The Modern Antiquarian. Stone Circles, Ancient Sites, Neolithic Monuments, Ancient Monuments, Prehistoric Sites, Megalithic MysteriesThe Modern Antiquarian




<b>Keiss</b>Posted by LesHamiltonImage © Les Hamilton
Nearest Town:Wick (10km SSE)
OS Ref (GB):   ND353611 / Sheet: 12
Latitude:58° 32' 0.12" N
Longitude:   3° 6' 40.66" W

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<b>Keiss</b>Posted by LesHamilton <b>Keiss</b>Posted by LesHamilton <b>Keiss</b>Posted by LesHamilton <b>Keiss</b>Posted by LesHamilton <b>Keiss</b>Posted by LesHamilton <b>Keiss</b>Posted by LesHamilton <b>Keiss</b>Posted by LesHamilton


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Visited: June 18, 2019

The Caithness village of Keiss can boast three brochs in its vicinity: Keiss South (K), Whitegate (W) and Kirk Tofts (T).

Keiss South broch, also known as Keiss Harbour broch, is just a 250 metre walk from Keiss harbour back to the hairpin bend on the access road where a signpost indicates 'Keith Shore'. From here, just follow this path for a short distance over the grass to the obvious fenced-off enclosure (marker 'K' on the map below). To enter the area, follow the fence anticlockwise and you will find a gate adjacent to the field boundary north of the broch.

There is a great deal of information about Keiss broch on the Canmore website, including the fact that, as recently as 1910, the internal broch wall survived to a height of about five feet. This hardly seems the case now, the broch having endured severe robbing over the years, and little masonry remains on view.

The entire area is hummocky and was largely obscured by long grass at the time of my visit. Although nothing remains of the entrance passage, its location would seem to be signalled by a dip in the grassy ramparts that surround the broch to its east. Standing at the north of the structure, the impression is of a shallow, grassy saucer with just a small section of walling, three courses high, peeking through the obscuring vegetation. Almost certainly, walling courses do exist beneath this cover, as exemplified by the exposure of masonry in the rampart of the eastern internal wall of the broch.

Painted Pebbles
Interesting finds discovered by Sir Francis Tress Barry during his late 19th century excavations of Keiss South broch were small pebbles painted with spots and lines. Although their function is unclear, it has been suggested that they may have been used as gaming pieces or as charms. Barry exhibited these painted pebbles during a talk to the Society of Antiquaries of London on May 26, 1898. A watercolour painting of these pebbles is shown on the Canmore website.
LesHamilton Posted by LesHamilton
1st July 2019ce
Edited 11th March 2023ce


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The two holed-stones exhibited are from the collection of Sir F. Tress Barry, and were dug out of brochs, popularly called "Picts' houses," in the neighbourhood of Keiss Castle, Caithness.

They measure on and three-sixteenths and one and seven-sixteenths of an inch respectively in diameter. The smallest is from one-eighth to a quarter of an inch in thickness, whilst the larger and less perfect specimen has a thickness of three-eighths of an inch on one side, but on the opposite is chipped away to little more than one-sixteenth of an inch. The perforation of the first is a clean cut circle not quite a quarter of an inch in diameter. The hole of the larger stone is rougher, and has a diameter of three-eighths of an inch. Sometimes these stones are found decorated with small patterns of scratched lines. They are, in fact, ancient spindle whorls.

A few people in Caithness still attribute some superstitious power to these stones, and on the first night of the "quarter" they tie one of them between the horns of each of their cows and oxen, to frighten away the fairies and ill-luck. There is a tradition that the magic stones were made by seven vipers, who worked them into shape with their teeth, and that as they were finished the king of the vipers carried them off up on his tail ! *

When cattle sickened it used to be the custom in the old days - and, indeed, until quite recently - to call in a man with "charm stones" to conjure out the evil spirit. The grandfather of a middle-aged man now living in Caithness was celebrated for his wonderful cures, and declared that he had often seen the "fairy darts" sticking in the sick oxen when called in to doctor them.

He had to be left quite alone when practising his magic arts, but one day a neighbour - being very curious to see what he did - hid in a stable where he had shut himself up, and saw him rub the sick animal with the charm-stones, while at intervals he turned the stones over in the basket he had brought them in, saying "Swate ye! Swate ye!" He then administered a "drink of silver" (a bucket of water with a piece of silver money in it), and the animal was cured. The "silver drink" is still believed to be very effective in many parts of Caithness, and certainly it is a simple remedy, not likely to do any mischief.

*In the Hebrides these stone whorls are known as adder-stones.
Veterinary Leechcraft
Edward Lovett; F. Barry; J. G. Frazer; F. N. Webb
Folklore, Vol. 16, No. 3. (Sep. 29, 1905), pp. 334-337.
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
27th April 2007ce
Edited 27th April 2007ce