The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland


St Maughold’s Well, Maughold, Isle of Man

Click Photo  OS grid reference: SC 4961 9193. On the top of the headland overlooking the Irish Sea beside a footpath, 350 metres to the north-east of St Maughold’s churchyard, is the place of medieval pilgrimage called St Maughold’s Well or Chibbyr Vaghal, a pre-Christian spring that was adopted by a 5th century Celtic saint called Macaille, Maccald or Maughold, who was an Irish prince. To reach the well head east along the track to the lighthouse, but after 100 metres via off along the footpath in a northerly direction; keep on this path for 320 metres towards the headland (north side) and, on reaching a gate take the footpath in a south-easterly direction for a short distance to the well which, flows into an oblong pool beneath some rocks that jut out forming the surround at one side of the well, on the gorse-covered Maughold Headland overlooking the Irish Sea. The town of Ramsey is 2 miles north-west on the A2 road and Laxey village is roughly 6 miles south, also on the A2 road.

The sacred healing spring flows into a little pool beneath ancient rocks and, although it is said to be ‘a never failing-spring’, it does sometimes seem to stop flowing at certain times. This source of water issuing from deep in the ground once served a Celtic monastery, founded in the 5th century by the Irish saint, Maughold, who had come here in the footsteps of two of St Patrick’s disciples St Conindrus and St Romulus, to live on the headland after apparently trying to deceive St Patrick by placing a live man in a shroud, then asking St Patrick to come and revive him with a miracle, but the ‘evil deed’ did not work on the great Irish saint and so Maccald, a well-known outlaw and robber, became a Christian and was sent, as a penence, to live out his humble life as a hermit on the remote and rather windswept headland of the island. Legend says the well was formed (sprang forth) where his horse came ashore after it carried the saint over the sea from Ireland! There is a long flat stone beside the well which is shaped like a ‘chair’ and in more recent times it was indeed called St Maughold’s Chair, but whether this is the original stone chair is another matter because it was recorded recently that the stone had disappeared from the side of the well.

In the book ‘More Rambling In The Isle of Man’ the author Peter J.Hulme, 1993, informs us, interestingly, “That the spring may have been the work of men since among the unique collection of Christian monuments (housed at St Maughold’s church in the village) of the period is one reading “Bramhui led off water to this place.” So although the spring was already there, could it be that the monastic community here somehow managed to divert the spring – Bramhui perhaps being the monk whose idea it was?

The water used to have healing qualities according to the authors Janet & Colin Bord in their brilliant book ‘Sacred Waters’, 1986. They go on to say that: “women wishing for offspring would drink the water of St Maughold’s Well and sit on the saint’s chair close by”, and the well had its full virtue “only when visited on the first Sunday of harvest, and then only during the hour the books were open at church (ie when the priest was saying Mass)”. They also say: “Its water was believed to cure many ailments, including sore eyes and infertility. Barren women would sit in the ‘saint’s chair’ nearby and drink a glass of the well water. Pilgrims would drop a pin, bead or button into the well before leaving”.

And the author William Bennet in his work ‘Sketches of the Isle of Man,’ 1829, says of the well: “most celebrated in modern times for its medicinal virtues is the spring which issues from the rocks of the bold promotory called Maughold Head, and which is dedicated to the saint of the same name, who, it appears, had come upon the well and endowed it with certain healing virtues. On this account is is yet resorted to, as was the pool of Siloam of old, by every invalid who believes in its efficary. On the first Sunday in August, the natives, according to ancient custom, still make a pilgrimage to drinks its waters; and it is held to be of the greatest importance to certain females to enjoy the beverage when seated in a place called the Saint’s Chair, which the saint, for the accommodation of succeeding generations obligingly placed immediately contagious persons”.

St Maughold became bishop of the island, succeeding St Conindri and St Romulus. He died in 488 or 498 AD. He was also, apparently, a missionary in Scotland and Wales – indeed in Wales he goes under the name St Mawgan – if that’s correct then it would appear that the penence afforded to him by St Patrick did not come to complete fruition!


Bord, Janet & Colin., Sacred Waters, Paladin (Grafton Books), London, 1986.

Hulme, Peter. J., More Rambling In The Isle Of Man, The Manx Experience, Douglas, Isle of Man, 1993.

Bennet, William., Sketches of the Isle of Man, London, 1829, p.65.

The Ancient And Histotric Monuments of the Isle of Man, The Manx Museum And National Trust, (Fourth (Revised) Edition, Dublin, 1973.

Photo courtesy of Pinterest

The Bull’s Stone, Ballymacnab, Co. Armagh, Northern Ireland

Irish grid reference: H8903 3855. Close to the junction of the Ballymacnab road leading off the B31 Newtownhamilton road there is a small standing stone, or perhaps what could be a carved stone or part of a cross-head, locally called The Bull’s Stone. This odd-shaped stone was once much bigger, but sadly it has been damaged and pieces of it robbed away over the centuries. Today a monument has been erected with a bull (guardian of the stone) sleeping contently! Legend associates the stone with St Patrick, patron saint of Ireland, and his pet bull that had frequently annoyed him whilst he was trying to build his church. The place where the stone now stands, in a little garden area, is referred to from “legend” as ‘The Bull’s Track’, a local landmark. The small round-shaped stone still has the imprint of a bull’s hoof on it, if that’s what it really is? Ballymacnab is in the parish of Collene (Cill Chluna), and Armagh city is 7 miles to the north on the B31 road. The Seagahan Dam which harnesses the power of the river Callan is 900 metres to the south.

Unfortunately, nothing much is known about the age of the stone or its history, apart that is, from what we know of the myth and legend associated with it and St Patrick’s involvement back in the mid 5th century AD – in particular from the renowned Irish poet and author Thomas George Farquhar Paterson (1888- 1971) in his book ‘Notes’, Vol 1, 1940 and again in his more recent work ‘Harvest Home’, ‘The Last Sheaf’, 1975. Obviously these folktales are from an earlier time. The Bull Stone may and I “stress” may have been a prehistoric standing stone, or perhaps a stone deposited by glaciers thousands of years ago? Unfortunately we don’t know.

The “legend” is related that St Patrick on his way north to Armagh decided to build a church at a place today called Armagh-Breague. However, every time he began work to build it he was thwarted by his bull, and had to leave quite quickly! On the third occasion it once again stopped him from doing any building work, but the saint was also now very angry and had made his mind up to deal with the creature. We are told that he hurled or tossed the bull from Armagh-breague Mountain which is near to Newtownhamilton; the unfortunate creature landed several miles to the north where it struck or collided with a large stone, the marks left by its hooves clearly plain to see, even today. After that the bull did not trouble St Patrick and he was able to build his church, though not in the place where he had intended. There is a more modern Roman Catholic church dedicated to him just a few hundred yards up the road from the stone at Ballymacnab, which now stands upon the site chosen by the saint’s bull!

What we do know with certainty is St Patrick came to Armagh in 445 AD and here built his most famous church, today Armagh Cathedral stands on the site of that foundation, afterwhich the saint was made Archbishop of Armagh. For the next 20 years until his death in 465 St Patrick continued to build churches and monasteries and evangelise throughout much of Ireland, spreading the ‘word of God’ wherever he went.


Paterson, T.G.F., ‘Notes’, Vol 1, PSAMI, 1940, 71.

Paterson, T.G.F., ‘Harvest Home’, ‘The Last Sheaf’., (ed. E.E.Evans), 1975.

Google Map (please adjust)

St Brynach’s Church, Nevern, Pembrokeshire, Wales

   Nevern Cross (After Westwood)

Nevern Cross
(After Westwood)

Os grid reference: SN0834 4002. Situated in the very pretty and largerly unspolt village of Nevern (Nanhyfer), between Cardigan and Fishquard, is the cruciform-shaped St Brynach’s Church, standing proudly in front of a large tree-covered mound where, long ago, early Welsh chieftains and, later possibly Norman barons, lived in a fortifified stronghold, or castle, from the mid 6th century to the early 12th century; and where beside the Caman brook, the Celtic monk, Brynach, came to build his monastery at the beginning of this period which, historians often call the Dark Ages. St Brynach, an Irishman, became a friend of St David. Here we see the beautifully carved Celtic churchyard cross and an inscribed memorial stone and, there are two other ancient stones, indeed inscribed stones from the the 5th or 6th century AD housed inside that are well worth a look at because of what they can tell us about this sacred and holy site, all making for a fascinating little collection of Dark Age antiquities. The churchyard has an avenue of ancient yew trees, and just short walk south from here and we can see the famous Pilgrims’ Cross and stone at the side of the river Nyfer. The A467 is 1 mile south of Nevern, while the village of Newport is 2 miles to the south-west and Fishguard is a further 5 miles in the same direction. Cardigan is 9 miles to the north-east.

Maglocunus Stone (After Macalister), 1945.

Maglocunus Stone (After Macalister), 1945.

There was quite probably a monastery here c 540 AD, and maybe even some sort of ecclesiastical centre, but then in the 12th century a Norman church was built on the site, today only the tower of that building remains, the rest being from the 14th and 15th centuries onwards through to 1864 when restoration took place. The nave has a stone vaulted roof. Two flat stones acting as windowsills in the south wall of the nave are quite interesting, one in particular, from the 10th century, is quite unusual. It is 62 inches long and has an intertwinning cord carved onto it (in relief) that forms a Celtic-style cross – though there is no inscription on this. The other stone has a Latin inscription in memory of Maglocunus (Clechre) who has been identified with St Clether, son of king Clydwyn of Carmarthen – who lived in the fortification behind the church in the early part of the 6th century and was a relative of St Brynach, who died in 580 AD and was also the founder of a church at Braunton, in Devon. Legend says that St Brynach used to climb to the top of Carn Ingli, an Iron Age hillfort 2 miles to the south-west, in order to converse with angels.

The Latin inscription is MAGLOCVNI FILI CLVTOR – ‘The Stone of Maglocunus son of Clutorius. Some historians think Maglocunus was the famous Maelgwyn (Maelgeoun), king of Gwynedd, though this is very uncertain. There are also Ogham notches on the front edge of this stone – giving a similar pronouncement, so no doubt there is an Irish (Goidelic) connection here; these two stones are thought to have come from the churchyard – they are now preserved from the elements of wind and rain, something quite common in this part of south-west Wales! In the Chancel there is a photo of an old stone that went missing. It was 10 feet long by 3 feet wide and had a Greek cross inscribed on it, “an early relic of British Christianity”, according to the church guidebook of 1980.

The Vitalianus Stone, Nevern.

The Vitalianus Stone, Nevern.

Outside the church at the east-side of the porch stands the 5 foot (1.5 metre) high Vitalianus Stone, a Romano-British gravestone from the 5th century AD that has a faint Latin inscription in memory of VITALIANI EMERETO – ‘The stone of Vitalianus discharged with honour.’ Again there are Ogham-script notches on the edge, making this a bi-lingual inscription. According to the author Chris Barber in his book ‘More Mysterious Wales’ Vitalianus is Vortimer, the son of King Vortigern and, says Barber: “and it is feasible that it is his memorial stone that can be seen here at the church of St Brynach”.

St Brynach's Cross, Nevern.

St Brynach’s Cross.

At the south-side of the church stands the famous Great Cross of St Brynach. This lovely carved cross is 13 feet tall (3.9 metres) and 2 feet (0.9 metres) wide, and is thought to date from the 10th or 11th century AD. It is from the the top of this cross that, according to ‘tradition,’ the first cuckoo of the Spring perches and sings its heart out on the saint’s feastday 7th April, and no doubt it does without failure every year! The cross is “superbly” decorated with all manner of Celtic pattern-work inside sections of various sizes; there is “a differently arranged ribbon, the endless interlacing symbol of eternity”, according to the church guide book. There is knotwork, cord-plaitwork, fretwork, ring-work and Greek swastika and diagonal key-patterning, with geometric designs on all four sides, possibly Scandinavian, rather than Celtic. Both faces E.W. have a small panel with alphabetical-type inscriptions which are recorded as: dns (dominus) and haneh (halleluiah), and also on the east face two primitive-style crosses with long, angular arms. The cross-head is a ‘seperate’ part to the rest and is a typical five-holed wheel-head, quite common in Wales. On the outside north wall of the church a fragment of stone, acting as a windowsill, has a broken Latin inscription TVMIM in memory of someone called Tumin or Tuminius? while a faint consecration cross can be seen on the east wall of the Glasdir Chapel.

An avenue of ancient yew trees forms the pathway upto the church. One of these bleeds red sap from a broken branch; this apparently signifies ‘unrequited love‘. Local legend says the red sap (resin) will continue to ooze from this tree until ‘the castle on the hill is once again occupied by a Welshman’. Another legend says that a monk from the early Celtic monastery was hanged from the yew tree, which may mean these trees were here before the present day church! About 1oo yards to the south-west of the church, along a footpath beside the river Nyfer leading off the Frongoch road, in the direction of Glandwr is the famous Pilgrims’ Cross built into a rock face and, below that a ‘very’ well-worn stone bearing a small incised cross. These mark the pilgrimage route between Holywell and St David’s – Nevern being one of the places where medieval pilgrims would stop, and kneel down to say prayers, before continuing on their long, ardous journey to where St David, patron saint of Wales, lay buried.


Barber, Chris., Mysterious Wales, Paladin (Grafton Books), London, 1987.

Gregory, Donald., Country Churchyards in Wales, Gwasg Carreg Gwalch, Capel Garmon, Llanrwst, Gwynedd, 1991.

Allen, J. Romilly., Early Christian Art In Wales, Archaeologia Cambrensis, 5th series, vol xvi, 1899.

Bryce, Derek., Symbolism Of The Celtic Cross, Llanerch Enterprises, Felinfach, Lampeter, Dyfed, Wales, 1989.

Macalister, R.A.S., Corpus Inscriptonum Insularum Celticorum, Vol 1, Dublim, Ireland, 1945.

Spencer, Ray., Historic Places in Wales – An Exploration of the Fascinating and Mysterious, (Unpublished Manuscript), Nelson, Lancashire, 1991.

Bleasdale Circle, Bleasdale, Lancashire

Bleasdale Circle (Geograph)

Bleasdale Circle (Geograph)

Os grid reference: SD5770 4600. High up on the peat and moss-covered Bleasdale Fells in north Lancashire, in an enclosure of trees (at Edmarsh) stands the famous Bleasdale Circle, or in fact, a circle of 11 concrete posts marking out where a circle of timber posts used to be and, which is also referred to as a ‘henge monument’, at the centre of which was a mound with a burial inside. Located about half a mile north of the tiny village of Bleasdale, this prehistoric monument requires a good climb up onto the fells from the nearest country lane at Vicarage farm to the west, or from near Church wood, a mile or so to the south.

Although there isn’t much to see here today it’s well worth checking out the place to look at the circular earthworks of bank, ditch and the squat concrete posts that tell us where the ‘ceremonial’ wood-henge once stood; some more recent wooden posts rotted away in the early part of the last century. The circle was first discovered back in 1898 and excavated within the next year and, re-excavated in the early 1930s by a more localised archaeological team; and so the site has been dated at somewhere between 2,200 to 1,500 BC – the early Bronze Age. We now know that an “early” tribal community settled, lived, and died here on the bleak and isolated fells of Bleasdale, a name which is derived from the Old Norse for ‘blesa’ meaning blaze or light spot, according to W.R.Mitchell in his book ‘Bowland And Pendle Hill’. Garstang is roughly 5 miles to the west, while the village of Chipping is 4 miles to the south-east following Chipping Brook for the last few miles.

The henge site covers an area of 50 metres by 40 metres (south to north) with the much small inner circle roughly 17 metres by 20 metres (36 ft diam) at the eastern side, with funery mound 3 feet high, which was surrounded by a single-causewayed ditch (3-5 ft) floored with birch poles 10-20 cm in width, according to the authors John & Phillip Dixon in their book ‘Journeys Through Brigantia’ (The Forest of Bowland), Volume 8. Here 11 concrete pillars mark out where originally large oak posts would have formed a circle upon the mound, with an avenue of three poles on each side across the east-facing causeway, according to John & Phillip Dixon.

Inside this mound (at the centre) a stone-lined chamber (cist) was discovered containing two 21 cm high decorated collared pottery urns, of the Pennine type, which would have once held the ashes of those buried here; one of the urns having a little pottery pigmy cup inside it!  These urns could, therefore, be amongst the oldest collared urns found in Britain. John & Phillip Dixon go on to say: “the above circular feature was  surrounded by a palisade consisting of 22 large oak poles 8m. apart, between which were smaller diameter posts”. The larger, outer circle had a double entrance at the east-side some 7 metres across, with a smaller entrance at the south-side 5 metres across. Within the large outer circle there were a number of small dwelling places or huts 3-4 metres across, although these were at some point destroyed by fire, leaving only the burnt patches in the soil. These roofed-over dwelling huts with central posts would have been earthen constructions made, probably, of dung and clay.

Bleasdale Circle (plan)

Bleasdale Circle Plan (Syd Wilson, 1900)

In his book The Buildings of England – North Lancashire, Nikolaus Pevsner, sums the place up quite smartly: “The site consisted of a small barrow beneath which was a grave containing two cremations in collared urns and an incense cup. The structure was surrounded by a ring of eleven posts (now marked by concrete pillars) with outliers forming an entrance on the E, and these in turn were bounded by a ditch. This group was surrounded by a timber palisade (not visible on the ground) 150 ft in diameter, with an entrance on the SW”.

Some of the artefacts from the excavation at Bleasdale were later displayed at the Harris Museum in Preston. Please make your own mind up about the display, once you have seen it!



Dixon, John & Phillip., Journeys Through Brigantia – The Forest of Bowland, Aussteiger Publications, Barnoldswick, 1992.

Mitchell, W.R., Bowland And Pendle Hill, Phillimore & Co Ltd., Chichester, West Sussex, England, 2004.

Pevsner, Nikolaus., The Buildings of England – North Lancashire, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England, 1979.

Top Photo of Bleasdale Circle  © Copyright Raymond Knapman and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Coal Bank Mill, Ashworth Valley, Norden, Greater Manchester

Washwheel Mill Ruins, Ashworth Valley, Rochdale

Coal Bank Mill Ruins, Ashworth Valley, Rochdale

Os grid reference SD8559 1416. The site of what was once a thriving industrial place known as the Coal Bank Mill, in Ashworth Woods at Wolstenholme Fold – through which the Naden Brook flows, in what is now a very picturesque place hidden deep inside the Ashworth Valley, near Norden, Rochdale, where old industrial ruins merge in with the flora and fauna – as if in some way time has stood still, even though the industrial revolution and Coal Bank mill have been almost obliterated from what is now a “very” tranquil and secluded place. This is one of my favourite places from my days at school, a long time ago now, but still so many memories.


Coal Bank Mill (ruins)

Coal Bank Mill (ruins)

To reach the site go to the top of Norden road in the village of Bamford. Turn left onto Clay Lane for about half a mile, then at the electricity substation turn sharp left again. Go along Fairburn Lane keeping to the right and head down into the little valley where the bridge goes over the brook, then just up the hill after the bridge follow a footpath that heads off to the right. Walk along this track, the former tramway, through the woods beside the steep-sided bank, below which the Naden brook flows. Follow this fairly straight path for half a mile until you reach a modern curved, wooden bridge. You can also reach the site from Norden bus terminus, then following the brook south past the new housing devolpment and, past the tall Black Pits cotton-mill chimney, one of very few in this area still standing. Here the little stream from the hillside above called Mill Croft flows into the larger Naden brook in Ashworth Woods (actually part of Carr Wood) at a place known locally as Coal Bank, which is now a ‘landscaped’ area for walkers and picnickers alike, but which was once back in the industrial past a place of mills, chimneys, small coal pits (diggings), cotton-spinning, paperworks, dye and bleach works, all of which were ‘very’ reliant on the Naden brook. The town of Rochdale is just 2 miles from here on the A680 through Norden.

Coal Bank mill (ruins)

Coal Bank mill (ruins)

Here at Coal Bank we reach the site of what was Coal Bank Mill situated beside the Naden brook and, although the cotton-mill-cum-paper-mill has been almost obliterated – if you look closely you can still find the ruins of this one-time industrial enclave, a little bit of the Industrial Revolution hidden away in this wooded valley, near Rochdale, thanks in many ways to the great Ashworth family and, others, who owned the land around here. In the late 18th or early 19th centuries the place began life as a cotton-spinning mill (probably a fulling mill) but then in the 19th century the mill became a paper/printing works. In the early years of the 20th century the mill closed down for good. Much of the mill was then pulled down and great quantities of the stonework taken away. Part of a wall still stands as do the foundations of several buildings at either side of the walkway, including what was the lodge; there are also some nicely built stone bridges and lumps of old rusting ironwork! and also a few remnants of what looks like a water-wheel, or something similar? *In Grace’s Guide directory Coal Bank is described as a bleachers and dyers in the ownership of Richard Bell (1891).


Coal Bank Mill (ruins)

Coal Bank Mill (ruins)

The Coal Bank mill chimney with its “open” square-shaped flue was demolished in 2006 and the site levelled and landscaped in order to make new pathways and modern wooden bridges, making a nice place to stroll and enjoy one’s-self in this, now, peaceful place. But the ghosts of the many hundreds of workers, both adults and children, who toiled here in the past seem to be still present in this isolated, haunted valley; indeed it seems those workers, horses and loaded carts, are still treading the same cobbled pathways to the old mill; and if you’re very quiet you can still hear them…… well I think you can!

Coal Bank Mill (ruins)

Coal Bank Mill (ruins)

There are the ruins of other cotton-spinning mills (fulling mills) and Calico print mills further to the west near to Turn Village, beside the Cheesden brook, all quite evocative now and one might say, romantic looking. The ruins of Washwheel Lower Wheel mill, Deeply Vale mill, Deeply Hill; and also other spinning mills at Longlands, Cheesden Lumb mill, Cheesden Pasture mill, Croston Close mill, Four Acre mill and, further to the south Birtle Dene mill, New Birtle and Kershaw Bridge mills, are discussed at length along with a history of these cotton mills in the delightful book ‘The Forgotten Valley’ by A.V.Sandiford and T.E.Ashworth. The ruins at Cheesden Lumb mill were excavated by archaeologists from Manchester back in the 1990s, but nature is catching up and the ruins of these old mills are gradually giving way, sadly, to the rain and gales that frequently batter this part of north-west England. A way of life has now gone.


Coal Bank Mill (ruins)

Coal Bank Mill (ruins)



Sandiford, A.V., & Ashworth, T.E., The Forgotten Valley, Bury and District Local History Society, 1981.

And, also my memory…….!

Inveryne Standing Stones, Argyll And Bute, Western Isles, Scotland

Os grid reference: NR9156 7496. In a field some 200 metres from the shoreline of Auchalick Bay in the west Cowal region and the parish of Kilfinan, Argyll and Bute, are three prehistoric standing stones known as the Inveryne Standing Stones or Auchalick Standing Stones, which are in fact a stone row, an alignment of shaped and jagged stones placed here 4,000 years ago. To reach these stones you need to come off the B8000 road about halfway between Kilfinan and Portavadie and ‘trek’ up a steep track passing Corr Mheall and then towards Inveryne farm – there are a number of other footpaths that lead in the same westerly direction but, be prepared for a long, arduous walk. The standing stones are approx 800 metres south-west of the farm, just to the north of Tigna Cladaich house. You can also reach the site from Melldalloch further to the east. Lochgilphead, the nearest town, is 8 miles to the northwest across Loch Fyne.

In the corner of a field near the footpath and a wooded area are three standing stones in a row looking rather forgotten and lonely in this rugged windswept landscape overlooking Loch Fyne and, in the distance the town of Tarbert. According to Canmore RCAHMS site no 39914 (1988) the three slabs vary in height and shape. The first stone at the north-east side stands at 0.75m (2ft 5) high and is straight-sided with a rounded top; the central stone is 0.95m (3ft 1) high, mainly rounded in shape with a natural depression, and the third south-westerly most stone is 1.05m (3ft 6) high and has a jagged top with slanting sides. A fourth stone, which is rarely mentioned lies recumbent and abandoned on the ground close-by. There may have been other stones forming this alignment and, if that’s the case these must have been robbed away?

I don’t know why these ancient stones are standing in this windswept location, unless they are in some way connected to a cup-marked rock to the northeast, at OS grid reference NR9217 7578, which can be found beside the footpath to Inveryne farm, southwest of Corr Mheall and the B5000 road. There are other standing stones and ancient burial sites in the Cowal region, and, also over on the Isle of Bute.

Sources: Canmore RCAHMS

Cowal and Bute Essential guide 2012, E & R Inglis Ltd., Dunnon, Argyll and Bute, 2012.

The Megalithic Portal