Seven druidic places in Scotland

Health and safety officials in Austria have recently trialled a new way of reducing accidents in a notorious crash site along a busy main road. Rather than opt for speed reducing measures instead they enlisted the help of the local druids, who, by dint of placing objects along the route which they say detracts from the negative energies, have reduced the fatalities from six per year to zero.

Genius. If controversial. And highly unscientific. And more than a bit bananas.

But if the Austrians can do it, then surely we Scots ought to be giving it a shot, particularly as some regard Scotland as the birthplace of the druidic learning tradition. Indeed, it has been suggested that Jesus himself travelled here to learn at the (bare) feet of the Scottish mystics (although admittedly, this is not supported by any evidence whatsoever).

Should we decide to utilise our druidic abilities today, then first we’d better refresh our memories as to where the druids used to hang out. That way we’re just one short wave of the willow wand away from getting help to sort out our sub-primes, the Greek financial crisis and ensure that the new Curriculum for Excellence is actually viable. So here are a magically numbered seven sites of intense druidic action from days of yore.

Cairnpapple

Cairnpapple. <em>Picture: SubberCulture</em>
Cairnpapple. Picture: SubberCulture

This dumpy-looking hill close to Bathgate is a major ritual site and an intriguing and complex structure. Here you can find henges, graves, stones and circles – proof of use that goes back thousands of years to the Neolithic period. Cairnpapple may have been used for any of the purposes that have been suggested of Callanish and Stonehenge. So, its purpose might have included moon-worship, sun-worship, rites, calendars…you get the idea. In terms of Scottish mythology it has it all. Apparently King Arthur used to live nearby; the Knights Templar owned the land and used it for, oooh, secret things. It may well have been used by the druids too.

Kipps Druid’s Temple

This site, close to Cairnpapple, is referred to in a number of sources as a “cromlech” or “druid’s temple”. It comprises a central stone which has been split in two, some say by lightning. According to James Paton, writing in the late 18th century, the temple “is an altar of four great unpolished stones, on which, according to tradition, sacrifices were anciently performed”. Ooh, er. Worth pointing out that the whole notion of druids making human sacrifices came from the victorious Romans, and we should all remember to take what the victor says of the defeated with a pinch of salt.

Druids’ Seat Wood

Just north of Perth, on the way to Blairgowrie, deep in the heart of the Druids’ Seat Wood you can find a pretty stone circle, ruined slightly by graffiti, yet still atmospheric. Here is a circle that alternates between boulders and taller stones, nine in all. It should come as no surprise that druids were attracted to woods as trees appear to have played a large part in their ritual. They favoured the oak tree in particular – with the English word “druid” deriving, some say, from the root “dru” or “oak”. Historians confirm that where you found an oak circle, you invariably found a gaggle of druids.

The Druid’s Grave

Down the sleep slopes of Bencallen Hill in Ayrshire lie the remains of a chambered cairn, now enveloped within the perimeter wall of a sheepfold. You can still see two pairs of side stones, and some capstones which might form part of the entrance to the grave. The cairn sits amidst a forestry plantation and although it’s hard to tell now, was probably circular. Sadly it has been grave-robbed although enough remains to allow us to pick out the outline. But the druid who was buried there? Well, if there ever was one, he’s long gone now.

Ossian’s Cave

The Three Sisters in Glen Coe. <em>Picture:Bruce89</em>
The Three Sisters in Glen Coe. Picture:Bruce89

High up the slopes of Aonach Dubh, one of The Three Sisters, is Ossian’s Cave (not to be confused with the artificial Ossian’s Cave in Perthshire’s Hermitage). The route to it, through Glen Coe, is tricky with no clear trails. So although it is seldom visited, it is well worth the effort. Ossian, a third century bard, was the son of Fion and Sadbh. Whilst up in his cave, he probably thought often of his poor mother and his rather unlikely birth. Sadbh was turned into a deer by the druid Fer Doirich. Luckily the druid relented, returned her to human form and sent her homewards – unscathed, but now pregnant. Ossian was later born in this cave.

Abbey of Holywood

The abbey was one of three monasteries in Dumfriesshire and Galloway founded in the 12th century. However, sources suggest that prior to this the place had another use that pre-dated the Christian one. Holywood an easy enough name to interpret, but before that the area was known as “the oak wood of Congall” or “the monastery of the sacred grove”. The presence of a sacred oak grove immediately conjures up notions of druids and this is further hinted at by a stone circle, sometimes referred to as a druid temple nearby. The parish minister in the late 18th century Rev. Dr Bryce Johnson, writes of “a large Druidical temple, still standing, within half a mile of the church.”

Iona

St Martin's Cross, Iona. <em>Picture: Jema Smith</em>
St Martin's Cross, Iona. Picture: Jema Smith

No list of druidic places would be complete without tipping a nod to Iona. Now firmly regarded as a Christian cradle of worship, its old Gaelic name was Innis-nam Druidbneach or Island of the Druids. According to the Akashic records (please don’t ask, I have never been able to work out what on earth these were about other than that they’re a sort of stream of consciousness from every person in the planet, recorded and filed by some, er, one?), so… according to the Akashic records, Iona was inhabited by a mystic community who moved there after Atlantis disappeared. These Atlantean Priestesses, when threatened, brought some more run-of-the-mill druids into the sanctuary to protect them. Oh, and another important point. Back then if you wanted to visit Iona you didn’t need to get on a boat. Most visitors came on the astral plane.

  • Wot? No Callanish Stones?

  • Stiubhart

    “Most visitors came on the astral plane.”
    Just like Ossian then.
    MacPhersons Rant A Keith schoolboys natural confusion.

  • Dave Hewitt

    I’ve not been to Ossian’s Cave – the approach always looks hellish steep and greasy. Noel Williams, in his Scrambles in Lochaber, writes: “Reaching the cave itself involves a tricky climb on vegetatious rock, (Ossian’s Ladder, 60m, Difficult). The climb is not recommended, and in any case the floor of the cave slopes at 45 degrees. The cave has been formed by a huge block falling out of a dyke.”
    The late Peter Hodgkiss, in his 1984 Central Highlands guidebook, wrote: “It [the cave] used to contain a metal box for calling cards but this interesting relic vanished some years ago and there remains nothing else to recommend about what is always a vegetatious and usually wet scramble with no view and with an inelegant, seated shuffle offering the only security in descent. There have been several accidents to parties descending from the Cave.”
    I’m fairly sure that the metal box / visitors’ book vanished when Dougal Haston – in trying-hard-to-be-a-rebel mode – flung it out into the depths of the Coe

  • Dodgy Gaelic above.

    Nevermind, it’s all mumbo jumbo. Though, at least it doesn’t get pumped into kids’ heads at tax-payers expense like Christianity.