Antiquities, pp.lii-lvi.

[Gazetteer of Scotland Contents]

The number and variety of Druidical remains in Scotland are very great; and they abound most in the recesses of Perthshire among the spurs of the Grampians, indicating these deep seclusions to have been the principal Scottish seat of the aboriginal superstition, Druidical altars are of two sorts, – flat stones, which are either upright or recumbent, – and cromlechs, which consist each of several stones usually placed upon their respective edges, and always supporting a large broad stone, so as to possess, jointly with it, a rude resemblance to a massive modern table; and the altars of both sorts are numerous, and, for the most part, are connected with Druidical circles, or other Druidical works, – though the cromlechs occasionally appear in some deep solitude without any accompaniment. Druidical cairns differ from the better known sepulchral cairns, and may be distinguished from them by their connexion with other Druidical works, by their being usually fenced round the base with a circle of stones, by their being approached along an avenue of upright stones, and by their having each on its summit a large flat stone, on which the Druid fires were lighted. Rocking stones, which are huge blocks so poised as to be easily moved, or made to oscillate, and which excite the wonder of the vulgar, and have provoked controversies among the learned, are, in some instances, supposed to be natural curiosities, but on the whole are generally allowed – whether of natural or of artificial origin – to have been made the tools of the degenerate Druidical priesthood, for imposing on the savage and the superstitious; and though not numerous, they occur with sufficient frequency to occupy a commanding place among the country’s earliest antiquities. Druidical circles have, to a very great amount, been removed, since the epoch of georgical improvement, to make way for the plough; yet they continue to exist in such wondrous plenty, and such great variety, as to render continued notices of them in accounts of parishes, monotonous and tiresome. – Sepulchral remains of the earliest inhabitants of Scotland, though they have to an enormous amount been swept away by the same cause which has thinned the Druidical circles, are still very numerously traceable in almost every part of both the continent and the islands, and may be considered under the several distinctions of barrows, cairns, cistvaens, and urns, – the two former constituting tumuli, and the two latter their most remarkable contents. The tumuli, in most instances, are circular heaps, resembling flat cones; and, in many instances, are oblong ridges, resembling the upturned or inverted hull of a ship. Most of them are composed of stones; many of a mixture of stones and earth; some wholly of earth; and a few wholly or chiefly of sand. Cairns and barrows are mutually distinguished by the former being of stones and the latter of earth; and both, when they are conical and covered with green sward, are vulgarly called hillocks. The tumuli are of uniform general character in all parts of Scotland and in England, the cairn prevailing in the northern division of the island, and the barrow in the southern, owing simply, as would seem, to the respective abundance on the surface of the countries of lapidose and of earthy substances; and, in the very numerous instances in which they have been opened and explored, they have been found to contain the ashes, the hair, or the bones, of human bodies, either nakedly interred, or carefully shut up in cistvaens and urns. The cistvaen, in strict accordance with the meaning of the word in the British language, is a stone chest; it is very various in size, and even in form; it contains, for the most part, ashes and bones, and occasionally an urn; and it very generally, among both the vulgar and the learned, bears the name of a stone-coffin. Urns are found generally in tumuli unenclosed in cistvaens, but occur also beneath the surface of level ground; they are composed usually of pottery, and sometimes of stones; and they are of different shapes and sizes, and according to the taste of the times or the ability of the parties concerned with them, are variously ornamented. – An occasional connexion, dictated apparently by policy, exists between the sepulchral tumuli and the Druidical circles; and a connexion, both more frequent and more natural, exists between these tumuli and the British strengths. – Akin to the simple and more common and plenteous sepulchral tumuli, are some large sepulchral cairns, which denote the fields of ancient conflicts. Besides being of comparatively large bulk, and having a comparative multiplicity of contents, these cairns are characterized by the vicinity of fragments of swords, of bows, and of flint-pointed arrows; they have, on the whole, thrown a faint light on the remote martial history of Scotland; and by the plurality of their occurrences among the bases of the mountain-rampart of the Highlands, they have contributed, along with some cognate antiquities, to evoke much controversy on the questio vexata as to the scene of the celebrated battle of the Grampians, Some of these cairns, which still remain, are called Cat-stanes; and the same name – which seems plainly to be derived from the British Cad, or the Scoto-Irish Cath, ‘a battle’ – is applied, in various instances, to single stones. – Numerous stones of memorial, or rude pillars, apparently very ancient, and raised by the same people as the Cat-stanes, exist in every district, and, in allusion to their upright position, are traditionally called standing-stones; they are in their natural state, without the mark of any tool, and, of course, are very various in form; they frequently appear single, and frequently, also, in groups of two, three, four, and even a greater number; and, in general, from their wanting inscriptions and sculpturings, they have failed to transmit the events which they were reared to commemorate. Another class of standing-stones are of a later date, and are of two species, – the one triumphal, and set up to commemorate some happy national event, such as a victory over the Danes; the other Romishly monumental, and erected with the double design of noting the scene of a disaster, and of bespeaking the prayers of passengers for the souls of persons who, in the course of the disaster, were slain or otherwise perished: both kinds have sculptured on them the figure of a cross, with various knots of grotesque scroll-work, vulgarly denominated Danish Tangles; and, in some instances, they are charged with a kind of hieroglyphics. – British strengths, consisting of circular and oval hill-forts, and other safe-guards, are surprisingly numerous. Their situation in reference to the districts they command, their mutual or relative positions, and the accommodations attached to them, all indicate that they were constructed rather for the purpose of protection against the attacks of neighbouring and consanguineous tribes, than for that of repelling or checking an invading enemy. They occupy eminences in districts which, even in the earliest ages of Scottish population, must have been the most habitable and fructiferous; they frequently appear in compact or not far dispersed groups of three, four, and even a larger number; and they are so disposed in their groupings, that a view of all is obtained from the site of each, and that a larger and stronger one commands the rest from the centre, and seems to have been the distinguished post of the chief. The larger strengths were in many instances converted, at the Roman invasion, into Roman posts; and the groups have often intruded among them Roman camps, which seem to have been constructed in astute perception of the nature of the ground, with the evident purpose of watching and overawing them. The forts are exceedingly various in area, strength, and details of construction; but, in general, they consist of an interior central building, one, two, or three concentric ramparts, and one or two exterior ditches. Two ranges of small forts, each, in general, perched on the summit of a dome-like hill, or conical rising ground, extend along the north side of Antoninus’ wall, – the one between the friths of Forth and Clyde, and the other along the lace of the country on the north bank of the Forth; both, in the case of each of their forts, bear the name of Keir, evidently a corruption of the British Caer, ‘a fort;’ and they appear, from local and comparative circumstances, as well as from an intimation by Tacitus, to have been the only Caledonian posts erected with the design of opposing the Roman progress. The ramparts of all the British forts were composed of dry stones and earth, without any appearance of mortar or cement; and they varied in outline, from the circular or oval, to the wavingly irregular, according to the figure of the hills whose summits they crowned. Connected with some of the forts, were outworks on the declivity of the hills below, which were probably designed to shelter the cattle belonging to the defenders of the fort. – Subterranean safeguards, or hiding-holes, have been discovered in many parts of Scotland, and seem, in most instances, to have been constructed, or improved and adopted, by the pristine people during a rude age. A few of them are entirely artificial; consist of one, two, or three apartments of various dimensions, but generally very small; constructed entirely underground of large rude stones, without any cement; and containing, in most cases, unequivocal relics of having been human abodes. Natural caves, which abound on the rocky coasts, and among the cliffy dells and ravines of Scotland, have very numerously been improved by artificial means into places of great strength; and, in some instances, they are of large capacity, and retain distinct vestiges of enlargement or modelling within, and especially of fortification by various contrivances without. Other caves, chiefly of small capacity, and in very sequestered situations, are replete with interest as the known or reputed hiding-holes of the patriotic Scots during the Baliol usurpation, and especially of the sturdy and noble Covenanters during the Stuart tyranny and persecution. 

Scottish antiquities of Roman origin are so well known and understood, and, in all their great instances, are so fully described in the body of our work, that they require no particular illustration. Any separate and consecutive notice of them which could fling light on their interesting features, would be a sketch – necessarily too expansive for our available space – of the history and the scenes of Agricola’s campaigns, and of the actions of Lucius Urbicus. The chief of them are Antoninus’ wall, separately noticed in the alphabetical arrangement; roads or causeways, which intersected the whole territory south of Antoninus’ wall, and ran up in decreasing ramifications to the Moray frith, and are noticed in our articles on counties and districts; and quadrangular camps, fortified stations, bridges, and innumerable minor antiquities, profusely noticed in probably two-thirds of all the considerable articles in our work. – Pictish antiquities are curious rather for their obscureness and singularity, than for either their number or their imposing character. The most magnificent – if, indeed, they be of Pictish origin – are vast artificial terraces cut in parallel rows along or around the face of hills, and literally, with their base and back-ground, resembling stupendous amphitheatres. They occur, in instances singular for either boldness or beauty, in Glenroy, Glen-Spean, Glen-Guy, Markinch in Fifeshire, Glammis in Forfarshire, and various places in Peebles-shire. In the last of these counties, they are unhesitatingly ascribed to the Picts; in the Highland districts, they are traditionally said to have been cut for the accommodation of royal and baronial hunting parties; and, as a whole, they have been regarded by some antiquarians as made by the Romans for itinerary encampments. Whoever constructed them must have been a people of singular laboriousness, skill, and perseverance; and, at the same time, so eccentric in character, or so wasteful in energy, as effectually to have left their design an enigma to future observers. Pictish houses, as they are vulgarly called, are antiquities peculiar to Scotland, and not infrequently occur on the north coast: they are conical towers, all built without cement, open in the centre, with two or three rows of galleries for lodgings constructed in the body of the walls, and, in some instances, square repositories for warlike arms. Vitrified forts are also peculiar to Scotland, and are ascribed to the Picts almost solely for the doubtful reason of their having hitherto been discovered chiefly in the north. Vitrification is their distinguishing and very remarkable feature; it has clearly been effected by the action of fire upon vitrifiable materials, either accidentally or designedly employed in the construction of the walls; and it exists to such a degree, that the numerous ingredential parts of the wall are either run or compacted together, or in some places so divested of their lapidose properties, as to appear like vast masses of coarse glass or slugs. Except for their vitrification, and that some of their ramparts appear to have had a mixture of earth and rubbish with the stones, the vitrified forts are, in all respects, or as to at once peculiarity of site, form, mode of construction, and accompaniments, similar to the hill-forts of the Britons. They were introduced to public notice only so late as 1777; and have been the subject of considerable philosophic controversy as to the cause of their vitrification, – the discoverer of them and his followers maintaining that they were designedly vitrified by their builders, and display great astuteness in the practice of a remarkably singular, and, at the same time, puissant, mode of architecture; while two other classes – the latter probably with truth – allege respectively that their present form is the effect of extinct volcanic agency, and that they were vitrified by the accidental effects of artificial fire upon materials selected without design, and naturally of an easily vitrifiable character. Another species of building attributed, though doubtfully, to the Picts, is very common in Ireland, but exhibits only two specimens in Scotland, respectively at Abernethy and at Brechin: it is a tall, slender, cylindrical tower, coned at the top, very curious as a piece of architecture, but the subject of mazy and manifold disputations as to its designed use. Inaugural stones are a class of monuments intimately associated with the most distinguished archæology of the Scoto-Irish and the Irish, and were used in the inauguration of the chieftains of the Irish clans. The chief Scottish antiquity of this class is the famous coronation-stone, now in Westminster, but anciently located successively at Dunstaffnage and at Scone, and noticed in our article on the former of these places. – Earthen works, additional to the barrows of the Britons, are a miscellaneous class of antiquities, and of various date and origin. Small circular intrenchments are not infrequent, and are supposed to be Danish forts. Elongated, flattened mounds, occur in a few instances, bear the name of Bow-butts, and are believed to have been constructed and used for the exercise of archery. Moats, or large artificial moundish hillocks, platformed on the summit, and ascending at a regular gradient on the sides, were places for the administration, over considerable districts, of public justice; and court-hills, not very dissimilar to them in appearance, were the sites of the baronial courts previous to the demolition of the feudal system. Both are very common in Scotland; and sometimes, or even very generally – according to the belief, at least, of local antiquaries – the characters and uses of the two are concentrated in one object, – the same mound being both moat and court-hill. “These moat and court-hills,” says Grose, “serve to explain the use of those high mounts still remaining near our ancient castles, which were probably judgment-seats, but have been mistaken for military works, a sort of ancient cavaliers, raised to command the moveable towers, so commonly used for the attacks of fortresses. I, among others, for want of having seen and considered these moat and court-hills, was led to adopt that idea.” – The ecclesiastical antiquities of Scotland consist of monasteries, collegiate churches, and a few chapels, parish-churches, and hospitals; and appear all to be of not higher date than the 12th century. The religious buildings of the Culdees seem, for a considerable time, at least, to have been plain, fragile, and of very primitive workmanship; and, even toward the close of the Culdee epoch, they probably were, in no instance, of a kind either to resist the influences of time by their durability, or to woo the cares of the conservator by their architectural attractions. Our ecclesiastical antiquities are, in consequence, all Romish; and, considered as works of art and magnificence, they are by no means inferior in point of execution to those of England. The most exquisite specimens are the abbeys of Melrose, Kelso, and Jedburgh, and the church of Elgin; specimens of great beauty are the abbeys of Dunfermline and Paisley; very handsome specimens are the abbeys of Dundrennan and Newabbey; the grandest specimens – those which best combine architecture with amplitude – are the abbeys of Holyrood and Arbroath; and the specimens in the highest state of repair are the cathedral of St. Mungo in Glasgow, the church of St. Magnus in Kirkwall, and the church of St. Giles and Trinity College church in Edinburgh. Each of these, as well as of every other, whether extant or extinct, which presents in landscape or in history any feature of interest, our work fully notices and describes in its appropriate place. – The ancient border-houses, fortalices, and castles of Scotland, though small, seem to have been very numerous. Major says there were two in every league. Most of them are remarkably similar to one another; and, in general, each is a high square tower, surmounting a beetling rock or other abrupt eminence, and, in the case of many, overhanging some stream, or the sea. The towers are, for the most part, extremely strong, often from 13 to 15 feet thick in the walls; and they rise in height to 3 or 4 stories, each story vaulted, and the whole covered with a vaulted roof. At every angle, re-entering as well as salient, is a turret, supported like the guerites at the salient angles of modern bastions; at each end of the tower, adjoining the roof, is commonly a triangular gable, the sides diminishing by a series of steps called crow steps; and near the top of the tower usually runs a cornice of brackets, like those which support machicollations. At the bottom of most of the towers was the prison or pit, a deep, dark, noisome dungeon, to which the miserable prisoners were let down by ropes; and an iron door to the chief entrance to the tower was also no infrequent means of security. In some instances, a tower was double, – two being built together at right angles with each other, constituting a figure somewhat like that of the letter L or T, and forming a kind of mutual defence or partial flank. As luxury and security increased, both these towers, and the single or more common one, were enlarged with additional buildings for lodgings, frequently surrounded by walls, and, in some instances, as in those of Linlithgow-palace and Loudoun-castle, eventually made the mere nucleus of modern, magnificent, princely mansions. The old towers were often the abodes of an almost incredibly large number of inmates; and as they were sparingly lighted through very small windows, they must have been as gloomy as unwholesome. When any of them were taken by an enemy, they were usually burned; but as they were little else than mere masses of stone, they suffered no damage except a little besooting or singeing; and, immediately afterwards, undergoing repair, and receiving a boastful though rude emblazonry of their owners’ arms, and the date of their own disaster and renovation, they, in some instances, exhibit to the eye a curious tracery and surprising profusion of inscriptions, armorial bearings, and miscellaneous devices.

Leave a Reply