The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland


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Fish Stone, Pancake Ridge, Ilkley Moor, West Yorkshire

Fish Stone, Ilkley Moor, in West Yorkshire.

OS Grid Reference: SE 1315 4624. Fish Stone is a cup-marked rock on Ilkley Moor, in west Yorkshire, situated roughly halfway between Pancake Stone and Haystack Rock, and on the footpath that runs along the ridge high above Hangingstone Lane and the Cow & Calf Hotel. For want of a better, proper name, which it might have, but at the moment I can’t find it – I have given it the name: ‘Fish Stone’. It may, however, be referred to as ‘Pancake Ridge Rock’ mainly because it is located there and very near the ‘Pancake Stone’. The stone is, at a certain angle, shaped like a fish though I’m sure there are other rocks on the moor that bear that same similarity. There is the possibility that this stone has not, as yet, been recorded? However the nearest recorded cup-marked stone seems to be ‘Pancake Ridge 06’ or Boughey & Vickerman 316 which is a bit further to the southeast of ‘Fish Stone’ and close to the oddly-shaped ‘Pancake Stone’ itself. For directions to Fish Stone see the site page for ‘Haystack Rock’: https://thejournalofantiquities.com/2017/10/27/haystack-rock-ilkley-moor-west-yorkshire/

Fish Stone, Ilkley Moor, from a different angle.

Fish Stone, Ilkley Moor, from yet another angle.

The ‘Fish Stone’ is one of three flat stones here, only the middle one having well-defined pre-historic cup-marks (petroglyphs) on its surface; if there are any on the other two stones they are now faint and worn. There looks to be around 17 cup-markings in the middle and towards the edges of the stone although the larger depression at the far side being due to weather-related erosion. Most of the cups are quite small and now fairly worn but they are still visible. There don’t appear to be any rings. But nobody seems to know what these cup-markings are meant to signify – could they be just the idle doodlings of our Bronze Age ancestors, or could they actually be maps showing stars in the night sky, or maybe maps showing burial sites, springs, settlements and other nearby carved rocks; we don’t know with any certainty, so they must therefore remain something of a mystery and ‘an enigma’. If we could travel back in time we could ask the carver of the cups-and-ring markings what he was doing, why he was doing it, and what they were meant to signify. But that’s one for the future!

Sources and related websites:-

https://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=48979

https://megalithix.wordpress.com/2009/01/25/pancake-stone-ilkley-moor/

https://thejournalofantiquities.com/2017/10/27/haystack-rock-ilkley-moor-west-yorkshire/


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Irton High Cross, Eskdale, Cumbria

Irton High Cross, Eskdale, Cumbria.

OS Grid Reference: NY 09156 00471. In Irton churchyard (south-side of St Paul’s Church) in Eskdale, Cumbria, stands the tall, slender Irton High Cross, a Viking monument thought to date from the mid 10th century AD, though a few scholars suggested that it is even earlier than that? The cross has some very intricate decoration – some of which looks to be more Celtic than Danish. Its runic inscription having all but faded away, but other than that it is a very fine ancient monument; the cross-head, in particular, being very pleasing to the eye. St Paul’s church itself dates from the Victorian period. To reach this site from Santon (Santon Bridge) follow the lane for a couple of miles south, then southwest towards Holmrook, but turning off to the right before reaching that village and, just after passing the entrance to Aikbank farm. Follow this track (north) to St Paul’s Church and the Irton Cross. The tiny village of Irton is roughly ½ a mile to the east of St Paul’s Church and 3 miles southeast of Gosforth.

Irton High Cross, Eskdale, Cumbria.

The Irton High Cross is a well-preserved, intact, cross standing at almost 10 foot high (3.4 metres) and is made of red sandstone. It is a slender cross that tapers away slightly towards the top where there is a very fine, carved cross-head with central raised bosses. The age of the cross is uncertain, but most scholars think it to be from 950 AD. However, a few scholars and historians have suggested that it looks to be of an earlier date maybe the 8th or 9th century? And some of the carved decoration on its four-sides looks to be similar to Celtic work, rather than Anglian/Danish; Cumbria obviously being close to the Celtic countries of Ireland and Scotland. There is also a Saxon influence. We can see some very intricate interlacing and circular designs with dots (pellets) in long panels on the shaft, and also on the cross-head; the central bosses also having this pellet-work. Two figures are apparently visible as are beasts. Other carvings include: key-patternwork, diamond shapes, scrollwork, spirals and roll-moulding. Originally there was a Runic inscription in the smaller panel but this has now worn away. The sandstone base is perhaps the same age as the cross or later?

Arthur Mee (1961) tells us that: “Not so old as some flints and spear-heads found here, the remarkable churchyard cross of Irton is old enough, for it was probably carved out of the red sandstone 1000 years ago; and for its beauty and preservation it ranks second only to the wonderful cross at Gosforth. Tapering gracefully to a fine head, it is ten feet high, and is richly ornamented. Beyond the fine timber lychgate it has a new companion on the little green, a graceful cross to the Irton men who died for peace.

“The stolid little church was refashioned last century and has a fine tower with an imposing turret above the battlements. Its eight bells must echo far and wide among these hills and vales. The tower archway is screened by attractive wrought iron gates, and the attractive chancel arch has black and marble shafts.”

Robert Harbison (1993) gives some rather comical information re: “Irton Cross, S of  the church, is a very ruddy orange on the E face, better preserved on W. Carpet patterns like those in manuscripts on E, knots on W, protrusive baubles in the centre of the lively misshapen head. A moving presence in this windswept place; there’s an Art Nouveau imitation lower down to SW, with a stone rail behind.”

Harbison goes on to say that “The church is unattractive outside but lovely within. Its scale is wonderful, like a model, and there are many entertaining fittings — a painted iron screen in tower arch, rustic wooden haunches in chancel roof, lots of Victorian banners on the walls and very amusing narrative windows. These include four good late panels by Burne-Jones, of which the oldest is the Tiburtine Sibyl in a lionskin by an altar.”

Maxwell Fraser (1939) says that: “In Irton churchyard is a cross 10 feet high and richly carved, which probably dates from the ninth century.”

The Historic England List Entry Number is: 1012642.

Sources and related websites:-

Fraser, Maxwell, Companion into Lakeland, Methuen & Co. Ltd., London, 1939.

Harbison, Robert, The Shell Guide to English Parish Churches, André Deutsch Limited, London, 1993.

Mee, Arthur, The King’s England — Arthur Mee’s Lake Counties — Cumberland And Westmorland, Hodder And Stoughton Limited, London, 1961.

The AA, The Illustrated Road Book Of England & Wales, The Automobile Association, London, 1961.

https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1012642

https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryMagazine/DestinationsUK/AngloSaxonSites/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irton_Cross

https://www.visitcumbria.com/crosses/

https://www.photonorth.uk/-/image-library/cumbria/history/anglo-saxon-and-viking-cumbria-photos?preview=795826c7

http://eskdale.info/irton.html

https://www.eskdale.info/history.html

© Ray Spencer, The Journal Of Antiquities, 2019.


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The Anvil Stone, Near Nelson, Lancashire

The Anvil Stone with Walton’s Spire in the background.

OS Grid Reference: SD 89391 37498. At the northwestern edge of Shelfield Hill, close to Walton’s Spire, near Nelson, Lancashire, is a large and oddly-shaped stone, which is variously known as ‘The Anvil Stone’, ‘The Altar Stone’, ‘The Druids’ Stone’ and ‘Thor’s Stone’ (Thursden Valley is not far away from here). The stone resembles an anvil or an altar at certain angles, but it also takes on the form of an animal head. It was obviously a sacred stone in the distant past and may have been venerated by our ancient ancestors. It seems to have been moved at some point. I believe this large stone (the so-called Anvil Stone) stands on an alignment with other nearby ancient sites. To reach the stone from Nelson town centre head up Barkerhouse Road (all the way), then turn (left) at the top and go along Southfield Lane as far as Gib Clough farm. Here, turn (right) up Back Lane for ½ a mile to where the land flattens out. Over to the right in the muddy field is the Anvil Stone – with Walton’s Spire in the back-ground at the top of the Shelfield plateau.

The Anvil Stone viewed from a different angle.

The Anvil Stone viewed from a different angle.

This quite large, smooth-shaped lump of sandstone, which has locally been called ‘The Anvil Stone’ because it is shaped like a blacksmith’s anvil, is between 4-5 feet high and double that or more in its girth. It is said to weigh well over a ton. The farmer did, I understand, once try to move it but it proved to be too heavy for his tractor’s lifting equipment, and so he left it where now it stands, but at some point in the past it had been moved a short distance. The stone appears to have been fashioned into the shape that we see today – be that an anvil, an altar or an animal head or, maybe the shape of a seat, according to John A. Clayton (2014). The Norse god Thor could, just as well, have given his name to this stone. His name is to be found in Thursden (Thor’s Valley) a couple of miles to the northwest, where many a thunderstorm forms in the summertime; Thor using his trusty hammer upon the anvil, hopefully not on the Anvil Stone! 

The Anvil Stone viewed from yet another angle.

John A. Clayton (2006) says: “To add another feature to the equation, there is a group of stones some two-hundred metres to the south of the Spire, the largest of which I have named the Anvil Stone for the sake of descriptive simplicity, this is the only one of the group left in its original position, no doubt because its sheer weight would prevent it from being removed. The other stones have been cleared from the field and lie in a large depression in the earth (possibly an abandoned coal pit), these may have been part of a larger arrangement, such as a circle. The Anvil Stone is of particular interest, not only because it has been heavily worked to attain its shape, it also weighs about one and a half tons and is on an exact alignment with other ancient features of Black Hameldon, the tumulus at Ell Clough, Ringstone Hill and the Spire monolith.” 

John A. Clayton (2014) also tells that “The photograph……….. shows why the stone was described as being shaped like a blacksmith’s anvil – from this viewpoint the similarity is clear. However, I now realize that I appear to have ‘missed a trick’ with this stone. Firstly, I think that I was viewing it from the rear and secondly the stone is actually not in situ. As always, local knowledge is an invaluable asset in historical and archaeological research and so it proved in this case.

“The Shelfield Hill farmer informs me that the stone was originally buried in the field about 250 metres to the north-west of where it is now located. Around twenty years ago the field was being re-seeded and the shallow plough persistently hit stones beneath the surface. These were dug up and moved up the hill to be piled on the edge of the soakaway – the largest stone was placed separately to this group and this is the reason why the ‘anvil’ stone is situated where we now see it.”

John goes on to say that: “It further struck me that not only was I possibly viewing the stone from the back, I was also looking from the wrong angle. When the stone is viewed from a ninety-degree angle it strongly resembles a seat or chair. This might sound somewhat far-fetched but, in defence of my sanity, the stone has been heavily worked on all of its faces – the ‘front’ face in particular having been sculpted into the profile………”

John adds: “From what can be seen of the neighbouring boulders there is no evidence of them having been worked; they appear to be typical of the stones utilized in field boundaries and hut foundations. The size and shape of the massive block clearly lent itself to being shaped into its present form; whether it was intended to function as a seat is, of course, pure speculation and, as we shall see later, there could be other possible contexts here.” 

Walton’s Spire or Walton’s Monument, a well-known landmark to the northeast of Anvil Stone, is a Victorian four-armed cross set upon a 10th century menhir or monolith, which became known as ‘the Battle Stone’. This was eventually carved, as we see it today, by workmen employed by Richard Roe Walton of Marsden Hall, Nelson, in 1835. See the link, below.

Sources and related websites:-

Clayton, John A., Valley of the Drawn Sword — The Early History of Burnley, Pendle and West Craven, Barrowford Press, 2006.

Clayton, John A., Burnley And Pendle Archaeology — Part One — Ice Age to Early Bronze Age, Barrowford Press, Spring 2014.

https://thejournalofantiquities.com/2012/05/01/walton-spire-nelson-lancashire/

http://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=25255

© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2018.


Hoarstones Stone Circle, Fence, Near Burnley, Lancashire

Boundary Stone-cum-gatepost, Harpers Lane, Fence, Lancashire.

OS Grid Reference: SD 8263 3764. For a long time now it had been thought that an ancient stone circle stood in the grounds of Hoarstones House at Fence, near Burnley, Lancashire. But it seems there never was ‘such a monument’ there and so it must be regarded as ‘a myth’. Indeed I am told that the whole thing ‘is a myth’. However, there are a number of boundary stones around the edges of that estate – some of which have been made into gateposts! These boundary stones might therefore be the ‘Hoarstones’ that gave the place its name? Originally the name was spelt: Whoarstones or Woarstones, I am reliably informed. Hoarstones has long been associated with the Pendle Witches with Pendle Hill being a reminder of those times a couple of miles to the northwest. The present-day Hoarstones House dates from about 1895 when it was rebuilt out of an earlier 16th century building. More recently an iron cross was discovered in the walls! The boundary stones-cum-gateposts are located beside Harpers Lane and Noggarth road at Fence near Burnley. Hoarstones estate is, of course, on “private land”. 

Large stone in the wall on Harpers Lane at Fence, Lancashire.

I was told by the owner of the house that the whole idea of there being a stone circle in the grounds was nothing short of ‘a myth’. So we can then rule out there ever being a pre-historic stone circle in the grounds of Hoarstones House, but there are, however, a number of former boundary stones that have been adapted as gateposts at the eastern edge of the estate. These stand beside Harpers Lane, with one large stone embedded into a wall, while another possible boundary stone-cum-gatepost is located at the side of Noggarth Road. It’s possible these stones and some of the stonework of the house came from the small quarry at the northwestern side      of the Hoarstones estate? The witches of Pendle did not, therefore, dance around or within the stone circle, but they “might” have visited, or been at, a more probable stone circle a mile or so    to the northwest. This was located in the fields below Faughs (Spen Brook) but it is “now” ‘a destroyed monument’ with very little to see now. There are a couple of ancient sites in Southern England that also have the same name ‘Hoar-stones’.

Boundary stone on Harpers Lane, Fence, Lancashire.

Boundary stone-cum-gatepost on Noggarth Road, Fence, Burnley.

The meaning of the word ‘Hoarstones’ and the place-name at Fence, Lancashire, which was first mentioned in 1547, would seem to be: ‘Stones or (a stone) designating the bounds of an estate, or a local landmark’. And could also be: ‘a stone used anciently to mark boundaries’ or, ‘a stone erected anciently as a memorial’ (as of an event). Whoarstones or Woarstones being Old Norse for ‘Idola-trous Stones’ or maybe even ‘Witches Stones’. This would seem very apt for Whoarstones at Fence being, as it might have been, associated with the Pendle witches, which now seems very tenous. The iron cross found in the walls of the late 19th century historic Hoarstones House may have been used as a defense against witchcraft, and would therefore have come from the original 16th century building, which back in 1633 was occupied by the Robinson family, according to John Dixon (1990). Hoarstones is mentioned in ‘Mist Over Pendle’ by Robert Neill (1951) but not apparently in ‘The Lancashire Witches’ by William Harrison Ainsworth (1884).

Walter Bennett (1957) tells that “Trouble was renewed in 1633 when Edmund Robinson of Wheatley Lane or Fence, a lad aged about twelve, came home late one night and told his father that he had been kidnapped by a witch and taken to a barn at Hoarstones, where he had seen about forty witches pulling on ropes to obtain milk, butter and “smoakeing  flesh,” but making such foul faces that he was glad to escape, only to encounter the Devil as he ran home. This tale was reported to two Justices, who sent the witches, said to have been at Hoarstones, to Lancaster for trial at the Assizes. Meanwhile, the boy and his father went to churches in the district, even as far as Kildwick, and singled out witches in the congregation. As a result it was reported in London in May 1634 that “A huge pact of witches had been discovered in Lancashire whereof it is said 19 are condemned and there are at least 60 already discovered and yet daily more are revealed; they had a hand in raising storms which endangered His Majesty (Charles I) at sea in Scotland.” 

Bennett goes on to say: “As a result of the royal enquiry, all the accused were acquitted. The boy, Edmund Robinson, confessed that his tales were all false and had been told in the first place in order that his father would overlook his action in going to play instead of fetching the cows to the barn as he had been ordered.”

Arthur Douglas (1978) adds to the above, saying: “Then there is the matter of the feasting witches. Over the years the feast at Hoarstones has become confused with the so-called great assembly and feast of witches at Malkin Tower. The one is not the other, but the two are so alike as to consign the whole of Edmund Robinson’s evidence irretrievably into the copy-category.”

John A Clayton (2007) tells that: “Baines confounds Malking-Tower with Hoar-stones, a place rendered famous by the second case of pretended witchcraft in 1633. John also tells of a walled-tree, an ancient holly, existing in the Fence area of Hoarstones. He says there is a similar walled-tree near Malkin Tower (Blacko), a place that was long associated with the Pendle witches, who had gathered there in 1612, at the home of Old Mother Demdike, or so we are told.  

Thomas Sharpe (2012) has a map showing the Hoarstones stone circle and the one at nearby Faughs in relation to other (sacred) Pendle landmarks. 

Just recently a lost standing stone or boundary stone has been re-discovered at Spurn Clough (OS grid reference: SD 8249 3685), just across the Padiham by-pass, and only a few hundred metres from Hoarstones Lodge. This old standing stone used to stand in the field but had been cast down into the stream. The owner of Hoarstones House recently told me that that particular field used to belong to them! See the Link, below. 

Sources and related websites:

Bennett, Walter, The History Of Marsden And Nelson, Nelson Corporation, Nelson, Lancashire, 1957. 

Clayton, John A, The Lancashire Witch Conspiracy — A History of Pendle Forest and the Pendle Witch Trials, Barrowford Press, 2007. 

Dixon, John & Mann, Bob, Historic Walks Around The Pendle Way, Aussteiger Publications, Barnoldswick, 1990.

Douglas, Arthur, The Fate of the Lancashire Witches, Countryside Publications Limited, Brinscall, Chorley, Lancashire, 1978.

Sharpe, Thomas, The Pendle Zodiac, Spirit of Pendle Publishing, 2012.

See also ‘Merriam-Webster’ website and ‘Your Dictionary’ website.

https://megalithix.wordpress.com/2017/09/17/spurn-clough/

http://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=17457

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fence,_Lancashire

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wheatley_Lane,_Lancashire

© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2018.


Boa Island Statue Stones, Lower Lough Erne, Co. Fermanagh, Northern Ireland

Janus statue on Boa Island, Lower Lough Erne.

Irish Grid Reference: H 0851 6197. On Boa Island near Kesh in Lower Lough Erne, County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, there are two curious statue stones with strange, unique carvings probably harking back to pre-history, or more likely the Roman period, and not as some historians once thought, the 5th or 6th century AD. One of the stones is a double-headed carving which suggests it is a depiction of the Roman god Janus, whereas the other smaller stone known as the ‘Lusty Man’ is perhaps a depiction of some other pagan diety from the Iron Age or Celtic period; this particular stone idol originated on the nearby island of Lusty More. The stones are located in the Caldragh Cemetery where there also used to be some ruins of a church. To reach the site from Kesh head (north) on Pettigo Road, then (west) onto Boa Island Road (A47) and over the road bridge linking Boa Island. After a few miles (at the far end of the island) a lane heads (south) to the cemetery (signposted) which is close to some farm buildings. The site itself is on the first of the three small islands all of which are called ‘Boa Island’. 

The two Boa Island statue stones by Jon Sullivan (Wikimedia Commons).

The two ancient statue stones stand together amongst more modern gravestones in Caldragh Cemetery on the island. They are blank-faced in their appearance and have strange, pear or heart-shaped faces, oval eyes, and folded arms along with other decorative carving including pattern-work and interlacing. The smaller statue ‘the Lusty Man’ has only one good eye – the other is not properly carved. This could, in fact, be a female diety. It is 2½ feet high, while the other is just under 4 feet high and both are of local sandstone. However, the damaged and broken bases they stand on seem to be unrelated to the actual statues even though they have similar carvings. The double-headed Janus-type statue is bilateral (male and female). So could this female figure perhaps be a representation of the Celtic goddess Babhbha (Badh or Badb), who has given her name to Boa Island (Inis Badhbha). The Janus stone has a shallow depression at the top and a phallic symbol. Many scholars are now of the opinion that they date from the Iron Age.

Ireland — The Rough Guide (1999) offers some excellent information on Boa Island, saying that: “One of the most evocative of the carvings of Lough Erne is the double-faced Janus figure of Boa Island, at the northern end of the Lower Lough — barely an island at all these days, as it’s connected to the mainland by bridges. The place to look out for is Caldragh cemetery, signposted off the A47, about a mile west of Lusty Beg Island. Follow the signs down a lane and the graveyard is through a gate to your left.”

The Rough Guide (1999) tells us more about: “This ancient Christian burial ground of broken moss-covered tombstones, shaded by low, encircling hazel trees, has an almost druidic settting. Here you’ll find the Janus figure, an idol of yellow stone with very bold symmetrical features. It has the phallus on one side, and a belt and crossed limbs on the other. The figure was probably an invocation of fertility and a depiction of a god-hero — the belt being a reference to the bearing of weapons. Alongside it stands the smaller “Lusty Man”, so called since it was moved here from nearby Lustymore Island. This idol has only one eye fully carved, which may be to indicate blindness — Cuchulainn had a number of encounters with war goddesses, divine hags described as blind in the left eye.”

Nicholson Guide To Ireland (1983) says about the island that: “On Boa the visitor will find two stone idols. They have triangular shaped heads, are two-faced like Janus, and gaze out of the ferns. Thought to be 7C, they represent some enigmatic pagan cult. There are seven equally mysterious statues on White Island.” The Nicholson Guide also tells us: “Caldragh cemetery….. one of the oldest in Ireland…… is the home of two strange stone figures, probably 1st C.”

Janet & Colin Bord (1984) say of the site that: “This strange figure (they show a photo page 47) sits back-to-back with another. The stone is 2½ feet high, and has a socket on top, and in this and other respects has certain similarities to the figures found on nearby White Island. This ‘pagan Celtic god’, as the figure has been described, resides in the ancient graveyard of Caldragh on a small island in Lower Lough Erne. Some Gaulish figures bear the same sort of carving, and our mysterious ‘god’ is thought to date from pre-Christian times.”

John Sharkey (1981) says that: “The perception of the Celtic mysteries too k shape on the flux of a facing-both-ways state: in twilight, in the dew, with the sacred mistletoe. The duality of I and Thou, or One and Another, resolves itself within the visible world of nature and the invisible realm of the dream. Here the Celtic Janus lives on, in a stone figure which sits back-to-back with its double in a remote Irish Christian graveyard.”

John & Caitlin Matthews (1988) tell of Badb – the triple Goddess as: “The Crow — an aspect of the Marrighan. She confronted Cuchulainn on his way to the last battle as a Washer at the Ford. She likewise appeared as a harbinger of death to King Cormac.” 

Sources and related websites:-

Bord, Janet & Colin, Mysterious Britain, Paladin Books, London, 1984. 

Matthews, John & Caitlin, The Aquarian Guide To — British And Irish Mythology, The Aquarian Press, Wellingborough, Northants, 1988.

Nicholson Guide, Guide To Ireland, Robert Nicholson Publications Limited, London, 1983. 

Sharkey, John, Celtic Mysteries — The Ancient Religion, Thames And Hudson, London, 1981.

The Rough Guide, Ireland, (Fifth Edition), Rough Guides Ltd., London, 1999.

Photo 2nd down (right) by Jon Sullivan.  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:JanusandLustymoreFigures.jpg

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boa_Island

http://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=23656

http://www.megalithicireland.com/Boa%20Island.htm

http://www.saintsandstones.net/stones-boaisland-journey.htm

http://www.fermanaghlakelands.com/Janus-Figure-Boa-Island-Kesh-Enniskillen-P21675

http://www.irelands-hidden-gems.com/boa-island.html

https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Attraction_Review-g1411426-d4155200-Reviews-Caldragh_cemetery-Boa_Island_County_Fermanagh_Northern_Ireland.html

© Ray Spencer, The Journal Of Antiquities, 2018.


Scotlandwell (Holy Well), Perth And Kinross, Central Scotland

Scotlandwell (Holy Well) in Central Scotland.

OS Grid Reference: NO 1847 0161. At the western side of Scotlandwell village in the Portmoak District of Perth & Kinross, Central Scotland, there is an ancient holy well and also a 19th century wash-house. The village is 4 miles west of Glenrothes and 4 miles east of Kinross (across Loch Leven). In the late 1st century AD the Romans came by the well and named it ‘Fons Scotiae’ and in the late 13th century the local friars were using the water in their hospice and, in the early 14th century the well was visited by Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland, who took the waters here in the hope of a cure. Later the well was visited by Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-87). The well became a place of pilgrimage in the Middle Ages and continued as such for several centuries thereafter. To reach the site (signposted) head west from Kinross on the A911 (Leslie Road) and go through Scotlandwell village. Where the A911 ends cross over Main Street and walk along the short lane (Little Arnot); the well is on the left at the far end.

Scotlandwell by Euan Nelson  (Geograph).

The ancient curative spring known as Scotlandwell or ‘Fons Scotiae’ (Well of Scotland) at the foot of Bishop Hill (Portmoak Moss) bubbles up from deep underground through the sandy earth and into the stone-built well with its Victorian (Gothick) well-house structure, most of which is a clever reconstruction of 1858, although some of the lumps of stonework at the front of the well predate this and are probably from the earlier Medieval structure. Its healing waters were ‘said’ to be a cure for leprosy and other diseases. The green-painted wood and stone structure at the back with its canopy roof also dates from the mid 19th century. This whole site is now in a fairly well-preserved state thanks to a local community project. A plaque with the date 1858 is carved onto the stone well-head along with the architect’s name and also the benefactors’ names in capital letters. The nearby Wash House, built in 1860, which local people called ‘The Steamie’ and where laundry was washed, was presumably connected to the well’s underground water source, but sadly it has not been in use since the 1960’s. 

In 1250 the Trinitarian Friars (Red Friars) moved into the area and established a hospital or hospice. They used the curative waters from the holy well for patients in their new hospital of St Mary. Nothing much remains of that building on Friar Place today, however, as it was demolished after 1587. The Trinitarian order of friars was founded near Paris in the late 12th century by St John of Matha (d 1213).

Frank Bottomley (1981) tells us more about the Trinitarians: “An order, f. 1198, at Gerfroid in diocese of Meaux, also known as Maturins and Red Friars. They were not Mendicants but an austere order of priests based on the Augustinian rule. Their revenues were divided equally between their own support, charity to poor, especially travelers, and the redemption of prisoners in the hands of the infidel. The houses were usually small, consisting, of a superior (called minister or prior), three priest-brethren and three lay brothers. Sometimes the number was enlarged and the disappearing lay brothers seem to have been replaced by novices in 1267. They were relatively strong in Scotland with eight houses (visible remains at Dunbar and Peebles).” 

Bill Anderton (1991) tells us that: “It is said to be at this holy well that Robert Bruce was cured of leprosy, and records show that Charles II travelled from his Dunfermline Palace to take the waters, while Mary Queen of Scots too visited the well. An inscription above the water fount gives the date 1858, but this refers to the reconstruction. The well, like all Scottish holy places, is very ancient. The waters from the fount can be drunk from a special metal cup which hangs nearby.” Mr Anderton says this site has a ‘power point’. 

Janet & Colin Bord (1986) mention the well at Scotlandwell, saying that: “This elaborate well is in the centre of the village, and its water is said to have cured Robert the Bruce of leprosy.”

They also tell us that: “An example of present-day usage is quoted by Ruth and Frank Morris in their Scottish Healing Wells. In 1978 at the well in the centre of the village of Scotlandwell (Kinross) they met a women, her husband and brother who had travelled 40 miles from Edinburgh to fetch well water. One of the men had cancer and claimed that the water did him good: “If it was good enough for Robert the Bruce, it’s good enough for me,” he declared, referring to the belief that water from the well cured Robert the Bruce of his leprosy.”

The Bord’s add that: “Robert Bruce, King of Scotland (1306-29) suffered from leprosy, and at least three wells were reputedly used by him in his search for a cure. He is said to have been responsible for a well at Prestwick (Ayr) which flowed where he stuck his spear in the sand while resting from his struggles with the English. He stayed for several days, and his leprosy was reputedly cured. He is said to have built a leper hospital for those who could not afford treatment. He also visited the St Lazarus Well at Muswell Hill (London) being granted a free pass by the King of England to do so.”

Sources and related websites:

Anderton, Bill, Ancient Britain, W. Foulsham & Co. Ltd., Slough, Berkshire, 1991. 

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

Bottomley, Frank, The Abbey Explorer’s Guide, Kaye & Ward, London, 1981. 

The AA, Illustrated Road Book Of Scotland, The Automobile Association, 1963.

Photo (2nd down) by Euan Nelson:   http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/4393647

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scotlandwell

http://www.scottish-places.info/towns/townfirst1211.html

https://crystalgalleries.org.uk/2012/05/the-sacred-well/

http://www.wellwashhouse.co.uk/

https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/ShowUserReviews-g186565-d11890324-r445448188-Scotlandwell_Wash_House_and_Well-Perth_Perth_and_Kinross_Scotland.html

© Ray Spencer, The Journal Of Antiquities, 2018.


St Columba’s Chapel at Skeabost, Isle Of Skye, Highland Region, Inner Hebrides

Ruined Chapel on St Columba’s Island, Skye, by Gordon Hatton (Geograph)

OS Grid Reference: NG 4177 4852. On the little island of Skeabost in the Snizort river, near Ken-saleyre, Isle of Skye, Highland Region, are the ruins of St Columba’s Chapel, an 11th century building, and there is a cemetery with  interesting 16th century gravestones. Near the ruined chapel is St Columba’s Rock from which the saint is said to have preached. The first chapel here at Eilean Chaluim Chille (St Columba’s Isle) on the Snizort river was founded in the 6th century by St Columba (521-97) whilst visiting Pictish settlements, and probably after founding his famous monastery at Iona (563 AD).  He also founded a chapel at Kilmuir a few miles to the north.  The larger ruined chapel at the eastern side of the island was known as ‘Skeabost Cathedral’. However, St Columba’s Chapel was partly destroyed in the early 16th century after which it fell into ruin – although the graveyard has been restored. The A850 from Portree to Uig runs just southwest of the island, which is  6 miles northwest of Portree. You can take the car ferry from Fort William or Mallaig to Armadale to reach Skye, or by car on the Skye Road Bridge from Kyle of Lochalsh to Kyleakin. A footbridge over the river Snizort gives the visitor or pilgrim access to this “holy” island.

There are two medieval chapels on the island, the 11th century chapel at the western side lies in ruins, whereas the other chapel ruin over to the east has a large rectangular enclosure surrounding it; this was probably the old parish church or Cathedral and of a 14th-15th century date? There is a third building at the southeast which was an enclosure.  The ruined chapel of St Columba, with its roughly built walls is now roofless, but its end gables still stand up to 11 feet high, and the building’s inner space measures 16 feet in length and 9 feet in width. The walls in between are 6-7 feet high. Only one window remains; and 13th century carved stonework can be seen higher up in the walls. There might have been a monastery here at some point, but more likely a bishop’s residence; the little island apparently being the seat of ‘the bishops of the Isles’. The larger chapel and its associated buildings in their heyday would have been the size of a small cathedral – hence the name Skeabost Cathedral. We know the first chapel here was established by St Columba (Columcille) after 563 AD, but the chapel that we see today was built either in the late 11th or the early 12th century. Columba was thought to be visiting Pictish settlements on Skye around this time and no doubt on a mission to Christianise them; the saint apparently preached from a large rock near his chapel.

Aerial view of St Columba’s Island by John Allan (Geograph)

Jonathan MacDonald tells us more about the place saying that: “On an island in the Snizort river is an ancient cemetery and site of Saint Columba’s Chapel, which is believed to have been built by Saint Columba during his visit to Skye and to have been the first Christian church on the island followed by the chapel at Eilean a’ Loch in Kilmuir. The biographer Adamson records how Saint Columba saw a vision before arriving in Skye of being greeted by an old man who would ask for baptism and on receiving it would die. The story goes on to tell how the Saint and his monks were met on landing near Skeabost by a group of men carrying an old and feeble man called Artbrannan who had heard of Columba’s message of Christianity and who was determined to be alive until he could meet the saint. Saint Columba duly took water and with the assistance of his monks baptized Artbrannan who, as soon as the sacred water touched his forehead, fell dead at the saint’s feet. His body was soon carried on a bier to the little island on the river and buried there by Columba and his men. It is said that this was the first Christian burial in Skye. Today, through the efforts of local people and organisations the old churchyard where countless local people including many chiefs of the Nicolson clan lie buried has been brought into a presentable appearance thus making it possible for people to visit this sacred and historical spot.”

Norman Newton (1992) tells us about St Columba’s monasticism on offshore islands. He says that: “Many traces of early Christian monasteries survive on our offshore islands, which were established by Columba and his contemporaries, for he was only one of many men who were spreading the Christian message. Undoubtedly, he was the most charismatic of the early English saints and, from the point of view of posterity, the most fortunate, because it was one of his successors at Iona, the abbot Adomnan, whose Life of St Columba, written in the 680s, is distinguished from all the other lives of early saints by its racy style and fascinating detail of the people and places of Columba’s time. Adomnan was supremely skilled in public relations, for he purveyed a heady mixture of fact and the supernatural which is compelling reading even in these skeptical times.”

There are some interesting graves in the ‘now tidy’ churchyard on St Columba’s Isle, but those in St Columba’s Chapel which was put in to use as a Mortuary Chapel, are of the clan chiefs MacNicol (MhicNeacail) or Nicolson, 28 of whom apparently lie here in what has been called ‘The Nicolson’s Aisle’. Most of the graveslabs, some of them having carved effigies, are probably of the 16th century. There are said to be gravestones here that date from earlier times maybe the 11th century? And there are are other clan graves out in the cemetery and in the second ruined chapel although these are probably not of the clan Mac Nicol.

Sources and related websites:

MacDonald, Jonathan, Discovering Skye – A Handbook of the Island’s History and Legend, J. MacDonald, Upper Duntulm, Kilmuir, Skye.

Newton, Norman, The Shell Guide To The Islands Of Britain, David & Charles, Newton Abbot, Devon, 1992.

The AA, Illustrated Road Book Of Scotland, The Automobile Association, 1963.

Photo (top) by Gordon Hatton:  https://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/3956554

Photo (middle) by John Allan:   https://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/4844681

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snizort_Cathedral

https://www.britainexpress.com/scotland/Skye/skeabost-chapel.htm

http://www.theskyeguide.com/see-and-do-mainmenu-35/42-interesting-places/110-st-columbas-isle

https://canmore.org.uk/site/11282/skye-skeabost-island

https://www.scorrybreac.org/st-columbas-island.html#

https://www.clanmacnicol.org/saint-columba

http://www.academia.edu/20262543/From_cathedral_of_the_Isles_to_obscurity_-_the_archaeology_and_history_of_Skeabost_Island_Snizort

https://her.highland.gov.uk/monument/MHG5135

© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2018.