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Folklore Posts by Rhiannon

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Bervie Brow (Cairn(s))

"Bervie Brow," so called, is a promontory on the north side of the Bervie stream, and its very existence seems to bar any extension of the railway to the north. Another name of the "Brow" is "Craig Davie," based on the tradition that King David II landed here from France under shipwreck. This King turned the hamlet into a Royal Burgh in virtue of a charter granted in 1362, which charter again was renewed by James VI in 1595. In connection with the King David Charter a rather curious story may be related. The Royal patronage, it is said, was given on account of the kindness the inhabitants extended to the ruling monarch when his vessel struck the rocks referred to above. The tradition is that the King on reaching "terra firma" met a party of fishermen, who were cooking fish on the beach. On soliciting a share of their repast, one of the fishermen gutted a couple of fishes and put these on the fire. Another fisherman shouted out "Gut three." The King noticing this generosity addressed the former speaker in doggerel rhyme thus:
"Then Gut-three
Your name shall be."
And henceforth, it is said, the man was known as "Guthrie", a surnamme now quite common all over N.E. Scotland.
From the Montrose Standard, 22nd April 1921.

Wick (Burial Chamber)

Replies To Queries. 496 - The Golden Valley.

The origin of this name goes right back to the days of the Druids - indeed, farther than that. At Upton Cheyney in the Golden Valley may be seen some stones called Druidical stones. Their tops are lichen-covered and the weather of centuries has smoothed their surface here and there, and stunted them, leaving them inviolate and deserted, sole survivors of a pagan temple.

There is a tradition that somewhere near them lies buried a golden calf. Here then is a remnant of the rite of Mithras. My father came from this district and he has told me of several attempts made to discover this golden calf.

I believe the Bath Archaeological Society found some remains here many years ago. The valley where the golden calf was worshipped many centuries ago thus keeps its name in the present name of "The Golden Valley." - S.W. Hayward, Westmead, N.S.W.
Bath Weekly Chronicle and Herald, 13th February 1937.

Dane's Stone (Standing Stone / Menhir)

The field on which the [annual ploughing match of the Moulin Agricultural Association] took place was a nice slope below Baledmund House, on Pitfourie Farm, kindly granted for the occasion by Mr Charles McLauchlan, tenant of the farm. At the south end of the field stands an old monolith which has long been an object of historic interest and conjecture. This large upright block is believed to be a very old Druidical stone, which probably marked the burial ground of some ancient Pictish chief.

The ground in the neighbourhood of the stone was at one time the site of Moulin Market, which lasted for a week, and this stone was known in Gaelic as "The stone of the bargains," as when a bargain was concluded it was usual to shake hands across the stone, no doubt following some custom that has been lost in the mists of antiquity.

A little to the west of the stone is a knoll on which a few larch trees are growing, and which is known in Gaelic as "The knoll of the cattle," where the cattle were herded on the occasion of a market. An examination of this knoll, however, a few years ago showed that it was chiefly artificial, and that it had formed the site of an old fortified dwelling. The artificial mound is about ten feet high, having a breadth of about forty feet, and the top had at one time been surrounded by a palisade.
The 'Carn a' Mheanbh-Cruidh' is marked on Canmore's map, though there's no recent investigation of it to fix a date to it. I'd like to think the origin of the name is a bit more ancient and romantic than just sticking cows on it on market day (surely a trickier plan than popping them in a pen on flat ground). Mentioned in the Perthshire Advertiser, March 4th 1914.

Treryn Dinas (Cliff Fort)

From all I have seen myself of that kind, or read, or heard of, I know not a more singular [Rocking Stone] than that which I am describing. It stands at Castle Treryn, a promontory, consisting of three distinct piles of rocks, near the southermost part of the Land's End. On the western side of the middle pile, in a very elevated situation, lies this immense stone, so evenly poised, that a hand, nay a finger, may move it.

And what is still more singular, not any force, however applied in any mechanical way, can remove it from its present situation. It was on a holiday, not long ago, that a vast number of miners and peasants assembled together, for the purpose of hurling this prodigious rock into the sea. Every effort was exerted, and all their force applied to no purpose. The vast orb moved as if to mock their toil, but still retained its equilibrium. The people beheld it with astonishment: they concluded it was retained by superanatural agency, and returned venerating the stone.

Those who are hereafter to visit this place, and have not yet beheld this almost miraculous spectacle, will rejoice that it still keeps its centre, and resists every effort to move it. Yet if it was to fall, I much wish to be a witness of its overthrow. So huge a mass precipitated, like the stone of Sisyphus, and rolling with prodigious ruin from precipice to precipice, over rocks into the sea, must afford a very striking spectacle.
As my favourite podcaster says, "Be careful what you wish for." I'm glad they put it back up though; I think very fondly of my visit to see it and would recommend it to anyone. From E.D. Clarke's 'Tour through England and Wales in 1791.'

The Hoar Stone (Steeple Barton) (Chambered Tomb)

Near Steeple Barton is another ruined cromlech, also called the "Hoar Stone," which is now only a confused heap of small stones, having been broken up by an ignorant farmer. Some fifty years ago it was much more perfect, and two of the side stones were standing about four feet out of the ground.

"They used to say that whenever they tried to drag them two pebbles away with horses, they would roll back of their own accord. Them two pebbles growed out of little uns; at least that's my way of thinking."

- From George Nevill, of Yarnton, aged 74, March 1901.
Stray Notes on Oxfordshire Folklore by Percy Manning, in Folklore v13 (September 1902).

St Bride's Ring (Ancient Village / Settlement / Misc. Earthwork)

As country folk will tell you, that bird caled the oystercatcher, boldly dressed in black and white with a long straight bright red bill, has largely taken the place of the once-common lapwing, or "peesie-weep" in our fields. It's a bird with several names - sea pie, mussel-picker, and "the bird of St Bride."

A reader tells me that when he was up Kingennie way recenty he noticed a small flock of oystercatchers busily feeding in a newly-ploughed field. 'I thought it was something of a coincidence that what are called 'the birds of St Bride' should be so near that ancient structure near Kingennie house called St Bride's Ring. The name St Bride's Ring suggests a religious site, but this is in fact a strongly-built circular hill-fort, defended on three sides by steep rocks, and I have often wondered how it came to be associated with St Bride.'


Replying to a query about St Bride's Ring (Kingennie), our Diarist says it is not known how St Bride became associated with what is really a hill or a headland fort. In its earliest form Kingennie is given as Kingaltenyne, and translated from the Gaelic this means "headland enclosure."

The fort, with its ring of ponderous stones, has steep rocks on three sides, and a small stream at its base. This, incidentally, is the Monifieth Burn, which has its source in a nearby quarry.
Dundee Courier, 1st March 1988 / 15th June 1992.

There's lots of tales about St Bride on Brigit's Sparkling Flame including that when someone was after her on the Hebrides, some oystercatchers kindly covered her with seaweed to hide her (and since then they are 'Gille-Bhride', servants of Bride, and even call her name). She was imprisoned by the Cailleach in Ben Nevis, and was rescued on February 1st, releasing Spring. There are many features in the Scottish landscape named after her.

Anstiebury Hillfort

A legend survives in connection with the storming of Entons Castle [at Capel], which relates that the Danes, having captured the stronghold, carried away the castle gates and bell to Anstiebury Camp, whither they also took the female captives accumulated in the course of their victorious progress through the Hundred of Wotton.

The women one night contrived to admit a number of Saxon warriors, who overcame the garrison and afterwards hung the recovered castle-bell in Capel church steeple.
Walter Moore in the Dorking and Leatherhead Advertiser, 24th June 1905.

Melancoose Round (Ancient Village / Settlement / Misc. Earthwork)

No I don't know if this happened at the Round. But if local military pixies were going to live anywhere, you'd think it would be here. I suppose he might have meant they were wearing red clothes, like soldiers - this is a comparison you read elsewhere.
An old man at Newquay told me that a Farmer Lane, who lived near Colan about forty or fifty years ago, was riding his horse one night to his farm, when numbers of soldiers sprang up on the horse, all over it. The man said they were very small. I forgot to ask how they were known to be soldiers. - Miss Barbara C. Spooner.
The Cornish Guardian quoting the journal of the Royal Institution of Cornwall, 28th May 1915.

Trevelgue Head (Cliff Fort)

There is a way up from the beach to the mainland part of Trevelgue Island earthworks that is like a ship's gangway, between walls of rock. Up this, Bill Pierce said, the invaders drove the cattle they stole. They pastured them on the island, waiting for the ships to come that were attacking other parts of the coast. When the ships came they embarked the cattle and sailed off. I asked where he got this from, and he said, "Old history books." - Miss Barbara C. Spooner, Coombe Bank, Kingston-on-Thames.
The Cornish Guardian quoting the Journal of the Royal Institution of Cornwall, 28th May 1915.

Barrowfields (Barrow / Cairn Cemetery)

[Bill Pierce of St Columb Minor] said that there is another Piskey Ring near the barrows in the Newquay fields. The men who fought there took their last stand fighting in a circle, back to back, and their blood, falling to the ground, formed the Piskey Ring. I asked Pierce why it was called Piskey Ring, hoping to hear more, but he didn't know! I remember hearing, about six years ago, though I do not remember if the source was reliable, that people had seen the battle fought in the air, over the Newquay fields.

The same man, Pierce, told me that if anything was thrown into a Piskey Ring at or after midnight, it would be found flung on to the grass outside before daybreak.

Barrow Fields, Newquay. My uncle says he has heard that a headless horseman rides through the air over these fields at midnight, carrying his head under his arm. He did not know who the horseman was, nor that he had even been seen as well as heard. Horses are also heard rushing over head.

Miss Barbara C. Spooner.
The Cornish Guardian, quoting the Journal of the Royal Institution of Cornwall, 28rh May 1915.

Whipsiderry (Round Barrow(s))

I [spoke with] an old man of St Columb Minor, called Bill Pierce, who saw Copeland Borlase open the Trevelgue barrows. On the high cliffs, at an equal distance from each of the two Trevelgue tumuli, is a Piskey Ring, with thistles growing here and there on the outer edge. Of this ring he said that it was always there no matter how much the cattle trampled on it. Indeed, I do not remember a year in which I did not notice that Piskey Ring in the same place; I certainly have seen it each summer of ten consecutive years.

The same man, Pierce, told me that if anything was thrown into a Piskey Ring at or after midnight, it would be found flung on to the grass outside before daybreak.

Miss Barbara C. Spencer, Coombe Bank, Kingston-on-Thames.
The Cornish Guardian (quoting the Journal of the Royal Institution of Cornwall), 28th May 1915.

The Great Circle, North East Circle & Avenues (Stone Circle)

It is surprising what interesting things one may come across in the countryside. I was talking to a farmer acquaintance, Lionel Smart, who, apart from a brief spell as a Fleet Street journalist, has farmed all his life in the Stanton Drew are. A few days before meeting Lionel, I had been in the village and decided to walk round the lanes and across the fields. Near the end of my walk I turned right at the quaint, thatched tollhouse and noticed the sign indicating the stone circles, or the Druids' Stones, as we have always called them. [...] Lionel then told me a strange story. No matter what time of year you pass by the stones, whether it is the hottest or coldest day, or night, one always encounters a cool breeze. Of course this could have been happening even before the stone circles were put there, but, there again, it could be due to the mystery behind them, of forces there beyond our comprehension.
Brian Woodham reports sceptically in the Somerset Standard, 15th November 1974.

The Trundle (Causewayed Enclosure)

In the same district, near to what must be the most delightfully situated racecourse in the land is the Trundle Hill, Goodwood, which takes its name from an ancient British earthwork on the summit, where is buried Aaron's golden calf, upon which His Satanic Majesty keeps a paternal eye. To quote Clare Jerrold:

"People know very well where it is - I could show you the place any day."
"Why don't you dig it up then?"
"Oh, that is not allowed; He would not let me."
"Well, has any one ever tried?"
"Oh, yes: but it is never there when you look; He moves it away."
Hastings and St Leonard's Observer, 1st August 1936.

Allt Preas Bhealaich (Ancient Village / Settlement / Misc. Earthwork)

The legend of the Bodach Dhu. How much is traditional I don't know!
The inhabitants of Braemore - the valley on the Caithness side of Morven - have for generations made their livelihood by farming, but in those seasons when winter comes on before its time, their crops do not ripen, and any saving they may have effected is spent in the purchase of winter necessities. On one occasion, when they were thus chagrined by a lost harvest, a big, strong, lazy-looking man, whom they had often previously seen, came a-begging for help. In contradiction of proverbial Highland hospitality he everywhere met with a point-blank refusal. "Well if I'll get nothing to eat," said he to the inmates of the last house in the glen, "you folk will have little pleasure in your eating," and he went straight to their meal-mill, and carried off the upper grindstone on his shoulders.

For a long time after this the people of Braemore were missing cattle and sheep from the hills, and if they happened to bring home any money or valuables they soon mysteriously disappeared. The stock for miles around was frequently examined, and a watch was kept on all passing valuables, but no trace of the robber could be found. The native "wise women" were consulted, but their replies were given so oracularly that suspicion began to point to some of their own friends as the evil-doer; but they, to prove that the robber was no friend of theirs, charmed a considerable number of men so that they might be able to see him should the thief be a person in league with the powers of the nether deep, and therefore able to make himself hid to ordinary eyes.

Thus charmed, the band watched the hills, and many days had not elapsed ere they saw the gentleman who they knew to be the hero of the millstone, and whom they had learned to call Bodach Dhu, come stalking down the hill, knock over one of the best of their cattle with his first arrow, and then, swinging it over his shoulders, make for the mountain again. They gave chase, and away he fled up the hill. As they neared him down came such a mist cloud as to this day comes often and suddenly over Morven, and the Bodach was effectually shielded from them. They stayed until the mist had rolled away, but the Bodach was not then to be seen, and they had to return home to tell their tale.
The story gets really verbose. In short, he's really hard to catch, but eventually they go out on the seventh day of the seventh month, and they find his den which has the millstone in front of it as a door. He shoots lots of arrows at them through the hole in the millstone and then runs off. They look through the millstone and see all the collected treasures, then leave an arrow in the ground to mark the spot and run off after him. The arrows they fire don't seem to touch him. Eventually he's caught in a hair tether (something with witchcraft connections) and they try to burn him on a pile of heather. Then they go back to find the arrow and the treasure - but there are arrows everywhere.
Numbers of tourists climb Morven every year, and those who have never heard this tale, tell when they come down that they saw well up the mountain side a large millstone, and then, in their simplicity, ask how it got there. The story is told them, and they at once confidently volunteer to lead anybody to the place. They set off, and after much searching learn the oft-repeated experience that those who have seen it once and heard the legend can never see it again. It was last seen on Jubilee Day, when a number of tailors ascended the hill by different routes, and on meeting at the top one told he had seen a millstone. The story was told, but is it to be wondered at that after deeply pledging the Queen's health in genuine mountain dew even the sharp Messrs Snip were unable to find it?
The Graphic, 25th May 1889.

Maeshowe (Chambered Tomb)

Excavation work began on the Brough of Birsay last week. Mr Drever is again in charge of the operations, and most of the workmen who worked there in previous seasons have been re-engaged. A good area has now been excavated on this site, but there is still a considerable area to explore, and one never knows what discoveries may be brought to light. It is an old belief that the treasure of Maeshowe was carried off in a north-westerly direction and hidden in some secret place, and, if there is any truth in the old legend, that treasure still remains to be discovered.
A weirdly geographically specific tale from the Orkney Herald, 23rd June 1937.

Dunsinnan Hill (Hillfort)

On Dunsinane Hill between Perth and Dundee, Macbeth is supposed to have hidden a kettle full of gold when fleeing from his castle. It is predicted that the finder will be a woman with auburn hair, the seventh child of a seventh child.

For those eligible, the following clue has been handed down - "When the sun shines on Milnton Wheel, it shines on the lid of the kettle." The "Milnton" is presumably Milton, two miles north-west of the hill.
In the Dundee Evening Telegraph, 4th January 1950.

Priddy Nine Barrows (Barrow / Cairn Cemetery)

I wonder if you can throw any light on the following experience I had some 12 or 14 years ago? I had taken my family on Mendip Top, somewhere near Castle of Comfort, and we were picnicking, having boiled our kettle with pine chips, I remember, when a roughish man, driving a rougher horse, attached to a vehicle, half cart, half trap, harness mainly rope, made me feel a foot taller by suddenly asking, 'Would you like to rent a couple of hundred acres of shooting?'

I was a town dweller then, and renting that enormous-sounding acreage of shooting associated itself in my mind with house parties, keepers, and beaters and 'bags.' But I remember the description or specification of this 200 acres included 'They do say there be a king of the Romans buried there, buried in a golden coffin.' What do you know of this, or have you unearthed it? Is it popular legend? I cannot believe the individual who uttered it originated the story.

Yours faithfully, E.A. Davies, Portbury.
In the Western Daily Press, 22nd August 1936.

Clach an t-Sagairt (Chambered Cairn)

The island seems to feature in one of Gladman's photos. And "the ancient burial ground" referred to must surely be the chambered cairn? I don't see anything else that fits the bill really.
Ghostly Happening.
Sir, I am writing to let you know of a strange experience I had in 1940 when travelling around Argyll on my bicycle. I always loved the beautiful lonely places and had no fear whatever at that time, travelling and exploring on my own. I came to Ardfern, there was a pleasant villa (the first house I came to) with a "Bed and Breakfast" sign. I booked in for the weekend. Directly opposite was an island and at low tide there was an easy approach. So I determined to go to it and explore.

So on Sunday morning I borrowed a walking stick and set off. The sun was shining and the 'island' looked lovely. I decided to climb to the top and admire the view down the loch. As I began my climb I was increasingly aware that the one thing I wanted to do was to get off that island. This seemed absurd, there I was in full view of the houses of Ardfern, in a state bordering on fear.

I had never experienced such a sensation before. I MADE myself climb to the top, had a brief glimpse of the lovely loch, ran all the way down and got off with a feeling of relief.

On my way back I met my landlady. "You weren't very long on the island," she said. "No," I replied, and paused. "I have been in my house for 12 years. I was once on the island. I will never go back," she said. We left it at that.

Now, with your knowledge of local history, do you know of any happenings, so awful that they would leave an "impression" behind? I did note from my maps that opposite was an Ancient Burial Ground, and wondered if there might be any connection with the island. As the houses in Ardfern are modern there might be very few there, if any, at the time the burial ground was used. [...] If any place is in need of exorcism that area definitely is! So if you go "with candle, with book and with bell" let me know and I'll join you!

I am etc. Annie L.K. Green, Bonnington, Peebles.
A letter in the Oban Times and Argyllshire Advertiser, 23rd April 1987.
It sounds like classic outdoor Pan-ic to me?

Stonehenge (Circle henge)

The Puzzle of Stonehenge.

It is stated that persons who visit the extraordinary Druidical remains at Stonehenge never succeed, however careful they may be, in counting the stones twice alike, and the corresponding marks with which they are in many places covered seem to be a sure proof that attempts have frequently been made to ascertain the number correctly. We never heard that the same party, either on a second attempt or on a second visit, could make his numbers tally, and it is a pretty general opinion in the neighbourhood that "old Gooseberry" is somehow mixed up in the affair, and thus frustrates their endeavours.

But some few years ago there lived at Salisbury a baker, who was considered a very clever fellow, and his own opinion fully justified him in making a heavy bet with some friends that he would (by a scheme of his own) go round the stones,a nd on two occasions make the numbers to correspond. Of course very much interest was manifested for the result; and on a certain day the baker proceeded to put his scheme into execution, for which purpose he supplied himself with two basketsful of penny rolls, and started for Stonehenge, confident of success.

He carefully placed a roll upon each of the masses of stone, thus emptying his baskets, just sufficient to cover the whole, with the exception of one; he then cautiously examined them, and feeling quite sure that he was correct that each stone had got its roll, commenced collecting and counting them, and when he had finished he as carefully wrote down the number taken off, and adding the one omitted, became elated with the certainty of winning his wager.

He then began placing the rolls the second time on the stones, taking the same round, and proceeding exactly as he had done at first; but judge of his astonishment when, after the most minute examination and considerable time spent in walking round every direction of the ruins, he not only found that this time every stone had its roll, but that there was positively one left in his basket.

This was a clincher - the poor baker became so impressed with the mysterious part of the business (which he was never able to fathom), together with his losing his wager, but more especially by receiving the jeers of his plain-dealing friends, who had never any inclination to try their luck in such a way, that he became a changed man, and never after ventured to visit Stonehenge, or to make wagers on such dark and unaccountable proceedings.
Dundeed Evening Telegraph, 12th January 1884. "Old Gooseberry" is a new one on me. I'm not sure what connection the Devil has with gooseberries?

Ellon (relocated) (Stone Circle)

Builders defy dark omen.

A major modern housebuilder faces a dark omen from an ancient civilisation of the past. Barratt Developments (Scotland) Ltd. of Ellon want to build in the town's Ythan Terrace. But local folklore has it there was a Pictish stone circle in the Ythan Terrace development area, and the superstition is that anyone who tampers with the stone is in for bad luck. In fact, the last time the stones were moved - more than 40 years ago - to make way for the Market Garden, the then landowner died of cancer. He had been warned by the locals that bad luck would befall him, according to Mr Robert Chalmers, secretary of the Ythan Amenity Trust. Mr Chalmers recalls the strange superstition in a letter to Gordon District Council's director of planning about the proposed Barratt development.

The trust hope the stone circle, known as the Pinkie Stones, will with the co-operation of Barratts - be resited as near their original site as possible. Five stones were arranged in the cardinal points with a central stone. The trust say there appears to be a "vacant lot" in the landscaping in Barratt's plan which would be the best and most obvious place to site the stones.

"I do not know whether either you or Barratts are superstitious, but local folklore had it that anyone who interferes with the Pinkie Stones will receive bad luck. I am of the opinion that those who return the stones to their original position will find favour in the sight of the gods. Speaking personally, who could not do with such help?" Mr Chalmers remarks.
I'm taking it the powers that be felt it was best to leave them where they were. In the 'Aberdeen Evening Express', 31st August 1982.
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This hill, it has a meaning that is very important for me, but it's not rational. It's beautiful, but when you look, there's nothing there. But I'd be a fool if I didn't listen to it.

-- Alan Garner.

...I'd rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn...

-- William Wordsworth.

Some interesting websites with landscape and fairy folklore:

My TMA Content: