Stone Circle: OS Grid Reference – NN 79750 47262
Also Known as:
- Canmore ID 24891
- Mary’s Croft
- P1/19 (Thom)
Take the A827 road that runs from Kenmore (top-end of Loch Tay) to Aberfeldy, and about 2 miles outside Kenmore, once you come out of the woodland (past the hidden standing stones of Newhall Bridge) and the fields begin on the east-side of the road, a small dirt-track leads you slightly uphill to the farm and house of Croftmoraig. The stone circle is right in front of the house less than 100 yards up the track (you can see it from the road).
Archaeology & History
A truly fascinating site, whose history is much richer than its mere appearance suggests. It has mythic associations with both moon and sun, a cup-marked stone to the southwest, and an earlier structure that had Aubrey Burl (1979) suggesting was possibly “the dwelling-place of a priest, a witch-doctor, a shaman.” Not bad at all!
The sad thing today is its proximity to the increasingly noisy road to Aberfedly whose begoggled drivers care little for the spirit of place or stones. Here sits a feel of isolation and tranquility broken. But at least the cold information of its architecture is available for tourists and archaeologists alike; at least their depersonalized appreciations are served!
Described first of all (I think) in the old Statistical Account by Colin MacVean (1796), he told Croft Moraig to be one of “several druidical temples” in the area, “perhaps the largest and most entire of any in Scotland,” he thought:
“It is about 60 yards in circumference, and consists of three concentric circles. The stones in the outermost (ring) are not so large as those in the inner circles, and are not, like them, set on end.”
The first decent archaeocentric evaluation of Croft Moraig was done in the 19th century by Alexander Hutcheson (1889), who gave us not only the first decent ground-plan of the site, but was also the first chap to note there were faded cup-and-ring markings at the circle. After first directing his antiquarian readers to the site, he told of the multiple rings of stones found here, built on top of an artificial platform of earth and stones:
“The circles are concentric, three in number, and occupy a little plateau which may be artificial, as the outer circle just covers it, on the gentle slope which here rises towards the south from the public road.
“I have prepared and exhibit a plan of the circles, and for reference have distinguished the stones by numbering them in the plan. The inner circle consists of eight stones all standing, with one exception, No. 3, which presumably has fallen inwards. The next or second circle consists of thirteen much larger stones, nine of which stand erect; Nos. 3 and 5 have presumably fallen in, while Nos. 7 and 9 have fallen outwards. The outer circle is formed by a number of smaller stones placed so as to form a sort of rampart. These are recumbent, and lie generally with their larger axes in the direction of the rampart. The circle measures, over the stones, as follows:
“Inner circle, West to East, 25 ft. 6 ins., North to South, 22 ft. 6 ins.
“Second circle, West to East, 40 ft North to South, 41ft 3in
“Outer circle, West to East, 58 ft North to South, 58ft
The stones are all rounded or water-worn boulders of dolerite, granite, schist, &c. The stones marked A and B are large blocks, 6 feet 6 inches high, 4 feet broad, and 2 feet 6 inches thick, standing upright. C seems to be a large (section) which has fallen from B, and lies flat on the ground.
“At the south-west side and in the line of the outer circle lies the cupmarked stone… If, as has been suggested, the two large blocks A and B formed the entrance to the circles, then the entrance faced towards the south-east. The blocks vary in height from 3 feet to 7 feet above ground, while of those which I have supposed to have fallen, their dimensions are, naturally from the ground-hold having to be added, much greater, amounting in one of them to 9 feet 6 inches long. There is a longish low mound of small stones, like an elongated cairn, which might yield something if it were to be searched. It lies just abreast of the cup-marked stone. I have referred to the recumbent stones in the two inner circles as having probably stood at one time erect. This I have presumed for several reasons, the principal being that one end of each of these stones corresponds in position with the circle formed by the standing stones; and while this is the case the recumbent stones do not preserve a uniformity of direction, but lie indifferently outwards and inwards from the lines of circularity, and at differing angles from these lines…”
Some twenty years later, the legendary northern antiquarian Fred Coles (1910) brought his lucidity to Croft Moraig and with it, even greater attention to detail. In a lengthy description of each and every aspect of the circle that has yet to be equalled he gave the reader the most detailed description we have. I hope you’ll forgive me adding Mr Coles’ prolonged description, but it is most valuable for anyone wanting to explore the site in greater detail. He wrote:
“As will be seen from the plan…the structural portion of Croft Morag consists, first, of a roughly circular, earthen mound (lettered in small type a-t), some 3 feet high, which is marked off by several stones of a more or less slab-like character, set irregularly upon a circumference of, approximately, 185 feet. This outermost setting, or revetment of stones is visible now only at certain fragments of the arcs; i.e., it is well-defined on the SW at a, where a long Stone, 6 feet 5 inches by 2 feet lies flat, and bears numerous cup-marks…; on the S arc there are five small Stones (b, c, d, e, f) all earthfast and flattish; on the SE are three similar Stones (g, h, i); on the E arc, four (j, k, l, m); on the N arc, very slightly to the west, one very large Stone (n) flush with the ground at the edge of the bank and a good deal overgrown with grass, measuring 8 feet 6 inches by 3 feet 3 inches; farther to the NW are five stones more (o, p, q, r, s), the last three having only very small portions visible; and, still farther round, is the last of what I consider to be these ridge-slabs (t) close under the edge of the great fallen sloping stone D. Thus the total number of measurable and separate stones now resting on the outermost ring is twenty.
“The stones of the intermediate ring constitute the imposing feature of the circle. They are thirteen in total number in the present condition of the circle, but they probably numbered eighteen when the circle was complete. Nine of them are the tallest in the whole group; four of these are prostrate on the W arc. By striking a radius from the common centre of the circle through the centres of these great stones which are erect, to the outermost circumference, the following measures are obtained: from centre of E, the NNW stone, to the ridge 14 feet 6 inches; from F, NNE stone to the ridge 13 feet 4 inches; from G to ridge 14 feet 4 inches; from H to ridge 13 feet 4 inches; and from I, the SE stone, only 10 feet 6 inches. The four fallen blocks, lying as shown A, B, C, D, no doubt stood on this intermediate ring, the diameter of which measured from centre to centre is 38 feet. Now, it must be observed that between A and B and A and I there are Stones (shaded in the plan); these two are erect, the one near B measuring 3 feet in length, 2 feet in breadth, and 3 feet 4 inches in height; it is quite vertical, and is undoubtedly in situ. The other small erect Stone midway between A and I has much the same size’ and features. Between B and C there is shown in outline another of these small stones ‘in line’ with the great pillars which remain on the E arc; and it is quite clear that if this remarkable and novel feature of alternating each tall stone with a very small but vertical block was originally carried out all round this intermediate ring, there would have been eighteen stones in all. Without the most arduous and careful excavation in these interspaces however, it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to prove that these small blocks did once stand on the eastern semicircle.
“As illustrating the general size of the great stones, when fully exposed to view, the dimensions of the four fallen blocks are here given: A, 7 feet 7 inches by 4 feet 10 inches, and fully 2 feet thick; B, 9 feet 2 inches by 3 feet 9 inches (on the upper face), and 2 feet 9 inches thick; C, 8 feet by 4 feet, and 3 feet fi inches thick; D, 7 feet by 4 feet 6 inches, and 3 feet thick at its vertical outer edge.
“The five upright stones of the intermediate ring measure as follows: I, the SE stone, 5 feet 6 inches in height, and in girth 11 feet; H, the east stone, 5 feet 8 inches in height, pyramidal in contour, and in girth 11 feet 4 inches; G, the NE stone, 5 feet 3 inches in height and 11 feet in girth; the next stone, F, 5 feet 7½ inches in height and 13 feet 6 inches in girth; and stone E, nearest to the north on the W arc, stands 6 feet 3 inches in height and measures round the base 9 feet 3 inches.
“The stones forming the inner ring, which is a broad oval in form, are eight in number, quite erect, with one exception; the fallen one (shown in outline) is due south of one set at the north point and the distance between these two is 23 feet 8 inches. If however, the distance between the N Stone and the E one at the SSE be taken, this diameter is 26 feet, as against one of 21 feet taken between the NW and SE stones. Measured from the centre of the fallen stone a space of 10 feet 3 inches divides that from the centre of the erect stone on the east, and an equal space divides it from the centre of the stone on the west. Between the N stone and that on its southwest an equal space of 11 feet 3 inches exists as between that stone and its SE stone; but between these last two there is a third almost exactly midway. The fallen stone measures 5 feet 10 inches by 3 feet 9 inches; the NW stone is 4 feet 6 inches in height, the SW stone 3 feet 6 inches, the N stone 3 feet 4 inches, the NE one 2 feet 6 inches, and the stone between it and the fallen block 3 feet 4 inches in height.
“In addition to the feature above noticed, of tall stones alternating with much smaller ones, Croft Morag possesses another noticeable arrangement in the presence of two great massive monoliths (U and V on the plan) standing like the remains of a portal, nearly eight feet outside of the boundary ridge on the SE. Neither of these stones is now absolutely vertical, stone U leaning considerably out towards the SE, and V having a very slight lean inwards to the circle. The former is 6 feet 2 inches in vertical height with a basal girth of nearly 12 feet, which is probably an under-estimate, for there are two large fragments (w and x) which appear to have been severed from this stone, the edges of which nearest the fragments are rough and sharp. The latter (V) stands 6 feet 4 inches in height and girths 11 feet 8 inches…
“…Besides its complexity of arrangement and the great number of measurable stones, forty-two in all, this circle is emphasised by the existence of a cup-marked stone set in a portion of its structure…on the SW arc… There are nineteen cups in all, only two of which differ much in diameter and depth from the rest, and there does not appear to be anything in their design to suggest a meaning or lend a clue to their symbolism.”
When the monument was excavated by Stuart Piggott and his mates in 1965, it was found to have been built over many centuries. As Aubrey Burl told:
“The first phase, of the late neolithic, consisted of about 14 heavy posts arranged in a horseshoe shape about 25ft 10in x 22ft 10in (7.9 x 7m) with a natural boulder at its centre. Burnt bone was found near this. Outside was a surrounding ditch and at the E was an entrance composed of 2 short rows of posts.
“In the second phase the timbers were replaced by 8 stones graded in height towards the SSW, also erected in a horseshoe 29ft 10 x 21ft (9.1 x 6.4m). A rubble bank was heaped up around it. On it at the SSW was a prostate stone with over 20 cupmarks carved on it. Other cupmarks were ground into the NE stone.
“Finally a circle of 12 stones, about 40ft (12.2m) is diameter, was erected around the megalithic horseshoe with a pair of stones forming an entrance at the ESE. Graves may have been dug at their bases later.”
Fred Coles mentioned a couple of other local names given to the site, one of which – Mary’s Croft – he thought may point “to a dedication to the Virgin.” Another curious place-name next to the site is called Styx,
“which appears to be the modern abbreviated form of the Gaelic word stuicnean. This, Mr Dugald McEwan affirms, meant ground full of overturned forest-trees; and it is therefore probable that in the remote past all the land surrounding the Stone Circle was a deep forest, and perhaps because of its seclusion, this site was selected as the most fitting for the erection of the principal Circle of the district.”
When the engineer and archaeoastronomer Alexander Thom (1967) came to examine Croft Moraig, he found the outlying stones to the southeast could have been solar alignment indicators, albeit poor ones. However, the geometric structure of the ring appeared to further confirm the use of his Megalithic Yard by those who built the circle. Thom’s illustration shows his finding, which he described briefly as follows:
“Two concentric circle and an ellipse. The circle diameters drawn are obviously too large and could be as small as 58.5ft outer circle and 41.0ft inner. Outer circle diameter58.5ft = 21.5 MY. Perimeter 67.5 MY = 27 MR. Inner circle diameter 41.0ft = 15.1 MY. Perimeter 47.3 MY = 18.9 MR. Ellipse drawn has major axis 11 MY, minor axis 8 MY, distance between foci is 7.5 MY. Perimeter is 30.0 MY = 12 MR. This ellipse looks slightly large but the triangle on which it is based and the perimeter are almost perfect.”
Old lore told that the standing stones of Newhall Bridge 850 yards away (777m) were once connected with the Croft Moraig circle. William Gillies (1938) told this tradition saying,
“that at one time there was a paved way connecting the circle, of which these stones are the remains, with the great Croftmoraig circle.”
Fred Coles also noted that one of the stones in the circle (stone D in his plan) 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 Coles made no mention of such rituals here.
…to be continued…
- Burl, Aubrey, Rings of Stone, Frances Lincoln: London 1979.
- Burl, Aubrey, The Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany, Yale University Press 2000.
- Coles, Fred, “Report on Stone Circles Surveyed in Perthshire,” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 44, 1910.
- Gillies, William A., In Famed Breadalbane, Munro Press: Perth 1938.
- Hutcheson, Alexander, “Notes on the Stone Circle near Kenmore,” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 23, 1889.
- MacVean, Colin, “Parish of Kenmore,” in The Statistical Account of Scotland – volume 17, William Creech: Edinburgh 1796.
- Stewart, M.E.C., “The excavation of a setting of standing stones at Lundin Farm near Aberfeldy, Perthshire“, in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 98, 1966.
- Thom, Alexander, Megalithic Sites in Britain, Oxford University Press 1967.
- Thom, A., Thom, A.S. & Burl, H.A.W., Megalithic Rings, BAR: Oxford 1980.
© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian