambered tomb 1½ miles to the southeast.  When you reach the place, a large mass of stones—hundreds of them piled-up several feet high—is strewn across the rocky surface and reaching onto more typical moorland ground.  On top are a number of large stones, some laid down, some half-upright appearing, perhaps, to have played some part in an internal cist or chamber.  On the eastern side the rocky mass falls down a natural steep slope, with many of the fallen stones covered by centuries of vegetation.  As you walk around it, cairn-scatter seems to extend southwards towards another natural rocky knoll 20 yards to the south, giving the impression of a second cairn (much like the Fiscary 1 and 2 cairns 2.8 miles to the east), but this is improbable.

The first detailed archaeological account of the site was by Audrey Henshall (1972), who told us:

“…The cairn is about 4ft high, consisting of a mass of angular stones.  On the S side the edge can be traced, and the indications are that the diameter was about 57ft.  The edge on the N side is rather vague and may have been flattened in plan.  On the E and W sides, where there are steep drops, the stones have evidently spread downhill, though on the E side parts of a roughly built edging can be seen.

“Many large slabs lie about the site, probably mainly displaced corbels and roofing stones.  Much of the chamber structure probably exists, and a few visible orthostats are probably in situ.  The entrance has probably been from the N or seaward side.  A slab towards the S side, aligned E-W, projects 1ft 6in, and is likely to be the back-slab.  The E side of the chamber is represented by a slab 4ft 6in to the N, aligned N-S, which is just visible.  On the W side of the chamber there are a number of large slabs, one over the other wide their E edges aligned vertically, and laid declining to the W, which appear to be corbel stones only slightly displaced.  To the N of them, a stone set transversely to the axis of the chamber, 10ft 3in N of the back-slab, might be a portal stone.  Another upright stone seemingly firmly set but obstructing the probable position of the entry into the chamber, is presumably displaced.”

More than twenty years later however, Miss Henshall (1995) revisited Dun Riaskidh and altered her initial diagnosis of it as a chambered cairn, suggesting it to be something completely different, telling:

“The cairn-like structure…has an overall spread of about 17m including stone displaced downhill, and a height of 1.6m on the S side.  On the summit a group of upright slabs protrudes up to 0.35m, and forms a rough oval 5.5m E to W, by 4.5m N to S.  They seem to be on the inner side of a ring of stony material  about 2.5m thick.  In the interior is a disorganised mass of lintel slabs and three earthfast upright slabs.  The structure appears to be a house with spaced uprights in the inner face of the wall, and with a series of uprights which helped to support a partly lintelled roof.  A hollow on the N or seaward side probably indicates the position of the entrance.”

Top of the cairn, looking W

Now woe am I to go against the words of a giant like Miss Henshall, but having slept in numerous derelict houses and seen countless numbers of them in the hills, this structure does not seem to have such properties.  The category that is continued by Canmore and Ordnance Survey re Dun Riaskidh is still a “chambered cairn”; but, perhaps, if Miss Henshall is correct in saying that it is not a cairn, then maybe the words of local tradition may have been right all along (again!) and this is a collapsed broch?  Who knows for sure…?

Whatever its original nature and function, this vestige of antiquity is enveloped within another one of Nature’s incredible domains…

References:

  1. Henshall, Audrey S., The Chambered Tombs of Scotland – volume 2, Edinburgh University Press 1972.
  2. Henshall, Audrey S. & Ritchie, J.N.G., The Chambered Cairns of Sutherland, Edinburgh University Press 1995.
  3. 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
  4. Mercer, R.J. & Howell, J.M., Archaeological Field Survey in Northern Scotland – volume 2, University of Edinburgh 1981.
  5. Royal Commission on Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, Inventory of Monuments and Constructions in the County of Sutherland. HMSO: Edinburgh 1911.

Acknowledgments:  Huge thanks to Donna Murray, for putting me up in this part of Paradise.  Cheers Donna.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 

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Borgie Farmhouse, Tongue, Sutherland

Broch (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NC 675 594

Archaeology & History

A singular reference to this site appears in James Horsburgh’s (1870) early article on the prehistoric remains of Sutherland.  It seems he was on an early road-trip (or dirt-track-trip as it would have been in those days, as there were no real ‘roads’) and as his journey took him along the remote tracks in the far North, visiting places that are still intact and mentioning those which, oral tradition told, had passed into memory, local folk told him about a couple of brochs that had recently met their demise.  This was one of them.  He wrote:

“Between Farr and Tongue, after crossing the Naver Ferry… some miles on, near Borgie-farm house, there was a Pictish tower, now demolished, and on the side of the old road to Tongue, another.”

In asking the lady who lives here if she knew anything about the broch, she told that although she didn’t, she’d ask some old locals to see if they knew of any folk remnants about the place.  It would have stood a short distance above the little-known Borgie souterrain. If we receive any additional info, the site-profile will be updated. (the grid-reference for this broch is an approximation)

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

Acknowledgements:  Huge thanks again to Donna Murray for enquiring to see if any old tales remained about this long-lost site.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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Willie Bold’s Well, Galashiels, Selkirkshire

Healing Well (destroyed): OS Grid Reference – NT 49384 35696

Archaeology & History

Probable site of the Well

An all-but-forgotten well that was said to be named after a local forester and ranger in the 18th century—called Willie Bold, obviously.  It was located a few steps away from the main hunting lodge in the village, known locally as the Hunter’s Ha’ (also long since gone), from which an ancient pathway ran up to the local Toothill.  The Well was described in Robert Hall’s (1898) definitive history of Galashiels, albeit in the past tense, even in his day:

“Willie Bold’s well was about ten yards distant from the east end of the peel, the road which led to it being about four feet wide and fenced on both sides with a high stone wall.  The well was circular and about three feet deep, but in order to reach the water, it was necessary to go down two steps. Here the village children of a past generation quenched their thirst, lifting the water with a “tinnie,” which was always returned to Willie’s house, where it remained till again required.”

In 1863, the first OS-map of the area highlights a ‘Well’ very close to the position cited by Mr Hall, which we presume msut be the Well in question. .

References:

  1. Hall, Robert, The History of Galashiels, Alexander Walker: Galashiels 1898.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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