Archive for ‘Stone Circles’

August 31, 2017

The Englishman Dr Livingstone, I presume: the unmaking of a nation through its school history

Myths and truths about Scottish History in Schools

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There is a fairly widespread belief that Scottish history has not, until recently, been taught in our schools. This is not true. Let me qualify that. From the earliest days of informal schooling an amount of storytelling doubtless crept into lessons; the exploits of national heroes and heroines until history as a discrete subject was formalised in the 1880s.

Most Scottish children since then were made familiar with some aspects of our past even if that amounted to little more than fleeting references to a handful of monarchs and a few notable battles. Granted among the baby-boomer generation it might have been for some their only encounter with Scottish history, any history, was at primary school – taught by non-specialist teachers in the main. Before the introduction of O Grades in 1962 thousands of Scots children could have left school with their leaving certificate having been taught no history at their junior secondary school and even with O Grades, later S Grades, it was possible for children to get no history after second year.

Does it matter? There are plenty who claim history serves no purpose and time in school would be better taken up teaching maths and science. Consider then waking up one day your memory has gone from an accident or Alzheimer’s disease with you having to make your way ignorant of what you’ve done and who you are. A clean sheet. Make of it what you can. Welcome to a world devoid of history.

Whoever wishes to foresee the future must consult the past; for human events ever resemble those of preceding times. (Machiavelli)

Even though we are too stupid to learn from those who came before us Machiavelli might have added but did not.

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The actions of our forefathers and foremothers laid the foundations of the lives we lead today. It is useful to understand that process. What we learn of the nation’s past defines our perception of it then and now and our understanding of how our world has evolved – and in that those who argue Scottish children have not been taught their own history are correct to some extent.

History is not a series of facts strung together along a timeline. Although that’s how it has sometimes been presented. It is a muddle of events – a smorgasbord picked over by people who fancy themselves a bit of this and a bit of that. History can be simply entertaining – stories of adventure and discovery and it can be a powerful tool for propaganda. Propaganda of the past is all around us – shops are full of it, radio and television, too, complete with a telegenic communicators eagerly offering their carefully chosen morsels to seduce you into falling for their particular bees in their particular bonnets. My advice is treat with caution. No telling of history is ever neutral – the very facts presented have been selected at the expense of others that don’t fit the message. Scrutinise the historian and ask yourself why she/he is saying this/that/whatever and not something entirely different. Historians are not always transparent – what is it they aren’t telling us? And why have they couched their interpretation of events in that way?

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Despite (almost) every child in Scotland attending school at some point in their lives too many adult Scots are unfortunately ignorant about education – what goes on now and even when they were in the thick of it. Memories are patchy and woefully unreliable. How many Scots have I heard going on about their O Level passes when they never sat any but took O Grades, unless they attended private school? How many Scots bemoan Highers as inferior to the English A Level blissfully unaware the Higher was set to be taken a year earlier than A Levels and the reason ordinary university courses in Scotland were longer than their English equivalents?

There are also those who go on about the national curriculum unaware that there is no prescribed national curriculum in Scotland instead a huge amount of leeway is provided to specialist teachers to use their initiative within guidelines and constraints of the exam system and the reason why some people’s experience of history will be different from others. What you were taught depended a great deal on your history teacher and it might be you went to one of the very few schools, in the west of Scotland I understand, where the openness of the curriculum allowed history to be removed altogether from secondary years one and two. Moronic. Also moronic was the introduction of faculty heads to replace discrete department principal teachers giving rise to the ludicrous situation whereby the history department of a school could be run by someone who dumped history to become better acquainted with a football. Few primary teachers will have been specialists in history but all secondary teachers should be. However that is a great big rag bag in itself.

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Teachers and what they teach is only as good as their own learning and the resources available to them. Just where do you find quality materials to teach a range of topics to pupils whose ages range between 12 and 18? No history teachers enters the profession equipped with an expansive knowledge of every topic required in the classroom so where to find material? Books you may reasonably say. Wouldn’t that be lovely? Books are expensive and teachers have a tiny budget that always fails to cover the essentials to teach everything covered in years one to six. Books get destroyed, lost and tatty and even history books become out-dated. This is why so many teachers make up their own worksheets – and we have all experienced how iffy that can be. But even worksheets are expensive to create given the budgets available and they have a short shelf life.  

That said there was a time when reasonable supplies of  books were to be found in classrooms. Many were published in England and were almost like foreign texts. What is taught as ‘British’ history does not always sit well in the Scottish classroom. For example an awful lot, let me repeat that, an awful lot of histories written by English teachers and/or historians largely ignore Scotland. Try finding examples of everyday life in the Victorian period – it’s as if everyone in the UK lived in London or Manchester. Look at histories of the Napoleonic wars – presented as English wars fought by Englishmen on the other side of the English Channel. What, historian Sydney Wood, asks

“… went through the mind of the Scot from Lewis who was required to haul aloft Nelson’s pre-Trafalgar signal of ‘England expects every man to do his duty?”

Wood goes on

“At the beginning of the twentieth century, the Convention of Scottish Burghs (1905) complained of the existence of school books in which: Great Britain is called England, the British throne is called the English throne … David Livingstone is called an Englishman, James Watt and Adam Smith are called English.”

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To that list we might add were there no Chartists active in Scotland organising for democracy? Were Scots instead quietly sitting at home supping porridge? In British histories Scotland is excised again and again. That literary tick of substituting English for British, England for Britain produces an untrue twist on its narrative of the lives of our ancestors in these islands yet there it is on a page in black and white so it must be true. Such crass sloppiness is everywhere from Oxbridge dons to daft little-Englanders cheering on England’s Brexit from the EU.

What did you learn in school today dear little boy of mine?

I learnt that the government of Britain was English and that in England both parties, Liberals and Conservatives, favoured peaceful progress and social reform unlike most countries of Europe afflicted by conflicts and political revolution.

I learnt that Dr David Livingstone from Blantyre was English.

I learnt that the poet Lord Byron was English because he had an English father (and Scottish mother) and he was born in England.

I learnt that the philosopher economist John Stuart Mill was English because he had a Scottish father – uhm – but he was born in England so he was definitely English.

I learnt that the writer Rudyard Kipling was English because he had an English father and was born in India – but couldn’t possibly have been Indian because he was English, after all.

History our flexible friend.

For most Scots Scottish history in primary and the early stages of secondary school was very well covered – but it was a case of pupil beware.

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I don’t know who Flora Forbes MA was but her Past and Present books, published by John Cormack of Edinburgh presented a very unionist interpretation of Scotland (but then so did they all.) She wrote of an “angry” Scottish Parliament demanding equality with England over trade and shipping at the adoption of the Hanoverians and how “moderate men” saw the sense of a union of the two parliaments. She did not mention the storm of opposition to this in Scotland but noted Scots “naturally feared that England would once again deal unfairly with the smaller country.” Perish the thought.

On Mary, Queen of Scots and the English Queen Elizabeth she wrote:

“When Queen Elizabeth began to reign, England was not yet in a settled condition with regard to the religion of the people. Although the government was Protestant, half of the people were Catholics, and they believed Mary Stewart to be their rightful queen. Elizabeth’s task in ruling the country was therefore far from easy, but she proved to be a wise and clever ruler, and she was helped in the work of government by very able men.”

Some might call them liars, conspirers and charlatans but there you go.

Not all Scottish school textbooks were as partial and sickeningly obsequious as Ms Forbes’s efforts.

Scotland the age of achievement Hogarth's contrast

John Patrick’s SCOTLAND  the age of achievement was less whimsical and more authoritative (nothing to do with him being a bloke.) A lecturer at Aberdeen College of Education he used Hogarth’s drawing which contrasted poverty in Scotland – the ill-fed Scot – against the prosperity of the well-fed Londoner inside the cover. “Many English cartoons in the eighteenth century made fun of Scotland’s poverty,” he explained.

Patrick took a responsible approach to the scoundrels of Scottish history in his account of the trials of 18th century reformers Muir and Palmer and we are left in no doubt who he believed was the scoundrel in that episode. In his summing up the hanging Lord Braxfield intent on suppressing sedition addressed the court:

“…the government “is made of landed interests, which alone has a right to be represented; as for the rabble, who have nothing but personal property, what hold has the nation of them?”

Ah the witty and respected judge Braxfield set the tone for a fair trial-

“Come awa, sirs and help us hang these rascals…”

Rascals were people who dared to criticise the monarchy and corrupt governments made up of the landed gentry in government to enhance their own interests and shitting themselves that revolution in France might prove to be contagious. Dundee minister Palmer was sentenced to 7 years transportation and lawyer Muir to 14 years.

IMM Macphail, A History of Scotland Book 1, 1950s

Many of you will surely have been familiar with A.D. Cameron’s History for Young Scots Books 1 and 2 which were widely used in primary and early stages secondary during the 1970s and ’80s and created a patchwork impression of Scotland from the Neolithic settlers at Skara Brae on the Orkney Islands to more recent time when the European Coal and Steel Community was held up as a beacon of hope for peace and prosperity in a coming-together of nations in the Common Market.

“Could Britain afford to remain outside such a large and vital market in Europe? Could she become a member without endangering her unique partnership with the other nations in the Commonwealth”  he asked without a question mark. Tut tut.

Cameron ended on a note of optimism explaining that Britain did join the European Economic Community and people found they could travel more freely and got on with one another. Where did that get us?

Cameron made up dialogue to inject life and human interest into what is sometimes dismissed as a dry subject.

“Here is food; here is plenty” the comment of a contented Skara Braen tucking into a mountainous whale as a wise old man surveys the scene on the beach, “There is food for many moons,” he declares with just a touch of Tonto from the Lone Ranger. Cameron was nothing if not confident in his statements for example he assured us the women of Skara Brae spent about an hour every day grinding corn into flour.

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Cameron’s approach to school history was entertaining and his books were well-illustrated: Picts, Celts, Romans, Vikings, English, Wars of Independence, burghs and so on- to the Union –

Britain” – (hang on A D you mean England and Wales?) “was at war with France during Queen Anne’s reign, and the English, fearing the Scots” (not at war with France – just saying) “might select a king of their own and revive the ‘Auld Alliance’ with France, decided to allow the Scots free trade” – (which they had done their level best to destroy up till then) – “if they would consent to the creation of a British Parliament.”

Cameron fell into the British/English trap there did you notice?

Under the Union he informed us English and colonial markets were to be opened up to Scottish merchants and Scottish currency, weights and measures were abandoned in favour of English equivalents. Religion and law remained uniquely Scottish.

And with the Union an end was put to Scottish history – in a sense – that’s me, not Cameron.

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Cameron’s school histories were enjoyable and useful tools for teachers but frustrating for those parts of Scotland ignored in their pages. Pupils in Dundee, Aberdeen and areas north, northwest, south and east found little there to reflect the lives of their foremothers. The nature of the colossus that is history means inevitably there are gaps but where those same gaps are replicated a false impression of the past becomes entrenched into our minds: Cameron illustrated the widespread Highland Clearances with a snapshot of the Sutherland clearances at Strathnavar; Industrial Scotland was largely and predictably confined to the Clyde and west of Scotland. Cameron was a Principal Teacher of History at Inverness Royal Academy and should have known better. That’s all I know about A D Cameron.

 Aside from those unfortunates not offered history in a handful of secondary schools a perception that Scottish history was not taught might be because pupils chose not to study it as an O grade or Higher and simply forgot or because their teacher lazily churned out what she/he came across in muddled myth-laden textbooks entirely Anglo-centred: agricultural and industrial revolutions; social and political changes; housing; transport etc  – as far as the eye can see.

Historical events and change in England has always been taught in Scottish schools whereas in England Scotland seldom features – and usually only as that pesky aggressive neighbour to the north. Where Scottish histories have generally reflected Scotland as part of the United Kingdom English histories have a tendency to see England standing alone bold and magnificent – succeeding. European and World history as portrayed in history texts are seen through the lens of England and the English people with Scotland rarely a footnote.

There is no doubt that for much of the 20th century Scottish history has been much under-represented in our own schools while any Scottish dimension of British and world history virtually disappears south of the border. Can we wonder then at the sheer level of ignorance in England when it comes to Scotland? Watch as bemused smiles break out on the faces of quiz show contestants when asked anything relating to Scotland.

Historian Sydney Wood considered the role history education plays in the development of our sense of national identity – pointed to how Scotland’s education system retained its independence post-1707 until the English Education Act of 1872 gave London oversight of Scottish education right up to 1939.

Decades later Thatcher’s Tories tried to mould education to suit her rightwing agenda but found strong resistance in Scotland yet English Tories were able to wield some influence here. Devolution in 1997 returned education in Scotland to the responsibility of the Scottish government, albeit still following a unionist agenda.

It is true that teaching distinctly Scottish history tottered during the 20th century. Children might learn about early settlers – Skara Brae in the neolithic period and Stonehenge – but how many were taught about the sheer richness of neolithic evidence there is in Scotland? How many English children ever learnt about any early settlers in Scotland? Precious few. Vikings were mainly English Vikings. The Industrial Revolution took place mainly in England. Urban expansion and overcrowded homes were suffered in England. Poverty was English. No-one rioted in Scotland because they were starving. We were led to believe. Orator Henry Hunt and the Spa Fields (somewhere near London) riot over parliamentary reform (lack of) was drummed into the lugs of young Scots while in Scotland all was quiet – we were led to believe. Not that there has been much sympathy for rioters in history books – mad, angry, mobs, unruly, violent. As for the politicians whose actions led to such deprivation and inequality – they avoided pejorative adjectives attached to their activities.

Life expectancy as many Scots pupils once knew was very different between a man in Liverpool and one in Bath. Bath – Bath? Where’s that Miss?

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Every child in Scotland learnt about the Speenhamland system – a barbaric means by which magistrates in Berkshire in England provided charity to starving men, women and children. What was happening in Scotland? Scotland that impoverished neighbour of England? Presumably all was hunky dory.

Chartism was scarcely a whisper in Scotland – if you believe many of the histories taught in our schools. And in Scottish histories Chartism only occurred in Glasgow.

Scottish school children learnt about changes in English farming – the Norfolk system of crop rotation but who in England learnt about farm toons and run rigs?

Britain’s Story Told in Pictures printed in Manchester c1950. Brave to title the book Britain but let’s take through its chapters.

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I guess the authors were too busy putting the book together to visit Callanish standing stones or Orkney to become acquainted with its amazing Neolithic sites – or any of the unique recumbent stone circles of Aberdeenshire and other important features all around Scotland dating back over 5000 years. Let’s try the chapter Roman Britain. In what sounds like a national entity called Britain life was evidently most interesting in the south, as that’s all presented here. Picts of Caledonia get a single mention only in relation to Hadrian’s Wall not who they were of any reference to their pictorial art.

Let’s try Anglo-Saxon Britain 410-1066 – you can imagine I’m not too hopeful for this chapter. Aha, at least we have more definition as it begins with “The English are descended from the Angles, Saxons, Jutes…English conquest” blah, blah, blah…”English race” an interesting concept – especially given the previous paragraphs explaining the number of different peoples who’ve formed this ‘race’. I’m not expecting any mention of Scotland because this chapter doesn’t apply here – although Scots kids all learnt about it. But what is this? There’s a sketch of a Viking cross at Oransay, Scotland – that’ll be Oronsay I expect – and it’s what we call a Celtic cross and it dates from around 500 years after the chapter’s cut-off date. History our flexible friend again.

Chapter 4 looks at Medieval Britain 1066-1485 with not a cheep about Scottish royalty but everything you need to know and more about the line of English kings. There is a mention of Scotland in relation to the English Edward I. That’s it. There’s a nice drawing of a battering ram – know what I’d like to do with that – lots of Norman this and that. But hark! What comes here? It is an illustration of Robert the Bruce (again because of the association to England as is the case for the sketch of Joan of Arc.) So that’s it for Medieval Britain – must have passed Scotland by.

Tudor Britain up next and as Scotland didn’t do Tudors there’s no point looking here but I can’t resist having a wee peek. Elizabeth I of England, “greatest of the Tudors” and what’s this? “Foreign policy was directed against the menaces of Scotland, France and Spain.” That’s not very nice – first we’re all part of the British family then we’re a foreign enemy – again. Glowing it is – glowing in its admiration of Elizabeth I of England – and the advances in trade – Levant and East India, ne’er a hint of exploitation and stripping India of its assets …”Many universities and Grammar Schools were founded” – not a mention Aberdeen which between 1596 and 1826 had as many universities as in the whole of England. That’s worth putting in a book on Britain only it was in the wrong part of  ‘Britain’ evidently.

Scotland, Mary Queen of Scots, is included in Tudor Britain for some reason when it should be in a chapter called Stuart Britain – which comes next – and why? because it covers the period from 1603 when the Stuarts decamped to England. This is not a history of Britain it is a history of England – a bundle of baloney.

James VI is introduced as James I – because that’s his English regnal number and England precedes mention of Scotland because English historians know Scotland’s place. Back! Get back!

The Act of Union – I’ll get my magnifying glass out – straight FACT “Act of Union (1707). “By this Act the United Kingdom of Great Britain was established under a single government, Scotland being represented in Parliament by forty-five Members in the Commons and sixteen Peers in the Lords.” Parliament being in London,  not Edinburgh, naturally.

Culloden, the last pitched battle fought on British soil is a case of move along nothing of interest here. No mention. Sure there are sketches of the Duke of Cumberland – Butcher as he’s known here – and Charles Edward Stuart, “the Young Pretender” – note that slick derogatory description we’ve come to accept – not forgetting his old man, another Pretender. There’s a pic, too, of George I who “succeeded under the Act of Succession” aye he did – positive write-up we may say for George.

There’s a fine illustration of a Highlander – post Union – not doing what most Highlanders would have been doing at home whatever that might have been and we certainly don’t find out from this book but as a soldier from one of the Highland regiments which became so popular with successive governments of the United Kingdom. Not so much back! back! as get to the front! to the front!

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The chapter on Modern Britain pauses long enough to condemn the General Strike of 1926, to praise the national spirit, to picture the murder of a British bishop in Uganda, to comment on the notable growth of democracy during Victoria’s reign – notable being an elastic term for restricted. There are lots of pictures of ‘natives’ from the Empire – Zulus being war-like, ‘Kaffirs’ being obedient, a Maori looking a bit savage. There’s a head and shoulders of Cecil Rhodes, boo; Gordon of Khartum, boo; the cantilever bridge over the St Lawrence River at Quebec – but not the magnificent Forth Railway Bridge, boo – evidently a victim of being located in North Britain. There’s a sketch of a round table conference, at a long table, at which Mahatma Ghandi and his pals “demanded independence for India” – blighters. There’s mention of the “heroic Red army” in WWII, hurrah; there’s Lord Woolton representing rationing during WWII but no mention of John Boyd Orr. Shamefully predicatable.

If you were spared this sort of nonsense in place of real history at school be grateful.

It is apparent that generations of  Scottish schoolchildren left school better informed about the Nazis in Germany or the poor laws in England than they did about lives led by past generations of their families here in Scotland. Our ancestors were living breathing people very much like ourselves – dour or cheerful, cup half-full or cup half-empty types but Scotland, even a short historical hop back in time, was a very different place and it’s near impossible for us to really imagine their dreams, sorrows and pleasures. Our connections with the past are the vital means of securing our place in present-day Scottish society; understanding the route we have come to where our lives are today with a backward glance at patterns of struggle and achievement which form lessons for us now and into the future. It is a scandal that history has been so badly served since the formalisation of education in this country – that so much in history books is nonsense, jingoism and cant  – that knowledge of the Kirk post-Reformation; the Scottish Enlightenment; Scots in the Empire (warts and all); Scots in America – even events surrounding that most important detail were marginalised even here in Scotland, the Union of Parliaments, getting scant recognition until recent times. Why? You may well ask. And demand better. But, of course, sifting through the dross there are truths there to be found that should not be forgotten.

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January 4, 2015

The Eagle Stone, the Brahan Seer, Nutwood and the Earl of Cromartie

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This Pictish stone currently sits on a brae at Strathpeffer in Ross and Cromarty. Allegedly this brae is called Nutwood Lane which sounds horribly twee straight out the pages of Enid Blyton so we’ll draw a suitably lacy curtain over that dubious name.

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 The area’s rich Pictish heritage includes many symbol stones  including this one with carvings of an eagle and a horse shoe arc. It is also known as Clach an Tiopain, Gaelic for the stone of the echo, from its hollow ring when struck – a bit like listening to the wit and wisdom of Gordon Brown.

The stone is a greyish blue gneiss and stands 32ins tall by around 24ins broad and 10ins thick. The shape of the stone was presumably selected by the carver but it has not been dressed into a particular shape. It is an example of a carved fallen stone, a feature of early Pictish art, dating from the 5th or 6th centuries, or perhaps it was a rush job. Why it was carved with a horse shoe and eagle is anyone’s guess. Some say it commemorated a battle and others that it signified a marriage – a lucky horseshoe is still associated with weddings and the eagle is the symbol of the Munros – but this is all conjecture.

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The stone was carved at least 1500 years ago and originally stood where Fodderty cemetery is, between Dingwall and Strathpeffer, and was used to mark the burial place of the local Munro clan killed in a battle with the MacDonalds in 1411. The Munros won and the Eagle stone was an appropriate monument to mark where their clansmen fell in battle.

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As the information notice by the Eagle stone explains a century later the Brahan Seer (Coinneach Odhar), Scotland’s equivalent of Nostradamus, fortetold of a great flood across the strath if the Eagle Stone fell three times – when it had fallen twice it was thought advisable to move it higher up the strath from Fodderty to its present position and set it in concrete, just in case.

The predictions of the Brahan Seer are, of course, cobblers and instances of old Brahany hitting the nail on the head are only the ravings of delusional simple folk. The Brahan Seer was dispatched in a horrible manner that involved a barrel of boiling tar at Chanory Point at Rosemarkie. Didn’t see that coming did poor old Coinneach.

And I don’t know if the Brahan Seer predicted the coming of a development of houses close to where the stone now stands that will necessitate the felling of mature trees as well as part of the distinctive beech hedging that lines the entrance to Strathpeffer.

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As far as I know he didn’t mention the Earl of Cromartie and his housing ambitions but maybe he did. Seems like a lot of upheaval for 15 houses but then we know what happens when a few houses get permission – before anyone knows it there’s another 15, then no reason why another 15 shouldn’t be built too. I hope that cement around the Eagle Stone is solid because if one of those diggers gets too close there’s no knowing what might happen.

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As for the beech hedge it may yet be saved, well not saved exactly because it will be dead when howked out, but local planners, we love them all don’t we folks?, have sought to reassure people that a ‘robust replanting plan’ for a replacement hedge is, well – planned. Robust? Can’t argue with robust.

Good luck to the future of the Eagle stone in its present location. I have a feeling it’s going to need it. Hey, the Brahan Seer thing is catching.

April 1, 2013

Howe of Alford Wee Stone Circle:startling new discovery

Vale of Alford stone circle

A recently excavated stone circle of nine varied orthostats uncovered during scrub clearance throws into question what we know about Neolithic stone crowns.

There is no recumbent stone included in this circle but one of the taller orthostats has the look of a flanker.

 

Were such miniature rings created as blueprints from which to work on larger constructions or did they initiate young men in the building of full-size circles?

Could it be that Neolithic people participated in competitions along the lines of Highland Games or It’s a Knock-out or Strongest Man contests?

Given the variety of stones it might be that miniature circles were able to show how different rock colours and textures worked in groupings.

It is possible they were built to amuse the children while adults conducted their ceremonies undisturbed in adjoining full-scale circles.

vale of alford circle

Were Neolithic people believers in pixies and fairies? Could these little circles have been built for the little people to engage in their own rituals? Indeed were they built by the little people and then copied by Neolithic people?

It is likely few other such circles will come to light as they are too easily missed in deep undergrowth and presumably others have been broken up by generations of Scots for garden rockeries.

We shall never know exactly the function of Neolithic rings which dot the landscape of Aberdeenshire but the discovery of the Howe of Alford Wee Stone Circle might help throw light on some of the mysteries surrounding this historical phenomenon. 

 

May 28, 2012

Loanhead of Daviot Recumbent Stone Circle

Loanhead of Daviot bronze age recumbent stone circle lies a few miles from Inverurie and is a true circle.

I’m very fond of this circle having come upon it early one misty morning with its stones looming up in the sun-infused vapour giving it an other-worldly appearance.

I’ve been back several times, including December in 2011 when these photographs were taken.

Clearly this circle from has been reconstructed. It is well kept with its cleared kerb cairn in the interior which contained pottery fragments and human remains.

Recumbent stone circles are a feature of the area close to Aberdeen, especially around Insch/Bennachie/Alford.

There is much speculation about the uses recumbent circles were put to but over the thousands of years of their existence it is fairly certain that people used them differently over time for ceremonies, cremations and interments.

Ten stones form this large circle of around 20 metres and each stone stands in its own cairn.

The recumbent is actually broken in two and faces SSW.

Remnants of Neolithic pottery were discovered here and cremated human remains.

One of the standing stones has been cupmarked.

Daviot stones feature shaped bases into beak shapes to give better seating in the earth.

The second rung alongside the recumbent circle is thought to have been the site of later cremations.

April 19, 2012

Rothiemay Stone Circle:Star Charts and Atlantis

Rothiemay Stone Circle

The recumbent stone circle at Rothiemay in Banffshire is easily accessible thanks to a very accommodating farmer. And it is signposted.

This grey igneous circle is incomplete however, having been disturbed in the early 19th century forty years before the introduction of preservation orders through the Ancient Monuments Act (1882) and the whole saved from complete destruction by the landowner. Thankfully the recumbent is still there along with four uprights.

It has been proposed that originally there were two concentric circles: outer and inner. The circle, as is, points to an asymmetrical shape with the recumbent’s position creating this irregularity.

This Rothiemay circle is one of the most important in the northeast for its cup marks; they are numerous – in excess of 100, some ringed – on the recumbent and especially grouped at the point of the rising or setting major standstill moon and the are some of the largest found. The clustered cup marks on this recumbent have been linked to star patterns. Other cup marks are documented on the stone to the east of the recumbent.

The recumbent measures 4 metres long by almost 2 metres high and faces the SW to capture the southern full moon at the major standstill.

The recumbent weighs around 20 tons.

The orthostats are around 2m proud of the ground.

The circle looks larger than many others I’ve seen: around 33 metres. This may be due to it being a concentric circle like Auchquhorthies.

Some believe that recumbent stones were worked to mirror or frame, by its flankers, the hills lying off on the horizon. Rothiemay’s recumbent is thought to be one such example looking as it does towards Hillhead of Avochie (‘v’ is not usually pronounced in Scotland in place names derived from the Gaelic [pronounced Gaallic as opposed to Irish Gaylic]).

There is a tenuous link with Rothiemay recumbent stone circle and John Foster Forbes who had been born at Rothiemay Castle and who propounded some strange ideas. Far from being Bronze Age constructions he imagined they dated to around 8000 BC when priests migrated to these islands from the lost city of Atlantis.

Preoccupation with the occult was strong in the 1930s. Some Nazis used occultism to try to prove the existence of a superior Nordic race originating from the North Pole. Forbes was influenced by psychometrics and his eccentric  explanations about stone circles come through association with the psychic Iris Campbell. This once military intelligence officer, Forbes also linked ancient sites such as stone circles to the return of extraterrestrials and was prominent in the upsurge of interest in UFOs in Britain after WWII.

April 13, 2012

Yonder Bognie and Cairnton Recumbent Stone Circle remains

Yonder Bognie stone circle

The wonderfully named Yonder Bognie stone circle is one of many in Aberdeenshire’s rich seam of Bronze age remains.

A recumbent circle of originally 9 whinstones, possibly surrounding a burial or cremation cairn (an urn and bones were recovered here). The area and circle have fallen victim to indifferent farmers in the past although the present one is apparently happy to allow visitors to the stones.

The western flanker remains standing beside the recumbent but the taller east one has fallen.

Of the rest of the circle, some orthostats are in place while others have moved or are missing. It appears to have been oval-shaped rather than round – 22 metres X 18 metres. Most stone circles were graded in height and this is true here with the tallest stones set on the south east and the smallest to
the north northwest.

The recumbent is around 3.5 metres long and 1.5 metres tall.
Unusually the recumbent is facing the southeast, on a gentle slope but said to be aligned to the major southern rising moon.

Cairnton Stone Circle

In the vicinity of Yonder Bognie, and Foggy Loan (Aberchirder) lie the remnants of the Cairnton circle.

The whinstone recumbent and west flanker are all that remain of this stone circle. The recumbent is nearly 3 metres long and 1.6 metres tall and the flanker is over 2 metres tall. The recumbent has been badly damaged by attempts to blow it apart.
Around are scattered field stones.

The circle was positioned on a south-eastern slope with wonderful views across Strathbogie.

Missing stones may still be in the vicinity although others have been re-used e.g. in the walls of a steading building and a cupmarked stone was apparently buried by a farmer. Why? It’s been reported he got fed up driving around it! Tough work driving a tractor.

April 13, 2012

Auld Kirk o’ Tough’s vanished recumbent stone circle

There are remnants of a recumbent stone circle at the old kirk o’ Tough on Red Hill near Alford in Aberdeenshire.

This recumbent stone circle was, as you would expect, south-facing, and very large – estimated at 23 metres (75 feet) in diameter and surrounding a ring-cairn.

Unfortunately little remains of the circle, it having been destroyed many years ago, possibly when land was being improved and farm grazing extended although this hardly describes this particular site. There might have been a desire to rid the area of pre-Christian symbols. Whatever the reason for demolishing circles the stone was often used, as in this case to reinforce a dyke and on one occasion for a doorstep and possibly as land roller.

One upright stone survives and this it is said to serve as a rubbing stone for cattle. It stands at 1.25 metres high.

There are records of the recumbent and its flankers and seven of eight uprights still standing around 1875.

A ringed cupmark along with other unringed is said to have been seen on a stone near this upright.

Unfortunately the recumbent has gone completely.

http://canmore.rcahms.gov.uk/en/site/18006/details/old+kirk+of+tough/

April 10, 2012

The Ringing Stone at Cairnie

The remains of this circle took a little bit of finding although once detected it’s hard to see why. However when I first thought I’d spotted it my companion dismissed it as a sheep on the brow of the hill. I wouldn’t like to meet that sheep on a dark night.

The hill is in fact an artificial mound and set within a field.

Little of the recumbent circle remains but some disturbed stones lie around the area.

The recumbent is magnificent and is still in its place set up on group of small boulders and faces SSW. Was it raised at some point?

The Ringing Stone it is also known as the Iron Stone .

The Ringing Stone gets its name from the ringing sound given off when it is tapped.

The muckle recumbent measures in excess of 10 feet long so comes in at well beyond even the most magnificent of sheep.

The far fallen stone is whinstone measuring around 6 ft X almost 3ft.

The two prone orthostats are around 8ft X 2ft 69

Over the centuries since the period of stone circles people have demolished them and reused their stones. This appears to have happened here with the ring’s missing orthostats. The recumbent’s survival might be due to it being left as a rubbing stone for farm beasts.

There is also evidence that stones have been drilled into with the intention of splitting them. Some of the large debris stones are similarly drilled in the field below.

April 1, 2012

Cothiemuir Recumbent Stone Circle

Cothiemuir

The remains of the magnificent recumbent stone circle at Cothiemuir lie within the natural burial site close to Keig in Aberdeenshire. The circle itself is said to have been the site of funeral pyres and surrounds a low ring cairn.

The granite stones on the east side are smooth and rounded and rougher to the west.

Stones here have been shaped at their bases, like keels, to settle them into the earth.

The cup marks on the western extremity of the magnificent recumbent at Cothiemuir are said to be a fine example of them pointing to the position of the major standstill moon rises and sets.

The spectacular basalt recumbent is pale grey and its flankers are contrasting in pink although this is not clear in photographs because of the heavy covering of lichen on the stones.

This grey and pink arrangement recurs in the circle where the eastern orthostats are grey and the western ones, pink. The kerbstones were also alternating pink and grey.

As with all recumbent circles this one was built to have an open view to the south which allows tracking of the movements of the moon.

The huge 14 foot,20 ton recumbent is well-known for marks known as the Devil’s hoofprints on the recumbent.

The recumbent’s flankers are over 9 feet high.

Is the centre of the circle lies a capstone marking, actually or symbolically, an opening of a passage grave – or it may have been positioned there later. We don’t know.

April 1, 2012

South Fornet Recumbent Stone Circle

South Fornet

Continuing the exploration of Aberdeenshire’s many stone circles and recumbent circles in particular took us to South Fornet, close to Castle Fraser.

It’s not particularly easy to find some of the remaining recumbent stone circles which once abounded in the northeast of Scotland. Several have been raided over time for their stone, perhaps for building or land rollers. Some have been cleared during the great land reclamations of the agricultural revolution.

This remaining stones from this circle were not obvious from the road and required walking along the edge of a field. It’s not an easy way in as the ground is very uneven and the way is difficult. Then there are fences to be crossed.

It is interesting how some farmers, clearly proud to be working land which includes these wonderful monuments, encourage visitors to access their stone circles while others make life difficult for anyone wishing to access them.

The stones stand well above 6 feet high. There is a lot of similarity in the shape of these grey whinstone flankers: pointing in towards the missing recumbent. Veins of white quartz can be seen running through the flankers.

South Fornet is set in beautiful open countryside and only the two flankers remain upright. The gap where the recumbent would have been has been in-filled with field rubble.

Two stones, apparently from the circle lie where they fell or were abandoned on removal.

Cup marks are visible cut into the stones, not necessarily from the time the circle was erected.

At some point in its history, the name A Bruce has been carved into one of the stones.