Cup-and-Ring Stone: OS Grid Reference – NS 4361 6173
Also Known as:
- Canmore ID 43233
- Craigton Woods Carving
Get yourselves to Johnstone or Elderslie (which just about fuse into each other) and off the B789 road, make your way to Johnstone Castle football ground on Auchenlodment Road and go uphill, past the housing estate, until the fields open up on either side. 350 yards further, woodland appears. Go past the hair-pin kink in the road and, 50 yards or so past this, walk into the trees on your right. About 20 yards in, a large sloping rock face is what you’re looking for… (there’s a decent car-park on the left-hand side of the road 400 yards further along if you’re driving here)
Archaeology & History
A seemingly solitary but vandalised petroglyph at the top of the Craigton Woods above Johnstone Castle estate: vandalized by the industrialists, whose quarry cut into a once larger rock, at whose edges cup-markings exist and whose design extended much further onto the now-vanished rock. The carving was also painted onto by some ignorant bastard many years ago (as the photos show); and one of the cup-and-rings here has either been damaged or isn’t prehistoric. The paint was daubed onto the stone in the 1960s and is shown in one of Ron Morris’ (1981) several descriptions of the site; and whilst it interferes with the design, it hasn’t damaged it anything like as badly as the industrialists have done.
Vandalism aside: it’s still quite an impressive carving, albeit hidden in the shadows of the surrounding trees. The design has been etched onto a large rock, some 35 feet long and perhaps up to 10 feet across, sloping at an angle of about 30-35° down (slippery when wet, as we all found out!). When we visited the site a few days ago, low cloud and mist didn’t really allow us a decent inspection of the site. But what we did find was more than our predecessors….
James Kirkwood (1938) gave the first literary account of the site—and in some detail. When he found the place it was “mostly covered with vegetation”, much like we found it on our visit. He wrote:
“The group of markings comprises five cups, each surrounded by a single encircling ring, whole lay-out being contained in an area of about 9 square feet. The setting corresponds almost exactly with the four cardinal points of the magnetic compass. The cup and ring to the north is the best preserved, the cup being 2½ inches in diameter and cut to a depth of 1 inch; the ring is somewhat elliptical, measuring 8½ and 7½ inches on its major and minor axes. A channel or gutter connects this cup with that within the eastern ring. The remaining cups vary from 2 inches to 2½ inches in diameter, and the rings from 6½ to 7 inches diameter. It is significant that the east and west cups are equidistant from the north one at about 15¼ inches; they are also equally spaced from the southeast cup at 19½ inches, and this latter dimension measures the distance from the west to the southwest cup. The four cups and rings on the main cardinal points are all moderately distinct, but the southwest sculpturing can only be very faintly discerned.”
Kirkwood’s fascination with the alignments and measurements betwixt certain elements on the petroglyph was something of a fad at the time (resurfacing with some vigour in some quarters today), but is likely to have little if any authentic relevance with the animistic dynamics implicit in the function of the design.
When Ronald Morris (1981) entered the carving into his Southern Scotland survey, he made the now standard bland description of the carved elements:
“At least 5 cups-and-one-complete-ring (some ovoid), at least one with a long wavy groove downhill from the ring, and at least 5 cups, some of which may have been ringed. The ring marked ‘F’ in the (black-and-white photo, below) has been ‘improved’ since 1934 — the author has an older photograph showing it similar to the others. The 2 upper rings can only be seen just after sunrise, when wet—they are much weathered. Greatest ring diameter – 17cm (7in) and carving depths up to 2cm (1in).”
A good drawing of the carving would be worthwhile (are there any rock art-ists out there wanna join us on our next visit?), as the archaeological blandness never does petroglyphs descriptive justice. Ostensibly, from the bottom slope of the elongated stone—below where Fraser, Frank and Lisa are standing, right—a number of geophysical marks run across the stone. You can see in the photo how several geophysical ‘lines’ cut across the rock at an angle, roughly parallel, marked by the green vegetation. One of these is a small natural tunnel hole running through the stone, possibly made by the softer rock of a fossilized tree root or branch which has since disintegrated over time. Just above this ‘hole’ the carvings begin.
A number of possible cup-marks are overshadowed by the definite series of well eroded cup-and-rings (at least four of them) all close to each other, with lines connecting some to the others, including one which runs down to the tunnel hole. Some other lines on this part of the rock may or may not be geophysical (is there a geologist in the house!?). Close to the edge of the stone (where Fraser stands in the photo above) a singular cup-mark has been etched within a series of five lines, like an open fan, that all run to a point at the entrance of the natural tunnel in the stone. We were unsure as to whether these lines were natural or man-made (we need that geologist!); but it should be noted that an element very similar to this ‘fan’ of lines occurs in a carving near Killin, Perthshire, which we have yet to fully excavate—and in the Killin example the lines reach out from a central point like spokes on a bike wheel to an entire surrounding ring of cup-and-rings! Intriguing…
One of the cup-and-rings in this cluster has clearly been either vandalized or else carved within the last century, as the erosion on it is wholly different to the rest, and the angle of the cuts into the stone shows clearly that a metal tool has made it. However, as Ron Morris stated above, this was apparently not the case with this ‘ring’ when he visited it in 1934 (it would be good to see the photo which he says shows its original state).
Further up the slope of the rock we reach a near-parallel row of natural cracks across the stone. Inside this, about halfway along, a cluster of well eroded cup-marks exist—at least four of them. One of them has either a curved line arching out of it, or a semi-circular arc. Above the parallel cracks there is a large and very well eroded cup which, from differing angles, appeared to have faint sections of a ring around it, but we all agreed this was more a Rorschach response in our respective feeble minds!
We need to visit the site again in much better weather to gain a more accurate picture of the entire design. It appeared there were other elements to be seen here, but the lighting conditions were working against us that day…. That’s our excuse anyway!
- Kirkwood, James, “Notes on Cup and Ring Markings at Craigenfeoch, Renfrewshire”, in Transactions of Glasgow Archaeological Society, 9:2 (New Series), 1938.
- Morris, Ronald W.B. & Bailey, Douglas C., “The Cup-and-Ring Marks and Similar Sculptures of Southwestern Scotland: A Survey,” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 98, 1966.
- Morris, Ronald W.B., “The Cup-and-Ring Marks and Similar Sculptures of South-West Scotland,” in Transactions of the Ancient Monuments Society, volume 14, 1967.
- Morris, Ronald W.B., The Prehistoric Rock Art of Southern Scotland, BAR: Oxford 1981.
Acknowlegdments: With huge thanks to what Nina Harris called “the TNA rock art team” – Aisha Domleo (and Leo), Nina Harris, Frank Mercer, Lisa Samsonowicz & Fraser Harrick.
© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian