The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland

Finn’s Well, Haggate, Lancashire

Finn’s Well, Haggate, Lancashire

OS grid reference: SD 8671 3582. Finn’s Well or Finsley Well is now rather forgotten, but it is still flowing. It can be found 1 mile to the south-east of Nelson town centre on Higher Causeway (at Marsden Heights) just before the village of Haggate. Walk along a track that goes along the eastern edge of Nelson Golf Course. The well is just at the edge of the golf links close by a wall. A farmhouse called Finsley used to stand where the rough trackway is, but this was demolished in the 1980s. The golfcourse was opened back in 1921 and is a privately run course. The well or spring, because that’s what it originally was, now mingles in quite well with the green links and bunkers of the golf course, having been recently restored to look like it is part of the place, or rather a delightful little pond at the edge of the fairway, perhaps!

The well is roughly oval in shape and edged all round with stonework. It measures about 70 feet in circumference and 20 feet across. There are two inlets, one, the main inlet issues with a steady, constant flow of water, while another inlet is largerly dry. At the opposite side there is an outlet which keeps the water-level the same all the time, even during very wet spells of weather and dry spells of weather. The depth of the water is not more than 6 inches at any time. Obviously the spring was used by the inhabitants of Finsley farm and other farms close by, but that no longer applies today because many of these buildings have gone. But I have no doubt the spring has been here for many hundreds, if not, thousands of years. It was probably the abode of a Norse chieftain or landowner by the name of Finn – the place-name Finsley probably means ‘Finns Hill’ or ‘the hill where Finn dwelt’. Many villages around here have Scandinavian names: Harle Syke means ‘Defensive ditch of Jarl’. Jarl being a Norse earl. Scholefield just north-east of the well is yet another Scandinavian name: Skali-feld meaning ‘Summer pasture or dwelling’. Haggate is thought not to be a Scandinavian place-name; it simply means: ‘hawthorne trees by the gateway’ (Hack Gaeta).

Finn’s Well, Haggate, Lancashire

The well has on more than one occassion been referred to as St Helena’s Well due to the fact that a farm or house called ‘St Helena’ stood close by a stone trig point that is in a somewhat sorry state. The trig point is number 54621. However, that building stood about a quarter of a mile to the west and was probably not connected with “this” well, despite the saint’s name often being associated with holy wells, and the building originally called St Helena was demolished in recent times. There is no Roman site in this area, although there have been some Roman coin finds at nearby Catlow and Castercliff Hillfort.

St Boniface, Papa Westray, Orkney Isles

English: St Boniface Kirk, looking towards Westray

St Boniface Kirk, Papa Westray (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

OS grid ref: HY 4882 5270. At the far north-west corner of Papa Westray overlooking the cliffs of Runnapitten, about half a mile north of the hamlet of Holland and a little to the west of Kirk house, stands the tiny medieval church of St Boniface. This was the site of a 7th or 8th century monastery and the probable site of a Pictish settlement. But the area around the church also has some Bronze-Age and Iron-Age antiquities – there was a 10 foot high prehistoric roundhouse, or broch? just east of the church where an Iron-Age settlement existed, though nothing much remains of that now apart from the earthworks. In the churchyard of St Boniface’s there is a Viking hog-back gravestone which would, also, mean there was a Viking settlement here, and part of an early Pictish cross-slab – originally there were two stones with crosses carved onto them excavated in the church-yard. These were removed for safety to nearby museums.

The little church (kirk) dates from the 12th century but there was probably a monastery on the site back in the 7th or 8th century AD, founded by St Boniface, bishop of Ross in Scotland; indeed the place is sometimes called Munkerhouse (monks house). St Boniface and his Celtic monks would have served the Pictish community here and converted this dark age tribe to christianity at the beginning of the 7th century. Historians place the death of St Boniface at c630 AD, though some have placed his death in the early 8th century. He founded over one hundred churches in the north of Scotland, including the one on Papa Westray, Orkney. His feast-day is given as 14th March. In 1700 the little church was enlarged, but by 1930 it had been abandoned and left to become ruinous. However, in 1993 it was fully restored both inside and out, and is now in use once again for services.

Close to the churchyard wall, amongst more modern gravestones, there is a Viking hog-back tomb stone from the 11th or 12th century? although this is now very worn and it is difficult to see any of the carving. According to legend, this marked the grave of Earl Rognavald Brusison who was the nephew of St Magnus the martyr of Kirkwall. Close by, part of a Pictish cross-slab; the main part of the stone being removed for safety to the National Museum of Scotland at Edinburgh. This slab was carved with a circular cross and also an incised cross. In 1966 a second Pictish cross-slab was excavated from the north-east corner of the churchyard. This had a Pictish-style cross and a circle with a small decorative cross inside, but for safety reasons is now housed in the Tankerness House Museum in Kirkwall.


Tait, Charles., The Orkney Guide Book (Edition 2.1), Charles Tait Photographic, Kelton, St.Ola, Orkney, 1999.

Armit, Ian., Celtic Scotland, B T Batsford, London, 2005.

Click on the link for a photo of the hog-back tombstone at St Boniface.,r:8,s:40,i:236

John Dixon has Died

I have been told of the death of John Dixon of Aussteiger Publications, known to many as Lowergate. He was a truly great friend to me, always so kind and thoughtful. I enjoyed his company on the recent walks around Downham and Castercliff hillfort. He had a vast knowledge of prehistoric sites across the north-west of England, in particular the Pendle and Clitheroe areas. His many books are awesome to read with many, often unknown sites pointed out in the Brigantia series of walking books. John you WILL be so sadly missed by myself and many, many others in this field. Thank you John for all your help. When we walk upon the hills and moors of Pendle and Bowland, John you will be walking with us in spirit and guiding us along wherever we may walk. John, now you can find rest and peace. R.I.P John Dixon, a true gentleman.

Please click on the photo to enlarge it.

The late John Dixon, known to many as Lowergate, seen here on Castercliffe Iron-Age hill-fort, near Nelson, Lancashire, explaining the history of the site on 4th August 2012.

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St Doolagh’s Holy Well, Balgriffin, Co Dublin, Southern Ireland

Irish grid reference: O2112 4208. The holy well is located behind the church of St Doolagh to the north of Dublin and just off the R107 Malahide road at Balgriffin. The area known as Balgriffin is a small part of Malahide, one and half miles to the north – Malhaide itself being a suburb of Dublin city. St Doolagh’s parish church dates in part from the 12th century when it was an Augustinian abbey, but there was a church on the site back in the early 7th century AD – at which time it is thought that St Doolagh or Doulagh lived as a hermit here. He is, however, a largerly forgotten saint and nothing much is known about him. He may have been a disciple of St Finian and, in later life became a bishop. His feast day 17th November is still celebrated here at Balgriffin where his holy well can be found in a sunken area behind the church surrounded by trees; and a rather nice well it is too. In fact there are two holy wells here.

St. Doulagh's Church, Malahide

St. Doulagh’s Church, (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The main holy well, St Doulagh’s, is located inside a small hexagonal-shaped well-house that has a pointed roof and two narrow windows at the back, one shaped like a cross, while at the front above the entrance door another narrow window. The building actually taking on the look of a small chapel or baptistry. Here the spring of water issues from what may originally have been a font, and then outside into a square-shaped baptismal pool or bath that has some steps ascending downwards. The well-house stands in a sunken area that is surrounded by low walls and, at the pool-side end, there are stone seats running around these walls for the benefit of pilgrims. On the saint’s feast-day 17th November pilgrims still come here hoping for a miraculous cure through the healing waters. At certain times the sunken area around the well-house is submerged in water forming a much larger bathing pool.

A short distance from the main well-house down some steps is yet another well. Yes there are two wells here. This building is octagonal-shaped and has an arched doorway with a narrow window above that. The spring called St Catherine’s well (St Catherine’s Pond) is located inside the little building. This well-house, like St Doulagh’s, is similar in design, and has also been a place of pilgrimage since at least the middle-ages, if not before that.

Inside the small, partly restored church there is a hermit’s cell where the low window is located and, also a penitents’ cell (not sure what the difference is). Also what is considered by some authorities to be the actual tomb of St Doulagh. Just down the lane stands a small cross on a modern, stepped base. This is shaped like a letter “T” and is probably one of only a very few tau crosses in Southern Ireland, dating from the early medieval period.

Click on the following link for a photo pf St Doolagh’s Holy Well,r:8,s:0,i:101

Turnaspidogy Stone Row, Co Cork, Southern Ireland

English: Cults Stone Row Row of three standing...

Turnaspidogy Stone Row, Co Cork. Photo credit Wikipedia.

Irish grid reference: W1876 6696. Three prehistoric stones together in a field just to the east of the Currahy road near the hamlet of Turnaspidogy (Tir Na Spideoga). The stones are a bit difficult to find at the best of times, but they can be found a little to the east of a farm building on a flat area of land where the land slopes gently away. A few miles to the south is Lough Allua, while the nearest town is Dunmanway 9 miles to the south-east. Another name for this ancient site is sometimes given as ‘the Cult Stones’.

The three stones stand on a low mound and are roughly aligned north to south. Originally they would have formed a stone row though any other stones, if there were any, have been robbed away to the locality to be used as gate-posts, perhaps? Farming has more or less destroyed the site. One of the stones has sadly now fallen over, but this would have been the tallest of the three at 2.4 metres in length. The other two stones stand between just under 1 metre to 1.7 metres in height. Neolithic people would have erected these stones on an alignment to mark a lunar event on the horizon, but probably not a solar event, as is sometimes the case.

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Kit’s Coty, Walderslade, Kent

OS grid reference: TQ 7451 6083. The prehistoric burial chamber called Kit’s Coty or Kit’s Coty House stands in a field to the west of the Chatham road in the Medway Valley and the A229, 1 mile south-west of Walderslade. The famous Pilgrims Way is just to the south as is the Rochester road. The nearest town, Chatham, is 2 miles to the north. The ancient monument can be reached by a trackway running alongside the site from the south at Blue Bell Hill. At first glance the monument looks like a large stone shelter or a tiny house, but it soon takes on the form of a burial chamber, which is also referred to in other terms as being a cromlech, dolmen or quoit. Although it dates back to the Neolithic age, it apparently takes it’s name from a 5th century Welsh prince called Catigern – hence we get “the house of Cati”.

Kit’s Coty Burial Chamber, Kent.

Originally the burial chamber was at the eastern end of a long barrow that was completely covered over by a mound that has now gone, while at the western end there used to be a large standing stone and another stone (a peristalith) that was known locally as “the General’s Tombstone”. Sadly this large stone was blown up in 1867 because it got in the way of ploughing the field. The burial chamber consists of three huge up-right slabs or sarsens 2.5 metres high with an equally large, overlapping capstone 4 metres long standing upon a small mound 1 metre high; originally this mound was 15 metres wide. The whole site of burial chamber and long barrow are roughly 70 metres in length. Today the monument is surrounded by ugly railings for security reasons.

Although the monument dates back more than 4,000 years to the Neolithic age, the name is derived from a Dark Age prince called Catigern, son of Vortigern who, according to legend, died in a battle against the Saxons, under Hengest and Horsa, at or near Aylesford in 455 AD. 400 metres to the south, beside the Aylesford road, can be found another ancient monument called Little Kit’s Coty or “the Countless Stones” where there are a number of recumbant stones, which once formed a second burial chamber. No burials have been found at either of these sites.

The Ringing Stone, Balephetrish, Tiree, Scotland

OS grid reference: NL 9988 4678. At the north side of the island and just south of the B8068 coast road to the west of Balephetrish village in Vaul parish stands a large glacial erratic boulder called ‘The Ringing Stone’, which has many prehistoric cup-markings in it’s surface. It is known in the Gaelic language as ‘Clach a’ Choire’ and, also ‘The Gong Stone’ due to the ringing, metallic noise that eminates from it when struck. There are a number of legends associated with the stone, most of them being a bit far fetched.

English: The Ringing stone of Tiree

The Ringing stone (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Ringing stone (Clach a’ Choire) is a large round-shaped granite, glacial erratic boulder that sits on top of a plateau of rocks just to the south of the B8068 coast road, near Balephetrish. It was brought here from the island of Rum at the last Ice-Age some 11,000 to 13,000 years ago. In the Neolithic period 4,000 to 6,000 years ago it was carved with literally dozens of cup-marks, too numerous to even try to count. But obviously the ancient people from the Neolithic, and later the Bronze-Age, also found it to be “a mystically symbolic stone”. The boulder is perched on tiny little pedestal-like rocks that themselves sit on top of rocky surface. Apparently, when the rock is struck a ringing sound eminates from it, or, a metalic sound as if it contained a crock of gold coins maybe!

According to legend – and there are quite a few, if the stone is ever split assunder the island of Tiree will disappear beneath the waves. Another says that if the boulder were to shatter and fall from it’s pedestal of stones which it rests upon, then Tiree will sink beneath the waves. And, lastly there is a tall tale often told on the island that there is a crock of gold coins inside the stone – hence the ringing sound when the stone is struck!


Kennedy, Donneil., The Land below the waves: Tiree past and present, Tiree Publishing Company, 1994.

Dolaucothi Roman Mines, Pumsaint, Carmarthenshire

SN6629 4031. Dolaucothi (Ogofau) Roman gold mines are located near the village of Pumsaint (five saints), close to the A482 road, 8 miles south-east of Lampeter and 7 miles north-west of Llanwrda. The mines are at the east side of the village beneath the slopes of Allt Gwmhenog on the eastern bank of the river Cothi. The ancient site is on the Dolaucothi Estate and is owned by the National Trust. The first activity here was probably in the Bronze-Age, but the Romans exploited the gold here from the late 1st century AD, and mining was still going on in Medieval times and, even more recently!

Dolaucothi Gold Mines: entrance

Dolaucothi Gold Mines: entrance (Photo credit: Pete Reed)

The Romans started mining gold here when they conquered Wales in the late 1st century AD and probably built a fort close by in 78-80 AD to protect what they saw as a vital asset. The new governor of Britain, Sextus Julius Frontinus, moved to build a number of strategically positioned forts across southern Wales – Coelbren, Pumsaint and Llanio (Bremia) being just three of them – others soon stretched out across the length and breadth of Wales from Caerleon in the south-east to Segontium in the north-west, which in the west were later served by the Roman road, Sarn Helen. The gold was shipped overseas to the mint at Lyons in Gaul and made into coinage that quickly saw its way to the heart of the Roman empire, Rome, and beyond.

To begin with opencast surface trenches were dug, but then later deep tunnels were dug down into the solid rock of the hillside of Allt Gwmhenog, some of of which were 50 foot deep and upto 300 feet long, allowing for better access to the gold-seams. But this meant sheer brute strength was needed because the workers were only using simple picks and chisels, which would take many days to excavate just small areas. On the hillside to the north the Romans built aqueducts, one of these being 7 miles long running along a gorge by the river Cothi, while another ran up the valley of the Annell for 4 miles. At intervals there were stone tanks or reservoirs for holding the water – these are still visible along the hillside as are the channels and stone ledges from the foundations of the aqueduct. Evidence suggests that the Romans abandoned the gold mines in the late 3rd century AD, but some form of mining continued in post-Roman times and even in to the Medieval period. In the 1930s a Roman water-wheel was excavated from deep down in the mine, and back in the 18th century a hoard of gold artefacts were found including brooches and snake bracelets. These treasures are now in the British Museum in London.

Carreg Pumsaint - - 396874

Carreg Pumsaint – – 396874 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Near the entrance to the Roman mine on a low mound there is a small standing stone (Carreg Pumsaint) which, according to legend, is associated with five Celtic saints who lived as a hermits here in the 6C AD. There names were Ceitho, Celynin, Gwyn, Gwynaro and Gwynog. They were the sons of Cynyr Farfdrwch, a prince of Pembrokeshire, at the time of St David. Legend says the brothers fell asleep in the mine, vowing only to awaken when a truly virtuous bishop is once again seated on the throne of Menevia. Yet another legend claimed they would only awaken when King Arthur returns to Wales. There are said to be five hollows in the stone where the saints lay their heads – although today there only seem to be four hollows in the stone. Long ago there were five healing wells located in the Cothi river at Cwm Cerwyni half a mile south-west of Pumsaint church, each well being dedicated to one of the saints. The wells were at one time a place of pilgrimage.


Houlder, Christopher., Wales: An Archaeological Guide – the prehistoric, Roman and early medieval field monuments, Faber, London, 1978.

La Gran’ Mere Du Chimquiere, St Martin, Guernsey, Channel Islands

La Gran'mère du Chimquière, Statue menhir, St ...

La Gran’mère du Chimquière, St Martin, Guernsey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Latitude 49.437841 Longitude 2.554598. Located about 2 miles south-west of St Peter Port on the island of Guernsey is the parish of St Martin with it’s medieval church. The church stands beside Le Grande Rue, a site that was originally a pagan one but was Christianised in the 6th century AD by Celtic missionaries from Wales and the west of England. In the churchyard there is a large granite standing stone menhir that was carved into a female form some four thousand years ago and is said to represent an earth goddess or earth mother figure, hence the name La Gran’ Mere – the grand-mother.

The granite statue menhir stands guarding the entrance to the churchyard of St Martin’s parish church and is between 5-6 feet high. Dating from around 2,000 BC when it was probably a square-shaped standing stone or “long stone”, it was fashioned into a female figure with head and shoulders in either the Celtic or Roman period. The carvings are of a typical female figure, an earth mother form that depicts a pagan fertility goddess which, rather strangely, guards and protects a Christian church. Perhaps the old pagan goddesses still have their uses!

Newly married couples would, and still do, place coins or flowers on the statue’s head and shoulders to bring them luck, seeing it as a fertility symbol perhaps. In the 16th century a disgruntled churchwarden decided to split the stone in two, regarding it as a pagan relic, but the local people rallied round and restored the statue. The split in the stone can still be seen today. There is another similar standing stone figure in St Marie’s churchyard at Castel on the west coast of the island, although that one is much more defaced.

King Orry’s Grave, Laxey, Isle of Man

Grid Reference: SC 4389 8439. At the north side of Laxey village, about 70 yards to the north of the junction of the A2 road and Ballaragh road, stands the largest prehistoric monument on the island known as King Orry’s Grave, a section of which is in a garden. The original name for the monument was apparently ‘Gretech Veg Cairn’. It is actually a chambered long barrow from 4,000 years ago in the Neolithic age. There is uncertainty as to just who King Orry was, and why this monument should be associated with him, but probably he was the legendary King Gorse or Gorred of Crevan, a Viking who died here in the 11th century AD. However, as we already know, the long barrow pre-dates King Orry by thousands of years.

King Orry’s Grave, Laxey, Isle of Man

The chambered long barrow with it’s single chamber at the top end is formed by two standing stones with a lintel slab that has now fallen. Here at the west end the cist burial would have been located beneath a cairn, but whether this long barrow ever had a mound over it we do not know for certain, so perhaps it would be safe to say that it did. There is a well preserved U-shaped forecourt that is 12 metres long and 4 feet wide, and is formed by 6 stone slabs, two of which are quite long. The eastern section of the moument has a second barrow with possibly two chambers, a forecourt and entrance, and a line of cists running roughly north-east to south-west.

But, unfortunately this section has a road running through it and has largerly destroyed this part of the monument, it’s cairn of stones having been robbed-away to be used in the building of the two cottages close by in 1868. The western section of the long barrow was originally in a private garden and had never been excavated but, in the 1990s, the cottage and garden were purchased by MNH (Manx National Heritage), allowing access for visitors to the main part of the site, which is some 30 feet in diameter; the whole site being over 170 feet in length.

The site was first excavated back in 1830 when the cist was uncovered and, more recently in 1953-4 when only one burial of unburnt bones was found along with a few grave goods, including a pottery bowl and some flints.


The Manx Museum And National Trust: Fourth (Revised) Edition, The Ancient Monuments And Historic Monuments Of The Isle Of Man (A General Guide), Douglas, 1973.