Monuments to the Future


Stonehenge, imagine being there, about 5000 years ago, when people first started building the earthwork enclosure.  If you could linger, perhaps five hundred years later, you may have witnessed the first stone circle being erected.  If you were able to revisit in another two hundred years time, you could have helped remodel the monument and created the unique arrangement of hanging stones which are celebrated to this day.

Earth Avenue

Yet, it is easy to focus on the construction, physical representations of a will to transform, and overlook the long moments of reality when monuments were actively used. Monumental statements (fetishistic moments of monumentality) sit comfortably with contemporary concerns for master plans and iconic buildings : architect-planner-deity.    Perhaps monuments such as Stonehenge, dangerously legitimise the short term political gestures (remember the difficult birth of the Millennium Dome !), grand projects of great people, and as such belittle the everyday, annual or generational uses of places we value?


So it is with interest  I have watched over the past few years the emergence of a new complex of stones at Crawick : which if witnessed by the monument obsessed archaeologist of the future could readily, mirroring contemporary archaeo-parlance, be described as a ‘monumental landscape’ but in the absence of overt function be easily classed as a ‘ceremonial landscape’ or ‘ritual landscape’.  Yet Crawick is of its time, as post-industrial imagineering, an overt expression of regeneration, a cosmological dream beyond the short half-life of industrial decay.

Industrial Shadow

A solution to the problem of the blasted legacies of open cast coal extraction.



New Mound


So again, like Stonehenge, we are encouraged to focus on the monumentality of the project, the grand vision of the architect god.  Yet it may represent a moment in time which is worth studying, as a contemporary archaeology, as an unfolding of possible futures.  Crawick landforming (phase 1) completed 2015, how will decades and centuries of humanity respond to this new space ?


Our opportunity is to engage in the moments between monumentality : phase 1 completed 2015 and Crawick landforming (phase 2) due to be commenced in 2215 !  What potentials lie in new birthed spaces, what opportunities to explore and express in the longer flow of time ?

So perhaps at generational monuments like Stonehenge, what sang through the ages, was the joy of the use of the space, dance and music, life and death transforming to place.

Perhaps such monumental places should be other worldly, liminal zones.  Places where we can encounter a pantheon of archetypes, explore the boundaries of humanity and through activities (perhaps challenging our definitions of art, culture and heritage) find pathways to revitalise earth from disturbed ground.


Sound Around


Ascent Sky Epiphany


In the line

I found my ... on Silbury Hill













Place is made, not by those who assert their will upon space,


but by the people who dwell there.

—————————————————————————- —————————–

Following an encounter with another Land Formation by Charles Jencks, I learned about the plans for Crawick and visited in May 2014 when ‘land-forming’ works were underway.  A subsequent visit was undertaken in June 2014 when we were kindly allowed in the site to see the work in progress.  The next encounter with Crawick was when it was launched in June 2015.  The opening weekend was alive with the wonderful performance by Alex Rigg and Oceanallover which forms the basis of the peopled images above : and the only time when the monument made sense !

A further visit was undertaken in February 2016 with Kenny Brophy and Public Humanities students from University of Glasgow during which we had a heated debate about the cosmological frame of reference of the monument forms.  A parallel perspective on this contemporary cosmological space was produced by the Urban Prehistorian.

Collectively these visits, revealed the obvious, it is not the monument that matters or who conceived of it or who built it (sorry !), rather it is how it is used and by who and for how long – and that transcends the meaning assigned by the architect.  Thus the stage has been created and the meaning will be writ in the long term by those who perform upon it and dwell with it.

I wonder how the monument might change in use with Crawick landforming (phase 2), provisionally due to be commenced in 2215… … !



Patarei – darkness and light

Patarei  1

From outside,

summer sun graffiti regeneration,

walls white washed realities,

gives sense of warmth and light.

Brief sun glimpses,

trapped in small world exercise yards,

never escape glare of guards.

So try hiding in the warren of corridors

and mouldering rooms.

So try finding the darkness pierced by light.

Patarei Window Light

Fallen signs of medication and disease.

Treatment of deteriorating conditions.

Patarei ward

Traces of nameless and named remained.



tidied and arranged

Rooms rummaged,

staged and reworked,

towards artful forgetting

of impositions from above.

Were their ever moments of humour and love?

We linger on,

traces of presences.

Patarei Sight and Sound

We shudder at,

spaces of absence.

Patarei Shadow and Light

We are poised,


Patarei darkness

threatened by the realities of





Patarei was one of the most disorienting and disturbing heritage sites I had visited.  Patarei operated as a prison till 2002 and is described ‘as the most notorious prison in Estonia.’  It was recently shortlist nominated as one of the most threatened heritage sites in Europe and as such I thought this post may be of interest in the context of the Europa Nostra nomination by The Estonian Heritage Society.  The images were taken in August 2011, and I am not sure what state it is currently in, but yet to this day, when I think of the visit to Patarei, it still makes me shudder.  It was not always clear what had been left by prisoners, and to what extent it represented their experiences, or where later interventions of art or looting had modified the rooms and corridors.

I remember being struck by learning that Patarei (in 2011) catered for stag and hen parties (providing drink, food and drink) : with the unwitting bride or groom having to spend some time in a cell during the evening.  A form of entertainment which I was uncomfortable with : yet it was an attempt to ‘generate revenue’, to find a reuse for a heritage site.  Like many heritage sites it faces the challenges of finding new uses but in the current economic climate probably will not find sufficient core funding to keep running without some other revenues.  Finding reuse is perhaps even more challenging with a site which could be described as relating to ‘dark-heritage’.  Difficult and painful places, which we must remember, and through which have to reconcile tensions from the past.

There is a deeper story to Patarei, having been built as a military fortress at the instruction of Russian Czar Nicholas I from 1829 to 1840.  The fortress was then converted into a prison, between 1920 and 2005, and became a powerful symbol of national resistance in Estonia to both the communist and Nazi regimes.

Information on Patarei which strikingly sums up the aspirations for historical transformation and regeneration as:

‘This unique example of finest military engineering and architecture of early 19th century has finally, in the 21st century, changed from a longtime symbol of repressions and evil to a favourite hangout for the residents of the nation’s capital and visitors alike, a multifunctional place to spend one’s leisure time and have fun.’

A real challenge in these times perhaps, but I hope the site is not lost through further decay and neglect. Patarei is a remarkable part of the heritage of Estonia, and importantly it contributes to, and resonates in many ways with, the broader history of Europe which we all share.

More about the Patarei Sea Fortress Europa Nostra shortlisting

Past Inspired Sculpture 7

Sculpture in the public domain faces environmental conditions which slowly change the appearance of the piece.  Unlike, cosseted gallery pieces, they are subject to greater weathering and vandalism.

I recently revisited a piece where this change and growth had become really striking since my first visit.  It is a wonderful piece of red sandstone carved in 1996 by artist Tim Pomeroy.


Entitled Tree of People it portrays elements of the past, people emerge from the base of the trunk of the stone tree.  Particular trades and professions, such as weaver and miner, soldier and teacher (some of which are now historical) hold tools of the past.



Tree of People 3

It also represents other monumental forms of stone, on one side of the sculpture a hand cradles Hamilton Mausoleum.

Tree of People 4

Tree of People 5

Above all the surface of the piece now reveals the ongoing interaction between the stone and its environment.  Slowly transforming from warm glowing red sandstone, to speckled greys and greens of mosses and lichens.

The stone tree of people is increasingly permeated with organic life.

Tree of People 6

Tree of People 7


Tree of People 8

Perhaps, with its inspirations from the past, if we pause and look, it can also slowly grow and sustains cultural life?

Perhaps it helps connects us to the roots, to our trees of people?

Tree of People 9



The pictures were taken from 2004, 2012 and 2015.

For other examples of Past Inspired Sculpture please see:

Past Inspired Sculpture 6

Past Inspired Sculpture 5

Past Inspired Sculpture 4

Past Inspired Sculpture 3

Past Inspired Sculpture 2

Past Inspired Sculpture 1



Lost and Found

From Deep Earth,

Molten Spheres,

Are Cast Along Our Shores…


Bauxite Buoy 1

Hall–Héroult Buoy 2

Ocean Buoy 3

Float Buoy 4

Netted Buoy 5

Lost  Buoy 6

Uibhist a Tuath Buoy 7

Stranded  Buoy 8

Traigh Lingeigh Buoy 9

FoundBuoy 10

We are but a moment in the flow of time…

 Flow 1Can we speak of love…

love of a landscape,

of the dance of light and cloud upon leaden Autumn waters,

of the sway of cotton grass in a playful Summers breeze,

of the cool green air which wisps around your Spring hair,

of those little details which reveal a world,

of the escape from mundane valley floor,

of soaring rocks, glacial scarred and Winter shattered

raptor and carrion,

your rapture and return…

Can we speak of love…..

…. from fragments,

from imperfect

from the hard cold realities….

Can we speak of love….

love of the object,


hard won,



Flow 4Flow 5Can we speak of love…

separated by 5000 years,

joined by a humanity.

Is it too hard to feel…

what it means to acquire,

to complement,
to share…

Flow 9Flow 10Flow 11

These partial traces,



objects desired,

with no value…
only discard,


the waste from



Flow 12Yet …..

….they were hard won

by trowel,

by folded body

by stiffened knee…..

by cut finger and

aching arm…

they were hard won….

by stone upon stone,

crack and dust,
clatter and clinker,
roughed out…

waste, waste, waste, waste, waste,

the object is borne

Flow 13Can we speak of love….

again revealed,
bagged and tagged


incorporated into a world

beyond their….

… imagine,

a metric curation,

an assertion of the rationale…


a terror of what they may reveal…

Flow 14Flow 15Can we speak of love…

love of the object…

a fetish beyond,

love of the insight,

of the revelation,

of the enlightenment,

beyond, we love beyond

the bounds of normal understanding…

for one moment they mattered,

the core of a world denied for millennia,

for one short moment

a sweet anticipation of display and adoration,

of wonder and desire… Flow 16Flow 17Flow 18Can we speak of love…

Care, and ware, grind and polish…

Smoothed and caressed, a concentration,



an obsession…

material meditations…

shared and displayed…

an eternal transformation…

objects transcending moments of humanity…

…your daughters daughters sons


tell tale of those who pulled them from

the mother rock…

Flow 19And yet we have inherited hard cold curation,

an uncomfortable,

comfort from discipline,

little known,
little revealed,
little shared,

but we are satisfied ?

with what…

Flow 20Flow 21

Flow 24 Flow 22with the recovery of loss,
with the ordering of disorder,
with the categorisation of the chaotic,
with the control of the uncontrollable….

with our conceit …

can we speak of love…

Flow 25 Flow 26Flow 27Look again,

look carefully,

not at the traces of the past,
at the fleeting glimpses

of the future…

Flow 28…fragments shared,


…fragments journeyed,


…fragments retold,


…fragments transformed,


…fragments returned…

Flow 29Can we speak of love…

love of the possibilities of what might be,

love of our shared humanity,

love of the intangibility of the tangible…

Dry and broken husks, pass no more on the winter stream,

occasional glints, below the surface beckon Spring rains.

Flow 32

Can we plant and tend,

seeds of spirit


seeds of soul


seeds of light

roots and radiance,

beyond generations glow.

Flow 34The journey, the narrative continues….

how will you love

heap more order upon disorder

or narrate the next chapter, the next journey

share and tell,

show and reveal,

one year to this day…


Flow 35but a moment in the flow of time…


One interest I have are the threads which can be drawn out and traced through the millennia.  So slight, so fine, they can only be seen from certain angles – a flash, a glint, in peripheral glances – but I am sure they are there.

One fragile thread I have been teasing out was originally found in the uplands.  Five thousand years ago people quarried stone from mountain places such as the Langdale, Cumbria and Craig Na Caillich, Perthshire.  From the stone they produced polished stone axes. Polished stone axes may have been considered prestige objects and often traveled significant distances, perhaps handed from person to person.  Each time a polished stone axe moved, its story may have traveled with it linking time and space through the memories of generations.

The piece I present in part here traces these threads and looks forward.  Some images show a small quartz cairn I first created in the uplands six years ago and how it has changed.  Other images show large waste flakes from making rough out axes 5500 years ago: they had been excavated by archaeologists and they were going to be disposed of as no longer wanted for curation.  Many of the images relate to the burn which flows down from Craig Na Caillich axe factory, other relate to prehistoric sites where polished stone axes may well have been used and deposited.

The piece was presented in the Creative Archaeologies session, co-organised by Antonia Thomas, Dan Lee, Carolyn White and Ursula Frederick, at the 2015 European Association of Archaeologists conference.

As part of the piece 25 boxes were given away and an invite extended to those who took them to collaborate in exploring the future chapter of what was inside.

Flow of TimeThe piece extends :

In The Flow Of Time We Are But A Moment ….

Fire and Moon

BuildNBurn 13

Fire and Moon are a powerful combination.  There is no doubting the importance both had in the past, both moon and fire were clearly incorporated into rituals and ceremonies for thousands of years.  What may be less apparent is the power of groups of people building together, a communal effort to create not only structures but more importantly lasting memories of striking events.

BuildNBurn1A week of preparations, involved felling trees, and hand breaking trenches through bedrock to hold the timbers.

BuildNBurn 2Posts were decorated using pigments found from local sources.

BuildNBurn 4Special objects were made in preparation of the events which were to follow.

BuildNBurn 3Everything was set for the arrival of extraordinary figures.

BuildNBurn 5Preparations completed, we were ready…

BuildNBurn 6for transformations through fire…

BuildNBurn 8for remembering ancient stories of the landscape beyond…

BuildNBurn 7for remembering the people who had explored before us…

BuildNBurn 10for measuring things in a new light…

BuildNBurn 9 for transformation, to find a different beauty in wood.

BuildNBurn 11An illumination cloaked in possible pasts.

BuildNBurn 12An intensity of insight, focused at night.

BuildNBurn 14Fire beckoned darkness and called another light.

BuildNBurn 15A monument captured a lunar moment…

BuildNBurn 16 … of rhythms hunted through the ages.

BuildNBurn 17  Memories,

of figures and festivities, fire and moon blended,


BuildNBurn 19Could never be revealed in mornings traces ?


The BuildNBurn approach has been developed with Kenny Brophy and Corinna Goeckeritz.  For some partial insights into other BuildNBurn events, please look at:

Burning the Circle 2013


Burning the Circle 2014

Please contact me, if you have any ideas for other BuildNBurn events, we are happy to collaborate.

The BuildNBurn presented above was produced as part of the Joseph Anderson 150 Festival organised in collaboration by the University of Glasgow, Cardiff University, Northlight Heritage, the Yarrows Heritage Trust, Venture North and Northshore Pottery. The Joseph Anderson 150 Festival was supported with funding from the E.ON Camster Community Fund, supported by Foundation Scotland and by Eneco and Venture North. 

The BuildNBurn performance ‘Joseph Anderson Presents The Mysteries of Prehistories’ could not have happened without the support, hardwork and creative efforts of: Tom (Performance and Build); Andrew Baines (Performance); Cara Berger (Technical Advice); Nan Bethune (Storytelling); Alex Carnes (Performance and Build); James Dilley (Performance); Helen Green (Performance and Build); Steve (the sound man) Mills (Audio);  and Brianna Robertson (Song and Technical Advice).  Thanks also to Ian Giles for providing two carved oak plaques for carbonisation.  Many thanks to Islay MacLeod and Catherine MacLeod for providing copious quantities of wood and putting their faith in the BuildNBurn team.  A special thanks to Amelia Pannett who made Joseph Anderson 150 Festival happen and dealt with too many challenges during the week : but we got there in the end !

Lands of the Caillich

There are traces of time every where in the Lands of the Caillich.

Some are obvious, such as the tumbled drystone walls which had been constructed about 200 hundred years ago as the land was enclosed and more sheep introduced.

Other traces are more elemental, the different states of quartz rocks revealing greater time depths…

Mountain Wall

…angular outcrops, shattered by a thousand winters or more…

Mountain Quartz

…rounded quartz rocks, rolled by glaciers, and washed for ten thousand years in burns.

Quarts Water

On my way to my intended destination, Creag na Caillich, I pass by a collapsed cliff line,


scattered boulders creating a maze of shelters, for a range of creatures.


The cliff face reveals other scars.  Probably a result of where quartz has been extracted.  When this took place is difficult to tell.


What is clear is that there has long been a fascination for special stones in the Lands of the Caillich – with examples of healing stones and talismans in folklore and history.  Even today the property of Triboluminescence which quartz displays, visible in darkness, has a hypnotic, slightly unnerving effect : materials releasing other energies and powers.

Quartz Extraction

Quartz may have been extracted by the people who occupied the nearby summer shielings, tending their cattle in the uplands, over two hundred years ago.


Or it could have been 5000 years before when people came to the uplands to acquire another special stone.  A ragged hole still visible in the mountain, visibly seeping more water than elsewhere, is the result of quarrying for rock suitable to produce polished stone axes at Creag Na Caillich.

Creag Na Caillich

*                                                                  *                                                        *

I have explored this part of Scotland many times before and occasionally at times encountered the wintery veil of the Caillich.  I had been to Creag Na Caillich twice before. The first time I arrived, hail immediately fell on me : perhaps no surprise in March.

The second time going to Creag Na Callich, I never actually made it, after climbing Ben Lawers earlier in the day, I was turned back by overhanging snow in a small corrie and to be honest due to a nagging sense of not to go any further.

Winter LandsFurther west I have explored Gleann Calliche several times and encountered weather anomalies : but that is another tale.

And – while I have encountered the different faces of Ben Cruachan in both Summer and Winter many times before – I only recently learned about the story of Cailleach Bheur.

     *                                                                  *                                                        *

This time the weather was relatively kind to me at Creag Na Caillich, perhaps to be expected in July.  Having completed the piece I was creating I began my return journey when my eye was caught by a rock I had never spotted before on the distant horizon : the slopes of the mountain side meant it can only be seen briefly from a very limited position.

Troll Stone

I continued to move on down slope, but something nagged at me to go upwards and explore further : perhaps, upon reflection, the rock reminded me of the trolls stones I had seen in Iceland.

Caillich Land

I eventually found myself crossing an area of peat hags, situated in an enclosed amphitheater like area of ground.

Peat Hags

Caillich Lands

As I approached the rock, I realised it had an almost figure like form.


Perhaps it was tiredness or low blood sugar but at this point I had the strangest sensation.  I suddenly felt very cold, began shivering, and walking became like swimming through treacle : a minute or so and it passed but slightly disorientated I continued.

Time Distortions

The rock, perhaps 10 m tall, has a remarkable profile and presence in the landscape.

The Caillich

Like a seated watcher,




Old as the Mountain

The back of the stone reveals a series of almost step like levels as it narrows towards the top of the head.  They appear worn, probably just weathering, but I ponder whether others have stood here in the past to experience…

Steps Backwards

…the view of the stone…

Caillich's View

…which has sat for over ten thousand years,

The Caillich Lands

watching the Lands of the Caillich.


The top of Creag na Caillich is located c 900 metres to the north west from our stone figure.  However on the Ordnance Survey Map the name Creag na Caillich is located significantly distant from the top and closer to where the figure is situated.  I wonder if the association of the name Caillich at this location was in part due to the presence of the stone figure.  The Caillich (or Cailleach) has significant antiquity in folklore, referring to a deity, associated with winter weather, who manifests in the form of an old woman.

The times I have spent up the mountains have been in exceptionally varied weather conditions and different states of tiredness.  When I approached the stone figure of the Caillich, the sensation was like nothing I have experienced before and it left me somewhat unsettled for quite some time.

Perhaps in remote, rarely visited places, where the elements rage with such power at different times of the year, there are residual energies which can be encountered… ?

Mac-Talla Nan Creag

Mac-Talla Nan Creag 3When I received a copy of Mac-Talla Nan Creag from Forestry Commission Scotland archaeologist Matt Ritchie I was interested in hearing what had been produced.  I had previously managed to see an insert from the Mac-Talla Nan Creag LP and was aware the work engaged with the laser scanning of several prehistoric archaeological sites by AOC Archaeology Group.

Four archaeological sites which have survived to this day from Scottish prehistory and are currently on land managed by Forestry Commission Scotland

Mac-Talla Nan Creag 1Caisteal Grugaig an Iron Age Broch

Ormaig Neolithic rock-art

Bucharn Bronze-Age burial cairn

Kraiknish Iron Age dun

were subject to laser scans producing point cloud data which provided the basis of some of the artwork.

What I had seen before as outputs from the laser scan were some striking digital images from the survey of archaeological sites : but to be honest I was a bit doubtful as to whether the resulting music would be of merit.

Mac-Talla Nan Creag 2So I listened to the CD

Mac-Talla Nan Creag 5and was immediately drawn in by the rhythmic tension of the first track NR 8720 9577 and then taken by the wonderful lyrics and vocals of ‘Where the Corries Hold the Snow’ (Track 2)

‘What is your idea of North,

to what places do you go,

to the lands beyond the Forth,

where the corries hold the snow’.

The album is a fine mix of electronica and traditional folk : blended with found sounds and marked nods to world music and esoterica.  Tracks are in some cases primordial (Track 6 – EternalDawnAndGloaming) and in other cases, while in danger of touching on playful Scottish kitsch, instead produce a fresh cyclical dirge (Track 5 – Dearg Agus Dearg).  Others evoke traditions of Gaelic song, the deeply soulful (Track 8 – 3rd Pass) (which I must confess produced tears : I have a soft spot for certain vocals), while others are reminiscent of how we may imagine shamanic chants from ceremonies past (Track 9 – Invocation).  A chiming glitchy interlude of NG 8663 2508 (Track 14).  The album finishes with the pulsing 18 minute epic Caisteal Grugaig (Track 16).  Mac-Talla Nan Creag is beautiful and uplifting album, an interesting conduit to the remains of the past, to which I will listen to over and over…

There has also been the bonus of introducing me to the work of some wonderful musicians, Wounded Knee, Lord of the Isles, Other Lands and House of Traps : who appear to have worked collectively in the production of different tracks.   It is this aspect of the process of making which is also of significance.  Other forms of collective collaboration is something the heritage sector could benefit greatly from in terms of how we approach the production of outputs and outcomes.  At times the heritage sector is highly formulaic and methodology driven.  Thankfully there are increasing opportunities, and I would argue need, to develop new processes and forms of collaborative expression to better explore our complex relationship to the past and the vital role, in terms of place and identity, this has for our futures.

Mac-Talla Nan Creag is a great example of how the ongoing conversation with the heritage of our landscapes can be extended through creative practices.  It is also an important reminder that through exploring the past we can produce more than academic knowledge through this conservation: only by the sharing and celebration of our archaeological and historic environment assets through different mediums can we grow their relevance.

Overall Mac-Talla Nan Creag as a collaborative musical response, to archaeological digitisation, with support by Forestry Commission Scotland to take such an approach, is to be commended.  It would, however, be interesting to discuss with the musicians to what degree, and how, the experience of archaeology and its laser scan affected (if at all) their compositions?

In the meantime please go to Firecracker Recordings and treat yourself to Mac-Talla Nan Creag

Druid Landscapes

‘They are the faults of archaeology rather than art’

LunulaEarlier this year I was privileged to see The Druids: Bringing in the Mistletoe by George Henry and Edward Atkinson Hornel (1890) in the excellent Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.  Only seeing the original painting does it proper justice and I urge you to visit the Kelvingrove to see its full wonder.

The DruidsThe painting was supported by interpretative signage, one of which explained:

Hornel Landscape Needless to say this required further investigation.

In his biography of Hornel, Smith notes in relation to the composition of The Druids,

The half-sphere of the moon on the background is reflected in the curve of the hill and the shapes of the priestly insignia, all echoing the cup-and-ring markings‘.

Looking at the Druid Landscape, Smith underplays the extent to which the lunar has been evoked through the cool silvery quality of the light and exaggerated topography of the hills upon which the Druids process.  Rather it as if they wander from and across the very surface of the moon itself, in turn implying the Druids emerged directly from the cup-and-ring markings themselves and those who produced them.

A similar blurring between the realities of topographic forms and the layers of mythological liminality which we inhabit can also be seen in an earlier work by Hornel, The Brownie of Blednoch (1889).  In the background we can again see a full moon resonating cup-and-ring marks.

The Brownie of Blednoch (c) Glasgow Museums; Supplied by The Public Catalogue FoundationGallovoidian shepherd beast, beard of circles and cup-marked eyes.  A manifestation of the living rock, tor like outcrop, it dominates a landscape (which would typically be portrayed as a pastoral idyll), above which swoop dark clouds suggesting eldar forms and witch-like figures.

Smith emphasises the importance to these works of the discovery of cup-and-ring markings near Kirkcudbright in 1886 and says,

Hornel searched for other markings in the rocks in the region

during which searches, the idea for The Druids came to him.  Smith continues to explain that on a visit by Hornel to some carvings with an old man, they returned to the old man’s house, where according to an account by A S Hartrick (1939),

….he took from a shelf a small china bowl in which was a small bluish stone like bead*.  Holding this in his hand, in a few minutes he seemed to go off in a sort of trance, and then began to describe,…,a vision of a procession of priests with sacred instruments and cattle which were somehow connected with the cup-and-ring markings.  I cannot remember the details of it; all I can say is the vision appeared genuine, and that he was not drunk. After a time he became normal again, but would not talk anymore on the subject.‘  *I like to imagine this could be a Bronze Age fiance bead most often having been found associated with burials.

The particular cup-and-ring markings which Smith says first inspired Hornel were published in an article by F R Coles (1888).  He explains ‘Some of the most remarkable of these Petroglyphs were those found by Mr E A Hornel and myself on the 23rd February, 1887‘ (ibid 44) and were portrayed as a photo-lithograph:

High BanksIn the same paper Coles reveals ‘While preparing this I hear to-day (14th September, 1887) of the discovery of yet more and more peculiar petroglyphs on the same piece of rock at High Banks by Mr Hornel and Mr Thompson.’ (ibid 46)

Other papers on the discovery at High Banks reveal a few further details about the nature of the discoveries.  In a paper by Hamilton (1887) it is recorded that

‘Mr Rigg, who has been tenant of this farm for many years, states that a great many of such carvings were destroyed about fifty years ago, when the surrounding stone dykes were built from the quarry here;’ (ibid 157)

So it is likely without archaeological intervention the High Bank rock art may have been destroyed completely by now.  Hamilton explains:

The Lady Isabella Hope, of St Mary’s Isle, who is proprietor of this farm, has kindly consented to allow this part of the field to be stripped of turf,…

Hamilton portrays the same panel of rock art as in Coles but explain his paper was

…illustrated by sketches made for me by an artist friend, Mr E Hornel, of Kirkcudbright‘ (ibid 152)

So not only did Hornel first identify the carvings but he also recorded them.

High Banks PSAS 1887 In a later paper, Hamilton elaborated on the earlier memories of Mr Rigg:

 ‘and there must have been many more, for to the east of it a quarry has been worked about fifty years ago, to procure stones wherewith to build adjacent dikes, and the tenant, then a boy, but now a hale old man, distinctly remembers carvings like those now described being visible on the surface of the rock quarried.’ (Hamilton 1889, 130)

He also reveals the extent of the exavations:

Last autumn we carried out our intentions, and laid bare a large portion of glaciated rock. Towards the centre of the northern side of this knoll, from which we removed a foot and a half of soil and turf, we exposed a great many more of theses sculptings‘ (ibid 125)

The 1889 Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland paper has a series of black and white engravings of the newly discovered rock art

High Banks Engravingand about which George Hamilton notes:

These engravings are made from photographs taken from casts of the portions of sculptured rock-surfaces, obtained with much trouble by Messrs M’Kie, Hornell, and Thomson, members of the Local Natural History and Antiquarian Society. These casts are to be seen in the Local Museum at Kirkcudbright, and in the National Museum of Antiquities, Edinburgh.’

So in the late 19th century, rock art about 5000 years old, was being uncovered, casts of which were made, of which photographs were taken, of which an engraving was produced, which is now represented digitally !

With such a tantalising set of resonances from the past, a road trip was then in order to investigate further.  On the way to The Stewarty Museum in Kirkudbright there was good omen that cup and ring marks still resonates with significance to this day

Contemporary Cup and RingsAnd upon asking about the plaster casts at The Stewarty Museum, I was quickly pointed to:

Paddle Interpretation‘made by early copper prospectors to invoke the help of the sun-god in their search’

And thus I quickly looked outside to see a nest of carved stones sheltering together through the ages: piled up in front of the casts, quern stones and fonts, Medieval cross and prehistoric rock art reworked as architectural elements of later buildings.  A glass and steel framed disparate assemblage of esoteric forms revealing : a compelling urge to collect and display over the ages?

Cluster of Stone WorkYet, the most elaborate cast slab has been set aside, finding no shelter,

familiar but forlorn.

Cast 1Behind the cast slabs an inscription with further details :

witness to M’Kie then curator of the museum.

Hidden LettersSo where did these casts derive ?

Landscape 1Upon hillside with pastoral views

High Banks ViewOverlooking sea and routeway.

SeaviewsSituated in a changing world, alive with movements.

Landscape 2With depths of skies and shifts of perspective.

High Banks ViewsHigh Banks 2High Banks 3High Banks Rock ArtCasts derived from rock,

and its seductive pretense of permanence.

High Banks 4Stone reworked and represented, filling the void of times lost.

High Banks InterpretationFive thousand year old forms, copied and transformed.

Cup MarkingsIn the library of Broughton House, the residence of Hornel in Kirkcudbright, there are letters which reveal another dimension to this trajectory.  Twenty seven letters written to Hornel by artist and archaeologist (or is it archaeologist and artist) F R Coles – replies missing – provide a one sided insight to a friendship hungry for discovery and portrayal, a glimpse of hobbied obsessions and tentative grasps at Druid spectres.

In a letter of 2 May 1887 Coles writes to Hornel

Hornels Spade WorkI was up yesterday at High Banks rock and saw traces of your spadework

It is also clear then that prior to producing paintings incorporating cup-and-ring marks, not only had Hornel been exploring the Galloway hills searching for exposed rock outcrops bearing prehistoric rock art but when discovered had been illustrating them too.  In the case of High Banks, he had also been excavating to uncover more rock art panels : very much then artist as archaeologist.

In the same letter to Hornel, F R Coles sketches three cupmarks in the corner, a simple trace of his artistic background, and in the earlier letters refers to cup-and-ring is markings written in full.

Coles Letters

Not much later F R Coles would move to Edinburgh where he was Assistant Keeper of the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland from 1897 to 1911.  Five years since the original discovery at High Banks, letters from F R Coles (now as archaeologist) continued to Hornel.

Hornels AddressThey reveal another dimension of the ways in which cup-and-ring markings were being portayed by F R Coles, rather than written in full he uses shorthand symbols for cup-and-ring markings.  No other abbreviation, or short hand is evident for long or frequently used phrases, only the archaeological subject is reduced : a form of categorical abstraction only too regularly used in the work of the archaeologist.

The mark of the archaeologist is, for many, the excavation trench : a theatrical arena which temporarily opens the veil between past and present.  Powerful indeed then that the presencing of the rock art at High Banks was through Hornel’s spade work, without which they would never have been revealed and transformed – cast, photographed, engraved, digitised – (re)presented through the ages.

Yet ironically, it is the artists striking imagery of the Druids or the Brownie inhabiting the moonscapes of Galloway, which more actively invites us to dwell in the same landscapes as the rock art may have emerged in – 5000 years ago when it was produced, even then a place thick with myths and legends.

Paradoxically, a richness of cultural expression, copied and transformed, can also  be reduced by an archaeologist to the simple potency of

.andO. & o

Many thanks to Denise Briggs (The Stewarty Museum), Sarah Jackson and Sheila Faichney (NTS, Broughton House) for helping with my investigations.

The phrase ‘They are the faults of archaeology rather than art‘ derives from a review in the Glasgow Herald (20th Feb, 1892) of the 1891 painting Summer which was particularly poorly received in some quarters of the press when first shown in public (Quoted in Smith 2010.)

In fairness, F R Coles was engaged in archaeological practice at a time when there was an overwhelming need to identify and record archaeology.  His work stands out at the time for his large number of illustrations of sites which he recorded effectively in no small part through his skills as an artist.

Hornel the artist (informed by the visceral experiences of landscape and archaeology) produced The Druids which, despite its power as a painting, may actually appeal to a limited audience.  In contrast, the simple abstraction to . & o by F R Coles, in part anticipated later scholars views that cup-and-ring marks were potentially very powerful as it is their very simplicity of form which allows multiple meanings and interpretations.

The image of The Brownie of Blednoch is from the BBC

More information about High Banks can be found at RCAHMS Canmore site.

Coles, F R 1888 ‘The recent Cup and Ring Mark Discoveries in Kirkcudbrightshire. (Abridged.)’ Trans Dum Gal Nat His Antiq Soc 5, 41 – 52.

Coles, F R 1895 ‘A record of the cup- and ring-markings in the stewarty of Kirkcudbright’ Proc Soc Antiq Scot 29, 67-91.

Hamilton, G 1887 ‘Notices of rock-sculpturings of cups and circles in Kirkcudbrightshire’, Proc Soc Antiq Scot 21, 157-8.

Hamilton, G 1889 ‘Notice of additional groups of carvings of cups and circles on rock surfaces at High Banks, Kirkcudbrightshire’, Proc Soc Antiq Scot 23, 125-30.

Hartrick, A S 1939 A Painter’s Pilgrimage Through Fifty Years. Cambridge: Cambridge U. P.

Smith, B 2010 Hornel. The Life and Works of Edward Atkinson Hornel. Atelier Books: Edinburgh.

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.