Category: Folklore

Kate NicNiven

Last couple of days I’ve been afflicted by a flu-ey kind of rotten cold. So long as I stay sat, I’m ok, but anything energetic, like standing up, quickly leads to sitting down again. In between dozing off, I’ve been reading, and read a blog on a standing stone, now destroyed, at Clarkston Farm near Lesmahagow, on Northern Antiquarian, Dec 26th , 2008

The blog quotes Chambers’ Popular Rhymes, p242-3, which tells the story of previous owners who believed this rhyme was connected to the Clarkston Farm stone:

Between Dillerhill and Crossfoord,
There lies Katie Neevie’s hoord.

Stories of treasure under standing stones and mounds are hardly new, but who is Katie Neevie? Chambers refers to her as Mrs Katherine Nevin, without any indication of her role in the story. But the name that immediately came into my mind was Kate NicNiven, Queen of the Faeries (and also an infamous, and probably fictional, witch, although there are plenty from around Monzie in Perthshire who claim she’s genuinely historical).

In other words, it’s possible that the rhyme is suggesting fairy gold, another well worn folktale.

However, from a geographical point of view, the imaginary line between Diller Hill and Crossford doesn’t actually suggest Clarkston Farm. Halfway along is Blackhill Farm, which still has a barrow, albeit rather ploughed away, and in the past there was also a standing stone close by. If ever in the vicinity, it might be an interesting diversion to climb Diller Hill itself and see whether Crossford can be seen in the Clyde Valley to the north. Of course, you might find the bulk of Black Hill itself in the way, which actually wrecks the entire story.

Sacred waters

I think anyone intrigued by folklore or the pre-Roman, pre-Christian heritage of the British Isles, would be interested in  this book, which is packed full of stories of wells, lakes and the importance of water to our forebears, ancient and more modern.

This is a fantastic collection of legends and anecdotes which (mostly) presents its information without presuming to make judgements or extrapolations. Plenty of Scottish water lore and locations are mentioned, which makes a nice change (and with only two mentions of Nessie :-)) However, Lanarkshire only appears a few times:

  • The Lee Penny
  • The Marriage Well at Carmyle
  • Arthur’s Fountain at Crawford
  • St Mungo’s Well, Glasgow Cathedral

To be fair, the Bords themselves point the reader in the direction of other books, particularly regarding Scotland, but I fear the same old problem is cropping up again: too many Lanarkshire stories were lost in the heat of industry.

There are plenty more places to go hunting, but it’s a bit of a skunner all the same. All of the locations and legends will hopefully appear later on.

Bord, Janet and Colin. Sacred waters: holy wells and water lore in Britain and Ireland. Paladin, 1985


According to Janet and Colin Bord,

… there are  numerous examples of river names which contain or were derived from Celtic deity names … The Clyde comes from Clota, the ‘Divine Washer’. (Scottish tales of a hag washing the bloody clothes of those shortly to die, called ‘The Washer at the Ford’, may be a memory of this goddess.)

Janet and Colin Bord, Sacred waters, Paladin 1985, p14 

The Virtue Well

I was reading a book called Myth and magic by Joyce Miller (Goblinshead, 2000) when the author threw in the comment about the chalybeatic (or mineral salts)  Virtue Well at Airdrie being used as a healing well in the 18th century by the well to do, before Harrogate became the place to be seen. The poor continued to use it into the 19th century, not having anywhere else to turn to.

Image from National Library of Scotland

A quick search brought up Virtue Well View in Glenmavis, which suggested it wasn’t far away. ScotlandsPlaces provided a more precise location and added the information that the well was filled in in 1856, and that all that remains is a slight hollow (although the map above also shows a mill dam which I haven’t seen mentioned elsewhere).

The excellent Monklands Memories site provided more information about the surrounding area including the fact that the Virtue Well sat beside Virtuewell Burn as it ran through Virtuewell Glen, so you think people would know the name, and yet, nobody I know from Airdrie has ever heard of it, including folks from Glenmavis.

It’s a shame when local knowledge like this gets lost, which is why it’s brilliant that Northburn Community Park is being set up by The Penny Project. This group of volunteers aim to develop the land for the benefit of wildlife and the local community and part of that is finding and telling the stories of what went on here, from Maggie Ramsay the Witch to old railways to Gallows Hill.

And hopefully they can keep their project going despite the financial cuts all over the place, because this work is a real investment for the future.


On Tintock-tap there is a mist,
And in that mist there is a kist,
And in that kist there is a caup,
And in that caup, there is a drap.
Tak up the caup, drink aff the drap,
And set the caup on Tintock-tap!

Chambers (1842) Popular rhymes of Scotland, p245

Even people who don’t know much about Lanarkshire hills seem to know of  Tinto. Perhaps because it stands proud of the surrounding landscape and is visible in unexpected places across Lanarkshire (there’s a great view from Strathclyde Park for example, especially in the winter).

Photo copyright J L Macfadyen

Whatever the reason, thousands of people climb Tinto every year, and finally I was getting my chance with a school trip to raise funds for St Andrew’s Hospice. While I’m no athlete, I’m capable of walking many miles and I’ve climbed a few hills in my time, arriving out of breath but delighted with myself. I figured so long as I took my time, I wouldn’t have a problem.

But I must have become much, much more unfit than I realised (which is feasible, if scary) because I was fit only to turn back after five minutes. To be fair to myself and others, it wasn’t the best day, with strong gusts, but in absolute honesty, I cannot allow the wind to completely take the blame. Fortunately, encouraging the kids up the hill was the order of the day so on I trudged, giving them (and me) little targets, and taking plenty of opportunities to stop, admire the view and take photos, ignoring the mountain goat-footed teenagers streaming past.

I knew a bit about about Tinto. I knew there was an Iron Age fortification, Fallburn Fort, not far from the bottom of the hill, so I was determined to at least get high enough to reach it, and then higher again to take some decent photos. Proper hill walkers will laugh, but that was my main target after I realised how difficult I was finding the climb. Seems strange that the fort is here rather than higher up, but it may just have provided an ideal location.

Photo copyright J L Macfadyen

Tinto is thought to be derived from Gaelic teinnteach meaning fiery, and there’s a couple of suggestions why. One suggests it gets its name from the underlying red rock, which I gazed a lot at as I trudged upwards. Others promote the idea of fires being lit at the top.

Long a beacon post and a place of Beltane fires, it took thence its name of Tinto, signifying the ‘hill of fire’

Groome (1885), Ordnance Gazeteer of Scotland, p442

Beacons on Tinto would certainly be clearly seen for miles around, but it’s not actually the highest hill in Lanarkshire, even though it felt like it; Culter Fell is. However, there’s an old rhyme:

The height atween Tintock-tap and Coulterfell,
Is just three-quarters o’ an ell

Chambers (1842) Popular rhymes of Scotland, p245

Afraid not. Tinto is actually 2333 ft / 711 m; Culter is 2454 ft / 748m. Since a Scottish ell is 37 inches / 94 cm (according to Wikipedia), they’re a few feet short.

At any rate, while encouraging myself and my fellow stragglers to go on another few feet, some of our mountain goats returned from on high to report that all walkers were being turned back about halfway up as the wind had become dangerously strong. This was too much temptation for my troops, so we turned down again, which if anything, proved more difficult for the feet, if easier for the breathing.