The first point to note is that not all of these stones may necessarily be of prehistoric origin. There is however some evidence to suggest that at least one or two of them may be neolithic and/or may be linked with Cairnpapple.
There are four refuge stones found in the Bathgate Hills, a fifth if the 'font' stone at Torphichen Preceptory is included. There is a possibility that there is a sixth stone. All are said to be situated a mile from Torphichen Preceptory (WLDC, 198?) as measured from the 'font' stone found within the cemetery (Hendrie, 1986). Whether that is a Scot's mile or standard, I don't know. What I do know is that based on the grid references they range from 1-3 km from Torphichen Preceptory.
Torphichen Preceptory was a station of the Knights of St John Hospitallers of Jerusalem, established in 1124. There is no connection with the Knights Templar who were based at Kirkliston just west of Edinburgh.
In the TMA, nickbrand states:
'Sanctuary Stones' were at one time common in Scotland, mainly around large religious sites. Once a miscreant had entered within the bounds marked by these stones, he was considered 'safe' and could not be touched by civil law. It was then up to the religious experts to decide if he should be cast out! These stones were often of megalithic origin, re-used and 'christianised' by the incision of religious symbols.
THE GORMYRE REFUGE STONE
T. Ratcliffe Barnett (1943) discussing the Knights of St John and the Torphichen Preceptory, alludes to a stone:
"in a field below below Craigmailing Hill, beyond the ruins of the little farm called Haddies Walls".
A map of 1891 (National Library of Scotland, cited in WLDC, 1991) shows Haddies Walls to be located exactly as described. T. Ratcliffe Barnett (1943) is obviously identifying the 'Gormyre' stone (as referred to in the TMA) lying directly west of Haddies Walls and identified on the modern 1:50,000 OS map (sheet 65) in gothic text as a 'Refuge Stone' (NS981730).
Interestingly, T. Ratcliffe Barnett (1943) implies that this is not one of the refuge stones as it lies well within the mile radius of Torphichen. The other refuge stones at Craigmailing (Refuge Stone), Couston and Westfield also loosely correspond with the points of the compass. The Gormyre stone seems slightly awry in this respect, the northern stone possibly the Lochcote Stone identified by T. Ratcliffe Barnett.
Is this a stone of a different origin from the other refuge stones?
THE CRAIGMAILING REFUGE STONE
A second stone is found at Craigmailing (NS997720) referred to in the TMA as the 'Refuge Stone' (just to confuse matters). The description of the stone in the TMA is accurate and the cross that is emblazoned upon it clearly links it with the Knights of St John of Torphichen.
Nickbrand goes on to describe a further stone nearby. I have to date been unaware of this stone and it does not appear to have been previously documented. There is however, another stone associated with the site, a glacial erratic located to the east of Craigmailing hill. It bears an inscription in memory of a covenanting minister and is often called the "preaching stone". Despite some wear and tear, it reads as follows:
"Jan[uar]y 14th 1738. Here was pre[ache]d [th]e 1st Ser[mo]n by [th]e most worthy Mr Hunter, from [th]e 37th Chap[ter] of Ezek[iel], and [th]e 26th verse".
The 1891 map (National Library of Scotland, cited in WLDC, 1991) also identifies a stone cross at Lower Craigmailing. T. Ratcliffe Barnett (1943) does not comment upon this feature but does refer to a kirk foundation stone, found within the walls of Lower Craigmailing farm dated 1742. Hendrie (1986) seems incorrect in thinking that the stone cross is the memorial to this kirk.
A farm on the north-east slope of Craigmailing is known as 'Wairdlaw', a woodland nearby is known as 'The Weirds' and the gully that was to provide a natural amphitheatre for the presbyterian preaching of the covenanters is bounded by a crag known, rather ironically, as the 'Witches Craig'. Is it possible that this gully was to host covens of a very different nature from the christian martyrs? I know of no associated tales connecting the site with witchcraft but it could be related to the 'waird/weird' nomenclature from nearby. Aside from the obvious connotations, weird is derived from 'wyrd', the Norse for fate. The witches could be the Maid, Mother and Hag associated with both Norse and Celtic myth.
Since the Iron Age and into the modern period Craigmailing can be seen to have a consistent record of association with worship of one sort or another. Each historical period has a religious link with the site; norse, medieval and covenanter. Such consistency strongly suggests that traditions may go further into the past if for no other reason than the topography of the site. As already stated there is a natural amphitheatre.
THE WESTFIELD REFUGE STONE
NS941723 by the papermill in Westfield. T. Ratcliffe Barnett (1943) places the stone within the woodland shelterbelt that separates the surrounding farmland from the papermill. I sought this stone in the mid-nineties without success. T. Ratcliffe Burnett claims to have found this stone (1925). It is possible this stone was engulfed by trenches dug during World War II (WLDC, 198?). Why anyone would want to dig defensive trenches at this location is beyond me? The woodland is still there, could the stone be?
THE COUSTON REFUGE STONE
NS958706 in the middle of an arable field south of Couston Castle (ruin). I sought this stone in the mid-nineties without success and nor was it there in the 1980's (WLDC, 198?). There is a suggestion that the Couston site was lost through the clearance of stones from the farmland. T. Ratcliffe Burnett (1943) claims to have found this stone (1925) and it is featured on the 1891 map (National Library of Scotland, cited in WLDC, 1991).
THE TORPHICHEN (font) STONE
This stone may have originally come from Cairnpapple (Hendrie, 1986). The excavations of Cairnpapple in 1947 uncovered at least 5 stones with varying numbers of cup marks in association with the first Bronze Age cairn (HMSO, 1985).
Did the Knights of St John or someone else bring the "font" stone down from the hill to the Preceptory that sits beneath it? A chapel was founded by the pictish missionary St Ninian in the 4th century (Hendrie, 1986).
THE LOCHCOTE STONE
With regard to the refuge stones associated with Torphichen, T. Ratcliffe Barnett (1943) mysteriously alludes to a stone as follows:
"another in a little wood-enclosed field on the side of the avenue to Lochcote House".
The precise location is unknown. Whether this stone remains at this location is also unknown. The grid reference supplied therefore relates to the location of the house.
There are no other accounts of this stone elsewhere. It could be that this is the northern refuge stone and that the Gormyre stone is actually something else.
Hendrie, William F. (1986) Discovering West Lothian, John Donald Publishers Ltd., Edinburgh
HMSO (1986) Cairnpapple, Edinburgh
Ratcliffe Barnett T. (1943) Border By-Ways & Lothian Lore, John Grant Booksellers Ltd, Edinburgh
West Lothian District Council (1991), The Farmsteadings of the Bathgate Hills, Planning Dept, County Buildings, Linlithgow
West Lothian District Council (198?) The Bathgate Hills, Robert MacLehose & Co. Ltd. Scotland
This post appears as part of the weblog entry The Refuge Stones of West Lothian
Posted by Corbie
31st January 2004ce