|Sited on the edge of the MoD firing ranges, in an area dripping with prehistoric remains, the Drake Stone is a 30 foot tall sandstone erratic perched conspicuously on a ridge above Coquetdale. It's prominent profile makes it easily visible as you travel through the valley, and affords the stone itself an extensive view north to the Cheviot massif. It's not far from the road, but the last 40m or so are very tricky going. It's easiest to take the path through the trees, and circle around the stone making the last approach from the west rather than the obvious, but very awkward route from the east.
A short distance (10m or so) to the NW is a circular depression in the outcrop which may have been metal-tooled, it's difficult to say as nearby outcrop bears the same marks, which could be the result of erosion through the strangely convoluted matrix of the sandstone.
Alternatively, just to the west of the stone (Altitude:273m NT 91985, 04435, accuracy: 7m, Garmin E-trex) is a earthfast boulder which could fit the bill for a small bullaun type basin, similar to those described by Beckensall as enhanced natural basins, of which there a couple, each associated with rock art, one a couple of miles to the east at Lordenshaw, and another a similar distance to the NE at Football Cairn.
Neither of the basins near the Drake Stone have been recorded on the Beckensall archive, but if that's because no-one has heard of them, or because no-one has looked, or if it's because they looked and discounted the basins, I do not know. See the reference to a 'Drudical rock basin' in the folklore post below, either of these basins could be the one mentioned by Murray, although it's possible that neither of them are the thing he mentioned. To my mind, the smaller of the two is the more likely of the two presented here, as there were faint traces of what could be interpreted as peck marks consistent with those seen on other prehistoric carvings on similar stone. There is the possibility that slightly different punctuation in Murray's description alters the location of the basin. If the sentence is read: "..the Draag Stone of the Druids, by a small tarn. Near it is a druidical rock basin." Then the basin is nearer the stone than it is to the lough. I couldn't find anything nearer to the lough than to the stone, though subsequent visits may prove otherwise (I'm still hoping that there may be there more definite rock art in the vicinity, as there are near the basins at North Lordenshaw and Football Cairn (e))
Regarding the significance of the Drake Stone itself in prehistory, in conjunction with the local folklore about healing children, it seems to me to have been a very likely spot for use throughout the ages. The outcrops around the erratic form natural shelters, making it a high quality vantage point and suitable for Mesolithic wanderers keeping an eye out for animals drinking on the edges of the gravel terraces of the river Coquet. It's placed on the putative edge of two Bronze Age territories, as is evidenced by the cross dyke a mile or so to the east, for whatever that implies. Equally, it could be just as useful as an Iron Age lookout, having a good view of a major route from the hills to the sea, with intervisibility to a number of beacon hills. This possible use could presumably have continued as recently as the 17thC when one takes into account the endemic Border Reiver activities in the area. Given the position as a good route to pass unobserved from Coquetdale to Redesdale across what is now the MoD ranges, this seems fairly likely.
Regarding any possible 'ritual' significance in prehistory, the 19thC reference to druids is obviously an artefact of the predilections of the Victorian craze for all things druidic. But then there's the tentative idea that the stone's proximity to Harbottle Lough may have afforded it significance to anyone to whom lakes were somehow connected to the underworld. It would also have been one heck of a platform for any priestly character who was nimble enough to climb it. They'd be silhouetted very well when viewed by a crowd in the valley below. I can see why Murray was happy to accept it as a 'druidical' site; it just has that kind of feel to it. If the druids didn't use this stone, well shame on them, they missed a good venue for a gig. These days it displays a mysterious offering much different from those one normally finds at a bonafide prehistoric site. Instead of flowers, crystals or whatever left by neopagans, there is a small bundle consisting of a metal rod and two brushes tied with a shoelace, presumably left by a member of the strange cult of 'Bouldering'.
Posted by Hob
22nd January 2006ce