Winsbury Hill, Marksbury, Somerset

Earthworks (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – ST 6706 6307

Also Known as:

  1. Windsbury Hill

Archaeology & History

Winsbury Hill earthworks

Winsbury Hill earthworks

Apparently, all traces of the possible prehistoric camp or enclosure that were located by Edward Burrow in the 1920s, seems to have vanished.  Very little remained of it even then.  Lower down the slopes are a distinct series of ancient lynchets (or cultivation terraces), which may date back to the Iron Age—these are clearly visible on the eastern and western sides.  Mr Burrow’s (1924) account of the site was as follows:

“Just south of Stantonbury Camp, near Bath, on the adjoining height known as Winsbury Hill, I have traced the almost obliterated remains of a ditch running round the shoulder of the hill, which I have indicated on my drawing. (above)

“On the south and eastern slopes of this prominent hill there are various terraces and scarps, which would repay further investigation.  Possibly Winsbury was fortified as an outlier of the more pronounced Stantonbury Camp, standing directly on the line of the Wansdyke, which runs across the valley towards English Combe.”

References:

  1. Burrow, Edward J., Ancient Earthworks and Camps of Somerset, E.J. burrow: Cheltenham 1924.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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St. George’s Well, Edinburgh, Midlothian

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference – NT 24401 74070

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 133173

Getting Here

St George's Well on 1851 map

St George’s Well on 1851 map

In Edinburgh, get to the west-end of Princes Street (nearest the castle), and where there’s the curious mess of 6 roads nearly skewing into each other, head down Queensferry Street for 450 yards until, just before you go over the bridge, walk down Bells Brae on your left, then turn right down Miller Row where you’ll see the sign to St. Bernard’s Well.  St. George’s Well is the small, dilapidated spray-painted building right at the water’s edge 200 yards before St. Bernard’s site.

Archaeology & History

Compared to its companion holy well 200 yards downstream, poor old St. George’s Well is a paltry by comparison, in both historical and literary senses.  The site was said to have been “set up in competition with St Bernard’s Well but never achieving its purpose”, wrote Ruth & Frank Morris (1982)—which is more than a little sad.  Not on the fact that it failed, but on the fact that some halfwits were using local people’s water supply to make money out of and, when failing, locked up the medicinal spring and deny access to people to this day!

In Mr Grant’s Old & New Edinburgh (1882), the following short narrative was given of the site:

“A plain little circular building was erected in 1810 over (this) spring that existed a little to the westwards of St. Bernard’s, by Mr MacDonald of Stockbridge, who named it St. George Well.  The water is said to be the same as the former, but if so, no use has been made of it for many years…”

St George's Well, looking N

St George’s Well, looking N

St George's Well, looking SW

St George’s Well, looking SW

The association to St. George was in fact to commemorate the jubilee of King George III that year.  If you visit the place, the run-down little building with its grafitti-door has a small stone engraving etched above it with the date ‘1810’ carved.

As the waters here were found to possess mainly iron, then smaller quantities of sulphur, magnesia and salts, it was designated as a chalybeate well.  Its curative properties would be very similar to that of St. Bernard’s Well, which were very good at,

“assisting digestion in the stomach and first passages … cleansing the glandular system, and carrying their noxious contents by their respective emunctories out of the habit, without pain or fatigue; on the contrary, the patient feels himself lightsome and cheerful, and by degrees an increase to his general health, strength and spirits.  The waters of St. Bernard’s Well operates for the most part as a strong diuretic.  If drunk in a large quantity it becomes gently laxative, and powerfully promotes insensible perspiration.  It likewise has a wonderfully exhilarating influence on the faculties of the mind.”

References:

  1. Grant, James, Cassell’s Old and New Edinburgh – volume 3, Cassell, Petter Galpin: London 1882.
  2. Harris, Stuart, The Place-Names of Edinburgh, Gordon Wright: Edinburgh 1996.
  3. Hill, Cumberland, Historic Memorials and Reminiscences of Stockbridge, the Dean and Water of Leith, Robert Somerville: Edinburgh 1887.
  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.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 

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St. Bernard’s Well, Edinburgh, Midlothian

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference – NT 24452 74250

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 52586

Getting Here

Follow the sign!

Follow the sign!

So you’re in Edinburgh.  Get to the west-end of Princes Street (nearest the castle), and where there’s the curious mess of 6 roads nearly skewing into each other, head down Queensferry Street for 450 yards until, just before you go over the bridge, walk down Bells Brae on your left, then turn right down Miller Row to the river where you’ll see the sign pointing the way!  alongside the river, past St George’s Well for another coupla hundred yards until you reach the large Romanesque domed building right by the riverside on your left. Steps take you down to it.

Archaeology & History

St Bernard's Well in 1790

St Bernard’s Well, 1790

When J. Taylor (1790) wrote his singular book on St Bernard’s Well, this sacred site could be seen in landscape that was described as “a wild, romantic, and very pleasant appearance.” How things change!  Although the waters of Leith below which the well arises give the region, still, that air of romanticism that Taylor described, on either side of the waters the stone buildings of the Industrialists have grown, denouncing Nature.  But to be honest, it’s still a fine place, considering it’s near the middle of a city!

Small spring feeding the well

Small spring above the well

In the shrubs and small trees on the slopes just above the architectural edifice that now covers St Bernard’s Well, after rainy days you can see several small springs of water running down the slope and onto the modern path.  In earlier centuries there were six of these springs next to each other which ran a short distance down the slope and converged into two, which then ran into a small stone trough.  Local people used these fresh waters, not only for basic needs, but for medicinal purposes too.

It seems that the earliest mention of what Stuart Harris (1996) called “this fancy name” of St. Bernard’s Well appeared in an article in The Scots Magazine of September 1760.  It clearly shows how the Scottish Freemasons played their part in bringing the waters of this healing well to the fore:

“A mineral well has lately been discovered between the village and the Water of Leith and Stockbridge, about half a mile north of Edinburgh, which is said to be equal in quality to any of the most famous in Britain. To preserve the well from the injury of the weather, and prevent its being overflowed by the Water of Leith, on the banks of which it is situated, a stone covering is to be erected over it. The foundation-stone of this building was laid September 15th (by a deputation from the Earl of Leven, the present Grand Master of Scotland), by Alexander Drummond, brother of Provost Drummond, lately British Consul at Aleppo, and Provincial Grand Master of all the Lodges in Asia and in Europe, out of Britain, holding of the Grand Lodge of Scotland. He was attended by many of the brethren, in their proper clothing and insignia, preceded by a band of music, and the ceremony was performed in the presence of a great number of spectators. It is called St. Bernard’s Well.”

The following year, the poet James Wilson Claudero wrote a poem about the laying of the foundation stone at the well, in which the medicinal virtues of the waters were described.  A section of the poem is as follows:

“When heaven propitious to grant his desire
To the utmost extent his heart could require,
For the health of the poor sent this sanative well,
A blessing to all that around it do dwell;
This water so healthful near Edinburgh doth rise
Which not only Bath but Moffat outvies.
Most diseases of nature it quickly doth cure.

“It cleans the intestines and appetite gives
While morbific matter it quite away drives.
Its amazing effects can not be denied,
And drugs are quite useless where it is applied,
So what doctors can’t cure is done by this spring
Preserved till this year of great Drummond’s reign.”

St Bernards Well, looking N

St Bernards Well, looking N

St Bernards Well, looking SW

St Bernards Well, looking SW

A few years later in 1786, the construction we see today which now covers the medicinal waters, began to be built.  The ‘fashion’ of the rich and wealthy acquiring healing wells used by local people was in vogue at the time and the place became frequented by the usual snooty class of doods who played their social gatherings here.  The Scots Magazine gave a brief resumé of what unfolded—intriguingly at Beltane (perhaps the day when its waters were of greatest repute, as is the case at the majority of sacred wells), telling:

“On the 1st of May, the foundation-stone of the mineral well of St Bernard’s, in the vicinity of Edinburgh, was laid in the presence of several gentlemen of the neighbourhood. A plate of metal was sunk into the stone, with the following inscription:
Erected For the benefit of the public at the sole expense of Francis Garden, Esq. of Troop A.D. 1789 Alexander Nasmith, Architect, John Wilson, Builder.
This building is erected in the most picturesque spot in the neighbourhood of Edinburgh, and when finished, from the elegance of the plan, and the excellent quality of the materials, will long be an ornament to the city, and prove a lasting monument of the refined taste, liberality, and public spirit of the honourable founder.”

As the reputation of the place spread amongst those who could read and had money, so the day-to-day habits of local people, who kept drinking the waters and collecting them for domestic use, became increasingly frowned upon.  Some rich doods bought the land and, thereafter, local people were only allowed to use the well at certain times and in certain ways.  I kid you not!  This is a familiar tale at a lot of city sites.  After the construction of the Romanesque building that still covers the well (based on an ancient temple at Tivoli, Italy, with a statue on top of the goddess of Health, Hygeia) which, to this day, hides the waters inside behind lock and key, the land-owner Lord Gardenstone appointed and paid a ‘keeper of the well’.  The ‘keeper—George Murdoch of Stockbridge —had a series of rules to abide by, for which he got paid a tidy sum.  Gardenstone wrote to him:

“George — From long experience I entertain a very favourable opinion of your honesty and decent manners.  I, therefore, am resolved to make a trial of your capacity to perform properly the duties of a trust which is of a public nature, and requires good temper, patience, and discretion.

“I hereby authorise and appoint you to be Keeper of St Bernard’s Well during pleasure, and you are to observe punctually the following directions and rules, or such other regulations as may be found more expedient and may be hereafter prescribed:

“I.  You are to furnish proper glasses and cups for drinking the water.
“II.  During the proper season you are to attend the well, at least from six till nine, every morning. During the above period none shall have access to drink or use the water but those who shall pay at the moderate rates subjoined.
“III.  Such as choose to subscribe for the season, from the 1st of May to the 1st of October, shall pay down, before they begin to drink, at least five shillings sterling.
“IV.  Persons who do not choose to subscribe, but choose at their pleasure to drink the water any time of the morning period, occasionally, shall pay before they begin to drink every morning — for grown persons each one penny, and for children each one halfpenny; or at the rate of sixpence and threepence per week respectively.
“V.  For water drawn from the well to be used at a distance, in bottles or other vessels in the mornings, payment must be made at the rate of one halfpenny for every Scots pint.
“VI.  No person shall be allowed, on any pretence, to bathe their limbs or sores at, or in sight of, the well during the morning period.
“VII.  All persons who are either unable or unwilling to pay as above, shall have free access to the use of the waters from ten to one every forenoon; and those who have once paid may return and use the waters at any time of the day.
“VIII.  The keeper shall attend from five to seven o’clock in the afternoon for the service of all who have paid; and after seven for all without distinction.
“IX.  Upon a proper certificate from any regular physician, surgeon, or apothecary of Edinburgh, the keeper shall supply poor persons with water at any time prescribed.
“X.  The proper and customary method of drinking at mineral waters is, that persons after drinking a glass or cup of water retire immediately and walk about, or take other exercise for an interval of at least five minutes, both as a benefit to themselves, and to make way for other water drinkers. A contrary practice prevails at St Bernard’s, and sometimes a crowd of people continue at the well till they have drunk their quota. Hereafter every person must retire as above, and the keeper must require them to do so, this regulation being very necessary.
“XI.  Another irregularity, prejudicial to the credit and use of the waters, has prevailed and must also be corrected, which is that quantities of the water are carried to distant parts in open vessels. All mineral waters should be transported in well- corked bottles or other close vessels. The keeper must strictly adhere to this regulation, and suffer no water to be carried off in open vessels.

“Hints and observations for the better regulation and public use of those waters will be thankfully received by the proprietor.
“Some accounts of the virtues of this mineral water, and of certain remarkable cures performed by the proper use of it, will soon be published by a medical gentleman of character and experience.
“N.B. — The effects of this water when used in making either tea or punch are remarkably agreeable.

St Bernards Well on the 1819 Kirlands map

St Bernards Well on the 1819 Kirlands map

This must have caused some friction amongst locals, and no doubt given Mr Murdoch problems at times, as he would be denying the people who were born and bred here access to their drinking and medicinal spring.  And so a missive was written on July 4, 1810, which instructed the keeper “to supply the poor with water gratis each day from eleven to twelve o’ clock noon.”  Sensible…..

By now, the properties and reputation of the waters were widespread among the elitists and money-addicts.  St Bernard’s Well was being compared with the famous healing waters of Bath, Harrogate, Strathpeffer and more.  Its cause was encouraged by a series of scientific reports that showed a variety of health-giving minerals in good quantities; and many cases of ‘cures’ were reported by those who drank here.  When the local doctor, J. Taylor (1790) opened his treatise on this very issue, he began,

“In the course of my practice, having occasion to visit most of the families in Stockbridge, especially of the poorer sort, I was informed that St Bernard’s Well had been of great benefit to people that resorted to it for various complaints…”

Entrance to the well

Entrance to the well

St Bernards Well on 1851 map

St Bernards Well on 1851 map

Many more cases were to follow.  It was the chemical constituents in St. Bernard’s waters that did the trick—although most modern folk would squirm at the very look and whiff of them, as Taylor reported how “the peculiar odour of this water is somewhat nauseous”!  That’s because they are primarily sulphurous in nature, along with good traces of iron, magnesia and salts. I’ve drank such waters at some of Yorkshire chalybeates and found them damn invigorating – but most folk won’t touch them with a barge-pole! (chlorinated flouridated tap-water seems most folk’s preference these days)  Dr Taylor told how St. Bernard’s Well was very good at,

“assisting digestion in the stomach and first passages … cleansing the glandular system, and carrying their noxious contents by their respective emunctories out of the habit, without pain or fatigue; on the contrary, the patient feels himself lightsome and cheerful, and by degrees an increase to his general health, strength and spirits.  The waters of St. Bernard’s Well operates for the most part as a strong diuretic.  If drunk in a large quantity it becomes gently laxative, and powerfully promotes insensible perspiration.  It likewise has a wonderfully exhilarating influence on the faculties of the mind.”

He thereafter cited a number of cases of people with various ailments whose illnesses were cured by these waters.  I recommend a perusal of his work and the other references below for specifics on such matters.  The writings on this one sacred site are plentiful indeed, and the bibliographic references are but a morsel of works that describe it.

Folklore

St Bernards Well in 1825

St Bernards Well in 1825

Local tradition ascribed the discovery of the medicinal waters here by three local boys from Heriot, years before the legendary St. Bernard got in on the act; and, despite the wishes of many, St. Bernard of Clairvaux was not in any way related to the legendary Nursie of Blackadder fame (can anyone find a short link so as to educate the unenlightened on this matter?).  His hagiography (biography of a saint) tells that his saint’s day was August 20, and his symbols were: a white dog, a chained demon and beehives.  Whether any of these symbols related to any indigenous myths at the site is difficult to say.

Mr Cumberland Hill (1887) told the story of how this spring acquired its christian title:

“There is an ancient oral tradition in the district (we read of it also in an old book when we were young) that St Bernard visited Scotland. There are different ways of telling the legend, but the following appears to be the general version. St Bernard, while preaching the second crusade in France and Germany, was advised to go to Scotland as a country rich in faith and fighting men. He was disappointed with his reception at court. In grief, aggravated by ill-health, he withdrew and lived in a cave in the neighbourhood of the spring. There certainly was a cave of considerable dimensions in the steep cliffs to the westward. Its entrance was covered up by the building of the wall that bounds the back of Randolph Crescent, but when it formed part of Lord Moray’s grounds we, and the other boys of Stockbridge, knew that cave well. The saint’s attention was attracted by the number of birds that resorted to the spring. He drank of its healing waters, and, soothed by the sound of the river and the beauty of the scenery — the valley, still very beautiful, must then have been surpassingly fair — his health and serenity of mind returned. He called the inhabitants of the district to the spring, revealed to them its virtues, and, after bestowing upon the people his blessing, he returned to his place of public duty. Christendom concurs that this was the blessing of a good man. He was canonised by the Roman Catholic Church, but as canonisation is growing to be an invidious distinction, we quote Luther’s opinion: “If there ever lived on the earth a God-fearing and holy monk, it was St Bernard of Clairvaux.” We give the tradition as a tradition, not as history, though it is as credible and certainly more creditable than many of the legends of the saints.”

References:

  1. Crow, W.B., The Calendar, Michael Houghton: London 1943.
  2. Frost, Thomas, “Saints and Holy Wells,” in Bygone Church Life in Scotland (W. Andrews: Hull 1899).
  3. Gauldie, Robin, Walking Edinburgh, New Holland: London 2000.
  4. Grant, James, Cassell’s Old and New Edinburgh – volume 3, Cassell, Petter Galpin: London 1882.
  5. Harris, Stuart, The Place-Names of Edinburgh, Gordon Wright: Edinburgh 1996.
  6. Heron, Robert, Observations Made in a Journey through the Western Counties of Scotland – volume 1, R.M. Junior: Perth 1793.
  7. Hill, Cumberland, Historic Memorials and Reminiscences of Stockbridge, the Dean and Water of Leith, Robert Somerville: Edinburgh 1887.
  8. MacKinlay, James M., Folklore of Scottish Lochs and Springs, William Hodge: Glasgow 1893.
  9. Morris, Ruth & Frank, Scottish Healing Wells, Alethea: Sandy 1982.
  10. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, Inventory of the Ancient & Historical Monuments of the City of Edinburgh, HMSO: Edinburgh 1951.
  11. Stark, John, Picture of Edinburgh, A. Constable: Edinburgh 1806.
  12. Stevenson, Sylvia, Simpson, A.T. & Holmes, N., Historic Edinburgh, Canongate and Leith: The Archaeological Implications of Development, Scottish Burgh Survey: University of Glasgow 1981.
  13. Taylor, J., A Medical Treatise on the Virtues of St Bernard’s Well, William Creech: Edinburgh 1790.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 

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Cruckles Well, Manningham, Bradford, West Yorkshire

Sacred Well (lost):  OS Grid Reference – SE 160 339

Archaeology & History

Which one is the Cruckleswell?

Which one is the Cruckleswell?

In an essay by great regional historian Harry Speight (1912) on the ancient tracks of Bradford and district, he mentions this “Cruckleswell” which was first described in 1602.  Mentioned again in 1612 land deeds and several times thereafter, the site has long gone (been built over), but may have been a place where local people ascribed there being water spirits, or naiads.

Although the local historian W.E. Preston (1932) described the place as being in fields between Manningham Stoop (an old boundary stone, now lost) and Hallfield Cross (perhaps an old stone cross site, also lost), a more detailed article appeared a few years later by Wilfrid Robertshaw (1935), telling of its approximate location.  He wrote:

“The interesting field-name of Cruckleswell occurs in 1664.  Cruckleswell was situated between Manningham Stoope and Hallfield Cross.  The latter name is here applied to some closes of land near the Bradford-Manningham boundary and not to a monument; but from this qualifying statement must not be inferred the opinion that a stone or wooden cross of the name never existed.  From Manningham Stoope, whose location I have not traced, a lane led to Fair Gapp, which was just within the town of Bradford; but in 1686 there was a close called the Stoope, which adjoined Manningham Lower Lane on the left-hand side from Bradford to Manningham.  The occupiers of Cruckleswells were ordered by the jurors of the Bradford Manor Court to take in the water which ran by their premises.  The occurrence of a water-course thereabouts, together with the name, Cruckleswell, suggests that here, as in the Panewell Feilde, was a holy well of a kind.  Perhaps the derivation of the name may be found in the Yorkshire dialect word ‘crukle,’ meaning to make crooked, or to bend or twist.  In a sense, therefore, Cruckleswell was another pin well, into which bent of ‘cruckled’ pins were cast.  Cruckleswells, or Crookewells, as the three closes of land were called in a deed of 1658, were then granted by Tempest Brighouse, of Bilbie in the county of Nottingham, to James Mitchell of Bradford, yeoman.  But…I have found a deed of sale by Christopher Pighells of Bradford, yeoman, to John Nicholls of Horton, clerk, of the close of land called Cruckleswell… Nicholls purchased Cruckleswell in 1612, the year before Saxton produced his plan, on which the small field is shown adjoining others belonging to Pighells.  Thus the plan fixes the location of Cruckleswell; it adjoined the east side of the highway leading from Bradford to Frizinghall and was just within the Manningham township.”

This would put it close to the Holy Well Ash well and its long-lost standing stone.  The 1852 OS-map of this area shows an unnamed well between the Holy Well Ash and the boundary line, as highlighted above; but another unnamed well is to the north of the holy well.  If we cross over the boundary line south and out of Manningham, three other wells existed less than 200 yards away.  Anyone of these may have been the Cruckleswell.

Mr Robertson’s idea on the word ‘cruckle’ is echoed in A.H. Smith’s (1961) place-name analysis of the site, where he relates how the word is “possibly connected with the obsolete crookle, ‘to crook, bed.'”  This is shown to be the case in Thomas Wright’s (1898) gigantic tome. And as “cruckling” pins was a common animistic practice in earlier centuries, this derivation of it—as being a well where offerings were given to the spirit of the waters—is not unlikely.

References:

  1. Preston, W.E., ‘Some Local Holy Wells,’ in Bradford Antiquary, June 1932.
  2. Robertshaw, Wilfrid (ed.), West Yorkshire Deeds (2 volumes), Bradford Historical & Antiquarian Society 1936.
  3. Shepherd, Val, Historic Wells of Bradford, Heart of Albion: Wymeswold 1995.
  4. Smith, A.H., The Place-Names of the West Riding of Yorkshire – volume 3, Cambridge University Press 1961.
  5. Speight, Harry, ‘Ancient Streets and Lanes of Bradford as Portrayed in the Manor Court Rolls,’ in Bradford Antiquary, New Series 3, 1912.
  6. Wright, Thomas, English Dialect Dictionary – volume 1, Henry Frowde: Oxford 1898.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 

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St. Margaret’s Well, Old Pentland, Midlothian

Holy Well (covered):  OS Grid Reference – NT 26388 66338

Archaeology & History

St Margarets Well at Pentland

St Margarets Well at Pentland

Described in Hope & Telford’s (1813) rare work, this little-known holy well has escaped the attention of all surveyors since then.  It was one of four sacred and healing sites in the village and “the most copious” of them all, they said.  Located a little to the east of the old churchyard, chemical analysis showed its water to contain carbonates and sulphates of lime, “muriate of soda and a magnesium salt in very minute proportion, and carbonate of iron in a still smaller” amount.

Covering slabs on the well

Covering slabs on the well

Until recently, the waters of St. Margaret could still be seen in the small copse of trees, just off the footpath, but they have now been covered in large stone slabs.  Underneath them, you can clearly hear the sound of the rushing water still pouring out of the ground, quite copiously, as Hope & Telford said!  A little further down the slope—into which the waters have cut a tiny glen—the ground is very boggy and marshy due to the outflow from the well.  However, the waters here seem very dodgy indeed and it isn’t recommended that you try to drink them! (in the adjacent trees is a large dump site)

It is likely that the St. Margaret dedication here relates to the 11th century Scottish Queen, who was believed to have landed at nearby North Queensferry, known as St. Margaret’s Hope.  Literary history tells that she became a Roman Catholic.

References:

  1. 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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Queen’s Cairn, Farr, Strathnaver, Sutherland

Chambered Cairn:  OS Grid Reference – NC 7247 5687

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 6212
  2. Skelpick

Getting Here

The great Queen's Cairn

The great Queen’s Cairn

From Bettyhill village, take the road east towards Tongue and Durness.  A half-mile out of the village, at the bottom of the hill, just before you cross the small metal bridge across the River Naver, a very minor road, left, takes you to Skelpick. Go down here and follow the directions to reach the giant long cairn of Skelpick Long.  Once there, walk east up the moorland hill (there are no footpaths) for about 150 yards.  Once on top of the rise, the moorland levels out a little and there, before you, amidst the small overgrown undulations of many old cairns, a giant one rises up to greet you about 100 yards away.  Y’ can’t really miss it!

Archaeology & History

Neolithic in nature, this giant circular cairn, standing on the ridge above the hugely impressive chambered long cairn of Long Skelpick, isn’t quite as grandiose as its neighbour below, but it’s still an impressive feature in this beautiful moorland landscape.  Comprised of tens of thousands of small stones raised to a height of 10 feet above the moorland peat, several ‘pits’ have been dug into the top of this undoubted tomb of regal nature; but whether it was originally the burial-place of a single person, to which were later added members of the same family, is simply unknown.

queens-cairn35

Large rock-covered capstone

Depression atop of the cairn

Depression atop of the cairn

On the top of the cairn, at least one of the ‘pits’ that drop into the centre is covered by a large heavy tombstone with a small upright monolith at its side.  Although the late great Miss Henshall (2005) thought no ‘chamber’ was here, it is very likely that a chamber will be found beneath this large rock-covered flat stone (see photo).  In our visit, a hollow seemed to be apparent beneath this.

Mass of cairns on 1878 map

Mass of cairns on 1878 map

Highlighted on the earliest Ordnance Survey map, it was shown to be just one cairn amidst the mass of other smaller surrounding tombs—most of which were probably built for people from the same tribal group.  None of these small cairns have been excavated, but they were probably built after the construction of the major Queen’s Cairn.

The Royal Commission lads visited the site in 1909, but said very little of the place (probably over-awed by Long Skelpick, Coillie na Borgie and other nearby giants!), merely that this large circular cairn has

“a diameter of about 54′.  It is about 8′ high, and though the stones have been pulled about here and there on the top, it does not appear to have been excavated.”

Queen's Cairn, looking north

Queen’s Cairn, looking north

And so it remains to this day—although the cairn is slightly larger than the dimensions given by the Commission boys.  Beneath the encroaching heather, the cairn is closer to 67 feet (10.23m) across, with a circumference of 210 feet (64.25m).

Line of ancient walling nearby

Line of ancient walling nearby

The monument sits on a plateau immediately above the giant Long Skelpick cairn—although neither can be seen from each other.  But if you walk only a short distance from the Queen’s Cairn towards the long cairn below, a very notable and extensive line of ancient walling runs along the edge of the geological ridge separating the two tombs, as if deliberately keeping them apart.  Other lines of ancient walling run closer to the cairn, seeming to indicate that a settlement of some form was also apparent on this ridge, in close connection with the group of smaller burial cairns.

It’s a gorgeous arena with many prehistoric sites and puzzles to behold, and plenty of unrecorded ones nestling quietly in the heather.  It’s bloody superb to be honest!

References:

  1. Gourlay, Robert, Sutherland: An Archaeological Guide, Birlinn: Edinburgh 1996.
  2. Henshall, Audrey S. & Ritchie, J.N.G., The Chambered Cairns of Sutherland, Edinburgh University Press 2005.
  3. Royal Commission Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, Inventory of Monuments and Constructions in the County of Sutherland, HMSO: Edinburgh 1911.
  4. Stuart, John, “Report to the Committe of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, Appointed to Arrange for the Application of a Fund left by the Late Mr A. Henry Rhind, for Excavating Early Remains,” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 7, 1868.

Acknowledgements:  Big thanks to Aisha & Lara Domleo for our meandering day out to this olde place… Gorgeous! x

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 

Posted in Cairns, Tombs, Tumuli, Scotland, Sutherland | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Wallace’s Oak, Larbert, Falkirk, Stirlingshire

Legendary Tree:  OS Grid Reference – NS 847 836?

Also Known as:

  1. Wallace’s Tree

Archaeology & History

The archaeology and traditions ascribed to this ancient tree (exact position unknown) is based on words that were first penned two hundred years ago.  It was thankfully recorded with a reasonable description when William Nimmo wrote about the great Sir William Wallace in the second edition of his Stirlingshire (1817) work.  Known about in oral tradition by local people, Nimmo told how:

“Torwood was a place where he and his party, when engaged in any expedition in this part of the country, often held their rendezvous, and to which they retreated in the hour of danger.  Here is still to be seen an aged oak, well known by the name of Wallace’s Tree; which seems to have been, even then, rotten and hollow within, and is said to have often afforded a lodging to him and a few of his trusty friends. It is supposed to have been one of the largest trees that ever grew in Scotland.  It is now almost quite decayed; but, from its ruins, appears to have been of an uncommon size. The remaining stump is no less than eleven or twelve feet in diameter. It stands upon the summit of a small eminence, which is surrounded on all sides by a swamp.  A rugged causeway runs from the south through the swamp, and leads up to the tree.  Some other vestiges of the stonework are discernible, surrounding the tree in a circular form, and leading to the conjecture that this oak is of a very high antiquity; and that, having been much frequented by Druidical priests, amongst whom the oak was sacred, the causeway had been laid for their approach to it, and the performance, underneath its branches, of religious rites.”

Nimmo may have a point here.  Not necessarily of druids (although druidic traditions and reality is known from many old tracts to have continued in many of the hidden places in Scotland), but certainly in relation to the paved track leading to a what may have been a recognised moot-hill, on top of which this great oak once stood.  Great trees and ancient meeting places were held in high esteem, not only in the legends of druidism and more established animistic pantheons, but in the recognised pragmatism of local tribal gatherings, in Scotland, Wales, England and in traditional cultures all over the world. (Gomme 1880) The traces of stonework leading to the hill strongly implies an archaeological site in the paving alone; but moreso, as an important site in the traditions of the Scottish people.  The fact that these stone ruins were still visible when Nimmo visited the site in the latter-half of the 18th century in the context he describes, implies it may have been the remains of a possible crannog; or a moot hill; or even, with its great oak surmounting, a sacred grove!  In my mind, it was probably being used as a gathering place long before William Wallace and his men gathered here…

In 1880, a 3rd edition of Nimmo’s Stirlingshire was published and edited by R. Gillespie.  Herein were additional notes about Wallace’s Oak that had been uncovered by Mr Gillespie.  Although he’d visited the place,

“Not the smallest vestige…of the Wallace oak remains. Even the ” oldest inhabitant” can say nothing of it save what he has gathered from tradition.  Sir Walter Scott, in his Tales of a Grandfather, speaks of having seen some of its roots eighty years ago; and recently we were shown a treasured morsel of the tree in the Chambers’ Institute at Peebles. Wallace, undoubtedly, often chose the solitude of the Torwood as a place of rest for his army, raised and roused to oppose the tyranny of Edward.  Here he concealed his numbers and his designs, sallying out suddenly on the enemy’s garrisons, and retreating as suddenly when afraid of being overpowered. While his army lay in these woods, “the oak” was his head-quarters. Within it, the illustrious hero generally slept, the hollow trunk being huge enough to afford shelter both to himself and one or more of his associates.”

When John Gibson (1908) came to write about it, he told that “Wallace’s Oak, which stood on another part of Woodside (low Torwood), has…vanished.” No roots, no lingering trunk—nothing.  But although the tree has long since gone, William M. Stirling pointed out n 1817 that,

“A young tree is pointed out in the neighbourhood, as having sprung from an acorn of Wallace’s Oak.”

If and when we can locate the old toll-house of Broomage at Larbert, we get much closer to identifying the exact location of this long lost oak.  Then, perhaps, a commemorative plaque should surely be placed there to remind people of their great history, and included on tours of sites relating to Sir William Wallace.

References:

  1. Gibson, John C., Lands and Lairds of Larbert and Dunipace Parishes, Hugh Hopkins: Glasgow 1908.
  2. Gomme, George L., Primitive Folk-Moots, Sampson Low: London 1880.
  3. Nimmo, William, The History of Stirlingshire (2nd edition), John Frazer: Stirling 1817.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 

Posted in Scotland, Stirlingshire, Trees | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Leckie Broch Carving (02), Gargunnock, Stirlingshire

Cup-and-Ring Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NS 6926 9399

Getting Here

Ornate face of Leckie-2 carving

Ornate face of Leckie-2 stone

Take the A811 road between Stirling and Kippen and go up into Gargunnock, From the village centre, go along the Leckie Road (not the Main Street!) for half-a-mile, then turn left up the tiny road. ¾-mile (1.15km) along, a small bridge crosses the Leckie Burn (a.k.a. St Colm’s Burn).  From here, walk up the footpath into the woods for 100 yards or so and cross the waters.  When you see the large overgrown rocky rise of the Leckie Broch covered in pesky rhododendrons, walk up its left-side where (presently) a clearing has been made and the carved rocks stand out.

Archaeology & History

A very curious design here!  Possibly carved at the same time as the Leckie broch to which it is attached—possibly not—we have here a curious amalgam of Nature’s incisions and human design, culminating in cup-and-rings and cups-and-squares no less!  When we came to visit it a few days ago, Lisa Samsonowicz found the stone hiding away, buried beneath a thin layer of natural cover.  The rest of the team thereafter enabled a much clearer pictures of the carving.

Star motif & other cups

Star motif & other cups

Allison McLaren sitting on the new find

Young Allison on the new find (photo courtesy John McLaren)

We’re not quite sure who first rediscovered the carving. In an early photo of the site taken in the late ’70s or early ’80s, a young Allison McLaren sits highlighting the design.  But she wasn’t the fortunate lass who discovered it!  One account describes a local woman, Lady Younger of Leckie House, who was out walking her dog, accidentally dislodging some of the rocky debris of the Iron Age broch and unearthing the petroglyphs, thereafter taking Allison along to see it.  The other account tells of it being noticed for the first time during an excavation of the broch by Euan MacKie and his team.  Whichever it was, Prof Mackie (1970) was certainly the first person to write about it.  He told:

“Part of the sandstone face of the northern end of the promontory on which stands the Leckie dun is covered with well preserved cup-marks, presumably much older than the dun.  They were discovered when rubble and soil fallen from the dun was removed.  Some of the cup-marks stand alone and some are surrounded by what appear to be incised rectangles in a ladder pattern.  There are other, less clear markings.”

Ron Morris' 1981 sketch

Ron Morris’ 1981 sketch

Small & large cupmarks

Small & large cupmarks

There then followed a series of written accounts, small and large, about the Leckie broch—but little else was said of the carvings.  It wasn’t until Ronald Morris (1981) came to see them a few years later that they gained a slightly lengthier description.  He described how the petroglyph was,

“carved over about 3m (yds) at heights of 1-2m (yds) on faces now sloping mostly 0-90º NW, with 3 cups-and-one-near-hexagonal-ring up to 12cm (4½in) diameter, a ‘sun-burst’ and other grooves, and at least 40 cups up to 12cm (4½in) diameter and up to 8cm (3in) deep.  On a vertical E-facing slab there are also many grooves, some of which connect lines of cups. Some grooves resemble a ‘sea-horse’, an ‘axe’, etc. All except the cups are probably incised, but some may be natural.”

Large cupmarks on sloping face

Large cupmarks on sloping face

Looking down the spine of 2 rocks

Looking down the spine of 2 rocks

The entire design in fact covers two separate sections of rock.  On the vertical face of one stone is a curious conjoined cup-and-rectangle, attached to a cup-and-square, attached to a traditional cup-and-ring.  A cluster of other cups, large and small, are immediately left of this odd geometric pattern.  The ‘cups’ within this section of the petroglyph are quite deep and, it would seem, were geological in nature and have been touched-up by human hands.  Immediately below this rectangle-square-circle sequence, faint carved lines run a little further down the face of the rock.  They were difficult to see clearly and require subsequent visits to enable a more complete picture. Along the top of this section of rock are several cups, one or two of them seeming to have faint rings around them.  (at the very bottom of this vertical carved face, at ground level, a small section of man-made walling is visible, which was no doubt a section of the huge broch)

Above the top of this vertical carved face is a gap between this and a second, larger earthfast stone.  This has a series of cups, some with faint rings around them, but most of them are just cups, both shallow and deep, running down the slope of the rock.  A notable ‘star’ of five cups surrounding a single-cup stands out on this section.  Some of them seem to have been geophysical in nature, but again have been touched-up and added to.

Cluster of curious peck-marks

Cluster of curious peck-marks

Slightly higher still, on another third section of rock, a curious cluster of weird ‘pecks’, almost in a square pattern, with a possible cup-mark close to the edge of the stone is clearly visible.  The edge of this rock seems to have been quarried and the markings here may just be mason marks preceding the breaking of the stone in the Iron Age.

Walk around to the south-side of the broch and there, in the walling, on a vertical stone face, is the small cup-marked Leckie 1 carving.

One final note of concern: the carving (and the broch) have become overrun with rhododendrons, to the point where they are severely damaging the monuments here. They need to be curtailed before further archaeological destruction occurs. Help!

References:

  1. MacKie, Euan, “Leckie, Cup-Marked Rock,” in Discovery & Excavation Scotland, 1980.
  2. MacKie, Euan, “The Leckie Broch, Stirlingshire,”, in Glasgow Archaeological Journal, volume 9, 1982.
  3. McLaren, John, Personal Communications, 7.2.17 & 16.2.17.
  4. Morris, Ronald W.B., The Prehistoric Rock Art of Southern Scotland, BAR: Oxford 1981.

Links:

  1. Gargunnock Village History

Acknowledgements:  Immense thanks to Lisa Samsonowicz, Fraser Harrick, Nina Harris, Frank Mercer and Paul Hornby for all their work, enabling a clear picture of the site.  And a huge thanks to John McLaren of the Gargunnock Village History site for allowing us to include the early photo of the carving here – thanks John! :)

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 

Posted in Cup-and-Ring Stones, Midlothian, Scotland | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Leckie Broch Carving (01), Gargunnock, Stirlingshire

Cup-Marked Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NS 69259 93985  —  NEW FIND

Getting Here

Cup-marked stone in south wall of broch

Cup-marked stone in south wall of broch

Take the A811 road between Stirling and Kippen and go up into Gargunnock, From the village centre, go along the Leckie Road (not the Main Street!) for half-a-mile, then turn left up the tiny road. ¾-mile (1.15km) along, a small bridge crosses the Leckie Burn (a.k.a. St Colm’s Burn).  Walk up the footpath into the woods for 100 yards or so and cross the waters.  When you see the large overgrown rocky rise of the Leckie Broch covered in pesky rhododendrons, walk up its left-side and, as it levels out, note the walling on your left.  It’s just a few yards along.

Archaeology & History

This cup-marked stone is only for the mad petroglyphic puritans amongst you! Rediscovered by Nina Harris on February 5, 2017, it can be seen when you look at the main southern wall of this rhododendron-infested broch, near the middle of one of the large cut-and-squared stones built into the upright face.  The carving has at least two cup-markings on its vertical face—which are clearly visible on the photo.  One is quite deep, whilst the other is quite faint.  At either end of the stone are what may have been two other cups that were started but never finished, or just natural-occurring holes in the stone (I’m more of the opinion that they’re just natural, but would love to be wrong!).  A possible third cup-mark can be seen along the top-edge of the stone.

There is no mention of this carving in Dr Mackie’s various writings on the Leckie Broch, which he excavated in the 1970s; only the recognised cup-and-ring stone (Leckie 02) on its northeast edge.  The intriguing element (which can also be applied to the Leckie-2 carving) is that the Leckie Broch was constructed in the 1st century AD—and these cup-markings were probably carved around that time, much later than many others.  It is likely that other unrecorded carvings will be hiding away nearby.

References:

  1. MacKie, Euan, “The Leckie Broch, Stirlingshire,”, in Glasgow Archaeological Journal, volume 9, 1982.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 

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Cloven Stone, Colinton, Edinburgh, Midlothian

Standing Stone (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NT 2139 7001

Archaeology & History

Cloven Stone on 1855 map

Cloven Stone on 1855 map

Highlighted on the earliest OS-map of 1855 and the Knox Map of 1816 in non-antiquated lettering as a ‘Standing Stone’, the Edinburgh historian Stuart Harris (1996) thought it was an authentic site.  He was probably right.  First named in land rentals in 1631, it was known by local people as the Clovenstone and used to stand in a park of the same name, before quarrying works extended into the area and destroyed it in the 1870s. Mr Harris thought that it may have been a pair of uprights, but the term ‘cloven’ could just as well mean it was a stone that had a split in it.

References:

  1. Harris, Stuart, The Place-Names of Edinburgh, Gordon Wright: Edinburgh 1996.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 

Posted in Midlothian, Scotland, Standing Stones | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment