The Modern Antiquarian. Ancient Sites, Stone Circles, Neolithic Monuments, Ancient Monuments, Prehistoric Sites, Megalithic Mysteries

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Showing 1-20 of 27 folklore posts. Most recent first | Next 20

Eagle Stone (Standing Stone / Menhir)

From the Statistical Accounts (see link):

There is another stone between Castle Leod and the spa with an eagle cut upon it, and called in Gaelic Clach an Tiom-pan. It stands close to the old line of road, and is supposed to mark the place where a number of the Munroes fell in an affray with the Mackenzies of Seaforth. The tradition is as follows:
The Lady of Seaforth dwelt at that time in a wicker or wattled house at Kinellan. A party of the Munroes came upon her by surprise, and carried off the Lady, house, and all that it contained. They were overtaken near Castle Leod, defeated with great slaughter, and the Lady of Seaforth rescued. Clach-an-tiompan was set up by the Munroes over the remains of their fellow-clansmen. Kenneth Oure is said to have prophesied that in course of time ships should be seen moored to this stone.

Carn na Croiche (Chambered Cairn)

From The Statistical Accounts (see link):

On the summit of a wooded hill called Knock Navie, there is a cairn called Carna na Croiche, i.e. the cairn of the gallows. The tradition connected with it is, that some men who were travelling, being weary and faint with hunger, as they passed Achnacloich, stopped and asked the woman who had charge of the laird's dairy for some cheese and milk to allay their hunger, offering at the same time to pay for it. She, however, refused to give it; upon which, the men took it, laid down money for it, and went away. The woman immediately informed the laird of the circumstance, who being a man of a fierce and savage disposition, sent after the travellers, brought them back and hanged them on the spot now marked by the cairn.

The Thief's Stone (Standing Stone / Menhir)

From the Statistical Accounts (see link):

Antiquities. - Under this head, it may be mentioned, that, in a field a little to the west of the church, there is a singular upright stone, somewhat in the form of an obelisk, called Clach a Mhearlich, i.e. the thief's stone, - which is evidently of very ancient date. Though in the midst of an arable field, it is most religiously preserved, no attempt being made to remove it, or alter its position. None even of the oldest inhabitants are acquainted with any distinct tradition, respecting its origin or intention; but, from the name, it is conjectured that some noted robber was buried beneath it.

Eagle Stone (Standing Stone / Menhir)

Through the centuries this stone has gathered a host of legends. It was said to have been put up by the Munros after a battle with the Mackenzies and is inscribed with their crest, the Eagle, in memory of the slain. It is now recognised to be of far greater antiquity, inscribed as it is with Pictish symbols.

The Brahan Seer (Coinneach Odhar) said that if the stone fell down three times Loch Ussie would flood the strath below so that ships could sail up to Strathpeffer. It has already fallen twice, and is now very securely concreted in to ensure its stability!

Dunning (Standing Stone / Menhir)

Extracted from the Spring 2004 edition of 'The Dunningite', newsletter published by the Dunning Parish Historical Society.

Dragon... or Draegen?

An unforgettable memory of Millenium eve is of a river of fire, the flames of a thousand torches, flowing down 'the Dragon' in the company of a green effigy of the mythical beast attacked by St Serf. It's a shame we can't exhibit the actual dragon's skin, as they do in Valencia; but even those who have a twinge of doubt about the literal truth of the story feel that it lends Dunning a certain distinction.

The purpose of this article is to put forward a plausible explanation for the dragon story, and suggest that, surprisingly, it may be linked with that other famous event in our history, the 1716 burning.

The story is certainly very ancient. It occurs in the earliest 'Life', that of Jocelyn of Furness, which was written about 1180, as well as in the latest, Andrew de Wyntoun's 'Oryginalle Cronykil' of the early 1400s. Both writers were apparently quoting from an earlier account composed not long after he was active here, somewhere between 550 and 750 AD. And rather oddly, virtually the only bit of corroborating evidence they offer is that it happened in a place called 'the dragons den' or 'the dragons lair'. Take Andrew de Wyntoun's version:
"In Donnyng, of his devotion
And prayer, he slew a fell dragowne;
Where he was slain, the place was ay
The Dragownes Den called to this day."


Scholars of this period believe that the various monsters and devils confronted by the early missionary saints were symbols representing the pagan religious beliefs, rites and customs they wanted to stamp out. Now by far the most distinctive feature of the old Celtic religion was the importance it attached to trees - whether singly, as the home of protective spirits, or as the sacred groves which served as open-air temples or ceremonial sites. It was for that reason that famous missionary saints of the period, St Patrick and St Martin of Tours among them, are said to have been enthusiastic tree-fellers. Which species of tree were regarded as particularly sacred seems to have varied from one country to another. In Roman times, in Gaul and also in Southern Britain, sacred groves were usually of oak, or to a lesser extent of ash. But in what is now Scotland and Ireland, the species most frequently used for sacred purposes were thorn trees, both hawthorn and blackthorn.

Certainly, right from the outset of his mission to Pictland, St Serf is shown to be an enemy of the thorn tree. For, if we can believe his biographer Jocelyn, his very first act after crossing the Forth to settle in Culross was to tell his followers to cut down a grove of thorn trees and erect a makeshift chapel in its place. It's an odd detail to have been passed down; why, in a short life story, give prominence to a simple bit of ground clearance? The obvious explanation is that, to the original writers, it had a significance which had been lost by the time Jocelyn and Andrew wrote their histories. It seems likely, therefore, that the focus of St Serf's anger on arriving in Dunning was not a mythical dragon, but the local sacred grove and the rites and beliefs associated with it.

Even after the nominal conversion of the country, pagan beliefs would have been very much alive. It is a reasonable surmise that the Pictish king of Fortrie had given him Dunning to keep him close to the royal palace at Forteviot. Clearing away the relics of pagan ritual by cutting down sacred groves would have been among his first priorities on settling in - as it had been at Culross. But why use a dragon as a symbol for a sacred grove of thorn trees and its associated cult?

Look up the ancient Gaelic word for thorn tree, and the answer jumps from the page. It was draegen, pronounced 'draygun' - exactly as we pronounce the common name for the street today! This seems a remarkable coincidence. And interestingly, the old Gaelic word for the mythical animal was pronounced the same way as in today's Scots, with a short 'a'. Is it possible that this distinction between 'draegen' and 'dragon' has been preserved for over a thousand years?

But of course, Dunning has another well-known association with thorn trees, which may well represent the long-term survival of the same ancient religious beliefs, in the watered-down form of superstition or magic. The coming of Christianity didn't kill off the old religion completely. Instead, it drove it underground, to survive for many centuries as a belief in the magical potency of certain trees, and to give rise to a host of strange tree-related customs and superstitious rituals. For instance, in the past, thorn trees standing on their own in fields were held to be home to benign spirits, and could not be cut down, however much they inconvenienced the ploughman. Again, springs (often called wells) would often have a protecting thorn tree, or grove of trees, which were similarly untouchable.

Invariably, the underlying belief was in the thorn tree's protective power. It could protect individual families or whole communities - but if the tree were harmed, it could take its revenge. The Statistical Account for Scotland of 1792 tells of a Perthshire parish not far from Dunning in which: "There is a quickthorn of a very antique appearance for which the people have a superstitious veneration. They have a mortal dread to lop off any part of it, and affirm with a religious horror that persons who had the temerity to hurt it were afterwards severely punished for their sacrilege."

Does all this help us to understand the very odd behaviour of the survivors of the burning of the village in January 1716? A very old tradition insists that the original, so-called 'commemorative' tree in Thorn Tree Square was planted in the early spring of the same year, that is within a mere two or three months of the disaster. It is not difficult to imagine the state of mind of the remaining villagers after the burning as they looked at the desolation around them. It was an exceptionally bitter winter, at the height of the 'little ice age' of the early 1700s. They were shelterless, and their food and valuables had been stolen by the retreating highlanders. They were facing the threat of death from exposure, starvation or disease. Their revered minister had died (of despair, they believed) just before the burning, leaving them without spiritual consolation or even proper burial rites. Even their landlord, to whom they might have normally turned for some assistance, was a fugitive from the victorious Hanoverians.

In such desperate straits, with no authority to turn to, where could they look for help? Where else but to the only trustworthy power left to them - the ancient protective magic of the thorn tree? So, in the early spring of 1716, as soon as the ground was soft enough to work, tradition says that those still able-bodied went up into the 'Dragonden' to dig up a young thorn, carry it back and plant it with some precision in the centre of the village. To people living in that still profoundly superstitious age, it would have seemed simple common sense to look for protection from powers possibly more reliable than the ones that had just let them down so badly.

And is the traditional explanation - that, at a time of such distress, they would have taken the trouble to plant a tree to commemorate the terrible event that caused it - even remotely credible?

D.R.Wilson

The Gathering Stone (Standing Stone / Menhir)

Legend states that the clansmen sharpened their swords on the Gathering Stone immediately prior to the battle.

Gray Stone (Standing Stone / Menhir)

As mentioned in the folklore section for the Dunning Stone, in 965 A.D. the Battle of Duncrub was fought on land to the north of the village. This stone is supposed to mark where the Mormaor (Steward) of Atholl died of his wounds, following this battle.

Dunning (Standing Stone / Menhir)

This stone is said to be where Doncha, the Abbot of Dunkeld was slain during the battle of Duncrub, fought in AD 965 between rival factions of the royal line after the death of Kenneth Macalpin in 859.

Denmarkfield / King's Stone (Standing Stone / Menhir)

I don't know where Talorcan got his story from, but it's not the one I know.

The King's Stone marks the spot where a Scottish peasant farmer was ennobled following the Battle of Luncarty, c 990 AD. He and his sons assisted the Scots forces, by blocking the flight of some of the Danes using a large yoke, allowing them to be cut down by the pursuing Scots. Exhausted by his endeavours, the elderly man sat with his back to the stone, puffing and panting - "Hey, hey". The King, impressed by his efforts, was alleged to have said "Hech hey, say ye, and Hay shall ye be". He was gifted the lands between the Hawk Stane and the Falcon Stone for his efforts.

I spoke to the farmer here today, and that's the story he was told by his grandfather. He even pointed to the low ridge to the north of the stone, and told me that he was told this was the hill the Scots forces charged down in pursuit of the Danes.

Noranside (Standing Stone / Menhir)

Local tradition says that the stone marks the burial place of a Danish general killed in a battle with the Scots here.

Clach-a-Charra (Standing Stone / Menhir)

This stone, perforated with two circular holes, is traditionally associated with the slaughter of the two sons of Cummin of Inverlochy, in revenge for wrongs perpetrated on the bride of one of his clansmen.

The Appin of Dull (Cup Marked Stone)

The Knights Templar no longer own the Chapel at Dull, and the (one of many) replica Stone of Destiny has, I believe, been removed to the Aberdeen area. A dig has been taking place there this past week, and as well as many human remains, two cross slabs have been found. One is probably a monk's grave marker, being inscribed with a simple cross. The other has been dated to the 8th century, and is reasonably intricately carved, showing an Irish influence. A mediaval arrowhead, and a silver groat from the reign of Robert III (1390-1406) and minted at Dumbarton, were also found.

Documentary sources indicate that there was an early monastic settlement here, possibly founded by St Adamnan (Columba's biographer) who lived 624 to 704 c.e. John of Fordun (1320-1384) suggests that the monks of Dull founded a college, later transferred to St Andrews, and the forerunner of the University there.

The cross mentioned in a previous post was one of four sanctuary crosses. Two others are in the old church at Weem, just down the road. The fourth is now lost.

Clach Ossian (Natural Rock Feature)

This is a huge ice-scarred boulder, and traditionally it is held that the Gaelic bard Ossian was buried here.

Funnily enough, though, it may have marked the grave of someone previous even to Ossian. Seton Gordon writes in his "Highways and Byways in the Central Highlands", quoting from an earlier source of the moving of the boulder by General Wade's road-making soldiers:

"There happened to lie directly in the way an exceedingly large stone, and as it had been made a rule from the beginning to carry on the roads in straight lines, as far as the way would permit, not only to give them a better air, but to shorten the passenger's journey, it was resolved the stone should be removed, if possible, though otherwise the work might have been carried along on either side of it.

The soldiers, by vast labour, with their levers and jacks, or hand screws, tumbled it over and over, till they got it quite out of the way, although it was of such an enormous size that it might be matter of great wonder how it could ever be removed by human strength and art, especially to such as had never seen on operation of that kind; and upon their digging a little way into that part of the ground where the centre of the base had stood, there was found a small cavity, about two feet square, which was guarded from the outward earth at the bottom, top and sides, by square flat stones.

This hollow contained some ashes, scraps of bones, and half-burnt ends of stalks of heath; which last we concluded to be a small remnant of a funeral pile."


There follows some speculation that it was a Roman officer... Gordon also quotes from the Ordnance Gazette, on what happened afterwards:

"The people of the country, to the number of three or four score men, venerating the memory of the bard, rose with one consent, and carried away the bones with bagpipe playing and other funeral rites, and deposited them with much solemnity within a circle of large stones, on the lofty summit of a rock, sequestered and difficult of access... in the wild recesses of Glen Almond.

Spittal of Glenshee (Stone Circle)

Glen Shee comes from Gleann Sith, the Fairy Glen. This site is traditionally held to be the grave of the Gaelic hero Diarmid, killed during a boar hunt.

Na Carraigean (Stone Circle)

One of this site's alternate names is Na Clachan Aoraidh, which means 'the stones of worship'. The site is just to the west of Edintian (another alternate name for the site), a local farm, whose now anglicised name in reality is Aodann an t-Sithein, 'Face of the Fairy Hill'.

Glengorm (Standing Stones)

Glengorm was originally known as Sorne. In 1850, the new landlord, one James Forsyth, began to 'improve' his estate in the usual fashion in the Highlands - by clearance. The main house was replaced by a large and imposing baronial 'castle'. Forsyth sought advice on a new name for the estate from one of the few remaining tenants of the land, an old lady, and she suggested Glengorm, meaning Blue Glen. Little did he suspect that the name would commemorate, for all time, the days when the glen was indeed blue with smoke from the burning homesteads.

Killiecrankie (Standing Stone / Menhir)

This stone's alternative name is "Claverhouse's Stone" from a tale that this is where John Graham of Claverhouse, Viscount of Dundee ("Bonnie Dundee" in the old songs) fell following the Battle of Killiecrankie in 1689, where Highland forces who fought for King James prevailed over the army of William of Orange. It was also the last time that the famed 'Highland Charge' worked in battle. Dundee was shot and mortally wounded, and a legend grew up that he died beside the stone. Seton Gordon's 'Highways and Byways in the Central Highlands' tells us:

As he fell heavily from his noble dun-coloured horse and lay upon the ground, his life ebbing fast, he asked "How fares the fight?" He was told "The day goes well for the King, but I am sorry for your Lordship." Dundee then whispered his last words, "It matters less for me, seeing that the day goes well for my master."

Bruceton (Standing Stone / Menhir)

Traditionally the site of a conflict between the Scots and English in Robert the Bruce's time - the site of the battle was close by here.

Stone of Mannan (Standing Stone / Menhir)

The stone originally came from Lookabootye Brae (NS912911) and was sacred to the pre-Christian deity Mannan, according to a plaque on the old Tolbooth. A tradition also connected it with King Robert the Bruce.

Meikle Kenny Standing Stone (Standing Stone / Menhir)

According to local lore, this stone was part of a group of three circular settings known as 'Druids Alters'. According to the Rev Haldane, who gave this information to the Ordnance Survey, the remaining stones of this circle were removed around 1842, leaving only one stone.
Showing 1-20 of 27 folklore posts. Most recent first | Next 20
I work offshore in the North Sea as a rig medic. 55+ years old. Nationalist to the core. Have been interested in ancient sites as long as I can remember, due to my Dad's interest in history. Traced my ancestry back to the 1650's. Run a website about the little Fife town I was born and brought up in, Burntisland. Run a website on Stone Circles in Angus and Perthshire. Learning Gaelic, but not very fluent so far. Spend a lot of time walking in the hills. Member of the Scottish Megaraks. Sanity often questioned....

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