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

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The Sanctuary (Timber Circle) — Miscellaneous

"Pseudo-antiquarianism like Kennett for Kennet and Stukeley's Sanctuary instead of John Aubrey's matter-of-fact but descriptive Seven Barrow Hill may be amusing, but they belong with the olde tea-shoppe."

- Aubrey Burl, 'Calanais' meets the olde tea-shoppe, British Archaeology, no 17, September 1996.

Isle of Skye — Miscellaneous

"Many people believe that it is from her wings* and her Gaelic name, Eilean Sgiathanach (Winged Isle), that the name Skye comes. Ptolemy of Alexandria (A.D. 200) refers to the island as Sketis, while the ancient Celtic name 'Skeitos' has become Sgiath in modern Gaelic. Adamnan knew it as Scia. This 'wing derivation certainly sounds very probable, more probable than the other version which claims that 'Skye' is Scandinavian, derived from a norse word Ski (cloud). This school of thought takes its stand on the fact that cloud or mist is what would first and most forcibly attract the notice of any stranger visiting the isle**, whereas to notice the 'wings' requires a map. Obviously this school has never tried (as the early Scandinavian settlers most certainly did) to sail around the despised wings. Of course, many place-names in Skye undoubtedly are Scandinavian, but they date from a later time than Ptolemy - four or five centuries later. A third suggestion, once seriously put forward by certain Celtic antiquaries, was that in Skye stood the temple, known to Greek fable, of Apollo among the Hyperboreans, and that the Gaelic name of the island refers to the wings of the Greek god! The name may, in fact, belong to some old forgotten pre-Celtic tongue."

- Otta F. Swire, Skye: The Island and its Legends, 1961, pp. 72-3.

* The "wings" are Skye's various promontories, for example Trotternish, Waternish and Duirnish.

** Skye is also known as Eilean a' Cheò, meaning "The Misty Isle".

Rocabarra (Standing Stone / Menhir) — Folklore

No-one knows the precise whereabouts of Rocabarra ("stone of the sea-tangle top"), so the national grid reference for this site is intended to give the rough area rather than the precise location. Indeed, according to Otta F. Swire (Skye: The Island and its Legends, 1961, pp.120-1), Rocabarra has only ever been glimpsed twice by human eyes: once by St. Columba, who was saluted by it, and once by a person about whom Swire remains completely silent. There is a saying: "When Rocabarra appears again the world is due for destruction", although a different folk tradition says that the stone is the Isle of the Blessed, its coming heralding a golden age. The only clue Swire gives as to its location is to say that it is "in this Loch Dunvegan".

The Weeping Stone — Folklore

"In Duntulm Bay lies Tulm Island and beyond it, in clear weather, Fladdachuan, Fladda of the Ocean, can be seen. In olden times this was a sacred spot, held by many to be Tir-nan-Og, the Isle of Perpetual Youth, which lay in the west; here it is always summer and the sun never sets. The puffins recognized its sacred nature and never began any venture until they had circled the island three times sunwise; this they did also on arriving in Skye and before leaving it. It was held by some to be the reason why in Skye people used to turn three times sunwise before starting a new enterprise. The Druids held it in veneration and St. Columba caused a chapel to be built there. On its altar lay a black stone which some say was the original altar stone of the Druids and which was known as the Weeping Stone because it was always wet. Until fairly recently fishermen used to land on the island and pour three handfuls of seawater on the stone to procure favourable winds or to stop bad floods. The Weeping Stone no longer exists, or at least is no longer to be found where the altar once stood."

- Otta F. Swire, Skye: The Island and its Legends, 1961, pp. 56-7.

Isle of Skye — Folklore

The pattern of distribution of monuments near the Red Cuchuillin mountains is very striking, when viewed on the map, for their locations draw a curve around the southern and eastern sides, the monuments roughly equally spaced and delineating the edge of the mountains perfectly. The Red Cuchuillins, then, seem to be of central significant in the positioning of these sites. They are the easternmost part of the Cuchuillin range, the creation of which is described in folklore thus:

"When all the world was new, there was a great heather-clad plain between Loch Bracadale on the west and the Red Hills on the east. It was a dark and lonely place and the Cailleach Bhur (= Hag of the Ridges, i.e. Winter), whose home was on Ben Wyvis, often lived there when she came west to boil up her linen in her washing pot, dangerous Corryvreckan. She was a very powerful and fearsome person who had made Scotland by dropping into the sea a creel of peat and rock which she brought with her from the north. When her clothes had boiled well, she would spread them to bleach on Storr, and while she was in Skye no good weather was to be got at all. Now spring hated her because she held the maiden he loved prisoner (until the girl should wash a brown fleece white) and he fought with her, but she was strong, stronger than anyone else within the four boundaries of the earth, and he could do nothing. He appealed to the Sun to help him and the Sun flung his spear at Cailleach Bhur as she walked on the moor; it was so fiery and hot it scorched the very earth, and where it struck, a blister, six miles long and six miles wide, grew and grew until it burst and flung forth the Cuchuillins as a glowing, molten mass. For many, many months they glowed and smoked, and the Cailleach Bhur fled away and hid beneath the roots of a holly and dared not return. Even now, her snow is useless against the fire hills.

- Otta F. Swire, Skye: The Island and its Legends, 1961, pp. 20-1.

(for more on the Cailleach Bhur in Skye see also Rudha nan Clach)

The Cuchuillins are also noted, in mythology, for the "school for heroes" run by Skiach, "goddess or mortal no one knows which, but undoubtedly a great warrior. Some say she took her name from a Gaelic name for Skye, others that Skye took its name from her" (see Swire pp. 21-3). The Irish hero Cuchuillin, for whom these mountains are named, heard of Skiach and her school, and with three strides travelled from Ulster to her school. After defeating every one of her students, Skiach finally allowed him to fight with her daughter, whom he also vanquished, after two days. Furious, Skiach descended from her heights to fight Cuchuillin herself. After two days of fighting "on the mountains and on the moors and in the sea" the combat was exactly equally matched, with neither able to gain the upper hand. At this stage Skiach's daughter offers both her mother and Cuchuillin a meal of deer stuffed with roast hazelnuts. Each thinking that "the hazels of knowledge" would teach them how to overcome their opponent, the two of them sit down to eat. From the hazels they learn that they are exactly matched, and that neither will ever win over the other. They therefore make peace, and swear that each will answer the other's call, "though the sky fall and crush us". Skiach named the mountains where they had fought in Cuchuillin's honour.

Swire (Ibid., p. 23) records one further curious piece of folklore with regard to the Cuchuillins:

"In the Cuchuillins, too, though exactly where must not be said, is a cave of gold. Unlike all other treasure caves, there are no barriers here between men and untold wealth. No magic word is required. No fearful monster guards the entrance. He who finds the cave may take as much gold as he needs and return as often as he desires more, but each time he enters the cave, and each time he uses the gold, he will become a little more evil and a little more evil, until he loses his soul. That is the price."

Beinn na Caillich (Cairn(s)) — Miscellaneous

Beinn na Caillich means "Hill of the Hag".

Old Man of Storr (Natural Rock Feature) — Links

Martin Junius' PhotoLog

Some beautiful photographs of Storr.

Old Man of Storr (Natural Rock Feature) — Folklore

"Storr is the highest point (2,360 feet) of the long ridge of mountains which form the backbone of Trotternish... At its foot stands the 'Old Man of Storr' who, unfortunately, lost his head in a very severe storm half a century ago but is still a stately and impressive pinnacle. Once, in early medieval times, when the dispute about the date of Easter reached Skye, a priest, dissatisfied with the information to his hand, desired to go to Rome and hear for himself what the Pope had to say about the proper date for Shrove Tuesday. He was a magician. At early dawn he arose and climbed the Storr Rock; there on the brink of the precipice he watched the sun rise and made certain potent spells as it appeared above the earth. These spells not only called up the Devil but transformed him into a horse. The priest leaped on to his back and away to Rome. But the Devil knows a lot about spells and he knew (and the priest knew too) that it was his right to ask what questions he would and the priest must answer them, and answer them truly; yet if the priest mentioned the name of God the magic would be undone, the Devil would vanish in a puff of brimstone and the priest would be left in the sea or in some foreign land, as it might happen. All through that mad ride the Devil propounded questions which required the name of God as an answer, and always the priest answered fully and truly but succeeded in never using the sacred name. So he reached Rome and the Pope in safety, satisfied his conscience as to the proper date to keep Shrove Tuesday, and returned in safety to Skye. How he succeeded in laying the Devil, always the most difficult part of the business, is not known, but tradition has it that the Devil was so greatly impressed by the priest's diabolical cleverness that on being bidden farewell he went quietyl, merely replying (in Gaelic): 'Till we meet again.'"

- Otta F. Swire, Skye: The Island and its Legends, 1961, pp. 39-40.

Storr is also mentioned briefly in The Modern Antiquarian:

"Natural monoliths such as the huge needle-like Pinnacles, near the legendary Old Man of Storr on the Isle of Skye, filled the Neolithics with a deep sense of awe, followed by an underlying determination to imitate them." (p. 113)

The Maidens (Natural Rock Feature) — Links

Isle of Skye Accommodation

Another picture of the Maidens - scroll down to the bottom of the page.

Shorefield House

This web-page has a picture of the Maidens.

The Maidens (Natural Rock Feature) — Folklore

"The Maidens themselves are three great rocks rising up out of the sea, a mother and her two daughters. At their feet the mermaids sit and comb their hair: very few see them but many hear their soft, unforgettable singing. Once a man lay long on the cliff top, watching the kites circling overhead and listening to the hum of the bees. Slowly the hum changed to a mermaid's song and he looked down and saw a mermaid and three seals on the rocks below. Somehow he got down the cliff unseen and caught, not the mermaid but one seal, a half-grown calf; as he held it the water round him boiled as with fish and out of it rose the heads of many mermaids. The one whom he had seen on the rocks still had a comb in her hand. She called to him and bade him release the baby seal and she would reward him. He agreed and asked for her golden comb as a reward. This she refused, but offered him instead three wishes, which offer he accepted but got no good of the wishes. One never does.

The largest of the Maidens, in shape and general appearance, is not unlike the statues of Queen Victoria seated when seen from the sea. She is the Mother (Nic Cleosgeir Mhor) and is said to be perpetually weaving, while one daughter fulls or thickens and the other does nothing at all. Perhaps they are shadows of the old Norse Fates, the Nornir, two of whom spun the threads which are the lives of men, but the third did nothing except cut them when she chose, for she is blind."

- Otta F. Swire, Skye: The Island and its Legends, 1961, pp. 150-1.

Swire remarks that Sir Walter Scott referred to these mighty rock formations as "The Choosers of the Slain" and "The Riders on the Storm", and suggests that he may have been aware of a tradition connecting this region of Skye with the Norse Valkyries, or Choosers of the Slain:

"One night - it was the eve of that Good Friday upon which the Battle of Clontarff was fought in 1014 - a farmer who had been on the cliff top in search of a strayed beast found all the world suddenly dark and, looking up for the cause of the shadow, saw the twelve Valkyries hovering on their swans' wings over Healaval. They were weaving their dreadful web of death upon a loom of lances and the weights of the loom were men's heads. As they wove they sang (the translation by Gray is of a Caithness version of their song):

Horror covers all the heath
Clouds of carnage block the sun;
Sisters, weave the web of death,
Sisters, cease, the work is done.
The song ceased and the farmer saw the Valkyries tear the web into pieces and fly off with them, one half to the north, one half to the south, 'denoting the rending of the ancient faith'. There is no record of the Valkyries being ever seen again in Skye."

- Ibid., pp. 151-2.

A different tradition names the largest Maiden Ran, after:

"the wife of the Norse godling or Vanir called Hler or Ygg or Oegir. It was Oegir's custom to lift his hoary head from the waves when about to call up a storm, to the undoing of ships. When she saw this sign his wife, Ran, made ready and sat fishing for sailors, whose spirits she imprisoned, until for her evil practices she and her maidens were themselves imprisoned in these stones. But they are neither dead nor helpless, for always Macleod's Maidens have been known to contain evil spirits who are wreckers of ships and drowners of men."

- Ibid., p. 152.

The Maidens' reputation as ship-wreckers is, according to Swire, entirely justified, and many sailor's lives have been lost there, not least (yet not only) because of one Campbell of Ensor, a smuggler and wrecker who "used the 'Black Skerries' at the Maidens' feet for his false lights".

Dun Flodigarry (Broch) — Folklore

"Not far from the house is a small mound and so green is its grass that none can doubt the fairies dance there. Indeed, their music has often been heard: once, a man joined them in the dance and disappeared, but was rescued when, exactly one year later, his brother flung a knife so that it stuck in his clothing. He believed he had only danced for an hour."

- Otta F. Swire, Skye: The Island and its Legends, 1961, p. 48.

The "house" to which Swire refers is Flodigarry House, "now a hotel", and the only ancient site marked nearby on the map is "Dunflodigarry", which I suspect to be a broch. Perhaps this is the "mound" which Swire mentions (it is certainly close enough to the hotel: its national grid reference is the one I've used for this site). However, there are hints of a wider prehistoric significance to this landscape, since Swire also describes two suspiciously "holy" sounding wells: "Near Flodigarry House, and not far from the shore, are two wells. Once there was only one spring here and from it the people of the township drew their water" (Ibid). These people, however, were half of them Christian and half pagan, and a bitter quarrel sprang up over the well, "each faction trying to prevent the other from using it". They appealed to St. Turog, a hermit resident on nearby Flodigarry Island, to resolve the dispute, and the saint agreed, meeting with them at the well. The people, however, became so furious in recounting their grievances to the saint that they "fell upon one another with sticks and stones", causing the hermit to hit the well with his staff, so that it dried up, and return to his island. Several days later a sheepish-looking deputation of people implored St. Turog to return their well, which they promised to share between them peacefully in future. The saint separated the people into two groups, pagan and Christian, and used his staff to create a well for each of them:

"The people were delighted and surrounded the old man with shouts of joy. Then he bade them, lest they forget their folly, to go sunwise round each well on the first day of each month before filling their vessels and drop into the well an offering of gratitude for the water. This they promised to do ever after. The two springs sometimes overflow into the rock-pools below. Where one overflows can still be found holy relics, sacred medals and little carved crosses; below the other the finds are quite different, being beads, carved shells, and curios; but below both are small coins."

- Swire, op. cit., p, 49.

Isle of Skye — Miscellaneous

"Strath appears to have been a great religious centre ever since prehistoric times. The remains of several stone circles are still to be seen there, in close juxtaposition to a number of ancient churches now in ruins. It seems generally agreed that before St. Columba brought Christianity to Skye the pagan religion of the island was that mysterious cult which has come to us only in the form of stone circles (believed to have been places of worship), monoliths (which in Skye seem to have been frequently connected with graves or burial mounds), and sacred wells and woods, the latter usually hazel groves. St. Columba never attempted to destroy the sacred places of paganism nor the firm belief in the virtues of certain harmless practices he found: instead he blessed them and gave them Christian symbolism, as in the story of St. Turog and the wells at Flodigarry. This is very clearly illustrated in Strath, where five old churches or chapels, now in ruins, stand each beside or near a stone circle, and the graveyards all contain some prehistoric stones as well as having tradition that they were first pagan burial-grounds and later Christian."

- Otta F. Swire, Skye: The Island and its Legends, 1961, pp. 217-8.

Teampuill Chaon (Christianised Site) — Folklore

"On the north bank lie the ruins of tiny Teampuill Chaon which face, as exactly as may be, the Teampuill Chaon of Boreraig on the opposite shore of Loch Eisort, likewise now a ruin. Close to the little chapel were once the two springs Tobar an Domhnaich (Well of the Lord) and Tobar na Sliante (Well of Health); near them stood the 'Stone of Healing' also. It would seem that though small, this chapel must once have been of some importance. Its holy-water stoup was for long preserved in Ord House. Tradition claims that the sanctity of this spot goes back to long before the Christian era. St. Comgan, it is said, came to Sleat specially to bless and consecrate the Well and Stone of Healing, but their healing gifts were far older than the saint. In those far-away days they were surrounded by a sacred wood and were treated with the respect they deserved. But times change, and the day came when an unbeliever visited the Well of Healing and washed his dirty hands in the good water to show himself superior alike to healing waters and ordinary courtesy. St. Choan saw and was displeased, and as the man rose to his feet, shaking his hands to dry them, the drops fell on dry ground. The healing spring had vanished, but not forever. It soon gushed forth again, crystal clear and pure, no longer on the chapel hill but below it on the sea-shore. Here it can still be seen, though its water is now piped to the Ord Hotel annexe. The Well of the Lord has also disappeared, but a curious circle of stone near the site of the old church may be the place where the water once rose."

- Otta F. Swire, Skye: The Island and its Legends, 1961, pp. 211-2.

Port na Faganaich (Natural Rock Feature) — Folklore

"Not far from Ardvasar is tiny Port na Faganaich, the Port (or Bay) of the Forsaken Ones. Here some great stones stand in the sea. One story tells how they were thrown there by the Fiennes when they were exercising in Knoydart: another makes them pagans who, having 'hearts of stone', would not repent at St. Columba's preaching, nor be baptized, and so became in time 'all stone like their hearts'. But the third story goes better with the Gaelic name. It tells how one night a party of young fishermen returning late from their fishing saw something splashing in the phosphorescent water. They approached quietly and found a number of seal-maidens who had sloughed off their seal-skins and were disporting themselves in the sea. So lovely were they that the youths stood entranced, all but one who ran away with their skins. As the first shafts of dawn light pierced the sky the maidens made for the rock, only to find themselves skinless. They wept and lamented and the boys, in honest ignorance of the skins' whereabouts, comforted them as best they coult. To cut a long story short, each seal-maiden married a young fisherman and they lived together in much happiness for a year, then the youth who had hidden the seal-skins had it 'laid upon him' to return them. That night came the call of the sea and the seal-maidens obeyed it. They could do no other. Their husbands, trying to hold them back, were turned into stones when they entered the sea with their wives. But the seal-maidens never forget and can be seen, by those who have the eyes to see, in the soft sea moonlight, each keeping tryst with her own stone."

- Otta F. Swire, Skye: The Island and its Legends, 1961, pp. 203-4.

There is no sign of the name "Port na Faganaich" on the OS map of the area. There is, however, an ancient cairn marked on the seashore at Ardvasar, and since this is the only ancient monument that the map records in the vicinity of Ardvasar, I have used its national grid reference as the location of Port na Faganaich. I must admit, however, that I have my doubts as to whether or not this is the site Swire describes. The Port na Faganaich stones sound very much like they are actually in the water, and this cairn appears to be on dry land. The national grid reference given here, then, should be taken as a rough guide to the vicinity of the Port na Faganaich Selkie stones.

Kilmore (Christianised Site) — Miscellaneous

"Below the present church of Kilmore is the Sgeir, or Stone, of St. Columba. Here tradition has it that the saint once landed and blessed the ground upon which the church now stands. Before his time it was a place sacred to the Druids but since then it has been Christian. It was at first the site of an early Celtic church dedicated to the Virgin Mary, but there is nothing to be seen now except the ivy-clad ruin..."

- Otta F. Swire, Skye: The Island and its Legends, 1961, p. 198.

Imir nam Fear Mora (Cairn(s)) — Folklore

"The first famous people to use Kylerhea were the Fiennes. Glenelg and Kylerhea have always been their country. According to tradition they were a race of fair and powerful giants, great hunters and fighters; they were either pre-Celtic or Celtic and came to Scotland from Ireland, and to Skye from Glenelg, one of their chief strongholds. Their chief was Fionn. A. R. Forbes in his Place Names of Skye recounts how two large burial-mounds were found at Imir nam Fear Mora (Field of the Big Men) in Glenelg. These were believed to have been opened in the presence of the then Minister of Sleat, who bore witness that in them were found the bones of huge men, bigger than any alive at that time. The Fiennes defended the Highlands from the sea pirates. Their leader, Fionn, was not only a great warrior but had a 'tooth of wisdom' which, when pressed, would answer any question truly."

- Otta F. Swire, Skye: The Island and its Legends, 1961, pp. 188-9.

The 1:50000 scale OS map records two cairns at this location. The 1:25000 scale OS map does not show these cairns, but does list a "cup-marked stone".

Kilchriosd (Stone Circle) — Folklore

"Not far from Aant Sithe the road passes the old churchyard and ruined church of Kilchriosd. Standing on a small mound by the roadside... this ancient graveyard is certainly older than the church itself and possibly older even than the stone circle near by. Most Skye burial-grounds are very old, partly perhaps because people have died since time immemorial and the number of suitable sites for a graveyard in Skye are strictly limited, but perhaps also because St. Columba never broke old customs and we, as a people, are very conservative... About half a mile beyond the ruins of Kilchriosd lies Loch Cil Chriosd. This loch seems to have been held in more than ordinary veneration from the earliest times. Near it, and not far from the road, a stone circle can still be seen, by no means so well preserved as those in the Lews but undoubtedly a circle, and traditionally a prehistoric 'temple'. Close to this circle is the site of the very early and tiny church of Kilcro, Church (or Cell) of the Circle, supposed to have been built on a site chosen by St. Columba himself and first occupied by the cell of one of his followers. Near it is an ancient graveyard and here two very old and curious stones were once to be seen; one was said to bear a striking resemblance to a heathen or pagan idol or Cromcreaich.

Once, Loch Cil Chriosd was haunted by a terrible monster (perhaps the pagan god Lugh himself?), which laid waste the land round about and carried off and devoured women and children. At last the creature was slain by St. Maelrhuba blessing the waters, ever since when the water of that loch has had certain virtues and healing powers. But some have believed that Loch Cil Chriosd was (or sprang from) that cursed stream 'beyond Drum Albyn in the countyr of the Picts' mentioned in Adamnan's Life of St. Columba. This spring, 'which senseless men, the Druids blinding their understanding, worshipped as a god', was believed to have the power to cause leprosy, blindness or intense weakness in those washed its water or drank it. The evil spirit in the water was propitiated by many sacrifices until St. Columba came to the loch side and, knowing its evil reputation, blessed the water and then both drank from it and washed. Adamnan states that a company of Druids stood by overjoyed, eagerly waiting for the god to show his powers. But the saint took no harm and since his blessing the waters have been pure and good for all men."

- Otta F. Swire, Skye: The Island and its Legends, 1961, pp. 219-21.

The OS map has a somewhat enigmatic "rocking stone" at NG617203.

Temple of Anaitis — Folklore

"The Waternish road turns off to the north at Fairy Bridge, whence it runs along the valley of the Bay river. On the left of the road, though at some little distance from it, where the river cleaves its way through a gorge to the sea, stands the mound which is now all that remains of the 'Temple of Anaitis' (so called). What form of prehistoric building it was or of what period is not known. But Dr. Johnson visited Waternish to see it in 1773 and it was a mystery then as now. Its old Gaelic name is said to have been 'Teampuill-na-Annait', and so to have given rise to the Anaitis legend. This name of Annait or Annat is found all over Scotland. It has been interpreted as meaning the 'Water-place' from Celtic 'An' = water, because many are near water. Others suggest 'Ann' = a circle (Celtic) and claim that most Annats are near standing stones. The most-favoured derivation seems to be from Ann, the Irish mother of the Gods, and those who hold this view claim that the Annats are always near a revered spot, where either a mother-church or the cell of a patron saint once stood. Probably Annat does, in fact, come from an older, pre-Celtic tongue, and belongs to an older people whose ancient worship it may well commemorate. The curious shape of the Waternish Temple of Anaitis and its survival make it seem likely that it was something of importance in its day, built with more than usual care and skill. Perhaps the Temple tradition is correct - but whose, if so, and to what gods? One cannot help wondering if cats played any part in its ritual, and if so, if any faint memory remains, for the nickname of the people of this wing was 'Na Caits' = The Cats, and not far off, by one of the tributary burns on the right of the roadway, there stands a small cairn, crowned by a long, sharp stone somewhat resembling a huge claw. This is the 'Cats' Cairn'."

- Otta F. Swire, Skye: The Island and its Legends, 1961, pp. 94-5.

The Cats' Cairn (NG271526) is said to mark the grave of a young eighteenth century boy, who was buried where he died. Whilst sheltering from a storm in a derelict cottage one day he saw three cats that transformed themselves into witches. They "put the fear" upon him, so that he would tell no-one of what he had seen, promising to kill him if he breathed a word of them. His terror was so great, however, causing him to stop sleeping and eating, that his mother knew something was wrong and persuaded him to reveal all. A year later he was found dead on the moor: "he appeared to have been done to death by long, sharp claws" (Swire, p. 97).

A further example of this kind of Annait place-name can be found elsewhere on Skye at Clach na h'annait.

Boreraig (Stone Circle) — Miscellaneous

"About two miles beyond Heast was the stone circle of Boreraig, as usual well defended by duns and, again as usual, close by the circle is the ruin of a little Celtic church, Teampuill Chaon, Chapel of Congan or Comgan."

- Otta F. Swire, Skye: The Island and its Legends, 1961, p. 231.

The Raven's Stone (Standing Stone / Menhir) — Folklore

"Overlooking Elgol is Bidein an Fhithich. Near here once stood the famous Raven's Stone, about which the Brahn Seer prophesied. It is believed that this prophecy, however, can never be fulfilled, as seventy or eighty years ago the stone was broken up and the main portion of it is now incorporated in one wall of the Glendale church, according to the Rev. A. R. Forbes' Place Names of Skye. The stone was believed to have had some connexion with old pagan religious ceremonies."

- Otta F. Swire, Skye: The Island and its Legends, 1961, p. 230.

The Brahn (or more commonly Brahan) Seer was Coinneach Odhar, a sixteenth century prophet who is said to have foretold the Battle of Culloden, the Highland Clearances and the coming of the railways.

Na Clachan Bhreige (Stone Circle) — Miscellaneous

"Na Clachan Breitheach, the Lying, or False, Stones, a name presumably given to them by Christian converts. These were once, if tradition is to be believed, Stones of Wisdom who could both foretell the future and show justice as between man and man."

- Otta F. Swire, Skye: The Island and its Legends, 1961, p. 228.

The OS map also records a nearby ancient cairn.

Kilmarie (Stone Circle) — Miscellaneous

"The site of the old church of Kilmarie and of the stone circle whose proximity no doubt originally called it into being are now no longer to be seen. The ruins of the old church, I am told, were swept away by the sea during that great storm in the 1920s which also blew down the Dunvegan woods... This church is said to have stood on the site of an older church of St. Maelrhuba (Servant of Peace) who was the patron saint of south-eastern Skye."

- Otta F. Swire, Skye: The Island and its Legends, p. 227.

Clachan Fhuarain (Standing Stone / Menhir) — Folklore

"Having crossed the Dunach burn the road runs for two or three miles across Druim an Fhuarain, so called from Clachan Fhuarain (the Well Stone), an enormous stone, estimated to weigh over two tons, which one of Cuchullin's companions flung here when he was practising 'putting the weight' in the Isle of Soay."

- Otta F. Swire, Skye: The Island and its Legends, 1961, p. 225.

Unfortunately, Swire gives no precise details of this stone's exact location. There is a spring on Druim an Fhuarain, however, called Tobar Ceann, and since the word "Tobar" indicates a well I have used its location here when giving the map reference of the Well Stone. It should be understood, however, that this is intended to give you an indication of the general vicinity, not the precise site, of this stone.

Clach Oscar (Standing Stone / Menhir) — Folklore

"This great stone commemorates one of the Fienne giants, Oscar, that illustrious one 'whose banner never went a foot back until the grey earth trembled'. He is reputed to have flung the stone there fom a neighbouring hilltop when suffering from high spirits."

- Otta F. Swire, Skye: The Island and its Legends, 1961, p. 223.

An Sithean (Chambered Cairn) — Folklore

"Aant Sithe, a green mound close to the roadway on the right-hand side. This, as its name implies, is a fairy place. On clear moonlight nights the fairies can be seen dancing on the grass that surrounds the central stone and anyone approaching quietly and with a receptive mind may hear the wonderful strains of fairy music issuing from the ground. What the mound was before it was a fairy dwelling is something of a mystery. In the centre of the summit stands a large stone, perhaps once a 'standing stone' but now closely resembling a broken tooth. Round it is a ring of grass, and then a ring of stone much over-grown; from this stone ring or circle run causeways (or perhaps old fortificaitons or walls), like the rays of a star, to the low ground around it."

- Otta F. Swire, Skye: The Island and its Legends, 1961, p. 219.

The OS map identifies An Sithean as a chambered cairn, also recording some hut circles to the east of the site.

Clach na h'annait (Standing Stone / Menhir) — Folklore

"The site of Kilbride is not visible from the road, but near it, on the glebe of the new parish church of Torran, stands the Annat Stone. This is an immense boulder of upright shape and of it the Brahn Seer prophesied: 'Here the raven will drink his fill of blood from the Stone.' The Stone is reputed to have once been thirty feet high but now it is five or six - anyhow, above ground. Like the Temple of Annait in Waternish, this Annat Stone is a mystery. Near it is Tobar an ha'annait, the Well of Annat."

- Otta F. Swire, Skye: The Island and its Legends, 1961, p. 222.

Kilbride (Stone Circle) — Miscellaneous

"Soon after Loch Cil Chriosd the road begins to rise and passes a small lochan. Near here is the site of the old church of Kilbride, the ruins of which have now almost entirely disappeared, though a little way beyond it traces of a stone circle, certainly very much earlier, can still be seen."

- Otta F. Swire, Skye: The Island and its Legends, 1961, p. 222.

Saint Bride's role in the christianisation of this site (Kilbride means "Church of Saint Bride") can, perhaps, reveal something of this place's pre-christian significance.

Cnoc Ullinish (Chambered Tomb) — Miscellaneous

"Dr. Johnson stayed at Ullinish as the guest of Sheriff-Substitute Macleod and while there was shown all the sights of the neighbourhood: Dun Beag, of course, and also the three monoliths or standing stones beyond the house. Local tradition has always maintained that they were erected 'long ago' for burning the dead and this tradition seems to be approximately correct, for a fairly recent find close to these stones was an ancient funerary urn full of ashes."

- Otta F. Swire, Skye: The Island and its Legends, 1961, p. 166.

The OS map also shows a second chambered cairn at NG336376, and also a souterrain at NG333384.

Temple of Anaitis — Miscellaneous

"The weather this day was rather better than any that we had since we came to Dunvegan. Mr M’Queen had often mentioned a curious piece of antiquity near this which he called a temple of the goddess Anaitis. Having often talked of going to see it, he and I set out after breakfast, attended by his servant, a fellow quite like a savage. I must observe here, that in Sky there seems to be much idleness; for men and boys follow you, as colts follow passengers upon a road. The usual figure of a Sky boy, is a lown with bare legs and feet, a dirty kilt, ragged coat and waistcoat, a bare head, and a stick in his hand, which, I suppose, is partly to help the lazy rogue to walk, partly to serve as a kind of a defensive weapon. We walked what is called two miles, but is probably four, from the castle, till we came to the sacred place. The country around is a black dreary moor on all sides, except to the sea-coast, towards which there is a view through a valley, and the farm of Bay shews some good land. The place itself is green ground, being well drained, by means of a deep glen on each side, in both of which there runs a rivulet with a good quantity of water, forming several cascades, which make a considerable appearance and sound. The first thing we came to was an earthen mound, or dyke, extending from the one precipice to the other. A little farther on, was a strong stone-wall, not high, but very thick, extending in the same manner. On the outside of it were the ruins of two houses, one on each side of the entry or gate to it. The wall is built all along of uncemented stones, but of so large a size as to make a very firm and durable rampart. It has been built all about the consecrated ground, except where the precipice is deep enough to form an enclosure of itself. The sacred spot contains more than two acres. There are within it the ruins of many houses, none of them large, a cairn, and many graves marked by clusters of stones. Mr M’Queen insisted that the ruin of a small building, standing east and west, was actually the temple of the goddess Anaitis, where her statue was kept, and from whence processions were made to wash it in one of the brooks. There is, it must be owned, a hollow road visible for a good way from the entrance; but Mr M’Queen, with the keen eye of an antiquary, traced it much farther than I could perceive it. There is not above a foot and a half in height of the walls now remaining; and the whole extent of the building was never, I imagine, greater than an ordinary Highland house. Mr M’Queen has collected a great deal of learning on the subject of the temple of Anaitis; and I had endeavoured, in my journal, to state such particulars as might give some idea of it, and of the surrounding scenery; but from the great difficulty of describing visible objects, I found my account so unsatisfactory, that my readers would probably have exclaimed 'and write about it, Goddess, and about it!' and therefore I have omitted it."

- James Boswell, Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson, LL.D., Friday 17th September 1773.

Rudha nan Clach (Standing Stones) — Folklore

"Rudha nan Clach, the Point of Stones; these are some old Druidical stones near the cliff edge. It is said that when the Cailleach Bhur sprang from a mountain in Duirinish (believed by some to be Healaval Beg) to Ben Cruchan in Argyll to escape from the wrath of the sun, she touched these stones with her foot, and that is why there is a point of the same name in Mull, where the 'Shrieking Hag', as they called her there, landed when she came to Mull to die after a life of many thousands of years. A lament for her death was sung there into modern times."

- Otta F. Swire, Skye: The Island and its Legends, 1961, p. 182.

For the complete tale of the Cailleach Bhur, see The Red Cuchuillins.

Beinn na Caillich (Cairn(s)) — Folklore

"As you drive down the road towards Broadford, three peaks can be seen to the north; the first two are Beinn na Greine (2,000 feet) and Scurr na Coinnich (2,401 feet); the third and most northerly is Beinn na Caillich (2, 396 feet). This last must not be confused with the Beinn na Caillich near Broadford, which is one of the Red Cuchullins although, just to make it more confusing, on the summit of our Beinn na Caillich, as on that of her larger sister, tradition has placed a woman's grave. This time it is that of a giantess, one of the Fiennes: beneath her body is a large crock filled with gold and jewels, for she was a great lady, no less than Grainnhe herself, wife of Fionn, and at her burial every man of the Fiennes, for love of her and of their leader, cast their rarest jewels into the earthenware crock to do her honour. Her story, as is so usual in Celtic legend, is a sad one. Grainne is the daughter of the King of Morven and is reputed the fairest and truest princess in all Alban, so the Grey Magician, who hates all that is good, carries her off. One day, as Fionn and his men rest after hunting, an old, old woman, wrapped in the red mantle that denoted royal blood, comes to him, tells him of the theft of Grainnhe and begs him to rescue her. He agrees, whereupon she gives him a fir twig and three small pebbles, all highly magic; she then goes out of sight 'on an eddy of the western wind, growing smaller as she went until she seemed no bigger than a butterfly, a honey bee, a red spider on a thin rope of its web, and a speck of dust in the sun'. Fionn sets out and after many adventures, during which he is assisted by several talking animals, he finds the Grey Magician's palace and escapes with Grainnhe. Thanks to the old woman's gifts, forests and mountains rise behind the fugitives, but before they can reach the Red river, to cross which is safety, the Magician overcomes the old woman's charms. They reach the river bank only to find they cannot cross, and Fionn's magic is exhausted. But Grainnhe has a jewel, a charm against death; as long as she wears it in her hair no evil can harm her; alternatively it will give her one wish and vanish. She takes it from her hair to wish for a boat and immediately sees, as in a vision, the fate to which she will condemn herself if she gives up her talisman. But Fionn is in peril through his efforts to save her, and already she loves him, so she lays the jewel on the water. A boat at once appears and takes them to safety.

Fionn and Grainnhe are married and live in great happiness until Grainnhe's son is about to be born. Then come messengers to Fionn to tell him that sea-pirates are attacking his small dark-skinned allies, the Sons of Morna, who have sent to remind him of his pledge to assist them. Fionn longs to remain with Grainnhe but will not break his vow. He and his men spend three days defeating the sea-pirates and when he returns Grainnhe and her baby are gone, carried off by the Grey Magician. Fionn learns from his 'tooth' that she has been turned into a hind. He searches for her for many years, but she has been sent to run with the deer in lone Glen Affaric and he never finds her. Twelve years later, when the Fiennes are hunting, their hounds pick up a scent and follow it to a small copse; Bran, who is leading, is the first to enter it, whereupon, to the surprise of all, he turns at bay, teeth bared against the Fiennes and his fellow hounds of the pack and will allow no one but Fionn to pass him. Fionn finds him guarding a wild boy, with long hair and wild, beautiful, frightened eyes, who can make only such sounds as deer make. Fionn adopts him and teaches him human speech. Needless to say, he is Grainnhe's son, but Grainnhe, the beautiful white hind of whom her son talks, is never found. After her death the Grey Magician permits her son to take her body, once more that of a woman, for burial, and the Fiennes make her grave on the summit of Beinn na Caillich, where she once ran as a hind.

It is recounted of this boy that he had in the centre of his forehead a tuft of deer's fur where his mother's tongue had licked him, and that it was from her that he got his gift of poetry. Once he was shipwrecked on Fladda and a party of hunters on the island offered him a share of their venison stew, to whom he made indignant reply: 'When everyone picks his mother's shank-bone, I will pick my mother's slender shank-bone.' The boy was Ossian."

- Otta F. Swire, Skye: The Island and its Legends, 1961, pp. 191-3.

Beinn na Cailleach (Cairn(s)) — Folklore

This site should not be confused with Skye's other Beinn na Caillich, although admittedly this is difficult since not only do they both have the same name, but also each has a cairn on the summit which is said to be a woman's grave.

"The road to Sligachan winds under the shadow of Beinn na Caillich, on whose summit a cairn can be seen. It marks the grave of a Norse princess who lies forever gazing out to Norway, which she loved and whence she came. How was she ever laid there? What devotion she must have inspired in one at least in a foreign land. It was believed that if she saw danger approaching she would return to warn her children's children."

- Otta F. Swire, Skye: The Island and its Legends, 1962, p. 13.

Swire also records a story (pp. 9-11) in which a priest from Pabay was walking through this region of Skye on his way to meet with some parishioners, when a crowd of 'little people' waylaid him in the forest. An old man came from amongst their ranks and explained to him that they were the Daoine Sithe (the fairies) and that:

"...we have come to beg you to pray for us, that we may become once more God's children and recover our souls. For a long time we have repented of our sins but we dare not say the Pater Noster or any other prayer unless we have your forgiveness."

The priest, in his overwhelming generosity of spirit, refused to forgive them, having been taught that "the 'little people' belonged to the Evil One", and declared to them "as soon would my stick become a tree again as God forgive you". The grief of the Daoine Sithe was tangible, audible:

"Everywhere round him he could hear as he went a soft, despairing wailing, as of a people without hope. It spread through the forest and up the slopes of Beinn na Caillich on into the hills and did nothing to lessen the trouble in his mind."

He went on his way, met with his parishioners and baptized their new-born child. But when he was done there he realised that he had left his staff at the place where he had met the 'little people', and since this crook was both his badge of office and his only possession, he returned to find it. There he discovered that it had transformed itself into a mighty ash tree, taller than every other tree in the forest. Remembering his words to the Daoine Sithe, about his stick becoming a tree again, he fell on his knees and prayed, then began wandering around the forest calling to the 'little people'. Yet he was answered with only their hopeless wailing. So he returned to Pabay and sought permission to live in the forest, permission which he obtained. On returning to the trees:

"...he preached continually, day and night, the forgiveness of God to all who would listen, birds, beasts and trees. Men called him mad and he never saw the 'little people' again, but slowly the wailing ceased in the hills."

Penshaw Hill (Hillfort) — Links

The Internet Sacred Text Archive

This version of the tale of the Lambton Worm, from Edwin Sidney Hartland's 1890 English Fairy and Other Folk Tales also makes no mention of Penshaw Hill. It is notable for the poem it contains, in which the worm's death is described: I have never encountered this particular version anywhere else.

Penshaw Hill (Hillfort) — Miscellaneous

The North East England History Pages Website states that Penshaw Hill can be "seen clearly from parts of west Durham, North Tyneside and as far south as the Stang Forest in Teesdale".

Hasting Hill (Round Barrow(s)) — Links

Jake's Rides

A photograph of Hasting Hill.

Penshaw Hill (Hillfort) — Links

Northumberland Grid For Learning

You've not heard the tale of the Lambton Worm until you've heard it. Every child in the north-east knows it because of the famous song, written by C.M. Leumane in 1867 for a pantomime that was performed in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, at the Tyne Theatre. This website features a recording of the song, as sung by the children of Stobhillgate First School, in Morpeth, Northumberland. Spoken versions of the song's lyrics are also available, in both the Northumbrian and the Geordie accent, as well as standard English. These files are fairly large, and take some time to download, so you'll need to be patient. I should point out that the storytellers in the spoken versions have drastically slowed down the fast pace of their natural speech in order to make it easier for non-natives to understand. Also bear in mind that the website is an educational resource for schools, and so is aimed at children. This means that the tale is illustrated with cartoon-style animations, and also that the song can only be heard a verse at a time. Although this can be slightly annoying, the site is still well worth investigating, if you've never heard the tale of the Lambton Worm (or the true pronunciation of the name Penshah!).

The Twelve Apostles of Ilkley Moor (Stone Circle) — Links

Old Yorkshire

The Twelve Apostles by Brian Barker - this short article refers to theories from Bradford University which state that this monument had astronomical uses, and briefly describes the involvement of 17th Century Masons in its reconstruction.

Barclodiad-y-Gawres (Chambered Cairn) — Folklore

Barclodiad-y-Gawres means, as has been mentioned by others here, "The Giantess' Apronful". The folklore behind this name describes how two giants, husband and wife, were on their way to Anglesey, where they intended to build themselves a house. The husband was carrying two large boulders, which he intended to use as door-posts, and the wife had filled her apron with smaller stones. When they reached Bwlch-y-Ddeufaen ("The Pass of the Two Stones") they met a cobbler, coming in the opposite direction, and so they asked him how far they still had to travel to reach Mona. With a mischevious look in his eye he showed them the numerous pairs of worn-out shoes he was carrying (he was a cobbler, after all) and told them he had worn all of these out walking from there. The giantess and her husband were so horrified at this news that they threw down the stones they were carrying, in this way creating Barclodiad-y-Gawres.

The Rollright Stones (Stone Circle) — Links

Sacred Texts

English Fairy and Other Folk Tales, by Edwin Sidney Hartland [1890].
The tale of a farmer who moved one of these stones - his meddling is disastrous in the short-term though worth it in the long run.

Callanish (Standing Stones) — Links

British Archaeology Magazine

'Calanais' Meets The Olde Tea-Shoppe, an essay by Aubrey Burl, from British Archaeology Magazine, protesting at changes to the traditional names of stone circles. Burl argues that Callanish is the true name of this site, and that Calanais is "a whimsicality".

Temple of Sulis (Sacred Well) — Miscellaneous

Solinus, the 3rd century CE author of Collectanea Rerum Memorabilium, a descriptive book about places, wrote of Britain "...there are many great rivers and hot springs richly adorned for the use of men. Over these springs the Minerva is patron goddess and in her temple the eternal flames never whiten into ash, but when the flame declines it turns into rocky lumps". Many scholars have interpreted this as a reference to the temple of Sulis Minerva at Bath arguing that a sacred fire (fuelled by coal) was kept burning for her here.

Temple of Sulis (Sacred Well) — Links

The Official Roman Baths Museum Website

This site, unsurprisingly, has a bit of a preoccupation with all things Roman, but is nevertheless filled with useful information.


Senua, Forgotten Goddess

Archaeologists have discovered a significant Romano-British shrine in Hertfordshire to a goddess whose name has not been heard before: Senua. The similarities between this shrine to that of Sulis at Bath, the fact that Senua, like Sulis, is identified with Minerva and also the resemblance of the Sen sound to our word Sun makes me suspect that this goddess could be a descendant of the ancient Indo-European Sun & eye goddess Suil, though I must also add that my interpretation is to some extent speculative.

Callanish (Standing Stones) — Folklore

"Another story tells how in a time of famine a white cow appeared from the sea and directed the women to take their milk pails to the old stone circle, where she provided everyone with a pailful of milk each night. A witch tried to get two pailsful but without success, so she returned next time with a sieve with which she milked the cow dry. After that it was never again seen at Callanish stones."

- Janet & Colin Bord, A Guide to Ancient Sites in Britain

Callanish (Standing Stones) — Miscellaneous

Alexander Thom describes his first visit to Callanish, the beginning of his lifetime megalithic quest:

"The Sound of Harris is the only passage to the Atlantic in the 100 miles chain of the Outer Hebrides, and after a hard sail from the Sound we put in to West Loch Roag, in north western Lewis. Passing through the Barragloam Narrows we proceeded in the gloaming up East Loch Roag as far as my chart allowed me to go with safety. I was navigating with care; finally the anchor went over and the sails came down. As we stowed sail, we looked up and saw the rising moon. Silhoetted on the moon's disc like great fingers were the stones of Tursachan Callanish. That evening, since I had been concentrating on navigation as darkness was approaching, I did not know how near we were to the main Callanish site... I never forgot that visit to the site in the moonlight. The long days of buffeting in the Atlantic made one ready to appreciate the quiet and perfect anchorage. At the site one could not but be affected by the surroundings - the mystery of the unknown terrain - the loch lying quiet below and above all the towering stones of the most unspoilt monolithic structure in Britain."

(from Walking in all of the Squares: Alexander Thom, Engineer and Archaeoastronomer by Archibald S. Thom, his son)

At the Stones of Callanish
a poem by Iain Crichton Smith
(from Collected Poems, 1992, Carcanet Press)

At the Stones of Callanish yesterday I heard one woman saying to another: 'This is where they burnt the children in early times'. I did not see druids among the planets nor sun nor robe: but I saw a beautiful blue ball like heaven cracking and children with skin hanging to them like the flags in which Nagasaki was sacrificed.

Penshaw Hill (Hillfort) — Links

Mysterious Britain

A prose version of the tale of the Lambton Worm. This is particularly interesting as it makes no mention at all of Penshaw Hill, associating the Worm, rather, with Worm's Hill, Worm Rock and Worm's Well.

Sherburn Grange (Cist) — Miscellaneous

I can find no exact grid reference for this site, so the one I give here is intended only to indicate the general area. This site has been described as "a short Bronze Age cist with an unburnt body found at Sherburn" (Co. Durham VCH, 1905, vol. 1, p. 208), the Ordnance Survey adding only "near to Sherburn Grange, a short cist with the decayed bones of a body which had been deposited on its side in the usual contracted position" (NZ34SW6, 1954).

West Brandon (Ancient Village / Settlement / Misc. Earthwork) — Miscellaneous

"Rectilinear ditched enclosure. Circular central structure within, with entrance to the east (Haselgrove, CC, Indigenous Settlement Patterns. Rural Settlement in the Roman North, 1983). Excavations were carried out in 1960 and 1961. These revealed three structural phases, two related to the enclosed homestead. The evidence was badly ploughed out in places. The enclosure was found to have a palisaded perimeter with an east entrance where a set of post holes was found. Two houses were identified in the interior. Two rock cut bowl furnaces were identified. A third earlier round house was excavated. There were also a number of post holes to which neither form nor function could be attributed (Jobey, G, Iron Age Homestead at West Brandon, Archaeology Aeliona, 1962, ser. 4, 40, 1-34)." (County Durham Sites & Monuments Register)

The map reference given here is accurate to within 1km.
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