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St Elvis (Dolmen / Quoit / Cromlech)

"I think the strangest custom must be that of St Elvis Church where there are the remains of St Teilo's Well and Church with a pilgrims graveyard. It is said that the sick were brought here and given the holy water then laid to rest in the shade of a cromlech. If they slept all would be well but if they were visited by Caladruis (a ravenish bird of ill omen) their chances were not good. It seems rather like the stories of old people being bedded down in cold hospital corridors in the hope they would develop pneumonia – did that actually happen?"

Taken from; Burials;

Left to die at a cromlech? bit like the Inuit's old people who were taken out into the snow to die.
St.Elvis never ceases to amaze......


Old traditions, crumbling with time..

I suspect that this news comes in defence of folklore which in turn preserves the archaeological monuments by superstition or 'piseogs' to use the rather lovely Irish word.........

Superstitions may seem strange and baseless, but somehow they have clung on for thousands of years. Are they a sign of respect for the past and if so just how much longer might they last?

WHEN I WAS growing up, there was a ring fort at the end of our road. We were warned not to play there. It was accepted that fairy forts contained some mystique or potential for harm. Our parents were probably told the same by their parents, and so on through the generations. But has belief in science and technology replaced faith in superstitions?

Perhaps not. Dara Molloy, a former Roman Catholic priest based on Inis Mór, is in demand to perform Celtic rituals and blessings. When we spoke last week, he was at a wedding ceremony in which he used blessings dating from what he terms "Celtic Christianity". It involves the tying of knots and sprinkling of water from a nearby well. These practices predate the Roman Catholic Church, he says, and are more in keeping with old Irish customs and beliefs. "We held on to a lot of traditions but they were pushed to the margins of the church," he says. "People still visit holy wells, climb Croagh Patrick or go to Lough Derg, but many other Irish customs and traditions didn't carry on and some local priests were instrumental in encouraging them to be abandoned."

Molloy says when he first moved to the Aran Islands 25 years ago, he was struck by the reverence the locals had for ancient sites and monuments. "Neighbours of mine on Inis Mór who were born and raised on the island had never been up to the hill fort of Dún Aengus," he says. "One of the reasons given was that their parents wouldn't let them. They said the place was lived in by the sióga or other world folk. Nowadays some young locals want to have their weddings up there because they believe the energy of the sióga is there. The belief hasn't been lost. It is just used differently. I have witnessed young adults who want to go to Dún Aengus and sleep there overnight to get the feeling that is up there."

That feeling may relate to the fact the site has been used by locals for centuries as a place of gathering or safety.

Piseogs [superstitions] are still heeded on the islands too, says Molloy. That is why a red-haired woman who turns up at a door on New Year's Eve is unlikely to be shown indoors. "It would be a bad omen for the coming years," he says.

Colm Moloney, managing director of Headland Archaeology, says much has been lost in recent years in relation to Irish folklore. "My own childhood revolved around my dad, who spent a lot of his time walking his greyhounds (and his children) around the landscape of east Cork. Every hill, river, nook and cranny had a story attached to it and he told them so well it was captivating," he says. "Modern Ireland does not readily facilitate this kind of activity. Landowners have a problem with people wandering across their land and kids have so much to distract them, it is near impossible to get them outside."

Moloney says much of our folklore is in danger in the hands of the current generation. "The Irish psyche has changed. The respect that was there for the past is losing ground. Our knowledge and links to the past through oral traditions were what made us unique."

There have been reports recently that a farmer destroyed a ring fort in Co Cork. This would not have occurred a decade ago, he says. Folklore often existed to protect the built heritage and vice versa.

"Every country boy knew the traditions associated with ring forts," he says. "If you touched the fairy forts something very bad would happen to you. This tradition and similar kinds of piseog resulted in the preservation of archaeological monuments across the country, probably for thousands of years.

"This is a frightening development, where 30 sq m of farmland is of greater value than a monument that may have stood on that spot for 1,200 years."


Trellyffant (Dolmen / Quoit / Cromlech)

Trellyffant apparently means Toad's Town, and I had come across a story some time ago that said a chief had been buried at the cromlech who had been eaten by toads.

Well there is a different version of the story and the man eating toads. In this version Giraldus Cambrensis tells of a young man called Cecil Longlegs who "during a severe illness, suffered as violent a persecution from toads, as if the reptiles of the whole province had come to him by agreement; and though destroyed by his nurses and friends, they increased again on all sides in infinite numbers; being wearied out, he was drawn up in a kind of bag into a high tree, stripped of its leaves; nor was he there secure from his venomous enemies, for they crept up the tree in great numbers, and consumed him to the very bones"

Poor old toads no wonder the witches were always boiling them up! taken from

Myths and Legends of Wales; retold by Tony Roberts

Wandlebury (Hillfort)

The following is taken from Britarch May/June 2010, its parts of a letter from Lethbridge to the editor of The Times 12/6/36, and he mentions a book written by Bishop Hall in the 18th century.
Its about the giant of course and definitely folklore but he seems to have existed.
Lethbridge also mentions another giant at Oxford.....
All very curious, considering its fairly flat round Cambridge and Oxford not many stones to chuck around.

"A Giant called All Paunch, who was of an incredible Height of Body, not like him whose Picture the Schollers of Cambridge goe to see at Hogmagog Hills, but rather like him that ought the two Aple Teeth which were digged out of a well in Cambridge, that were little less than a man's head. When I was a boy, about 1724, I remember my father or mother as it happened I went with one or other of them to Cambridge......always used to stop and show me and my brother and sisters the figure of the giant carved on the Turf; concerning whom there were then many traditions, now worn away. What became of the two said teeth I never heard".

Lethbridge goes on to write that there is an Elizabethan tradition of calling "Knight to Knight come forth" and a giant will come forth and fight you. And it is possible that at this time certain festivities were stopped i.e. fertility rites performed at this figure......

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

Stanton Drew and folklore

The following which is taken from John Wood's book A Description of Bath of 1765 describes the superstition that lay round the Wedding stones of Stanton Drew as seen by the local people. People being turned to stone, and also drinking from the stones, which is a slightly different aspect of the story.

John Wood had a weird and wonderful theory about Stanton Drew and Druids, that belongs elsewhere, but in writing his book he gave valuable information as to the the existence of the two Tyning stones, and another folklore story about Hakill the Giant who in good giant tradition threw The Coit from Maes Knoll, a hill situated west from Stanton Drew, which also encompasses Maes Knoll Hillfort and the great Wansdyke barrier which either divided two kingdoms in the late British Iron Age or was some form of defense. The work of giants perhaps recognised by our 18th century inhabitants but not rationalised as they are today!

Stanton Drew in the County of Somerset
That's where the Devil played at Sue's request,
They paid the price for dancing on a Sunday.
Now they are standing evermore at rest.

The Wedding Stones
"The remains of this model bear the name of The Wedding, from a tradition that as a woman was going to be married, she and the rest of the company were changed into the stones of which they consist "No one," says the Country People about Stantondrue, was ever able to reckon the "number of these metamorphosed Stones", or to take "a draught of them" or tho' several have attempted to do both, and proceeded till they were either struck dead upon the spot, or with such an illness as soon carried them off.
This was seriously told to me when I began to a Plan of them (the stones) on the 12th August 1740 to deter me from proceeding: And as a storm accidentally arose just after, and blew down part of a Great Tree near the body of the work, the people were then thoroughly satisfied that I had disturbed the Guardian Spirits of the metamorphosed Stones, and from thence great pains were taken to convince me of the Impiety of intent I was about.

Hakim's Quoit

Large flat stone called Hakill on the north-east side of the river by which Stantondrue is situated: And this stone tho' greatly delapidated is till ten feet long, six feet broad, near two feet thick, and lies about 1860 feet from the centre of the circle.

....Now if we draw a line from the centre of the Circle D, to the centre of the Circle B and produce it westward 992 feet, it will terminate on three stones in a garden (Druid Arms now) by the parish church of Stantondrue: two of which stones are erect, and the other lies flat on the ground............. it will terminate on two stone lying flat on the ground in a field call the Lower-Tining (stones now vanished).

In plowing the ground of Maes Knoll as well as that of Solsbury Hill, the people frequently turned up burnt stones, and often find other Marks to prove each Place to have been long inhabited: the former, according to a Tradition among the people of the Country thereabouts, was the Residence of one Hakill, a Giant, who is reported to have toss'd the Coit that make part of the works of Stantondrue from the Top of that Hill to the place where it now lies: He is also reported to have made Maes-Knoll Tump with one spadeful of Earth, and to had the village underneath that Hill given him......

The 'wedding stones' story is found at other stone circles, the wedding taking place on a Saturday and lasting through the night into Sunday, when they were all turned to stone by the piper/harper, or in this case the 'devil'. The christian church again concocting a story to stop people enjoying themselves, one wonders where this story originally came into the history timeline.

Funnily in these tales caught from the past about Stanton Drew there is no 'drinking stone' myth whereby they would have gone down to the river Chew and refreshed themselves.

The 'Song of Stanton Drew' can be found here...

Bachwen Burial Chamber (Chambered Tomb)

Clynnog Fawr and the church with its presumed stone circle underneath;

Reading around the history of Beuno in T.D. Breverton (The Book of Welsh Saints) there comes up the story of bull sacrifice that carried on until the late 19th century.
Half of the bull going to god the other half to St.Beuno. This story was told by John Ansters in 1589 'as the people are of the opinion that Beuno his cattell will prosper marvellous well'
Breverton says that the cattle cult came down through the Northern celtic tradition, here the animal changes sex and becomes a cow, 'Audhumula' the primeval cow who suckled the great giant Ymir. So 'sacred beasts' with the mark of St.Beuno (a slit in the ear) were given to the churchwardens and the sale proceeds put in the ancient oak chest in the church.

He also goes on to say, 'that the church and shrine stand on ancient megaliths, one of which can be seen in the nave floor, and others of which are in the foundations'

Harold's Stones (Standing Stones)

There is St.Anne's well here (a first century saint), who is seen as the mother of the virgin mary, which may not be of interest to those on this site. But St.Anne is seen as replacing Anu - the earth mother of celtic paganism, and as church, stones and tumuli are so close together, its interesting that paganism should once more rear its head next to a church. 9 wells here though only 4 can still be seen.

Breverton - Book of Welsh Saints


A modern telling of folklore by Neil Acherson in a Granta article....

Neal Ascherson on the people and stones of Scotland that form its cultural landscape:

The inward gates of a bird are always open.
It does not know how to shut them.
That is the secret of its song,
But whether any man's are ajar is doubtful.
I look at these stones and know little about them,
But I know their gates are open too,
Always open, far longer open, than any bird's can be…

Hugh MacDiarmid, 'On a Raised Beach'

Every day, I would drive to the hospital in Oban, taking just under an hour each way. That year there was the unexpected gift of a summer, with the big rains staying away from May until September. Enough fell in the mornings or at night to wet the land, from the season of rhododendrons glaring into the ruins of the big house through to the September swags outside the small house to which its owner would never return. In the afternoons, it was fine, sometimes very hot, and the grass in the fields was cut early and easily for silage.

On the way, I passed a great many stones, some of them raised up as monuments or gathered together into funeral cairns which had once stood taller than houses. I had known these stones all my life, and for most of chat life I had assumed that they were unchanging. As a small child, in fact, the difference between natural Stone formations—'living rock'—and old masonry had not been at all obvious to me. Masses of stone like the foundation blocks of the Dean Bridge in Edinburgh might equally well, as far as I was concerned, have been put there by men or abandoned there by glaciers or extruded from the magma by a volcano. They seemed to me no more or less intentional than the equally black and angular basalt crags rising out of Princes Street Gardens to support the Castle. I liked the style and the feel of these dramatic stones; that was the point, and explanations about what was artefact and what was 'nature' seemed beside that point. In the dark, Cyclopean cities of sandstone and granite left by the Victorians, a good many Scottish children grew up with the same impression.

In his poem 'On a Raised Beach' MacDiarmid wrote:

We are so easily baffled by appearances
And do not realise that these stones are one with the stars.
It makes no difference to them whether they are high or low,
Mountain peak or ocean floor; palace or pigsty.
There are plenty of ruined buildings in the world but no ruined stones.

It is not the stone which can be ruined, but the stone artefact created by human sculpting or building or even by the transforming power of human imagination alone. Five thousand years ago, slabs of Dalriadic schist weighing many tons were prised off the face of a cliff, slithered downhill to the level ground, levered and lugged upright in foundation pits and then commanded to change their substance—to become ritual spires of condensed fear and memory. The slabs which cracked apart on their journey or as they were raised upright merely turned into two slabs. But a standing stone which falls becomes a ruin. One standing stone which broke in recorded times is close to the Oban road. A long gorge runs from Loch Awe down towards Kilmartin, dug by a vanished glacial river, and where the gorge widens out, near the farm called Creagenterivebeg or Creagantairbh Beag, at a place called Tigh-a-Char, the wreck of the thing sits up against the wall of the road to Ford.

This was the tallest stone in the district. The stump still protrudes six feet our of the earth, and the broken slab lying beside it shows that the stone originally stood some fifteen feet high. The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Scotland states that 'it was blown down in 1879'. The local historian Alan Begg agrees, but is cautious about which of that year's storms did the damage. He writes with awe of the 'huge Druid-like stone which broke and fell… My grandfather who worked in Ederline and Craigenterive Mor used to say the great stone fell 'the night of the Tay Bridge Disaster'. Thinking back it seems to me now, according to the old of the time, that 'all sorts of things that took place happened on the night of the Tay Bridge Disaster'.

Further along the main road to Oban, there is the stone at Kintraw. Today you would never know it had ever fallen down, and yet everyone in the district remembers that it collapsed in the winter of l978 for reasons not clear: a bull stropping his itchy flank, or a Dutch camper backing his Dormobile without looking in the rear mirror, or perhaps Keats's unimaginable touch of time.

But in contrast to the monoliths of Ballylneanoch or Creagantairbh, this fall was unacceptable. Kintraw, or the terrace bearing the stone and the cairn beside it, is one of the most spectacular and celebrated outlooks in the West Highlands. The A816, after crossing a high plateau of frowning crags' and 'horrid desolation', suddenly plunges down a defile and bursts out onto a vast view: the head of Loch Craignish three hundred feet below, the sea stretching away towards the mountains of Jura and the horizon which is the rim of Ireland, the yacht masts in the anchorage at Ardfern glimmering across the water.

Artfully positioned in the middle of this view, on a grassy platform beside the road, are the stone and the cairn. The image of a tomb with its mourning pillar-stone, silhouetted against the prospect of nature like a romantic contemplative in a Caspar David Friedrich painting, is irresistible. In fact, there are two cairns here, and archaeological investigation has not clearly associated the stone with either of them. But nobody is bothered about that. The place is a resource; it has Outstanding Natural Beauty; it is Heritage, which requires heritage management. So this stone, unlike the others, was put back. First there was an archaeological rummage around the socket, which turned up nothing much. A photograph taken in 1979 shows the stone lying prone on the grass beside the square excavation pit. It resembles a pulled tooth, its lower shaft an unpleasant greenish-white where it had been grasped in the earth's gum. Then the stone was reinserted, this time with its base in a concrete plinth. In the process, the workers set it at a different angle, no longer aligned to its original axis, which enraged all those who fancied that it had been carefully positioned to mark astral and seasonal events.

The repair squad also took the opportunity to correct a slight tilt which had apparently developed over the millennia. The big bird which used to perch on the Kintraw Stone to digest its kills ('the Buzzard Stone') has resumed its place. All expectations have been generously satisfied. As the Swedish archaeologist said when his Crown Prince reopened the famous Bronze Age cairn at Kivik in south Sweden, restored with a new entrance passage and specially wrought bronze doors: 'It looks older than ever before.'

But the first stones which came into view on my way to Oban were the huge uprights at Ballymeanoch. There are the remains of a henge monument here, and a later circular cairn, and six standing stones arranged along what may have been the two flanks of a broad ceremonial avenue. It brings to mind the 'cursus' monuments of the same age which are found all over Britain, the two parallel banks which can run for many miles uphill and downhill across the landscape. Unearthly beings, invisible or impersonated by robed shamans, may have been invited to pass along these avenues, between earth banks or files of standing stones, and perhaps the living people lining the route hid their eyes as they passed.

In my lifetime, one of the stones fell. It was an outlier, not in the main alignments, famous because there was a hole through it. Deep cup-marks have been ground into the faces of almost all the stones; it could have been Neolithic patriarchs or Victorian cattle-boys who persisted with the grinding until one pit penetrated to the other side. It became a peephole. Engaged couples met one another's eyes through it; papers scrawled with wishes were threaded from one side to the other. Then, at some moment in the last century, it fell or rather broke off halfway down. Nobody knew what to do with it. The stump was eventually uprooted, and archaeologists found cremated bone in the foundation pit. The top section, with the hole, lay around in the grass and got in the way of farming. A few years ago, it was dumped into a field-drain some yards away. Today it lies on the edge of the drain among other dislocated pieces of schist.

The new hospital where my mother was, the Lorn and Islands, is built on the southern fringe of Oban. Beyond its roof you can see the big Hebridean ferries entering and leaving the bay. The ambulances arriving from Lochgilphead, Tarbert or Campbeltown come over the southern hill and then swing off the main road directly into the hospital reception bay. One day they brought an old friend of ours, Marion Campbell of Kilberry. She lay in the same ward under an oxygen mask, eyes closed, silver hair scattered on the pillow. Marion was an historian, novelist and poet; she was a patriot antiquary, a sailor in war and a farmer in peace; she was the mother of scientific archaeology and of community museums in Mid-Argyll. Only two days before, I had telephoned her, and found her cursing and joking at the onset of what she said was a nasty cold. I told her how much I was enjoying her biography of Alexander III, published at last after many years. This cheered her. 'Purr, purr!' she responded.

It wasn't a cold that had brought the ambulance so suddenly out to Kilberry, on its windy headland over the Sound of Jura. Going out into the corridor, I waylayed a doctor and asked her what was wrong with Marion. She answered, after a slight pause, that she was not a well lady at all, and watched me to see what I made of that.

Later in the ward, I was talking to my mother about the Ballymeanoch stones, and the one that fell, and saying that nobody seemed sure when it had fallen. A muffled voice came from behind me. 'Well, I know!' said Marion, suddenly awake. It was in 1943, and a Shetland pony was sheltering up against it from the storm when it broke off. Must have terrified the poor beast.' She paused, and then said: 'Nobody would believe now that I remember the stone when it was up, and how I used to look through the hole.' She slept again, and later that afternoon they came to put screens around her bed. They tried to drain her lung, but it was too late. She must have known how ill she was.

Marion died on the third evening after they brought her into hospital, unconscious in a little side room across the corridor. At the moment of her death, I had left the ward and was downstairs in the hospital cafeteria, drinking coffee to bring myself awake for the drive home. The news came to me at Kilmartin next morning.

After Marion's death, my mother talked about their first meeting. There had been a dance some years before the war at Stonefield on Loch Fyne—another big Campbell house, now a hotel. She thought now that Marion's family, probably matchmaking, must have pushed her to come. Anyway, there in the Stonefield drawing room was this small, pretty girl in a blue dress, standing by herself and looking quite bewildered. Her goldy-brown hair had a natural curl. Although my mother was more than sixteen years older, they made friends immediately.

At her funeral, after the service, we all drove behind the hearse to Kilberry where the family burial ground is next to the castle. It was pouring as we formed up to walk down the track through the dim green wood. First went the piper, then the coffin on men's shoulders, then a small girl walking by herself, her long fair hair dripping and lank. We followed, best shoes slipping in the mud, a procession under umbrellas. But as we passed the front of the castle, the sun broke out; the sky turned blue, and the rain glittered as it rushed into the unkempt trees.

On the night of Marion's funeral, as I was making my way to Glasgow to take a train south, my mother suddenly weakened; one after another, the systems of her body gently slowed down and stopped, and she died early the next morning, long before dawn. I had reached London, and was making myself coffee when the telephone rang.

She was ninety-six years old. Marion was eighty. When my mother was a little girl, most people in the district spoke Argyll Gaelic, made their own clothes, grew oats and went fishing after cuddy (saithe and lythe) in oval roving boats they had often built with their own hands. They lit their houses and byres with paraffin, and they walked miles daily to work or to school. Christmas, a pagan or Papist institution, was observed scarcely or not at all, and they kept the Sabbath—after going to the kirk—in heavy silence at home. In spite of this Christian Piety, a boat pushing out into the sea would always be turned sun-wise towards its course; a body taken from the kirk to a grave would be carried sun-wise around the building.

When Marion was small, there were still man); travelling families in the landscape, encamped in woods or at the end of little side lanes, or moving along the roads with their horses and caravans in search of tinker work. Duncan Williamson, who was born on the shore and who through his mother belongs to the famous traveller-clan of the Townsleys, says that they would camp near the standing stones at Ballymeanoch or Nether Largie when they came by Kilmartin. Near, but not too near. His father told him that the stones protected the travelling people who lit fires and bedded down by them, but they did not like to be touched. As a child, Duncan once climbed one of them, but his father was shocked and pulled him off angrily. Afterwards, Duncan fell very ill.

The King Stone (Standing Stone / Menhir)

Taken from Prehistoric England by Graham Clark.... quoting Sir Arthur Evan's version of witch and king..

Just as the king approached the crest of the hill, from which the village of Long Compton would be visible, she halted him with the word "seven long strides shall thou take" and
If long Compton thou canst see,
King of England thou shalt be"
exulting the King cried out;
Stick,stock stone,
As king of England I shall be known"
and strode forward 7 paces, but lo! instead of Long Compton there rose before him a long earthen mound, and the witch replied;
As Long Compton thou canst not see
King of England thou shalt not be.
Rise up, stick, and stand still, stone,
Thou and thy men hoar stones shall be
And I myself an eldern tree".

The whispering knights were turned to stones by the witch because they were plotting treachery..

Lansdown Camp (Barrow / Cairn Cemetery)

As Rhiannon added this site, I shall tell a ghost story. Whilst out walking I met a couple on the path near here, falling into conversation as you do, I said that there was a particular spot on the path that felt eerie, and he said that he'd seen the ghost of a gaitered man walking down this path away from the battle. Believe that as you may, but a friend had a similar experience near Dyrham ( 577ad battle site), a gaitered man appeared in a dark lane, but when this person turned his motorbike round to go back and check, the man had mysteriously disappeared. The lane was bordered by high estate walls so where he went was a mystery....

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