The Maypole, Alconbury, Huntingdonshire

Maypole (removed):  OS Reference Number TL 18554 75972

Getting Here

Maypole Square, outlined in red on the 1901 OS map

Maypole Square, outlined in red on the 1901 OS map

Maypole Square forms the junction of High Street, Church Way and Chapel Street in the centre of the village.

Archaeology & History

The Alconbury Maypole had passed out of living memory by 1942, but was historically attested by the ‘Maypole Square’ in the centre of the village.

Folklore

C.F. Tebbutt wrote in 1950:

“At Alconbury, it is remembered that about 1890 an old soldier, who lived in the corner house (east end) of the row of cottages facing Maypole Square, used to dig holes in the road opposite the row and set up May bushes there on May day”.

References:

  1. C.F.Tebbutt, “Huntingdonshire Folk and their Folklore”, in Transactions of the Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire Archaeological Society, Volume VI, part V, 1942.
  2. C.F.Tebbutt, “Huntingdonshire Folk and their Folklore II”, in Transactions of the Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire Archaeological Society, Volume VII, part III, 1950.

© Paul T. Hornby 2016 The Northern Antiquarian

The Northern Antiquarian – Charity Number SCO-46359 

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St. Medan’s Knowe, Kirkton of Airlie, Angus

Cairn:  OS Reference Number – NO 32021 52100

Also Known As:

  1. Battle Cairn
  2. Canmore 32360
  3. Cantsmill
  4. St. Madden’s Knowe

Getting Here

St Medan's Knowe, from the W

St Medan’s Knowe, from the W

At Kirkton of Airlie, park next to the church and walk north eastwards along the track, past the houses Crabra and Cleikheim, and cross the burn by the small bridge and the mound will be seen ahead of you in the field.

Archaeology & History

A largely flat topped, rectangular mound, measuring, according to Canmore,  28 metres by 22 metres, 2.2 metres high on the west side and about ½ metre high on the east side. There is a quantity of rubble strewn on the top among which are two stone slabs, described in 1958 as being possible cist cover stones. The site has clearly suffered considerable disturbance.

The site highlighted in red on the 1865 6" OS Map.

The site highlighted in red on the 1865 6″ OS Map.

The site from the north

The site from the north

Andrew Jervise, writing of the site in 1864 described it as having been 300′ in circumference and 6-7′ high before the owner started to remove it for agricultural ‘improvements’ around 1859. He described it as being sometimes known as the ‘Battle Cairn’. As part of the demolition of the mound, agricultural workers in October 1859 unearthed a large cinerary urn half filled with human bones and protected by a large sandstone flag.  Jervise writes:

“After the urn was found, care was taken removing other parts of the hillock; and on further reducing the surface, the top of a large boulder was exposed, upon and around which the mass of loose stones and earth appear to have been raised which composed the mound. The boulder, as far as ascertained, measures about 6 by 7½ feet; and the urn was found about four feet to the north east of the stone. At the distance of about four yards from the spot where the urn was found, there appeared to be a separate circle, rudely constructed of stones and earth – stones predominating. In this circle, at pretty regular distances, deposits of human and animal bones were found; and each of these deposits appeared to have been protected by two flat stones set up in a triangular form, resembling (an inverted letter V)…none of the deposits was more than 8″ below the surface”.  In February 1861, “..a stone cist was found a little to the south east of the boulder….it was 5 feet long by 2 in breadth. The lid, a single slab, was upwards of 6 feet in length…the depth of the cist was 2 feet….It was nearly empty, but one could see, from the soft, black, unctuous earth that was taken out of it, that it had contained a body.”

Jervise continues:

“The name of St. Medan’s Knowe is certainly significant, but, whether it would imply that the place had been that of his burial, or one of those of his ministry, and so been the original place of worship at Airlie – are interesting particulars upon which history and tradition are silent”.

Stone slabs on top

Stone slabs on top

The Ordnance Survey Name Books, and the 25-inch OS map of 1865 record the finding, 20 yards to the west of the knowe, of a bronze spear head, which was at that time in the possession of a Mr Dixon, a merchant of Kirriemuir, which may go some way to explaining the alternative name of the site as ‘Battle Cairn’.  The Name Books further record the testimony of a William Duncan that, ‘there have been 7 or 8 stone coffins and an urn found in the knowe, and that he believes a number more might be found if sought for, as the half of it is not yet excavated‘.

From the surviving evidence, it is very likely that Kirkton of Airlie was the centre of a cult of St. Madden (also known as ‘Medan’ and ‘Madan’), with the adjacent Holy Well, the (now destroyed) hamlet of St. Madden’s, and a Dewar’s land occupied by the hereditary custodians of St. Madden’s Bell.

References:

  1. Andrew Jervise, Notice of Antiquities in the Parish of Airlie, Forfarshire, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, June 1864.
  2. Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, The Archaeological Sites & Monuments of Central Angus, Angus District, Tayside Region, HMSO: Edinburgh 1983.
  3. Scotland’s Place Names

© Paul T. Hornby 2016 The Northern Antiquarian

The Northern Antiquarian – Charity Number SCO-46359

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Witch Hillock, Marykirk, Kincardineshire

Tumulus & (possible) Stone Circle: OS Grid Reference – NO 64400 67323

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 36002
  2. Inglismaldie

Getting Here

The Wicth Hillock

The Witch Hillock

Travelling north on the Bridgemill to Fettercairn road, park at the layby just before the junction with the minor road (left) through the Forestry Commission’s Inverury Wood.  Go through the gate and walk along the track to the end where it joins another track and turn right. About 300 yards along, the Hillock is in a fenced enclosure to the right, accessible over a stile.

Archaeology & History

The site was not mentioned in the Statistical Accounts, nor is the origin of the name recalled, from which it is reasonable to assume that ‘witches’ (howsoever that term was interpreted in the days of persecution by the Kirk Sessions) met there. This is reinforced by there being a plot of land due west called ‘Witchfield’.  The Canmore report describes the mound as  being,

“situated near the edge of a low natural escarpment..measuring about 18m. in diameter and 2m. high.”

The Ordnance Survey reported in the mid-1860s that the Hillock was,

“An artificial mound….a remarkable looking object….enclosed with ornamental wire fencing, the name is well known in the district, but is not mentioned in the Statistical account nor any other document in the possession of the authorities. James Glenny, Gardener at Inglismaldie states that he assisted to open this, under directions from the Earl of Kintore, about Seven years ago, and that after clearing away the top soil there were found several stone coffins containing human bones and a clay urn containing what appeared to be calcined human bones….”

The site shown at the top of the 1865 6" OS Map.

The site shown at the top of the 1865 6″ OS Map.

The Hillock with 3 stones in the foreground

The Hillock with 3 stones in the foreground

Another remarkable feature of the Hillock enclosure is an arc of three large earth fast boulders to the north-west of the mound. It has the appearance of being an incomplete, possibly four poster circle. The stones are not listed by Aubrey Burl (2000) as being part of a circle, and if indeed it was a circle there doesn’t seem to be any evidence of the fourth stone, which would have been positioned nearest to the Hillock.  Unless the Hillock was imagined to be the ‘missing’ fourth stone.

Three stones - once part of a circle?

Three stones – once part of a circle?

A ‘well’ is shown on the modern OS map in the corner of the enclosure nearest the stile, but there was no evidence of this on the day of my visit.

Despite its rather remote location, it was noticeable by the well trodden state of the long grass on the day of my visit that the site receives quite a few visitors – a venue still for witches?

References:

  1. Burl, Aubrey, The Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany, Yale University Press 2000.
  2. Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, The Archaeological Sites & Monuments of South Kincardine, Kincardine and Deeside District, HMSO: Edinburgh 1982.
  3. Scotland’s Place Names

© Paul T. Hornby 2016 The Northern Antiquarian

The Northern Antiquarian – Charity Number SCO-46359 

Posted in Cairns, Tombs, Tumuli, Earthworks, Kincardineshire, Scotland, Standing Stones, Stone Circles | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Bogle’s Well, Glasgow, Lanarkshire

Sacred Well:  OS Grid Reference – NS 597 650

Archaeology & History

Of all the ancient wells in the city of Glasgow, this has to be one of the most intriguing! Descriptions of it are few and far between, but it is the name of the site which is of interest, to folklorists and occult historians alike.  For the word ‘Bogle’ is another term for a ‘boggart’ or goblin of some sort!  The well is mentioned in Andy MacGeorge’s (1880) excellent study in his description of ancient wells in the city. Citing notes from the 17th century, amidst many sites,

“Another was Bogle’s Well, in regard to which there is a minute of the town council “that Bogillis Well should be assayed for bringing and convoying the water of the same to the Hie street according to the right the town hes thereof,” and the magistrates are recommended to arrange for having this done “by conduits of led.””

…Obviously in the days when they were clueless about lead-poisoning!  The word ‘bogillis’ is the early plural form of the bogle, or bogill (Grant 1941:201).  But where exactly was this old well?  Are there any other records hiding away to help us locate its original position?  It seems to have been one in a cluster of legendary and holy wells in a very small area scattered between Glasgow’s cathedral, down the High Street and to the northern banks of the River Clyde… (the grid-reference given for this site is an approximation)

Folklore

Traditionally ascribed in the lower counties of England to be an evil malicious sprite, in more northern counties and in Scotland the creature was said by Katherine Briggs (1979) to be a more “virtuous creature”, akin to the helpful brownies or urisks of country lore.  This was said to be the case in William Henderson’s (1868) Folklore of the Northern Counties. Whether this well was haunted or the home of a bogle, we do not know as the folklore of this site appears to be lost; so I appeal to any students who might be able to enlighten us further on the place.  The Forteans amongst you might have a cluster of ‘hauntings’ hereby, perhaps….

References:

  1. Briggs, Katharine, A Dictionary of Fairies, Penguin: Harmondsworth 1979.
  2. Grant, William (ed.), The Scottish National Dictionary – volume 2, SNDA: Edinburgh 1941.
  3. Henderson, William, Notes on the Folklore of the Northern Counties of England and the Borders, W. Satchell: London 1879.
  4. MacGeorge, Andrew, Old Glasgow, Blackie & Son: Glasgow 1880.
  5. MacKinlay, James M., Folklore of Scottish Lochs and Springs, William Hodge: Glasgow 1893.
  6. Steele, Joyce, Seeking Patterns of Lordship, Justice and Worship in the Scottish Landscape, Glasgow University 2014.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

The Northern Antiquarian – Charity Number SCO-46359

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Deanside Well, Glasgow, Lanarkshire

Healing Well (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NS 5974 6534

Also Known as:

  1. Meadow Well

Archaeology & History

Probable site of Deanside Well, 1857

Deanside Well ‘pump’ in 1857

This little-known well—destroyed about two hundred years ago—was said to be one of the finest of all of the water supplies in the Glasgow district in pre-industrial days.  The Glasgow historian Andy MacGeorge (1880) told it to be “a spring which was then, and for long afterwards, in great repute.”  It was described as early as 1304 CE in a grant by Robert, bishop of Glasgow, allowing the christians to take water from the well and into their convent.  The Latin transcript told:

“Noveritis Ros intuita caritatis, Dedisse fratribus Predicatoribus de Glasgu, Fontem quendam qui dicitur Meduwel in loco qui dicitur Denside scaturientem, in perpetuum conducendum in claustrum dictorum fratrum, ad usus necessarios eorundem”  (Meaning, “Know ye that I Rosh, of charity, Among His brethren shared with the Preaching Friars of Glasgow, the gushing fountain called Meadow Well or Deanside as the place is called, to the cloisters is said to meet the needs” of the monks.”)

There is the possibility that the well was deemed as ‘holy’ due to it being of vital use to the bishop and monks, but I can find no record of it being ‘blessed’ as such; and the exact site of the bishop’s convent has been lost to history.  In 1574 the “Deynside Well” needed cleaning due to  people clogging up the waters with earth and stones; and sometime in the 18th century the spring of water was turned into a draw-well.

A northern antiquarian by the name of ‘ Senex’ (real name, Robert Reid) visited the Deanside Well at the end of the 18th century, telling of its whereabouts:

“In the year 1789 I had occasion daily to mount and descend the Deanside Brae, upon business, so that the state of the place at that date is quite familiar to me.  The whole of the Deanside Brae was then vacant ground, as is shown in the old Maps of Glasgow.  The Deanside or Meadow Well was situated in a meadow at the west end of Grayfriars’ (or Bun’s) Wynd, close to the footpath leading up to the Rottenrow; it is now on the street, at 88 George Street, opposite to the lane leading into Shuttle Street.  The Deanside Well was then in a rural spot, the whole lands on the west, as far as Partick, being garden grounds and com fields.

“In Stuart’s Views the lonely foot passage up the Deanside Brae, to the Rottenrow, is very distinctly shown. The well stood at the south extremity of the said footpath, about the centre of the wynd.”

‘Senex’ also told that an ancient fair was held in “an enclosure” at the northwest corner of Shuttle Street, close to the Deanside Well.

References:

  1. MacGeorge, Andrew, Old Glasgow, Blackie & Son: Glasgow 1880.
  2. ‘Senex’, Old Glasgow and its Environs, D.Robertson: Glasgow 1864.
  3. Stuart, Robert, Views and Notices of Glasgow in Former Times, R.Stuart: Glasgow 1848.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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Shawfield, Rutherglen, Glasgow, Lanarkshire

Tumulus (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NS 6041 6297

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 45108

Archaeology & History

Close to the ancient boundary of north Lanarkshire—if not actually on it—and looking down on the River Clyde, was once a prehistoric burial mound, probably Bronze Age in nature.  Described first of all in David Ure’s (1793) early survey of Rutherglen, he told that:

“A tumulus of earth, supposed to have been originally a burying place, was lately demolished in the estate of Shawfield, a few yards from Polmadie; and the place where it stood converted into a mill-dam.  None of its contents attracted the particular attention of the workmen employed in removing it.”

The site was subsequently referenced in Hugh MacDonald’s (1860) excellent work, but no remains of it now exist.

References:

  1. Macdonald, Hugh, Rambles round Glasgow, John Cameron: Glasgow 1860.
  2. Royal Commission Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Lanarkshire: An Inventory of the Prehistoric and Roman Monuments, HMSO: Edinburgh 1978.
  3. Ure, David, The History of Rutherglen and East Kilbride, Glasgow 1793.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

The Northern Antiquarian – Charity Number SCO-46359 

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St. Madden’s Well, Kirkton of Airlie, Angus

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference – NO 3179 5188

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 32367
  2. St. Madan’s Well 
  3. St. Medan’s Well

Getting Here

One of the present issues of St. Madden's spring looking south.

One of the present issues of St. Madden’s spring looking south.

At Kirkton of Airlie, park next to the church and walk north eastwards along the track, past the houses ‘Crabra’ and ‘Cleikheim’ and the spring that once supplied the Holy Well will be seen on the opposite side of the burn in a small fenced off enclosure. To the north east of the enclosure is a small hillock known as St Medan’s Knowe.

Archaeology & History

According to the Ordnance Survey Name Books, St Madden’s Well was located in a hamlet called St Maddens, which has since been almost entirely destroyed.  In the mid nineteenth century a number of stone coffins and pottery were recovered from around the site, and the well was described as,

“filled up and defaced, the spring…still to be seen issuing into the mouth of a covered drain that was made some few years ago”.

There are now two issues of water from the spring, while nothing now remains of the original well housing. An adjoining resident informed me that the local landowner had gone to some trouble to try to find any evidence of the well housing, but had found nothing.

St. Madden's Well highlighted in red on the 1865 6" OS Map.

St. Madden’s Well highlighted in red on the 1865 6″ OS Map.

As is often the case with these early mediaeval Scottish saints there is some confusion as to St Madden’s identity. To some writers his Saint’s day is accepted to be April 29th, and he has been identified as Saint Middanus, abbot of the monastery of Holywood, but Bishop Alexander Forbes considers he is more likely to have been a Bishop Medanach listed in the Dunkeld Litany.

To confuse things even more, J.M. MacKinlay (1904) wrote: “The Hamlet of St Madden’s or St Medan’s in the parish of Airlie, where are also St Medan’s Well and St Medan’s Knowe, probably retains the name of St Modan, believed to have been a contemporary of St. Ronan. Skene says: ‘Modan appears in the Scotch calendars as an abbot on the fourth February, and as a bishop on the fourteenth November; but the dedications to him are so much mixed up together that it is probable that the same Modan is meant for both‘”.

Andrew Jervise provides the following quote about St Medan; “..bishop and confessor whose feast is held on 14th November was in great favour with King Conran c.503 – Coll. for Aberdeen and Banff”

The other issue of the spring.

The other issue of the spring.

Whosoever St Madden was, his quadrangular bell was the subject of an extant fifteenth century deed whereby the bell with its appurtenant parcel of land was granted to the Countess of Moray as dewar (Hereditary keeper of a Holy Relic with appurtenant land),together with ‘the infeftment being completed by (the Countess) being shut up in a house and then receiving the feudal symbols of earth and stone‘. On the death and subsequent disposal of the estate of the last dewar in the nineteenth century, the bell was sold along with a load of rubbish, its true identity and value not being realised at the time.

References:

  1. Andrew Jervise, The History and Traditions of the Land of the Lindsays, Edinburgh, Sutherland & Knox 1853.
  2. Andrew Jervise, Epitaphs and Inscriptions from Burial Grounds and Old Buildings in the North East of Scotland, Edinburgh, Edmonston and Douglas 1875.
  3. James Murray MacKinlay, Influence of the Pre-Reformation church on Scottish Place-Names, Edinburgh and London, William Blackwood and Sons 1904.
  4. Dom Michael Barrett, A Calendar of Scottish Saints, Fort Augustus 1919.
  5. Bishop Alexander Forbes, Kalendars of Scottish Saints, Edinburgh, Edmonston and     Douglas 1872.
  6. Scotland’s Place Names
  7. Andrew Jervise, Notice of Antiquities in the Parish of Airlie, Forfarshire, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, June 1864

© Paul T. Hornby 2016 The Northern Antiquarian

The Northern Antiquarian – Charity Number SCO-46359

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The Maypole Tree, Little Paxton, Huntingdonshire

Maypole & Ritual Tree (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference TL 18831 62757

Getting Here

Imposing trunk of The Maypole Tree, right background

Imposing trunk of The Maypole Tree, right background

The road layout of the village has changed since the destruction of the Tree, but its approximate position was on the north side of the present High Street, at the junction with the east side of St James’ Road.

Archaeology & History

The Little Paxton Maypole Tree was a very late survival of a tradition where Mayday revellers danced around an actual tree rather than a symbolic tree in the form of a maypole.  It was described as “a tall straight elm tree” that stood in front of what was then the village Post Office, and from what may be the only surviving photograph, it appears that only the very substantial trunk survived of what was clearly a very old tree.

The 1887 6" OS Map, showing the Maypole Tree outlined in red

The 1887 6″ OS Map, showing the Maypole Tree outlined in red

A Miss Ethel Ladds, who had been born in Little Paxton, recalled in the early 1940s:

I remember the old tree very well, it was always called ‘the Maypole’, but I don’t know any more about it, except that they used to dance round it“.

The St Neots Advertiser recorded that the Maypole Tree was blown down in a great gale on 24th March 1895.

Folklore

While this writer has been unable to find direct folklore relating to the Little Paxton Maypole Tree, it may be worth remarking that botanically the Elm tree is a cousin of the Stinging Nettle, the Hop and Cannabis.  Another Elm Tree used for May revels was the Tubney Elm, near Fyfield in Berkshire and recorded by Matthew Arnold, in his ‘Scholar Gipsy’.

References:

  1. C.F. Tebbutt, “Huntingdonshire Folk And Their Folklore”, in Transactions of the Cambridgeshire & Huntingdonshire Archaeological Society, Volume VI, Part V, 1942
  2. C.F. Tebbutt, “Huntingdonshire Folk And Their Folklore”, in Transactions of the Cambridgeshire & Huntingdonshire Archaeological Society, Volume VII, Part III, 1950
  3. Gerald Wilkinson, Epitaph For The Elm, Arrow Books, London, 1979

© Paul T. Hornby 2016 The Northern Antiquarian

The Northern Antiquarian – Charity Number SCO-46359

Posted in England (south), Huntingdonshire, Maypoles, Sacred Nature, Trees | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

St. Conval’s Well, Eastwood, Glasgow, Lanarkshire

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference – NS 5519 6020

Also Known as:

  1. St. Ninian’s Well

Archaeology & History

Site of St Conva's Well, beneath the elder tree, off-centre

Site of St Conval’s Well, off-centre beneath the tree

This all-but-forgotten holy well was becoming nothing but a faded memory even in the middle of the 19th century.  Excluded from all of the previous Scottish holy well surveys, the site is mentioned in George Campbell’s Eastwood (1902) where, in his description of the obscure saint, St. Conval or Convallus—to whom Eastwood parish was dedicated—the position of the well is mentioned.  When St. Conval first came to the area, said Campbell,

“The particular spot which the saint selected for his cell would be determined, as was so commonly the case, by the then remarkable spring which can still be traced in the lower part of what was the glebe before the excambion in 1854.  Within the memory of man, even of my own, as I resided for a year in the old manse, before its removal from the early site, this well, as stated in the last Statistical Account, discharged about eleven imperial pints a minute, and was perennial, affected neither by drought nor rain.  Up to that date the water was sufficiently abundant to supply the manse and all the families in what was still a bit of a hamlet, the remains of the Kirkton, as it was formerly called.  But coincident to the removal of the last living remains of an ecclesiastical establishment from the spot, it has well nigh dried-up, through disturbances caused, it is believed, by the working of pits and quarries in the neighbourhood; but it is confidently hoped that what remains of it may be preserved, and a memorial erected over it of the long-departed past, situated as it is within the enclosure of the now extended burial ground.  There can be no doubt that in its waters our fathers were baptised when they renounced Druidism, or whatever was their pagan form of faith, and a sacredness would thus naturally attach to it in former times…”

Site on 1863 map as 'Spring'

Site on 1863 map as ‘Spring’

When we sought out this well in the furthest corner of the old churchyard—where Ordnance Survey placed the ‘Spring’ on the 1863 map—we were greeted by a completely dried-up site, long since fallen back to Earth, with little hope of it ever resurfacing unless good local people choose to do something.  The well was surrounded by excrement and litter and it truly needs a good clean-up and a dig down to bring the waters back to the surface.

In an Appendix to Campbell’s Eastwood, he tells that he came across a map-reference to the site, where it was shown as “St. Ninian’s Well”, but I have been unable to locate this.

References:

  1. Campbell, George, Eastwood: Notes on the Ecclesiastical Antiquities of the Parish, Alexander Gardner: Paisley 1902.

Acknowledgements:  Huge thanks to Paul Hornby & Nina Harris for helping to locate the spot where this old well once existed.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

The Northern Antiquarian – Charity Number SCO-46359 

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Greenland, Acharn, Kenmore, Perthshire

Stone Circle:  OS Grid Reference – NN 76785 42490

Also Known as:

  1. Acharn Falls
  2. Auchlaicha
  3. Canmore ID 25004
  4. Queen’s Wood
  5. Remony

Getting Here

Greenland stone circle, Kenmore

Greenland stone circle, Kenmore

From Kenmore, take the minor road on the south-side of Loch Tay for 1½ miles (2.4km) until you reach the hamlet of Acharn.  From here take the track uphill for ½-mile past the Acharn waterfalls and follow the same route to the Acharn Burn tumulus.  Walk past here along the track and, just before you reach the wooded burn, bear right and walk uphill for nearly another half-mile, roughly parallel to the Allt Mhucaidh (Remony Burn).  As you reach the proper moorland, you’ll see the stones rising up!

Archaeology & History

This is quite a spectacular site!  Not for the size of the stones or the arrangement of the megaliths, but for the setting!  It’s outstanding!  When a bunch of us wandered up here a few months ago, snow was still on the peaks and Nature was giving us a real mix of Her colours and breath in a very changeable part of Her season.  Twas gorgeous.  Perhaps the setting was the thing which has kept the circle pretty quiet until recent years.  It’s high up – and out of season the freezing winds and driving rains would keep all but the healthiest of crazy-folk away.  We all only wished we’d have had more time here.  But that aside…

Lara between stones and mountains

Lara between the old stones

MacKenzie's 1909 groundplan

J.D. MacLeod’s 1909 groundplan

Along with the changeable weather She gives up here, the literary-types have given this circle changeable names too.  Nowadays known as the Acharn Falls stone circle, in truth that’s a mile away and lacks in both visual and geographical accuracy.  ‘Greenland’ was the name cited when J.B. MacKenzie (1909) wrote about it more than a hundred years back, and it’s the name we find in Mr Burl’s (2000) magnum opus, despite him telling how “a local name for it is Auchliacha, ‘the field of stones'” (Burl 1995), so perhaps we should adhere to what the locals say (my preference generally).

The atmospheric ring, looking W

The atmospheric ring, looking W

Greenland Circle, looking N

Greenland Circle, looking N

The ring is in quite a mess, having had a drystone wall built through it in the last 100 years.  No walling is shown on the early Ordnance Survey maps, so some local land-owners (an english incomer?) was probably responsible.  The stones used to stand in parts of the ancient forest, which must have looked and felt quite something before they ripped the trees away.  It was hiding away in the woods when J.B. MacKenzie (1909) came here, shortly after the “modern wall” as he called it, had been constructed through the circle.  He wrote:

“Six stones remain on the site, of which four are still erect and in position, and two are prostrate, one of which has apparently fallen inwards and the other outwards of the line of the circle, the diameter of which, touching the inner sides of the stones still standing, is 27 feet 9 inches.  Mr MacLeod has supplied the following dimensions of the several stones:

A — 6 feet 9 inches x 3 feet 6 inches, lying flat
B — 8 feet 4 inches, in circumference at ground level
——1 foot 7 inches, high above the ground level
C — 6 feet 10 inches, in circumference at ground level
——4 feet 0 inches, high above ground level
D — 6 feet 0 inches, in circumference at ground level
——4 feet 3 inches, high above ground level
E — 7 feet 8 inches x 4 feet 6 inches, lying flat
F — 9 feet 0 inches, in circumference at ground level
——5 feet 8 inches, high above ground level.”

Coles' 1910 sketch of the site

Coles’ 1910 sketch of the site

Coles' 1910 ground-plan

Coles’ 1910 ground-plan

The year after MacKenzie’s notes, the great Fred Coles (1910) paid a visit here.   Noting how high it was in the landscape compared to other megalithic rings in the region (it’s the highest known circle, at 1240 feet up), he went on to give his usual detailed appraisal, telling:

“In a little clearing amid these woods on Craggan Odhar, but disfigured by a dike which separates some of the Stones from the others, stands this Greenland Circle of which the ground-plan is given…. The Stones are six in number, of which four are erect, and they all appear to be of the quartzitic schist.  Some disturbance has occurred, and it seems probable that there were at least two more Stones originally, one between B and C at the spot marked with a cross, and the other similarly marked midway between D and E.  There is, however, no vestige of any Standing Stone in the sides of the dike itself.

“On the south-west is Stone A, the tallest, with pointed top, 5 feet 7 inches in height, oblong in contour, and measuring at the base 9 feet 5 inches.  Having several deep horizontal fissures, this Stone…bears an odd resemblance to masonry.  The next Stone, B, lies prostrate, measuring 7 feet 9 inches by 4 feet, and about 1 foot in thickness above ground.  The little oblong Stone, C, on the other side of the dike, stands only 1 foot 10 inches above ground, and probably is a mere fragment—the stump of a much larger block. At D the Stone is 4 feet 3 inches in height, and is a very narrow slab-like piece; Stone E, which has a decided lean over towards the interior of the Circle, is 4 feet 2 inches high, and is in basal girth 6 feet 6 inches.  Like the others, it is angular and thinnish in proportion to its breadth.  Stone F measures 8 feet 2 inches by 5 feet 2 inches, and its position, with the narrow end resting almost on the circumference, suggests, as in other cases, the probability that it was this narrow end which was buried when the Stone was erected. These blocks were most likely brought from the low cliffy ledges near, for, as the name ‘Craggan Odhar’ implies, the place was, before being planted, conspicuous for its Grey Crags.”

Although no modern excavation has taken place, when the brilliant local historian William Gillies (1925) first got round to exploring the circle, he remedied that situation.  In probing the ground beneath the surface when the weather conditions allowed, Mr Gillies found that there seemed to have been more standing stones in the circle than presently meets the eye.  He wrote:

“I paid several visits last summer to this lonely and elevated spot, and examined the ground for stones, where the wide spaces between those indicated on the plan (see Coles’ 1910 drawing, above) suggested that others might be concealed beneath the turf.  There would appear to be three stones missing, which would make the circle to consist of nine in all when it was entire.  With little trouble, at a depth of only 3 inches, I located a large flat stone measuring 5 feet 6 inches by 4 feet 8 inches.  It had stood on the north-western arc of the circle half-way between the fallen stone on the west and the broken standing stone on the north-north-west.  It had fallen outwards. The foundation of the wall, built probably some seventy years ago to enclose the plantation, rested on the edge of the stone.  The ground along the circumference of the circle between the three stones on the eastern side was carefully probed, but the rod touched only small loose stones.

“I next turned up the centre of the circle, and at a depth of 5 inches below the surface came upon a dark deposit.  It extended over a space of 2 feet square and was about 5 inches in depth.  It was mixed with a white limy substance consisting of calcined bones, bits of which along with a sample of the dark substance I brought to the Museum.  A bit of charcoal from the deposit revealed the lines of cleavage in the wood.  There is no peat at the spot, although the elevation, which is at least 1200 feet, might suggest it.  The surrounding soil is of a reddish colour, and quite unlike the deposit which must have been placed there, and which was probably a burial after cremation.”

Greenland circle, looking NE

Greenland circle, looking NE

Gillies was exemplary in his exploration of sites that were on the verge of disappearing from tongue and text and we remain incredibly grateful for his later exposition on the antiquarian remains and legends of this truly stunning landscape.  In Aubrey Burl’s (1995; 2000) respective summaries of this stone circle, as well as that of John Barnatt (1989), they ascribe the situation of it originally having 9 stones, as Gillies suggested.

Visit this site!  If you’re into megaliths, you’ll bloody love it!

References:

  1. Barnatt, John, Stone Circles of Britain – volume 2, BAR: Oxford 1989.
  2. Burl, Aubrey, A Guide to the Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany, Yale University Press 1995.
  3. Burl, Aubrey, The Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany, Yale University Press 2000.
  4. Coles, Fred, “Report on Stone Circles Surveyed in Perthshire (Aberfeldy District),” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 44, 1910.
  5. Gillies, William A., “Notes on Old Wells and a Stone Circle at Kenmore“, in Proceedings Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 59, 1925.
  6. Gillies, William A., In Famed Breadalbane, Munro Press: Perth 1938.
  7. Mackenzie, J B., “Notes on a Stone Circle at Greenland, Parish of Kenmore“, in Proceedings Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 43, 1909.
  8. Money, Bob, Scottish Rambles – Corners of Perthshire, Perth 1990.

Acknowledgements:  Many thanks to the unholy bunch who helped travel, locate, photograph and take notes on the day of our visit here, including Aisha, Lara & Leo; Lisa & Fraser; Nina; and Paul.  Let’s do it again and check out the unrecorded stuff up there next time!

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

The Northern Antiquarian – Charity Number SCO-46359 

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