Clach na Ba, St Fillans, Comrie, Perthshire

Legendary Rock:  OS Grid Reference – NN 70318 24159

Clach na Ba, from roadside

Also Known as:

  1. Stone of the Cattle

Getting Here

Along the A85 road at the east-end of Lochearnhead, head out of the village east towards Comrie. Just above the main-road, maybe 50 yards after passing the small road to St Fillan’s Golf Club, on the north side of the road you’ll see a huge boulder resting in the edge of the garden of the large detached house that was known as The Oaks.  That’s the fella!

Archaeology & History

Clach na Ba, from the rear

Almost fallen out of history, oral tradition has thankfully kept the name and brief history of this huge boulder alive.  Found in association with the prehistoric standing stones just yards away, the Clach na Ba lives beside the ancient drover’s road (and probable prehistoric route before that) just yards east of the old cottage known as Casetta.  This occupies a site where an old toll-house stood, and the drovers would have to stop and pay a toll before continuing onwards past the Clach na Ba, or Stone of the Cattle.

Folklore

When the drovers passed their highland cattle here, the animals rubbed themselves against the stone to ensure good health and fertility (as well as just having a good scratch, no doubt).

References:

  1. Porteous, Alexander, Annals of St Fillans, David Philips: Crieff 1912.

Acknowledgements:  With huge thanks to Nina Harris and Paul Hornby for the day out and for use of their photos in this site-profile; and to the lovely couple (we didn’t get their names – soz) who live in the house behind the Clach na Ba, for their help with the fascinating local history .

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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Mineral Well, Portobello, Edinburgh, Midlothian

Healing Well (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NT 314 735

Archaeology & History

This was one of two medicinal springs that could once be found in old Portobello village. Like its companion Chalybeate Well nearly a mile northwest, in the early 19th century those entrepreneurial types tried fashioning these waters into being a Spa Well.  It didn’t really work and the fad passed after just a couple of decades—and soon after the local people had completely lost their water supply here.  The best historical account of it is in William Baird’s (1898) magnum opus on Portobello.  He told how the well,

“was, at the beginning of the century, situated in a garden near to the main road, where there was a well with drinking cups for the accommodation of visitors, a small sum being charged from those using it.  The supply here having in some way become interrupted the spring was neglected for a time. It found vent, however, lower down and nearer to the Promenade at the foot of Joppa Lane. About fifty years ago there was a pretty large open basin, in the centre of which the water bubbled up about half a foot. It was of a red brick colour. Unfortunately on the starting of a pump on the Niddrie Bum to drain the water from the Niddrie coal pits, the supply of water was again interrupted, and this excellent mineral spring, which was strongly impregnated with oxide of iron and sulphate of lime and magnesia, ceased to flow with its former fulness.”

In 1869, the Industrialists dug into the Earth to construct their promenade and, after countless centuries, the waters of this old medicinal well finally died and fell back into the deep Earth…

References:

  1. Baird, William, Annals of Duddingston and Portobello, Andrew Elliot: Edinburgh 1898.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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Spa Well, Davidson’s Mains, Edinburgh, Midlothian

Healing Well:  OS Grid Reference – NT 2049 7524

Also Known as:

  1. Spaw Well
  2. Well of Spaw

Getting Here

Well of Spa on 1853 map

From the west end of Prince Street in Edinburgh central, take the (A90) Queensferry Road.  Go along here for 2.2 miles (3.5km) where the A90 meets the A902. Keep going west along Hillhouse Road for literally 1km (0.62 miles) where you reach a crossroads with the B9085 and there are trees on the right (north) side of the road.  Go into these trees and, before you come out into the fields on the other side, about 150 yards in, walk to your right and zigzag about in the undergrowth.  A small muddy pond is what you’re looking for!

Archaeology & History

Out towards old Lauriston Castle on the northwestern outskirts of the city, these all-but forgotten healing waters became renowned for a short period of time in the latter-half of the 18th century.   They were described in John Law’s Parish of Cramond (1794) where, with some brevity, he told that,

“On the lands of Marchfield is a spring of mineral water called the well of Spaw, reckoned beneficial in scorbutic cases, and highly purgative if drunk copiously.”

It was highlighted in the trees on the earliest OS-map (above) and its ruined remains can still be found.  Stone-lined, the watery remains of this old healing well (undoubtedly a place used by local people before the toffs named it as a ‘spa’) are thankfully still running.  Two other spa wells could be found not far away: one at Lauriston castle, and the other at Barnton.

References:

  1. Campbell, B.,”Some Notes on the Antiquities and Natural History of Cramond,” in Transactions of the Edinburgh Field Naturalists, volume 5, 1907.
  2. Geddie, John, The Fringes of Edinburgh, W. & R. Chambers: London 1926.
  3. Law, John, The Antient and Modern State of the Parish of Cramond, John Paterson: Edinburgh 1794.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 

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Bowfoot Well, Edinburgh, Midlothian

Healing Well:  OS Grid Reference – NT 25500 73417

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 52178
  2. West Bow Well

Getting Here

19th C image of Bowfoot Well, right

Once you’re in Edinburgh, there are so many ways to get here (and it’s easy to get lost with city directions, depending on where you’re starting out from), so just get to the south-side of Edinburgh Castle and find the long cobbled-road of the Grassmarket.  Ask people if you can’t find it, they’re very helpful in Edinburgh (totally different from London!).  It’s the large carved square stone-feature near the bottom of the road.

Archaeology & History

Very much the product of the Industrial Age, this large ornate architectural feature at the cobbled junction of Grassmarket, Cowgatehead and West Bow, was built by Robert Mylne in 1681.  The well gave the people of the city a water supply after redirecting waters from the Comiston Springs, 3 miles away, into Edinburgh.  It was one of a number of public wells constructed in the city specifically for use by the general populace “when a dry season occurred,” reported Mr Colston (1890).  A dry season?! – in Scotland?!  In the 19th century it became unreliable as a source of good drinking water. It has no archaic animistic veracity.

References:

  1. Colston, James, The Edinburgh and District Water Supply, Edinburgh 1890.
  2. Harris, Stuart, The Place-Names of Edinburgh: Their Origins and History, Gordon Wright: Edinburgh 1996.
  3. Hope, Thomas C. & Telford, Thomas, Reports on the Means of Improving the Supply of Water for the City of Edinburgh, A. Constable: Edinburgh 1813.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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Clachan Aoraidh, Balquhidder, Perthshire

Stone Circle (ruins):  OS Grid Reference – NN 5389 2076

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 24151
  2. Worshipping Stones

Getting Here

Clachan Aoraidh, looking W

Along the A84 road betweeen Callander and Lochearnhead, take the small road west when you reach Balquhidder Station, towards Balquhidder village.  Go along here for 1½ miles (2.5km) as if you’re gonna visit the Puidrac Stone; but 200 yards past this, go through the gate on the south-side of the road into the boggy field for about 150 yards towards the River Balvag.  You’re looking for several stones, as in the photos.  You’ll find ’em. (you may get soaked though!)

Archaeology & History

The stones, looking NW

After many thousands of years, this innocuous-looking group of small stones found in the very boggy field immediately west of the Puidrac Stone looks nothing like it once did. Some modern academics would have you think there was nothing here of prehistoric interest, but oral tradition and earlier writings tell otherwise. Although not shown on the early OS-maps, it was first described in James Gow’s (1887) articulation on the antiquities of the area, in which he told:

“A short distance east from the present (Balquhidder) parish church, in the haugh below the manse, there are seven stones remaining of a circle which appears to have been about 30 feet in diameter; only one stone is in its original upright position, but there are fragments of others lying about; as usual, they are known as “Clachan-Aoraidh,” or worshipping stones, and are not likely to be disturbed during the lease of the present tenant.”

Looking E, with Puidrac Stone just visible left of telegraph post

A few years later when Thomas Ross (1919) visited the area with a Prof Cooper and others, they reported the single standing stone still in position and the anglicized name of the Worshipping Stones was still in evidence amongst locals.

Arc of fallen stones by the trees

Nowadays the site is in ruin.  Two of the stones stand out when the rushes aren’t too high, with one earthfast and its companion prostrate; but as you can see in the photo (right), there remains a sunken arc of two other stones laid down, running away from the larger ones, with a fifth overgrown and nearly covered by vegetation and the young trees.  In all probability, tradition is probably right here: this is the remains of a stone circle.

Folklore

The field in which these denuded megalithic remains are found, was, wrote Thomas Ross (1919),

“the site of a long-popular market called ‘Feill Aonghais’, i.e., St Angus’ Fair.  It was held, according to Mr Campbell, in May; according to Mr Gow, on “the Saint’s Day, the 6th of April.”  It was quite the custom…to hold a fair after divine service on the Patronal Feast. The folks came to “kirk and market” on the same day, and mixed good fellowship and manly sport with their worship and their business.”

If you were to hold a fair there nowadays, likelihood is it would get flooded!  Christian myths tell of a “St. Angus” taking over whatever the heathen traditions were in this domain, more than a thousand years back.

References:

  1. Gow, James M., “Notes in Balquhidder: Saint Angus, Curing Wells, Cup-Marked Stones, etc”, in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries Scotland, volume 21, 1887.
  2. Ross, Thomas, “Saint Angus’ Stone, Balquhidder,” in Transactions of the Scottish Ecclesiological Society, volume 6 – part 1, 1919.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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Newton Bridge Enclosure, Fowlis Wester, Perthshire

Enclosure:  OS Grid Reference – NN 8884 3155

Getting Here

Enclosure’s western wall

Venture along the A822 Crieff to Dunkeld road, turning down into the gorgeous Sma’ Glen.  Nearly 1 mile past Ossian’s Stone, just past where the road crosses the River Almond, walk along the track on your right where the big boulder sits.  Past the boulder, walk up the grassy slope to the left.  A standing stone will catch your attention, which sits in the walling.  Y’ can’t really miss it!

Archaeology & History

Rediscovered by Paul Hornby in 2015 at the end of a day’s excursion to the neolithic sites a few miles west of here, I can find no references at all to the denuded remains of what seems to be a typical prehistoric enclosure.

Looking down the west wall

The southwestern walls

Constructed around a natural rise in the land 60-70 yards above the River Almond, the enclosure has that ‘Iron Age’ look about it (it may be earlier).  Shaped like a giant ‘D’ (and clearly visible on GoogleEarth), the extensive walling that makes up the site—about a yard wide all the way round—is far from small, measuring some 60 yards (54.8m) at its greater longer axis roughly north-south, by 54 yards (49.5m) east to west, with a circumference of about 170 yards (155.5m).  The much-denuded walling that defines the perimeter is comprised of a number of large stones with thousands of smaller packing stones that are mainly overgrown.  A large ‘standing stone’ about 3 feet tall is the most notable feature nearly halfway along the western wall.

Small standing stone in wall

In all probability this enclosure would have been in use since its construction in the Iron Age period all the way through to the coming of Fuadach nan Gàidheal (the Highland Clearances) in the 19th century, as the people here were pragmatists who made best use of what was around them.  It is likely to have ended its days as an area where cattle was contained.

Acknowledgements:  Huge thanks to Paul Hornby for his assistance with site inspection, and additional use of his photos.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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Holy Well, Auchtertool, Fife

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference – NT 20813 90189

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 52985

Getting Here

‘Well’ marked the spot in 1856

Along the B925 road between Dunfermline and Kirkcadly, ⅔ of a mile (1.07km) west of Auchtertool village, go down the small track leading down to the isolated church on the rise in some trees.  Walk through the churchyard and out the other side where a small footpath runs downhill.  50-60 yards along, by the walling, this holy well is/was said to be.

Archaeology & History

Both history and tradition are pretty shallow on this all-but-forgotten site, which Penny Sinclair guided us to see in the summer of 2016.  Sadly the entire area where the waters are reported to emerge were completely overgrown in nettles when we visited and, despite us trampling the Urtica down, we could find no remains of the spring. (the Church and its followers here should ensure that the well is properly maintained)

The greatest description of the site seems to be that given by William Stevenson (1908) in his rare work on the parish of Auchtertool.  He wrote:

“As you approach the Kirk of Auchtertool by the old road…you come upon a well by the wayside.  For many years it was the well that supplied the Manse with water, but it is now seldom used, even by the passing traveller.  There is a belief that at one time this well was what is known as a holy well.  Be that as it may, a friend of the late Rev. Walter Welsh, the late Dr Robert Wilson, caused a stone over the well to be inscribed with the following lines:

“Ye who the gently-winding path have trod,
To this fresh fount beside the house of God,
Taste the clear spring; and may each pilgrim know
The purer stream where living waters flow.””

The well was included in Ruth & Frank Morris’ (1982) survey, where they added that the waters from the well were “used in celebration of the mass.”

References:

  1. Morris, Ruth & Frank, Scottish Healing Wells, Alethea: Sandy 1982.
  2. Stevenson, William, The Kirk and Parish of Auchtertool, James Burt: Kirkcaldy 1908.

Acknowledgements:  Many thanks to Penny Sinclair for taking us to this locale.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 

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Limekiln Field, Pytchley, Northamptonshire

Tumulus (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – SP 8601 7510

Archaeology & History

According to a Mr Abner Brown (1846), this was one of two prehistoric cemeteries that once existed in Pytchley village, but very little seems to have been written about it.  Found on the north side of the village in the field where an old limekiln once stood, this “apparently pagan” site was “about 350 yards northwards of the church.”  From his brief description it seems that a large barrow here was accompanied by other smaller ones of the same period.  They have all been destroyed.

References:

  1. Brown, Abner W., “On Some British Kistvaens…under the Present Churchyard of Pytchley, Northamptonshire,” in Archaeological Journal, volume 3, 1846.
  2. Royal Commission Ancient & Historical Monuments, An Inventory of the Historic Monuments in the County of Northamptonshire – volume 2, HMSO: London 1979.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 

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Croft Moraig Carving (02), Kenmore, Perthshire

Cup-Marked Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NN 79744 47263

Also Known as:

  1. Croft Moraig – Stone D

Getting Here

Follow the same directions for the Croft Moraig stone Circle.  Then check out the largest of the fallen or elongated stones on the northwest side of the ring, with a smoothed sloping surface, just at the side of the overgrown stone platform on which it rests.  Y’ can’t really miss it.

Archaeology & History

When William Gillies (1938) wrote about the carvings at the Croft Moraig stone circle, he told how, previously, Fred Coles,

“noticed that several of the upright stones…show cup-markings on their perpendicular surfaces. Some of these are quite distinct, but others are so worn through weathering that they can only be traced with the fingers.”

Stone D, with cupmarks

Stone D, with faint cups

Close-up of the cupmarks

Close-up of the cupmarks

This is one of them. Barely visible at the best of times, the cup-markings are faded and very hard to see unless daylight conditions are just right. As you can see in the photos, several distinct cup-like impressions are visible, but it only appears that two of them are cup-marks.  The others seem to be more geophysical in nature – but I’d love to be wrong!

At the SSW edge of the circle, 13 yards (11.75m) away, is the Croft Moraig cup-and-ring stone.

Folklore

Stone D on Fred Coles' plan

Stone D on Coles’ plan

The great northern Antiquarian Fred Coles (1910) noted that this particular stone (stone D in his ground-plan of the circle) had “been polished by the sliding of generations of children”.  This playful action on stones elsewhere in the UK and around the world sometimes relates to fertility rites (i.e., the spirit of the stone could imbue increased fertility upon the practitioner), but Mr Coles made no mention of such rituals here.

References:

  1. Coles, Fred, “Report on Stone Circles Surveyed in Perthshire,” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 44, 1910.
  2. Gillies, William A., In Famed Breadalbane, Munro Press: Perth 1938.
  3. Yellowlees, Sonia, Cupmarked Stones in Strathtay, Scotland Magazine: Edinburgh 2004.

Acknowledgements:  Many thanks to hardcore crew for our various visits here: to Paul Hornby, Lisa Samson, Fraser Harrick, James Elkington, Penny & Thea Sinclair.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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Colpy, Culsalmond, Aberdeenshire

Stone Circle (destroyed): OS Grid Reference – NJ 6411 3261

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 18272

Archaeology & History

Colpy Circle site on 1868 map

Colpy Circle site on 1868 map

Just like the stone circle a half-mile east at Kirkton of Culsalmond, nothing now remains of this megalithic ring.  It was first described very briefly by Rev. F. Ellis (1845) in the New Statistical Account as a “druidical temple”: one of two hereby, “on the farm of Colpie, although now almost obliterated. Several urns were dug up in making a road near one of them”—implying that one of them was a cairn circle or funerary monument of some kind.  This was subsequently affirmed on the early OS-map and then described in Fred Coles’ (1902) survey, where he wrote:

“Site of a stone circle, the road going to Jericho Distillery having been made through it, and, on the south side of this road, the site of a cairn. Within the possible diameter of the circle an urn was found.”

Folklore

A few hundred yards west of the circle an ancient fair used to be held, known as St Sair’s Fair, named after St Serf.  Although St Serf’s Day is July 1, early records show that the fair—held in a long field with the curious name of ‘St Sairs Market Stance’—was to be held on the Wednesday after the last Tuesday in June.  For a stone circle, this is too close to Midsummer to be a coincidence!  Early records show that the fair was granted in 1591 and subsequent years thereafter.

St Serf is a very peculiar mythological figure with quite shamanistic traits and tales around him.  In truth, many of these early saints were little more than lapsed shamans, utilising natural magick and medicine in the olde traditions, but which became grafted onto the incoming christian mythos.  The evidence for this is quite overwhelming!

References:

  1. Barnatt, John, Stone Circles of Britain – volume 2, BAR: Oxford 1989.
  2. Browne, G.F., On Some Antiquities in the Neighbourhood of Dunecht House, Aberdeenshire, Cambridge University Press 1921.
  3. Burl, Aubrey, “The Recumbent Stone Circles of North-East Scotland”, in Proceedings Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 102, 1973.
  4. Burl, Aubrey, The Stone Circles of the British Isles, Yale University Press 1976.
  5. Burl, Aubrey, The Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany, Yale University Press 2000.
  6. Coles, Fred, “Report on Stone Circles in Aberdeenshire (Inverurie, Eastern Parishes, and Insch Districts),” in Proceedings Society Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 36, 1902.
  7. Ellis, F., “Parish of Culsalmond,” in New Statistical Account of Scotland – volume 12: Aberdeen, William Blackwood: Edinburgh 1845.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 

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