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Articles by Stuart McHardy
Strange Secrets of Ancient Scotland


Scotland is a country rich in mementoes of the past. The regular shapes of hill-forts catch the eye from miles away, standing stones and circles stand by roadways or in fields, stark and timeless. History tells us little of such places and archaeology can give us only technical data. Yet many such ancient sites are not mute. Legends and stories have survived about them and offer us tantalising glimpses of how our distant ancestors lived and thought.

Legends which survive because people continue to tell them show us different aspects of our past. By their survival, like our folk music, such tales are part of a living continuity with the past.

Some of the tales in this book might even be thousands rather than hundreds of years old. What they all have in common is that in one way or another they reflect the underlying Celtic nature of Scottish culture. The stories range from legends told about Pictish symbol stones to tales of the great Celtic warrior heroes Finn mac Coul and Arthur.

There is the curious yarn of the nine maidens — were they all slain by a dragon or were they saints who had churches and wells all over Scotland dedicated to their honour? Where can we see a portrayal of a Queen's punishment for being unfaithful to her husband and what curse did it unleash on generations of wives? Where was Satan's bride turned to gold? Why did Kirk ministers say islanders had been turned to stone for dancing on the Sabbath and where can we see these stones today? How did flames of fury kill off a race of giants? What are the incredible secrets of the three bells that have supernatural powers? What conditions did a ghost impose in return for revealing the hiding place of priceless treasure?

After reading these dramatic stories you will want to waste no time in visiting the places covered. Stuart McHardy gives you directions on how to get there

Ancient Scotland

The Picts, Scots and Britons were tribal peoples who lived in warrior societies with cattle-based economies. Their tribal organization was highly complex and only in times of universal danger was there any degree of centralization. This happened when the Romans came, stayed a while — and left. Among the Celts the art of the warrior was still based upon the skill and courage necessary for single combat and had not degenerated to the organization of mass slaughter.

Leaders came to the fore in times of danger and went back to their normal everyday lives once the crisis was past. The various levels of Celtic kingship were important for largely symbolic and ritual reasons forming a focal point for the different tribes and confederations of tribes.

For the Celtic peoples the division between the temporal and spiritual aspects of society did not exist, to them all life was a unity. This helps to explain their reputation for being mystical.

Much of their knowledge was concentrated in plant and animal lore. For most of their history the majority of the Celts had no knowledge of writing but their love of poetry and their delight in heroic tales were the very foundation of their culture.

A great deal of what has been considered as peculiarly Irish tradition was in fact common to the Gaelic culture of Ireland and Scotland, living on in Ireland but dying out in Scotland. This was partly due to the over-enthusiastic actions of the Reformed Church and its followers. In Scotland north of the Forth-CIyde axis and in the islands the culture was that of the Gael. South of this until the 11th century the Britons were dominant and their culture has survived, in part, in Welsh language and literature.

By the 11th century the whole of Scotland ruled by the last great Celtic monarch, Macbeth, was Gaelic-speaking. The way of life and culture of the Gaels went into retreat with the victory of the Anglicised Malcolm Canmore. He defeated Macbeth with an army largely made up of English troops and Norman-French knights, thus encouraging English designs on Scotland.

Martin's Stane and the Nine Maidens

About five miles north of Dundee at the foot of the Sidlaws there is a Pictish symbol stone known as Martin's Stane. The stone shows a serpent, a horseman and the strange creature known as the 'elephant1 or 'cetus creature'. Above these three symbols the bottom half of another horseman can be seen on a raised section which has been broken off. Although we have no idea of the real meaning or function of the beautiful and enigmatic Pictish symbol stones there is a tradition that gives a remarkable explanation of this one. A local rhyme sums it up:-

'It was temptit at Pittempton
Draggelt at Ba'dragon
Stricken at Strikemartin
And killed at Martin's Stane.'

It seems that in the far distant past there was a farmer who had nine beautiful daughters. They lived at Pittempton about two miles south of Martin's Stane. The eldest was in love with a local lad called Martin. One particularly hot day the farmer was working in his fields. Feeling thirsty he sent his eldest daughter to the nearby well to fetch him a drink. After a while when she hadn't returned he sent his next eldest to the well. She too did not return and the farmer, getting thirstier by the minute sent all his girls to the well one after another. None returned.

Sure that his children were playing a trick on him the farmer eventually stormed off to the well himself. There a dreadful sight met his eyes. Wrapped around the well was a gigantic scaly snake-like creature and the dismembered bodies of his lovely lasses lay strewn around it.

Howling  with  grief the  farmer  ran   to  summon his neighbours from their work in the fields. Soon he had gathered a fair-sized crowd armed with farm tools and clubs. As they approached the hideous creature the foremost of the crowd was Martin himself and over his shoulder he carried a mighty club.

Seeing them coming the dragon slid off northwards through the muddy hollow at Baldragon closely pursued by Martin. Running ahead of the rest Martin caught up with the beast just as it was crossing the Dighty Water. The following crowd roared, 'Strike Martin', and he dealt the creature a mighty blow with his club. A village now stands on this spot, known as Strathmartine but tradition says it was once Strikemartin.

Stung by its injury the beast increased its speed still heading north. Martin and some others got horses, mounted and pursued the fleeing dragon. They caught up with it and killed it on the spot where Martin's Stane now stands. The story however does not end here for just a couple of miles to the north there is another story of the Nine Maidens.

In the 8th century a Pictish monk called Donald was living in Glen Ogilvy which runs southwards into the Sidlaws from Strathmore. In time Donald was made a saint but while in Glen Ogilvy he lived in the company of his nine daughters. This was of course before monks and priests were celibate. Together they shared the simple life and plain food of the Celtic holy men and women, devoting themselves to worshipping their God. It is said they ate one meal a day, and that it consisted of very simple fare. At last, at a great age Donald died but his daughters continued to live the same simple and devout life, apart from other people.

The oak pilgrims

Before long word of the devout sisterhood in Glen Ogilvy spread through Pictland and even King Eugen heard about them. Impressed by their holiness and devotion the king invited them to come and live near him in his capital at Abernethy. This

 hey did and their reputation grew. When they died they were all buried under a great oak at Abernethy and such was their reputation that it became a centre for pilgrims from all over the kingdom. In time, like their father before them, they were made saints, and wells and churches were dedicated to the Nine Maidens. The only sisters whose names were known were Mazota and Findoca and they had churches dedicated to them individually. At least as late as the 16th century people were still making pilgrimages to some of the Nine Maidens' Wells.

At first sight there seems little connection between the two sets of Nine Maidens.

However it is well known that the Christian church adapted many of the deities as well as the sites of pagan religions to their own uses. Many Christian saints are in fact disguised Celtic gods and goddesses. One of the best known of these is St Brigid who was originally the Celtic mother-goddess Bride. Tradition tells us that when St Brigid came to Scotland she was accompanied by Nine Maidens the eldest of whom was Mazota.

The connection between the two groups is probably much older. The mystical fount of poetry and prophecy of the Celts was the Otherworld Cauldron and its fire was kindled by the breath of Nine Maidens. These Nine Maidens were most probably connected with a form of moon worship in the far distant past.

I have heard it suggested that the slaying of the dragon is a folk tale of the eventual destruction of the power of the force that formed a ley line through Martin's Stane. Others say that the ley line still exists and there is some evidence to support that.

Fragments of other stones connected with the legend survived until the 19th century including one with the figure of a man with a great club over his shoulder. Others had serpent like creatures carved on them. Unfortunately these fragments have disappeared.

The area of the Sidlaws that these tales come from is dotted with wells, hillforts, cairns, a stone circle and many other ancient sites have disappeared. They all speak of continuous habitation for thousands of years but sadly tradition is silent about most of them.

The stories of the Nine Maidens are very old and provide a link with the ancient inhabitants of the area whose monuments can still touch and inspire us.

Martin's Stane is in a field alongside the readjust south of South Balluderon Farm.  O.S. No. 375 375.

Vanora's Stone - treacherous Queen thrown to wild dogs

About 18 miles north east of Perth lies the wee Strathmore village of Meigle. All too easily ignored by the traffic going to and from the North-east this little place contains real treasure for those interested in the ancient culture of Scotland.

The old school next to the kirk on the Dundee road has been made into a museum unlike any other. It contains a unique and beautiful collection of Pictish symbol stones most of which at one time stood in or near the kirkyard. The others are from the surrounding area. One of these stones has a legend about it that links it with one of the great European literary and mystical themes of all time — the story of Arthur and Guinevere.

The stone known as Vanora's stone was at one time part of a group of symbol stones that stood in the adjoining kirkyard on what is known as Vanora's Mound. The name Vanora is a variant of Guinevere and these stones are said to have formed a memorial on the grave of that faithless queen.

On the side of the stone bearing her name is a fine example of a Celtic cross and in the middle of the other side is a gowned figure being attacked by animals. The official guide book tells us that this is a representation of Daniel in the Lions' Den but local legend, unconcerned with the need to explain everything in our past as being of Christian origin, tells us otherwise.

Before the French and English romanticists took the Arthurian tales and turned them into florid fancies of chivalry and honour these stories were an integral part of the Celtic culture that existed throughout the British Isles. Like the cycle of hero-tales about Finn Mac Coul the original Arthurian legends were given local settings by the small communities that made up the population. Examples of this can be found in stories and place names from Scotland to the Scilly Isles. The ancient Celts often incorporated actual historical events into the great tales alongside older gods and goddesses given human form. This is how the historical Arthur of the 6th century became involved in the great mythological cycle of tales about his namesake.

The historical Arthur was probably not a king but the leader of a band of warriors who was made a leader of the common defence against the various invaders of his time. It was the accepted norm in all Celtic societies that the most able war chief would be given overall control of the army during a crisis, returning to his former position once the danger was past. The role of the actual king was more legalistic, ritualised and even spiritual.

The story of Vanora's Stone has her as the queen of Arthur, a 6th century king of Strathclyde. This kingdom stretched from Dumbarton south as far as Carlisle. Although the whole of the British Isles was at this time under almost permanent threat of invasion Arthur decided to go on a pilgrimage to Rome. This was to show his loyalty to the Roman church in its struggle against the independent Celtic church of that time. Before leaving he appointed his nephew Modred to act as his regent and rule in his place. Disaster was bound to follow.

Though the Celtic peoples would unite in the face of a common enemy their first loyalty was to their tribe and Modred was a Pict. He was bound to make the most of the opportunity presented to him by his uncle. No sooner had Arthur left the country than Modred seized the throne and seduced his aunt, Vanora. Whether she was a willing victim or had plotted the whole thing with Modred is unclear but soon they were ruling as man and wife with Pictish troops to enforce their rule.

It was only a matter of time before Arthur found out what had happened and he immediately headed home to raise his followers and have his revenge upon the faithless pair, The battle where Arthur and Modred met is said to have been at Camlaan, near Carlisle, and it is the site of an actual 6th century battle. True to the old myths Arthur was victorious but in killing Modred he sustained a mortal wound himself. Soon he died and with him went any faint hope Vanora might have treasured for merciful treatment.

While Modred's actions were understandable given the nature of the times Vanora had committed unforgivable sins. The Celtic peoples laid great stress on the ritual and spiritual importance of their rulers and Vanora had betrayed the most sacred trust. She was guilty of treason and adultery and her fate was a foregone conclusion — death.

The manner of her execution had to be decided and while the deliberations continued she was imprisoned at Barry Hill, near AJyth, just a few miles north of Meigle. Originally an Iron Age fort the site on Barry Hill was probably still in use in the 6th century and was as far from the Hollywood idea of an Arthurian castle as it is possible to be. At last Vanora was brought forth to hear her sentence and it must have surpassed even her wildest fears.

Her treachery to her husband, king and people was so bad that her death had to be as dishonourable as possible. She was to be torn to death by a pack of wild dogs. It is this grisly scene that is said to be portrayed on the stone.

After her gruesome death she was buried at Meigle with the strongest possible curses and anathema being heaped upon her grave in a manner reminiscent of Druidic ritual. More than twelve hundred years after her supposed burial these curses survive in the local belief that any young woman foolish enough to walk over Vanora's Mound will become sterile. The curse is still remembered.

The Arthurian connection with Meigle is underlined by some of the local place names. One nearby farm is called Arthurbank and another was known till the relatively recent past as Arthurstone which got its name from a 12 foot standing stone bearing the king's name which is in the grounds of what is now Belmont Castle. At one time this stone had a similar companion known as Vanora's Stone. As late as the last century a 6 foot diameter quern or grinding stone was to be seen on Barry Hill and it was called Vanora's Girdle.

It is possible that the legend and all the place-names have in fact been inspired by a mistaken understanding of the stone in Meigle Museum. However even if this is so the stone has served as a focus for a legend that long pre-dates Christianity and has helped to keep it alive.

The superb and awesome collection of symbol stones at Meigle points to it having been a site of great importance to the Picts and an investigation of Vanora's Mound would surely tell us much more about our distant ancestors than the continuing excavations of Roman signal stations which take up so much of our archaeological resources.

Meigle Museum is on the A927 from Dundee just inside the village.

Barry Hill is on the B954 a mile and a half north east of Alyth.

O.S. Sheet No. 262 505.

The Maiden Stane — story of a bride tricked by Satan

In the shadow of the Hill of Bennachie in Aberdeenshire there is a Pictish symbol stone known as the Maiden Stane. This stone too has a local legend attached to it. In this case the story seems to be an attempt to explain the abstract symbols on the stone but it is none the less intriguing for that.

A long time ago a young woman lived with her parents on the farm of Drumdorno. She was the most beautiful lass in five parishes and was known throughout the area as the Maiden of Drumdurno. She was wooed by a succession of young men until at last she agreed to marry a local man called Jamie with whom she was much in love.

The day before the wedding the bonnie lass was busy in her mother's kitchen baking bannocks and scones for the following day's festivities. Engrossed in her work and thinking of her love she looked up to see a handsome stranger looking in the kitchen window. The dark and well-dressed man commented that she did her work well, looked good doing it but she was maybe just a trifle slow.

The young lass said that few would agree with him but felt a bit flattered by his attentions. After a few minutes of banter the stranger said he would bet her that he could build a road to the Tap o Bennachie before she could finish her baking. If he succeeded she would have to marry him instead of her Jamie. Laughingly she agreed to the obviously silly bet.

Smiling, the stranger left and the Maiden paid him no more thought, her head being full of her imminent'marriage. She did not know what she had done, in the evening just as she was about to put her last batch of bannocks in the oven she looked out of the kitchen window. To her consternation and terror she saw a road stretching right up to Mither Tap, the very summit of Bennachie.

As she stared the stranger came into view heading for the farm. Mow she could see him as he really was — the Devil himself. She now realised how ominous her situation was and she fled towards Pitroddie woods hoping to find help. There was none.

As she ran the Maiden tried to pray but no doubt due to the closeness of Satan she found she could not form the words. The road ahead was completely deserted. Just as the fiend was about to seize her the prayer she had been unable to utter was answered. She was turned to stone on the spot and the De'il was left with a small piece of stone that had been her shoulder. The devil was thwarted and the Maiden's honour and soul were saved though her life was lost.

A variant of the tale clearly shows the fiend's intent for he was assisted in his roadbuilding by his wife. She is said to have gathered the stones he needed but sadly nothing is said of her reaction to helping him in his attempted seduction. At one point his wife, who was gathering the stones in her apron, let fall a pile of boulders which formed a hill on the far side of Inverurie. At a later date the Ark became stuck on this hill during the Flood, Noah stuck his head out of a window and told the boat to sail by and ever since the spot has been known as the Hill of Selby (Sail by). This would make the Maiden Stane old indeed.

The abstract symbols on the stone are said to be the baking implements which the Maiden was still holding when she fled from her pursuer.

The story ties together the Pictish stone with the much earlier road and fort on Mither Tap. It does seem to have been inspired by the carvings on the stone but says nothing about one of them which it has been suggested is a cauldron. Satan is a peculiarly Christian personality and is here tied up with the much older Celtic idea of the Maiden who is undoubtedly the great Celtic mother goddess in her fertility aspect.

he figure of Satan has been developed from the original angel who was thrown out of heaven for questioning God's authority. This angel had no horns, tail or cloven hoofs and certainly no wee pointed beard. These attributes were grafted on to the Christian devil from the old Celtic god Cernunnos who was the horned Lord of the Animals. This was probably done to help stamp out the old pagan religion and its rituals.

Cernunnos was the Celtic equivalent of Pan and it is likely that it was to him that the witches prayed. Some of the ancient Celtic religion survived in the rituals of witchcraft and identifying the God of the witches with Satan allowed the Church to persecute the old religion in the name of stamping out evil. Thus in the Christian war of good against evil the Kirk encouraged the malicious persecution and ritual slaughter of groups of people who were, at best, the practitioners of an ancient system of knowledge and healing, and, at worst, were merely defenceless women who did not conform to rigid norms.

While the Devil as portrayed in the story of the Maiden Stane seems to be Satan himself it is not definite. He seems to be motivated more by the human weaknesss of lust rather than a satanic need to do evil. For in Scotland the idea of the Prince of Darkness has never been dominant. The names used for him like Auld Nick, Auld Hornie or Clootie suggest a rather more approachable figure than the Christian Satan.

The area around Inverurie is rich in Pictish symbol stones and the remnants of even earlier peoples. Bennachie itself has been a holy place since long before the Christians came. Although the story of the Maiden Stane seems to be much younger than the stone itself the story has perpetuated the name of the stone. The association of the Maiden with all aspects of fertility has long been accepted and is part of a continuity with the past that continues as long as such stories are remembered and told.

The Maiden Stane is at O.S. N J 704 274.

Callanish — 'sinners’ turned to stone.

Scattered throughout the British Isles there are nearly a thousand stone circles. They range in size from a few yards across to the vast circle at Avebury, Wiltshire, England which is more than 400 yards in diameter and encloses a small village. Much older than the superb Pictish symbol stones these circles date from around 3300—1800 B.C. and many of them have been shown to be astronomically aligned.

Even two or three centuries ago there were hundreds more of these circles but vast numbers have been dug up or blown up by farmers and developers whose concentration on short term profit blinded them to the significance and importance of such relics of our past

Although the circles predate the arrival of the Celtic peoples by more than a thousand years the Celts showed respect for the traditions and beliefs of those who lived on the land before them. They incorporated these ancient structures into their own religion and ritual, thus preserving a link with our far distant past. Of all the circles of standing stones in Scotland there is none to match Callanish in complexity of construction or in its hold upon the imagination.

Situated overlooking Loch Roag on the west side of the Isle of Lewis, Callanish is the focal point of a whole series of circles and standing stones in the immediate area. The main circle which was probably built between 2,000 and 3,000 B.C. has a series of legends associated with it which serve to underline the singularity of this isolated and awe-inspiring monument.

Just as the more famous Stonehenge was erected on a particularly useful site for solar observation Callanish's position was of great relevance for its function as a lunar observatory. It could be used to calculate the moon's nineteen year cycle and thus to predict lunar eclipses. The common perception of the people of Scotland as being savage primitives until the arrival of the "civilizing" Romans could hardly be further from the truth.

The earliest legend about Callanish tells of a great Priest-King who arrived in Lewis a long time ago. He came with a group of lesser priests in a fleet of ships which were crewed by black men. It was these black men who actually built the circle. Within the circle they buried several of their number who died during the construction. This recalls the ancient and world-wide practice of hallowing a site by burying someone within it. After the stones were raised the black men and some of the priests departed leaving the Priest-King and a few companions to spread the new religion they had brought.

It is said the priests wore robes made of feathers and skins of birds, that of the chief being white with a girdle of mallard neck feathers. The lesser priests' robes were multi-coloured. Such a form of dress exists today among the surviving shamans of northern Europe and Asia. The chief priest was always accompanied by a wren. This bird, known in Scotland as 'the Lady of Heaven's Hen', was long associated with Druidic practices. The association with sacred Celtic birds continued.

Even in the 19th century it was believed on Midsummer's Day that "The Shining One" walked down the northern avenue at Callanish, heralded by the call of a cuckoo. "The Shining One" was the Celtic sun-god Lugh and was here seen as the personification of fertility and hints at some lost ancient ritual among the stones. The Celtic peoples thought that the cuckoo came from the land of Tir-Nan-Og, the Otherworld of Youth and Spring where all went after death. It was also thought that all cuckoos coming to Lewis first visited Callanish and flew round the stones.

Just over a hundred years ago the stones were still the scene of Beltain rites. These were held on the first of May which along with Samhain, the Christian Halloween, were the two greatest feasts of the Celtic year. At Callanish a 'priest'

conducted the ancient ceremony of the needfire. A flame was ceremoniously kindled, probably with a bow-drill, after all hearths in the area had been smoored, or smothered. Each family would then approach the priest and light a peat from the sacred flame.

Carrying the burning peat the head of each family would circle their fields and crops to 'sain' or sanctify them before returning home to rekindle the hearth fire for another year. Other rites took place including the consummation of marriages within the circle itself. Such activities were frowned on by the Kirk and throughout the Gaelic-speaking areas the ministers spread the story that stone circles were in fact sinners who had been turned to stone for such heinous acts as dancing on the Sabbath. Thus many of the circles came to be known as Na Fir Bhreige, the false men.

Rivals in love

Other tales are told about the great circle. One such concerns the rivalry between two local lasses. Both loved the same man and one of them consulted a nearby witch to find a way of overcoming her rival. The witch gave her a belt and said that whoever wore it would be snatched away by her 'master' never to be seen again. This was presumably the Devil. On reflection the lovesick lassie baulked at such an act but did not know how to rid herself of the dangerous object.

At last, in desperation, she fitted the belt around one of the stones of the Callanish circle. Immediately the stone was engulfed in flames and the air was filled with a great clamour of flapping wings, clanking and howling. The lass ran home in terror and fainted on her doorstep. The next day she gritted her teeth and went back to the circle. The stone on which she had clasped the belt lay broken with scorch marks where the belt had been. These are said to be the marks which are still discernible on the stone on the east side of the southern avenue just outside the circle itself.

Another story concerns a magical white cow which came out of Loch Roag and walked up to the circle. This was just after a Viking raid had laid waste the surrounding crofts and the cow gave endless milk to everyone except one local malevolent witch. Spitefully she sent another woman to milk the cow into a bottomless pail thus destroying its magic and stopping the flow of its milk.

It is little wonder that these various tales about Callanish have survived. The circle and standing stones still retain a sense of power and sanctity and seem almost to stand outside of time. It is as if, like King Arthur and his Knights in so many tales the stones 'are not dead, but sleeping.' Such feelings allow of no so-called scientific measurement but we ignore them at our peril, for without respect for the past how can we have hope for the future.

Callanish is at O.S. NB 212 355.

Ossian's Grave: flames of fury kill off giants

Throughout the Gaelic-speaking areas of Scotland and beyond for hundreds of years stories have been told of the exploits of Finn Mac Coul and his warriors, the Fenians or Fianna. Like the Arthurian tales of the British and Welsh peoples the tales of the Fianna hark back to a distant past when the warrior hero was the ideal of all Celtic societies. These tales survived for centuries alongside the more recent Christian gospels as the raw material for the story tellers and poets gathered round the hearth fires through the long dark nights of winter in Scotland.

Like Celts everywhere the people told the tales among themselves putting the actions of their heroes into local settings and often incorporating the relics and monuments of even older peoples into the tales. The tales themselves were said to have been written or structured by Ossian, son of Finn and bard

of the Fianna. When in extreme old age Ossian was offered a place in the Christian heaven by St Patrick he refused as he wouldn't be re-united with his long dead companions in such a place.

Between Crieff and Amulree the Sma' Glen runs through the foothills of the Highlands and this area is rich in stories of the Fianna. High up on the east side of the glen entering it from the south there is a cave on the escarpment known as Eagle's Rock. This cave, now known as the hermit's cave, was for a long time associated with the most tragic of the Fenian tales. It was formerly known as Garaidh's cave.

Garaidh was one of the Fianna and he was extremely vain. His greatest pride was his long fair hair which he wore in braids hanging down his back. One day he was left in charge of the fort of the Fianna which was situated on Tom-an-Die, the Hill of God, while his companions went hunting. This hill is at Fendoch just south of the Sma' Glen. The womenfolk of the Fianna were thus left in Garaidh's care. It was a warm summer's day and Garaidh lay down in the sun and was soon fast asleep. While he was asleep the women decided to play a trick on him.

They carefully but firmly pinned his long fine tresses to the ground and retreating to the door of the fort they all shouted together.

Garaidh sprang up, sword in hand, wrenching his braids clean out of his head.The women burst out laughing at their coarse practical joke. Garaidh, blood streaming from his head and roaring with fury ran at them with his sword raised. Quickly the women shut and barred the door, still laughing. Incensed with fury Garaidh set fire to the fort and all the women were burned to death.

Seeing the smoke from afar the rest of the Fianna raced home from the hunt to find the fort a smouldering ruin and all their loved ones dead. The days of the Fianna were now numbered for like the men the women were of giant stature and now no more children would be born to the Fianna. At once they tracked Garaidh to the cave where he was hiding and Finn slew him. A new fort was built overlooking the glen, and here they lived out their long lonely lives.

At last only Ossian was alive and when he in his turn passed on it is said he was buried in the glen and the massive boulder known as Clach Ossian was placed over his grave. The reverence in which he was held lasted for a very long time indeed.

In the late 1730s General Wade had already started to open up the Highlands with his roadbuilding and his men entered the Sma' Glen laying the road from Crieff to Amulree. The general himself was absent when his men came across Clach Ossian directly in the path of their projected route. On removing it they found underneath a stone cist coffin containing bones of a remarkable size. The officer in charge, believing this to be a Roman grave, ordered a halt to the work and sent a messenger to inform the general. Nothing was to be touched without Wade's approval.

That evening a lone sentry stood guard over the grave. As darkness fell he saw a great wavering light approaching. It was a crowd of people in a torchlight procession and as they neared the grave the soldier fled. The crowd, made up of locals and many of Wade's Gaelic-speaking troops, had come to ensure that Ossian's remains were properly treated. To the accompan­iment of the bagpipes the bones and the coffin were lifted and ceremoniously carried to the fort of Dunmore and re-buried with all due ritual and reverence.

Winter's night tales

The burial would appear to have been much older than the Celtic legends of the Fianna, possibly dating back to 2,000 B.C. or even earlier. The legends are thought to date back no further than 500 B.C. As in so many other instances the Gaels in the area had incorporated this ancient site into their own traditions much as the Christian church was later to do with Celtic legends and deities. The Celts had a deep understanding of and great reverence for nature and had developed a view of their world in which it was impossible to separate the secular and the religious.

The Fenian stories and legends were an integral part of that world view and there is an old Gaelic saying, "If the Fians go twenty-four hours without being mentioned, they will rise again." Such legends were much more than entertainment for the long winter nights. They were the very life-blood of Celtic culture. In the 16th century Bishop Carsewell of Argyle complained that the people would rather hear the hero-tales than the gospels. The same stories were told everywhere and each time set in the storyteller's own area.

Even in the 19th century the tales retained much of their importance. Communal work such as land-clearing or ditch-digging would rarely commence without one of the assembled workforce reciting a tale or Sgiulach. The strength of this oral tradition combined with the natural gifts of the storyteller must have delayed a great deal of work. It was this deep respect and love for their own literature and ideas among the Gaels that doubtless inspired the much quoted modern piece of Gaelic wisdom that goes:— An old crofter on being asked for the Gaelic equivalent of the Spanish 'manana' said, 'Och, there's no word in the Gaelic with quite such a desperate sense of urgency to it.'

What the tales teach us today is that though our native culture has been overlaid by a succession of foreign ideas, underlying them all is a continuity of oral tradition that stretches back thousands of years. The stories of a band of ancient freelance warriors enamoured of hunting and delighting in feats of physical and mental agility encapsulate the essence of the Celtic spirit which retains the power to inspire us.

If by gaining a truer sense of our own cultural heritage we can learn to adopt some of the ancient Celtic respect for our mother earth and all her children then we can perhaps have hope for the future of our planet as well as our nation.

Clach Ossian is at O.S. FS N 895 307.

Norrie's Law — a ghostly warning and destruction of priceless treasure

On the northern shores of the Forth estuary stands Largo Law. This striking natural feature is the scene of many legends and was once a site of great ritual importance. One of the stories connected with it has had a hold on local imagination for a very long time. It concerns Largo Law and an ancient tumulus or burial mound a mile to the north, called Nome's Law.

Well into this century children were playing a well-known game involving the story of Nome's Law. One of a group of bairns would stand before the rest and say, Tl tell you a story, Aboot Tammie o Norrie, If ye dinna speak in the middle o' it, Will ye no?" The object of the game was to lure another child into saving "No" at which point all the others would shout, "The spell is broken, ye hae spoken, Yell never hear the story o' lang Tarn o Norrie." The game is played with different words throughout the British Isles but the story of Norrie's Law is unique.

A long time ago Largo Law was haunted by a ghost. It was believed that this wraith was condemned to roam the earth until he could pass on the secret of the gold that was buried somewhere on Largo Law. The shepherd on the nearby farm of Balmain became obsessed with the hidden treasure and resolved to try and get his hands on it. After months of frustration roaming the slopes of the Law at last he saw the ghost. Summoning all his will power he approached the spectre and asked what kept it from its rest.

The spirit looked deep into his eyes, chilling him to the marrow, and then it said "If Auchendowie cock disnae craw, An the herd o Balmain disnae blaw, I'll tell ye whar the gowd is on Largo Law." The time set for this revelation was eight in the evening the following day. The shepherd thought he now had the gold within his grasp.

That night all the roosters on Auchendowie farm were mysteriously throttled. The following morning the shepherd was up at dawn and ran to Balmain. There he threatened Tammie o Norrie and told him not to blow his horn to summon the cows home that evening, on pain of death.

Having done all he could to fulfil the ghost's conditions the shepherd could do nothing but wait. At last the appointed hour came and he headed up the Law to meet the ghost. Just as the wraith was about to tell him where the gold was, the sound of Tammie's horn came from the north. On hearing the sound the ghost spat out these words, "Woe to the man that blew that horn, For out of that spot he shall never be borne."

Mad with rage the disappointed shepherd ran north to have his revenge upon the cowherd. Eventually he reached the spot where the horn had sounded. He could hardly believe his eyes. There stood Tammie o Norrie, horn still at his lips, but turned to stone. The ghost's curse had literally petrified the unfortunate cowherd. Try as they might the local people couldn't move him and eventually they simply heaped a cairn over him which was then known as Nome's Law.

Tales of hidden treasure associated with ancient sites are common enough and often refer to their former spiritual rather than financial value. In this case however the story of the treasure was true. It wasn't gold but silver and is associated with an even older legend about Nome's Law.

This story was that the tumulus actually contained the body of a Danish king killed when raiding the Fife coast. His name was said to have been Norroway and it was believed he had been buried astride his dead horse and clad in a complete set of silver armour. Much of what used to be considered Danish or Norse remains were in fact purely native, dating from long before the time of the Vikings. In the midst of these conflicting tales some startling facts eventually emerged.

In the late 1830s a quantity of small pieces of extremely old sitverwork were donated to the Museum of Scottish Antiquities. It was immediately obvious that they were parts of much larger pieces. They were given by the widow of the late General Durham whose estate included the farm of Balmain. The hoard, consisting of pieces of a sword, scabbard, helmet and suit of chain mail had come from Nome's Law.

In the early years of the 19th century a local cadger or carrier had decided to use the material of the tumulus for some building of his own. While removing it he had found the silver armour. Over the next few years he broke up most of it and sold it piecemeal to a dealer in Cupar, thereby destroying a priceless archaeological treasure. Eventually conscience got the better of the jeweller and he passed the few pieces he had not melted down to General Durham. It was made known that the cadger had also found a great hoard of silver coin but that had also disappeared.

The surviving pieces quite clearly show that "Norroway" was no Scandinavian raider. The decoration on these artefacts are quite beautiful examples of Pictish art. In some cases they show the exact same abstract designs so common on the Pictish symbol stones. Nothing like these few surviving pieces of armour have ever been found. Further inquiries and excavation of the tumulus proved fruitless. The cadger had stripped it of everything of value.

Many ancient legends and stories survive through the centuries because they contain a kernel of spiritual or psychological truth that is of relevance to local populations. Their continuance in the oral tradition illustrates this. Such relevance is often of a mystical or magical nature reflecting the thoughts and ideas of our distant ancestors. The story of Nome's Law shows us that such legends can also be of direct assistance to the more factual archaeological investigation of these ancestors.

The site of Nome's Law is at O.S. NO 409 073

Kentigern — straight out of great Celtic hero tradition

Glasgow Cathedral, the ancient hilltop city on Traprain Law in East Lothian and the wee village of Culross on the north shore of the Forth are connected by their association with one of the most fascinating personalities of all Scotland's history. He was Kentigern, better known as St. Mungo. As patron saint of Scotland's largest city St. Kentigern is probably the best known of all the Scottish saints other than Columba.

Many tales were told of his miraculous powers. From an early age he showed such piety and diligence that he earned the jealousy of the other students of St. Serf at Culross. Serf himself became a notable saint. When their holy teacher's pet robin was accidentally killed the other students blamed Kentigern. His response was to pray to God then, taking the dead bird gently in his hands he breathed on it and it came back to life. Another time when it was his turn to watch the fire he fell asleep and the fire went out. As it was midwinter this was serious indeed but the young Kentigern put some frozen leaves on the hearth and kindled fire with his breath.

An even more striking instance of his powers happened one harvest. The cook had died and egged on by the other students St. Serf told the young Kentigeren to take over the kitchen or restore the cook to life, as he had done with the robin. Kentigern prayed, God listened and the cook came back to life. St. Serf now realised his student's true worth and started calling him Mungo or 'dear one.'

Eventually the time came for Kentigern to leave Culross but Serf tried to stop him going. The old saint followed the younger one when he at last went and to stop him Kentigern crossed the Forth then raised a storm to prevent Serf coming after him. Such action seems more Druidic than Christian and in later centuries many so-called witches were burnt at the stake for having done no more. Immediately after this the young man met an ancient holy man called Fergus. It had been prophesied that Fergus would not die until he had met a young man destined to be a great saint.

This was of course Kentigern and after receiving the young saint's blessing, Fergus died. Placing the body in an ox-cart Kentigern vowed to found his own church where the oxen stopped. They eventually stopped on the banks of the Molendinar river and he buried Fergus and built a simple church. Tradition tells us that this is where Glasgow Cathedral now stands.

Kentigern was known for his control over animals, at one point even ploughing his fields with a wolf and a stag yoked together. The most famous of his miracles concerns a salmon and a ring which belonged to the Queen of Strathclyde. This lady was having an affair with a young warrior and foolishly she gave him a ring which she had been given by her husband. One day the king was walking by the Clyde when he saw the queen's lover asleep. On his hand was the ring the king had given to his lady.

That night at dinner before the entire royal household the king asked the queen where the ring he had given her was. She was not wearing his gift. Claiming she had mislaid it the queen contacted her lover. His tale horrified her. While sleeping by the river someone had stolen the ring. Neither knew the king had thrown it in the Clyde.

Realising that the king must be aware of her adultery the distraught queen went to consult Kentigern. After listening to her story the saint prayed for guidance. He then told the queen to send her most trusted servant to fish in the river and to bring

back the first fish caught. This turned out to be a fine salmon and following the saint's instructions the queen had it cut open. There in the stomach of the salmon was her ring. That night she showed it to her husband and thinking he must have been mistaken in his suspicions he apologised to her.

In later years Kentigern lived for a while in Wales where he met St. David and founded a monastery on a site chosen for him by a wild white boar. The white boar was especially sacred to the Celtic pagans. Eventually he returned to Strathclyde and had a miraculous meeting with Columba, who noticeably treated Kentigern as an equal.

Like all the early Celtic saints Kentigern lived a simple, even frugal life. He ate sparingly and wore clothes of coarse haircloth and goatskin. His pillow was a large stone. He was noticeably impervious to cold, often preaching sermons while up to his neck in rivers or burns, even in the middle of winter. Rain or snow miraculously avoided him, a benefit often shared by those next to him. At last at the age of 185 an angel came and told the aged holy man to take a warm bath. This he did and passed on into the company of the God he had worshipped so long and devotedly.

Many of the magical aspects of the tales about St. Kentigern are obviously inherited from pagan pre-Christian ideas. It is when we look at Kentigern's family that the underlying Celtic themes of his life become obvious.

Over the cliff!

His mother was Thenaw, daughter of King Loth of Lothian who had his capital on the summit of Traprain Law. The innocent maiden was cruelly seduced by a son of the King of Cumbria but refused to marry him when it was discovered she was pregnant. Angered at his daughter's refusal to do as she was told Loth tried to marry her to a swineherd. She again refused and this so angered her father that he had her tied into a chariot which was then driven over the cliff face of Traprain Law. The chariot floated gently to the ground and Thenaw was unharmed. Even this miracle did not blunt the king's anger and he then had his daughter set adrift on the Forth in an oarless coracle.

The boat drifted across the estuary to the Isle of May where it was surrounded by a vast school of fish which magically escorted the coracle and its passenger to Culross, on the Fife shore of the Forth. St. Serf was already teaching and preaching here and when Thenaw gave birth he baptised the infant Kentigern and took him into his care. Thenaw became a Christian and she too in time became a saint. Although we know little about Kentigern's father his mother's family were straight out of the great Celtic hero tradition. Her mother is said to have been Anne, daughter of the great Other Pendragon and thus sister of King Arthur. Loth himself is mentioned in all the earliest Arthurian sources and his two sons, Kentigern's uncles, were major Arthurian figures.

They were Modred and Gawain. Modred is of course Arthur's rival and usurper while Gawain was one of the Knights of the Round Table in the later romances. In the story of Gawain and the Green Knight there is a truly ancient theme much older even than the tales about Arthur. Loth, Cither, Gawain and Modred are figures from the earliest Celtic myths upon which all the subsequent stories and romances about King Arthur are based.

Thus we have this famous Christian saint who was actually the nephew of the great Celtic mythological hero Arthur. During the 6th and 7th centuries Christianity was spreading into Scotland and here we have a clear case of the absorption of older pagan figures into the Christian canon. They were using old models for new teachings.

The story of Kentigern's meeting with Columba illustrates this further. Just as Kentigern seems to step out of the ages-old British tradition so Columba represents the ancient Celtic culture of Ireland and Scotland. At the Council of Drumceatt in Ireland in 575 Columba spoke in defence of the Filidh. These were the bards of Ireland and the keepers of ancient knowledge

and tradition which they had inherited from the old Druidic religion. There are also various aspects of the life of Columba which echo themes from the oldest of the Celtic myths.

Like Columba, Kentigern is a Christian saint whose roots seem to be entirely Celtic and derived from pagan traditions. The early Celtic Christian church was in many ways based upon older ideas and customs. Even after the Synod of Whitby in 663 which ensured the dominance of the Roman church these ancient connections were not entirely broken although the Celtic Church went into retreat. A century later Roman dominance was complete, on the surface.

Pilgrimages to wells and other Celtic holy sites continued as did celebration of the great Celtic holy days of Beltain, May 1 st, and Samhain, now known as Halloween It wasn't until the onset of the Reformation and its excesses that such practices were seriously threatened and began to die out, though some fortunately have survived to this day.

St Merchard — the cow and three magic bells

Long before the time of Columba there were Christian missionaries in Scotland. The first of these was probably St. FSinian who arrived in the 4th century A.D. in the south-west and over the next hundred years the Christian Gospel message spread far into the north. One of those who went north in the 5th century was Merchard. The stories which survive about this early saint are from in and around Glenmoriston which runs eastwards from Loch Ness.

Glenmoriston links together many of the oldest themes of Scottish myth and legend. There is an Iron Age hillfort overlooking the glen called Dun Dreggan said to have been built by Finn Mac Coul. This was after the hero had killed a great dragon which was laying waste the countryside and he built the fort to defend the people of the area from any cubs the dragon might have. There are other tales concerning spirits and elementals from all over this area.

When Merchard got here he was entering an area already rich in ancient lore and tradition. He had been born at Kincardine O'Neill on Deeside and after journeying all the way to Rome he returned to Scotland to preach the gospels. His first mission was at Crinaglack in Strathglass near Inverness and he lived here with two fellow monks. Here they lived the simple life of the early Celtic monks uncluttered with ideas of hierarchy and influence. One of their main tasks apart from prayer and preaching was the tending of the small herd of cattle they kept.

One day when Merchard was watching the herd he noticed that one beast was acting peculiarly. It was a white heifer and it spent the whole day looking straight at one particular tree, never dropping its head to graze. At night however this cow gave as much milk as any of the others. This continued for several days. Though the tree the cow stared at seemed no different from other trees Merchard decided to investigate.

After looking at the tree for a while he took up a spade and began to dig at its foot. To his wonder and delight he had only dug a few inches down when he found three bells. They were brand new. Immediately he knew what he must do. He called his two companions and told them his intentions.

The cow had obviously been under divine guidance and there could be no doubt that the bells were for the three of them. They must now separate, go off in different directions and each found a church wherever the bells rang for the third time.

This they proceeded to do. One of them founded his church at Glenconvinth, between Drumnadrochit and Beauly, and the other companion raised his at Broadford in Skye. Merchard set off south. His bell rang for the first time on a hilltop, long known as Suidhe Mherchard or Merchard's Seat, the second time at Ballintombuie in Glenmoriston. This was the site of Fuaran Mherchard, Merchard's Well. Merchard's bell rang for the third time farther down the glen at Clachan Mherchard, and it was here he raised his church, it was on the site of what was later a burial ground.

Here in the shadow of Dun Dreggan Merchard lived out his life, spreading the word of the Christian gospel among the natives. When at last he died his instructions were that his body should be placed on a cart drawn by two oxen and he was to be buried where they stopped. Sadly where this was is forgotten but Merchard's bell lost none of its miraculous power with his death.

Bell rings out to trap a murderer

It was said to cure all disease in whoever touched it and whenever a funeral party was approaching the burial ground at Clachan Mherchard it would ring of its own accord. The bell was thought to have a life of its own and its habit of ringing out at the approach of the dead helped solve a grisly crime. One dark night when the people of the glen were asleep in their beds the bell began to ring out.

Grabbing their clothes the locals dressed and hurried to the kirk. There in the kirkyard they found the body of a freshly-murdered man. Unable to escape in the pitch dark the culprit was soon caught and dealt with according to the custom of the time. He was hanged.

Like other magical bells from the days of the Celtic church, Merchard's was said to always return to its home at the Clachan if it was removed. After the original church was replaced the bell was put in its replacement building. This happened several times down the years until the last church fell down in the 17th century and the new one was built elsewhere. The bell remained in the kirkyard, resting on an old tombstone until it was stolen in 1870 by strangers. This time it did not return.

The locals believed that the bell could float on water but always remembered Merchard's warning just before his death. He had said, "I am Merchard from across the land, Keep ye my sufferings deep in your remembrance, And see that ye do not for a wager place this bell in a pool to swim." However it wasn't just the bell that continued to exert a beneficial influence in and around the glen. More than a thousand years after his death St. Merchard intervened in local affairs to dramatic effect.

A cruel custom

One of the crueller aspects of the old Celtic laws of clan life was the right of the chief to exact the each-ursainn or horse-fine. This was a fine or heriot that the laird could demand from a family which had just lost one of its members. The fine was a horse or livestock to the value of a horse. It was no doubt descended from the old obligation to fight on behalf of the clan when called upon by the chief and was meant to help replace the loss of a warrior.

A poor crofter in Glenmoriston died and his widow had a visit from the law-officer, the laird's policeman. He told her he was taking the each-ursainn and went off with sheep to the value of one horse, leaving the poor woman virtually destitute. That night the law-officer was awakened in his bed by a thundering voice which said to him, "1 am great Merchard of the miracles, passing homeward in the night. Declare thou unto MacPhatrick that the widow's sheep will never bring him good."

The terrified flunkey slept no more that night and first thing in the morning he ran to tell his master, MacPhatrick, what had happened. The outcome was that the widow got her sheep back and the laird never again tried to exact the horse-fine from his tenants.

Like much of the substance of the stories about the old Celtic saints this tale shows us a priesthood who were involved with the people and community as a whole rather than allying themselves with those with power and influence only. Like many of the early saints Merchard seems to have personified a continuity of tradition within the community which stretched back into pagan times.

The white cow and the repeated emphasis on number three serve to illustrate the underlying Celtic aspect of Merchard's magical exploits. Cows and oxen often figure as sacred animals in the old tales and the spiritual and philosophical importance of the number three to the Celtic peoples is impossible to overstate. Although a separate Celtic church was doomed after the Synod of Whitby much that gave it its unique viewpoint continued, as the oral tradition continues to show.

Glenmoriston - O.S. NH 450310

Kinnoull Hill, a diamond, and the cloak of invisibility

Kinnoull Hill stands overlooking the Tay at Perth. The castle-like structure on its summit is in fact a 19th century folly built by the then Earl of Kinnoull. He was a great admirer of the castles overlooking the Rhine in Germany. Like too many of his contemporaries he turned his back on Scottish history and sought inspiration beyond our borders.

This was doubly unfortunate for Kinnoull Hill is a place steeped in ancient myth and legend. Of the many tales about this ancient site the most intriguing, and oldest, is that of the dragon who once had its lair in a cave overlooking the river.

Traditon tells us that back in the 6th century this dragon was terrorising the district, slaughtering cattle and abducting the most beautiful of the local lasses. The people were helpless before the mighty creature. At last they sought help. A few miles to the west there lived a holy Christian monk, St. Serf. This was the same saint who was later to educate St. Kentigern or Mungo, and he had built himself a church at Dunning.

On being asked, he agreed to help, pausing only to pick up his staff before heading eastwards. He was taken to the cave where the dreadful creature lived and at once called it forth. As soon as the dragon appeared St. Serf called on his God and slew the beast with his staff. In honour of his brave action the locals are said to have instituted the annual Festival of the Dragon. These rites continued at least till the late 16th century but there was little, if anything, Christian about them.

The dragon we are told was itself consecrated to Bel or Belinus, a Celtic sun-god whose priests, or Druids, held their ceremonies here before the advent of Christianity. What is certain is that the Festival of the Dragon was celebrated on the 1st of May, Beltain. This was the Celtic celebratory feast for the beginning of summer and was the most important day of their year. Great bonfires were lit on prominent hilltops the length and breadth of the British Isles, all of them kindled from the sacred needflre.

Like many fabled dragons all over the world the beast at Kinnoull was thought to have had an enormous diamond-like stone in the middle of its forehead. This diamond, or carbuncle as it was known, was considered to be the source of much of the dragon's power and was a great treasure. Its magical powers included that of making its possessor invisible!

A story is told that around the year 1600 a certain James Keddie of Perth found this remarkable gem where it had lain for over a thousand years. Sadly, after picking it up and realising what it was James lost it again while trying to play a trick on his friends under the cloak of invisibility.

At this time Kinnoull Hill and the Dragon's Hole were very much 'in the news.' The worthies of the Reformed Kirk had set themselves the task of uprooting all sacrilegious and idolatrous practices among the people. The fact that many of these practices had been continued for more than a millennium was of little consequence to the 'richt yins.' They kent the Lord's wishes and nobody would stand between them and their duty.

In 1555 an Act of Parliament was passed in Edinburgh which banned all 'mummeries and debaucheries.' This referred to the rites of Beltain and the 'Robin Hood' games of Lowland Scotland in which society's roles were reversed. The poor became rich, the weak mighty and vice versa for one day a year. These games were descended from ancient pagan festivities and were the scene of much enjoyment and relaxation.

However the Elders of the Kirk were intransigent in the enactment of their duty and the act gave them the right of imprisoning defaulters for up to five years. This was in addition to the normal sanctions of arraignment before the congregation and the barbarous ducking-stool. It is against this background that we have an actual eye-witness account of the Festival of the Dragon at Kinnoull Hill on the 1st of May 1559.

That morning Oliver Tullideph was nearing Perth from the east when he saw a strange sight. A fantastically dressed figure, draped in garlands of flowers, was standing at the entrance to a cave at the foot of the hill. A group of young men was trying to approach him up the scree-covered slope below the cave. If they got close the figure in the cave shoved them back down. A large crowd of onlookers was shouting encouragement. All were wearing their holiday best and there was a fair sprinkling of monks among them.

Oliver asked an elderly respectable-looking bystander what was going on. He was told that it was the annual Festival of the Dragon in honour of St. Serf. His informant further told him that the whole thing was probably an invention of the Papist monks from a nearby monastery as a cover for their adulteries and debaucheries. He was certain that such disgusting practices would soon be wiped out. In the meantime he was keeping an eye on the participants.

Fury of the Kirk

Oliver then went about his business leaving the locals to get on with their festivities. Despite the censure of the Kirk and repeated sermons from local ministers the May Day festivities continued. In 1580 there are records of David Rollock being fined £10 Scots for his part in the debaucheries and slowly the Festival of the Dragon succumbed to the Kirk's assault.

It is unclear if the bigotry of the reformist zealots saw the singing and dancing with their attendant courtship and wooing as licentious debaucheries. Perhaps some of the participants still continued the ancient fertility rites in their entirety. These involved the removal of all marriage vows for the duration of the festivities and even widespread acts of public and communal lovemaking. These actions in pagan times were seen as a sacred celebration of fertility and were also a means of releasing tensions and ill-feelings in small tightly-knit communities.

The more spectacular orgiastic happenings are said to have taken place in a deep hollow on the top of Kinnoull Hill near the place known as the Windy Cowl. This is a narrow crevice where the wind can create spectacular effects and near which there is a spot where an echo can be heard nine times. Mine was a number of great significance to the ancient Celts and suggests that this site was in use in pre-Christian times.

The meaning of dragon stories has been the subject of many theories. Some say they are symbolic of the destruction of pagan religions by Christianity while others point to the recurring theme of the dragon in zodiacal and astrological ideas. Yet otners see them as symbolic of the power of ley-lines, those mysterious lines of force that criss-cross the countryside and are the source of so much speculation themselves.

The dragon is also often interchangeable with the serpent which is seen as symbolising knowledge in widely-different societites all over the world. It is a truly universal symbol.

The understanding that such symbolism hints at has much to do with how we see ourselves in relation to our common mother, the Earth. At a time when mankind is in danger of destroying all life on our planet by an insane adherence to violence or equally otiose pollution the understanding that our ancestors possessed can perhaps be of assistance to us.

All that we can tell of the ancient peoples of Scotland points to the fact that they tried to live in balance with nature whereas nowadays we are subjected to the results of men trying to bend nature to their will. The Dragon is often portrayed as eating its own tail which is a symbol of the cyclic processes of time. Season follows season, life follows death. Such an awareness was central to the philosophy and everyday life of the Picts, Scots and Britons. In his arrogance modern man has turned his back on the accumulated wisdom of millennia. As time itself is cyclic perhaps such wisdom and awareness will rise again before it is too late.

Kinnoull Hill is now part of a municipal park in the city of Perth. O.S. NO 136228.

HOW TO GET THERE

Martin's Stone.

Go north from Dundee through Downfield and Bridgefoot on the road to Tealing. Martin's Stone is in a field on the west side of the road between Wynton asnd South Balluderon farms.

Vanora's Stone.

Meigle Museum is on the left of the A927 road to Dundee next to the church.

The Maiden Stone.

Go north west from Inverurie on the A96 to Insch. Take the turning first left to Chapel of Garioch. Proceed through the village and the Maiden Stone is on the left of the road about a mile further on.Callanish.

From Stornoway take the A858 heading west and turn right at Garynahine. The stones are to the west of Callanish village overlooking Loch Roag about fifteen miles from Stornoway.

Ossian's Grave.

Head east from Crieff along the A85 and turn onto the A822 at Gilmerton. Head north past the Foulford Inn. The stone marking Ossian's Grave lies by the road on the right just through the narrow entrance of the Sma' Glen.

Norrie's Law.

Take the A916 from Windygates to Cupar heading north. Go through Kennoway and 3 miles north, just past Foggieleys, turn right towards Largoward. The fourth turning on the right leads to Bonnyton Farm. The tumulus is on the right about 200 yards up this road.

St Merchard.

Glenmoriston runs west from the A82 Loch Ness road about 28 miles south west of Inverness.

Kinnoull Hill.

Now a public park, Kinnoull Hill overlooks Perth from the east. It can be reached by taking the road to the monastery half way between the bridges on the east bank of the Tay.

Visit Stuart's Web Site at www.wittins.demon.co.uk


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