Cross Well, Musselburgh, East Lothian

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference – NT 34629 72739

Archaeology & History

John Small’s 1900 sketch of the Cross

Musselburgh has had an ancient fair—held upon St. James’ Day (July 25)—for many centuries.  It was held along the old High Street by a more ancient Market Cross than the one seen there today.  R.M. Stirling (1894) told us that, “The cross is erected over a draw-well, and in local parlance is known as the Cross Well.”

On the 1853 township map, a water ‘pump’ is shown at the very spot, with the ‘cross’ and water trough shown on subsequent maps.  The Well isn’t mentioned in John Small’s (1900) description of the cross and its authenticity as a ‘holy’ well is questionable.

References:

  1. Small, John W., Scottish Market Crosses, Eneas Mackay: Stirling 1900.
  2. Stirling, R.M., Inveresk Parish Lore from Pagan Times, T.C. Blair: Musselburgh 1894.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 

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Achnaburin, Bettyhill, Farr, Sutherland

‘Hut Circle’:  OS Grid Reference – NC 7082 5891

Also Known as:

  1. Achnabourin
  2. Canmore ID 6210

Getting Here

Site as ‘Picts House’ on 1873 map

Take the A836 road (between Bettyhill and Tongue), crossing the metal bridge across the River Naver a mile south of Bettyhill.  Keep going for nearly a mile, past the houses and into the small trees, keeping your eyes peeled to the right where a small but notable bracken-covered mound rises 10-20 yards in the rough field. Go through the gate and you’re there!

Archaeology & History

Low stone wall along S side

A site which, from the nearby roadside, has all the hallmarks of being yet another Sutherland broch (there are tons of them up here!)—but apparently it isn’t!  Despite being shown on the earliest OS-map of the region as a ‘Pict’s House’ (which are usually brochs), the sites has subsequently been designated by modern archaeologists as a simple ‘hut circle’.  I have my doubts over this, as it’s a most unusual one with little logic over its positioning—unless it was either a look-out point, or an odd ritual spot.

The south side of the mound

As you can see from the poor photos I got of the place, a large angled tumulus-like hillock (it’s akin to a mini-Silbury Hill at first sight) rises up from the ground with a reasonably uniform angle around much of it, to a height of between 16-20 feet.  Scattered rocks and stones adorn the mound as you walk up its embankments and onto the top where, around the edges, a notable man-made ring of walling shows it to have been artificially created.  Unfortunately most of the top of the mound was completely covered in thick decayed bracken when I visited, so it was difficult to get any good photos of this topmost walling.

The SE side of the mound

From the top of the mound, the walling is between 1-3 feet high, in a roughly circular setting, measuring 36-40 feet across.  The most distinct section of it was visible on the west-to-south-to-east section; with the lowest and depleted section occurring on its northern edges.  The entrance to the ‘hut circle’ is apparently on its eastern side.  Although it is assumed to be Iron Age in nature, its real age is unknown.

References:

  1. Mercer, R.J. & Howell, J.M., Archaeological Field Survey in Northern Scotland – volume 2, University of Edinburgh 1976-1983.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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Vicar’s Well, Musselburgh, East Lothian

Holy Well (destroyed):  OS Grid-Reference – NT 3452 7264

Archaeology & History

Vicars Well on 1853 map

First mentioned in the Scottish Statistical Account of 1845, its name originates from being attached to the vicarage of nearby St. Michael’s church.  Highlighted on the 1853 township map of Musselburgh, this forgotten holy well was described in the middle of the 19th century by local historian James Paterson (1857).  It was located near the middle of town, along a back-street south of the High Street.  Mr Paterson told us that:

“At the Dam Brae there is still a well, celebrated for the excellence of its water, called ‘the vicar’s well’, from which it is believed the present manse occupies the site of the ancient vicarage.  It lies to the southeast of the Brae, and the wall of the ground approaches pretty close to the mill lead, or damn, as it is called.  It is well surrounded with old trees.”

When it was described by Mr Beveridge in the 1845 Statistical Account, the spring had been covered by a pump.  Local lore told how the waters of this ancient Well was said by housewives to be excellent in the infusion of tea; and although its name was spoke in local dialect as the ‘Bickers Well’, Beveridge told it to mean the “Vicars Well.”  There is the obvious possibility that the ‘bickers’—as in chit-chat and gossip—related to it being where local folk simply met and chatted.

When Mr Stirling (1894) wrote his account of the adjacent Inveresk parish, he told how water from the Vicar’s Well,

“was in much request till a few years ago, when its use was forbidden and its site enclosed (for) sanitary considerations.”

References:

  1. Paterson, James, History of the Regality of Musselburgh, James Gordon: Musselburgh 1857.
  2. Stirling, R.M., Inveresk Parish Lore from Pagan Times, T.C. Blair: Musselburgh 1894.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 

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Ringstone, Torrisdale Bay, Farr, Sutherland

Legendary Rock:  OS Grid Reference – NC 69128 61741

Getting Here

The Ringstone, Torrisdale Bay

Along the A836 road between Tongue and Bettyhill, turn down towards Skerray at Borgie Bridge for 1.8 miles (2.87km) until you reach the little information sign at the roadside. Walk downhill and cross the little bridge and wander onto the west side of the beach.  You’re likely to end up daydreaming… so once you’ve re-focussed, head into the middle of the beach and walk up the steep-ish sand-banks to your right (south).  Once at the top, you’ll see a gigantic rock—the Ringstone—bigger than a house.

Folklore

This gigantic boulder is part of one of Sutherland’s archaic Creation Myths as they’re known: ancient stories recounted by archaic societies about the nature and origins of the world.  Such tales tend to be peopled by giants, gods, huge supernatural creatures, borne of chaos, eggs, darkness and primal oceans.  Thankfully we still find some examples of these tales in the northern and northwestern mountainous regions of Britain, as the Church and Industrialism never quite destroyed the hardcore communities—despite what they might like to tell you…

Face of the Ringstone, from above Torrisdale’s sand dunes

The Ringstone, looking east

The following folktale of the Ringstone was thankfully preserved by the local school headmaster, Alan Temperley (1977), before it disappeared from the oral traditions of local people (as is sadly happening in these mountains).  It typifies stories told of such geological giants from aboriginal Australia, to Skye, to everywhere that people have lived.  Mr Temperley wrote:

“Many years ago there were two giants, the Naver giant from the river at Bettyhill, and the Aird giant from the hill above Skerray.  Normally they got on quite well, but one afternoon they became involved in a heated argument about some sheep and cattle, and both grew very angry.  The Aird giant was standing on top of the hill above Torrisdale bay with the animals grazing around him, and the Naver giant stormed across the river to the beach below.

“Those are my sheep,” he roared up the hill.

“No they’re not,” the Aird giant said. “At least not all of them.”

“You stole them. You’re a thief!”

“No I didn’t. They came up here themselves. Anyway, you owe me fifty sheep from last year.”

“You’re not only as thief, you’re a liar!” shouted the Naver giant.  If you don’t send them down this minute, I’ll come up and see to it myself.”

At this the Aird giant gave a disparaging laugh and made a rude face, and picking up a great boulder flung it down the hill at his friend.

The Naver giant was speechless with fury, and picking the stone up himself, hurled it back up the hillside, making a great hole in the ground.

The Aird giant saw things had gone far enough.

“I’ll send them back if you give me that silver ring you’re always wearing,” he said.

“Never!” roared his friend, his face all red and angry.

“Suit yourself then,” said the Aird giant, and picking the stone up again he tossed it back down the hill.

For long enough the rock kept flying between them, and in time the giant from Naver grew tired, because he was throwing it uphill all the time.

“Will you give me the ring now?” said the Aird giant.

For answer the Naver giant tried one more time to throw the stone up the hill, but it only got halfway, and rolled back down to the shore.

“Come on,” said the giant from Aird, for he wanted to be friends again. “Give me the ring, and I’ll let you have it back later.”

“No!” said the Naver giant from the bottom of the hill.  “I’ll never give it to you!” His eyes began to fill with tears.

“Oh, come on, please!” coaxed the Aird giant. “Just for a week.”

“Never, never, never!” shouted the giant from Naver, and pulling the ring from his finger he threw it on the ground and jammed the great boulder down on top of it.  Then he sat down on top of the stone and stared out to sea.  Every so often he sniffed, and his friend, looking down at his broad back, saw him lift the back of a hand to his eyes.

They never made friends again, and after a long time they both died.

The ring is still buried under the stone, and so far nobody has ever been able to shift it.”

The giant’s face, in profile

When I got back from visiting this immense rock a few weeks ago, a local lady Donna Murray asked me if I’d seen the face of the giant in the rock.  I hadn’t—as I was looking to see if the name ‘Ringstone’ related to any possible cup-and-rings on its surface, which it didn’t (although I didn’t clamber onto the top).  But in the many photos I took from all angles, Donna pointed out the blatant simulacra of the giant’s face when looking at it from the east.

However, on top of the slope above the Ringstone (not the Aird side), I did find a faint but distinct ‘Ringstone’ carving (without a central cupmark).  Whether this ever had any mythic relationship to the tale or the stone, we might never know.  The rocky terrain above Aird now needs to be looked at…

References:

  1. Eliade, Mircea, Patterns in Comparative Religion, Sheed & Ward: London 1958.
  2. Long, Charles H., “Cosmogony,” in Eliade, M., Encyclopedia of Religion – volume 4, MacMillan: New York 1987.
  3. MacLagan, David, Creation Myths: Man’s Introduction to the World, Thames & Hudson: London 1977.
  4. Temperley, Alan, Tales of the North Coast, Research Publishing Company: London 1977.

Acknowledgments:  Massive thanks again to Donna Murray, for her help and for putting up with me amidst my wanderings up in Torrisdale and district.

© Paul Bennett,  The Northern Antiquarian 2017

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Kinloch Lodge, Tongue, Sutherland

Cup-Marked Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NC 56201 52713

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 5356
  2. Lochan Hakel A (Gourlay 1996)

Getting Here

Kinloch Lodge carving (photo by Donna Murray)

Whether you take the A836 or A838 into Tongue (through truly beautiful wilderness), make sure you go into the village itself—and then keep going, south, along the tiny country road for 3 miles.  You’ll hopefully have noticed Lochan na Cuilce on your right, then into and past the old trees, Lochan Hakel to your left.  The next small copse on your right is where you stop.  A small pool is yards into the trees, with a single stone between that and the roadside.  You can’t really miss it!

Archaeology & History

Close-up of some cups (photo by Donna Murray)

An apparently isolated cup-marked stone, some 3 feet by 5 feet, that was first described in Morrison’s (1883) meanderings amidst Sutherland’s awesome wilderness.  It’s quite plain compared to Lochan Hakel 2 and many other carvings, simply consisting of 18 cups of various sizes, mainly on the eastern side of the rock.  Sarah MacLean pointed out that a line running along the length of the stone seemed, in parts, to have been artificially enhanced by the hand of man, or woman.  I have to agree with her.

The Royal Commission (1911) lads included this petroglyph in their superb survey of Sutherland, telling:

“On the W. side of the road to Kinloch, about ½ m. N of the bridge over the Kinloch River (Amhainn Ceann Locha), and on the N edge of a gravel pit close to the road, is a large earthfast boulder, 5′ in length as far as exposed, and 3′ 10″ in breadth, showing on its upper surface eighteen cup-marks of various depths, of which the most distinct is towards the N end of the stone, measuring about 3″ in diameter and 1″ in depth.  The whole length of the stone is not visible, but the markings do not seem to extend to the portion covered…”

Stone & mountains together (photo by Donna Murray)

Kevin o’ Reilly’s sketch

Simulacra lovers (Nina Harris!) will love the form of this stone in relation to the background of the mountains, as its shape is echoed in that of the rising hills several miles to the south.  …Of course, the depersonalizing ones amongst you lacking an understanding of animism would reject any such association due to your projection of disbelief.  However—and equally—as we lack any ethnographic data on the carving we must assume caution…  A fascinating site nonetheless – and one which may have hidden neighbours.

References:

  1. Gourlay, Robert, Sutherland: An Archaeological Guide, Birlinn: Edinburgh 1996.
  2. Michell, John, Simulacra, Thames & Hudson: London 1979.
  3. Morrison, Hew, Tourist’s Guide to Sutherland and Caithness, D.H. Edwards: Brechin 1883.
  4. Royal Commission on Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, Second report and inventory of monuments and constructions in the county of Sutherland, HMSO: Edinburgh 1911.

Acknowledgments:  Huge thanks to Donna Murray for use of her photos in this site profile (aswell as for putting up with me whilst in the area); and also to Sarah MacLean for taking us to the carving in the first place. Many many thanks indeed.  See y’ again soon, hopefully!

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 

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Ringstone Carving, Torrisdale Bay, Farr, Sutherland

Cup-and-Ring Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NC 691 616  —  NEW FIND

Getting Here

Ringstone Carving, looking NW

Take the A836 road between Tongue and Bettyhill, turning down at Borgie Bridge for 1.8 miles (2.87km) until you reach the little information sign at the roadside. Walk downhill and cross the little bridge and wander onto the west side of the beach.  You’re likely to end up daydreaming… so once you’ve re-focussed, head into the middle of the beach and walk up the steep-ish sand-banks to your right (south).  Once at the top, you’ll see a gigantic rock—the Ringstone—bigger than a house.  Walk up the hill above this until your reach the rocky plateau where things roughly level out.  Look around!

Archaeology & History

This previously unrecognised carving on the edge of the rocky promontory that drops down to the stunning Torrisdale Bay—above the gigantic and legendary Ringstone boulder—is very much like the curious ‘C’-shaped motif on the Fyfield Down petroglyph, a couple of miles east of Avebury, literally 499 miles (803km) to the south.  Indeed, that’s all I kept thinking about when I found it!

Ringstone carving, looking S

The carving’s nowt special—apart from the fact that it’s seemingly isolated and has no apparent companions nearby.  It’s an incomplete circle, perhaps more like a bell-shape than a circle, about six inches across and seems to have no inner cup-mark.  Its general appearance on the rock surface seems to indicate it was carved by a metal tool, instead of being ‘pecked’—but it’s still very old.  Initially, I wondered whether it was an ichnological fossil or stromatolite—but it isn’t.

(Note that the OS-grid-ref is just a 6-figure one. I was ambling about and didn’t make an exact note of the place, but it won’t take much finding on the rocky levels above the giant Ringstone if you zigzag about. Apologies for the poor photos too, but She was cloudy most of the day.)

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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Lochan Hakel (01), Tongue, Sutherland

Cup-and-Ring Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NC 56988 52656  —  NEW FIND

Getting Here

Lochan Hakel’s cup & ring (photo by Sarah MacLean)

Whether you take the A836 or A838 into Tongue (through truly beautiful wilderness), make sure you go into the village itself—and then keep going, south, along the tiny country road.  Nearly 2½ miles along, note the small loch of Lochan na Cuilce on your right.  A few hundred yards past this, on the other side of the road (barely visible at first) is Lochan Hakel.  Walk around to the south-side of the loch and, across from where the small island of Grianan lives, you’ll see this large rounded boulder by the loch-side.

Archaeology & History

Stuck in a veritably stunning middle-o’-nowhere below the outstretched northern moors beneath Ben Loyal & co, there is no previous literary account of this faded petroglyph, rediscovered in early April 2017 when Sarah MacLean took us on a visit to the more renowned multiple cup-and-ringer of Lochan Hakel 2, just yards away above the moorland rise (which is unmissable from here).  It’s not too special in comparison with its neighbour and many others—but try telling Sarah that!

Cup & ring atop of stone (photo by Sarah MacLean)

This large rounded lichen-covered boulder has, at its height, a carved ring around a natural rise—known as a ‘boss’—at the very top of the rock.  On its southern side, Sarah found a single cup-mark, along with a couple of others on the more northeasterly sloping face.  At the bottom of this face is another seemingly isolated small cup-marking.  There may well be other carved elements beneath the mass of ancient lichens, but we thought it best to leave them for the time being.  It’s also quite likely that other unrecorded carvings exist in the area.

Acknowledgments:  Huge thanks to Sarah MacLean, not only for helping to locate this carving, but for use of her photos in this site profile.  Cheers Sarah!  And to Donna Murray, for putting up with me whilst in the area! …Now, let’s find some more of them!

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 

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Eaves Green Cross, near Goosnargh, Lancashire

Cross (ruins):  OS Grid Reference – SD 56770 37765

Also Known as:

  1. Historic England Monument No. 42651

Just visible in the hedge…

Getting Here

Travelling east out of Goosnargh on the B5269, go straight ahead onto Camforth Hall Lane, follow it northwards and take the left fork at Stump Cross onto Eaves Green Lane, and a lane will be seen on the left signposted Eaves Green. Walk along this lane and a white Snowcemmed house will be seen on the left. The cross base will be found deep in the holly hedge opposite the driveway to the house.

Archaeology & History

This cross was not mentioned in the 1906 edition of Henry Taylor’s Ancient Crosses and Holy Wells of Lancashire, but was nevertheless marked on the 1910 25″ OS map (the earliest at my disposal) as “Cross (Remains of)”

The 1910 25″ OS Map

In 1958, the Ministry of Works Field Investigator commented: “The socket stone of a probable way-side cross situated on rising ground in a pasture field adjoining a lane. It measures 0.8m by 0.7m and is 0.9m high with a socket 0.2m by 0.15m and 0.2m deep. There are no traces of a cross or shaft.”

To locate the Cross, turn round 180º from this spot.

The current official description describes the remains as “Now missing”…

Well, no! – the intrepid TNA investigator has located it, buried deep in the boscage of a holly and ivy hedge, but he was lucky that the hedge had been very recently trimmed and he made his visit in late winter…

©Paul T. Hornby 2017 The Northern Antiquarian

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Barton Cross Stone, Barton Lane, Barton, Lancashire

Cup Marked Stone:  OS Grid Reference – SD 53500 37332  —  NEW FIND

In this view, the carving is right of the Cross surround

Getting Here

At the roadside, on the south side of Barton Lane, where it crosses the minor road joining Cross House Farm and Barton House.

Archaeology & History

Carved stone cut to shape

Apparently never before described, this stone has very likely been removed from another locality and cut to shape to form part of the surrounding platform base to Barton Cross, where it is at the southwest corner.  It has ten cup marks.

Until or unless more such stones are located, it is a unique example of rock art in this part of Lancashire.

Nine cups visible here

10th cup nr camera, after rain

Henry Taylor, in his 1906 work The Ancient Crosses and Holy Wells of Lancashire writes inter alia about the Barton Cross that it had been demolished sometime after 1848, and that the base and part of of the Cross shaft had been ‘lately restored to the old site‘.  Thus the cup-marked stone may or not be in its original position as part of the Cross surround, and may have just been a conveniently available slab of stone that was used, rather than a deliberate use of a pre-existing sacred stone.

References:

  1. Taylor, Henry, The Ancient Crosses and Holy Wells of Lancashire, Sherratt & Hughes, Manchester, 1906.

© Paul T. Hornby 2017, The Northern Antiquarian 

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St. Margaret’s Well, Edinburgh Castle, Midlothian

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference – NT 25084 73618

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 52080

Getting Here

Site of St Margaret’s Well

Along the more western end of Princes Street, looking up at the castle, wander into the park below and walk towards the railway line. There’s a foot-bridge over it.  Once on the other side, turn right and walk along the path for just over 100 yards until you’re just about beneath the the cliffs.  There, in front of you, a ruinous stone building and carved faded plaque reads “St Margaret’s Well.”

Archaeology & History

The bedraggled architectural remnants we see of St. Margaret’s Well today, is not where the waters originally emerged.  We must travel 2-300 hundred yards west of the present edifice, along old Kings Stables Road near St Cuthbert’s Church, for its original position. Long since gone of course…

Close-up of plaque

St Margarets, by the old ruins

The history of this holy well tends to be found scattered in a number of sources—but none give us a decent narrative of its medicinal or traditional lore.  Perhaps the best was conferred in W.M. Bryce’s (1912) lengthy essay on St. Margaret’s chapel where he told:

“Of the fountain in West Princes Street Gardens, also known as St. Margaret’s, and for the protection of which the Well-house Tower was erected in 1362, no legend of a similar nature seems to have survived.  It was a little flowing stream of pure water, and down to the year 1821 was utilised for drinking purposes for the supply of the garrison, in supplement of the ancient draw-well of the Castle.  The earliest notice of this fountain appears in a charter by David I in favour of the Church of St. Cuthbert, dated circa 1127, in which he conveys the land under the Castle from the fountain which rises close to the corner of the King’s Garden, and along the road leading to the church.  It was here, in this royal garden, beside the pellucid waters of the well which was afterwards to bear her name, that Queen Margaret, in the company of her husband and children, spent many a sunny afternoon under the shade of the rugged old Castle rock.”

St Margarets Well in 1870s

The carved plaque in front of the old tumbled-down well-house sadly hides no water anymore; merely some trash and heroin-addicts needles at the back.  Best avoided.

Folklore

This Scottish Queen and consort of King Malcolm Canmore, ‘St Margaret’, had several days in the calendar on which she was commemorated.  Mrs Banks (1941) told how, traditionally, her day is June 10:

“This day was appointed for her festival by papal decree, but in Scotland her day is that of her death, November 16.  The festival of her translation was commemorated on June 19th.”

W.M. Bryce (1912) cited St Margaret’s Day to be generally accepted as June 19, which is closer to Midsummer and could easily be accommodated into local heathen traditions.

References:

  1. Banks, M. MacLeod, British Calendar Customs: Scotland – volume 3, Folk-lore Society: London 1941.
  2. Bryce, W. Moir, “Saint Margaret of Scotland and Her Chapel in the Castle of Edinburgh,” in Book of the Old Edinburgh Club, volume 5, 1912.
  3. Harris, Stuart, The Place-Names of Edinburgh: Their Origins and History, Gordon Wright: Edinburgh 1996.
  4. MacKinlay, James M., Folklore of Scottish Lochs and Springs, William Hodge: Glasgow 1893.
  5. Morris, Ruth & Frank, Scottish Healing Wells, Alethea: Sandy 1982.
  6. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, Inventory of the Ancient & Historical Monuments of the City of Edinburgh, HMSO: Edinburgh 1951.
  7. Skene, James, “Remarks on hte Well-House Tower, Situated at the Foot of the Castle Rock of Edinburgh,” in Archaeologia Scotica, volume 2, 1822.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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