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The Wren's Egg & Nest

Standing Stones


The Wren in Winter

The wran, the wran, the king of all birds,
St Stephens’s Day was caught in the furze.
Up with the kettle and down with the pan,
Give us a penny to bury the wran.(1)

It’s a freezing cold early January morning, still dark at 7.30am. Under a blanket of stars, I can hear the sharp crunch of frosty grass under my feet. The first hints of dawn begin to show on the south eastern horizon, a sliver of deep pink above which hangs the crescent moon and the bright pinprick of light that is Venus.

I’m walking towards the Wren’s Egg and Nest, taking care to walk a wide arc around the edge of the field, to avoid leaving my footprints in shot on the frosty grass. I reach the tree covered clump next to the stones, just as a blackbird strikes up its dawn chorus in the branches above. I visited just two days before for sunset, but wanted to photograph a sunrise here too.

Blairbuy is close to Monreith, west of the Fell of Barhulion, the Wren’s Egg is a curious place. A large granite boulder sat at the end of a low natural ridge, dumped some fifteen thousand years ago by retreating glaciers, while creating the beautifully undulating Machars landscape. The name 'Blairbuy' is derived from the Scottish Gaelic 'Blar Buidhe', meaning the golden or yellow field.

The erratic appears to have held some significance during the late Neolithic or early Bronze Age, as an unknown number of standing stones were placed close to it. Local rumour tells the boulder was at the centre of a circle, made of two concentric rings of which only two small stones remain. The others having been cleared for use as gateposts or broken up.

“On the farm of Blairboy some fifty years ago, was a double circle of large stones, with one flattopped stone in the centre. All have been long removed, except the centre stone, and one stone of each of the circles” (2).

It is true there are a few likely looking stones in the drystone dykes around the field, but excavations during the 1970s found this to be unlikely (3). The possibility remains that there were more than the two remaining stones in alignment with the boulder.

In 2012, ploughing led to the discovery of three stone cists nearby, in the north western corner of the field. When excavated, one contained the early Bronze Age burial of a juvenile, while the other two had not been occupied (4). The stones that formed the cist now lean against the field wall to the east of the stones.

The area is also well known for its cup and ring marked rocks, seemingly centred around the foot of the Fell of Barhullion, the highest hill in this area. Rising out of the undulating landscape, topped by earthwork ditches, it seems highly likely that the hill is at the centre of this prehistoric landscape.

Sunrise approaches. As I wait for the light to reach the Wren’s Egg, I notice a finger of light creeping across the field opposite, towards another pair of standing stones about 400m away, known as the Blairbuy Stones. A little loch lies close by, downhill from the stones and it would be interesting to consider if this was in some way connected to the other sites, given the sacred nature of water in prehistory.

The pair of stones at the Wren’s Egg point south west, said by Alexander Thom to align with the mid-winter sunset over the rocky island of Big Scare in Luce Bay, but is only visible when you stand on the egg. The two short stones don’t align correctly with the boulder, which puzzles me, until I find the boulder was moved some time ago, by a farmer trying to clear the field. His attempt failed, but moved the boulder just enough to take it out of alignment (5).

The curious name ‘Wren’s Egg and Nest’ may reference the folk custom of the hunting of the wren. Widespread in Ireland, Wren Day was practiced on St Stephen’s Day (26th December) and involved gangs of ‘Wren Boys’ in fancy dress hunting a wren, which would often be killed, tied to a pole decorated with oak leaves and mistletoe and paraded around the village, collecting money for its burial.

The folklore of the wren entwines both Pagan and Christian symbolism. Its Gaelic name is ‘Dreolín’ meaning ‘Druid Bird’ and is a symbol of winter and the old year. The killing of the wren may symbolise the death of the old year, the death of winter, or possibly as a surrogate for the ancient Celtic practise of the yearly sacrifice of a king. The wren is after all, known as the king of all birds. It was said to have betrayed the hiding place of St Stephen, who was stoned to death, becoming the first Christian martyr.

Other variations of Wren Day took place in England, Wales and the Isle of Man around mid-winter, with variations on Christmas Day, New Year’s Day or Twelfth Night. A version of this custom was recorded as being practised in the Galloway parish of Kirkmaiden, called ‘The Deckan’ O’ the Wren’ and usually took place on New Year’s morning, when gangs of boys would search for wrens. Upon catching one, its neck and legs would be adorned with ribbons and the bird then set free (6).

Another possibility could be a satirical reference to a condition in the lease of the farm, insisted upon by the landowner William Maxwell during the 1840s (7), that the stone should not be moved. Disturbing a wren’s nest was considered to be bad luck.

The sun finally creeps across the field and reaches the Wren’s Egg. It is one of those metallic winter mornings, as bright and sharp as newly burnished steel blade. I stand in the frosty grass and it all seems to make sense. This is a place of winter, a place of death and rebirth. The death of the old year and rebirth of the land. The alignment towards the mid-winter sunset, the nearby loch and standing stones, the significance of the wren as a symbol of winter and the old year, the nearby burial cists, all seem to add weight to this. On a cold, bright and frosty winter morning, it isn’t difficult to imagine the mid-winter rituals that may have taken place here.


1. Irish folk song.

2. P.H. M’Kerlie. History of the Lands and Their Owners in Galloway. 1870 Vol 1 p. 505.

3. L. Masters. Excavations at the Wren’s Egg, Port William, Wigtown District. DGNHAS Transactions and Journal of Proceedings 1976-77 Third Series Volume 52 p.28-43.

4. W. Bailie. Preparing for Death: Excavations at Blairbuy, Dumfries and Galloway in 2012. GUARD Archaeology Ltd 2013.

5. Historic Environment Scotland. Wrens Egg: Statement of Significance. 2022 p.12.

6. Masters 1976-77. Unfortunately, the reference doesn’t record if this is the parish of Kirkmaiden in which the Wren’s Egg is located, or the other of the same name on the Rhins peninsula.

7. J. Murray. The Stone Circles of Wigtownshire. DGNHAS Transactions and Journal of Proceedings 1981 Third Series Volume 56 p.18-30.
Posted by Dark Galloway
4th February 2024ce
Edited 5th February 2024ce

Comments (1)

Gotta love mornings like that. GLADMAN Posted by GLADMAN
4th February 2024ce
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