Door of Secrets

Hiding in the shadows is a metal studded door.



It is located on the west face of Pittenweem Tolbooth Steeple, Fife.  A building which dates back to the late 16th century and according to Stell (1982) it is one of only 20 tolbooths in Scotland which date to before 1707.

I was drawn to the door due to its old and weathered character but was soon attracted by letters scratched on its surface.

At one point is the date 1829.

DatesFurther below is inscribed in the wood:

NamesJ BeGole


I am not sure, why these dates have been singled out.  And, if I am reading it correctly, who was J BeGole.  Did they live in Pittenweem?  Or was this a clandestine act of a traveler, perhaps only in the harbour for a matter of hours?

Subsequently, some rapid research, produced a photo on RCAHMS of the Tolbooth, taken in 1882 (at 1 pm) by archaeologist Erskine Beveridge.

Erskine Beveridge RCAHMS ImageBeveridge had been born in Dunfermline in 1851, three years before J BeGole was scratched on the Tolbooth door.

I wonder…

was the name visible to him when he photographed the Tolbooth,

and separated by only 28 years, did it resonate with any meaning to him?

I assume Beveridge would have realised that the door led into the jail cells within the Tolbooth.

Key HoleIf so, he may also have been aware of the stories of those who were locked in the cells in the late 17th and early 18th centuries.  The RCAHMS records make no reference to this, while the Places of Workship record largely focuses on architectural details.

It is only in broader sources that you find out in 1704

Beatrix Lang,

Thomas Brown


Janet Cornfoot

were accused of Witchcraft

and subject to torture : behind the Door of Secrets.

I have not had time, yet, to find details of primary sources relating to these stories and their veracity.  However, it is clear that there is a horrific account of what may have happened.  Additionally it appears that in 2012 there was vote in the community as whether to erect a memorial to those accused of witchcraft who had suffered.

As always, knowledge and meaning of the past, is partial and diverse: some know of archaeology, history and heritage, some wish to remember and some wish to forget.

It would be greatly appreciated, if anybody has any further information, or suggestions as to the associations or meanings of the dates and name on the door of secrets dating to the 19th century.

But, perhaps, then the door should now reveal its secrets

and have

B Lang 1704, T Brown 1704 and J Cornfoot 1705

(and all the other names of those who may have suffered inside)

inscribed on it ?


Stell, G 1982 ‘The earliest tolbooths: a preliminary account‘, Proc Soc Antiq Scot 111, 445-453.

And other doors which have cause me to ponder:

Beautiful Door

Time Travel, Through The Bronze Door

Door Way to The Imagination

Borne of Stone

Borne of Stone, between Sky and Water, was what occurred at the site.

The site was one I had long heard tell of.  It had intrigued me,

with accounts of mysterious carved heads on a large stone block on Craigmaddie Muir.

Approaching the site revealed two things.

It is situated in a striking basin which focuses attention on the large rock form and


it is located at a point which allow views across the Clyde Valley to the south.  Yet


is only a few meters away from higher ground to the north which affords views to Ben Lomond and the Highlands beyond.


Yet, these views to the north are obscured, when you are at the site, by the basin of rock it sits within.  Scales of landscape nested at this location giving further potency to the boulders distinctive form.

World Hidden

Moving closer, a proliferation of graffiti becomes apparent. Little triumphs from mortality, names and dates, still clinging from the vagaries of geological time.

Horned Head

As you move around, it reveals the dolmen like arrangement of stones which form an irregular channel running broadly south west to north east.


As far as I can tell, there has been previously identified nine carved heads:

Head A

Head A

Head B

Head B

Head C

Head C

Head D detail

Head D

Heads E and F

Heads E and F

Heads G and H

Heads G and H

Head I

Head I

Each is distinct, with particular morphological characteristics, and each, with wear, chip  and lichen veils upon the rock surface, has signs of antiquity.  As has been noticed before, all the heads (apart from one on the upper face of the upper stone Head I) are executed on the easterly portions of the rocks.  The western ends of the stones are unembellished, headless.

This pattern suggests there was a deeper understanding about where on the rocks it was appropriate to carve these heads and as such they may have been composed or understood collectively in some way.  Together they give a sense of a pantheon of individuals, each perhaps with a unique name or association in the past.  For example, it was suggested by Alcock (1977) that Head A has a horn extending from its right side, and another may have existed on its left but is missing due to breakage. As such, he suggests that Head A could represent Cernunnos.

Closer scrutiny reveals three other possible carved heads.

One (Head K) is located on the upper eastern part of the south facing stone.   It watches over you as you climb up to the top stone to visit head I.  Using a series of distinct stone cut steps (which are well worn suggesting some age) you ascend.


When you reach the top the highland views to the North are again revealed.

World Revealed

Watching this ascent, to the land of northern skies, is another visage (Head K), nestling amongst other incised lines.


It has a distinctive mouth, cheeks appear to bulge, eyes half shut, almost smiling or grimacing at those who ascend.  Other lines above could be representations of horns or hair : but perhaps could be other earlier forms of lettering.

Head K

Head K

Another head (J) is closer towards the ground and retains a focus on the eastern end of the rocks.  Head J is located as you enter the space between the rocks, lower towards the ground at the corner between two rock faces.  It is worn, but has a pronounced nose, possible mouth, eyes and brow ridges distinguishable.

Head J

Head J

The third possible head (Head L) is within the rock passage.  The rock has been prepared to create a rectangular plaque upon which is Head L.  Rather it is more of a torso, which may also have decoration running from the neck across the chest.  Similar in form to the figure on the top (Head I), side on with marked profile, and with a variety of symbols incised to its right.  It like the figure on top (Head I) faces to the south west,  perhaps evoking distant lands.

Head L

Head L

Discovery of these three possible additional heads support the trend in overall distribution being focused at one end, and perhaps emphasises the potential significance which movement through the stones may have had.  Travelling from the north-east (from a pantheon of deities) to the south-west could have been deeply symbolic and perhaps restricted to certain people or at certain times of the year.

Who knew of this site two thousand years ago, who was allowed access to it, who was allowed to carve on it, who was allowed to pass through stone, or ascend to the sky?

Whoever, two thousand years later, there is still a reality encapsulated in our bodies, some shared (albeit diverse) frames of reference…

Head D

The passage is narrow and awkward, pitching the body at odd angles..

Travel Through Stone

Distorted, you edge towards the light…

Light at the End

Arriving at the mouth, awaiting to be spewn out.  In disorientation…


…I realised, as I splashed out into the sunlight, that below the rock passage was standing water.  I had travelled through rock and over water.

Water Below

Borne of Stone, between Sky and Water, was what occurred at the site.


Leslie Alcock wrote about the site in 1977, traditionally called Auld Wives’ Lifts.

There is a slightly uncertain tone to his writing, perhaps from finding himself sandwiched between Ure’s accounts of Druids and a nagging doubt as to whether these were relatively modern embellishments he was publishing about.  He concluded however ‘Whatever is thought of these arguments, one conclusion seems inescapable: that the faces on the Lifts deserve more of archaeologists than to be overlooked or dismissed out of hand.’

There is no doubt, to my mind, that this site has had significance in the later prehistoric and / or early historic period, potentially a location of cult and ceremony.  It certainly has some resonance with sites such as Dunadd where rituals of place and kingship may have been undertaken in the early historic period which incorporated other forms of carving.

Indeed, the close proximity of Auld Wives Lifts to earlier ceremonial monuments has long been recognised, with a Neolithic chambered long cairn only 500 metres to the east.   At that location, a similar inter-relationship with landscapes to the north and south is also experienced.  Also with the chambers in the cairn, people in the past would also have experienced travelling from light to dark and being returned to the light again.  We know from sites elsewhere that people in the later prehistoric and early historic periods revisted and reused Neolithic and Bronze Age ceremonial sites.  It is possible then that how Auld Wives Lifts was understood and was used two thousand years ago made reference to earlier sites and rites.

Alcock, L 1977 ‘The Auld Wives’ Lifts’, Antiquity 51, 117-23.

Ure, D 1783 The History of Rutherglen and East-Kilbride; Published With a View to Promote the Study of Antiquity and Natural History.

Further information can be found at RCAHMS Canmore.

If you are going to visit the site, please do not touch or modify the carvings, they may have been there for 2000 years.

Drilling The Winged Bull

Recent images of the deliberate destruction of archaeology in Mosul Museum are very difficult for many of us to witness.

The 2700 year old Assyrian Winged Bull, like many of the other items destroyed, represent important components of the heritage of those who live in Mosul but are also part of a global heritage shared by us all.  Images of sledge hammers and drills being used to deface and destroy such wonderful objects, are to my mind a crass form of behavior, which as intended, exerts a form of political power which I find deeply chilling.

In one sense, such behaviour, is no surprise.  Archaeologically we readily see the rise and fall of civilizations, different ages and expressions over thousands of years, littered with a myriad toppled figures and headless statues, lie behind us.

Yet there is a contradiction, with where we currently find ourselves, in our age of austerity.  Further cuts in public funding in the UK (and elsewhere in Europe) will only mean that aspects of our art, culture and heritage, which are recognised as important to the character and quality of peoples lives, will be lost or irreversibly damaged by neglect.

Choices are being made by politicians, which to many seem only to be looking after short term interests of social and economic systems which appear to have failed us.  So if politicians and people want…

…vibrant, resilient communities, if we want a better more equitable society, then you cant keep cutting away at

what distinguishes us,

what gives us a sense of place and identity,

what contributes to health and well-being,

what makes the heart soar and soul dance :

you cant keep trimming away at arts, culture and heritage.

There are choices we make in relation to our values, they range along a continuum from deliberate purposeful intervention to passive indifference, but they all have a consequence.  As a sector, as a society, we have to question what is worst for our heritage:

Active Destruction or Active Neglect ?

Drilling the Winged Bull

was overt destruction

but by neglect


can chip away

our Winged Bulls.

As I have said several times before in this blog, if we truly value art, culture and heritage as a society we have to protect, conserve, enhance, share and celebrate it : and this requires adequate and proportionate funding.  Only by doing so can we ensure the things that matter are sustainably managed.  For some people, they may only realise they matter when they are destroyed and gone.  For some people, they may feel it doesnt matter at all, but will their childrens’ children wish we had looked after their heritage better?

 Have we still learned nothing as a society about why understanding and sharing


past matters?


For those of you who have not seen the images of destruction there is a news report from the BBC.

Apologies to any followers if this has been a bit too political but I suppose it all is really!  In part it stems from genuine distress at seeing what is happening elsewhere in the world but it holds a mirror up to what we do.

Ice Axes

Axe HoardFreezing temperatures and snow means that ice axes can sometimes prove useful.

Snow MouldAxe MouldTransitionsIce HoardHafted Axe


The axe has been a powerful tool, both functionally and symbolically, through out much of prehistory.  The polished stone axe in the Neolithic (c 4000 – 2500 BC) clearly has a significance beyond the functional with highly polished examples, that clearly were never used for felling trees, but had circulated long distances.  Yet this belies the fact that in experienced hands the axe is an effective tool to fell and clear woodland, and as such has played a role historically in the transformation of many a landscape.

In the Copper Age / early Bronze Age in Britain c 2500 BC the first metal axes were cast in flat open stone moulds.  Some examples of Bronze Age axes we have in museums were recovered from bogs and / or rivers during the 19th and 20th centuries as parts of groups of objects.  They had been collected together into groups (often described as hoards) during the Bronze Age and deposited as votive offerings in bogs and rivers.  Thus in some cases, objects born of stone and fire were plunged seemingly forever into a watery death.

Inspired by bronze castings I have seen in recent years, and with low temperatures, I wondered if I could cast ice axes?

So I took a replica of a Bronze Age axe and used it to create templates of early Bronze age axes forms : the earliest Broad Butt forms and later more developed forms with more splayed cutting edges and a narrow butt.  I then used these templates to create snow moulds to cast boiled then cooled water into : I couldn’t resist some colour too !

The next morning a small collection of axes were removed from the mould. Collected together I now have a small hoard of ice axes.  As temperatures rise they will probably be gone in a few days time, unlike some examples from the Bronze Age in Britain which have lasted for 4500 years.

Sun Voyagers

Sólfar Sun VoyagerSólfar by Jón Gunnar Árnason is a striking piece of art in the public realm known to many, often pictured back dropped by stunning sunsets.  Its graceful form undoubtedly evokes the Norse ships which brought settlers to Iceland.  Indeed, perhaps the name Sólfar (Sun Voyager) playfully refers to the much debated sunstones (sólarsteinn) potentially used to aid their navigation.

I was just relooking at the photos of Sólfar I took early one morning whilst exploring Reykjavik.  To my surprise I spotted other travelers on the prow and stern of the vessel which I hadn’t noticed when I was taking the photographs.  So intent was I on the art piece that I had shut my eyes to another important aspect of the landscape of Reykjavik.

Sun VoyagingThese stowaways had no need for a vessel.  These perched Arctic Terns, called Sea Swallows by some, have a remarkable migratory cycle, travelling approximately 80,000 km a year to ensure better weather.

Arctic TernThey truly are

Sun Voyagers.


Ironically, later on that day, despite my inability to have spotted the Sun Voyagers on Sólfar, I spent time photographing the Arctic Terns as they flew playfully above Reykjavíkurtjörnin, one of the photos of which I have inserted above.

Creative Winter

WinterscapeSeasons greetings,

and many thanks to all followers and supporters of HeritageLandscapeCreativity.

Winter is a great time to get out and explore the Heritage of Landscapes.


 The picture is of bubbles drifting over the wintery landscape of the Vikos Gorge, one location forming part of the Vjosa-Aoos Ecomuseum


  • Visit a winter landscape.
  • Add bubbles.
  • Photograph.

Iron Age Twilights

HomesteadThe prehistoric site at Barr A’ Chaistealain has been described as a dun.

LayersAround which the remains of a Medieval or Later Rural Settlement can be found.  The settlement is associated with the Clan McNab.  It is said to have been occupied by the McNabs in the mid fifteenth century AD and that they were armourers and blacksmiths to the Lairds of Glenorchy.

AbandonedApparently one building was still occupied in the 1950’s,

perhaps the bedstead relates to this last dwelling.

SleepingTwighlightIronic perhaps, in the twilight of a settlement associated with metalworking,

Bucket that such abandoned artefacts slowly corrode.


Barr A’ Chaistealain was clearly occupied, at least intermittently, for over a thousand years and had a strong association with iron working.  It could be described as an example of  ‘the long iron age’.

The site of Barr A’ Chaistealain was surveyed in 1992 by ACFA 

Further information about Barr A’ Chaistealain can be found via RCAHMS

Langdale Axescape




Langdale 1 Langdale 2





with rush and splash.

Langdale 3


A  pressure change

Langdale 5





brings new perspectives.


Langdale 6



Rock washed,                                     rain cleansed,


Langdale 4



offerings of eras,


Langdale 8


found to remind us.



Clink and clack.

Langdale 9Clack and clink.

Langdale 10Stone scarred                                  millennial,

Langdale 11

pillar standing sentinel.

Langdale 12

Langdale 13Slow,                                        clink and clack,                              flow the rocks,

Langdale 14industrial residues                                              pooling


Langdale 15Sharp

Langdale 16smooth

Langdale 17






shards of light.

Langdale 18Clack and clink.

Langdale 19Stone whack                                                                                                              crack


Langdale 20cold traces.

Langdale 21





Pillars mark                                        special places,

 Langdale 22

fling,                                                                                                          the stones sing.


Langdale 23

Langdale 24




Rush and crash,

sharp echoes below.

 Damp sun streams,

Langdale 25

Langdale 26





slowly warmed

banded sedimentary secrets.

Langdale 28Langdale 27


Langdale 29Silent sanctuary


from rivulets of stone,



 from richochets of time.

Langdale 30                              Langdale 31

Stone and earth,


scree flow.

Langdale 32


Langdale 33Clack and clink.



Crush and rush.



Elemental source

Langdale 34





Langdale 35

with twilight’s shades.






Many thanks to Peter Style who kindly led me through the Langdale Axescape: please visit his blog Mountains of Meaning.

In the Central Lakes, high up on the mountain sides, there is a marked band of geology, a fine grained tuff, which was sought in the Neolithic period for producing stone axes.  The lumps and flakes of stone which can be found prolifically on the mountain side (and should be left where there), are the working debris from quarrying and from roughing out stone axes from this tuff approximately 5500 years ago.  The rough outs would be worked further and typically polished to create a smooth lustrous finish to the axe.

Descent from Pike of Stickle beyond the edge of the scree slope is possible only with great care: indeed as a sensitive archaeological site it really should be avoided.  This is demonstrated by example of the cave found down the stone shoot.  It has clearly been quarried into the rock face and there is a photo from the 1940s (in the Clare Fell 1950 article ‘The Great Langdale stone-axe factory’ in Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society) which apparently shows that only the top of the cave was visible.  The remainder was sealed by several meters of axe working debris.  In the intervening sixty years, tons of material has moved down the hill, despite probably having remained largely untouched for several millennia.  Why the cave was quarried and what this cave was used for within a wider axescape is unclear.  Whether as a location for polishing stone axes, or perhaps a place where one or two people could shelter as stone showered down from quarrying taking place above, the sounds echoing on the sides of the shoot.

Further background information on prehistoric axe working sites in the Lake District can be found in the Oxford Archaeology survey report On Axe Working Sites On Path Renewal Schemes.

For further thoughts on the circulation of polished stone axes in the Neolithic can be found in the classic text by Richard Bradley and Mark Edmonds ‘Interpreting the Axe Trade: production and exchange in Neolithic Britain.’


Scent to Landscape

ContrastsA propensity for visual dominance can be found in many aspects of Western culture, to the extent sounds and smells of landscapes can often be overlooked.  It frequently requires, therefore, different forms of attentiveness to rediscover these other sensory elements of our landscapes.  However even so attuned, we may journey through a landscape with certain preconceptions, levels of knowledge from our broader experiences, which act as sensory filters.  For example, when we travel to the Highlands of Scotland we may in part anticipate the heather covered mountainous vistas, the stag silhouetted on a distant hill top.  Perhaps we will expect to hear the haunting tones of the bagpipe, or in certain locations the swoosh of wind turbines.

But what is it we anticipate smelling ?

ScentsIn part this perhaps depends on the season of our visit, damp autumn leaves, blossoms in spring, … … .

Some landscapes have been given special status, perhaps due to their outstanding scenic values or their ecological importance.  Of these, it is perhaps the National Parks which most people are aware of (as opposed to Ramsars, AONB, SSSIs).  Many National Parks sit in our historical consciousness, are culturally potent (often landscapes which have long been a source of inspiration of poets and artists) and attract huge numbers of visitors who wish to experience their distinctive characters.  Do they have sensory qualities which are distinct from the landscape beyond the boundaries?

SoundsWe may expect that the aural qualities of some National Parks are different, perhaps quieter, and there may be an association with an anticipation of fresh clean air, …. but are there other ways in which we might be preconditioned to anticipate other scents of landscape?

Could a range of domestic scent modification products, the ‘National Parks Fragrance Collection’, from ‘a leading home fragrance brand’ in any way change our olafactory relationships with certain landscapes?

Smell Our National ParksAvailable in a range of products (such as candle, premium reed diffuser and fragrance gel), you can fill your house with scents inspired by fifteen National Parks.  For each National Park there is an emblematic scent combination with a brief explanation about how it is inspired by the character of the landscapes.

National Park Scent For  example the Lake District – Midnight Berry & Shimmering Mist – ‘Delight your senses with the scent of juicy berries and the crisp freshness inspired by the misty Lake District.’

Lake District ScentOthers examples of combinations and how they evoke the landscape of a National Park include:

Brecon Beacons – Wild Blossom & Fresh Mountain Dew – ‘Let the scent of fresh mountain dew and white floral blossoms transport you to the striking hills of the Brecon Beacons.’

Cairngorms – Spiced Apple & Snowy Mountains – ‘Indulge yourself with spirited and wild aromas inspired by the evocative Cairngorms mountains.’

Exmoor – Sea Spray & Ocean Minerals – ‘Inspired by the fresh ocean breeze sweeping across the dramatic sea cliffs of Exmoor.’

New Forest – Golden Woodlands & Sweet Nectar – ‘Let the sweet warming scents take you back to walks in the sunshine in the New Forest woodlands.’

Snowdonia – Mountain Sunset & Vibrant Zest – ‘Create a glowing ambiance in your home with the invigorating scents inspired by the Snowdonian Peaks.’

Yorkshire Dales – White Rose & Pink Sweet Pea – ‘Bask in the playful scent of the hay meadows and gardens inspired by the Yorkshire Dales in full bloom.’

The UK National Parks (‘Britain’s Breathing Spaces’) explain that these fragrances

‘help re-ignite memories of the experiences you’ve had with family and friends in one of the National Parks, as well as inspire you to get out and explore even more’

It is further explained:

‘In addition to raising awareness of the National Parks family, our partnership with Air Wick will help generate funds for vital projects to conserve heritage and improve facilities for the National Parks and the communities within them.’

‘We hope that this partnership will help raise our profile and the diversity of the UK National Parks with a new audience that might be unfamiliar with what we do.  We are looking forward to working with Air Wick to bring the delights of Britain’s breathing spaces into people’s homes.’

The producer explains:

‘Our scents reflect the changing seasons and intense variety of the British outdoors, evoking the beautiful landscapes the National Parks represent.’

I wonder if in any small way such scents will provide a precondition for sensory perceptions of our National Parks,

when you visit the Lake District will you always anticipate the smell of:


Midnight Berry & Shimmering Mist


All images above, not of scent modification products, are of the landscapes of the Lake District National Park.  For more info on the establishment of the UK National Parks.

Trapped In The Matrix

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA When idly waiting for a train in 2006, I spotted the figure and realised it was Neo lying beside the rail.  When I travel freely on the line I occasionally remember to check the progress of our Matrix traveler at Mobil Avenue station.

Matrix 2012 And time moved on, by 2012 he had journeyed perhaps 10 centimeters, body rotated through 180 degrees, head buried beneath stone.  A growing range of discarded rubbish beginning to aggregate in the Matrix.

Matrix 2014By Autumn 2014, there has been little noticeable movement, our little hero essentially now trapped for all time by The Trainman.


I suspect when spotted in 2006 the Neo figure had been fairly recently lost, as it looked quite fresh and unweathered.  Whether it was an original 1999 figure is not clear. Somebody may know ?

There are some possible clues to how it should sit typologically in the development of Matrix figure material culture. There are two green buttons on the back, which when pushed probably made a leg kick or arm punch.  The almost vertical line of the robes, is perhaps more reminiscent of the calmer figure of 1999, my recollection is that many figures from the 2003 Matrix Reloaded depict a greater degree of swirling robes.

When Neo dropped out of circulation and became trapped in the Matrix of the railway line, he became a small piece of archaeological evidence in the landscape, slowly descending into the track ballast.  Ironically it is possible the machines may have moved Neo, as he fell in a linear cultural railscape, which I think requires the ballast to be maintained by ballast regulators and ballast tampers trundling up and down the line when most of us sleep.