Cremated bones of Bronze Age tumour sufferer found hanging from Scottish cliff
A cist burial spotted hanging from a cliff on the edge of Scotland came from the ceremony of a Bronze Age adult cremated swiftly after their death, say archaeologists investigating the bones of a body whose skull carried a tumour... continues...
In Arran, the belief in fairies still lingers in the minds of the older inhabitants, and many curious stories are told of the pilfering habits and cunning tricks of the wee-folks, who held their midnight meetings within the stone circles and old forts of the Island.
Many of the minor relics of the stone period have been found beneath the moss and heath of the Arran glens and hills, but few of them have been deemed worthy of preservation. Arrow-heads of stone and flint are frequently picked up by the natives whilst digging peat in the moors [..] They are called elf-shots by the Islanders, and are supposed to have been used by the fairies long ago.
[..] As we find the little flint arrow-head associated with Scottish folk-lore as the elfin's-bolt, so the stone hammer of the same period was adapted to the creed of the Middle Ages. The name by which it was popularly known in Scotland, almost to the close of the last century, was that of the Purgatory Hammer [.. so the inhabitant of the burial cist could] with it thunder at the gates of purgatory..
McArthur also talks of the highly polished stone balls found in cists and the "Baul Muluy" (the stone globe of Saint Monlingus): a goose-egg sized stone of jasper, which could cure diseases. People swore solemn oaths on it, and "even during the present generation it has been consulted by the credulous Islanders". Curiously it could remove 'stitches from the sides of sick persons' and if it didn't cure you and you died, "it moved out of bed of its own accord."
St Molingus was said to have been chaplain to the McDonalds, and they carried the ball with them into battle for good luck. It was next held by the MacIntosh family as a hereditary privelege, but "this curious relic was lost a few years ago by a gentleman to whom it was entrusted, who partook too much of the scepticism of the present age to appreciate its value."
A final bit of related folklore: "The perforated pebbles of the British barrows [..] are still known in the Scottish Highlands by the name of Clach Bhuai , or the powerful stones, on account of the inherent virtues they are believed to possess."
From p68-71 of 'The antiquities of Arran' by John McArthur (1861).
The traditions.. which float around this class of the Arran grave mounds [chambered cairns] are associated with the fierce raids and clanish feuds of early times; and it is said that the ghosts of the buried dead were wont to rise from their graves and renew the combat in the shadowy folds of the evening mists.
From p22 of 'The Antiquities of Arran' by John McArthur (1861).
The Book of Arran by J A Balfour (1910). Contains lots of diagrams and photos of sites and finds from the island - chambers, stones, cup and rings, urns, allsorts. The back page is a rather interesting map with all the locations marked.
There is a signpost for the Glenashdale Falls and the Giant's Grave is then signposted off this path to the left - all zig zag uphill. On the way up you pass a tree that has been planted in memory of Terry, and photos, who passed away in 2013.
It takes 30 minutes to walk to the tombs and you need to be fairly mobile to be able to make it but the path is easy to follow. Once you reach the site there are good views over to Holy Island and the Scottish Scotland.
It was amazing the difference in the weather from when I started to when I got to the top. When I started there was little wind and although overcast it was fairly warm. At the top it was windy, misty and cold!
The two tombs are well worth the effort to walk up the hill. The first tomb you come to is the better preserved and it was good to be able to clamber about the stones and look inside to see how it was constructed. The remaining upright stones are of a good size. The nearby second tomb is not as extensive but obviously still worth checking out. It was no great surprise to find I had the hilltop to myself. I have found that when visiting any site on the Scottish islands / highlands you are virtually guaranteed to get the place to yourself. Orkney and Callanish excepted of course!
It is surprising how some very good sites are not under the care of Historic Scotland etc yet lesser preserved sites are. This site is well worthy of such recognition.
Just to the north of Sannox is a signposted turning for a forestry commission picnic / camping area. Follow this narrow road until you reach the car park at the end. The cairn is right next to the car park - can't miss it.
Strangely enough the info board at the car park makes no mention of the cairn.
The cairn is approximately 3 metres high x 25m across. The mound has many large stones scattered all around and on top of it amid the long, rough grass. One of the stones lying on top looks like a giant arrowhead! On top of the cairn is a 'standing stone' made up of lots of pretty pink quartz pieces.
This is a nice cairn in a nice spot. Dominated by the surrounding mountains of north Arran.
Driving north out of Brodick you soon come to the Arran cheese and Arran aromatic centre on your left. Park here (free). Directly opposite is a rough track. Walk along the track (past a house on your right and a lake on your left) until you reach the tarmac road. Turn right and you will shortly see two metal field gates opposite each other. The 3 stones can be seen in their respective fields from these gates.
I left Karen and the children to browse the shops, sample cheese and sniff smellies whilst I walked along the track to the see the stones. The day was dry but it was cloudy and rain threatened - as it often does on the Scottish islands.
I first peered over the gate to my left and easily spotted the single stone, the smallest of the three. There was no crop in the field but it was like a bog all around the gate and getting any closer to the stone would have meant trudging shin height in mud. I settled for the view from the gate.
I then crossed over to the opposite gate and was rewarded with a stunning vista. The field was golden, full of wheat, and out from it stood the two tall standing stones. The stones were surrounded by hills which had clouds of mist swirling around. It was all very atmospheric. No wind and no noise other than a bird of prey shrieking somewhere in the trees and mist in the distance.
I walked along some tractor tracks to get as close to the stones as possible without damaging the crop. Once I got as close as I could I just stood and stared and tried to take it all in. Wonderful, simply wonderful. This is what makes Scotland the special place it is and why I save up all year in order to make my annual pilgrimage to sample some of its delights.
The sign at the visitor centre proclaims that you can 'experience' of Scotland by buying the cheese or the smellies. No my friend, you get a real 'experience' of Scotland by crossing the road and visiting the stones and taking in the wonderful scenery.
Somewhere near the first and second tee of the golf course, next to a house.
This is an odd place. The road goes through the first / second tee and the house provides a further challenge to those of a golfing nature. Fortunately there was no one playing golf so we parked up next to the tee!
When we were on Arran last year I distinctly remember spotting the stone as we drove past. This year I couldn't find it! I walked around the first / second tee and house several times but couldn't see the stone. Although the area is surrounded by chest high ferns (another challenge for the golfers) I didn't think they were high enough to obscure the stone?
In fact I returned the next day for another quick look but again failed to find the stone. Therefore it is either shorther than I remember and swamped by the ferns (but surely that would have applied last year?) or I was looking in the wrong place or the stone has fallen or been removed?
In all probability it is still there - but I couldn't find it. One mystery for the next TMAer to visit Arran to solve!
We parked next to the metal barrier at the entrance of the forestry track and while Karen and Sophie stayed in the car, myself and Dafydd headed into the trees on another mini adventure.
There was mist in the air with a hint of light drizzle. Very atmospheric in a forestry setting. We simply walked along the track (passing a sculpture of a face carved out of a tree and someone's camping gear (although no sign of the person) All very 'Blair Witch'!
Once we reached the end of the track (10 minute walk) we carried along the 'path' for a short distance and soon spotted the large, flat rock outcrop.
The carvings were covered in pine needles and we had to brush them off as best we could. However the rock face was slippery in the wet and we had to take care not to fall. The light was far from ideal to see the carvings although we managed to make out several easily enough. Looking at the photos there were clearly many more we couldn't make out properly.
Dafydd then asked me 'what do they mean?' You can imagine the conversation which followed!
This is a fine (and relatively easy) site to visit and well worth the effort although (in my opinion) the carvings are not in the same league as the Killmartin ones - but then again - what is?
It was early evening on our last night on Arran and I fancied a walk along the sea front at Brodick to see if I could spot any otters. This is where I had been fortunate to see two last year. It was a lovely evening and the sun shone on the mist covered mountains to the north - a really beautiful sight. Arran is a beautiful island. Anyway, I thought I would take the opportunity to seek out the Moyish standing stone.
I first attempted to reach the stone from the back of the houses to the east. All this achieved is wet and muddy boots and my route blocked by a combination of impassible high gorse hedges and several electric fenced horse paddocks.
I then walked back down the hill, past the houses, and attempted a route via the children's play area. I climbed over the fence at the back but was again beaten back by the hedge / stream / brambles etc.
My third attempt was from the west, along a footpath from Brodick to Lamlash. The walk was much easier but again my way was blocked by electric / barbed wire fenced horse paddocks.
In the end I gave up and went back to 'otter spotting' - something else I failed to do! This standing stone was very close the the B+B we were staying in but as they say - 'so near, yet so far.....'