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The Standing Stones of Stenness (Stone Circle)

Tales From Eynhallow by Thelma Nicol

STANDING STONES

Mammy! Mammy!” Whut wey did that big stones git there?” Peedie Davo tugged at his mother’s sleeve. His mother was tired of Davo’s never ending questions about the great pieces of stone that formed the familiar landscape by the Loch of Stenness she promised, that if he was good she would tell him at bedtime, hoping that by that time he would have forgotten. She had not reckoned with peedie Davo’s determination to get an answer to his question.

“You promised Mammy,” he whispered as she tucked him up in bed. “Whut wey did they git there?” His mother shook her head and sat down wearily on the stool by his bedside. “Weel,” she began, “hid wis a long time ago and I canna mind the rights o’ hid bit hid wis afore the Norsemen cam tae Orkney, so they must be thoosands o’ years ould.”

“Oulder than Grandad?” Davo enquired, looking across the lobby where his Grandfather drowsed by the fire in the kitchen.

“Oh yass, far oulder than Grandad. There wisna many folk bade in Orkney at the time. All the folk lived doon sooth thoo see’s. They say that t he standing stones reach doon intae the grund twice as far as they stand abune hid .”

“Whut wey did they git doon there then I winder?” Peedie Davo’s enquiry into the origin of the Standing Stones of Stenness was proving to be more of a problem than his mother had ever imagined.

“Well,” she struggled on, “shut thee eyes like a good boy noo, and I’ll tell thee.” With fingers crossed that he would soon fall asleep she began. “Hid wis a midsummer’s night . The day hid been hot an quiet, not the usual breezy kind o’ wither that we usually hiv in June. The sky wis somet imes owercast and a rumble o’ thunder cam fae the direction o’ Hoy. There wis great flashes o’ lightning. A’ the birds wir quiet and the twa three folk that lived aboot hands wir huddled taegither. The bairns were a sleepan snug and warm under thir sealskin blankets.”

Peedie Davo’s mother paused and glanced hopefully at her small son. “Did the thunder come again Mammy?” he asked.?

“Oh yass,” she answered. “More thunder and rain like they have niver seen the like o’ afore or since. Suddenly there wis a great flash o’ lightning and the grund roond aboot Stenness wis thrown up like hid wis an earthquake. Some o’ the big stones landed upright and the grund fell back and filled up the holes except whar the Loch is noo. It filled up wae the rain water and so there’s been a loch there ever since and nobody’s ever bothered tae shift the stones so they are still there too. The twa three folk that hid lived in Stenness at that time wir thrown up in the air bit they landed in Stromness and decided to stay there. And that‘s the weyt here’s more folk in Stromness than in Stenness.”

There was a gentle snore from the bed and a sigh from peedie Davo’s mother as she whispered: “Whit a lot o’ lees thee mither tells thee Davo. Bit the truth is she disno ken whut wey the stones cam tae be there and nither dis anybody else. Goodnight Davo!”

Broch of Gurness

Broch Of Gurness by Thelma Nicol

from the Tales Of Eynhallow

I wandered round these ancient ruins,
With thoughts so far away,
I thought of hallowed customs,
When people here did stay.

And then I touched some weathered stones,
Someone had built with care,
Fashioned with an artist's touch,
Although no tools were there.

A hollowed stone where once a maid,
Had ground the corn for bread,
Blackened stones upon the floor,
Say: "Here a fire was laid".

Some skins spread on the floor, perhaps,
To keep the small room warm,
And in this ancient home, no doubt,
Children too were born.

A thousand years ago or more,
These warriors hunted deer,
And fashioned with their work worn hands,
Bead and bowl and spear.

Perhaps a thousand years from now,
Someone will wander round,
The ruins of our modern homes,
All scattered on the ground.

Will some machine-made cooking pot,
Or factory-fashioned cup,
Remain a thousand years somewhere,
For someone to pick up?

Kenshot Hill (Cairn(s))

The Sheriff's Kettle

Here (Kenshot Hill) in 1420 the gruesome murder of Sheriff Of The Mearns, John Melville, took place. Landowners complained frequently about the sheriff's tiresome behaviour. One day, during a hunting party they murdered the sheriff, boiling his body and each sipping a spoonful of the brew.

Turbine Noticeboard, Mearns.

Duntulm (Stone Fort / Dun)

Slide No: 30 Duntulm Castle

Nine miles from Uig is Duntulm Castle, and one way it leads over a long slope of land called "the garden of Skye". On the verge of Loch Snizort the stack of Scudburgh is seen standing like a lighthouse. Duntulm Castle, originally the site of a "dun", once was the stronghold of pirate Norsemen, anterior to the Norwegian invasion of Harold Harfager. It is a considerable ruin perched upon a precipitous cliff, and still has an imposing look. The castle built by the chiefs of Clan Donnel in the twelfth century, remained the home of the MacDonalds till they moved to Mugstadt. "Big Donald with the blue eyes", Lord Of The Isles and grandson of Donald Gorm, who lost his life besieging Eilan Donan Castle in Loch Duich, at one time starved a kinsman to death in the dungeon of Duntulm. This kinsman having conspired against his uncle, wrote to an accomplice in Skye, and by the same opportunity sent a friendly letter to Donald Gorm, but in transmit the letters passed into the hands of one who could not read, and this person handed to Donald Gorm the one that revealed his nephew's treachery. He was immediately captured, carried to Skye, and immured in Duntulm; there he was starved to death, after first being supplied a meal of salt food, and daily after this to mock his thirst, a covered drinking cup was lowered to him, which on being uncovered, was found empty.

Destination St Kilda 'From Oban to Skye and The Outer Hebrides'

George Washington Wilson and Norman Macleod

Edited by Mark Butterworth

Callanish (Standing Stones)

Slide 34 Circle Of Callernish

At the head of one of the inlets in Loch Benera is a megalithic cruciform, Drudicial circle, called the Circle of Callernish. This Druidicial temple is one of the largest, as well as one of the most complete of its kind in Scotland. The total number of stones, when the temple was complete, was sixty five, of which about forty five are still standing, ranging from sixteen to four feet tall.

In the immediate neighbourhood are several smaller circles, some of them, being as large as fifty feet in diameter. The circle occupies a striking position in an open track of moor, and appears to have been surrounded at a small distance by a trench or ditch, which is now in many places obscured, the sames as at Stenneshouse, Orkney and Stonehenge, England. It is thought by some that these stone circles may have been places of worship, erected by the Norsemen, as in some Northern sagas; the temple of Thor is described as a circular range of upright stones, containing a central stone, called the stone of Thor, where the sacrifices or executions were performed.

Destination St Kilda 'From Oban to Skye and the Outer Hebrides'

George Washington Wilson and Norman MacLeod edited by Mark Butterworth

House Of The Fairies (Souterrain)

But the most extraordinary relic of antiquity in the village is a subterranean house. I had heard of it on my first visit; and on the 13th July 1876 determined to have it opened and examined. A crop of potatoes grew on the top, and the owner at first refused to allow this to be disturbed. But by dint of raillery, persuasion, and a promise to pay the damage, he at length acceded to my request. This underground dwelling was discovered about thirty-two years ago by a man who was digging the ground above it, and was generally called the House of the Fairies. The aperture on the top was filled up again, and it had never been opened since. But after a little search the hole was found and an entrance made. Two or three men volunteered to clear out the stones and soil that had accumulated on the floor to a depth of several feet, and worked with a will. The house was found to be twenty-five feet long by three feet eight inches wide, and about four feet in height. The walls consisted of three or four ranges of stones, a roof of slabs resting on the sides. This house runs due north and south, and curiously enough there is a drain under the floor. Amongst the debris on the floor I found numerous stone axes, knives, and fragments of a lamp, as well as pieces of rude pottery. As there was no tradition concerning this house, and as it is assigned to the fairies, it may be very old; but I am inclined to think that the stone period extended to a very recent date in St Kilda. I have some satisfaction in believing that I am the discoverer of stone implements in St Kilda, and that my claim has been recognised by the Society of Scottish Antiquaries.

From Life In St Kilda During the 1870s.

Cnoc Na Croich (Chambered Tomb)

Overlooking Stornaway is Cnoc na Croich (Gallow's Hill) which was the place where justice was meted out to wrongdoers in times past when the clan chief, McLeod of Lewis, had the power of pit and gallows.

Lewis and Harris by Francis Thompson.

Clach an Trushal (Standing Stone / Menhir)

Close by the township of Ballantrushal is the tallest standing stone in Scotland. Almost 5.7m high, this monolith could easily have been a prehistoric sea marker. The coastline hereabouts tends to be rocky and it is no particular coincidence that the beach close by is one of the few amenable landing places available for open craft. The Gaelic name is Clan an Truseil, the Stone Of Sorrow. Local tradition has it that it marks the grave of a Norse prince, but also commemorates the victory of the Morisons of Ness over their sworn enemies, the MacAulays of Uig. The monolith, however, predates any event AD.

Lewis and Harris by Francis Thompson.

Tordarroch Fort (Hillfort)

Aedh, the grandson of Shaw ‘Bucktooth’, settled at Tordarroch in 1468. Occupying a strategic site above the fort on the River Nairn, he and his followers became a powerful force in their own right, known as Clan Aedh or Ay. While the Shaws, or Clan Ay, were consolidating their power in Strathnairn, the chief of Mackintosh was murdered in 1524, leaving an infant son, William. To the outrage of the local chiefs, the Earl of Moray seized the boy, allegedly as his guardian. Clan Chattan retaliated against Moray, and Alan Ciar MacIain led Clan Ay in raiding the earl’s lands. Heavy fines forced Alan Ciar to sell the feu of Rothiemurchus to the Earl of Huntly.

http://www.scotland.org.uk/clans/clans/shaw-of-tordarroch

Lord Arthur's Hill (Cairn(s))

'A lofty hill over which the boundary between this parish from that of Auchindoir. It derives its name from the following incident, when the of Lord Arthur Forbes commonly called 'Black Arthur' was being carried over this hill for internment in Kearn Church Yard. The bearers rested on this hill during a snow storm. There is no cairn as the name would imply on or about the hill.'

Parish Records.

(They rested the coffin near where the trig point is nowadays. The cairn is some 70 meters to the south east.)

Kintrockat (Cairn(s))

Back to Kintockrat. During the plague (bubonic) the people still had to continue selling their produce, with as little contact with plague victims as possible. It was decided to have a weekly market and Kintockrat became the trading area, but with the proviso that, as in other parts of the country, no contact would be made with the citizens of Brechin. Miss Knox (former owner) showed me an ancient cairn covered with copper coloured leaves from the surrounding birch trees. This had been left as a monument to the dreaded plague. Here country people would leave their produce, laid out around the cairn and a grassy space it. An ancient path is still evident leading to and from the area. A receptacle would have been left, probably one of the many stone bowls at Kintockrat, and the Brechiners would select the goods required and deposit their coins as payment in the stone receptacles. Whether water or any other means of attempting to sterilise the coins was used, e.g passing through flame, is unknown. The beautiful glade and large copper birch trees around it was a lovely are and of course one's memory goes back to the poor people who suffered long ago.

Brechin. The Ancient City.

Gallows Knowe (Cairn(s))

The Erskine family and the Dun estate were a symbol of authority in the area. As you pass along the main drive and look to the right you might notice the small fenced-off area known as the Gallows Knowe.

The National Trust Of Scotland cares for the Gallows Knowe so that people can continue to give it new meanings linking the past, present and future. Gallows Knowe was built 3,500-4,500 years ago as a burial sound. Since then, people have thought about it in different ways and put it to different uses. The mound has played a role in community identity, power and authority. It has also been a symbol of the rights of certain people to call this place their own.

In the medieval period, the Gallows Knowe may have been used as a place of execution for the crimes of theft and manslaughter. The tradition that the mound was the for the medieval Barony of Dun was recorded by 19th century surveyors mapping the countryside around the House Of Dun. The Barony was a large territory administered by the Lord Of Dun. Gallows Knowe may have been chosen because it lay very close to Dun Castle, the lord's seat of power. The mound is also highly visible from the public road from Montrose. It would have been an obvious warning to passers-by of the punishment awaiting wrong-doers.

The medieval Baron may also have been held there. This was a sort of parliament and court of law. It sorted minor disputes between neighbours as well as passing judgement on more serious crimes. Monuments like Gallows Knowe were often used for important gatherings in medieval times and they provided impressive settings for ceremonies. Their association with an ancient, unknown past, meant they were seen as very powerful places.

Search Scotland - House Of Dun 2011.

Clach An Airm (Standing Stone / Menhir)

Some of the legends about the meeting place of swords.

http://www.strathnairnheritage.org.uk/stories1.html

Clune Hill (Stone Circle)

The Horned God

The horned god was the ancient pagan god of fertility. He was often half animal and half human. The Celts called him Vernunnus. He had the head of a stag and the body of a man.

When Christianity came to Britain the god of fertility was transformed into the Devil. His nickname 'Auld Hornie' is a link back to this older belief in the horned god.

(One of the stories found on various posts near the path.)

Uaigh Sheumas An Tuim (Cairn(s))

Local tradition associates this hill with the infamous 'James Of The Hill'. This was the name given to James Grant, a member of the local gentry who committed murder in Elgin in the 18th century. He became a bandit renowned for his cunning and intelligence, as well as his ferocity. Eventually he was captured and imprisoned at Edinburgh Castle, from where, with the help of his wife, he made a daring escape. After further adventure in Ireland, James was given a Royal pardon for his many crimes.

Canmore.

Auchindown (Cairn(s))

A small knoll partly destroyed in the flood of 1829, called Lord Auchindown's cairn, marks the spot where Sir Patrick Gordon of Auchindoun is said to have died after the battle of Glenlivet in 1594.

NSA 1845.

Auchorachan (Standing Stone / Menhir)

Glenlivet Estate History.

It was some 160 years ago that the farm of Auchorachan was farmed by a captain Grant, having returned from the Napoleonic wars. As a military officer, he like to have his own way and was of a stirring and enterprising disposition. On his return from the wars he set about improving the land and started work on a new farm steading. One great complication that arose however, was the lack of suitable building stone which was somewhat deficient in the area and it seemed that the work would be brought to a standstill. But the captain was not a man to be easily put off and with a keen eye for building stones soon spotted the resources of the neighbourhood and one day said to his servant Sandy Gordon "Aye Sandy, this is a fine state of matters isn't it? Glenlivet seems better supplied with water for making whisky than with stones for building houses" "But it behoves us to make good use of the material we have at hand, so today you will yoke the oxen to the sledge and bring over that big stone standing on the brow of the brae there: it will make a capital lintel for a byre door".

"What na' that stane, sir?" said Sandy, "ye dinna mean the Standing Stane?"

"I mean that stone on the brae" said the Captain

"its of no use there, but only in the way of the plough"

"Weel sir" said Sandy seriously, "Stanes may be scarce, but I wadna advise you to meddle wi' that ane2

"Why not?" asked the Captain sharply.

"Weel you see sir, it's nae a common stane an' shouldna be put to a common use. I've heard that it was ance pairt o' a kirk or place o'worship, or in some way conneckit wi' religion, an' therefore sacred. It's nae lucky to meddle wi' things o' that kind".

The Captain ignored this advice and Sandy had to do what he was told. the stone was duly removed from the field and built into the wall and by and by the steading was completed and filled with valuable cattle.

Such is the perversity of fate, for within a few weeks, the cattle were struck down by a mysterious disease and one by one began to perish. No cure that was tried had any effect and all the cattle doctors of the district both professional and amateur were called on and consulted. It seemed all would die and the Captain would face ruin.

"By George Sandy" said the Captain as another animal was buried
"This is the most terrible enemy I have ever encountered"

"I think I ken what's the matter wi' the beasts" sandy replied

"You do? Then what the dickens is it?"

"It's no the dickens - nor the dockens- but the stane - the standing stane that ye have me tak' from the brae yonder."

"By George" came the reply 2there certainly may be something in that tale of yours after all".

Despite all his gusto, the Captain was not one to deny a mistake and soon summoned the masons to set about removing the stone, which, in order to wipe out all cause of offence he replaced with his own hands in its exact old position in the field.

Sure enough as tradition has it, the disease abated and the remaining cattle lived. Whether it was the stone or simply the disease running it's natural course may never be known, for despite the scarcity of building stone to this date, none have ever meddled with the Standing Stone of Auchorachan, and there it stands in the field to this day, despite the inconvenience it may cause to modern farm machinery.

Glen Livet (Standing Stone / Menhir)

From Glenlivet Lilts by R. H. Calder (1925)

Glenlivet it has Castles three,
Drumin, Blairfindy and Deskie,
And also on distillery
More famous than the castles three.

Glenlivet it has peaty hills,
And rushing burns, and sparkling rills,
Where scores of wee unlicensed stills
Were busy filling kegs and gills.

Glenlivet it has raised it's name,
To shine upon the brow of fame,
And neighbours, near and distant, claim
A right to profit by the same.

Glenlivet has a Gallowhill,
Whereon the hangman plied his skill;
But, though the name suggests it still,
No culprit does a gallows fill.

Glenlivet has a standing stone,
A relic of age bygone;
Its history can be told by none;
Itself had best be left alone.

Glenlivet has a battlefield
On which brave Argyle was forced to yield,
Bur brave MacLean his brand did wield
Till Huntly's might o'ercame the chield.

Glenlivet it had wond'rous sights
Of fairies, witches, ghost and lights
And oh, the shaking, quaking frights
"Feart places" gave on darksome nights!

Glenlivet now has got a hall,
The very thing, one might it call,
A comfort and a joy to all
At concert, soiree, play or ball.

St Manire's Chapel (Standing Stone / Menhir)

'The church or chapel of St Manires (or Chapel Majore, according to Alexander), who flourished in the 6th century, stood in a knoll between Lebhal and Rhynabaich, surrounded by a burial ground used within living memory for unbaptised children. There is a (probably) a prehistoric standing stone which McConnachie says was used as a reading desk for the chapel and was said to be the remains of a stone circle. Keith writing in 1732, mentions 'The Chappel of Hermitesas Miacras or Micras' as being extant.

McConnachie 1898, Alexander 1952, Spalding Club 1847-69.

Wether Hill (Ancient Village / Settlement / Misc. Earthwork)

Local myth tells that Maggie Redhead was a witch who lived locally. Unfortunately she was put to death. Before being caught she managed to hide her gold underneath one of the many rocks.

Sean MacGowan.
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Still doing the music, following that team, drinking far to much and getting lost in the hills! (Some Simple Minds, Glasvegas, Athlete, George Harrison, Empire Of The Sun, Nazareth on the headphones, good boots and sticks, away I go!)

(The Delerium Trees)

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