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The History of Stirlingshire
Chapter IV. Ancient Monuments

There is another remarkable piece of antiquity – the ancient building that went by the name of Arthur’s O’on. Henry Sinclair, Dean of Glasgow about 1560, calls it "Arthur’s Huif"; and Gordon speaks of it as "Julius Hoff." Its site was a few yards to the north-east of the Forge Row, Carron, at the corner of an enclosure about 50 feet square, on the estate of Stenhouse. The destruction of this rare though rude relic of architecture by Sir Michael Bruce, in 1743, for the purpose of repairing a dam-head with the best of its stones, roused the wrath of all antiquarians. Maitland has inserted in his History of Scotland a poem on the demolition of what Dr. Stukely considered a Roman edifice, dedicated to Romulus; and, in a fit of resentment, the latter drew a caricature of Sir Michael carrying off a lapful of stones, with the devil goading him along, which was engraved by the Antiquarian Society of London.

In 1862, we were shown a very tasteful sketch of the O’on as it appeared immediately before its demolition, and the form it took was that of a beehive. Gordon has given a very good illustration of it in his Itinerarium. It was a perfect dome, with a circular orifice at its apex, built in double courses of finely-hewn stones, laid on each other without mortar. Or, as Dr. Stukely says, its shape is not unlike the famous Pantheon at Rome, before the noble portico was added to it by Marcus Agrippa. Still, the building was small, to have been so famous. The perpendicular height, from the bottom to the top of the aperture, was 22 feet; the external circumference at the base, 88 feet; internal circumference, 61 1/4; external diameter at the base, 28 feet; internal diameter, 19 feet 6 inches; circumference of the aperture, 36 feet 1 inch; diameter of the aperture, 11 feet 6 inches; height of the door from its basis to the top of the arch, 9 feet; breadth of the door at the base, 6 feet 4 inches; height, from the ground to the top of the key-stone of the door, 10 feet 6 inches; breadth of the wall at the base, measuring at the door, 4 feet 3 inches; thickness of the wall where the arch springs, 3 feet 7 inches; and height of the basement on which the building stands, 4 feet 6 inches.

As to the builders of this structure, Nemus, an old monkish writer, argues for the Emperor Carausius; Hector Boece for Vespasian; Sir Robert Sibbald for Septimus Severus; and Dr. Stukely for Julius Agricola. If the initial letters J.A.M.P.M.P.T. were really engraved on a stone in this little temple, it may be considered not unlikely that they should bear this reading: - Julius Agricola Magnae Pietatis Monumentum Posuit Templum.

Antiquarians are also greatly at variance with respect to the purpose which the building was intended to serve. Stuart, in his Caledonia Romana, is of opinion, that the word O’on may be no other than the Pictish term for a house, or dwelling, as we find that the words Pict-Oon denoted the Picts’ dwelling-place, or settlement. The prefix "Arthur," he further holds, may be a corruption of some Attic word. Sir William Bentham, the learned author of the "Gaul and Cimbrii," suggests that the name "Arthur’s O’on" is probably derived from the old Gaelic words Art, a house, and Om, solitary – meaning a retired dwelling. Gordon takes the derivation from Ard nan Suainhe – i.e., the high place, or temple of the standards; as Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh, is Ard nan Saidhe, the hill of the arrow; and Arthur’s Seir, between Ross and Moray, is Ard nan Seir, the height from which to launch ships. Dr. Stukely’s theory, as to Julius Agricola having been the founder of the building, is perhaps the most reasonable of all; and if this is accepted, we cannot but regard the humble fabric as a sacellum, or little chapel, in which the vexilla, or ensigns of the legion, were kept. That it was never designed for public worship is plain from its dimensions. Gordon adds that it may have been also used as a mausoleum, or depository, for holding within its hollow basement the ashes of some illustrious Roman. But a truce to banter. We now know as much as ever shall be known of this interesting relic – interesting only on the page of history. Nothing is left us of the O’on but the memory of its existence, and the green sloping bank on which it stood. Demolished, too, for the repair of a petty dam-head. "The pity of it, Iago; the pity of it."

Three miles westward upon the north bank of the Carron, stand two beautiful mounds called the hills of Dunipace, which are taken notice of by most of our historians, as monuments of great antiquity. Their whole structure is of earth; but they are not both of the same form and dimensions. The more easterly one is perfectly round, resembling an oven, and about fifty feet in height. The other, at the foundation, is nearly of a triangular shape, but the superstructure is irregular; nor does the height of it bear any proportion to the extent of the base. Buchanan calls the western mound the smaller. His memory here, however, had quite failed him, for there are at least four times the quantity of earth in it than is in the other. These "hills" are unmistakably not artificial. But in times long past, they may have been put to some military use, as from their form and isolated position they are eminently fitted for fortification. Here and there for miles along the banks of the Carron are many steep gravel knolls, cut out by the action of its waters; and these Dunipace mounds have in all probability been similarly isolated, as here the short but impetuous river, whose upper course is a rapid descent, sweepingly strikes a plain.

The common account given of these, not three-clad mounds, is, that they were erected as monuments of a peace concluded in that place, between the Romans and the Caledonians, and that their name partakes of the language of both people; Dun signifying "Hill" in the ancient language of the country, and Pax "Peace" in the language of Rome. The compound word Dunipace, according to this etymology, signifies "Hills of Peace." We find, in history, notice taken of three treaties of peace that were, at different periods, concluded between the Romans and Caledonians; the first by Severus, about the year 210; the second soon after, by his son Caracall; and the third by the usurper Carausius, about the year 286. Others, again, favour the etymology Duinna-Bais – which signifies hills, or tumuli, of death – believing the earthen structures sepulchral monuments over the ashes of warriors slain in battle. Tuiams, similar to those in question, are somewhat numerous throughout the neighbourhood of Stonehenge, in Salisbury Plain; and from the fact of human bones having been discovered in several of such mounds, they are popularly regarded as the graves of ancient Britons.

Dunipace is taken notice of in history, as a place where important national causes have been decided, and that more than once, by great monarchs in person. We find Edward I. of England, at Dunipace upon the 14th of October, 1301, where he signed a warrant to his plenipotentiaries, who were at that time in France, authorising them to consent to a truce with the Scots, as a necessary preliminary towards a peace with their ally, the French King, between whom and Edward an obstinate war had long raged. At the chapel of this place too, Robert Bruce and William Wallace are said to have had a second conference the morning after the battle of Falkirk, which effectually opened the eyes of the former to a just view of his own true interest, and that of his country.

Then in the background lies the Dunipace mansion, which formerly belonged to the Primroses, but who forfeited the estate in 1746. The story, or drama rather, is brief. Government hearing that Primrose, on the occasion of the second battle of Falkirk, had led the Highlanders to the ford across the Carron, seized his property, and afterwards had him beheaded. Immediately on the back of this unhappy event, the bereaved family located themselves in Edinburgh. After the lapse of a few years, however, they thought of steps for the repossession of the property, and with that view engaged a Mr. Spottiswood, as agent, to purchase it from Government in their behalf. The honest lawyer took the business sharply in hand; but finding the bargain struck a thorough catch, he put down the transaction to his own account, and speedily settled himself as proprietor. The felling of the oak on the estate, we have been assured, was more than sufficient to meet the purchase-bill. Lady Primrose was also an enthusiastic Jacobite. It was she who protected the Miss Macdonald, celebrated for her concern in the escape of Prince Charles Stuart after the battle of Culloden; and so popular became this heroic gentlewoman that eighteen carriages, all belonging to visitors of distinction, have been seen ranked up before her door.

At Torwood lies the Tappock, now so well known in antiquarian circles from the stronghold which was discovered there in 1864. The hill has a gentle sweep towards the valley of the Carron on the south side, and that of the Forth on the north and east; but to the west it presents a bold precipitous front, on which the building stands. The following are its dimensions: - The area of the inner circle is 33 feet in diameter at the lower part of the wall, and 35 feet in the upper portion. After rising to the height of 8 feet, the regular masonry of the wall retires 1 foot all round the building, and then continues perpendicularly 5 or 6 feet more. The circular bend in the remaining steps of the stair in the wall indicates an upper storey to which it led. The stair is 2 feet 6 inches wide, and the length of the passage leading to it is 11 feet. The wall is 21 feet thick, and the lintels of the door are formed by stones of sufficient size and strength for its support. The inner half of the entrance, which is roofed with large stones reaching from side to side, is oval shaped, the outer half quite straight, and the whole of it is 23 feet. Around the outer side of the walls, upright stones, 4 feet high and 2 feet broad, are inserted at regular intervals to strengthen and bind the masonry. At the distance of 30 feet from the innermost wall, occurs another wall, now only semicircular, the two ends of which terminate on the brink of the precipice; part of it is still 10 feet high and 15 feet broad. Again at the distance of 30 feet outward, another semi-circular wall is at one part about 4 feet high and 10 feet broad. The wall of the central tower, or broch, is a solid mass of stone, and there still remain about 13 feet of its height. The entrance to this stronghold led apparently in a straight line through the three walls in a north-easterly direction. Within the underground chamber two interesting stones were found, covered with eccentric rings. But there were also got querns, cups, whorls, portions of pottery, and charcoal; an iron hammer, with orange-shaped head; and a hatchet, in form somewhat similar to that in present use.

On the south, and close to the base of the Tappock Hill, there still remains about a mile of the Roman road, leading to the north of Scotland, with its walls and ditches distinctly marked. About two miles westward is a rocky knoll about 100 feet high, on which there are megalithic remains. Here, too, undoubtedly once stood a circular fort, and one of larger dimensions than those of Tappock. The hill, however, on which it stood being of easy ascent, its stones have been more thoroughly removed, and now only very faint and uncertain traces of its walls remain. On the north side of the knoll there is a piece of masonry still very entire. It is a circular chamber descending from near the top of the knoll 12 feet down. It is 10 feet wide at the top, and 6 feet wide at the bottom. A well-built covered way, 2 1/2 feet wide, leads out from the bottom of this curious structure, 30 feet of which remains, and 8 feet of its length has the original roof. This "way" has probably led from the fort to the water supply which is near its outer end.

With regard to the date of these circular buildings, that is an involved mystery. They lie beyond the province of our earliest British history. They are older than Druidism; older than sun or serpent worship; old as the necessities of primeval man. And it is absurd to connect those upright stones in circle either with the sepulchres or temples of our ancestors. At least, the connection does not necessarily follow from the mere circular form of building. The stability of all walls constructed without cement or mortar demanded that.

Near the parish church of Logie, two miles north from the town of Stirling, are several large stones standing erect, as also some near the church of Alva, which appear to have been fixed there in very ancient times, and were no doubt intended to perpetuate the memory of an important transaction which had happened in those parts. It is well known to have been a custom of the old Scots, to erect large stones in fields of battle, either as memorials of victories, or to preserve the knowledge of the spot in which any of their eminent warriors had fallen. This is often mentioned in the works of Ossian. That bard himself, and Toscar, one of his brothers, were sent by Fingal their father, to raise a stone upon the banks of the stream of Crona, in order to perpetuate the memory of a victory which he had some time before obtained there. Such monuments are still to be seen in almost every shire. Two stones stand to this day in the field near Stirling, where Randolph, Earl of Murray, and Lord Clifford, the English general, had a sharp rencounter, the evening before the great battle of Bannockburn; and, so late as the battle of Killiecrankie, the Highlanders reared up a large stone on the spot where Claverhouse, their commander, fell. Of what special event the stones at Logie and Alva are monuments, cannot now be determined. On Craigmaddie Moor, in the parish of Baldernock, anciently Cartenbenach, another remarkable antiquity is found. It consists of three long stones of grayish grit, taken from the neighbourhood, and laid from north to south, two of them close to each other below, and one, in the middle, above. The higher is found to be 18 feet long, 11 broad, and 7 thick. Those underneath are somewhat smaller, but cannot easily be measured, as they are considerably sunk in the soil. They are in a plain about 250 yards diameter, surrounded with rising grounds, which form an amphitheatre, and are called "The Auld Wives’ Lifts." The tradition connected with this ludicrous name is, that three old women having wagered which should carry the greatest weight, brought hither in their aprons the three stones of which the Lifts are constructed, and laid them as they now are. The place appears to have been Druidical, and the ancient Celtic name Gart-na-Beannachd, signifying "Field of Blessing," might have originated from this circumstance. The plain exhibits the roots and stocks of such oaks as might have formed the sacred grove. The aged females, according to Tacitus and Pomponius Mela, lived in sisterhoods, devoting their time to the offices of religion; and the tradition would seem to refer to their supposed preternatural power. Camden mentions a Druidical stone in Ireland called "The Lifted Stone"; and some in France are known as "les Pierres Levees." Not far from this spot were two cairns of an elliptical shape, which, however, have been carried away. The largest was 60 yards in length, and 10 yards in breadth. Through the whole length of it were two rows of broad stones set on edge on the ground, and 4 feet asunder. Between the rows the dead were interred, having flagstones laid over them. The heap raised above them was mostly of large stones quarried from the adjoining rock. The other cairn had been more recently laid open and found to be of a similar construction; which, in the intelligent Statist’s opinion, is Danish. Some of the stones in the foundation were of considerable size. Among the contents, on opening, were found fragments of human bones, and urns. One of the fragments of the urns is ornamented near the mouth with two hollow grooves; and the diameter of the circle of it is a segment of at least 20 inches. Tradition speaks of a battle with the Danes in the neighbouring moor of Craigmaddy. It is also worthy of note that in 1878 an interesting discovery of ancient British remains was made in this same parish. While excavating for sand, Mr. Mitchell, farmer, Hillend, came upon three jars, or urns, surrounded with charred wood. Two were full of human bones, and the third contained a burned substance. The urns were found 3 feet below the surface, and were placed about a yard apart, bottom up. They are fully 12 inches in diameter, at the widest part, and taper to the top and bottom. They are composed of hard-burned clay of a very coarse consistency, about three quarters of an inch in thickness, the outer surface being almost black, and the inner of a brownish or yellowish colour.

Another ancient stronghold, called the Peel of Carfarran, "Castle of Vexation," and evidently a Roman castellum, presents itself in the utmost possible state of preservation, on the north bank of a small rivulet on the north-east side of the parish of Drymen, called the Burn of the Ward. This military work is nearly square; and measures, within the trenches, towards 50 paces either way. It has two ramparts, and one ditch; which, with the ramparts, measures 20 paces across. The circumference of the work is 320 paces. It is about a mile from the hill of Gartmore, which is conceived to be a corruption of the Celtic Caer-Mor. There is also on the farm of Finnich-Tenant in the same parish, a sepulchral cairn, about 20 paces long and 10 broad. A row of Kist-vaens, or Stone Coffins, seems to form the body of the tumulus, and is covered with a heap of large stones, obviously rounded by attrition, and, therefore, brought from some river. The nearest is the Burn of Carnock, distant more than half-a-mile. Some remains of this sort occur in the north-east corner of the parish, a short way from Aberfoyle.

We may now pass to another remarkable antiquity, which, like the last mentioned, has, hitherto, so far as is known, been unnoticed in print – "the Peel of Buchanan," about 200 paces in front of the mansion of His Grace the Duke of Montrose. The Enric had had its course in this direction, though now flowing considerably to the southward. The ditch around this ancient fort was filled by the river, and crossed by a passage, probably a draw-bridge, from the north. By whom it was occupied, we cannot venture to say.

Another antiquity of this class is "the Peel of Gargunnock," the etymology of which, perhaps from its shape, seems to be Caer-Guineach, "Sharp, or Conical, Fortress." Its site is 50 or 60 yards east of the rivulet which bears its name, and within 50 yards of the Forth, where the latter takes an acute bend towards the north. The ground is now under crop; but old men in the neighbourhood remember a considerable number of large stones forming part of a building there, and carried off, from time to time, by the farmers for building. A ditch, south of the Peel, and joining the Burn of Gargunnock, seems to have contributed to the security of a fortress, the use of which is conceived to have been the defence of a ford in the Forth. The "knock," or hill, on which stands the Keir, is a conically-shaped rock of the reddest sandstone, soft and damp; but the ancient builders were too wise to use any of it for their masonry, so they have brought all the stone for their walls down from a stratum of basaltic rock which lies about a mile up the steep mountain side to the south. Although the material of the fort is now almost wholly gone, those walls must have been great, for the bed of a mountain stream which flows on the south side is filled with the large grey boulders of basalt, of which they had been formed.

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