Stone hunting in Glen Lyon

Yesterday I decided to visit Glen Lyon with the hope of seeing a few of the many standing stones which are scattered around the area. Glen Lyon (Gleann Lìomhann in gaelic) is a bit of a hidden gem. Off the main tourist track, it is not a busy spot for visitors and remains largely unspoiled. It is a very narrow glen and stretches approximately 25 miles from start to finish. It begins in the east near the village of Fortingall and runs to Loch Lyon in the west.

The glen is steeped in history and has been the residence of many Scottish families, including MacGregors, Menzies, Stewarts, Macnaughtans, MacGibbons and the Campbells. It was once a busy agricultural location, and housed a population of around 4000 in the 19th century. Today, the population is fairly sparse, but driving through the glen you will see some beautiful old stone houses and cottages, and also many tasteful and enviable conversions.

I was interested in located a couple of stones in particular;  St. Adomnán’s Cross and The Praying Hands of Mary. Born in Co Donegal, Adomnán became the ninth abbot of Iona after St Columba in 679 AD. He was an important religious figure in Ireland and Scotland and he and preached in the area of Glenlyon. He died in 704 AD.

I found some directions on the internet, although they weren’t really very accurate. Eventually I found the stone on top of an embankment on the left hand side of the road just before Camusvrachan farmstead. I had to park in a passing place, which wasn’t ideal, so I made sure I didn’t stay there too long.

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You can enter the field by this gate, but no dogs allowed!

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                                                           St. Adomnán’s Cross

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Above : Facing West Below: The rear view of the stone

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Above: The rough markings of a cross

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 Having taken a few photos, I wanted to find the Praying Hands of Mary next. Anyone reading this blog could be mistaken in thinking that I am a religious person, but my reasons for seeking out Praying Hands of Mary was because of its alleged connections to a local network of ley lines.

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To access the’ Praying hands’ you must exit the road through Glen Lyon at RoRo, where you drive down a small track until you come to a bridge. Unfortunately you are not permitted to cross the bridge by car, as the estate owners don’t like visitors, so I left the car at the bridge and embarked on a walk towards the stones.

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At the sign you need to turn right towards Balmenoch, and walk for about a mile until you reach two semi detached cottages, then follow a track up a hill opposite them. The track isn’t very easy to follow in places, but what I did notice was the sparkle of rocks containing Iron Pyrites which glistened all the way up to the stones, which made it seem even more magical!

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Finally I reached the stones which stood majestically atop the hill. They really are an awesome sight at about 12ft tall!

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There is an interesting article about ley lines written by David Cowan which explains how they work. I find it fascinating that there are many mysterious megalithic sites around me, and am keen to have a go at dowsing some of them. I enjoyed my trip to Glen Lyon, but next time I will set off earlier in the morning in order to visit the House of the Cailleach, which is at the far end of the glen, and quite a considerable walk on foot.

The Beltane Fire Festival

Some  pictures I took last night at the Beltane Fire Festival. Unfortunately, I forgot to put my camera phone on Night settings, and ended up with poor quality images  😦

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We were greeted on arrival by this “Queen of Hearts” and given a rose

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This exciting performance has prompted me to consider doing some performance or relational art myself, perhaps linked with my own art, or the ritual of dyeing, as Angela suggested. The costumes were also very inspirational, and I feel that I want to make myself a large crown of twigs and flowers to wear!

The Beltane Fayre

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I went to the Beltane Fayre at St Andrews today, as I heard there would be a maypole there….something which is practically non-existant in Scotland. Although rain was forecast, it turned out to be quite bright and dry the further east I drove, and was a lovely sunny day when I reached St Andrews.

It was a mediaeval style event, with re-enactment groups battling with swords, small tents selling mead, traditional silversmithing and copper jewellery, and mediaeval music playing. All the participants wore mediaeval costumes, and many even spoke in  “olde worlde language”…which was a bit embarrassing when being asked “Fair maiden…wouldst thou care to sample my mead ?”

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On one of the stalls I met a lady who had samples of dyed wool, and we had a good chat about plants and dyeing techniques. She had some beautiful samples and it was interesting to compare some of the colours she had achieved to the differing results which had occurred on the muslin I had dyed. Wool takes colour much more easily apparently, and this got me thinking that perhaps I should dye some wool, then maybe felt it as part of a larger piece or hanging.

20140426_120738#1 Beautiful samples of dyed wool

20140426_120725After wandering around the stalls for a bit longer I went to watch the maypole dancing. It was being run by the St Andrews Pagan Society, who also had a stall at the fayre. Spectators were offered to participate, but I chose to take photos instead!

IMG_20140426_183623IMG_20140426_182554The custom of dancing around the maypole is an ancient fertility rite, which was usually performed on May 1st (May Day). The custom dates back to ancient times when tree worship was practised, and most of the original maypoles were made from birch trees, which were tall and slim. The maypoles were banned by Puritans in 1644, but erected again in 1660 when Charles II was in power. 
Maypole dances vary slightly from region to region, but the weaving of the two ribbons together to make a third is thought to symbolise the union of two people creating a third.

It was interesting to have seen this custom take place, and the way that the dance performed wove the pattern around the pole, like weaving with a human loom.

Before leaving St Andrews I took a trip to the beach, and found some seaweed to take some prints from. Driving home through Newburgh, I stopped at the Twist Fibre Craft studio where I purchased some wool, having been inspired by the lady at the fayre.

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Twist Fibre Craft Studio have an amazing selection of wool!

I bought Cheviot, Merino, and some gorgeous Wensleydale Curls. Tomorrow morning I plan to prepare the wool, and then hopefully may be able to start dyeing it in the evening.  All in all, I had a very fruitful and interesting day.

The Beltane Fires

I have been reading about pagan fertility rituals lately…concerning plants and crops, (as I don’t have the energy for another child! ) and realised that Beltane will soon be upon us. Beltane falls on the 1st of May and is a date on the pagan calendar which some people may otherwise call May day. In England, May Day rituals and customs involved dancing around the Maypole, and were strongly linked with sexual fertility for both crops  and humans.

Beltane marked the beginning of Summer on the Celtic calendar, and it is a time when the herds of cattle and sheep were put out to pasture. Rather than using the Maypole, Rituals took place which involved lighting two fires which the cattle would be led between to ensure their wellbeing and fertility for the remainder of the year. The fires were symbolic of the sun, which would also guarantee an abundant crop, and in some areas the ashes were thrown between crops to protect them.

I had seen a book called The Golden Bough (1922), by Sir James George Frazer on Amazon a while ago, and thought it could be useful to my studies, and lo and behold, last night I realised that it is available to read online free of charge. It gave detailed accounts of Beltane, and I found it especially interesting that Beltane customs were widely practiced in Perthshire, in many locations which I was very familiar with. Chapter 62 is about the Fire Festivals of Europe, with a subchapter 4 on The Beltane Fires. 

The fires may also have had a more sinister side to them however – ancient Romans, amongst them Julius Caesar claim that the Celts offered human sacrifices to the Sun god or Oak god to ensure abundant crops. No one can be entirely sure that this was true, or just Roman propaganda…but it certainly makes the whole thing seem more mysterious, and also makes for a great story line.

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One of my favourite films – The Wicker Man (1973) by Anthony Shaffer, starring Edward Woodward and Christopher Lee, has a plot which is based around a Beltane sacrifice, which involves the unknowingly “willing” participant to be imprisoned in a giant wicker man and burnt alive. The victim is a policeman who is called to an island to investigate the disappearance of a child, and in doing so he stumbles upon an entire population who are practising shocking pagan rituals in order to keep their island a fruitful place to live.

Being a bit more confident with the handling of the hogweed, I have a notion to attempt a Wicker Man sculpture, which I may or may not burn as part of a ritual which I will film. 

I have been researching types of plants associated with Beltane rituals and some of these include :

  • Hawthorn – said to be one of the most magical trees and included in the Druidic tree alphabet. It was used as a decoration around the home and also worn at Beltane

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  • Rowan – sprigs of it were worn, and branches placed above doors at Beltaine to protect from Faeries

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  • Birch – traditionally used to make brooms and maypoles

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Other plants include: primrose, yellow cowslip, roses, nettles, dandelions, rosemary, lilac, bluebells, daisies, ivy and marigolds. These plants could be used in a wicker man ritual, to decorate him, or to be placed upon an alter, or used to make dyes to represent the plants of spring.

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A very dull (but not boring) stone circle!

I went on a mission to find more stone circles, and I’m really excited as there seems to be loads of them around Perthshire.  I have passed many single standing stones whilst driving around, but have never seen any circles until recently.

I read that there was a really good stone circle near Aberfeldy called Croft Moraig, so I decided to go and check it out. Unfortunately I didn’t have a map, so I drove up to the area in hope that I would find someone to ask. I stopped in Aberfeldy, and was told to head towards Dull, and that the stones were in a field at the roadside.

Eventually I came across the sign for Dull, which incidently is twinned with Boring, Oregon.

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I headed up a track to the Highland Safari centre, where I found a couple of very helpful ladies who were stone enthusiasts themselves. They gave me a map on which they marked the nearby circles and informed me that there was a great example of a four poster circle about 200m down the road.

I managed to park in a nearby passing place, and crossed the road to crawl through a gap in a hedge to access the Carse Farm field. The stones were quite low, with one standing more prominent than the others.

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I found a bit more info about these stones when I got home at: http://www.stravaiging.com/history/ancient/site/carse-farm-i#sthash.L4DomKYT.dpuf

This four-poster circle is close to the edge of a field on the S side of the B846 Aberfeldy-Tummel Bridge road. When it was visited in 1907 by Coles, only 3 of the stones were standing, with the SW stone lying between the two N stones. An excavation in 1964 found the hole for the prostrate stone, and it was re-erected. Also discovered, by the NE stone, was a pit containing cremated bone, charcoal and blackened earth, and a collared urn with “incised geometric ornamentation.”

Having taken a few photos, I thought it was time to move on so I headed to the car to start the journey to the next site – Croft Moraig. I had to drive through Kenmore past the Crannog, and head past Taymouth Castle until I came upon Croft Moraig Farm on the Bolfrack Estate. Apparently the estate has some spectacular gardens, but it was getting late, so I thought I’d better just view the stones and come back another day when the weather was less wet.

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I have driven past this spot on a few occasions, and can’t believe I have never noticed the impressive circle in the field here. It really is a fine example, but I couldn’t help but wish it had been in a more secluded spot, as the nearby farm sheds and house did spoil the effect somewhat.

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Its easy to miss the impressive Croft Moraig circle from the road

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Some pretty amazing trees nearby 

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The stones are covered in lichens, mosses and markings

I couldn’t find any information about excavations on the site, however it states on the Megalithics website that Croft Moraig was built over three phases. Before the stones there were originally wooden posts marking the site, and that stones were later placed in a horseshoe, before an outer circle of twelve was added. Could the twelve signify anything to do with the calendar?

My final stop of the day was back towards home, past Aberfeldy to a spot called the Lagg. I was told by one of the ladies at the Highland Safari centre that there was a small circle here.

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I drove up the steep and very bumpy road, which was well worth the journey when I reached the prize at the top. The Lagg circle (otherwise known as the Lundin Farm circle) comprised of four large stones, with a small supporting stone and a few more smaller stones on the adjacent path. But the most amazing feature of this site was that the stones had been placed around a tree!

20140309_163755A mysterious site of great beauty and peace with a large oak at the centre

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This is a really beautiful circle,  a small but perfectly formed four-poster. And one whopping big majestic oak tree at the centre of it. I wonder what came first, the stone circle or the tree? Either way, one was placed near the other for sure. Perhaps this oak tree was worshipped or had a meaning in the ancient ceremonies which took place here. The link below shares a bit of information about this site, and it is interesting to note that yet again, cremated bone fragments were found, but again there is no mention of whether it is animal or human. http://www.stonepages.com/ancient_scotland/sites/lundin_f.htm

Discovering the stones has definitely opened my eyes to what is around me locally, and I aim to visit as many sacred sites as and when I can. Perthshire seems to be full of them!

The Kinnell Stone Circle

Having visited Fortingall earlier, we checked the Ordnance Survey map and found that there were a few stone circles in Killin. Killin is a small village in Perthshire of which I have fond memories; a place I visited often as a young child, and somewhere that I used to regularly cycle to about twenty years ago.  It has spectacular rapids called the Falls of Dochart, and in summer when the river is low, you are able to purchase a drink at the nearby pub and take it across the road to drink whilst sitting on the huge rocks next to the Falls.

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Although I had spent time here in the past, I was never aware of a stone circle, so I was getting quite excited to find it. The Kinnell Stone Circle seemed to be located near the Falls of Dochart Inn, so we drove there and parked in the adjacent pub car park. It was still raining fairly heavily, so we wrapped up again and headed off to search for the stones.  We walked down a track to the left of the pub, and spotted a land rover parked nearby, so we decided we would ask the men inside if they could direct us to the stone circle. It turned out that one of the men was the owner of the Kinnell Estate, and he gladly gave use directions and told us we could walk right up to the stones.

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After walking for 5 minutes down the track to Kinnell House, we glimpsed the amazing stone circle across the field on our right. These stones seemed to be almost too good to be true, a beautifully placed circle in an idyllic setting surrounded by pastures, trees and hills. Again, the bleak weather added to the atmosphere, although we both agreed that it would be pretty amazing to see these stones at sunset.

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I had a play with this image on my phone using the Pixlr Express App whilst sitting in the pub. I used an effect called Too Old (Logan) and then added a stylise (pencil) filter. I just love the patterns on the stone, and I really want to do some pencil drawings of them. Abstraction in nature at its best!

20140306_15260620140306_152542After spending about 20 minutes at the stones, it was really pouring down again, so we decided to head to the Falls Of Dochart Inn for some refreshments.Scottish Trip 013It was so cosy inside;  a quaint inglenook, complete with a life size dummy of an old lady in traditional costume, and candles on the windowsill. The perfect place to have a drink on a cold drizzly day.

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When I returned home that evening, I scoured the internet to try to find out any information on the Kinnell circle, but unfortunately there did not seem to be any information of any real interest, apart from some limited information on the Megalithics site (see the following link); http://www.megalithics.com/scotland/killin/killmain.htm which mentions that:                                                                                                                ” …a Reverend Rev. Hugh Macmillan in 1884 described the ring as “a small, though well-formed and compact so-called Druidical circle, consisting of some seven or eight tall massive stones, with a few faint cup-marks on one of them, all standing upright”.  Macmillan’s stone count of 7-8 seems unlikely given the regular spacing, but as the site has not been excavated we can not be sure. “

So the stones at Kinnell remain a mystery, but were most likely used in rituals or ceremonies like other stone circles scattered across our land. Not only did I enjoy my visit to Kinnell, I am excited by the possibilities of the abstract patterns on the stones, which I really want to render in pencil or as monoprints.

See Yew Soon!

Yesterday I arranged to have day out with my good friend Nicky, and it is very rare that we both have a day off together when I don’t have to look after children. We were originally going to take a trip to Aberdour to ‘The Green Witch’, a shop run by a lady called Chris who concocts herbal lotions and potions. I was really excited, as I thought I could ask her about her uses of plants and folklore etc. Unfortunately, her shop was closed for a fortnight due to roadworks, so I reverted to plan B.

I decided to go and see the Fortingall Yew. Thought to be one of the oldest (if not theoldest) tree(s) in Europe, it is believed to date back to about 3000 BC. Legend has it that Pontius Pilate was born at Fortingall, which was a Roman station, and that as a child he played under the Yew, which was already a very mature tree.

Legend also claims that the Fortingall Yew marks the heart of Scotland or ‘axis mundi’, however some claim that instead this is  Schiehallion (“the fairy hill of the Caledonians”) which also lies nearby, a few miles to the north of Fortingall.

Traditional Beltane fires which were lit on May Day took place close to the Yew, and are said to have damaged parts of the tree, although I would question the safety of this, as apparently smoke from a Yew tree is poisonous, indeed according to Amy Stewart (in her book ‘Wicked Plants: The A-Z of Plants that Kill, Maim, Intoxicate or Otherwise Offend’) all parts of the tree are deadly poisonous.

The Yew was revered by the Druids and was thought to be a symbol of everlasting life, despite its poisonous properties. Yews tended to be planted close to sacred places, and are often found in churchyards, perhaps due to churches being built on sacred pagan sites to try to convert the worshippers to Christianity.

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When we arrived at Fortingall it was raining heavily, so we hastily made our way through the peaceful churchyard towards the Yew.

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We weren’t actually able to get near the trunk of the tree, as it was surrounded by a wall and an iron gate which was locked. The trunk looks like a combination of several trees, which have combined together, and splayed apart over the years. It is truly a remarkable tree of character, and I couldn’t help but wondering what events it had witnessed over the years.

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Inside the enclosure we could see that wooden pegs had been hammered into the ground, and these mark the original size of the tree, before it was damaged by the Beltane fires. We noticed a couple of small stones on the ground near the tree, and on closer inspection saw that they had symbols drawn on them. Also, ribbons had been hung on many of the overhead branches of the tree.

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Could these be signs of a recent ritual which has taken place here?

ImageThe yellowish stone looked like a square divided into four, but I couldn’t quite make out the small symbol within the square.The symbols on the white stone look like small drawings of standing stones and a mountain. We saw that there were standing stones nearby on Nicky’s Ordnance Survey map, so we decided we would head there next.

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The Fortingall Hotel Bar- a welcome shelter from the cold wet weather outside

We called into the nearby Fortingall Hotel for a quick drink and to see if we could find out anything more about the tree or the stones and ribbons. The barmaid was very dismissive, and said that the place freaked her out, and that she didn’t think that it was a good idea to walk through the graveyard as it is a place of rest. She did, however, give us directions to the nearby standing stones, which was a two minute drive to the east of the village.

I drove along the road a couple of miles until I spotted the stones in the middle of a field. I parked the car up on a grass verge, and clad in wellies and waterproofs, we climbed over the gate and walked across the field towards the stones.

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The stones did not form complete circles, although two of the groups seemed to have a semicircular arrangement, whilst the third group was more of a line of stones. The misty, damp conditions seemed to add to the atmosphere and the mystery of the place and I wondered, as I had at the yew, what had taken place here in ancient times?

When I arrived home, I wanted to learn more about the stones, so I used my good friend Google, where I discovered the Megalithic Portal website :  http://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=920

The link above took me to an interesting article about the stones, which detailed the findings of an excavation in 1970 by archaeologists from Leicester University. It seems that the stones had originally been placed in circles, with the larger stones forming four corners, with smaller stones placed in between. The missing stones had been buried over the years, and were discovered among with other artefacts such as an iron age jet ring and also cremated bone, although whether it was human bone or not was not mentioned!

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Having visited these two mystical sites, we were on a roll, and felt that we wanted to see more.  We looked at the map and found that there were more stone circles near Killin, so that would be our next stop. We both agreed that the day had been very interesting so far, and that we wanted to return to Fortingall again, perhaps on a sacred day of the calendar to see if we could spot any ceremonies around the Yew.

For more information on the Yew see the following website article by Barry Dunford :http://www.sacredconnections.co.uk/holyland/fortingallyew.htm